Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion - a fun and considered exploration of female stereotypes

Great to see a play challenging gender stereotypes but doing it in a way that is both fun and considered

Hear Me Howl (c) Will Lepper (1)
Hear Me Howl. Photo: Will Lepper

Jess (Alice Pitt-Carter) is nearly 30, lives with her boyfriend Taj and has an unstimulating office job.

It's an ordinary life, one she feels she is sleepwalking through and frustration grows about the question of when she and Taj are going to get married and have children.

Taj has leanings in that direction (it's not that play) the problem is that Jess doesn't.

Life changing decision

And while she is wrestling with that conundrum, she decides to join a post-punk band but before her first gig, she has to make a life-changing decision.

Written by Lydia Rynne, Hear Me Howl is peppered with references to culture contemporary to the 30-somethings and bubbles with quips and funny observation while handling issues such as pregnancy and abortion with sensitivity and insight.

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Review: Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre - signs and symbols but lacking in thrills

Metaphors aside it is difficult to determine whether Foxfinder is supposed to be an atmospheric thriller or a surreal comedy

Iwan-Rheon-and-Paul-Nicholls-in-Foxfinder.-Credit-Pamela-Raith.
Iwan Rheon and Paul Nicholls in Foxfinder. Photo: Pamela Raith.

The Foxfinder of the title is William (Iwan Rheon) sent to examine the farm of Judith (Heida Reed) and Sam (Paul Nicholls) where the crop yield is below target.

In this parallel world of writer Dawn King's invention, it is a time of food shortages and foxes are the bogeyman, the 'source' of all the troubles being creatures with supernatural powers preying on the weak and wreaking havoc wherever they go.

But has William, who has trained for the job since a child, actually seen a fox?

Brexit metaphors

King wrote Foxfinder seven years ago but you can't help but see Brexit metaphors - a threat of food shortages and outsiders to blame for a multitude of ills.

Judith and Sam have had a run of trouble stemming from one date but, despite the obvious, they are fearful of the consequences of questioning the logic behind the Foxfinder's theories.

Who dares question the logic?

There is one person who does question the logic, their neighbour Sarah (Bryony Hannah), but getting caught denouncing the fox propaganda is extremely dangerous.

The set is cleverly designed overlapping interior and exterior to give the scope of the play's setting (see production photos below).

Paul Nicholls is particularly good as a man grasping an idea as a path to personal salvation and Bryony Hannah is fiery as Sarah.

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Review: Misty, Trafalgar Studios - Putting the pulse back into West End Theatre

A play that stimulates, entertains and enlivens and leaves you feeling like you've been at a gig

IMG_0079Arinzé Kene's play Misty has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios from a sell-out run at the Bush Theatre giving more people the opportunity to see a play that is unlike anything else you'll see in the West End at the moment.

Mixing form, media and performance style, there is a fictional tale told in verse - accompanied by Shiloh Coke on drums and Adrian McLeod on keyboards - about an incident on a night bus that has bigger consequences.

Recollections of a creative journey

This story is intercut with a series of conversations, voicemail messages and narrated emails that illustrate Arinzé's creative journey with amusingly blunt commentary and opinion from friends and family.

His creative journey is further coloured with comically surreal moments, juxtaposing voices, images and performance in unexpected ways that reminded me of the style of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman - think Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind etc.

Struggles with orange balloons

All I'll add is that when you are encased in a body-sized orange balloon, the struggle is real.

Peppered with humour and witty observation the play questions storytelling - what is the right story to tell and for whom - examines the impact of gentrification on communities and culture's place in society.

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Review: Brendan Coyle in St Nicholas, Donmar Dryden Street

Seductive and sad, it revulsed, chilled and gripped.

St-Nicholas-Photo-Credit-Helen-Maybanks-2
Brendan Coyle in St Nicholas. Photo: Helen Maybanks

The Donmar has set about making this production of Conor McPherson's monologue St Nicholas an exclusive, intimate and atmospheric experience.

Performed by Brendan Coyle at the theatre's rehearsal space in Dryden Street, the temptation must have been to squeeze in as many seats as possible.

Seats feel part of the set

However, with only 50-odd tickets per performance, there is a generous amount of space which makes the seats feel part of the set.

The space is dressed to look like a faded drawing room or study with an old-fashioned desk, manual typewriter and a leather, swivel chair; the audience is drawn around in a sweeping arc as if invited in for a social gathering or recital.

The carpet is threadbare and dotted with water-filled buckets. Newspaper covers the windows, the lighting is dim; later you'll feel like you were part of a seance, watching Coyle conjure up dark demons.

Courting a response

He starts by drawing a kind of barrier, throwing handfuls of dried rice at the feet of those on the front row - his look as he meets your eye courts a response.

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Review: The Political History of Smack and Crack, Soho Theatre - witty, blunt and poetic

Edward's writing has the wit and bluntness of the Manchester vernacular but is inflected with a sugar-free poetry.

The Political History of Smack and Crack - courtesy of The Other Richard (3)
The Political History of Smack and Crack. Photo: The Other Richard

It's Manchester in the 1980s. Neil (Neil Bell) and Mandy (Eve Steele) are kids, too young to be out at night when they get caught up in the Moss Side riots that were to change the landscape and their futures.

We learn all this later on as the narrative flits back and forth revisiting pivotal moments in their relationship.

Based on writers experiences

Writer Ed Edwards, who has based The Political History of Smack and Crack on his own experiences with narcotics dependency, has his protagonists speak in the third person, telling their own story as if observers.

First and foremost it is a love story, two friends in love with drugs and getting a rise from shoplifting and thieving but also in love with each other in their own way.

