The Yellow Wallpaper

Child birth, for many centuries, has been a taboo subject in many human cultures, including Western Europe. Pregnant people in the medieval and early modern periods were expected to spend months away from the rest of society with the custom of ‘lying-in’, where they could only be attended by other women. Child birth and motherhood have been shaped and re-shaped by the often reductive structures of patriarchy, a way of controlling women in a period when they are at their most vulnerable. Yet, even the counter-narrative that has arisen from recent shows like One Born Every Minute and Yorkshire Midwives paints a wholly positive and uplifting picture of the process of bringing new human life into the world. It is, in many respects, a polarising issue, with often very little room for nuance. As I have watched many of my peers take their first steps into pregnancy and parenthood, I have become increasingly aware of the waves of toxic positivity that pervade discussions of motherhood and having babies. The animosity exhibited by some towards how others choose to give birth and raise their children is truly shocking, and increasingly it plays into the dehumanising trope of the sainted mother figure. A mother must be perfect; if she is anything less – i.e. if she exhibits any fallible human qualities – she is a monster. There is an apparent lack of compassion and empathy for mothers just at a time when they need it most, because child birth is, for many, an incredibly traumatic experience. The changes that a person’s body goes through in order to grow and then give birth to a baby are huge and completely out of the conscious control of the person going through it. So when some of those changes go wrong, it can be truly devastating. Dumb Blonde Theatre’s production of The Yellow Wallpaper explores this devastation with frightening effect.

Adapted from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story, The Yellow Wallpaper follows a young woman, I (played by Tiffany Rhodes), in the aftermath of the difficult birth of her son, Harry. Having recently moved to a large, old house in the country, I has been confined to a single room in order to recuperate from the birth and to build her maternal bond with her newborn child. Attended by her doctor husband, John (played by Russell Eccleston), child nanny, Mary, and John’s overbearing sister, Jennie (both played by Ebony Cassie), we watch as I’s frayed psyche deteriorates as she is consumed by her growing psychosis and obsession with the strange, patterned yellow wallpaper that covers the room of her confinement.

This is a beautifully managed and perfectly disturbing adaptation of Perkins Gilman’s work. Clearly influence by horror tropes – which are enhanced by Harry Miller’s masterful sound design – this is a show explicitly about postpartum psychosis. This somewhat lesser known mental health condition is very rarely discussed in the mainstream, and I myself had only heard of it after Adele spoke of her friend’s experience of the condition in 2018. Psychosis, like many mental illnesses, is generally misunderstood and rarely discussed, and when combined with the cultural weighted role of the mother, it is a truly terrifying condition. But what writer and director Emily Malloy does with this play is use the narrative’s horror genre to explore this taboo illness. For me, that is what good horror is – a vehicle in which to explore these difficult subjects that are more earthly in their terror than supernatural or demonic. Tiffany Rhodes’ achingly fragile and fevered performance as I is truly incredible to watch, and the handling of her crumbling sanity is beautifully carried off. Equally, Russell Eccleston brings out the juxtaposing complexities of John’s character with brilliant skill; the subtleties of his coercive and abusive behaviour are spine chillingly effective and in no way overplayed. Ebony Cassie’s turn as Mary and Jennie brings an added layer of insidiousness, both highlighting the discrepancies of I’s postpartum treatment and the disorienting strangeness of I’s confined world. The final reveal of the artifice of the play’s setting leaves its audience with the unsettling sense of wondering whether any of what I had experienced was real, drawing us into the creeping paranoia of her delusion. This is a challenging piece to watch with its emotionally disturbing subject matter, but it is a powerful adaptation of one of North American’s most chilling short stories.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Queen Lear

