Review: The Barber Shop Chronicles

One of my favourite things about living in London is the last minute theatre tickets. Last Friday I managed to get through the National Theatre’s Friday Rush, where they release £20 tickets at 1pm on Friday for their shows the following week.

So when I got through the online queue of people I was met with a decision…what to watch? The National have a lot of great stuff going on, including The Follies and Pinocchio. However, it was The Barber Shop Chronicles that caught my eye – a play tackling themes of race and identity in a variety of communities, all within barber shops. I knew this was the play I wanted to see.

First impressions – I love Rae Smith’s set. It’s in the round with a variety of chairs scattered

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Rae Smith’s set

around and signs for each barbershop surround the edge. A light up wire globe with a disco ball in the centre comes down from the ceiling and a sound deck is placed on the stage playing upbeat hip hop and R&B. The energy is palpable. The actors bring audience members into the space and pretend to cut their hair or place them in the waiting area to chat. It’s the most natural audience interaction I’ve ever seen – everyone is at ease.

With dialogue written by talented poet Inua Ellams, the play opens with authentic and rhythmic language as we dart from barbershops in Lagos, Johannesburg, Harare, Accra, Kampala and south London. The universal conversations of race, politics and identity draws these cultures together into one signifying image: The African man.

We are met with moments of heartbreak as a man comes to terms with his father’s questionable past; moments of culture shifting and young vs old as the evolution of pidgin is discussed; and moments of hilarity as we’re introduced to a camp, gaudy plaid suit wearing man complaining of an ingrown hair on his neck.

The humanity of the piece is what makes it so passionate and loveable. However, every scene covers a lot of ground – there isn’t much room for rest, especially as it runs at 1 hour 45 without an interval. Their fast-paced speech and varied dialect are hard to keep up with, especially at the beginning. Nevertheless, the fast-paced aspect is what keeps the play moving, with excellent, energetic transitions between scenes.

What I got from this play is the frailty of black masculinity. There’s pent-up aggression left over from historical and present day injustices – this need to express how they feel, but they struggle to communicate. Barber shops function as their sanctuary, therapy and escape. This is a crucial piece of work that informs, enlightens and entertains. Ellams truly is the master of modern day storytelling.

If you’re as fascinated by the subject of masculinity as I am, you might want to take a look at my blog about Robert Webb’s talk.

Don’t forget to like, follow and tweet me @theatregirl_94

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Review: Romantics Anonymous

I’m officially living in London now – still feels a bit surreal if I’m honest! Everything has happened very fast and up until now I haven’t had a moment to breathe. Thankfully, I don’t start my new job until next week, so I have spent this week doing life admin, catching up with London friends, gymming and of course – watching a bit of theatre!

And what better place to start than The Globe? I managed to nab tickets for £20 to Romantics Anonymous, a musical adapted by the wonderful Emma Rice from the French-Belgium film Les Emotifs Anoymes. Tickets would have normally been around £40 for seats near the front, but because I’m part of The Globe mailing list, they gave me a voucher code to get £20 tickets – pretty neat. For ticket deals, I definitely recommend joining theatre mailing lists, as well as some of these money-saving tips from a blog I did a while back!

Anyway, I couldn’t have asked for a better show to welcome me to London. It’s a quirky, tongue-in-cheek romance between talented chocolate maker, Anglique (Carly Bawden) and Chocolate Factory owner, Jene-Rene (Dominic Marsh) – both very socially awkward people, fumbling blindly through the small challenges of the every-day. It’s so charming, my cheeks hurt from smiling. It’s so rare that two introverts are placed as the stars of a show, but it works wonderfully, shedding light on the characters who struggle to have a voice. Here are some quick reasons why you need to book your ticket to see this show NOW:

The Characters

Angelique is truly adorable. She’s a ridiculously talented chocolate maker, but shies away from the pressure of taking credit for her work. Jene-Rene is lovingly hopeless, listening to meditation tapes while his chocolate business he inherited from his cautious (and hilarious) father (Philip Cox) begins to crumble around him. 

