Author Archive

Review – The Aristocrats – Donmar Warehouse

August 8, 2018

It’s the mid-1970s. In a stately home in Ireland, the adult children of the home’s owner are gathered before the youngest’s wedding. One plays piano; one lies in her room recovering from a hangover; the single male member of the family makes food in the kitchen. One daughter deals with the apparently sickly father upstairs. This is The Aristocrats.

Over the course of the next two hours, bit by bit, the personalities of these people will be revealed. Two of them seem to be unhinged (the piano playing daughter – Aisling Loftus – and the solitary son – David Dawson); one of them (Elaine Cassidy) seems bent on self destruction (either by alcohol or abuse at the hands of her spouse); the last (Eileen Walsh) seems horribly practical but determined to ensure her life is a miserable despite her capabilities. The personalities are squeezed out mostly through their interactions with American researcher Tom Hoffnung (Paul Higgins), who is looking into how the Irish Catholic landed class has held up back in the home country.

While the various bits of tale telling and nonsense is going on, Uncle George (Ciaran McIntyre) is mostly sat at the back of the stage, peeling paint off of a wall. What an incredibly appropriate metaphor for my experience watching this play. While watching people lead crappy lives, lie to themselves and others, and basically flopping around failing to accomplish a damned thing might seem an appropriate topic for a painting, as a play it was just an unmitigated bore. The metaphor of rot in rich families was covered pretty definitively in Brideshead Revisited (complete with metaphor of rotting house for a rotten “house”); and while we did hit an Irish stereotypes bingo with the revelations of the final act, all and all I just felt: with The Ferryman showing us the richness of the Irish experience and the impact of the turmoil of the 70s on Irish people, just what in the world was this play adding to the mix? It was neither a new story, nor interesting. The characters were solid, but that’s just not enough to make an evening fly. At 1:15 before the interval I was shocked to discover I had not been there for the full two hours already.

Frequently the shame about Donmar shows is that they sell out so soon, and this is why I bought these tickets so far in advance. Fear not: word will get out and you, too, can go if you want, or perhaps you can join me at the back of the garden, peeling off some paint. It’ll save you the money and a precious two hours better spent doing nearly anything else.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on August 7, 2018. It continues for quite some time.)

Advertisements

Review – Jew You Love Me – Jewish Cabaret Theatre at the Lion and Unicorn

July 29, 2018

The Jewish Cabaret Theater is a somewhat newish group, founded only 2016 (I unfortunately missed their last show, “Purim – Uncut!”). I had in fact misunderstood the topic of this show, Jew You Love Me, as I’d read a sentence in the press release wrong. “Gabi – a seemingly straight Jewish girl who ends up finding love in an unexpected partner, Ethan and Alon …” I honestly turned this around so that I thought this was about a straight girl who find love with two gay men, which is exactly the plot of A Home at the End of the World (but not Jewish). “Wow!” I thought. “A straight girl who decides to be with two gay guys and … all raise a kid together!” Since, again per the press release, the two guys were “a gay couple struggling with the concept of monogamy and hetero-normative love,” I thought it was great that they were reaching beyond the boundaries of same sex relationships, especially insofar as they do often censor bisexuality in partners (see Mike Bartlett’s Cock) and, as I know very well from the struggle of MY gay Jewish male friend, those waters can be especially difficult to navigate when you want to have children. So bingo, Ethan and Alon and Gabi as a trio … I thought this was SUCH an interesting plot for a musical I invited said gay Jewish male friend along with me to the show.

I can only imagine the writers of this show having a really good laugh at me. Let me tell you how the show ACTUALLY went. So, we’ve got a cafe in Golder’s Green, run by an adorable lesbian (Sam – Martha Pothen) who just happens to sing like Amy Winehouse, and we get to meet the other denizens of the cafe – Sam’s best friend Gabi (Ashley Racov), the adorable gay singer-songwriter Will (Jack Reitman), poet Ethan (Alex Ayliffe) and his wants-to-wander partner Alon (Ido Gonen), and finally the rather adorable aged couple Rachel (Batel Israel, not entirely convincing even with a silver wig) and Yakov (Josh Becker, rather jolly throughout). The show starts with many balls in the air – Sam has a crush on Gabi, Alon is pushing Ethan to open their relationship, and Rachel’s granddaughter Bracha (Tanya Trueman) has shown up from Israel with a chip on her shoulder and nothing nice to say about either the shiksa running the cafe or the gay men she sees being affectionate in it.

