Review: Boxman at the Blue Elephant Theatre

How can we, as individuals lucky enough to have been born into a country not torn apart by war, ever truly understand the refugee experience? The answer is that we can’t, of course – but plays like Daniel Keene’s Boxman take us one step closer, not only to understanding but to appreciating that for so many refugees, making it to the “safety” of the UK is far from the end of the story.

Such is the case for Ringo, the young man who shares his story in Flugelman Productions’ London premiere of Boxman. He’s made it out of Sierra Leone and all the way to Britain, but we learn little about his journey. Instead we find him living on the streets, in a home he’s built himself out of an old suitcase and some cardboard boxes. Now he passes each day with only a few assorted possessions and his memories to keep him company. “I’ve lived so many lives”, he tells us repeatedly, as he reminisces about life as a child soldier, or recalls the loss of his family to an uncertain fate.

But despite his obvious trauma, Ringo’s a survivor, with an extraordinary determination to make the best of a situation that would break most of his audience. (At one point he asks us all to think of the thing that hurts us the most, a powerful challenge that reminds us yet again how lucky we are.) Again and again we see him physically shake off the horror as he breaks into a broad grin and a cheerful laugh, both of which are so infectious we can’t help but join him even as our hearts are breaking for all he’s been through.

It’s clear from both the show itself and the short Q&A that followed on opening night that the team behind Boxman, and in particular director Edwina Strobl and actor Reice Weathers, take their responsibility to Ringo’s story very seriously. The show is produced in partnership with The Refugee Council, Refugee Action and Young Roots, and is informed by conversations with real refugees. So perhaps it’s not surprising that everything about Weathers’ performance rings completely true, whether he’s telling knock knock jokes to the front row or remembering the moment his father was torn from his arms by soldiers. Like Ringo, he has only his few meagre possessions on stage with him, but he brings Keene’s words to life so evocatively that we can clearly picture both his surroundings and the small figure who haunts the corners of the stage, occasionally drawing nearer to hear stories of their shared childhood.

Common sense tells us that the first step to empathising with displaced people who’ve been forced to flee their homes is to stop viewing them as headline statistics and start seeing their humanity. In Boxman, Daniel Keene gives us an insight into one man’s inner monologue, and a stark reminder of the ongoing trauma he and millions of others are still living through every day – even if they’ve “made it” to their destination. Beautifully performed by Reice Weathers, it’s essential viewing and a powerful counterpoint to the anti-refugee rhetoric to which we’re so frequently and depressingly exposed.

Boxman is at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 6th July, and at the Ventnor Fringe, Isle of Wight on 12th August.

Review: The Tricycle at the Blue Elephant Theatre

In 1962, Fernando Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement, a collective of artists whose aim was to create theatre that was surreal and shocking. Although it was written a decade earlier, these are two adjectives that very accurately sum up Arrabal’s The Tricycle, which has been revived in a new production translated and directed by Jes√ļs Chavero of Bright South Theatre. In the play, teenagers Apal, Climando and Mita resort to murder to get their hands on some money so they can pay for a tricycle they’ve hired. Though we don’t see any actual violence (there’s plenty of blood and gore, but poetically, this is portrayed by red petals scattered across the stage), the play’s powerful shock value lies in the casual attitude of the characters towards their intended crime, and the ease with which they later justify their actions.

However, it’s not quite as black and white as it sounds. The characters’ genuine amazement when they realise they’re in trouble confirms our belief that they’re not bad people, they just don’t understand that they’ve done anything wrong. Prior to their fateful encounter with the Man With The Banknotes, Climando (Andrew Gichigi) is a cheeky chappy who spends most of his time clowning around, flirting with Mita (Lakshmi Khabrani), having nonsensical arguments with The Old Man (Simon Lammers), and trying to get Apal (Arif Alfaraz) to stay awake more than a couple of minutes at a time. It’s all very childlike and innocent, albeit with a slightly sinister twist (at one point, Climando and Mita cheerfully encourage each other to commit suicide), and in a strange way it’s easy to brush off the bit where the friends murder someone as an unfortunate blip – not forgivable by any means, but perhaps almost understandable.

This is probably because in the killers’ eyes their crime was simply something that needed to be done, and not an act of malice. They’re poor and nobody wants to help them, so the only logical response for them is to help themselves. The decision to relocate the play to London gives its themes of poverty and social rejection more immediacy, and asks the audience to consider how much we really blame these outcasts for what they’ve done, and how much responsibility should fall on a society that put them in such a desperate position in the first place.

