Review: Threads at The Hope Theatre

On the surface, David Lane’s Threads appears to be a standard break-up drama. Five years after she left him, Charlie (Samuel Lawrence) has finally managed to track down Vic (Katharine Davenport) and convinced her to come and visit him at their old flat. Vic’s moved on – new home, new job, new relationship – while Charlie’s struggling; he hasn’t left the flat for several years, but we’re about to discover that’s the least of his worries.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Because there’s much more to Threads than meets the eye, and Lane waits just the right amount of time for us to relax before casually taking the story in a new and decidedly unsettling direction. It turns out Charlie’s not just feeling a bit low; his life has quite literally stopped moving forward (I’ll leave it there for fear of spoilers). And Vic isn’t doing all that well herself – for all her protestations of “resolve”, the wall she’s consciously built around Charlie in her memory is crumbling before our eyes, as is the image she projects to the world of her perfect new life. At the centre of the play is the metaphor of threads that connect us to each other, and the impossibility of simply severing those cords and walking away when a relationship comes to an end.

Like the story, Jo Jones’ set takes the mundane setting of Charlie’s flat, complete with the sort of things you’d expect – armchair, kitchen, window – but adds a touch of Frankenstein-esque gothic weirdness to keep us on our toes. The dingy room gives off the vibe of a mad scientist’s workshop, and electric cables hang from the walls and ceiling and creep across the furniture, occasionally glowing with a crackling energy as the couple’s simmering, unresolved passion threatens to boil over. (I kept half expecting them to come to life and start moving on their own, but was very glad they didn’t; that way nightmares lie.)

That same energy also radiates from the actors, neither of whom seem able to keep still as they restlessly cover every inch of the space. Samuel Lawrence is jittery and anxious from the start, stammering and raising his voice in frustration at his inability to make Vic believe what he’s going through. Katharine Davenport, on the other hand, starts out cool, calm and collected – but there’s a rising tension as her defences begin to fall, and the explosion when it comes is unexpectedly fierce. The two initially appear to have little in common, yet there are shared moments of tenderness as they reflect on a memory or private joke, and it’s in these moments that we can appreciate what they once had together.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Director Pamela Schermann keeps up the intensity throughout, aided by light and sound design from Rachel Sampley and James Scriven, which are effective but not intrusive and allow our focus to remain on the human drama unfolding just inches away. The intimate Hope Theatre lends itself perfectly to this play, drawing us right inside the living room and holding us there just as it does Vic. By the end of the 70 minutes we’re left feeling exposed, and drained by the emotion of seeing laid bare an experience most of us will have gone through in some way during our lives, but may not have been able to articulate.

Threads is a highly original and unpredictable piece of theatre that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. It deals in metaphors without trying to be too clever, and remains a gripping human drama – whilst also providing plenty of food for thought for the train home.

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… 😉

Theatre Things: 2016 highlights

Someone told me yesterday that they find New Year a bit of a confusing time, because they never know whether they should be celebrating the last 12 months or looking forward to the next.

Well. This year more than ever, I’m all about looking forward and making the best of the opportunities 2017 has to offer. But while there’s a lot about 2016 that we might like to forget, it did bring us a lot of great theatre. So I’d like to pause for a moment and take a look back at a few of my highlights from the last 12 months. (As always, these are in no particular order – ranking them from 1 to 10 requires a level of decisiveness that’s far beyond me.)

Anna Karenina (Arrows and Traps) at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

It was inevitable that the Arrows would find their way into my top 10, but I’ve chosen Anna Karenina for this list, because it marked the moment I really fell in love with their work. Condensing Tolstoy’s epic novel into a drama as accessible as it was gripping, Anna Karenina bore all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from an Arrows show: creatively staged, exquisitely performed and visually stunning.

Anna Karenina
Photo credit: The Ocular Creative

Transports (Pipeline Theatre) at the Pleasance

A heartbreaking and incredibly timely play, Transports never explicitly mentioned current events, but nonetheless offered a powerful statement about the emotional trauma faced by refugees every day. Based on the life of designer Alan Munden’s mother, Liesl, the interlocking stories of two girls were simply and lovingly staged in a powerful and thought-provoking production.

Cargo (Metal Rabbit Productions) at Arcola Theatre

It’s not really surprising that the experience of being a refugee has been a common theme in the theatre of 2016, but Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo stands out as particularly powerful, because it turned the tables and forced us to not only imagine but actually experience what it might be like if we were the ones forced to flee our homes and seek refuge overseas. The result was a production that was disturbing, tense and unsettlingly authentic.

