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Listings and reviews (37)

Heart

Heart

Jade Anouka’s autobiographical play ‘Heart’ begins as a perfect love story. She’s 24, wedding bells are ringing and she’s found her soulmate. ‘All the boxes have been ticked,’ she says. But spoiler alert: this is not the dream romance. Soon, the fantasy curdles and by 28, she’s divorced, sofa surfing and trying to write the next chapter of her life as she realises she’s bisexual. But, while her play is braided with sincerity and heartache, it’s rocky as a finished theatrical package. It soon becomes obvious that the story is secondary to the form. Accompanist Grace Savage – who (another spoiler) we eventually learn is Anouka’s now wife – provides a near-constant beatbox and electro-inspired soundtrack. Anouka speaks in rhyme over the top, and while some of her poetry is marvellous, other parts are deeply forgettable. There is plenty of tired imagery too. Depression is described as a ‘beast’ that emerges from the shadows and eats away at life’s joy – it might be a strong visual painting but it is unoriginal. Often the two performers look out of balance with one another: the focus is on the play’s sound; we need a richer narrative. Anouka’s performance is electrifyingly raw. But this disjointed hybrid doesn’t feel like the right form for her story.

Kim’s Convenience

Kim’s Convenience

3 out of 5 stars

You might have heard of ‘Kim’s Convenience’ as a Netflix sitcom. But, before the five-season run of the show about a Korean Canadian family who run a convenience store, there was Ins Choi’s original stage drama, which took the Toronto Fringe by storm when it premiered there in 2011. Now at the Park Theatre for its European premiere with Choi himself starring as shop owner Appa, it is produced with a glossy, if slightly odd cinematic quality, almost as if were made to be performed to a laughing live studio audience. Partly this is down to Mona Camille’s forensic corner shop set design, which stacks the shelves of the eponymous shop with ramen packets, Korean crisps and containers of kimchi. Drink fridges glow with a luminescent buzz and the walls are accessorised with phone sim posters and brand advert stickers: it is such a graphic replica you almost feel like you could wander in and buy something. The shop is the beating heart of Choi’s family comedy which offers a slice of a life of generational conflict between a father and his two children, as well as issues surrounding the immigrant experience and subtle cultural clashes. More than simply being a means to make money, the store is a base that roots this family into its community. Both of Appa’s grown-up children – Janet (Jennifer Kim) and Jung (Brioan Law) – worked there during their youths, spending summers pricing snacks and covering shifts for their parents. As adults though, it is a push-and-pull struggle to find thei

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs

4 out of 5 stars

If you fancy some fantasy this Christmas, then Sophie Anderson’s much-loved YA novel ‘The House with Chicken Legs’ has been given exhilarating new life in Les Enfants Terribles’ production. A medley of grotesque, weird and wonderful twists and turns, the story which follows a young girl who lives in a house with chicken legs with her magical grandmother enchantingly jumps out from the pages and onto the stage. Co-directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager and adapted by Lansley, it is based on the Baba Yaga myth of Slavic folklore, and is made with all the quintessential witchery of Les Enfants”’ previous shows. The fantastical elements are rich and mystical – there are delightful puppets and a set designed by Jasmine Swan that looks like something from another world. And yet, while the sense of mythology is ever present, it is ultimately a deeper meditation on death and loss for all ages. Lansley’s adaptation takes a while to cast its spell, but once the narrative starts rolling, it is hard not to be charmed. Twelve-year-old Marinka (Eve de Leon Allen) is desperate for a friend, human connection and a normal life, but has the responsibility of inheriting the family business of leading the dead through a gateway onto the next realm. She meets a young girl who may or may not be dead called Nina (Elouise Warboys) and they play together at the seaside. But although initially enticing, their time together proves to be dangerous, and leads to Marinka’s grandmother sacrificing her

