Review: The Invisible Man at Brockley Jack Studio

At first glance, the Brockley Jack’s choice for their final show of the year doesn’t seem particularly festive. But while it may not be a Christmas story – nor, in its original form, a particularly cheery one – The Invisible Man proves to be another winner for the theatre’s in-house creative team, and easily as entertaining as the best panto in town.

Photo credit: Davor@The Ocular Creative

Based on the H.G. Wells novel and adapted for the stage by Derek Webb, The Invisible Man finds us in the small English village of Iping, where a stranger wrapped in bandages (Shaun Chambers) has just taken a room at the pub. Bad-tempered and mysterious, he’s quickly viewed with suspicion by the locals, among them his landlady Mrs Hall (Matthew Parker) and the village doctor, Cuss (Scott Oswald). When his secret is revealed, the Invisible Man – a scientist unable to reverse his own discovery – embarks on a reign of terror against anyone who stands in his way.

In Webb’s adaptation, fifteen characters are played by three actors – with all the ensuing chaos that ratio implies. And yet it’s perfectly managed chaos in the hands of director Kate Bannister, costume designer Martin Robinson, and of course the multi-talented cast, each of whom juggles their various roles with great enthusiasm, and without missing a beat. Wisely, both script and production openly acknowledge the multi-roling aspect, and play it for maximum laughs, delighting the audience with tongue-in-cheek observations like the fact that the three policemen (all played by Chambers) all look alike, or that Dr Cuss must always carry a medical bag to avoid confusion.

As you might expect from a show in which the main character is invisible, the production also pulls off some impressive magic tricks. Karl Swinyard’s set is deceptive in its simplicity; there are several hidden secrets waiting to be discovered as the story unfolds. Wine glasses hang in mid-air, signposts turn all by themselves, and the actors – Scott Oswald, in particular – hold entire conversations, including physical interactions, with thin air. (And they do it so successfully that it’s almost possible to believe there really is an invisible man up on stage with them.)

Photo credit: Davor@The Ocular Creative

For all the comedy, however, the show does follow Wells’ original plot pretty closely, so inevitably there are some serious moments. The Invisible Man is the target of suspicion in Iping because he’s different and doesn’t fit any of the traditional village stereotypes, and it’s ultimately this isolation that pushes him on to a dark path. There’s a political element too; he speaks more than once about the dangers of capitalism, claiming he wants to steal from the bankers and redistribute their wealth – a particularly topical reference given recent events.

We’ve come to expect great things from the Brockley Jack team, and once again this production does not disappoint. Already a compelling story, this adaptation keeps us entertained and enthralled with its slapstick humour and just the right amount of playful audience engagement, but never detracts from the story’s more solemn themes. A thoroughly enjoyable alternative to the more traditional Christmas fare – get your hands on a ticket if you can.

The Invisible Man is at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 4th January.

Review: A Pissedmas Carol at Leicester Square Theatre

We all know the basic plot of A Christmas Carol by now, right? Scrooge is a wealthy but stingy old man who hates Christmas, people and life in general. Then one Christmas Eve he gets visited by lots of ghosts, who show him the error of his ways and make him a new man by Christmas morning.

Photo credit: Rah Petherbridge Photography

That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway. But all bets are off in this riotous production from Shit-faced Showtime – due to the fact that one member of the cast has got good and drunk before the show begins. The chosen one at each show (at press night it was Daniel Quirke, although for obvious reasons it’s a rotating duty) then proceeds to cause as much merry mayhem as possible, while their fellow actors, a compere dressed as Charles Dickens, and various audience members – as you might expect, this is a front row beware kind of show – gamely attempt to keep things moving along in vaguely the right direction.

Despite being familiar with the work of Magnificent Bastards – who first founded Shit-faced Shakespeare, before branching out with Shit-faced Showtime – this was my first time seeing them in action, and the show was exactly as silly and outrageous as expected. Though there’s occasionally the faint sense that the jokes may not be quite as out of the blue as they appear, the abilities of the rest of the cast to run with whatever happens on stage – aggressively floating mince pies, inappropriate observations about the wallpaper, bizarre new personal greetings – are impressive, and the results predictably enjoyable.

While the primary objective of the show is comedic chaos, and the apparent mission of the drunk is to sabotage proceedings as much as possible, what’s clever about the format is that there’s still a proper performance to be enjoyed here too. The fundamentals of the plot and script we know are all in place – albeit with a few unexpected tweaks of which Mr Dickens might not entirely approve – and the various festive musical numbers in Katy Baker’s production are beautifully performed (Issy Wroe Wright’s heartfelt Last Christmas is a particular stand-out moment). This gives the audience a bit of a breather from the relentless mayhem, and allows us to appreciate the talents of the actors not only as comedians but also as serious performers.

Photo credit: Rah Petherbridge Photography

If you’re easily offended by drinking, swearing, nose-licking (don’t ask)… you should perhaps give this show a miss, and maybe go and see a more traditional production of A Christmas Carol; there are, after all, always plenty to choose from in London. If, on the other hand, you’re tired of watching regular adaptations, you fancy a change from panto, or you just like the idea of watching a very good actor make an absolute fool of themselves on stage while several other very good actors try and keep a straight face – A Pissedmas Carol is well worth a visit for an hour of good-natured silliness, great entertainment and copious amounts (quite literally) of Christmas spirit.

A Pissedmas Carol is at Leicester Square Theatre until 5th January.

Review: Oopsy Daisy at Katzpace

A dark comedy about sex, power and friendship, Oopsy Daisy is the story of two strangers brought together first by coincidence (and too much rosé), and later by an impulsive decision that will change both their lives.

Jo (Holly McFarlane) is a well-known actor and celebrity who finds herself, to her consternation, sharing an Uber Pool one night with Jamie (Rory Fairbairn). He’s also an actor, but a far less established one, and he can’t believe his luck when Jo announces she’s going to get him a role in her latest film. But her loneliness and his ambition prove a dangerous combination, and what seems in the moment to be a fun, naughty idea backfires spectacularly. Can they save their careers and their friendship – or has one bad decision cost them everything?

Photo credit: Maria Shehata

Written by Holly McFarlane and directed by Mat Betteridge, Oopsy Daisy is a witty and very current piece of new writing that nonetheless packs quite a punch when it needs to. The play explores – though not unsympathetically – the things that successful people might be willing to do to stay on top, even at the expense of those they claim to call friends. It also exposes the less glamorous side of fame; Jo may be a success in a lot of ways that matter to other people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s any happier than Jamie. Stuck in a soulless hotel room, isolated from her friends and husband and living out of a suitcase, we can’t blame her for seeking a bit of excitement – even if her later actions prove more difficult to forgive.

The on-stage relationship between Holly McFarlane and Rory Fairbairn is perfectly executed and totally convincing, both in moments of humour and of tension. Both characters have depth to them – it would have been easy to paint Jamie as a hapless victim of Jo’s whims and manipulation, but instead the fallout from the incident presents an opportunity for him to reveal a much darker side, and for the balance of power between them to shift dramatically in the second half of the play.

With references to the likes of Game of Thrones, James McAvoy and – of course – Uber Pool, and less direct nods also to #metoo and the power of the press to make and break careers, from the start Oopsy Daisy feels very current. The fateful decision at the heart of the plot may be inspired by a rumour about a 40-year-old movie, but the themes of the play are very much of 2019 – or perhaps it’s just that when it comes to the pitfalls of fame, not much has changed in the last few decades. Either way, this is a funny, fast-paced play featuring two excellent performances; hopefully this short run at Katzpace won’t be the last we see of it.

Oopsy Daisy is at Katzpace until 20th November.

Review: The House of Yes at The Hope Theatre

Bringing to a close Matthew Parker’s critically acclaimed tenure at The Hope, The House of Yes is a jet-black comedy drama that very much sees the theatre’s outgoing artistic director leave with a bang. Deeply twisted in a variety of ways, Wendy MacLeod’s story of the dysfunctional Pascal family is both horrifying and hilarious, and in this production it’s performed exquisitely by the cast of five.

It’s Thanksgiving, and Marty (Fergus Leathem) is bringing his fiancée Lesly (Kaya Bucholc) home to meet the family. The problem? His family… By their own admission, the Pascals have never had a guest before, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever have one again once the dust settles on this particularly eventful 24 hours. Marty’s twin sister Jackie-O (Colette Eaton) has two obsessions: her namesake, the former First Lady; and – unfortunately for him – Marty. Younger brother Anthony (Bart Lambert) is a college dropout whose eye falls rather too enthusiastically on his brother’s future wife. And through it all, their mother (Gill King), a self-professed “free spirit”, wafts around the house, seemingly taking little interest in her children’s lives… but in reality paying just a bit too much attention to what they’re getting up to.

What’s particularly enjoyable about this production is the care each actor puts into their performance. It’s impossible to choose a standout performance when each of them is so captivating. Every detail – the way a line is delivered, the movements and gestures, the facial expressions and eye rolls – feels perfectly timed and judged. The characters are, to put it kindly, not normal people – and yet somehow they come across as three-dimensional and 100% believable, particularly in the setting of their gloomy, claustrophobic house, with the power out and a hurricane raging outside. Rachael Ryan’s set design perfectly captures the essence of a home whose former splendour has now well and truly faded, even if that message hasn’t quite reached the Pascals themselves. It’s all a bit Addams Family meets Hotel California; both house and residents seem to have a way of ensnaring those who step inside, and the thought of anyone ever leaving becomes increasingly remote as the evening goes on.

Photo credit: lhphotoshots

As hard as it may be to believe, this dark and twisted tale is also very funny, despite that constant creeping sense that all will not end well. Much of our laughter is the result of surprise; these are characters who just say whatever’s on their mind, whether or not it’s considered appropriate – and as dysfunctional as they undeniably all are, there’s something quite refreshing and enjoyable about that openness.

The House of Yes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are willing to let themselves be drawn into the Pascals’ crazy little world, there’s so much to enjoy about this expertly put together production. It’s a fitting and suitably offbeat farewell from Matthew Parker, a play that will make you laugh, recoil, and possibly have a nightmare or two. But don’t panic – they do let you out at the end. Honest.

The House of Yes is at The Hope Theatre until 26th October.

Quick Q&A: This Is It

Where and when: Etcetera Theatre, 28th at 9pm, 30th and 31st October at 7pm

What it’s all about… Presented by Blue Glass Theatre, This Is It is non-gendered and non-aged, meaning that this play will be able to have many and varied lives. Focusing on identity and where we hinge our identity in a world shifting under our feet, change is all around us.

This Is It is a dark comedy set at the end of the world. Three have survived this far…

You’ll like it if… you like Hot Fuzz, Black Summer, Noises Off!

You should see it because… it’s dark and funny and talks about how we communicate with each other. This Is It asks you to look at identity and how we view ourselves and what would happen if the world turned upside down. Annnddd it’s funny!

Anything else we should know…: It’s 60 minutes of sharp comedy and some scary bits too!

Where to follow:
Twitter: @glass_theatre
Facebook: @glasstheatre

Book here: www.citizenticket.co.uk/event/this-is-it

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