A Younger Theatre: Operation Love Story, King’s Head Theatre – 27/07/2016

About a month ago (sorry this is so late I have been pretty busy!) I went to see Operation Love Story, a one woman show that follows the story of two people destined (or otherwise) to meet and fall in love. Sadly I visited this theatre pub 3 days before my 18th birthday or else I’d have definitely partaken in the drinking that was going on throughout the venue!

‘The course of true love never did run smooth’, once wrote William Shakespeare, and Operation Love Story follows one matchmaker’s attempts to ensure a local couple’s pursuit of true love runs as smooth as possible. Written by Jennifer Williams the play is equal parts heartwarming, heartbreaking and hilarious. It is also part of the King’s Head Theatre’s Festival 46, which is showcasing new British writing.

Read the full review here.

Invincible, Mercury Theatre – 28/04/2016

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Invincible is the story of Emily and Oliver, a mismatched couple who decide to move up north to raise their family when the recession means they can no longer afford their London lifestyle. It is equal parts heartwarming, hilarious and thoughtful, documenting the shift in culture the pair experience as they invite their new neighbours, Dawn and Alan, round for olives and (non-alcoholic) drinks.

Torben Betts’ script is outstanding, combining humour with real moments of touching poignancy. Each of his characters fills a distinct purpose and personality, and the inner workings of these four people together makes for a fascinating social situation. The tension and conflict created by not only the north/south divide between the characters, but also between each couple’s personal situations is a delight to watch. With the first act very humour focussed, it makes the dramatic revelations in act two all the more impactful and leaves you with much to consider.

Each member of the four-strong cast is fantastic, doing more than justice to the strong sense of character created for them by Betts’ script. Graeme Brookes is excellent as Alan, really bringing the main comic character of the play to life. Emily Bowker is also commendable as her namesake Emily, demonstrating both her passionate political views and her slightly softer side with equal finesse.

The set by Victoria Spearing is charming, with a miniature town made of colourful wooden blocks adorning the front of the stage through which a tiny train weaves to mark the start of the play. Behind this is the main set, a cosy family home with some lovely exposed brickwork and white painted wooden doors (similar to those that can be found in my own home!). Tim Speechley’s lighting also plays an integral part, with a large backdrop indicating night and day along with characters switching on and off lights in order to set the right mood.

Wholly entertaining and entirely charming, Torben Betts’ Invincible is well worth a watch. It’s emotional without being too heavy, and funny without cheapening any of the social comments it’s trying to make. Go to have your heart simultaneously warmed and broken.

Invincible is playing at the Mercury Theatre until 30th April, and is touring the UK until 18th June. 

Clybourne Park, Mercury Theatre – 19/04/2016

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Clybourne Park focuses on a single house in an American neighbourhood, and how the inhabitants of that house shape and interact with the community. It consists of two mirroring acts – one set in the 1950s and one set in modern times – exploring issues of racism and community tensions that still have great resonance within the world today.

From the off the play seemed a bit slow to get into. It felt as if you’d been dumped into a house full of people that had known each other for years, meaning as an audience member I felt quite left out of most of the character’s conversations for at least the first half an hour. But after you begin to piece together all the various issues discussed it becomes quite engaging as you attempt to get to the bottom of all the tensions surrounding the inhabitants of Clybourne Park. In contrast, the second act seemed to move far quicker – perhaps down to the more modern time period, or perhaps down to the audiences familiarity with key events from Act One which allow parallels in the plot to shine through.

The show’s cast was, on the whole, quite impressive. The evening’s standout performance came from Gloria Onitiri, who gave a solid performance as Francine in the first act but really came into her own during the second as Lena, a passionate resident determined to uphold her family’s history. Rebecca Oldfield must also be credited with the sheer contrast between her two characters (that is, except the fact they were both pregnant) – in the first she convincingly plays the deaf Betsy, whereas in the second she plays a panicked soon-to-be-mum trying to befriend her new neighbours.

Jonathan Fensom’s design consists initially of a fairly plain 1950s style house. Faded and dingy looking yellow wallpaper collaborates with a range of cardboard boxes and rolled up carpets to really give a sense of a tired, unloved house ready for a family to move out of. As the curtain lifts on the second act, this same house retains its unloved aesthetic but this time is filled only with a slapdash selection of items being used as chairs as the residents carry out their meeting. The sounds of intrigue from other audience members as this was revealed was telling of the interesting contrast in the show which helped to retain attention during the second act.

Clybourne Park‘s real interest is in the way it challenges you not only to question the attitudes of the characters in the play, but of the attitudes also of those living in modern day Britain. It’s easy to watch the 1950s characters overt racism and think proudly to ourselves about how so much has changed since then, but the reality is that many of those issues still remain today. So often we hear comments like those from Nigel Farrage saying he would be ‘concerned’ if a group of Romanians moved in next door, and although luckily the majority of the population would disagree with his views, it is undeniable that issues of community cohesion and integration still do remain very strongly important today.