An example of Spanish Absurdist theatre, The Tricycle is undoubtedly an odd little play, but it’s also strangely endearing, thanks to the obvious passion of the company, and the cast’s infectious and energetic performances (except Apal, obviously, who spends most of his time asleep on a bench). The production features a surprising amount of laughter, a lot of fast-moving word play – so much so that it becomes hard to keep up with the increasingly heated arguments – and some impressive, and unexpected, acrobatics. This light-hearted treatment of the play’s dark, challenging themes makes for an intriguing blend; an acquired taste, perhaps, but one I wouldn’t mind getting used to.


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… ūüėČ

Review: Legends: Monsters, Mead & Mayhem at Blue Elephant Theatre

If you hear the name Thor and think of Chris Hemsworth (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), you may be in for a shock at the Blue Elephant this week. Having previously tackled the Arabian Nights and Greek mythology, Hammer &¬†Tongs Theatre have now turned¬†their attention to the Vikings. Legends: Monsters, Mead &¬†Mayhem is a fast-paced¬†and very funny tour of¬†the¬†nine worlds of Norse mythology, in which elves dance unwary travellers¬†to death, Thor keeps losing his hammer,¬†and dwarves like to murder¬†visitors and turn them into beverages. All of this is watched over by the guardians, armed with a pair of magic binoculars, who¬†have the thankless task of keeping the peace, whilst drinking a lot of tea and sorting the mail.

Written and directed by Jennifer Rose Lee, this work in progress may be at an early stage in its development, but it’s already shaping up to be great fun for the whole family. Three actors (Oliver Yellop, Charlotte Reid and Philippa Hambly) play all the parts – so many I lost count – with a variety of accents from American to Brummy to Scottish, and with¬†music and some occasionally rather too graphic sound effects supplied by George Mackenzie-Lowe, who’s installed in a corner for the duration of the show. Though the actors themselves seem occasionally on the verge of laughter, they all give energetic and enjoyable performances, keeping each role distinct from the next and¬†somehow managing to keep¬†up with the rapid pace of the story.

Though it’s essentially a sketch show, dropping in on all the different worlds and their eccentric inhabitants but always returning to the three guardians at the centre, there is a main plot thread linking everyone together. This¬†revolves around the story of a poet created by the gods, whose skill makes him famous throughout the nine worlds… but he’s about to discover that fame isn’t always a good thing.

Perhaps we could have lingered a little longer on some of the stories; the show’s certainly entertaining enough that it can stand to go beyond its current 50 minutes, and though transitions between scenes are smooth, the brevity of some of the sketches currently means the show feels a little bit choppy. The characters are well-drawn and intriguing, deliberately going against our expectations; we have a friendly sea monster, inelegant elves¬†– and Thor, who’s not only definitely not Chris Hemsworth, he’s also not the sharpest knife in the drawer, bless him. This subversion of what we think we know about Norse mythology supplies¬†most of the dry humour of the evening, and makes me wish not only that the show was longer, but also that I’d seen what Hammer & Tongs did with the more familiar world of Greek legend in their previous production, MYTHS.

This family show reminds me a little of Horrible Histories, in that it’s definitely not based in any kind of fact, but still gives the audience enough info to whet our appetites and make us want to learn more, whilst keeping us well and truly entertained. Already a lot of fun and with great performances from an engaging cast, I look forward to seeing how the show develops from here.


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… ūüėČ

Review: Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre

It’s been a long old¬†week. A couple of work trips and several late nights meant that by the time Friday rolled around, I was feeling pretty shattered and¬†wanted nothing more than to go home and collapse into bed.

Why am I telling you this? Because fortunately, I have an office job where being tired might mean I’m a bit less productive than usual, but isn’t a matter of life or death. Now imagine being that tired and having to carry out complex medical procedures, or administer drugs that could, in the wrong dosage, prove lethal. And then imagine it’s your very first day as a junior doctor, you don’t know where anything is and suddenly you’re responsible for real patients in real pain, who expect¬†you to know exactly what to do to help them.

In Resuscitate Theatre’s Rounds, six junior doctors are about to learn that just wanting to help people – which seems the most fundamental requirement for a medical professional – may not be¬†enough. The show touches on several¬†of the issues facing the people we rely on to keep us healthy… and it’s terrifying. Long shifts, abuse – racist and sexist – from patients, indifferent management and the fear of knowing one wrong move could cost someone their life are all piled on top of the usual problems faced by 20-somethings just out of uni, like¬†romance, fitting in with colleagues and finding a work/life balance (and someone to feed the cat).

