To Sleep

601808_584287428248149_744081770_nI have to make a confession: I have tried my hand at playwriting and as such I get very excited when I see new writing that is challenging and engaging. I do enjoy going to watch Shakespeare and other classics but what really pushes my buttons is finding something new that has been done well.

To Sleep is a dark and comic play about two mismatched suicidal strangers. Martin (Peter Hynds) is a middle aged man who meets Hayley (Ellie Lawrence), an off-the-rails 17 year old, in an A&E waiting room. As the two start to talk to each other they realise they are both there because of failed suicides. It is often those areas in life that are most taboo: sex and death, in which there is the greatest opportunity for comedy. And when dealing with something as intense as suicide it is useful to have a release valve for all that pressure. When done well humour can be that release valve – it’s a brave thing to attempt to do, but it works well in To Sleep.

As the play progresses Martin and Hayley decide they will take their own lives together but it’s not as easy as they had anticipated. They reveal to each other their stories of how they came to feel the way they do. As the two characters journey together towards their own demise they form a bond that would not be possible with anyone else, and they help each other in their own weird way.

Ellie Lawrence’s portrayal of a seventeen year old who has nothing left to live for is close to perfect. There is something in the glamorous but unkempt hair, something in the half rolling of her eyes and condescending tone that tells of someone whose last defence is to push everyone else out.

All that is on stage throughout the play are three chairs which represent everything from a hospital waiting room to a leather sofa. The minimal set has the effect of focusing the attention on the characters and the intense relationship between them. Peter Hynds directs and acts in the play and presents us with a man broken by tragedy but still with a lightness of touch to make him warm and endearing.

Matt Fox’s script was very tight: effortlessly switching between humour and tragedy. The people of Swindon should be proud to be represented by him. His other work includes Swindon The Opera and the Madam Renards Mini Fringe Festival.

The next stop for To Sleep is The Camden Fringe in London on the 20th and 21st of August.

 

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The Talented Mr Ripley

posterfinal-websiteWhat struck me as the story of Mr Ripley started to unfold was how difficult it is to bring this particular story to the stage. Major parts of the story revolved around the exchange of letters, and Mr Ripley’s emerging dualistic personality also presents many problems for a stage adaptation. These problems were dealt with in a way that, rather than being problematic, added to the sense of paranoia and obsession that were heavily present throughout the play.

Tom Ripley (Joshua Foyster) – a minor conman – is sent to Italy to convince Richard Greenleafe (David Phillips) to go back to the United States to be with his family. However, once Mr Ripley does find him he starts to develop a deep and disturbing obsession.

Richard’s presence on the stage as a representation of Mr Ripley’s psyche cleverly portrays their almost-joint personality as well as being able to represent the arguments that Mr Ripley has with himself. The way the characters interact seamlessly on stage, even when representing conversations that are happening miles apart, through real or imagined correspondence, is a credit to Peter Hynds direction.

The story increases in tension as Mr Ripley’s web of deceptions starts to grow out of control. Like a coiled spring , by the end, there is a feeling that something has to give: one slip or one mistake and it will all be over and Mr Ripley will be revealed for the fraud he is.

Abigail’s Party

nc-Abigail's Party-183 katie lightfoot, hannah waterman, martin marquez, emily raymondIf the audience were in any doubt as to the time period Abigail’s Party is set in, there wouldn’t be any once the curtains had been raised. The stage is transformed into an intricately furnished living room. There is orange and yellow patterned wallpaper on the wall, glass doors lead off into the kitchen, there is a fully stocked drinks cabinet and a record player complete with a collection of records. Much credit is due to the set designer, Howard Harrison, in creating this apparition of the past.

Beverly and Lawrence – played by former Eastenders star Hannah Waterman, and Martin Marquez – are hosting a party to meet their new neighbours Angela and Tony (Katie Lightfoot and Samuel James). The final guest is another of their neighbours, Susan (Emily Raymond), a divorcee whose wild teenage daughter is throwing a party in the house over the road.

nc-Abigail's Party-248 hannah waterman, samuel jamesAll starts off normally. Lawrence is late home from work but he has to leave again to get the keys to a property which he is showing people around early the next morning. Beverly sighs and rolls her eyes at his lack of commitment to the party. Angela and Tony arrive and are plied with cheese and pineapple and gin. A jittery Susan enters, worried about the shenanigans going on across the road, which is not helped by the other guest remembering all the wild things that they did when they were teenagers and their parents were away.

As the evening winds on Beverly plies the guest with more and more alcohol and the smart suburban couples start to let themselves go. Like a loose thread being pulled, the relationships start to unravel: Beverly and Laurence argue, Susan, who is drinking on an empty stomach, becomes terribly drunk and Tony and Beverly flirt increasingly outrageously as the evening goes on. All the while Abigail’s wild party can be heard from across the road.

The play is at its best and most excruciating in the moments of silent tension. The comedy also comes from the perfectly timed reactions to the ever increasing combination of aggression and seduction. Mike Leigh’s script examines the differences between the generations as the two parties take place, one on stage and one off. The aspirations and shortcomings of the characters are laid bare with comic and engaging precision.

