As You Like It

Summer is well and truly here and with the long days and lighter nights, theatre begins its brief migration to the outdoors. Outdoor theatre has become something of a staple for the British summer time, and when it comes to the outdoor theatre circuit, Shakespeare is a firm favourite. With many of his comedies set in the pastoral landscapes of Europe, the Bards work lends itself beautifully to an outdoor setting. It is not hard to see why theatre companies are keen to bring their productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It to outdoor venues, but the challenge now has become about how to make your production stand out within the crowds of other such shows. How can your Rosalind differ from any other, and can you make Touchstone’s jokes any more raucous or relevant than another theatre company’s? It’s a tough ask for any theatre company, but Apricity Theatre meet the challenge with their usual verve.

Directed by Matilda Dickinson, with assistant direction from CJ Turner-McMullan, the mischievous levity of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It is given an overtly queer re-telling. Or rather, this adaptation does not shy away from the queerness that has always existed in this delightful comedy. With a cast of all women and non-binary actors, we are taken on a journey through the forest of Arden as Rosalind (played by Ebony Cassie) and Celia (played by Tiffany Rhodes) escape persecution, find love and, most importantly, find themselves. I was lucky enough to see the show in the beautifully bijou setting of Trowbridge Town Hall’s Sensory Garden, and this cleverly landscaped patch of greenery was the perfect backdrop for this interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy.

This was a truly charming take on a play which could very easily fall back into the comforts of traditional productions. Bringing a different twist to Shakespeare that works cohesively with the sumptuous text is an enormous challenge, but for the most part, Apricity Theatre’s As You Like It injects a vibrant freshness to this four centuries old play. The ensemble cast are a delight to watch, with particular credit to Alice Victoria Tripp and Tiffany Rhodes’ comedic skills; Tripp’s Touchstone was a perfect mashup of saucy and blunt, while Rhodes stole almost every scene as Orlando’s elderly servant, Adam, and indeed as the passionate Celia. Ebony Cassie brings a depth and warmth to Rosalind, who is so often played as earnestly witty, but in Cassie’s interpretation, is given a more rambunctious humour and strength. While certain aspects of the show felt a little misjudged – Celia’s court costume not fitting the actor seemed to undermine the play’s body positivity concept – this was a highly enjoyable evening. With catchy songs – written by Matilda Dickinson and composed by Finn MacNeil – that had the audience foot stomping along, bats fluttering aloft as the twilight drew in, and delicious food being shared between the picnicking audience, the entire experience of this show felt like the perfect way to spend a summer evening.

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


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

Shirley Valentine

As theatres begin to tentatively reopen for live performances, there has been much discussion within the theatre community about the types of shows being programmed for many venues’ reopening seasons. The understandable anxiety around ticket sales and how to best guarantee optimum audience attendance has been thick in the air, and for many, there has been a return to classic, tried and tested theatre favourites. So the decision by the Alma Tavern Theatre to reopen their doors with Willy Russell’s iconic one-hander, Shirley Valentine, seemed a very shrewd and savvy choice. While other venues have chosen big hitters like Shakespeare for their post-lockdown programmes – which will always have its guaranteed and ardent following of theatre goers – it was somewhat refreshing to see a show that focuses its narrative lens upon a working class, middle aged woman. This focus, coupled with the play turning thirty five this year, offered a theatrical bouquet as enticing as Shirley’s own glass of wine.

Directed by Adam Elms with Anna Friend performing as the titular heroine, Schoolhouse Productions stays true to Russell’s original text, keeping it placed in 1980s Liverpool. The kitchen set is deceptively simple – which even included a working hob upon which Shirley cooks a real egg and chips supper from scratch – with details such as contemporary table cloths and place mats situating Shirley’s humble domicile beautifully within the period. Friend’s performance exudes the warmth and humour of Russell’s text, and Friend does a brilliant job of embodying Shirley; she is every bit the endearing friend with her quips and amusing anecdotes, and when the depth of her loneliness is brought to light, your heart truly aches for this character. It is so difficult for an actor to shoulder the mantel of a role that has been made famous by a particular performer – for many of us, Pauline Collins just is Shirley Valentine – but Anna Friend brings her own flavour to the character, portraying this complex woman with the skilled ease of a seasoned performer.

