Review: Dangerous Liaisons by Fireside Theatre

Eighteenth century France, and the rule of the Bourbons has encouraged decadent behaviour amongst its leisure moneyed class. This is a play adapted from the ultimate French novel  of seduction and intrigue, and perhaps tellingly, is performed by an all-female cast. So we have the ‘ruining’ of Cecile, just 15 years old and engaged to be married, as well as the seduction of the religious and married Madame de Torvel. All this is orchestrated by the Marquise de Merteuil , who was once in love with the seducer Valmont  and is now determined to set in train a disastrous course of events through lies, innuendo and carefully constructed ‘evidence’.

It’s a complex plot and there are a lot of twists along the way. For those familiar with the 1988 film, with its sumptuous interiors and costumes, comparisons may be invidious. Instead, we are confronted with the bleak facts of the scandal in scenes that are often quite spare and unflinching. It is a difficult plot to convey to an audience, and it’s easy to get lost or miss a vital piece of dialogue, best perhaps to go with the flow and not to worry too much about detail.

There are a lot of good ideas here. In the opening scenes, lighting freezes the action of the characters to make each a tableau with the look of a Caravaggio painting. Cecile plays and sings to a recorded soundtrack which includes her hesitations and mistakes, which must have been tricky to organise and complex to deliver. The final scene, with Madame de Merteuil’s letters strewn about the stage makes its point perfectly.

Costumes for this all-femaile cast are simple. Waistcoats for the male characters, corseted tops for the females. Madame de Merteuil  looks suitably decadent in maroon, and so stands out from the other members of the cast who are mostly clad in varieties of beige, and are often very similar in appearance.

There aren’t a huge amount of props but that furniture does need moving, and scene changes are punctuated by the cast effecting those rearrangements. This slows down the drama, but it does give the audience (or me at least) time to think about the scene just past and to sort out its ideas on what has occurred.

The biggest problem is that the stage at the Gatehouse is large and productions can get lost if they don’t utterly dominate the space. Madame de Merteuil does this splendidly  on occasion, but I often missed that swagger necessary establish these characters in time and space.

Review by Michael Spring

Dangerous Liaisons
Fireside Theatre
10th – 15th August at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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Review: You’re Singing My Song!

Caitlin Downie and David Kettle are two singers bringing their passion for performance to the stage with the help of a hard-working piano player. She is disappointed in not (so far) being able to find her soulmate. He has spent a career singing love songs to women, when he would much rather have been singing to a man. So, we get brief glimpses of personal lives in amongst songs that mean a lot to them in personal terms and which also have (in many instances) sustained the West End stage.

Her voice (I’m not expert here, so bear with me) seems a little more operatic. His is more attuned to the performance musical, but there can be no doubt that both are well able to hit notes. In these intimate surroundings, there really is nowhere to hide and no orchestra to paper over any flaws.
Intimate surroundings they certainly are, and the atmosphere at the Canal Cafe during this performance is like an old-fashioned night club. All that was lacking was a gangland boss with a bottle of whisky.
So what do they perform? Rather disconcertingly, Caitlin Downie starts with ‘I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today’ in an unashamed, and successful bid for our attention. Thereafter, they cover a wide expanse of musical territory, from an excerpt from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ to Joy Division’s classic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart Again’. It’s a sort of Desert Island songs with favourites from the shows, some classic and some less well known perhaps but equally well delivered. So we have ‘I Will Survive’ alongside ‘I’m Still Here’ by Stephen Sondheim from Follies.
In an era of pandemics and political rifts, this is an evening when we can focus on the personal, on life and love in song, and as such it is both uplifting and healing. It’s also a show for all the family, charming and foot-tapping – especially in that ‘Enough is Enough’ encore – and it’s lovely to be so close to some excellent live performers.