Blind Man’s Song (Theatre Re) at the Pleasance

This one was a surprise to me, because going in I had no idea what to expect and really wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this combination of mime, dance, sound, illusion and original music. But Theatre Re’s Blind Man’s Song was a revelation; I was soon swept away by the beauty of the love story unfolding on stage, and by the reminder of how much emotion can be expressed without saying a single word.

We Live By The Sea (Patch of Blue) at Arts Theatre

Patch of Blue struck gold again this year with We Live By The Sea, a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of a young girl with autism. While the carefully researched production made no attempt to conceal the difficulties experienced by Katy and her family, it also challenged us to look beyond her autism – and our own assumptions – to celebrate the person behind it and everything she had to offer.

Photo credit: Scarab Pictures
Photo credit: Scarab Pictures

Dare Devil Rides to Jarama (Townsend Productions) at the Bussey Building (on tour)

Commissioned by the International Brigades Memorial Trust, Dare Devil Rides to Jarama – which continues touring into 2017 – tells the little-known but fascinating story of Clem Beckett, a young speedway rider from Manchester who gave his life fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Despite its sad ending, the story’s told with charm and humour by writer Neil Gore in a script that combines poetry, prose, music, and an enjoyable bit of audience participation.

Pride and Prejudice (Two Bit Classics) at Greenwich Theatre (on tour)

As a fan of Jane Austen’s classic novel, I was either going to love or hate Two Bit Classics’ adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for two actors; it didn’t take long to decide it was the former. In an astonishing display of stamina, Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood took on 21 characters between them, switching genders, costumes and accents at the drop of a hat in this funny and enjoyable show.

The We Plays at the Hope Theatre

Cyprus Sunsets, the first in this double bill of monologues from up and coming talent Andrew Maddock, just missed out on my top 10 last year… but it’s time to put that right. The We Plays combined Cyprus Sunsets with Irn Pru – two very different stories that nonetheless shared an ability to wrongfoot and shock us. Powerful writing and captivating performances ensured the double bill definitely made the list this year.

Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves (Sleeping Trees) at Theatre503

Who would have thought a panto would make it into my top 10? Not me – but Sleeping Trees’ mash-up of Dickens and Disney is such a brilliant, hilarious and above all original take on the classic format that I’m currently trying to decide if I can squeeze in a repeat visit before it closes next week. And I shall also be demanding that every panto I see from now on features a giant lobster…

Photo credit: David Monteith-Hodge
Photo credit: David Monteith-Hodge

Her Aching Heart at the Hope Theatre

The Hope Theatre has had a great year, and it came to a triumphant, five-star end with Her Aching Heart, a lesbian gothic romance musical two-hander written by Bryony Lavery. A laugh out loud comedy, this unexpected delight of a show affectionately mocked the Mills and Boon genre on which it was based, while a modern day love story unfolding simultaneously introduced a more contemplative note.

And let’s not forget:

The Memory Show, All Male H.M.S. Pinafore, This is Living, How to Win Against History, TitanicHarry Potter and the Cursed Child, An Inspector Calls, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sunny Afternoon – and a couple that I didn’t review but still want to shout about: Jesus Christ Superstar and Imogen.

Now, let’s see what 2017 has in store…

Happy New Year!

Interview: Hatstand Productions, Never The Same

“We began as four year olds playing with a dressing up box, bringing stories to life… and not much has changed since then,” says Lily Lowe-Myers of Hatstand Productions, the company she founded with her best friend Robyn Cooper. “As children we made many funny films that we hope no one ever digs up, and as teenagers some better ones that won national competitions – and eventually we formed Hatstand Productions four years ago in response to the professional work we were making. This is our fourth play since then and we are currently finishing our third film.”

That play is Never The Same, which opens in the Bridewell’s Lunchbox Theatre on 27th September: “It’s a dark but joyful female two-hander, exploring the beauty and sorrows of friendship and the lengths and limitations of what we can do for another person.”


Hatstand Productions have built a reputation for creating fun and innovative two-hander female musicals, and Never The Same is their first non-musical. “I didn’t set out to write a non-musical this year, but the deeper I fell into writing the play, the clearer it became that this would be a straight drama,” explains Lily. “I wasn’t sure how to break it to the fantastic composer we’d collaborated with the last few years, but then he contacted me to say he was in the midst of his PhD and couldn’t do a show this summer. Life is sometimes mystic like that!