Directed by Anna Marshall, an¬†internationally diverse cast (Christina Carty, Alex Hinson, Nicolas Pimpare, Penelope Rodie, Iain Gibbons and Adam Deane)¬†bring to life the six young¬†doctors, each of them¬†coping in their own way – and some better than others – with the pressures and insecurities of their job.¬†At just an hour in length, the show gives some of the characters¬†a little more air-time than others, with one in particular ultimately taking centre stage in a conclusion that’s simultaneously shocking and somehow inevitable. This is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it means we don’t really get to know the characters¬†that well;¬†on the other, by spreading the focus¬†quite thinly the show is able to demonstrate the vast number¬†of problems that need to be addressed.

The set, designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen, is deceptively simple, made up of six medical screens which¬†form a vital part of the show’s choreography. The movement sequences within Rounds tell us¬†just as much as any of the dialogue scenes; choreographed by Lexi Clare and directed by Davide Vox, they effectively convey the frantic nature of an average day through the repetition of routine tasks like checking x-rays or scrubbing up for surgery, while curtains are whisked aside again and again as the doctors treat a seemingly endless stream of patients.

Penny Rodie, Rounds

The characters¬†on stage are fictional, but based on real stories¬†(in fact the show was devised with input from junior doctors) and it’s sobering to realise that they represent the doctors treating us and our loved ones every day, in increasingly difficult circumstances. When the show was first performed at last year’s Illuminate Festival, the junior doctors’ dispute with the government was making headlines. Though it may no longer be the top story, that doesn’t mean the problem’s gone away, and if anything, shows like Rounds are more important than ever, to keep the problems faced by junior doctors – and the NHS in general – in the spotlight. And on a more personal level, it may make the rest of us¬†think twice before complaining about a bad day at work.


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… ūüėČ

Interview: Les Femmes Ridicule, In The Gut

Les Femmes Ridicule are Alice Robinson, Siobhan McKiernan and Margot Courtemanche, who together aim to create highly entertaining, moving and fresh work that directly engages with their audience. Following recent performances at the Brighton Festival, the trio are about to bring their show In The Gut to London for a short tour.

“In The Gut broaches the subjects of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood; tackling tragic themes, such as miscarriage and infertility, with a thoughtful and comedic approach,” explains director Alice Robinson. “The audience will be introduced to different scenarios that offer alternative perspectives and approaches to the subjects ‚Äď from the ridiculous and strange, to the dramatic and poignant.

“The show came about as an off shoot of another project that failed, which we’re really glad about! The three of us¬†found we had so much to say on¬†the topic of fertility and potential¬†motherhood, and that we shared a slightly dark and silly¬†sense of humour.”

In The Gut, Les Femmes Ridicules

In The Gut is Les Femmes Ridicules’ first show as a trio, and they’ve enjoyed working together. “It’s been really good! We’ve devised the show from our collective imaginations and passions, and that’s always a big process. As devisers our process is ongoing as we meet our audiences and continue to respond to them. We’ve laughed a lot in rehearsals and been really honest throughout, which is essential.”

The company¬†hope to raise awareness for¬†miscarriages in all relationships and are delighted to have the support of the Miscarriage Association and¬†the Maternal Mental Health Alliance. “They really helped us in the research stage and opened our eyes to the impact of miscarriage on men, women and their families. We have been handing out Miscarriage Association leaflets at the shows and hope to promote the incredible services that they offer.

“In the Gut is direct in its staging of the fears around pregnancy. It doesn’t take sides, or preach, it’s unafraid of looking ugly, of moving its audiences and of playing with them.”

The RADA-trained trio’s¬†creative process starts¬†with simple improvisation. “I¬†just shout things¬†–¬†ideas, thoughts, questions – at the other two and they plough on, adapting to what’s said in their own way. We all feed off each other‚Äôs ideas and we ended up with something we could never imagine on our own.¬†Everything starts with a hunch, a question or something really silly like trying to outdo¬†each other with a mime of the worst birth possible… and off we go!

“We think comedy is a brilliant way to open up a discussion, to heal and to set us free! There is humour in everything and releasing or acknowledging that is more interesting than ignoring it. Our audiences have taken the show really well, in that they have responded differently and personally. They have laughed and been moved. We’ve had midwives, parents, grandparents, people who don’t want children, young adults, people who do and people who can’t.¬†There’s something for everyone, and everyone has an opinion on the subject matter, which is a great start.”

In The Gut is at the London Clown Festival on 12th June, the Blue Elephant Theatre from 14th-18th June, and the RADA Festival at John Gielgud Theatre on 25th and 29th June.