The supporting characters tie the whole show together. Each has their distinct charm, but two in particular stand out for me. Marc Antolin plays Ludo, a sassy Welshman who works at the Chocolate Factory, rolling his eyes and passing judgement. He’s gutsy and mesmerising to watch. Similarly, I can’t take my eyes off Joanna Riding who plays both Magda, the strong and stable Chocolate Factory worker, and Angelique’s powerhouse mother. Her presence is astounding and her singing voice, incredible – a microphone isn’t necessary!

Magda
Magda (Joanna Riding) Sourced from The Globe Website.

The Set

Designer, Lez Brotherston hit the nail on the head with this one. Everything about the set is charmingly vintage, with neon light signs for each establishment the characters encounter. It’s jazzy, bold and camp – summarising the show as a whole really, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. It also adds to the comedy of the piece as characters announce where they are, gesturing above, and the neon light sign they require lights up. So camp, so wonderful.

Stage
A good view of the stage. Sourced from The Globe Website.

The Music

The classic French accordion undertones go hand in hand with the folky music – Emma’s staple style. Overall, the music by Michael Kooman, and the hilarious lyrics by Chrisopher Dimond capture the whole essence of the show and bring it all together.

So what are you waiting for? Romantics Anonymous runs till 6 January 2018, so book your tickets!

Don’t forget to follow and tweet me at @theatregirl_94

Review: What I Really Wanted To Say Was

Fresh out of East 15, Lance Jeffery, Nyke Jackson and Rosie Jane burst onto the theatre scene with What I Really Wanted To Say Was at the Camden Fringe on 14-Aug. It’s presented as a social satire about prejudice in the workplace. The fourth wall is immediately broken as they introduce themselves, Nyke identifying as a mixed race male, Rosie as a mixed race female bisexual and Lance as a white male. 

They then draw us into a variety of workplace scenarios, focussing on the challenges each of them face on an every day basis; sexism, racism, ADHD and dyslexia. We are introduced to Terry Bellowman – a cocky, white male boss, symbolising all that is politically incorrect and backwards about society. Then we have Orin Sundrie, a new member of the team multi-roled by all three actors as a strong figure of diversity within the workplace.

This particular workplace is an advertising agency, attempting to present their adverts as ‘multi cultural’ and ‘diverse’ to the point where it comes full circle, prompting questions around what sells in the advertising industry: white, black, gay, hetero, gender, etc?

But the backwards culture and attitude starts within. Rosie plays a female Orin who is constantly sexualised, harassed in the office and ridiculed for her afro hairstyle. For these reasons, she struggles to make her way up the ranks in the business. She later shares the shocking statistic that 1 in 10 women are sexually harassed in the workplace.

Nyke plays an ADHD Orin who struggles to achieve in an agency that fails to understand the way he works and functions everyday and purposefully marginalise him for it.

Lance then plays a dyslexic Orin who is ridiculed for his reading difficulties, resulting in an effective physical fight to enhance the visual and physical power over Orin who relies on audio a lot to digest information.

Nyke, Lance and Rosie are very strong actors with bewitching stage presence and the content they present is engaging and relevant. You can really tell that a piece of each of them has been put into the show. However, I’m unsure of what to take away from it – after addressing such strong issues, the end is a little inconclusive. I’m aware of the difficulties faced within the workplace, but a solution or at least a stronger message at the end would have a more powerful impact.

Overall though, this is a strong piece with a lot of potential.

I wish them all the best for any future runs of the show. There’s a lot going on at the Camden Fringe, so for anyone who’s around, check out what’s onDon’t forget to like, share and tweet me @theatregirl_94

Keeping Shakespeare Fresh in 2017

How is it that plays that were written almost 400 years ago still bear relevance today? I’m aware that not everyone is a big fan of Shakespeare, namely Emma Rice, Artistic Director of The Globe who stated:

There’s a lot of theatre, some of it Shakespeare some not, which feels like medicine. You feel like if you can get through it, you’re a better person. I have no interest in that; I can’t bear to be in a theatre that feels like medicine.” (Telegraph, 2016).