By some turn of fate or striking coincidence, William Shakespeare’s King Lear happens to be my most watched of all his works. It’s not that I’m a big Lear fan – I do enjoy it as a play and find the gender politics as well as the handling of ageing and senility very interesting – but I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite of the Bard’s works. Perhaps, instead, the reason behind my repeated viewing of this epic tragedy is because it is staged so often. Within the theatre pantheon, it is considered the golden role for older male actors, just as Hamlet is considered the golden role for young male actors. Every year, it seems, another production of King Lear is announced with yet another iconic male actor over the age of seventy in the titular role. I have seen some beautiful renditions of the great king from Ian McKellen to Anthony Hopkins, but I sense there is something of an over saturation of Lears in the British theatre. There is only so much you can do with a production without moving beyond the sublime and innovative into the ridiculous and disappointing. Yet, as more and more traditional plays are being re-explored through gender blind castings, perhaps new life can be breathed into these much performed plays. King Lear famously underwent this reversal of gender in 2016 when Glenda Jackson returned to acting to play the role of the ageing British monarch, but beyond Jackson’s casting, the genders of the other main characters remained unchanged. So I was intrigued by the concept of The Scullion’s new production, re-imagined as Queen Lear, where all the genders of the characters had been reversed within the traditional binary. How would these changes affect the relationships between the characters, how would their motivations be impacted? These were the questions I entered the Mission Theatre with.

Directed by Nicholas Downton-Cooper, Queen Lear brings to life a minimalist version of Britain, with a stark set of A-Frame ladders that morph into castles, heathland and thrones. Performed in modern dress, with costumes designed by Deej Helliker, the world of this Lear is something enigmatic and mercurial. While the genders of the characters are consciously changed, the actors have been cast age blind to the traditional casting of Lear. Our Queen Lear is a contemporary in age to her children and Gloucester’s children, and in some ways this loses the power of Lear’s growing physical and mental infirmity. Phoebe Mulcahy portrays Lear with a gravitas and aching vulnerability that is beautiful in its precision, but the devastation of Lear’s inevitable end cannot be transcribed to a younger actor. The failing might of this once powerful monarch is a difficult thing to capture and Mulcahy is at her most impressive in Lear’s deranged moments. She is the heart of the storm of this tempestuous play, but in truth the play never quite whips up to the fever pitch it needs to for the more outrageous and violent moments to work.

In many ways, there is too much restrainment in this production. When the horror of Gloucester’s mutilation occurs, it is a jarring moment. While Corey Rumble’s Goneril and Harry Freeman’s Regan both drip with the arrogance of spoiled young men, there isn’t the simmering rage or sadism in either character to warrant this violence; for such a terrible act to be credible, we must see the red flags before the blood is spilt. However, the strength of this show does lie in the strength of its cast. Billie-Jo Rainbird stands out in their incredible ability to shape shift into a myriad of characters, but most memorably, she brings a perfectly pitched levity to the gorgeous character of the Fool. Taruna Nalini makes a captivating and ferocious Kent while Meg Pickup’s impish turn as Edrene is reminiscent of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. More could have been explored in the shifting of the play’s gender dynamics, but this is certainly an intriguing production of Shakespeare’s Lear. Engaging, though a little lacking in passion, Queen Lear brings a different dimension to one of the Bard’s most loved tragedies.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

how to live a jellicle life: life lessons from the 2019 hit movie musical ‘cats’

I will freely – though somewhat nervously – admit that I am not a huge musical fan. This seems like something akin to sacrilege within the theatre world. Many who work within the industry, it seems, began their love affair with the arts through the medium of musicals. Trips to see a big West End show often bookmark the chapter of an artist or theatre fan’s blossoming adoration for the art form, but that never happened for me. Musicals as a theatre and narrative format has never held a burning candle in my heart, but that isn’t to say I hate them. They’re not my forte, but I appreciate the artistry, and I do enjoy film adaptations of musicals; West Side Story always brings me to tears and Chicago was a formative awakening for my young, queer self. Yet, I am seemingly in the minority of people who has never ventured to see the 2019 adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. This film was, in many respects, a cultural ‘moment’ for 2019, and while I have never seen it, you’d have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the impact this film had on the cultural consciousness. So in going to see Awkward Production’s new creation, how to live a jellicle life: life lessons from the 2019 hit movie musical ‘cats’, I felt like perhaps I was finally engaging with this cinematic phenomenon in a way that I had been unable to way back in the pre-pandemic world.

