Tag Archives: Birmingham Rep

Sorry State

(sorry)

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 9th November, 2017

 

Millennials are terrible, aren’t they?  Spoiled, impatient, thinking they’re special…  This new piece from writer Susie Sillett shows us three sides of the coin (if that’s possible!) in this monologue sequence engagingly performed by Phoebe Frances Brown.

The first section concerns employment or should I say ‘employment’ as our protagonist details her exploitation in unpaid internships, illegally long shifts – it’s no wonder she and her peers are still living with their parents.  The character both recognises and accepts her lot as though this is the way it is and shall be forevermore – and she makes it clear she’s not complaining.  She daren’t!  Not while she wants to continue on the way up.

The middle section is a cringe-making dinner date with an old friend who is getting married.  This one quickly flips into something painful to hear, and painful to experience, as our protagonist recounts the agonies of online friendships, and how deeply that ‘unfollowing’ or ‘unfriending’ can hurt.  The modern world forges new kinds of relationships and associations through social media – new behaviours and mores have to be negotiated.  But it all does nothing to assuage her loneliness.  It’s an incisive swipe at society, when all these new connections serve to keep us isolated and alone.

The third part finds our protagonist keeping watch beside her dying granny’s hospital bed.  This is the most emotionally affecting section and is more widely reflective of the nature of life.  The writing opens up beyond the personal as our protagonist considers her place in the world, being born at this time, the environment she is inheriting and the problems her generation have to sort out.  Stark comments like ‘no matter what I do, it’s never enough to compensate the damage I do by being alive’.  She can’t make sense of being alive and her reactions and attitude are thoroughly credible.  Forged by what previous generations have done, she is trapped in a world she didn’t make.  And she is sorry for existing.

The show has a strong green message: the seas are full of plastic, of the detritus of our consumerist society.  Our protagonist is most strident in her horror and revulsion, her anger and frustration with what has been done to the world.

An electrifying performance from Phoebe Frances Brown; director Jennifer Davis prevents things from becoming static in the simple, circular space, giving us rises and falls, changes in pace and mood to bring out all the colours of the writing.  Sorcha Corcoran’s set – a chair in a circle, ringed by mounds of paper – becomes more relevant as the show goes on, reminiscent of arctic landscapes…  Alex Boucher’s lighting and Iain Armstrong’s sound design support the performer and help the audience imagine the various settings of the stories.

It all adds up to a taut production, a snapshot of life for young adults, with laughs aplenty and pain in abundance – and isn’t it a particularly British thing for those feeling the most awkward, those in the most pain, those who are pointing out what is wrong, to be the ones to say sorry?

thumbnail_(sorry). Photo Hannah Kelly (1)

Sophie Frances Brown considers the pitfalls of buying a can of chick peas (Photo: Hannah Kelly)

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Mum’s the word

BABY DADDY

The Door, Birmingham REP, Thursday 2nd November, 2017

 

Single mothers get a bad press.  Stigmatised by society they are seen as scroungers, promiscuous and slatternly – when really it’s the men that should get the brunt of our disapproval.  At least the mothers stayed to bring up the babies, while the fathers disappear.

In this autobiographical piece, writer-performer Elinor Coleman not only states the case for a new appreciation of single mums (“doing remarkable things in difficult circumstances”) she also entertains us with a window into her world.  Pregnant at 20, Ellie goes it alone.  Yes, she has a strong support network of family and friends but it’s still a lonely life.  And everyday business brings with it the sting of public condemnation.  An encounter on a bus is typical of the judgmental looks and remarks she faces all the time.

Also, Ellie feels there is a gap in her family unit.  She seeks a man to join her and her daughter – and after a few false starts – finds one.  Has Ellie found her happy ending halfway through the show’s running time?  It certainly seems that way…

But no.  Life isn’t as neat as all that.  The relationship ends and Ellie decides to abort her second child.  Stark scenes ensue as yet again Ellie lays herself open to criticism.