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

3 out of 5 stars

If Neverland is supposed to be a place of wonder and fairy dust, then this production of ‘Peter Pan’ does a stellar job at bringing its twinkling spirit to the stage. Through the direction of Lucy Morrell, it is a collage of imagination, spun together with the most delightful puppets, weaving bedtime stories and a dash of enchantment. Of course, you know the plot. Adapted by Evan Placey, this version cleaves close to JM Barrie’s beloved original. A boy flies in through the window of a London home and befriends 14-year-old Wendy who, after an argument, has decided she despises her mother. So, with her two younger brothers in tow, they decide to take to the skies and head to Neverland - where parents are not around to bother them and growing up is impossible. Here, our Peter Pan is played with giddy mischievousness by Kaine Ruddach: he giggles with the lost boys, unaffected by real-life worries – even the possibility of a battle with the evil pirate Hook seems somewhat comical. And yet, this childlikeness makes him all the more endearing: it’s hard not to match his perma-grin that stretches from ear to ear. Though Ruddach is a bewitching Peter Pan, there is no doubt that it is the Rose Youth Theatre Company that have this production’s heart, serving fun, games and entertainment in bucketful. Wearing patchwork costumes designed by Oli Townsend, the Lost Boys band together in movement- their dances are as good as any on the West End and there is not one cast member who lets the t

Dreaming and Drowning

Dreaming and Drowning

5 out of 5 stars

‘I hope I’m making a good impression,’ says Tienne Simon as English literature first-year student Malachi – the subject of Kwame Owusu’s arresting, songlike monologue ‘Dreaming and Drowning’. But, he need not worry. In a mere 60 minutes, both he and Owusu have cemented themselves as some of the best, freshest and most agile talents of the year.  It is a story of mental health, hope and the joy of finding your people that begins on Malachi’s first night at Bristol University. With all the jitters and excitement that come with a new start, he bounds into his grey box room, ready to study his favourite Black fantasy authors and find ‘his people’. But below his cheery exterior, internal demons rise. Dark cracks of anxiety start to break through into seminar rooms. An oceanic, mythical beast dominates his thoughts. The horrors Malachi has read about in books mutate into tangible, earthly fears. Holly Khan’s sound design transforms hums into endless thumping – there’s the sense that something is trying to break Malachi apart. He’s dreaming. He’s drowning. He’s scrambling to stay afloat. Owusu’s script fluidly moves between reality and nightmare – he is a writer so dexterous we never feel jolted. As he journeys across campus, through friendship groups and sticky-floored, ‘Mr Brightside’-blasting clubs, Malachi works hard to fit in and find a place he can comfortably call home. It is a lesson in self-discovery: encounters with racist fellow students who love the sound of their own v

Aladdin

Aladdin

4 out of 5 stars

When Clive Rowe’s oh-so-wonderful dame cruises onto the Hackney Empire stage on a Lime bike, it’s time to give in and accept that Christmas has started in London. Dressed to the nines in a candy floss pink, fully functioning handbag gown (one of many divine costumes by Cleo Pettitt that would look as good on the likes of Lady Gaga as they do a panto lead), he returns to the theatre he’s called his festive home for most of the last 16 years.  And as ever, we couldn’t be more pleased to see him. As Widow Twankey, he gets a hero’s welcome: Rowe is the undoubted Queen of the Panto Dames, after all. ‘Cooey,’ he shouts and we repeat, enthusiastically. Many of the audience are full-blown fans of Rowe’s signature tricks and catchphrases: here's a group in the row in front of me who are on their tenth annual visit. But luckily for us, it seems there is no place that Rowe – who also directs – would rather be. He is the heart and soul of this ‘Aladdin’, which feels very much like a traditional panto – albeit devoid of any of the racial stereotypes that still seem to dog some regional productions of this story. Since its veteran writer-director Susie McKenna left in 2019, the Empire’s Christmas offering has become a considerably less political night out. And though it could get a few more laughs by adding a few more topical jokes, it still glows with timeless glee.  Outside of panto season Rowe is a musical theatre star, and the songs here – which include pop favourites ranging from Doll

