Review: Hot Mess at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre @CamdenFringe

Hot mess

By Carmel Shortall

Polo and Twitch are twins. Twitch is the surprise, nearly left behind and emerging “bawling and bloody” after calm Polo. But “there was only supposed to be one”, as only one heartbeat was detected in utero and, indeed, they have only one heart between them. It becomes Twitch’s as Polo symbolically pours his half-empty glass of water into her half-full one and she drinks the lot in a single gulp.

Polo, the twin with a hole (in his heart!), has returned after a year’s absence for their 25th birthday celebrations. He has no time for love but Twitch, despite limited sexual experience, has loved too much through successive kindergarten, school and college infatuations. Polo narrates as Twitch, in the first of a series of flashbacks, literally superglues her hand to little Jimmy’s when he tries to leave after playtime. By the time they are separated, Jimmy will be scarred for life. Twitch smiles: he’ll never forget her now. Teenage Nick gets an unlooked-for tattoo when Twitch somehow sticks a pen in his arm and, at University, Peter Harris scalds his foot in the bath after cheating on her. So when handsome American, Billy, whom she meets on the beach says he’s leaving the next day and Twitch proposes a midnight swim, it can’t possibly turn out well…

Jacks, their friend, is also at odds with Twitch. Sex without love is “freedom” for her. She’s disgusted by her mother who is still “blubbing” a year after Jacks’ father left. At one point Jacks and Twitch are both onstage. They take turns narrating contrasting sexual encounters – Twitch’s romantic liaison with Billy on the beach and Jack’s nameless fuck with “toilet boy” in the loo at a nightclub.

Hot Mess focuses on the dialectic between those that love and those that fuck” writes Ella Hickson in the author’s note to the text of the play. She says it was written in response to a series of interviews and conversations she had with girls and young women in 2010 and observes that, “we are more connected than ever and yet each connection means less.”

Originally designed to be performed in the round at a nightclub, the play has been adapted for a simple black box stage by Vernal Theatre Company, formed earlier this year by co-directors and producers Julian Bruton and Kieran Rogers. Able technical support is provided by Jay Rogers and Jay Patel.

The play opens as the sound of the sea is interspersed with She Said by Plan B. The stage is decorated with pebbles and as Katrina Allen playing Twitch arranges them in a straight line, she picks up the song in a clear, sweet voice. The song forms a motif throughout the play and there’s a forlorn poetry in her speeches to the audience on sex and love.

By contrast, Natalia Titcomb as Jacks is brashly extrovert as she screams onto the stage. Gareth Balai plays Billy, her erstwhile lover – and all of Twitch’s! Timothy Renouf as Polo is muted and wry: ever the observer, he encourages Jacks in her excesses and provides a commentary on Twitch. But it is his twin he loves – he has given her his heart after all – and the play ends as they hug to the eternal sound of the sea.

An ideal play for twenty-somethings, Hot Mess continues its Camden Fringe run at The Lion and Unicorn, 42-44 Gaisford Road in Kentish Town from Wednesday 23rd to Saturday 26th August at 7.45 pm. (Running time 75 minutes). Click here for tickets and more information.

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Review: Edward II at the Tristan Bates Theatre @CamdenFringe

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By Michael Spring

Ricky Dukes directs Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II at the Tristan Bates theatre this week. Even the preview performance is memorable, for lots of reasons. Sharp direction, stylish production, good performances all help to bring this play to spectacular life.

Christopher Marlowe was always Sid Vicious to Shakespeare’s Johnny Rotten; his writing a bit more impetuous, less considered, and in the end of course, not a survivor. But like Shakespeare, he didn’t shy away from a big theme and nothing was much bigger to the renaissance mind than a king who ignores the fact that his kingdom is going to a figurative hell in a handcart.

So the play is magnetic, and so too is this production. Young and important men strut and bristle at injustice. Piers Gaveston fawns, almost exuding oil. The Queen glides magnificently, not giving up on her husband’s cause until it is patently lost, but then tragically becoming the catalyst to disaster. And the King? Well, the King tries to ignore everything but his rights, and his pretty bauble, the crown, the most important prop of all. After all, when you are anointed by God as the leader of your people, what can’t you do?

There are many good performances here, but this is an ensemble production, stylishly staged in a closely confined arena that nevertheless manages to be transformed – as necessary – into battlefield and court, killing field and ghastly dungeon. Lights and a few significant props are all that are needed to thrust us memorably into the heart of the action. A king in a gold suit and glittering crown, killers in masks, an archbishop whose immediate boss – the Pope – may intervene, even if God stays resolutely aloft, perhaps planning the final irony.

This is all a very watchable, very involving 90 minutes in which, tellingly, none of the very committed and talented cast leave the stage. It’s going to be a tough week for those involved, and a rewarding week for those who come to see the play.