So … in the first act we get Gabi’s great comic song, “Swipe to the Right,” about the perils of Tinder, which winds up applying rather directly to Ethan and Alon … and Will!

But it’s when we finally get a moment alone with Bracha that the show, for me, moved to a higher plane. She came off as very uptight and unpleasant, choosing to not eat any food from Sam’s cafe and telling off the other people there for being ungodly. She’s newly arrived from Israel, and is very religiously conservative … not the kind of person we see represented much on the London stage. But as she sits outside, after being rejected by the other customers of the cafe, we get to hear her talk about how she sees the world, in the song, “Blessing,” which is mostly about her love for God and attempts to live a life that holds up to what he wants. Initially I was quite resistant to and uncomfortable with this song … I’m an atheist, and I don’t really enjoy listening to people sing about religion … but suddenly Bracha revealed something about herself that just flipped things right around.

I was reminded of a play I’d seen in New York, Indecent, about the controversy surrounding the 1923 Broadway debut of a play by Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch called God of Vengeance. Asch’s play was disturbing to the Jewish community in New York, because it portrayed Jewish people in a non-hagiographic way, as people with shortcomings and desires and conflicts; a reality much easier to hide from the goyim before the play was translated in English. The play toured in Europe AND in American without problem until it was shown in a language non-Yiddish Americans could understand; and when this happened, Jewish community leaders did not want it performed, and shut it down.

But the play showed to ME something I’d not known at all; that the Jewish community, the Yiddish speaking community of Europe, was rich enough to support its own theater, with touring groups and playwrights who wrote especially for it; this being just one elements that were lost to us when that great swathe of our friends and neighbors were systematically executed during World War II. And LOOK, here I was in London in 2018, and the community that I am not a part of but which lives side by side with me is doing their own theater, theater that represents THEM, and I am having this opportunity to get to learn about another culture (which exists in many different forms!) and other values and, look at Bracha, the same conflicts and heartaches that have been going on for centuries when you want to fit in, you want to do right, but you just can’t seem to live up to what is expected of you. And for Bracha, it was making her heart break. And in her, I could see the reincarnation of the female protagonists of God of Vengeance, and I wanted to hear her story and hear her speak for herself. I wanted to know what made her mom leave London behind; I wanted to know more. BANG it all came together for me and suddenly I was invested in what was going on.

Back in the rather more fluffy world of the cafe, Sam was struggling with Gabi (I’m unclear why they were not getting along), and Alon was wondering if he’d made a huge mistake in trying to change the terms of his relationship (in the great song “Falling Behind”). But zip and zest were coming from the Yakov and Rachel corner, which has to mark one of the few times I’ve ever seen an elderly couple with a healthy sexual relationship on stage. It was funny and it was a good time, and the idea that they were teaching the gay male trio a thing or two gave me a giggle.

In the end – and with no spoilers – I found myself somewhat overwhelmed by the many, many story lines, and wondering if perhaps some shortcuts had been taken to get us to the end in a reasonable amount of time when perhaps few stories more richly developed might have been a better choice. Still, I loved having the company turn its back on divisive hatred and face forward to the audience for a song that essentially said, we are you we are, and God accepts us, as if to say to all of London and the world, there really is no place for hatred of others … a message I feel we need to hear in times like these. It was a fun musical and a good (if sweaty) night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 27, 2018.)

Preview (for Edinburgh) – Sod’s Law – Lord Hicks at the Old Red Lion

July 19, 2018

I’m a woman of very catholic tastes, and I enjoy a night of dirty ukelele songs just as much as a countertenor singing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But it seems that the 50th anniversary of the repeal of sexual offences act has led to a real flourishing in the arts, from the spectacular queer cabaret that was The Caravan Society to the publication of Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City, a history of London. This book and Lascivious Bodies seemed to tie right in to the evening’s entertainment … which promised “a historical romp through queer history.” Lured in by his exquisite legs …. I mean, voice … I showed up in the steamy attic of the Old Red Lion ready for him to “bring it on!”

