Posts tagged ‘paul vale’

10 October, 2010

Heroin(e) for Breakfast


Kirsty Green and Hayley Shillito in Heroin(e) for Breakfast

Kirsty Green and Hayley Shillito in Heroin(e) for Breakfast. Image courtesy of Martin Shippen Arts Marketing and Media


Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, 8 – 31 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Is anyone else sick of being harangued from the stage? For being too middle class, or too complacent, or too passive?

It’s a technique that suffers from the law of diminishing returns. If Heroin(e) for Breakfast were the only play to barge down the fourth wall and berate the audience about their lifestyle, it would be groundbreaking, challenging, even blistering in its attack on modern social mores. But Tim Crouch already did it in The Author, Lowri Jenkins did it in 19;29’s Threshold, David Leddy did it in Sub Rosa – and that’s just counting shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. At the risk of sounding too middle class, one can only take so much.

The character doing the ribbing in this case is Tommy Croft (Craig McArdle), a self-styled revolutionary and, almost incidentally, a heroin user. Being quite justifiably fed up with being judged and diagnosed by the moral majority, Tommy injects them (i.e. us) with a strong dose of their (our) own medicine and – in a rare case of recursive double irony – proves his own point about the ineffectiveness of the hectoring sermon as an incentive for behavioural change.

In the beginning, Tommy’s fun to be around. He speaks his mind, he’s got an offbeat worldview and a gleefully filthy way with words. So are Chloe and Edie (Kirsty Green and Kate Daley), the girls that share his flat (and affections): playwright Philip Stokes has a good ear for corrosive snark, and the pair fling his stinging lines laconically across the stage, like paper planes full of anthrax.

Even the play’s most hazardous theatrical conceit, the personification of heroin in the body of Marilyn Monroe (actually Hayley Shillito), is executed with such balls that only the most hardened Naturalist wouldn’t buy in.

But come act two, the bunch of them have become tiresome. Tommy’s metatheatrical asides begin to seem gimmicky. The girls drop the subtext-laden sarcasm and just shout at each other (and Tommy) instead. Heroin(e)‘s oratory gets repetitive, and with each repetition rings increasingly hollow.

If the point is that heroin addiction makes you strung-out, paranoid, delusional and dull, Heroin(e) for Breakfast succeeds a little too well. Of course it wouldn’t be realistic for the light-hearted fun and games to continue once the shooting up begins, but the tonal shift is such that the play actually ceases to be engaging. And sorry, Tommy: whether it’s coming from the pulpit or the pews, a sermon’s a sermon, and no one reacts well to being told how to live.

Written by Philip Stokes

Crew includes Philip Stokes (director), Craig Lomas (set), Marie Dalton (lighting) and Carley Marsh (costume)

Cast includes Kate Daley (Edie), Kirsty Green (Chloe), Craig McArdle (Tommy) and Hayley Shillito (Heroin(e))

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4 October, 2010

Departure Lounge

Jack Shalloo, Steven Webb, Chris Fountain and Liam Tamne in Departure Lounge

Jack Shalloo, Steven Webb, Chris Fountain and Liam Tamne in Departure Lounge. Image courtesy of Jo Allan PR

Waterloo East Theatre, 28 September – 31 October 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

While they slouch about waiting for a perpetually delayed Ryanair flight home, four lads reminisce and recriminate about what they can remember of their Costa del Sol holiday. The best bits of Dougal Irvine’s new musical call to mind a sort of booze-hazy Rashomon: the natural disparities between the four lads’ perspectives are compounded by alcohol-induced memory distortion.

Comparing Departure Lounge to Rashomon makes it sound much more pretentious than it is. It rarely feels heavier than watching a bunch of mates larking about. But Irvine does have noteworthy things to say about laddism in general, and the idea of the lads’ holiday in particular.

What, for instance, is the difference between a lad, a guy, and a hooligan? And if the measure of a good night out is how little of it you remember, what’s the point of shelling out extra to have your nights out abroad? One particularly enjoyable number, ‘Spanish Hospitality’, suggests cheekily that entertaining raucous British holidaymakers is Spain’s ongoing penance for sending the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The book, minimalistically scored for two acoustic guitars, references the boyband pop subgenre with its catchy choruses, close-harmony singing and slightly self-conscious white boy rap interludes.

The dialogue between numbers is less well judged. We’re force-fed, not drip-fed, the characters’ backstories; the phrase “I mean” is used a few times too, often to execute handbrake turns in the flow of conversation; and the closeted character’s self-realisation and coming out is perfunctory and unconvincing – all of which are admittedly minor, but nevertheless disappointing, detractions from an otherwise enjoyable show.