Edward II is at Tristan Bates 23-26 August at 7.30pm. For more details and tickets visit camdenfringe.com.

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Review: So You Say at Tristan Bates Theatre @DiffTheatre @CamdenFringe

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By Michael Spring

Different Theatre’s production ‘So You Say’ is a bright two hander that lasts just about an hour. Written and directed by Sam Chittenden, it focuses on a reunion (or perhaps many reunions) between couples who have separated and drifted apart some years ago, and the almost magnetic desire we seem to have to ‘find out what happened to them’.

That desire was evident a few years ago with the almost overnight success of ‘Friends Reunited’, a success that, at the time, was also linked to increasing divorce rates as sweethearts from years back met and seemed to want to quickly throw over the traces of more recent relationships. That same curiosity, willingness to forget the problems and fundamental weaknesses of past relationships, as well as the ability to pursue a hopelessly optimistic rewriting of personal histories, that fuels this drama about ordinary people.

Charly Sommers is Jennifer, once the partner of Russell Shaw’s Ollie, who emails him out of the blue after 15 years to suggest a meeting. Thereafter, the many potential scenarios are played out in a number of short scenes – some of which involve no speech whatever – that illustrate the range of potential outcomes. From alternately reciting alphabetical lists of the bands they saw ‘back then’, to bristling hatred, from realising that they were always soulmates to a possibly one-sided realisation that things would never have worked between them.

The couple are engaging, likeable, and all too typical. The script is quite demanding – at times both individuals speak their own counterpointed monologues – and nicely performed.

If an investigation of the potential of revisting the past is what you’re looking for, then this tight and intimate performance will do very well. If it has a weakness, it is that in searching out and exploring likely common denominators amongst reuniting couples, it becomes not specific and personal enough.

So you say is on Friday 18 August and Saturday 19 August 2017 at 6.15pm at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of Camden Fringe. Click here for tickets.

Camden Fringe is at various venues until Sunday 27 August. For a full programme and tickets for other shows visit the website www.camdenfringe.com.

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Review: The Trouble with Scott Capurro at The Bill Murray @CamdenFringe

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By Carmel Shortall

“They’re just jokes – I’m not even gay!”

Scott Capurro greets “all my imaginary friends in the front row” as he skips onstage at The Bill Murray. The front row is conspicuously empty – who after all would be so foolish as to sit there? But there’s no escape later in the set when he begins to interact with members of the audience. Before long a man who came out at the age of 30 is describing his sexual preferences and a woman is showing us her neat caesarean scar.

First though, we are congratulated on our diversity as an audience – “every shade of white from vanilla to ecru!” Capurro riffs on racist relatives, being American, his marriage to a Brazilian, Brexit, Trump supporters (“stupider people live further from the sea in America – perhaps it’s dehydration”) and of course Trump himself: “an orange oompah-loompah in a cancer wig”.

He moves onto Grenfell – “brace yourselves!” Every time there is an audible gasp from the audience he offers a gracious “thank you” in return.

As a comic provocateur, Capurro seeks to probe his audience’s soft spots and he is very funny with it. He delights in skewering liberal hypocrisies and, unlike other comedians, he targets Muslims. “I can’t make fun of Christians and Jews and not Muslims. That would be racist!”

After more than an hour, nobody walks out. Tongue in cheek, he thanks us all for still being there – is he perhaps slightly disappointed?

The Trouble With Scott Capurro is at The Bill Murray for one more night, Thursday 17 August at 8pm. For details and tickets visit www.camdenfringe.com

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Review: Reprehensible Men Part 2 at Tristan Bates Theatre @CamdenFringe

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By Samuel Smith
Five men, five characters all with troubled stories. Five monologues about despair anguish and regret from writer Dan Horrigan. In each case, the men are seeking something from the audience by telling their story. They are imploring the audience. Hopeful that someone will understand and perhaps even interact.
It is a production which relies solely on each actor and their storytelling ability, aided only by a chair and, in the last case, a small selection of pocket-size props. Each performance is standalone though there are some definite parallels in tone, journey of the story and the questions they ask of the audience.
Broadly, the performances are very good – some slightly better than others. The actors work hard to tell their tales with conviction. Some performers have either a more interesting story to tell or a better knack for being able to deliver it.
The writing is really  lovely.. All of the monologues have a poetic style to them; a feature which solidified their consistency. Though lovely, not all characters needed the same eloquence to their language especially given some of the men had pleaded to have had poor education. Also, there were times where the writing could have been a little tighter. Perhaps a touch less on the how the character felt about themselves and more dedicated to telling the story of the actions that lead them there.
The distinguishing feature of this production was the very obvious breaking of the forth wall by engaging directly with the audience. The script proposes an audience reaction which is sometimes passive and sometimes active. A bold choice and right that theatre does this however its reception will always be subjective.
This is really nice piece of theatre for forcing audiences to from judgements. It ticks a lot of boxes and the actors presented the stories well. The only takeaway critism for the piece would be that at times it was a little verbose and a little too much telling rather than showing. Otherwise, a powerful piece of theatre.
Reprehensible Men 2 is at Tristan Bates Theatre until Saturday 19 August at 7.45pm. For more details and to buy tickets click here: camdenfringe.com
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Review: Mac and Eden at Canal Cafe Theatre @CamdenFringe