The show is a pure one-man (plus projectionist) effort, with Hicks in his normal dapper black and white stripes and tail coat, but in addition to the ukelele I’ve seen him with for most outings, Hicks added a piano to the ensemble. We started our tour in the reign of Henry VIII, when sodomy was made a hanging offense, then travelled through the centuries, hitting highlights such as the molly houses (illustrated with a very funny song listing the many insulting names for queer people, “turd burglar” being a particular favorite), Oscar Wilde, and the Wildeblood scandal of the 1950s. Again and again Hicks showed us how the authorities pursued their own agendas in attempting to entrap queers, aided throughout the centuries by blackmailers and others just eager for a good hanging.

Hicks didn’t end at 1967, though, because afterwards the police were still after us (“Pretty Policeman Blues”), not to mention hateful people in the UK government. His two most touching moments were post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS – where he sang a medley including “I Feel Love,” “YMCA,” and “Rasputin” – and then another in the Thatcher era, with Bronski Beat and (I think?) Pet Shop Boys, exploring the self-hatred many gay people have had to struggle with. One moment was ethereal and joyous, the other was distillate of loneliness – I can’t say which I preferred because they were both beautiful.

Historically speaking, I was surprised to find Sod’s Law actually hit a lot of the major events, and went beyond the “and then it was all fine after 1967” narrative I’ve been hearing a lot in the last year. It was more than just novelty songs, as well, which I was fearing, but in fact the songs that were novel, such as his infamous Grindr song, were nicely placed, and there was more than enough meat to make for a very solid sandwich in this show. And Hicks himself is a charismatic performer – he has no challenge holding the stage on his own for the hour running time.

Of course being a preview there were some glitches – a microphone cord with a mind of its own, the projection screen that decided it was past its bedtime – but the content is solid. If you’re off to Edinburgh, or even have a chance to see him doing warmups in London – I’d highly recommend this lively, funny, and occasionally heartbreaking show.

(This review is for a performance that took place July 18th at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington. It continues there and in Greenwich before formally opening at the Greenside in Edinburgh.)

Review (Edinburgh Preview) – Fallout – Lotta Quizeen at Bread and Roses Theatre

July 18, 2018

Oh what a long journey we have taken with Lotta Quizeen since that first show at the Battersea Arts Center to last night’s show at the Bread and Roses. I’ve gone from immigrant to citizen in the intervening years, and I’ve had helpful indoctrination in British customs and culture, including being exposed to the phenomenon of Fanny Cradock (as well as being taught why one does not wear a “fanny pack” but rather a “bum bag”).

I still don’t understand a lot about how people operate here, but I understand apocalpyse preparation AND domestic violence, so I was ready for the full experience of Lotta Quizeen’s guided trip through a proper lady’s nuclear bunker. We were introduced to a variety of different long-lived food stuffs, given our rota, and warned about the dogs. Alongside this, our extremely charming hostess (so fetching with her camouflage hair wrap!) gave us some insight into her domestic situation, which led (somehow inevitably) to a live action dating for the post-nuclear bomb world. Those grandbabies had to come from somewhere, and apparently my girlfriend was up for being a potential breeder (to her surprise).

As the lights flickered and dimmed, and the barking of the dogs outside became more ominous, we found ourselves peering into a world of fear and doubt. It seemed it was about our future; but it was really about the inside of Ms Quizeen’s head. Her world had been turned upside down. It was the end of everything. She still wanted order and manners, but somewhere, behind the scenes, it had fallen apart. And we were there while it (rather explosively in the case of some of the props) blew up in our faces. This world, this world of hiding and lying and pretending, is just as real in America as it is for people here, and I completely understood where Lotta was coming from. She had unwillingly been pulled into the heart of darkness, and it was then end of everything. A wild journey and one I was glad to be able to take with her.

This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends – not with a bang but a whimper.

(“Fallout” is currently previewing around London and is next at The Bunker. It will be formally opening at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a part of the Free Festival.)

Review – The Play About My Dad – Jermyn Street Theater

July 10, 2018

With daily headlines about the youth sports team trapped in a cave in Thailand, Monday night seemed perfect timing to be watching a play about the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the lives of residents of Missippi. Spun out amongst three groups of people as the moment of crisis approached and the tension ratcheted, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Floyd Collins, the musical about the man trapped in a cave in 1930s Kentucky. Would htey live? Would they die? The four families Boo Killebrew chose to show us were unknowns, all potential members of the class of 1836 people killed in this murderous storm. It made for riveting viewing. Who would make it out alive?

