OH MOTHER

Abbi Greenland ,Helen Goalen and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Devised by Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland, Penny Greenland and Simone Seales

Composed by Becky Wilkie and Simone Seales

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Rashdash has been a hive of creativity and productivity in recent years. In the midst of Covid lockdowns they produced shows Don’t Go Back To Sleep about the pandemic and Look At Me Don’t Look At Me about Pre-Raphaelite artist and muse Lizzie Siddall. while also producing several babies. New show Oh Mother was originally in the making pre- pandemic but was delayed due to funding issues, covid and subsequent pregnancies. It seems oddly fitting that when it finally reaches the stage all three core members of Rashdash are now mothers.

Oh Mother is brimming over with ideas and creativity that spills out the like the vivid ball pit balls that litter the opening sequence. Fittingly the stage is initially hidden by a curtain haphazardly erected to screen the audience from the mayhem on stage. There are apologies from Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen who both appear dressed like Grecian goddesses and whose studied poses exemplify the glorification of Motherhood in classical art. As the curtain falls away the disarray is all too visible. The gleaming, sleek stage is littered with plastic balls, toys and ikea beakers. As they frantically tidy up this unflinching look at motherhood also includes the tidying away of blood soaked maternity pads and disposable birthing sheets. Either side of the stage is a cello played by Simone Seales whose music flows and spikes like hormonal surges and a glossy dishwasher which is the subject of choral hymn. The glittering raised backdrop is a gorgeous light display of the word BABY which is used creatively throughout the show. The set design by Oli Townsend and lighting design by Katharine Williams are really striking and incredibly effective.

Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

The show is structured around sketches and songs and movement that all explore what it is to be a mother and to be mothered and the expectations and assumptions Society makes around what it means to have a vagina and be potentially capable of building another human being. It also explores mothering from the cradle to the grave as dementia means that many of us become mothers to our own mothers when they require the same care they gave us as babies.

Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

There are poignant moments as Goalen and Greenland reflect on those who don’t have their babies any more or who never got to meet them while recognising the vital importance of saying something rather than being silent on the subject. Goalen grapples with the tension between couples when a new baby redefines her relationship, while Greenland reflects on navigating friendships where one is now a parent and the other is not. Seales who is non binary experiences nightmarish sequences where they are under threat from a mother who has rigid stereotypical views of women and hilariously meets their own vagina in the form of Greenland dressed as a swashbuckling, baby demanding Don Giovanni as Goalen feverishly ejects baby dolls through the vee of the A in BABY. Interspersed are conversations with the unseen Penny Greenland who looked after her own mother Hannah for 7 years. The other performers play her and her mother giving a wonderful flavour of generations of wit, wisdom, joy and despair.

This really does feel like vintage Rashdash (even though I miss Becky Wilkie on stage) with witty acerbic songs on how to make motherhood sexy despite the shit under your nails and underneath your maternity pants being unwashed and unwaxed. There are golden cherubic babies strapped to bosoms, Daddy bear costumes, playful toddler games and desperate pleas to tyrannical babies who have left them feeling like dried out husks. There is undoubted strength as their dance trained bodies are still strong and limber as they move fluidity around the set. There is joy and adoration as these mothers embrace their new roles while still wanting to have the time to fuck around and leave a trail of beautiful men wondering what went wrong. If they can produce work like this with the infamous fevered baby brains then there is no doubt that these clever, witty women are just hitting their stride

Abbi Greenland and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Oh Mother is rather like a projectile vomit of creative ideas, it is gloriously messy and frantic and for some it may seem too busy with too much crammed into 90 minutes. Personally I loved the energy and passion. It perfectly summed up the cacophony in your head that is early motherhood when your pre-existing neuroses get magnified fifty-fold and you are chronically sleep deprived so fact and fantasy merge. As Greenland and Goalen acknowledge there is a lot going on…but perhaps just like their babies they have birthed something really special.

HOME 12th -28th May 2022

Tobacco Factory Theatres with MAYK Bristol 21 -25th June 2022

Soho Theatre 19th July- 13th August 2022

Between Tiny Cities

Devised and Directed by Nick Power

CONTACT THEATRE

Between Tiny Cities is the creative vision of Australian hip hop dance artist and choreographer Nick Power. He has previously worked with Aboriginal communities, and his other productions have included works such as Two Crews which brought together Sydney’s Riddim Nation and from Paris, all female crew Lady Rocks. This interest in exploring diverse cultures, languages and geography through conversations in dance has culminated in the four year project that is Between Tiny Cities. This production brings together Darwin company D*City Rockers and Tiny Toones from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Dancers Erak Mith and Aaron Lim square up to each other in the centre of a circle surrounded by their audience. Will this be a classic hip-hop dance battle, a war of clashing cultures or miscommunication due to language barriers, a fight of masculine prowess or even some form of mating game? Will these two young men find a commonality within this dance space? Being in such close proximity to the performers means the audience get a real sense of connection to the dancers. We see up close the glistening sweat on their bodies and the wary looks that later warm and then become humorous and  collaborative.

At one point the dance moves from street dance styles that are similar filled with young male posturing and impudent intensity to the commonality of two breathlessAt CONTACT Theatre 10th -12th May 2022CONTACT THEATRE 10th-12th May 2022, exhausted performers who simply sit down and share water. This shift in pace cleverly brings the men together as their breathing synchronises. This is also when Erak Mith steps out of the circle to briefly sit in the audience as though to say we are all one…we breathe and we need water to survive…these are universal needs.

Image credit. Prudence Upton

The sound design by Jack Prest and lighting design by Brosco Shaw work perfectly with the choreography as the dancers change pace, explore each others style and learn from each other before merging and forming a new shared style. The spotlight focus on Lim and Mith highlights the differences and the similarities but as the lights warm and mute down towards the closing sequence. There is a dreamy quality as movements become increasingly obscured and finally it is simply two young men inhabiting and sharing the same space. As this piece moves through the rituals of their individual cultural experiences and their shared knowledge of hip hop dance culture, we witness a sharing of journeys and styles leading to a genuine appreciation of each other.

CONTACT THEATRE 10TH-12TH MAY 2022

Spinach

Charlotte Linighan and Joe Parker as Kate and Joe.

Written and Directed by Janine Waters

Music and Lyrics by Simon Waters

The Edge

It’s not often you take your seat in the theatre by walking past an attractive young couple drugged and tied up in a hostage situation. Last night was certainly a first for me. As the show begins and its clear that every word of dialogue is sung and that halloumi kebabs rather than spinach are going to be integral to the plot…well its fair to say I’m experiencing a little trepidation. It wears off quicker than the drugs being administered on stage as I’m swept up in this rollicking yarn about kebabs, buses, romance and pharmaceuticals.

Janine Waters and Simon Waters debuted Spinach ten years ago at the Royal Exchange so it’s rather fitting that they are reviving the production to celebrate the tenth birthday of the beautiful boutique theatre The Edge in Chorlton which they established with Dom Waters. Spinach doesn’t fit any clear theatrical genre and feels quite unique, but all the way through it I kept thinking that Victoria Wood would rejoice at being in the audience for this production. The show exudes a playfulness and energy that perfectly reflect its co-creators. Fizzing with witty lines and confident direction Spinach is further enhanced by the scoring which is just delightful; this is feelgood theatre entertainment at its best.

The cast of four play off each other perfectly and each character feels well crafted and fleshed out. Fresh out of drama school Charlotte Linighan really shines as hostage Kate. She brings both sweet innocence and an impish humour that is wonderfully engaging as she plays off Joe Parker as Tom. The onstage chemistry between them is impressive given that a lot of their time on stage has them tied together back to back. Craig Whittaker and Rachael McGuinness are both perfectly cast and ensure that their characters Darren and Maureen are likely to be permanently etched in memory like any great comedy double act.

Spinach is a delightfully bonkers story about how we can find love in the most unlikely places. This is a confident production which really is a pleasure to watch. Perfect entertainment in a beautifully refurbished theatre that is quite simply a great night out.

The Edge 30th Nov – 18th Dec 2021

FREEDOM PROJECT

Bramall Rock Void, Leeds Playhouse

Written by Luke Barnes

Directed by Alexander Ferris

Reflecting on Freedom Project and the issues and conversations it raises I found myself thinking why do we call children seeking a new home here refugees? Why are we not seeing them for who they actually are? They are simply children requiring support, nurture and safeguarding. Why do we have such differing perspectives on refugees than on evacuees? Is it because one is seen as voluntary and the other as forced? Surely both have a commonality in the driving issue being a removal from danger? This country saw around 2 million children evacuated during WW2 in Operation Pied Piper. Children were moved out of the cities to rural Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I imagine we wanted them to be safe, nurtured, educated and valued. Fast forward 80 years to now and refugee children arriving in Britain are met with uncertain welcomes, interrogations, pupil referral units, police searches and housed in hostels if they don’t “look” like children.  These are just a few of the thoughts that came from watching Freedom Project.

