Adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Figs in Wigs
Is this a feminist deconstruction of a revered classic novel? Is it poking fun at the many movie versions? Perhaps it is a clever take on climate change? Or simply a bizarre series of infomercials for juicing machines and vibrating exercise platforms? I’m not entirely certain that the five strong ensemble that is Figs in Wigs are any clearer than the audience.
A whirlwind first act that is a similar length to the interval break seems to be a trailer full of spoilers to Little Wimmin spliced with an idiots guide to Little Women. Dressed in floaty gowns while suspended midair with fluffy cloud wigs the Figs manage to both enchant and irritate. They appear to be both artful and artless in their delivery, creating a challenge for the audience…do we want to come back after the interval and wait almost 2 hours to see the little Wimmin make a margarita or shall we bugger off at the interval and just order one at the bar?
Act 2 opens like an am-dram performance that appears to be a faithful rendition of the classic…just very orange. If the past was all white lace gloves then the present for Figs in Wigs, and undoubtedly the future, is orange…very orange indeed. Meg manages, Jo lollops, Meg simpers (and dies) and Amy flounces. Oh and the Christmas tree breaks the fourth wall to give a sneering critique of the show so far before lip syncing to the Chris Rea classic Driving Home for Christmas with a delivery that would not look out of place on Rupaul’s Drag Race.
There are radical hair restyles, arson, births and deaths all interspersed with prolonged crying. It feels like this pain will never end…When will it be over? These phrases repeatedly occur as time fractures, ice sculptures melt on tea trays, jelly wobbles on vibrating plates and rugs are beaten in an orgasmic frenzy. There is a pervading sense of what mind blowing creative carnage might occur if you locked these five in a rehearsal space with Forced Entertainment and Rashdash.
There are some clever and beautifully choreographed dance sequences, especially the piece depicting time against a backdrop of faded replications of the performance that is very effective. Genius moments include an unforgettable delivery of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien and Lynchian sequences where a giant lace glove dances alongside a horse in a pin stripe suit. Limes fall from the sky and are rhythmically squeezed by an industrial juicer before being decanted into a giant cocktail glass and drank by the famous five now clad in you guessed it – orange hazmat suits.
This is not a show for the faint hearted or the easy confused. However it is a delight if you like your absurdist theatre orange…very orange indeed. With a pinch of subversion, a dash of too clever for its own good, a drip of climate change politics and a squirt of feminism Little Wimmin is a theatrical cocktail.
From the moment the spoken intro distorts into static and alien green beams swirl out across the audience it is clear the mothership has landed and HOME is now host to the lovable alien glitter gods Bourgeois and Maurice. All brittle deadpan delivery and bored insouciance the delightful duo open with a cheery ditty Brink of Extinction reminding their audience things are not great on Earth, while also informing us that with their assistance and the aircon pumping out Poppers…well we might just be okay.
It is quickly evident why this dastardly duo secured the first T1 Commission to create a new piece of work for the main stage at HOME. Witty fast paced lyrics and double entendres ricochet like alien laser beams as they stride around a tinfoil stage as though on a Parisian runway. Writers and performers George Heyworth and Liv Morris have their audience in the palms of their exquisitely manicured hands and we are going on the ride of our lives as we are pulled back 1500 hundred years before Homer wrote The Iliad to the oldest written story The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Michael Hankin has designed a set that blends all the enthusiasm for arts and crafts of 1970s Blue Peter with traces of a set from The Mighty Boosh or an Austin Powers movie The overall effect is a full on riot of colour and glitz that works surprisingly well. Accommodating a cast of eight plus all their musical instruments and a most unlikely throne, there is thankfully still space on stage for singing, dancing, fighting, fucking and brain sucking.
Despite being a long established double act who take no prisoners there is a real generosity in this production and the writing allows the rest of the cast to glitter every bit as brightly as the dynamic duo themselves. A definite surprise hit is LockieChapman as Gilganesh, he absolutely owns his onstage kingdom and provides a mighty vocal talent. His big ballad Don’t Want to Get Old is simply beautiful; incredibly moving lyrics delivered with a poignant depth of emotion. The comic timing with his opponent/bedfellow Enkidu is as electrifying as the sparks crackling from the elegant talons of the alien gods. Kayed Mohamed-Mason charms with his forest innocence but quickly ramps up the mischief after his raunchy encounters with the high priestess Shamhat. Emer Dineen has the natural talent to steal every scene she features in. A gorgeous bluesy vocal is accompanied by easy charm and deft comic expressions that captivate.
