Quick Q&A: Speed Dial (Work In Progress)

Where and when: VAULT Festival 2020 – 6th-7th March 2020

What it’s all about…Tone. Dial. Ring. The Professor is waiting for a call. Back-stabbing lecturers and dodgy Deans are all suspects in this action-packed, thrilling physical caper about connection, forgiveness and inter-faculty rivalry.

You’ll like it if… you’re a fan of explosive fast-paced physical choreography and action-packed thrillers which attempt to uncover whodunnit and why.

You should see it because… Spies Like Us have created a fast-paced, action-packed gripping thriller that explores contemporary themes of connectedness, isolation and forgiveness in a nostalgic 1970s university campus setting in their trademark explosive physical style.

Praise for previous work:
***** “An impressive, stunning piece of physical theatre” British Theatre Guide (on Woyzeck)

Anything else we should know…: They are also bringing their award-winning, sell-out debut show Our Man In Havana to VAULT Festival 2020, 3rd-5th March – be sure to catch it!

Where to follow:
Hashtags: #SpeedDial #OurMan
Twitter: @Spieslikeus_
Facebook: @SpiesLikeUsTheatre
Instagram: @spieslikeustheatre

Book here: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/speed-dial-work-in-progress/

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Review: Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Having started out with Shakespeare, then moved into other classic literary adaptations, and even dabbled a couple of times in comedy, Arrows & Traps have proved over the last few years there’s little they can’t do. But it’s arguably in the bringing to life of lesser known historical figures that the company and writer/director Ross McGregor have truly found their spiritual home.

Of course it doesn’t feel quite accurate to describe Charlie Chaplin – subject of their latest piece – as a lesser known figure; there can’t be many people who don’t know his name. I will admit, however, that going in I knew very little about the man behind the tramp… and now I really want to know more.

Photo credit: Davor@OcularCreative

Raised in Kennington in the late 19th century by an alcoholic father and a devoted mother, both themselves veterans of the stage, Chaplin was a precocious child who always seemed destined to be a performer. But even after achieving worldwide stardom in Hollywood, he remained troubled – caught between the boy he once was, the actor he wished to be, and the beloved character the world saw.

This struggle is portrayed exquisitely in the production through the trademark Arrows use of different timelines, but also, uniquely, in the splitting of Chaplin’s character into two roles. Conor Moss plays Charlie the man, fighting to retain his identity in the all-consuming wake of Lucy Ioannou’s silent Chaplin the tramp. The tension builds slowly; initially the two work seamlessly as a unit, with Moss providing the voice to Ioannou’s actions as she transforms little by little into a role we all recognise. It’s only in Act 2 that they begin to move in different directions, culminating in a stunning sequence in which Moss battles desperately to free himself of Chaplin’s trademark hat. (Hat tip at this point to Clown Director Stephen Sobal.)

Always a wonderfully expressive performer, in this production Lucy Ioannou steps it up a gear, capturing not only every Chaplin mannerism, but also the audience’s undivided attention any time she steps on stage… and like Chaplin himself, she does it all without saying a single word. It’s a brilliant performance, but by no means overshadows the rest of the ensemble, who all excel – though I must give a special mention to Clare Aster, who broke my heart numerous times as Charlie’s mother Hannah. Abandoned by her husband, mourning the loss of her singing career, and struggling to raise her son on a pittance, she’s the true sad clown of the story.

Photo credit: Davor@OcularCreative

The movement sequences that Arrows fans have come to know and love are very much front and centre in this production, and if anything take on even greater significance given the silent movie theme. These scenes are not just there as filler; they’re as integral to the storytelling as any other scene – and as always, they’re beautifully choreographed and performed, with a modern twist in the choices of music that brings them bang up to date.

The play is – as ever – incredibly well written, skilfully weaving timelines and plot threads together, but in Chaplin, fittingly, it’s not so much the words as the performances that lift the show to a whole new level. If you’ve ever wondered how this particular legend was born, this play offers a fascinating, entertaining and surprisingly poignant way to find out.

Chaplin is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 22nd February.

Quick Q&A: How To Save a Life

Where and when: Theatre503, 11th-15th February

What it’s all about… Melissa loves cake, glitter, and she’s got cervical cancer. Join us in the lead up to her party – her cancer party. Supporting Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

You’ll like it if… you like dark comedy and 90s tunes.

You should see it because… it’s life affirming and will make you want to hug the nearest person to you.

Anything else we should know…: It was nominated for Sit Up awards 2019 after a run at Underbelly 2019, and was selected and sold out at Soho Theatre as part of Soho Rising.

Where to follow:
Hashtags: #howtosavealife  #smearforsmear
Twitter: @GHalfFTheatre
Instagram: @glass_half_full_theatre

Book here: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/how-to-save-a-life/

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Where and when:16:30 Sat 22nd Feb; 15:10 Sun 23rd Feb at VAULT Festival

What it’s all about… Nominated for Best Comedy at the 2019 Brighton Fringe, Australian comedian Henry Moss brings QUADRUPLE THRE4T to London’s VAULT Festival February 22nd and 23rd. This critically acclaimed comedy cabaret is a “delightful and delectable exploration of the cut-throat and ever-unforgiving entertainment industry” – LondonTheatre1.

