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Bella Todd

Bella Todd

Articles (2)

PJ Harvey – ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ album review

PJ Harvey – ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ album review

★★★★☆ Last winter, PJ Harvey sealed herself behind one-way glass in a room beneath Somerset House, along with her band and producer Flood. Visitors to ‘Recording in Progress’, which was billed as an art installation rather than a music event, could see and hear the two-time Mercury-winner making her ninth album. The result is ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’, which deals with bearing witness in another sense too. Over four years, Harvey and photojournalist Seamus Murphy spent time in Kosovo, Afghanistan and poor areas of Washington DC, notebook and camera in hand. What they saw furnished a volume of poetry and images, footage for music videos and a documentary, and finally these 11, frequently thrilling but more often deeply uneasy, songs. As album genesis stories go, it’s the opposite of Happy Mondays spunking the sessions for ‘Yes Please!’ in Barbados. Full points for earnestness. But the ‘writer as camera’ approach puts Harvey on dangerous ground. Her 2011 album ‘Let England Shake’ charged through centuries of war in a characteristically full-blooded act of imagination. Here she observes the current aftermath of geopolitical fuck-ups in diligently literal detail. ‘A white jawbone, syringes, razors, a plastic spoon, human hair, a kitchen knife, and the ghost of a girl who runs and hides,’ she lists on ‘The Ministry of Defence’. Harvey’s voice is extraordinary, soaring like a surface-to-air missile. But it’s telling that her muse sometimes feels a little too tethered to

Marianne Faithfull talks heroin, The Rolling Stones and ’60s London

Marianne Faithfull talks heroin, The Rolling Stones and ’60s London

Marianne Faithfull is at her hairdresser’s in Paris, and laughs magnificently down the line when I ask what she’s having done. ‘My dear, at my age, I’m having my colour done of course! I like it to shine and gleam on stage.’ This week, the singer and actress performs at the Roundhouse as part of its In the Round series. It will be an (almost) 360-degree show that exposes her 50-year back catalogue from new angles. Faithfull is a quintessential survivor of the ups and downs of British fame, from being Mick Jagger’s girlfriend and muse to going through drug abuse and homelessness – right up to being defamed by the police as harbouring a Mars bar during the famous Redlands bust of 1967. Having entered public life as rock’s sacrificial virgin, she has now, at 69, become its grande dame. She may be covering up the grey in her hair, but she’s still proud of the croak in her throat. What do you remember about your first Roundhouse appearance – as Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’ in 1968?‘It was wonderful. Anjelica Huston was my understudy. I’m afraid I threw myself a bit too much into that part. Just before the mad scene, I took smack. I didn’t need it of course, but I thought I did. I could have done the mad scene just as well without it.’ That period seems to have been intense, even by the Rolling Stones’ standards?‘It was a tough time, in some ways. In other ways… I was driven to the Roundhouse every night in Mick [Jagger]’s Bentley. One of the good things about having a jack of heroin before

Listings and reviews (18)

Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing

This review is from our original 2013 review of ‘Dirty Dancing’. It returns in 2022 for a fresh West End stint With a charm that lies somewhere between ’60s kitsch and ’80s soft-focus romance, the Patrick Swayze-starring 1987 film ‘Dirty Dancing’ remains a brilliant exercise in manipulating unseasoned female sexuality. The stage adaptation, penned by original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, ran for a record-breaking five years at the Aldywych from 2006 – mainly by sticking to the goofy lines and pelvic grinds we all knew by heart. But how many times can you replicate the rush of first love? Sarah Tipple’s touring production of the show now returns to the West End to fill the gap left by flop Spice Girls musical ‘Viva Forever!’. And though still blessed with knicker-flashing choreography (worked by Kate Champion) and a cracking soundtrack (divided between a live band, some awkwardly directed cast vocals and the original recordings), this time around it’s more a case of temporary bunk-up than transformative love affair. Scenes feel cursory and the cast’s energy is slightly end-of-season in this compact, projection-dependent staging. As the awkward teen blossoming in the hands of a renegade blue-collar dance instructor, Jill Winternitz’s Baby is knowingly cute, while Paul Michael-Jones’s fop-haired and faintly sneering Johnny looks a bit Bullingdon Club. Their initial encounters have all the sensual tension of a course of intensive driving lessons. But a great performance by Emi

