JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN

HOME

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Directed by Jake Murray

This is the Northern première of Jesus Hopped The A Train, first performed in New York in 2000, and then at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2002. Durham based Elysium Theatre Company have produced a startling and provocative take on this powerful play about moral responsibility and the American penal system. The themes of redemption and damnation are at the forefront of this play and Director Jake Murray ensures his terrific cast embody the complexities of finding goodness even in the most seemingly “monstrous” individuals.

The setting is Rikers Island Prison in New York. Two apparently very different men are imprisoned there and come to know each other during their shared one hour of fresh air each day. Angel is young and naive, new to the prison system he is not a hardened recidivist and seems initially bewildered by all the fuss. All I did was shoot him in the ass! it is his bad luck that Rev Kim later dies on the operating table. Lucius is awaiting the outcome of his appeal against extradition to Florida for the death penalty having murdered 8 people.

The two actors playing Angel and Lucius do a tremendous job and are perfect foils for each other. Danny Solomon is all lanky, fluid limbs and is perfectly cast as the naive, coltish youth who is initially credulous that he is actually in trouble at all. Solomon moves from his desperate fumbling prayers and cockiness toward his state-appointed lawyer to a fragile, shell-shocked rape victim and then to a coming of age as he is tutored to navigate the legal system and reflect with Lucius about the nature of freedom and redemption.

Faz Singhateh has all the on stage charisma of a cult leader such as the ill fated Rev Kim. His Lucius is larger than life and glows like the sun he has grown to love. Apparently at ease with accepting his crimes and confident of his redemption through Jesus, he is desperate to avoid the death penalty having finally found his own inner peace. Ironically he seems more free in his hour outside each day than his mean spirited guard Valdez is ever likely to be.

The other characters provide all the shades of dark and light that enhance the message of what is good or bad, right or wrong, and how do we accept or assign blame. Lucius is a mass murderer but he is kind and perceptive and has genuine empathy. He is also a victim of early abuse and has a mental health diagnosis. Does he deserve to die for his crimes or be supported in his redemption? The young lawyer wants to do good for Angel through guilt that her skills can get hardened recidivists out of jail, yet ultimately her pride and arrogance will add years to his sentence. Valdez is casually sadistic yet operates within the law. Charlie D’Amico is apparently too soft to succeed as a guard yet surely his humanity is also a positive in a prison environment.

The set design is strikingly effective in its simplicity. Louis Price has created the starkness of a high security jail while also creating a sense of personal freedom when the men are outdoors even in their cages. The slash of barbed wire fencing through the cheery brightness of the star spangled banner is a potent image.

Jesus Hopped The A Train is an excellent piece of theatre that provokes debate on many topics. It highlights the complexities of human nature and the unfairness of the lottery system in the American penal system. It also beautifully highlights how precious are the small elements of personal freedom whether we are praying on our knees, feeling the sun on our skin or watching a bird fly past. The human spirit is bigger than any concrete cell could ever try to hold or suppress. We are all capable of finding our own redemption if we look within.

HOME 16 – 19 May

Images by Mark Russell

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

HOME, Manchester

Written by Eugene O’Neill

Directed by Dominic Hill

This is co-production by HOME and Citizen’s Theatre of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical and Pulitzer award winning play. Director Dominic Hill has shaped an exquisitely raw study of a family trapped in the throes of addiction and regret. Written in 1942 it covers one fateful day in the life of the Tyrone family as they acknowledge the hopeless reality they exist in and the ways in which they each seek to escape their pain. As younger son Edmund reflects, Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it? Each one of them is a shadow of their original selves, consumed by their addictions and in Edmund’s case; quite literally by tuberculosis.

Tom Piper has created a haunting and deeply evocative set for this production. It is the bare exposed bones of a house reflecting the exposed failings and regrets of the family. It looked unfinished like the framework of a house where the architects plans got lost or waylaid and no one had the skills or temerity to try to fill in the gaps. In a similiar fashion Mary Tyrone is such a childlike wraith she has never fully grasped her role as a homemaker, wife or mother. The foggy opaqueness of the walls echo the transparency of this family’s lies and excuses. There is nowhere to hide and as the projected sounds of restless movement or conversation echoes from rooms further back in the house, it feels like the audience has no choice but to eavesdrop just like the family do.

