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  • Full cast announced for the Almeida Theatre production of Robert Icke’s “The Doctor”

    Full cast announced for the Almeida Theatre production of Robert Icke’s “The Doctor”

    Joining the previously announced, Juliet Stevenson, and returning to the production are Christopher Osikanlu Colquhoun (The Lion King), Mariah Louca (Best Of Enemies), Daniel Rabin (King Lear), Naomi Wirthner (An Evening At The Talkhouse) and Hannah Ledwidge on drums.

    New cast members include Doña Croll (The Heresy of Love), Juliet Garricks (100 Paintings), Preeya Kalidas (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), John Mackay (Oresteia), Matilda Tucker (The Snow Queen) and Sabrina Wu

    The Doctor, by Robert Icke, very freely adapted from Professor Bernhardi by Arthur Schnitzler, has been critically lauded since it opened at the Almeida in August 2019, with Juliet Stevenson in the title role. This is their third collaboration together to transfer to the West End, previous ones being Mary Stuart in 2018 and Oresteia in 2015.

    The play headlined the Adelaide Festival in 2020, before it was due to transfer to the West End. This was delayed until 2022 due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

    The latest smash-hit by “Britain’s best director” (Telegraph) is a “provocative, wonderfully upsetting” (Independent) whirlwind of gender, race and questions about identity, “one of the peaks of the theatrical year” (Guardian) and a “devastating play for today” (Financial Times). 

    3800 STALLS TICKETS – PRICED AT JUST £25 will be available across the run exclusively for NHS employees and blue light workers (which includes emergency services, those who work in the social care sector and the armed forces). These tickets are available via the official box office ATG Tickets (just select the ‘NHS/Blue Light’ option whilst booking, and present one ID per transaction when you arrive).

    The production has designs by Hildegard Bechtler, lighting by Natasha Chivers, sound and composition by Tom Gibbons and casting by Julia Horan CDG.

    The Doctor is produced by The Ambassador Theatre Group & Almeida Theatre, Gavin Kalin Productions, Wessex Grove, Dawn Smalberg & Richard Winkler

  • Bad Jews – Arts Theatre

    Bad Jews – Arts Theatre

    ★★★★☆

    A fiery piece of writing with some of the best argument scenes I’ve seen in years. With just a dash of Jewish culture sprinkled on top.

     Image: Ellie Kurttz

    “Bad Jews”: let’s talk about the title

    Right off the bat, let me address the elephant in the room: the controversial title which has put the show into some trouble even before its release. Bad Jews: a controversial title much? As claimed by the show’s creator, Joshua Harmon, it’s more of a friendly sarcastic remark amongst modern Jews. It’s usually used whenever someone eats (it’s mostly food-related) something that’s not kosher or not appropriate on that particular day (like eating pizza on Passover).

    It is, however, not a commonly-known fact among the non-Jews, so I do believe the title is still there to shock and provide some free marketing. During last run of the play, in 2015, posters of the play were banned from the tube advertising space but people still were very much aware of the show somehow. Pretty smart!

     Image: Ellie Kurttz

    Get ready for some serious family drama

    The plot is simple – maybe even too simple? A family of cousins come together in New York to grieve their grandfather’s death. Daphne is a “proper” Jew who treasures the Jewish culture and religion, has an Israeli boyfriend and plans to travel to Israel soon (also, she has the neverending need to tell everyone about all these). Liam is the “non-practising Jew” who comes late, bringing his non-Jewish girlfriend Melody along. The group is completed by a quiet, young Jonah, who just seems to be still figuring out his life. Most of the conversations revolve around the ownership of their Grandfather’s traditional necklace. Starting at a simple ownership quarrel, the conversations get deeper and deeper, fueled by the lack of space and privacy…

    Welcome to the tiny NY apartment

    The story is a slow burn with a comprehensive exposition of characters in the first part, followed by a set of emotion-filled monologues. The end hides one (small) surprise, but frankly, I was hoping for more.

    The staging reminded me a lot of “2.22 Ghost Story” – a modern apartment with a small “outside” piece, in this case, a corridor. The space is stressfully tiny – with one pull-out bed and one mattress in the small studio, I felt like grasping for air myself. It does, apparently have 1 huge benefit to it – you can see the river Hudson from the bathroom window (which we, the audience, just have to believe).

     Image: Ellie Kurttz

    A Jewish, but also a universal story

    The show is – by its nature and as the title suggests – strongly focused on Jewish culture and religion. The programme I got before the show includes a whole page that translates the American/Jewish words l, but don’t worry – you can easily understand the play even without reading it first. I spent my pre-show time studying the programme – I had no idea Polish and Yiddish have so much in common! This makes sense, taking into account that Poland before WWII used to be a diverse community, with many Jewish families living there for generations.

