You can’t deny that hip-hop has crept into every form of entertainment now – from the Netflix series The Get Down, to Lin Manuel Miranda’s award winning musical Hamilton. So it’s no surprise that Licensed to Ill, a small-scale show about the life and times of the Beastie Boys has been unbelievably popular in the theatre sphere – there’s rap, beats and bold dance moves, all with hilarious consequences.
It all started with Adam El Hagar and Simon Maeder who concocted the idea of building a show around the surprising rise of the Beastie Boys while flyering and rapping to passers by in London.
From there, the show was born. They fought for their right to party.
And thank goodness they did – because we get a great night out of it.
We follow the highs and lows of Mike D (Simon Maeder), MCA (Adam El Hagar) and Ad-Rock (Daniel Foxsmith) as they accidentally trip upon hip-hop and create one of the most iconic records ever made alongside producer, Rick Rubin (Tope Mikun).
The thing that stands out the most is their ability to morph into these caricatures with such ease – they’re obnoxious, fun, boisterous and unafraid. They step into a world which is predominantly black and face it with complete boldness. We learn to appreciate how they broke boundaries and adapted to their audiences; their tour with Madonna being a specific highlight.
We’re taken swiftly through the humble beginnings of hip-hop, the boys’ transition from punk and their rise to fame – amongst other personal struggles. As they work through the story, the transitions between scenes begin a little shaky, but become much smoother and refined later on. Overall their collaboration is impeccable. I can’t pick out a weak member of the group; they’re all equally slick performers who are obviously passionate about the genre. Nevertheless, Tope Mikun in particular proves to be a truly versatile performer as he jumps from being producer Rick Rubin and puppet master, to the famous “Mix Master Mike”. I appreciate the puppet puns thrown in – something to please the nerds out there.
And of course – a show about hip-hop and the Beastie Boys would not be complete without a bit of audience interaction, right? Cue budget hand-held camera reenactment of ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ music video starring members of the audience dancing, rapping and partying – truly bringing the fun, freestyle vibes of the Beastie Boys to life.
Although you could describe the Beastie Boys career as a ‘flash in the pan’, we certainly got a hell of a lot of entertainment out of them, and this show certainly proves that they left a legacy worth reflecting on. Licensed To Ill is a fitting tribute to the “three idiots” who “creat[ed] a masterpiece” – flawless rap, silly costumes, puppetry and sick beats…what’s not to love?
A rip-rapping triumph.
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It’s been a crazy long time since I wrote a blog post but I’ve been very busy! I went on holiday to Portugal straight after I saw No Man’s Land, but I bought a notebook and scribbled down some thoughts before I forgot – so hopefully this review won’t be too shabby. However, if you are truly unimpressed then you can jolly well move on to another corner of the internet (no, not that one).
Anyway, No Man’s Land – a play written by the mighty Harold Pinter himself in 1974 and starring two incredible legends: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The two men, Hirst (Stewart) and Spooner (McKellen) appear to have met in a pub and ended up at Hirst’s house to continue drinking. The set itself reflects the general mood of this play; a darkened, grand, circular room where the men bounce pointless conversation off each other and never reach a resolution. The circular room and lack of progression from the two men hint at elements of Beckett; a moment in Endgame in particular where Hamm asks Clov to push him around the room stands out:
Take me for a little turn.
(Clov goes behind the chair and pushes it forward.)
Not too fast!
(Clov pushes chair.)
Right round the world!
(Clov pushes chair.)
Hug the walls, then back to the centre again.
(Clov pushes chair.)
And it’s no surprise really, No Man’s Land is considered perhaps one of Pinter’s most absurdest plays – so a lot of parallels can be drawn from Beckett. In fact, Pinter himself described this play as “hauntingly weird” and that he “can never fully understand – who can? But it works on you.”
