Review: I.E.D

4*
Theatre N16
(This production has now closed).

Martin Mcnamara’s historical play ‘I.E.D’ follows the loss of composure of Army Notification officer, Captain Agnes Bennett and Private Iain Maginnis. It skillfully explores bereavement and ‘the enormous emotional toll’ of war. Mcnamara’s social comments are brilliantly embedded in sharp quips and witty exchanges.

I.E.D is director Rebecca Lyons’ first full length production. Her economical directorial style suggests elements of depravity and compliments the desolation of the play’s characters. Saffron Beck’s performance as Agnes is crucial as it is enchanting. She effortlessly conveys the turmoil and restriction of Bennett with tense posture and abrupt tone. A depiction that gave life to a multifaceted and repressed character.

The intimacy created by black box theatre reiterated the invasive nature of war. Having the audience surround the actors further enhanced the claustrophobic nature of bereavement. The small stage space was saturated with props which further complimented the theme of distraction.

The naturalistic style was punctuated by abstract monologues that broke the 4th wall to speak directly to audience members. Jordon Fyffe’s hauntingly unnerving monologue left an audience member stunned and noticably engaged. His performance as Pvt. Maginnis was inspiring. The range of tone and pitch in his voice effectively communicated the frustrations at the loss of self control within this character

The coming undone of characters was in correlation with their increasingly disheveled uniforms. The use of poppies, worn by actors, also signified the cyclical nature of loss and was very affective.

Lighting was used in a symbolic way throughout the piece. Clinical white light enhanced the dramatic yet unemotional monologues of Bennett. Maginnis’ emotive and passionate monologues were delivered under ambient red lights. This served to create a passionate mood and homoerotic atmosphere. The monologue stylistically illustrated the unlawful treatment of homosexual soldiers in army

Unfortunately the lengthy blackouts affected the pace of transitions. This was however helped by songs such as ‘Booty Call’ by All Saints which further exposed Bennett’s pursuit of ‘unemotional casual encounters’.

I.E.D was an insightful and thoroughly enjoyable production

IED

© L.Lashley 2017

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Review: ICONS by Le Gateau Chocolat

4.5*
The Soho Theatre

I tend not to read anything about a show before I see it, as I believe in the long lost art of relying on how art makes me feel, before I make any judgements on it. I was aware Le Gateau Chocolat’s Icons had received great acclaim in a previous run, so I was excited!

Opening with a haunting cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill – which may or may not be one of my favourite songs of all time – and going through a series of covers of known icons such as Madonna, Dolly Parton, Björk, and Whitney, I was immediately sold! It combined great storytelling, live music, powerful and emotive singing, and even a chance to join in at the end, in a nice sing-a-long.

And even though all the pop hits may have made me less objective, it was impossible not to recognise the careful, clever, and moving interweaving of iconic pop songs and real, and profound, personal lived experiences. Touching on subjects such as teenage crushes, death, politics, religion, spirituality, heartbreak, and empowerment, Le Gateau Chocolat took the audience on a very well-crafted journey and narrative, through moments of great laughter and joy, as well as moments of silence and sorrow.

The way in which some of the covers were rearranged to highlight the lyrics, rather than the melody or beat, made me think about the importance of pop music for the LGBTQ+ community and the deep connection we have with our icons, reminding me that sometimes these great iconic songs are not just fun to dance or sing along with, but they can literally be life-saving and life-changing for many of us.

This performance has now ended, but for future performances follow: @LeGateauChoc | #ICONS | #LeGateauChoc | http://www.legateauchocolat.com

© Ryan C Valadas 2017

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Review: Hokem Pokem

3.5 Stars
Part of the And What? Festival.

The only thing I knew about And What? Festival’s Hocum Pokem performance going in, was that it was a parody on Hocus Pocus and it had RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 Winner, Jinkx Monsoon, playing one of the main characters. And that was all the queer references I needed, to be honest!

I hadn’t watched the original movie in many years, but when you are going to watch a parody, does it really matter? I quickly decided to just enjoy the show, and enjoy it, I did! Combine experienced drag acts, a cult film, queer references and humour to your heart’s content, some politics, and even a surprise audience interaction with the original Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show, and you give an audience all the life that they need on an ordinary Tuesday night in London. There were shouts of “YASS Queen!” and snapping of fingers throughout the entire performance!

The plot itself follows the old and wicked Manderson drag-sisters as they resurrect and embark on a quest to suck the soul out of rising drag starlets, and thus become young and beautiful for all eternity. Led by the fabulous and larger than life Peaches Christ, and combining lip-synching, dance, over the top acting, and live singing, there was something for everyone. Jinkx Monsoon’s outstanding vocal range arguably stole the show during two amazing solos, as well as by improvising masterfully during some technical mishaps. It is also important to mention London’s very own powerhouse Holestar, as the “lady drag queen” subverting gender expectations and singing a solo which brought the house down in its two-finger raising to the patriarchy.

