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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hell

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Be.

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

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

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️