REVIEW: Richard III at The Gatehouse @camdenfringe

There is a great deal to be said for going to fringe productions. Comfortable seats, good sight-lines, cheaper tickets and the benefit of a bar and restaurant just beneath you. This new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Upstairs in the Gatehouse (as part of Camden Fringe) proved this to be true, bringing an interesting new perspective to the much-told story.

The opening scene was of workmen in protective headgear marking out a grave in chalk, in reference to the recent discovery of the famed king and a prologue to the story. 

King Richard, played by Nathan Gordon, seemed to feel and understand the part with a clear, rich narration and refreshingly – without the tedious emphasis on dragging a foot and being hunchback.  The only reference to a stoop was speaking with a half angled turn towards the audience, just enough to suggest a deformity. He schemed, contrived, explained and wove us into the plot, letting us into the conspiracy so excellently that the three-hour play seemed relatively short.   

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His loyal lackey Catesby, played by Jeremy Manning, escorted but also rang out the fanfare with trumpet in hand, taking us back to those ancient regal times. 

The noble widow Anne Neville was played by Claire Bowman, who was eloquent and gracious with her lines. Tolu Stedford was magnificent as Queen Margaret, steaming out her curses with serious intent. Buckingham, Edward Kaye, and The Duchess of York, Sarah Dorsett, also acted their parts with acumen.

The two murderers were played marvellously, with elasticised faces that stretched and puckered from fear to villainy, bringing humour and liveliness to the tragic tale. There was one blip on the first night of muddled inks and quill, but this was a little hiccup and excusable.

In the final scenes, William Paul (playing the Earl of Richmond) was invigorating, rallying his troops to overpower the deadly Richard at the battle of Bosworth in a convincing and impressive stage fight.

The young director, 24 year-old Lata Nobes, managed to coolly put this together and even in Hitchcock-style slipped out incognito onto the stage as one of the young princes.  An excellent production that deserves a re-run!

Richard III
Upstairs at The Gatehouse
20 – 24 August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2045 

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REVIEW: To the Moon… and back… and back at The Etcetera Theatre @camdenfringe

Rachel Salisbury has done two things that many of us haven’t: one – advertising on Facebook for a boyfriend and two – going viral because of that advertisement. In her new show To the Moon… and back… and back she explores the impact of our search for romance in the digital age, backdropped by loneliness in London.

Taking us through her various dates, accompanied by talking ratios (the men almost always taking the bigger portion) Salisbury’s performance is both hilarious and poignant, baring her soul and not shying away from the pain of rejection and humiliation – two unavoidable possibilities in the pursuit of love.  She is utterly charming throughout, an unashamed romantic and inspiring in her hopefulness about it all.

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Salisbury’s multi-roling was particularly impressive, showing us a wide range of characters and keeping us captivated throughout. I particularly enjoyed director Danäe Cambrook’s use of costume changes as symbolic, making them ghost-like props for other characters.

The show’s conclusion I won’t spoil, but my only reservation was that there seemed to be little of Salisbury’s life outside of this search for romantic love explored. The conversations around loneliness were relatable and beautifully relayed, but romantic love as the way of solving seemed to be offered as the only resolution.

Despite this Salisbury has created an engaging, entertaining and funny show with a huge injection of her personality – which was probably the best thing about it. Spending an hour with her was a delight, and I would highly recommend it.

Review by Natalie Beech

To the Moon… and back… and back…
Etcetera Theatre
18th – 22nd August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2084 

 

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REVIEW: The Woman and the Canvas at The Monkey House @camdenfringe

Perhaps you were expecting an intimate, personal drama. The story of a painter maybe or an artist’s model in close up, and when this production begins, you might begin to think that your preconceptions were coming true. A doctor, a canvas, a woman who perhaps is an artist and a determinedly gnomic exchange of words.

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Then, everything explodes as a wonderful transition takes place and the massive cast (16, I think) dressed perhaps to appear in a technicolour dream or nightmare, reveal themselves and move – with massive precision (the space isn’t that big) on and around two big tables which, with a couple of chairs, form the only part of what could be called ‘a set’.

