Category Archives: arts

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

RIOTOUS FARCE AT THE ORANGE TREE (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

GREAT plays stand the test of time, even if they need an occasional lick of paint to freshen them up.

Such is the case with Le Jeu De L’Amour Et Du Hassard, a play written by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux and first performed in 1730.

Marivaux, a Frenchman from good Parisian stock, was only a part-time writer but he wrote more than 35 plays during his lifetime. His influence was such that it spurred the term ‘marivaudage’ – a not particularly flattering term used to describe verbose or affected writing.

Le Jeu is probably Marivaux’s most famous play but it was given a wonderful makeover in the early 1980s by the late John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). This culminated in The Lottery of Love, a script which has now been used to marvellous effect in the latest offering from the Orange Tree Theatre in London’s wealthy Richmond.

Directed with aplomb by Paul Miller, the play is set in a drawing room (birds twittering away in the background) in the Regency period (early 1800’s). All perfect for the Orange Tree Theatre and its quadrangle stage. Love and class frame the play.

Mr Morgan, portly and refined, is keen to marry off his attractive daughter Sylvia and has a suitor in mind (Richard, son of a friend) who will be visiting them later that same day. But Sylvia is not so eager declaring to her maid (Louisa) that she is perfectly content as she is and has no interest in Richard – however true the claim that he is attractive, intelligent and a trustworthy gentleman.

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Sylvia, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to meet with Richard but only if she and Louisa reverse roles, enabling Sylvia to observe Richard from a detached distance. Mr Morgan, a doting father, agrees – much to Louisa’s delight who cannot wait to assume a position above her normal station.

Just before the women scuttle off to change clothes and roles, Sylvia’s dashing brother Martin arrives, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and full of mischief. Mr Morgan then opens a letter from Richard’s father which  states that Richard has the same idea as Sylvia – namely to dress up for the meeting as his manservant John Brass so that he can learn more about Sylvia’s character. John Brass, of course, is to present himself as Richard.

What follows is 80 minutes of enjoyable – and occasional rip-roaring – farce as aproned and servile Sylvia (now playing Louisa) is wooed by a smitten and ridiculously well-spoken John Brass (Richard).

Richard (John Brass) is dressed like a peacock with green laces in his shoes, a flower in his hair and gauche rings adorning most of his fingers (hats off to costume supervisor Holly Rose Henshaw).

More clown than supposed master, he instantly falls in love with Sylvia (Louisa) who makes the jump from ‘common’ to ‘posh’ quite seamlessly.

On one level love transcends the classes. On another, those of equal social standing are drawn together like twins or magnets.

Some of the language may jar but the acting is wonderful (great casting by Rebecca Murphy). Dorethea Myer-Bennett is quite exceptional  as the real Sylvia (Silvia in the original Marivaux play). Cynical one moment, demure the next. Her facial expressions are as enjoyable to observe as her comic timing is to listen to.

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Ashley Zhangazha portrays Richard (Dorante) as the earnest man he obviously  is while Tam Williams (Martin, Mario) makes a perfect sibling – tall, upright, handsome, beautifully spoken and seldom missing a chance to have a little fun at Sylvia’s expense. Upper class through and through.

Claire Lams (Louisa, Lisette) is more than effective in portraying Louisa’s transition from servant to supposed Lady of the house. One moment, a slightly cheeky and cheery servant. The next, a lady with a voice to match – and quite happy to be dismissive of her ‘maid’. Oh, how she enjoys chiding the real Sylvia. A duplicitous character made for Ms Lams.

As for Keir Charles, he plays Brass like a Regency version of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Bombastic, conceited, foul mouthed, a man who finds falling in love quite easy and despite Richard’s goading is never quite able to shake off his lack of class. One critic describes him as a Regency version of Russell Brand. One Russell Brand is surely enough for this world.

