Review – Summer Rolls – VanThanh Productions at Park Theater

June 28, 2019 by

In the last few years, the conversation about race and representation in the theater has moved beyond who is performing shows to who is writing them. This means that we’re seeing new shows and new voices, an exciting thing to be sure. And from this we see VanThanh productions emerge, with the stated purpose of enabling minority groups to tell their own stories – and we have the play Summer Rolls at the Park Theater, the first British-Vietnamese play to be staged in the UK. I’ve worked and lived alongside second generation Vietnamese Americans for most of my life, but I’m unfamiliar with what tack the British setting would give this story, and I was eager to hear from a community so little represented in the UK that they don’t even have a relevant checkbox in national origin questionnaires (because apparently “Chinese” is enough to cover East and Southeast Asia). What were their experiences? What where their concerns?

Linh-Dan Pham and Anna Nguyen in Summer Rolls at Park Theatre picture by Dante Kim

Linh-Dan Pham and Anna Nguyen in Summer Rolls at Park Theatre picture by Dante Kim

Mai (Anna Nguyen) is the daughter of two Vietnamese refugees (played by Linh-Dan Pham and Kwong Loke, and pretty consistently referred to as Mother and Father) who came to the UK with their young son Anh (Michael Phong Le) during the 70s (or so it appears from the cues given by newscasts read to start scenes). Anh succeeds at uni but then fails to get work; both the mother and daughter sew piece work for a Mr Dinh to keep the household solvent. It is a depressing picture of hard work unrewarded as, over the course of the show, the feeble earnings the women make are taken away (as the work is sent to China) and Anh goes to work at Mr Dinh’s restaurant.

Through this rather depressing story, a lot of traditional Vietnamese culture comes through: how women are treated; how class relations are seen; and (in a horrifying moment at the end when it’s discovered Mai has a black boyfriend – Keon Martial-Phillip) the rather pungent racism (that to be honest exists throughout East Asia). But the family also has to deal with leftovers from the war – Father’s flashbacks, Mother’s desperate survival instincts – and the special treats that come with being a minority and immigrants in a country where you are tolerated at best. It’s an interesting and well-seasoned story that provides a lot to chew on and is made more flavorful by Mai’s Vietnamese dialogue. We also get to see how assimilation affects Anh and Mai – their experiences trying to become a part of British society is eye opening (and would be just as interesting for so many other nationalities that have settled in the UK).

That said, the ending is abrupt and rather unsatisfying. This is, I think, the problem with having the play focus on Mai – she probably gets her life together and goes off to do her own thing, but we don’t really see her evolving as a character over the course of the play – we just stop after she has a confrontation with them and don’t have any resolution. For that matter, none of the rest of the characters appear to change or have any kind of epiphany, although most of them seem to have more backstory and places to go with their story arc. They’re all interesting and seem fairly rich (in everything but money!). Overall a good debut from playwright Tuyen Do.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 25th, 2019. It continues through July 13th.)

Review – Pictures of Dorian Gray – Jermyn Street Theater

June 13, 2019 by

While Oscar Wilde’s plays mocking Victorian society are regularly revived, his novel of art and evil – The Portrait of Dorian Gray – doesn’t have a standard theatrical version, despite being popular as a film and even having some luck as a ballet and even as a promenade theatrical event. It’s a great novel, deliciously fin de siecle, a perfect companion for Jeckyll and Hyde, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the art of Von Stuck. And it deserved better than I had seen it get on stage before, and my hopes were high that Lucy Shaw’s fresh adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theater – and the decision to use four different configurations of the cast, including two versions with a female lead – would bring fresh insights and real vibrancy to this play.

As a female Dorian, Helen Reuben is deliciously chosen – endlessly fresh faced, a delight for the eyes, absolutely believable as the person whose portrait could capture the essence of beauty – or someone’s soul. As her tempter, Basil Hallward, Stanton Wright nicely forms heartless words to entice Dorian away from anything other than the worship of the self; and with the two of them decked in black velvet and gilding, they create a feeling of late night menace and brutality that makes the sensibility of the novel feel very alive. The portrait itself is left unseen, as is best for horror: it is merely a reflective pond beneath a muddled shining wall that might have been a mirror. The agelessness is left to the true Dorian; the ugliness of the portrait is created entirely with words.

