Interview: Kate Perry, The Very Perry Show

Kate Perry is an actress, radio presenter and writer originally from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, known and loved by audiences worldwide for her comedy monologues and colourful characters. This November, Kate brings The Very Perry Show – which she describes as “a happy hour of comic monologues featuring a pair of glasses, a rubber hat and a can of WD40” – to London’s Hen and Chickens, following huge success in Edinburgh, San Francisco and beyond. After the London run, she’ll be heading to New York to perform the show in the prestigious United Theatre Solo Festival.

The story of Kate’s career begins back in the 1990s: “I started my writing and acting career presenting my characters in a little venue called The Marsh in the Mission district of San Francisco, which is still going strong today,” she explains. “I was also a member of The Fifth Province Theatre Company, that put on contemporary Irish plays and I got a lot of experience acting with them. While still living in San Francisco I adapted the novel No Mate For The Magpie for the stage, which premiered in the U.S. and toured Ireland to critical acclaim.

“When I returned to Ireland in the late nineties I continued to write and perform my own material but was also offered opportunities to write for radio, which opened up doors for me on RTE, the national broadcaster, and then BBC Radio 4. I completed an MPhil in creative writing in Trinity College, Dublin then made the move to London in 2014. Since then I have been developing The Very Perry Show, performing it in London, Ireland, Edinburgh and San Francisco.”

In a career spanning almost three decades, it’s not surprising that there have been a lot of highlights. “One of the biggest has been getting commissioned to write a Woman’s Hour series based on sketches I had written for The Dublin Fringe Festival,” recalls Kate. “Also, writing monologues and short stories for BBC Radio 4 for the fabulously talented Tamsin Grieg, Doreen Keogh and Conleth Hill. More recently I have been given the opportunity to perform my show in New York, on 42nd Street as part of The United Theater Solo Festival, the largest solo festival in the world.”

The show’s directed by Jeremy Stockwell, and features a collection of eccentric characters, including an unhinged documentary maker, a pious pigeon fancier and a six year old ‘entertaining’ a captive audience on a long distance flight. But which of Kate’s creations is her favourite? “Hard to say, I like them all but I do have a soft spot for Mary Peachy-Bender, a disgruntled Amish woman with too many children,” she confesses. “She’s quietly subversive and audiences are always intrigued about where her story is leading. So am I!”

Even now, Kate admits to still feeling pre-show nerves, but she’s looking forward to introducing her characters to new audiences in London and New York: “I’m terrified before I step on to the stage; it usually starts with a gulp, gulp, and barf. But once I’m up there and have a receptive audience who connects with the material, then it’s a real pleasure to make people laugh and bring a little sunshine to their day.

“I think the key to good comedy is a matter of taste. Because I do character work I think it’s important to give the audience something recognisable. Someone they can latch on to and care about. You need to make it real, even if the characters seem ridiculous or are left of field.”

So why should we come and check out The Very Perry Show this November? “There’s something or somebody in it for everyone,” says Kate. “The characters include everything from a 5 year old to a 75 year old and everything in between. Even a man! And it’s only £8.50 a ticket…”

Catch The Very Perry Show at the Hen and Chickens from 7th-11th November.

Review: Helen at the Hen and Chickens

If today we’re all too familiar with the concept of fake news, Euripides was a few centuries ahead of his time when he wrote Helen in 412 BC. An alternative view on the Trojan War, the play argues that Helen – whose seduction by Paris was the cause of the decade-long conflict – was actually in hiding in Egypt the whole time, while the Helen taken to Troy was no more than a copy created by the goddess Hera to punish Paris. Unfortunately, nobody knows about this, so they all blame Helen for the devastation waged in her name, leaving her desperate to expose the lie and save her reputation.

The story’s picked up in Egypt following the fall of Troy, when who should arrive shipwrecked and scantily clad on their shores but Helen’s husband Menelaus. His phantom wife conveniently vanishes into thin air just as he re-encounters the real one, and together they trick the Egyptian king Theoclymenus – who wants to marry Helen himself – into letting them go.