Written by Dougal Irvine

Crew includes Pip Minnithorpe (director), Spesh Maloney (musical director), Cressida Carré (choreography and musical staging), Will Reynolds (lighting and set designer), Georgia Lowe (costume designer) and Gareth Owen (sound designer)

Cast includes Chris Fountain (JB), Verity Rushworth (Sophie), Jack Shalloo (Pete), Liam Tamne (Jordan) and Steven Webb (Ross)

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6 June, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

Chris Gee and Olivia Vinall in Romeo and Juliet

Chris Gee and Olivia Vinall in Romeo and Juliet. Image courtesy of Mobius

Leicester Square Theatre, 1 June – 11 July 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Ruby in the Dust have created a nearly perfect Romeo and Juliet for the modern attention span. They’ve had to kill a few Bardic darlings to get there – “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks” is lost to the edit, as are many supporting characters – but what remains is for the most part pacey, rhythmic and engrossing. The running time? Two brisk hours, including interval. Not bad for the most epic of romances.

So why only nearly perfect? It might not seem possible for a Romeo and Juliet, but some scenes are actually too brisk. Juliet’s (Olivia Vinall’s) mask is hardly off her face before Romeo (Daniel Finn) plummets into enraptured soliloquy; without even a moment’s pause for his feelings to blossom, they can’t help but seem unreal.

Likewise, Mercutio is dragged offstage and into his grave almost before he’s finished wishing plagues on houses. It’s a hurried and anticlimactic end to Christos Lawton’s performance, which is louche, charismatic and very watchable despite his tendency to gabble through pursed lips like a hastily dubbed-over black and white movie star.

The lovers are, appropriately enough, most believable and enjoyable when love is in the driving seat. Their impetuous first act trysts are Catherine-wheel whirls of flirtatious double-talk, spitting passion in all directions – but Vinall in particular responds to the second act’s mounting tragedies with typical, and therefore unconvincing, melodrama. The wider her eyes, the shakier her voice, the more lines she directs, palm upraised, to the middle distance, the less attention she commands.

But the vast majority of scenes are bite-sized in length; Jessica Hrabowsky’s fight choreography is way above the off-West End average despite the small space; and notwithstanding some bendy rubber knives and an anachronistic Maglite the production is appealingly visually coherent.

P.S. Apparently the production is set in Mussolini’s Italy. As a design decision it’s inescapable; silver skulls and eagles adorn Christopher Hone’s monochrome design, the black-shirted Capulets perform Fascist salutes at every opportunity and Romeo wears a Star of David pendant. But all this is little more than window dressing.

It’s still his Montague surname, and not his Jewish race, that Romeo holds responsible for his tribulations; Juliet’s domineering father (Chris Gee), not Mussolini’s Race Laws, is the main obstacle to her matrimonial bliss. This is an admirably efficient Romeo and Juliet; but it can’t pretend it has anything whatsoever to say about Fascism.

Written by William Shakespeare

Crew includes Linnie Reedman (director), Joe Evans (composer), Christopher Hone (designer) and Jessica Hrabowsky (fight director)

Cast includes Martin Dickinson (Tybalt), Daniel Finn (Romeo), Chris Gee (Capulet), David Laughton (Benvolio/Laurence), Christos Lawton (Mercutio), Dan Moore (Paris), Olivia Vinall (Juliet) and Imogen Vinden-North (Nurse)

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28 May, 2010

Napoleon Noir

Katrina Nare and Cavin Cornwall in Napoleon Noir

Katrina Nare and Cavin Cornwall in Napoleon Noir. Image courtesy of Theo PR

Lost Theatre, 19 May – 5 June 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide and cross-posted to The Collective Review

Poor Toussaint L’Ouverture – known in his native 18th century San Domingo (modern Haiti) as the Napoleon Noir – is apparently doomed to historical oversight. Despite being a hero to his nation, a liberator of slaves, he’s reduced to a bit player even in the play that bears his nom de guerre.

Though in writing Napoleon Noir Marcus Heath presumably intended to raise L’Ouverture’s public profile, his portrayal of the man is decidedly ungenerous. Cavin Cornwall has the necessary presence and poise to lend Toussaint a dependable solemnity, but he still comes across as a poor strategist, blinded by stubbornness.

There’s the seed of a great tragic plot there just waiting for nourishment. Instead, the play suggests Toussaint’s assertion that he “cannot trust any white man!” is the root of his downfall, and that he would have been better off had he heeded the advice of his second-in-command, the rather ineffectual (white) French general La Terre (Maurizio Molino).