These words, however, prove a distraction in too much of the story. With two more actors (most memorably painter Henry Wotten – Richard Keightley – and Sibyl Vane – Augustina Seymour) left with not quite enough to do, they are sent to speak Wilde’s words describing Gray’s words much like a Greek chorus – as a near constant chant beneath the dialogue on stage. The words do a lot to help pump up the atmosphere of poisoned flowers and redolent evil – but they prove too much of a distraction and ended in reducing the sense of impending doom. It’s all extremely successful when Dorian is immersing herself in corrupting literature – hard to convey what she is taking in otherwises – but when she’s going to opium dens and corrupting the wives and sons of the elite, the audience is given little sense of just what she is doing and why she is so out of control. Admittedly Wilde himself doesn’t go into much detail about Gray’s activities, but her time spent in the depths and ultimate ruination could have been built up to much better effect. Still, the ending is handled nicely, with beautiful theatricality, and the night ended with a grand feeling of satisfaction.

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben, Augustina Seymour, Stanton Wright, Richard Keightley (L-R)

One thing really had me struggling, though: to a great extent, Gray’s fall is the fall of a man, and a gay man at that. While Reuben and Wright have a delicious electricity between them, it felt to me like it was only because Gray was a man and an affair between the two could not have been portrayed on stage (or in a book!) at the time this novel was written that they did not consummate their relationship. And women cannot ruin men the way Gray ruined both men and women. It was a pleasure to see this play done with a woman in the lead role, but I think some changes to the script for the “Picture C/Picture D” cast could have amped the impacted tremendously. That said, given Stanton Wright’s charisma, I think it would be worthwhile to see it again in the “Picture A/Picture B” configuration … this fine story has been brought to life with London smoke and back alleys intact, and I’d enjoy taking another trip down the road to glorious self destruction.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 11th, 2019. It runs through July 6th.)

Review – Miss Julie – Jermyn Street Theatre

May 3, 2019 by

Miss Julie seems to be the most consistently popular of August Strindberg’s works – so much so that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “straight” version of it. But this one, a new version by Howard Brenton, was set firmly in the era after trains and before cars, so there is no reason to wonder, for example, why Julie’s father doesn’t just ring ahead. Julie (Charlotte Hamblin) lives in a world where you can have a reputation to be ruined, where sleeping with a servant (Jean – James Sheldon) is a great way to do it, and if you’re so unfortunate as to be engaged to said philandering servant, you just have to put up (Kristin – Dorothea Myer-Bennett).

But that would all make it so easy and boring, wouldn’t it? The gorgeousness of this play comes in its wonderful moments of human interaction, all done completely naturally in the kitchen of the servant’s quarters. Jean has had a crush on Miss Julie since they were both children – or has he? – and Julie relishes being adored – or does she? – while Kristin toils all day with no thought for herself – or does she? As they interact, each of their selfish desires slowly unspools, and you, the audience, get a deeper and deeper look into the complex clockwork that whirls behind each character’s eyes. None of these people are altruists, but similarly – and sadly – none of them seems to have a very clear cut idea about how to pursue actual happiness beyond a short moment in time.

It’s fascinating to watch Julie, Jean, and Kristin go through their little dance together. Hamblin nicely captures both Julie’s huge enthusiasm for living, her cruelty, and her crumbling mind as she realizes she’s gone to far to be able to easily patch her life back together. Sheldon is dead handsome – easy enough to see a lady of the house flirting with him – and makes a great argument both for his essential equality with any other man and his inability to snap himself out of thinking like a servant. He was completely convincing all the way through, even though he was essentially disagreeing with what he had just said completely. And Myer-Bennett is a treat to watch as a woman who knows herself quite well and has far less illusions than either her mistress or her fiancee. The three of them have great chemistry and easily take us out of the workaday world into the explosive passions and ideals (and compromises) of their world.

With a tight running time of 90 minutes, Tom Littler’s production should have a breathless pace, but in fact there is more than enough time given to make the evening feel like it’s been all of a midsummer’s night – only not one with a pleasant dream. And every philosophical conversation in the play still feels fresh and sharp. There may be a million ways to update this play, but Littler shows that, stripped and raw and laid before us as if it were new, Miss Julie is still a tsunami of emotion until the lights go down.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019. It continues in rep with The Creditors at the

Review – The Creditors – Jermyn Street Theater

May 1, 2019 by

It’s a pleasure to go to the theater knowing you’re going to see a fresh take on a classic you love. Strindberg has become a favorite of mine as I’ve settled into middle age and learned to enjoy his realistic portrayals of people who have been made bitter by life – well, by other people, in particular their husbands and wives. So I was enthusiastic for seeing how Creditors managed ten years further along in my life, in a new version by Howard Brenton that the Jermyn Street Theater is performing in rep with Miss Julie.