This new version of Euripides’ play comes from Theatre of Heaven and Hell, a company dedicated to producing absurdist plays and reviving forgotten gems. Helen is a bit of both; a little more comedy than tragedy, it moves through the story at a brisk pace, and doesn’t shy away from exposing its more farcical aspects. There are moments in Michael Ward’s production that feel a bit like Monty Python does Ancient Greece, contrasting sharply with the play’s slightly sinister opening and closing sequences, in which the masked and robed Chorus set the scene to a dramatic soundtrack.

As difficult as it is to categorise, Helen nonetheless makes for an entertaining hour of theatre. The women come out on top – Helen herself and the prophetess Theonoe, played by Elena Clements and Sarah Day-Smith respectively – emerge not only with the most dignity but also all the moral fibre, while the men are made to look like fools. Nicholas Bright and Darren Ruston play the famous leaders Menelaus and Theoclymenus as comically simple souls who are nothing without women to tell them what to do, and Brian Eastty and Marius Clements have two of the funniest scenes as messengers who patiently expose their rulers’ mistakes.

A surprising twist on an old story, Helen touches on some very modern themes, from feminism and victim blaming to fake news and the pointlessness of war. The scene in which one of Menelaus’ men questions their reasons for going to war in the first place is funny but painfully topical, and the responsibility placed on Helen’s shoulders for the actions of men invites us to ponder gloomily how much attitudes have really changed several centuries later.

It’s an odd little play, which is nothing like you might expect (let’s be honest: you hear Euripides, you don’t expect lines like, “We went to war for a cloud?”) but Helen is undeniably good – if slightly surreal – fun.

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Interview: Henry Moss, Quadruple Threat

Following a sell-out run at the Sydney Fringe Festival, Australian musical theatre performer Henry Moss returns to Islington’s Hen and Chickens next weekend with his one-man show Quadruple Threat. Londoners have two opportunities left to see the show described in a rave five-star review from LondonTheatre1 as a “delightful and delectable exploration of the cut-throat and ever-unforgiving entertainment industry”.

In the show, Henry – who also writes and directs – plays Sir Harry Ledgerman, a musical theatre star and national treasure, who after a public mental breakdown is desperate to revamp his career. 

Photo credit: Seann Miley Moore

Quadruple Threat may be the campest 45 minutes of your life,” says Henry, whose influences include Graham Norton and Australian comedian Chris Lilley, of the TV series Summer Heights High. “I don’t stop to take a breath. I play egomaniac Harry Ledgerman – the struggling artist we all know, who aims to promote his tell-all celebrity memoir Quadruple Threat by hosting a series of motivational workshops – as well as his obnoxious guest speakers, LA bombshell Brandi Straussberg and quintessential Aussie bloke Bruce McDingy, who each claim they have the secret to success. I also morph into Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Graham Norton and Dame Judi Dench.”

The show features dozens of musical theatre hits, all performed by Henry, accompanied by renowned cabaret pianist Sarah Bodalbhai. “I saw Sarah play at a hip hop gig last October,” says Henry. “I contacted her straight away and we met to discuss the show. Sarah is an incredible and versatile pianist who effortlessly improvises and segues from song to song. I am so lucky to have her accompany me. We get on like a house on fire, and the audience loves the battered and long-lasting relationship between Harry and Sarah.”

So is Quadruple Threat just a show for musical theatre fans? “Of course not,” says Henry. “It’s for any one who loves satire, has had their own series of knock backs and is intrigued by the madness that is showbiz.

“Musical theatre fans will recognise hits packed into the cabaret, but there are many pop hits from Stevie Wonder, Britney Spears, Ray Charles and Edith Piaf to name a few – that the audience recognise, roll their eyes and get the irony as I burst into these show stoppers.

