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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Review: Idol

by Jamal Gerald
The Yard, London until Feb 15th 2020

4*

Jamal Gerald is here to take up space. He is a Queer Black Man and makes sure we know it. All to the good. There is so much to love in Idol. The deep-rooted rituals and rites of a Caribbean household inform a tongue-in-cheek celebrity worship that makes as least as much sense as Black people praying to White Jesus. White supremacy breathes, it crawls, so if you don’t want it to follow you into the house make sure to come in anticlockwise.

The references to African diaspora experiences, to Caribbean culture, to being young and Black in Leeds or Black and Queer in the Tinder age, all of these are personal and specific, but there’s something in Idol for everyone. It felt accessible while still very much representing a certain way of being. Whether or not you recognise the Orisha altars around the performance space, or the Catholic style altar bearing likenesses of Prince, Beyoncé, Lil Kim et al, their purpose is clear and the effect is complete.

Two musicians sit upstage throughout, scoring movement or coming to the fore between spoken scenes and they are excellent. Having them play live elevates Idol, completes the sensory cocoon spun by the simple and satisfying lighting design, which evokes each mood without resorting to flashy theatrics, the scents of rosewater, incense and candlewax (reminiscent of church, of holy spaces) and the natural wood-and-earth environs of The Yard itself. Their style is contemporary and the music rich with tradition, the perfect accompaniment to Gerald’s script and performance. Not to mention the best maraca playing you’re ever likely to see on a London stage.

No exploration of colourism or colonialism will ever be complete, but the framing of idolatry -questioning who we uphold as holy and why- is a new perspective and so timely in our celebrity-obsessed age. As one of the original celebrities, Jesus has enjoyed enduring popularity, but has his persistent (and erroneous) depiction as a white man helped him maintain that status past his time?

Part autobiography and part rebuttal of colonial belief systems, Idol celebrates the new without disregarding or disrespecting the old ways and questions how we can honour our culture while finding our own way to take up space. Gerald gives a sensual and assured performance, despite a tendency to mumble. He is funny, smart and deeply likeable and isn’t afraid to leave some questions unanswered. The ceremony and celebration of Idol is a balm for the troubled soul of the Millennial diaspora.

© Sophie London 2020 @solosays

IDOL will be touring the UK until May, stopping off at Derby, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds. More info and links to booking here.

Idol, Jamal Gerald credit JMA Photography (5)

Image © JMA Photography

Review: No Sweat

Pleasance Theatre, London
Written and directed by Vicky Moran

No Sweat sets out to explore the ever-growing LGBTQ+ homelessness crisis by sharing real-life stories from a 24/7 male sauna. This 80-minute performance takes us into the intimate world of the sauna, the audience greeted with club stamps on their hand into a hazy shiny space with towels hung behind seats. It is this intimacy and closeness that writer and director Vicky Moran bases the performance.

Using interviews combined with the shifting set of transparent barriers from designer Alex Berry, the performance gives the audience an almost voyeuristic insight into this subculture of the gay world. This is soon embraced with intimacy and empathy as we delve into the characters lives and we see how the system around them led to them living in a spa. The direction always keeps you close to the characters and stripped back, whilst the movement focused transitions allow it to flow, and sometimes expand on the story.

The cast here do an amazing job of lifting the show, giving nuanced character driven performances that give that closeness the show demands giving the audience empathy, guilt and anger through the show. In our press night their professionalism was highlighted as three fire alarms went off and the auditorium was cleared once as a result. Every time the actors plowed on through the sirens until venue staff made an announcement, and after waiting out in a cold alley wearing only a towel they then resumed the show as if nothing ever happened. James Haymer gives us an engaging Alf who acts as a mentor and guide to the Spa, but also shows us how the years of this lifestyle has given him an unpleasant he tries to cover; Denholm Spurr delivers us a unsure boy trying to figure out his place in this new sub-culture whilst battling with his feelings towards his family. The stand-out performance is from Manish Gandhi who as spa worker, Charlie, starts off as an unassuming background character but thanks to the likeable and realistic performance soon has you rooting for him, especially after some of the most challenging and bleak scenes in the script.

I left the theatre with questions and feelings and spent the commute home engaged in conversations about how and why the situations we had just seen happens. No Sweat is definitely a conversation starter and opens a door into a world that is more common that most realise, told in a way that touches your heart. This is definitely a show to open eyes, I hope the right people go, and that we start to see more human work like this about the many other issues and groups within this culture that face equally tough and frustrating challenges every day.

© Dan Ramsden – 2020 – @DanielRamsdenFL

No Sweat runs at The Pleasance Theatre, London, until Feb 29th 2020
Book Now

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Image © Ali Wright

Review: Ladybones

Archaeologist Nuala unearths a skeleton and her ordered life starts to unravel. Digging into the mystery of the bones, can she handle the chaos of what she discovers?

Ladybones is an uplifting and compelling story, based on writer-performer Sorcha McCarffrey’s personal experience of OCD, dungarees and being weird (but not a weirdo).