If a Shakespeare play does feel like medicine, then it’s obviously not been done very well. I recall watching a production of Hamlet at the Tobacco Factory last year – not that I’m a massive fan of Hamlet as a play anyway, but this production was unbelievably dry. It went down like cod liver oil (if we’re going with the medicine simile). Kate Wyver’s review summarised that the reason for this was a lack of risk – the production was far too safe.

We’ve all studied and watched Shakespeare till we’re blue in the face. Something has to give. This is why I’m highlighting a couple of productions I have seen, and one that I have booked to see that break the mould, make us think and drag out themes and emotions that we may not have even considered before.

  • Julius Caesar, Bristol Old Vic: Starring Julian Glover from Game of Thrones, this production chose to take a contemporary route, which really accentuated the political angle of the play. The crowds shouting Caesar’s name may as well have shouted Corbyn’s – their demeanour very similar to the passionate Glastonbury attendees only a few weeks back. I had never read or watched Julius Caesar, so had no idea what to expect, but this production was fresh and defiant. The themes of treachery, political arrogance and scheming felt ever present; while Caesar is accused of being a dangerous threat to his people, Corbyn was bashed by every tabloid going leading up to the election.

    Julius-Caesar-at-Bristol-Old-Vic-Lynn-Farleigh-Calpurnia-Julian-Glover-Julius-Caesar-Photo-by-Simon-Purse
    Julian Glover as Julius Caesar (Sourced from Bristol Post)


  • Twelfth Night, The Globe: This funky, glittery 70’s inspired production was bursting with life and was simply glorious. Not only did it include the fabulous drag queen Le Gateau Chocolat, who truly encapsulated the cross-dressing theme, but Katy Owen who played Malvolio stole the show with her crazed body contortions and facial expressions. I was unfamiliar with the play before going, but the whole concept worked incredibly well. The cheesy camp-ness of the whole thing was in keeping with the cross-dressing, bi-curious elements the plot lends itself to. Luckily, you can still catch this production if you’re quick – it’s on till 5-Aug.

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    Le Gateau Chocolat. Sourced from The Globe website.
  • The Tempest, Tea Powered Theatre: A local Bristol theatre company, Tea Powered Theatre specialises in steam punk inspired theatre while serving cream teas with a fabulous selection of teas from Bristol Tea Company. This particular production of The Tempest is directed by Calum Anderson and is set in space where reality ceases to exist; up is down and white is black. Nothing is as it seems. A group of stranded astronauts delve their way into a world of discarded technology and madness. There are a few showings of this in September, so don’t miss out!
    5-Sep – 7-Sep: Bierkeller Theatre (Cream tea not included)
    9-Sep – 10-Sep: All Saints Church (Cream tea included) – I’ll be going to this one! 😉
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If you have seen any Shakespeare productions recently that you’d like to mention, then please comment or tweet me @theatregirl_94

Blush: Revenge Porn & Gender

It’s been a busy month; I went to Venice and Verona with my sister and it was so beautiful, I want to go back! However, this has meant that there have been 0 theatre trips and 0 blog posts – oops.

That all changed this weekend though, as I went to see Blush by Snuffbox at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol. Written by the talented Charlotte Josephine and directed by Ed Stambollouian.

This is not a review, it’s more of a commentary about the subjects raised, because I feel like they should be addressed. But as a side note, I thought the play was incredible and an excellent exploration of these themes.

Blush addresses our relationship with the online world and sex, and frankly, how we as human beings haven’t had a moment to truly adjust to it. We follow three women, energetically multi-roled by Charlotte herself; one, a rejected lover looking for revenge, another, an 18 year old girl seeking approval from the online world, and her older sister, worried sick about her younger sister’s situation.

Then we have Daniel Foxsmith, multi-roling the two male characters. One, a young, bright entrepreneur who creates apps for a living, another, a father with two young daughters.

Revenge Porn

Their separate stories slowly unravel, until they all seem to compliment each other, delivering a strong, punchy message through various voices. We discover how regardless of the situation, women tend to come off worse. A leaked sex tape is seen by 30,000 people on various porn sites; the young 18 year old girl is mentally scarred, her reputation tarnished. Meanwhile, the rejected lover shares videos of her boyfriend and it’s simply shrugged at – she’s accused of being a headcase, she’s suspended from work and forced to apologise. The question here is – where is the young boy who shared the sex tape? What happened to him? He is voiceless, faceless, exempt from shame.