Coleman is a likeable presence, honest and funny.  There is a lot of wisdom in her words.  This extended monologue with original songs is bright and breezy with a dark undertone.  What comes across is a slice of contemporary real-life experience, an underdog in our society demonstrating her worth and prompting us to re-evaluate any misguided preconceptions or prejudices we may harbour about young single mums.

The show is underscored by live music from Ricardo Rocha, and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting design provides a range of settings for the story and expressionistic effects for the changing tone.

All in all, this is an amusing, affecting piece, vibrantly performed and with something to say.

baby-daddy-29


Knowing

I KNEW YOU

The Door, Birmingham REP, Tuesday 3rd October, 2017

 

This new piece from Birmingham writer Steven Camden aka Polarbear runs for less than an hour but it’s fifty minutes of cracking theatre.  Three characters perform monologues, setting the scene, gradually revealing their history: Patrick walked out on Angela and their 8 year old son twenty years ago.  A chance sighting by one of Angela’s friends reveals that not only is Patrick back in town but he’s dying from cancer.  Angela is thrown into turmoil: should she even tell son Nathan, now 28 and a stay-at-home dad?  Is there room for Patrick in the lives he left behind?

Lorna Laidlaw (the formidable Mrs Tembe in TV’s Doctors) exudes warmth and humour as Angela.  The delivery is impeccable, the timing, the characterisations – it’s a masterclass in monologue performance and, beyond the performance, we feel for Angela and her predicament.  As son Nathan, Brenton Hamilton too demonstrates an aptitude for storytelling and comic timing.  Roderick Smith’s Patrick doesn’t yield many laughs – he’s the selfish one of the trio, but he speaks Polarbear’s lines with pathos, evincing our empathy.

When at last the characters interact, director Daniel Bailey cranks up the tension by drawing out moments of silence after all the wordiness.  Emotions burst out, voices rise and fall – Bailey does the exquisite script justice in his handling of the dynamics.

And that writing!  When she hears her ex is back, Angela describes her reaction: “I can feel my blood.  My head is full of photographs and arguments.”  Bloody wonderful.    The genius is in the detail.  Throwaway details of modern life, ironic observations of human nature, all wrapped up in this neat little package.

The piece lacks nothing, delivers everything, but I can’t help wanting more or to see it all again.

Funny, touching, insightful and fabulous.

Lorna Laidlaw (Angela) Brenton Hamilton (Nathan)_I Knew You_c Graeme Braidwood

Lorna Laidlaw and Brenton Hamilton (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

 


Lashing Out

THE WHIP HAND

The Door, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 6th September, 2017

 

Dougie (Jonathan Watson) is gathering family members to celebrate his 50th birthday – he has an agenda, a presentation to make.  The venue is his ex-wife’s house and Dougie is welcomed by her second husband, Lorenzo (Richard Conlon) who is a bit of a liberal and a smoothie with a penchant for artisanal ale.  Running tech support for his uncle is Aaron (Michael Abubakar), Dougie’s mixed-race nephew. Completing the party are the ex-wife Arlene (Louise Ludgate) and the daughter she shares with Dougie, Molly (Joanne Thomson).    The nature of these relationships emerges along with the purpose of Dougie’s presentation…  He has received an email from an organisation that seeks reparation for the evils of the slave trade – it turns out Dougie is a descendant of a sugar-beet millionaire and slave master.  Prompted by white-man’s guilt and his milestone birthday, Dougie wants to do some good in the world, and has come to ask Arlene to sign over Molly’s college fund.

This production in partnership with Traverse Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Scotland provides a powerful 90 minutes of drama, laced with barbed humour and performed by a strong cast of five who each get their moments to shine, thanks to Douglas Maxwell’s taut and thought-provoking script.   Jonathan Watson is great as the volatile Dougie, contrasting nicely with Richard Conlon’s smooth-talking Lorenzo.  Louise Ludgate impresses as the sarcastic, impassioned Arlene, who has good reason to be cynical and short-tempered where Dougie is concerned, while Joanne Thomson’s Molly goes on a journey of discovery as secrets from the past are wrenched to the fore.  Michael Abubakar’s outbursts as Aaron add intensity to proceedings.

