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Kafka-ish: Kafka @Finborough

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In offering proof that Kafka is everything to everyone - writer-performer Jack Klaff plays various roles, including the man himself in what is a part tour, part immersion and part legend of Franz Kafka. He is a writer who achieved fame after his life was cut short due to succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of forty. He is probably better known for his reputation and the Kafkaesque style attributed to his writing than his life. But after this piece, you’re left curious to learn more about the man and his works. And that has to be the best theatrical tribute you could give a writer, even for a writer who stipulated that his works be destroyed upon his death. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. In 1901, he was admitted to a university and began studying law. While studying, he met Max Brod, who would become his best friend and eventual literary executor. Brod would posthumously publish many of his works and writings. Kafka’s life co

Repurposed: Owners @JSTheatre

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Caryl Churchill's Owners is an excellent example of how you can feel nostalgic for an unpleasant time in history. After all fifty years since its premiere, the property market has gone from bad to worse. And despite the seventies look and feel, it feels as if it still has something to say about property, ownership, and the transactional relationships that make up life in the country. Not to mention the relentless pursuit of Victorian terrace houses that most parts of the world wouldn't touch, it is currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre .  The revival brings out the oddities of the piece. The freewheeling sexual politics and the changing legal environment allowing property to be bought and sold with less regulation seem like they are from a different time and place. And they are. It's almost as if we need a history lesson to understand the time and place. The programme notes that market rates for tenancies were only allowed in 1989. Since then, we have been through

Seconds: Makeshifts and Realities @finborough

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The Finborough Theatre presents three short plays about women at the turn of the last century that feels both modern and foreign. The manners and traditions may have changed since the early 1900s. Still, something about the expectations for women and the challenges of being independent resonates today, not at least given the popularity of a particular summer movie .  Gertrude Robins wrote the first two pieces. She was an actor who turned to writing plays focussing on issues of the day; she died from tuberculosis in 1917, and performances of her works stopped. Her contribution to theatre may have been forgotten, at least until now.  The first piece, Makeshifts, introduces us to the Parker sisters, Caroline and Dolly. Caroline is the older sister with her shy demeanour and sense of duty to her family, which includes caring for their older mother and keeping the house in order. While Dolly is a teacher, she notes that "men fight shy of girls like me. They think we're too clever&

Songs in the sand: From Here to Eternity @charingcrossthr

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From Here To Eternity lands at the Charing Cross Theatre with all the energy and enthusiasm of a surprise attack on the layabout and jaded audiences of the West End. Afterall, audiences at the West End seem a bit soft these days. This revival focuses on the leading characters in the story, making the two weeks leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbour a musical theatre event that doesn’t let up… much. Adapted from the novel by James Jones, the musical has lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Stuart Brayson, and a book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes. It is a pared-back version of the show that was on in the West End nearly ten years ago. But this also helps distil the drama down to the bare essentials. And the smaller space of the Charing Cross Theatre gives the piece intensity, focus and a sense or urgency.  Centred around an army unit stationed in Hawaii two weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbour. There's talk of war but no action except for the fighting among the men. There's so

Mostly harmless caper: Corpse! @parktheatre

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In times of national crisis, there is nothing like a good old fashioned comic murder-mystery to take your mind off social distancing and voluntary isolation. Or perhaps a silly murder-mystery. And even if the story is a bit suspect, Corpse! is mostly harmless fun and staged with a lot of panache and energy by Tom York. It's currently playing at the smaller space of the Park Theatre . Set against the backdrop of another national crisis, Edward VIII's abdication, Gerald Moon's Corpse! (complete with an exclamation point) was first seen in the early eighties. It is about two identical twins who despise each other. The oldest (by a few minutes) Evelyn, is poor and living in a squalid Soho flat. His acting career hasn't progressed much after being accused of poisoning cast members. He gets by shoplifting from Fortnum and Mason and promising favours to his lonely landlady. His younger brother Rupert is incredibly rich after inheriting the family fortune. Evelyn has dec