The design of the house also echoes the theme of the fog which prevails throughout the play. It is a potent signifier of the ways in which each of the family seek to lose themselves from reality in a fog of alcohol or morphine or memories. As Mary reflects how I love the fog, it hides you from the world…… No one can find you or touch you any more. Tellingly it is the foghorn she hates, a blessed beacon of safety for some, but for her a wretched call back to reality.

It is the profoundly narcissistic Mary who dominates the play with her desperate neediness and appalling insensitivity to the feelings and needs of her family. Bríd Ní Neachtain embodies the essence of this fluttering morphine addicted waif. She is girlish and gay or plaintive and rueful, then flits into prickly, resentful and defensive. Her performance brings alive every facet of a women who was spoilt and cosseted by her father and husband, but who has been disappointed by marriage and family life and aging. This lying dope fiend is at times truly a fiend as she deflects her own shortcomings unto her family. One son is cruelly scapegoated for the death of her middle son while the youngest gets no comfort when diagnosed with consumption but is vilified and blamed for making her worry and therefore need her morphine fix. Yet this performance by Nì Neachtain also evokes pity for this once pretty and talented young women who has become an aging embittered addict.

George Costigan does a warmly, upbeat James who desperately hopes that each trip to the sanatorium for his wife will bring a permanent cure, yet who quickly moves to defeated and despondent as he is disappointed once again. An actor who gave up artistic success for financial security, yet is trapped as his lifelong fear of penury and the poorhouse mean he cannot enjoy his wealth. Costigan fills the role, perfectly evoking James’s Irish background from the Irish Famine and poverty while delighting in his passion for Shakespeare and his boyish glee as he opens yet another fresh bottle of whisky. He also brings the meanness of an unpredictable drunk who can be despicable to his boys one minute while hugging them the next.

Sam Phillips as Jamie is a beautiful wasted drunk who has learned to be wily and full of self pity and excuses from his addict parents. The true degree of family damage is surely in his final scenes with brother Edmund when he chillingly warns his brother against himself The dead part of me hopes you won’t get well. Lorn MacDonald as Edmund is heart rending as he is in denial about his health and when the worst is confirmed he realises that no one in the family is equipped to support him. Wheezing and glistening with tears and spittle his performance is haunting and raw. This family emotionally flay each other through the course of this long day and MacDonald displays every moment of pain on his pale, anguished face. The only truly cheery spirit is the maid, a lively Dani Heron who is not contaminated by the family dynamics and is happy to join her mistress in a whisky.

This is such a bleak insight into addiction and co-dependency in a family and O’Neill was writing about his own family as the only one still alive. It reminds us all of how the echo of past family stories define the present and often the future. It was one of the last plays he wrote before becoming unable to write due to Parkinson like symptoms affected his hands. There is a brutal irony when he describes his mother’s trembling hands in the play and in recalling her drug addiction at a time when his own wife was also an addict. As Mary says The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too. This is a family who need to cling on to their tragedies in order to justify their failures.

It speaks as clearly today as it did when first published of the destructive impact of addiction and unresolved grief. Performed in Glasgow and now in Manchester it is doubly pertinent today as both are cities with drug problems and a growing issue of homelessness. As James relates his fear of the poorhouse it is a sobering reminder that in Britain today there are no longer even poorhouses just pavements.

HOME 10 – 26 May

Images by Tim Morozzo

Three Sisters

Royal Exchange Theatre

By Rashdash

After Chekhov

Three Sisters is the latest show from multi-award winning Rashdash and is co-produced with the Royal Exchange Theatre with whom they are Associate Artists. This is a gutsy and vibrant challenging of the narrative conventions of the classics in theatre. In taking a play by Chekhov and experimenting with the form Rashdash are exploring who the classics are aimed at. Do they still have a relevance in theatre today? Who gets what from them and in what’s ways can we alter them to continue to get something powerful and enduring from them?

Why do the men in this play have all of the lines?