    The issues that the play revolves around are both Israel-specific and universal: keeping the memory of loved ones who passed away, continuing the traditions and passing them on. Finally, the importance of identity, but also the freedom to make own choices. Sounds serious and high level? No worries. Most of the issues touched on in the script are a part of a family roast or a sarcastic puns exchange, so the form of the play makes it easy to “digest” the difficult issues.

    Sit down and just enjoy the… roast

    “Bad Jews” have a secret weapon that will soften the heart of even the most critical theatregoer: the script.

    The arguments and moments when emotions ooze out are done brilliantly. This show delivers the best argument/family fights scenes I’ve seen in theatre this year. When it’s supposed to be funny, it’s ridiculously funny, when it’s sarcastic, the audience is feeling it, and when there is supposed to be a spot-on painful remark, you can feel the little pinch in your heart. I have also realised how varied reactions to the play the audience shows. Some people treated it as a pure comedy, but to some, it was more of a family drama, and these people haven’t even smiled for once. It’s fascinating how this play causes the audience to feel completely different emotions while watching the same show!

    The leads in “Bad Jews”

    Unfortunately, in between the arguments, the play slows down. As the main premise of the show is quite simple, and two leads (Ashley Margolis, and Rosie Yadid) bring most of the energy on stage, when one of them is off the stage, the play just starts dragging. I felt like it was a bit imbalanced this way. This was fixed at the very end, by including one strong moment that included a different character in the last 2 minutes of the play, which even though very quiet, packed a punch.

    Ashley Margolis as Liam is a relatable classic millennial, who is keen to fight for his independence and own plans and ideas. His emotional dilemmas lead to over-the-top anger bursts and roasts, but frankly, Margolis, with his otherwise calm presence, seems perfect for the role. Rosie Yadid shines as Daphne, as she creates a character that surely is both loved and hated by the audience. Thanks to her little quirks like constant hair brushing, she makes the role very physical – as she takes over the whole stage at certain moments. Bravo!

    I was a little disappointed with Charlie Beaven as Jonah – I get it that this is an extremely quiet and laid-back character, but he almost disappeared during most of the play, as he was just sitting on the bed, not saying anything. He seems to have so much potential, I’d love to see him in another play with a larger role to play!

    “Bad Jews” will not leave you lukewarm. It will annoy you, move you emotionally, and make you laugh like crazy. If you’re Jewish or not, the story is relatable as hell – but it will also make you happy that you don’t have a family like this one.

    Details:

    Bad Jews plays at the Arts Theatre until 25 September

    Tickets: £22.50++

  • South Pacific – Sadler’s Wells

    South Pacific – Sadler’s Wells

    ★★★★★

    This 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic pays homage to its roots but also stays terrifyingly relevant. The marvellous choreography and a female-focused story deliver a fun night out, with some questions to open a deeper discussion about on your way home, long after the curtain call.

    A Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 73 year-young classic

    South Pacific cast, image: Johan Persson

    I was entering the Sadler’s Wells hall both excited but also slightly worried. “South Pacific” is a musical classic, but it’s also turning 73 years old this year, Would the war and racism portrayal still resonate with the audience or would it be simply deemed too old school and cringy to be enjoyed? Some 40s and 50s plays aged badly, with the way they portrayed traditional roles of women in society, marriage violence, and general lack of sensitivity. Luckily, with this Chichester Theatre production, it’s not the case.

    “South Pacific” is a musical rom-com, but with an additional depth. We are transported to the islands of the Pacific during the II world war. Americans are stationed on one of the small local islands to gather intelligence in the area. At the same time, two romances bloom: between a local girl Liat and an American lieutenant Cable, and between a nurse and a French plantation owner. But can a relationship between two very different people even be possible? Especially when Emil (the plantation owner) reveals that he has children from his past relationship with a local woman (a shocking finding to Nellie the nurse, who discovers she holds traditional views on racial harmony, or rather lack of it).

    Outstanding vocal performances in “South Pacfic”

    South Pacific cast, image: Johan Persson

    Julian Ovenden’s voice is a powerhouse that carries the whole production. His solo in “Some Enchanted Evening” (especially in the reprise, ending act 1), had so many emotions and power, they could proudly carry on the legacy of this classic musical.

    In this rendition of the show, the audience gets to spend more time with the female part of the cast. I was enchanted with the opening sequence, giving more spotlight to the native dance, and eventually contrasting it with a strong male element of GI s surrounding the dancer. Both American and Polynesian heroines get enough stage time for us to understand their cultures and motivations, which is a huge plus. My standout performances among the women have to be awarded to Joanna Ampil (Bloody Mary) and Sera Maehara (Liat) – both with limited speaking parts, but fabulous expressions and dance parts delivered.