Written and performed by Linus Karp, how to live a jellicle life takes us through the many qualities it takes to be a jellicle creature and how we can apply these to our every day lives. Conceived in the format of a Ted Talk spoof, Karp proposes his thesis argument through that wondrous medium of presentation making, the PowerPoint. Punctuated with moments of dance, choreographed by Sam Carlyle, and a satirical ‘fake’ intermission, how to live a jellicle life immerses its audience in the non-sensical, bonkers world of T.S. Eliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tom Hooper’s creation, introducing us to its cast of jellicle felines in a way that is approachable for both established fans and newcomers to the world of Cats. The enigma of what it is to be ‘jellicle’ is demystified through the hilariously animated slides, and there is a sense that in simply watching the show, we the audience have become a little more jellicle.

This is a brilliantly funny love-letter-come-satire of the 2019 movie, Cats. Karp’s humour moves between the surreal and the self aware with masterful ease, and coupled with Joseph Martin’s tech and production support, the sparse style of the show perfectly accentuates the cognisant satire of the piece. Alison Carlyle’s costume design is a beautiful call back to the iconic costumes of the original stage production of Lloyd Webber’s musical – the filmed version of which is seared into my memory from watching during many rainy school breaks – and the nostalgia of the PowerPoint presentation design, with its use of stock images, animated text and Comic Sans font, is a perfectly pitched piece of Millennial/Gen Z humour. Silliness abounds within how to live a jellicle life and it is a true joy to experience – a purrfect comedic concoction!

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

The Last Thing He Saw Was A Ferret

There’s something about the nature of web series that is both enigmatically exciting and challenging. In the world of online streaming platform giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, web series as an art-form could have easily become obsolete. Micro formats like TikTok have become incredibly popular as a form of entertainment for online users, particularly amongst younger generations, so the short to medium forms of YouTube web series and vlogs could have begun to lose their relevance. Could, being the key word, because in many respects, the indie creations that have appeared on YouTube and Vimeo have in many ways been some of the most formally interesting and ingenious narratives to have been produced in recent years. These self-publishing platforms have allowed artists to experiment with their craft in ways that many before them would not have been able to whilst concurrently growing an audience for their work. Web series can play with narrative and cinematic style in ways that studio and contract bound productions cannot and this is what makes them so exciting to watch; there’s a risk to them that you don’t really get with a lot of television or film. Could this be a revolutionary piece of art, or a clumsily hashed piece of dross? With the internet, it can be a bit of a pot luck, but with Greedy Pig Theatre Company’s latest project, The Last Thing He Saw Was A Ferret, we are offered a true treat of online drama.

Co-written by Gabrielle Finnegan and Douglas Murdoch, The Last Thing He Saw Was A Ferret, is a five part thriller where the events of a disastrous student flat party are gradually revealed. Student friends Eli (Russell Eccleston), Lulu (Inez Solomon), Hettie (Kyiah Ashton) and London (Nell Bailey) recount what happened in the lead up to their flatmate Angelo’s (Michael Difford) fall from their flat window, involving a rather disgruntled ferret of all things. Each episode focuses on a single character’s testimony of the party’s events, and as the characters reveal more about their relationships with one another through these intimate monologues, the dark, tangled web of what – or who – caused Angelo’s potentially fatal fall is revealed in all its sinister glory.