Well that sums it up really. The whole play is a slow-moving drudge through whatever these men are trying to achieve. Not going to lie, it was confusing. In act 1, Hirst is a little worse for wear and is far from impressed by Spooner’s ever more outrageous tales; Hirst eventually leaves, crawling out of the room, completely inebriated. Two younger men then enter, Foster (Damien Molony) and Briggs (Owen Teale) which shifts the whole power structure; a previously very chatty Spooner is silenced by the menacing presence of these men. From what I can gather from this scene, it is partly about the physical decline of Hirst and Spooner as they have gotten older; Hirst exits by crawling weakly on his hands and knees, while the two younger men assert their dominance over this unknown man in their house by physically threatening him.
The second act is a huge improvement as Hirst enters into the room the next morning as if nothing has happened; their roles switch. Hirst is now bright, refreshed and talkative. He makes up wild tales about sleeping with Spooner’s wife – a power play much favoured by Pinter; the ownership of women. Like in Pinter’s play, The Homecoming, there are a lack of female roles, so they must perform the typical ‘domestic’ roles around the home, which threatens their masculinity. There’s also an element of intellectual competition; although the two older men can no longer assert physical dominance, they are both writers, so fight it out that way. Yet, they are constantly crippled by their poor memory.
It’s terribly existentialist, which I have no problem with, but it can leave you feeling empty. There’s a reference near the end to the seasons and it remaining winter forever – unmoving from no man’s land:
“No man’s land…does not move…or change…or grow old..remains…forever…icy…silent.”
This is much like how Beckett refers to the passing of time (or not as the case may be). It’s a heavy performance with a few laughs throughout, but very tough to follow. Naturally, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are excellent, but I didn’t warm to the play at all – yet again, that’s never Pinter’s intention in the first place.
The tableau at the end speaks for itself; Hirst and Spooner are front and left, whereas Foster and Briggs are in the background by the bar. The older men are always at the forefront leading the way, while the younger generation can only look on and attempt to replicate.
Although well executed, the play really wasn’t for me. I mean, if Pinter himself didn’t get it, then I don’t stand a chance in hell.
So I’ll just leave it at that.
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I met Michael Morpurgo when I was about twelve years old and he signed my copy of Kensuke’s Kingdom – it was the best day ever (at the time). Ever since I have been in awe of him as a writer and storyteller. He has this incredible knack of evoking every emotion in you; his books make you laugh out loud and sob uncontrollably all at the same time. For this reason, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is not simply a ‘kids’ book, it’s a story that uncovers some cold hard truths about World War 2. I went to see the production of it on 12 August at The Globe and thought it would be a nice one to mention in my blog, especially because it was my first time at The Globe.
The tale is based on a real life event that happened on 27 April 1944. American troops ventured over to Slapton Sands in South Devon to practice and fully prepare for Operation Overload on 6 June 1944, the D-Day landings on Utah Beach, France. However, this didn’t go quite to plan as German ships launched a torpedo attack in the Lyme Bay area, resulting in the deaths of 946 American soldiers. This mistake was kept under wraps until 40 years after the Normandy landings, thus the story of Adolphus Tips is partly a reminder of what actually went on at that time.
But this adaptation by Emma Rice and Michael Morpurgo is far from doom and gloom. Naturally, this is helped a lot by Kneehigh, who utilise their familiar tropes; live music, puppetry and physical theatre. The show opens with a live band led by Adebayo Bolaji wearing a slick black satin suit; he proves to be an excellent frontman and interacts throughout with Lily Tregenza (Katy Owen), who is the protagonist of the story. She’s a twelve year old girl brought up in Slapton around the war; we follow her throughout her life as she is constantly on the look out for her cat, Tips and eventually makes friends with the adorable evacuee, Barry (Adam Sopp).
The live music aspect proves to be the highlight of the show; it ranges from folk to American inspired jazz. One of my favourite parts is when American soldiers, Adi (Ncuti Gatwa) and Harry (Nandi Bhebhe) come to visit the Tregenza’s to celebrate Thanksgiving and it turns into a lively, vibrant party with jazz music and tap dancing. It’s a all swinging, all dancing extravaganza. The actors genuinely look like they’re having a lot of fun, and so are we! The idea that a group of people from very different backgrounds can still unite in times of turmoil is an ever-present theme in this story. In fact, the famous quote by Martin Luther King is mentioned to highlight this:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And of course, as I previously mentioned, it wouldn’t be a true Kneehigh production if puppets didn’t make an appearance somewhere. I’m always amazed at how seamlessly the cast work them into the piece; you barely notice the puppeteer at all! You end up falling head over heels for Tips the cat, which is very much down to the incredible level of puppetry from Nandi Bhebhe.