    Stage design that transports you right on a Pacific Island

    South Pacific cast, image: Johan Persson

    Costumes and stage design – wow! The ideas and possibly budget here were second to none. A military base, a secluded island, a small idyllic terrace of Emil’s plantation – all these places appear on the stage within seconds, with minor help of the revolving stage.
    Thanks to Howard Harrison’s delightful light design, even the most simple scenes, like the tribal dance performed by the women in the round, surrounded by fire, grow into epic proportions.

    It is a lengthy production (2 hours 50 minutes), with a respectable set of 17 songs. However, the time just passes by really fast, and especially in the second act, when the stakes start to grow and a life-and-death situation materialises, I didn’t even feel when the show speed up and suddenly it was time for the curtain call.

    It’s rare for a production that’s considered “retro” to still carry so much relevance. Most of the plays from the ’50s either feel incredibly cringy or, with the topics touched and their old-school attitude are just not acceptable for the progressive 2022 audience. “South Pacific”, luckily, stood the test of time pretty well. Mostly thanks to the iconic “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, which is still considered a strong empowerment song, as well as the play, ‘s sadly relevant racial theme present, it’s still a play that has a very high “watchability” factor. 10/10 would watch again!

    Details:

    South Pacific by Chichester Theatre

    Sadler’s Wells Theatre

    Running Time

    2 hours 50 minutes (including one 20 minute interval)

    Tickets

    Prices from: £15.00

    Playing until 28 August 2022

  • Homeland – White Bear Theatre

    Homeland – White Bear Theatre

    ★★★★☆

    A relatable, warm story about female friendship and the emotional struggles of recent migrants to the UK. The script needs still need some work but it still provides a nice opportunity to spend a relaxing evening with your best friend and a glass of wine. It also opens a conversation about the 2020’s wave of migration to the UK and the problems that immigrants face nowadays, but without the story being too heavy.

    Homeland: set design

    Spotlight on the female immigrants in the UK

    There are a couple of factors that can get me excited about a play, in general. “Homeland” ticked a lot of these boxes even before I stepped through the door of the White Bear Theatre. The major one is relatability. And so: female-led production, check. Focusing on the life of immigrants in the UK – check. Based in a student-rented flat – well, I graduated 10 years ago so this one was a miss, but I could still relate to the time and place of the action. A portrayal of unorthodox, amusing characters? 4/4, quite a decent start from the get-go for me.

    The production stages a day in the life of 3 Asian migrant flatmates in London who suddenly get an unexpected visitor, claiming to be an old friend. At the same time, one of the girls’ cash savings seems to be missing. Plus, there’s a secret birthday party happening in the background. Oh, and there are lots of facts about whales you will be informed about in the meantime. Sounds weird? Well, it is, but in a good way.

    Behold, the quirky set of friends on stage

    The cast: Woori Han, Li Xu, Mia Sumida, and Shannon Kurlander have great chemistry on stage and truly give a vibe of an unconventional, diverse yet very close group of friends. Each of the actresses has a distinct acting style and was given a short solo moment to showcase it. I especially enjoyed the opposite energies of Mia Sumida (calm and tidy) and Li Xu (a hurricane of randomness and altogether a little documentaries nerd). Woori Han delivered the most dramatic performance of the evening while Kurlander handled the role of a stranger-turned-friend with a lot of grace and humour.

    Each of the girls has their own quirks, like the amusing addiction to raw cucumbers and casually mentioning whales in every conversation, a devotion to gummy candies, or the constant need to tidy the room. And by the way, it may seem a little exaggerated, but as a person who lived with Asian flatmates for 6 years (cheers to Sil, Dea, and Celine, you guys are awesome), I can attest that all kinds of behaviours like these are pretty much realistic. The attention to detail in character development is what I enjoyed the most in this show. By the end, I already felt like I knew all the girls pretty well and could sympathise with their problems.

    One act, plenty of secrets to uncover

    The play has an interesting concept, and quite some secrets to uncover. It seems a lot for a one-act play, but even with an open ending, it still delivers certain answers. Some of the questions remain open, just like the issues of the feeling of being misunderstood or ignored by the police just because of one’s nationality, or the overwhelming feeling of loneliness while being half the world away from one’s family.

    I struggled with the way the script was written, and with its moments that were not well-planned, from a story’s logical flow point of view. Cases like the very beginning of the show when all flatmates can’t find their friend, but nobody suggests simply texting or calling, seems just too unreal (this is a group of students we are talking about). The whole idea and action that happens because of lack of contact would make sense – if it was explained with a blackout or some kind of WiFi issue. What makes it weirder is that phones are used later in the play – this made me even more confused.

    “Homeland” means a lot of emotions

    The issue of throwing a birthday party without knowing the actual birthday date also seems a bit bonkers, but I tried to explain it to myself with the character’s emotional characters. Nonetheless, with everyone’s social media profiles having a piece of information like birthday on it, it’s a slight script hiccup as well.

    The emotions are pouring out on the stage – including a loud cry, shouts, etc. This reminded me a bit of the Asian TV shows – that on average are just much more emotional than the “Western” ones. Which made it ok, taking into consideration that the show was directed by a Korean director and was supposed to be a window into the cultures of the main heroines. But a word of caution – you may be surprised by the over-the-top emotions in this play.


    “Homeland” is a warm blanket for the soul of any migrant in the UK. As a show, it still requires quite some work, but via its ending, it’s already giving the unique vibe of friendship and support. It’s a young play with a lot of potential!

    Details:

    Homeland, by Theatre Company Knee

    2nd – 6th August 2022 , White Bear Theatre

    Written and directed by: HeeJin Kim

    Production Manager: Lasse Bohnsack

    Assistant Director: Xinming Han

    Producer: Moé Saito

    Cast:

    Woori Han

    Mia Sumida

    Li Xu

    Shannon Kurlander

  • Yeast Nation – Southwark Playhouse

    Yeast Nation – Southwark Playhouse

    ★★★☆☆

    A musical about a kingdom of Yeast, happening 3 billion years BC, just sounds exciting, and almost ridiculously juicy as a concept.
    When I first saw the posters of this play on social media a couple of months ago, I was intrigued! I got my tickets right away and was looking forward to it. Who wouldn’t want to see the staging of one of the most peculiar ideas in modern theatre?

    “Yeast Nation” provides the creative freedom with the script, costumes, and staging – with endless possibilities. Unfortunately, these possibilities were somewhat underutilised and relatively flat in execution.

    Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life at Southwark Playhouse. Photo by Claire Bilyard.

    Never heard such powerful yeasts before!

    Let’s start with the key to every musical. The performances are excellent. The voices – wow. Knowing that half of the cast consists of fresh grads, I could almost not believe my eyes (or rather ears)— these were such powerful, well-trained voices. Stephen Lewis-Johnston as Jan the Second Eldest and Hannah Nuttall as Jan the Sweet provided a beautiful, well-rounded show and I would love to see them both in any other upcoming musical. The whole cast did a fabulous job with their portrayal of yeasts and it looked like they had fun doing it. The cast and their acting and singing skills were the strongest value of the show.

    There’s a slight drawback though – because the music was set so incredibly loud (tech issue?), most of the group songs had to be practically shouted, I could feel how painful that was in my ears. The songs, mixing pop, gospel, and classic musical songs, are nice to hear (when not shouted), but none of them sticks or is recognisable enough to grab your attention right away.

    The recent case of a similar, ridiculous, sarcastic underwater world was delivered in “Unfortunate” (by Fat Rascal Theatre) – a show I’m still a massive fan of. The title track and “We didn’t make it to Disney” are prime examples of silly, ridiculous songs being memorable. Wish “Yeast Nation” was able to deliver a score that would make me search for it on Spotify on my way home too! In this case, it just didn’t work for me.

    Diving deep into the underwater world

    The movement design is beautiful. Each yeast has its style of walking/dancing, and there’s a lot of it. At certain moments, the floating feeling was overpowering and made me genuinely feel like I was underwater. The times when the stage setup is moved and prompts the yeasts to move around and use the Minion-like yeast sounds were among the most successful in the play for me.

    There are a couple of fun moments, mostly located in the second act, which made the show a bit disbalanced for me. The self-awareness moments, when one of the yeasts comments on a biological aspect of themselves, or the future evolution, caused bursts of laughter among the audience. The song about stasis (at the end of first act),with a bit of a “communist spirit,” is a nice tongue-in-cheek. And the second in general act lets more comedic juices flow with the arrival of little monsters (in the form of hand puppets).

    Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life at Southwark Playhouse. Photo by Claire Bilyard.

    So much potential, but such a script let down

    What I was disappointed with the most, and what the whole play’s concept relies on, was the script. I was expecting to find out more about the kingdom’s story and the daily life of yeasts. What do they do on a daily basis? Did they create any kind of rituals? I was looking forward to immersing myself in the lives of yeasts and spending time with them to build some emotional connection with the characters. Some plays create a fantastic, utterly new world based on just one simple concept. Here, unfortunately, it was severely lacking.

    The first act, with a classic, almost Shakespearean story about the fight for power, could be staged in any human world (medieval, modern.. even in the stone age). The story was so… normal, that I kept on wondering, why do you need to create the yeast concept around it? It’s just another royal family drama. In the second act, the script gets a bit more yeast-specific, but it still left me feeling unsatisfied with the concept of yeast and its word.

    Too many Jans to follow

    The characters are hard to remember and follow, simply because I could not care much about them. Each “Jan” is introduced at the beginning of the play in 1 sentence. And, well… That’s all. Jan The Sweet, an apparent protagonist, is supposed to be likeable… Because her father died. That’s it; we are given no more character development. The villains are slightly better developed and let us inside their minds a bit more as they scheme about their “big plans.” But as a whole, the character development seems unfinished.

    I found myself leaving Southwark Playhouse with slight disappointment. I had such high hopes for this show, but it feels like it’s just not yet finished work with the script. For the audience to care and feel the play more, much more development is needed.

    Details

    Mark Hollman – author

    Greg Kotis – author

    Benji Sperring – director

    Lucie Pankhurst – choreographer

    Michael Webborn – musical director

    Southwark Playhouse

    22 JUL – 27 AUG 2022

    Cast
    Shane Convery
    James Gulliford
    Marisa Harris
    Christopher Howell
    Stephen Lewis Johnston
    Mari McGinlay
    Hannah Nuttall
    Sarah Slimani

  • Focus on the Positives – The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

    Focus on the Positives – The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

    ★★★★☆

    Honest, moving, and well-crafted play that’s painfully relevant. Precisely what an educational piece of theatre should be in 2022.

    Welcome to the MAN’s bedroom

    Sam Buss in “Focus on the Positives”

    The tiny space of “The Lion and Unicorn” welcomes me with a mess. It’s a typical bedroom mess, with clothes, meds, and notes scattered on the floor. And there’s also a bed (of course). Sat on the bed, the MAN (Sam Buss) sits and looks down quietly. He’s a man with a story, and the moment the show starts, he begins his monologue, and gosh, the story kept me intrigued until the very end.

    The MAN is a fan of metaphors, the main one being a box of puzzle pieces, in which each puzzle is one factor affecting the gay relationship. He will tell you about how he met a man, started dating, and suddenly found himself in a relationship with an HIV-positive person. And all this, while comparing getting to know each other to study a Pizza Express menu – unusual, but somehow it does prove a point.

    The awkwardness of first meetings and the standard first conversations – no matter if you’re straight or gay- are written in such a relatable way that you’ll immediately feel the connection with the main character. It’s a clever way to make the audience like and relate to the play’s hero right before the big “talk” that we all expect happens.

    Moving portrayal of the “difficult 3-letter talk”

    The central part of the play is no surprise, as it’s strongly hinted at in the title. It’s a mix of comedy and educational presentation, with Buss playing the roles of Sex-ed Teacher* and Doctor. Through posters and presentations, the MAN learns more about the Pr-EP (a medicine that reduces your chances of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use) and the weirdly illogical blood donation rules by gay men in the UK. That’s when the play dives deeper into the imperfect way gay men are still treated by the NHS and some of the rules of law.

    The show is a monologue, but I was glad to see a well-choreographed movement during the play and minimalistic yet on-point light design, which kept the pace of the play relatively quick. “Focus on the Positives” gains additional speed as little surprises are uncovered: the stage setup (a bed) rotates but also has some hidden compartments and pieces that Buss cleverly uses as the story continues. It allows the actor to turn a bedroom into a club or a doctor’s room. Very clever!

    Let’s talk about reality

    The last 5 minutes of the play gave me exactly what I wanted to get from it: a raw, no-nonsense summary of living with someone who’s HIV positive. A resume that’s not a stereotypical “it’s going to be ok” but also not the “oh, this is such a brave thing.” The ending is a perfectly rounded, honest life sharing, which you could hear from a friend, and oozes authenticity.

    Can we please get more people like Sam Buss in fringe theatre? With his delicate-yet-amusing stage presence, he creates a very intimate experience for the audience. The monologue feels a bit like when you’re at a house party; it’s almost morning, and everyone is asleep on the floor. But you are immersed in a conversation with this intriguing person you’ve just met, and he’s telling you his life story.

    It’s a play for gay men – but also for anyone who considers themselves an ally and wants to know how to talk with their friends about HIV. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking play, you will definitely get it here.

    *Fun fact from my life – in Poland, sex-ed classes at public schools are often conducted by priests or religious education teachers, which I find ridiculously funny. But also really sad. You can imagine the quality of these classes…

    PR invite – I attended the show on invitation from the Production Company. All opinions are my own.

    Details:

    Written by: Sam Buss
    Directed by: Gemma Draper
    Produced by: Baggage Claim Theatre

    Focus on the Positives plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre until July 30 2022. Further information and bookings can be found here.