It is all way over the top but Mr Charles provides the play with much of its humour. A fool dressed as a clown, often using the audience as a springboard for his oafishness (something Ms Myer-Bennett also does earlier in the play while questioning the intentions of most men).  Note to people booking tickets in the next few days – do not sit in the front row unless you want to be the butt of some good old fashioned humour.

Pip Donaghy completes the cast as a loving father, Mr Morgan (Orgon).

The play, which runs until May 13,  is a triumph for the Orange Tree Theatre. Yes, it is still dated despite Fowles’  best efforts. Yes, it is slap stick romance. But it’s great fun – as well as being a great play (mind you,  great with a small g, not great with a capital g).

Tickets are available for all bar one of the remaining performances. Grab one if you can. Pure escapism – and don’t we all need a little of that at the moment.

For more info: www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

The Lottery of Love – 4/5

Martin: Tam Williams

Louisa: Claire Lams

Richard: Ashley Zhangazha

Sylvia: Dorothea Myer-Bennett

Brass: Keir Charles

Mr Morgan: Pip Donaghy

Director: Paul Miller

Designer: Simon Daw

Costume Supervisor: Holly Rose Henshaw

Casting: Rebecca Murphy

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FAMILY RUPTURE IN A HEALING BELFAST (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

NORTHERN Ireland is the backdrop to Everything Between Us, the award winning play by David Ireland that is now getting an airing at the Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.

Predictably, its theme is the troubles – and the painful journey to a near state of political and religious reconciliation (although more recent events suggest otherwise).

But this is no predictable play. Far from it.

It boils away for 70 minutes like a vat of oil, spitting out globules of venom at every opportunity. The play is not for the faint hearted, nor those who are easily offended by the liberal use of the ‘c’ or ‘f’ words. It never fails to shock.

It starts with Teeni McKinney coming back to Belfast after an eleven year absence – on day one of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland at Stormont.

The play is savage from the very first moment Teeni storms on stage pursued by her older sister Sandra until the finale when Sandra walks off it exclaiming her horror at being a human being. Visceral throughout – shocking in parts – but it is not without its moments of rich humour.

Teeni’s return is a whirlwind one and she is all fire and brimstone as she rails against everyone. ‘I came out screaming like a banshee,’ she says, referring to her birth. ‘I declared war on this world as soon as I was out.’

Her targets include the chair of the commission who, shockingly, she abuses racially. Her older sister Sandra Richardson is ridiculed for her weight – ‘you’re fat’, ‘I can’t even bear to breath the same air as you’. Fenians, she hates with a vengeance, even lambasting her sister for wearing a green dress.

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Even Nelson Mandela is given a verbal going over although the bubble Teeni has been living in over the past eleven years means she is not even aware of the great man’s death.

Teeni is, blonde, self-assured, sexually confident and a recovering alcoholic (three years dry, allegedly). ‘I’m beautiful, I’m really intelligent, I’m funny, I’m sexy,’ she proclaims.

She is also a lethal mix of energy, hatred and bile. Kicking out at everything (most of the stage set) and everyone (ex-boyfriends, her mother and her dead father, a member of a protestant paramilitary group and a killer of nine Fenians who was in turn murdered by the IRA).

By way of contrast, Sandra is overweight, becalmed by comparison and an integral part of the peace process (a member of the legislative assembly). But she is not without her demons, separated from husband Stevie and bizarrely a member of Alcoholics Anonymous even though she does not drink.

Her turmoil is fuelled in part by the fact by Teeni walked out on the family and then failed to contact them – even when their father died.

‘Say sorry,’ she pleads. ‘You’ve caused havoc. Our mother has been crying for eleven years.’ The fact that Teeni drew a knife on Sandra’s son Ryan when he was newly born has left a metaphorical weeping wound between the two of them.

This familial fracture is the essence of the play and towards the end we get an explanation as to why Teeni is so unhinged.

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Uncomfortable, yes. Cringingly so on occasion. But it is essential viewing nonetheless. The acting by both Katrina McKeever (Teeni) and Lynsey-Anne Moffat (Sarah) is top drawer. I certainly wouldn’t want a run-in with McKeever’s Teeni while enjoying a night out in Belfast.

