The fear of the unknown

Alkaline, Park Theatre

Sarah and Sophie have been best friends since secondary school, but now Sarah has converted to Islam, everything has changed.

When Sophie (EJ Martin) invites Sarah (Claire Cartwright) and her new boyfriend Ali (Nitin Kundra) round for a dinner party, it doesn’t go too well.  She kicks off the evening by telling Sarah that she can’t wear her headscarf when she is bridesmaid at her wedding  ‘because you know, I like everything to match’.

It’s awkward. It is clear that the former good friends have nothing in common anymore, and are hanging on by a thread. While Sophie downs the white wine, and her fiancé Nick (Alan Mahon), is ‘on the sniff’, Sarah opts only for herbal tea; quite a change, we learn, from her former wild child years.

But Sophie doesn’t like change. We quickly learn that she seems to cling on to tradition, despite it obviously making her miserable. She appears to only be with boyfriend of ten years, despite being unhappy, for the wedding. Similarly, she’s moving up the career ladder in a job she hates, for the money.

Sarah couldn’t be more different. She’s shunned society’s expectations of her and has never been happier. She tries to tell her friend about the beauty of new found faith and the excitement of her new relationship with Ali, but all Sophie wants to know is, if she’s been groomed, as she’s ‘seen this pattern of behaviour before, on videos on the internet’.

Her interactions with Ali are even more painful, as she makes stereotypical assumptions about his family, faith and lifestyle; then proceeds to tell the room the story of a mutual friend who now works in a primary school ‘where ALL of the children in her class are Muslim…ALL. It’s not very multicultural,is it?’

Stephanie Martin’s script is sharp, witty and relevant. From Brexit and Trump, to liberalism and extremism, Martin cleverly peppers in topical political points of discussion and we watch the car crash commence. EJ Martin and Claire Cartwright are convincing and relatable as friends whose values and life choices have veered in very different directions.

The set, a well decorated middle class living room, garden and hallway (expertly created by Georgia de Grey) is perfectly claustrophobic – symbolising all that’s wrong with Sophie’s life, and the perfect stage for tensions to mount in this terrible dinner party – and when Ali’s estranged wife arrives, tensions in the house reach an all time high.

The play is well-acted and entertaining, but crucially, it’s important. The play forces us consider the misconceptions we have of Islam and, specifically, of converts. The character’s conversations, which make up the body of the play, though awkward to watch, are all excellent food for thought.

EJ plays Sophie as an unlikeable but tragic figure. By the end of the play, we begin to feel for her.  Her character represents Britons everywhere, whose intolerance isn’t borne out of hate, but instead, fear. Sophie’s fear of the new, of the unknown, of the different, has caused her great sadness. The production works because it isn’t preachy and doesn’t pretend to have the answers, but it starts the conversation.  While the ending does feel a tad abrupt, it definitely leaves you thinking and wanting more.

 Sophia Leonie

Alkaline is showing at the Park Theatre until August 4th 2018

https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/alkaline

 

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The trouble with women….

ANTIGONE BY SOPHOCLES, Kendal Community Theatre

“I’m sorry madam, you can’t enter here”. That’s how I was greeted as I approached the main entrance of Kendal Museum. It took me a couple of seconds to respond to the softly spoken woman’s assertion, which was when I spotted the machine gun carried by her and her two companions.

As I turned around and walked in the direction indicated, I was shadowed by a very young girl, also carrying a machine gun. This was my introduction to Kendal Community Theatre’s opening performance of five short plays entitled The Trouble With Women, celebrating Women’s Suffrage.

The first performance is a one-act adaption of Antigone by Sophocles, translated by E.F. Watling, adapted and directed by Chris Taylor.  As the audience enters the museum’s exhibition gallery, they are “ordered” to read a proclamation from the King of Thebes, Creon Turannos, concerning the dead sons of Oedipus.

creon

The subterranean gallery with its stark whitewashed walls and flagstone floor felt bunker-like and adds to the “war zone” setting. Having a “NAAFI” for refreshments was a clever touch.

The stripped-back one-act play focuses on the eponymous Antigone daughter of Oedipus, who defies the tyrant Creon’s proclamation. “To think and act as he likes is a king’s prerogative”, she claims, a sentiment which for me had resonance with the words and behaviour of certain current world leaders.

Creon is played simultaneously by three actors, all wearing full face helmets which gave them an alien anonymity (I was reminded of cybermen) as well as amplifying the male voices in triplicate, in contrast to the softly-spoken voices of the Chorus of Women, who play the role of foretelling inevitable tragedy. This is a strong ensemble cast drawn from the community of Kendal, and the audience’s attention remained gripped for the whole hour.