The Flea

The Flea

4 out of 5 stars

Can something as minuscule as a flea really change the course of one family’s history? Well, according to James Fritz’s new dramatisation of the 1889 investigation into thefts at the London Telegraph Offices… maybe. The sequence of events is ignited when 15-year-old Charlie is left desperate for money. His father was clobbered in the head by a pantomime horse spooked by a flea-bitten rat and left for dead (NB yes, a pantomime horse, no that bit didn't really happen). With Jack the Ripper’s memory fresh in her head, Charlie’s mother lives in fear of being thrown out onto the streets. But no worry is needed, little Charlie is here to save the day. For a while, that is. Fritz’s satire is a tragedy waiting to explode. Charlie (played with doe-eyed innocence by Séamus McClean Ross) starts to bring home the pennies after being convinced to work for a male brothel. His mother asks no questions, she’s just happy to have the means to survive. But soon, an inquiry starts to swirl involving the King-to-be, a maggot and a treasure trove of secrets after Charlie is found with 14 shillings in his work locker. Arrested and questioned, Charlie reveals how he’s really been sourcing his funds. Fritz - certainly one the most boundary-pushing playwrights of today, then contorts his script into the most satisfying of whodunits. Suspects are introduced in a jolty dance sequence, accompanied by mugshots. Spotlights are used to enhance the presence of new clues. It is down to the famed detective (a

Boy Parts

Boy Parts

3 out of 5 stars

If you’re active on TikTok, you’ll have seen people raving about the 2020 book ‘Boy Parts’ by Eliza Clark. The art world-inspired comic thriller has sold more than 30,000 copies in the UK alone. Now, the dark page-turner about kinky fetish photographer Irina has hit the stage. Adapted by Gillian Greer as a one-woman show starring Aimee Kelly, it is guaranteed to attract the BookTok audience. But if you come hoping for fresh insight into the story, you might leave somewhat unfulfilled. The shadowy world of Clark’s buzzy suspense novel is built in Sara Joyce’s corrosive production. On a black screen, cinema titles start to roll, accompanied by stylised photographs of bloodshot eyes: what we’re about to see is a true story, the words under the footage promise, and everything is cast, directed and created by Irina Sturges. We’re here to watch her feature film, which has been moulded by an artfully placed lens. Irina has been obsessed with cameras for as long as she can remember. But, post art school she’s moved out of London and into a flat in Newcastle with her school friend, Flo, who she describes as the ‘social equivalent of herpes’. Her days are spent working in a dead-end bar job, but soon an email lands in her inbox inviting her to produce a photography exhibition at the trendy and respected London venue, Hackney Space. Her pictures are exploitative, fleshy and gruesome. But Clark’s story turns the artist stereotype and male gaze on its head. Instead of focusing on the fema

The Confessions

The Confessions

4 out of 5 stars

At the start of Alexander Zeldin’s new play Alice, an elderly woman played by Amelda Brown, reflects on her unremarkable life. ‘I am not interesting. I have nothing of interest to tell,’ she says. What follows is two hours of recollection that span eight decades and multiple countries. They are ordinary memories from a life of relative unimportance. But dreary? Never. Written with staggering hyper-realness and dialogue that sounds acutely instinctive, ‘The Confessions’ stretches out to delicately mark the capacity for cruelty, selfishness and determination we all have as human beings.  ‘The Confessions’ follows writer and director Zeldin’s Inequalities trilogy which explored the damning effects of austerity in Britain. His new production, which had its premiere at Vienna’s Festwochen in June this year, is just as unflinching, heartfelt and worthwhile. Based on conversations Zeldin had with his mother during lockdown, his play tells the story of a woman who came of age during Australia’s repressive post-war years, and tracks her gradual growth in strength and move to start a family in England. From an initial 2021 setting, we’re transported back to Alice’s youth. A thick red velvet curtain is pulled back to reveal her younger self – remarkably embodied by Eryn Jean Norvill at first with shaky apprehension and then with stoicism. After failing her exams, Alice is convinced by her parents to marry Graham, a naval officer. But really, she wants to immerse herself in art and acad

