Review: Jericho’s Rose at The Hope Theatre

“Where do you live?” It seems like such a simple question – but the enquiry takes on new significance with each repetition in Jericho’s Rose from Althea Theatre. Written by Lilac Yosiphon, who also directs along with Mike Cole and Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, it’s a moving and intriguing exploration of the true meaning of “home”, seen through the eyes of two characters. Jasmine is a writer fighting for the right to stay in London, and her grandfather, back in Tel Aviv, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For each of them, and for different reasons, answering the straightforward question “Where do you live?” becomes an increasingly difficult – and sometimes impossible – task.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

The structure of the show is based around repetition: the frustrations of having the same conversations over and over with someone who doesn’t remember; the endless meetings with doctors who can never say anything new; the constant disappointment of being rejected – again – for a visa. All that really changes in Jasmine’s life over the course of the 75-minute show is her location, as she moves from one city to the next in search of… something. Even then, in each city her experience is much the same – drinking too much, having disappointing romantic encounters in nightclubs, and ultimately ending up back in Tel Aviv with Grandpa.

In other hands, this cyclical structure could easily teeter on the brink of tedium, and it’s credit to Lilac Yosiphon’s engaging, almost mesmerising performance as both Jasmine and Grandpa that this doesn’t happen. Slipping seamlessly from one character to the other – at times conversing with her other persona on stage, at others with her own recorded voice – she holds our attention throughout with ease.

This is fortunate, because the fragmented narrative of the piece, which hops around in time, location and style, does demand the audience’s constant focus in order to piece it all together. We’re aided in this, to some extent, by the use of music and loop pedalled sound, composed and performed live from the corner of the stage by Sam Elwin, and by Will Monks’ projections, both of which provide us with certain audiovisual signposts as we make our way through the show’s deliberately disorienting landscape.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

For those of us privileged enough to have never questioned where we belong, this unique multi-sensory production paints a powerful picture of the trauma of displacement – whether physical or emotional – through the sharing of a very personal and poignant story. The eclectic nature of the show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jericho’s Rose is bold, original and invites us to consider themes we may think we understand in a whole new light.

Jericho’s Rose is at The Hope Theatre until 3rd November.


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: The Distance You Have Come at Cockpit Theatre

Not quite a musical, but somewhat more than a concert, song cycle The Distance You Have Come brings together some of the greatest hits from Scott Alan’s star-spangled songwriting career, performed by an equally glittering cast of West End talent. On paper, it’s a musical theatre fan’s dream. In practice, a flimsy story and over-emotional first act hold an otherwise excellent show back from quite hitting all the highs we might expect.

The plot that links all the songs together is based around six people, whose lives intersect in different ways as they each walk their own path through the ups and downs of life. While Joe (Dean John-Wilson) battles addiction and heartbreak, new lovers Samuel (Adrian Hansel) and Brian (Andy Coxon) plan their future as parents; Anna (Jodie Jacobs) and Laura (Alexia Khadime) are coming to terms with their recent break-up, as Maisey (Emma Hatton) is struggling to get her big break in the theatre.

Photo credit: Darren Bell

Both performances and music are as top-notch as you’d expect given the credentials; there’s no denying the sensational talent of the cast and musicians, or the poignant beauty of the songs. This is music from which a good vocalist can wring every last drop of emotion, and these six performers do it so effectively that in Act 1 it all gets a bit much. With a couple of welcome exceptions – most notably the fabulous Jodie Jacobs and her comedy number, His Name – the tone throughout the first hour of the show remains much the same, and the songs begin to run together as we move from one desperate situation to another, with very little time to pause for reflection (or even applaud) in between.

It’s therefore a relief that the mood lifts significantly after the interval, when the plot threads – which until that point have been proving difficult to reconcile – finally come together. As the characters begin to make connections and find their way out of the darkness, there’s a lot more hope and humour to be found on all sides, and the show ultimately ends on a joyful high with the infectiously uplifting title number.

The simple staging of the show has most of the action taking place in a park, which provides a convenient central location for the characters to run into each other, or simply meander past as they go about their lives. Unfortunately, because it’s in the round, the actors inevitably have to turn their backs on parts of the audience, and this causes some problematic acoustic issues – particularly in the group numbers, when it can be impossible to hear what someone facing away on the other side of the stage is singing about.

Photo credit: Darren Bell

As a showcase of Scott Alan’s work, The Distance You Have Come is a hit; for existing fans it’s a celebration, for newcomers a pleasant introduction that will no doubt have you heading for Spotify the moment the show’s over. The cast, too, are superb, conveying all the joy, heartbreak, frustration and emotional fragility of their characters whilst simultaneously blowing the audience away with some stunning vocals. Setting it to a story – also written and directed by Alan – actually proves a bit of a distraction from all this excellence, and you get the feeling the whole show might have worked a bit better in a concert format. Nevertheless, if you want to hear some beautiful songs, exquisitely performed, it’s certainly worth travelling some distance to experience.

