The world has been feeling a bit doom and gloom at present. Though, one could arguably say that the news cycles are always covering catastrophes and disasters, these past few years have felt particularly dismal. The climate crisis is becoming an ever apparent reality, and recent political turmoil in the West has brought a new kind of dread to a world already wounded by the ongoing effects of a major pandemic. It’s not hard to see why people look for escape, that they indulge in the escapism of fiction and stories. Our great power is our imaginations, and while that power can be destructive, it too can conjure worlds out of thin air for us to dwell in; just for a little while, in an attempt to make the difficulties of reality more bearable. It is this very human pass time that Emily Malloy’s new play, Hell, examines through a lens of disconnected communication and a fractured world.

Directed by the writer, this rehearsal and development performance of Malloy’s play situates itself in an unspecified post-apocalyptic world. Framed by a male and female storyteller who double up as the play’s characters, the plot follows English speaking Ash (played by Ross Barbour) and German speaking Em (played by Rosina Aichner) as they grow to know and understand one another through the stories they share with each another. Hell delves into the mystical wilds of German folklore, as the magical forests of ancient Europe are intercut with the turmoil of Ash and Em’s broken world; the play weaves the threads of world-ending narratives into a tapestry of intrigue and gentle melancholy.

As R&D performances go, this was one of great beauty and promise. The bare bones of Hell reveal a narrative that holds a great love for storytelling and an understanding of how deeply human the act of story making is. This is a play about humanity in its essence, and the cycles of being that tend to run in circles through our history; from the ancient peoples who gathered round fires to tell stories to keep the darkness at bay, to a man and woman huddled round a battery powered torch in an abandoned theatre, doing exactly the same thing. This is also an intensely German-influenced play, not only in its use of the German language and involvement of German folklore, but also in the fact that it utilises many of the dramatic techniques proposed by the German theatre practitioner, Bertolt Brecht. Hell is a highly Brechtian piece, using fourth-wall breaking narration and interaction with the audience and technical crew. It is a clever device that keeps the audience on their toes between the moments of magical escapism as Em weaves her tales of gods, water spirits and sacred forests. Both Ross Barbour and Rosina Aichner give beautifully textured performances as Ash and Em – Ash’s frenetic energy and despair are handled expertly by Barbour, while Aichner balances both Em’s tension and stillness with clarity and care. Though the script needs some development in its narrative direction, Hell surely has a glittering future, worthy of the ancient gods of Asgard.

Star Rating:



Gender identity and sex have become increasingly hot topics over the last few years. As trans experiences have become more openly discussed and representation of trans narratives in the media have become more mainstream, so too has the transphobic push back. Anyone who has any kind of relationship with the online world will no doubt be aware of the so called “debates” that have gone on on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and these discussions have more recently begun to spill over into mainstream media. I will say this now and with utter conviction that debating someone’s existence isn’t a debate, it’s an attack. Understanding trans and non-binary experiences from a cis (someone who identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth) perspective can be difficult; it challenges many of the fundamentals of our gender-based society in ways that can be deeply unsettling, but that isn’t a bad thing. Society, with all its great injustices, hatred and bigotries, is far, far from perfect; to believe it is comes from a place of privileged ignorance. But despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel to have what you thought to be hardline truth questioned, questioning someone’s right to exist is inhumane. There is a difference, in my view, between a debate and a discussion. A debate traditionally follows a binary model that one side is right and the other is wrong – it is about proving your side whilst discrediting the other. A discussion comes from a far more open place – a place of listening and a willingness to learn. In watching Greedy Pig Theatre’s new production, Be, we as an audience were entering a place of discussion and reflection, and it was this atmosphere of compassionate openness that brought a real power to this piece.

Written by Gabrielle Finnegan and directed by Lex Kaby, Be is a spoken word play, running at just under an hour and a half, which follows the experiences of three individuals: Person 1 (played by Finn Harkin), a trans-man; Person 2 (played by Matthew Kay), a cis-man; and Person 3, a cis-woman (played by Alicia Pollard). Set in a mercurial storage space, littered with boxes labelled for jumble sales, charity shops and car boot sales, the characters sort through the detritus of human life and recount their lives in seven chapters, from childhood through to early adulthood. Accompanied live on stage by actor-musician, Harry Miller, the characters reveal how gender, sex and how society interacts with these identities have impacted their lives. 

Be is a beautifully crafted piece of theatre, handling a complicated and polarising topic in an emotionally intelligent and respectful way. The pain, anguish, joy and celebration of gender identity and sex are explored with such dynamism and care by Gabrielle Finnegan’s writing, and given their true depth and credence by the talented ensemble cast. Lex Kaby’s choice to dress her performers in identical, loose fitting long tunics is a clever dramaturgical choice to visually create a neutral space for gender to be discussed and explored. Indeed, the earthy, flesh-toned colour palette used throughout the set and costume brings a gentle, almost womb-like element to the stage, as though this is the ultimate safe space for the inevitable vulnerability of the play’s subject to be given the space to breathe. Finn Harkin, Matthew Kay and Alicia Pollard give beautiful, nuanced performances, switching from verse to prose with assured ease. While certain scene transitions felt a little stilted, the emotional and political power of Be was not lost. This is a must see piece of theatre in these painfully turbulent times. 

