Review: Flip FabriQue present Catch Me (Attrape-Moi) at Underbelly Festival

We have a tendency in everyday conversation to use the word “incredible” or “jaw-dropping” to describe something that’s usually just a bit surprising. And if that’s the case, we need to come up with a whole new word to describe the extraordinary talents of Flip FabriQue, whose show Catch Me can be seen this summer in the South Bank’s Underbelly tent. In a show that includes acrobatics, juggling and a – genuinely – unbelievable trampoline-based finale, the Canadian troupe of six left me exhausted, delighted and, by the end, spluttering incoherently in astonishment. (Apologies to anyone who attempted a conversation with me after the show.)

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

The company’s mission is to promote joy, playfulness and friendship – and it’s fair to say they succeed on all fronts. Catch Me is a perfect blend of individual talent, seamless teamwork and good-natured silliness. On the extremely rare occasion that slip-ups occur, they’re covered up with a cheerful giggle and an instruction that “you didn’t see that!” And that’s not the only time the audience is involved; with the stage just inches from the front row (so close that I ducked a couple of times, though such was the precision of everything else we were undoubtedly in no danger at all), the performers frequently engage with the spectators throughout the show, offering us privileged access to their gang as six old friends reunite for the weekend at the cottage they once shared.

The six performers (Christophe Hamel, Bruno Gagnon, Hugo Ouellet Côté, Jérémie Arsenault, Camila Comin and Yann Leblanc) are good friends as well as colleagues – and that friendship shines through as they engage in popsicle eating contests, stumble blindly around the stage with sleeping bags over their heads and – in one of my personal highlights – juggle giant beach balls to that old classic, Copacabana, all the while chattering amongst themselves in a mix of French and English. On one of the hottest days of the year so far, the show was pure irresistible summer fun (which is not to say it wouldn’t be just as enjoyable in the middle of winter; I’ve no doubt that it would).

Of course this is circus, so naturally there are a few heart-stopping moments, with one in particular drawing startled shrieks from some members of the audience, myself included. And there are some quieter, more nostalgic pieces too, which bring down the heart rate and allow us to admire the stunning talent on show at a more relaxed pace.

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Regardless of the seemingly impossible feats being performed on stage, the overwhelming atmosphere of Catch Me is warm, welcoming and very relaxed – yet you know each detail will have been meticulously practised a thousand times, and it’s the performers’ incredible (yes, I said it) skill that enables them to make everything look so easy.

Fun for all the family, Catch Me is a hugely entertaining and truly memorable celebration of friendship, collaboration and fun, and absolutely worth a visit to the South Bank this summer.


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Review: Mum’s The Word at the Hen and Chickens

Good One Theatre’s last show, I Have Never, earned rave reviews for its depiction of three uni housemates about to go out into the real world. With the company’s new production Mum’s The Word, writer Robert Hughes simultaneously takes us forward and back in time, as four old school friends meet in a trendy Soho bar for their annual get-together, seven years after going their separate ways. But what’s become a meaningless ritual takes an unexpected turn when memories are stirred of an event the four women vowed never to speak of again.

Photo credit: Hannah Ellis
Photo credit: Hannah Ellis
Under Adam Wright’s direction, the tension is palpable from the start, as first to arrive Jess (Danielle Williams) touches up her make-up and tries to explain to the waiter – who’s also her boyfriend (Lewis Clarke) – why she’s dreading the encounter. And when Em (Emily Bairstow) turns up, followed by Heidi (Lizzie Grace) and Belinda (Bella Balfe), all becomes clear. The ensuing hour has all the bitchiness, petty rivalry and awkward silences you’d expect from four women who, we soon learn, have little in common besides the fact they once shared a room at school.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the four could ever have been friends at all; they’re so different. Heidi’s nice but dim, Belinda’s an ambitious feminist on the brink of a political career, Em’s always looking for her next sexual conquest, and Jess is a fading TV star who’s all too aware of the fact her fortunes may have peaked at I’m a Celebrity. This cocktail of personalities makes for a fascinating exploration of female relationships, with plenty of laughs and a few “did she really just say that?” moments along the way.

The social tension shifts to something much darker with the arrival of Nathan (Joseph Passafaro), a handsome stranger who immediately catches Em’s eye, but ends up giving them all a lot more than they bargained for. Joseph Passafaro has a disarming charm that catches us all off guard, and though his appearance lasts no more than a few minutes, it makes quite the impact.

Photo credit: Hannah Ellis
Photo credit: Hannah Ellis
Robert Hughes’ story is carefully structured to distract and surprise us throughout, with a concluding twist that’s so brilliant in its simplicity, you feel you should have seen it coming. Each member of the cast gets their moment in the spotlight, even the relatively minor character of Aidan the waiter/boyfriend, and there’s great chemistry between them; even putting aside the suspense of the deep dark secret, the sizzling tension keeps us gripped as we wait to see who – if anyone – will snap first.

In some ways, Mum’s The Word is an unlikely story – the fact that the girls keep meeting despite clearly not liking each other, the events that bond them, and the appearance of Nathan all seem just a bit farfetched. But the script absolutely nails the relationship between the women; some of the things they say to each other are uncomfortably familiar, especially to those of us who went to an all-girls school and didn’t enjoy it all that much…

Packed full of drama, laughs and surprises, Mum’s The Word is undoubtedly another triumph for Good One Theatre, and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.