This production was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed due to Covid. Perhaps it is even more timely showing now, mere weeks after events in Afghanistan led to the heart-rending scenes at Kabul airport. Written by Luke Barnes in response to dialogue with young people seeking asylum in London and Leeds, this piece gives a vital voice to those whose lived experience is to dream of reaching  safety but discover the reality is often very different. Perhaps one of the most potent memories from this show is the warm and very personal welcome that audience members are greeted with on arrival. The actors in this two-hander welcome us into the space with friendly confidence and yet these two young men who will perform as 15 year old refugees have been refugees themselves. The dialogue could easily be their own truth and therefore their friendliness is all the more potent and meaningful. Leeds Playhouse was the first theatre in Britain to create a Theatre of Sanctuary for Refugees and people seeking asylum in 2014. Actors Mohammadreza Bazarbashi and Hossein Ahmadi have established relationships here and this has been a space to foster supportive relationships and assist budding actors to establish careers and learning opportunities.

The traverse staging works really well creating both an intimacy as the actors can get close up to engage with the audience. Having the audience facing each other accross the stage also serves to remind us of the opposing factions that lead to so many refugeed fleeing their homes. Designer Katie Scott has created a set with the feel of a disused playground or skateboard park. This allows for loads of movement in this energetic piece and allows the young actors to be children as they leapfrog, slide or just hang out chatting. The overhead fluttering  canopy of tent fragments is a stark nod to the tents at Calais and elsewhere.

Both actors exude charm and are extremely engaging. Luke Barnes ensures that the writing tells a hard hitting story but at its heart is warmth and compassion. Their journey of arriving in Britain with nothing but second hand clothing, no identification and little English is terrifying yet it also tells of the hopes they have arriving here…we came to England because it’s the best. It has the best schools, the best jobs, the most money…the best films, football and music. The tragedy enfolds as the smalls acts of human kindness these boys receive is outweighed by the callous nature of bureaucracy that asks children to relive the horrors they have escaped without any adequate safeguarding or support in place.

This is important storytelling. It would be so easy to be comfortably assured that once refugee children arrive that they are supported and placed in secure, welcoming foster homes. Freedom Project is an important reminder that children fleeing may have no documentation and therefore can fall through the cracks ending up in unsuitable hostels and denied appropriate education opportunities. Without the right support these young people can lose their optimism for the future and we therefore lose all their potential too. We risk harnessing bitterness and despair when we could be nurturing hope and positivity. We love England. Despite what it did to our home.

Leeds Playhouse 10th-18th September 2021

Leeds Playhouse Theatre of Sanctuary

Little Wimmin

Little Wimmin. Image by Jemima Yong

Adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Figs in Wigs

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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.

HOME 5th -14th March 2020

All images by Jemima Yong

EXTRAORDINARY WALL [OF SILENCE]

Ad Infinitum with Extraordinary Wall [Of Silence]. Photo by Alex Brenner

Devised by The Company

Directed by George Mann

HOME

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.

Ad Infinitum. Photo by Alex Brenner

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!

HOME 12 -22 February 2020

PLAYLAND

Fez Singhateh as Martinus Zulu and Danny Solomon as Gideon La Roux

Written by Athol Fugard

Directed by Jake Murray

The Empty Space

Elysium Theatre Company have once again shown what high calibre work they can produce. Great story telling from South African playwright Athol Fugard with sound direction from Jake Murray and powerful performances from both male leads ensure that this is a great piece of theatre . A journey through trauma to possible redemption, Playland explores what happens to the human psyche when men with a strong moral code find themselves doing unspeakable things and then have to find a way to live with the consequences.

Set in Playland, a travelling fairground, the action takes place on New Year’s Eve 1989 when war veteran Gideon La Roux meets the fairground watchman Martinus Zulu. Behind the gaudy splendour of the lights and wurlitzer music is the deeply reflective Martinus alone in his monastic space. This bleak setting eventually serves as a kind of confessional for both men. The absolute power of this performance is not just that it is about the unravelling of a man with PTSD, but that it is a man who fought in a war of Apartheid where soldiers were forced to take a vow of silence and where truth was white washed or blacked out. Somehow Gideon is pulled towards another man who is guarding his own secret pain and who has also broken the sixth commandment.

Danny Solomon as Gideon La Roux

This is a perfectly balanced double act from two actors who were both also excellent in a previous Elysium production Jesus Hopped the A Train. Danny Solomon is veteran Gideon, a man whose initial bonhomie hides deep psychological wounds that slowly start to surface as the clock ticks down to a new year. Solomon is all nervous energy and keen, darting eyes while he attempts to engage the recalcitrant security guard. He is engaging and charming as he tells stories of his pigeons and his childhood but effortlessly shifts into menace and madness as he attempts to gaslight his reluctant companion into violence. He increasingly reminds me of early Jack Nicholson in the ways he can play with energy, tempo and mood.

