Review: Katheryn Howard at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

When it comes to Henry VIII’s wives, the key fact that most people learn at school is how he disposed of them. In the case of Katheryn Howard, his fifth wife, this was at the executioner’s block, after she was accused of adultery with one of the king’s favourite courtiers.

Written by Catherine Hiscock, the debut production from Goose Bite Theatre picks up the story of Queen Katheryn close to the end, as an all-female cast portray a court filling with rumours – not just regarding her reported liaisons with Thomas Culpepper whilst married, but also previous sexual relationships with her music teacher Henry Mannox and secretary to the Dowager Duchess, Francis Dereham. Once these well-documented facts have been established, the play takes us back to the start to give us Katheryn’s account of these events, and a very different picture emerges.

Photo credit: Georgia Harris

The first piece of information I don’t remember learning in primary school is that Katheryn Howard was only a teenager at the time of both her marriage and her death, and each of the men with whom she was reported to have been involved – including her husband – were more than twice her age. The second little-known fact is that she could have saved herself by confessing that her relationship with Dereham was consensual, and yet despite the possibility of salvation, she continued to insist that he had raped her. The Katheryn we meet in this production (Catherine Hiscock) is not the adulteress we know from the history books, but a naive, terrified teenager who’s repeatedly found herself flattered and seduced into unwanted sexual relationships with predatory men. Seen through fresh eyes, and particularly from a 21st century perspective, her story is not just tragic but horrifying.

Surrounding Katheryn are her friends and ladies-in-waiting: Joan Bulmer (Francesca Anderson), Katheryn Tilney (Emmanuela Lia), Isabelle Baynton (Srabani Sen) and Jane Boleyn (Natalie Harper) – Anne Boleyn’s former sister-in-law, who allegedly aided and abetted Katheryn’s adultery and was executed immediately after her. The interactions between these characters paints a picture of life both at Lambeth, where Katheryn spent her childhood and early teenage years, and at court, where everyone’s number one concern is to protect their own position. Though it covers a relatively brief time period, the production captures very well the stark contrast between the giggling girls of Lambeth, for whom it’s common practice and seemingly harmless fun to welcome young men into their sleeping quarters, and the anxious ladies of court, who quickly realise that the queen’s downfall could also spell their own doom. This atmosphere of paranoia, suspicion and political manoeuvring is portrayed by the cast in the form of a chorus, who pace the stage with hands to their mouths as if whispering secrets.

Photo credit: Georgia Harris

You perhaps need to know a little bit more of Katheryn’s back-story than simply “beheaded” to follow everything in the text, but on the whole the play does a good job of untangling a complicated story in which many of the characters have the same name (to the point where it becomes something of a running joke) and/or are related to each other. And Catherine Hiscock gives a great performance as the young queen; her pleas for mercy and forgiveness as the play comes to an end are heartfelt and deeply poignant. It’s no surprise that women were second-rate citizens in Henry’s court, but it’s frustrating that even now we still only really know Katheryn by the manner of her death. This play sets out to right that wrong, and the result is a strong debut production that’s both historically interesting and emotionally impactful.

Katheryn Howard was performed at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre from 30th July to 3rd August. For more details about Goose Bite Theatre, follow them @GooseBiteTC.

Quick Q&A: Phoenix

Where and when: Pleasance 10Dome, 31st July to 26th August at 13:20

What it’s all about… Phoenix tells the story of a wannabe rock star, Ash Phoenix, who unintentionally becomes a dad. But being a musician is a really hard career to combine with looking after a small child. It’s noisy, it’s unsettled, the hours are terrible. Which is also true of music.

Ash’s dilemma is a very specific one (that allows him to sing a lot of banging songs) – but all parents face a similar problem: you’ve got to earn money to look after your child, but earning that money takes you away from that child. It’s a universal story, told in a unique way: as a one-man musical.

Although it’s all performed by one person, you get big songs with a full band as Andy loops himself to build huge tracks despite being along on stage. He not only arranged all the songs himself, he also learned to loop during rehearsals for the show. The man’s ridiculously talented.

Photo credit: Rosemary Rance

You’ll like it if… you have ever been a parent or a child.

You should see it because… Phoenix is comic, it’s uplifting and ultimately it’s a fiercely hopeful story. Let’s be honest, the world is not in a great place right now. I think we need all the hope we can get.

Anything else we should know… Our star, Andy Gallo, plays four instruments as well as every part in the show. He’s virtuosic – I’ve never seen someone play two (sometimes three) instruments at once, while at the same acting the show. I like to call him a rocktopus. So far, he seems OK with that…

Where to follow:
Twitter: @richardbmarsh
Instagram: @speckywiththegoodhair
Website: www.richmarsh.com

Book here: www.pleasance.co.uk/event/phoenix#overview

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Quick Q&A: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Where and when: Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate – August 28th-31st

What it’s all about… Pericles is a Shakespearean epic —an exciting and exotic adventure of mystery, marvels, and mayhem— now brought to life in a bold new production by Idle Discourse.