Not quite change: Not Quite Jerusalem @finborough

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Has anything changed in England in the forty years since Paul Keebler’s Not Quite Jerusalem premiered at the Royal Court? A play about a country full of crap towns, no opportunities and a class divide could have been written today. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre and unexpectedly has new resonance about the opportunities afforded to people in this country. Set in 1979, the play centres around Mike, Carrie, Pete and Dave who travel to Israel to volunteer working on a kibbutz. In the pre-EasyJet revolution, that was a thing. They were expecting the trip to be full of sun, sex and beer. But they find themselves instead mucking out cow sheds and working in the sweltering heat. But Mike, a lost Cambridge dropout, fed up trying to fit in understands why he ran away from England. When he takes a liking to the straight-talking Gila who is completing her final year military service on the kibbutz, it leads to an unlikely meeting of minds across cultures. Things come t

Mind the gap: One Under @arcolatheatre

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Winsome Pinnock’s play, One Under revisits the aftermath of a young black man’s suicide on the London Underground. The pieces of his life are recreated in search of meaning. It’s a fascinating (albeit slowly paced) tale about a life not lived. Produced by Graeae, which specialises in placing deaf and disabled artists on stage alongside Theatre Royal Plymouth, it’s been on tour before settling in for a short run at the Arcola Theatre . He’s Sonny by name and by nature. But something isn’t quite right. He thinks people follow him and watch him. He has lots of money too. Is he paranoid, or are there darker forces at play? After his death, the tube driver of the train that killed him, Cyrus (Stanley J Browne), goes on a mission to find sense out the senseless loss of life. Befriending his adopted mother and tracking down he is girlfriend at a laundrette, his determination to make sense of it all starts to become an obsession itself. The play underscores that despite appearances,

Horse Play: Equus @Trafstudios #EquusWestEnd

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Peter Shaffer's play Equus is given a slick and stylised turn in this English Touring Company production that's currently playing on the West End at Trafalgar Studios . With everything stripped back to the bare essentials, all that's left is a white curtain, muscles and guilt. And the occasion flash or scream. If you missed it earlier this year at Theatre Royal Stratford East, see it now as it's a fresh look at this psychological thriller. The premise of the piece is that seventeen-year-old Alan (played by Ethan Kai with moody intensity), has blinded six horses in a stable he worked in on weekends. Rather than go to jail, he's sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.  And where Dysart (Zubin Varla) has to uncover the motive for this madness. Even if it was inspired by a real-life crime, it's rather clever of Schaffer to focus on cruelty to horses in England. Nothing surely can be more shocking in a country that worships the very ground the equine b

Citizens of nowhere: A Lesson From Aloes @Finborough

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Relationships and friendships can be fragile. Like democracy and freedom. In a world falling apart to paranoia and suspicion, the only thing that grows in this barren land are little pots of aloe. In A Lesson From Aloes at the Finborough, it's 1960s South Africa. In a dreary Port Elizabeth suburb, Piet (David Minnaar) and Gladys (Janine Ulfane) are waiting for Steve and his family to visit. But the guests are late and for good reason. There’s suspicion that Piet turned informer which saw Steve imprisoned and interrogated. Shunned by their old friends, and under observation by the police, their world has collapsed. All that is left for Piet are his precious little plants of Aloe growing in their pots. And for Gladys what is lost is more than political discussion. By the time Steve (David Rubin) shows up there's a power keg ready to blow up. He's leaving South Africa after being granted an exit permit. A one-way ticket out of the country which strips him and his fam