The Creditors is a deliciously tight three person show that has the marvellous good fortune off having Dorothea Myer-Bennett in the central role of Tekla. As a Victorian era woman who has a career of her own (as a writer) and has been divorced and remarried, she is a splash of bracing water given how most women were depicted at the time. I mean, look at A Doll’s House, one decade older; how could women have moved along to a position of having so much agency in such a short time? In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t: this makes Tekla even more interesting and pushed the play into the realm of … well, all of these people who don’t believe in God, marry and divorce as they please, and (both) work, didn’t it all feel very modern?

This leaves a couple of notes that fell flat, or, rather, seemed out of place perhaps because they were so very 19th century. Adolf (James Sheldon), the carer for Tekla’s husband Gustav (David Sturzaker), is obsessed with men dominating and controlling women; he spends his time with Gustav trying to work him into a frenzy of jealousy about his wife. And, per Gustav, Tekla and he gave up the child they had together – to be honest, I found this just flat out unbelievable. Tekla and Gustav calling each other brother and sister, sure, but that … it just felt like Strindberg was trying to hard. Adolf being a misogynistic control freak, sure, but the abandoned child plus … well, Gustav’s soft-headedness … do people really give up on their art that easily, with just a few days of someone trying to philosophize them out of it?

Dorothea Myer-Bennett and James Sheldon, photo by Robert Day

So, fine, maybe Strindberg isn’t trying for pure realism here, but watching the characters on stage, it was hard not to get sucked into the interaction. Tekla’s affection for her husband seemed fully believable, her connection with Adolf was entirely natural … but the attempt to twist history and, not to spoil the plot (I mean this is not exactly a new play), people’s minds, was like the delightful Machiavellian twist at the heart of many of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Who needs knives and armies when we can destroy people with words? I suspect the ending wouldn’t have been quite so perfectly tied up outside of a stage, but watching this vibrant cast of three feint and parry with the greatest of all weapons – the human mind – was just rather delicious all the way through. And at ninety minutes, there wasn’t a bit of fat.

(This review was for the preview performance that took place Monday, April 29, 2019. It continues through June first.)

Review – HMS Pinafore – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

April 18, 2019 by

Although I am generally prone to follow the work of particular playwrights or choreographers, I have made it a habit over the years to see everything Charles Court Opera puts on. In addition to their consistently hilarious pantos, their updated take on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan has done much, in my eyes, to show the solid gold that too frequently has been left hiding under the dust. Artistic Director John Savournin really has an eye to keeping things fresh, as well as an ability to recruit strong talent – so I came to their H.M.S. Pinafore with much enthusiasm.

This Pinafore is, rather than a sailing boat, a submarine, done in a cheerful mostly yellow color scheme that suited the 1960s setting – if making it a bit hard to figure out how a “bum boat woman” (Jennie Jacobs as Buttercup) could actually make it to the ship. That said, the Jackie Kennedy hairdo and styling of Josephine (Alys Roberts) was perfect – she looked just like the sort of charming ingenue capable both of being chased by an admiral (Joseph Shovelton) and loved madly by a lowly seaman (Phillip Lee). The man playing her father, Captain Corcoran (Matthew Palmer) was so fresh faced and pink cheeked that it seemed hard to imagine him as her father – he looked all of thirty! – but given how the play ends it was probably for the best that he looked so young. Meanwhile, the Admiral – who shows up in a diving suit – was a huge ham and big scene stealer, although his aunt – of “his sisters, and his cousins and his aunts” – managed to upstage him consistently, and without uttering a word. Trust me on this.

Staging and costumes is all fine, but what about the singing? While Ralph had a lovely voice and the Admiral a suitably booming one, I found myself entirely won over by Roberts’ turn as the captain’s daughter. “Sorry her lot” is a sappy piece of work, but I could hear convincing young love within her voice. And her scene telling off Ralph – with many asides – nicely switched from aggravation to desperation without either seeming forced! I kept wanting to push back at the sugariness of the original, but instead I found myself cheering on the two of them … wholly succumbing to the charm of the work. And my, didn’t the jokes about the British class system still hold up in their entirety.

