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Posts Tagged ‘bush theatre’

It’s title is a term for an artist’s treatment of light and shade and it’s a 1986 play by the current Scottish poet laureate Jackie Kay about four women of colour and their search for identity. The Bush Theatre’s new artistic director Lynette Linton has turned it into a piece of gig theatre, with music by Shiloe Coke, who also plays Beth.

The four women are recording songs in a studio. Aisha is the singer and her heritage is Punjabi, the other three play guitar, keyboards and drums between them. Beth is gay and her family are from the Caribbean, Yomi is a single mum and her family are Nigerian and Opal is mixed race and coming to terms with her sexuality. Between songs they tell their individual stories using a significant object from their lives as a starting point, even a talisman. They form relationships and friendships, but there’s also tension.

I really liked Shiloe Coke’s songs and she played Beth beautifully, with superb timing and great passion. Preeya Kalidas’s Aisha also acts as a narrator or anchor and she sings the songs very well. Gloria Onitiri plays the spiky, brittle Yomi with just the right amount of edge and when she reveals her homophobia as Beth & Opal’s relationship develops it shocks. Anoushka Lucas’ performance as Opal makes you feel that she has the longest and most transformative journey. Fine performances all round.

I did feel the narrative lacked depth, of both characterisation and story, but it’s difficult to do that in 85 minutes including songs. Instead, It leaves you with thoughts and impressions and an idea of the roads to be travelled to uncover and establish identity.

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I missed this at the Bush Theatre last year, so I was pleased the NT picked it up. By the time it finished, pleased became delighted. It’s a play which tackles serious issues with great warmth, delicacy and humour. I loved it.

Kelly is a feisty, funny twenty-something with Down syndrome living with her mum Agnes in Skegness and working for a charity. She has a high degree of independence, but Agnes is very protective. They are very close, but the relationship is tested when Kelly strikes up a friendship with Neil, who works in an amusement arcade. This friendship becomes a relationship which Agnes tries hard to break up, including finding Dominic from Scunthorpe on the internet, a boy with asperger’s, to date Kelly, which makes Kelly even more entrenched.

Agnes finds it hard to believe that Neil is genuinely in love, fearing exploitation. The relationship continues, though the course becomes rockier, for reasons it would be a spoiler to disclose, and they separate at one point. Neil and Kelly are subjected to disbelief, discrimination and abuse by some they meet. Dominic becomes a wise confidante of both Agnes and Kelly. 

It sensitively covers issues around disability, particularly reconciling the genuine wish and need to protect with the appropriate degree of independence and freedom, but it does so with such humour it is at the same time truly entertaining, without losing any of its impact. It’s beautifully written by Ben Weatherill, who has a real talent for sharp and witty dialogue that often surprises.

Sarah Gordy is captivating as Kelly, clearly relishing and identifying with her gutsy, sharp-tongued character. In an appropriately restrained performance, Sion Daniel Young brings an authenticity to this loving relationship, investing his character with gentleness, sensitivity and empathy. Penny Layden captures both the love and protectiveness of Agnes, bringing a seriousness that balances the humour of other characters. Nicky Priest is delightful as Dominic, delivering some of the funniest lines to perfection with deadpan delivery, the whole audience falling for his charm.

It’s a tonic to see such a heart-warming, hopeful show, informing and entertaining in equal measure. A real treat.

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This is a fine example of that rare species, the blue-collar play. Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning work does more to help you understand recent events in the US than any number of newspaper articles or TV documentaries, and it does so by focusing on the lives of just eight people in the industrial town of Reading PA.

Most of the scenes are set in Mike’s Bar in 2000 when America is going through things not unlike 80’s Britain. The NAFTA deal is seeing production move to Mexico, union power is waning, leading to much less generous contracts, which if declined result in cheaper temps, mostly hispanic, being hired. People are losing jobs and homes and addiction levels rise.

Three friends who work together on the shop floor of a local factory meet in the bar after work and on each other’s birthdays. Stan the barman used to work with them until he was injured. His Puerto Rican assistant Oscar aspires to a job there. African American Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie has been on strike at another plant for a long time. She aspires to promotion and her son Chris, also in the plant, to escape through education. Widow Tracey and her son Jason and singleton Jessie are her friends and colleagues. Cynthia gets her promotion which gives her insight into the company’s plans. When all of their worlds begin to crumble, they turn on one another as well as the perpetrators of their plight, racism rears its ugly head, relationships disintegrate and tragedy ensues. Three scenes take us forward eight years to see how things work out. The ending packs a real emotional punch.