A life of drugs and crime don't make for a healthy relationship creating a toxic cocktail of blind camaraderie, encouragement and destruction.

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Review: Life after being a child star in That Girl, Old Red Lion

That Girl manages to be both a unique character study and easily relatable in the way it examines early adulthood.

That Girl is Hatty (Hatty Jones) plucked from obscurity to play the lead in what would become a cult children's film. Now grown up she works in advertising and we find her struggling with adult life transitions.

That GirlHer comfortable routine of work, Turkish takeaways and reading fan mail is under threat as her flatmates are moving out and on with their boyfriends.

Hatty isn't the easiest of people to live with she's needy, self-centred and manipulative - you do wonder how her friends haven't run out of patience with her.

Glimpses of vulnerability

But there is also a vulnerability to her, you get glimpses of it when she talks about her coping mechanisms, in her anxiety attacks and the way she grasps for the familiar.  

There is an immaturity in her behaviour as if she has not been allowed to grow up or perhaps she is trying to reclaim a lost childhood?

It leads her to inappropriate behaviour that doesn't endear her to her friends, isolating her further.

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Interview: Director Jimmy Walters on fun and musicality in his revival of WWI-set Square Rounds, Finborough Theatre

"Having these six munitionettes tell the story adds a theatrical quality to the play in a play that provides a lot of fun."

Getting its first staging for three decades, Tony Harrison's World War I-set play Square Rounds is based on true events and explores the devastating impact of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction.

Square Rounds (Rehearsal Images) - Cast_2  courtesy of Samuel Taylor
Jimmy Walters in rehearsal with the cast of Square Rounds. Photo: Samuel Taylor

Director Jimmy Walters talks about its relevance today and paring the play down for an intimate performance space.

Square Rounds was last performed 30 years ago at the National Theatre, why is it ripe for revival?

It feels more relevant now than it was in 1992 in some ways. It tackles gun control, the power of trigger-happy populist rhetoric and addresses the ongoing conflict between the ideologies of Christianity and Islam.

It has an all-female cast, what dynamic does that add to the play and storytelling?

We open with six munitionettes in a factory. At the very same time, these women were taking on the roles of men they go one step further and play the men with a bit of magic involved.

Having these six munitionettes tell the story adds a theatrical quality to the play in a play that provides a lot of fun.

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Review: Aristocrats, Donmar Warehouse - a lot going on but not always a good thing

There is often a lot happening and sometimes it too easily diverts attention from the central narrative.

I'm watching the O'Donnell family's voluntary mute, aged uncle slowly peel away wallpaper at the of the back of the stage when I should be listening to whoever is speaking.

Later an imaginary game of croquet will similarly distract me.

ImageThis is my problem with Aristocrats, there is often a lot happening and sometimes it too easily diverts attention from the central narrative.

Family past its peak

Brian Friel's play is about a fading Irish aristocratic family with its domineering patriarch is on his deathbed, cared for by the eldest daughter Judith (Eileen Walsh).

The family has gathered for the wedding of youngest daughter, Claire (Aisling Loftus) with her siblings Alice (Elaine Cassidy) and Casimir (David Dawson) having travelled from homes abroad for the occasion.

Tom (Paul Higgins), a visiting American scholar, is interviewing the family for a research paper on Irish aristocracy and acts as an independent observer and, through his seemingly innocent conversations and questions, commentator.

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Interview: Writer Ed Edwards on humour and politics in The Political History of Smack and Crack

Fresh from Edinburgh Fringe: The Political History of Smack and Crack draws on writer Ed Edwards' own experience of narcotics dependency to examine how the politics of the 80s trapped people in poverty and addiction.

Ed Edwards
Ed Edwards

Here the former circus performer talks about the importance of entertainment in theatre ahead of the play's London run at Soho Theatre.

Why is this an important story to tell?

In the political sense, I think it's a question for the progressive movement of knowing your enemy, of course, the enemy changes its face, but its heart remains the same. This is what they did then, what lengths will they go to now? It's a question too of spreading ideas, keeping the truth alive - it's part of what Fidel Castro called for before he died: a battle of ideas.

How important is humour when exploring serious topics such as drug addiction and what part does it play in the narrative?

I think entertainment is the most important thing, humour is a big part of that, but it doesn't mean you can't make people cry too.

You’ve written novels, for radio and TV as well as the stage but you used to be a circus performer - how does it compare?

It's a lot safer writing plays than juggling fire on a slack rope while talking to an audience - but probably not as much fun. Seriously, it's part of what I was saying before, about entertaining an audience.

If you're doing a circus show in Huyton Liverpool and you don't entertain the audience, the kids'll come and take your gear, so I've kind of grown up thinking that was important.

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Review: A play about 13-year-old girls that speaks for women of all ages, Dance Nation, Almeida

It all adds up to make a play that is entertaining, powerful and refreshingly broad and detailed in its female narrative.

BannerKarlaClare Barron's play Dance Nation at the Almeida not only sees life through the female lens it touches on subjects that are generally treated as taboo.

On one level it's a play about a dance troupe of 13-year-olds (six girls and one boy) preparing for a big competition and the rivalry between the two strongest dancers Amina (Karla Crome) and Zuzu (Ria Zmitrowicz). 

It follows their friendships, arguments and how they cope with the pressure to perform. 

Speaks for women of all ages

But underneath it is a play that speaks for women of all ages, exploring female sexuality and the female experience in contemporary western society.

It sets out its stall in having the girls played by women of all ages, performances which could be comical if handled wrong but there is nothing pastiche here instead they are perfectly pitched to straddle tween innocence and adult experience.

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