Rashdash rip up the script, burn the frumpy black dresses, bare their maidenly breasts, crank up the volume on the piano and add some strings and drums. This is Chekhov in a mash up with Vivienne Westwood and The Slits. This is sexy, vibrant, caustic and clever. Packing a hefty feminist punch and some serious theatrical clout while also remaining playful and whimsical, Three Sisters is truly a thing of joy from start to finish.

These three sisters are not muted and still. They are not passive Barbie dolls but are Action girls in crinolines. There are no sepia tones to this production, instead there is a kaleidoscope of colour. There are frequent moments where tableau scenes are staged then fractured and fragmented as the performers hold up a prism to see women as so much more than pliable, passive vessels to be moulded by male writers into their version of womanhood. These women are messy, imperfect, funny, clever and complex. They have mastered social media as well as the piano. They are cultured and educated with their own opinions, and can also cry in a supermarket and “dance it out” like they’re on Greys Anatomy. They own their own bodies and wear whatever they choose, if they strip off on stage it is their decision and has a function rather than being sexualised. They wear comfy knickers, will massage their perineums with olive oil to avoid tearing in childbirth and will rail against the passage of time as a slow, slow bastard cunt!

Performance is meshed with music,song and movement so there is always a sense of flux and change. Even in moments where there is a static snapshot of stillness there will be music or the movement of a statue or the TICKTOCK digital display flashing. Nothing stays the same. The scenes are constantly shifting as the pile of disguarded clothing gets bigger as if to say plays like bodies can be dressed or styled in an endless array of guises. The nod to Shakespeare in some of the fashion choices is a witty reminder of just how many of our classic plays were written by men and are now being revisited from a female perspective- most recently Othello at Liverpool’s Everyman.

Rashdash are all accomplished musicians and with the addition of Chloe Rianna on drums and Yoon-Ji Kim on violin and synth, they move through a range of styles from classical to trippy, punk and blues. The soundscape is as varied as the costumes and the women on stage. Olga Helen Goalen, Masha Abbi Greenland and Irena Becky Willie all sing, and they all deliver whether alluding to mainstream pop Adele and Katy Perry or spitting out a punk lyric or belting out a torch song. The lyrics are mercilessly clever, and often wickedly funny. All three deliver strong performances that have an essence of each sister.

This production works across enough levels to be a success whether you know the original or not. A Chekhov aficionado will get the references to their mother’s broken clock or the spinning top given to Irena. They will see the irony of Olga idly wishing she was more able to do something about homelessness when of course the sisters are about to lose their family home. Whereas fresh eyes see a topical issue being raised that they have probably walked past on their way to the theatre. The haze of smoke alludes to the nearby town on fire but could just as easily refer to Grenfell Towers. Masha can be a modern woman dealing with heartbreak by swiping Tinder or a sister in an unhappy marriage seeking solace within an army garrison.

Moments on stage such as Masha reading out multiple reviews of the original play or being literally squashed by volumes of the classics poke fun at our obsession with the relative safety of tradition in theatre while reminding us of the need for joyfully subversive new works. Rashdash pull back the curtains and fill the stage with fresh air and new opportunities. Three Sisters can challenge existing lovers of the classics and bring new vibrant audiences to look at established works. The Royal Exchange Theatre is currently also showing The Cherry Orchard on it’s main stage. Like a beautifully deconstructed cheesecake on Masterchef Three Sisters is a brilliant take on the original classic.

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester 3rd -19th May

The Yard, London 22 May – 9 June

Tobacco Factory, Bristol 12 -16 June

Images by Richard Davenport

Dollywould

HOME

By Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit

Where are they?? What’s wrong? The set is shrouded in grubby white sheets and there is no sign of the girls. The clock is ticking, the theatre is rammed and anticipation is rife. We fucking love Sh!t Theatre! Moments later they hit the stage and the particular bedlam that is Dollywould is underway. This is their follow up show to the hugely successful Letters To Windsor House. There is a notable shift from local to global issues as they ramp up the madness and move from fringe performance to as they cheerfully say mainstream crossover show. Thankfully when Mothersole and Biscuit say mainstream it involves painting their faces chalk- white, donning some fearsome wigs and swigging Mateus Rosé from bottles. The result is cheerfully reassuring as they end up looking just like their idol Dolly Parton. Well if you imagine Ms Parton being cloned together with some sheep, Marie Antoinette and a couple of crack whores. We fucking love Sh!t Theatre.