It’s a superbly written play, really well structured. The bar is towered over by an impressionistic factory in Frankie Bradshaw’s excellent design. The performances are as authentic as the writing, an absolutely stunning ensemble, with Martha Plimpton making a very welcome visit to these shores. It’s great to see Lynette Linton, a director the Donmar (and other theatres) have nurtured, get such a high profile gig, and she really rises to the occasion with a faultless staging, a great omen for her forthcoming role as Bush Theatre AD.

If you’re puzzled why people voted Trump or Brexit, this thoroughly researched, objective play will help you understand without lecturing, hectoring or preaching. It’s one of my three best new plays of 2018 (though I cheated a bit because it was my first of 2019). Go!

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Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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Gig theatre was one of the features of the Edinburgh fringe this year. I went to two, but missed this much lauded show now at the Bush Theatre.

Hull based Middle Child’s story spans thirty years from the birth of Leah and Chris on the same day in 1987, Thatchers Britain, shooting forward ten years to Cool Britannia, when they have both lost one parent, for very different reasons, and it looks possible the remaining parents might get together. Ten years later in Broken Britain they are at work or university, with the parents still alone. We meet them finally in 2017, Brexit Britain, one married with a child and the other turning into a bit of a bitch, under the influence of her former school bully, both struggling in their relationship with their respective parent. Oh, and there’s an asteroid.

The gig bit consists of songs as commentary, their style reflecting the periods, played by composer James Frewer and the cast members at each corner of the playing area, with the audience on four sides. It was well performed, with a particularly charismatic performance from Matt Graham as the MC, but it was let down by poor, muddy sound and a weak, rather pompous ending. Before that it had been an enjoyable 75 minutes, but didn’t quite live up to expectations.

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This new play has an epic sweep, crossing three continents and more than sixty years to tell the story of a young Indian couple’s journey via Kenya to the UK through the changes in all three countries. I was enthralled.

It starts in Ahmedabad in 1954 as teenager Jyoti chooses between five suitors, deciding on Kenyan Asian twenty-something Rasik. It’s a year before she joins him in Kenya to begin their life together, where they become farmers and befriend and employ David, but it isn’t long before they leave the country amid the turmoil of the Mau Mau uprising. Their destination is the UK and there we see them in the late 60’s and 70’s making a life for themselves, Rasik training as a surveyor and Jyoti becoming a union activist fighting exploitation of Asian women, both on the receiving end of racist abuse, bringing up two girls and buying a home. The play ends as we flash forward to the present day, looking back at their adventure, new facts revealed.

It’s beautifully written, very mature and assured for a young playwright, particularly well structured. Madani Younis’ production is set on a square stage with the audience facing each other on two sides and screens on the other two. With very few props, locations are conjured up by what covers the floor, with the impressionistic projections adding atmosphere. The simplicity of the design allows the story to shine unencumbered, both the personal tale of the couple and the political and societal changes in all three countries.

Anjana Vasan is excellent as the assertive, feisty and independent Jyoti, as is Shubham Saraf as the loving but much put upon Rasik. In Kenya, Martins Imhangbe creates an imposing presence as David and in the UK, daughter Sonal is played with cheeky youthfulness, very much her mother’s daughter, by Aysha Kala, who doubles up as Jyoti’s niece back in India. When we move to the present day, Nika Aalia and Selva Rasalingham take over as the older Joyti and Rasik. A fine ensemble.

A candidate for the year’s best new play, I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from playwright Vinay Patel.

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This Bush Theatre transfer is a real breath of fresh air for the West End. Arinze Kene’s play is an extraordinary concoction of drama, performance poetry, rap and music, staged brilliantly, with a virtuoso performance from the playwright himself. I found it thrilling.

Misty tracks black Londoner Lucas as he navigates the city, starting with an altercation on the night bus, struggling with the changes to, and gentrification of, his city. It also tells the story of the playwright, developing his work with advice and interference from the producer, his agent and friends. Both are interwoven in a series of inventive short scenes, many with music, with the two musicians, the stage manager and a young girl providing brief characterisations of others. It’s structure confounds you as its originality pleases you.

Rajha Shakiry’s simple stylised design relies on Daniel Denton’s terrific projections and shadows to create evocative stage images beautifully lit by Jackie Shemesh. Omar Elerian’s staging is masterly, creative and unpredictable. The music, played live by Shiloh Coke and Adrain McLeod, seems an organic part of the story, and Elena Penoa’s sound made it exciting but fully audible. Arizne Kane has bucketloads of charisma and presence and his performance is stunning. All of the components come together to produce a truly captivating evening, with the audience erupting at the end.

I knew of Kene’s talent as an actor from One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, but I had no idea that he had such an original writing voice too. Unmissable.

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