The Vagina Dialogues – Review

(Preview Performance)

Theatre N16, Balham

28/07/17

 

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Image by Celine Sophie FP

 

The Vagina Dialogues, a title more than a little reminiscent of Eve Ensler’s oft-performed 1996 work The Vagina Monologues. However, as soon as the audience enters the auditorium, in which the cast is standing in a circle humming a low, insistent tune, this piece written and performed by The Völvas, asserts itself as a fresh and urgent piece of feminist theatre for 2017.

With each section of the piece written and performed by members of the company based on their own personal experiences or interests, The Vagina Dialogues is an engaging exploration and celebration of diversity and intersectional feminism. From the light hearted segments, such as the breasty ballet (my phrase) at the opening of the piece and an hilarious and all-too-relatable song  about drunken-flirting written and performed by Jazmin Qunta, to the more serious pieces about sexual assault, racial identity, and bodily autonomy, this show  addresses an impressive range of current feminist issues. Nancy Ofori Geywu provides side-splitting comedy with a serious message in her piece about an internet-troll, Tosh, who suggests that a woman would be more beautiful if she lightened her skin. She also appears with MJ Ashton in an entertaining, recurrent exploration of the female orgasm, which the audience soon becomes invested in, as though waiting for a winning World-Cup goal. Alongside these comic pieces, some particularly note-worthy sections bring the audience to breath-held silences, as Qunta discusses a woman’s choice to have an abortion (a particularly hard-hitting piece to watch from an Irish perspective), and Ashton and Sarah Jeanpierre perform a beautiful, bittersweet movement piece.

These artists bring a contagious unadulterated anger, pride, determination and passion to the stage, reminding me of bell hooks’ words, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”  The Vagina Dialogues is an honest, empowering piece of theatre in which the creators lay themselves bare in front of the audience, and in doing so lay bare the enormous issues still faced by women in our society, and that’s something.

The Vagina Dialogues runs at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 17th-27th August.

 

 

 

Review – Bridle

King’s Head Theatre, London

11/7/17

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Originally published on The Reviews Hub

I’m just a bit much.

The heroine of Bridle is a modern woman. She is a feminist, a 21st Century feminist. She drinks, smokes, swears, spurns shame, and embraces her sexuality. She shows and tells the audience all of this, at the same time as telling an invisible and reticent but omnipresent figure of authority who, it transpires, has imprisoned her for indecency. In her world, female sexuality and agency are to be controlled and repressed, not only by social restrictions but by law. This  escalation or exaggeration of reality and the ambiguity of the setting both allow for a frank and uninhibited discussion of female sexuality.

In an era of raunch feminism, revenge porn, and hypersexuality, the line between empowerment and objectification is a constantly debated one. Bridle, written and performed by Stephanie Martin, raises interesting questions about the levels of agency of its main character; she behaves as she does just because she wants to, or does she? Though her discussion of her actions and experiences are, for the most part shameless and defiant, there are points at which she gives the impression that she felt obliged to cross lines she wasn’t comfortable with, or maintain an act that wasn’t always easy to perform. Her constant wish to entirely control her own sexuality and life more generally serves as a reminder of the many obstacles still faced by women in the pursuit of agency, often represented by the protagonist’s fair-weather-feminist boyfriend, James. He patronises her, reminding her of his feminist credentials and good intentions while denying her agency regarding her own sexuality and dismissing her desires as a product of patriarchal oppression.

Martin employs numerous effective theatrical devices and techniques to convey her story and message, using recorded voices for those of James, her imprisoner, and her father, and veering between a microphone and her own un-amplified voice to add layers to her solo performance and highlight certain points of her narrative. The ambiguity mentioned previously is an intriguing, if not always entirely effective, feature.

Within the narrative, Martin creates a recognisable but slightly altered society, gradually revealing that certain aspects of female sexuality and agency have been criminalised, but she also creates an ambiguity within her performance, breaking the fourth wall from the start and indulging in intimate and intense moments of engagement with the audience, while still delivering her narrative to the omnipresent imprisoner. Though this ambiguity does work in some ways, creating a new frame through which the audience can examine the topics Martin raises, it at times seems to be taken too far and leaves loose ends that, while they could be seen as an opportunity for the audience to make up their own minds on the subject, leave an impression of uncertainty or inconsistency regarding certain views and ideas suggested. Overall, however, Martin’s performance is an engaging and effective one, striking the balance between performance and direct interaction well, and bringing out the numerous facets of her character in a rounded yet concise development.