As has become the norm with the Finborough Theatre in recent months, Everything Between Us is an excellent production superbly directed by Neil Bull. Hats off to The Working Party Theatre Company for its role in bringing this play to an English audience.

If you have a strong constitution, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It runs until May 16.

Everything Between Us – 4/5

Teeni: Katrina McKeever

Sandra: Lynsey-Anne Moffat

Director: Neil Bull

Designer: Laura Cordery

Casting director: Matthew Dewsbury

Producer: Matthew Schmolle

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Do Your Duty – and go to a Sarah Gillespie gig

THERE are few more versatile – and talented – musicians currently doing the live London circuit than Sarah Gillespie.

With three albums (Stalking Juliet, In the Current Climate and Glory Days) and an EP (Roundhouse Bounty) under her belt, she brings a rich play list to the stage.

Gillespie is difficult to pigeon hole. Her music is a combination of folk, blues and jazz while vocally she is part Joni Mitchell, part Kate Melua. Her music is influenced by her American mother and the frequent trips she made to Minnesota where she soaked in the blues’ sounds. She also busked her way around America.

One moment she is belting out an old Bessie Smith tune (the so called ‘Empress of the Blues’) such as ‘Do your Duty’:

‘I call three times a day

Come and drive my blues away

When you come, be ready to play

Do your duty.’

The next she is marvelling the audience with her witty lyrics, embracing everything from songs about lonely heart ads, tales about her late mother (much missed), motherhood (she has an one year old daughter) and the fragility of love.

She is also not frightened to tell us what she thinks of President Trump (‘my new muse,’ she remarks tongue in cheek, just five minutes into her first set).

A venue such as St James Studio (now renamed The Other Palace) in London is perfect for Gillespie (dark, tight, intimate and atmospheric). But her true home  is the 606 Club on Lots Road, Chelsea.

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It is where she worked before breaking into the music circuit and it is where she returns on a regular basis to belt out her tunes. Even though it is usually a Thursday night 606 billing for Gillespie (a quiet night by 606 standards), she always gives her audience value for money. In return she is rapturously received as she was last Thursday (20 April).

She has a super band behind her. Emma Devine, backing vocals, is a star in the making while Tom Cawley (piano), Ben Bastin (bass) and James Maddren (drums) provide exemplary support. Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, a massive influence on her albums Stalking Juliet and In the Current Climate, is a notable absentee (check out his exemplary playing on the two albums).

Starting with In the ‘Current Climate’, then moving onto ‘How the Mighty Fall’ (where she has her little dig at Trump), she steps up a gear with a Bessie Smith classic: ‘Nobody Knows You’. Smith, she says, is the ‘goddess of blues’.

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Gillespie’s lyrics shine through on ‘Signal Failure’, a song about the role of the smartphone in relationships – and in particular how it can feed insecurity.

‘Please call me back, I’m pissed and perplexed,’ she pleads. ‘You don’t read my texts.’

In between the music, there are anecdotes aplenty – including  a recent fruitless search for a breast pump in Cornwall while on tour. ‘I had to get that [tale] off my chest,’ she says as she launches into ‘Another Country Song’.

On ‘Lonely Heart Sads’, she bursts into poetry, using the Evening Standard lonely hearts ads as the basis for the words.

‘I’m lovely on the inside

Friends say I am kind

I will grow slowly on you like a language

Or subsidence in a disintegrating house

Full of hard working innocent people sleeping.’

And: ‘Stigmata with her own bandage factory seeks evangelical atheist to stop her from bleeding.’

Witty words that draw laughter from the 606 audience.

Standouts among the 19 song performance include a rousing ‘Lucifer’s High Chair’ and ‘Rhinestones’ where Devine’s backing vocals shine through.

She is also happy playing solo with just her guitar for company (as on ‘Oh Mary’ and ‘Postcards to Outer Space’).