The Distance You Have Come is at the Cockpit Theatre until 28th October.

Review: Murder, She Didn’t Write at Leicester Square Theatre

It’s not often you get to start a review of a murder mystery by revealing whodunnit, but here goes: it was Scarlett, in the cattery, with a seatless unicycle (I’ll leave the gory details to your imagination). And I can tell you all this with a clear conscience because Murder, She Didn’t Write from Bristol-based improv company Degrees of Error is, by its very nature, different every time. It’s also extremely silly, slightly nonsensical and very, very funny.

Going in, the cast know as much as we do – that someone’s about to die, and that someone else dunnit. The details of where and how are provided by the audience at the start of the show, while the identities of killer and victim are surreptitiously selected by “Jerkins”, a.k.a. an unsuspecting member of the audience drafted in to play Detective Genevieve Foxcroft’s incompetent assistant. (Nothing to be alarmed about if you’re averse to a bit of audience participation – it’s a crucial but not particularly demanding role.)

Photo credit: Jamie Corbin

Equipped with the bare bones, the cast of six (on this occasion Peter Baker, Lizzy Skrzypiec, Tessa Gaukroger, Tom Bridges, Caitlin Campbell and Rachael Procter-Lane – accompanied by musical director Sara Garrard on piano) spend the next couple of hours working their magic live on stage, rapidly pulling out of the hat a convoluted tale about some clowns and a taxidermist who are, naturally, invited to celebrate a cat’s birthday. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but it’s not like anybody’s there looking for a coherent plot. What we want – and what we get – is to see a talented cast of comedy actors adapting to every bizarre new twist, whilst doing their best to put each other off their stride at every possible opportunity.

Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of running jokes, particularly inspired at this show by the helpful audience suggestion of a cat’s birthday, which proved to be the source of exactly as much innuendo as you might imagine. We also got recurring gags about the dubious merits of being French, an extremely flimsy broom cupboard, the correct way to pronounce Bicester, and the ever-increasing age of two of the characters (who certainly didn’t look like they were in their eighties…) Some lines work better than others, but that’s to be expected and forgiven in a show of this kind; besides, the pace of the show is such that any awkward moments are quickly forgotten, and/or plunged into darkness with expert comic timing by lighting designer Alex Hoyle.

Like any ingenious magic trick, you can’t help but wonder from time to time just how they do it. But there are no smoke and mirrors here; although we have to assume some kind of framework exists before the show begins, the crowd-pleasing success of Murder, She Didn’t Write lies with the quick thinking of a clever and extraordinarily versatile cast.

And Jerkins, obviously.

Murder, She Didn’t Write returns to Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday 18th November. For other dates and venues, visit degreesoferror.com.

Review: The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum

Natural history comes alive in spectacular fashion in The Wider Earth – and appropriately enough, it does so in a custom-built theatre at London’s Natural History Museum. The show tells the story of 22-year-old Charles Darwin, who joins a voyage to the Americas on the HMS Beagle and returns five years later with a new theory that will change the way we see the world forever.

The production, written and directed by Dead Puppet Society’s David Morton, is jaw-droppingly beautiful in almost every way imaginable. A huge video screen projects vibrant animations depicting Darwin’s travels, while the majority of the action takes place on a huge revolve stage that doubles as both the ship’s deck and the rugged landscapes explored by the young naturalist. A gorgeous score from co-composers Lior and Tony Buchen transports us to new lands as a host of stunning puppets bring creatures great and small to life before our eyes.

Photo credit: Mark Douet

As a spectacle, the show is undeniably a hit, but this is certainly not a case of style over substance; the play itself, performed by a talented cast of seven, is a fascinating insight into the life of a man most of us imagine only as middle-aged and beardy. Charles Darwin, played by Bradley Foster, is young, idealistic and full of curiosity about the natural world. Told by his father (Ian Houghton) that he can’t go on the voyage, he sulks and complains until his friend – and future wife – Emma Wedgwood (Melissa Vaughan) takes pity on him and asks her father to intervene on his behalf. These early scenes are clearly important to establish Darwin’s character, but do mean that the story takes a little while to really get going; fortunately, our patience is more than rewarded by what follows.

An enthusiastic Darwin initially views the Beagle’s voyage as little more than an adventure, and wants only to get to Tenerife, an island he’s heard about from his friend and professor Reverend Henslow (Andrew Bridgmont). But as his horizons expand so too does his mind (and his journal) – leading him to conclusions that go against everything he’s been taught to believe: that God created all living things exactly as they are, and always will be.