Perhaps if Toussaint were allowed more stage time, Heath would have the space to do him justice, but swathes of the play are given over to the underdeveloped intrigues and romances of the underdeveloped characters that comprise Toussaint’s household. These predominantly female supporting characters aren’t well served by the script or by Hannah Kaye’s direction, which resorts too often to comically overplayed cleavage-plumping and saucy asides.

Toussaint’s half-French mistress Mireille (Katrina Nare) is probably the largest part in the production, and should probably be its emotional core – abandoned by her general to the mercies of the French military aristocracy, she should stand in for all the wronged people of San Domingo. But Toussaint pays her too little attention in their few scenes together for their bond to be emotionally engaging; Heath gives her a lot of whiny speeches and soppy, forgettable power ballads to sing; and Nare, alone of all the cast, retains a drama school RP delivery that sets her jarringly apart from what should be an ensemble.

The whole production, in fact, is a jumble of jarringly distinct styles and elements. Each scene is airtight, so tension and momentum built up in the opening minutes, as the white and black Napoleons’ incompatible desires steer everyone inevitably towards violence, dissipate uselessly and are forgotten once the focus shifts to the household.

Heath’s poppy musical compositions sit uncomfortably alongside Duncan Walsh-Atkins’ more African-accented, drumming-and-chanting-led pieces. Excruciating naturalism blurs suddenly into expressionist movement pieces. Every four or five lines someone drops into GCSE-standard French small talk. And once, in the second act, Mireille reacts to news of yet another unlikely affair by addressing a pantomime “Ooh la la!” direct to the audience.

Where, meanwhile, is the neglected hero, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Napoleon Noir? Either trying his level best to look dignified amongst it all, or very sensibly backstage, staying beyond the reach of the circus.

Written by Marcus Heath

Crew includes Hannah Kaye (director), Duncan Walsh-Atkins (musical director) and Iain Storey (choreographer)

Cast includes Cavin Cornwall (Toussaint), Maurizio Molino (La Terre), Hayward Morse (Le Clerc), Katrine Nare (Mireille), Katherine Newman (Pauline) and Zama Precious Siphengana (Yamaya)

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11 April, 2010

Porn – the Musical

Theatre 503, 10 April – 1 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

It’s fair to assume that few people watch porn for the plot, and it’s best to take the same approach to Porn – the Musical. Erase the phrase “But what about…” from your vocabulary and you’ll find a pretty entertaining hour of musical theatre scattered through the two-hour running time.

The book acknowledges and embraces the leaps of logic and sketchy characterisation typically associated with porn and bad musicals alike. The whole production is suffused with a sense of fun, distilled in a couple of life-affirmingly glorious puns and some knowingly silly choreography (covering naïve Stefan’s (Brendan Cull) modesty with convenient towels and beach balls in ‘Naked on a Sunday’); and the whole cast commit to their roles with devil-may-care abandon.

The lyrics are often stretched a bit to fit the meter or rhyme, and there are too few energetic numbers in the second act, but there are one or two gems – chiefly those featuring hung-but-dumb porn stud Dr Johnny Long, PHD (Alain Terzoli). Johnny’s poppy introductory number is the highlight of the first act, and his entrance peps up an otherwise forgettable first act closer.

Unfortunately the fun stuff is heavily watered down with awkward metatheatrical asides.

First there’s a totally extraneous narrator (Malcolm Galea, one of the writers) who turns up with irksome regularity to recap things we saw two minutes ago, and to summarise thoughts and feelings we really should be discovering through the performances.

Then, throughout, the cast drop out of character to explain scenic devices to one another, a tendency embodied by the Miscellaneous Man (Ahmet Ahmet). He plays all the minor roles, and the other performers keep confusing whom he’s playing when, a joke that relies on jolting the audience out of their engrossment in the show. He even gets a number about how the rest of the company don’t appreciate him.

That’s not even the only purposeless number; the second act starts with the cast berating latecomers through song, and the show ends with a full-cast ballad devoted solely to informing the audience that the show’s over and they can go home.

The problem in a nutshell seems to be that the writers wanted to write about musical theatre – to poke gentle, self-effacing fun at its archetypes, tropes and clichés – but somehow accidentally wrote a musical about porn instead.

Written by Boris Cezek, Malcom Galea, Abigail Guan and Kris Spiteri

Crew includes Paul Robinson (director), Ally Holmes (choreographer/assistant director) and Rachael Canning (designer)

Cast includes Ahmet Ahmet (Miscellaneous Man), David Burt (Marvin), Brendan Cull (Stefan), Malcolm Galea (Narrator), Jody Peach (Jade), Alain Terzoli (Dr Johnny) and Sophia Thierens (Sanddy)

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16 March, 2010


Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, 12 March – 4 April 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

When dealing with themes like sexual predation or mental illness on the stage, a certain amount of sensitivity is required to keep the portrayals dramatic rather than exploitative. When dealing with such themes in the context of comedy, an even more sensitive touch is necessary. In Relax, Robert Farrar attacks his subject matter with all the sensitivity of a tank battalion.