While this production didn’t “push the boat out” much, so to speak, the delight of hearing this cream of the crop show in such an intimate environment is not to be underestimated. Charles Court have done well and I am sure they will have full houses eager to spend their evenings laughing at a well executed romp.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. It continues through May 11th.)

Review – Original Death Rabbit – Jermyn Street Theatre

January 16, 2019 by

Technology, and how we deal with it, is one of my favorite topics for plays and for new writing. As human beings, we’ve gone well beyond letters and even phone calls; theater has struggled to keep up with the rapid changes in how we communicate with each other. Plays are, at their core, about dialogue; but these days, we talk to each other with text messages, with instant messages, with comments on posts, and with emojis, memes, and captioned photos. None of these translate well to the stage. But what does, and should, is how these changes are affecting us as people and as a society – what does having a thousand different ways to communicate with each other (and often with strangers) do to individuals. And this is what Rose Heiney’s play Original Death Rabbit is about – how life as lived partially on the internet is changing us.

Kimberley Nixon in the Original Death Rabbit at Jermyn Street Theatre - photo by Robert Workman

Kimberley Nixon in the Original Death Rabbit at Jermyn Street Theatre – photo by Robert Workman

Original Death Rabbit is the online handle of a young woman who briefly shot to fame as the originator of an online meme, a la the “icebucket challenge” or “planking.” A photo was taken of her wearing a pink bunny onesie at a funeral and it became an internet craze – taking pictures of yourself (or others) at inappropriate places wearing the same thing. But like any person who gets five minutes of fame, there’s a lot more to ODR than the moment she was caught hiding in a cemetery or when the paps finally found her on the doorstep of her apartment. ODR is a young woman with mental health issues, who comes from a family with mental health issues, who finds that with an unrelenting spotlight on her she is more inclined than ever to not leave the house and to spend her time on online forums and trolling her top enemy on Twitter. Her depiction of a life lived in a tiny flat, only communicating via text, seems remarkably acccurate and depressing – a good reason to unplug forever and force yourself to get back to face to face communication.

The whole thing is done as a monologue by Kimberley Nixon – an impressive feat, and one she carries off with complete self assurance. It’s easy to imagine ODR and Nixon herself as being spoiled, self-obsessed, insecure, raging, and able to completely lose herself in poetry – Nixon wraps the character around herself so much that she disappears, and I found myself lost in the “maze of twisted passages all alike” that is ODR’s brain. How had she become so broken? Why wasn’t she trying to save herself?

Original Death Rabbit is a tightly woven portrait of a person who is allowed to further withdraw into mental illness in a world where it can be hard to tell when people are hiding and when, in fact, they are in danger. That said, I found myself torn between wanting to shout, “Get over yourself!” to the character, to wanting to call the author and ask her to give ODR a little something to make her a bit more well-rounded. Dealing with your own and a family’s mental illness gives an author (and an audience) a lot of material to work with, but having all of a story be told as a video being made for YouTube – or perhaps an extended blog post – is just not quite enough to make me care about the person on stage, or her family. I wanted to see more, to go deeper, to know that the bullshit happy happy faces people put up on social media are very much not representative of the struggles that are happening below – because ODR’s struggles never seemed to get to that key nerve I wanted to get. Still, it’s worth seeing if you want to see theater that’s engaging with the effect of technology on our lives – the topic has much to offer.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 15, 2019. It continues through February 9th.)

Review – Burke and Hare – Jermyn Street Theatre

December 3, 2018 by

In a completely genius move of counter-programming, Jermyn Street have chosen to stage a most unusual Christmas show: a celebration of two 19th century Scottish grave robbers, completely with jolly songs, bad jokes, and on stage corpsing of the most literal sort. With three actors playing more roles than I could count (yet all nicely delineated by clothing and accent), the night moved at a whirlwind pace, barely seeming to leave the central room at the lodging house where Mr Hare (Alex Parry) lives along with his wife, the proprietor (Katy Daghorn). Burke (Hayden Wood) shows up, short of cash, but willing to work; and when a chance comes to sort a dead lodger’s debt by selling off his corpse, Burke shows little shyness in joining in the Hares’ plans.