It was discovered that there were 1,160 reported incidents of revenge porn from April 2015-December 2015, from 31 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales (BBC News). Unsurprisingly, in a separate report, 90% of victims are women, so no wonder Charlotte was fuelled to write this piece. This isn’t just a question of cyber-rape (because that’s basically what it is), this is a much bigger question about gender and the way women are still often viewed as sexual objects to be taken advantage of. This does not work in reverse. It just doesn’t.

Sexual Rejection

This plot line is accompanied by the young entrepreneur, giving a talk about online behaviour and apps. He goes on a date with a woman, Lucy, who attended his talk and she challenges him about the effect his app might have on the people who use it. He makes a pass and is rejected. Hurt and drunk, he heads to social media, stating that she led him on. He is fuelled by followers who accuse Lucy of being a ‘cock tease’ – he is confused by the stance, the overwhelming majority who shame this woman they don’t know, simply because he read the signs wrong.

Is this about male pride, fundamentally? Normally, when a woman rejects sexual advances from a man, she’s accused of “friend zoning”. On the other hand, when a man rejects a woman’s advances, she tends to question her self-worth. This is a massive generalisation, I know, but you see where I’m going here. This can contribute to rape culture, as the friend-zone theory became a grotesque slogan: “She put me in the friend zone/I put her in the rape zone”. For so long, women’s sexual desires have become muffled through “friend zone” accusations, porn and unsolicited dick pics.

Guilt

Blush addresses the underlying guilt within the male characters. The young entrepreneur is ashamed by his following, who all accuse Lucy of being a slut, and that they’ve ‘got his back’. He’s bewildered that while he gets a slap on the wrist, Lucy is sent to exile by the online community. Meanwhile, the father character accidentally clicks on the leaked sex tape of the 18 year old girl and sees the very same poster his daughter has in her room in the background. It’s not until he imagines his own daughter in that situation, that he is forced to reassess his relationship with sex.

They are trapped in their own masculinity and are waking up to it and analysing their position in the world. Charlie Glickman refers to it as “The Man Box”. When masculinity is threatened, (e.g. when they experience sexual rejection), they fall outside of the box; gay, female or loser. This can eventually lead to aggression in order to prove their masculinity in a more obvious and open way, which in turn, can contribute to rape culture and revenge porn.

This kind of theatre is so important; it opens up dialogue and gives us a snap shot into this microcosm of society to allow us to engage with it as a whole. Blush was a shocking and thought-provoking piece which inspired me to write about thoughts I’ve had for a very long time on this subject, but had no starting point to bounce off.

If you’re interested in the subject of masculinity, you might want to attend Robert Webb’s talk at the Festival of Ideas in September.

And if you don’t already, please follow my blog and find me on Twitter.

I can’t afford theatre tickets – help!

Before I begin – it’s been forever since my last blog, I know. However, I’m working on the second draft of my play instead, so I’m forgiven slightly, right?

Anyway, let’s get crackin’.

As you can probably tell, I love nothing more than seeing live theatre. You can’t beat the atmosphere, storytelling and energy – but unfortunately, it’s addictive. And like most drugs, it’s damn expensive. This can be tricky when it’s been a few weeks and you’re getting the itch to see something new but your bank app is telling you otherwise (I’d rather not look at it at all if I’m honest.)

So, I decided to hunt for ways and means to see slightly cheaper theatre – I’m aware it’s an expensive hobby anyway, but it’s nice to save a few pennies here and there. So here goes…

1) Stand-by seats: Now I know not all theatres do this, but I always manage to get cheap £6 tickets for big shows at the Theatre Royal Bath. They’re not the best seats in the house, granted, but times are tough and you have to go see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime somehow. If you want to attend an evening performance, you have to call them at midday that same day, however, if you want to book a matinee, then you can call and book at any time.

2) Filler seats: Big shows need to look busy on press night; both for the venue and the actors sake. This is why there are sites dedicated to selling last minute cheap seats. You have to pay a membership fee, but the insane savings will make up for it – with some tickets flogged for just £1! It’s first-come-first-serve though, so you have to be on the ball. Some useful sites to check out are: Play by Play, The Audience Club and My Box Office.

3) Small, independent theatre: Size doesn’t matter; it’s not all about the big shows. In fact, when it comes to watching plays especially, I prefer a smaller, more intimate space. What’s even better is that tickets tend to be cheaper. Some examples of small, independent theatre spaces in Bristol and Bath are: The Wardrobe, The Rondo, The Alma Tavern and The Bierkeller Theatre.

4) Work in progress/previews: Artists are always wanting to test out their work to see what works and what doesn’t – which means you get to see elements of the show most audiences will never get to see, and for much cheaper! I managed to purchase cheaper tickets for both Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard’s work in progress shows and they were incredible. Also, a lot of shows tend to put on a couple of ‘preview’ performances before they start their run, so It’s worth keeping an eye out for those, as preview tickets tend to be heavily discounted.

Woo hoo!

I hope this helps all the theatre nerds out there on a budget – believe me, I will do all I can to save the dollar, yet still do the thing I love most.

Like, comment, share and tweet me @theatregirl_94 – Merci Buckets ❤

Review: Pride & Prejudice, Touring Production

As an avid Jane Austen fan, it seems quite fitting that my first review of 2017 is on the touring production of Pride and Prejudice. Probably one of the most iconic and well-loved of Austen’s novels, the Theatre Royal in Bath is full to the brim. I’m unsure of what to expect, as this tale has been portrayed so often (with certain memorable wet shirt scenes), it’s difficult to imagine how they will reenact the charm on stage.

The set is surprisingly more gothic than I anticipated; it’s a dark green and gold metal structure with steps leading up to a balcony, which would look more at home in a production of Northanger Abbey. The revolving stage works seamlessly to link the scenes together and makes the most of the smaller space offered at the Theatre Royal. Although, I feel that the balcony level could be used more, especially for the moments where characters recite letters.

Nevertheless, arguably the most cherished characters, Mr and Mrs Bennett don’t fall short

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Mr & Mrs Bennet (Felicity Montagu & Matthew Kelly) -Sourced from prideandprejudiceplay.com

and offer much hilarity. Matthew Kelly plays Mr Bennet with ease; firm, exasperated, jovial, yet sarcastic. Meanwhile, Mrs Bennet (Felicity Montagu) is the ultimate hoot; loud, obnoxious and bossy. One scene that sticks in my mind in particular is when Lizzie (Tafline Steen) refuses Mr Collins’ (Steven Meo) proposal and Mrs Bennet loses her mind, transforms into a wailing banshee and clings onto the bannister as Mr Bennet attempts to escape up the stairs.

Similarly, as previously mentioned, Mr Collins is boisterously played by Steven Meo, he proves to be one of the most memorable characters as he bounds across the stage in his irritating manner; charmingly Mr Collins-like.

The sisters are wonderfully cast, Lizzie (Steen) is confidently spoken and sarcastic – although a lot of what she says is tinged with sarcasm, which can become a little irritating.

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The Bennet Family (Sourced from prideandprejudiceplay.com)

Unfortunately we miss any bonding that occurs between Lizzie and her closest sister, Jane (Hollie Edwin). However, it is made up for in the hilarious group scenes between all the sisters; this is where we see all their personalities come to the fore. Lydia (Mari Izzard) is delightfully dim – however I am underwhelmed by her entrance as the newly wed Mrs Wickham, it is surprisingly understated. Yet again, this could have been an opportunity to use the balcony to allow her to make a big announcement.

Mr Darcy (Benjamin Dilloway), although played perfectly pompously, lacks charisma and also speaks very quietly, so his presence on stage is not as omnipotent as it should be. This affects the last scene between him and Lizzie, which doesn’t have the right mix of passion and intensity the scene usually alludes. Also, the lighting is too dim at this point – in fact it’s unchanging from the previous scene between Lizzie and Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Doña Croll) – which makes little sense as both scenes are polar opposite in tone. Overall, the stage could be lighter throughout to avoid the strange gothic vibe the production chooses to draw upon.