 The finale – after a stirring version of ‘Stalking Juliet’ – is ‘Million Moons’.

‘Now you’re dreaming of Delilah
And that girl from Ipanema
Having seen her in the tabloids
With her dignity beneath her
And you’re racing like a crazy man
Complaining of the weather
You’re Jupiter in drag
And I love you more than ever.’

Judging on this performance, and the reaction of the 606 audience, we love you (Sarah Gillespie) more than ever.

If you are in Cambridge on Thursday night (27 April), the Sarah Gillespie Quartet  is playing at the Hidden Rooms. At £15 a ticket – £12 for students – it is a musical bargain.

Do Your Duty.

 www.sarahgillespie.com

www.gilad.co.uk

www.606club.co.uk

Thank you for reading, Please like, share and comment!

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Awash in an Islington bout of Sea Fret

SEA Fret is a term used to describe a wet sea mist. It is also the title of a new play at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington, North London. It lives up to its name, enveloping the viewer for two hours as relationships twist and the tide turns.

It is written by Tallulah Brown, a young and talented playwright who has already won acclaim for Phantasmagoria, There’s a  Monster in the Lake and After the Heat we Battle for the Heart. I get the feeling we will hear a lot more about this talented individual in the coming years.

At the core of the play is ‘erosion’ – not just of a physical kind (as in erosion of the coast) but how it can eat away at relationships than once seemed life-long.

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The play is framed around a pillbox situated close to the fictitious East Anglian coastal  town of Canton. It is surrounded by pebbles while the sound of the sea never dies throughout. Islington-on-Sea.

At the play’s core are two teenage friends Ruby (Lucy Carless, making her theatrical debut) and Lucy (Georgia Kerr) who have spent a hedonistic summer together ahead of Lucy going off to university.

The pillbox is daubed with graffiti, providing a graphic history of their times together and their various encounters with boys and drugs. I spotted more than one drawing of a penis.

Ruby is the extrovert – gobby, confident, sexually experienced and a drug dealer. Lucy is the more studious, restrained and a virgin (allegedly). Standing behind them are Jim (Ruby’s father) and Pam (Lucy’s mother).

Like Ruby and Lucy, Jim (a splendid Philippe Spall) and Pam (Karen Brooks) are complete opposites

Jim is all drugs, drink and drifting. He also has a penchant for bursting into song when the mood takes him. Sea Fret? More Sea Shanty. Jim is a loveable drifter with a chip on his shoulder who thinks the world is railing against him.

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Pam, meanwhile, is all bossiness, kale and green Hunter wellies, keen to get Jim to turn up at an imminent council meeting and demand that it helps arrest the coast’s erosion that is in danger of devouring Jim’s home. Jim is more interested in weed (of the smoking kind).

The bonds then unravel in spectacular fashion as Lucy disappears off to university. Ruby, spooked by a young man she sold drugs to spiralling into a coma, reinvents herself as a caring subdued daughter determined to keep the family home from the ravages of the sea, even if it means breaking the law.

In doing so, Lucy and Ruby jettison each other from their lives. When Lucy returns from university, Sea Fret, Sea Shanty becomes Sea Frost. They can barely speak to each other. An air of frostiness prevails.

While Ruby remains a pillar of strength throughout (‘I’m King Canute,’ she screams at one stage), Jim finally capitulates. The bonds that once linked him and Pam have long snapped.

Sea Fret is a thought-provoking play. Special mentions must go to Spall (a stand out performance) and Carless who gives little indication that Sea Fret is her theatrical baptism of fire (or should that be water?)

The set, designed by Ruta Irbite, is marvellous given the confines of the Old Red Lion. Production company Loose Tongue also deserves a gold star for backing Tallulah Brown.

Brown’s play is on until April 22. If you are in London and have an evening to spare (two hours, with a twenty minute interval break), I would breeze on down to the Old Red Lion (a minute from Angel Tube Station) and give it a crack.