I love a good mystery – it’s probably why my favourite genres are horror and thrillers, and in some ways, The Last Thing He Saw Was A Ferret falls into both genres. The tension of each episode, cultivated by Lex Kaby and Alicia Pollard’s direction, Alex Latham’s lighting and Finn MacNeil’s sound design and composition, is perfectly balanced with the vulnerable performances of the ensemble cast. The choice to have the characters’ monologues framed by whether their testimony veers towards honesty or dishonesty is a brilliant conceit that ramps up the tension and suspicion about each of the characters, and with all five episodes running at roughly ten minutes, the unfurling mystery truly becomes addictive watching. In the fifth episode’s final moments, as the truth and context of what happened is revealed through ingenious cuts between the different character’s accounts – edited to perfection by writer Douglas Murdoch – the brilliance of this series’ writing reveals its masterstroke. This is a brilliantly executed thriller that utilises its minimalist cinematic design in order to create a tense, intriguing plot that neatly ties up its many threads in a cleverly satisfying ending.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In Bad Taste

What if the answer to capitalism was to eat the rich? We’ve all heard the phrase – popularised via meme in the early part of 2020, whose roots are based in an abbreviated quote from the political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau – but what if this provocative statement was actualised in reality? One of the beautiful things about art is that we are able to wonder at the what ifs of life, and theatre can bring these what ifs into a physical realism – or surrealism, as the case may be. Theatre is provocative, as all art forms are, and sometimes that provocation stirs from the darkest parts of human experience. Cannibalism is, within Western society, an enormous taboo. Though the consumption of meat is seen traditionally as an indication of social standing – the types of meat people consume have always had enormous, albeit shifting, significance to one’s economic situation – the act of eating human flesh is viewed in the European tradition of morality as inhuman. In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the image of a mother eating her own sons who have been baked into a pie is a horrifying image of the ultimate revenge, while the true life stories of the Donner Party and Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic are often viewed as real life horror movies. So in bringing perhaps one of the biggest cultural taboos to the stage, Sixteen Sixty Theatre are challenging their audience to consider how far morality can be twisted in order to serve a perceived great good.

Written by Daisy Kelly, In Bad Taste follows Violet (Rachel Ferguson) and her tight knit group of friends (played by Daisy Kelly, Kirby Merner, Léonie Crawford and Chloe Pidhoreckyj) as they decide to exact revenge on Violet’s investment banker boss in a somewhat… novel way. What begins as a surreal first draft of a socialist revolution becomes a new, visceral (with extra viscera) wave of feminism. As each of the women fall further into this strange, dark and twistedly funny world of cannibalising misogynists, the real world of law and order begins to catch up with them. Will their feminist message be missed amongst the media hubbub or will they indeed stoke the fires of a new, carnivorous revolution?

I love dark humour, or, more specifically, dark humour that has a purpose to it. The grotesque isn’t something that particularly shocks me so long as it has a well reasoned intention behind it, and In Bad Taste certainly utilises the grotesque to make a point about how misogyny is not addressed in our culture. Indeed, the highlights of this show for me were the moments of utter absurdism in the face of one of the most horrific acts a human being can commit – the fourth wall breaking, surreal moments of stylised running sequences and alibi planning were cleverly choreographed and achieved the kind of hilarious jump cuts that offset the grim reality of the characters’ situation. However, there was a lack of grounded passion and emotional focus from some of the cast that left the more serious elements of the plot floundering in apathy. While Kelly and Crawford balance the comedy and tragedy with expert flare, there is a lack of any real anger or outrage within the show’s atmosphere. In the closing moments of In Bad Taste, this female led theatre company lay down their creative thesis for the show in a beautiful spoken word style verse, and at the heart of this thesis is rage; rage at the society that continues to abuse those who identify as women. But within the main body of this play, there is more irreverent humour than rage. Anger can be an incredible fuel for comedy, but in this dark comedy, the fires that could be raging are only gently flickering.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The White Heart Inn