This is a fast paced musical that unapologetically steals from popular culture whether by an impish note from an Amazon delivery or a bed scene that could be from Morecambe and Wise or The Odd Couple. There are some weak points in the storyline and the first act ideally could end on the absolute high of the sublime anthem Gay for You. However by the end it’s hard to remember these points as the infectious joy of the show threatens to overwhelm even the Poppers in the atmosphere. Director Phillip McMahon of Thisispopbaby has given the whole production an extra layer of gloss and sequins. The songs are witty, pithy and socially relevant and are delivered with gusto by the whole cast. With a little editing and careful maintenance of the tinfoil budget this is a musical that could run and run.
With this week seeing the incarceration of Harvey Weinstein, this is a timely revival of James Fritz’s clever and insightful four hander. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds explores the darker aspects of the internet as this play takes a family down the rabbit hole of sexting, fake news and private forums. An act lasting four minutes will rupture trust and strain moral boundaries in a close family. Under the sensitive and empathic direction of Chris Lawson and Natasha Harrison this production is a genuine psychological thriller that gets under your skin and challenges its audience to consider our own views on morality, class and parenting in this digital age.
Di and David are the parents of a 17 year old boy who is on track for exam results that will get him out of Oldham and into University. After a violent attack from the brother of his girlfriend Cara, Jack’s parents are forced to face up to the consequences of a sex tape their son has made. Leaked unto the internet it tells a damning story depending on what the viewer chooses to see. Is this revenge porn, a terrible judgement error or possibly something even more dreadful? This is a truly fascinating insight into the cognitive dissonance that subverts our perception of truth when our minds cannot always accept the information we see before us.
The slick white set is modern and middle class with the few splashes of colour provided by fresh flowers and Hunter wellies. Designer Anna Reid has created something crisp and beautiful that allows for nowhere to hide. The reflective panels add to the feeling of this family being utterly exposed and continually finding their perception of reality and truth shift as they uncover more real and fake facts about those fatal four minutes. The lighting design and slashes of sound add to the growing sense of family normality being repeatedly tipped into a nightmarish vortex. This feeling is further enhanced by the movement direction employed by Natasha Harrison which sees Di and David (Jo Mousely and Lee Toomes) literally tipped over the edge as new information jolts their middle class contentment.
The cast all give strong and utterly believable performances. Jo Mousely is a powerhouse of emotion as feisty mum Di who is initially like a lioness out to protect her cub at all costs. As events unfold she is strained to breaking point, utterly at sea as her moral compass fluctuates and she contemplates the unimaginable. Lee Toomes as husband David appears pragmatic if somewhat ineffectual as he tries to steer his family through choppy waters. Calm and apparently likeable, Toomes delivers a performance that continually surprises with some punchy shifts of light and shade. The working class Cara (AlyceLiburd) and school friend Nick (Noah Olaoye) both give gently nuanced performances that add real depth. Liburd shows not an ounce of self pity is shown here, instead there is a blunt acceptance that accent and class will impact how her story is heard and believed. As “Thick Nick” Olaoye beautifully illustrates that morality and brains certainly do not always go hand in hand.
This production is genuinely exciting and thought provoking on so many levels. Beautifully staged and directed with strong performances, this is the undeniable proof that regional theatres may be short on finances but are certainly not short on talent and vision.
This brand new production brings together two powerhouse companies each with a unique reputation for creating challenging and provocative high calibre work. In a world with a rapidly growing population and a society where homelessness has somehow become a norm in our cities, a little space explores what space and home means. It might be something we treasure and nurture, or something we crave and dream off, or perhaps it is something to fear. An oasis, a vacuum, a suffocating space to escape from or a mental space to just breathe in.
