Review: Glitch

CW: Ableism and discriminatory language

Written and Performed by Krystina Nellis
Produced by Studio Odder and Chronic Insanity

Runs to 15th March at Vault Festival, London

Glitch is an open depiction of an individual’s journey of self-discovery and empowerment. It just so happens that this particular protagonist has autism. Kelly, a self-proclaimed ‘weird’ person, is trying to discover who she is beyond the labels. Stuck in a small hometown, where having autism leaves you open to being called, “retard” and “psycho”, insular Kelly is trying to find the courage to make a change; despite the fact that clinging to the familiar is, in her words, “a design feature of” her “people”. Video games bring consistency, dependability and colour to Kelly’s world. A metaphor brought to life beautifully through the contrast of the stark, minimal set of a black chair and black television, invigorated by Kelly’s words on screen. Characters and script are reimagined into a colour, retro-game style display throughout the performance. This inclusive yet colourful addition helps to give the show a much-needed source of uniqueness. I would have liked to have seen this concept taken further. There are some truly heartfelt moments in Glitch including when Kelly loses herself to dancing in a nightclub. One can’t help being moved at Kelly enjoying and unashamedly being herself. This is extended further to when we hear snippets of her budding relationship with Maisie – the gamer with the pink hair. It is a sweet portrayal of the beginnings of love, offering a relatable snapshot into the inner workings of Kelly’s mind. “Can I kiss you?” Maisie asks, to which Kelly responds… “I have questions.” Krystina Nellis brings an animated and somewhat frank warmth to Kelly. Her awkward comedy really added to her rendition and allowed us to follow the character journey in a truly honest way. At times, the show felt unpolished. Nellis deviates from the script; often stumbling and repeating her words. When opening the show, the delivery of the script felt rushed and one could feel the performer’s anxiety. This improved, but the performance could have benefitted from taking more space, tightening the pace and homing in the comedic timing.

Overall though, it was nice to experience an honest, autistic coming of age story. I would be excited to see more from this perspective (especially female) and feel that it is truly needed. Kelly is a genuinely intriguing character and I hope to hear more of her courage to be herself. No easy feat, but something we all have to learn, one speed running tournament at a time.

Book Now

© K. Blewett 2020

Glitch

Review: Lipstick

The Southwark Playhouse, London

4*

Tommy is scared of everything and has an anxiety disorder. Jordan is free and inquisitive but having trouble at home. Tommy likes to wear make up… Maybe Jordan does a bit too. Lipstick, directed by Ed White is an endearing and heartfelt look at identity, friendship and mental health.

Lily Shahmoon’s script explores the, at first seemingly unlikely relationship between teenagers Tommy and Jordan;  played by April Hughes and Helen Aluko. Although the script lacked some physycological depth it holds its own and is contextually and thematically strong. White’s production has the essence of recent Netflix hit Sex Education and I would go as far to say I would like to see it as a television series (including the gender swapped casting, please and thanks).

Tommy, who experiments with makeup and wearing dresses is sprung doing so by Jordan, who isn’t judgemental or phased by this. This being one in of the most poignant and refrershing elements of the production and parallels the more progressive Gen Z attitudes that we could all no doubt adopt a little more philosophy from. Tommy in turn sums the gender non-conformity up perfectly, ‘it’s just a thing I do”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our own society adopted these attitudes too?

A transformativde trip to Cornwall sees the relationship between the characters escalate and fall apart as they can’t communicate when they need to. Mental health, societal pressures, family and identity grappling get in the way. The height of which is a raw but perhaps slightly over explained and overdone fight between the two about Tommy’s mental health troubles.

Although gender reverse casting has been done a thousand times before (and albeit in this case it was a minority replacing a minority which is perhaps a little tricky) it still felt right and It made some kind of sense that two women should play these teenage boys. It’s understood that in a production that looked at the archetype of masculinity why not expand the idea of the gender non binary with the addition of female actors playing young men? Plus we alwaysneed more women on stage. It did feel that overall the production perhaps relied on this statement in an absence for further depth in the characters and plot. Although I do understand there is only so much you can tackle in 70 mins.

Lipstick isn’t experimental or game changing but it’s definitely slick, professional and engaging thanks to White, sound designer Charlie Smith and lighting designer Alex Lewer. It’s well acted, with Helen Aluko as the standout and although the script had its limits you’re ultimately still driven to care about these characters and to think about the landscape of identity, not just within the LGBTQI+ community but across gender and society as a whole. 

© Bj McNeill 2020

Lipstick is on at The Southwark Playhouse, London, until 28th March. Book Now.

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Image © Lidia Crisafulli

Review: MANdemic

By The Family Jewels
Omnibus Theatre 28th February 2020.

The drag king collective with the big concepts are at it again. MANdemic has a bold premise – the incels were right, feminists are trying to cancel men… and by the 31st Century they’ve succeeded. The only men left are in breeding programmes or cryogenically frozen for science, but tonight, for one night only, the women of 3019 get to witness 2020’s toxic masculinity firsthand.