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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.”

neverthesame-flyer-front

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: Screwed at Theatre503

For a lot of people, 30 is the milestone age when we start to think about our ‘life plan’: to consider who we are, who we want to be, and how we’re going to get there. But what if you don’t have a life plan, and you don’t even know where you’ll end up tomorrow, let alone in five years’ time?

Kathryn O’Reilly’s debut play, Screwed, introduces us to Charlene and Luce, two friends in their early 30s whose only goal is to lurch from one drunken night out to the next, filling the hours in between at their mind-numbingly boring factory job and popping caffeine pills to get through the day. Shrugging off the attempts of friends and family to set them straight, the two girls stumble down the path to self-destruction – but then one night things go too far, putting their dysfunctional friendship to the test, and changing several lives forever.

Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian
Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian

Samantha Robinson and Eloise Joseph are a perfect team as eternal teenagers Charlene and Luce. O’Reilly’s produced a choppy, off-beat script that allows the friends to fall into a familiar routine and bounce off each other in a way that’s both funny and oddly touching; you get the feeling they’ve had the same conversation many times before, and know each other back to front. And yet there’s a bitchiness underlying almost all their banter that establishes the power balance early on in the play: the brash, confident Luce (Eloise Joseph) calls the shots, while vulnerable, self-loathing Charlene (Samantha Robinson) falls in line, often at the expense of her own happiness. Consequently the friendship becomes both uncomfortable and frustrating to watch, as we not only see both girls wasting the potential they undoubtedly possess, but also find ourselves willing Charlene to break free of Luce’s damaging influence.

If the girls are often difficult for us to like, the other two characters in the play fall at the opposite end of the spectrum; in fact, if anything, they’re a bit too good. The girls’ work colleague – and Charlene’s love interest – Paulo (Stephen Myott-Meadows) is endlessly patient and idealistic, while Luce’s trans parent, Doris (Derek Elroy), is a shining example of someone who saw what they wanted from life and made it happen, against the odds and whilst single-handedly raising a difficult and ungrateful daughter. Both the male characters are admirable and likeable enough, but next to the complexities of the central characters, they do feel just a little one-dimensional.

Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian
Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian

Sarah Meadows’ production is slick and energetic, and leaves plenty to the audience’s imagination. Much like a drunken night out, some of the most significant events are blacked out, and we (and others) are forced to rely on the girls’ memories – which are unreliable at best, downright dishonest at worst – to piece the story together. The set, designed by Catherine Morgan, is simple yet multifunctional, adapting easily to become everything from factory to hospital, nightclub to kebab van. The concealed mirrors are a nice touch too, allowing for an increasing amount of self-examination from the characters as the play goes on… though whether it does anyone any good is questionable.

Screwed is a hard-hitting play, and not always that enjoyable to watch, though it certainly has its moments. Underneath the bawdy humour lies a cautionary tale about wasted opportunities – in love, work, and life in general – and the party culture that, much like Luce and Charlene’s friendship, does far more harm than good. Kathryn O’Reilly’s decision to explore this social trend with a focus on female characters is refreshing, if a little bit depressing, and while the play doesn’t offer a lot in the way of answers, it certainly paints a vivid picture.


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Review: Blue on Blue at Tristan Bates Theatre

Dysfunctional family relationships get a fresh angle in Chips Hardy’s Blue on Blue, which ventures into areas other writers may fear to tread. A dark comedy about a wounded ex-soldier and his mentally fragile nephew, Blue on Blue is an intense and fast-paced examination of human relationships and the damage that can sometimes be inflicted by the very best of intentions.

Former soldier Moss (Darren Swift) lost his legs to friendly fire while in combat, and now lives in a small, run-down flat with his nephew Carver (Daniel Gentely). The two have a fraught relationship, and what initially seems to be banter turns nasty when Moss reveals he’s been having weekly visits from Marta (Ida Bonnast), a perky Hungarian carer who’s unwittingly been going above and beyond her job description. Inevitably, the two men embark on a battle for Marta’s attention, which has unexpected consequences for all three of them when it becomes clear Moss isn’t the only one in need of help.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Neither of the male characters, on first encounter, is particularly likeable – both are foul-mouthed (the language in the first five minutes is not for the faint-hearted) and quick-tempered, and Carver’s a convicted burglar while Moss is an unashamed misogynist. Yet there are unexpected moments of tenderness and vulnerability between them as the play goes on that reveal there’s a lot more to their relationship, and it’s in these moments that actors Darren Swift (himself an ex-serviceman, who lost his legs to a terrorist bomb in Northern Ireland) and Daniel Gentely really shine. Ida Bonnast’s Marta, on the other hand, has the opposite trajectory; she starts out as a ray of sunshine in the men’s lives, but by the end of the play her presence has begun to feel intrusive and unwelcome.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Harry Burton’s production moves along rapidly, and while this maintains the energy of the play, there are times when the dialogue is delivered so quickly that it’s easy to miss important plot details. On the other hand, the scene changes seem to take an unnecessarily long time – with each scene quite distinct from the others, this doesn’t necessarily interrupt the flow, but it does contrast oddly with the rapid pace of the rest of the play.

Blue on Blue – a military term for friendly fire – subtly draws out the various ways in which the well-intentioned actions of allies can have catastrophic and life-changing consequences, not just in combat but in life in general. It’s a play that possibly needs to be seen more than once in order to unravel its multiple layers of meaning, but even on a first viewing Hardy’s writing provides plenty of food for thought.


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