Review - She Wears The Trousers ((GASP Theatre Company) Work in progress)

Set in the 1970s, "She Wears the Trousers" is a sketch about an unsuccessful weekly feminist group meeting. One year on and the group still only has four members; Helen, the leader of the group, She has a strong head on her shoulders, determined to get feminism heard. Betty, her best friend since primary school, although her head is in the clouds she's the most loyal of friends. Gail, an avid follower of Helen's work, determined to impress her as a #1 feminist. And Cindy, well...we don't really know why Cindy's there. As Helen attempts to get together a protest in order to celebrate the group's 1 year anniversary, the others try to throw her a surprise party following her success. However, things don't quite go to plan and Helen may just end up losing her head.

She Wears The Trousers is GASP Theatre Company’s very first production, and has been in the making for over a year now. Although at present the piece is still a work in progress, it is full of countless laugh-out-loud gags, as well as a couple of touching moments.

All four of the company’s members have an excellent onstage rapport, and each of their characters bring a unique and entertaining element to the story. Sophie Kronenberg is endearing as Betty, the sweet, heavily pregnant mother of the group, who toddles around the stage offering biscuits and hugs to everyone (whether they like it or not!).  As Gail the trainee first aider Alexandra Saunders-Yates provides many of the show’s biggest laughs with her deadpan line delivery and knowing nods and winks. Additionally Georgina Stafford is brilliant as glitter loving, go-go boot wearing Cindy. It would be interesting to see her character take centre stage a bit more, and for the  audience to learn more about her views on feminism and exactly why she attends the society’s weekly meetings, as her character is so entertaining and likable, and definitely affects the dynamic of the society in an interesting way. Lastly, Philippa Holmes gives an engaging performance as Helen, the society’s passionate, strong willed and slightly imposing president, and the straight-woman of the piece. Her attempts to inspire her fellow feminists to take part in a protest provide much of the play’s tension as well as facilitating many of the biggest laughs.

The plot itself is extremely multidimensional, but a tight storyline and excellently timed jokes mean that the play never meanders, and each character’s individual arcs remain clear though-out.  The piece generates most of its biggest laughs from prop based comedy, and a recurring joke involving a couple of party hats and blowers is particularly memorable. The play’s message seems to be that feminism is for anyone and everyone, and there are some excellent plot points which support this by dispelling countless myths about feminist and what makes a true feminist.  However, I feel that a stronger, more definite ending may help to clarify the play’s overall moral or purpose.

All in all, She Wears The Trousers is a hilarious offbeat comedy with snappy dialogue, intelligent yet at times outrageous humour, and a subject matter which remains as relevant today as it was in the 70s! Be sure to catch them at Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

Review - The Threepenny Opera (National Theatre)

Simon Stephen's dark, zany adaptation of one of Brecht's best loved works is brought to life by an impressive company of actors in Rufus Norris' new production of The Threepenny Opera. The production is heavily influenced by typical Epic Theatre conventions, which naturally complements the text and facilitates many of the play's comedic moments. Not only this, but this production's promise of 'filthy language and immoral behaviour' is fulfilled tenfold. 
Photo credit - Richard H Smith
A sunken-eyed Rory Kinnear is deliciously unnerving as gang leader Captain Macheath, the play's imposing antagonist. Sporting a pencil moustache and a sleek double breasted blazer, he walks a fine line between sleazy and suave, although at times this sleaziness undercuts the character's quiet ferocity. Meanwhile, Nick Holder is striking as Peachum, Macheath's enemy and the conniving controller of London's beggars. However, it is Rosalie Craig as Polly Peachum, Macheath's affable and sharp witted young bride, who dominates every scene. Her portrayal of Polly's growth is enthralling and she brings a new dynamic to many of the play's notable songs and scenes. 

Although The Threepenny Opera is typically a small, intimately staged play, this production works remarkably well on the Olivier Theatre stage. In fact, the large stage opens the door to a number of innovative yet ludicrous set pieces, which are used ingeniously throughout, and yet compliment the deliberately bare bones aesthetic of the production; however, Paule Constable's lighting design helps to create a sense of intimacy on stage, when the plot calls for it. 
Photo Credit - Richard H Smith
Despite being rather absurd in both plot and design, an air of chilling unease punctuates The Threepenny Opera's more sobering moments. Nowhere is this more noticeable than when Sharon Small's Jenny Diver, a prostitute addict and one of Macheath's many ex-lovers, takes centre stage to sing Surabaya Johnny, a powerful lamentation interspersed with moments of uncomfortable fragility. Small's haunting vocals and pained expressions make this rare grounded moment perfectly and unbearably uncomfortable. In this moment, as well as several others, the juxtaposition between Simon Stephens' blunt and abrupt translation of Brecht's dialogue and Kurt Weill's stirring and dramatic music is particularly apparent. 

From the characterisation to the costume design, everything about this production of The Threepenny Opera is gloriously grotesque and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. The offbeat and often shocking content may at times be a little overbearing, but there is much to enjoy in this production, as both a spectacle and a compelling piece of theatre. 

Interview - No Horizon (at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016)

Described by Chris Evans (Radio 2, BBC’s The One Show) as Yorkshire’s Les Mis, No Horizon tells the true, long forgotten story of sacrifice and an impossible dream. Blind Yorkshireman Nicholas Saunderson was an 18th century visionary. Despite adversity and his lack of pedigree, Saunderson always harboured a hidden genius and an unquenchable thirst for learning. But before the invention of Braille and with nobody to help him, there was little hope.Yet Saunderson had aspirations. This tale of courage and love is set against the contrasting earthiness of Yorkshire and the dreaming spires of Cambridge.

