Posts Tagged ‘Old Red Lion Pub Theatre’

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.)

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Review – Lardo – Old Red Lion Pub Theater

March 9, 2015

With my white trash American background, I have a bit of a soft spot for professional wrestling – although admittedly it’s due to Mexican wrestling rather than WWF. So I was excited when I heard about the play Lardo, currently premiering at the Old Red Lion theater. A fat Scottish boy wants to live his dream of being a professional wrestler? With visions of deep fried Mars bars, acres of spandex, and slamming Irn-Bru in my head, I eagerly awaited opening night (well, really, the day after, but close enough).

I walk upstairs into the theater space, and bam! It’s been transformed. The walls are painted in primary colors – including blue for the Scottish flag and red for some lockers – and the entire area has been taken over by a wrestling wring (with the same blue on the ropes). I wonder how it’s all going to work, because either all of it’s actually taking place in and next to the ring, or … well, that big square piece obviously isn’t going anywhere. And as the story opens, we’ve got the protagonist, Lardo (Daniel Buckley, like a round male Judy Garland all ready to use the barn to put on a show), running around in front of the ring while his girlfriend, Kelly (Laura Daral), shoots videos of him on her cell phone. He’s busy promoting himself as a wrestling superstar, although (we discover) all he really has is a persona and a dream – he’s never spent a minute in the ring. Then suddenly his girlfriend asks him to be careful and not step in the sea turtle eggs … what? Oh, I get it, they’re supposed to be outside. As the show evolves, it becomes clear that, for all that it looms, the boxing ring has more flexibility than I expected, serving nicely both as a living room and a bedroom in other scenes.

But the show and the stage truly come to life when it’s time for Tartan Wrestling Madness!!! (which has to be spelled with exclamation marks). Lardo believably talks himself into a show – with some help from a health and safety inspector who bigs him up to “ringmaster” Stairs (Nick Karimi) – and then takes his comic relief spotlight and turns it into star billing. It all happens pretty fast, but what winds up pulling you in is the development of personal relationships between the various wrestlers in Stairs’ stable (a crazy seeming blonde named Whiplash Mary and an old friend of Lardo’s, Wee Man), whose lives become intertwined with Lardo’s. Meanwhile, Stair’s hunger for money is pulling ahead of any concern whatsoever for the welfare of the people who are effectively his employees – and the stunts are starting to seem a bit too real.

In fact, the fourth wall really starts to tumble down during this show, as we, the audience, are sucked in to the drama (who woulda thunk it) of amateur wrestling. The throws seems real, there’s no doubt that bruise on poor Buckley’s shoulder was real, and before you know it, the entire environment seems real. We are at a wrestling match and Lardo needs our support. He’s funny, he’s got great stage presence, and you just can’t help wanting him to win. And before you know it, that feeling is spreading to the whole production. You want Lardo to make it out alive, you want him to get things fixed with his girlie, and you want him to actually live up to the plus size dreams he has for his life. In the end I was pretty amazed – I walked in thinking I was going to be having a laugh and wound up being caught up emotionally with what was going on. I can’t even blame the Irn-Bru. Lardo is a knee-twisting, full body slam good time and just a damned good night out. Don’t miss it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 6, 2015. Lardo is booking through March 29th. By the way, Nick Karimi looks super fine when he rips his shirt off for the final wrestling bout. You have been warned.)

Review – The Ghost Hunter – Theater of the Damned at Old Red Lion Pub

May 12, 2013

Stewart Pringle distinguished himself as author of the horror short “As Ye Sow,” which stood out amongst its B-movie brethren at a night of short Guignol/esque plays like a real corpse mixed in with the waxworks. So I was excited to get an invite to see his latest work, The Ghost Hunter, at the conveniently located Old Red Lion pub theater, and said yes without really bothering to read any of the publicity materials. I’d guess it might be spooky, and who would want to ruin the fun with an ill timed spoiler?

I really didn’t know a thing, even about the venue, which is tiny (it seats about 50). Feel free to bring your drinks in: while there’s no place to put them, the show only runs an hour, and as you watch ghost hunter Richard Barraclough (Tom Richards) put away a pint of Abbot, you’ll feel drawn to join in. Me, after an incredibly stressful week at work, well, I thought a double vodka cran was the way to go; it could only heighten the effect, right?

So now it’s time to get down to the review, and I find myself torn about how much to reveal. I loved the feeling of walking into a darkened room with a man in Victorian costume waiting quietly for us, eyes downturned, only to become animated as the lights dimmed; it seemed like a very good start to the evening. But … his pint glass has a label on it: how anachronistic! And yet … well, not, because as it turns out, Barraclough is actually the leader of ghost tours in modern York. I was a bit disappointed, as I liked the idea of a Victorian fright drama: you know, The Lady in Black is back!

But what we have to think about is what is really frightening, and, to me, a tale separated by 150 years is very easy to put out of mind when you walk away. Our Ghost Hunter spends a lot of his time talking about his work and where the tales that he tells originate, and much of it is quite … well, not banal, but rooted in normalcy. He’s clearly a good tale spinner, and you can see him working his magic as he ma)es the fluff he spins into cobwebs for his punters come to life.

However … at some point the barrier between our comfortable existence and a more uncomfortable possibility starts to come down, and by the end of the show, I can guarantee your hair will be standing on end and your heart will be aching for Barraclough’s terror. Much as in The Weir, Pringle takes the campfire ritual of the ghost story and turns it into a glimpse of a parallel, paranormal reality. Mmmm and brrr. In many ways, it was a thrill to walk out of this dark room, chilled to the bone, and into the late spring sunlight and Islington’s high street, and back into the comfortable assurance that “none of that is real, is it?” Because for a certain period of time, you, as a playgoer, will be convinced that it was.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 10, 2013. It continues through May 25th.)