Tag Archives: Arts Theatre

Schlock Treatment


Arts Theatre, London, Saturday 28th October, 2017


“Based on a film everyone watched when they were stoned” is just one of the knowing lines in this fabulously funny show by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, getting a bang up-to-date revival at London’s Arts Theatre.  Topical references are spot on, along with countless references to other musicals.  The cast of only five go all out to populate the story with larger-than-life, comic book characters in this story of violent vengeance and eco-politics.

Mark Anderson is sweet as nerd Melvin who, after being dumped in toxic waste becomes Toxie – he’s even sweet when he’s ripping off the limbs and heads of his foes.  Love interest comes in the shape of blind librarian Sarah – Emma Salvo in a scene-stealing turn; outrageously funny and a powerful singer, Salvo is an undiluted delight.  Natalie Hope doubles as Melvin’s Ma and as the evil Mayor – the demands of the score require her to sing a duet with herself in a show-stopping number that closes the first act.  It is breath-taking.

Playing all the other roles are Che Francis and Oscar Conlon-Murray is a dazzling display of versatility.  I particularly like Francis’s pouting Shinequa and Conlon-Murray’s overacting Folk Singer.

The humour is dark, the message green, and the music is rocking.  For the most part, the score is strong.  It is ironic that Toxie’s ballad, Thank God She’s Blind, sounds a lot like I Can See Clearly Now!  Led by Alex Beetschen on the keyboard, a tight quintet blast out the tunes while the voices of the cast soar.  A highlight for me is Toxie’s plaintive You Tore My Heart Out.  Lucie Pankhurst’s quirky choreography adds to the energy and the fun.  Benji Sperring’s direction keeps the action moving so we almost forget the cast is so small.  In fact, the show makes virtues of its perceived shortcomings, with many frame-breaking laughs to be had.

It will win no prizes for subtlety but this small-scale show seems much bigger than the sum of its parts.  Corporate corruption must be tackled, along with dumping of nuclear waste and pollution of the environment – This might seem obvious but sadly we have no Toxie in real life to rampage through Westminster and bring those still at fault today to bloody account.


Blind date: Emma Salvo and Mark Anderson


A Thing of Beauty


Arts Theatre, London, Saturday 18th May, 2013


Jonathan Harvey’s big-hearted comedy is twenty years old.  I can’t believe it – especially having seen this anniversary production; it is still fresh as a daisy and works like a charm.

Set in 1993, what was a contemporary piece is slipping towards period – the pop culture references evoke laughs of nostalgia (Bob’s Full House anyone?) although allusions to musicals and show tunes will never grow old.

Suranne Jones leads a strong cast as 30-something single mother Sandra.  She has a quick temper and a sharp tongue but her tough exterior shields the heart of a mother striving to make her way and provide for her teenage son.  Jones is perfect – sarcastic one minute, on the attack the next, and then vulnerable and hurt.  Jake Davies’s Jamie is that son, struggling to navigate his way through difficult teen years; he’s a bit of a loner, a victim of bullying.  When sporty boy-next-door Ste (Danny-Boy Hatchard) seeks refuge from physical abuse in Jamie’s room, the two lads strike up a tentative relationship.  It’s a touching story of first love and also a lovely story of first touching.

Handsome Oliver Farnworth is hilarious as Sandra’s current boyfriend Tony, an ‘artist’ who conducts himself like a trendy social worker or a teacher trying too hard to be down with the kids.  Zaraah Abrahams is feisty and layered as Leah, a Mama Cass aficionado, excluded from school, rebelling against the system.  She brings out the worst in Sandra – and everyone else, it seems – but her loneliness and lack of hope are almost palpable beneath the barbs and putdowns.

Director Nikolai Foster tackles the changing moods of Harvey’s volatile script: tenderness and violence struggle for supremacy, humour and emotional gut punches come and go in the flash of an eye.  Intense emotions are never far from the surface.  Life is tough in this downtrodden area but the characters are wholly human and not the demonised shirkers and scroungers our present-day vicious government would have you believe.

The growing relationship between the two young lads is sweet and funny, but the play is also about Sandra breaking free of expectations and making something of herself in the pub trade.  She is not just a blonde barmaid anymore.  When she breaks up with Tony, she is rejecting the expectation that she must have a man in her life, and when  that man is an ineffectual ‘new man’ – well, who needs them?

The show is a delight from start to finish, a witty script well-played by all.  If EastEnders was a tenth as good as this, I’d tune in. The love of two teenage boys in a block of Thamesmead flats is indeed a beautiful thing, like Sandra’s hard-won hanging basket outside her grubby front door.

And it’s always good to hear Wincey Willis get a name check.


Oliver Farnworth and Suranne Jones

Oliver Farnworth and Suranne Jones