Mr Henry Moss plays Harry Ledgerman, a musical theatre star and national treasure who after a public mental break-down is desperate to revamp his career. He aims to promote his tell all celebrity memoir ‘Quadruple Threat’ by hosting a series of motivational Ted talks featuring other obnoxious guest speakers who all claim they have the secret to success.

Photo credit: Seann Miley Moore

Inspired by Henry Moss’ move to London three years ago, this is a hilarious reflection of the Australians who have made it big in the UK; Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman, not to mention millennial pop sensation Troye Sivan (a friend of a friend of Henry’s – he’s not bitter at all).

You’ll like it if… you’re a lover of satire, character comedy, Aussie comedy and Musical theatre.

“A fast paced tour de force, Moss seldom leaving the stage and only then to return as yet another character in this crash and burn descent set in the world of entertainment… And if all that sounds rather dark then don’t worry, because the whole is delivered with side achingly funny humour.” The Latest ★★★★★

You should see it because… it’s a hysterical depiction of the self-help and entertainment industry.

“A number of celebrity interviews demonstrate Henry Moss’ versatility still further, as he plays out each character himself… he utterly nails both the persona and intonations… simply magnificent, and frankly, it’s worth attending this show just for that.” London Theatre1 ★★★★★

Anything else we should know…: Mr. Henry Moss’s QUADRUPLE THRE4T has evolved into a tour de force with the viral spin-off web series ‘Krystal Lee Management’ that follows the hilarious inner workings of an Aussie talent agency. (mrhenrymoss.com/videos)

Where to follow:
Twitter: @mrhenrymoss
Facebook: @mrhenrymoss
Website: mrhenrymoss.com

Book here: vaultfestival.com/whats-on/mr-henry-moss-quadruple-thre4t/

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Review: For the Sake of Argument at Bridewell Theatre

As 31st January looms and the Brexit debate continues to rage on, Harry Darell’s timely new play considers the ways in which language can be used for both better and worse, and asks what happens when those who wield their pen so passionately are forced to face the real-world consequences of their own arguments.

Photo credit: Charles Flint

The play is set in the mid 2000s, as journalist Eleanor Hickock (Ashleigh Cole) is approached by Maria (Paula Cassina), the grieving mother of a young soldier killed in Iraq. Having discovered that Eleanor’s writings in favour of the invasion strongly influenced her son’s decision to enlist, Maria reaches out to her for reconciliation – but not everyone in her family is so forgiving.

The idea behind the play (which was inspired by a real incident involving the late writer Christopher Hitchens) is an interesting one, and certainly relevant as a divided nation gears up to face the as yet largely unknown consequences of the Brexit vote. However, what could have been a powerful and thought-provoking drama gets bogged down in trying to tackle too many issues, with a daunting number of characters and – ironically, given the subject matter – just a bit too much talking.

This is particularly true in Act 1, where Eleanor’s friends spend a considerable amount of time enthusiastically debating the merits – or otherwise – of Winston Churchill, Ken Livingstone and Vladimir Putin. They’re clearly enjoying themselves, and it’s not uninteresting to listen to, but this entire section serves little purpose in terms of plot development, other than letting us know they all enjoy arguing for the sake of it, and setting up Eleanor to discuss her own favourite topic: Iraq. It’s only in Act 2 that there’s any real action, and even this comes only after another spirited debate about the pros and cons of the 2003 conflict. (It’s also heavily foreshadowed by a strange and rather clumsily inserted anecdote early in Act 1.)

All that said, it’s not a bad play; it just needs to focus in more on Eleanor’s journey and spend less time on side plots and themes. Ashleigh Cole gives a strong central performance as Eleanor, a woman who’s become so addicted to debate that she no longer sees the human beings behind the arguments. Even when she learns what happened to Mark, even while sitting in his family home looking at photos of his early years, she shows little sign of remorse or even empathy – and when challenged by his angry, grieving brother Billy, she instinctively goes on the attack instead of trying to engage with him on a personal or emotional level. As such, when her moment of “redemption” finally arrives, it rings decidedly hollow, and not only because it comes at such a terrible cost.

There are strong performances also from Lucia France, Arthur Velarde and Henry Eaton-Mercer as Eleanor’s pretentious friends and fellow debaters, and Paula Cassina as Mark’s bereaved mother Maria. Meanwhile the one voice that really matters – Mark’s – belongs to Georgie Farmer, who delivers three short monologues with charisma and clarity. Here lies the other side of the argument: far from coming across as a brainwashed young boy, taken in by some well-crafted articles written by a stranger, he’s clearly intelligent and capable of independent thought. Is it therefore reasonable for his family, or indeed the audience, to hold Eleanor responsible for his death?

Photo credit: Charles Flint

As one might expect from the title, For the Sake of Argument poses some great questions about the limits of free speech and responsible use of the media. These are issues that are perhaps even more relevant in the age of social media, where everyone can have a platform to share their views, with little chance of ever being held accountable. The play does struggle to take flight under the weight of too many plot threads, characters and themes, but with a bit of pruning there’s definite potential here to spark a lively post-show debate or two.