While certain aspects of the script are rather dated in their attitudes – Shirley’s animosity towards feminism is somewhat jarring for a 2021 audience, though many still share in Shirley’s misconceptions – there is still so much about this play that speaks to life in Britain today. The portrayal of loneliness, isolation and loss of self identity is particularly resonant in our present COVID world, and with studies having shown that many heterosexual women in relationships over lockdown returned to the gendered roles of the classic 1950s housewife, Shirley’s frustration at her family life is all the more impactful. We are still living in a society that upholds many of the misogynistic and gendered bigotries that were present in 1986, when the play was first premiered at the Everyman in Liverpool, and it is fascinating to see where we have and have not changed as a society in those interim thirty five years. Schoolhouse Productions brings these tricky, multi-layered cultural dialogues to life with this excellent revival of Shirley Valentine, and as theatre reopening productions go, this is a highly accomplished piece of theatre.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Before I am Lost

History, as they say, is written by the victors, and as such, certain figures or movements can end up being washed away by the narratives of said victors. Within literary history, this has included numerous female artists who while, at the time, were as popular if not more successful than their now more famous male counterparts, have largely been forgotten since the male driven creation of the literary ‘canon’ at the turn of the last century.

Indeed, this male-centric focus within literature was abundant in the post-First World War societies of America and Europe. There are of course exceptions such as Virginia Woolf or Gertrude Stein, whose contributions to literature are rightfully recognised within academia, yet still the appreciation of other contemporary female artists pales in comparison with their male colleagues. Hilda Doolittle, known by her literary moniker of H.D., is one of many widely forgotten female artists from this fraught and fractured time, and it is her story that is brought to life within Cobalt Theatre’s Before I am Lost.

Written and performed by Beatrice Vincent, this solo performance follows Hilda’s journey to self realisation as she enters the first pangs of labour. She relives the relationships she has shared with other poets – both male and female – and we witness her agonies of rejection, in love and in art, as well as the rising pain of childbirth. This is a woman who is all too aware of her silencing by her male friends and lovers, bringing to light their inherent sexism – Ezra Pound, with whom she was once engaged, seems controlling and restrictive of her work, while D.H, Lawrence is oddly repressed and dismissive of her artistic capabilities purely because of her gender. Then there is Hilda’s husband, Richard Aldington, whose own psychological trauma from his time in the trenches of war torn Europe amounted to his neglect and emotional abuse of Hilda as he engaged with an extra-marital affair with their female lodger.

Beatrice Vincent carries Hilda’s pain with a wearied exhaustion – she is a woman who has long since lost hope, and as she reveals the details of her past affairs, of her fraught relationship with her husband, it is easy to see why. The hypocrisy of Hilda’s world is stripped bare by Vincent’s script as Hilda is continually rejected by the people she loves as well as the society she lives in. While her husband may freely carry on with his mistress as he pleases, Hilda must birth the child conceived from her own adultery in isolation, with Aldington’s threats of legal action at any attempt of legitimising her child hot on her heels in the birthing room. This is an all too familiar story of a woman shouldering the consequences of her actions while her male contemporaries have little care for the impact of their own actions upon others.

This pain is portrayed strongly by Vincent, and while the subtle changes in light and sound paint the contrasts between Hilda’s past and present, there is a lack of sharpness to the flow of this piece. Though my empathy with Hilda was strongly felt, there was an absence of true emotional climax and little variation of pace within the piece. Vincent’s performance is strong and consistent, but I was left wanting to see the highs of this woman’s passions, the force of her pain and anguish.

The moment that struck me most was when the voice of Hilda’s husband admonished her for seeming so unfeeling since his return from the War. While this highlighted the fine line a woman must tread between emotional forbearance vs. straying into the realm of ‘hysteria’ – that terribly sexist term that we see used time and time again to describe a woman showing any extreme of emotion – I wanted to be able to see the depth of Hilda’s hurt that she kept hidden from Aldington. There were glimpses, but there was a desire in me for more. I wanted Hilda to take up her space, as she had so rarely been able to, and to dare to be daring.

That said, this is still a strong piece of theatre, and a story that is worth seeing – there is a diamond in the rough quality that I hope will be polished into the shining gem it deserves to be.

Star rating: