Review: Boujie at Drayton Arms Theatre

We all like to believe that wealth and success wouldn’t change us, or our relationships with the people closest to us – but how realistic is that when it actually happens? This is the question asked and rather gloomily answered by Hassan Govia’s Boujie, in which entertainment blogger Devin (played by Govia) invites his friends round for Friday night drinks. They’re suitably impressed by his posh new flat, but the evening turns sour thanks to a combination of Devin’s annoying neighbour Giles (Freddy Gaffney), a surprise visit from his sister Giselle (Cristal Cole), and a shock revelation about the true extent of his financial success.

Photo credit: Alessa Davidson

The issues raised by the play are interesting, relevant and well presented, enabling us to see the argument from both sides and exploring the complex psychology behind human beings’ relationship with money and class. Devin feels compelled to keep acting a role that he no longer feels comfortable with just to keep his friends happy, and to conceal his true feelings about the working class background and family he’s left behind. His friends (Natali Servat, Peter Silva and Maria Yarjah) are quite content for him to live in a nice flat all the while they think he can’t really afford it, but take offence when they realise he’s actually done pretty well for himself. But Devin’s not afraid of passing judgment either; having elevated himself, he now feels he has the right to look down on anyone who doesn’t do the same, assuming rather blindly that we must all be motivated by the same ambitions.

As a script, Boujie keeps on giving; the play gives us plenty to think about both in the moment and afterwards as it explores race, class, personal relationships, and how each of us chooses to define our own success. There are, however, moments and details that feel a little contrived, and in trying to cover so much material, the dialogue doesn’t always flow as naturally as you might expect between good friends. The format of the play also includes a number of soliloquies, and while there’s nothing wrong with that – and all are very well performed by a talented cast – as the play goes on it begins to feel a bit more like watching a debate than a social occasion.

The characters are, for the most part, well drawn and we get to know each of them pretty well as the play goes on; in particular, we gain a good understanding of what drives them from a career and financial point of view. The one exception is next door neighbour Giles – despite an enjoyable comedy performance from Freddy Gaffney, his absolute lack of social or cultural awareness (particularly given what we later learn about his relationship status) feels oddly one-dimensional and unrealistic, jarring against the other, far more complex and believable characters.

Photo credit: Alessa Davidson

A rather depressing outlook – despite his success, Devin doesn’t fit in with either his old friends or his new neighbours, and seems doomed to remain alone and miserable like a modern-day Scrooge – is saved by a touching final scene between Devin and his sister Giselle. Of anyone, she has the most reason to be mad at him, and although it feels like her refusal to give up on him may not be entirely selfless, it does at least bring the play to a rather more upbeat conclusion.

Though billed as a comedy, Boujie actually has some quite serious comments to make about how we let money and status dominate our lives, and prompts fewer laughs and more self-reflection than you might expect. It’s not perfect (yet), but this is a promising debut from Hassan Govia and Unshaded Arts, and with a bit of tightening in places it has the potential to make an even more powerful statement.

Boujie is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 8th December.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Rock of Ages at the Orchard Theatre

Chris D’Arienzo’s 2005 jukebox musical Rock of Ages has a lot going for it: a soundtrack of epic 80s rock classics, a feel-good LA love story, and perhaps most importantly, an absolute refusal to take itself seriously at any point. Add in the universally fantastic cast of Nick Winston’s touring production, and – a little bit of questionable humour aside – you’ve got the recipe for a great show (but maybe leave the kids at home).

Photo credit: The Other Richard

The year is 1987, and wannabe actress Sherrie (Danielle Hope) has just arrived on the Sunset Strip, where she meets wannabe rockstar Drew (Luke Walsh), but their budding romance is endangered when actual rockstar Stacee Jaxx (Sam Ferriday) turns up. One thing leads to another, and as Drew’s getting discovered by a record producer, Sherrie ends up working as a stripper for Justice (Zoe Birkett) at the Venus Club. Meanwhile local legend Dennis Dupree (Kevin Kennedy) must defend his beloved bar from two Germans (Andrew Carthy and Vas Constanti), who want to tear down the Strip and replace it with a Foot Locker – a plan also opposed vehemently by former City Planner Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman). It’s a long and bumpy road, but in the end everyone gets what they want – even if they didn’t know it was what they wanted in the first place.

