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.

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.

Review: Cuckoo at Soho Theatre

Exploring what it is to be young in Ireland today, Lisa Carroll’s debut play Cuckoo comes roaring to life at Soho Theatre, leading us without preamble into the world of best friends – and social outcasts – Iona (Caitriona Ennis) and Pingu (Elise Heaven). After being publicly humiliated one too many times by their peers, the two have decided to get out of their home town of Crumlin and move to the magical city of London… although quite what they’re going to do when they get there they’re not exactly sure.

Photo credit: David Gill

There’s a big difference between making a decision and actually seeing it through, though, and it’s not long before Iona’s excitement about their trip begins to wane – particularly when she suddenly finds herself being chatted up by local guys Pockets (Colin Campbell) and Trix (Peter Newington). It’s obvious to both Pingu and Iona’s childhood friend turned tormenter Toller (Sade Malone) – not to mention the audience – that their intentions are less than honourable, but despite multiple warnings Iona allows herself to be flattered into submission, with disastrous results for all concerned.

The heart of the story is the relationship between Iona and Pingu; the events that take place in the run-up to their departure from Dublin are, you can’t help but feel, only a catalyst to something that was always going to happen at some point anyway. In an excellent cast, Caitriona Ennis and Elise Heaven give standout performances as the two friends. Iona is an eccentric chatterbox whose over the top approach to just about everything is at first enjoyable but soon becomes wearing and ultimately alienating. Pingu, meanwhile, has opted to give up speaking altogether, having grown tired of constantly needing to justify their non-binary status, and communicates instead through a range of emphatic facial expressions.

On paper this makes for a rather uneven friendship, but it’s one that seems to work. The two stand up for each other against the bullies, and seem to communicate perfectly without any need for words. All the while they only have each other, everything’s great – but when Iona gets the first hint of a better offer, we start to realise that her friendship with Pingu might not have been quite as selfless as it appeared. One of the play’s strongest points is its conclusion, which avoids the predictable route we might expect in favour of an outcome that’s less “nice”, but perhaps rather more realistic.

Photo credit: David Gill

Despite being two hours without an interval, the production never drags or fails to hold our attention; director Debbie Hannan keeps up a fast pace and building intensity throughout, and the energy of the cast never flags. The play isn’t afraid to take on some difficult themes, including toxic masculinity, the damaging influence of social media, and prejudice – driven by fear – against those who dare to be different. But it does so with plenty of laugh out loud humour, which means that the play is actually a lot of fun to watch despite some of its content.

An impressive debut from Lisa Carroll, Cuckoo shows a very clear understanding of what motivates young people to do the things they do – good and bad. While we may not have lived the exact scenario we see unfolding on stage, there are aspects of the story that will resonate with all of us; we were all young once, after all, and chances are we made a bit of a mess of it too. A witty and compelling play, Cuckoo is definitely worth a visit.

Cuckoo is at Soho 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: Bury the Dead at Finborough Theatre

A few days ago, leaders from across the world stood shoulder to shoulder to commemorate the end of World War I, and the millions of lives sacrificed during the conflict. With one obvious exception (who shall remain nameless because frankly, who can be bothered with him?), they were respectful and sombre – so it’s been pretty depressing this week to see several of them once again at each other’s throats. It’s almost enough to make you wonder what the war (any war) was even for…?

Photo credit: Scott Rylander

In Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead, written in 1935, six fallen American soldiers stand up in their graves and courteously ask not to be buried. Their violent and bloody deaths, they argue, were not of their choosing; they gave their lives for someone else’s cause, and it doesn’t seem fair that their reward should be to be buried and quietly forgotten, when each still has so much to live for.

The soldiers’ peaceful protest makes a powerful statement, but what gives Bury the Dead such an impact is the response to their actions. The military leaders, fearful of the effect it will have on morale, desperately try to keep the whole situation quiet – and when that fails, they distort the soldiers’ message into propaganda to further their cause. After the soldiers fail to obey direct orders to lie down and be buried, their superiors use fear and manipulation to get their “women” to talk them round. This may be a story about the walking dead, but there’s little doubt at any point who the real monsters are.

The beginning and end of the play are fast-paced, with set designer Verity Johnson’s bleakly atmospheric grave site often full to bursting as the establishment frantically try to find a solution to their growing problem. Director Rafaella Marcus smoothly choreographs the multiple entrances and exits, and makes efficient use of her cast; most of the eleven actors take on a number of roles. Even the six dead men are at first played by just three (Keeran Blessie, Tom Larkin and Stuart Nunn), because the others (Luke Dale, Liam Harkins and Scott Westwood) double as the soldiers who would have buried them. I don’t know if that’s how Shaw wrote the play, or if it’s a decision that was taken for this production – but either way, when the two groups come together it’s an incredibly powerful moment.

Photo credit: Scott Rylander

The majority of the second half of the play slows things down (arguably a bit too much), taking the form of six one-on-one encounters between the soldiers and their “women”, and giving each of the actors an opportunity to shine individually as they explain their own motivations. This is also a showcase for the versatility of Sioned Jones and Natalie Winsor, who alternate between them as the six women – though it’s great to also see the only two female cast members in the role of doctors and journalists, and not just as weeping wives and mothers.

The Remembrance Day ceremonies may be over for another year, but in Bury the Dead we’re reminded that lives lost in combat are lost forever, not just for a day. The play draws a careful distinction between heroism and honour; having the courage to risk dying alone, in pain and far from home is heroic, but there’s nothing honourable about it, particularly when the only people who gain from it are those unwilling to risk it themselves. Bury the Dead asks us to remember – but to avoid repeating the horrors of the past, it suggests what we really need to do is to listen.

Bury the Dead is at Finborough Theatre until 24th 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… 😉