Review: Oopsy Daisy at Katzpace

A dark comedy about sex, power and friendship, Oopsy Daisy is the story of two strangers brought together first by coincidence (and too much rosé), and later by an impulsive decision that will change both their lives.

Jo (Holly McFarlane) is a well-known actor and celebrity who finds herself, to her consternation, sharing an Uber Pool one night with Jamie (Rory Fairbairn). He’s also an actor, but a far less established one, and he can’t believe his luck when Jo announces she’s going to get him a role in her latest film. But her loneliness and his ambition prove a dangerous combination, and what seems in the moment to be a fun, naughty idea backfires spectacularly. Can they save their careers and their friendship – or has one bad decision cost them everything?

Photo credit: Maria Shehata

Written by Holly McFarlane and directed by Mat Betteridge, Oopsy Daisy is a witty and very current piece of new writing that nonetheless packs quite a punch when it needs to. The play explores – though not unsympathetically – the things that successful people might be willing to do to stay on top, even at the expense of those they claim to call friends. It also exposes the less glamorous side of fame; Jo may be a success in a lot of ways that matter to other people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s any happier than Jamie. Stuck in a soulless hotel room, isolated from her friends and husband and living out of a suitcase, we can’t blame her for seeking a bit of excitement – even if her later actions prove more difficult to forgive.

The on-stage relationship between Holly McFarlane and Rory Fairbairn is perfectly executed and totally convincing, both in moments of humour and of tension. Both characters have depth to them – it would have been easy to paint Jamie as a hapless victim of Jo’s whims and manipulation, but instead the fallout from the incident presents an opportunity for him to reveal a much darker side, and for the balance of power between them to shift dramatically in the second half of the play.

With references to the likes of Game of Thrones, James McAvoy and – of course – Uber Pool, and less direct nods also to #metoo and the power of the press to make and break careers, from the start Oopsy Daisy feels very current. The fateful decision at the heart of the plot may be inspired by a rumour about a 40-year-old movie, but the themes of the play are very much of 2019 – or perhaps it’s just that when it comes to the pitfalls of fame, not much has changed in the last few decades. Either way, this is a funny, fast-paced play featuring two excellent performances; hopefully this short run at Katzpace won’t be the last we see of it.

Oopsy Daisy is at Katzpace until 20th November.

Review: Bedlam at CLF Art Cafe

Written by Tom Hodson (who also directs), Matt Forey, Lucy Hilton-Jones, Christopher Roscoe Brown and Peter Stone (who all star), Bedlam is a cleverly written and performed drama about a couple in crisis. As they attempt to resolve their differences, the production plays with its audience’s sympathies and assumptions, leaving us wondering who’s to blame and if there’s even a relationship left to save.

Ellie (Lucy Hilton-Jones) thinks her boyfriend George (Matt Forey) has cheated on her, but he swears that he hasn’t. They both want the truth to come out, so in desperation they’ve agreed to take part in a kind of therapy, the exact details of which are somewhat unclear. They’ve both been assigned a member of staff (Peter Stone and Christopher Roscoe Brown, respectively), whose job is to listen to and support each of them as they talk things out and get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong in their relationship. What they’re not allowed to do is speak to each other – at least not yet.

While this is going on, the audience is also trying to piece together the real story. In the isolation of their own rooms, with the encouragement of an unconditionally supportive ally, both Ellie and George seem to be in the right – which instantly puts whoever we’re not currently listening to in the wrong. But life is rarely that simple, and flashbacks charting the couple’s relationship from day one bring shades of grey into a picture that at first seems starkly black and white. Ellie may be paranoid, but perhaps her past experiences mean she has more than a little justification. Equally, George may not have been completely honest about everything, but maybe he’s had a legitimate reason for not sharing the whole truth.

Tom Hodson directs a very cohesive production, in which every element contributes to an increasingly uncomfortable feeling of division. The set, designed by Ed Saunders, is a mirror image: two identical rooms, with identical sofas, in which Ellie and George are each lit by harsh white spotlights. The only time we see them together is during the flashbacks, which take place at the front of the stage, where the lighting is much softer and the furnishings far less austere. Here we find them flirting awkwardly on their first encounter, dancing and drinking, fighting and making up… In short, they’re a normal, perfectly imperfect couple – a million miles away from the two unhappy individuals sitting on those sofas – who probably would have done better to stay home and work things out on their own.

But of course it’s very easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight. In the moment, Bedlam carries us along, casually encouraging us to switch allegiance with each new revelation, and it’s impressive – and depressing – to realise, afterwards, just how easily it does this. An original, skilfully put together production, Bedlam turns the spotlight neatly back on to its audience to ask some interesting and uncomfortable questions about trust, relationships and human nature.

Bedlam is at CLF Art Cafe until 16th November.

Review: Poisoned Polluted at Old Red Lion Theatre

Kathryn O’Reilly’s second play Poisoned Polluted focuses on the fragmenting relationship between two women – in this case, sisters. The play follows the two, known only as Her (Anna Doolan) and Sister (Kathryn O’Reilly), as they’re forced to leave behind the innocence of childhood and face up to an uncertain future that’s scarred by addiction and trauma. As the years pass, their close bond and love for each other becomes twisted into something that will ultimately prove damaging to them both.

As children, the sisters hide out from their mum’s addiction and their dad’s abuse in the local “forest” – which, with the benefit of hindsight, they can now acknowledge was really just a few trees next to the park. That motif of nature as a tainted refuge is present also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set, which consists of printed, peeling sheets that make up a distorted backdrop image of woodland trees.