The story is nothing we haven’t seen plenty of times before, but Rock of Ages realises that and leans into it, understanding that nobody in the audience has bought a ticket for the plot anyway, so why not have some fun with it? Narrator Lonny – in a hilarious, show-stealing performance from Lucas Rush – does exactly that, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, openly acknowledging the formulaic nature of the story and turning it into a running joke that the audience is more than happy to go along with while we wait for the next rock classic.

And fortunately, we never have long to wait. We Built This City, We’re Not Gonna Take It, I Want to Know What Love Is, Here I Go Again, The Final Countdown, I Can’t Fight This Feeling, Don’t Stop Believing… and so many more hits make it almost impossible to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. They’re also an excuse for the cast to showcase some sensational vocals; the show has an unusually large quantity of lead characters and without question, every single one of them delivers. Even the numbers that are clearly aiming more for comedy – like Lonny and Dennis’ duet in Act 2, or anything involving the Germans – don’t compromise on vocal quality. Barney Ashworth’s band are similarly excellent, and from a musical point of view, there’s absolutely no doubt that Rock of Ages is a resounding triumph.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

The one area where the show falters a little is in some of the humour, which is not so much offensive as just a bit tired. For instance, it’s never really clear why the two property developers have to be German, except as an excuse to make cheap gags at their expense – and in a script that has so much good stuff going for it in terms of comedy, this doesn’t add anything and feels unnecessary. And yes, I know the show is set in the 80s, but the less said about its portrayal of women, the better. (To quote my friend at the interval, “It’s good, but you can tell it was written by a man.”)

All the same, Rock of Ages does what it sets out to do: it well and truly rocks, and does so in an engagingly self-aware way that some other jukebox musicals could definitely learn a thing or two from. Great fun for a cheesy – and slightly cheeky – night out.

Rock of Ages is at the Orchard Theatre until 24th November, before continuing on tour.

Interview: Stephanie Silver, Walk of Shame

For one, it’s a night of glory – for the other, a walk of shame… Glass Half Full Theatre return with a topical new production next month, as they bring Walk of Shame by Stephanie Silver and Emelia Marshall Lovsey to the White Bear for a limited run.

“I don’t want to give too much away,” says Stephanie. “As with most of our plays we produce, it takes the audience on a journey and the ending isn’t what you expect; we like twists and turns. It’s a story based on two characters: Alice, written by Emelia, and Liam, written by myself. We merged the two characters together to create a story of one night and two different points of view.”

The show was first picked up by Stephanie through Actor Awareness, at a new writing event based at Spotlight. “I co-produce these nights with Tom Stocks and I read the script submissions,” she explains. “I read this piece and instantly loved it, and felt it fit the ethos of plays I wanted to produce through Glass Half Full. Thought provoking, tragic and funny characters is what I like to home in on.

“Initially it was just Alice that was written, but after directing the piece for the event I went away, wrote a two-hander and asked Emelia if she fancied putting it on. We’ve since done R&D with it at the Actor Awareness new writing festival and also with Get Over it Productions at the Tabard Theatre this summer.”

One aspect that particularly drew Stephanie to Walk of Shame was its relevance: “Alice is a very loud and sexually overt character, and a lot of judgments get placed on her by the audience for her in ya face nature. I think it’s important that as women we are still breaking down stereotypes of how people perceive we should behave. Alice is not ladylike; she doesn’t say the right thing or often make the right choices. So I think her story is important, as it’s getting female characters out there that aren’t perfect and are flawed. I think women everywhere will relate to characters like Alice.

“Liam, the other character in the play, is very interesting and it’s a very different journey the audience go on with him – and without giving any twist away, it’s very interesting to see how the audience respond at the end after hearing about Liam’s life.”

Walk of Shame brings together a cast of talented creatives, the majority of whom have worked with Glass Half Full previously. “Emelia was actually in my last play Our Big Love Story; she played Katie at The Hope Theatre in March,” says Stephanie. “As a producer, when I like people I keep them around. This is Emelia’s first play as a writer, so it’s exciting to be on that journey with her. She’s worked with the company a lot.