  • Tom Dick and Harry – Alexandra Palace

    Tom Dick and Harry – Alexandra Palace

    ★★★★★

    At its core, this is a high-flown true story about a mass escape from a nazi camp. But wait, there’s more! Here’s what you must do to get “Tom Dick and Harry” in its entirety: add some Monthy Python humour. Sprinkle with Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Nazis (“Jojo Rabbit,” anyone?). Add an epic, almost cinematic music score. Throw in nine fantastic actors in incredibly physically demanding roles. Voila! You have cooked yourself one of the best plays of 2022. 

    The story follows a group of WW2 war prisoners stuck in Stalag Luft III – a nazi camp based in Poland. Their legendary escape is planned carefully to the smallest detail and prepared for months. Eventually, three underground tunnels (named Tom, Dick, and Harry) pave the way to freedom for some (unfortunately not all)of the prisoners. That’s an essence of this story, which, besides providing a huge fun dose of “escapism” – a colossal keyword here- provides a window to a meticulously described daily life of prisoners in WW2.

    Dominic Thorburn in Tom, Dick and Harry – Credit: Andrew Billington

    A story straight from the pages of classified files

    Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo, and Andrew Pollard spent many days researching the subject. They studied top secret documents found in the National Archives in London and Imperial War Museum’s history archive and spoke to historians specialising in the matter. The outcome is a detailed, genuine portrayal of a day-to-day experience of WWII reality that spills out from the stage to the auditorium. The front row seats in Alexandra Palace look slightly different – because they are meant to look like the “theatre seats” from the prison camp, made of Red Cross Boxes. I was blown away!

    “Tom, Dick and Harry” is not just a story of an escape. It’s also a story of humans stuck in a less-than-fortunate situation, their ideas for spending free time, their ways of dealing with limited food supply, and the unexpectedly partner-like relationship the prisoners had with the nazis who managed the camp. And surprisingly, it’s not one of those sad war stories. The show blends genres, but it sits more on the comedy side, and frankly, it interestingly adds to the story’s emotional weight.

    Sam Craig and Nicholas Richardson in Tom, Dick and Harry
    © Andrew Billington

    A war camp life, with a tad of slapstick and puns

    The script oozes sarcastic humour, slapstick, and puns – there’s a solid Monty Python influence I sensed, especially with the “translation device,” which is a recurring theme. The fourth wall between the audience and the performance is broken from the beginning, leading to frequent but balanced audience participation. I’m one of those people who cringe just thinking about involving the audience in the play, and the moment I see it mentioned, I hide in my seat. But here, it was well-thought, minimalistic, but amusing and never made me feel uncomfortable (even though I was sitting in a pretty exposed place in the front row). I think it’s the first play I’ve ever seen where I didn’t mind that interactive element at all – I was looking forward to it more and more. The little interval raffle tickets idea was brilliant and kept the audience excited and talking about the upcoming second act – such a strong effect from a simple idea.

    Andrew Pollard and David Fairs in Tom, Dick and Harry, Credit: Andrew Billington

    “Tom Dick and Harry” – a demanding feat for nine actors

    Let’s talk actors. “Tom Dick and Harry” is an extremely physically demanding play. Not just because of the final escape sequence (which is presented in an incredibly creative way and using fantastic staging, but I won’t spoil it here), but with everything that leads to the finale: there’s a gym sequence requiring some acrobatics. There’s even a hilarious fashion show! The performance includes plenty of stage changes that have to be done: big pieces like bunk beds, tables, and others are pulled on the stage within seconds. Finally, there are multiple outfit changes, some as quick as just a couple of seconds – each timed and performed to perfection.

    The escapees’ team is led by RAF squadron leader and escape aficionado Ballard (Dominic Thorburn), who portrays almost a superhero-like character that, in this case, fits the play’s needs perfectly. The team also includes a “colorful bird,” artistic Janacek (Andrius Gaucas), who has a great comically serious style of acting, and a soldier/musician with a voice I wish I could hear more (Sam Craig). The roles of Germans are, frankly – the highlight of the show. Yes, they are caricaturally funny, but at the same time, their ridiculous jokes about imaginary doors and bells play a role in releasing the tension that grows as the play progresses.

    The stage came to life with not just the furniture swiped right and left like Tinder matches but mainly with the projections that bring the cinematic element and that “epic” factor. Animated maps, drawings, and radar circles resemble war/action movies and elevate the play to a new level.

    “Tom Dick And Harry” delivers lively, good-natured entertainment. It will keep you at the edge of the seat as if you’re watching “Die Hard” and then make you laugh as if you’ve just discovered a new Monty Python sketch. Just see it. You won’t find a more entertaining play this summer in London!