“My favourite is probably my 1996 Judi Dench rendition of Send In the Clowns – it comes to Harry in the show as he feels he has ‘mis-timed his life’. There’s a hilarious tension between the tragedy of the music contrasted to Harry being so ridiculous and neurotic.”

As for Henry’s top tip for making it in showbiz? “I’ll let you know when I get there… In the mean time – a great fake tan and a whole lot of hairspray.”

Catch Quadruple Threat at the Hen and Chickens on 5th and 6th August at 3pm.

Review: Contactless at The Hen and Chickens

Nothing sums up the British quite like our relationship with public transport. It’s a world full of unspoken rules, which we like, and we reserve the right to be furious – silently, because we’re British – when those rules are not observed. Because there’s no chance of escape, the most insignificant moment becomes a massive deal, whether it’s the person next to us having a loud phone conversation, the cute stranger opposite catching our eye for the briefest of seconds, or the agony of trying to figure out if someone’s pregnant or not.

These are all moments anyone who spends any time on the London Underground can relate to, and they make up the backdrop to Tom Hartwell’s new comedy, Contactless, which takes us inside the world of the Tube to meet annoying passengers, overenthusiastic station announcers and even the original voice of “Mind the Gap”, Peter Lodge. These characters appear in a series of sketches that take recognisable situations and stereotypes to comical extremes (one of my favourites was the night tube, where passengers are tucked in with a blanket and hot chocolate while the driver reluctantly reads them a bedtime story).

While these characters are familiar to us, they’re all fictional – but Contactless also draws on historical fact and current affairs in the development of its main plot threads. Besides Peter Lodge, the sound engineer who inadvertently became the voice of the Underground, we also meet Emma Clarke, the voiceover artist who eventually replaced him, only to be sacked for comments that appeared to criticise the Underground. Meanwhile, a hapless union rep tries to reach an agreement in the tube strikes over ticket office closures and night working, and Peter’s widow Susan – who still works at Embankment 30 years later – struggles to keep up in a constantly changing world of progress and technology.

Directed by Phil Croft and performed by a versatile cast of six (Adam Elliot, Rosie Edwards, Hannah Jay, Jeryl Burgess, Stanton Cambridge and Will Hartley), the show’s style is reminiscent of spoof documentaries like Twenty Twelve, affectionately poking fun at a British institution that we love to complain about, but also wouldn’t want any other way (I kept half expecting David Tennant’s voiceover to start). The scenes referencing the strikes, while undoubtedly some of the funniest, also make a sharp political point; as union rep Rachel faces off against an army of incompetent and – in one case – sleazy civil servants, there’s never any doubt whose side we’re meant to be on, even before the hilarious first date scene in which a striking tube driver hammers home the main points of their argument.

There’s a further case against progress for the sake of it in the story of Susan, an unexpectedly poignant diversion inspired in part by Margaret McCollum, the widow whose pleas saw her late husband’s voiceover reinstated at Embankment. Ultimately, Hartwell’s message seems to be that the Tube is about people far more than processes. Drivers, passengers, station staff and yes, even the voiceover guys and girls come together to form a tapestry that’s rich with comic potential, and makes this cherished British institution what it is, in a way iPads and driverless trains never will.

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Review: One Was Nude and One Wore Tails at the Hen and Chickens

Guest review by Ross McGregor

Dario Fo’s lesser known one act play One Was Nude and One Wore Tails bears all the trademark satirical prods and nods that you would expect from the mind that wrote Accidental Death of An Anarchist.  There’s some plot, some characterisation, and a few set pieces but it thankfully never really attempts naturalism or a cohesive narrative, and you can take what you want from it. Do you fancy a cutting social commentary on how the wealthy (personified here by a nude man in a bin) rely on the assistance of the working class (personified here by a roadsweeper and also caretaker of aforementioned bin) to get them out of messes of their own making (being stuck naked in this same bin)? This play has that for you. Fancy some Brechtian working class singalongs with comedy horns and innuendo? Job done. Do you desire Beckettian dialogues on the nature of existence? Yup, got that too. Dissection of religion’s intrinsic value and man’s relationship with the deity itself in reference to our own nothingness? Job’s a good’un. Copious nob gags and funny carrot-based prop moments? Consider it done. Find people being hit over the head repeatedly with bin lids absolutely hilarious? This play has you covered.