Horror is a genre that has pervaded human civilisation since the dawn of time. Stories told around primordial camp fires that connect with a culture’s foundations myths often feature great monsters, ghoulish figures and celestial spirits. Indeed, the concept of an afterlife is something that defines us from other animals; the cognitive ability to think beyond our present plane of existence and to consider what lies within the unknown realms post-death. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it is something that has been considered and reconsidered across the millennia, and so too has the possibility of communicating with those that dwell within this beyond space. Ghosts, spirits and revenants have shaped many a mythology, and indeed, the horror genre has thrived upon the infinite possibilities of what could happen if one could interact with the dead. Yet, perhaps the most interesting ghost narratives are those that use their spooky subject matter as a lens through which to examine the darker, more uncomfortable sides of humanity. Recent horror hits like Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass have used the genre tropes and their creepy goings on as a way to delve into discussions about death, grief, family and religion in more nuanced and riveting fashion than many straight dramas. Indeed, within this vein of metaphor and allegory, the new creative collaboration from Apricity Theatre, Black Dog Productions and Dumb Blonde Theatre, The White Heart Inn, uses the horror genre as a way to explore morality, religious repression, generational trauma and bigotry in similarly fascinating fashion.

Written by Tiffany Rhodes, CJ Turner-McMullan and Russell Eccleston, and directed by Emily Malloy, The White Heart Inn follows the events of a night in the play’s titular setting. Situated in a remote, marshy corner of Cornwall, the White Hart Inn plays host to a gaggle of overnight guests – newly pregnant young couple, Otis and Melissa (Saili Katebe and CJ Turner-McMullan), ghost hunting couple, Kate and Lily (Tiffany Rhodes and Alicia Pollard), and the forever inebriated lad, Axel (Stan Elliot) – all of whom are presided over by the Inn’s twin owners, Bethel and Hector (Matilda Dickinson and Russell Eccleston). As a near biblical storm sets in, the night quickly falls into chaos as strange and seemingly supernatural occurrences begin to happen and the Inn’s eccentric owners become increasingly sinister. No one is safe from the horrors that have lain dormant in the White Heart Inn for decades, but are these horrors the work of paranormal forces or something more terrifyingly earthly?

The White Heart Inn is a very well crafted ghost story. Finn MacNeil’s sound design coupled with Esther Warren’s lighting beautifully evokes the tense, foreboding atmosphere of this dark thriller. So within this framework of creepy flickering lights, rain ASMR and otherworldly whispers, the cast thrive in their varied characterisations of the play’s inhabitants. Alicia Pollard balances Lily’s intensity and vulnerability with masterful skill, while Saili Katebe’s Otis and CJ Turner-McMullan’s Melissa glow with natural chemistry and charm. Tiffany Rhodes and Stan Elliot play with the light and shade of comic relief that transgresses into the dark and the violent, revealing the hidden depths within their characters, Kate and Axel, that truly pays off in the play’s second and third act climaxes. Yet, of course, a horror narrative would fall flat without its main antagonists. The clever switch that happens between Matilda Dickinson’s Bethel and Russell Eccleston’s Hector is a brilliant homage to the classic horror movie twist; as Eccleston’s imposing and blunt Hector reveals his inner gentleness, Dickinson’s meek and nervous Bethel blooms into disturbing malevolence. They are the dark and twisted duality at the heart of the White Hart Inn, and as the play winds down in its final moments, the true horror of the piece is revealed in all its bleak and haunting glory.

Featuring the brilliantly choreographed fight sequences you’d expect from a project involving Black Dog Productions and the precise direction of Dumb Blonde Theatre, this is a ghost story that challenges its audience to consider what is truly terrifying. While certain pacing elements could be tightened up in the play’s final moments, this is a perfect theatrical outing for any horror fan.

Star rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Submission

I love dark theatre. Theatre that wades into the murkier aspects of human experience, that is challenging and nuanced in its examination of cultural taboos fascinates me. Yet, when it comes to the examination of cruelty and violence through a moralistic lens, things can become tricky. Humanity’s propensity towards violence and war has shaped much of our history. For many of us, our history education is split into chapters of the numerous wars and battles that have been fought over the centuries, and given the male dominance at play within the politics that drive these events, it wouldn’t be completely unfair to say that violence is so often associated with masculinity. Indeed, within the patriarchal binary of the masculine and the feminine, femininity is traditionally aligned with passivity. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule – some of the most famous women in history (Elizabeth Báthory, Boudicca, Joan of Arc) are remembered because of their “unfeminine” association with violence – but the fact that they are exceptional is precisely what makes them memorable. Even now, the idea of women being cruel and physically violent is shocking to many of us and the examination of such characters can be very unsettling as it brings into question many deep held cultural assumptions about gender. In their new play, Submission, Black Dog Productions tackle the question of how far people, particularly women, are willing to go in order survive.

Written by company co-founder, Alicia Pollard, and directed by Tiffany Rhodes, Submission introduces us to the grim confinement of a mysterious room in which two young women are trapped. From the get go, Girl (Ebony Cassie Corrick) and Baby (Alicia Pollard) are forced to engage in increasingly barbaric puzzles which, if they fail to solve, will result in death or electrocution via the shock collars they are locked into. Neither woman can remember their identity before their entry into this chamber of horrors, and when a young man, Caspar (Russell Eccleston), is thrown into the mix, the paranoia these women face mounts to a climax of horrifying violence.

It is a concept that many horror films have tackled, and indeed, the writing is self aware in its connection to movies such as Saw and Cube. The psychological toll and horror of these characters’ situation is beautifully captured by the actors, with Ebony Cassie Corrick and Alicia Pollard bringing some tour-de-force performances as Girl and Baby; Corrick’s determination and vulnerability as Girl is countered expertly by Pollard’s brittle and unnerving portrayal as Baby. Tiffany Rhodes brilliantly plays with the claustrophobia of the play’s setting, moving her actors like chess pieces in the grimy, bone-chillingly bleak room that is these characters’ prison cell. Yet, as the violence unfolds and the sadistic manipulation at play is revealed, Submissions final moments don’t quite deliver the satisfying deconstruction of the horror sub-genre it inhabits. What sets this piece a part is its focus on the women in it. So often in these narratives, women characters are reduced to the archetype of the victim and are not afforded the emotional complexity of their male counterparts. They lack the light and shade of morality that many male characters in horror are afforded, and while Submission attempts to subvert this, the characters are not given the space in which to reveal the depth of these complexities. It felt somewhat as if too much time had been afforded to the horror of the situation rather than the psychological subtexts at play between the characters. It is a well crafted piece of horror, but one that does not quite break the mould.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Things We Do Not Know

For me, great political theatre is that which challenges taboo. It gives voice to the unheard and ignored, bringing to light the parts of our society that are often left in the dark because they disrupt our sensibilities of what is to be a moral society. Morality is a huge concern within human cultures – what is deemed good (moral) and what is deemed bad (immoral) by a culture has shaped the lives of people across countless societies and innumerable generations. Indeed, our views around morality have changed throughout the centuries, but there is a certain strata of society that has always been a trigger point with regards to morality across numerous different cultures, and it is that of sex work. Sex, in and of itself, is a morally taboo subject for many, but as soon as monetary exchange is brought into the mix, it is like a red rag to the bull of cultural debate. The centuries old debates around sex work bring with it telling discussions about the treatment of women, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, human rights and our relationship with sexuality. It is a heady subject to dive into, but it is a subject that Process Theatre examine with nuance and care in their show, Things We Do Not Know.

Devised and developed by this female and non-binary led group, Things We Do Not Know is a semi-verbatim, semi-multimedia piece that explores the lives of female street sex workers in Bristol and the work of Bristol based charity, One25. Through live monologues performed by Ciara Flint, Keziah Spaine, Erica Flint and Ellie Buckingham, recorded interviews and a capella choral singing, we are offered glimpses into the lives of Petra, Kay, Claire, Zara, Nina and Sam. These are real stories, told in the words of the women who lived them. The stark reality of their lives, so often shaped by drugs, addiction and abuse, is brought to life in the black box space of Camden People’s Theatre, transforming the performance area into a gallery of information, statistics, names and verbatim quotes from the women and the charity that this show investigates. It is a piece that blends theatre and performance art into a multi-layered and textured creation that is both beautiful and provocative.

I must admit, I was nervous to see how this piece would handle it’s complex subject matter. Sex work is so often vilified, even by those who consider themselves to be staunch advocates for women’s and human rights. Sex workers are dehumanised or reduced to one dimensional victims whereby the bodily and monetary transactions they engage in are, in and of themselves, inherently evil. Yet, Process Theatre does not fall into this reductive narrative trap, and indeed this is down to the verbatim storytelling that drives the heart of the show. By centring the real stories of sex workers, the true villains of their lives – loneliness, abuse by male partners or family members, mental ill health and substance abuse – are brought to the fore. These women are allowed the humanity they are so often denied, and it is clear that it is not the sex work itself that is truly evil, but the misogyny, sexism and classism that pervades our society. Dramaturg Davina Chao does an excellent job in composing the various narrative strands, weaving an intricate snapshot into this unheard section of Bristolian society. The power of the performers shines throughout, with each monologue delivered with painstaking precision, and the clever use of familiar pop, rock and blues songs highlight the sexist echo chamber our society exists within. This is, at times, a difficult show to watch. It deals with difficult and upsetting subject matter that will be triggering to many, but it is, in my view, an essential creative documentation of women sex workers in the post-COVID 21st Century.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Fish Cage

Identity is something of an enigma. It is both mercurial and solid, changing and eternal. It is shaped by the factors that influence our environments, by the events that happen in our lives and the communities we grow up in. Identity is both shaped by and in spite of the culture and history that surrounds us, and yet, parts of our identity are utterly innate and predetermined. With recent and ongoing cases such as the murder of Sarah Everard and the Plymouth shooting bringing the insidious influence of toxic masculinity into the spotlight, there are questions to be asked about what it means to be a man in the 21st Century. How has the performance of masculinity been shaped through our cultural history, and how sustainable are these traditionally gendered ideals in a world that demands equality across gender, race and sexuality? It is this questioning of identity that forms the crux of the intense drama within Greedy Pig Theatre Company’s new full length play, The Fish Cage.

Written by Douglas Murdoch and directed by Lex Kaby, The Fish Cage places itself in a Black Mirror-esque world where criminal surveillance technology has reached new heights with the invention of heat map tracking software, Recognition. But of course, with every new technological breakthrough comes the counter-tech, and in this Orwellian setting, the best way for a criminal to hide from the authorities is in the consciousness of another person. This is where we meet introverted nerd, Connor (played by Patrick James Withey), the play’s protagonist – or rather, joint protagonist – because it is Connor, or rather Connor’s body, that must play host to the consciousness of the bombastic criminal, Fish. As Connor, his older brother Ryan (Njeko Katebe) and Ryan’s girlfriend Ruby (Lorna Durham) are thrown into this madcap world of mind-transference and shadowy organisations, things only get darker as Fish makes a shocking discovery about the young man whose body he is now trapped within.

The Fish Cage is a real masterclass in writing within the genre of the thriller. With all its twists and turns and spine-tinglingly satisfying reveals, Murdoch’s writing sores to brilliant heights with the precise and measured performances of the cast. Patrick James Withey shines in the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde role of Connor and Fish, with Kaby’s tight direction beautifully bringing out the light and shade within Withey’s extended monologue-come-duologues; the switches in physicality and vocal energy between Withey’s two characters are utterly seamless. Njeko Katebe exudes fraternal warmth as the protective older brother Ryan, whose misplaced sympathy is all the more painful and frustrating as Lorna Durham’s Ruby counters and questions her boyfriend’s trust in his brother. As Tiffany Rhodes enters the scene in the play’s second act as Alice, she brings with her a sumptuous reinvigoration of energy and intrigue, and Rhodes’ performance is magnificent in its layers of rage, pain and dark humour. As is characteristic of any Greedy Pig production, the set for The Fish Cage is wonderfully detailed and naturalistic, allowing for Cara Hood’s lighting design in the opening scene to function as its own cast of characters; indeed, the show’s opening is utterly brilliant in translating expositional dialogue into a visually compelling piece of theatre. This is a finely executed show that hits all the beats of a crime thriller in all the right places, and examines the pressing topics of toxic masculinity and male violence towards women with the allegorical flare of a truly great piece of science-fiction.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