Killebrew chose an intriguing framing device, of putting herself and her father Larry (David Shaal) as characters in the play, so that she could write about the process of writing and creating in a meta-theatrical way, as well as exploring their relationship. Larry the character is thus able to speak about what Larry Killebrew saw, as a doctor at a hospital, and about his relationship with Boo (Hannah Britland) and about the writing process in general. Killebrew then adds some people she knew less well as characters (specifically Kenny Tyson – Ammar Duffus – an ambulance driver, and Essie Watson – Miquel Brown – Dad Killebrew’s babysitter from way back when), and then four other people, a family and another EMT, to round out the stories. But Killebrew herself was not there, which is a bit of a shame. That said, I was torn between finding the use of her insertion of herself as playwright into the narrative irritating, as it introduced a lot of superfluous dialogue, and finding it fascinating, because, well, I too write plays, and I found the discussions of her technique very, very interesting – so interesting it distracted me from the actual narratives she had created.

Still, it was the topic of Hurricane Katrina that drew me to this show. I don’t often get to see plays about recent American history – that is, anything less than a hundred years old – so this attempt to wade into the muck of this shameful catastrophe was square center in my mind’s eye. How would a play about Katrina spin out? How much focus would we get on the woeful response of people on the ground? How much on the disproportionate effect of the hurricane on the black and elderly? Would we look at the policemen that refused to let black citizens drive out of New Orleans? Would we look at the causes of the disaster?

In short, no, we did not. We heard three tales of people who mostly fatally affected by the storm. We struggled with them as they attempted to deal with the fact the waters were rising so high that they were likely to wind up drowned; we wondered why they did not leave when the danger of staying was clear. And side by side with their stories we hear the story of Boo Killebrew struggling with her father leaving his family (Boo and her mom), and the fear she felt when their car ran out of gas during a storm, and a little bit about what was happening and Larry Killebrew’s hospital during and after the storm.

But some very big questions aren’t answered. And, for me very oddly in a play set in the South, we have no discussion or examination of racial interactions, and, rather worse I think, no examination of the impact of poverty on people’s outcomes. So many people who couldn’t swim; so many people who couldn’t drive away; so many people that weren’t able to keep up their houses; so many people afraid of what missing three days of work would do to them. And alongside it we have two well to do white people whose concerns during the storm were buying a dress and getting phone service again. In the end, it felt like there were two entirely different stories being told – one about Hurricane Katrina, and one about a father/daughter relationship – but by blending them together, Killebrew makes it look like she is exploiting other people’s suffering without really understanding it, and trying to equate her emotional experience with people actually dying. The net effect is to pollute both stories. The people who die are just backdrop to a family drama, but in fact theirs is the real drama. There are some good threads going here and some good roles for non-white actors – a pleasure to see in London to be sure – but it would be better to see this done as “The Play About Katrina” and “The Play About My Dad,” so the issues in each play could be focused on appropriately without one trivializing the other. The story of Kenny Tyson dealing with his mother’s loss and being able to see the past and the future is interesting enough to carry its own play; I’d love to see him, and the other working class and poor people of The Play About My Dad, brought front and center with their own play. Still, it was nice to see recent, and important, US history put on stage, and brilliant to get to see the people from the South shown as just typical folks holding down jobs and looking after their families. I look forward to seeing how Killebrew’s work develops as she matures.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 9, 2018. It continues through July 21st.)

Review – Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Donmar Warehouse

June 7, 2018

Take a great novel with rich characters, build it out with outstanding actresses, and then season it with glorious set and sound design – the use of bells both as scenery and as a source of music was just inspired, and I can’t say enough about the final look of the wall covered with flowers, reeking of funerals, hospitals, and the beautiful garden of the mind Miss Brodie (Lia Williams) created for herself and her students, in which she dies, alone. Aaaaahhhh beautiful artistic perfection. And let’s not forget her gowns and hair (Lizzie Clachan), so strongly capturing an era and embodying a personality. MMMMMMmmmmm. What praise can I not lavish on this superlative production?