On the whole, this production is enjoyable and hits the humorous moments perfectly. Without a doubt, Mr & Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins steal the show; it’s worth seeing for that reason alone. As an Austen fan, you won’t be disappointed by this adaptation. Although there are parts that may need work, overall it’s a charmingly hilarious show you should take you nan to.

If you liked this then please like, share and tweet me @tesshenderson94 Also, check out other shows I want to see this year in my previous blog post.

Top 10 Shows I Want To See In 2017

 

 

Happy New Year! After Christmas and my birthday, I’m finally getting back into blogging. I’ve been a lazy bum. Anyway, I want to start 2017 right and make a plan of what I want to see this year. Sooo… I’ve had a little gander and this is what I have found. Theatre buddies are always welcome (unless you like eating kettle chips while watching a show, there is a special place for you in theatre etiquette hell).

These are all mainly in Bristol/Bath, but there is one London one I was told about that I thought I’d include.

1) Wish List by Katherine Soper: 16-19 Jan, Royal Court, London

A play that explores the dramatic effects of austerity on people in Britain today; we follow Tamsin who works a 0 hour job packing boxes in a warehouse and her housebound brother, Dean who has just been deemed fit to work. Tamsin must fight for their survival now that Dean’s benefits have been cut.

I’m really looking forward to seeing more politically charged plays like this, especially since Brexit.

2) The Corpse Bride, CellerDoor Theatre: 17-19 Jan, Bierkeller Theatre, Bristol

As a fan of this gothic tale, I’m really intrigued to see how these guys do it. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about Viktor Van Dort, a man who accidentally marries a corpse and is dragged down to live in the underworld forever. We follow him on his quest back to the land of the living to marry his true (very alive) love, Lady Victoria.

3) Pink Mist, Owen Sheers: 23-28 Jan, Bristol Old Vic.

Three young Bristol men, Arthur, Hads and Taff return home from fighting in Afghanistan. We witness the physical and psychological aftershocks of their experiences as they return home to their partners. Inspired by 30 interviews from returned servicemen, this play is set to be a very honest, raw and heart wrenching experience.

4) ‘Baby Face’ & ‘Out’: In Between Time: 9-10 Feb. Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

These two shows from In Between Time challenge elements of society that get overlooked time and time again.
‘Baby Face’ by Katy Dye addresses the issue of the idealisation of the innocent, child-like woman. From knee socks, to pigtails and lollipops – why are women pushed towards looking like six year olds?

‘Out’ by Rachael Young looks at Caribbean communities and the homophobic pressures they face as they worry about being black enough, straight enough, Jamaican enough.

5) Murder, She Didn’t Write, Degrees of Error: 9-11 Feb, Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Something I keep meaning to watch and never get around to it! You basically become an author of a murder mystery, as the audience get involved in offering suggestions, evidence and even get to choose the murderer and the victim. A night of improvised fun deemed “one of the funniest evenings you’ll have in some time” (Ed Fringe Review).

6) Othello, William Shakespeare: 16 Feb-1 Apr, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

As one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, I like to see what people are doing differently with it. The last adaptation I saw was at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2015 and it was a full female cast – it was excellent. I’m intrigued to see what Richard Twyman has in store for us in this surprisingly contemporary, timeless Shakespeare play.

7) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens: 14-25 Mar, Theatre Royal, Bath

Yet another thing I keep meaning to watch. I’ve heard so many good things so I can’t wait to see it! Based on a best-selling novel by Mark Haddon, we follow 15 year old Christopher who, while having an extraordinary mathematical mind, struggles with every-day challenges. When he’s accused of killing Mrs Shears’ dog, we’re taken on a journey that changes his life forever.

8) Show me the Money, Paula Varjack: 14 Mar, The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Multimedia artist, Paula Varjack addresses the issues around being an artist in an age of austerity. By mixing documentary-style interviews with live performance, she creates a witty, yet reflective piece about the creative industry. Painfully honest, but positive, I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say.

9) Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith: 21-25 Mar, Bristol Hippodrome

SHERIDAN SMITH. Do I need to say anything else? Probably not. I love this musical, I’m a big Babby Streisand fan, the songs are wonderful and Fanny Brice is a charmingly hilarious character who makes humour in a woman positively sexy. THIS IS THE SHOW OF MY YEAR (if you couldn’t tell).

10) Bridget Christie: Because you Demanded it. 8-9 May, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Did you vote remain, or vote to leave and now regret your decision? Well then, this is the show for you. For an up-front and witty insight on Brexit, it’s worth going to see Bridget. From October 2015-March 2016, she had her own weekly column in the Guardian and she frequently resides on TV and BBC 4 programmes such as Room 101 and Have I got News for you. A truly inspirational, intelligent and funny woman.

 

And that’s all I’ve got for now. If you have any suggestions or want to be my theatre buddy, let me know! Tweet me @tesshenderson94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016: A year in the life of Women in Theatre

What a year 2016 has been.

We’ve had Brexit, Trump and the decease of the Great British Bake Off as we know it – not to mention countless farewells to the greatest icons of all time: Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Victoria Wood, Jean Alexander…the list goes on.

It’s been tough.

Nevertheless, I aim to remain positive in trying times, hence why the theme of this blog is achievement, specifically, achievements for women in the theatre sphere in 2016 – hurrah!

1. Emma Rice – Artistic Director, The Globe

Emma is an inspiration to any woman who wishes to pursue her theatre dream. Coming from a place as peaceful as Cornwall, London was not a natural calling for her, but she knew she had to take the opportunity at hand – and by god she did. She bravely shook up The Globe and its traditional “shared lighting” approach with light rigging, microphones and contemporary music. Her Wonder Season included a concoction of: A Midsummer Night’s Dream with bright neon lighting, a bold performance of Imogen and a charming production of 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by the Cornwall born theatre company Kneehigh. Emma’s influence proved refreshing and popular, in fact her work attracted “new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box-office returns” (Source: The Guardian). She openly admitted to finding Shakespeare a bit dull – which was of course met by a wave of criticism…but hey, someone’s got to say it, right?

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Emma Rice. (Source: The Telegraph)

Emma acknowledged the fact that the only way to get young people through the door of the Globe was to make theatre more accessible, relatable and dare we say it…fun. Nevertheless, this failed to appeal to the board who accused Emma’s decision of introducing modern lighting as excluding the audience from the action. However, Lee Curan, the lighting designer of Imogen argued:

“In reality, the audience was always lit during Imogen (except in the blackout at the end of the show) – the groundlings were generally lit in the same manner as the stage. This was fully considered in the design” (Source: The Stage)

Thus, the news of Emma’s departure from the Globe seemed wholly unfair, and frankly, a step backward. Many argue that the board are becoming so precious about preserving the historical accuracy of the Globe, that it’s becoming more of a museum than a place of theatrical experimentation.

Emma argued that she would not have received the same treatment if she was a man, which opened up a discussion about the treatment of the female voice within the theatre sphere: Do we still have a long way to go?

Regardless of her early departure from the Globe, it’s clear that Emma made a significant impact to the way we see Shakespeare. It’s so refreshing to see such a strong woman with a clear vision; Emma made 2016 that little bit more magical.

2. Phillipa Soo & Renèe Elise Goldsberry & Jasmine Cephas Jones : Hamilton, The Musical

I love this musical so damn much. Lin-Manuel Miranda absolutely nailed it – I mean, it took him six years to write, so a lot of time went into making it the masterpiece it is today. What I appreciate the most is his attention to the female characters, Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Angelica Schuyler (Renèe Elise Goldsberry) and Peggy Schuyler (Jasmine Cephas Jones). In a time where women were second class citizens and lived in the shadows of their husbands, Miranda brought their individual personalities to light and heralded them as strong women in their own right. The song ‘Schuyler Sisters’ is perhaps one of my favourites because it’s sassy as hell and shows how the female protagonists are smart women with fresh ideas and a positive outlook on the future:

[ANGELICA]
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:

[ELIZA/ANGELICA/PEGGY]
“We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal”

[ANGELICA]
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson

[COMPANY]
Unh!