Mac and Eden The Unbearable Pleasure of Being a Woman 

By Michael Spring

The Unbearable Pleasure of Being a Woman is a musical comedy cabaret performance from a talented pair of performers. And you’ve still got two nights to catch it. (Thurs 17th at the Water Rats, or Sat 19th at Camden Comedy Club). Don’t think this is for women only. Boys will enjoy the revelations just as much as girls. Think of it as a Noel Coward night brought up to date.

I hope it won’t be too much of a spoiler to reveal that Mac and Eden’s final number of the night is a song called “Great Big Period Pants”. It’s written and delivered in a style that’s reminiscent of a song from ‘Oliver!’ or ‘Mary Poppins’. It’s funny, a little bit rude, delivered with a lot of energy and style and has the audience joining in. And it sums up pretty much what you get in a cabaret that lasts about 90 good-feeling minutes.

Mac and Eden are Joanna Eden who plays keyboards and sings, and Leigh McDonald who sings. They both can sing too, and the songs (written by Joanna Eden) are sharp and witty journeys through the world of the 21st century as experienced by two ladies who have had their ups and downs and are prepared to share the intimate details of most of them.

They cover a lot of ground: friendship, bodyshapes, sex, the inadequacy of men (sometimes!), what we can expect from children, the pressure on a woman to give birth. If that all sounds a bit dry, let me say that one of the highlights is a song about conception delivered in a style that Kraftwerk would respect.

This is a lovely show, firmly in the tradition of the late Victoria Wood in terms of material and in terms of quality of performance, and would be a shame to miss.

For more details about this show and others at Camden Fringe visit camdenfringe.com

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Mrs Oscar Wilde and Ella Fitzgerald pop into Cecil Sharp House @CamdenFringe

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Multi-award-winning actress and writer Lexi Wolfe is bringing her one-woman show, Mrs Oscar Wilde to Cecil Sharp House on Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 August at 7.30pm.

Mrs Oscar Wilde is based on the life of Constance Lloyd, the long-suffering wife of the infamous Oscar Wilde. The story begins in her teenage years, following her personal journey (and, of course, her problems with Oscar) to just before her untimely death aged 39.

Mrs Oscar Wilde

The play is a moving, sometimes funny, depiction of Constance’s little-known life, based on excerpts of her own letters, covering her literary career, her actions towards Women’s Rights and raising (almost single-handedly) their two sons.

Lexi, has appeared in Emmerdale and the Harry Hill Movie, was nominated for the “Best Actress” award at last year’s Buxton Fringe for Mrs Oscar Wilde and this year for Indiscretion. ​

She received a “Merit of Special Mention – Women Filmmakers” in the Best Shorts Competition earlier this year and has won both “Best Actress” and “Best Screenplay” at the International Independent Film Awards. Watch out for her in the forthcoming TV series Danelaw.

Cecil Sharp House is an iconic Grade II listed building at 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, that has served as a location for films, television programmes and fashion shoots – and the Camden Fringe.

It is also home to English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, England’s national collection of folk music and dance.

But it’s not just folk music, dance and historical theatre at Cecil Sharp House. There are still two chances to catch comedy with The Exeter Review: Sketchception on Wednesday 16 August and Thursday 17 August at 7.30pm.

Exeter University’s prestigious comedy troupe present an evening of original writing and quick-witted performance. Three successful years at The Edinburgh Fringe have lead us to Camden with new material. With sketches within sketches, puns within puns and props within props, Sketchception is sketching at its best.

For one night only there will also be live jazz with Annette Gregory Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald, backed by her band, on Sunday 27 August at 8pm.

It was a chance encounter that led to Annette joining a community jazz band as their principal vocalist and set her on the road to becoming a jazz singer. She has since attended The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and recorded her second EP.

In this show, Annette celebrates the contribution to jazz music made by Ella, with music from various songbooks including many well-known swing tunes and beautiful ballads from the 1930s through the decades to the 1960s.

For more details on these shows and other shows during Camden Fringe (until Sunday 27 August 2017) visit www.camdenfringe.com.

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