Director Tessa Walker draws us into the play’s discourse first with the amusing naturalism of a comedy of manners, and keeps us hooked with seething animosity, spoken and unsaid.  We suspect from the start the email is some kind of scam but the argument it provokes (that the world we live in is built on the atrocities perpetrated by slavers) is potent – although we don’t agree with Dougie’s means to redress ancient evils.

When the true nature of the scam comes to light, we see that the evils that need redressing aren’t so evil, as Aaron learns the truth about his father’s absence.

Darkly comic and provocative, the piece is in danger of letting its argument overpower our attachment to the characters – it’s one of those where you admire the performers but detest the dramatis personae.  A good advertisement for family gatherings, it is not!  And it shows us that racism, unlike the slave trade, is not a thing of the past.

A slanging match with bite and substance, The Whip Hand stirs up big themes in a domestic setting.  The personal is political and there is nothing more personal nor political than the bitter quarrels of family members.

15. Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)

 

 


Bostin’ Austen

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th November, 2017

 

Not the Donald Trump story but Jane Austen’s finest and funniest novel, brought to the stage in this touring production by Regent’s Park Theatre, in a sparkling adaptation by Simon Reade.

Reade captures the wit of the dialogue and the spirit of each character, and director Deborah Bruce includes moments of broader comedy, as well as linking scenes with stylised sequences that evoke both period, character and storytelling.  Choreography plays a huge part in creating atmosphere and adding to the fun, courtesy of movement director Sian Williams and beautiful, haunting music composed by Lillian Henley.  The characters, dressed by Tom Piper, inhabit the elegant revolving set (designed by Max Jones) – decorative railings and sweeping staircases serve for all locations, aided by Tina Machugh’s expressive lighting.  Production values are high and the excellent cast lives up to them.

Felicity Montagu is in superb form as Mrs Bennet, desperate to marry off her five daughters to whomever crosses their path.  Matthew Kelly is equally delightful as her long-suffering husband and the indulgent father of his brood.  Of the girls, Hollie Edwin certainly looks the part as the pretty one, Jane, and Mari Izzard bounces around as the spirited one, Lydia.  Of course, it is Elizabeth who is our focus, winningly played by Tafline Steen, tempering Elizabeth’s headstrong nature with charm and humour.  Benjamin Dilloway towers over proceedings as a sour-faced but handsome Mr Darcy and it’s not long before we are willing the pair to get together, in this quintessential rom-com.

There is strong support from Steven Meo as the insufferable parson Mr Collins and Daniel Abbott is a suitably dashing and roguish Mr Wickham.  Dona Croll impresses as the haughty Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a forerunner of Lady Bracknell, and I also like Kirsty Rider’s snobbish Miss Caroline.

Elizabeth and Darcy may be the stars but it is the double-act of Montagu and Kelly, two seasoned performers with exquisite comic timing, that have the star quality among this comparatively young and inexperienced ensemble.  Mr and Mrs Bennet are a joy to behold.

Delivered with a lightness of touch, this is an utterly charming evening at the theatre, a refreshing retelling of the classic tale.  Austen seems as fresh and funny as she ever was and her wry observations of human nature, albeit in a rarefied and bygone milieu, still delight and ring true.

matthew-kelly-felicity-montagu-as-mr-mrs-bennet_-photo-johan-persson

Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly stealing the show (Photo: Johan Persson)


Re: Possessed

THE EXORCIST

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th October, 2016

 

William Peter Blatty’s novel became one of the most famous and celebrated horror films of the 1970s.  Now, John Pielmeier adapts the book for the stage, giving rise to questions like ‘How are they going to do that?’.  Fans of the film need not worry: all the iconic moments are here.  Director Sean Mathias uses every trick in the book of theatrical tricks to present what we expect to see: rocking beds, projectile vomit – this production really makes heads turn!  And it’s a real showcase for the technical team.  The illusions are designed by Ben Hart and supported by atmospheric, cinematic lighting by Tim Mitchell, who makes use of darkness and chiaroscuro to both hide and reveal what’s going on.  Adam Cork’s sound design surrounds us with eerie noises and disembodied voices.  Anna Fleischle’s set is versatile and evocative – Nick Gingell’s stage management team pull off wonders, changing scenes in pitch blackness so the action can flow from seamlessly from place to place.