With no set beyond the single microphone, and only a basic lighting design, the evolution of the narrative depends almost entirely on Martin’s writing and performance and, while the writing strays a little and frays certain threads (as mentioned before), Martin delivers a thought-provoking and entertaining production that, as the old cliché goes, will first make an audience laugh, then make them think.

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Review – King Kong (A Comedy)

The Vaults Theatre, London

1/7/17

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Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

With eight films released since 1933, and another planned, King Kong has been a cinematic stalwart for over eight decades. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, his status as a classic cinema character, bringing Kong from the screen to the stage is almost as daunting as bringing him from Skull Island to New York. However, Daniel Clarkson and Owen Lewis present an entertaining and effective production that finds ever-inventive methods of overcoming the difficulties of scale and perspective that the idea of putting Kong on stage presents.

King Kong (A Comedy) blends the original story with contemporary and currently topical satire and classic comic devices to create a hilarious and clever show that wins its audience over within minutes.

The classic wordplay and slapstick gags throughout are both sharply written and well performed, with each actor demonstrating strong comic timing and delivery. It must, however, be mentioned that on this particular night, during one raucously funny scene, the actors did corpse repeatedly, which detracts from the theatrical efficiency of the joke; the actors laughing is akin to a magician revealing a trick as he performs it.

Outside of this scene, the timing of delivery and the physical humour in the production, when combined with the versatile and expressive lighting design by Tim Mascall and the set design by Simon Scullion, is adroit and impressive.

Both pop-culture and political references are integrated well into the script, with pointed comments about misogyny, Trump, Godzilla, and other varied horrors of the modern world scattered
throughout the show. The characters, caricatures of the characters from the original (with a few comic extras thrown in, such as “Token guy”) make liberal use of stereotype and stock features, but with classic comic inversions that make them dramatically self-aware. It is largely this self-awareness that makes King Kong (A Comedy) as successful a comedy as it is.

From the clever design to the strong performances, and the classic gags to the little details such as the monkey themed snacks and pre-show music, King Kong (A Comedy), is a well crafted comic take on a classic of the cinema.

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I am a Bird Now – Review

Theatre Upstairs

06/06/17

 

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Image by Ste Murray

 

Written and performed by Ross Gaynor, I am a Bird Now traces the distinct but intertwined threads of identity and trauma through three acts, titled Bruce, Donna, and Anthony (the three names the character assumes).  As the character traverses the evolution of their own identity and relationships with the lingering effects of a number of traumatic experiences, including having worked as a nurse after the July 2005 London bombing, we are invited to understand the difficulties this has created and the high and low points of their experience.

Under Sheils’ direction, Gaynor delivers a strong performance throughout, capturing the physicality of the character and layering the different aspects of his character with dexterity and skill. There are points at which the pacing of the narrative seemed drawn out further than necessary, and may have benefited from being condensed. However, the gradual building and exposition of the character is, for the most part, well-woven and produces a strong character whose strength is in their imperfection. With the recurrent images and symbolism of the vitruvian man, masks and costume, visual representations of the character’s questions around their gender identity are interwoven throughout the design and performance.

This symbolism is conveyed well by Naomi Faughnan’s set and costume designs, with a large image of the vitruvian man dominating the stage and the trappings of a dressing room surrounding it. Similarly, Eoin Byrne’s lighting design captures the liminal state the character inhabits, with the balance of light and dark providing a visual manifestation of the character’s evolution.

In an incisive exploration of identity in crisis, I am a Bird Now brings a multi-faceted character to the stage and lays bare the good, the bad, and the ugly of their humanity.

Running With Dinosaurs – Review

The New Theatre

19/04/17

 

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Image: Bill Woodland

 

Written by Nadine Flynn, Running With Dinosaurs is a moving  story of a family in crisis that takes an honest look at the effects of gang culture and financial difficulty. Jay is in his early twenties and is trying to find his way in the world and get a job, his sister Siobhan is traversing the ups and downs of her first relationship, and Sammy is seventeen and an aspiring musician who just wants to keep his head down. Add into the mix their grandfather Frank, who has recently moved to a nursing home, their mother who is slipping back into an alcohol addiction and Siobhan’s questionable choice of boyfriend, and you have the full complement of family drama.

