Quick Q&A: The Pelican

Where and when: Young Actors Theatre, 22nd and 23rd Feb, 19:30

What it’s all about… The Pelican is a merciless study of human nature – with surgical precision cutting deep into the psyche to explore the effects of fostering false illusions.

Written by August Strindberg – one of the major pioneers of modern drama, it deals with issues that are only too contemporary.

You’ll like it if… you like to think. If you like to question not only the world and others around you but first and foremost – yourself – what drives you to act the way you do? If you like to project your experiences onto the characters on stage, to compare and reflect upon the causes and effects.

You should see it because… All of us are trapped in our own minds, within the confines of our worldview that determines how we see the world.

Theatre allows for an opportunity to escape this entrapment – if only for a short while – to see, understand and compare different worldviews, different modes of being – and the results to which they might lead.

The Pelican, in the essence, is about this inability – even more so – an unwillingness to understand how someone else perceives the world and the tragic effects this blindness inevitably leads to.

Anything else we should know…: Director Saulius Kovalskas: “Strindberg, influenced by Swedenborgian philosophy, mercilessly dissected his own personality and experiences, exposing the timeless subconscious processes that govern our daily existence and expressing these invisible forces through concrete forms in this intimate household drama.

The main antagonistic force in this play isn’t any particular character – it’s the weaknesses and flaws that the humanity struggles to overcome on a daily basis: from pleasuring themselves with flattering illusions – to inventing endless justifications that enable the avoidance of responsibility – to falling prey to liberating belief of victimhood and through the self-proclaimed martyrdom becoming the executioners of others.”

Where to follow:
Twitter: @ChalkRootsTC
Facebook: @ChalkRootsTC
Instagram: @chalkrootstheatre
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/574112013172636

Book here: https://yati.corsizio.com

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Review: Flights at Omnibus Theatre

Flights by John O’Donovan, on paper, is a play about three men, who meet as they’ve done for years to mark the anniversary of their friend’s death. But it’s much more than that; this is a story about a time, and a place, and a generation of young Irish men who could have left, but somehow ended up not going anywhere. It’s a story about loss – of life, love, opportunity – but also about friendship and the bonds that can hold people together, for better or worse, against all odds and expectations.

Photo credit: Ste Murray

Liam was seventeen years old when he was killed in a tragic road accident on this night seventeen years ago. His old friends, Barry (Colin Campbell), Pa (Rhys Dunlop) and Cusack (Conor Madden), are disappointed to find they’re the only ones to turn up this year for his anniversary, but nonetheless decide to make the best of it – particularly since Barry is about to leave for London with his long-term girlfriend Roisin, and new dad Cusack is having his first night out in months. As they reminisce, it becomes clear that while the three men’s lives may have gone in different directions, the circles in which they move have changed very little. And though the cast consists of just three actors, and the action never leaves the run-down clubhouse where they meet, O’Donovan’s beautifully written script paints an intricate picture of a whole community that seems frozen in time.

This feeling intensifies all the more as each of the three steps forward at different moments to deliver a monologue in the voice of their dead friend. Through these, we can start to piece together what happened, and why, and feel afresh the tragedy of a young life wasted – but also to understand that it could have been any one of these men who was lost on the road that, or any, night. Back in the present moment, and none of them is completely satisfied with their lot: Barry is full of anxiety at the prospect of leaving town at last; Pa just found himself homeless and unemployed; and even Cusack, who seems to have it all, questions what he could possibly have done to deserve it.

Photo credit: Ste Murray

The play, directed by Thomas Martin, isn’t action-packed or fast-paced, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead it follows the evening almost in real time, allowing the story to unfold through the interactions of the increasingly inebriated friends. Some of these result in unexpectedly tender moments, particularly in Act 2, while others are exactly as you’d expect when three old school friends get together: drinking games, darts, drugs and banter are very much the order of the day. Colin Campbell, Rhys Dunlop and Conor Madden are universally outstanding, utterly compelling and convincing in every detail; their chemistry as an ensemble is spot on, and their individual performances spell-binding. And the production looks stunning, too – Naomi Faughnan’s set, lit by candles and littered with what we assume to be years worth of discarded cans, feels both literally and figuratively like a shrine to Liam’s fading memory.

A poignant and powerful piece of theatre, Flights will resonate most strongly with people – particularly men – who’ve experienced what it was like to grow up in a tight-knit rural community. For the rest of us, the play is an evocative portrayal of that experience, and much like its central character, it won’t soon be forgotten.

Flights is at the Omnibus Theatre until 29th February.

Review: Netflix and Chill at Drayton Arms Theatre

I first encountered Tom Stocks’ Netflix and Chill in 2015, when I caught a ten-minute extract from what was then a very new work at an Actor Awareness scratch night. At the time, I described the scene – depicting a disastrous date – as light relief following some pretty heavy material from other writers. So it’s interesting to see that although that scene remains a pivotal moment in the full-length play, the story that frames it has taken a considerably darker turn in the intervening years.

Photo credit: Cam Harle Photography

Ben (Tom Stocks) is a working class chef, who’s struggling. His estranged mum (Julie Binysh) has just come back into the picture after leaving an abusive relationship; he keeps getting stood up by his Tinder dates; and Sophie (Emily Ellis), the girl he’s fancied for years, just went home with his infinitely more confident and charming mate Ryan (Joseph Lindoe). Inspired by Stocks’ own family experience, the play explores male mental health, and in particular the fear that talking about how you feel can somehow make you less of a man.