The Inner Circle

New writing nights are a magical space. To see the fresh new efforts of creatives is a thrilling experience. These are spaces for experimentation, for the seeds of ideas to germinate and begin their growth into mighty behemoths of the theatre forest. Edinburgh hits and theatrical triumphs have often started life in the humble realms of new writing nights, and after the year of lockdown isolation and pandemic stresses, it was an even more magical experience returning to one of these nights of showcasing new creative works with Circle Theatre’s The Inner Circle.

The space which Circle Theatre have chosen for this night is in itself an evocative and atmospheric one – the low ceilinged, vault space of Zed Alley creates a sense of primordial storytelling, the electric candles dotted around the peripheries of the stage giving an almost occult feeling to the night’s proceedings. It felt as if the ancient theatrical muses were being conjured up in this evening of six monologues, the spirits of artistic sharing being resurrected after a year of creative strife. Indeed, The Inner Circle is much more than just a scratch night of new writing, it is an experience – an opportunity to enjoy the works of others but also the space in which to forge new creative connections, and executive producer come MC of the night, Jonathan R. Parsonage, beautifully handles this balance of sharing and connecting.

The showcase offered a brilliantly diverse range of narratives, moving from comedy to tragedy to the utterly surreal with unfaltering skill. We open with Daisy Kennedy’s Refreshing Facebook on a Fag Break, brilliantly performed by Petra Jones and directed by Freya Taylor-Baraclough. Jones captures the frustrations of working in a creative field with little to no reward or recognition, and the jealousies that are fuelled by social media are hilariously relatable. Our next monologue, Matt, is presented by a triptych of Bens – writer Ben Banyard, director Ben Jenkins, and performer Ben Nash – and the piece explores depression and attempted suicide in men with beautiful care and nuance. Act I of the night is concluded with Thomas Besley’s Echo, directed by Simone Einfalt and performed to perfection by Nina Bright. This modern retelling of the story of Echo and Narcissus (here turned into the female Narcissa) is a sumptuous feast of lyrical spoken verse and potent imagery, and the fragility of Echo is brilliantly captured by Bright. The second half of the night provides both comedic and more outlandishly surreal tales, opening with Ruby Butcher’s fantastically funny An Observation on Flirting. Directed by Rosie Tricks and performed by Amy Harris, the use of stillness and pause is expertly utilised to enhance the beats of the gags, and Harris gorgeously captures the toe curling awkwardness of flirting in public. Georgie Bailey’s The Fibster brings a more pressure cooker, psychological thriller element to the night’s proceedings, with Gary Owston’s direction of performer Emma Wilkes honing in on the caged, trapped atmosphere of Bailey’s writing; Wilkes is beautifully mercurial in her role, at times tragic and grotesque, and others wickedly funny and cruel. The night closes with Christopher Brett Bailey’s utterly surreal the greatest mistake i ever made, directed by Casey Lloyd and performed by Elliot Winter. This utterly bonkers script is played with utter conviction by Winter, who allows the ridiculousness of this world to land with bizarre believability; it is a wonderfully weird performance.

In all, this was a night of absolutely stellar work, from both a writing and performance perspective. While I think it could have benefitted from some trigger warnings given before certain pieces, The Inner Circle triumphs with its programme of glorious new writing. If the quality of this night’s work is anything to go by, I’ll be counting down the days until the next Circle Theatre production.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️