In summary, Antigone is a thought-provoking production, fulfilling its brief to challenge attitudes to women, morality and politics. I bought a season ticket at the bargain price of £24 and I am already looking forward to the next four productions!

Laura Davies

Antigone runs until Saturday 21st July at Kendal Museum.

 “The Trouble With Women” continues at Castle Street Centre from Tuesday 24th – Saturday 28th July.

Details of all productions are available on www.kendalcommunitytheatre.org/the-trouble-with-women 

Tickets are available from the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal www.breweryarts.co.uk/whats-on/lakes-tickets/ or call the box office on 01539 725133

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Shopping centre is a brave new world in Oxford

Creation Theatre is staging a new adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in an Oxford shopping centre.

The show is being be produced in Westgate, Oxford’s new shopping centre, on the doorstep of Primark and John Lewis.

A six-metre-wide LED screen promotes the show to Westgate shoppers during the day, and Front of House staff can be approached by members of the public at any time during setup, show running, or packdown to answer questions and provide information.

Adapted and directed by Radio 4 writer Jonathan Holloway, this site-specific production takes full advantage of the Westgate’s architecture, walkways and different levels. The audience experience the production through wireless headphones which are brought to them at their seats, and sit on modern office chairs that allow them to swivel as the action takes place all around them.

As actors interact with filmed footage on the screen, the audience are drawn into a world of fear and schemes, with Leiden Square providing a backdrop for this dystopian vision of a future intensely remodeled by consumerism.

Creation say that the challenge for contemporary theatre is to remain relevant and to reach new audiences, and this groundbreaking production does both.

“By staging at a time when shoppers are still using the centre, public who would never normally set foot inside a traditional theatre are witnessing how easy the show is to access and engage with, and are being encouraged by Front of House teams to sample the show by donning headphones to experience a short snippet of the live performance as they shop in the centre.

“This type of exposure is critically important in order to reach and engage new audiences, and can be very hard for traditional theatres to achieve.”

Performances take place until 11 August, Monday-Saturday. Evening shows at 7:45pm. Full schedule and tickets available from Creation’s Box Office on 01865 766266 or www.creationtheatre.co.uk

Bravo for the Edinburgh festival

A production which teams professional actors with the experiences of wounded, injured and sick Service personnel is heading to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Unspoken, which has been nominated for an Arts Culture Award, has a script based on the real life memories and experiences of Bravo 22 Company.

Bravo 22 Company, an award-winning recovery through the arts programme, is a team effort by The Royal British Legion and The Drive Project, whose ambassador is Ray Winstone.

The company delivers arts projects across the country with regional theatres and has built up a history of creating high quality pieces of theatre which have provided a platform for the wounded, injured and sick Service personnel voices to be heard, providing a safe and encouraging environment to share their stories. It culminates in this latest  production of Unspoken, directed by Phil Hoffmann and written by Gary Kitching.

They have created a hilarious, yet heart wrenching tale of love, loss, and hope, and after working with the creative production team from Newcastle Theatre Royal, it will run at the Pleasance Beyond as part of the Edinburgh Festival from 21-27 August.

Bravo 22 Company was created by Alice Driver, using theatre as a vehicle for recovery produced with the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Trust, The Royal British Legion and Ministry of Defence in 2011. It brought together 30 wounded, injured and sick Service personnel to write, produce and perform Bravo 22’s debut production, The Two Worlds of Charlie F, which was performed in the West End and received 5 star reviews and won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

The programme aims to give Service personnel and veterans new skills and experiences while improving confidence, self-awareness and motivation to support an individual’s recovery and the transition into civilian life and and their work has been seen by over 40,000 audience members.

 

 

A Royal performance as the Queens go underground

Queens of the Coal Age, Royal Exchange Theatre

Maxine Peake believes in protest and so does Anne Scargill, wife of Arthur played by Kate Anthony.  No matter whether you win or lose, expressing your protest is energy and life.

Written by Peake,  and directed by Bryony Shanahan, Queens of the Coal Age tells a story from our recent history from a very striking perspective.

Four women, wives of miners, went down Parkside Colliery in 1993 to protest against the coal mines being closed. Parkside Colliery was closed that same year. It’s a heartbreaking story but watching these four working class women represented on stage by four terrific actors is moving and exhilarating.

Their first major hurdle was getting down into the mine. They chose Parkside because they did educational tours there so the women pretended to be teachers and then refused to come back out. As an audience you can’t help thinking: “So what happens now for the next two hours?”