Check out:

Old Red Lion Theatre

Loose Tongue

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Portuguese poetry a la 606. Obrigado Mr Forcione & Ms Weis

FOR lovers of jazz – and for that matter live music – there is no more atmospheric London venue than the 606 Club.

Situated in an unassuming road in swanky Chelsea, this intimate club has been providing a musical platform for more than 40 years. Long may it thrive. Live music seven nights a week  as well as on a Sunday lunchtime. Rarely does 606 sleep.

It is run with great aplomb – and dedication – by the modest Steve Rubie, ably supported by club manager James. Chalk and cheese. Laurel and Hardy. Mr Rubie, all frowns. James, all acerbic wit.

You only need to get hold of the club’s monthly newsletter to get a feel for Mr Rubie’s musical passion (he is an accomplished musician himself). Detailed (musical) notes accompany every performer that is due to appear at the club.  It’s a monthly work of art. Does Mr Rubie sleep? Like the club I doubt it.

The club, hidden away in a basement only accessible by ringing a bell and waiting for James to let you in, attracts devotees. Not just lovers of live music but performers as well.

Once you have experienced it, you want more. 606 is like a drug and when the occasion demands it the audience push their vegetable spring rolls to one side and dance the night away.

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The likes of Sarah Jane Morris (sexy deep voice and counterpoint to Jimmy Sommerville in the Communards), Wayne Hernandez (ditto, sexy deep voice who gets the endorphins racing), Lianne Carroll (wonderful live act), Beverly Skeete (ex Rhythm Kings) and Ian Shaw (all passion and politics) are regulars.

As are Sarah Gillespie, Gilad Atzmon (a sublime saxophonist), Tony O’Malley and ex Average White Band frontman Hamish Stuart (Pick Up the Pieces).

Indeed, this month sees Skeete, Shaw, O’Malley, Hernandez and Gillespie all return to the club. An electic mix, ranging from the husky Mowtown sound of Hernandez through to the Chris Rea like voice of O’Malley. Check them out.

You can dine at 606 if the mood gets you. The food is respectable and greatly enhanced by a good wine list (especially the Macon Lugny and Green Fish Verdejo). Alternatively, you can loiter in the back bar and just drink yourself somewhat silly.

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Yet it is the 606’s ability to surprise that keeps it moving forward. New artists come along occasionally (sanctioned of course by a demanding Mr Rubie) while new evening formats are experimented with. For example, wine tasting nights with music to match.

Mr Rubie’s latest idea (March 31) was to bring to the stage acclaimed guitarist Antonio Forcione and Canadian singer Tammy Weis for an evening of music based primarily on the poetry of Portuguese philosopher Fernando Pessoa (1888 to 1935).

Individual poems of Pessoa were read out in Portuguese before Ms Weis and Mr Forcione – accompanied by the wonderful Jenny Adejayan on cello and Alua Nascimento on percussion – turned them into music. All under the theme of ‘Finding Pessoa’. Standout tracks included ‘Desire’ and ‘Sleep’.

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Unique? Yes. Enjoyable? Yes, although it would have been good to learn more about the journey from Pessoa to the making of the music, a journey triggered by Ms Weis’ discovery of the poet’s work while visiting Lisbon.

As ever, Mr Forcione was formidable, interrupting project ‘Finding Pessoa’ with his own interpretations of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ and  Henry Mancini’s ‘The Cool Cat’. Both were rapturously received.

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The intention is for Ms Weis and Mr Forcione to release an album later this year based around 12 of Pessoa’s poems. If it is half as good as Mr Forcione’s last album ‘Compared to What’ (with Sarah Jane Morris), it will be worth buying.

Indeed, Mr Forcione and Sarah Jane Morris are performing at Brassiere Zedel on April 7 and 8. If you have not heard them before, I urge you to give them a try.

And when you are in London at night and looking for something special to do, ring 606’s bell and let James allow you to enjoy live music at its very best.

www.606club.co.uk

www.brasseriezedel.com

www.antonioforcione.com

www.tammyweis.com