The Invisible Hand

The Invisible Hand

3 out of 5 stars

This review is from 2016. ‘The Invisible Hand’ is revived, partially recast, for 2021. Imagine a Wall Street trading desk transplanted to a terrorist bunker in Pakistan. That’s the mordantly funny set-up for Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar’s new play, for which the Tricycle has scooped the UK premiere. An American investment banker has been captured by Islamic fundamentalists. They want $10million for his freedom, but the US government won’t negotiate. So, in his sweat-smirched shirt sleeves, Nick Bright makes a deal: he’ll raise his own ransom by playing the stock market from his cell. Cue a mentoring alliance even more unlikely than Walter White teaching Jesse Pinkman to cook meth. Bright (Daniel Lapaine) isn’t allowed near a computer. So he tutors his young captor Bashir (Parth Thakerar) in the dark arts of commodity futures trading. Handily for those whose economics education began and ended with ‘Enron’, this includes a sub-lesson in the play’s title: ‘the invisible hand’ is the theory that the market is guided and stabilised by the corrective interaction of everyone’s private self-interest. Go ahead, read that again. Bashir is an English Pakistani Muslim who’s given up a ‘soft’ life in Hounslow to ‘fight for something meaningful’. But his violent disdain for Western capitalist imperialism begins to blunt as he discovers the addictive power of dealing. ‘Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered’, warns Bright, quoting a Wall Street maxim about controllin

Victory Condition review

Victory Condition review

2 out of 5 stars

Well, huge props to the two actors here, at any rate. Chris Thorpe’s Royal Court debut has required Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Jonjo O’Neill to memorise two long, dense, overreaching monologues about how fucked the world is, and deliver them in bleak, unrelenting voices without any mutual interaction. In Vicky Featherstone’s production, this tense, tuneless duet is played out in the identikit sterility of an open-plan city apartment and is paused only by the arrival of a pizza delivery guy. Stick around, have a slice! you feel like begging Pizza Man. Just please God don’t leave these two alone with this script. Which is all very unfortunate and surprising. Because Thorpe is a Fringe First-winning theatrical experimenter with a talent for getting audiences to connect. His one-man show, ‘Confirmation’, was a kinetic confrontation with political extremism. ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’ involved the audience’s mobile phones and a bold risk. He’s just scripted a new take on ‘Beowulf’ for the Unicorn, staged like a rock concert. But the theme that emerges most strongly in ‘Victory Condition’ – which also tries to be about our inbuilt need to win and our deteriorating capacity to act – is disconnection. We see a man and woman return from holiday and go through the complacent choreography of privileged coupledom. As they unpack suitcases, open Amazon packages, pour wine, light candles and charge their phones, they narrate dramatic events happening simultaneously elsewhere. A military sniper

Bucket List

Bucket List

3 out of 5 stars

Arya Stark’s kill list has got nothing on this. Milagros, the young Mexican protagonist of Theatre Ad Infinitum’s acclaimed show, is out to murder the US and Mexican presidents ­– after she’s bumped off a CEO, the local mayor, and a factory owner with a penchant for cocaine-fuelled rape. All she has to do is win a high-profile international chess championship and find a golden poison dart frog, while temporarily evading the clutches of stage-four lung cancer. Recast for this touring production, ‘Bucket List’ is as ambitious as its protagonist. It begins with Clinton’s signing of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the US. We move to a street in Mexico, where children play a game of enemies and alliances in the shadow of new American factories. Mexico is being exploited, poisoned, raped. But can personal vengeance purge a whole system? The live music, sung by transfixingly talented cast member Shamira Turner, sometimes mirrors America’s blithe patriarchal insinuation of itself deep into Mexican life. Milagros embarks upon her revenge fantasy after her mother is shot while protesting. But a question mark is hung rather heavily over how much of what follows is real. The six-woman cast is sporadically sucked together to mime the painful expansion and contraction of a pair of failing lungs. Is Milagros hallucinating all this from a hospital bed?    If she is, she could do with cutting it down by a good half hour. The plot is stretched too far,