Clybourne Park challenges the idea that racism and discrimination are things of the past, and calls upon viewers to think about their own attitudes towards these issues.

Clybourne Park is playing at the Mercury Theatre until 23rd April, and then touring the UK until 28th May. 

A Younger Theatre: F.A.N.Y, Above the Arts – 15/03/2016

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Last month I returned to the Above the Arts theatre in Leicester Square to see F.A.N.Y. Clearly the show didn’t have much of an impact on me as I’m sort of struggling to remember weather or not I even enjoyed it. I think I’ll be reading this review as well to remind myself of my opinions!

F.A.N.Y follows the story of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (aka the F.A.N.Y), a group of female volunteers who drive motor ambulances and tend to the wounded in World War I. It follows their struggle to not only do their job against the challenging backdrop of the First World War, but also to merely receive recognition for the work they have given up so much of their lives to complete.

Read the full review here.

A Younger Theatre: The Two Faces of Agent Lacey – 04/01/2016

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A bit late uploading this (over a month!) but I went to review The Two Faces of Agent Lacey at the Above the Arts theatre at the start of January for A Younger Theatre. It was good fun, but probably needed a bit more work to become a fully viable concept.

Settling down to watch The Two Faces of Agent Lacey, I was helpfully reminded by overhearing the gentlemen behind me as the lights went down that it was “not a secret agent, but a casting agent”. This was indeed the truth; The Two Faces of Agent Lacey follows the ups and downs in the world of a casting agent’s office, examining how agent and client interact in a world revolutionised by social media. With some alterations, the show definitely has the potential to be a cult-classic.

Read the full review here.

A Younger Theatre: No Villian, Old Red Lion Theatre – 17/12/2015

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Last Thursday I had the pleasure of visiting the Old Red Lion theatre for the first time to see (perhaps fittingly) Arthur Miller’s first play, No Villian. Though I didn’t totally love No Villain, I would be interested to see another show at this theatre. The set and production was very impressive and I’m sure I would really love a different show here (despite being able to hear Islington high street next door and the seats being less than comfortable!).

‘Upstairs above an Islington pub is perhaps not the first place you’d think of when you wonder where the world premiere of Arthur Miller’s first play will be staged. But this is the exact scenario in which No Villain, the long undiscovered play by Miller, is being given its first showing.

Described by the writer as “the most autobiographical dramatic work I would ever write”, the plot follows the Simon family who await the return of their son Arnie from university. It deals with Marxism and its implications in 1930s America, across the backdrop of the impact of industrial action on the Simon family coat businesses.’

Read the full review here.

The Drunken City, Tabard Theatre – 26/11/2015

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Not to sound like too much of a lazy so and so, but committing to travel to a venue more than 2 hours from my house isn’t something I usually like to make a habit of doing. But the Tabard Theatre’s production of The Drunken City really did sound right up my street so when I was invited to review the show last night I found it hard to turn down. Luckily it was everything I’d hoped it would be; unashamed girly fun.

Almost like a rom-com in theatre form, Adam Bock’s The Drunken City follows bride to be Marnie as she spends one last night in ‘the city’, an almost spiritual location in which people are allowed to let their hair down and inevitably end up in some kind of trouble. In Marnie’s case, her trouble is that she really doesn’t want to marry her fiancé (discovered after a perhaps ill-judged kiss with another citygoer).

Bock’s script is pretty generic, but also presents an uplifting message about honesty and staying true to yourself. It throws in just about every hen party cliché you can possibly think of – the overexcited bridesmaids ‘wooing’ at every possible opportunity, coordinated headgear and feather boas and the gay best friend – but if you go expecting this kind of cheese then you will get nothing from the show but enjoyment. There were a few slightly odd moments (namely the three or so minutes of slightly random acapella singing about the city) but nothing that really dampens the show’s positive and fun vibe.

The Drunken City‘s boasts a cast that is both impressive and fun. Michael Walters gives a particularly accomplished performance as the incredibly energetic wingman Eddie, thoroughly amusing the audience with his tap dancing and general drunken mischievousness. Another standout is Kristina Epenetos as Linda, capturing both the characters fun and serious sides with equal ease.

Completing the enjoyment of The Drunken City was the innovative direction and set design. On initial inspection Vicky Sweatman’s set is rather simple – a pavement covers the floor with two kerbs either side, along with three drapes across the left hand side of the stage. But as the show begins a range of projections cover the drapes to change the scene. These projections are mostly in a hand drawn, abstract style which gives the show a great sense of stylistic flair. My only irritation here was that during one scene in a church the hand drawn animations suddenly disappeared to give way for a generic stock photo of a church – a bit odd and out of place compared to the rest of the lovely graphics.

If you’re in the mood for a fun night out then you can’t go much wrong with The Drunken City. Definitely worth the journey, I left with a smile on my face and would happily recommend the show to anyone who can deal with a bit of chick-flick cheese.

The Drunken City is playing at the Tabard Theatre until 5th December.

[4/5]