New York, 1985. Mid Reagan era. Mid AIDS epidemic. Tony’s Kushner bizarre, magnificent, two part play can only be described as a epic, theatrical marathon. This is why I love theatre.
The play follows a group of people all somehow connected. Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) suffering from AIDs, hallucinating his ancestors; his Boyfriend Louis (James McArdle) suffering from his hallucinating lover; the closeted Roy (Nathan Lane) also suffering from AIDs and hallucinating dead people; Harper (Denise Gough) suffering from an existential crisis and hallucinating Eskimos and her husband Joe (Russel Tovey) the closeted republican. There’s a thin line between hallucinations and reality, all the while there’s an an overwhelming anticipation of something coming. The whole show is seriously freaky and I’m told part two only gets freakier. Just when I got comfortable and thought I knew what I was watching the set unfurled itself like an ominous labyrinth.
The performances are faultless from everyone of the all-star cast. What could potentially be boring, stereotypical characters are developed in 3 dimensional humans that jump off the stage. The use of multi-roling is also the best I have seen in a long time.
Usually I would say that a two part play (the first act having two intervals!) is a little indulgent – it does no favours for the battle for theatre inclusivity. However I can excuse it in certain exceptional occasions (Harry Potter – OMG so good) for which this is one. I just hope this does not become a trend in future play-writing. It’s difficult enough to get tickets to one play! I’m having to watch part two at my local cinema with National Theatre live on the 27th of July. I cannot wait!
Angels in America is at the National Theatre until the 19th of August. But good luck getting tickets because everything is sold out! My friend Amy, got these tickets through the £20 ballot which you can enter. Or there are £15 (£30/33 for double show days) day tickets if you show up before 9:30am. Although, apparently quenes for Angels in America have been known to start as early as 6am!
It seems to me that the West-End is trying in vain to find the new equivalent of ‘Billy Elliot’. I have recently sensed a theme of new “home grown” musicals being based off quirky and classically British films. ‘Bend it like Beckham’, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and now ‘The Girls’. All these a bit hit and miss, and all with disappointingly short runs.
‘The Girls’ by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, is based off the real life story of a Yorkshire WI group who scandalously posed for a nude calendar and in doing so raised millions for Bloodwise (a blood cancer research charity). This was done in the memory of one of the group’s husband who died of blood cancer. Their story was originally made into a film, ‘The Calendar Girls’, and then into a play of the same name. Firth and Barlow obviously figured that a musical should naturally be the next evolution of the story.
It’s a bitter-sweet, yet heart-warming story. It deals with themes of grief and what to do with life after the loss of a loved one. Joanna Riding’s performance as the widowed Annie is beautifully honest and relatable. Her chemistry with Best Friend Chris (Clare Moore) was particularly strong. In fact it was the chemistry the whole group of girls had that was a strong point.
I, however, found that the show dragged. Like, really dragged. The first act was as slow as a lazy afternoon walk through the hills of Yorkshire. I often found myself thinking “Do you really have to sing about that?” Plus quite a few of the songs were not particularly memorable. Thankfully the pace picked up in the second act, when the group hilariously got their kit off. Each member of the group had their own battles to face and their own reason to do the calendar. When it finally came round dis-robing the event was all the more riotous because of those battles. Props to the fantastic group of actors for such inspiring confidence! I’m not going to lie, I saw quite a few nipples.
I’m a bit on the fence with The Girls. For me it was a problem with pace. A whole half hour could have been shaved off the 2 hours 45 minute running time in my opinion.
The Girls is on at the Phoenix Theatre and is closing on the 15th of July. But a national tour is starting on the 15th of August in Leeds!
To find out more about the work Bloodwise go to–> https://bloodwise.org.uk/
1979. Bristol. A bunch of no good, scrappy youths are tricked into building a playground out of junk by their groovy, flare wearing mentor. Junkyard, a charming musical by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), harks back to a time where children ran free and savage.
This ensemble cast are each exceptional at portraying this sense of youth and adventure in this unique coming-of-age tale. There’s a sense of disillusionment, yet a powerful spark of childish optimism. There’s light and shade to all the characters. Admittedly the first act is an extremely slow burner. The songs felt dreary, repetitive and not particularly emotive. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. But when the second act came rolling in I fell in love with the group and I fell hard. Erin Dotherty’s performance as Fiz was timed to comedic perfection. And Jack Riddiford’s mischievous Higgy won my heart with his cheeky/creepy smile and completely erratic characterisation.
The playground itself was any child’s (and probably set designer’s) dream. The actors constructed it themselves throughout the play. An impressive barricade was even constructed during the climax of the second act – one that could possibly rival Les Mis! I was tempted to get up and play on it myself, despite the fact I’d probably get a splinter and a life-long ban from The Rose Theatre.