The play, directed by Luke Adamson, is very much one of two halves. Act 1 sets the scene, introducing all the characters – who also include Jill (Charlotte Price), a waitress at the local cafe – and firmly establishing Ben as the beta to Ryan’s alpha male; the nice guy who seems destined to always finish last. It’s in Act 2, however, that it starts to become clear what the story is actually all about – and no, despite the title, it’s not (just) sex. As Ben protests, against all evidence to the contrary, that he’s fine and doesn’t need therapy, the play builds towards a powerful and unexpected conclusion that really makes us stop and think, not just about what’s gone before on stage, but about men we may know who possibly aren’t quite as fine as they let on.

Knowing that the play began with the date scene and grew from there makes a lot of sense, because it’s around this point that the play really begins to hit its stride, drawing the audience into the story in a way Act 1 never quite manages (possibly a result of the Inbetweeners style war stories exchanged by the lads, which are funny but – let’s be honest – pretty gross). The use of the inner monologue, played as a voiceover to give us an insight into what each character is really thinking, works very well during the ill-fated date, making both Ben and Sophie relatable for an audience torn throughout between laughter and embarrassment. The same can’t quite be said for the opening scene, in which Ben has an awkward encounter with his mum; the interjections from inside his head feel at this point a bit too much like a device, to fill in the back story neither character is willing to speak about out loud, and at times risk drowning out the actual dialogue.

Photo credit: Cam Harle Photography

There are parts of Netflix and Chill that still feel a bit underdeveloped, but it’s encouraging to see how the play has grown since that first ten-minute snippet four years ago, and the important message that now comes through loud and clear about male mental health and the responsibility we all have to encourage frank and open conversation. A powerful and thought-provoking piece of writing, with much to recommend it.

Netflix and Chill is at Drayton Arms Theatre until 29th February.

Quick Q&A: Vessel

Where and when: Stratford Circus Arts Centre, Theatre Square, London E15 1BX 26, 27 March 7pm

What it’s all about… Vessel is a play about choice, about rebelling and of course about women. I began writing Vessel in 2014 when the idea of Irish women having the right to choice seemed almost impossible. Immediately after the vote on abortion in Ireland I redeveloped it for an Edinburgh run and the ‘Vessel‘ that goes on tour has been redeveloped to not just provoke new conversations or to document that Irish referendum but to ask why we needed a referendum in the first place.

You’ll like it if… Anyone interested in feminist, female led, funny and powerful work, and of course if you like Irish dramas. Vessel is very ‘Irish’ in the sense that it combines humour and drama. The characters are forced to find laughter because their situation is so epic.

You should see it because… Vessel‘s lead character, Maia, starts out on a journey to get abortion after it has been legalised in Ireland but by the end of the play she is forced to ask much more complex questions like why we don’t have equality yet? Who has the power? And who has the right to take it?

Anything else we should know…: I am the great grandniece of soldier and politician Michael Collins, who fought for Ireland’s independence and brokered the peace treaty with the United Kingdom so Ireland and its political structures really inform the show.

I worked with some amazing people on Vessel. Bryony Kimmings who also co-wrote the hit film Last Christmas mentored me with it before the Edinburgh run, the Olivier award winning company Fishamble and award winning playwright Sonya Kelly developed the show with me in the Everyman in Cork.

Where to follow:
Website: www.lwok.co.uk
Twitter: @vesselplay @LauraWOK

Book here: https://stratford-circus.com/event/vessel

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Quick Q&A: Tell It Slant

Where and when: Hope Theatre, 25 Feb-14 Mar, 19.45

What it’s all about… Tell It Slant is a (black) romantic comedy about what happens in a press office when a crisis hits, how people react (or don’t), the choices they make and the stories they choose to tell about what’s gone wrong and why.

With a gender-switch built into the script, as the actors playing the central couple swap roles, changing our sense of the show and how the story unfolds with every performance.

You’ll like it if… If you’ve ever wondered how the news gets made, how a story spirals out of control, or how social media can drive a crisis, Tell It Slant will give you a brand new perspective. If you liked the Thick of It or His Girl Friday, you will like Tell It Slant.

You should see it because… Tell It Slant gives you an insight into every crisis, every news story that’s ever blown-up across your twitter feed, that you won’t get anywhere else. Knowing how the news happens and how people react to it, how stories are framed and told, underpins many of the most complicated problems we all face.

And it’s also fun, funny and a little bit sexy. There’s also that.

Anything else we should know…: Tell It Slant is Maev Mac Coille’s debut production. She has previously been longlisted for the Papatango, Verity Bargate and Bread & Roses playwriting awards, and nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award. She has had short plays performed at Theatre503, the Arcola (Miniaturists), Hackney Showrooms, Camden People’s Theatre, and the White Bear.

Where to follow:
Twitter: @MerrySpinsters (also @maevmac – writer – and @EricaTheatre – producer)
Facebook: @merryspinsters
Instagram: @ merryspinsters

Book here: https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/tell-it-slant/

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