When thinking of shows for audiences with learning disabilities (in this case, profound and multiple learning disabilities = PMLD), a concept of a cocktail bar is most likely not on top of your list. That’s when Frozen Light team comes into play. And it’s no child’s play – it’s a proper party, a gig, and a sensory bar, all rolled into one. Plus, with its all-inclusive approach, it makes it fun for the audiences, as well as their carers and families, to jump into the Bar’s offering.
You wouldn’t feel awkward being any of the bar’s visitors – instead, you would be sipping a cocktail or a mocktail in an intimate, glittery space of a classy bar, while a rock band plays on the stage. It’s like watching a Pixar movie in the cinema, but in real life – whether you’re the a member of the audience or just accompanying a guest – you will have a fantastic time. And it’s just a solid, well-thought-through and researched experience.
After the show, I had a short chat with the creative minds behind the show, because I just had so many questions. Here’s a small summary of what you should know about “The Bar at the Edge of Time” – I think the 2 questions below will act as a good intro to the show’s concept, before we dive deeper into what I thought of the show.
What’s the essence of The Bar at the Edge of Time?
The Bar at the Edge of Time is a unique sensory adventure that transcends time, offering a cocktail of experiences and a gig tailored for adult audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. This ground-breaking production seamlessly combines the worlds of gig and sensory theatre, immersing the audience in a captivating journey through a cocktail bar, and a live music performance.
What inspired its creation?
The inception of The Bar at the Edge of Time can be traced back to a lively party scene (or champagne bottle moment, as they described it) in Frozen Light’s production, “2065”. Witnessing the sheer joy forged by the audience while sharing drinks and dancing sparked the desire to craft a show with this communal spirit in mind. This production is a response to the aspiration of providing audiences, often excluded from such experiences, the opportunity to explore spaces like an exclusive cocktail bar and attend a gig, all within a framework that caters to their unique needs and ensures a secure environment.
And now let’s get into my thoughts about the show.
What to expect?
As much as I love experiencing the new ideas for sensory shows, so far all of them were children-targeted (including the immersive, 5-star scored Kinder, which is not targeted towards audiences with PMLD, just more of an accessible show). Bar at the Edge of Time turns everything you know about shows for audiences with PMLD on its head – in a fantastic way!
The experience is divided into segments: firstly, you get familiar with the bartenders/performers and get offered a drink of choice. You can order a cocktail, mocktail, or no drink at all, and straws and thickeners are available. Then, the actual performance starts, in the form of a short gig, mixed with a straightforward, simple story regarding the Bar’s staff.
At the end, the spotlight gets turned on the visitors and each guest gets serenaded by the bartender and gets to play with some sensory items, involving all senses.
Every activity is voluntary, and the staff is extremely polite – if someone doesn’t feel like joining in, or even responding, it’s always respected. Staff uses words but also Sign-along to communicate.
What was the experience like for me in November 2023 in Woolwich?
The experience was designed into a 1-hour sensory show/performance, and the time just flew by – especially since you’re encouraged to lose track of time by not looking at any time-pointing devices.
From the moment I entered the Woolwich Tramshed, I was well taken care of by the bar’s “staff”. The audience was shown to their seats or spots and everyone received a “token.” The token was like a buzzer, similar to the ones you get while having a meal in a food court, and buzzed in my hand whenever a new story within the play was starting.
Straight away, I noticed the stage set, and it was just absolutely over the top. I realised I was in for a proper ride! Intimate “lounges” were created using glittery tassel partitions, that did not just create beautiful spaces giving privacy, but also encouraged the audience to play with the “walls”. The discreet exit options acknowledged the need for quiet departures, ensuring a comfortable and unobtrusive experience for all participants. The sensory bar caddies, assigned to each lounge, enhanced the overall experience. The caddies revealed, one by one, some interesting ingredients and items everyone could interact with.
How were the performers?
The 3 bartenders/performers: Burhan Kathawala, Ethan Pascal Peters & Gaz Tomlinson, were just wonderful – the way they addressed every audience member by name, always asked for preferences and thanked for every interaction (verbally and visually), made me wish some real bars took notice and trained their staff into this level of customer focus.
The show’s commitment to delivering extraordinary sensory performances was showcased in its approach to individual experiences. While interacting with the audience, the performers kneel or sit, ensuring everyone shares the same level of eye contact. The focus remains on the guest, not their carer or family member, fostering a sense of autonomy and respect.
I want to emphasise the incredible energy that the performers brought to the show – from dancing and quick costume changes to singing and even mixing cocktails. It’s truly impressive, especially considering the intimate nature of the performance that brings the actors up close with the audience. In such a setting, any inconsistencies in portraying their quirky characters would be easily noticeable. However, what stands out here is the seamless, well-rounded performance. Beyond that, it genuinely appears that all three actors were having a blast on stage!
Anything else about The Bar At The Edge of Time?
And it’s not the first show in their portfolio: Frozen Light team has done this for many years, using each show they produced as a stepping stone and learning for another one. In the creative process, they include a 4-person Sensory Studio Artists, who help to give real feedback on all the ideas for the show, from the very beginning. Then the shows tour the country for months, additionally improving the performances as they move towards new cities.
The quality of the gig itself is outstanding, with inclusivity extending beyond the stage. Carers and other guests actively participate in the sensory delights, playing with bubbles and materials. Printed materials with a black background cater to those with visual impairments, demonstrating a thoughtful accommodation for diverse needs. Sign-along, akin to Makaton, visually supports speech, ensuring a more enriched experience for the audience.
To sum up, it’s an extraordinary sensory experience, something I will remember and recommend for months to come. If you know any organisation working with audiences with PMLD, pass them the link to this post, or send them directly to the website below – the more patrons visit the Bar At The End of Time, the more smiles we will see around, that’s guaranteed 🙂
The Bar at the Edge of Time
UK Tour ongoing to 1 June 2024
Running time: 60 mins, no interval
Ages: Over 16s
By Frozen Light Theatre
Original Concept: Lucy Garland &
Amber Onat Gregory
Director: Kate O’Connor
Set Design: Kat Heath
Composer & Sound Design: Sam
Costume Design: Maira Vazeou
Cocktail Choreographer: Katie Grace
Cocktail Consultant: Mella Faye
Cast: Burhan Kathawala, Ethan Pascal
Peters & Gaz Tomlinson
Step aboard the theatrical voyage of a lifetime with Sedos’ production of “Titanic: the Musical” at Bridewell Theatre – a musical experience that skips Celine Dion hits (as the musical is not related to the movie and the song in any way), but still leaves you emotionally stirred and glued to your seat. The original production on Broadway instantly scored 5 Tony Award nominations, and Sedos’ 2023 show scores and melts the audience’s hearts just as quickly.