Photo credit: Robert Workman

The play itself is structured as a series of short, sharp scenes which, under Lucy Allan’s direction, often flow seamlessly into one another. These chart the sisters’ downward spiral and the shift in their relationship as Her, who as a child benefited from her older sister’s protection, finds herself suddenly forced to return the favour. Anna Doolan and Kathryn O’Reilly both give excellent performances, meticulously portraying all their characters’ fear, frustration and pent-up resentment, right alongside the love and affection that continues against all odds to hold these two damaged women together. The tragedy of the play is that the two characters need each other – and yet neither of them can truly be happy until they break free of their never-ending cycle of codependency.

While the use of language in the play is important, just as powerful are the moments of silence; movement sequences between scenes (directed by Sophie Shaw), performed without words, evoke the painful emotions that dialogue – even the most poetic – can’t quite capture. Similarly, though they never appear on stage and feature only briefly at the start of the story, the sisters’ parents both loom large as characters throughout, and there are moments when, if we follow the actors’ fearful gazes, we can picture them clearly and feel the anxiety their presence continues to evoke.

Photo credit: Robert Workman

As Sister tries again and again to get clean, the play begins to take on a feeling of repetition – but just as we begin to share Her’s frustration and despair, everything comes slamming to a halt with an emotional gut-punch of a final scene. This is a story in which we understand early on there can be no winners, whatever the final outcome, and that knowledge makes it an intense and often difficult watch. Powerfully written and performed, the play shines an uncomfortable light on the ways in which a relationship that should be healthy and innocent can be twisted by the actions of others into something deeply damaging, and how the repercussions of a difficult childhood can continue to be felt even years later.

Poisoned Polluted is at Old Red Lion Theatre until 30th November.

Review: A Haunted Existence at Battersea Arts Centre

It doesn’t take long to understand that for writer and performer Tom Marshman, the events that inspired A Haunted Existence are far more than just a story. This is clear in the format of the show, which is part presentation, part performance, part seance – but also in the obvious affection and respect with which he speaks of the men involved in the shocking case he describes.

Photo credit: Paul Samuel White

It all began with seventeen-year-old Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, who was arrested on a train in 1953 for making “improper advances” to a man who turned out to be a plain clothes Railway Officer. When questioned, the teenager named several other men he had been involved with sexually, adding “You may find these things morally wrong. I do not.” This, along with the names of the men he identified – many of whom were subsequently imprisoned – becomes a common refrain throughout the hour-long show, as we’re taken on a journey through music, projection and movement back to a time when being gay was not just a criminal offence, but was “treated” in the most horrific and dehumanising ways.

The title of the show is taken from a speech by Lord Owen, in which he referred to the lives of necessarily closeted gay men as “a haunted existence”. It could just as easily, however, refer to Tom Marshman himself, who clearly identifies with these men and sets out to bring them to life on stage to hear their stories and honour the sacrifices they made.

This he does not only with immense care, but also with great artistry and attention to detail. As a performer, he’s instantly personable, self-deprecating and funny, taking historical facts and presenting them in an engaging and varied format that easily holds our attention. His movements are graceful and precise, creating sequences that are hauntingly beautiful to watch, particularly set as they are to music that’s been carefully selected to evoke a specific moment or individual.

Photo credit: Matt Glover

The details we learn about what happened to gay men only a few decades ago – imprisonment, social rejection, brutal aversion therapies, suicide – are deeply shocking and difficult to hear. Nevertheless, the show does end on a note of optimism, sharing some of the happier endings enjoyed by a few of the men involved in the scandal. Marshman’s obvious joy at the discovery that Geoffrey Williamson ultimately found happiness is infectious, and more than a little emotional for an audience by now fully invested in the outcome of his story.

A Haunted Existence is far from your typical night at the theatre, and is in a lot of ways quite a difficult show to put into words. It does, however, tell an important and powerful story and is rich in both atmosphere and emotion. Perhaps most importantly, it’s clearly a labour of love for Tom Marshman, and this alone makes it well worth a visit.

A Haunted Existence continues on tour – visit for dates and venues.

Quick Q&A: Easy

Where and when: 5 – 23 November, Blue Elephant Theatre

What it’s all about… My best friend Meg actually lost it last week, to her boyfriend Amir. Apparently he lit candles. Magical, was the word she used.

Alice would give anything for something magical to happen to her. But she’s shy, has no idea how to contour and the last thing she loved was a roast potato.
She feels ordinary. Unremarkable. Unpopular.
Until Jamie from Maths messages her.
Finally, something is about to happen to Alice.
Something big. Something she won’t ever forget. Something she never expected.
And the whole school knows.

Easy is a powerful new play by Amy Blakelock, exploring what happens when we combine social media, love island ideals, Snapchat and teenage insecurity. An intimate portrait of adolescence today, Easy asks us – why is it so hard to believe we’re good enough as we are?

You’ll like it if… you remember the squeamish and agonising world of teenage love and sex, if you’ve ever sent nudes, if you’re a Snapchat fiend or if you’re a complete social media phobe, this one-woman show will explore how constant digital connectivity changes the landscape of teenage sexuality.

You should see it because… it’s a contemporary, fast-paced hour of love, sex, digital consent, and learning to demand respect for your own body.

Where to follow:
Twitter: @TheatreParadox

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