For the birds: Outlying Islands @KingsHeadThtr

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Life on Outlying Islands at the Kings Head Theatre is for the birds. Or  what happens on a remote island should stay on the island. David Greig's play is having its first revival. Buffeted by storms, death and primal forces even four weeks can seem like an eternity. But time flies in this expertly acted and imaginatively realised production. Set ahead of the outbreak of the Second World War, two young men travel to this remote Scottish island to conduct a survey of the birds for the government. But even in the summer months the harsh conditions, isolation and boredom make them turn inward. One of them, John (Jack McMillan), is a proper man. And a Scotsman. The other, Robert (Tom Machell) is a crazy idealist from London. Together they develop a special bond. There's another man, Kirk (Ken Drury) who has leased the land to the government and giving them a place to stay in a deserted chapel on the island. Puritanical and in search of profit he see's their mission a

The best little warehouse in England: The Night Before Christmas @SWKplay

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If you’re not into the Christmas spirit, you might be into Christmas dust. It’s the joyful powder the little elves put everywhere and it’s addictive. And distracts you from the shitty life you’re having right now... Anthony Neilson’s dark anti-festive comedy is having its first revival at the Southwark Playhouse . Nothing’s off limits in this tale set in some out of town warehouse on Christmas Eve. Gary (Douggie McMeekin) has called his mate Simon (Michael Salami) for help. He’s caught some little bloke dressed up as an Elf trying to break in (Dan Starkey). He’s tied him up with Christmas lights and not sure what to do. But as they debate calling the police, a prostitute by the name of Cherry (Unique Spencer) comes calling. She’s after some Powers Ranger figures for her son’s Christmas present. It’s payment for the blowjob she gave Gary earlier. And nobody is sure if the Elf is who he says he is, or just a junkie trying to get his next fix. That pretty much sets the tone in this short,

Those magnificent men: Square Rounds @Finborough

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After watching Square Rounds it’s tempting to ponder did the toilet inspire some of the great discoveries of science. The toilet features prominently in this production. The invention of the modern toilet created the need for synthetic fertiliser. Which in turn led to the creation of the chemical weapons and explosives used to devastating effect in the First World War. And so goes Tony Harrison’s anti-war polemic about those who invented the great weapons of mass destruction. It’s having it’s first production in almost 30 years at the Finborough Theatre . The set is in blacks and whites. Just like the world of science.  But the clarity of science is lost in the fog of war as each great invention with a noble purpose also serves a more destructive one.  It’s depicted by an all-female ensemble to underscore that at wartime it was the women manning the factories. Doing all the work. And mostly spoken in verse. It’s a fascinating and provocative piece. With songs, projections and magic tri

Quintuple threats: Daisy Pulls It Off @charingcrossthr

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It’s a sign of the growing complexity of the world. Tomorrow’s performers don’t just need to be able to act, sing, dance and play a musical instrument. They also need to play hockey. Well at least they do in the graduating group of actor-musicians from the Guildford School of Acting. They’re currently performing Daisy Pulls It Off at the Charing Cross Theatre. The performances are fascinating and at times exhausting to watch. Particularly in the hockey match final. Cast members have musical instruments, tell a story, dance and while playing hockey. Clever buggers. The show’s about Daisy who is a schoolgirl who has won a scholarship to a girls schools. Being England she has to overcome prejudice and snobbishness of the other school girls. But of course a show with a title suggesting she “pulls it off” you know what’s going to happen. The show by Denise Deegan dates from the early 1980s. It ran for over 1000 performances in the West End and won an Olivier Award. It’s the type of provinci

From owt to nowt: The Daughter-in-Law @arcolatheatre

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Family ties are strong and stifling in The Daughter-in-Law. It’s a snapshot of working class life against the backdrop of the 1912 miner’s strike. It’s expertly presented in the downstairs space of the Arcola Theatre . It feels as if you’re in the mining cottage as an accidental witness. The performances, drama and intimate space will have you transfixed throughout.  DH Lawrence’s drama, written in 1913, is set in a Nottinghamshire mining town. It’s a world where money is crucial for survival. There are those who have it, those striking for better conditions and those who are bargaining for more of it.  The “daughter-in-law” in question is Minnie (Ellie Nunn). She is a  somewhat independent woman who by chance inherited £100. She’s married to Luther (Harry Hepple) after asking him. After less than a few months marriage, Luther seems to resent his wife’s economic independence to the point that he’s ambivalent to her existence. But it’s his relationship with another woman that sets in tr