I was lucky enough to speak to the real life Queens of the Coal Age, Anne Scargill and Elaine Evans, (played by Eve Robertson) during the interval and they said they felt the same. They’d been so busy working out how to get down the mine they hadn’t really considered what they’d do once they were there. They had no food or water; it was dangerous so no cigarettes allowed and freezing cold.  And they were up against men running the pit who wanted them out.

Well, they had no trouble keeping us entertained and enlightened for the next two hours. They talk, they argue and fall out, they make up, they laugh, they listen to each other. There were lovely, funny scenes of them smoking an imaginary cigarette and each taking an imaginary Ecstasy tablet under the guidance of a supportive young miner, Michael (Conor Glean).

Great use was made of the Ensemble of 14 men. They helped create the lift shaft which carried the women down the mine to great effect. There was a sequence when the women were asleep and the miners walked through in the dark with just their pit helmets lit up, like ghosts of all the miners past. Later they became a miners’ choir and walked through the set singing.

It’s great to see Jane Hazelgrove, who until recently played one of the paramedics in Casualty (BBC TV) on stage playing Dot.  And Danielle Henry plays Lesley Lomas, the youngest of the four,  who  died last year. The production is dedicated to her. And a marvellous dedication it is, not just to Lesley but to the courage of four woman who can look back and say, to the homeless they now work with, that they did their best.

Eileen O’Brien

Queens of the Coal Age runs until July 28

https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/queens-of-the-coal-age

 

 

 

The man and the sea wall

Sea Wall, Old Vic

The most powerful and connecting monologue ever …that’s our verdict on Andrew Scott’s performance in Sea Wall.

It was written specially for him by Simon Stephens, directed by George Perrin, and without doubt performed by the right man. Though I have to confess I was there because Scott was the man who made me fall in love with Shakespeare, after seeing his Hamlet.

Quietly devastating, was one of the comments I’d read, but nothing will prepare you fully for what’s to come. Right from the start, Scott establishes a connection with his audience. When the crowds were entering the auditorium, looking for their seats, making themselves comfortable, Andrew was pacing the stage, hands in scruffy jeans pockets, watching us all, establishing eye contact, smiling.

Then he began, his clever wit and half-shaped jokes relaxing the audience, who are laughing along with him. It’s a gentle tale, the story of a seemingly perfect life, his love for his wife and daughter, his father in law with his house in France, his job.

And then, having hooked us onto his love for life…suddenly out of the blue we were looking at a completely devastated man describing the most horrific event of that perfect life. A life where he had thought he had it all and nothing could go wrong. Until it did.

And that’s all the detail, because it runs until the end of this week so you still have time to book a seat. Apologies for the hyperbole, but this was a totally hypnotic, intimate, devastatingly powerful and unforgettable performance. It was a privilege to share it.

Agnieszka M-Green

Sea Wall runs at the Old Vic until June 30.

Details: https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2018/sea-wall

The bold girls of Belfast

Bold Girls, Theatre by the Lake

The Troubles, as all conflicts, are viewed and reviewed almost exclusively by the protagonists and antagonists…the men.

But here’s a revival of Rona Munro’s microcosmic inspection of the political and religious troubles in West Belfast at the start of the 90s, from the female perspective. The play focuses not on the outward fighting on the street, but on the inward destruction in the home. What goes on within the walls of a living room near the Falls Road reflects the grief and futility of the battles between the Provos and the Brits.

It’s a story about the women who struggled to keep normality and comfort amid the arrests and deaths of those closest to them.  An extremely strong cast of just four women brings us this production, spanning the generations from the older defiant mum Nora (Christine Entwisle), down to the lost, troubled, fatherless daughter Deirdre (Lydea Perkins).

Alice Imelda shines as Cassie, the confidently flawed neighbour, with a husband in jail and reveling in the free time to have fun, but it is Sarah Kempton who steals the show as Marie. She’s the unfalteringly loyal widow, the backbone of the neighbourhood, who’s incapable of putting herself first.

It’s a gift to be able to pull off a performance where you have to portray the entire spectrum of emotions, while the main and constant effort is making everyone sandwiches, cups of tea and the kids’ beans and chips. The scene in which she briefly breaks down before reclaiming her honest and good natured character, is a marvel to watch, and a gift to be able to perform.

We were expecting a coming of age story when it began, but instead what is shown is the painful effort to make and contain whatever shred of hope there might be out of horrific circumstances, and to take joy from that. It’s summed up when Marie is talking about her late husband, with absolute affection: ‘Sometimes he told me he loved me, sometimes, when he had no drink in him at all’.

It’s a different take on a time of history we think we know well; it’s a masterclass in acting.

DB

Bold Girls runs at the Studio Theatre till October 24.  Dates and tickets:

https://www.theatrebythelake.com/whats-on