Fez Singhateh as Martinus Zulu

Faz Singhateh counters Solomon with a wonderfully controlled and restrained performance. Stiff with righteous indignation, every sinew is coiled as his Martinus watches and waits like a wary, wounded animal. The growing tension between both men slowly builds, becoming palpable as their stories are told and they find common ground in their actions but struggle with their opposing perceptions of redemption and forgiveness.

The writing is evocative and brutal in its description of the horrors of the Border War, but is also tender as it reveals the youthful innocence of childhood. Simple but effective staging with rich lighting and a fabulous fairground soundscape add additional pleasure to this production. Everything is thoughtfully and sensitively done, ensuring that 30 years on this tale of redemption and forgiveness still feels timely and relevant.

Empty Space 31st Oct – 2nd Nov 2019

Black History Month

Images by Victoria Wai Photography

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Image by Richard Davenport, The Other Richard

Written and devised using verbatim material by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett

Directed by Billy Barrett

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It’s True, It’s True, It’s True uses verbatim theatre to launch a blistering assault on the legal system’s attitude to women in rape and sexual assault cases, and how patriarchal perspectives inform how our truth is perceived. Ripping through the centuries comes the voice of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi from the surviving pages of a 400 year old rape case in Rome. A seven month long court case in 1612 that pitched this remarkable 17 year old against Agostino Tassi, an older, established artist who had given her painting lessons and viciously raped her.

Using verbatim text is something Breach have honed as a theatrical tool throughout all five of their productions. They have a sensitivity to the material and a wonderfully creative and playful way of transposing it unto the stage in a way that works visually. Using clever design from Luke W Robson with lighting by Lucy Adams they create a rich Baroque environment that summons up painting studios but with a sinister hint of courtroom/prison torture chamber.

The pace is excellent here, this may be 400 year old court documents but Billy Barrett ensures they feel fresh, vivid and shockingly relevant to today. When the courtroom drama cuts to descriptions of Artemisia’s paintings of classical historical images, the energy shifts again. What ensues is cheeky and merciless as Ellice Stevens, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Bond do a glorious take on a Benny Hill style sketch and slice through traditional male stereotypical assumptions about female desire.

All three female performers take on the central roles and those of additional characters with great skill, integrity and energy. These are not easy roles to perform as they are embedded in the truth of real words spoken by a wounded young woman astounded by what the courts require of her to accept her truth. Ellice Stevens gives a brilliant performance as Artemisia allowing her a vulnerability that is laced with indignation, innate self confidence and an insistence that her voice be heard. She brings joy and power to this harrowing story of a young woman who emerges as a success and not as a victim.

Kathryn Bond has the tricky role of Tuzia who fails to protect or support her young charge yet is also the victim of bullying by the wily Tassi. She does a great job of evoking a gossipy, foolish woman who is easily swayed but not heartless either.

Sophie Steer takes on the most difficult role as the vicious rapist whose scheming ways and previous history of assaults are clearly documented in the court papers. She is mesmerising as she exudes a sense of Tassi’s narcissistic selfishness and brutal intent to trample on anyone in his path. As a actress she has an uncanny and brilliant capacity to step into a character’s skin like a chameleon. The shift from scheming rapist Tassi to avenging angel Judith is wonderful to observe as she literally sheds his skin and sex and reinvents herself as another character.

What we see on stage is outrageous, ghastly and painful but ultimately triumphant as Artemisia summons her heroine Judith to behead her offender Holofernes. Breach evoke a #MeToo through the ages as Patti Smith’s defiant anthem Gloria ricochets through the theatre and hopefully beyond. A celebration of Artemisia, her later achievements as an artist, and her words, ” as long as I live I will have control over my being…I’ll show you what a woman can do”.

HOME 8th Oct – 12th Oct 2019

Breach

SWIM

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Liz Richardson in association with HOME and ECHO

Creators/Performers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward, Carmel Smickersgill

I grew up by water, a green, gurgling river full of trout and salmon and Lough Erne, the Irish Lake District – 2 dark and beautifully treacherous loughs filled with islands. I love the comfort of water, especially a warm enveloping bath. For Liz Richardson and her friend Lisa comfort and solace comes in the icy shock of wild swimming. This new show takes a moving and tender look at the grieving process as Richardson introduces fellow theatre makers Josie Dale Jones and Sam Ward to wild swimming while composer Carmel Smickersgill observes them and creates an extraordinarily beautiful homage to the power of the water and the potency of grief.

