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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

Big Business: How to succeed in business without really trying @swkplay

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This revival of the Frank Loesser musical is as much about climbing the corporate ladder as it is about giving a fresh take on the absurdity of the office and gender roles.  However, there's also a firm appreciation that this is a musical comedy.  And with an energetic cast with an impeccable sense of comic timing, it's a hilarious and thought-provoking evening.  It's currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. The show comes from a parody of a self-help business book.  The premise is that a lowly window washer becomes board chairman in a few weeks and gets the girl.  Along the way, there are stupid bosses, sexist colleagues and nepotism.  Only this time, J Pierpoint Finch is played by Gabrielle Friedman.  Depending on your perspective, Finch is either the hero or the antihero of the piece, stopping at nothing in their ambition to reach the top.  Here Finch is more sympathetic as the underappreciated service worker getting a lucky break and a chance to climb the corporate

Office romance: Venus and Adonis @RiversideLondon

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As you enter the Riverside Studios , where Christopher Hunter is performing Shakespeare's epic poem, Venus and Adonis, Hunter is already there—sitting on a bench with his attaché case, wearing a suit and writing furiously. There are papers crumpled and tossed about. It's as if he is writing the piece from a 1990s office. All that's missing is the scream of the office fax (we heard phones ringing even though that wasn't part of the performance).  Written by Shakespeare during the outbreak of the plague in 1592, it's considered to be Shakespeare's first work. It's an evocative piece about the Goddess of love and her attempts to attract the handsome and probably fit Adonis, who would prefer to go hunting.  As performed by Hunter, the age-old tale of unrequited love takes surprising twists and turns in this epic poem. Starting as the piece's writer, he becomes the characters and immerses himself in the words. Consonants fly out at you, and the suffering, the

The Grass Is Always Greener: Next Door's Baby @TheatreAtTabard

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Keeping up appearances is what, at first, it seems at the heart of the story of Next Door's Baby. There's a less-than-friendly rivalry between the comfortably living Hennessys and the struggling O'Briens. But as this self-described musical play unfolds,  a story about two women struggling to break free from the oppressive life of 1950s Dublin emerges. The drama is sometimes more interesting than the music, but some evocative characterisations and an enthusiastic cast make this piece work. First presented at the Orange Tree Theatre some years ago, it's currently having a revival at the Theatre At the Tabard .  The two women at the centre of the story are neighbours. Their mothers, however, are at each other's throats. Mrs O'Brien is a widow struggling to make ends meet, serving only porridge. While Mrs Hennessy lives a life of comfort, wearing her best fur coat even to mail a letter. And while the time and place put more value on keeping up appearances, just bene

Wannabes in the woods: The Retreat @Finborough

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The Retreat takes us back to the Canada of the mid-nineteen nineties—the clothes, the politics, both geopolitical and sexual. But even though it's long before the #metoo era, it has plenty to say about power, business and the lure of showbiz. Jason Sherman's funny script and engaging performances make this piece too good to miss. It's currently having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre. The play opens with Rachel (Jill Winternitz) not apologising to her boss for equating Jewish settlers on the West Bank as terrorists. As a teacher at a Hebrew school whose pupils have relatives living in the West Bank, this wouldn't go down well. But Rachel has other things on her mind. She has written a screenplay and been invited to what she thinks is a prestigious retreat for aspiring screenwriters. And her father, who fought for Israel, is dying in a hospice. The apology can wait. Perhaps forever. Meanwhile, David (Max Rinehart) and Jeff (Michael Feldsher), two film prod

Scientific pursuits: Family Tree @BrxHouseTheatre

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Family Tree, by Mojisola Adebayo, uses the power of words to weave a story about race, inequality, health and the state of the world from the perspective of black women. It’s provocative, disturbing and methodical in depicting inequality throughout time. But it’s also a celebration of life and thriving in the face of relentless adversity. It’s currently playing at Brixton House . The guide to the story is Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was a black woman who died from cervical cancer in 1951. The hospital that treated her was the only hospital that would accept black patients in the area; it took a biopsy and collected her cells without her knowledge or consent. Scientists found that hers could be kept alive, unlike other cells that only survived for a few days. Today her cells are the oldest and most commonly used human cell line used to test the first polio vaccine, cancer treatments and covid-19 vaccines. The guide, Lacks (Aminita Francis), introduces us to a world where segregation and ineq

Pig In A Poke: Betty Blue Eyes @TheUnionTheatre

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Twelve years after its West End premiere, Betty Blue Eyes seems topical. Back then, the parallels were only about a Royal Wedding, with William and Kate's marriage filling the headlines. Now a musical about conniving members of the establishment , illegal meat trades and shortages of decent food could be set in the present day. Even the Horse meat scandal would follow a few years after its closure. Now in a smaller-scale version at the Union Theatre, it's still funny and silly. And the illegal pigsty is right up close and under your nose in the smaller space of the Union Theatre .  Based on the Alan Bennet movie A Private Function, the story is set just after the Second World War when rationing and shortages meant times were tough. Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers (Sam Kipling and Amelia Atherton) move to a small Yorkshire Town and struggle to make ends meet and gain acceptance. Gilbert has to make do as a chiropodist making house calls to lonely housewives (in 1947, they were all

Unfinished business: Pussycat in Memory of Darkness @finborough

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Shedding light on the origins of the conflict in Ukraine is what you find in Pussycat in Memory of Darkness. It returns to the Finborough Theatre after its original acclaimed run last summer. History can be tricky to grasp in the age of disinformation and flawed democracies. But here, the past and the future that awaits are woven together.  As one woman's account about losing everything, we're introduced to the Donbas circa 2014 with a woman in dark glasses trying to sell a few kittens. Homeless and disoriented, the prospective buyer of kittens remains off stage, asking questions about papers, documents and why she is wearing those dark glasses. And this sets in train the story of a woman in the Donbas. She fought for freedom and saw the collapse of the Soviet Union in the nineties. But now finds herself ostracised and caught up in false narratives and alternative facts.  Written by Nelda Nezhdana and translated by John Farndon, It's harrowing and emotional. But also thou

German rivalry: Farm Hall @JSTheatre

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What is it about German scientists that fascinate us? Whether it be Dr Strangelove or The Right Stuff, the German scientist from the time of war features as an omnipresent genius. But in Farm Hall, the debut play from Katherine Moar, it's the reflective scientist, not the mad crazy one, that is the focus. And in its brisk 90 minutes, you feel it captures the world's time and place. There was madness everywhere but not at Farm Hall. It's currently playing at Jermyn Street Theatre .  Farm Hall is based on the detainment by allied forces of several German physicists towards the end of the Second World War. Victory in Europe was complete, but the war in the Pacific continued. The capture aimed to learn how developed the German nuclear programme was through eavesdropping on their conversations. These men were the senior players in the German nuclear programme. Removed from the day-to-day world and confined to a decaying mansion, they play chess and card games and repair an old p