The Alchemist

The Alchemist

4 out of 5 stars

Idolatrous breeches! Roaring boys! Smock-rampant! Quarrel him out of the house! Even without the famous speeches – the sham spells, the preposterous visions of ever-inflating lust – Ben Jonson’s ‘The Alchemist’ is a treasure trove of sparklingly silly quotes. The conmen central characters may fail in turning base metal to gold. But in Polly Findlay’s RSC production, the language sputters like a potion on the verge of transmutation. It’s brought quickly to the boil by adapter Stephen Jeffreys, who’s cut the script by a savvy 20 per cent. A new prologue steers us smartly to Blackfriars, 1610. London is plague-riddled, and property owners have fled as fast as their heeled and ribboned shoes will carry them. While his master’s away, servant Face colludes with fellow-con artists Subtle and Dol to swindle a series of gullible visitors. Returning early, the master finds his house full of crazy characters, a crocodile dangling from the ceiling, and ‘madam’ scrawled on the wall with a dildo.   In the meantime, we get an explosive period farce of greed and chicanery with few energy lags and plenty for fans of ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Yonderland’. Foppishly OTT Jacobean costumes complement the verbal embellishments. The set, a candlelit still life replete with gleaming vials, red velvet and momento mori skull, is more ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’.  As the bogus alchemist of the title, Mark Lockyer’s Subtle is as grizzled and grouchy as Bob Geldof, but manipulates human desires with real mag

Britten in Brooklyn

Britten in Brooklyn

3 out of 5 stars

‘A libretto is complicated,’ says Benjamin Britten. ‘If I’m honest I’m not sure either of us is up to it’. In response, WH Auden falls slowly backwards into a bath filled with chilling wine bottles and tosses an ice cube into his mouth. Zoe Lewis’s new play reimagines one of the most outré house-shares in history. For a troubled spell in 1940, celebrated English composer Britten lived in a rundown Brooklyn townhouse with poet Auden, budding great American novelist Carson McCullers and celebrity striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. Christopher Isherwood would pop in for dinner. Surrealist painters would improvise on the walls. Think Spareroom.com operated exclusively for bohemians.  You can imagine ‘Britten in Brooklyn’ pitched as a TV series in the vein of ‘Desperate Romantics’. There’s plenty of comedy to be wrung from tortured artists trying to co-habit, and designer Cecelia Carey certainly makes the most of it. Ryan Sampson’s boyishly handsome, fastidious Britten plays a grand piano that doubles as a drinks cabinet and a noticeboard for an abandoned rota. Wilton’s Music Hall adds to the impression of stylish dilapidation. But while the housemates play parlour games and cane it through creative block, the world is going to war. John Hollingworth’s bullish Auden preaches conscientious objection and tries to bust Britten out of the sexual closet. But the composer, ‘doubly hated’ back home, is increasingly conflicted. When a mysterious army man pays them a visit, it all goes a bi

Fury

Fury

2 out of 5 stars

Punished by politicians, caught over a barrel by the benefit system, vilified by character comedians who should know better and snap-judged by society – single mums get it in the neck in this country. With the three-child benefits cap due in 2017, and the ongoing gentrification of social housing, it’s only going to get worse. So there’s every reason to root for this modern take on ‘Medea’, penned by rising star Phoebe Eclair-Powell (daughter of comedian Jenny) and produced by Damsel, a new company dedicated to placing complex female voices centre stage. Eclair-Powell’s anti-heroine isn’t a Greek princess but a young Londoner named Sam who grew up in care. Her ex has a Sports Direct uniform rather than a golden fleece. Her two little boys are all she has, but it’s hard to love them – especially when their cries attract social services, and the manipulative sexual attentions of the student in the flat upstairs.  There’s a Kate Tempest influence to the mashing of ancient myth with ‘gritty’ urban social issues. There’s also a modernised Greek chorus who, when not loudly declaiming Sam’s fate, hound her with contemporary pop refrains courtesy of Major Lazer and Bat For Lashes. But a dubious plot, heavy-handed direction from Hannah Hauer-King and a badly edited script let the subject down. If there’s one thing you don’t want from new writing it’s stale similes. Here we’re informed that Sam is cracking at the edges like a splintered mirror, losing her footing like she’s slipping in