Review by Michael Spring

You’re Singing My Song!
Songbook Productions
9th – 11th August at the Canal Cafe Theatre

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Review: If You Find This

If You Find This is a dramatised monologue with music. The live keyboard accompaniment – much classier than the sort of thing that used to be played alongside silent films – really does add depth and enhances the tempo of Luci MacNair’s words. She has written the piece and plays Maggie, a carer whose long defeated ambition was to become a musician.

Maggie is underpaid and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by a questions of belonging, of just feeling secure. Is she more than just one of the eight billion humans who inhabit the earth? What connection does she have with any of them? Will she ever be loved and wanted by any of them? These questions emerge as Maggie, used and abused, vulnerable and yet committed, ‘gets knocked down and then gets up again,’ and form the texture of the drama.

There’s a sense, early on, that Maggie lacks something. She is rudderless in an ocean of sharks, and her family is seemingly not mindful of a need for her to be either defended or supported. So she is continually preyed upon, pieces taken from her self-esteem at every turn. She is routinely abused by her uncle, groomed and taken advantage of by her therapist, and while she tries to help those in need, she finds there only sadness.

Her one love is Henry, a child who is much operated on and calls her Mimi. She sees love between the ancient McGowens a married couple one of whom cannot live without the other. She has friendship adventures with a tumour-inflicted lady, but all end hopelessly.

If that makes this drama seem quite bleak, I suppose cumulatively it is, but the effect of the music (twice Maggie and her accompanist strikingly add their soulful music to the unflinching tale) is to lighten and enliven the mood, even if everything we fear about Maggie mostly happens.

In the end, we are left with that generic question to which there is no answer: ‘Who takes care of the carers?’ On a more individual level, we have to question whether we deserve the commitment of anyone like Maggie, who cares when no one else will.
The play lasts about 60 minutes and the music is very good.

Review by Michael Spring

IF You Find This by Luci McNair
4th – 8th August 2021 at Etcetera Theatre

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REVIEW: Banged Up Abroad at Canal Cafe

One of the best ways to visit Camden Fringe is not even to try finding out what to expect. What, after all, could you expect from a show titled ‘Banged Up Abroad’? A withering investigation of foreign jail conditions? Tribulations of pregnancy in a hot climate? Fortunately, Banged Up Abroad (which featured two nights at the Canal Cafe, with two nights at the Hen and Chickens yet to come at the end of August) is neither of those. Instead, it’s three comedians all born abroad, each taking a turn in front of the microphone.

So they all offer a view of us Brits and our curious ways, most disconcertingly, perhaps in Runi Talwar’s tale of an unknown Asian man playing his music way too loud on a bus. Who do all the other passengers expect to intervene? And of course it’s a non-verbal thing too, so as typical as roses in a front garden.

The three individuals here are Hannah Brissenden (from Australia), Runi Talwar (from New Zealand, out of India) and Kiran Saggu (American, but also with that Asian heritage).

Hannah Brissenden opens the show. She is a yoga teacher and vegan, resident in the UK for a while, so her targets tend to be yoga-loving, vegetarian millennials, and particularly ex-boyfriends. Runi Talwar follows, investigating some odd moments of racial stereotyping around the globe, including being called ‘Slumdog’ in New York by an African American. As he points out, racism isn’t always straightforward.

In introducing the show, Hannah Brissenden has pointed out that this is a ‘work in progress’ but apart from one or two consultations of notes and the odd pause, you wouldn’t really know.

The last of the three is Kiran Saggu (be careful how you pronounce it), a feisty woman from Indiana, a state with a notoriously reactionary heritage, though  that’s not something you could accuse her of. Ex-boyfriend Nathan (he who took her virginity) seems to be in the audience, though he escapes relatively unscathed from her verbal assaults.

If you like your comedy tinged with an unresolved attitude to race, sex and eating habits, this show may well be for you, and while it was not always the kind of thing that prompted outrageous laughter, there were lots of smiles and it will become tighter as the performers find their well-travelled feet.

