**** (4 Stars)
Unicorn Theatre, London - Tuesday 25 March, 2014
Engaging and inspiring, this play keeps the audience captivated from beginning to end, following the journey of ‘the Boy’ and his toy velveteen rabbit. This simply structured storyline keeps not only children in the audience engaged, but adults too. Their relationship is tested and trialled through thick and thin, including when ‘the Boy’ suffers from scarlet fever and also as the velveteen rabbit has doubts over what is real, and what is only child’s play.
The minimal use of dialogue captures the Boy’s ‘Toy Story-esque’ world, allowing the audience to be captivated by the physical theatre used. There are some marvellously magical moments between the two flawless actors, Christian Roe and Syrus Lowe. Roe’s Stanislavski-style rabbit was faultless as he exerts such truth behind his eyes. His Benedict Cumberbatch / Arthur Darvill ‘vibe’ and highly expressive face really made him stand out as an actor to watch for the future.
Wilkie Branson’s choreography is an absolute joy to watch and captures the childish snapshot well. I really savour Purni Morell’s overall direction as I feel his interpretation is stimulating and inventive. The simple props are used imaginatively and are thoroughly believable, as one of the younger audience members demonstrated, as they questioned rather loudly, mid-scene, ‘Is that a real fire?!’
I feel over all, this production is cleverly designed, created and performed and will be appreciated by all ages, as within this elegantly simple piece, there are definitely a variety of relatable levels. Although the start drags on slightly, children will enjoy the visual excitement, whereas adults have a chance to escape back to their childhoods.
So find out for yourself whether the velveteen rabbit is real, or simply just a toy...
The Velveteen Rabbit is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until April 19. All the info is here: https://www.unicorntheatre.com/the-velveteen-rabbit
***** (5 Stars)
Finborough Theatre - 28 March, 2014
Émile Zola’s 1867 novel is drastically re-imagined by Nona Shepphard and Craig Adams at the Finborough Theatre with breathtaking brilliance.
The story centres on a young woman, Thérèse Raquin (Julie Atherton), who’s stuck in a life of misery and disappointment. Forced by her aunt (Tara Hugo) to marry her cousin Camille (Jeremy Legat), Thérèse begins a lustful affair with Camille’s schoolfriend Laurent (Ben Lewis). After drowning Camille on a boating trip, Thérèse and Laurent are consumed by guilt and we see their relationship, now fuelled by torment and hate, slowly reach its inevitable end.
Thérèse Raquin is a truly remarkable piece of theatre. This dark, brutal exploration of the animalistic tendencies of human nature is brought to life by Craig Adams’ complex score, which wonderfully utilises haunting melodies and rich harmonies to pack an emotional punch.
The musical unpredictability is striking: sharp, unnerving dissonance is followed by sensual harmonies from the 'River Women' that are reminiscent of something more accustomed to Destiny's Child. (Spine-tinglingly brilliant.) It's remarkably effective and, for me, the little runs and riffs give a story rooted in 19th-century Paris a hint of modernity and a new lease of life.
Refreshingly, there isn't the typical '11 o'clock number' that we're all so used to, that's not what Thérèse Raquin is about. It's an ensemble piece that deals with the social constraints of the 19th century, highlighted by the mundane, almost robotic, life of Thérèse's contemporaries.
It's a far cry from the naturalistic ethos of Zola's work, but Shepphard's book captures his scientific tone nevertheless with physiological references woven throughout: the piece opens with the ensemble singing, “Blood and nerves/Blood and nerves" (serving as just one of many possible examples).
Laura Cordery's design evokes the murky backstreets of 19th-century Paris whilst also conveying the blandness of Thérèse's life. Dark wooden beams fill the small acting space, littered with secret spaces for the cast to meander through. Shepphard's production could perhaps be sharper as things seem to wander in the second act, however this is me actively looking for something to criticise - it's a near-perfect piece of storytelling.
It must be said that the talent on show is phenomenal with the cast working seamlessly to bring this story to life. Atherton's turn in the title role is captivating. She doesn't speak for the majority for the first act, but she doesn't need to. Her eyes convey the pain and stifling boredom more than any words could. Furthermore, her frustration and claustrophobia resonate on a personal level as anyone who has moved back home after university can relate to the suffocation and yearning for freedom so felt by Thérèse.
Tara Hugo's heartbreaking portrayal as the well-intentioned but deeply selfish aunt is stunning. Although Hugo is perhaps not the strongest singer, there's enough emotion and depth in her performance for it not to matter; the image of her paralysed in a chair, vacantly staring out over the audience is chilling. Ben Lewis and Jeremy Legat are both consummate performers, the former being the rugged alpha-male with a powerhouse of a voice and the latter providing a great deal of humour.