At the beginning we’re introduced to Boowie (Adam Sopp), Lily’s grandson in the present day as a miniature puppet running around the farm kicking a ball around with his sheepdog. This tiny puppet scene is transfixing and so cleverly done; it really helps set the scene as we are then introduced to the life size Boowie and puppet sheep dog. In my opinion, this technique could have been used more throughout. However, for a large space like The Globe, I can understand why they avoided doing it too often.
The Globe proves to be an incredible venue for this type of production; there are propellers attached to the front of the stage which are powered by cast members and are used to dramatise the battle scenes. This and the metal baths full of cold water at the front make it an all-encompassing experience. Here’s why. Naturally, it’s difficult to portray a battleship scene on stage, but Kneehigh tackle this with ease; while Bolagi narrates the action, the other cast members dive small battleships into the tin baths, splashing water over all of us in the yard; it’s an incredibly immersive experience. We feel physically and emotionally taken over by the whole event and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
I honestly can’t imagine any other theatre company doing it better; Kneehigh add fun and energy as well as moments of thoughtfulness and peace. As always, the cast are incredibly talented in the way they multi-role, pick up instruments on the fly and burst into song. Katy Owen as young Lily is a burst of life with a touch of mischievousness about her, although she could do with a little toning down as she tends to be a distraction. Another favourite of mine is Ncuti Gatwa as young Adi; he’s instantly charming with a smile that could stop a bus. Honestly, just look (the one on the left):
Anyway, if you do get a chance to swing by The Globe, it’s on till 11 September – so get your tickets now! It’s only a fiver to stand in the yard, and the show is so good that you don’t even notice you’re standing for that long.
Whether you’ve read the story or not, it’s an enchanting show that’s guaranteed to pull on those heart strings.
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It became a roaring success at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, so naturally, Dinosaur Park by the wonderful Superbolt Theatre Company had to come to Bristol. Quickly becoming my favourite venue in Bristol for new theatre, The Wardrobe Theatre is the perfect, intimate space for such a touching, yet hilarious show. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Jurassic Park, the references to the iconic 1993 blockbuster film made me howl with laughter!
We join dad Terry (Frode Gjerløw), his daughter Jade (Maria Askew) and youngest son Noah (Simon Maeder), who make us feel right at home; they chat to the audience with ease, displaying their distinctive characteristics before the show even begins. We soon learn that we are there for a showing of (you guessed it), Jurassic Park, in memory of the children’s mother who passed away a year ago. But alas – the original video tape is missing.
This is where the fun begins. There’s no Spielberg style special effects here; the three actors recreate the film by clambering upon each other, using a rucksack as a dinosaur mouth, prancing around pretending to be DNA (Gjerløw steals the show with that impression!) and effectively use an umbrella in the memorable scene where Dennis Nedry gets attacked by a Dilophosaurus. My tacky description fails to give it justice; you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
It’s a hilarious, creative and wildly intelligent piece, yet isn’t afraid to approach sensitive subjects, which cushions the humour very well. I especially like the song accompanied by ukulele, where they link the moment where the triceratops dies to what happened to their mother. It’s a moment that leaves you silent for only a moment though, as it continues to move at a fast pace, with laughs at every turn.
Each character is loveable in their own way; Terry is a pityingly hopeless father with his heart in the right place, while Jade is a rebellious teenager, drawing parallels with the trapped female dinosaurs in the film as she not only tears down the fences at school, but the feminine expectations of a patriarchal society (I know, deep). And lastly, perhaps my favourite, is the excitable, wide-eyed Noah who shares a pure love for Jurassic Park and life in general.