The play was interesting, exploring OCD, the digging up of bones, probing the past and an adult disability group staging Hamlet. All of the stories were engaging, although it was a lot to fit into an hour: it meant that the closure of some storylines felt rushed and missed the impact they could have had.

Stylistically, the play felt like a participatory version of Fleabag (which is a reference I acknowledge will be applied to most one-women plays at the moment, and one I’ve chosen purposefully). Told in a continuous monologue, McCarffrey’s characters are cleverly brought to life with considered descriptions and exaggerated features that grab the audience’s attention.

There was an interesting queer storyline that started to develop throughout Ladybones, looking at Nuala’s sexuality and the differences between romance and comfort. It would have been interesting to see this explored further, though it would have been challenging alongside the other themes of the play. Regarding the exploration of OCD, I didn’t get quite as much out of this as I would have liked to, and enjoyed the stage presentation of it through counselling sessions and audience engagement.

I very much appreciated the audience participation throughout Ladybones. On arriving, audiences were given pink stickers if they wanted to participate – but there was no pressure to get involved. This is the first time I’ve been presented with the option, and I really appreciated it. It’s certainly something I’d like to see adopted more often.

As a whole, the play was sharp and funny – when it hit the mark it delivered really well. A good piece that needed a little bit of tightening but certainly worth a watch.

© Megan Holland 2020

Ladybones was a part of PUSH Festival at HOME, Manchester. PUSH Festival runs until the 1st Feb, 2020, for further information and booking details please visit their website.

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Image @ Alex Brenner

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk

Theatre Peckham
5*

Halfway through Theatre Peckham’s innovative telling of Jack and the Beanstalk, the performance transforms. The set morphs into a Coraline-like nightmare of darkness and glowing white figures which jerk creepily across the stage, changed totally by different lighting.

Those of us who’ve had our fair share of Christmases have been to the giant’s lair in the sky a few times by now, but none of them have glowed quite so unsettlingly as this.

This set change is similar to what they’ve done with the story: on the bones of normality, a fantastical creation has risen up. A brilliant young poet getting stop-and-searched by two rogue policemen wasn’t in the original Jack and the Beanstalk, but I’m quite a fan of adding both poetry and light criticism of abusive police officers to the story.

The young actors add a lot of fun to the performance. On the night I see it, Nova Skyla Foueillis-Mosé plays a sparky Boz the criminal, and Jolie Green-Molloy’s mournful cow brings a touch of Eeyore to the performance. Jack and Lucy are the stars of the young Theatre Peckham’s Academy cast, performing confidently alongside grown-up actors who provide a supportive stage for their counterparts as well as taking their time in the spotlight.

It wouldn’t be a pantomime without some audience interaction, including not one but two singalongs. The second of these feels a little too sedate for the climatic fight against the giant that it’s woven into, and the shy singers among us struggled without an easy rousing chorus.

It’s the details that really make this production, like an old Waitrose shopping bag sticking out of the green of the beanstalk. The singalong is split not between boys and girls but between low voices and high voices, a gentle touch that means everyone can join in. Recycling and inclusivity – that’s the Christmas spirit for the end of 2019.

This show runs until Dec 22nd 2019

Review © A. Lewis 2019

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Photo: Suzi Corker

Review: The Little Prince

Omnibus Theatre, London
Until Dec 30th
5*

Choosing a festive show for all of the family to enjoy can be a daunting responsibility especially if you have children of multiple ages, but I would highly recommend Omnibus Theatre’s The Little Prince as a show for all.

A touching tale, based on the original book (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this version, adapted by Sally Pomme Clayton and directed by Marie McCarthy, blends puppetry, quirky characters, gorgeous projections, live music and dance to create a twinkly winter treat.

The multi-talented cast of three are dynamic and fun, Comfort Fabien plays an energetic and sweet Little Prince while Vera Chok and Royce Cronin take on a variety of roles, all of which are joyful to watch.  The children laugh as Rose, played by Cronin, emerges in a dress, but he owns the femininity which is glorious to watch and the children clearly adore this character. I particularly enjoyed Chok’s playing of Fox, whose idiosyncrasies and one-liners made me chuckle – whilst their flossing certainly got the kids on board. 

The set by Sophia Pardon is vast and mesmeric – very much like space. The audience enter through the theatre through the set, greeted by the characters, which really adds the feel of stepping into another world. 

There are several magical moments, from projected drawings, to unexpected emergences from the set, one of my favourites though was when the Prince flies with the birds; the use of sound and projections make these sections truly enchanting, and really allow the imagination to take off. 

From tiny babies, to ten year old boys, to grannies – the audience spanned all ages on the morning I attended; one of the strengths of this show is that its tone is pitched just right for it to be enjoyed by both adults and children; its touching message about friendship certainly made my eyes prickle more than once. Its generous measures of silliness and joy, theatrical illusion and heartwarming storytelling make The Little Prince a must see for families of all shapes and sizes this Christmas. 

The Little Prince runs at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common, until the 30th Dec: 10:30am & 1:30pm (weekdays) and 11am & 2pm (weekends)

Book now

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Image © Dan Tsantilis