The 39 Steps

39Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film is given an imaginative reinventing in this comic stage production. The story follows the hapless Richard Hannay (Richard Ede) as he accidently discovers a secrete spy ring and is pursued around Scotland whilst trying to find out the truth. Like any good hero, he sets about getting the girl and saving the day while he’s at it. Richard Hannay feels like he’s straight out of a 1930s film, complete with three piece suit and pencil moustache. Ede’s over the top performance adds to the fun absurdity of the whole production.

The highlight of the show was its imaginative use of the set. Rather than being confined by the limitations of telling a story on stage, Maria Aitken’s direction makes use of the props to their full comic potential. Particularly funny is the door on wheels that is slid around the stage to represent every internal and external door in the whole production.

A lot of the comedy comes from playing with the idea of what can be done on stage.  The two actors, Tony Bell and Gary Mackay, play a host of characters in hilarious role swapping, gender swapping mayhem. At times it seems difficult to comprehend that there is only a cast of 4 people.

When there are not props sliding around the stage or actors engaging in split second costume changes, the atmosphere is created by cardboard cut-out shadows puppets and conspicuously badly timed smoke machines.

The frantic pace of the show keeps the audience on their toes from beginning to end. There is something wonderfully British about the wacky, over the top characters and the unlikely situations that they find themselves in.

 

 

 

 

Soul Sister

SSSLTake the glitz & glam dial and turn it up to max. Soul Sister is the sequin studded story of Tina Turner and her rise to fame. We see her from her humble beginnings as a timid teenager singing songs that she learnt in church. As her career takes off, so does her turbulent relationship with co-star Ike.

Tina Turner’s story is unmistakably tied up with the domestic violence by her husband. The show does a good job of capturing the mood of the relationship both before and after Ike turns to alcohol and drugs. We see the charming young man who no one can resist before his greed and selfishness start to grow with the couple’s success.

Fans will not be disappointed as Emi Wokoma does a great imitation of Tina Turner. The audience are given exactly what they want, with some of Tina’s classic hits including: River Deep, Mountain High, What’s Love Gotta Do With It and The Best. She is accompanied on stage by a full band, giving the show an incredible live music feel. The audience is encouraged to get involved and sing and dance along; the band clearly loves the energy and excitement coming from the crowd.

The set mainly consists of comic strip style images projected onto the backdrop. This allows the couple to be transported all over the world from dingy back-room clubs to their extravagant house. Unfortunately the use of text and animation with these images is often distracting to what is actually going on onstage. However, this is easy to overlook given the competence of the performances.

The show delivers everything that it sets out to do. It’s full of flashy outfits and fancy dance moves. Emi Wokoma is a talented Tina Turner full of energy and bound to have everyone on their feet by the end of the night.

  • Soul Sister is showing at the Wyvern Theatre Mon 28 Jan – Sat 2 Feb

Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing WebBeautiful Thing is a love story following two teenagers, Jamie (Dominic Baker) and Ste (Joshua James Foyster). They battle first with themselves, to come to terms with their sexuality, and then against the prejudice that exists in their working class estate.

As much as this is a play about sexuality, it is also about family. We get an insight into Jamie’s complex and often turbulent relationship with his mother (Sarah Lewis). The story takes place outside three houses and these neighbours also become a sort of dysfunctional family.  The dark side of family relationships is also explored with abuse and emotional breakdown. But don’t be put off; this is an uplifting story that will leave you with a smile on your face.

The production authentically captures the feeling of the deprived estate where the story takes place. Jamie’s mum and his defiant teenage neighbour, Lea, clash throughout the play. Ella Thomas brings believability to Lea’s larger than life character and Sarah Lewis is utterly convincing as Jamie’s conflicted single mother. The deeply flawed but loveable characters are well thought out and performed in a way that is a pleasure to watch on stage.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

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Before you enter the theatre you are given a polite notice that you should feel free to leave your phones on and, if you like, take pictures. If that seems weird, things are about to get a whole lot stranger in Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental play.

Nassim Soleimanpour was denied a passport from the Iranian government when he refused to do military service. Not able to travel around the world, his second best option was to write a play that could. He imagines, in the play, all the countries that it might go to, what the cities look like, what the audience looks like and what they will think of it.

Nassim’s presence is felt throughout the play (he even has his own empty seat in the audience). The idea of communicating through the barriers of time and distance by the medium of theatre is something that thrills him.

As you may have guessed by now this is not your average play. And a word of warning to anyone who might feel uncomfortable being part of the story (yes, I mean audience participation, but not only that), you might find it a bit of a challenge.

When you walk in, the theatre is almost completely bare.  Every night the play is performed by a new actor. He or she is led onto the stage and given an envelope. Inside is the script. They have never seen it before and experience it for the first time, along with the audience. The only information given to the actor before the show is how to pronounce the writer’s name and that, at some point, they may have to imitate an ostrich.

Everyone is free to make their own decisions. Everyone is responsible for the decisions they make. If there’s something in the script that you think is wrong, should you stop the play? If you’re in the audience and you do nothing, are you complicit? These are the questions that Nassim asks. He also muses on mob mentality and the risks, and rewards, of being singled out as different.

It is less a play and more a conversation with the author. And yes, it’s a two way conversation; he tells you how to contact him and he wants to know what you think. Having a conversation with a random Iranian playwright might seem like a strange way to spend an evening but the play is so absorbing you won’t give it a second thought.

The play is challenging and thought provoking, but also gentle and funny. Whether you end up on stage or not, you won’t be able to forget this play for a while.