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Posts Tagged ‘Che Walker’

I’ve had mixed experiences with playwright Che Walker’s earlier work, but I was positive about The Frontline and Klook’s Last Stand and this features Sheila Atim, also in Klook, who has wowed me thrice more and who has provided original music, so I booked as soon as it was announced. Though there are things to enjoy, I left the theatre somewhat befuddled.

It moves between 2016 and 2019, before and after Blaz’s period in prison. We meet his girlfriend Havana, his friend Karl, who may have betrayed him, and Seamus, the cop who caught him, a serial womaniser who has betrayed him in a very different way. Then there’s Havana’s friend Rosa and Serena the sex worker. There’s a nod to Othello, and the main theme is revenge, but there are a lot of unanswered questions, which leaves the story with a whole load of holes. Some of the dialogue is in Spanish and the setting is meant to be the Latino barrio of LA, but I couldn’t see the connection with the programme page on the Latin American gender-neutral term Latinx.

It’s all very film noir, somewhat Chandleresque, but with contemporary sensibilities, including a sexual frankness that occasionally made even me blush. Sheila Atim’s music is more of a soundscape, and a bit of a disappointment. It has a cinematic quality, helped by a screen the width of the theatre space on which stills and seemingly live video are projected. It has an atmospheric, sensual quality to it, but it didn’t deliver on the narrative front.

The performances are outstanding. Sheila Atim is as mesmerising as ever as Rosa, as is Gabriel Akuwudike as Blaz, and there are fine performances from Benjamin Cawley, Cary Crankson, Sasha Frost, and Jessica Ledon, visiting from LA, where the show was first staged. There were too many loose ends for me, though, in a show which was obtuse for its own good.

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The Park Theatre seems to be finding its feet, and its audience. This was one of two packed shows, and two packed bars, on Saturday night. It was my first visit to the smaller theatre, Park 90, a black box space with seats on three sides. Only two actor-singers, a multi-instrumentalist and two stools, but a very original and powerful play with music.

Klook has a past, but his life takes a positive turn when he meets much younger single mum Vinette in, of all places, a Californian whole-food shop. They fall in love before our very eyes. We follow the relationship as it grows, with feelings laid bare and passion out in the open, learning about their respective pasts. The songs, by Omar (Lyefook) & Anoushka Lucas with lyrics by writer / director Che Walker, are lovely and beautifully sung with either a piano, acoustic guitar or double-base for accompaniment – all three by versatile musician Rio Kai.

There’s a great mood to the piece – film noir meets jazz in a passionate embrace – and there’s an extraordinary chemistry between Ako Mitchell and Sheila Atim. It ends tragically, and this is all the more shocking after an hour of love. It’s soulful and sexy, dramatic and dangerous, and completely original. Every component fits together brilliantly – Walker’s crackling naturalistic dialogue, songs that propel the story forward and performances that feel ever so real.

Do not miss this!

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Given the number of theatrical turkeys this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking you slept through to Christmas. This one at The Globe trumps the others in that it also qualifies as panto.

It’s based on The Bacchae, an excellent 2400 year-old Greek play, but this isn’t an excellent play; in fact, it’s a dreadful play. Playwright Che Walker has added in characters destroyed by Dionysus (The Lightning Child aka Bacchus) like Billie Holiday and a pair of London junkies. For some reason, astronaut Neil Armstrong also appears, and there’s a Jamaican ladyboy MC! It’s a real mess.

There’s completely unmemorable music by Arthur Darvill (poorly sung), tacky costumes, twerking (a new word I learnt this week!) and gratuitous f & c words that seem to be part of a strategy to shock you. Yawn. Add to this a handful of audience members who seemed to think they should join in and you have an interminably dull 80 minutes – and that’s just to the interval, by which time my inner voice was screaming ‘HOME! STIFF GIN!’

You have been warned. Don’t even think about it.

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I’m puzzled that this fine play has taken 10 years to get here. Four of playwright Rebecca Gilman’s other plays have made swifter transfers to the Royal Court and this is at least as good as them.

The play opens as a ‘massage parlour’ is raided by two cops. Their incompetence means prosecutions don’t follow, but what does is two unlikely relationships. Doug’s with Heather is all lust and Curt with Sandy more friendship, though it’s this one that is the heart of the play and the one which has most consequences. To say I was surprised how it turned out is a compliment to the writing, but I won’t spoil it.

The play benefits from the intimacy of the Finborough and Che Walker’s direction is subtle and sensitive. James Hillier and Clare Latham as Curt and Sandy, who have to carry the emotional weight of the play, are both terrific. Alexander Gulney and Samantha Coughlan, as Doug and Heather, have to make very different and more transformational journeys and do so extremely well. Kelly Burke provides fine support as Curt’s girlfriend Beth. The American accents are excellent, without benefit of the dialect coaches bigger theatres employ with nowhere near as good results – though Clare Latham is a native speaker!

This is a cleverly structured play with excellent characterisation and its beautifully performed. What more can you ask for? The Finborough on fine form again.

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