From the first note to the final curtain call, this touching show takes you on a heart-wrenching journey as you clench your fists, engrossed in the tragic fate of those aboard the ill-fated ship. Even though the story of Titanic and its ending is not a surprise to anyone, the way individual characters are portrayed, with so much energy and individual goals and dreams – made me hope for a somehow impossible – happy ending.
A Unique Voyage: Beyond the Classic Titanic Romance
This is not the classic romantic story from James Cameron’s movie – here, the focus is on the community onboard the famous unsinkable “floating city”. The show’s script – based on the book by Peter Stone and with music by Maury Yeston, would appeal to anyone who enjoyes a play like “Come From Away” – fully focused on multiple characters from the local, extremely diverse community. Within the story, we join the fancy champagne-filled dinners of the passengers in the First Class, but also the drama on the ship’s bridge that involves the Captain and Officers, as well as the hopeful evenings brimming with the promise of new life in America among the Third-Class passengers.
Captivating Characters: A Stellar Cast Performance
With a sprawling cast of over 30, crafting individual characters that strongly resonate is no easy feat. Yet, the talented ensemble manages the extraordinary, making you care deeply about characters, regardless of their social class and time spent on stage. The cast’s singing skills are absolutely astounding, mastering intricate harmonies and lightning-fast lyrics that elevate the musical score to remarkable heights..
The stage set is beautifully designed by Andrew Laidlaw. Detachable parts, like two sets of stairs, make it look grand, but at the same time, decrease the size of the stage considerably, making it even more complex for the cast to fit everyone during the group scenes.
Bridewell Theatre is an old swimming pool – and I had a quiet hope this factor would be included in the show somehow. At the end, the design didn’t include any underfloor water tank as a wow factor, but that was the only disappointment I had with the show (ok, I’m kidding here, but it a fun thought I had before the show started).
Nautical Ingenuity onboard Titanic: Setting Sail with a Clever Stage Set
The virtual tour of the ship’s plan kicked-off the show with an immersive start. The projection of Titanic’s blueprint was a nice touch, but luckily, the rest of the show was very much projection-less. In some musicals, the overuse of projections takes a lot of spotlight away from the performers – here, luckily, the focus was on actors and “non-digital” stage sets.
The stage set included a large metal creation of Titanic’s bow, which I thought would be hard to hide backstage later, due to its size. But, the creative team surprised me by this huge element being easily dismantled apart into smaller bits by the cast, in seconds – fantastic!
Plus, the lighting (by Olly Levett) is a huge added factor of the show – little crafty solutions like attaching lights to the side of the stairs reveal the full grandeur of songs, even in less dynamic moments. The choreography (Philip Michael Thomas), despite occasional tight squeezes, is done perfectly, showing that talent and creativity can overcome limited space.
Costume Brilliance: A Spotlight on Design Mastery
In this production of “Titanic”, costumes and hair design steal the show – I have to especially praise the fantastic work by Callum Anderson. The careful design of many outfits and hairstyles isn’t just about letting actors move freely but also helps the audience to tell the characters apart and understand their social status. Recently I had the chance to see some shows featuring wigs and frankly, they all looked incredibly fake – but in “Titanic”, the hair and make-up are executed to perfection, and wigs look truly realistic.
Quick changes from third-class passengers to champagne-sipping elites became a visual spectacle, and I kept on thinking how crazy it must be backstage, with such a huge cast constantly changing costumes – yet the whole show was executed with operational perfection. Minus one tiny microphone malfunction, which didn’t eventually change the show’s flow in any way.
Standing Ovation-Worthy: Showcasing Insane Talent Amidst the Waves
The talent on display is nothing short of insane, and picking some especially outstanding performances was incredibly tough – but since I don’t want this post to be as long as “Titanic’s” script, I had to highlight only a couple of them. But let me just add, that the whole cast deserves a well-earned standing ovation. My standout performances included Tess Robinson as the gossiping, socially ambitious Alice Beane (also, a kind of comedy relief of the show) and Andrew Caruso as the impeccable John Astor. James Daly, playing the role of Harold Bride, and Toby Chapman as Frederick Barrett created a memorable duet in “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” – their voices just worked so well together!
Daniel Saunders, who previously graced Sedos’ production of 5-star production of “The Effect” earlier this year, delivered a spot-on portrayal as the Captain torn between pressure from the company and their focus on the safety of the passengers. The heartwarming duet of a senior married couple, portrayed by Annie Houseago and Tony Rosenberg, added a touching note to the production, capturing the essence of love enduring till the end.
“Titanic: The Musical” is well-deservedly almost sold out for this run, but if you manage to book one of the tickets still left, there’s a possibility this may just become your new favourite musical. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!
Titanic: The Musical
23 November – 2 December 2023
Bridewell Theatre – click here for tickets
DIRECTORS | Rob Archibald (he/him) and Louise Roberts (she/her)
MUSICAL DIRECTOR | Ryan Macaulay (he/him)
CHOREOGRAPHER | Philip Michael Thomas (he/him)
PRODUCER | Adam Coppard (he/him)
STAGE MANAGER | Rebecca Lillie (she/her)
SET DESIGN | Andrew Laidlaw (he/him)
COSTUME DESIGN | Callum Anderson (he/him)
LIGHTING DESIGN | Olly Levett (he/him)
SOUND DESIGN | Adam Coppard (he/him)
PROPS | Pippa Kyle (she/her)
MARKETING | Tess Robinson (she/her) and Pippa Kyle (she/her)
GRAPHIC DESIGN | Tess Robinson (she/her)
PHOTOGRAPHER | Elizabeth Grace (she/her)
COMMITTEE LIAISONS | Ruth Granton (she/her) and Jacob Hajjar (he/they)
*I received the ticket in exchange for an honest review
In the softly illuminated auditorium of Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, with a violin accompaniment, a Peregrine Falcon takes centre stage, serving as the narrator for three haunting tales set in the mystical landscapes of East Anglia. This region of the country, with its pre-Christian temples, Viking stories, and vast beaches, has inspired the likes of M.R. James, and in 2023, three gifted writers and a songwriter joined forces to craft an intimate evening of modern ghost stories in Ipswich and its surroundings. The result? A captivating sensory experience, an evening of female-centred ghost encounters: Ghost Stories by Candlelight.