I highly recommend that you see this play if you fancy a good laugh, although I reckon it’s a good idea to dust off your copy of Jurassic Park first as you might need a recap of the story! Regardless, I laughed the whole time, so if you don’t get time to refresh yourself, it’s not the end of the world.
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Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s was brought gracefully to life in Richard Greenberg’s adaptation in the touring production, starring Emily Atack as Holly Golightly and Matt Barber as Fred. This story clearly reflects Capote’s own lifestyle of gossip, glamour and cocktail parties. Not only this, but there are a lot of parallels between himself and Fred; both of them struggling writers who found trouble in their respective newspaper publishing houses. You can really sense Capote’s heart and soul within this story, which explains why it has resonated through generations.
The main thing I appreciated about this adaptation was that it didn’t shy away from the gritty and melancholy truth of the story. Although hopelessly lovable, the 1961 film sugar-coated the poverty and desperation experienced by the two protagonists, and swerved the bitter-sweet ending replacing it with the typically romanticised Hollywood kiss.
At first, Holly and Fred couldn’t be more different; Holly, the fun-loving, extroverted girl about town and Fred the brooding, introverted writer. Nevertheless, their lives are practically mirrored throughout as they are both forced to sleep and charm their way to the top. Emily Atack, best known for her role as Charlotte Hinchcliffe in The Inbetweeners played a very convincing Holly with her light and airy movements, charming smile and stunning singing voice. She sang all three songs in the show, one of them of course being the dreamy ‘Moon River’; her voice had a slight pop influence which brought it into the 21st Century, and she showed off some rather impressive vocal runs, as well as a little guitar playing. Overall, I was very impressed with her performance. The only thing I would comment on was that her accent took a little while to warm up; she sounded obviously American in the first scene, then slipped into British in the next, attempting to perfect the posh American accent that the character had been trained in. However, beyond the second scene, Atack was flying and everything about her performance was on-point.
Matt Barber, best known for his role as the dashing Atticus Aldridge in Downton Abbey played Fred. He seamlessly narrated the story; sharing his woes as a writer, his obsession with Holly and his darker moments through his quest for success. He didn’t simply stick to the introverted writer stereotype, but branched out with confidence; standing up to Holly’s selfish behaviour. Like Capote, Fred shows homosexual tendencies, which was very much hidden in the film.
Naturally, there was a real life cat that (almost) stole the show! Bob the cat was greeted to the stage with a chorus of “awws”, startling him at first; poor Fred had to try and keep him from running off stage. I honestly couldn’t tell you what conversations occurred in that scene; I was completely transfixed to the fluff ball.
On another note, thanks to designer Matthew Wright the set was simply gorgeous and truly captured the grittiness of the play. It wasn’t overly complicated and didn’t detract from the action at all; all the transitions were perfectly smooth. I also appreciated the spotlights used throughout; they had an art-deco edge around them, subtly alluding to the style and time of the play. Oh, and naturally the costumes were to die for; Holly had a different outfit for practically every scene and oozed class every time.
Nevertheless, there were some drawbacks to the production. The play was advertised as showcasing ‘memorable songs from the era’, almost passing it off as jukebox style musical…which it obviously wasn’t (it’s a pretty dark tale). There were only three songs in the show, and although beautifully performed, I wouldn’t describe them as being ‘upbeat’. I can imagine that if you bought tickets with the intention of seeing a play with some lively songs from the era, you’d be a little disappointed, (which is what I gathered from a conversation I overheard as I left). Furthermore, on the subject of liveliness, I couldn’t help but feel that the party scenes lacked, well…life. Before the iconic party in Holly’s apartment, Fred announces that ‘the whole of Manhattan were there’, yet only a handful of people were on the stage. There wasn’t even a great deal of upbeat party music or any sort of ‘buzz’ for that matter. I understand that with a touring company, there’s only so many cast members you can afford to have, so in that case, adding some more jazzy music and a ‘bustling party’ sound effect in the background would have livened the whole scene up a bit. After all, Capote was known to be a bit of a party planner himself.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with this production. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has always been a film close to my heart, so I wasn’t sure how I would react to this adaptation. For one, I appreciated discovering more about Fred’s back story, which was practically ignored in the film. Although the ‘Hollywood’ ending was absent, I felt that the bitter-sweet tone fit in with the whole ambience of the play.
