Review: Jericho’s Rose at The Hope Theatre

“Where do you live?” It seems like such a simple question – but the enquiry takes on new significance with each repetition in Jericho’s Rose from Althea Theatre. Written by Lilac Yosiphon, who also directs along with Mike Cole and Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, it’s a moving and intriguing exploration of the true meaning of “home”, seen through the eyes of two characters. Jasmine is a writer fighting for the right to stay in London, and her grandfather, back in Tel Aviv, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For each of them, and for different reasons, answering the straightforward question “Where do you live?” becomes an increasingly difficult – and sometimes impossible – task.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

The structure of the show is based around repetition: the frustrations of having the same conversations over and over with someone who doesn’t remember; the endless meetings with doctors who can never say anything new; the constant disappointment of being rejected – again – for a visa. All that really changes in Jasmine’s life over the course of the 75-minute show is her location, as she moves from one city to the next in search of… something. Even then, in each city her experience is much the same – drinking too much, having disappointing romantic encounters in nightclubs, and ultimately ending up back in Tel Aviv with Grandpa.

In other hands, this cyclical structure could easily teeter on the brink of tedium, and it’s credit to Lilac Yosiphon’s engaging, almost mesmerising performance as both Jasmine and Grandpa that this doesn’t happen. Slipping seamlessly from one character to the other – at times conversing with her other persona on stage, at others with her own recorded voice – she holds our attention throughout with ease.

This is fortunate, because the fragmented narrative of the piece, which hops around in time, location and style, does demand the audience’s constant focus in order to piece it all together. We’re aided in this, to some extent, by the use of music and loop pedalled sound, composed and performed live from the corner of the stage by Sam Elwin, and by Will Monks’ projections, both of which provide us with certain audiovisual signposts as we make our way through the show’s deliberately disorienting landscape.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

For those of us privileged enough to have never questioned where we belong, this unique multi-sensory production paints a powerful picture of the trauma of displacement – whether physical or emotional – through the sharing of a very personal and poignant story. The eclectic nature of the show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jericho’s Rose is bold, original and invites us to consider themes we may think we understand in a whole new light.

Jericho’s Rose is at The Hope Theatre until 3rd November.

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Review: And Then They Came For Me at The Hope Theatre

The title of James Still’s harrowing play about the Holocaust has a double significance. On the one hand, it’s a factual statement made by 15-year-old Eva to describe her arrest by the Nazis – an arrest that led to several months in Auschwitz, and the loss of her father and brother. But it also recalls the haunting final line of Martin Niemöller’s well-known poem: “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The Holocaust is one of those moments in history that feels almost mythical; we all grow up hearing about it, but it’s so impossible to imagine such brutality that unless you have a personal connection to those events, it doesn’t feel quite real. And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank doesn’t allow us to shrug it off so easily, though – in no small part because the production was personally requested by Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, who approached the director, June Trask, and asked her to take the show on tour around the UK.

Photo credit: Moondog Productions

Eva herself also appears in the play, which uses a unique combination of video footage and live action to tell her story, along with that of Ed Silverberg (formerly Helmuth ‘Hello’ Silberberg) and their mutual friend, Anne Frank. All three were young teenagers when the persecution of the Jews began, and so we see the nightmare through two sets of eyes: those of the adult Eva and Ed looking back on what happened, and those of the confused children trying to comprehend the terrifying ordeal they’re living through.

The play deals first with the rapid spread of anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution in the early 1940s, and the attempts of Eva, Ed, Anne and their families to find safety in Amsterdam. It then kicks into another gear altogether with a portrayal of the unspeakable horror experienced by Eva and her mother, Anne and so many others in Auschwitz, where human lives were treated as utterly worthless and a split second decision could mean the difference between life and death. The scenes within the camp are sensitively and minimally portrayed, but the outstanding cast – Gemma Reynolds, Leo Graham, Bethan Kate-Tonkin and James Coupland – ensure that we feel every moment of their fear, pain and grief, and are themselves visibly shaken by the performance’s poignantly staged conclusion.