A Symphony of Storytelling and Folk Melody
The performance unfolds as a symphony of storytelling, accompanied by evocative violin arrangements played like a guitar at crucial junctures. The haunting melody weaves an atmospheric embrace, guiding the audience through a region steeped in ghostly folklore.
Crafted by three talented writers and one music creator, the stories exhibit delightful diversity while seamlessly intertwining. Each tale places the spotlight firmly on women, even the ethereal spectres exuding predominantly feminine vibes. The writers’ deep connection to the local settings was visible with every line of text, infusing authenticity into every chilling monologue.
Narrated by performers Katie Cherry, Loren O’Dair and Elizabeth Crarer, the tales unfold with a subtle transformation of costumes, seamlessly transitioning between different all-white ensembles. They skilfully manipulate flickering lights and shadow puppetry, adding a nuanced layer to the storytelling experience. Cherry delivers a memorable professional stage debut, and her performance in “Run” is such a little monologue masterpiece!
Classic Storytelling with a Contemporary Twist
- “The Beach Hut” by Nicola Werenowska: A Classic Encounter Unfolds
The first story, “The Beach Hut,” crafted by Nicola Werenowska, unfolds as a classic ghost encounter tale. A mother and daughter enjoy a weekend beach getaway, with the story gradually intensifying, peppered with situational humour. The story is a bit of a slow burn, that gets more and more intense as it develops, and includes some wonderfully peppered situational humour thanks to the dynamic between a grumpy teenager and her mom. But the story’s finale was so extremely detailed in the way it described all the senses of action – I could almost feel like I was running on the beach myself. The writing here gave such an immersive feeling!
- “Sacrifice” by Shamser Sinha: Dynamic Drama in the Forest
Shamser Sinha’s “Sacrifice” presented a dynamic and dramatic piece, both in writing and staging. A mother and daughter argue in the forest, dragging unsolved issues into the conversation. The handheld flashlights added dynamism – this story felt like a sprint of emotions and flew by really quickly.
- “Run” by Kelly Jones: A Relatable and Entertaining Finale
My top pick of the night (and so relatable!) was Kelly Jones’s “Run.” It’s about young Izzie’s thoughts as she walks home alone on a dark evening. Every sound feels like a creepy stranger, and she tightly clenches a key in her fist as a weapon. Jones captured the familiar feeling of being a woman in a town with unexpected dangers after dark. I felt both terrified and angry, knowing that this feeling was still familiar to most women in the room. “Run” was also the most entertaining story, full of unexpected references, including even… Beyonce.
Candlelight’s Subdued Presence
While the title teased a more immersive use of candles, their presence felt more like a distant companion rather than a central element. Unlike other Sam Wanamaker productions, where actors masterfully manipulated wax and flames, here, torchlights and standing lights took centre stage.
The absence of an intimate, flickering glow left me longing for a more pronounced connection to the titular “Candlelight.” Sure, the classic candle chandeliers were there, but there was no special added candle touch, on top of the standard experience in this venue.
Visual Elements and Discord
In terms of stage design, certain aspects did not resonate with me—the simplicity of coloured light shades and cutout bird shapes. These visual elements seemed stark compared to the rich and elaborate monologues they accompanied, creating a slight discord in the overall experience.
A Captivating Journey into the Supernatural
In the end, Ghost Stories by Candlelight offers a captivating journey into the supernatural, guided by the enigmatic peregrine narrator and a symphony of violin strings. Though the play of light and the absence of candles left me yearning for more visual mystique, the evocative storytelling and strong performances ensured a hauntingly beautiful night in the spectral embrace of East Anglia.
Ghost Stories by Candlelight
Author(s): Kelly Jones, Shamser Sinha and Nicola Werenowska, music and songs composed by Georgia Shackleton
Company: HighTide in association with Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, Harlow Playhouse and Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe / Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London 23–25 Nov 2023
I received the ticket in exchange for an honest review
Step into the enchanting realm of “The Mongol Khan,” a theatrical spectacle as vast and thrilling as the Mongolian steppes themselves. It’s a show that’s impressive even for London Coliseum standards: over 70 performers showcasing a dazzling array of acting, contortionist acrobatics, intricate group choreography, sword fights, and wrestling, all unfolding on a colossal stage. Leave your typical theatre expectations at the door – this is more of a majestic cultural display (with scoops of drama added) than a classic night at the West End.
Unravelling Mysteries: The Hunnu Empire and Its Legends
First things first, let’s clear up any confusion – despite the title sounding familiar, this play isn’t about Genghis Khan. It takes us a thousand years back to the times of the Hunnu Empire, a mysterious group of nomadic states ruling the vast grasslands of inner Asia. No one knows if the Hunnu could write and no one recorded their language – what’s only known is that they were conquered by the Chinese in 89 CE. And this enigmatic time is where the action of The Mongol Khan takes place – it’s a story based on legends and myths.
A Legend Unveiled: The Story’s Origins and Surprises
So to answer one more question – if you’re a history or culture geek, this show may be quite a surprise. It’s not based on historical sources, instead it’s an original “legend” written in 1998 by a renowned Mongolian writer and poet Lkhagvasuren Bavuu.
The show’s wonderful costumes follow the cultural and historical origins, but you won’t find Archug Khan on Wikipedia. It’s more of a performance where you’re supposed to switch off your logical and analytical thinking and enjoy the ride of stunning music, dance and costumes.
From Simple Beginnings to Tragic Ends: The Tale of Archug Khan
The narrative begins simply and then evolves into a bloody tragedy. Archug Khan, the leader of the Hunns, has two Queens, Tsetser and Gurgel, both giving birth to the king’s sons within days. Doubting the paternity of Tsetser’s child, the Khan decides to pass his crown to Prince Khuchir, Gurgel’s son. What ensues involves swapped babies, changing the course of history, and, well, multiple deaths – I won’t spoil it all for you.