The particular genius of this show is how so few actors in such a tiny space manage to do so much, conveying the back alleys of Edinburgh, the blood-splashed lecture halls of the cadaver-hungry doctors, and the heave and squalor of a rooming house not of the highest class. Much credit for this no doubt must go to director Abigail Pickard Price and designer Toots Butcher; Jermyn Street is very much an intimate theater but they created a space that felt far larger. And the comedy was right on target – black at times but full of silliness especially as the various actors attempted to compensate for the shortage of bodies to fill the roles (see what I did there?).

Burke and Hare, full cast – Hayden Wood, Alex Parry, and Katy Daghorn. Photo by Philip Tull.

My worry was that this story would completely descent to goriness, given that I’m fairly phobic about blood, but most of the spare body parts were so silly that I couldn’t have been the least bit frightened; and there was, in the end, only one murder scene, played toward then end and actually quite moving. If you add in the fact that the corpse on stage the longest appeared to be giggling under her sheet, the overall effect was leavened with enough humor – gallows humor, shall we say – that I was able to make it through the entire play without getting creeped out.

While Burke and Hare is not going to be stealing punters away from the Palladium panto, pretty much every theater goer in town is going to want a break from endless helpings of treacle and mince pies, and this show is just right for us – zippy, fun, tightly performed, and with enough of a feeling of improv that every night should feel fresh – just like the corpses.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place Friday, November 30, 2018. It continues through December 21st.)

Tulip Hunting in Uzbekistan and beyond

November 29, 2018 by

After listening to Frazer Henderson’s wonderful talk on Kyrgyzstan at the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society AGM in 2015, I was all fired up to look for tulips in exotic places. Soaring mountains, alpine lakes, and beautiful, beautiful flowers growing wild in the rocks – I wanted to see them myself. Sure, there were a few challenges – transport, housing, and blood sucking fauna – but it all seemed to fade in the background when I remembered his photos of cobalt blue lakes beneath snow capped peaks. It also seemed very affordable, provided you didn’t mind the occasional meal of horse meat. When I received an email asking if I were interested in joining a small group of enthusiasts on a trek to Uzbeki-stan, I leaped at the opportunity. I, too, would become a species spotter – a true tulipomane!

A Tulipa Korolkovii forces its way out from the rocks in the foothills of the mountains near Nurata

A Tulipa Korolkovii forces its way out from the rocks in the foothills of the mountains near Nurata

We started our trip in Istanbul, which was off the official itinerary but a wonderful place to begin, as the annual tulip festival was in full swing, with the Emirgan Korusu park covered with acres and acres of late Dutch tulips in gorgeous displays. Our group of five – Frazer, myself, my husband, and WNETS committee members Teresa and Jason Clements – took some time to visit the tulip museum in the park and then to stroll around admiring the densely planted gardens. Entry was free (although distant from public transport – a taxi would be helpful), and families were everywhere: picnicking, taking photos, and enjoying the perfect weather. From this hilltop perch, we dashed to a field between the Hagia Sophia museum and the Sultan Ahmet mosque, where a giant carpet of tulip blossoms had been made as a part of the festival. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard more about this festival in the UK – in richness of displays, it seemed more than equal to Keukenhof, but with the added fun of Istanbul and its treasures surrounding it (and no entry fee).

Naturalized Tulipa Greigii

Exploring a pasture of tulips beside a mountain lake. Among the crags and ravines beyond many rare tulip varieties lurk. Would we get to them before the local goats (who consider tulips a delicacy)?

After our busy day, we had several hours of free time to dine and repack, for all of us were on the same flight to Tashkent – at midnight. Uff! Our Uzbekistan adventure began properly the morning of April 13th, where we were met at the tiny Tashkent airport by Yuri, our Uzbeki tour guide, and transferred to our hotel in a residential district of Tashkent.

Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum and pilgrimage site

The pilgrimage site of the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum includes the resting place of Qusam, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, as well as numerous members of Tamerlane’s family.

There we found Karsten, a German anesthesiologist, who would round out the tour group to six. As we headed into our vans the next morning, we met Ivan Maltseva, who would accompany us as our botanist. The next morning we undertook a lengthy drive to the farming villages of the Nurata mountains, where, on our very first hike, we found a few examples of Tulipa Korolkovii on the shale slopes. This stubby pinky white/red wonder (it had two forms) had the most gorgeous curlicue foliage. As a bonus, we saw a chamoix in the distance – all this just a half hour walk from our guesthouse. It was a promising start! From then, our days alternated with long drives between tulip biomes, sightseeing in ancient cities, and hikes in remote landscapes that varied between twinkling alpine meadows scrub desert, and the kind of sandstone canyons that made you think Indiana Jones was just around the corner.