“Working on a non-musical felt a lot like I was writing a play for the first time all over again. I realised how much collaboration had been involved working with a composer, and how nice it was to have someone to bounce ideas off. I felt a lot more vulnerable about sharing it, in fact; when I had to get the first draft done to submit it to the Ms Shakespeare new writing festival, I sent it with an apologetic cover letter saying, ‘This is my deformed baby, but I think it will grow into something strong and beautiful.’ Luckily they thought so too and it was chosen to be performed.

“Since then, it’s been a great pleasure to work with the phenomenally talented and generally fantastic Matt Costain as our director. His excitement about the play makes me fall in love with it all over again, and means that I can leave my writer’s hat at the door and concentrate on being an actress.”

Never The Same is Hatstand’s fourth show at the Bridewell Theatre. “When we first created a one-act show, we quickly learnt that the Bridewell was the top place for lunchtime theatre, and we loved that they reached an audience that might otherwise not get the chance to see a show. Knowing this, we stalked them and won them over. We’re so happy that we did, as we now have a great relationship with them and this is our fourth show in their beautiful venue. Did you know that under the floor of the theatre is still an old Victorian swimming pool (minus the water!)?

“We were worried this year, with a drama play, whether they’d still be as keen because we had such success with our ‘perfectly sized mini musicals’,  but their response was ‘whatever you make will be great’. It’s lovely to work with people with such belief in us.”

Photo credit: Hatstand Productions
Photo credit: Hatstand Productions

Never The Same is the story of two best friends reunited after seven years. “It’s the most thought-provoking, heart warming, funny, honest, entertaining lunchtime ever!” promises Lily. “Every action we take comes from somewhere. Over 45 minutes, we invite you to piece together the mystery of why two friends find themselves on the run, and whether they can ever find their way back, or if they would even want to.”

In their work, Hatstand explore many types of story telling mediums including film, theatre, puppetry, dance, magic and song – and their choice of name is hugely significant: “Our aim is to create entertaining work that sheds light on the beauty and complexity of the human spirit and to create work with strong, entertaining and complex female roles.

“We called our company ‘Hatstand’ as we liked the idea of our audience shedding their hats of worry or coats of doubt on our metaphorical hatstand as they took their seats. And hopefully, having experienced another reality, as they go back out into the world their coat seems lighter, or they try someone else’s for size, or leave theirs behind for good. 

“Oh, and we try to get our lovely hatstand – that we named Ted – into our shows!”

Never The Same is at the Bridewell Theatre from 27th September-7th October.

Review: Torn Apart (Dissolution) at Theatre N16

Torn Apart (Dissolution), written and directed by Bj McNeill, is an intense and compelling drama about three couples. Though their stories take place years and miles apart, there’s a common theme of love and loss – not only of partners but of family, home and history – as well as an actual connection between the three that’s revealed a little at a time, with the final piece falling into place just moments before the end.

In 1980s West Germany, young Polish student Alina (Nastazja Somers) falls for an American soldier (Simon Donohue), even though she knows that sooner or later he’ll have to follow his duty and leave her behind. In 1999, Elliott (Elliott Rogers), a chef from London, and Casey (Christina Baston), a backpacker from Melbourne, try to come to terms with the fact their relationship has an expiry date dictated by the Home Office. And in present day Britain, Holly (Sarah Hastings) finally plucks up the courage to leave her perfect husband for Erika (Monty Leigh), but their new-found happiness is threatened by devastating news.

Photo credit: Yuebi Yang

Szymon Ruszczewski’s set is visually striking: the stage, at the centre of which is a double bed, is enclosed within a large cage made of string. This creates a space that is at once intimate and claustrophobic – inside it the lovers make plans, laugh, dance, argue, have sex, and share the complex family histories that ultimately bind them together. At times they play with and caress the strings that surround them, while at others they reach out through them in a desperate attempt to be free.

The play holds nothing back, in emotional or physical terms, and the audience is placed in the sometimes quite uncomfortable position of the voyeur, watching a series of deeply private encounters unfold. This effect is heightened by the absence of a curtain call; as we leave the theatre, two of the actors remain on stage in a final embrace, seemingly unaware that we’ve ever been there (similarly, the action is already underway as we enter, with the same two actors enjoying a night of passion that leaves little to the imagination).