Quite simply, Thérèse Raquin is fantastic. Emotive, powerful and dark, a must-see.
Thérèse Raquin will transfer from the Finborough to the Park Theatre from Wednesday 30 July to 24 August, 2014. Buy your tickets here: http://www.parktheatre.co.uk/
Secret Theatre receives an Exceptional Award from Arts Council England!
(Interview by Sean Brooks)
Originally conceived as a year-long project whilst the multi-million pound redevelopment takes place, the Lyric Hammersmith recently announced its Secret Theatre project is going to be extended for another year to embark on a UK tour!
We spoke to two of the Secret Theatre cast members Katherine Pearce and Hammed Animashaun about their experience of the project and the upcoming tour as well as offering some great advice for all you young people.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into theatre:
KP: Well, from being very little I would perform for anybody that would watch. My mum was really good with stories – she used to put on all the voices – and so I got into amateur dramatics and youth theatre. I took Drama for GCSE and A Level, but it was only when I went to Moscow Arts Theatre on a taster course that I got serious about wanting to go into theatre. I then went to train at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – it took a couple of attempts – and I’ve been pretty lucky to be in work.
HA: I didn’t want to be an actor at all; I wanted to play basketball. I kind of just fell into acting. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh and being an entertainer – I was the class clown, which the teachers hated! My drama teacher saw something in me and forced me to join Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse. A new agency opened up in Hoxton and my drama teacher told me to think about signing up, but I was thinking about going to uni instead. I was studying Philosophy with Drama when my agent called by about an audition for Mogadishu, I got a part and I’ve been working ever since. I had to drop out of uni, but I really wanted to finish and get my degree because that’s important to my mum, so I’ve always said I’ll go back to school. As I’ve been working ever since, I don’t know when I’ll get a chance!
What drew you to Secret Theatre?
KP: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t quite know what it was. Sean Holmes (Artistic Director of the Lyric) came to see Port at the National where I had a really tiny part, he had a word with me about doing theatre in a different way and, even though I haven’t been in the industry a long time, it felt really special to me. I did the audition and it was only really when we started that I realised the scale of what we were doing.
HA: Sean and I were doing Cinderella here (the Lyric) and he took me aside and had a chat about the concept of Secret Theatre and he asked if I wanted to be part of it. I researched all the people involved and I was nervous about the whole thing – I hadn’t been to drama school, so I was worried about feeling out of my depth.
KP: It’s just really refreshing to be doing something different. For Show 2, we sat round doing it in the traditional Southern American accent, and it was so boring.
HA: That’s when we started to realise what Secret Theatre was about. We were slipping into the norm and we didn’t want to do that. I think young people really relate to that. What’s great is we’ve noticed a much younger audience, who seem to really enjoy it and respond to it.
How does the creative process work?
KP: Well, we had to see what we were like as a company before deciding on any piece. We played ball games and did different exercises for like a month. It was only after that that we decided what sort of thing we wanted to do – we were constantly generating new material.
HA: Sean told us what he was thinking, but he didn’t tell us the casting. With Show 3, we had no idea what was going to happen. For me, Show 4 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
KP: But even then, with Show 3, parts still got changed. We try not to say ‘no’, which is a really good thing. To have to do something you’re not entirely comfortable or interested in is great for your determination. We’re actually about to work on a scene that’s really difficult, but I’m excited to see how we’re going to make it work. It’s so refreshing.
HA: What’s brilliant about this company is Sean didn’t know all our collective talents. We can all sing and some of us play instruments. He inadvertently brought together a really talented group of people; it kind of just happened.
KP: Hammed is a great steel drummer! I don’t think it’s not a coincidence that Hammed is a great drummer and musician as well as great coming timing. They complement each other.
Do you think it helps being an ensemble?
KP: Absolutely, Show 4 is a different show every time we do it as there are things that are constantly changed. We know enough about each other to be comfortable and whatever I do; I know others would be able to cope.
HA: It definitely keeps you on your feet. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. What’s great is normally in this industry, I would never get cast in a role like this. I had to really dig deep.
What do you think are the obstacles in the industry?
HA: It’s really easy to get typecast.
KP: The only similarity between me and Marilyn Monroe (who my character is based on) is that we’re blonde. We’re about to do a scene that we’d normally never get cast in, so it’s really exciting. It’s important because this story happens all over the world, not just to one type of person. Why does Juliet have to be the same every time? She’s always a pretty waif of a girl, which is fine, but it’s not relatable. Why can’t we have some alternatives? Let’s take James Bond, Daniel Craig isn’t the tall, dark and handsome of the previous Bonds and it kind of broke the mould.