The Little Big Things

The Little Big Things

4 out of 5 stars

‘It’s a terrible idea for a show’ says the actor playing Henry Fraser in the early moments of new musical ‘The Big Little Things’.  But don’t believe him. This story, based on the memoir of the same name written by the real-life Henry Fraser about the 2009 holiday accident that changed his life forever and left him paralysed from the neck down tingles with tenderness, defiance and spirit. The show, adapted by Joe White, tracks Henry’s life from a carefree, rugby-obsessed 17-year-old through the traumas of his sudden disability, up to the beginnings of his successful career as a painter. Each chapter is rich with surprise as well as sadness and new adventure. Centred around a conversation between Henry pre-accident (Jonny Amies) and post-accident (Ed Larkin), the show relays his battle to come to terms with his new life and let go of the one that came before. Both Henrys give performances mighty enough to tear your soul. Amies has a voice so ripe, it makes any song he sings sound effortless. Together they are two halves of one whole – much of the musical’s humour comes from the moments when they jointly chorus about their teenage crush or cringe at the other’s behaviour. The supporting cast is perfectly pitched too. Henry’s Dad is played so exquisitely by Alasdair Harvey, with all the pent-up feeling of a man unable to properly express himself, that my eyes begin to water nearly every time he opens his mouth. The punch of this heart-soaring production is that it clings onto th

The Foreigners’ Panto

The Foreigners’ Panto

Panto season has come early at new Elephant & Castle venue Bold Theatre. But, Christmas lovers be warned: this not-so-traditional mix-up of some of the genre’s classics does little to get you feeling festive. ‘The Foreigners’ Panto’ is in fact only styled to look like a pantomime: behind all the cardboard sets, surface-level cheer and sing-song is a satire about the horrors of Britain’s current immigration system. If it doesn’t sound very merry, that’s because it isn’t. A company of ‘foreigners’ have decided to put on a show to honour the ‘great, great, country’ of Great Britain. So here we are at a performance of their pantomime which follows heroine Zara (a slightly demented Aliyah Roberts) and her immigrant family as they fight to stay in the totally fictional city of ‘Londom’. Along the way, she has the expected love story with the son of the evil mayor, Lord Villain, and a brawl with a giant (aptly named Giant Bureaucracy - given the theme).  But even with all the welcome jabs at the Home Office, and the cast’s promise that their performance will make us ‘fall in love with panto’, Shani Ezrez’s script is overwhelmingly unfunny, awkward and unrehearsed.  Emotion should come when one actor (Ailyah Roberts) receives a deportation letter. Yet, the shouts and wails that follow seem babyish and withdrawn. It is frustrating because you want to get behind it. But poorly sung numbers come from nowhere. The acting is over the top and cringeworthy. Some of Dame Foreign's lines abo

Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing

4 out of 5 stars

Thirty years since its premiere, there’s a timeless power to Jonathan Harvey’s seminal queer love story. Set on a south London council estate, ‘Beautiful Thing’ tracks the awkward teenage romance of neighbours Ste and Jamie as they begin to explore their sexuality for the first time. The soul-searching, open conversations that their fizzing new connection brings sting as much today as ever.  Aspects of Harvey’s script do now feel like a beguiling relic of the ’90s. It was written at a time when the age of consent was 21 for gay men, Section 28 had yet to be repealed, and Aids was a threat that loomed large in people’s minds. Fear and secrecy is key to the central relationship. But Harvey’s words celebrate gay love in all its glory and the fact that the play is now something of a period piece does little to erode it. Harvey’s script, which balances pain and hope in just the right measure, is powered by an ever-present angst. Although they never say it, Ste and Jamie worry that their futures might already be in the gutter.   In Anthony Simpson-Pike’s anniversary production, the fear of violence is always there, crackling, but so is the excitement of early flirtation. Between scenes, the actors dance under Elliot Griggs’s pink lighting hues, and there is a nervous fire to Jamie and Ste’s interactions. Historically the play has attracted some big-name talent ranging from the likes of Jonathan Bailey, Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans and Jonny Lee Miller. But Simpson-Pike has moved ‘B