One might assume that having not spent my childhood in the 70’s or 80’s I would not be able to connect with the sense of nostalgia the play evoked, yet the message of the story is still relevant to today’s generation. Children will always have the right to play no matter how many times the term ‘childhood’ is redefined. And places like the Lockleaze playground in Bristol should always be there to facilitate that right.
A feel good show that is not for all the the family because the word punt* is used quite a lot.
Junkyard at The Rose Theatre closes on Sunday the 30th of April.
Special thanks to @amymccann39 for booking these tickets. The Rose run a under 26 £5 offer for certain performances, Mon-Thurs & Matinees.
*what rhymes with punt?
I get so excited when it comes to immersive theatre. I think it’s a fantastic form of theatrical storytelling that is still in it’s Caterpillar stage and I want to be at the heart of it when it goes full Butterfly mode. It’s crazy that only a handful of companies in London are currently exploring it; Colab Factory, Specifque and Parabolic to name a few.
But…I don’t know whether I can legitimately review Incoming/Exodus as a piece of immersive theatre. It’s one of those things that just blur the lines between everything so just ends up being an defined as an “experience”.
It was like a glorified board-game. One of those board-games that gets whipped out at Christmas because Uncle Darren* thinks everyone is watching too much TV and we’re not “communicating” as a “family”. But the board-game is kinda depressing and by the time the game is over you’ve missed The Queen’s speech, and Strictly and Doctor Who. And everyone’s feeling kinda bitter towards Uncle Darren. But it’s not Uncle Darren’s fault. Uncle Darren was just trying to help.
The premise was that (for some reason) the Borough of Southwark had become its own separate state and we (the audience of 8) had to fulfil our civic duty and decide on the incoming immigrants. The applicants ranged from an Iraqi refugee, with a broken leg and two dependant brothers to Dr Jagdish with a net worth of 4000,000 (which I attempted to pronounce as four thousand, thousand) and plans to open a laboratory which will provided 1000’s of jobs. It was about deciding a difficult balance of contributors and dependants without depleting our resources too much. I always knew immigration was a difficult subject, especially in a world with so many refugees, but now I have the experience off actually making these decisions. Our meeting leader cleverly identified those of us that might be pragmatic and those who are empathetic. I don’t whether my own government is too pragmatic or too empathetic, I really don’t know enough on the subject but I certainly will try to learn more. Which is an excellent take away.
On the flip side however I did get quite bored. I knew these fictional case files weren’t real so the stakes didn’t feel very high. There was also a really annoying American lady in my group. She seemed very touchy. A lot Americans seem a bit touchy nowadays – can’t think why.
The basement we were in was also very poorly lit and I hit my head on a pipe. Not cool. The rest of the Colab Factory is simply charming though!
Incoming/Exodus at the Colab Factory until May 29th
tickets are £12
*I don’t actually have an Uncle Darren
Ross and Rachel, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, Robin and Ted, Mulder and Scully. What happens when two people destined for each other finally get their ‘happy ending’? What happens when she gets off the plane?
Which one secretly loves the other more? Which one will be the first to run away? Which is the first to die?
This is what James Fritz’s new one woman play ‘Ross and Rachel’ explores. It’s a heart-breaking story, especially for one like myself who is a hopeless romantic and a firm believer in truv (truv is a word I invented which is an elision of the words true and love.)
Molly Vevers is a truly captivating story-teller, playing both Ross and Rachel effortlessly. She owned the room, her only props being a mug and paddling pool. Having one woman play both characters really demonstrated the loss of the individual when in a relationship. Rachel has doubts and secrets just like any other human but for her it’s literally like keeping them from her other half. Have you ever been in a relationship where your friends stop seeing you as two individuals but suddenly you have become _______ and _______? Have you forever lost your independence? This is especially demeaning if there’s persistently an and in front your name. Fritz captures this phenomenon eloquently.
The play isn’t literally about Ross and Rachel from ‘Friends’ if any super-fans are wondering. Fritz simply uses the idea of this couple. This is very clever because any Friends fan will instantly understand what this couple is. They are the nerd and the prom queen. The quirky, lovable couple who were destined since episode one. This does away with any stodgy exposition giving the play an excellent flow.
Just a quick nod to the lighting design by Douglas Green. Most people won’t have noticed this at all (which is totally the desired outcome!) but it was beautifully subtle and changed perfectly with the emotion of the piece.
Well…it was thought-provoking if not mildly depressing. A bitter-sweet ending to the 21st century Romeo and Juliet.
Ross and Rachel is on at the Battersea Arts Centre till May 13th
-Special thank you to Battersea Art Centre whom I won these tickets from. V.enjoyable first visit!