HA: It’s frustrating for actors. I’m always cast as a big, clumsy guy and whilst I do enjoy doing that, my role in Show 4 is so different. I think there are no small parts only small actors. It’s about taking small parts and turning them into something huge and with Show 4, I’m able to sink my teeth into it.
What advice do you have for our young people?
HA: Stay positive. Stay on top of your craft. What’s amazing about this generation of young people is it’s getting bigger and bigger and there’s so much talent. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough jobs, so you need to stay positive. The calls aren’t always going to be coming in but don’t let that beat you. Stay positive, stay true to yourself. For any young actors out there, don’t let typecasting beat you. Keep pushing. Don’t let the industry beat you. It’s a great industry but there are flaws. You need to be able to take rejection. You need to be resilient. I did the whole community theatre thing, I didn’t train and I’m really pleased I did that. There’re some great actors, particularly young people, who are pushing. That’s the only way you can break it. If you want it, keep pushing.
KP: Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for the money or the fame.
HA: Definitely not the money!
KP: I had a whole summer of going for one line in Holby, one line in Being Human and I wasn’t getting them. You can create your work. Reading keeps your creativity going. There aren’t enough jobs so the only the way artists can survive is to create your own work.
HA: I’ve been with Metronomes Steel Orchestra for almost six years, and we play at Notting Hill Carnival, and that keeps my mind busy. Not only as a musician; it allows me to think about other things. You’re always going to have nerves, it’s all about how you control them. I’m nervous every night! Don’t let nerves beat you.
Thank you so much to Kat and Hammed for chatting with us! We wish you the best of luck with Show 5 and the upcoming tour – we can’t wait to see more!
**** (4 Stars)
Richmond Theatre - Monday 24 March, 2014
First premiered in 1945, British classic post-war play See How They Run returns to theatre almost 70 years later produced by the newly-formed Reduced Heights Theatre Company, run by television and film actor, Warwick Davis.
The play still remains very farcical with a lightning quick pace from start to finish, filled with slap-stick elements that are perfectively timed, coupled with an array of dead-pan punchlines, which keeps the laughter soaring throughout. The cast may all be of reduced height but their energy levels and their ability to deliver fast and snappy gags was of a high standard.
Davis plays the unfortunate Reverend Lionel Toop who is challenged by characters Lance-Corporal Clive Winton played by Phil Holden, Reverend Arthur Humphrey played by Jamie John and the intruder played by Raymond Griffiths, which all played a big part in the chaotic elements of the play. Other characters include Lionel’s wife, Penelope, played by Rachel Denning and The Bishop of Lax played by Jon Key who were the less farcical and more serious characters of play that frequently delivered impeccably timed, dry-humoured punchlines keeping the show more grounded. Penelope goes up against a loud and energetic maid called Ida and a posh, elegant Miss Skillon who were all integrated into the silliness of the story successfully with their own comical mishaps.
See How They Run is currently on tour around the UK. Details here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/see-how-they-run/richmond-theatre/
***** (5 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre - Monday 17 March, 2014
Telling a mesmerizing tale of love, courage and sacrifice Birdsong is the hit stage show based on Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling novel adapted for stage by Rachel Wagstaff.
The curtain rises to reveal what one can only describe as phenomenal set, enormous amounts of credit must be given to the arts and design team as the set presents the mood of the play from the very beginning. Over the course of the play, the set is used to its full potential, switching between a great living room and the harrowing trenches of the Great War.
The action throughout this play makes the production truly gripping. The distinct flashbacks from the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War and Amiens, France switch from one another seamlessly and create a true sense of life through the eyes of protagonist Stephen Wraysford. The flawless transitions shown would not have been possible however, without the extremely high quality of acting brought to the character from George Banks whose compelling performance throughout is deeply moving.
The use of lighting in the production is of very high standard, with any set changes being out of sight to the audience. Furthermore, the lighting highly emphasises the scenes in which a tunnel is featured making the moment both impressive and intriguing due the atmosphere created.
Each member of the company deserves praise for their work with each cast member delivering a truly realistic approach to their character. The on-stage chemistry between the company is more than evident as each of them work brilliantly in unison with one another.
Birdsong, directed brilliantly by Alastair Whatley marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War grasping every emotion a soldier would have felt on the battlefield. Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, this heart-wrenching, poignant and powerful piece of theatre may turn out to be one of the most memorable pieces of theatre to reach the stage.
Birdsong is currently on a UK Tour. For all the information click here: http://www.birdsongthetour.com