This new show focuses on some big issues – death and immortality , genetic cloning and brand merchandising, friendship and Dolly Parton’ s hits and tits. Dollywould is messy, boozy, sharply clever and always endearing. Watching the performance feels like sprawling on the couch watching your best mates roll in from the pub on a Friday night having dreamed up some madcap, genius concept and keen to share it before they pass out or throw up.

They use their trademark mixture of song, projection images and film and hard-core indepth research coupled with mimicry, a double swing, balloons and bodybags and giant inflatable boobs plus lots of kissing and hugging. What is “real” authentic and “real” fake? Is Dolly the infamously cloned sheep as real as any other sheep? Is Dolly Parton the butt of a joke about big hair and boobs or a woman in control of a carefully crafted brand? Regardless of how they alter their image on stage both women remain resolutely real with body hair, real breasts and filmed evidence that they both poo and wee but don’t seem to flush.

Dollywould is based on their trip to Dollywood last year and the discovery that Knoxville is also home to a research facility locally known as The Tennessee Bodyfarm as it studies decomposition. The premise behind their research visit is sound and the neat ways they use to link in the cloning of Dolly the sheep ensure that lots of ideas are thrown out for consideration. As each performance they do will be a clone of the original, just like Dolly on tour or at a Dolly lookalike competition or future Dolly sheep from the same mammary cells. In each case the same but different just like the projected images stretching out on the screen behind Becca and Louise.

Perhaps at the very heart of this show is the warmth and connection between the performers. In Letters To Windsor House they were painfully open about the cracks in their relationship and there was palpable tensions on stage. The research trip to Dollywood feels like a road trip back to friendship and camaraderie. When they speak of Dolly Parton and her longterm companion Judy and their rift and reunion it seems to resonate. As they say on several occasions It was chaos, but they’re fine now. They are never more connected than when they actually merge to become a gigantic pair of quite literally swinging boobs. Moments when they speak in unison but one deliberately fluffs their line is a reminder of the recurring theme each the same, but different. In the show they reflect on being nearly 30, thankfully they seem to be finding a way to navigate maintaining their individual identities while preserving the magic that is Sh!t Theatre.

HOME 3-5 May

TRIAL

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Site specific – Bolton Grand Council Chamber.

Part of Reveal 18

Written by Rosina Carbone, Nisa Cole, Sarah McDonald Hughes and Eve Steele

Directed by Martyn Gibbons

Monkeywood Theatre in association with the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

I am a liar. We run, down the steps, past the celebration, past the crowds. He is not guilty and I am a liar.

Bolton Grand Council chamber was once an actual courtroom. Sitting in this space feels alien, slightly scary like maybe I’ve done something wrong. An authoritative voice says “All Rise” and so Trial starts with four women in a courtroom performing a verbatim piece that is the framework for this new piece by Monkeywood Theatre. Chillingly the words we hear are transcripts from an actual court case about the historical grooming and sexual abuse of young girls. Interspersed through the transcript are 4 original pieces written and performed by the 4 actresses on stage. They share a common theme, highlighting women on trial in the courtroom and in society – women’s experience of being disbelieved, discounted, shamed and vilified.

This is a strong and powerful piece which conveys its #MeToo message eloquently and is at times incredibly poignant, hauntingly sad and is at all times a strong statement that change must come in our legal system and our Society. The verbatim pieces are perhaps the weak link in this piece but that is most likely due to how they struggle to flow, undoubtedly hindered by the information rescinded to protect the individuals involved. However it remains a searing indictment of our legal system and its treatment of women on the witness stand in sexual assault cases. A study by the CPS (Criminal Prosecution Service) found in a 17 month period there were with 6000 rape prosecutions and only 35 for false allegations, yet only 6% of complaints resulted in convictions.