I really loved the Old Market Assembly and The Wardrobe Theatre as a venue.
You first walk into the The Old Market Assembly, which is a bar and restaurant; it has a really nice, vintage feel about it with dim lighting, a warm open fire and a live jazz band (it also had some yummy Vegetarian and Vegan options on the menu!). If you’re looking for a night out with a difference, you should check it out here.
The theatre itself has recently been refurbished and it looks great; it’s a very intimate space which really worked for this piece.
We enter into the Wardrobe Ensemble’s land of 1972.
We begin with a rather over-excited man raving ecstatically about the exciting prospects of the 70’s; the pill, sex, open homosexuality, drink, drugs and parties. Meanwhile, the other actors look increasingly more uncomfortable the more uncontrollable he gets; we actively see this reluctance to adapt to a new age amongst the older generation.
Microphone stands are scattered around the edge of the set; these are used by the actors to narrate the action and become each other’s inner voices.
We follow a selection of young adults tackling their way through their own sexual discoveries. With new ideas on female identity, pornography, homosexuality and cross-dressing, the youth of the 70’s had a lot to get their head around.
Christine is planning her first sexual experience with her musician boyfriend, Rich. However, due to scare-mongering and misinformation, Christine is terrified. Thus, she decides to take notes while watching the pornography blockbuster at the time: Deep Throat. This, as you can imagine, does more harm than good in regards to her self-esteem. At this point, the theme of pornography is weaved into the present day, where it is now more accessible than ever before. We’re told of a young teenage girl, confused about why her boyfriend still watches it.
Of course, David Bowie was the pinnacle of self-expression and sexuality at the time. We see Anna, a shy young woman living with her parents, suddenly come out of her shell when she watches Bowie perform on TV. We follow her as she embarks on an exciting and adventurous relationship with Tessa, a beautiful woman she meets in a record shop.
Similarly, we see Bowie’s impact on a boy called Antony; we are told that he calls himself ‘Anton’. He doesn’t speak for the majority of the play, but simply expresses himself through his actions and appearance. The other actors narrate him, and we watch as he changes into his mother’s clothes while listening to Bowie. This story is perhaps one of the most personal and emotive because it’s a true exploration of the self; it’s a discovery Antony must make on his own. Although everyone in the cast was incredible, the actor who played Antony had this knack of grabbing the audiences’ attention with just the slightest move or expression.
Due to my genuine interest in the development of the feminist movement, Penny’s story was perhaps my favourite. We see her fall for her sociology teacher who discusses the new feminist readings of the time, such as the iconic The Female Eunuch. Penny is impassioned by his teaching and talks wildly about strong female sexual identity in Lady Chatterley’s Lover and her future as a successful, independent woman; capable of achieving anything a man can.
Nonetheless, the end reveals how far equality still had to go in 1972, and frankly, how far we still have to go in 2016.
This production was a hilarious, touching, energetic and extremely relevant experience. The cast were very talented individuals in their own right, and you could tell how well they worked as a group. Their physicality and comic timing was spot-on; it was never too much or too little.
All tickets have sold out for the Bristol shows, but they’re on tour, so you can still catch them! Find out more about where they’re touring and when here.
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I recently went to London for a few days with my better half, James.
I wouldn’t say that we’re natural London people; the hectic element of the city isn’t quite for us. However, for entertainment purposes, you can’t really fault it. Our main purpose for going was to watch the popular musical, The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, which was as hilarious and outrageous as you can expect! Then the night after, we went to Club 99 to watch some stand-up comedy. So overall, we had a really enjoyable time.
However, while we were walking amongst the main strip of theatres, it got us thinking. We could see why London has this reputation for being ‘the place’ for theatre, but were frustrated as to why other arty cities (our hometown, Bristol, being one of them) are ignored.
The reasons why London is the theatre capital is arguably clear; shows are more accessible, there are a million productions to choose from, theatre is advertised like new film releases with massive posters plastered around tube stations, and most actors study and develop their work there.
