Posts tagged ‘warehouse’

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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16 March, 2010

Relax

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 November, 2009

Plus One Podcast: The Joy Of Politics

In which I discuss The Black Sheep in The Joy of Politics at the Warehouse Theatre Croydon, with apolitical stage manager Fran Gardiner.

You can listen to this episode using the player below.

If you’d like to download the episode, right-click here and “Save As”.

You can also click here to subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.

Creative Commons License
The Plus One Podcast by Matt Boothman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

9 November, 2009

The Joy of Politics

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, 6 – 22 November 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial career is dead in the water. You can tell because a) political satirists like Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh, collectively known as The Black Sheep, think gags about Mr Brown’s slim chances of re-election guarantee laughs, and because b) they’re right.

The Prime Minister isn’t the only easy target to come under fire in The Black Sheep’s satirical sketch show The Joy of Politics. Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism and MPs’ expenses, for example, are savaged in predictable but thankfully brisk and admittedly crowd-pleasing fashion. As satirists Jones and Murtagh can’t afford not to mention the expenses scandal, but their material isn’t sufficiently different from other, higher profile acts’ to stand out.

It’s when disassembling and inspecting the day-to-day workings of Westminster, by imagining William Wilberforce’s early years as an ill-informed junior minister (Murtagh), that the pair come into their own. Explanations of the parliamentary whipping system (with riding crops) and how to deal with a direct question from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (a lengthy sketch full of increasingly evasive answers to the simple question, “Would you like a Kit Kat Chunky?”) are amongst the strongest items in the two-hour show.

One or two early sketches are allowed to continue one or two lines beyond the natural punchline and fizzle as a result; and the musical numbers that pepper the schedule vary wildly in quality. Hits include Churchill (Jones) in spangly gold parachute pants advising Herr Hitler “You can’t touch this”, but the dampest squib of the evening is Murtagh singing Abba’s “I Have a Dream” – supposedly in character as Martin Luther King Jr but looking more like a Sinatra impersonator in a pinstriped suit and trilby. The tenuous connection that both Dr King and Abba used the line “I Have a Dream” isn’t nearly enough to sustain laughter while Murtagh warbles out practically the entire song.

But a couple of flat minutes aren’t enough to derail a show that deftly balances satire and highbrow wit with pure silliness and knob gags (referred to as such by the self-aware duo). Not to mention the fact that Andrew Jones’ Nick Griffin impersonation alone is worth the entry price.

Written by Andrew Jones, Cal McCrystal and Ciaran Murtagh

Crew includes Cal McCrystal (director) and Sakina Karimjee (set designer)

Cast includes Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh

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