The play is far easier to follow than the original novel, with its dreamlike, backward and forward (sometimes jarringly far forward) narrative; and while purists might find this a fault, I felt the solid framing device of “the person interviewing a writer” while the writer (Rona Morrison as Sandy Stranger) has flashbacks settled my brain better, giving me the visual cues I needed to keep back story and forward/present story clear. The five actresses playing a classroom of 10 year old girls had me reaching for the program, convinced they were not one over 18; Nicola Coughlan (as Joyce Emily) has a particular fragility I associate with girls around 13 and was both heartbreaking (in the junior school scenes) and fascinating (as a sulky teenager) – but completely believable overall. The rest of the “Brodie Set” slowly brought their personalities to the fore, but most of them aren’t meant to be key players, although they still are lively and make the stage glow.

The beaming sun, though, is Miss Brodie herself, whom Lia Williams inhabits with a vitality that transcends acting and settles firmly into the world of “being.” I, at fifty, felt the fragility behind the energy of Brodie; she is in her prime, she is made 85% of will and 15% of style but, my God, how clear it is that her prime is a position she cannot inhabit long. The men (Edward McLiam as Mr Lloyd and Angus Wright as Mr Lowther, both hugely frustrated throughout) swarm about her like bees, but it is she who will not make it past her summer, not the drones; and the casual spinning and unpicking of the wonderful life she has made with herself at the center comes apart in a way that seems both inevitable and still entirely heartbreaking, almost like a spider eaten by her children.

But it’s not that tragic. No, the tragedy is that Miss Brodie is a character that is not saintly but flawed, human, and navigating a peculiar world with rules we of this modern age are unbound by; we can divorce, we do not have to quit work when we marry, and we can walk home by ourselves at 11 without questions being asked. She feels she cannot. Added to this is her injected flaw of supporting fascism; I see this as Spark’s way of showing that Brodie “may be on the wrong side,” as the original novel was written long after the correct people to support in the case of World War Two had been well settled. It, I think, too consciously sets us (as the reader/audience) against her, though reading other literature written at the time it’s clear that there was a bit more debate about it going on than we have now.

But we can still dedicate ourselves selflessly, and perhaps senselessly, to people we care about, and Brodie’s desire to see her girls flourish is hard not to cheer even if her ways of seeing this through are not necessarily in the best interest in girls of 16, or even women of 22. We are caught in both wanting her stopped and wanting her to carry on, with teaching about art, and music, and life; so we too are ultimately complicit in her betrayal. And ooooohhhh how lusciously it all plays out. At nearly a three hour running time, I was convinced I’d only been in the theater for 2:15 at the most, despite knowing the interval was over at 9PM. And that, lads and lasses, is what I would call a successful night at the theater – emotionally satisfying and utterly involving.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 6, 2018. It continues though July 28. New tickets are released on the Donmar’s website on Mondays at noon.)

Death, Sex and Robots: Three play round-up

May 23, 2018

In the last month I’ve gone to see two plays about robots and one play about grief/death/suicide – Instructions for Correct Assembly (Royal Court), Mayfly (Orange Tree Theatre) and Sex With Robots and Other Devices – and the thematic similarities between the three plays is quite remarkable. All three of them are not, obviously, the same, but the same questions are asked by all three of them, and definitely between two of them, with lesser or greater success. Seeing them all definitely gave me food for thought – I present these crumbs now for you.

Summary: Assembly is an extremely episodic play in which a family buy a robot to replace (in far too many ways) their dead son; Mayfly is about a family (mother, dad, 20sish daughter) coping very poorly with the death of the son/brother (and using a total stranger to help fill the gaps he’s left in their lives); Robots is a series of vignettes of how having a sex robot has affected various individuals and couples. Clearly, the grief element unites Assembly and Mayfly; robots unite Assembly and Robots; but death and loss unite the three. Short summary: Mayfly, while imperfect, is the superior play – I only say this because it is still showing and if you find this commentary interesting you should hurry up and go.