Having discovered a dark secret in the court of Antiochus, Pericles is forced to wander a world filled with captivating characters. It’s an odyssey of life and death, morality and depravity, civility and barbarity, and, most of all, of the everlasting endurance of love.

You’ll like it if… If you love your Shakespeare brought to you with irreverence, humour, and maybe just a little bit of silliness, then you’ll love this production! Idle Discourse brings Shakespeare’s storytelling to the fore -presenting his grandest epic adventure in an energetic, accessible interpretation that is suitable for all. Audiences of our previous production of The Comedy of Errors called our production “Brilliantly bonkers!” and “Super-fast and super funny!”

You should see it because… this show will allow you to go on a journey around the ancient Mediterranean alongside Pericles, to discover the magical, mysterious lands of Tarsus, Ephesus, Antioch, and Pentapolis… all from the comfort of your theatre seat!

Anything else we should know… after our run Upstairs at the Gatehouse late in August, this production will transfer to the Baroque castle theatre at Valtice, in the Czech Republic. In 2018, Idle Discourse became the first English company in over 200 years to perform at the venue, and we’re delighted to have been invited back this year!

Where to follow:
Facebook: @idlediscoursetheatre
Twitter: @idle_discourse
Instagram: @idlediscourse

Book here: www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/pericles

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Quick Q&A: This Island’s Mine

Where and when: Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Space @ Niddry Street, August 12th-17th at 14.35pm

What it’s all about… Our show is a timely classic about pride, love and finding your identity in 80s Thatcher’s Britain. With live music, contemporary movement and an original song we would love to invite you to come and see the show and review it for us.

You’ll like it if… you’re a LGBT Supporter and know about all the happenings of the 80s!

You should see it because… Philip Osment is a genius with his work and this is the last play he saw before his passing this year. His writing is beautifully touching and resonates even in the present day.

Where to follow:
Facebook: @ThisIslandIC
Twitter: @ContiIsland19

Book here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/this-island-s-mine

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Review: 10 Things I Hate About Taming of the Shrew at Greenwich Theatre

It is a truth universally acknowledged (if you’ll pardon the mixing of literary references) that Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is, at best, problematic. It’s the story of a man torturing his wife into submission, after all, and to be honest there’s not really any easy way to sidestep that fairly significant plot point without completely rewriting the play.

While most of us would probably be willing to admit that Taming of the Shrew is far from Shakespeare’s best, Canadian actor, writer and comedian Gillian English has gone a step further and made a list of everything that’s wrong with it. And I give you fair warning: that list will take down not only Taming of the Shrew but also beloved teen romcom 10 Things I Hate About You (in spite of the manifold and much-missed charms of Heath Ledger, which are acknowledged more than once). Also A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare in general. Friends. Big boobs. Justin Trudeau. In fact there are very few people, places or things that make it out of this very funny but also very angry show unscathed.

And that’s because while Taming of the Shrew may be the starting point, it actually opens the door to a much wider conversation – about our obsession with reviving Shakespeare plays, even the bad ones, just because of who wrote them. About the damaging impact of romanticising misogyny and turning it into a Hollywood teen movie or a banging rock anthem. About the dangers of pitting women against each other, or telling little girls that boys are only mean to them because they like them. In a show peppered with hilarious personal anecdotes, self-defence classes and a demonstration of the opening number from Get Over It – which I’ve never seen but now desperately want to – it turns out there’s also a lot of serious stuff for both women and men in the audience to unpack and peruse at our leisure.

As a performer, Gillian English quite literally roars on to the stage, making no secret of her anger not just that Taming of the Shrew exists, but that everything bad within this 500-year-old play still needs to be discussed in 2019. She’s loud, in your face, and not afraid to be a bit confrontational, and yet there’s something about her enthusiasm and frank acknowledgment of her own failings that makes her irresistibly likeable (at least I thought so – I can’t speak for how the men in the audience felt about being taught the best way to rip off a penis). Add to that the fact that what she’s saying – even, or perhaps especially, the shoutiest bits – makes a huge amount of sense, and you’ve got the recipe for a show that’s a lot of fun to watch in the moment, but that also stimulates an ongoing discussion and a desire for change going forward.

Not everyone will love it; die-hard Shakespeare fans will no doubt take offence at the way their idol’s work is dismissed, and ironically the kind of men – and women – who most need to hear the show’s messages will probably steer well clear. But for those willing to open their minds, and who are okay with witnessing one of their favourite teen movies being ripped brutally to shreds, this is definitely one to see if it passes through a town near you.

10 Things I Hate about Taming of the Shrew is touring the UK, including heading to Edinburgh – for full dates, and details of Gillian English’s other shows, visit gillianenglish.com.