Photo credit: Moondog Productions

Eva Schloss felt this play needed to be seen by audiences around the UK, not only so that her family’s ordeal can be remembered, but so that we can take steps to ensure it’s never repeated. That’s an easy idea to dismiss – surely we’d never allow such a thing to happen now – but this play reminds us that it happened once before, and the world let it happen. We only have to read the news to see that we’re headed back in that direction: millions of people around the world have been forced to flee their homes; anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are rife across Europe and the USA; far-right groups are on the rise, emboldened by the anti-immigration rhetoric of politicians. It’s a frightening picture, and one that will only get worse if left unchecked. The best way we can honour the memory of Anne Frank, Heinz and Erich Geiringer, and the millions of others who lost their lives in the Holocaust, is to speak up now – while we still can.

For information about future productions, or to book a performance of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank for a school, organisation or public group, visit the website.

Review: Fat Jewels at The Hope Theatre

Temperatures soar in more ways than one in Joseph Skelton’s Fat Jewels, a dark and deeply unsettling tale of abuse, manipulation and mental fragility. An already warm theatre becomes increasingly stifling as tensions between the two characters rise, and all the audience can do is sit and wait for the inevitable explosion.

Fat Jewels at The Hope Theatre
Photo credit: Laura Harling

21-year-old Pat (Hugh Train) is a loner who lives with his mum, has no friends and is troubled by violent fantasies. Convinced there’s something wrong with him, he seizes on family friend Danny’s (Robert Walters) vague offer of “therapy”, which seems to mostly involve encouraging him to let out his pent-up aggression by killing animals. But Danny has his own agenda, and takes advantage of Pat’s vulnerability to embark on a programme of emotional and sexual manipulation, all the while convincing him it’s for his own good – and in doing so, like most bullies, reveals his own deep insecurities.

We’re thrown straight into the midst of their bizarre encounter in Danny’s living room on a South Yorkshire council estate, where the heater is turned up to the max and several discarded beer cans hint at a long evening already behind us. Any hopes that this might be a normal friendship go quickly out the window as the older man suggests a trip to the zoo with a cricket bat; while Pat seems clueless as to his true meaning, Danny is visibly excited by the idea of beating a sea lion to death. And it only gets more disturbing from there, as we get into sleeping bag “worm fights”, chicken phobias and a nail-biting final confrontation during which the balance of power shifts dizzyingly back and forth.

As surreal as the plot occasionally gets, it’s sold with absolute conviction by the performances of actors Hugh Train and Robert Walters. As the naive, affable Pat, Train appears every inch the victim; it’s hard to imagine him having violent dreams, let alone acting on them – unless someone insults his mum, that is. Walters’ Danny seems by far the more volatile and dangerous of the two as he uses every unsavoury (and at times downright creepy) method at his disposal to get under Pat’s skin. But as director Luke Davies slowly ramps up the tension, cracks begin to show for both men, and while we can’t feel sympathy for Danny in the same way we do for Pat, by the time he finally crumbles we have some understanding of the insecurity and past trauma that drives him to abuse what little power he has.

Fat Jewels at The Hope Theatre
Photo credit: Laura Harling

Despite some darkly humorous moments, Fat Jewels is not always an easy play to watch; in fact there are points where it’s tempting (and on one occasion necessary, for those sitting front and centre) to physically recoil. The Hope’s tight quarters and rising temperatures work with Skelton’s narrative to create a sense of claustrophobia, so that instead of being a distracting inconvenience, the discomfort becomes a vital part of the audience experience – and when combined with an intriguing plot and two utterly absorbing performances on stage, there’s more than enough in this disturbing production to keep us gripped throughout.

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: Cockamamy at The Hope Theatre

A little over a year ago, I sat at The Hope Theatre and sobbed my way through Off The Middle’s In Other Words, a devastatingly sad story about a husband and wife coming to terms with his diagnosis of dementia. This week, I was back at The Hope to see Think and Hit’s debut production Cockamamy, another play about dementia – and surprise surprise, I ended up in floods again.

I don’t know why theatre on this topic tends to hit me so hard, but I suspect it’s because so often it’s inspired by real experiences and people, and you can tell it comes from a place of deep love and affection mingled with pain and often loss. If that’s the case then Cockamamy is a double whammy, as both writer and actor Louise Coulthard and director Rebecca Loudon know what it’s like to care for a grandparent with dementia, and have put that experience to powerful use to create a funny and deeply poignant play.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

Let’s back up a bit, though, because Cockamamy isn’t just a play about dementia. It’s really the story of Alice and Rosie, who are far more than just grandmother and granddaughter; they’re best friends. Alice raised Rosie following the death of her mother when she was a little girl, and the strong bond between them is clear from the outset. But there are clouds on the horizon: Alice is getting increasingly confused and forgetful, and she’s convinced she’s being visited by her late husband Arthur. When Rosie meets a new boyfriend, both she and Alice are forced to make some tough decisions about their futures.