There are all the trademark elements of Gecko in the precision and intricate details within this production as they balance the banal and the utterly weird and wonderful. The performances from Mind The Gap add another vibrant dimension by utterly embracing the weirdness and otherness while also celebrating the ordinary and the mudane elements of just inhabiting our own space.
The five performers from Mind The Gap are utterly committed to their space on stage. Compellingly owning their physical space as this apartment block mutates from space to space, as light blurs and blends from dim and ominous green to rosy hue, as the soundscape incorporates church bells, birdsong or the terrifying beep of life support machines. There is a real magical aura as floorboards shift to create outdoor grass and daisies, performers disappear through trapdoor and rugs are pulled from under foot and one performer is literally weighed down by the weight of their apartment.
Engaging and provocative this is a production that goes straight to the heart of its subject matter. The tubular structure of the set is both reassuringly solid and secure yet playfully could equally suggest the bars of a prison. As the performers shine torches out into the audience there is a clear message about inclusion and exclusion, solitude or loneliness – how does it feel to be alone? A couple in one apartment are utterly alone yet together. He seeks escape and companionship in the flickering television while she is left out, alone and frustrated. Are the soap operas on tv becoming our guide or model for how to live in our space? An incisive scene blurs the lines between what happens on screen, on stage and in the audience perception. Multiple lightboxes portray many lives lived in many similar homes. On stage and in the audience we are all voyeurs seeking our best means to exist within our own little space.
This is a genuinely fascinating production which is a clever blend of BSL verbatim theatre, history lecture (in the best sense) and part physical storytelling performance. In Extraordinary Wall [of Silence] 40 hours of interviews with deaf people are condensed into 3 personal experiences of being deaf and are further highlighted by a history guide to the oralist tradition. The fateful and deeply flawed decision made at Congress on the Education of the Deaf in 1880 attempted to wipe out sign language and had a profoundly negative impact on the education and lived experiences of the deaf community.
Staged within Anna Orton’s stark white set, the performance demands our absolute focus as this bright white ensures that every BSL word is crystal clear. I now absolutely understand and appreciate the need for bright lighting as used in Deaf Clubs – if signing is your means of communication then you need to see and be seen. This is wonderfully illustrated in Graham’s story as Matthew Gurney acts out the risks of sexual communication in the dark when Graham and his partner attempt oral sex.
The three stories are in parts heartbreaking and hilarious. The performances are incredibly nuanced and tenderly informed as they blend physical storytelling with the expressive vibrancy of BSL and an orated performance by Deborah Pugh. Moments in Alan’s story with David Ellington where words are extraneous are dealt with exquisitely such as the first attempts exploring his mother’s make up or the blistering sexual assault by a teacher. Moira Anne McAuslan is a powerhouse of rage and indignation as she evokes Helen who suffered invasive procedures such as cochlear implants in the name of progress and her best interests. Parents lovingly attempting their best for their child in a society that sees deafness as something to be fixed left their daughter at sea in a world of hearing people where she just experienced horrible noise and ill equipped in the deaf community where she had never learned BSL. Graham’s experiences led a profoundly happy and confident deaf child with deaf parents to attempt suicide because of his brutal experiences in a hearing school and sheer ignorance in the workplace.
These stories highlight the ignorance around deafness and the often callous and ludicrous assumptions made by a non deaf society. Ad Infinitum have shone a blistering white light on the importance of maintaining Deaf Clubs and the damage done by the oralist tradition and the extraordinary wall [of Silence] that received the 1979 Conrad Report which eviscerated the idea that sign language was not a vital language of expression and an essential educational tool. This production is an out and loud retaking of deaf history and a bold statement to those developing new gene editing tools that Deafhood is here to stay and as Helen says I don’t need fixing!