Tulipa Ingens

A Tulipa ingens nestling in the snow at the Kitab State Geological Reserve.

It quickly became clear that while it might seem that our enemy was the weather – fog, freezing sleet and accompanying mud – the true villain of this trip was the goat, which time and again seemed to have beat us to the tulips, leaving behind close cropped stems and a few leaves. We had arrived in time for blooming season, but could not beat the hungry hordes!Our best days of tulip spotting were spent in mountain preserves too remote for grazing herbivores. In the foggy, freezing Takhtakaracha mountains near Samarkand, we saw Tulipa ingens and Tulipa Fosterianii amid the grass, moss, boulders, and clag; within the gorgeous Kitab State Geological Reserve (where we were as interesting to the park rangers as the tulips were to us) we found Tulipa ingens and Tulipa Fosteriana hiding between patches of snow; and in Boison we enjoyed central Asia curving away from us after we took our pictures of Tulipa Korolkovii and Tulipa lanata.

Uzbeki family picnic

An Uzbeki family near Nurata having a Sunday picnic of lamb stew, flatbread, and tea.

We also enjoyed some outstanding architecture and enjoyed the pleasures of a country where civilization has flourished since before the rise of Christianity. You can hardly escape learning about Emir Timur, called Tamerlane in the West, the national hero of Uzbekistan. His tomb, the madrasahs surrounding the imposing Registan square (the oldest built by his grandson in 1417), the turquoise Shah-i-Zinda necropolis (filled with Timur’s relatives), and the greatly restored Bibi-Khanym mosque (built for his wife) gave us a very rich time sight-seeing in our short time in Samarkand – with people from all over Asia queuing up beside us. While the tourism infra-structure is still a bit thin, the hospitality we were shown was genuine and joyful, including an exciting moment where we were invited to join an Uzbeki family for their Sunday picnic in the foothills near the city of Nurata (founded by Alexander the Great). Getting from place to place involved long hours in vans, but we took the opportunity to visit with each other, enjoy the scenery, and nap.

The highlight of the tour, however, was the final Sunday, when we drove from Tashkent to the Beldersay mountains, a well developed tourist area on the border with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We had a gorgeous drive into the mountains where we went to the station for a ski lift which continues running after the end of the snow for the benefit of day trippers who want to enjoy the magnificent views at the top. Our gondolas floated us over fields of yellow tulips – a huge change from the single stems we’d struggled to find in the deserts below!

Tulipa biflorifomis produces tiny double blooms in cream and white.

At the top, below occasional spots of melting snow, were endless clusters of tiny flowers – the endemic Tulipa Tchimganica – yellow and red flowers with pointed petals – and knots of the cream and yellow Tulipa biflorifomis, with its baroque foliage and endearing multi-headed blooms. All of this and snow capped peaks as far as the eye could see and the most gorgeous sunny weather
51- it was almost enough to make you forget that a misstep in the mud could send you quite a way down in a bit of a hurry. Then, after lunch, we made it to our residence, an off season ski resort, where our naturalist took us on a walk down the hillside into a fenced off field – where, miracle of miracle, endless clusters of fat, red Tulipa greigii all but filled the horizon with their cheerful scarlet. We lost ourselves in an ecstasy of photography, nearly giddy after so many days struggling to see even one flower amid the destruction caused by the ungulate population. There was one day left to the trip but nothing could top this day of seeing some of the world’s rarest tulips in their native environment, with the sunshine beaming down on us; and the joy of a grassy meadow shouting, “Welcome Spring!”

Tulipa Tchimganica

Tulipa Tchimganica is found widely in the Beldersay mountains.

Preview – How I Became a Dominatrix Using Damned Lies and Statistics – Vulcanello Productions at the King’s Head Theatre

September 5, 2018 by

Smash hit and Evening Standard “Pick of the Camden Fringe” How I Became a Dominatrix Using Damned Lies and Statistics is returning to the London stage after a sold out run at the EtCetera Theatre. The original cast is back for a limited engagement – five nights only – at the King’s Head Theatre in mid-October, playing as a part of the late night programme after performances of La Traviata.