Review by Michael Spring

Banged Up Abroad
Runi Talwar, Hannah Brissenden, Kiran Saggu
3 August 2021 at Canal Cafe Theatre
28-29 August 2021 at Hen and Chickens Theatre

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Review: Sezar Alkassab – Telling Stories at Camden Comedy Club

Sezar Alkassab is a Glaswegian comedian, whose family are from Iraq. His new show Telling Stories explores his heritage, managing cultural differences, misconceptions, gender politics and more in an hour of comedy that felt impressively assured for an up and coming comedian.

Despite treading some controversial and arguably worn ground, i.e. the difference between men and women on a night out, Alkassab’s warmth lends this a friendliness and self-deprecating charm that allows him to pull it off. He even expertly compares his Muslim background to a Catholic school he grew up in, comparing Jesus and Mohammed and the inconsistencies in both religions with such insight and respect that it never felt controversial, only funny.


Self-deprecating humour is where Alkassab shines, with a particular highlight his comparison of his lack of conversation skills to the opening of a Jay-Z song. Whenever this veered into lad humour, something he criticises himself in the show, it inspired a few eye-rolls and felt weak in comparison to his other material.

He worked the crowd with a confidence and openness that made him immediately likeable and refreshingly positive, inspiring belly laughs from everyone throughout. An exceptionally talented comedian with a no doubt bright future in comedy.

Review by Natalie Beech

Sezar Alkassab: Telling Stories
9.30pm 14-15, 21-23 August at Camden Comedy Club

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Review: Truth After Murder at Etcetera Theatre

This is a play that intends to include the audience in a mystery, one inspired by ancient stories, that of the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, the mother of our main characters: Orestes (Riccardo Carollo) and Electra (Mariana Elicetche). As the twins process the death of their father, each struggling with the loss. Through the framing device of Orestes’ book about murder we follow the story of the twins’ revenge.


Given the dramatic nature of the story they portray, it requires much commitment from Carollo and Elicetche to provide us with an insight into the classical tale. The actors put effort into their characters and are passionately invested in the performance.

In line with the intensity of the drama, the directing choice of Arif Alfaraz, uses audience members as characters in a scene that the actors directly look at (by this I mean, one sided conversation between yourself and the actor). Although the reasoning is understandable, this choice can be a bit too intense at times and can be a little intimating to some theatre goers.

It is easy to forget that the play is set in the near future, 2099, and I wonder why that year was chosen when it could easily have been present day without affecting the story.

Truth After Murder is a bit of a whirlwind experience and can be somewhat overwhelming at times. This production would benefit from having additional support in direction and sound design.

By Vicky Olusanya

Truth After Murder
To be creatives
2.30pm 21-25 August at Etcetera Theatre

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Review: The Art of Caring at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

It is always a challenge to keep the audience engaged in a hot theatre in August but The Art of Caring keeps us not only engaged but heavily invested in the outstanding performance of Encee Cripps as Gem, a care worker for the elderly. The hilarious and thought provoking piece co-written by Cripps and director Sam Cartwright, follows the day to day work of Gem as she visits her clients, each with their own tale to tell.
The direction of this one-person show is highly skilled, with a great use of sound and lighting to aid Cripps’ storytelling. Cripps also brings to life each client, which is done brilliantly and with such care and humour that inspires vivid imaginings of what each person is like. This makes it matter all the more when there are big changes or tragedies for these individuals.

The Art of Caring handles elderly loneliness and the difficulties of the care system for vulnerable adults which much care and kindness. I feel this is a show that could be for a younger audience to highlight to them how important our older generations are and how much even a visit can help the elderly. I’m unsure of what the future is for this show, but I think it could do well to partner with a charity and inspire people to think about those relatives in homes that need our support.

This is a strongly recommended show with great heart and lots of laughs.

Review by Vicky Olusanya

The Art of Caring
Lil Bit of Theatre
23-24 August at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

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Review: FORM at Camden People’s Theatre

Form is a wordless hour in the presence of three exuberant theatre makers and a lot of paper. Expect an atmosphere that blends M. Hulot’s Holiday with The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, and then has a set of wonderful additional surprises.