Set up established, the kings introduce themselves and they all have their own contingent of fans in the audience. It’s a rowdy, supportive atmosphere, fitting for a Friday night, though there’s a strong element of preaching to the choir, there is also the sense that we might discover something new. Beau Jangles, Ben Dyldo, Dan Load, Dickie Martin, Raymond, and Sir all have their own mini acts, in between the group boyband routines which start off as great fun, although the gambit has diminishing returns.

Standout highlights include a beautifully performed, emotionally manipulative and entirely unapologetic live rendition of Justin Bieber’s Sorry by Dickie Beau and, on the same note, The ‘Fuckboi’ routine, in which the sleazy Sir courts and then repeatedly abandons a hapless woman (played by Dan Load in a tutu in a very entertaining tongue-in-cheek almost double drag) while the other boys preen and peacock in unison. It’s a witty summary of the Tinder/side piece dating scene and the collective cheer when Girl!Dan finally stands up for herself and ditches the fuckboi is the emotional pay off we all deserve, but often don’t find in a drag show.

The terrace-painted Raymond is tragically underused, delivering a brilliant poetic monologue about the loneliness of contemporary manliness and then disappearing for the rest of the show. Less confident in the group numbers, Ben Dyldo truly comes into his own as a ‘late 21st Century brotest singer’ – a latter day MRA Bob Dylan. In all, every performer has a strong set-piece in their act which, for the most part, fits with the theme, although the narrative thread is looser than I would have liked and the transitions between scenes definitely needs sharpening up. The Family Jewels are a well-balanced collective who are doing the work to make drag more relevant and use it as a tool to agitate rather than just entertain. Perhaps that’s why I was expecting a more incendiary or incisive finale. After an hour of solid drag show it peters out at the end with a confusing breakdown of the premise into a weak chant of “fuck the binary” that didn’t quite catch on. MANdemic needs some polishing, perhaps a dramaturg, but it’s work with lots to say and in our current climate we could all stand to hear it.

Sophie London @solosays

Book Review: Robbie’s Story

by Stuart Carey

‘Robbie’s Story’, writes its author Stuart Carey, has been three decades in the making, sadly the book feels very much like it got stuck there. The story of a piece of gay literature that couldn’t find a publisher is, sadly, a far too common one as it is only in the last ten to fifteen years or so we have seen a lot more hit our bookshelves and even move across into the mainstream, with perhaps one of the most popular pieces of gay fiction, Call Me by Your Name, hitting shelves in 2007. However the medium is now becoming more and more populated by exciting writing, but Carey’s story of hopeless romantic Robbie feels a little out of its depth in this modern sea of LGBTQ+ literature.

The titular story is a simple one, a coming of age tale of our young protagonist as he moves from man to man on his journey to find ‘the one’, with friends coming and going but very little drama in the way. The writing is a little repetitive and stiff with very little poetic nuance, more like a memoir than a work of fiction and perhaps if it had been released in the eighties I could forgive a lot but as a recent publication I found that there were little things that became gradually infuriating. Predominantly Carey’s constant need to call out ‘black’ characters by their skin colour without any narrative or contextual reasoning began to jump out, which again as an eighties trope would be fairly common but as a modern piece of literature, it jarred heavily and the excessive use of the phrase ‘ruddy’ made me feel that it was there as a holding place for a more believable working class slur in order to not cause offence, which when juxtaposed with graphic sexual descriptions come across as confused.

That all said, the story is fairly serviceable as a light read and offers a nice insight into the world of being a gay man in that strange time between decriminalisation and the backlash of the AIDS epidemic however the lack of protagonist or drama doesn’t keep the pages turning like one would hope. The sleeve promises blackmail and attempted murder but these plot points arise half way through and are resolved mere pages later, no drama is ever high enough to make us feel closer to the protagonist and the sex scenes aren’t tame enough to make the book suitable for a young reader and perhaps not titillating enough for an older. All of this culminates in the question, who is this book for, and I don’t think that Carey knows.

©  Harry Richards

Buy here

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Review: Don’t Talk to Strangers

The Forge @ Vault Festival, London
27th, 28th, 29th February and 1st March at 6pm

“In the beginning there was sound…”

Don’t Talk To Strangers is described by its Production Company Hot Cousin* as   “An extraterrestrial love story. A disco in a galaxy far far away. A rom-com set at warp speed” and yes to all of that. This is a  theatre experience out of this dimension but it is also about something much more human. and it utilises sound  to tell that story in a very energetic and exciting way.

The show centres around an interview with Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. If, like me, you don’t really know who Carl Sagan was (apart from being the man who wrote the novel “Contact”) he was an American astronomer who along with writer Ann Druyan were responsible for “The Golden Record” which was a gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Oh, and this record was launched into space.  This is really happened.

The dialogue used in the show is based on an actual interview transcript but it is recreated and remixed into a myriad of different things. The use of sound throughout the show was incredibly dynamic and adventurous as the words are looped on repeat but the performers twist and reposition them into dogs barking, the sounds of anguished crying and distortions.