While the couple that opens (and perhaps the couple that ends) Robots is dealing poorly with the loss of a child, (still born, I think), the emotional impact of this is pretty well nil given the 5 minutes or so length of the scenes. Assembly is nearly entirely about grief, a grief that unspools and entangles you within it over the course of its running time. The mom and dad seem to just want a robot around the house for the amusement it provides; but over time, they slip into things like having it call them “mum” and talking about it going to school and getting an education as if it were their actual child. Most tragically, both the mother and father work out their own guilt at their complicity in their son’s death (drugs overdose, I think) by playing out the past with the robot doing or saying what they wish their son had. Sadly, though, the impact of these scenes was frittered away by the generally light and comic tone of the rest of the play; the anger the couple had toward each other and the way they were dealing it was, in my mind, the real story that needed to be told, far more so than “oh how embarrassing to have a robot say something rude at a dinner party.” I left this play convinced that using technology had led to a mistelling of what was a profoundly human story; otherwise it was a bit of a blend of Pinocchio and AI and similarly not very moving.

Between Robots and Assembly, the best technology moments were when people were developing real feelings for what were essentially machines; or when the machines themselves were showing signs of developing feelings themselves. This made me think of the ever popular SF trope of “what makes us human,” which is fun to explore, but honestly neither play went into it at all deeply. However, the scenes in Robot in which a woman was dealing with the mental degradation (dementia) of a robot companion she had had for a long time was starting to show where this show could have been really touching; I could easily have imagined a lovely work of fiction coming out of this. Or just some interesting ways of dealing with Alzheimer’s and also (in the case of this play) a same sex relationship in which one person needed to go into a care home. Unfortunately given the short nature of the scenes this wasn’t developed nearly as well as it could have been, but it hinted at depths that were available to the topic.

Overall most successful of these three plays was decidedly Mayfly. It seemed heavy handed at making its points about how people don’t talk about grief and missing very well (and the ending was nauseatingly writerly); but the trio of damaged family members seemed pretty believable after their initial ridiculousness; each had a manifestation of grief (or several) that seemed quite believable and in which I was able to become emotionally invested. The punch in the gut was in one tiny scene, which is so good I can imagine the playwright building the whole play out from it: in it, the mother asks a stranger to call her, using her dead son’s cell phone, and talk to her, pretending to be him. This is very much looking at how technology is helping us deal with being human; but in this case, I was utterly bought into the tragedy of this scene.

So: sex, death, and robots – in the theater, it’s ultimately the things that show people’s feelings – and weak spots, and illogical spots – that most clearly illuminated being human.

(Mayfly continues through May 26. Robots continues through June 2nd.

Interview with the Author

February 23, 2018

Interviewer: So, TL, you’re accused of basing your plays on your life and people you know. What do you say to that?
Me: 100% true! I’m just lucky that I’ve lived long enough to have lots to write about.
I: Isn’t this unethical?
TL: I’d ask Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill.
I: Aren’t you worried about running out of material?
TL: No, I’m worried about running out of time.
I: Wouldn’t you get more writing done if you lived someplace quieter?
TL: For a while, but then I’d lose that buzz for writing I get living in such an electrifying environment. Stewart Pringle, Sophia Conner (my dramaturgue), Ralph Bogard, Erin Wilson… Being in London makes me want to make theater. Talent, venues, collaborators … it’s just heaving with possibilities.
I: Don’t forget the inspiration of seeing so many other plays!
TL: Oh yeah, always nice to have one of those nights where you go, “Yeah, I could do better than that.”
I: That’s not what I meant.
TL: Really? I promise you, when I walk out of a Jez Butterworth or Mike Bartlett, all I’m thinking is, “Might as well throw in the towel, I’ll never be that good.” But then Alan Bennett writes a new play, and I think,”Oh yeah, always room for one more.”

Review – Snow White and the Seven Poofs – Simon Gross at the Karma Sanctum Hotel

December 20, 2017

It’s been some years since I last saw this adult version of the classic Snow White, in an evening that broke my brain so hard I actually went back a second time. In fact, this show is the reason why I am now a connoisseur of adult pantos. Yeah, sure, Above the Stag may have all of the hunky boys in theirs, but Simon Gross has the bitchy drag queens and the jokes that leave me crying, with bonus audience hassling and great music. By the end of the night EVERYBODY was dancing along, and it doesn’t get better than that at a panto.