Me too thirty years ago: Masterpieces @Finborough

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Long before the #metoo movement called out sexual harassment (and worse), there was Masterpieces by Sarah Daniels. But instead of wearing pink hats or marching, one of the characters pushes a man under the tube.  It’s having its first professional London production in 35 years at the Finborough Theatre . It’s an opportunity to see if the arguments of thirty years ago hold insight into the ones of today. In many ways they do. In others they don’t. The play presents three women living as second class citizens in a first world country. There’s earnest social worker Rowena (Olivia Darnley), her mother (Sophie Doherty) and her friend Yvonne (Tessie Orange Turner).  Set in the era when sex cinemas were part of the West End fabric, on one level it feels quaint with its approach to pornographic magazines. Studies on the effects of pornography have been inconclusive. But here they’re seen as the source of violence and men’s power over women. The men in the piece are either lecherous or ignorant

Sweet smells: Cyril’s Success @Finborough

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The Finborough Theatre , celebrating its 150th year in 2018, is presenting a series of plays also first produced in 1868. This time around it’s Cyril’s Success by H.J. Byron. It’s a funny semi-autobiographical take on marriage and life at the theatre from a resident playwright. Well, resident in nearby Brompton Cemetery.  Byron may be largely forgotten today, but he was big in the mid-Victorian era. Here the fun in this piece comes from making much out of a simple premise of mistaken identity and the vagaries of marriage.  Cyril (Tim Gibson) is at the peak of his fame and power as a playwright, novelist and newspaper writer, when his wife (Isabella Marshall) leaves him. She read a letter sent to one of Cyril’s friends thinking it was for her husband. It all ends well of course. But not before Cyril has a string of flops, falls ill and briefly ends up living a life of bohemian squalor.  Stirring up the insanity are two supporting characters. Susan Tracy as the husband-hating Miss Granne

Giving a toss: East @KingsHeadThtr

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Dirty, smutty and just a little bit Shakespearean. East takes you back to the rough and tumble of the good ol’ days of London. A time when fascists roamed the streets, baked beans on toast was considered cuisine and street brawls were just for laughs. Some time between the 1950s and the 1970s in East End London. It’s playing at the Kings Head Theatre . But in the forty or so years since it premiered something seems amiss with this piece. It feels desperate to shock rather than the genuine article. Every c-bomb and mother-son jerk off seemed telegraphed in advance rather than something new, fresh and gross. Perhaps nothing surprises us anymore in the city where the horrors are real. Modern day enslavement, sexual harassment, acid attacks and the Grenfell disaster. A punch up in a bar and a wank in the cinema are cute by comparison. Still it’s energy is fascinating. If a tad exhausting to watch. A series of scenes and monologues explode in front of you before disappearing. Leaving you to

Drifting on edge: Heartbreak House @theuniontheatre

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Heartbreak House, currently playing at the Union Theatre , is a glorious production with a strong cast. Funny, a little bit bonkers and intriguing. But too bad George Bernard attempts to layer everything with meaning and substance. Afterall underneath various subplots there are sharp observations about British indifference. These seem as relevant now as it was when the piece premiered in 1919. It opens with Hesione (Helen Anker), a bohemian Edwardian hostess inviting her friend and protégé Ellie (Leanne Harvey) to a weekend at her father’s house. She wants to prevent Ellie from marrying an older industrialist, Boss Mangan (JP Turner). And so she’s arranged a gathering of friends to prevent it from happening. Hesione’s father is the eccentric and cantankerous Captain Shotover (James Horne). He made his money in munitions and is trying to invent a weapon to explode enemy dynamite. They need a new invention as the money’s running out. Complications arise when Shotover’s estranged daughter