It was always going to be a tough story to watch, but what makes Cockamamy so heartbreaking is how instantly likeable the characters are. Alice is a particular delight: a feisty, quirky old lady with a mischievous sense of humour and a surprising habit of quoting Beyonce. We love her from the start, so it’s painful to watch her become more and more fragile and bewildered as the play goes on – particularly as there are moments when the old Alice reappears.

Mary Rutherford’s superb performance is matched by that of Louise Coulthard as Rosie, as she struggles with the conflict between wanting to protect her gran and wanting to get on with her own life. She’s just met the perfect man – Cavan, an Irish junior doctor played by Rowan Polonski – but although he’s patient and supportive of Alice’s situation, their relationship is put under ever greater strain as Rosie repeatedly finds herself forced to choose between them. Unsurprisingly, this building tension ultimately comes to a head in a final scene that’s ugly and brutal in both its honesty and its emotional impact.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

If I have one quibble, it’s that the long scene changes interrupt the pace of the production and leave us looking at Alice’s empty living room for rather longer than feels necessary. But this minor irritation doesn’t detract from a play that perfectly balances entertainment with an honest, powerful portrayal of the impact dementia can have on families and relationships. Highly recommended, but prepare to be put through the emotional wringer.

Cockamamy is at The Hope Theatre until 30th June.

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: Adam and Eve at The Hope Theatre

Traditionally, we’ve been led by books, movies and the like to believe that “happily ever after” starts when you get married and settle down. This is particularly interesting when you consider that one of the oldest stories ever told is all about a couple who proved that theory wrong in spectacular fashion.

In Tim Cook’s reimagined Genesis story, newlyweds Adam (Lee Knight) and Eve (Jeannie Dickinson) are moving to the country and buying their first house. It’s not quite Paradise, but they need to get on the ladder and it’s all they can afford, especially now they’ve got a baby on the way. Their “masterplan” is all going swimmingly – until English teacher Adam is suspended from work after being accused of improper behaviour by Nikki (Melissa Parker), one of his students. At first, Eve is more than willing to stand by her man, convinced the accusations are a fabrication and will soon blow over. When they don’t, the first doubts creep in and she begins to wonder just how well she really knows her husband.

She’s not the only one. Over the course of 65 minutes, the story takes multiple twists and turns, and the balance of power shifts back and forth several times, keeping the audience in a permanent state of uncertainty with no idea who we can trust to tell the truth. It’s difficult to talk too much about the performances from Jeannie Dickinson, Melissa Parker and Lee Knight without risking spoilers but I can say that all three are excellent, taking on board the subtleties in the script and giving us just enough to keep us guessing throughout.

All the characters have significant flaws, and both Adam and Nikki give us plenty of reasons to simultaneously doubt and believe their version of events; even when the truth is revealed, there’s still a lingering suspicion that the other party may not be entirely guilt-free. The play’s conclusion is cleverly seeded by Cook – looking back to the start of the play, we can see the clues we missed earlier – but left me wanting more: to understand more fully the guilty party’s motivation, which is clearly complex but only briefly explained, and to witness the fallout from the big reveal.

That should be taken as a compliment, however, because what’s already there is an hour of tense, gripping drama during which it feels like anything could happen. With just a couple of chairs making up the set, director Jennifer Davis makes effective use of the empty space, maintaining a physical distance between the characters so that every scene – even early on – has the potential to escalate quickly into a conflict. Add to this the way the characters continue to eyeball each other suspiciously during scene changes, and the result is an atmosphere of simmering tension that keeps us on our guard from start to finish.

In Adam and Eve, Tim Cook takes the themes of temptation, trust and accusation and proves that while we may now be living in a very different world – a world dominated by money worries, fake news and the relentless pressure to be perfect in the eyes of others – in reality, humanity has changed very little since the original Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. If there’s a small consolation to this depressing fact, it’s probably that at least we have an excuse; if they couldn’t make it work in Paradise, what chance is there for the rest of us?

Adam and Eve is at The Hope Theatre until 9th June.