The Shadow King

The Shadow King

3 out of 5 stars

Banished Edgar leads blind Gloucester by clacking two boomerangs and evil Edmund threatens to throw his parent to the dingoes in this Aboriginal remake of ‘King Lear’. Fired by the intense relationship of Indigenous peoples to the land, Malthouse Theatre’s production is hugely uneven but thematically rich, and not without its moments. Their Lear’s madness reaches a ululating crescendo to the accompaniment of a didgeridoo, its deep rumbles conjuring a dramatic tension the cast can’t always muster.  Shakespeare’s tragedy begins with the division of a kingdom, petulantly divvied between daughters by the aging ruler. The parallel with contemporary Indiginous experience didn’t escape actor Tom E Lewis, the daddy of the company, whose own community in Northern Australia is being torn apart by struggles over land and rights. ‘You can’t give what you don’t own’, Cordelia tells her father in the opening scene. The Barbican stage is dusted with red earth, into which a wedge of industrial set resembling a mining truck is driven with headlights beaming. The text is a bubbling mix of English, Kriol and multiple traditional tongues, much of which is easily understood in context: ‘A tragedy this milli milli, our tragedy’ announces Kamahi Djordan King’s casually engaging Fool at the start. The tone tugs oddly between comic soap opera and mystical calamity. A video backdrop switches between the dramatic skies and arid cliffs of the Australian wilderness, and the prosaic homes of a highly symp

The Quiet House

The Quiet House

4 out of 5 stars

Gareth Farr has written two of the tensest minutes in recent theatre. Actually, make that four. Two pregnancy tests are taken during the course of this heart-rending new play about a couple struggling with infertility. We wait for the results with the characters, knuckles in our mouths and tears in our eyes.  Jess and Dylan have it good. Nice pad, involving jobs, loving relationship – and the disposable income for Jess to up the ante in the underwear department when babymaking first becomes a concerted act. But, as she tells Dylan when they decide to go for IVF, ‘there is a noise missing from this house’. That silence will gradually drown out every other aspect of their lives.  It doesn’t help that upstairs neighbour Kim has just effortlessly procreated. A deliberate quirk of the set means Kim and her baby are always visible, encroaching on Jess’s consciousness.  There’s still a stigmatic silence around infertility. We are ‘more comfortable with cancer’, Farr suggests. ‘The Quiet House’ tackles this taboo with an unwaveringly honest script and a set that makes the private public. We watch the injections, the hospital calls, the inevitable arguments. We hear Jess talk to her unconceived child and listen to Dylan’s iPod selections for critical moments in treatment. If anything can wrestle core human experience back from cold science, it’s a John Grant record.  This London transfer of Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production is supported by The London Women’s Clinic, where the

Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore

Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore

4 out of 5 stars

Only three words feature in this smart, surreal and delightfully sensual comedy for young children. Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore are at the beach. They have a towel, an inflatable ball, a picnic and three contrasting temperaments. But they don’t have any language beyond their own curious names, which are reminiscent of childish misarticulations and the vintage nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. A bold half-term commission from the Unicorn, this 50-minute piece pairs rising star playwright Gary Owen (‘Violence and Son’, ‘Iphigenia in Splott’) with groundbreaking experimental theatremaker Tim Crouch, whose own work for children includes a brilliant series about Shakespeare’s lesser characters. So while the beach setting may be cliché, there is treasure just below the surface. ‘Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore’ is both a colourful prat-about and a careful study of what language, and theatre, can do. Hartleby (Amalia Vitale) is bright and puppyish but not beyond a tantrum. Ooglemore (Fionn Gill) is tall, vacant and endearingly knock-kneed in a towelling onesie and jelly sandals. Jeramee parents their squabbles with benevolent calm. His name seems to have been permanently stretched through being whined by the other two. The physical comedy is finely tuned to the deep-remembered sensations of childhood. A battle to undo the toggles of a duffle coat. A balloon drifting out of your hands. A wee in the sea. The performers conjour depth, gradient and a horizon out of the sm