This new adaptation of Emily Bronte’s WutheringHeights creates an exciting theatrical opportunity to explore the moors and their doomed inhabitants in the round of the Royal Exchange. Would Director Bryony Shanahan and writer Andy Sheridan perhaps place a modern day damaged and doomed Heathcliff and Cathy up on Saddleworth Moors with a despairing school attendance officer? Might they be recognised as probably suffering from impulse control disorder, ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder and possibly anorexia? This fresh take instead seeks to move between mining a comedic vein that borders into laugh out loud farce while equally revering the beauty of Emily’s poetry. Sadly the real emotional depth in this production is only really there when it glories in showcasing Bronte’s poetry with a dreamy soundscape by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite. The end result is disjointed in terms of character development so it feels impossible to believe in the innate complexity of these wild, unbridled creatures of nature and their tumultuous relationship.
There is a serious issue with the chemistry between Rakhee Sharma as Cathy and Alex Austin as Heathcliff. It is actually the mood established by the lighting and the musical accompaniment that drives and creates emotional depth and potency in this relationship. The rest is simply swagger, spits and hisses punctuated by glib swearing or beautiful and passionate speeches spoken eloquently but petulantly when they need to resonate with raw passion. There is a wonderful gawky awkwardness that Alex Austin brings to the young Heathcliff but too often his characterisation slips into glib gangster menace rather than wild, embittered and wounded soul. Sharma as Cathy is wild and feisty but often too shouty and pouty to truly convey the raw unfettered soul that Emily Bronte envisaged. I wanted to revel in her complexity but found myself just wishing she would calm down and not spoil the glorious sound of musicians Becky Wilkie and Sophie Galpin. At key moments my eyes were drawn to the impassioned face of Wilkie and sadly not that of Rakhee Sharma. David Crellin as Earnshaw brings warmth and humanity with a performance that is rich and complex.
In her first production as Co- Artistic Director at the Royal Exchange Bryony Shanahan brings a lot of energy and movement to the production that at times creates a real sense of the wild moors and their freedom from the constraints of societal norms as the characters run free. There is a genuine pathos as Cathy struggles with letting go of childhood freedoms to be a mother and a wife. Creating magic and mayhem this is a Cathy that is perhaps closer to the weird sisters in the recent Macbeth at the Royal Exchange than the weird sisters at Haworth Parsonage. The casual cruelty shown by all the main protagonists is brutal and brutish, and perhaps this explains the decision to play so many key scenes for laughs. Moments such as when Heathcliff and Cathy are once more together on the moors struggle with the emotional depth of a key scene being undercut by Isabella raising laughs as she comically clambering over the rocky landscape. The humour does offset the darkness but sometimes this is at the expense of driving the plot forward in a believable manner.
The use of light shards works really well and designer Zoe Spurr has created a really painterly effect on mood and landscape. The set design is however more problematic with its messy blend of heath and hearth. The barren tree is beautiful as is the design allowing characters to depart this world or spy on others. The floor space however resembles a post apocalyptic golf course and has a playmobil feel rather than a naturalistic landscape. Overall this production may be as divisive in its execution and reception as the original book was when first received by its readers!
A Told by an Idiot and Theatre Royal Plymouth production
Told by an Idiot celebrate the golden age of silent cinema so unsurprisingly it is punctuated by the sounds of a drum kit, a piano, a hotel service bell and some hip hop clog dancing! Writer and Director Paul Hunter pinpoints an actual moment in history when Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel board a ship to America. It’s 1910 and as part of the slapstick troupe Fred Karno’s Army, the two men are on their way to become an worldwide cinema icon and one half of the most famous and beloved comedy duo ever. This is no satisfyingly chronological comedic biography but instead Hunter intermingles fragments both real and imagined to pay a kaleidoscopic homage to two comedy greats.
The multidimensional aspect of the stage evoke the SS Cairnrona both above and below decks, while also functioning as a hotel, a Victorian madhouse and a cinema stage. Designer Ioana Curelea brings an energy and flamboyance to the design that strongly echoes Kneehigh Theatre productions. She gives the performers a playground to showcase their very physical portrayals of Chaplin and duo Laurel and Hardy that is delightful and highly effective.