Out front a strong cast delivers an engaging script, laced with humour to relieve the tension.  Jenny Seagrove is excellent as Chris, movie star and mum, unravelling as her daughter’s plight worsens.  Clare Louise Connolly is Regan, the child in question, and gives an astonishing performance as the ten-year-old falling prey to evil.  Although she spends much of the show in bed, she must be exhausted by the end!  Adam Garcia’s troubled Father Karras, trying to work through his grief over his late mother, finds redemption – the keynote of the production is that the cast play with earnest.  The material is bunkum – gloriously so – but the actors help us suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride with them.  Peter Bowles is fantastic as the titular exorcist, the ailing Father Merrin, managing to be imperious and vulnerable at the same time.  There is sterling support from Joseph Wilkins’s Father Joe, Mitchell Mullen’s Doctor Klein, and Todd Boyce’s Doctor Strong, a succession of ‘experts’ trying to diagnose what’s wrong with the little girl. Tristram Wymark is good fun as the camp and avuncular film director, Burke, and is party to one of the great shocks of the evening.  There are plenty of moments of grand guignol, to be sure, but what keeps us hooked is the unsettling atmosphere.  Anything might happen and right before our very eyes.  But among all the thrills and frissons, I can’t help thinking the devil doesn’t half sound like Sir Ian McKellan.

A gripping funfair ride of a show – perhaps it’s more frightening if you’re a believer – the production plays the horror movie tropes to great effect.  Wonderful entertainment for a chilly autumn night.

adam-garcia-as-father-damien-karras-clare-louise-connolly-as-regan-and-peter-bowles-as-father-merrin-in-the-exorcist

Bringing them to their knees: Adam Garcia, Clare Louise Connolly and Peter Bowles (Photo: Robert Day)


Grandad, Grandad, you’re lovely…

ABUELO

The Door, Birmingham REP, Friday 15th January, 2015

 

This new one-woman piece from writer-performer Amahra Spence draws parallels between the experiences of a young black woman in the West Midlands with those of her grandfather who arrived from Jamaica, alone at the age of 16. Spence drops in and out of characters with economy and ease – Grandad is larger-than-life but she never overeggs her portrayal or descends into caricature or stereotype. That said, he does come across as your everyday elderly West Indian bloke! It’s affectionately done, and Spence saves the hardship and the gruelling episodes for the young woman, when the humour is replaced with some vivid, gutsy writing and some harrowing moments of storytelling.

Spence animates her words with gesture and tone of voice – she is clearly in command of the material and the medium. She keeps us hooked, despite sometimes the patois being a bit dense (“It’s all right, I don’t understand what that one’s about” she confesses) and some of the anecdotes having more impact than others. What comes across is a sense of family, and closeness. Collecting Grandad’s stories reveals more about the collector than the storyteller.

Director Daniel Bailey prevents the pared-down staging from becoming static and Spence’s scene and mood changes are supported by some sharp lighting from Ben Pacey and an eclectic soundtrack from Enrico Aurigemma.

It feels like a very personal event. There is honesty and authenticity running through the entire piece. It’s touching, stark, funny and uplifting – an excellent debut from a fresh and frank new playwright.  There is a genuine thrill of delight at the end when she invites the old man himself to join her on stage for a bow. She has evoked him so vividly we feel that we know and love him too.

Amahra Spence in Abuelo_c Graeme Braidwood

Amahra Spence (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)