[ANGELICA]
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!

[WOMEN]
Work!

HamiltonRichard Rodgers Theatre
Phillipa Soo, Rennee Elise Goldsberry & Jasmine Cephas Jones. Source: Variety

Director, Thomas Kail discusses the strong bond between these female protagonists; fiercely loyal sisters who see only the best in each other. He says:

“I hope it’s not a secret. They are the heartbeat of the show. Those ladies, the bond they have, the love they have for each other, is so palpable. It’s why that number when we meet them is such a wave of oxygen.” (Source: Variety)

Soo discusses the development of the strong sisterly relationship on stage: “because of our relationship, just as who we are, it all kind of just flows out onto the stage seamlessly” (Source: Variety).

Strong women in the theatre industry who support each other rather than tear each other down are a force to be reckoned with, Goldsberry explains how women in the industry can be “our resource and our strength and our sanity” (Source: Variety).

So, if 2016 has anything going for it, it’s that women are beginning to accept that becoming a unit rather than a pack of competitive she-wolves will ultimately lead to progress.

I am now greatly anticipating going to see Hamilton when it comes to London…

3. Female Monologues: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing and Iphigenia in Splott.

2016 has been a great year for the expression of the female voice in the monologue form as well. Earlier this year I watched a monologue adapted from Eimear McBride’s novel: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. It was one of the most emotionally raw shows I have ever seen; Aoife Duffin seamlessly moved from one character to the next, telling her story of repression and abuse in Catholic Ireland. This show broke boundaries with it’s intensity and honesty – setting the female voice free.

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Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half Formed Thing: Sourced from Bristol 24/7

I must admit I never got to watch Iphigenia in Splott, however, I heard countless good things about it and I like to use it as another example of the female voice gaining free reign. Mark Shenton praised the production:

“A short but bruising play, fired up by the piercing intensity of Sophie Melville’s performance as Effie.” (Source: The Stage)

I wrote a piece myself about one-hander shows and how they can be effective when done right, and these two examples are brought to light. They are both exceptionally powerful pieces that put women centre stage, making 2016 a successful year for female monologues!

4. Powerful young girls: RSC’s Wendy & Peter Pan and Kneehigh’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

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Mariah Gale as Wendy: Sourced from westendtheatre.com

Children’s literature is constantly challenging the perception of young girls, and older tales are still being adapted and presented from different angles; the RSC’s Wendy & Peter Pan is a prime example. This show successfully placed Wendy, Tinkerbell and Tigerlily at the forefront of the tale as they become the true heroes when they are required to save Peter and the Lost Boys. I explained in my review that Wendy (Mariah Gale) is portrayed as being a much more developed, flawed human, rather than the prim and proper mother figure she is so often portrayed as; this was a very refreshing change in the story and most importantly, a positive message to send to young girls.

Similarly, Lily (Katy Owen), the young protagonist in Kneehigh’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips proves to be a brave, outgoing young girl who is willing to do anything for her family, friends and most importantly her cat, Tips. Incredibly, this tragic story of war, loss and friendship is drawn from Lily’s diary; Michael Morpurgo writes with such clarity and insight, while yet again Emma Rice triumphs in the execution.

When transformed to the stage, children’s literature can be outspoken and brave, and this was definitely achieved in 2016.

You could say that 2016 hasn’t been too bad at all. Really important steps have been taken both on and off stage in regards to women’s position in the theatre industry and it can only go up from here…right?

(Hopes for a better 2017)

If you liked this, then follow, like and share! Also, follow and tweet me @tesshenderson94

If you liked this, then follow, like and share! Also, follow and tweet me @tesshenderson94

Review: Licensed To Ill

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). 

Licensed to Ill Show
MCA (El Hagar), Mikun, Ad-Rock (Foxsmith) Mike D (Maeder) -Sourced from The Guardian.
 

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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