James Holmes plays Sandy, houseproud proprietor of a Weston-Super-Mare B&B. Lonely since the departure of his much younger “houseboy” and (it’s heavily implied) lover, he’s taken to date-raping his guests after plying them with Bailey’s and Rusty Nails, then in the morning blaming it on his mentally unstable identical twin brother Jimmy. Or has he? An attempted plot twist in act two suggests even Farrar himself is undecided whether or not Jimmy is real.

Whichever it is, Jimmy’s learning difficulties are treated as little more than a pretext for Holmes to caper about in his pyjamas doing a silly high-pitched voice. Scant attention is paid to the implications either way (that either Sandy is faking mental illness to get away with rape, or that sex is occurring in which neither party is lucid enough to consent); we’re expected instead to treat it as a light-hearted comedy of errors.

In case no one buys that, Farrar has stuffed the script with gay innuendo, ranging from the merely cringeworthy (Fred, guest: “Your employer’s a little bit volatile.” Bijan, new houseboy: “Really? I’m a total bottom myself”) to the seriously stretched (Sandy: “I’m houseproud, but I’m not anal” – delivered with an expectant pause for laughter despite being, not an innuendo, but simply an instance of a word sometimes associated with sex).

Most of the cast, Holmes included, ham up their characters as best they can; two, Tony Bluto and Nadia Kamil, appear distinctly uncomfortable in their assigned stereotypes (respectively a promiscuous, drug-abusing older gay man and another generically “mad” individual, possibly a paranoid schizophrenic – I’m no expert and, clearly, neither is Farrar). By stumbling their lines and shying away from fully embodying their roles, they sabotage the play in small ways, redeeming themselves slightly for their part in it.

Yes, it is important for us to be able to laugh at serious issues such as those tackled in Relax, but not like this: not by obscuring their seriousness behind the comedy label, and not by reinforcing pejorative stereotypes in order to ridicule those on whom they’re based.

Written by Robert Farrar

Crew includes Phil Setren (director) and Martin Thomas (designer)

Cast includes Tony Bluto (Bijan), Dominic Cazenove (Fred), James Holmes (Sandy), Nadia Kamil (Mari-Claire) and Mark Leeson (Mike)

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9 January, 2009

Studies for a Portrait

White Bear Theatre Club, 6 January – 1 February 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

All four characters in Studies for a Portrait are homosexual men, but the overriding theme of the play is not homosexuality. Whatever might be wrong with it, the play deserves some praise for reminding people that gay characters can explore and embody other important issues than their own sexuality.

Celebrated American artist Julian Barker (Martin Bendel), a contemporary of Warhol and Bacon, is dying of pancreatic cancer. While Julian attempts gamely to continue painting, drinking and shagging until he drops dead, politicians, admirers and former lovers emerge from the woodwork to squabble over his legacy – both financial and emotional.

Each has a genuine claim over Julian, whether as a commodity, an inspiration, a benefactor, or simply as a friend. Which of these claims, the play asks, is most valid? To whom does a public figure’s legacy rightfully belong – to himself, to his public, or to his bereaved?

Julian is a largely offstage presence, cloistering himself in his studio and allowing his devotees to fight amongst themselves. Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher resists confrontational histrionics in favour of calculating nastiness, enabled by some delicious turns of phrase from playwright Daniel Reitz. Julian’s current and former lovers, Chad (James Holmes) and Marcus (David Price), have an especially honest and vicious enmity.

Beyond these enjoyably frank exchanges the play is heavy on flimsily motivated exposition. Backstory details are revealed in monologue to the subject, who presumably already knows his own life story, but sits through the lecture anyway for the audience’s benefit. Spreadbury-Maher’s directorial understatement allows the dialogue to shine when it’s good, but leaves the stage too static when exposition slows the pace.

Stylistically and thematically, Studies for a Portrait breaks no new ground, but it does attempt to sow something worthwhile there. Every play like this one is another step towards relocating non-heterosexual people from the LGBTQ Theatre bracket into the artistic mainstream. It isn’t an overt call to arms, but it’s one more raised fist in an invisible revolution.

Written by Daniel Reitz

Crew includes Adam Spreadbury-Maher (director)

Cast includes Martin Bendel (Julian), Stephen Hagan (Justin), James Holmes (Chad) and David Price (Marcus)

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