Star Rating:


The Predicament of Jackson Scott

Dark humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if the cup of tea in question is well brewed and with a splash of oat milk, then dark humour is certainly the cuppa for me. There is a fine line between what is funny and what is tasteless, however. Finding that balance can be a huge challenge, and when it comes to subjects like murder, mental health and sexual identity, there’s an even greater risk of falling into offensive and insensitive territory. In Black Hound Production’s new show, The Predicament of Jackson Scott, the wavering tight rope of risky dark humour is crossed with confidence.

Written by Josh McGrillen and directed by Lex Kaby, The Predicament of Jackson Scott follows the titular protagonist, Jackson Scott (played by Yves Morris) attempt to navigate his way through a particularly situation. The tricky situation being that he accidentally killed his boyfriend, Ted (Luke Ashley Tame), whilst having sex. Jackson’s decision to cover up the real circumstances of Ted’s death leads to an unexpected consequence; Jackson is now haunted by the ghost of Ted. Whether a manifestation of Jackson’s guilt, or indeed a supernatural spectre, Ted’s presence begins the inevitable snowballing of Jackson’s already dire situation, and as things get darker, the comedy becomes more biting.

This is, in essence, a story about the destructive power of denial. While in many ways this feels like a black comedy from the early-2000s, the handling of Jackson’s sexuality is at its most poignant when he openly denies his homosexuality. For me, comedy is at its most powerful when it treads into the boarders of pain, and while this thread of Jackson’s journey is somewhat overshadowed by the more zany elements of the plot, it nonetheless struck a chord. There are some excellent performances here, with Yves Morris bringing a laser-sharp tension to Jackson’s forever on-edge personality, and Luke Ashley Tame exudes natural comedic gravitas as the bolshy spirit of Ted. Alex Wallacot shines as the somewhat out of her depth grief counsellor, Alex Fitzgordon – a character who feels almost conjured out of the world of Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws – and particular credit has to go to Cordelia Tarbrooke who stepped in last minute as best friend, Bernice Masterson. Tarbrooke’s assured performance was nothing short of incredible, following in the tradition of many COVID understudies of recent months. The paired down set, centred around Ted’s earth-filled grave, is beautifully designed by Patrick Withey, symbolising as much within the show’s physical geography as much as the cast that Jackson’s actions are now an indelible mark in these characters’ lives. While there are some elements of the writing that feel a little brushed over for the sake of laughs, this is an accomplished piece of comedy performed by an undeniably talented company.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

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:


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


When going to see a Black Dog Production, one should always be prepared for intense psychological drama, an ode to Americana, and finely choreographed fight scenes. So it is no surprise that their latest production, Savage, has all this in spades.

Set in the 80s within the confines of a seedy, macho office, Savage follows the enigmatically named Apollo as she battles to save her sister, Artemis, from the clutches of the lascivious Janus and his mysterious client after Apollo’s botched embezzlement of a large sum of the ‘Client’s’ funds. What ensues is a drama filled with twists and turns, shocking reveals and inspired examinations of the tropes often found within psychological thrillers both in film and theatre.

This is a truly slick piece of theatre, with excellent performances from all the cast. Sami Edrus’ Janus oozes with chauvinistic smarm, his cokehead energy juxtaposing with the still, controlled tension of Charlotte Turner-McMullan’s Apollo and Njeko Katebe’s monolithic presence as the Bodyguard. Yet the drama truly sparks into life with the presence of Matilda Dickinson’s Artemis, whose keen intelligence and vibrancy of character brings the brutal stakes of the narrative into stark clarity. It is in her interactions with Janus, Apollo and the Bodyguard that the emotional depths of all these characters are brought into the light to be examined and scrutinised. Indeed, the greatest strength of this play is in writer Russell Eccleston’s refusal to degrade any of the characters into one dimensional stereotypes; each of the characters, despite their great flaws, are allowed complex inner lives which are portrayed with nuanced care by this talented cast.

While this show certainly evokes tones of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Eccleston takes an interestingly feminist perspective on the tropes of the thriller genre. The character of the Secretary, played with beguiling charm by Katherine Aldridge, reveals the inherent sexism of this so often male-driven genre. As great artistic institutions like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are being scrutinised for their lack of inclusion of female artists, Savage offers the female driven thriller to be just as (pun intended) thrilling as any male driven narrative.

This is a show which, while not overtly political, is answering the call of the times for more diversity in the stories we tell, making this both an entertaining and relevant piece of theatre.

Star rating: