Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre: Frankenstein

With plenty of purple velvet, strobe lighting, smoke and a pre-recorded soundtrack accompanying every scene, this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel is billed as ‘The Modern Prometheus’.  It’s like director Simon James Collier was planning to premiere something at Westfield Vue, but instead ended up in the theatre above the Lion and Unicorn pub.

Take away the many distractions – including scenes with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and the author herself – and Adam Dechanel’s adaptation (part 1 of a Gothic Trilogy) is actually pretty literal. Victor Frankenstein, his love interest/ adopted sister Elizabeth and friends deliver their thoughts and handy plot information into the mid-distance as if each of them has swallowed the book. In trying to fit in every scene, the production struggles get to the essence of the tale – namely, what it means to be human or a monster – until some way into Act II.

It’s difficult for the cast to create anything other than melodrama when delivering their lines to soaring music. Sam Curry brings the twisted body of The Creature to life in a way that is fittingly gruesome. But a temporary wooden stage, which clunks every time the performers jump on and off it, otherwise feels unfortunately appropriate.

Lion and the Unicorn Theatre, London. Until 15 March.

Written for The Stage. 

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Theatre: Othello – The Moor of Venice

“Does Shakespeare really need to be dragged into the 21st century?” you may wonder after seeing this production, by new company Orangutan, which pairs the original text with a film noir-style backdrop. In actual fact, the story of jealousy, murder, betrayal and archetypical female roles fits surprisingly well. Less seamless is the fusion of 17th-century lyrical dialogue with a genre of moviemaking famed for its low-key understatement. In trying to marry the two together, director Rebekah Fortune transports us to a strange place somewhere in-between.

Set and costume designers Libby Todd and Eleanor Bull fill the stage with the iconic images of 1940s and 50s films – sharp-brimmed hats, dynamic shadows and slinky dresses. However, the performers often seem trapped between embracing the soaring melodrama and toning down their emotions to fit a far less verbose 21st century mood. As Stefan Adegbola’s well-spoken Othello converses with Peter Lloyd’s Northern Iago, while sitting in a café, the drama falls out of what should be an increasingly tense relationship faster than the waitress can top-up their coffee.

It’s only through the second act that the cast finally get to show what they can do, as the story’s inherently thrilling conclusion overpowers the backdrop and enables everyone to forget all about it. Gemma Stroyan’s Emilia and Gillian Saker’s Desdemona share a compelling exchange before the inevitable bloodbath; their words a reminder that this is a timeless and subversive play about prejudice and human fallibility – one that doesn’t really require a makeover.

Riverside Studios, London. Until 18 February. 

Written for The Stage. 

Theatre: Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho

Matt Tedford has the sparkling eyes of someone destined to be on stage – and not just because he’s playing a woman who also knew a fair bit about performing, Margaret Thatcher. Having spent the past five years working in roles including a civil servant, this satirical drag musical (co-written with Jon Brittain) is both a comeback for him and the Iron Lady. For anyone who is nostalgic for 1980s pop culture and has conflicted feelings about one of the UK’s most iconic leaders and provocative hate figures, it’s a glittering ride into a wryly observed idealised past: one where Section 28 was never passed and Thatcher was a cabaret queen.

Developed from a tight little short, performed at Theatre503’s Thatcherwrite season, the funny yet warm-hearted script is longer and looser than it once was, but extra characters (including panto villain Jill Knight and testosterone-fuelled leftie Peter Tatchell), played with exuberant flair by Robert Cawsey and Ed Yelland, make it all the richer.

A reflective final scene touchingly brings us back to reality, while some terrific one-liners and visual gags resurrect the spirit of the alternative comedy scene. Anyone who mourns that this died with the 1980s probably hasn’t seen this show. I await the West End transfer (with live band).

Theatre503, London. Until 11 January.

Written for The Stage

Theatre: Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Christmas Adventure

If watching a faceless Bunraku puppet emulate having oral sex with a hapless audience member is your idea of hilarious festive fun, then this is the show for you. As part of Theatre503’s Alternative Christmas double-bill, the popular group of puppeteers return with their difficult-to-like but impossible-to-ignore bad boy brothers of vaudeville; Boris and Sergey.