SWIM combines performance with live music, video footage and a conversational style that creates a really fresh feel to this piece. There is a real sense that these performers are meeting in a collaborative process that is new to all of them and that their personal curiosity around the subject matter is geniune. This production is full of earthy humour and guileless playfulness yet throughout their quest to explore what is involved in wild swimming, there is a haunting constant in the grieving process and that this show is not about Liz’s friend Lisa but that it for her.

The stamina, huge heart and lust for life that Liz Richardson embodied in Gutted is on show once again. She takes her fellow performers and the audience on a quest to feel truly alive and to never feel apologetic for the gift of life. The filmic element of the show is both down to earth mundane and sublimely beautiful as they chatter and shiver in an estate car or float on vast lakes. The personalities and differing perspectives of the performers work well and the whole thing is drawn together by the soaring vocals of Carmel Smickersgill who creates an ethereal soundscape akin to Julee Cruise or Duritti Column.

SWIM speaks of the spiking feeling or electrifying shock to the body as it is encompassed by the icy water. It speaks of the pain as friends see each other grieve, on your face a type of joy til I’ve seen You’ve remembered again…just because you’ve enjoyed yourself doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. In the water our bodies are reshaped just as our souls are by grief. In profound grief we often seem to lose ourselves, or the selves that we once were. In making this show for her friend Lisa, Liz is seeking a friend who is out there lost in the dark water. Regrouping, reforming repairing, still an unknown to herself and to Liz…may you both continue to journey well within the water and beyond it.

The day after I saw this show I too lost someone very dear to me. I’m still floundering in and out of the water but I won’t drown. Shows like SWIM are so important, we never know when we might need to revisit them and find solace.

Beside-Pleasance Courtyard 31st July-26th August 2019

Miss Julie

Alice Frankham as Miss Julie and Danny Solomon as John. Credit – Ed Rees

Written by August Strindberg

Translated by Michael Meyer

Directed by Jake Murray

Hope Mill Theatre

August Strindberg wrote this naturalistic masterpiece in 1888, back then it was considered so shocking to Swedish audiences that it could only be performed privately. Raw and incisive Miss Julie cuts through gender and class politics in a manner that was astounding for its’ time. It retains much of its shock value even now as class divisions and gender stereotypes continue to resonate. Servant Christine despairingly remarks how can you respect “your employers when they’re no better than us – what’s the point of trying to improve ourselves?” A bitterly poignant moment as we are on the verge of electing an utterly graceless buffoon as our next Prime minister.

Director Jake Murray allows a strong cast to embrace this vibrant play and sink their teeth into all the mess of emotions and aspirations without losing the complexity and nuance of each individual on stage. Overplayed or in the hands of a less deft director, Miss Julie is a play that could descend into histrionics but here each character is allowed to develop as intended.

Alice Frankham as Miss Julie exudes a persona of cool, imperious beauty and privilege but gives free reign to her character’s wild impetuous nature. Her mercurial nature is never overplayed into histrionics ensuring that even a modern audience can understand her desperation and vulnerability as she tries to be true to her nature despite the constraints of her class and gender.

Danny Solomon as valet John is mesmerising as he flits between suave professional upstairs servant, downtrodden but aspirational farm lad, hopeful lover and brutish misogynist. He creates a raw horror as he cowers from the power of the servants’ bell before coolly handing Miss Julie his cutthroat razor as her only way out of disgrace.

Lois Mackie as Christine is the steadying force in this drama bringing a wonderfully dry wit to all her reflections. Her weary cook is a pragmatic and calm foil to the emotional turbulence unfolding around her. The frantic aspirations of escape from the constraints of class and gender are calmly brushed aside by a woman who accepts her role in life and seeks comfort in respect and in her faith.

This is a thoughtfully staged production with a really keen eye to period detail. The ensemble support from students at ALRA North and Arden School of Theatre adds a lovely touch as they mingle and greet the audience as though we too are part of the Midsummer celebration. The set by Louis Price creates a really authentic Edwardian feel and makes the appearance of the glamorous Miss Julie even more incongruous as she wafts around the servants kitchen. This is another success story for Elysium Theatre Company who are steadily building a great reputation for creating strong productions such as last years Jesus Hopped The A Train. Miss Julie is a satisfying watch ending with a wonderful poignancy about the constraints we live by as the lights dim on the gilded birdcage on the table.

Hope Mill Theatre 18 – 22 June 2019

Elysium Theatre Company