Minotaur

Minotaur

3 out of 5 stars

A huge, human sadness skulks at the centre of one of the most memorable Greek myths, retold here for younger audiences by Adam Peck. Ariadne’s half-brother may have the head of a bull and a carnivorous appetite of nation-scouring proportions. But he has the heart of a boy. Buried away in a dark labyrinth by their father, King Minos of Crete, the Minotaur lives for the voice of his sister whenever she breaks parental command to visit him.   The Unicorn itself has undergone partial metamorphosis for the start of its two-show Greek Season. A Mediterranean sun glows like orange jelly above amphitheatre-style seating. The audience stands in for the subjects of two quarrelling kings, who look and sound more like contemporary politicians as they forge a grisly agreement with the click of a ballpoint pen.King Minos, a cold, ruthless meanie, picks 14 young audience members to be fed to the Minotaur (‘When’s your birthday? Cancel the party!’ ‘Scared of the dark? Perfect, let’s go!’) The cowardly and dishonest King Aegeas rushes off to prepare their laminated number tags.Peck’s version of the myth draws a clear and sturdy thread between slick modern politics and barbaric atrocities. But this pulls director Tarek Iskander’s eye away from what could have been a more powerful act of physical storytelling. There is huge resonance in the simple image of this Minotaur. Human but for an origami-style mask formed from perforated sheet metal, he is mute and rusting for lack of love. When Ariadne

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

3 out of 5 stars

There are few things more moving, it turns out, than the sight of an elderly woman presenting her grown-up son with the first birthday cake of his life. Add chocolate buttons, one candle and a faltering verse of ‘Happy Birthday!’ and you’ve totally got us – even if the surrounding production sometimes tries to push us away.Reverberating through Aussie Tom Holloway’s play, and disturbing its timeline, is a shocking fact of history. After WWII, thousands of poor and orphaned British children were told they had no relatives and sent to live in brutal institutions in Australia – a continuation of the Empire’s shameful 1888 Home Children scheme. Subsequent decades of official denial heaped further damage, delaying the work of the Child Migrants Trust to reunite victims with their families.‘Forget Me Not’ imagines one mother and son whose lives this policy has traumatised. Gerry (soap actor Russell Floyd) is a broken bear of a man, made distrustful of love, domesticity and the kindness of strangers. Mary is a working-class Liverpudlian, played against type by Eleanor Bron in her first stage role in more than a decade. Facing each other across her sitting room, they are still continents apart.In fact there are two Marys. One is bent over an oxygen tank and threatens to resituate the testicles of the goodhearted man from Child Migrants Trust. The other shines with fresh-lit love and sadness as she watches Gerry blow out his first candle. Holloway’s play is both a tribute to the work

News (1)

Sick! festival explores medical and social challenges of life and death

Sick! festival explores medical and social challenges of life and death

What doesn’t kill us, makes us. That’s the premise of this taboo-busting four-day programme of shows, talks and debates, bookended by two of the most provocative forces in current live performance, which takes place March 9-12. Sick! Festival is the first UK festival dedicated to exploring the medical, mental and social challenges of life and death. Born in Brighton, it’s now expanded to Manchester, and recently bagged a prestigious European EFFE festival award. Last year’s offerings included a piece of theatre staged as a self-help group for porn addicts, a dance duet between a man and a boy, and what we can only describe as a sort of medically-enhanced Ann Summer’s party titled ‘Sex, Cancer and Cocktails’. You can look forward to the next full festival in 2017. Meanwhile, Sick! Lab is a chance to watch the creative seeds being planted, with individual tickets or a four-day pass. Alongside the acclaimed shows by Bryony Kimmings and Kim Noble, there’s a scratch evening of embryonic work. A late-night philosophy bar titled ‘The Trigger’s Broom Paradox’ will mash ‘Only Fools & Horses’ with the latest in identity theory. And On The Couch is a day of discussions about the forces that shape us, from global trauma to the voices in our heads. Sick! shines a light into the darkest corners of human identity, and coaxes our deepest secrets centre stage. Frankly, it’s starting to make other arts festivals look a bit gutless. Highlights from the program are below, and for the full Sick!