Astral Twin by Rosina Carbone is a two hander highlighting the callous and vicious bullying and systematic shaming of young girls in school. It perfectly describes the in group/ out group mentality in the classroom. How we can all shine and blossom in the warmth of acceptance and friendship but shiver and shrivel when that warmth is removed. Carbone infuses this piece with a poetic flow and evokes some beautiful imagery that creates a vivid snapshot of lost friendships and the unfairness of double standards for girls.

Muck by Nisa Cole is a monologue describing a schoolgirl being groomed by a teacher with a catastrophic outcome for her education and her future. It is a powerfully written and performed – electrifying the space with the brutal unfairness of a vulnerable child discounted and written off because of her background. Cole bring an emotive physicality to this role that is mesmerising and haunts long after the performance ends.

Small Town by Sarah McDonald Hughes describes a young woman who likes a drink and going out with her friends to party and meet boys. Her character is fun loving and carefree until an assault results in rape and a lurid court case. This piece snapshots the double standards for men and women and is an acute observation on the lasting harm of being raped twice over by the assailant and by society. All the positives of loving being a girl and loving family and football are stripped away, leaving only alcohol as a constant comforter and ballast.

Unreliable by Eve Steele brings all 4 women on stage as prisoners going into court to plead their cases or in the case of Steele to be a witness against her uncle in a historic abuse case. This is a women already wounded and irrevocably damaged by her early experiences and therefore somehow unreliable as a witness against her abuser. There is simply no happy ending for some of these women and Steele’s performance crackles and fizzes with the injustice of her situation compares to the regard and protection afforded by society to her abuser.

I saw this piece in development at Reveal17 and it has clearly been a labour of love, tenderness and justifiable outrage. The stories told all ring true and authentic. Working as a psychotherapist I have listened to similar haunting stories and the importance of being heard and really listened to is always tantamount to any path to healing. There has clearly been a lot of work done with women’s support groups so this piece is an important validation for the women in those groups. Trial is a powerful piece that has a lot to say for women for women who are often voiceless. I was slightly surprised to find that the director was a man however men are also affected by assaults to sisters, mothers, partners, daughters, granddaughters and friends. Martin Gibbons has ensured that it is the women in this piece who are clearly heard and remembered.

Part of Reveal 18 until April 28th

MINEFIELD

HOME

Written and Directed by Lola Arias

A LIFT production

A leading voice in Argentinean theatre Lola Arias has created something quite extraordinary with Minefield. Bringing together on a stage, six veterans of The Falklands War who do not speak each other’s language and who were facing each other on the battlefield in 1982. This theatrical venture is itself a potential minefield as it is a piece of lived history representing their individual, unique experiences of the war. This is not theatre retelling the history of either a war, a country, or of particular regiments in specific battles but it is a deeply personal sharing of what it is like to live through a war and forever carry the emotional consequences like a permanent kit bag.

The six men are all now veterans in their fifties. David Jackson spent the war listening and transcribing codes while sometimes keeping one ear tuned to Tony Hancock on BBC World Service. He is now a psychologist counselling veterans having himself suffered PSTD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Lou Armour was front page news in both countries when taken prisoner in The Falklands at the outbreak of the war on 2nd April 1982 . Now he teaches children with learning difficulties and may have caught the acting bug. Sukrim Rai was one of the reknown Gurkhas who now works as a security guard and can finally live in the U.K.

The Argentinians are Ruben Otero who survived 41 freezing hours in a lifeboat after the ARA General Belgrano was sunk. He wears a t shirt stating the Malvinas belong to Argentina and plays in a successful Beatles tribute band. Gabriel Sagastume was a reluctant soldier who is now a criminal lawyer and is absorbed by details of the war. Marcelo Vallejo was a mortar direction controller, who struggled with PTSD and depression. He survived addiction and a suicide attempt by drowning. After support and treatment he learned to swim and is now a successful triathlon champion.

The reality is they are neither heroes or monsters but just a group of guys sent to do a job. The major difference between them is language and the overhead subtitles are a constant reminder of how differences can be overcome.