How I Became a Dominatrix Using Damned Lies and Statistics

Counter culture housewife Christy (Fleur de Wit) thinks she’s lost all interest in sex, until she discovers the internet. Suddenly she’s found the cure for sexual blahs: she is going to become a dominatrix!

From bondage workshops to sex clubs, Christy takes herself, her husband Scott (Anthony Rhodes) and the audience on a journey of discovery, with instruction (and ridiculous jokes) courtesy of Coral Tarran (Mistress Sunshine, Violet) and newcomer Kyran Peet (Russell, Eric). Don’t tie yourself in knots – get someone else to!

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT: HIBDUDLS is the sixth play by T. L. Wiswell, the author of gender switched London Lovecraft Festival sell-outs “Mountains of Madness” and “The Thing on the Doorstep.” With this show, she turns from camp horror to anti-romcom, “Noel Coward meets Fifty Shades of Grey.”

ABOUT THE DIRECTOR: Micha Mirto is a theatre director with a particular interest in new writing and projects championing diversity. Her debut piece ‘A Flat Full of Chandeliers’ enjoyed a three week residency at the Hen and Chickens theatre and she’s since directed three summer tours with DOT Productions; ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (2016) ‘Emma’ (2017) and ‘A Woman of No Importance’ (2018). Other projects include ‘I,Dido’ (April 2018, St George’s Bloomsbury) and site specific ‘Gruesome Tales of the dark dark Woods’ (2014, Epping Forest).



HIBDUDLS runs October 15-October 20, 2018 at the King’s Head Theatre and runs at 9:30 nightly for five performances (excluding Thursday). Run time is slightly less than an hour. There are adult topics but no nudity. Not suitable for under 16s. Tickets available on the King’s Head website; updates available via Facebook and Twitter; contact information below.

Twitter: @how2domme

Do you worry that people will try to do this at home? “I sure hope so!” says author TL Wiswell. “This play is supposed to be fun and people should come out feeing cheerful and enthusiastic and empowered. Embrace the power of, ‘Yes please!’ I mean, we give out how-to pamphlets at the show, SOMEBODY should try it out and see if it works. ”
Isn’t it a little too sexy for the London stage? (The play includes a caning workshop and a stylized party set at a sex club.) “Too sexy for Facebook, yes. They’ve consistently banned our ads even when we use vanilla art. We are not providing an adult service! But a lot of people find this whole world very intimidating,” adds Wiswell. “This play provides a road map to navigating the lifestyle and making it approachable. Ultimately, you take home what you bring, and if that’s curiosity, you may discover you’re now willing to push yourself just that little bit more. Dominants and dominatrixes like making jokes and being silly just like everyone else does, it’s just that when they do DIY at home it may be for much more dodgy reasons than you’d expect.”

Why is the title of the play so long? “HIBDUDLS was originally written as a play exploring how long term couples struggle to be honest about their desires – thus the ‘Damned Lies and Statistics,’ because often in a relationship the endless lies you tell to smooth things over become so natural that you forget what it is you actually want. I mostly just call it Dominatrix these days unless I’m talking to my family about the play and then it’s ‘Damned Lies and Statistics,’ the original title – which comes from the old quote about how there are three kinds of lies.”

So how is this a comedy, then? “I wanted to discuss this serious problem in a way that was engaging and positive. That’s how I came up with the dominatrix angle,” she continues. “A lot of people try to pep up their sex lives with the old ‘silk scarves and fuzzy handcuffs’ SM after many years, or decide to ‘open up their relationship’ by going polyamorous. I decided to have the couple of my play go to BDSM workshops together, and then invite the audience to come along. That way they’re learning as the characters learn, but the audience will figure out much sooner that Scott and Christie are approaching this in very different ways. My hope is the audience will see the ‘lies that bind’ fairly quickly. I love unreliable narrators, and both Scott and Christie have no idea what they are getting into in terms of their relationship. They both need to learn how to be honest really quickly.”

What were your inspirations for this show? “Changing your life is really difficult, and many works of art see making a change as too, too hard – impossible, in fact. This inability drives a lot of very melancholy works – “Three Sisters,” “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock,” it’s a long list. I found these inspiring, but they inspired me to flip this narrative, to tell a story where a woman is determined to change and to explore some parts of herself she’s filed away in cold storage and not to just do what she’s ‘supposed’ to do. My closest inspiration otherwise was the book ‘Our Tragic Universe’ by Scarlett Thomas – about someone learning to make a life for themselves – and ‘The Prudes’ by Anthony Neilson, which didn’t inspire me so much as convince me I was on the right track with directly addressing the audience and talking frankly about sex.”