There’s a couple from their wedding, a horse rider, a schoolgirl, a ringmaster from a circus, a clown, an acrobat, a couple of burly maids – some of whom get greater focus as the plot, such as it is, evolves.

Anna is a painter, and features both as herself when young and older. Her story, from unhappy childhood to struggles with the critical reception of her work, is sketched in but hardly more, but it’s not a traditional plotline that is important here. What is important is the moving tableaux of characters, each one of which could be material for a static picture, and yet everything is in flux.

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If you were looking for a hero, this production has one in the shape of the musical score, specifically composed, which is as fluid in the styles and motifs it adopts as the shapes of the swarming cast that it motivates and drives.

In a final scene in which the entire cast run for their lives directly towards us, Anna outpaces her demons, though with unspecified damage. It is energetic to the point of breathlessness, which is the quality that distinguishes this whole production.

Don’t look for a story. Just enjoy the unfolding tableaux.

Review by Michael Spring

The Woman and the Canvas
by Fourth Monkey & Theatre Re
The Monkey House
16th, 18th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, 26th August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2110

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REVIEW: Pomegranate Season at The Cockpit @camdenfringe

Victoria Cano’s new play Pomegranate Season, in which she also acts, is as timely as it could be. After #MeToo, the issue of consent, sexual assault and sexism at large is finally taking centre stage.

The play presents an interesting look at what it would feel like if the person who assaulted you was also the person you loved most in the world. The best thing about the piece was its bravery in depicting the complexity of Cora’s (played by Cano) relationship to her assaulter in the aftermath. It feels as if there is a way in which you are “supposed to” respond, which of course in the aftermath of such an incident, will be different for everyone. Pomegranate Season shows us a lesser told story, as well as the impact of these incidents for everyone surrounding them, not only those directly involved.

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Despite this, it was hard to know what to take from the play. That there is different ways of dealing with these incidents? That it is complicated? There was not enough context in terms of why this occurred (ie. social, political influences). A lot of time was spent on the one of the main character’s best friend Demi’s response (played by Shalia Alvarez), that perhaps could have been better spent exploring the wider impact or context of sexual assault.

The writing, in particular the dialogue, was mostly witty, quick and often very funny – occasionally falling to cliche but saved by some moments of brilliance. There was a brief and bittersweet interaction with a side character (no spoilers) that was brilliantly written, and brilliantly played by Cherry Walters, it ended with me wishing we could have seen more of her. Her comic timing and presence was a breath of fresh air, and made me wonder how the play would have faired if all of the performances had a little more of her energy.

The naturalistic set design and lighting deserves a nod for the use of space; characters moving seamlessly between settings with small details that put you in each scene in an instant.

The ending to the play felt unrealistic, and very confusing in terms of the location and what was happening within it. I left feeling that Pomegranate Season raised a lot of interesting questions, but offered little resolution. However, perhaps this was the point, and it’s undoubtedly the type of play which you’ll want to discuss for an hour in the pub afterwards. For this reason, go and see it and argue your hearts out afterwards.

Review by Natalie Beech

Pomegranate Season
Etcetera Theatre
20 – 22 August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2233

 

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REVIEW: The Old House at The Hen and Chickens @camdenfringe

There’s a slender chain that links a woman in her forties with her elderly mother and her dead, unborn, child. Sometimes, it’s as fragile as silk. Sometimes it’s an anchor chain. It’s the atomic bond of love and in the end, what families are all about.

That’s a big part of the proposition that drives this elegant and beautifully performed one-woman show. In just an hour, we get a surgically precise analysis of a woman’s relationship to her mother, an aged woman holed mentally below the waterline and sinking by the stern, and yet who still retains – occasionally – her passion for life and everything that it entails. At other moments, she’s a child, delighting in the waves on the shingle. Then fear of the unknown overtakes her, and her frustration slips into anger or the blankness of non-understanding.

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The Old House is where the mother used to bring her daughter for holidays as a child. Now, with concepts like time and the sequence of memory slipping away from her, her daughter has become her carer, keeping her from harm, keeping her within touching distance of what we might call a normal life.