Am I describing this with any clarity? Probably not, but this exceptional production defies categorisation and certainly taxes my ability to describe it. It is, at its heart I suppose, mime. But mime played with a deftness of touch that relies on the three principals being aware of each other and in close proximity, so that every gesture feeds off another and brings another scenario to wonderfully funny life. It’s like watching a set of greetings cards evolving, one into another.


There’s that soundtrack, throbbing or swirling in the background, that helps keep us aware of the pace of the action. There’s the company’s use of their scant repertoire of props – boxes and screwed up balls of paper mostly, although they have to resort to a sheet of plastic for the sea– that keeps us guessing about what wonders might unfold next, but mostly there’s just the three actors, wonderfully close, wonderfully precise and with an enthusiasm and energy that makes everything magical.

Quite how they take us through a morning of drudgery in an office, through open heart surgery to shipwrecks and storms and survival at sea is a minor miracle of collaboration, physicality and released imagination.

Did I mention that it’s also hilarious? It is. So much so that the audience wanted to give it more than a standing ovation at its triumphant close.

Review by Michael Spring

Rendered Retina
19 – 21 August at Camden People’s Theatre

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Review: The Reduced Literature Degree at Camden Comedy Club

Shirley Halse is our professor for the evening, among the dreaming spires of Camden Comedy Club. Her course takes us from the bewildering spelling and pronunciation of Old English (who’d have thought learning about English literature would start with a foreign language?) right up to the moderns. Time being what it is, you’ll only get specially selected samples of writers from each era, and of course, up to Jane Austen, there are few women writers about, or at least, few that we’ve ever heard of.

We all get a chance to read some of that early poetry though, and to explore its striking similarity to today’s adolescent laments that feature all too often on twitter or facebook. In fact, there seem to be quite a lot of adolescent laments throughout this English course, from Keats to Larkin. But the really good thing about this hour is that while our guide to English literature is very happy to point out the absurdities, she’s also very evidently become an enthusiast, and perhaps it’s that simple fact that makes this zoom through the English classics so entertaining.


In fact, anyone actually doing an English degree might find this dash through literature an enlightening way to think about writers that perhaps we have a little too much respect for. Dickens was after all, paid by the word, and that is largely why most of his books are like doorstops. Jane Austen certainly had her waspish side. And why don’t women writers get more of a break? Even George Eliot had to call herself by a man’s name to get respect, and don’t even mention the Brontes!

There are some bits of audience participation, some games, and lots of visual aids but it’s all quite gentle fun, and by the end you do feel quite oddly as though you’ve learnt something, as well as having had a smile or two at Dryden’s razor sharp invective or Sir Philip Sidney’s endlessly embroidered sonnets. And it’s not often that you leave a comedy show with a degree, even a reduced one.

Review by Michael Spring.

The Reduced Literature Degree
Shirley Halse
18 – 19 August at Camden Comedy Club

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Review: Love & Tigers at the Hen and Chickens

Love & Tigers is Louis Hill’s debut play, a one-man show exploring a young man’s grief over the death of his sister. The play covers difficult relationships with an absent father, his difficulty dealing with his mother’s grief and a revelation that places his protagonist a little closer to the tragedy than he initially makes out.
This is an impressive debut, with Hill’s performance engaging and funny throughout. The play succeeded when it held back, when Hill avoided digression rather than drove toward it. We squirmed with him as his character tries to explain his vengeful and sometimes volatile feelings towards a teenage girl who hurt him and how this impacted his little sister, in a timely exploration of the complexity of male / female relationships and masculinity.
However, the play often veered into sentimentality, with long and lengthy descriptions of affection for his sister and mother that became repetitive and seemed somewhat unconvincingly angelic for a teenage boy. This felt like an attempt to justify the character’s darker side, to make him more likeable, when in fact his darkness was the most compelling thing about this play.
Despite this, this is an excellent first play with Hill a very talented performer, without doubt one to watch.
Review by Natalie Beech
Love & Tigers
15-17 August at the Hen & Chickens
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