But, surely that shouldn’t detract from great theatre shown elsewhere? This brought to mind an article by Mark Shenton from The Stage I’d read a few weeks back. He explained that due to lack of theatre funding, theatre critics have been forced to down-scale, thus mainly reviewing the big shows in London. This unfortunately segments the rest of the country from the capital and gives the illusion that theatre outside London either a) Doesn’t exist, or b) Isn’t worth watching.
However, Shenton stressed that if Londoners could be bothered to make the effort and (God forbid!) explore life outside of the capital, then they would be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of talent elsewhere. He talked about his trip to the Mold’s Theatr Clwyd in North Wales and how the level of work produced there was on par with shows at the Donmar Warehouse or National.
On a personal level, my experience of theatre in Bristol has been really varied, inspiring and in my opinion, well worth exploring. The Theatre Bristol newsletter is always jam-packed with new shows to go and see; whether it be plays, musicals, dance or circus.
Circus performance has a really big presence in the city; it’s something that makes Bristol stand out from the rest. Local Circus school, Circomedia, produces amazing talent and adds a different element to the theatre we experience. I watched an outdoor circus show not too long ago, which you can read about here, and I plan to go and see a lot more.
Another local success is the Bristol Old Vic’s production of Jane Eyre, which eventually went on tour and was even aired live at some cinemas; it was a raging success.
Another brilliant thing about local theatre is that The Bristol Old Vic and Tobacco Factory Brewery open up opportunities for local people to showcase their creativity through scratch nights and open space events. For example, in honour of the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Birthday this year, some friends of mine are getting involved in an Open Space event where they get to express what Bristol means to them. I expect that this event will be completely original and independent of anything you would see in London, simply because Bristol has its own living, breathing and creative personality. You can find more about the event here.
On another note, I’m really looking forward to seeing a local production at the Wardrobe Theatre next week called 1972: The Future of Sex. It was really well received at the Edinburgh Fringe last year where it received The Stage Award for Acting Excellence. I’m expecting outrageous behaviour, Ziggy Stardust and plenty of polyester!
So…who said London was the only place for theatre?
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As I walked into the Birmingham Repertory theatre space, I was struck by the highly contemporary, abstract, and frankly – relatable setting.
Up against the wall was a bedroom scene; two actors were stood up, asleep in the bed. They were surrounded by clothes, a pair of converses, an over-flowing laundry basket and phone chargers. Almost at once, you could see that the set portrayed a typical twenty-something’s room; to me, I saw my own bedroom. I really appreciated the attention to detail; from the lip balm on the bedside table to the lighting streaming through the door and the blinds. It wasn’t like your regular ‘bedsit’ setting. Instead we were looking at it from a birds-eye view, peering into something real; something intriguingly authentic.
This set the scene perfectly for what was to come; Jack Thorne’s incredibly intelligent and raw script throws us into a sexual encounter between our protagonists, Alice and Phil. The audience smile and chuckle in an almost understanding way as the couple speak their inner thoughts about this rather ritualistic activity:
PHIL: I trace her – graze her – inner thigh with just the edge of my – edge of my fingers.
ALICE: He always fucks around a bit.
Immediately, Phil and Alice became relatable. Their honest dialogue and their personalities shone within moments. What made their performance even more real was that they were both actors with disabilities. The theatre company, Graeae aims to create more opportunities for disabled artists; integrating sign language, audio description and captioning into theatre. Alice was played by Genevieve Barr, a deaf actress, and Phil was played by Arthur Hughes, an actor with a physical disability.
We follow them as they jump backwards and forwards through their relationship; from an awkward, yet hilarious first meeting in a post office, to their first sexual encounter together. We become emotionally invested in their relationship. Yet, hints are dropped throughout towards something very painful that they later share together.