The eloquence of the silent performances is how they zero in on the story telling in the facial expressions and the minute movements of the body. In this Amalia Vitale excels with a performance that is off the scale in whimical charm and is razor sharp in its delicate and precise interpretation of Chaplin. She combines slapstick comedy with balletic grace while also interacting with the audience with flair and confidence. Nick Haverson takes on multiple roles including the cigar chomping impresario Fred Karno and with the aid of a cushion and a duct tape moustache he uncannily morphs into Oliver Hardy. His performances coupled with his percussion skills add richness and depth to this madcap trip through the decades. Sara Alexander does a great job of keeping the story moving musically while her facial expressions tell so much of the narrative. Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan Laurel is full of gawky charm and has a certain ingénue quality. There is a lot to enjoy in his performance yet it feels like the essence of Laurel is rarely seen. This is a theatre company that declares itself disinterested in creating reality and is more engaged in provoking and entertaining while actively engaging the audience. Yet somehow this jars slightly with this performance alongside such uncanny personifications of Chaplin and Hardy.
The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is a really pleasurable theatrical experience and the use of audience members onstage is handled deftly. The fragmented moments capture births, deaths, success and disappointment and a poignant glimpse into a golden age that set the benchmark in slapstick comedy and absurdism in theatre and film. There are scenes that could be briefer without losing impact, and for some the random nature of these snapshots of the two men may be confusing, however overall this is a real joy to watch.
I loved the energy and vibrancy of this performance. The first year students at Arden School of Theatre do their own unique take on the evergreen seminal play The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. The sense of fun and irreverence is apparent from the moment the pianist begins her discordant thudding, setting the tone for this performance which like the music becomes increasingly disjointed with a growing air of desperation. The whole pieced has a blend of contemporary performance and dance blended with some great clowning skills and has a vibe of Mischief Theatre Company. The level of commitment and professionalism from the cast is evident throughout with students staying consistently in character even when not “on” stage.
There is some marvellous choreography dotted through this piece that really highlights some deft physical comedy from certain members of the cast particularly in numbers such as Murder on the Dance Floor when it parodies the dance off in Rupaul’s Drag Race. Psycho Killer was great combining tight choreography with some really menacing and disturbing performances with one cast member in particular proving quite mesmerising. Other notable moments include when they performers first hit the stage like a anarchic catwalk show for Burberry or Vivienne Westwood. Visually the costumes looked really cohesive and well thought through.
This really was an exercise in tearing up the script and tossing the pages in the air like satin fabric scraps. I’m sure Agatha Christie would have been spitting up bits of satin in lieu of feathers. The use of fabric in this way worked really cleverly with the performance concept. Extremely simple but incredibly effective as they remade chaos in a floor plan reminiscent of the board in Cluedo. The little ad breaks and presentations were effective as a means to clear the stage and reset for new scenes. Perhaps more might have been done with the audience interactions at those points when the two performers break the fourth wall. This was such a high energy piece that perhaps the pacing at the end night have benefited from some tweaks and editing. It felt like a really high point to end on may have been at . Psycho Killer.
There were some really strong and memorable performances particularly with some of the natural comedians on stage and some lovely elements of absurdist comedy as well as some great deadpan delivery from the Narrator and a drag performance straight out of Hinge and Brackett in the characterisation of Mrs Boyle. I look forward to seeing what this year group do next!
Trips to The British Library to explore the Aarne index of folktales from around the globe as Suzanne Andrade sought out appropriate tales for 1927 resulted in a big friends and family get together over a vat of Irish stew in a snow storm. The outcome is ROOTS, a hotchpotch of vivid, quirky tales told using the 1927 trademark blend of animation, performers and musicians. As we prepare to leave Europe this rich tapestry of interwoven tales showcases the power of storytelling as a universal medium to unite us all. Folktales have always morphed and mutated as they weave around the globe and with ROOTS this magic continues with an accompanying visual and musical feast.
This bakers dozen are not clean cut or a cohesive illustration of a particular theme such as those approached by Italo Calvino or Angela Carter. Instead they revel in being a splatter fest of the dark, the peculiar and downright odd. A Fat Cat is a tale of epic consumerism where puss systematically eats the world, pausing only to barf up a schoolboy’s scabs and a world leader’s toupee! Elsewhere a genitally blessed king seeks a bride without a domineering will of her own, while in Two Fish parents kill their child in the misguided hope of acquiring a third fish. In the delightfully whimsical An Ant found a penny, a beatnik French ant honeymoons in The Orkneys before her world implodes from a traumatic event involving a pot of stew.