The woman and her mother are both played by Kate Maravan, who has written this touching enquiry into life as it closes around us. One of the striking features of the production is just how seamlessly – with nothing much more than a slight modulation of voice and posture – she can slip from one to the other. A chair, and Adrienne Quartly’s sound design are all we need to be transported from motorway service area to beach to carnival as this contemplative and enlightening drama unfolds.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the meaning of life was 42. Here, it’s the hokey-cokey, the mis-stepped dance to the music of time that, whether we like it or not, we all perform, to an orchestration that slips more and more out of rhythm and register.

The Old House is a wonderfully revealing piece of theatre.

Review by Michael Spring

The Old House
The Hen and Chickens Theatre
16 – 18 August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2058

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REVIEW: Mood Kill at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre @camdenfringe

Snippet Theatre‘s new show Mood Kill opens by getting straight to the point. Explained in an opening recording, writer Olivia Wilkes wants to know why suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK today and why aren’t we all doing more to address it?

Told through the real life testimonies taken in over 50 hours of interviews with people suffering from depression, the show has trimmed this down to one hour of selected transcripts, staged through headphone verbatim (actors listening to real life interviews on headphones and performing them).

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The performances are particularly dazzling with this in mind, the cast of six (four men, two women) deliver heartbreaking recordings from men and women who have dealt with mental health issues themselves or experienced a loved one going through them, showcasing impressive range without the recordings causing a moment’s hesitation or pause. Despite racing through a number of different characters, the performer’s embodiment of them made every person recognisable, empathetic and relatable.

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The physicality, direction and use of space in the piece helps to bring the recordings to life, from jittery explorations of addiction to whirling lights, there’s a darkness that underlines each story, excellently capturing the interviewees’ constant battle against it. Leaving no stone unturned, issues of race, gender discrimination and our current government’s failures to address mental health, Mood Kill offers illuminating insights into how we’re getting it wrong, and how we could get it right.

My only point of contention (and it is a very minor one) was the retrospective nature of many of the testimonies, I felt myself wanting to see men dealing with these issues in the present (rather than looking at how they’d come through them) and how this might look or feel, in all of its diversity. This doesn’t stop Mood Kill from being an incredibly important, devastating and breathtaking piece of work. Critical viewing about a critical issue that needs to be better addressed, today.

Review by Natalie Beech

Mood Kill
The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
13 – 18 August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2019

 

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REVIEW: Much Ado About Salsa at the London Irish Centre @camdenfringe

This is Shakespeare on holiday, a drastically cut version of Much Ado About Nothing, in shorts and sandals and with salsa rhythms substituting for a lot of lengthy sub-plot and intrigue. The result is an hour and twenty minutes or so of more frothy content than perhaps we’re used to, more dancing certainly, and an easy to follow version that isn’t quite so demanding, on the audience at least.

Joanna O’Connor has set her take on the original in a hotel in Cadiz, where Faith is about to get married, and her father Leon seems to want everyone to learn salsa as part of the celebrations. Here gathered too are Bea, Faith’s cousin (played by the writer), and her verbal sparring partner, Ben. This is the relationship around which Shakespeare structured his play and in bringing this into sole focus, Joanna O’Connor risks giving us a meal of ice cream, too much of a good thing. It works though, even though some of the knockabout comedy is perhaps a little too obvious.

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But whatever you do to a Shakespeare play – set it in a refugee camp or on a mountain top – something important survives. Here, it is the central question: when we fall in love, are we just bewitched or the subject of a confidence trick? Is it something more special than a feeling that we just ought to be in love that leads us on?

The dance of course, is symbolic of order, of the social minuet in which all have their partners and their steps to perform. Making the dance a salsa rather than something more formal is adding a dash of Strictly Come Dancing into the mix. It’s nice to watch and the cast have learnt their steps and a lot of the spirit, but it makes the play half a musical, which you will either like or not.

There’s a symmetry too, in the way that the least likely couples end up as one (Bea and Ben, Leon and his new though unseen receptionist) while Faith lives to love another day.

You may not be in favour of this attempt to play Shakespeare in a Spanish holiday hotel, but it’s more thoughtful than perhaps you might think and you’ve got to love the charm and energy that the cast bring to the production.

Much Ado About Salsa
London Irish Centre
13 – 18 August
https://camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2331

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