We discover that Alice is pregnant, but the baby has not survived. They then have to go through the heart-breaking realisation that Alice will have to go through labour anyway. The ‘labour’ scene is possibly one of the most grotesquely poetic moments in the whole piece; both actors lie on the bed together, but are completely separate in their headspaces. Alice is in the middle of labour, while Phil is recalling a graphic sex scene between them. The clash of these two situations is uncomfortable to watch, yet extremely compelling; you have no idea what to feel. You see the transition from extreme pleasure to extreme pain before your eyes. This moment was exceptionally directed by Amit Sharma; it must have been a very challenging scene to pull off, but it was done just right.
Ultimately though, you can see and feel this undertone of love between them. It’s not perfect or idealised because true love never is, and that’s what I appreciated most about this play. To me, this play encapsulated everything I feel about modern relationships; it was truthful, raw, funny and painful.
The writing alone has that spoken-word feel about it; it truly is a shockingly beautiful piece. I liked it so much I bought the play script on my way out! I highly recommend going to see it if you can – it was well worth my trip from Bristol on the Megabus!
That is a statement I am not prepared to argue with.
Not only was it written in the 1800s by a woman, but its protagonist is so powerful that she literally screams off the pages.
You could call Jane Eyre a love story, but ultimately that would be like saying that Hamlet is simply about a mad man who’s a little too fond of procrastination; there’s a lot more to it than that (really).
Jane Eyre is a Gothic tale about a woman growing up in a world full of cruelty and restraint. She is forced to repress her passions and prevented from speaking her mind. What you learn to love about Jane is her resilient nature; she refuses to conform and bravely seeks out her own happiness in life; something particularly unusual for women at the time.
Ultimately, that is what I enjoyed the most about the National Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre; it wasn’t a love story, it was an autobiographical exploration of Jane’s struggles and achievements.
Director, Sally Cookson evidently had a clear vision for Jane Eyre. She wanted to emphasise the timeless themes of the play:
“I didn’t want authentic set and period costume to suffocate it, killing the essence and magic of the story.”
The set, designed by Michael Vale, definitely reflected her intentions; it was refreshing to see. I would probably describe it as an elaborate IKEA playground. It enhanced the sense of freedom of Jane’s mind, as cast members were able to run, climb and swing on the set at ease. Jane’s entrapment was simply portrayed by the cast holding up square frames to create windows, which Jane broke through easily, and the sounds of fresh breeze and bird song circled around the theatre space.
The physicality of the whole production was pretty spot-on. I especially liked the moments where Jane travelled from one place to the next and the live band played a catchy beat while Jane and the other cast members jogged on the spot. It enhanced the sense of strength behind Jane, while also adding a bit of humour as they stopped for toilet breaks on the way and complained about the British weather.
Speaking of the band – the music was ingeniously composed and directed by Benji Bower. It had a folky, contemporary feel, which created a sense of timelessness. A particular favourite was a twist on the popular classic, ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley, sung by Melanie Marshall who played Bertha Mason. Her voice was like smooth caramel to the ears, with a little bit of bite – like a Crunchie bar, you might say. Basically, it was very good.
I haven’t even begun to talk about Jane herself, performed by Madeleine Worrall. She played Jane as an energetic ten-year-old, all the way up to her adult life as a governess. Not once did I question her performance; as a young girl she appeared very natural as her body language became larger and looser, and her voice more high-pitched and whiney. As she matured, she developed into a more contained being, quietly confident in herself and her abilities. She played Jane so effortlessly, that it didn’t take long to become attached to her and her story.
However, I must say that I wasn’t so keen on Jane’s love interest, Mr Rochester, played by Felix Hayes. I’ve never found Rochester an easy character to decipher, but I found this portrayal especially problematic. His outbursts were so over-dramatic that they made the audience titter; which I’m assuming wasn’t the intention. I imagined that he was channelling Dumbledore from The Goblet of Fire as he stormed down the stairs, shaking Harry Potter and bellowing: “HARRY! DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?”. And, as most of us are aware, this angry description of Dumbledore was not written as such in the book. The same could be said for Rochester; yes, he’s passionate, yes, he’s prone to angry outbursts, but don’t overdo it to the extent that the audience can’t take him or the relationship between Rochester and Jane seriously.
