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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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 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

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

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dirty Bath

We all have an image of our hometown, something that seemingly sums up its core essence. For some it might be a particular building, for others it might be a person or event, while for many it will be a combination of people, places and things. For fellow Bathites like myself – I was born in Bath though raised in Frome, so does that technically count? – many of us will have a very specific image of our historic hometown. For most of us, it will include the sandy-coloured stone grandeur of Georgian architecture, women clad in Regency dresses, and dog eared copies of Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey. Bath is an internationally renowned city, recognised for the preservation of its period architecture, its Roman baths and association with a certain 19th Century author, but as often happens with history, certain elements of a place’s story can become lost. Over generations, the narrative of a place can become sanitised by its inhabitants or the powers that be – politics change, propaganda machines can spur into action in a bid for a booming tourist trade – the dirt and grit of a place is swept under the proverbial carpet to be forgotten. Yet, the Bath based Natural Theatre Company have done just the opposite with their interactive comedy show, Dirty Bath – they are proudly lifting up Bath’s deceptively grand carpet to reveal the grime that lurks beneath.

Directed by the Naturals’ Artistic Director, Andy Burden, Dirty Bath explores the darker, raunchier sides of Bath’s over two millennia history. Lesser known residents like the fiery Carroty Kate, the tragic Fanny Dayer, the outrageous Venanzio Rauzzini and the spooky figure of the Theatre Royal’s Grey Lady are brought to life by the ensemble cast, Alison Campbell, Amy Vickers and Florence Espeut-Nickless. Taking the usually street theatre based Natural Theatre Company out of their exterior comfort zone, the show is staged in the cosy environs of the Rondo Theatre, the playful nature of the show superbly realised in its set of piled props and packed costume rails. We are transported across time by the trio of actors as they transform themselves into their various historical personas through swift changes into a myriad of period costumes and wigs, telling the wild stories of their characters with brilliant comic timing and superbly handled moments of audience participation.

This is an incredibly funny and fun show. Following in the footsteps of Horrible Histories, what the Natural Theatre Company have achieved here is a brilliant re-evaluation of Bath’s heritage. Though the struggles of characters like Carroty Kate and Fanny Dayer are played to comic effect, the class politics at play within these two women’s stories is not lost amongst the laughter. By using humour as a lens to tackle darker subject matters, Dirty Bath uncovers the parts of Bath’s history that have been whitewashed by the privileged elite, highlighting that while Bath is so often seen as the playground of the rich – both historically and in the present – it has always been a home to people of every social strata. Indeed, as Amy Vickers excels in the roles of pompous toffs such as Beau Nash and 18th Century sexologist, James Graham, the class divides within Bath’s history are given a harsh airing as hilariously extravagant poshness is juxtaposed by the unjust treatment of the working classes and, in particular, the city’s women sex workers. There is a darkness that creeps amongst the silliness of this show, and it is this interplay between gravity and levity that really drives the narrative.

Dirty Bath is a brilliant piece of comedy theatre, executed with masterful skill by its three actors. Alison Campbell shines as the grotesque and weird characters of Rauzzini and the unnamed clueless producer of the Theatre Royal, while Florence Espeut-Nickless offers more earthy, grounded performances as Carroty Kate and William Gooch. Running at just over an hour, this is the perfect way for one to ease back into live performance, and the instant rapport the cast strikes up with its audience highlights the Naturals’ heritage as an interactive theatre company. Dirty Bath is a highly enjoyable way to spend one’s evening out.

Dirty Bath is performing at the Rondo Theatre, Bath as part of the Bath Fringe Festival from June 2nd until June 5th and June 9th until June 12th, 2021.

Star Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️