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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hitchhiker

Escapism is something we have all become particularly familiar with over this past year. For many of us, lockdown was a time of Netflix binges, National Theatre at Home screenings, and epic rewatches of old movie favourites. The power of story telling and its ability to transport one’s mind away from the stresses of reality were most potently felt in this time of COVID, and the genres of sci-fi and fantasy hold a particularly strong resonance with the act of imaginary escape. Yet, perhaps ironically, good science fiction has the ability to explore taboo subjects and hold up a mirror to our society in a way that many genres struggle with; the allegories and metaphors of alien worlds allows for a certain objective distance for the reader, making space for the kinds of detailed introspection that can alter one’s perceptions of our own world. But as science fiction narratives go, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise is perhaps one of the most brilliantly weird of the lot. With all its Babel fish, Vogan poetry and improbability drives, I don’t think anyone would quite expect it to be a mirror to everyday human experience, but Tea Stain Theatre accomplishes exactly this with their new show, Hitchhiker.

Written and directed by Jessy Roberts, Hitchhiker follows sound engineering student, Dougie (played by Joe Welch) after dropping out of his university course and moving back home with his mother and much younger brother, Adam. As Dougie struggles to adjust to living back home, with his child minding duties of Adam causing particular tensions between him and his mother, we are thrown into the world of Arthur Dent and the Hitchhiker’s Guide as our hero tries to escape the humdrum banality of his domestic life. But as Dougie’s relationship with his brother grows, and his self produced audio drama creation takes a disturbing turn, the truth behind his undergraduate degree abandonment is revealed and the storming emotions that bubble beneath the cool waters of this young man’s apparent apathy are given their space to rage.

The balance of humour and pain are handled with utter precision within the script, and Welch’s easy naturalism fits within the framework of this beautiful, sort-of love letter to Douglas Adams’ work. Adams had a way of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and the extraordinary into the ordinary, and Roberts’ script perfectly captures this essence. The reveals of Dougie’s past are handled with expert care, pealing back the layers of what initially appears to be a callous lack of compassion to in fact be the residual trauma of a difficult adolescence. Dougie isn’t a wholly likeable character, but in the post-Fleabag theatre world, it’s interesting to see these darker shades of emotional turmoil expressed by a young man who does eventually try to redeem himself. Though the ending somewhat loses its punch, the nihilistic optimism of Generation Z is beautifully and candidly explored in this piece. While the script does not forgive Dougie for his mistakes, there is an uplifting sense of hope as the lights go down for the last time on stage, and the iconic strains of the Hitchhiker’s Guide theme tune play out to the close, and we are left to consider that life is not always about clear beginnings, middles and ends, but rather, it is a continuum for learning, growth and change.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

My Jerusalem

Theatre should challenge us. All theatre, as with all narratives, are inherently political, but some are more overt in their presentation than others. Jerusalem is perhaps one of the most politically contentious cities (and subjects) in the world, so the discussion of this holy city in any play will always be in someway contentious, and given the the recent and ongoing events in Gaza, this is even more the case than ever. Avital Raz’s choice, as an Israeli, to name the piece My Jerusalem is a provocative one, but as the show unfolds, it becomes clear that this title is a subjective one; this is a solo performance that is self aware in its biases and individual perspective.

Created in response to the controversy and themes that arose from her 2013 song, The Edinburgh Surprise, My Jerusalem is an autobiographical, multi-media show that explores performer and musician Avital Raz’s life and her relationship with her home city and state. The original song is woven throughout the piece, bookmarking the chapters of Raz’s non-linear recollections as she occupies the liminal space of her paired down stage. Footage and video montages from the song’s music video and film that was created by Chris Davis, and still images of Jerusalem by Jimmy Spaceman are projected upon Raz, washing her and her space with the potent imagery of drunken fumblings, sacred architecture and nocturnal Edinburgh streets. It is a visually and audibly beautiful piece of theatre, with Raz’s gorgeous vocals making her starkly blunt lyrics all the more shocking. Her prose is just as brutally honest and unflinching, offering us this complicated, often murky and conflicted view of her life and growing up in Western Jerusalem.