With enforced joining in and the kind of delivery that rarely dips below shouting, the performance initially feels aimed at eight year olds. However, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s for adults only, ideally ones who have had at least four pints and enjoy seeing something childish mashed together with sex and swearing. It’s an idea that has been done better, but perhaps not with such an in-yer-face attitude.

The rotating cast are excellent puppeteers and some of the musical numbers are beautifully choreographed, but while Boris and Sergey might relish the unstructured mayhem, they could really do with a proper story to take things beyond a series of anarchic skits. A remote controlled truck falling down the stairs is a highlight; less so a rambling poker game with Lee and Kate from the second row. While the company’s punk ethos is appealing, characters as obnoxious as this are an acquired taste.

Theatre503, London. Until 11 January.

Written for The Stage

Theatre: Changing Rooms

Despite getting more dated with every passing year, French farce refuses to go away. Marc Camoletti’s Changing Rooms is lesser-known than his 1960s hit Boeing Boeing but it’s mixture of faux salacious sex, partner swapping and door slamming is as predictable as children shouting “it’s behind you” in a pantomime.

In a solidly directed production by Anna Ostergren, set in the 1980s, Massaratti owner Bernard and his vampish wife Jacqueline attempt to smuggle their younger lovers, Robert and Brigette, into their plush home, each believing the other to be away. Caught in the middle of the ensuing chaos is their housekeeper, Nana, wryly played by Jill Stanford. “Get your trousers on!” she exclaims, between extorting cash, as this quartet of dippy extroverts gallivant in and out of their bedrooms in outfits ranging from silk dressing gowns and silver pants to ropes and frilly corsets.

The likeable cast give lively performances and are at their best when playing their archetypical roles with understatement, the dialogue being heightened enough without wry nods and winks to the audience. When Robert and Brigette finally realise that their users and abusers are “over the hill” and not the gods they once seemed, it’s surprisingly satisfying. Perhaps times are changing after all.

The Drayton Arms, London. Until 21 December.

Written for The Stage

Theatre: Mucky Kid

Mae is a difficult person to like – she has a laugh that’s just a bit too loud and an uneasy, flitting energy. It feels as though she’s a rubber band poised to snap. Who knows what will happen when she does? Maybe she’ll kill a child. After all, she has before.

Sam Potter’s debut play is a skilfully constructed psychological thriller in which we’re asked to unpick the mixed-up memories of Mae’s past and decide whether children who kill children can, as adults, be rehabilitated and even forgiven. Is the grown-up we become ever truly free of the child we once were? Through ever-changing versions of a few scenes – charting Mae’s escape from prison and subsequent recapture – we find out.

It’s rare to see a piece of theatre that has such a tight and original structure; one that is ideally suited to a one-act play. Sharply directed by James Farrell and with strong support from the rest of the cast, it’s refreshingly even-handed in its approach. With a compelling performance from Sonya Cassidy as Mae – who shifts from naive teenager to sinister hate figure with disconcerting ease – it builds the tension in a way that is really quite thrilling but, as with real life, offers no easy answers.

Written for The Stage

Theatre: As You Like It

Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing romantic comedy is given a darker twist by director Jessica Ruano in this new adaptation. The partly excavated Rose Theatre’s cavernous depths, sitting beneath a tower block, creates a ghostly atmosphere, while the cast – sporting sharply tailored jackets – look like they’ve stepped out of a Desigual streetwear shoot rather than the late 1500s.

However, this is a play that defies being rebranded, and at its heart it remains and works best as a salacious, gender-bending pantomime-like romp around the Forest of Arden. Suzanne Marie and Matthew Howell, as the mixed-up would-be lovers Rosalind and Orlando, have great chemistry. Following her stand-out performance in the theatre’s production of St Joan last year, Marie is fast carving a niche for herself playing women taking on the role of men – probably because she does it so well.

The rest of the cast give solid support, with some haunting singing from Bonny Davis as Amiens, but unfortunately have less time to develop their characters since the text has been cut from around three hours to just over one. The ending comes too abruptly and isn’t entirely satisfying. To truncate the piece this dramatically feels too severe. Just as things are starting to get good, it’s time for the curtain call.

The Rose Theatre, Bankside, London. Until 26 October.

Written for The Stage