Visual Feasts and Imbalance: The Theatrical Elements
The story itself is a bit straightforward and lacking in twists for London’s West End standards. You won’t see much of emotional conflicts or complex plots. The best-written characters here were the Queens – they were the only characters who had a strong emotional connection with their sons, and I could feel their sadness when the plot developed in a tragic way.
The men, including the Khan, followed the path of no emotion, and just sacrificed for the “bigger thing”, but without more background, their emotional journeys almost didn’t exist.
The pacing of this epic tale is a bit like a slow-moving Mongolian critter in the first act. The whole “prologue” in the first hour could easily be a short intro. However, the second act dives into serious bloody drama, including plots, murders, and a skillfully performed “going to heaven” scene (the rope used to fly the actress into the ceiling was really well hidden in the scene set, bravo!).
The whole show felt a bit imbalanced, but I assumed the show’s creators wanted us to savour the costumes and dances first, before bringing in the galloping drama.
Harmonies of the Mongolian Storm: The Musical Landscape
And oh, the music! It starts as a gentle breeze and evolves into a full-blown Mongolian storm in the second act. Throat singing and ethnic instruments blend like a perfect bowl of buuz (Mongolian dumplings) – utterly irresistible.
It’s not a musical; instead, it’s a play with beautiful folk music, varied in tempo and intensity. The intensity remains high throughout – whether it’s a sword fight or a calm conversation between a husband and wife.
Nomadic Emotions: The Unique Acting Style
Now, the acting. It doesn’t exactly fit into the classic European school of acting frames. It’s over-the-top, but that’s the charm. Shouts, cries, and the clang of swords guide your emotions directly, reminiscent of a Turkish TV drama where every dialogue is an emotional rollercoaster.
Certain artistic choices seemed quite puzzling – like the skeleton-like costumes, I wasn’t sure why they ended up in two long scenes. Then script issues like judging a person suffering from epilepsy as “ill” and “unfit to be a king” may be acceptable in some cultures (and in the past, historically) but leaving such statements in the script in 2023 may be a questionable choice.
Artistic Puzzles and Mesmerizing Dances: The Visual Extravaganza
The dance spectacle is mesmerising. At most of the show, there was a huge dance ensemble on the stage, bringing the floaty, full-of-expression costumes with them. My absolute favourite part was the dancers wearing the tribal masks and costumes, bringing an air of mystery with their (what looked like) partly improvised expressive moves.
There were also huge wooden bird’s wings, gold-embroidered materials that swirled in the air, and quick changes, done to perfection in the middle of the stage (a group of dancers and the Queen suddenly changing dresses from plain red to white, in split second – that caught my breath away!).
The show boasts acrobatic contortionists, elaborate group choreographies in stunning costumes, and even a huge, red dragon designed by Nick Barnes, the puppeteer behind the beautiful “Life of Pi” puppets.
The philosophy of movement in Mongol Khan is to impress the audience in every scene – with the number of dancers, their movements, acrobatics… But as this philosophy continues, dancers follow the main leads even into 1-on-1 scenes, where they stand behind the actors, creating long, moving human lines, passing babies in the air or carrying the royal crown. As much as I enjoyed it, the drama of these quieter scenes could be displayed even better without a group of 20 dancers behind the leads at any given moment.
The Complete Mongolian Package: Horses, Selfies, and Impressions
But it’s not just about what happens on stage; it’s the whole Mongolian package. Horses trot in front of the theatre before the show, and during intermission, you get to take some selfies with beautifully adorned Mongolian ladies. As a whole, The Mongol Khan gives a truly royal impression and can make for an enjoyable evening – if you come with the right expectations and an open mind.
The Mongol Khan
Written by: Lhagvasuren Bavuu
English Translation and Adaptation by: John Man and Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by: Hero Baatar
Produced by: Bayra Bela (Bayartsetseg Altangerel); Unurmaa Janchiv
Costume Design by: Bold Ochirjantsan
Puppet Design by: Nick Barnes
The Mongol Khan plays at The London Coliseum until 2 December. Further information and tickets can be found here.
*I received the ticket in exchange for an honest review
“Tiger,” the latest feline-infused spectacle at Omnibus Theatre, pounces into the heart of grief, blending a dash of physics, a sprinkle of silliness, and a touch of Star Wars energy. I found myself drawn into the eccentric world of Al and Ollie, a couple grappling with loss, love, and an unexpected tenant – a Tiger with a penchant for more than just tea. With a script that treads the delicate line between sorrow and silliness, “Tiger” invites the audience to explore the wild terrain of coping mechanisms.
The Claws of Grief
The play unravels within the cozy confines of Al (Poppy Allen-Quarmby) and Ollie’s (Luke Nunn) flat, where financial struggles force them to rent out their spare room. Enter Tiger (Meg Lewis), not with a growl, but with a quirky charm reminiscent of Forrest Gump meets Jar Jar Binks.
The narrative takes a twist as Al unveils the haunting reason behind her hiatus from stand-up comedy – the death of her father, leaving her wrestling with a grief so profound it can only be tamed by an unusual approach. And as Tiger feels more and more like a part of the family, things suddenly get weirder… And more silly. But can grief be overcome by clowning?
Claws Out for Characters
Tiger slowly emerges as the star of the show. Their American zest and classic knock-knock jokes add a roar of humour to the play, all thanks to Meg Lewis’s fantastic hyper energy and cat-like stage movement. Their every move is well-thought and planned to match the feline-like being: from slowly crawling on the floor, to taking big, cat-like steps in every scene. I was a huge fan of the attention to detail that went into making Tiger… well… Tiger. The play maintains a slow burn, skillfully weaving the mystery surrounding Tiger’s existence and the blurred lines between reality and imagination until the very end. The audience is kept on the edge, questioning the authenticity of Tiger and the characters’ experiences – but it’s a very pleasant feeling, and I appreciate letting the viewers do their thinking rather than serving them answers on a silver platter.