A great and fun night welcoming Halloween and celebrating queer culture in all its wicked variety and fabulousness!

© Ryan C.V 2017

For the full line up of the And What? Festival visit their website here.

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Book Review: Is Monogamy Dead

By Rosie Wilby

Is Monogamy dead? I’d been thinking on that very question the night before I came across this book so I was immediately interested into what this book had to say. The fact it was written by an award-winning comedian made me hopeful that a witty approach to the subject would make it an enjoyable read. My hopes were met and then some.

Is Monogamy Dead? is a very personal exploration of Wilby’s love life. The book starts with her at a crossroads in her relationship and then explores how she got to that point and also where does she go from there; What to do when you realise that maybe “monogamy” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and isn’t necessarily representative of what the perfect relationship should be. But this is not one of those books that are simply all about the author and their own experiences. Wilby expertly marries (ha! Bad pun alert) her personal experiences and interactions in such a way that makes you think and look at your own situation. It feels like a conversation. I loved hearing her journey and she is very open and honest throughout which was part of the strength of the writing. The book has been really well researched and considered so there is a substance to the writing alongside any humour; Don’t you love a book that makes you laugh and makes you think?

In a nutshell I really loved this book. It was one I looked forward to picking up and didn’t even mind when my train was delayed as it meant I could keep reading – which to me is a bloody good sign. Wilby has a strong assured voice and was able to balance personal soul searching alongside looking at the romantic and sexual landscape of the 21st century. Even if you’ve not asked yourself the question of whether monogamy is alive and kicking, this is well worth having a read.

Reviewed by Sarah Browne

Buy the book now.

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Review: The Secret Keeper

On at Ovalhouse until 21st October 2017
By Clerkinworks
4*

We all know the feeling of keeping a secret. I expect many of us know the feeling of letting a secret slip (whether we’d admit it or not). So in the era of Wikileaks and whistleblowers, Angela Clerkin’s dark fairytale, The Secret Keeper, makes for a good exploration of how we, as individuals and a society, manage our secrets.

Early on in the action, we discover that The Good Daughter, played by Clerkin, has a hidden talent.  Her father (Niall Ashdown) stumbles across it – he’s been trapped in a depression ever since his brother was murdered nine years ago and has always been presumed the murderer.  He has a deep, dark secret that causes him such misery, and so his daughter offers to keep it safe for him. He whispers his secret to her and is immediately catapulted from his depression in to a new found ecstasy; the stars glow brightly and he skips off to celebrate. Soon The Good Daughter’s Father and Mother (Anne Odeke) are inviting people from all over the town to come and relieve themselves of their secrets. We see the abuse of power play out as the wide-eyed, childlike, but never childish Good Daughter grows more and more tired from the burden she carries.  The secrets continue to gather, as does the tension, until of course – as one might predict, everything comes crashing down.

The show opened at the end of the week where the truth about Weinstein had finally come rushing out across the media, and it was impossible not to draw the parallels from questions raised in the show to news headlines from across the week: Who keeps the secrets? Who tells the secrets? Who listens to the secrets?  And who has the power?

Lucy J Skilbeck joins Angela Clerkin in directing The Secret Keeper and they’ve done an admirable job of keeping the balance of light and dark in equal measure.  There are some great comedy moments from the dynamic and talented cast, who were all thoroughly watchable throughout. A nod to a lesbian couple that live in the town, with no further deal made about it, leaves me hopeful that we’re moving towards the place where LGBT+ characters can be mentioned, incidental to a larger plot and neither sensationalised or explained. Songs were an added bonus, and for me really pulled this piece tightly together.

All in all a dark and delectable fairytale raising some timely questions.

Book now.

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Review: Frau Welt

Frau Welt
Hackney Showroom, 5*

If you have not yet had the deliciously dubious pleasure of meeting the notorious Frau Welt, then I suggest you get out your diary and make a date with her. You have until the 21st of October at the Hackney Showroom, but I hope that, in her quest to find both the perfect spotlight and strudel, she will travel further afield for those who like genre-busting theatre to find her.

The Hackney Showroom website states that it is:

“East London’s newest cultural centre…an inclusive and vibrant warehouse arts venue with an outstanding and affordable programme of shows, festivals and events with something for everyone.”

It certainly seems to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk. The staff were welcoming, friendly and, it has to be said, effortlessly cool. This is Hackney, after all. After the show a member of the Artistic Team welcomed us to get involved with the life of the venue. I’m optimistic that we’ll hear much more from the Hackney Showroom.