The new venue left something to be desired – while the Karma Sanctum Hotel is a sweet little joint, £12 cocktails are OW when you’re a reviewer on a budget and the downstairs room where the show was held had a completely flat floor that meant sight lines were not the best. But I sat in the front row, so I didn’t care, and to be honest with a sold out house that was probably soused when they got in the door, I doubt most of the other customers cared that much either.

The costumes are cheap and the cast is quirky (although Vicki Vivacious is not just lively as Snow White but proves quick with insults and banter – two customers who popped to the loos during a scene were rewarded with her appearing from behind the curtains to render judgement on their “qualifications”), and there’s no doubt in my eyes people who are looking for a trad panto will find much to complain about. But what did I get for my £20? Great jokes from “Queen Showbiz” (Simon Gross as a very unattractive stepmother); truly funny dance numbers done by a talented cast (the YMCA one introducing the dwarves, including Sub, Dom, and Muscle Mary was right on the money); piles of improv (sometimes as people forgot their lines but whatevs); and GOOD music we were encouraged to sing and dance to.

YMCA as danced by Snow White’s Dwarves. Poofs.


And you know what? The audience was in to it. They were dancing, they were laughing at the jokes (even when they were being made fun of), they were clapping and roaring with laughter. Compared to the rather stiff show I saw at the Hackney last week, this was miles ahead if fun is what matters to you. It feels rough and sometimes tattered, but to me this has more of the true feeling of the British music hall tradition and the true sense of panto than any show with a million pounds to spend on costumes and top notch professionals combing through their scripts to make sure every little joke is guaranteed to offend nobody. I’m glad I went back and I’ll be looking for Gross’s panto next year; this is the perfect remedy for the Christmas blues. For me, it was the bubbles in my champagne – or, let’s be honest, cava, because we’re not that high class. Be sure to drink heavily before your arrival and DON’T sit in the front row.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017. It continues through January 7th. It’s apparently selling out so if you want to go get your tickets now, the venue is SMALL.)

Review – The Shadow over Innsmouth – Hidden Basement Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 27, 2017

For me, the highlight of the program for this year’s London Horror Festival was always going to be The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I had missed on its previous outing in 2015. I know, how could I have, yet with only two day runs for most of these shows, you really have to be on top of your schedule to get to see all of your best picks.

So as you probably know, I’m a Lovecraft fan of long running, or at least a fan of Lovecraft theater. I’m a big fan of the mythos Lovecraft created and really enjoy seeing how people take the source material and make it come alive. This is even more of a thought to me after adapting a Lovecraft work myself last year, but, honestly, I’m still just approaching this like a fan, but a theater fan first. I want to see a good play on stage. Would Hidden Basement deliver? Or would they be too faithful to the original and succeed in recounting the story without making a good play happen?

I’m pleased to report that this inventive company has taken a broad and emotionally satisfying approach to retelling this classic tale of horror. The key moments were covered: the bus ride; the strangeness of Innsmouth; the incident at the general store; the meeting with Zadok Allen; Zadok’s history of the town; the revelation of the narrator’s unexpected past. The fishiness of the folk was handled nicely through the use of puppets, as was the need of having other characters than could be managed just by Phillip North and Claire Matthews – at one point they put the narrator’s hat on top of a hanger and both had a conversation with it. Genius!

The overall feeling of this extremely funny show was one of a light touch with a heavy coat of humor and a tasteful selection of illustrative props (the crown being a touch of genius – its airy construction encouraging us to see the glories described to us – or perhaps entirely missing depending on how reliable you chose to find Robert Olmstead’s story). The Narrator was very obviously going mad … or, shall I say, feeling like he was going mad as he was attempting to adjust his thinking to a very new version of reality. I belly laughed when he started trying to have a conversation with the fish he’d been served for dinner … but how was I to know what was real and what was imagined? This constant struggle between the everyday reality and the intrusion of an external, malevolent reality surrounding our own was nicely illustrated by the rock solid practicality of the narrator’s bride, whose frustrating interactions with her increasingly less sane fiance were QUITE amusing. In short, Hidden Basement delivered a show that was both a winner as an hour long theater piece (it was tremendously engaging) and as a fresh take on a horror classic. With luck it will be revived again, as of the many Lovecraft adapations I’ve seen, this was one of the best.

(This is a review of a show that took place on October 17. 2017 at the Old Red Lion as a part of the