Ollie, the “voice of reason” and a science enthusiast, is a character who tries to be supportive in any way he can – but panics when he can’t find solutions. The scene of confrontation between Ollie and Tiger, where Ollie attempts to unveil Tiger’s head from under the helmet, was the moment when I felt the change in the character – and the desperation that almost turned into physical aggression. Luke Nunn did a great job portraying Ollie and step by step showcasing the evolution of his willingness to help, slump into giving up, and then awkward conversations with Al after their big fight.
Al, the relatable and realistic protagonist, guides the audience through the jungle of grief with her spark, charisma, and unexpected bursts of emotion. Poppy Allen-Quarmby’s performance, including a playful scene with an imaginary lightsaber, creates a connection that makes you wish you could just be there for her. As she grapples with her grief, the journey becomes both touching and relatable. It’s a complex role and was approached with great care and focus – I’m looking forward to seeing Allen-Quarmby in the next show!
Purring with Purpose
In the background of the main story, the collaboration with Trinity Hospice really shines through. The show’s team visited the hospice to understand various grief theories. They took that knowledge and used it to shape different approaches and situations in the play. The characters in the story deal with grief in diverse ways – Ollie takes a serious and medicine-based approach, Tiger escapes from it, and Al embraces extremes. This results in a detailed exploration of grief, adding richness to the storyline. Ultimately, it touches each person in the audience in a unique way. It’s pretty amazing how a play about such a sad topic can have such a universal impact.
From Whiskers to Tears
The most emotional part of the show is when Al delivers a touching stand-up monologue at the very end. She brings together the main themes and important words of the play in a powerful way. Trying to hold back tears the whole time, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of emotions when Al spoke directly to the audience.
“Tiger” is a rollercoaster of emotions, starting and ending with stand-up comedy performances. In between, it seamlessly blends Star Wars jokes, creative knock-knock humour, and scientific facts disguised as storytelling. It’s a nerdy, emotional journey that leaves you both warmed and aching inside, much like the journey through Al’s grief-stricken mind.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
7 Nov – 2 Dec
Do you know how your mom would sneak in veggies to make you eat healthy? Well, “Brenda’s Got A Baby” does something similar – it serves up belly laughs while subtly tackling serious issues about race-related healthcare in the UK (with a bonus wink to Tupac’s song title). The play cleverly weaves together a universal story of motherhood, career pressure, and family dynamics, all served with a side of baby-related puns that keep you giggling throughout. And no, the actual Brenda doesn’t make an appearance – she’s more of a ghost character here.
Ama’s Biological Clock: Ticking and Kicking
The story revolves around Ama (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), a successful 28-year-old professional navigating the challenges of modern life. Ama’s biological clock starts ticking louder as she nears 30, influencing her plans dramatically. After an unexpected breakup, she finds herself desperately wanting a baby, even if it means being a single mom, involving a clinic and her adorable yet clumsy brother-in-law (sounds weirder than it is, don’t worry).
Community Roots and Reality Check:
What adds an extra scoop of depth to the belly laughs in “Brenda’s Got A Baby” is its origin story. The development of this show involved community workshops with Black women. These workshops delved into the experiences and norms surrounding family and motherhood.
The play sheds light on a stark reality – Black women in the UK are four times more likely to face complications in pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.
Plus, if you’re looking for a Black sperm donor, that’s another issue – there’s barely anyone to choose from! So, while you’re chuckling at the clever comedy, there’s a powerful undercurrent of awareness about the challenges many women face, adding a meaningful layer to the overall theatrical experience.
But these facts, as important and shocking as they were, were merely brushed over in the script, and didn’t really spark a discussion. I felt like there was a huge missed opportunity in the writing, unfortunately.
A Rainbow of Comedy and Commentary
Despite the show’s obviously Black cultural setting, the story is surprisingly universal. Being Polish, I might have missed some cultural nuances and slang (I’ve heard through the grapevine that there were some), but the cleverly written jokes resonated with me as much as a stand-up comedy peak. The long-burn jokes, like the return of Brenda’s story in the second act, were quite cleverly constructed.
However, I felt like the humour went a bit over the top by the end, turning the show more into an obvious farce rather than a story with a deeper meaning, and I was hoping for a little more substance. Pushing the “oh, there’s a baby, Ama’s so desperate, you know what she might just do (wink)”, was just way too obvious and missed the mark for me. As the show pushed the Black women’s healthcare issues on its headlines, I felt like it just didn’t fully deliver on that part and focused too much on the comedy part instead.
Bouncing Energy and Bromance Brilliance
The cast radiated fantastic energy, bouncing off each other and making conversations look effortlessly natural. A standout (yet quick) moment for me was the bromance between Skippy (Ama’s brother-in-law, played by Edward Kagutuzi) and Dami (Ama’s ex-boyfriend, played by Jordan Duvigneau) – a gem of comedy that didn’t even try too hard. The chemistry between the family members in “Brenda’s Got a Baby” was electric – the sisterly love/competitiveness between Ama and Jade (played by Jahmila Heath) was performed spot-on.
The mix of support, love, and clashes of personalities kept the energy levels high throughout the play. It was like watching a lively family dinner where the conversations were as unpredictable as a baby’s first steps. The conversations at home were just a pleasure to follow, in comparison to scenes in the clinic, but I shall mention more about it later.
In the lively ensemble of “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” Michelle Asante steals the spotlight with her mesmerizing stage presence. Asante’s portrayal of the tough mom of two adult women is a masterclass in balancing strength and vulnerability.
Her character, while unapologetically loud and unabashedly making fun of her kids, also reveals a softer side (even if just for a moment). Also, can I just say, the costumes she wore on the night were spectacular!
Some Hiccups in the Clinic
While the play successfully delivers laughs, there were some hiccups in the writing. The scenes in the clinic felt a bit over-the-top and ridiculous (to me, the whole concept of Ama’s motivation to use her brother-in-law in the process just because she was feeling ashamed as a single woman – just absolutely didn’t make sense, especially since it was stated that it happens a lot). Additionally, the handling of statistics about Black women’s pregnancy issues could use a sprinkle of natural dialogue – the way Ama spat out stats that were not followed up by any comment or discussion, just seemed cold and like it didn’t match the rest of the show. It felt frustrating not to get any added insight into it, and who wants to feel frustrated watching a comedy?
