Tag Archives: drama

People, Places and Things – Wyndham’s Theatre

It’s only April and I think I’ve already found my favourite play of 2016. Technically I found it in March, but it was so good I had to see it a second time. It’s intense, funny, traumatic, beautiful, terrifying, poignant and inspiring – and Denise Gough has more than earned the accolade of Best Actress in the 2016 Olivier Awards.

People, Places and Things takes us into the messy world of rehab, as Emma (Denise Gough), and a selection of other recovering addicts, work through the minefield of physical withdrawl, and the subsequent therapy sessions as they battle the psychological demons which always lead them back to substance abuse: the people, places and things they associate with using.

Denise Gough is absolutely magnetic as Emma: from the minute she ricochets into reception, high as a kite, slurring expletives into her phone, and expecting a quick fix to her problems, she invites us into the unfiltered wreckage of “I can quit anytime I like.” She’s an almost permanent fixture on stage in a role which seems equally draining and exhilarating, and Duncan Macmillan’s perspicacious writing more than passes the Bechdel Test. (Take note, playwrights: THIS is how you write good roles for women).

Bunny Christie has created yet another stunning and versatile set – staged in traverse with some audience seated on the stage, the tiled walls feel very clinical, compounded by the hallucinatory graphics as they start to crack and float away during certain scenes. Backed up by a pounding soundtrack from Matthew Herbert, stunning sound design by Tom Gibbons, and vivid lighting by James Farncombe – this is every bit another success by Headlong, to rival their previous work on 1984 and The Nether.

 

PEOPLE PLACES AND THINGS

Photo by Johan Persson

She is backed up by a tight ensemble cast who play roles including medical staff and fellow service users in various stages of recovery (and relapse). The lucid scenes of withdrawl with multiple Emmas staggering, pacing and twitching about the stage are quietly harrowing. Barbara Marten plays a selection of calm and withering professionals who, according to Emma, “look just like my mother”. Her offbeat sense of humour helps to temper some of the seriousness of the situation, offering Emma a ‘stool sample to eat’, before joyfully announcing “it’s FALAFEL!” But her appearance in the final scene adds a real thump of poignancy, showing us the enormity of Emma’s wayward past.

Jeremy Herrin’s directing helps us to navigate through a potentially confusing narrative of the things that Emma perceives, both real and imaginary. The group therapy sessions present snapshots of the lives of other addicts, the familiar patterns of behaviour, and Emma’s reluctance to engage with the process. Gough delivers several monologues with real punch: how exactly are you supposed to live sober when the world around you is so screwed, that drink and drugs are the only things that make it tolerable? But towards the end, we are all rewarded with the fruits of her hard work and honesty, as she practises her apology to her parents – a tender and moving piece of vulnerability.

Theatre is my addiction. And I am craving another hit of People, Places and Things.

A HUGE thank you to Seat Plan for the tickets!

‘People, Places and Things’ is playing until Saturday 18th June 2016 at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DA. Contains strong language, strobe-like lighting effects and short complete blackouts in the auditorium. Suitable for ages 15+. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.peopleplacesthingsonstage.com/ 

We Know Where You Live – Finborough Theatre

“Gentrification” is a word that inevitably crops up in any conversation about the London property market. Affluent young upstarts move into an up-and-coming area, and before you know it, it’s all beards, cereal cafés and free-range quinoa. But what of the people who’ve been there since they were born? We Know Where You Live aims to examine the culture clash between the long-term residents who are desperate for regeneration, and the new arrivals who want to preserve its edgy urban feel for posterity (and have a cereal café) – and it mostly succeeds.

The play is a little chaotic, zipping about between a young couple who are just getting their first shoebox flat together and the fractious relations between what’s left of the Residents Association, all affected by some strange and ominous goings-on in the local area. While there are a few revelations about the history of the people, none of them quite feel like the monumental bombshells that they were perhaps meant to be.

 

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Photo by Alex Fine

 

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre – to read the review in full, please click here.

Secret Theatre – Secret Studio Lab

A secret location, a closely-guarded plot line and the need for sensible shoes – music to the ears of any immersive theatre fan. Secret Studio Lab have a few productions under their belt on both sides of the Atlantic, and the latest Secret Theatre promises a visit to a city island to immerse yourself in their summer tragedy of love. But the biggest tragedy of all is that this production massively under-delivers on several aspects vital to immersive theatre.

I’m not sure what came first: the choice of play, or the location – but neither really compliments the other. The key to successful site-specific work is to create something which nestles perfectly in its setting – to make it feel as if the piece were written just for that space. So a marketing suite for the swanky new blocks of flats being built on City Island, surrounded by a moat of gravel, and desolate concrete piles with steel girders protruding through the ground isn’t exactly an obvious choice for the text in question, even if the story is set in East London. If you are going to stage the work on an island, there are other more fitting texts in this playwright’s repertoire.

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My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre. To read the review in full, please click here.

