Review: Boujie at Drayton Arms Theatre

We all like to believe that wealth and success wouldn’t change us, or our relationships with the people closest to us – but how realistic is that when it actually happens? This is the question asked and rather gloomily answered by Hassan Govia’s Boujie, in which entertainment blogger Devin (played by Govia) invites his friends round for Friday night drinks. They’re suitably impressed by his posh new flat, but the evening turns sour thanks to a combination of Devin’s annoying neighbour Giles (Freddy Gaffney), a surprise visit from his sister Giselle (Cristal Cole), and a shock revelation about the true extent of his financial success.

Photo credit: Alessa Davidson

The issues raised by the play are interesting, relevant and well presented, enabling us to see the argument from both sides and exploring the complex psychology behind human beings’ relationship with money and class. Devin feels compelled to keep acting a role that he no longer feels comfortable with just to keep his friends happy, and to conceal his true feelings about the working class background and family he’s left behind. His friends (Natali Servat, Peter Silva and Maria Yarjah) are quite content for him to live in a nice flat all the while they think he can’t really afford it, but take offence when they realise he’s actually done pretty well for himself. But Devin’s not afraid of passing judgment either; having elevated himself, he now feels he has the right to look down on anyone who doesn’t do the same, assuming rather blindly that we must all be motivated by the same ambitions.

As a script, Boujie keeps on giving; the play gives us plenty to think about both in the moment and afterwards as it explores race, class, personal relationships, and how each of us chooses to define our own success. There are, however, moments and details that feel a little contrived, and in trying to cover so much material, the dialogue doesn’t always flow as naturally as you might expect between good friends. The format of the play also includes a number of soliloquies, and while there’s nothing wrong with that – and all are very well performed by a talented cast – as the play goes on it begins to feel a bit more like watching a debate than a social occasion.

The characters are, for the most part, well drawn and we get to know each of them pretty well as the play goes on; in particular, we gain a good understanding of what drives them from a career and financial point of view. The one exception is next door neighbour Giles – despite an enjoyable comedy performance from Freddy Gaffney, his absolute lack of social or cultural awareness (particularly given what we later learn about his relationship status) feels oddly one-dimensional and unrealistic, jarring against the other, far more complex and believable characters.

Photo credit: Alessa Davidson

A rather depressing outlook – despite his success, Devin doesn’t fit in with either his old friends or his new neighbours, and seems doomed to remain alone and miserable like a modern-day Scrooge – is saved by a touching final scene between Devin and his sister Giselle. Of anyone, she has the most reason to be mad at him, and although it feels like her refusal to give up on him may not be entirely selfless, it does at least bring the play to a rather more upbeat conclusion.

Though billed as a comedy, Boujie actually has some quite serious comments to make about how we let money and status dominate our lives, and prompts fewer laughs and more self-reflection than you might expect. It’s not perfect (yet), but this is a promising debut from Hassan Govia and Unshaded Arts, and with a bit of tightening in places it has the potential to make an even more powerful statement.

Boujie is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 8th December.


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Interview: Stephanie Silver, Walk of Shame

For one, it’s a night of glory – for the other, a walk of shame… Glass Half Full Theatre return with a topical new production next month, as they bring Walk of Shame by Stephanie Silver and Emelia Marshall Lovsey to the White Bear for a limited run.

“I don’t want to give too much away,” says Stephanie. “As with most of our plays we produce, it takes the audience on a journey and the ending isn’t what you expect; we like twists and turns. It’s a story based on two characters: Alice, written by Emelia, and Liam, written by myself. We merged the two characters together to create a story of one night and two different points of view.”

The show was first picked up by Stephanie through Actor Awareness, at a new writing event based at Spotlight. “I co-produce these nights with Tom Stocks and I read the script submissions,” she explains. “I read this piece and instantly loved it, and felt it fit the ethos of plays I wanted to produce through Glass Half Full. Thought provoking, tragic and funny characters is what I like to home in on.

“Initially it was just Alice that was written, but after directing the piece for the event I went away, wrote a two-hander and asked Emelia if she fancied putting it on. We’ve since done R&D with it at the Actor Awareness new writing festival and also with Get Over it Productions at the Tabard Theatre this summer.”

One aspect that particularly drew Stephanie to Walk of Shame was its relevance: “Alice is a very loud and sexually overt character, and a lot of judgments get placed on her by the audience for her in ya face nature. I think it’s important that as women we are still breaking down stereotypes of how people perceive we should behave. Alice is not ladylike; she doesn’t say the right thing or often make the right choices. So I think her story is important, as it’s getting female characters out there that aren’t perfect and are flawed. I think women everywhere will relate to characters like Alice.

“Liam, the other character in the play, is very interesting and it’s a very different journey the audience go on with him – and without giving any twist away, it’s very interesting to see how the audience respond at the end after hearing about Liam’s life.”

Walk of Shame brings together a cast of talented creatives, the majority of whom have worked with Glass Half Full previously. “Emelia was actually in my last play Our Big Love Story; she played Katie at The Hope Theatre in March,” says Stephanie. “As a producer, when I like people I keep them around. This is Emelia’s first play as a writer, so it’s exciting to be on that journey with her. She’s worked with the company a lot.

“Michelle Payne is a very accomplished actor, writer, director, producer slash superwoman. Her last play, Full Circle, about mental health won awards at the Brewery Fringe 2018. Michelle’s worked with Glass Half Full on new writing night Series of Short Plays, and she’s just set up acting school Caspa Arts. As a woman of all trades, and who knows the company’s work well, she’s a perfect fit to direct.

“As for the cast – Liam will be played by the very talented Calum Speed, who got an Offie nom for his role as Chubby in Chubby, which also had a run at the White Bear Theatre. And I myself will take on the role as Alice, which is exciting as I’ve been mainly producing for the last year, so it’s good to get back to doing what I love.”

The show opens at the White Bear on 11th December, where it will run until the 15th. “The White Bear is a great venue for new writing and it’s also a perfect space for the piece. Its intimacy will really lend to the story, and we hope the audience will go away with a lot to think about. We aim to challenge and get the audience to talk at the bar after. Our theatre company motto is ‘hard hitting and engaging’ – which this play is to a T.”

Get your tickets for Walk of Shame at the White Bear Theatre from 11th-15th December.

Interview: Alexander Knott, Renaissance Men

A bleak and bitter comedy about toxic masculinity and the millennial generation, Renaissance Men is a new production from writer James Patrick and Bag of Beard. The show will debut at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November, with tour dates to be announced for 2019.

“On the face of it Renaissance Men is about three art school dropouts who discover a lost masterpiece in a charity shop in Streatham,” explains Bag of Beard co-director, Alexander Knott. “But beyond that concept, the play is about what happens when men don’t talk to each other. When masculinity gets in the way of human connection. What happens if three young people are faced with a life changing opportunity? Does huge wealth generate huge contentment? What is the relevance of art in a society that values only capital? Is there a voice for Millennials that aren’t just obsessed with their phones? Is there a voice for nostalgia? And through this, can we connect to each other on a fundamental level?”

The story was inspired in part by the personal experience of writer James Patrick, combined with the company’s interest in discussing how the millennial generation connect with each other – or fail to do so. “We weren’t interested in the clichéd image of millennials; we’re not telling a story of iPhones and Instagram, but a kind of counter culture, as James puts it,” says Alexander, who plays Quentin in the show. “With our productions, Bag of Beard are interested in a sense of the timeless, of a heightened reality, but one that we can see society reflected in.

“We explored this in our first production Bath, at The Bread and Roses Theatre, but it was almost an unintentional discovery. With Renaissance Men we wanted to intentionally look at the idea of nostalgia, along with a discussion about toxic masculinity and how friendships can disintegrate. Without giving any plot away, we also examine the oppressive nature of depression, and how so often men fail to communicate what they’re feeling, which luckily is coming more to the forefront of awareness.”

The play has been about a year in the making, and had evolved significantly during the development process: “James started developing an idea of a couple of criminals who stole a priceless painting during a burglary, and then had to deal with the repercussions of this when they discovered how valuable it was. Fairly soon into the writing process, the characters evolved to be art students, and the piece became semi-autobiographical. Through a process of devising and improvisation, followed by scripting the dialogue and shaping it into a narrative, we had the framework of the narrative we have now.

“We went from what we thought was a dark comedy, into a story that has a resonance about our generation, we hope. It’s a satire in parts, we’re not advocating the lifestyle that these characters live, but we think it has a truth in it. During the rehearsal process, we’ve worked a lot with music – the original music for the show was composed by Sam Heron, who also plays Irvine, and elements of physical theatre, to create the semi-heightened world of the piece.”

Alexander is co-director of Bag of Beard along with Ryan Hutton, who also directs Renaissance Men. “The company was formed when, sat in a rehearsal room in South London, working on a classical play, we started discussing how we would do it differently,” he explains. “The ideas we threw around were stylised, surreal, almost grotesque versions of these classical characters – pulling at any threads of naturalism and distorting them into an abstract shape. It was from this discussion that the idea behind the company came together. We’ve yet to make our abstract version of that particular Jacobean tragedy, but ever since we’ve been creating theatre that is darkly comic, uses elements of physical theatre and poetry, and offers a comment on our generation, and how we engage with the world, with original words and original music.”

Renaissance Men will be performed in a special sharing on 25th and 26th November, at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre. “The Old Red Lion has an incredible reputation for being a hub of great new writing, and such an amazing launchpad of new work, writers and companies,” says Alexander. “We saw Kenneth Emson’s Plastic earlier in the year, and the poetic storytelling really made it electrifying. A fascinating working class story, brought into an almost heightened reality by the use of language. That’s something we strive for with Bag of Beard, and the Old Red Lion’s track record of supporting really ambitious new theatre speaks volumes.”

Following these initial performances in London, the company are hoping to embark on a regional tour next year. “We have good relationships with some really exciting theatres in the north of England, so it’d be great to see what the reaction is up there. It’s always good to try and share the work with as many audiences as possible – one of the cornerstones of Bag of Beard is an idea of a national ensemble, as half our company is London based and the other half hailing from Yorkshire, so that’s the aim, is to share the show up there.

“We hope that the audience will leave with questions, stimulated minds and a sense of unease when considering where the characters will go next. This play evokes a sense of a generation devoid of a cause and one which tries to fill that hole with so much; politics, memes, nostalgia etc. We hope the question of how the generation can hope to survive in the real world is raised. But conversely, we hope they have a bloody good laugh!”

Book now for Renaissance Men at the Old Red Lion Theatre on 25th and 26th November.

Review: Cuckoo at Soho Theatre

Exploring what it is to be young in Ireland today, Lisa Carroll’s debut play Cuckoo comes roaring to life at Soho Theatre, leading us without preamble into the world of best friends – and social outcasts – Iona (Caitriona Ennis) and Pingu (Elise Heaven). After being publicly humiliated one too many times by their peers, the two have decided to get out of their home town of Crumlin and move to the magical city of London… although quite what they’re going to do when they get there they’re not exactly sure.

Photo credit: David Gill

There’s a big difference between making a decision and actually seeing it through, though, and it’s not long before Iona’s excitement about their trip begins to wane – particularly when she suddenly finds herself being chatted up by local guys Pockets (Colin Campbell) and Trix (Peter Newington). It’s obvious to both Pingu and Iona’s childhood friend turned tormenter Toller (Sade Malone) – not to mention the audience – that their intentions are less than honourable, but despite multiple warnings Iona allows herself to be flattered into submission, with disastrous results for all concerned.

The heart of the story is the relationship between Iona and Pingu; the events that take place in the run-up to their departure from Dublin are, you can’t help but feel, only a catalyst to something that was always going to happen at some point anyway. In an excellent cast, Caitriona Ennis and Elise Heaven give standout performances as the two friends. Iona is an eccentric chatterbox whose over the top approach to just about everything is at first enjoyable but soon becomes wearing and ultimately alienating. Pingu, meanwhile, has opted to give up speaking altogether, having grown tired of constantly needing to justify their non-binary status, and communicates instead through a range of emphatic facial expressions.

On paper this makes for a rather uneven friendship, but it’s one that seems to work. The two stand up for each other against the bullies, and seem to communicate perfectly without any need for words. All the while they only have each other, everything’s great – but when Iona gets the first hint of a better offer, we start to realise that her friendship with Pingu might not have been quite as selfless as it appeared. One of the play’s strongest points is its conclusion, which avoids the predictable route we might expect in favour of an outcome that’s less “nice”, but perhaps rather more realistic.

Photo credit: David Gill

Despite being two hours without an interval, the production never drags or fails to hold our attention; director Debbie Hannan keeps up a fast pace and building intensity throughout, and the energy of the cast never flags. The play isn’t afraid to take on some difficult themes, including toxic masculinity, the damaging influence of social media, and prejudice – driven by fear – against those who dare to be different. But it does so with plenty of laugh out loud humour, which means that the play is actually a lot of fun to watch despite some of its content.

An impressive debut from Lisa Carroll, Cuckoo shows a very clear understanding of what motivates young people to do the things they do – good and bad. While we may not have lived the exact scenario we see unfolding on stage, there are aspects of the story that will resonate with all of us; we were all young once, after all, and chances are we made a bit of a mess of it too. A witty and compelling play, Cuckoo is definitely worth a visit.

Cuckoo is at Soho Theatre until 8th December.

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: Bury the Dead at Finborough Theatre

A few days ago, leaders from across the world stood shoulder to shoulder to commemorate the end of World War I, and the millions of lives sacrificed during the conflict. With one obvious exception (who shall remain nameless because frankly, who can be bothered with him?), they were respectful and sombre – so it’s been pretty depressing this week to see several of them once again at each other’s throats. It’s almost enough to make you wonder what the war (any war) was even for…?

Photo credit: Scott Rylander

In Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead, written in 1935, six fallen American soldiers stand up in their graves and courteously ask not to be buried. Their violent and bloody deaths, they argue, were not of their choosing; they gave their lives for someone else’s cause, and it doesn’t seem fair that their reward should be to be buried and quietly forgotten, when each still has so much to live for.

The soldiers’ peaceful protest makes a powerful statement, but what gives Bury the Dead such an impact is the response to their actions. The military leaders, fearful of the effect it will have on morale, desperately try to keep the whole situation quiet – and when that fails, they distort the soldiers’ message into propaganda to further their cause. After the soldiers fail to obey direct orders to lie down and be buried, their superiors use fear and manipulation to get their “women” to talk them round. This may be a story about the walking dead, but there’s little doubt at any point who the real monsters are.

The beginning and end of the play are fast-paced, with set designer Verity Johnson’s bleakly atmospheric grave site often full to bursting as the establishment frantically try to find a solution to their growing problem. Director Rafaella Marcus smoothly choreographs the multiple entrances and exits, and makes efficient use of her cast; most of the eleven actors take on a number of roles. Even the six dead men are at first played by just three (Keeran Blessie, Tom Larkin and Stuart Nunn), because the others (Luke Dale, Liam Harkins and Scott Westwood) double as the soldiers who would have buried them. I don’t know if that’s how Shaw wrote the play, or if it’s a decision that was taken for this production – but either way, when the two groups come together it’s an incredibly powerful moment.

Photo credit: Scott Rylander

The majority of the second half of the play slows things down (arguably a bit too much), taking the form of six one-on-one encounters between the soldiers and their “women”, and giving each of the actors an opportunity to shine individually as they explain their own motivations. This is also a showcase for the versatility of Sioned Jones and Natalie Winsor, who alternate between them as the six women – though it’s great to also see the only two female cast members in the role of doctors and journalists, and not just as weeping wives and mothers.

The Remembrance Day ceremonies may be over for another year, but in Bury the Dead we’re reminded that lives lost in combat are lost forever, not just for a day. The play draws a careful distinction between heroism and honour; having the courage to risk dying alone, in pain and far from home is heroic, but there’s nothing honourable about it, particularly when the only people who gain from it are those unwilling to risk it themselves. Bury the Dead asks us to remember – but to avoid repeating the horrors of the past, it suggests what we really need to do is to listen.

Bury the Dead is at Finborough Theatre until 24th November.


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… 😉