I don’t think it’s necessary to understand every moment of the play, and to be honest it goes at such a lick that it would be almost impossible to do so without studying it heavily first. But it’s not really important. Fo is throwaway, he’s anarchic, he revels in breaking fourth walls and sending up authority. He doesn’t so much care about making coherent and empathetic narratives as giving you a laugh and a social message. It’s fun, its clever and it’s filled with invention and absurdity. Is this production well-made with love and energy? Yes, clearly – the actors are having a wonderful time up there onstage and their enthusiasm is infectious. Am I glad it was only an hour long? Yes indeed.

This production was made by Theatre of Heaven & Hell, so let’s deal with their “heavenly” points first. Their Programme Notes state the company “began in a living room in Southend-on-Sea”, and the production honours this humble origin with a charming and roughshod design. Newspapers and other street detritus litter the floor with such prolific abandon that it doesn’t so much feel like a normal city street at night but the morning after a newspaper-based apocalypse. The rest of the set is simple and does the job. The acting is enthusiastic with special mention going to Darren Ruston as the Naked Man in the bin, as he completely stole the show and chewed the scenery, sometimes literally. He had a slightly unfair advantage over his cast-mates as his role was a country mile better than the others, to the extent that when he wasn’t visible onstage the action noticeably dipped in interest, but considering he was static (in a bin) and often only a talking head (in a bin), he worked moments of utter stage magic.

Nicholas Bright and Jake Francis do well as the Roadsweeper and Man in Evening Dress respectively, and their grasp of Commedia acting style is clearly apparent and deserving of praise. Bright leads the piece as an ingénue of sorts, or an idiot savant, and somehow that comes across as the clown-like love-child of Goofy and Rodney Trotter, but it’s endearing and those type of parts are always very hard to pitch right, so Bright deserves much praise for aiming his little roadsweeper dunce with such innocence and sparkle that I only wanted to kill him a little bit. Elena Clements plays Woman with a vice-like command of punchlines and timing, and Brian Eastty multi-roles as a philosophical lascivious roadsweeper and a nosy patrolman. The cast are good on the whole, their energy is always at the apex of what is needed for the piece, and they clearly relished playing archetypes of sex workers, and policemen and ambassadors – this is not Pinter, or Shakespeare, or Chekhov – there are no three-dimensional characters here, and you can see the cast are loving living life large.

Now to deal with the “hellish” elements, as unfortunately this production could do with some honing.  The set-pieces and clowning elements were a little off in their timing and are in need of some more practice. There were multiple line fluffs which would be fixed by the actors taking a breath and some time during the performance to just “sit” in their roles and get comfortable. Only Ruston allowed the scenes to truly breathe, and it is something the rest of the cast could benefit from.

Second, the actors were all over-dressed in terms of their heat management. Many of the actors were sweating so much that it became a distraction for me, as I couldn’t get past how uncomfortable they looked. Turn the lights down, and turn the air conditioning up higher. Let them lose the hats and gloves. Make them comfortable, and they’ll be more at ease onstage. And if you’re going to have a naked man run across the stage at the end, then, let him be actually naked. Don’t fudge it with white loincloths. If he doesn’t want to, or if you don’t want to, then cut it. It’s one of those things you either do properly or don’t do at all, and to have it as the last image of the play meant that the whole production ended on a whimper as opposed to the explosion that presumably was intended.

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails is a quintessential London Fringe story. It’s a forgotten gem brought back to life, with a talented and energised cast that produce some moments of utter brilliance, but is let down slightly by a lack of precision in rehearsal in terms of movement direction. With some time and work – it could be divine.

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails is at the Hen and Chickens until 18th March.

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… 😉