This is, in many respects, an uncomfortable watch. It is a beautifully crafted show and Raz’s talent as a performer is unquestionable, but there are some difficult truths and flaws within the piece. It is intentionally provocative, and Raz’s relationship with Israel and Jerusalem are complex. She does not shy away from the failings and bigotry she has seen shown by many Israeli’s – the sequence, from which the show gets its title, where an orthodox Jewish woman berates a teenage Raz for dressing in “immodest” clothing is particularly unsettling – and she is unflinching in her recollections of the systemic sexism that pervades the Israeli military and other institutions. Yet, the song that flows at the heart of this piece remains inherently problematic; the sexual encounter between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man in a bedroom in Edinburgh remains consensually murky at best, and I can see why many critics felt it perpetuated the stereotype of Palestinian male aggression. What is probably intended to be a clever subversion of real world events diminishes the horrors and systematic violence Palestinians are facing, and though there is nothing black and white about the events that have and are taking place in the Middle East, this felt like an ill judged creative choice. Though it is a fascinating piece of theatre, My Jerusalem is far from perfect. It left me thinking, as a child of a great colonial power, now should be the time for colonised voices to be lifted, and that despite all of Raz’s criticisms of her country, whether one’s own cultural biases can ever be truly wiped clean from one’s work.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Light On Showcase: Series 2

Despite the relaxing of COVID restrictions with the advent of “Freedom Day”, the world of theatre remains a very precarious one. Many productions have already had to pause in their runs as production teams have been required to self isolate. It is tenuous time to be working in this industry – even more tenuous than it usually is – so it is refreshing to find, within the mire of legitimate fear and stress, a series of works that attempt to cut through the limitations theatre currently faces and produce work that is both challenging and entertaining in equal measure.

Lights Down Productions returns for a second series with its brilliant Light On Showcase, bringing together 15 actors and 10 directors to perform the works of 10 writers. With narratives ranging from a daughter’s struggle to retrieve the front door keys her dog swallowed, to a new mother’s struggles with adjusting to her family’s new addition in lockdown, to the examination of the trailblazing though somewhat controversial Hollywood star, Hattie McDaniels, the scope of this series is broader and more adventurous than its first iteration. Indeed, there is a confidence and self-assuredness that seeps through ever pore of this series with the full embracement of its digital world setting; the gags and foibles of our now Zoom dominated lives are particularly slick in Vicky Richards’ Funny Old World and Tracey Hayward’s Sisters.

Lights Down once again bring a brilliantly skilled and strong creative team to this showcase, with moments of high comedy being tempered by beautifully controlled moments of naturalism. Sinead Ward is brilliantly infuriating as a seemingly hyper critical mother in Funny Old World, making Melanie Crossey’s growing frustrations as a children’s party clown all the more potent; I think any of us who have had experience in teaching or the children’s entertainment industry will recognise the spine crawling dissatisfaction of Crossey’s character. Bethan Leyshon’s quiet tragedy in Caley Powell’s I Wish I Was Clean beautifully places the writing into high naturalism, allowing the narrative structure’s unnerving conclusion to land with even more power. The detailed naturalism of Julia Papp’s performance in Judy Upton’s Moths is also beautifully handled, shining a light on the stories of those who have often been conveniently forgotten in our national pandemic narrative. The power of Kate Webster’s writing in Her (R)age blooms to full maturity with Shereener Browne’s performance, who strikes every beat with measured precision and a gorgeously multifaceted quality that details the complexity of her character. Indeed, this is an ambitious follow up to a strong premier showcase, and Lights Down excels in its ambition to lift up the voices of women in theatre.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Light On Showcase: Series 1

Digital theatre is the future. At least, that’s what I think. Of course, it can never replace live performance but I think as we move forward in this COVID world, I believe digital theatre is an essential art form that must continue. Not only does it address many of the accessibility limitations of live theatre, with so many of our old Victorian buildings still lacking disabled access, as well as the limitations with captioned and audio description services for theatre productions; digital theatre could be a way in which to reach audiences who often feel ostracised by the very infrastructure of live theatre. Not to say that digital theatre is in itself universally accessible, but it also offers theatre company’s a more autonomous platform in which to showcase their work. It can be a way for under-represented voices to bypass the difficulties of traditional theatre programming and the myopathy of certain industry gatekeepers in order get their work produced and shown to audiences. Lights Down Production’s Light On Showcase combines this independent spirit of producing with the rebellious streak of working in this pandemic era with impressive verve.

Produced by Caley Powell, and featuring the works of ten women writers, the Light On Showcase is a collection of five monologues and five duologues, ranging across the spectrum of drama and comedy with a cast of thirteen actors. It’s a brilliant body of work, with narratives ranging from a sweet couple lamenting their COVID delayed wedding day, a truck driver’s magically strange nocturnal encounter, an American and a Brit looking to swap nationalities via a dating app type service, to a queer couple trying to photoshop their own digital wedding – Light On covers a lot of narrative bases and appeals to a wide demographic.

This is a fascinating anthology of tales with some truly excellent performances. Jodyanne Richardson shines in Judy Upton’s The White Hart, elevating the already beautifully mercurial writing into a space of intimate naturalism. Emilie Maybank brings a detailed performance to her own writing in CitizenSwap.com as the simmering pain and anguish of her character is played with wonderful skill. Saba Nikoufekr and Josie Sedgwick-Davies have gorgeous chemistry in Maybank’s I Digitally Do while the musicality and tenderness of Catherine O’Shea’s Milton Keynes State of Mind are expertly brought to life by Moureen Louie and Gracie Lai. While some of the pieces could have benefited more from embracing the socially distanced constraints of their production, this is an impressive showcase of talent and passion for this art form we call theatre. Work like this reminds us that creativity can still bloom in adversity and that, in and of itself, is incredibly inspiring.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Curse of the Sapphire Blade

Sometimes, what we need most from theatre is escape. Escape and entertainment. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t demand theatre that challenges us and makes us reevaluate our own outlooks on the world, and indeed, many a thought provoking piece can be in equal parts joyous and amusing as they are self analysing and provocative. Even within the realms of high fantasy and adventure, genres which are often perceived as frivolous and more action driven as opposed to thought driven, there still remains the latent politics that pervades all narratives. In these imaginary worlds where the lore and history is created and faceted by human imagination, what its creator chooses to include or exclude within these conjured realms speaks to the ideologies of that creator. For me, fantasy and science-fiction have been aspirational genres, as much about holding up a mirror to our own world as it is about pondering over the what ifs of our history if it had taken an alternative route. This, in itself, is a form of a escapism, to retire from ones every day concerns about the state of geopolitics or the climate crisis and to immerse oneself in an alternate reality where the divisions between good and evil are not quite so murky. With Black Dog Production’s new show, The Curse of the Sapphire Blade, this much needed escapism in these still uncertain times is wonderfully realised.

Directed by Lex Kaby and written by Russell Eccleston, The Curse of the Sapphire Blade transports us to a magical realm of pixies, monster hunters and terrifying beasts. As the sweet, though rather hapless bounty hunter, Rivac (Russell Eccleston), stumbles across a mysterious man (Patrick Withey) in a forest clearing, we are propelled on a journey of discovery and swashbuckling adventure. Along the way we meet the brash warrior, Johanna (Alicia Pollard), the forgetful but fiery pixie, Isadora (Tiffany Rhodes), and the stoic mercenary, Nox (CJ Turner-McMullan), and what begins as a quest to defeat a monstrous sphinx turns into a quest of self realisation and the forging of the unbreakable bonds of friendship.

It isn’t often one comes across theatrical fantasy dramas. Usually, the genre of fantasy is reserved for the seasonal productions of pantomimes, but Black Dog Productions take the trappings of high fantasy and propels them to brilliant theatrical heights. The set is truly magical, with its central tree constructed of ropes, cloth and leaves bringing a rustic, almost Kneehigh flavour to the stage, and Esther Warren’s lighting design completes the mystical atmosphere of the play’s world. Within this sumptuous backdrop, the ensemble cast thrives, and the distinctively different, larger than life characters are given the grounding and brevity needed to avoid falling into ludicrous melodrama. Patrick Withey steals the show with his crackpot old-but-young Archelon who feels like a cross between Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Indeed, the utter conviction and focus with which each character is portrayed is what drives the heart of this piece; the cast’s incredible talent is utilised with expert skill, bringing every facet of their characters to life. Of course, being a Black Dog Production, one should always expect beautifully choreographed fight sequences, and The Curse of the Sapphire Blade does not disappoint, with its myriad of different weaponry and fighting styles – this is a drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

As COVID reentry debut shows go, Black Dog Productions have truly outdone themselves. With this brilliant, heady mix of comedy, action and stellar performances, this is the perfect show with which to shrug off the stresses of our pandemic world, and immerse yourself in a piece of joyous escapism.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Queen Margaret

History is written by the victors. At least, that’s how the saying goes, and indeed, this does highlight the fact that history is not the objective chronology of events we often think it to be. Human history is recorded by human beings, and as such, these records will of course be shaped by the biases and prejudices of its recorders. It is, perhaps, the oldest basis of story telling, with many of our cultural narratives having been shaped by the retelling of past events, and indeed, many a clever propagandist has done well from reshaping moments of the past to suit the needs of the present. George Orwell recognised this in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and organisations like The Black Curriculum are moving to change how our white-biased and white washed history is taught in British schools. William Shakespeare also recognised the power of reshaping the past in the writing of his history plays, which were far more akin to pro-Tudor and pro-Stuart propaganda than real accurate portrayals of history. With the stroke of his quill, Shakespeare was able to conjure up some of the most memorable portrayals of medieval kings and queens, transforming shrewd scoliosis suffering monarchs into murderously Machiavellian hunchbacks, images that still tarnish many of our cultural understandings of historical figures even today. One such figure is that of Queen Margaret, or Margaret of Anjou, wife of the English King Henry VI. Now a largely forgotten queen, Margaret was instrumental in the machinations of the Lancastrian forces in the infamous Wars of the Roses, and just like her York adversary, the future King Richard III, Margaret of Anjou does not escape Shakespeare’s brutal warping of history in his epic trilogy of plays, Henry VI parts 1, 2 and 3. But it is precisely this now overlooked queen of England that drives the drama of Downpour Theatre Company’s production of Queen Margaret.

Created by Jeanie O’Hare, Queen Margaret takes Shakespeare’s original text from the Henry VI trilogy and parts of Richard III to form a play that focuses on the woman that was arguably the greatest driving force behind the red rose of House Lancaster. We follow Margaret’s rise and fall from a young and controversial French princess, into an empathetic queen and mother before her final act as a vengeance driven warrior. Her’s is a complex tale of moral compromise, self discovery and the ever shifting tides of war, and as her ever present ghostly companion, Joan of Arc highlights, our present and futures are always shaped by the actions of the past. It is a tangly text for any theatre company to delve into, with an enormous scope of action and timescale, and it would be easy for the lofty heights of this play to crumble under the weight of its own magnitude, and this is a trap Downpour Theatre’s production unfortunately falls into.

While there are strong performances from the cast, with Sarah Wiggins’ York bringing the bite and zeal of the warrior duke with razor sharp precision, James Locke offering a nuanced and detailed performance as the delicate King Henry, and Kate Raw’s Hume providing moments of comedic levity and heartbreaking tragedy to this blue blooded turmoil, the production somewhat loses itself within the enormous, labyrinthine world of O’Hare’s creation. As someone who has performed and studied Shakespeare for years, I was disappointed to see that Margaret, the woman Shakespeare calls the “she-wolf of France” with a “tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide”, had so little fire and verve in Sarah Cullyer’s performance. While there were fleeting moments of strength in Cullyer’s portrayal, none felt enough to warrant York’s final devastating character assassination; Shakespeare’s rich text should always be the basis upon which to mine for facets of a character’s personality, so to remove Margaret’s ferocity and primal power felt like a disservice to the text. Indeed, there was a nervousness throughout the direction of the play, with actors often losing the light on stage as they moved into the shadows of spotlights, and the show almost became comedic as York’s children had to awkwardly step over their mother’s body and ignore its existence for several scenes as it remained on stage for a moment of emotional pay off that did not quite dramaturgically succeed in making up for Edward and Richard’s corpse hopping. Director Andy Cullyer’s work shines brightest in the moment following the devastating Battle of Towton, as the bodies of the fallen rise up to join the ensemble cast in a haunting rendition of choral singing, but this moment of powerful simplicity is undercut by the show’s other more roughshod scenes.

This is an incredibly difficult play to stage, and though this production falls at many of the hurdles, there is no doubting the talent of the cast. While more could have been done in the fine tuning of the direction, and perhaps some cuts made to the script to streamline the production for its company, it is nonetheless an interesting tale that deserves wider audience recognition.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Cut Bait

Tinder has a lot to answer for. Of course, there are countless dating apps and websites on the market, each with their own specialisms and nuances, but in the world of 21st Century dating, Tinder cornered the market – certainly for heterosexual and opposite sex relationships. Inevitably, as with all human social interactions, most of us have our fair share of embarrassing Tinder date stories, cringeworthy DM chats or awkwardly disappointing bedroom exploits that could never match up to the fantasy we create in our mind’s from a person’s polished dating profile. Things have been made all the more difficult in the world of dating and casual hook ups with COVID restrictions – the ever changing etiquette around intimacy and bubbling is more confusing than an episode of Lost. So it was oddly and nostalgically comforting to slip into the pre-pandemic world of Flipside Production’s new comedy, Cut Bait.

Written by Pippa Thornton, and performed by Maia Tassalini, Cut Bait follows twenty-something Nina through the trials and tribulations of her Tinder fuelled sex life. Following a hilariously surreal encounter with posh premature ejaculator, Hugo, Nina finds herself re-examining her relationships with family, lovers and, most importantly, her own intimacy. With flavours of Bridget Jones, Fleabag and Chewing Gum, this one woman show ponders the highs and lows of women’s sexuality, the worst dregs of sexist single men and the supreme awkwardness of approaching your thirties.

This is a superbly realised piece of comedy. Thornton’s writing is slick, barbed and painfully self aware, while Tassalini’s performance sores with the rich comedy gold the script offers up. Tassalini is electrifying to watch, with her seamless switches into the numerous characters that inhabit Nina’s life executed to perfection. The characterisations of Hugo and a sickly yoga instructor particularly strike a chord, with Hugo appearing like a puffed up Made in Chelsea reject and the yoga instructor feeling like a character straight out of Schitt’s Creek. Every gag lands with assured confidence, and their levity bring light to the shades of brief inner reflection. Running at around an hour, one almost feels bereft as Nina’s tale draws to a close, but with its perfectly timed shock ending, Cut Bait is like a beautifully wrapped gift of a show that hits all the right spots in just the right places.

Star rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️