Nonetheless, (and what I am about to say may add salt to poor Rochester’s wound) Craig Edwards who played Pilot, Rochester’s dog was brilliant, and stole a lot of the laughs in the show. All he required was a leather strap in his hand and some very clever physicality; he would roll onto his back, panting and beating the strap against the floor, cleverly becoming his tail. This simple, yet effective idea brought a great deal of amusement.
The cast as a whole worked exceptionally well together; they created the music and aided transitions to help move the narrative forward, as well as multi-roling various minor characters. Simone Saunders who multi-roled a few characters, including the servant, Bessie, really stood out for me; she had a great deal of energy and switched roles effortlessly.
Considering Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels, I thought I would be more critical about this performance. My only directorial query would be with the bigger, scarier ‘gothic’ moments of the play, when Bertha strikes. These moments were built up to well; you could really feel the tension, however, when it actually happened it was a bit…underwhelming. It was like a balloon deflating instead of popping.
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary interpretation. I believe that director, Sally Cookson achieved her goal to “surprise and maybe challenge people’s expectations.” We weren’t given a typical period drama on stage, but something more experimental and full of variety.
Check out my friend Niamh Flynn’s review of this show too! You can find it here.
Don’t forget to have a look at some of the other shows I’ll be going to this year, you can find my list here.
Comment, share, go watch theatre and tell me about it!
Walking into the Tobacco Factory Theatre space, we see a dimly lit stage with a gravel-like flooring.
This barren, empty space sets the scene perfectly; as what we are about to see is something so tragic and heart-wrenching that you feel completely hollow when you leave.
A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing is a 90 minute monologue, adapted from the novel by Eimear McBride which
peers into the life of a poor Irish Catholic family. Already, you can probably gather that the story is far from jolly. With Irish stories such as The Magdalene Sisters which explores the corruptive Catholic Church and the complete disrespect for women as they are seen as sexual objects, (I unfortunately watched that film alone and was thus left in an emotional bottom-less pit of moroseness), you can guess what sort of direction this play will take.
Nonetheless, this monologue was flawlessly performed by Aoife Duffin, who captured our attention from the very beginning with her melodic Irish accent. She is plainly dressed; wearing only a baggy top and bottoms, which provides a neutral canvas for the various characters she performs.
Her physical ability to switch from one character to the next is incredible; you can practically see the scene unfold in front of you. We are moved seamlessly through this hard-hitting story, lulled by the beautifully poetic script written by Annie Ryan.
We never discover the girl’s name; which indicates the lack of feminine identity within this bubble of society; she truly is a half-formed thing. With a cold-hearted, god-fearing mother and a younger brother with cancer, the girl is shoved into the background, brought up in a household full of shame and hate.
By the age of 13, she is sexually abused by her uncle, which begins her sexual journey as a bleak and loveless downward spiral. She sees sex as a form of currency and self-harm; she is so accustomed to being treated as a sexual object, that she no longer sees herself as being anything else. When she discusses her various encounters with men, she speaks with a slow drawl, verbally communicating the way she is passed carelessly from man to man. Sex is an empty feeling for her; it means nothing.
The few sound effects throughout were simple, yet interesting. One sound that sticks in my mind in particular was something that sounded like rolling marbles, which made its way from one side of the theatre to the other, as if they were rolling around us. I believe this happened when her brother died, which to me indicates towards the saying ‘losing your marbles’; hinting towards the girl’s final tipping point.
Duffin’s performance is passionate and painful as she transforms into her little brother, fighting for his life, then her stern, hateful mother and then her weak, perverted uncle. You feel and see every emotion in every single character, and love and hate them all equally. This is what made this play so gritty; Duffin laid herself bare for a full 90 minutes, and all we could do was watch helplessly.
I must say that I got a little lost at the end. This is most likely because of the very challenging, emotional upheaval the play takes you through; by the end, you’re emotionally shattered.
Nonetheless, this was a one-woman play masterpiece. The spoken-word element to the script was not only engrossing, but emotionally charged, and Duffin was breath-taking. You could tell that she had put all of her energy into this piece.
This was a play that you wish you never had to see, but ultimately opens wounds and pushes boundaries.