    Details:

    Writers: Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo, and Andrew Pollard
    Director: Theresa Heskins
    Producers: Kenny Wax and the New Vic
    Movement Director: Beverley Norris-Edmunds
    Composer and Musical Director: James Atherton
    Set Designer: Laura Willstead
    Costume Designer: Lis Evans
    Lighting Designer: Daniella Beattie
    Sound Designer: Alex Day
    Calypso Song Composer: Tobago Crusoe
    Projection Design: Illuminos

    Tom, Dick & Harry plays at Alexandra Palace until 28 August.

    Information and bookings can be found here.

  • Double bill: George Steeves, Paul Wady at Barons Court Theatre

    Double bill: George Steeves, Paul Wady at Barons Court Theatre

    The Barons Court Theatre has recently been taken over by new management – the Kibo Productions. The company promises to focus on a more eclectic choice of shows and on creation of a strong bond with the local community – it sounds like a fantastic plan for this neighbourhood pub theatre. One of July’s shows was a double bill – in which the stage and spotlight were given to two artists defining themselves as neurodivergent. 

    George Steeves – Love & Sex on the Spectrum

    George Steeves delivers a monologue on his personal experiences: being on the autism spectrum and discovering his asexual-then-gay sexuality. Coming from an American conservative family, with a father who’s a pastor, this man had quite some hoops to jump through in life.

    And jump he does: the hour-long stand-up comedy/autobiographical monologue is filled with details about his sexual initiation and dating cases. All delivered in a form of a “Sex and the City” inspired story with a couple of less-than-joyous moments of emotional breakthroughs. Steeves’ date partners are described using boysband members’ names, which I found a fun little idea. Being the same age as Steeves, I knew exactly who Nick Carter was (Backstreet Boys, hellooooo!), but I could see that some of the audience members were lost in the numerous pop culture references. 

    With a story like this, the material has lots of potential, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges. Some jokes are not fully ready to be presented (or maybe need adjustments), certain pop culture references from the US don’t quite resonate with the audience as well as they should, and the tech/music setup seems chaotic at best. 

    Paul Wady – Guerilla Autistics

    Wady’s show is described as the “world’s longest-running solo show about being neurodivergent”. It’s been performed for 8 years already, which by itself is impressive – even as an occasional performance, that’s a lot of shows! 

    Wady brings tons of energy to the stage, balanced by his Buddhist peaceful message, and for an hour gives a hilarious and satirical description of his own life.

    The twist? Wady being on various “sound mixer” settings of the neurodiversity spectrum his whole life while only getting diagnosed at 41. The show was filled with accurate descriptions of what does it really mean to be neurodiverse, described in a relatable way. My favourite part of this fast-running presentation was the slide (yes, there’s a presentation displayed on the wall) showcasing autistic people in pop culture and the stereotypes that shows like “The Good Doctor” feed us. You know, a “genius with a brilliant mind but zero social skills or empathy”… Yeah, for sure.

    Paul had the original idea for the show to be more interactive, and even prepared “menus” for the audience to use to shape the show. Due to circumstances on the day, this form of the show did not happen, but I still enjoyed his performance in a stripped-down version.

    Both shows were strongly autobiographical, and felt like realistic presentations of both performers’ lives. I wouldn’t feel comfortable scoring the typical stars for such personal sharing performances, so I’m leaving the post with no ratings (but then again, it’s not a usual theatre performance I’m used to writing about!). 

    I attended the performance by PR invitation from Baron’s Court Theatre. All opinions are my own.

    Details

    Baron’s Court Theatre

    An ND Double-bill: Paul Wady and George Steeves

    Edinburgh Preview

    26 – 30 July 2022 7:00 pm

  • Surfing the Holyland – Drayton Arms Theatre

    Surfing the Holyland – Drayton Arms Theatre

    ★★★★★

    I am on my way to see this Edinburgh Fringe preview of this play on a hot Sunday evening in London, with the air feeling sticky and hot, almost like in Tel Aviv. All I need is a bowl of falafels to feel almost like the main character of the play – that’s what I call a proper immersive theatre (well, unexpectedly immersive)!

    Surfing Tel Aviv

    Erin Hunter in “Surfing the Holyland”, photo: Slackline Productions

    From a perspective of a woman who moved countries more than once in my lifetime: “Surfing the Holyland” is so real, it hurts (but only your stomach, as you’re going to laugh for a good hour!). A wonderfully funny one-woman monologue about moving to Israel, suffering from culture shock, and dealing with some seriously nosey locals and handsome surfing instructors is a delightful show that’s a pleasure to watch until the very last minute.
    Erin Hunter plays 12 different characters, with extremely different voices and personalities. Whenever a new character appears, he/she is given a 2-3 sentence introduction, written with so much wit and sarcasm, I loved it! It gives the show almost a “video game” vibe where you have to get to know every character in the game to ask them for items or help, to make it till the end of the level. And, well… It’s exactly what happens in the play, too!

