Quick Q&A: Misconnections

Where and when: The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ; 7th-11th June at 7.30pm and 11th June at 2.30pm

What it’s all about… A trio of short plays taking a sideways look at life’s little quirks ….

Double Bubble: In some ways Gina and Lois couldn’t be more different. In other ways they’re very much alike. Gina is a career woman whose company provides ‘high-level digital solutions to meet low-level logistical challenges’, although she may not be entirely sure what this means. Lois, on the other hand, works in a department whose function is to answer the telephone and listen to customers’ complaints, although the main complaint is that no one answers the telephone. Gina and Lois have been friends for years and years, but it’s been months and months since they last had coffee together. The reason? The ‘misunderstanding’ over Bruno.

Gardening Leave: Bob is on ‘gardening leave’ but he’s anxious ‘to get back in the saddle’. Work is Bob’s life. What is life without a job? It has to be the right job, of course, which is why his meeting with Tom in a West End club is so desperately important. Can Tom point Bob in the right direction? Better still, does Tom have any openings in his operation? The problem is … Well, there are lots of problems. Mistaken identity, cross purposes, a surprising revelation and a terrible let-down, for which free theatre tickets – gold dust though they may be – isn’t a sufficient recompense.

Titus Returns: When, after 20 years of marriage, Rob leaves Jen for young Suzy, it’s all moderately civilised. There’s no quarrelling about rubber plants or ormolu candlesticks or suchlike. The problem is Titus, an indoor cat who seems to have gone walkabout. But then Rob and Jen’s old friend, Ian, brings Titus home, and all seems well. Or as well as it can be in the circumstances. They say that when one door closes, another door opens, but it isn’t always the case. When push comes to shove, the door may swing wide open or it may remain tightly shut. Finally everything depends on Titus.

You’ll like it if… you’d like to see three old TV favourites teaming up to tackle a trio of short plays at South London’s White Bear Theatre. Stephen Omer (Downton Abbey), Dee Sadler (Doctor Who, All Creatures Great and Small, No Place Like Home) and Fiona Tong (Silent Witness) are set to star in Misconnections – written by Nicolas Ridley – a witty look at the vagaries and vicissitudes of life, love and longing which will make you laugh out loud.

You should see it because… This is the inaugural production of Pack a Punch Players – a London-based Repertory Company – aiming to offer a witty diversion from price hikes and ‘partygate’. Set in modern day, Double Bubble, Gardening Leave and Titus Returns put the Downing Street shenanigans in the shade with their dark and thought-provoking themes. With love as the main motif – mistrust, cunning and counter-play are never far away – along with a beloved cat called Titus.

Anything else we should know…: Watch out for a cat called Titus and a lucky Buddah’s Head…

Where to follow:
Twitter: @Packapunchplay
Facebook: @Packapunchplayers
Instagram: @PackaPunchPlayers

Book here: https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/whatson/Misconnections-‘A-Trio-of-Short-Plays’

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Where and when: Bread & Roses (24th – 28th May)

What it’s all about… It’s 2034, the eve of the General Election, and the air is thick with the familiar feelings of hope and despair. In a TFL staff room, a world-wearied train driver and an ever-optimistic veteran of the industry reflect on how being a tube driver is no walk in the park.

Meanwhile, in 2029, on the eve of the previous election, five people are riding the tube home. When the train unexpectedly stops, the group realises that not only do they not know what’s causing the delay, but that they are also now the only people on board. As the five of them – a disenfranchised twenty-something, a politician’s PA, an expat scientist, a homeless ghost of the last hanged Londoner and a girl who no one knows – try to work out why they are trapped, they are caught up in apocalyptic speculation and new-age conspiracies, and are forced to contemplate how they each fit into this group, into London and into this ever-changing country.

Maybe the tube stopping is the first sign of the end. Or maybe, for some, the end has already begun.

As individual narratives clash with the fundamental changes of a Britain on the brink of climate, economic and societal collapse, those in 2034 and 2029 alike are left wondering the same thing: could everything change tomorrow?

You’ll like it if… you like gritty, realistic theatre with an edge of the comedic and unexpected. It is at once a love-letter and a condemnation to modern London and Britain, so if you feel at all disillusioned with the direction this country seems to be heading, and feel like mixing laughs with a little despair, then come and see JUMPER to revel in the heady mix of hope and hopelessness that pervades Britain today.

You should see it because…  it is very ‘of the moment’. If you want to engage with the feeling of being trapped in today’s world, and experience the relief at seeing how people overcome it, then JUMPER is just for you. The cast, too, is excellent and vibrant and engrossing, and the direction from Christine Mears makes the atmosphere and feeling of the mundane tube carriage enthralling and exciting. It’s a show that you will be thinking about on your train ride home.

Where to follow:
Twitter: @sycamorehp
Instagram: @sycamorehp

Book here: https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/whats-on.html

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Review: Abigail at The Space and online

Set in Boston shortly after the events of the Salem Witch Trials, Fury Theatre’s piece in development Abigail presents an imagined account of what might have happened to the young accuser Abigail Williams after she left Salem. Still haunted by the knowledge of what she’s done and why she did it, Abigail (Laura Turner) arrives in the city with best friend Mercy (Lucy Sheree Cooper) and takes rooms at a boarding house run by Mrs Constance (Sophie Kamal). But it’s not long before the two find themselves in dire financial straits and are forced to throw themselves on the mercy of charismatic Jack (James Green), a local man whose friendly demeanour and apparent show of support hides dark intentions.