It seems like this play could go quite dark, but the audiences were really laughing at the Et Cetera. Why is that? “Well, I worked to make it positive and upbeat. Neither of the lead characters are perfect and the people they meet run the gamut from predato¬¬ry to genuinely kind and supportive. ‘Dominatrix’ was written with research in both the polyamorous and BDSM community and is fairly true to life – but funnier. There’s a million reasons to be depressed today. I want people to come see my play and walk out feeling sparkly and excited about the future. Hopefully I’ve hit the right balance – and hopefully this will be a good show for neophytes and people who’ve been ‘on the scene’ forever. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway.”

For additional information on TL Wiswell, see:

Review – Black Cat Cabaret: Bohemia – Underbelly Festival

September 3, 2018 by

It’s rare that I get to review a show I was interested in see, but this was my great luck – to be invited to opening night of the Black Cat Cabaret’s new show, Bohemia. I’d been alerted to their upcoming run at the Underbelly Festival by a friend who pointed it out as the kind of louche night out I enjoy; and, boy, of the various circus cum cabaret evenings I’ve seen over the last several years at this venue, Bohemia absolutely takes the cake as the best combination of movement, music, and sheer pizazz since I saw the puppy play segment of Briefs back in 2014. Black Cat is running the tightest, freshest presentation of circus based performance right now, the ultimate flowering of the hot bed of burlesque/drag/queerness/physical performance that IS London right now, and only this particular sexually charged petri dish could have produced it. Let me describe for those who might be of a more suspicious nature.

The evening opened with our fabulous, sexalicious compere, Frisky giving us a narrated tour of the life of bohemians throughout the ages, hitting Montmartre, of course, but also the sixties and even Manchester of the eighties. This provided an excuse to sing “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love, ” and … well, do you remember hearing how Grace Slick’s voice was ruined early in her career and you never got those candy-sweet tones you heard on vinyl? WELL I HEARD THAT SONG SPUN LIKE SWEET FLUFFY FLOSS and it rocked out.

The performers were a mixed bag of artists – an easy to love hoop dancer, a muscular man who did aerial silks, a fire breather who looked like the daughter of Ming the Merciless (Hayley Harvey-Gomez), and an alcoholic (supposedly) trapeze-type artist (Katharine Arnold) whose antics overhead as Frisky ordered her (in song), “Entertain us! Here we are now, entertain us!” in gorgeously redux Nirvana style …

literally brought me to tears. Early in the evening, the gorgeous Leon Fagbemi, the second featured act, came on stage doing a flip in the air and, you see, missed his landing. His feet were underneath him but I could see he’d landed wrong, and apparently he really hurt himself, although he kept his face completely straight as he walked off into the darkness …

leaving the rest of the cast to figure out how do we get this back together. And they carried on, like the professionals we were, and we did that thing we do, like hungry audiences, not caring very much but wanting to be entertained. And they literally gave us everything, and watching “Danger K” spinning around in the air above me, I thought, they really are in a different world; they give us their bodies and we give them just a tiny big of money and then suddenly we decide we’re not there for them anymore. Our beautiful, talented, wonderful London artists’ community, we just really don’t love them like we ought to, and there I was, sitting in the audience after this had happened, and Frisky was telling all of us that every one of them knows we only love them for four minutes and then we move on. And it was unbearably beautiful and sad and I got teary.

But hey. I hadn’t had enough sleep. That was it.

The overall quality of the performances was technically very high, with inventive executions (and clever narration) that I felt moved the entire show a notch above the usual burlesque performance or even modern circus. But you know what clinched it? Frisky’s voice. My God. One whole star just for the pleasure of hearing her sing, and the incredibly appropriate and thoughtful music she chose. Which would mean I give this show five stars, if I gave stars, with I don’t. But you know what I did do? I went back and reserved a table for two weeks later, because YES I liked that much and YES Leon I want to see you perform (and be well!) and YES YES YES there is nothing sexier than a giant YES PLEASE for Black Cat: Bohemia. See you in two Fridays.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place Thursday, August 30th, 2018. It continues through September 30th.)