A missed opportunity was also in Jade’s story development – we got a short insight that she was suffering while trying to get pregnant and we got one (short) scene in which she was bleeding – but then again, the show focused on Ama – and Jade’s issues were completely forgotten for the majority of the play. Jade deserved more spotlight, not just as a sister who tries to investigate if her husband has a side romance, but as a person who has her issues to heal.
*I received the invite to see the show in exchange for an honest review
Brenda’s Got a Baby
Brenda’s Got A Baby is now playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 2 December.
Two babies-in-arms performances are scheduled for 16 and 30 November, while relaxed and captioned performances take place on 16 and 22 November.
“Immersive 1984” is an unsettling journey into Orwell’s dystopian world, cleverly staged in the grand setting of the Hackney Town Hall. While it effectively immerses you in the world of Big Brother, it doesn’t fully delve into the book’s intricate themes. Nonetheless, it offers a very different, memorable theatrical experience.
On a personal note, my upbringing exposed me to stories of an all-seeing regime, secret police, and mass surveillance, mirroring Orwell’s Oceania. The echoes of my parents’ past under Poland’s communist regime always left me uneasy. If you’ve had a similar background in a totalitarian-ruled country, this immersive show may hit close to home, as it did for me at times.
Let’s start with some key points.
- Is “Immersive 1984” a true representation of George Orwell’s “1984”? Not exactly, it leans more towards a narrative loosely inspired by the book’s world.
- Did it deliver the emotional impact I anticipated? Yes, especially in the final scene involving the audience.
- Was the choice of venue suitable? Hackney Town Hall hosts a show of this kind for the first time, and it’s a great fit. The Assembly Hall, in particular, exudes a grand and government-like atmosphere. Even the marble art deco corridors leave a strong impression.
- Can you grasp the show’s plot without having read the book? Absolutely. In fact, you might even enjoy it more if you’re unfamiliar with Orwell’s original story. The play omits some crucial themes and scenes, so those familiar with the book might be less disappointed.
What’s the concept of “Immersive 1984”?
As a participant of this experience, you are welcomed into the Ministry of Truth as a new recruit, and this involves undergoing actual tests, so be prepared (mentally, as the pen and paper will be waiting)!
You take on the role of an observer in a “real-life” case that centers on Winston and Julia, both employees of the Ministry. They have been accused of doubting the Party and engaging in an illicit physical relationship.
O’Brien (played by Jude Akuwudike), who serves as a guide and almost acts like a preacher for Big Brother, the all-powerful leader of the ruling Party, leads you through the entire process. This includes witnessing the case’s beginning and the intense procedure of “fixing” the couple in the Ministry of Love, which culminates in the notorious Room 101.
Psychological Terror Takes Centre Stage
The thematic focus of “Immersive 1984” lies in psychological terror rather than gratuitous gore or horror. Torture scenes, though extensive, refrain from showing any blood, delivering a far more chilling experience that taps into human fears and mental torment.
While the show captures the essence of Orwell’s dystopia, it does omit significant portions of the book. Notably, the secret Brotherhood and the intrigue around it are conspicuously absent, eliminating the suspense and hidden agendas that are core to the novel’s plot. In this show, there are no veils, no secrets kept in the shadows; everything is under the stark glare of the stage lights.
How “immersive” is this production?
The term “immersive” is frequently thrown around in London’s theater scene, but “1984” takes the concept to heart. It doesn’t merely place actors close to the audience; it fully immerses viewers in the oppressive world of the regime.
As an awkward introvert myself, I think it’s important to mention that audience participation isn’t forced; significant involvement is reserved for volunteers.
However, while the immersive element is present, it seems to replace a more substantial narrative. The entire experience comprises just three scenes (along with a video displayed on a projector screen), and it leaves out the complexity and many of the original book’s messages and plots.
Granted, the show is a mere 75 minutes long, which is quite short for a performance that includes transitioning between rooms in addition to the actual show. In the end, it becomes more of an exploration of Orwell’s universe rather than a traditional play.
I must admit that knowing the show was intended to be multi-room, I was a bit underwhelmed when I discovered that the entire show occurred in only two locations. Additionally, even though the large group of participants (80-100 people) was divided into three smaller groups (Green, Blue, and Red), there was no variation in the experience; everyone followed the same path, and there was no real opportunity to encounter something different. There was theoretically an option to exit the room at the beginning for anyone uncomfortable with participating in the investigation process, but honestly, I didn’t see anyone choose this option.
The show takes place in various settings within Hackney Town Hall, incorporating a combination of seating and standing scenes, with some stair-climbing involved. There’s also a lift available for those in need.
The Chilling Dynamics of “1984” Characters and Cast
The connection between Winston (played by Declan Rodgers) and Julia (portrayed by Kit Reeve) is palpable and physical, with the actors skilfully depicting their relationship without the need for explicit nudity.
However, we don’t get to explore much about their backgrounds beyond their work and the hastily formed relationship. The only tidbit we receive is Winston’s fear of rats. I did find myself sympathising with Winston during his final scenes in the show, but there’s room for improvement with more robust character development.
Jude Akuwudike shines as the star of this immersive experience. He combines the commanding presence of a skilled preacher with the calculated approach of someone like Hannibal Lecter. His rendition of the infamous “How many fingers am I holding up” scene was a truly chilling moment to witness.
The ensemble, dressed in tracksuits, effectively maintains an aura of authority and conformity, despite many of them being considerably younger than the audience. Their demeanor shifts from friendly interactions with the audience during the introductory scene in a concert hall to a display of serious power and occasional shouting as the “recruits” undergo testing. Their presence and attitude contribute significantly to the tense atmosphere of the experience, particularly during the initial recruitment moments.
“1984” is an immersive experience that delivers a powerful, intense interpretation of Orwell’s dystopian world, albeit with some notable omissions from the original plot. It is not for the faint of heart, focusing on mental and emotional terror rather than graphic violence, providing a chilling perspective on the enduring relevance of Orwell’s cautionary tale.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
19 October – 26 November 2023, 7:00pm and 9:00pm
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Age: Advised 14+. Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming rom-com that’s as satisfying as your favourite comfort food (even if it’s a frozen chocolate muffin, no judgement), “The Dating Diary” is the theatre show to warm up your chilly autumn evenings. This lockdown-born creation by a group of college friends delivers exactly what it promises: oodles of laughter and a sprinkling of karaoke fun. It’s an antidote to the dark evenings, bringing with it a sense of camaraderie and joy.