I enjoyed a glass of the special ‘Frau Fizz’, a refreshing blend of sparkling rosé, gin and elderflower, and then went through to ‘The Big Space’. The set (built by Liam Hill) is a stylishly utilitarian one, combining a feel of ‘black box’ theatre with a real sense of theatricality. The entire stage is surrounded by light bulbs, mimicking the dressing room mirror that reflects her haunted visage to us all (or indeed the self she wants us to see). There are seats beside the stage for those who want a more intimate experience.

Frau Welt is a grande dame of the theatre whose vicious rise to the top backfires somewhat, leaving her nursing secrets and anger rather than a Tony Award. The evening sees her sing her swansong, with tales of past misdemeanours and cruelties, the ripples of which having left her washed up and stranded, wondering at the point of it all.

In a sumptuously funny performance, Peter Clements’ impeccable comic timing brings this ruthless leading lady to life. Blissfully unaware of world events happening around her (the brewing storm clouds of the Second World War merely obstructing her light) she begins in Berlin, 1937. Claiming to be disgusted at the debauchery, and her beloved Ernst not being all that she would wish, she claws her way to celebrity. Act two reunites us with Frau Welt in New York, 1979. A changed woman, her bleak and cutting humour is not for the faint of heart.

Clements brings the kind of natural star quality to his performance that Frau Welt so desperately craves. His energy, commitment and charisma effortlessly flow past the footlights and fill the space. A solo show is no mean feat, and he makes it look easy with his unique brand of drag breathing real life into director Oliver Dawe’s perfectly paced narrative drama.

Positive mention goes to the stage manager, Shannon Martin, who enjoys comedy cameos during the scene changes. Special mention must go to the outstanding sound and lighting design (Owen Crouch and Joshua Pharo respectively). The enveloping ‘surround sound’ and nuanced lighting were almost characters in their own right, Frau Welt’s ghostly face coming at me through the melodramatic mists of time to the tune of history is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

For anyone who wants to watch superb theatre (and then go home thinking ‘what exactly have I just seen?’), for anyone who likes to laugh at the absurdity of life, people and theatre (but still get a real kick out of all of those things)… Mein lieblings…just go!

Book Now

© Jezza Donovan 2017

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Review: Turkey

Turkey
The Hope Theatre
5*

‘Madeline wants a baby, so a baby she will have’.  This first line of the play’s synopsis sets the tone perfectly for bold and explosive evening at the theatre.

The Hope Theatre is based on Islington’s Upper Street above the Hope and Anchor pub.  The pub and it’s staff are bright, warm and welcoming, and act as the perfect foil to Matthew Parker’s studio above them.  Thanks to much hard work, the Hope Theatre is that rare thing, a sustainable fringe venue that ensures people are paid a legal wage.  At the risk of dropping a groan-worthy pun, it certainly lives up to it’s name and gives some real hope to the future of the arts.

Frankie Meredith’s writing is sharp, clever and ferociously funny. Her first full length play sees the character Madeline willing to stop at nothing to have the baby she craves.  Peyvand Sadeghian’s performance is defiant and uncompromising, and serves as the main conduit between the other two characters.  Whilst we are definitely following her journey, the other two characters in this intimate ensemble piece are anything but incidental.

Harriet Green’s Toni, a force of nature in her own right, shows us an ambitious and passionate young woman.  Her intelligent performance proves that whilst one can compromise to ensure the happiness of a partner, the pain of fragility and the possibility of ending up as ‘collateral damage’ are never really that far away.  A bittersweet insight into the human condition, and an all too relatable couple’s argument over the price of a cabbage.

Cameron Robertson’s Michael is a man in stasis.  Having endured the unendurable in losing a child, (Madeline’s ex)his life has hit the pause button.  When Madeline arrives back in his life she may blow away the cobwebs but her desires leave Michael in a less-than ideal situation.  Cameron Roberston’s performance is warm, funny and touching as he hides Michael’s aching heart with a wistful smile.

Mercy Phillips’ sound design is what hits you straight away in the space, a brash and unapologetic soundtrack of loud rock music and hip hop such as the Beastie Boys spur us along this rollercoaster ride of desire, love, sex and heartache.  Niall Phillips’ direction is perfectly paced, and pleasingly relentless. Special mention must go to the transitions between scenes, a heady mixture of loud music, dim lighting and choreographed moves to show the passing of time.  Simple and so effective, I never lost track of when or where I was.

Refreshingly Queer, ‘Turkey’ shows us characters to whom sexuality really is only one part of them, but still an important part.  For anyone who wants an experience, for anyone who wants to see how exciting the future of fringe theatre is, ‘Turkey’ is one to see!

On at the Hope Theatre until Oct 14th 2017.  Book now.

© Jezza Donovan 2017

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