Photo credit: Richard Hall

Touching on themes of misogyny, racism and sexuality, the play explores the plight of women in 17th century Massachusetts, and invites the audience to consider how far we’ve progressed since then – a particularly relevant question in light of recent events in the USA. The witch trials are not a direct part of the narrative, but are referred back to through the frequent appearances of Salem victim Solvi (Sophie Jane Corner), and provide context for Abigail’s motivations and actions – particularly towards other women – as she tries to move on and build a new life.

As Abigail, Laura Turner begins the play with a show of defiance, but this begins to fall away as the story develops – in stark contrast to the wide-eyed innocence of Lucy Sheree Cooper’s Mercy, which comes to an abrupt and horrifying end as Act 1 concludes. Nor are these the only characters to undergo a change; in fact almost none of the women on stage is quite the same by the end of the play. Solvi starts out as a menacing figure – the stereotypical “witch” – but ultimately becomes the voice of reason who guides Abigail to some form of redemption, while barmaid Milly (Sarah Isbell) quickly reveals herself to be much more than “just” a prostitute, even if she doesn’t realise it herself. Even Mrs Constance, at first glance the most straightforward character of all, reveals in the play’s closing moments a hidden rage that goes some way to explaining why she behaves the way she does.

Photo credit: Richard Hall

Writers Laura Turner and Stephen Gillard (who also directs) don’t shy away from difficult subjects, and the play comes with a substantial list of content warnings including racist language, themes of abuse and the explicit depiction of sexual violence. It’s no surprise then that the resulting narrative becomes very intense, with Abigail and Mercy seemingly having arrived in a place that presents every possible kind of threat; Act 1 even has an element of supernatural horror thrown in for good measure. As a result the play can at times feel a little disjointed, leaping from one topic to another and back again while dealing at length with some issues and characters, and only touching very briefly on others. This has the effect of making some themes feel much more urgent than the rest, and the piece could therefore benefit either from greater balance or from trying to address fewer issues in one story.

As a piece still in development, Abigail certainly shows potential and makes for intriguing viewing. While it’s currently perhaps a little over-ambitious, the groundwork is there for a powerful discussion about the experience and treatment of women in the continuing face of violence, bias and discrimination – so it’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

This run of Abigail has now concluded at The Space, but you can visit Fury Theatre’s website to find out more about the play’s future development.

Quick Q&A: The Crooked Spire

Where and when: Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, Thursday 19th May – Saturday 21st May (BSL performance on Thursday 19th May)

What it’s all about… It’s an exciting new show, written by Ashgate Heritage Arts, which has Chesterfield’s iconic ‘crooked spire’ at its heart. 

Based on the novel The Crooked Spire by Chris Nickson, the musical is set in the mid-14th century and follows John, a carpenter, who has travelled from York to find work on the new spire which is being constructed on top of St Mary and All Saints Church.

Before long the Master Carpenter at the Church is murdered and John becomes the chief suspect. The only way he can clear his name is to find out who the real killer is. As he gets closer to the truth further murders are committed and John’s life is in great danger. 

John makes new friends in Chesterfield who help him with his detective work, in particular a young boy called Walter whose parents have both died in the plague. Walter’s elder sister, a local seamstress, has caught John’s eye, but audiences will have to come and see for themselves whether John uncovers the truth and wins the heart of a good Chesterfield lass.

You’ll like it if… you love toe-tapping tunes, cheeky humour and good all round family entertainment.

You should see it because… It’s a West End calibre musical which celebrates the iconic ‘crooked spire’ as well as the resilience, passion and friendliness of Chesterfield’s people.

Anything else we should know…: The show is being directed by Jake Smith who directed Sting’s The Last Ship and the tour of Sleepy Hollow. It stars Gerard Fletcher who appears in The Crown and new BBC drama Sherwood and who can also belt out a tune! It also features Stephanie Putson who played Billy Elliot’s mum in the London production. 

Where to follow:
Twitter: @AHA_cic
Facebook: @ashgateheritagearts
Instagram: @ashgateheritagearts

Book here: https://chesterfieldtheatres.co.uk/shows/the-crooked-spire-medieval,-murder-mystery-musical.aspx#.YmhaufPMLs1 

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Quick Q&A: Banter Jar

Where and when: The Lion and Unicorn Theatre – 10th-14th May

What it’s all about… Banter Jar is a one-woman play about growing up. About sex and giggles, self-harm and busking. Hannah is about to go off to college, so there’s one final summer to seal the deal on childhood. For freedom and parties. For falling in love. And for working out how to love that person when their demons keep telling you to f*** off. Why is it always the kindest people that’re the saddest?

Directed by Fringe First Award Winner (for An Instinct For Kindness) Chris Larner.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains music and singing, swearing, talk on sex, self-harm, suicide and mental health issues.

You’ll like it if… You like theatre that makes you think and feel, and if you like stand up comedy. Banter Jar is a mixture of the two. It’s real. It’s funny. And it’s tied together with a whole lot of love.

You should see it because… It’s new, engaging writing. It’s funny and heart wrenching. And it’s only 60 minutes long. So grab your specs and head over to The Lion and Unicorn! 

Where to follow:
Twitter: @ chrislarner / @bakerr_hannah
Instagram: @ banterjar / @hannahdabaker / @chris.larner

Book here: https://www.thelionandunicorntheatre.com/whats-on

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