If that synopsis isn't enough to grab you then check out my interview with the team behind No Horizon, and find  out why No Horizon should definitely be on your Fringe radar this August!

What is it about Nicholas Saunderson that makes him the ideal topic for a musical?
The great musicals tend to be about big themes, and Saunderson's story is perfect.  Yes, he was a genius mathematician but that's almost secondary.  It's his character that makes his story so inspiring. The man had nothing in his favour.  He'd lost his eyes as a one year old, Braille didn't yet exist, he came from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and yet he refused to accept his lot.  No Horizon is about a dream, it's about courage, passion and love.  And it's about taking on the world.  Add to that the fact that it's a true, but cruelly forgotten story, and it pretty much demanded to be written.

American founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life story is currently the topic of Broadway’s biggest musical, it looks as if historical musicals are making a comeback. Why do you think audiences in 2016 are so hungry for musicals about the past?
I don't think the appetite ever disappeared, it's just that producers have been cautious, preferring to play safe with shows which have already been in the public eye, perhaps in a different format;  hence the procession of shows using the music of pop acts.  They're great fun, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser so the risk is limited. It does seem the tide is now turning however, and the enormous success of various period TV pieces has certainly  helped remind people how the public love this type of production. 

What are you hoping audience reactions will be like? And what will audiences take away from the show? 
We want audiences to come away moved and entertained.  It's a deeply touching story, and I don't think you can leave the theatre unaffected.  On top of that though, we want people to be inspired in their own lives.  Saunderson's tale can bring hope where there is none.  It shines a light on what is possible.   

What can musical theatre enthusiast Fringe audiences expect from the music of ‘Yorkshire’s Les Mis’? 
Yes, No Horizon has been dubbed the 'Yorkshire Les Mis', and there is something in that, but it's certainly not derivative. I think the similarity is the genre - it's historical, it's about big themes, and the music has similar sweeping orchestrated melodies including big ballads and stirring, powerful numbers.  The music sits together as a piece.  It's certainly not a combination of different styles.

What are the plans for this production of No Horizon post-Edinburgh?
We are viewing Edinburgh as both an end in itself, and also as a launchpad for the future.  We want the world to know about Nicholas Saunderson, and are aiming for a subsequent national tour, and big things beyond.

Interview - Quentin Beroud (Director of Verge of Strife (at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016))

Coming to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, Nick Baldock's Verge of Strife is a critically acclaimed play, which tells the story of World War I poet Rupert Brooke, a man known as 'the voice of England.' 
Based on his letters and told through his poetry, Verge of Strife goes back to Brooke’s early years, looking at the young poet who embraced Socialism, atheism and the counterculture of Edwardian England. Described as ‘the handsomest man in all of England’ his looks, charm and wit left a trail of bruised egos and broken hearts right to the upper echelons of British society. 
Check out my interview with director Quentin Beroud Verge of Strife, and find out why it should be on your festival watch list!
Jonny Labey as Rupert Brooke
What is it about Rupert Brooke that makes him the ideal topic for a play?
Rupert Brooke was always the leading man in his lifetime, so it seems only right to put him back centre stage. He was a man constantly surrounded; by admirers, rivals, teachers and soldiers. In Verge of Strife these are played by an ensemble that swirl around our protagonist, telling his story through those that knew him best, and those that wanted to know him better. In his time he was a celebrity, never far from a gossiping tongue, and the combination of his tempestuous private life and the power of his poetry makes for an amazing combination. Also, it doesn't hurt that he was "the handsomest young man in England".

Brooke's WW1 poetry is hugely evocative. How is his work incorporated in the production?
The play is in the form of fragments of Brooke's life, and gradually each episode gives us more and more of a picture of him. Each of these episodes is introduced and inspired by a poem, so that they are both part of and outside the narrative. The poems give us flashes of Brooke the artist, and over the course of the play we understand more and more how these relate to Brooke the man.

The creative team gained access to Brooke's poems and private archived letters. How did these documents help to inform the production? 
Brooke lived an extraordinary life, and his letters and poems, from an early age, give us an incredible insight into his side of the story - how he coped with the attention (and there was a lot of attention), his sensitivity and the way he interacted with those that surrounded him. One thing that strikes you, particularly with his letters, is that he was always playing a part, always aware of his audience. Ironically enough, now that we're putting his story in front of an actual audience (something I think he would have rather liked) we've had to cut through this performativity and read between the lines of the archive material today to delve into the man beneath.

Why should Fringe audiences come and see Verge of Strife?
In the incredible story of an extraordinary man, told in an innovative way. Jonny Labey is brilliant as Brooke - leading a fantastic diverse ensemble of actors. 

What are the plans for this production of Verge of Strife post-Edinburgh?
Brooke’s poems were the people’s voice during the war and we feel that this show and his story also belongs to the people. I’d like to see us tour the show. With the style and structure that we have developed, It felt right to premiere the show at the Fringe. Our producing team are confident and hard at work, but obviously at this stage we can’t confirm any details. 

You can catch Verge of Strife at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer, at the Assembly George Square (Studio Two), Edinburgh, EH8 9LH from Thursday 4th until Monday 29th August 2016.