Review: The Jailer’s Daughter at The Space

You could be forgiven for not realising that The Jailer’s Daughter is based on a Shakespeare creation (or rather co-creation, in collaboration with John Fletcher), which was itself based on Chaucer. It’s not just that the title’s different, or that The Two Noble Kinsmen is less well-known than many of Shakespeare’s other works. No, the main reason you wouldn’t immediately make the connection is that this reality TV-inspired play is about as far from the early 17th century as you can get.

Photo credit: Holly Matthams

In the original, the jailer’s daughter is a lovesick teenager victimised by every male figure in her life and ultimately driven mad by her unrequited desire for an indifferent prince. Not so in Esther Joy Mackay’s reimagined version, where Julia (Grace Hussey-Burd) is one of the few characters who’s actually seeing clearly. Unfortunately her father – The Jailer (Josh Sissons), a Big Brother-esque reality TV boss – has other ideas, especially after she causes a scene in the production room by protesting his show’s moral and ethical shortcomings. Before she knows it, Julia’s in the “lockup” herself, alongside various D-list celebrities, all of them serving time on the show as punishment for crimes committed on the outside. And then there’s Palamon (Rory Gradon), the jewel in the Jailer’s crown – quite literally as it turns out, because he happens to be an actual real-life prince. Naturally, the nation wants a love story… and one way or another, the Jailer is going to make sure they get it.

In a clever twist, Mackay gives the audience a degree of control over how the story unfolds, by setting up a series of votes throughout the show. These are conducted via voting pads handed out at the start of the evening, which add a fun, unpredictable element to the story – even though the questions posed, with one possible exception, never feel like real game-changers. Given the nature of some of the challenges and punishments we’ve seen and heard being handed out (electric shocks, solitary confinement, being made to eat raw chicken or drink all the booze in the house), I was expecting to be faced with tougher choices and to feel more complicit in the characters’ fates. But perhaps that’s just me – and the fact is the reality TV angle does work very well; anyone who’s ever enjoyed, however guiltily, watching Big Brother, Love Island or I’m a Celebrity will spot plenty of references to geek out over.

Under Sarah Fox’s polished direction, the cast slip effortlessly between playing captors and captives (though there are a few moments during the chaotic group scenes when the traverse staging makes it difficult to catch all of the dialogue). It’s no surprise that the two lead male roles, Palamon – the one who’s actually lovesick – and William (Saem Ahmed) the show’s in-house doctor, have been written as blandly boring nice guys, in contrast to Julia’s fiery determination to bring her dad’s entire project crashing to the ground, come what may. Grace Hussey-Burd is a force of nature as the newly reclaimed jailer’s daughter, making it clear from the start that she has a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to use it. And it’s a pity we don’t get to see more of Rachel Wilkes’ brusquely sympathetic Cleo, a former athlete with her own reasons for objecting to the show’s policy of forcing contestants into couples.

Photo credit: Holly Matthams

The Jailer’s Daughter is based on a great idea, and certainly succeeds in its aim of bringing the nameless teenager of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s play into the light and giving her her own story and identity. From a technological point of view, too, the production is brilliantly executed – lighting, sound and the masterstroke of the voting pads all combine to create a true multimedia experience for the audience. For me, the delivery of the final climactic scene lacked a little bit of drama, but the plot twist is really well written and does genuinely catch you off guard (though who knows, it could be totally different next time). A topical and entertaining take on a 400-year-old play, this is a production that both reality TV fans and cynics alike will enjoy – and then probably debate fiercely all the way home.

The Jailer’s Daughter is at The Space until 24th August.

Quick Q&A: Classified

Where and when: 11th October, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

What it’s all about… Three short, interlinking plays exploring the impact of social class on individual lives, set in the present day and an imagined near-future.

It is 2019 and Leanne is faced with a terrible choice if she wants to give her child a better life. Sixty years from now, a couple contend with the brutal outcome of a rigidly stratified society; while Sarah, in the third play, is driven towards making her own drastic protest against the dystopian world in which she lives. Inspired by real-life situations of social exclusion and inequality, Classified imagines what might happen if present class divisions are taken to the extreme. And, in our current climate of political instability and uncertainty, it asks whether some responses to injustice can ever be acceptable.

You’ll like it if… you like Black Mirror, Bandersnatch and enjoy thought-provoking drama, which entertains with great storylines and powerful acting.

You should see it because…  Classified is a play for our time: in the current climate of political upheaval and uncertainty, it has never been more relevant.

Anything else we should know… Classified sold out at its premiere performance at Tristan Bates Theatre in March, and got a 4 star review and rave audience feedback – details on our website: https://looselybased.co.uk/

Where to follow:
Twitter: @LooselyBased TC
Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/2452012881747591/
#Classified #Socialclass

Book here: www.thelionandunicorntheatre.com/whats-on#/event/classified-2

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Quick Q&A: Fit for Work

Where and when: Chapel Playhouse, 24th-25th August, 8pm

What it’s all about… Fit for Work follows Terry, an ex-plasterer who suffers from physical and mental health conditions, as he applies for the benefit Employment and Support Allowance. Terry meets Mrs Smith, a Healthcare Professional who is determined to make sure that only the most deserving claimants get awarded ESA. Is Terry fit for work?

Show image credit: Wellcome Collection

You’ll like it if… you like Ken Loach’s award-winning film I, Daniel Blake.

You should see it because… Fit for Work made a West End debut at the Tristan Bates Theatre in March, then had a sold-out performance at the Assembly Rooms Theatre’s ‘Spare Room’ Festival in Durham in June.

Peter Lathan of British Theatre Guide gave Fit for Work an extremely positive review, calling it “a very political play” which makes the audience “feel as if real life is unfolding before our eyes”.

Where to follow:
Twitter: @louise__powell

Book here: www.chapelplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on.html#event=31195005

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Review: My Name is Cathy at The Chapel Playhouse

If you could have a conversation with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say? The eponymous protagonist in Andrew Sharpe’s My Name is Cathy has little in the way of good news to offer her younger self – she’s spending her 50th birthday alone, having lost her job, her marriage and her kids, partly but by no means entirely through her own fault. What she does have to share, however, is the reassurance that little by little, with persistence and courage, things can and will get better.

Photo credit: Origin8 Photography

Inspired by a real case from the writer’s days as a criminal lawyer, My Name is Cathy is a cleverly crafted drama that charts the downfall of a brilliant, successful and happily married teacher over the course of a few short years in the early 00s. It’s narrated by the older Cathy (Kat-Anne Rogers), a recovering alcoholic who only now has the hindsight and self-awareness to recognise the arrogance of her younger self (Sally Paffett) – and yet despite her best efforts she remains powerless to stop the bad choices, on both her own part and those of others, which will ultimately contribute to their ruin.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the play’s second act, “The Trial”, in which Adam Bottomley’s classroom set is quickly and efficiently converted into a courtroom, presided over by the ironically named Judge Goode (Edwin Flay). Here Cathy is forced to relive all over again the nightmare day she fought to keep her children and lost – the difference being that this time she understands the subtext of what’s going on, and the multiple ways that the male-dominated legal system was always set up to work against her. Consequently the scene descends into a kind of dark farce, which despite moments of humour is ultimately quite heartbreaking to watch.

While it’s not always easy viewing, the performances given by all three actors are compelling and convincing throughout. Kat-Anne Rogers is a likeable narrator, opening with an AA-style monologue in which she acknowledges her own shortcomings. Edwin Flay and Sally Paffett each take on two very different roles with great success; in both cases the dynamic of the relationship between their characters is – at times, uncomfortably – well portrayed.

Photo credit: Origin8 Photography

Velenzia Spearpoint’s simply staged production charts the passing years with snippets of news reports and pop songs (the show’s playlist brings with it some great “haven’t heard it for ages” moments), which help to keep the audience engaged during scene and costume changes. This also combines well with the script’s commentary on the pressures and politics of the teaching profession – and yes, Michael Gove does make an appearance in that conversation.

My Name is Cathy is a moving and thoughtfully written play with a clever twist. The idea of older and younger Cathy being able to work through things together is undeniably poignant, but also adds a much-needed note of optimism to the play’s conclusion: after all, how much easier could certain moments in our lives have been if we’d known with absolute certainty that we would make it through and come out stronger on the other side? And on that reassuring thought… let’s hope this short run isn’t the last we’ve seen of Cathy.

My Name is Cathy was performed by KatAlyst Productions at the Chapel Playhouse on 16th-18th August. For news of future productions, visit katalystpro.com or follow @KatAlystpro.

Review: Before I Am Lost at Etcetera Theatre

If you look up Hilda Doolittle on Wikipedia, in the very first sentence you’ll learn that she was “associated with the early 20th century avant-garde Imagist group of poets, including Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington”. But Doolittle – or H.D. – was a poet and novelist in her own right, so why is it that most of us know her now more by the men she was linked to than by her own name, story or work?

Photo credit: Brendan Walker

This is a wrong that Beatrice Vincent sets out to correct in her new monologue, Before I Am Lost. The play introduces us to Hilda at her most vulnerable, trapped in both literal and metaphorical confinement as she prepares for the imminent birth of her daughter. Frightened and alone, but also angry and defiant, and with nothing else to occupy her, she opens up to her unborn child about their current circumstances and how they got here: her past and present relationships with both men and women, the devastating impact of World War I on what had until then been a loving marriage, and the subsequent affair that led to her pregnancy and abandonment. Slowly a picture emerges, of a passionate, intelligent woman at a pivotal moment – the moment she realises not just to what extent her life so far has been designed and directed by men, but also that it doesn’t necessarily have to continue that way, either for her or her daughter.

Beatrice Vincent gives a beautiful performance, walking a tightrope of emotion with captivating precision throughout the hour-long play. One moment she’s playful, the next bitterly sarcastic; she claims not to want her child and yet addresses her bump with obvious affection; after one furious outburst as she recalls her husband’s affair, she regains her composure with an apologetic, “Sorry, that was embarrassing”. The result is a portrayal that feels very authentic – despite her obvious respect for Doolittle as both a woman and a poet, Vincent avoids the temptation to paint her as wholly admirable, and in doing so makes her much more sympathetic and relatable than any gushing tribute could have done.

Directed by Ross McGregor, the production captures the intimacy of the scene between mother and unborn child, bringing in secondary characters only as voiceovers and thus ensuring that closeness is never interrupted. Just as Doolittle appears so often as little more than a footnote in the stories of others, here the tables are turned to show us these well-known literary figures through her eyes, and it’s a view that’s affectionate but not always flattering. Meanwhile her own writing career is generally more alluded to than openly discussed, through the script’s poetic use of language and literary quotes (of which I’m sure there are many more than I managed to pick up in a single sitting) and references to the classical heroines who featured so prominently in her writing.

Photo credit: Brendan Walker

You won’t learn everything about Hilda Doolittle’s life from watching Before I Am Lost – we don’t even find out if her fearful prediction that she’ll die in childbirth is accurate. But the play is an excellent first step towards (re)introducing the world to a writer and a woman who deserves to be known as more than a lover, or wife, or friend, of That Famous Man. Hilda Doolittle had her own story to tell, and if this brief snapshot is anything to go by, it’s one that’s well worth hearing.

Before I Am Lost is at Etcetera Theatre until 20th August.