Though the story is well constructed, entertaining and thought-provoking, the writing can at times be laboured, with certain lines seeming unnatural in their placement or phrasing.  This is particularly noticeable in the characters of Deco (Rory Dignam) and Frank (Tom Leavey), who are hesitant or stilted when delivering certain lines. However, despite this, the cast deliver good performances, with Daniel Monaghan standing out as particularly impressive in the role of Jay. Monaghan captured the full range of the character, blending sharp comic timing with a strong, affecting performance of the difficult situations Jay finds himself in,

Lee Wilson’s direction excellently draws out the layers in the story and makes the most of the stage space in portraying them. Particularly notable is the overlapping of scenes, with one scene beginning downstage as another is ending or silently being played out upstage. This is complimented by Bill Woodland’s lighting design which efficiently directs the focus of the audience to the main scene.

Running With Dinosaurs, though at some points a little stilted, is an engaging show that takes a raw look at what it is like to traverse the transition to adulthood in a disadvantaged area rife with gang culture.

 

Runs at The New Theatre until 29th April.

The Last Days of Cleopatra – Review

The New Theatre

22/3/17

Note: This is a review of a preview performance.

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“Sure that’s what you’re up against.”

Telling the story of a family living through the death of their mother, Laoisa Sexton’s The Last Days of Cleopatra is heartbreaking and hopeful, bringing the audience into the lives of Jackey, Natalie, and their father, Harry, as they face the slow death of Jackey and Natalie’s mother, and  make their way through difficulty, difference and hurt

Directed by Alan King, this production tackles sensitive and difficult topics with a blend of humour and care. The combination of King’s direction and Sexton’s writing makes this a powerfully real engagement between characters and audience; the focus is clearly on the development of each character throughout.  The interlocking lives of the family members overlap and intersect, sometimes comfortably, sometimes in more challenging ways, but always with an insightful exploration of the context and consequences of various events and interactions. Through recurrent motifs in the dialogue, a sense of painful repetition is created, suggesting an almost inescapable cycle of difficulty for the family. However, this is finely developed and if one looks, one can find the gaps in the cycle, the chances for hope.

This is impressively performed by cast Gerard Adlum, Ger Carey, Ruaidhri Conroy and Laoisa Sexton, who all convey the depth and humanity of their characters with skill. Particularly note-worthy was Sexton’s performance as Natalie; when Natalie expressed an emotion, the audience had little choice but to join her in it. These strong performances are enhanced by Eamon Fox’s effective and evocative lighting design which provides impressive depth to a small stage.

The Last Days of Cleopatra is an excellent production that unflinchingly looks into the highs and lows of a struggling family, and in doing so brings the audience and characters on a journey that reflects the best and worst we can be and challenges any settling or stagnation of our outlook on life.

The Last Days of Cleopatra runs until April 1st at The New Theatre, Temple Bar.

Scene and Heard – May I Use The Bathroom Please/Mic Drop

May I Use the Bathroom Please?

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Written and directed by Johnny Walsh, May I Use the Bathroom Please?  has many of the elements of a successful comedy, however, in 30 minutes it does not make the most of this potential. The escalation of tension and energy in the piece is uneven and rushed, with too many plot twists crammed in to a short space of time.  Set in a dingy bar in Dublin that suffers from a lack of customers (but which will not suffer the arrival of any newcomers), May I Use the Bathroom Please? is a farcical comedy about a St Patrick’s Day like no other. The performers all delivered energetic performances, but consistently stood outside their light and struggled at moments with timing of lines. Though the story, if developed further, has the potential to be a strong farce, there is a rushed, haphazard feeling about much of the writing and the execution of the piece.

Mic Drop

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Perry Pardo, a successful and wealthy internet entrepreneur, takes to the stage to teach his audience the secrets of success in a digital age and to tell them how he made his fortune, having started in the streets (like Dre, he reminds us). Written by Gareth Stack and performed by Adam Tyrell,  Mic Drop is an entertaining piece of theatre, that shows two sides of fame, and questions the idea of success. Pardo made his fortune, but at what cost? As he snorts coke, checks his tinder on stage, almost breaks down repeatedly and loses himself in angry tangents, Pardo is a character who is self destructing in pursuit of success. Though the character holds great potential, it is sometimes unclear exactly what the production is commenting on; has Pardo been broken by a dog-eat-dog individualist society, is it just heartbreak to blame for his behaviour, or are both these things, and more, feeding in to each other? There are some cracks in the overall arc of the production, but it is a piece that, with some clarification of ideas, has great potential for development.