The cast bounce off each other and each of the performers were a joy to watch; Elana Binysh does a great job  as interviewer to Stephanie Fuller’s “Ann” and Ally Poole’s portrayal as “Carl”.  Fuller and Poole really give their all as the loved up couple and all three are adept at navigating the changes in performance that the ever changing soundscape brings. The final cast member Madeline Lewis was the alien/space figure. She was mostly silent throughout the piece but was equally strong by her movement work.  The dance and movement was really quite beautiful.  There was a really lovely point when the entire company began to dance but in a very quiet way.  Sound is everything in this piece but they totally understood the importance of also using silence to great impact.

One niggle I had was even though this is a lively and high-energy performance, there is a challenge in keeping the momentum up with the same dialogue /scene being done over and over which I’m not sure 100% works.  The brevity of the piece as a whole (about 50 minutes) is smart as if the show was much longer I do think the repetition might be too much.

This is definitely an avant garde type show so if you like your theatre a bit more experimental, then this may well be something you’d really enjoy.

*Quite possibly the best company name I’ve heard.

© Sarah Browne 2020

For info of upcoming productions by Hot Cousin for them on Twitter @yourhotcousin

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© Hugo Bainbridge

Review: The High Table 

At The Bush Theatre until 21st March
by Temi Wilkey

The Bush theatre is brimming with anticipation at the opening night for Temi Wilkey’s debut play, The High Table. Wilkey, who already contributed greatly to the queer theatre scene as co-founder and co-director of Pecs, the Drag King collective, has penned a story full of joy, heart and lots of belly-laughs. 

The High Table opens with percussion and song, transporting us all straight to the North Star, where three ancestors are awakened from their slumber. As the ancestors try to figure out why they are called upon, we are introduced to Tara (Cherrelle Skeete), who is about to tell her parents that she is marrying Leah (Ibinabo Jack), who is joining them for dinner. Sadly, the news does not go down well and causes a rift between Tara and her parents. David Webber and Jumoké Fashola shine as Tara’s parents, always dancing the line between humour and tragedy beautifully. 

Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say that the introduction of a fourth ancestor shines a new light on Tara’s family, and shows us a different, darker side of queer life in Nigeria. Wilkey’s play does a fantastic job of questioning the history of Nigeria’s homophobic laws, as the ancestors debate what is and isn’t ‘traditional’ in their culture. This is particularly effective in a hauntingly beautiful monologue by the eldest ancestor, underscored by Mohamed Gueye’s rousing percussion. 

Another great thing about The High Table is that both Leah and Tara are portrayed by queer actors, something Wilkey found an important casting choice. It’s so rare to see a queer, black femme couple portrayed on stage, that it’s great that these parts are played by actors who truly represent this grossly unrepresented group. 

The High Table marks a strong start for Wilkey as a playwright. If you’re looking for an evening that will make you laugh, cry and maybe even dance in your seat – make sure you don’t miss this one. 

The High Table is playing at the Bush Theatre until 21st March. Book now

© Jeanne d’Hoog

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Image © Helen Murray

Review: In the Beginning

Katzpace, London

A work-in-progress by fledgling performer Marlow, the title is apt. There’s the seed of a strong concept here – in how we can find our sense of identity in adulthood by tracing back to the genesis of suppressing that identity, in acts of childhood self-preservation. That universally queer experience. Marlow’s theory is that, by doing this we can take back our narrative to rewrite our future.

Playing an exaggerated version of themselves, Marlow is an engaging performer, but a one-person show, drawing on such personal experiences, should feel more honest than this does. Maybe it’s the point, but we’re still seeing the artifice of Alex, more than the person beneath.

Marlow moves in and out of their drag persona, bookending the show with a lipsynced introduction (to his own voice – a pleasingly meta device) first as Drag!Alex, then, peeling off the drag like a layer of armour, as IRL Alex – insofar as anyone (including Alex himself) knows who that might be. The movement and acting choices through these transitions are mature, humorous and well executed, evidence of a strong creative team. Elsewhere in the show though, there is an overreliance on stillness that undoes some of the tension and brings us out of the world of In The Beginning.

After telling us, in compellingly simple scenes, about a defiant, resilient grandmother, and detailing the erotic indifference of Rossendale fishermen, Alex ceremonially plasters themselves in clay, marking the move away from the Midlands into a new, ever-evolving queer identity. I felt my companion tense beside me. Is he really doing blackface right now? She whispered. The association coloured the rest of the performance for us, to make a brutally on the nose pun. Presumably inadvertent but pointing to a lack of diversity in the rehearsal room.

In The Beginning is clearly unfinished, Marlow has a good sense of how they want to tell the story, but not quite what it is they want to say. It’s rich with promise, but lacking the honesty of performance or profundity of self-reflection that will make this a standout piece of theatre. A line that did linger, long beyond the applause, was adult Alex’s response to family denial and homophobic playground taunts: I wanted them to be wrong. A sentiment so many of us are familiar with and the words of a creator who is in the process of proving themselves.

© Sophie London @solosays 2020

This production has now closed. Follow @AlexJMarlow on Twitter

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