Amelia’s Journey to Finding Love
We follow the story of Amelia (Melissa Jessica Amer), as she edges closer to her 30th birthday. She hasn’t found love or had successful relationships so far, despite people around her (including her best friend) progressing in this matter. Together with support from social influencer Laura (Shanika Ocean), they embark on a journey through modern dating, and a cast of intriguing characters, including Kyle (Taylor Pope), a classic misogynist, and his amiable but easily influenced best friend, Crush (Scott Henderson). Along the way, Amelia may discover ‘the one’ in Ronnie (Ryan Downey), an emotionally intelligent and compassionate ex-Army soldier who struggles with suspected PTSD. However, they both must learn to let down their guards and take a chance on love.
Realism in Stage Movements and Characters
What sets “The Dating Diary” apart is how naturally the stage movements and interactions unfold. From quick responses to phone calls to the lifelike pub scenes, it’s a far cry from the often unrealistic scenarios in romantic comedies.
The story even includes nods to Harry Potter fans, with a Harry Potter-themed date and a mention of a chance encounter with Ron Weasley at Sainsbury’s. The attention to detail in character development, like Laura’s HP-related puns, adds depth to the narrative.
The first act maintains its energetic pace, with hilarious pub scenes that keep the audience engaged. The second act, while slightly more varied in tempo, delivers some explosive moments, including a memorable Backstreet Boys singing scene. The integration of the epic shrimp monologue from “Shark Tale” is a highlight and serves as a delightful thread running through both acts.
Defying Stereotypes: Empowered Female Characters
“The Dating Diary” boldly defies stereotypes and patriarchal treatment of female characters. In this story, the women shine as the stronger, more resilient characters who don’t tolerate misogynistic remarks. Amelia, portrayed with fierce confidence by Melissa Jessica Amer, steals the show with her unapologetic persona. Her outstanding performance, including an unexpected rap song, makes her instantly endearing. And let’s not forget her stunning wardrobe that adds an extra layer of charm to her character.
The character of Kyle, portrayed with aplomb by Taylor Pope, embodies the archetype of toxic masculinity. But also, I have to say, I absolutely loved the little quirky hobby he got (collection of various disinfectants, anyone? It gave me the vibe of a Windex-obsessed uncle from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, bless him!).
The frozen muffins snack he offered to his date was hilarious – but also, quite matching to his larger-than-life personality. Kyle’s constant offers of boxing sparring and his comically exaggerated lad persona had the audience in stitches. The humour in this show is off the charts, and the actor’s ability to keep a straight face is a testament to the level of hilarity on display.
Ryan Downey brings the enigmatic and reserved character Ronnie to life, emerging as the most composed and mature male figure in the production. His acting prowess seamlessly aligns with the character’s persona, offering a brilliant counterbalance to the more boisterous Kyle. Surprisingly, he also demonstrates his musical theatre talent during a second-act song, delivering a flawless performance that took me by surprise in the best possible way.
While the show offers plenty of charm, the connection between Laura and her boyfriend Crush falls short of feeling genuinely romantic. Their interactions give off a friendly vibe, with more “babe” exchanges and TikTok videos than intimate moments.
A deeper emotional connection could have enhanced their on-stage chemistry. Additionally, Laura’s character could benefit from further development to explore her interests and personality beyond her role as a supportive friend and successful influencer.
A few minor logical inconsistencies, like Amelia entering her date’s house without knocking, briefly disrupt the realism that the play otherwise excels at. Despite these hiccups, the characters are immensely likeable and feel like friends you’d enjoy sharing a pint with.
A Refreshing Take on Modern Dating Stories
Unlike the cliché ‘find love to find fulfilment’ storyline, “The Dating Diary” takes a refreshing spin. The writing is sharp, the dialogues flow naturally, and it doesn’t shy away from poking fun at the absurdity of modern dating. It’s a simple, silly story that feels like your friends recounting their dating adventures right in front of you.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
The Dating Diary
written by Melissa Jessica Amer & Scott Henderson
produced by Outta Nowhere Productions Ltd
24th – 28th October at 7pm
For lovers of Hobbits and the magical realms of Tolkien, “A Tale of Fellowship: The Musical” is a rare and delightful gem, brimming with hidden stories and unexpected Easter eggs that peel back the layers of your beloved tales. This extraordinary production, staged as a concert, unfolds with a staggering 14 enchanting songs in Act 1, followed by captivating 12 in Act 2 – a musical compilation that sweeps you away into the heart of Middle-earth.
But this musical is not just about Hobbits, Elves, or even the academic brilliance of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a celebration of the extraordinary power of friendship and the unwavering support of kindred souls, especially among creative souls.
The show unearths the lesser-known chapter of Tolkien’s life: his youth, the formation of the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), his serendipitous encounter with his future wife, and the tumultuous era of the First World War. While Wikipedia might relegate this to a mere prologue in Tolkien’s life story, “A Tale of Fellowship” magnificently elevates it to the main stage, all meticulously crafted and composed by self-proclaimed Tolkien enthusiast, Joseph Purdue.
This production is more than just a musical; it’s a passion project brought to life through a Kickstarter campaign, born from an unbridled love for the man who “forever changed the world with his artistry.” From the personal introduction by Purdue himself to the cast and creators who pieced together this performance in a matter of days, the production exudes camaraderie, pride, and pure joy, making it a heartwarming spectacle for a chilly autumn evening.
Vocally, a Masterpiece
Vocally, it stands as a standalone masterpiece. The concert format necessitates that the actors’ voices and the music bear the weight of storytelling without the crutch of costumes or elaborate sets. Here, it’s executed to perfection, featuring a stellar cast delivering impeccable performances. Purdue invited young West End stars to join this special project – and we got treated to a set of fantastic voices, with no weak link present in the cast.
Music that Echoes Tolkien’s Epic Tales
The music, reminiscent of Tolkien’s epic tales, leans towards the orchestral side, laced with the enchanting melodies of the violin and harp that infuse a mythical essence. This symphonic approach finds its true moments of glory, particularly when evoking themes of war and the anticipation of pivotal battles. The music at times reminded me of shows like “Hunchback of Notre Dame” or “Prince of Egypt” – with the same kind of grand feel.