As with all 1927 productions the animation and film by Paul Barritt looks wonderful whether as minimalist black and white or the psychedelic landscape of Snake or the absinthe green tinged The Luckless Man. Performers pop up through hinged windows in the screen bringing 3D to the animations, musicians gain angel wings just as the animated fat cat ascends to heaven…every tiny whimsical detail is utilised and luxuriated in. In The Magic Bird layers of detail create a Punch and Judy aspect to a couples murderous, greedy squabbles. The costumes, make up and music all combine to give this production a real world flavour from Parisien ants to Mexican Day of The Dead horse heads in Alonso and the Ogre and the rich earthy African tone of Snake.
The tales are darkly comic and often violent with witty current references all told in a very naturalistic manner by non professionals. This madcap cluster of tales are weirdly mesmerising and totally engrossing.
I was blown away by I’m a Phoenix, Bitch when I saw it at Edinburgh Fringe in August. Like many of the audience I literally staggered out of that performance like someone had literally tilted my world and walked me through the dark side of a nightmare reality. Thankfully Bryony Kimmings is acutely mindful of her safety and that of her audience. This is a safe space and “new Bryony” has plenty of tools for any possible apocalyptic scenario. It’s time to find the little anchors and rafts that exist amongst all this chaos that will help you…in the future.
This is an autobiographical performance by an artist who has never shied away from painful, personal subject matter. Shows like Sex Idiot, 7 Day Drunk and Fake It ‘Til You Make It have firmly established Kimmings as an important artist. This show explores her experiences in 2015 when she lost her partner, her home, her sanity and almost lost her baby son. The show is structured around her subsequent experience of a Psychotherapy technique called “rewinding” used to help clients confront and deal with past traumas. Using micro sets on stage that recreate various scenarios, Kimmings films herself and these projections cleverly recreate how the mind can be trapped in a memory or experience, and how observing it again can help gain emotional perspective to cope with trauma.
As a self styled “Psychotherapy movie star” Kimmings embraces elements of camp horror schtick, brooding black and white Hitchcock and vivid Lynchian dystopias as she plays out a range of rewinds. We meet the breakfast nymph complete with a full English and the requisite vicious metal man trap. We see a girlish Bryony playing house as she plays out the fairytale complete with miniature Oxfordshire cottage with wisteria on the outside and lashings of Farrow and Bell on the inside. There is a high achieving Mum-to-be in billowing kaftan bingeing on NCT classes and natural childbirth. As each scene is unveiled Kimmings is transformed with wigs and makeup while in between there is a sharp contrast as the new Bryony breaks the fourth wall red haired and clad in black gym clothes. This Bryony makes recordings for her son Frank in the hope he will understand their journey whilst also battling a harsh leaking, creeping inner monologue that frequently attempts to derail her hard fought for sanity and confidence as a mother.
Visually this production is both bleak and yet utterly gorgeous. This is dark subject matter but Kimmings has a lightness of touch and a real natural warmth that is always engaging. The projections give this show a magical realism especially when she steps into the projection itself. The utter poignancy of a grief crazed mother frantically burying the unbearable reminders of the future she had imagined for her child seem not crazy or remotely like giving up on her son. Like a Phoenix this is a mother preparing to be a mother to a “new” baby Frank.
This is a harrowing journey into post-partum psychosis, PSTD, and a parent’s nightmare experience of seeing their baby become critically ill with a cruel and damaging health condition. This is no blissed out paradise model and there is no happy ending to this story but there is a statement of hope to sustain us all in the real world. This is an important performance to witness as what audience members hopefully take away is a permission to see psychotherapy or counselling as an option to support them if ever confronted with their own personal apocalypse. Bryony can now see her horrific experiences in 2015 as just bad luck. Her fears for her baby did not make anything bad happen. Many parents fear for their children as a natural built in instinct for their survival, in post-partum psychosis those fears are hideously magnified. We can all prepare for the worst. For Bryony her fears were realised but thankfully she has risen like a Phoenix and although battle scared, both her and her loved ones have survived.