Lesere – Jermyn Street Theatre

1921: John and Jane Lesere have put the war behind them and settled into a gentle-paced life of tending a vineyard in France. Their quiet existence is shattered by the arrival of George, an injured stranger who preys on their good nature and seems unnervingly curious about their respective pasts. With a little bit of cold-reading and the theft of a notebook, he skilfully extracts all the ghosts they thought they had laid to rest and forces them into an evening of confessions about their wartime experiences. As innumerable skeletons come tumbling out of cupboards, the masquerade of their idyllic marriage slips.

Although billed as being “Hitchcockian”, its formula is more reminiscent of An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, and while this play certainly matches it for dramatic bombshells, it somehow falls short overall. In the intimacy of the Jermyn Street Theatre (converted into the round for this play), a small room with white painted floorboards is surrounded by an ominous earthy wilderness – complete with gloomy lighting and the sound of howling wind, it requires a leviathan effort to cross this no-man’s-land to the safe haven of the drawing room. What may only be a few small steps might as well be a journey of miles. The shuddering physicality of the actors during these interludes is harrowing to watch, but this device is overused and quickly starts to feel like a bit of a gimmick (a few choice moments would’ve had far greater impact).

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre. To read the review in full, please click here.

Constellations – Richmond Theatre

Most plays only tell us one story: Constellations tells us many – including the ones that didn’t actually happen (but might’ve done).

In this intimate exploration of infinite possibilities, we see the same two people together at various points in space and time, meandering through a chains of events and darting down both forks in the road.  By playing these scenes in groups, it’s anyone’s guess which path is the one actually taken, or where it will lead. It’s Sliding Doors multiplied out sideways: a love story through the lens of quantum mechanics that demands you to engage your brain from the very start. If you don’t think you understand quantum mehanics now, you will by the end of the play.

For a story which grows exponentially in every direction, it’s a massive task for a cast of just two.  Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong handle Nick Payne’s script admirably, both bringing great clarity to what is potentially a very confusing narrative, full of fiendishly similar scenes. While on the surface this appears to be quite repetitive, each is played as if we were watching it for the first time, with perfect mimicry and then subtle tweaks – there is is no “going through the motions”. There is a greater purpose to this as these little snapshots shuffle themselves from chaos into a devastatingly poignant sequence.

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre. To read the review in full, please click here.

Miss Wilson’s Waterloo – Finborough Theatre

For a play billed as a rehearsed reading, the small-but-perfectly-formed Finborough Theatre certainly do pull out a good few stops. There is music, a simple set comprised of a small table and chairs, some lighting and sound, and two actors dressed to give a feel for the mid-19th century period setting – far more than I was expecting. But Miss Wilson’s Waterloo – a development of Martin Wimbush’s earlier play, Wellington – is still very much a work in progress.

Produced to coincide with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, this is a series of conversations between the Duke of Wellington (Martin Wimbush) and Harriette Wilson, interspersed with flashbacks to events involving the many women in his life. All the women are played by the very versatile Karen Archer. While they may be holding their scripts, the two actors bring life and vigour to the words and move about the stage with purpose – this could very easily be a rehearsal just before ‘books down’.

Wimbush makes for a varied Wellington, depending on which woman he’s with. He plays the whimsical buffoon as he prepares for the arrival of his grandchildren (with a touch of Boris Johnson about him) but is also a rapacious flirt and a masterful army commander. Archer deftly switches between the witty and coquettish Harriette and her other characters, each scene demarcated by a change in the lighting (simple yet effective). She creates a very feline and calculating Kitty Pakenham, the droll and supercilious Duchess of Richmond, and breathy, young ingenue Mary Ann Jervis.

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre. To read the review in full, please click here.

The History Boys – Churchill Theatre, Bromley

In 2013, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys was voted The Nation’s Favourite Play. It’s certainly one of mine. After a successful run at the National Theatre, a stint on Broadway, a film adaptation and a scene in the NT’s 50th anniversary celebrations, how do you pull off a successful revival of something so iconic and beloved by the public?

After a clean sweep of exceptional A-level results, 8 students return to the classroom in order to spend a year preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams.  At odds with each other are teachers Irwin, who is determined to coach the boys in how to write outstanding essays and wow the university dons, and Hector, who is more preoccupied with broadening their horizons and knowledge for its own sake.

Director Kate Jackson does a great job of setting the scene with 80s pop hits as we walk into the auditorium, and Libby Watson’s set design perfectly captures the drab Sheffield classroom with the addition of Hector’s motorbike suspended from above, which adds an extra dimension that prevents this from being too “naturalistic box set”. At times the lighting does seem to be trying too hard to be evocative, occasionally leaving the actors speaking asides in semi-darkness.

My ticket was courtesy of Bargain Theatre – to read the review in full, please click here.

The History Boys is on until Saturday 2nd May 2015 at Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, Kent, BR1 1HA.  It is on tour until July 2015.  Contains very strong language.  Cigarettes are smoked during the performance. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.historyboysuk.com/