The second act brought a refreshing change in the musical tone, introducing gentler interludes that skillfully interrupted the succession of anthems and wartime compositions. Although it delved deeper into themes of war and loss, it also incorporated simple, energetic choreography that brought added movement to the aisles of St. Paul’s Church, enhancing the overall depth and impact of the performance.
The musical score, in its entirety, could effortlessly double as the soundtrack for one of Tolkien’s pieces. However, this opulent and earnest approach tends to render the story consistently serious, occasionally overlooking the opportunities for humour and levity that punctuated the Hobbits’ lives in the Shire. In the first act, a sprinkling of mirth and lightheartedness would have been a welcomed addition, especially during the T.C.B.S. meetings scenes – I counted maybe 2 moments when the audience laughed during the show, which is a good start, but not enough to balance the serious vibe of the story as a whole.
A Stellar Cast that Elevates the Tale
The casting is a masterstroke. Soophia Foroughi, who graces the stage as Tolkien’s mother, entrances the audience with a breathtaking opening song, setting the perfect tone for the unfolding tale. Aidan Cutler, portraying G.B Smith, delivers a solemn, at times operatic performance that surprises given his character’s “fun” disposition within the Fellowship. Sake Wijers, as Tolkien, lends his magnificent voice to guide the audience through the scenes of his extraordinary life and delivers impeccable solos.
Fine-Tuning the Script and Character Dynamics
While the music shines, the script and character interactions require some fine-tuning. The tone of speech feels somewhat robotic and devoid of the emotion that these characters should convey. Understandably, the era is marked by more formal communication, primarily through letters rather than in-person conversations, but a touch more warmth and depth in vocal delivery could enhance the overall narrative.
“A Tale of Fellowship: The Musical” is an enchanting journey through the lesser-known chapters of Tolkien’s life, generously seasoned with magnificent music and heartwarming camaraderie. This extraordinary theatrical treasure offers Tolkien enthusiasts and novices alike a unique experience, bridging the gap between the captivating tales of Middle-earth and the creator himself. It’s a must-see, as precious as the One Ring.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review.
A Tale of Fellowship
20-21 October 2023
St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden
Joseph Purdue – Book, music and lyrics
Jacob Wolstencroft – Director
Ben Garnett – Musical Director
“Come Out Fighting” is a striking fusion of classic and contemporary musical renditions from the immortal “Carmen,” woven seamlessly into a powerful narrative that pays homage to the often-overlooked discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ soldiers. The production boasts a formidable quartet of actors who exhibit remarkable maturity in their craft, delivering a compelling and thought-provoking performance, that is a blast of fresh air for this classic opera theme.
Carl: The New Carmen
In the original opera, we follow the beautiful Carmen who steals the hearts of many young men she meets. Meanwhile, in this play, the plot is delivered by a stellar male cast, and Carmen morphs into a carefree, openly queer Carl (Jacob Mellers). Action takes place in the UK-based army, nowadays – the anti-discriminatory laws are already in place, but some army members are still against the LGBTQ+ presence in the organisation (even if they can’t openly voice it out).
Joe: The Struggle Within
At the heart of the story is Joe, the central character, portrayed with remarkable depth by Langley Howard. Joe’s internal struggle, as a closeted man grappling with life-altering decisions (he’s about to get married to his long-term girlfriend), is vividly conveyed through subtle body language and his ever-darting eyes that reveal his inner turmoil.
The “overly macho” persona he adopts to hide his true self only underscores the pressures he faces.
A Raw Portrayal of Military Culture
Joe is a masterfully written character, with a tough and abrasive attitude that occasionally gives way to outbursts of anger and physical aggression. His character mirrors the experiences of many in the army, reflecting the ongoing struggle to openly express emotions (I have some ex-army people in my family and this was at times a scarily accurate portrayal of one of such humans).
Using Joe’s character, the play offers a raw portrayal of the military culture and its challenges in accepting emotional vulnerability.
“Come Out Fighting” exudes an unapologetically masculine and testosterone-driven ambience, a thematic choice that sets the stage for the intense, sometimes aggressive, and always emotionally charged relationship between Joe and Carl.
Joe’s aggression and confusion counterbalance Carl’s vulnerability and uncertainty, creating a complex dynamic that lies at the heart of the plot.
Impressive Opening Scenes and Fight Direction
I have to admit, I found the initial scenes of the show quite enjoyable. The juxtaposition of combat training with Carl’s striptease performance in those opening moments effectively established the contrasting themes of military discipline and Carl’s seemingly carefree spirit. I have to praise the fight direction in the show, done by Keith Wallis – the show features a considerable amount of physicality, including some convincingly intense fight sequences. It was evident that the entire cast had been thoroughly prepared for these moments, ensuring their safety while delivering convincing performances.
While the play provides glimpses into the backstories of the main characters, these revelations are more like gentle brushes than deep dives into their motivations. I missed a bit more occasions to understand the 4 characters, their pasts and their motivations better.
A Multifaceted Theatrical Experience
Carl’s sassy and extroverted nature, coupled with his propensity to keep people at arm’s length with lies, adds layers to his character. The tantalising hints of his traumatising family secret slowly developed and unveiled in the second act – the writing here was well done, without obvious hints or solutions, which exaggerated the reveal.
The supporting cast, Eddie and Luke, portrayed by Luke Harding and Kevin Johnson, put in an impressive performance both on and off the stage. Their roles as a closeted celebrity boxer and his manager required seamless transitions and multiple costume changes into their other roles as Lt. Davies and Sgt. Lamb, which they handled with commendable skill. Their army roles, especially in the second act, brought some relief from the heavy main plot, especially in the car-based scenes.
The play, even though performed in a pub theatre setting, doesn’t shy away from addressing deep and complex themes. It cleverly blends passion, action, and comedy, and even includes a rap number (I did not see that coming!), making it a truly multifaceted experience.
*I received an invite to see the show in exchange for an honest review
Come Out Fighting
by Nick Bamford
Tuesday 17th- Saturday 21st October, Drayton Arms Theatre
Nick Bamford – Writer/Director
Jasmine Cole – Producer
Vicki Cox – Stage Manager
Keith Wallis – Fight Director