“Michelle Payne is a very accomplished actor, writer, director, producer slash superwoman. Her last play, Full Circle, about mental health won awards at the Brewery Fringe 2018. Michelle’s worked with Glass Half Full on new writing night Series of Short Plays, and she’s just set up acting school Caspa Arts. As a woman of all trades, and who knows the company’s work well, she’s a perfect fit to direct.

“As for the cast – Liam will be played by the very talented Calum Speed, who got an Offie nom for his role as Chubby in Chubby, which also had a run at the White Bear Theatre. And I myself will take on the role as Alice, which is exciting as I’ve been mainly producing for the last year, so it’s good to get back to doing what I love.”

The show opens at the White Bear on 11th December, where it will run until the 15th. “The White Bear is a great venue for new writing and it’s also a perfect space for the piece. Its intimacy will really lend to the story, and we hope the audience will go away with a lot to think about. We aim to challenge and get the audience to talk at the bar after. Our theatre company motto is ‘hard hitting and engaging’ – which this play is to a T.”

Get your tickets for Walk of Shame at the White Bear Theatre from 11th-15th December.

Interview: Alexander Knott, Renaissance Men

A bleak and bitter comedy about toxic masculinity and the millennial generation, Renaissance Men is a new production from writer James Patrick and Bag of Beard. The show will debut at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November, with tour dates to be announced for 2019.

“On the face of it Renaissance Men is about three art school dropouts who discover a lost masterpiece in a charity shop in Streatham,” explains Bag of Beard co-director, Alexander Knott. “But beyond that concept, the play is about what happens when men don’t talk to each other. When masculinity gets in the way of human connection. What happens if three young people are faced with a life changing opportunity? Does huge wealth generate huge contentment? What is the relevance of art in a society that values only capital? Is there a voice for Millennials that aren’t just obsessed with their phones? Is there a voice for nostalgia? And through this, can we connect to each other on a fundamental level?”

The story was inspired in part by the personal experience of writer James Patrick, combined with the company’s interest in discussing how the millennial generation connect with each other – or fail to do so. “We weren’t interested in the clichéd image of millennials; we’re not telling a story of iPhones and Instagram, but a kind of counter culture, as James puts it,” says Alexander, who plays Quentin in the show. “With our productions, Bag of Beard are interested in a sense of the timeless, of a heightened reality, but one that we can see society reflected in.

“We explored this in our first production Bath, at The Bread and Roses Theatre, but it was almost an unintentional discovery. With Renaissance Men we wanted to intentionally look at the idea of nostalgia, along with a discussion about toxic masculinity and how friendships can disintegrate. Without giving any plot away, we also examine the oppressive nature of depression, and how so often men fail to communicate what they’re feeling, which luckily is coming more to the forefront of awareness.”

The play has been about a year in the making, and had evolved significantly during the development process: “James started developing an idea of a couple of criminals who stole a priceless painting during a burglary, and then had to deal with the repercussions of this when they discovered how valuable it was. Fairly soon into the writing process, the characters evolved to be art students, and the piece became semi-autobiographical. Through a process of devising and improvisation, followed by scripting the dialogue and shaping it into a narrative, we had the framework of the narrative we have now.

“We went from what we thought was a dark comedy, into a story that has a resonance about our generation, we hope. It’s a satire in parts, we’re not advocating the lifestyle that these characters live, but we think it has a truth in it. During the rehearsal process, we’ve worked a lot with music – the original music for the show was composed by Sam Heron, who also plays Irvine, and elements of physical theatre, to create the semi-heightened world of the piece.”

Alexander is co-director of Bag of Beard along with Ryan Hutton, who also directs Renaissance Men. “The company was formed when, sat in a rehearsal room in South London, working on a classical play, we started discussing how we would do it differently,” he explains. “The ideas we threw around were stylised, surreal, almost grotesque versions of these classical characters – pulling at any threads of naturalism and distorting them into an abstract shape. It was from this discussion that the idea behind the company came together. We’ve yet to make our abstract version of that particular Jacobean tragedy, but ever since we’ve been creating theatre that is darkly comic, uses elements of physical theatre and poetry, and offers a comment on our generation, and how we engage with the world, with original words and original music.”