Not surprisingly, Darwin’s discoveries lead him into dangerous territory with the ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, who believes robustly in a preordained, God-given hierarchy of living things, with (some) humans at the top. Jack Parry-Jones captures to perfection FitzRoy’s volatile temper – particularly when challenged by Darwin on his views regarding slavery – and the vulnerability of a man whose faith and sanity are being shaken to their core, not only by his friend’s theories, but also by his own failure to civilise the “savages” of Tierra del Fuego.

Photo credit: Mark Douet

For all its brilliance, the show is not without a couple of issues. There are moments, particularly when the stage is revolving, when it becomes difficult to hear the actors over the music. In addition, audience members at ground level frequently have our view of the video projections obscured by the towering set, and occasionally have to jostle to see the land-based puppets over the heads of those in front. These frustrations, however, are surprisingly easy to dismiss in the face of such overwhelming visual wonders.

As a world-renowned centre of scientific research, the Natural History Museum could not be a better place for this remarkable story to be told. Combining entertainment with education, The Wider Earth takes us on a magical journey of discovery and adventure – who knew learning about science could be so much fun?

The Wider Earth is at the Natural History Museum until 30th 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: Dracula at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Following the smash hit success of The White Rose earlier this year, Arrows & Traps return to more familiar territory with a brand new reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Adaptations of literary classics is where the company began, and for long-time fans of their work, this deliciously entertaining production feels a little like coming home.

Photo credit: Davor Tovarlaza @ the Ocular Creative

Adaptations of classic horror stories have a tendency to go one of two ways – either full-on terror, or spoof humour. Writer and director Ross McGregor charts his own unique course between these two options, bringing us a story which is both very funny and pretty scary in almost equal measure. The novel sets the scene through letters exchanged between solicitor Jonathan Harker (Conor Moss) and his fiancée Mina (Beatrice Vincent), and between Mina and her friend Lucy (Lucy Ioannou), and the play adopts the same style in its opening scenes, quickly introducing all the key characters and locations before immersing us in Stoker’s chilling tale. Slightly overlapping scenes ensure that the action keeps moving along at a brisk pace, building up to a fiendishly clever twist that diverts from the novel by allowing Mina to choose for herself how her story ends.

This, of course, is no accident; there’s a refreshingly modern flavour to the language and the attitudes throughout the play, and nowhere is this more evident than in its portrayal of the female characters. There’s no such thing as a damsel in distress in this story, and even in their moments of greatest peril, Mina and Lucy – both targeted by Dracula on his arrival in England – aren’t about to sit quietly around waiting for the menfolk to save them, any more than they’ll let anyone tell them earlier in the story who they should or shouldn’t marry. Meanwhile, the maniac Renfield (Cornelia Baumann) – in this adaptation also a woman – may be in thrall to Dracula, but despite the persistent efforts of Dr Seward (Alex Stevens), it’s Mina with whom she finally makes enough of a connection to withstand her master’s power.

Part of the fun of being an Arrows regular is seeing familiar actors taking on completely different roles, and always getting it right. Christopher Tester – last seen as the quietly conflicted Gestapo officer Mohr in The White Rose – wields power of a very different kind as Dracula, oozing charisma and menace as he seduces men and women alike; it’s not difficult to see why everyone ends up doing his bidding. Conor Moss and Alex Stevens (joined by returning Arrows Oliver Brassell and Andrew Wickes) go from fighting Nazis to taking down vampires – albeit with a touch less dignity – while Beatrice Vincent and Lucy Ioannou are drawn to the charms of the dark side, in stark contrast to the resolute strength of German resistance fighters Traute Lafrenz and Sophie Scholl. Finally, Cornelia Baumann’s performance as Renfield is a work of genius; a hunched figure with a vacant grin, she’s simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous, and undeniably mad but with moments of lucidity (and some cracking one-liners) that make her seem like easily the sanest person in the room.

Photo credit: Davor Tovarlaza @ the Ocular Creative

As with any Arrows show, everything about the production is visually stunning: Odin Corie’s costumes are beautiful, the spooky castle set designed by Francine Huin-Wah not only looks the part but proves unexpectedly versatile, and the brilliantly atmospheric lighting design from Ben Jacobs sets us up more than once for a bit of a scare. Even the final violent moments of Act 1 end up looking amazing, thanks to the expert contribution of movement director Will Pinchin (and a lot of fake blood).

As someone who’s avoided horror-based theatre ever since being good and traumatised by The Woman in Black when I was fourteen (not to mention an earlier visit to The Dracula Experience on a family holiday to Whitby), I had my doubts about going to see a show billed as “a spine-chilling masterpiece of fear”. But while the show is certainly not for the faint-hearted, it’s also unexpectedly funny and a brilliant piece of storytelling. Devilishly good entertainment from Arrows & Traps – don’t miss it.

Dracula is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 27th October, then on to the Mill Studio at Yvonne Arnaud from 1st-3rd November.