The play is gripping throughout, with some powerful performances from its excellent cast. Elliott Rogers and Monty Leigh are particularly impressive as two of the most damaged characters, Elliott and Erika, who simultaneously can’t believe their luck and are terrified of losing the person they love to forces beyond their control. It’s only at the end that the play seems to suddenly run out of energy. A crucial closing scene is unnecessarily repetitive and takes rather too long to make its point, which means we lose momentum in the run-up to the big final revelation, and it doesn’t have quite the dramatic impact that it should.

Photo credit: Yuebi Yang

Torn Apart (Dissolution) is a love story, but not in the traditional sense; nobody’s riding off into the sunset in this tale. It makes us pause and consider what love means to us – is it something to be desired, or feared? And yet, surprisingly, this is not as bleak a story as it might sound. Each of the characters gains something from their relationship, even if it’s just the memory of what it feels like to be loved, perhaps for the first time in their life. So while it’s not a happy ending, it’s not without an element of hope as well.

Full of drama, passion and emotion, Torn Apart is a heartfelt and ambitious play that speaks to us all in some way. If it could maintain its pace and energy right to the end, there’s a powerful piece of theatre here.

Torn Apart (Dissolution) is at Theatre N16 until 30th September.

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: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Palace Theatre

It’s not been an easy few weeks. Ever since I was lucky enough to be at a preview performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, friends have been asking questions – some blatant, others a bit more subtle – to try and find out what happens.

Unfortunately for them, I was handed a yellow #KeeptheSecrets badge on my way out of the Palace Theatre. And this is something I take extremely seriously, so my lips have remained firmly sealed – and this review will be no exception. No spoilers here, I’m afraid.


But here’s what I can say about the eighth Harry Potter story: it’s awesome. Created by the dream team of J.K. Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, Cursed Child is funny, sad, scary, dramatic, magical and jaw-dropping, with all the suspense and excitement of a new story, but also the comforting familiarity of stepping back into a world we thought we’d seen the last of. This means that while it stands independently as a new chapter, if you’re not up to speed on the events of the books, I’d recommend doing a bit of research before you go – if only so you can join in the universal audience reactions to certain events. (There’s something pretty special about hearing 1,400 people gasp in perfect unison.)

The production also boasts a fabulous cast, led by Jamie Parker, Paul Thornley and Noma Dumezweni, who are spot on as Harry, Ron and Hermione. The trio are just as we remember them – Hermione the high achiever, Harry the unwilling legend, and Ron… who’s just Ron, and still my favourite – but now grappling with grown-up problems and emotions. Meanwhile the children are, naturally, having adventures of their own (well it is Hogwarts, after all), and Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle step effortlessly into the new roles of Harry’s son Albus and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius, two characters living in the shadow of their fathers’ past. While some cast members may have more lines than others, though, this show is very much a team effort, with many actors doubling or even tripling up on parts (several of them instantly recognisable from the books and movies), and not one of them disappoints.

Oh right, and there’s magic. Any fears that the magic might have been a bit lame without the benefit of CGI were laid to rest within minutes, and the main question anyone was asking by the interval of Part One was “But… but how?!” Things happen on that stage that literally can’t be explained by Muggles like me – so I won’t even try.


Perhaps what’s most impressive about Cursed Child is that in many ways, despite the big cast and the amazing effects, it doesn’t feel like a huge-scale production. Some scenes are actually incredibly simple, encouraging us to use our imaginations to flesh them out – and even for those of us sitting way up in the gods, there’s a certain intimacy about the play that shows director John Tiffany really understands how attached his audience are to the characters and story. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s almost like everyone in the theatre is part of a big family, all there to catch up with mutual friends. The show is an experience that begins the moment we step inside and receive a warm welcome (and later, welcome back) from the staff, and the theatre itself even feels a bit like Hogwarts, with its twisty stone staircases and slightly creepy sculptures. I’m actually not surprised everybody kept the secrets during the show’s previews – by the time you leave and receive your badge, you’re well and truly a member of the club.

Now that the script’s been published, no doubt spoilers will start to leak out, but my advice, if you’re planning to see the show, is to avoid them. Don’t read the script; don’t ask questions. Just wait until you can experience Cursed Child in all its spectacular brilliance… and thank me later.

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… 😉