    A one-woman story filled with warm, physical comedy humour

    From feeling completely alien-like, through making first awkward connections, to finding own community and friends through surfing – this story on the mental level could happen almost anywhere. The physical and cultural layer is extremely Israeli though – we get to know the life in Tel Aviv via the local celebrations, Shabbat dinners, and even trips to a local Ikea where the local orthodox community hangs out.

    It’s a very physically demanding performance, with the plastic boxes being constantly moved and used as a surfboard, chair, or a seat in the temple. Hunter jumps on and off the surfboard, sets up a new home, and plays the ukulele (there are 4 brilliant original songs, and each of them made the whole audience laugh out loud), all using the slightly messy set elements.

    The captivating performance is accompanied by a simple yet spot-on sound design, showcasing the sounds of everyday Israeli life, like mosque prayers, sea waves, or nightclub music. With the sweaty hot temperature in the tiny Drayton Arms Theatre auditorium, you could feel like on a crowded, hot Tel Aviv street.


    If like me, you are an immigrant, you are going to love this show. Get a friend, grab a g&t and see this show in Edinburgh, where it’s heading next month for the Edinburgh Fringe.

    Details:

    Surfing the Holyland

    Drayton Arms Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

    The Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe (2.55pm, Dairy Room, Bristo Square 3-29 August 2022, no show 15 August)

  • The Hamlet Voyage

    The Hamlet Voyage

    Hamlet was performed in 1607 in Sierra Leone. We want to know why.”

    ★★★★☆

    All right, let’s be straight. Is it another play about white saviours bringing the “culture” to the rest of the world? Relax. It’s the opposite.

    “Hamlet” is just a starting point

    The cast of “The Hamlet Voyage”, photo: Dan Fearon Designs

    “The Hamlet Voyage” gives the stage to the diverse people of “Non-England”: the citizens of Sierra Leone, but also the inhabitants of XXVII c. India. “Hamlet” is just a starting point, a reason to tell a tale of people, their cultures, music, dance, and local legends.

    Rex Obano’s play follows the story of the first English merchant voyage to India in 1607, which made a stop off in Sierra Leone to restock the ship and treat sailors afflicted by scurvy. While they were there, there were records made in the ship logs detailing a performance of Hamlet given by the sailors for the local West African dignitaries.

    A complex fairytale… about real people

    The cast of “The Hamlet Voyage”, photo: Dan Fearon Designs

    Sounds simple? Well, Obano plays with concepts, physical theatre, puppetry, fairytales, and ethnic tales to make it a much more complex story, and to offer much more than a simple answer to the play’s question. From a classic “One Thousand and One Nights” concept of a tale within a tale to African legends – the play keeps on delivering new, tasty treats for the audience to unveil.

    Staging is simple and this way it allows for the audience’s imagination to run wild. One ingenious prop used throughout the play is a giant pop-up book that is used to showcase the shape of the ship, but also the scenery of an African village or a palace in India. And again, the form of a book ties the play beautifully to the theme of a story and literature, brilliant idea! Live music created using drums draws that final line in the perfect storytelling of this tale.

    Dive into the life of the XXVII Sierra Leone community

    The cast of “The Hamlet Voyage”, photo: Dan Fearon Designs

    For me, “The Hamlet Voyage” hits the spot in moments when it takes us to Sierra Leone and lets us just spend time with the locals. Songs, choreography, and daily life of the people who have already gotten used to the Portuguese colonialists, but are suddenly visited by the English, are an interesting plot by itself and I’d be happy to watch a longer play just about this!

    The cast excels at the physical theatre as well as dancing and singing. The standout performances for me were delivered by Pauline Babula, in the role of Adama, and Joe Feeney (George King). Babula’s performance transported me to Sierra Leone, and her moment of storytelling of the legend about the elephant and the goat was the highlight of the show. Feeney shines in the role of a man with emotional luggage who just tends to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – he managed to create a character that I could feel sorry for.

    If you fancy a play delivered by a diverse cast, telling a culturally complex story, you found the right one here. It’s a light comedy with a strong journey and discovery plot, which goes down perfectly if you want to relax on a Friday evening. And yes, you’ll love it even if you’re not a Shakespeare fan!

    The cast of “The Hamlet Voyage”, photo: Dan Fearon Designs

    PR Invite – I was invited to see the show. All opinions are my own.

    Details

    The Hamlet Voyage

    Birdewell Theatre

    Written by: Rex Obano
    Directed by: Ben Prusiner
    Presented by: Re:Verse Theatre

    Date/Time: 20 – 23 July @ 7.30pm. Sat matinee @ 2pm
    Tickets £12 – £22