The men’s stories are told in chapters using a range of techniques. The use of rubber masks effectively put Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri on stage. Screen projections show the exquisite minutiae of love letters to Gabriel’s wife or tiny airfix soldiers on a map retelling a story of hungry men pinching food from a farm and being blown up by a land mine. A tiny plastic leg in a stripe sock evokes the remains of a lost friend and comrade. Front page images from GENTE in Argentina show Lou after his capture. Powerful usage of sound includes the sound recording of the actual jet fighters that nearly killed David and his comrades. At other times the men become a group singing and playing guitar and drums together. There is the light relief of a squaddie’s disco or the thundering drum solo of Ruben whose shouts for help went unheeded for 41 hours. An Argentinian wallet gratefully given to a fearsome Gurkha who felt it was better to capture than kill. The poignancy of Marcelo donning the battered cape he retrieved from the Malvinas 27 years later. A close up of Lou as he remembers the death of a young soldier who in speaking English as his dying words has haunted Lou ever since.

A therapy session between David and Marcelo is a powerful reminder of how this piece has worked as group therapy for these men. Cathartic at times and also re-opening old wounds on occasions such as April 2nd, the Argentinian Remembrance day. The skill of this piece is to never preach but to seek to share, reflect and understand how our past informs our present. As a psychotherapist I appreciate the delicate balance that Lola Arias has created and maintained in this group therapy approach to this piece of unique verbatim theatre.

Minefield has brought together six men who are united by sharing the same experience of losing friends and leaving them behind on a rocky, unforgiving landscape. This war lasted ten weeks according to Google, but for these men it was 74 days because each day mattered just as each life lost, injured or mentally scarred mattered. They mattered then and they still matter now. As they perform their last song together they unite as a potent force asking their audience,

What would you fight for? Would you go to war?…..Have you ever killed anyone?… Have you watched a friend die?

The final words are from Sukrim in his native language. Translated they simply and wisely say,

Killing is never winning. Fight with the pen NOT with the bullet!! If the pen wins, fine… If not, nobody is killed.

HOME

Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival 2018

LIFT Festival 2018

All images by Tristram Kenton

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION

HOME

Written by Annie Baker

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Circle Mirror Transformation is the award winning second play by Annie Baker who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Staged in a recreation centre it covers a six week amateur drama class where five ordinary people come together through drama exercises and during refreshment breaks. The genius lies in the inherent simplicity and ordinariness of everything and everyone. Baker writes with delicacy and acute insight into the human need for connection and attachment. How we circle around each other and seek out what is familiar or attractive, how we mirror each other in order to attach and how we all experience transformation in the process.

This small town drama group has strong echoes of group therapy sessions. All five actors give great performances and director Bijan Sheibani ensures the group dynamics that Baker has nurtured get fully explored. Amelia Bullmore utterly embodies the facilitator Marty who is all sinewy energy and positive encouragement, with a lot more going on behind that calm facade. James, her husband is likable, steady and reliable yet seemimgly, easily swayed by a fresh pretty face. Lauren is sixteen and equally diffident, difficult and delightful as she grows from child to adult. Teresa is all fluid grace and beauty but internally is floundering and ambivalent about her place in the world. Con O’Neill gives newly divorced Schultz a rich blend of blundering, puppyish exuberance and affection, coupled with a whiff of hangdog desperation.

Designer Samal Blak has created a set for the community centre space that is instantly recognisable in its ordinariness and utilitarianism. The brilliance is in the mirrored wall that reflect images of the actors on stage and of the audience. In watching them we see ourselves reflected in all their interactions, in their hopes and disappointments. We see both the complexity and the often, utter randomness of how we connect in our world.

The sound and lighting sync perfectly in a way the characters never can. The nine strip lights are always in unison with the bars of sound – controlled and predictable unlike the counting exercise where the characters repeatedly fail. A perfect indicator of how difficult it is to make our mark with each other while giving others the space and security to dare to make theirs.

Circle Mirror Transformation is special because it shines a brilliant and tender light on the fragility of all of us, in our need for connection, acceptance and love. It highlights the circle of life which is in constant flux even when there is apparent stillness. Sometimes I think everything I do is propelled by my fear of being alone.

At HOME 2-17 March 2018