Renaissance Men will be performed in a special sharing on 25th and 26th November, at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre. “The Old Red Lion has an incredible reputation for being a hub of great new writing, and such an amazing launchpad of new work, writers and companies,” says Alexander. “We saw Kenneth Emson’s Plastic earlier in the year, and the poetic storytelling really made it electrifying. A fascinating working class story, brought into an almost heightened reality by the use of language. That’s something we strive for with Bag of Beard, and the Old Red Lion’s track record of supporting really ambitious new theatre speaks volumes.”

Following these initial performances in London, the company are hoping to embark on a regional tour next year. “We have good relationships with some really exciting theatres in the north of England, so it’d be great to see what the reaction is up there. It’s always good to try and share the work with as many audiences as possible – one of the cornerstones of Bag of Beard is an idea of a national ensemble, as half our company is London based and the other half hailing from Yorkshire, so that’s the aim, is to share the show up there.

“We hope that the audience will leave with questions, stimulated minds and a sense of unease when considering where the characters will go next. This play evokes a sense of a generation devoid of a cause and one which tries to fill that hole with so much; politics, memes, nostalgia etc. We hope the question of how the generation can hope to survive in the real world is raised. But conversely, we hope they have a bloody good laugh!”

Book now for Renaissance Men at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November.

Review: Parenthood – The (Brand New!) Musical Revue at Mid Kent College Theatre

The latest show from Kent-based Fluffy Top Productions’ is Parenthood – The (Brand New!) Musical Revue about the highs and lows of… well, parenthood. With an original score and book by Emily Moody (who also directs) and Pete Moody, the production takes the form of a series of over 20 individual vignettes, exploring everything from pregnancy to becoming a grandparent. It’s predominantly a comedy, and paints a hilariously accurate – and often less than rosy – picture of life as a parent. But for all the mess and mayhem we encounter along the way, ultimately it’s a celebration of the journey and everything that comes with it.

 

That journey includes the sleep deprivation of the new mum, deciphering fridge doodles, competitive parenting, navigating the treacherous teenage years, waving the kids off to start their adult life… and lots, lots more. Each scene is enjoyable in its own right – many of them very much so, drawing howls of laughter from an audience who could clearly identify with the characters. The score, too, is catchy and fun (though very much adults only, due to quite a bit of bad language and a few dance moves that are best not witnessed by younger eyes). However, the “sketch show” format of the performance, which sees each scene end with a fade-out followed by a pause while the next one is set up, gives the evening a rather stop-start feel. This, along with the lack of any particular narrative flow or returning characters for us to invest in, means the show does begin in Act 2 to feel a little bit longer than it needs to be.

As a picture of parenthood, however, it’s spot on – or so I was reliably informed at the end by the ladies sitting next to me (their review of the evening: “that’s exactly what it’s like!”). Even for a non-parent, it’s clear that the comedy is very well-observed and brutally honest; much of the humour lies in the fact that the writers – who are parents themselves – aren’t afraid to say what they really think, instead of wrapping the experience of having children in excessive sentimentality. While that’s undeniably a good thing, the more reflective moments that do exist feel very few and far between, and the show could perhaps benefit from a little more emotion to balance things up a bit.

The cast of nine give strong comedy and vocal performances, despite being let down quite badly at the performance I attended by problems with the sound system. The show is very much an ensemble piece, and the variety of scenes provides each member of the cast with an opportunity to showcase their versatility, as they perform not only as a multitude of different characters, but also in a range of musical styles and some delightfully eccentric costumes (highlights include Astra Beadle’s show-stopping Superman/Princess outfit and Jordan Brown’s memorable appearance as a star in the school nativity).

As a brand new piece of musical theatre, Parenthood has much to recommend it, and with a bit of tightening up it has great potential for future development. There’s a lot to enjoy for parents and non-parents alike; the former will be able to recognise elements of their own stressful but rewarding experience, while the latter – like Auntie Jen in one of the musical numbers – can sit back, relax and revel in a childfree life of contraception and wine.

Parenthood – The (Brand New!) Musical Revue was performed at Mid Kent College Theatre from 15th-17th November. For details of future performances, visit fluffytopfriends.com.