Review: She Wears Scented Rose at Theatro Technis

Razor Sharp Productions promise “original plays designed to keep an audience gripped to the end”. She Wears Scented Rose, a new thriller written and directed by Yasir Senna, delivers on this promise up to a point, but could use a little tightening up in places to make the most of a strong and intriguing plot.

Businessman Mark (Craig Karpel) is on his way home late one night when he’s attacked and stabbed several times, the victim of a suspected carjacking. But when he wakes up in hospital, police officer DI Kane (Rosalie Carn) is waiting with questions, and it turns out all may not be quite as it seems… Twists and turns take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride, culminating in a truly shocking – and very effectively staged – conclusion.

Photo credit: Robert Piwko

Like any crime drama, the key is in the detail, and She Wears Scented Rose is packed with these; looking back afterwards you realise the intricacy of the plot, and that all the clues were there all along to piece together the truth. Senna has obviously done his research, and has in particular created a complex and well-drawn central figure in the silver-tongued Mark, played brilliantly by Craig Karpel. He has strong support from Niki Mylonas as his loving wife Verity, who has a secret of her own, and Rosalie Carn as an attractive French police officer with some unorthodox investigation methods. Simon Ryerson, meanwhile, is a sympathetic figure as Mark’s nice but dim best mate Dave, who in contrast to his friend is driven by his heart rather than his head. The acting on the whole is solid, although there are a couple of scenes that start to edge towards the melodramatic and could perhaps be reined in a little.

While the story is certainly gripping and holds our interest throughout, the script in places needs a bit of a trim to make more of an impact. There are some parts of the play that start out well but could be snappier – the most obvious of these being the final scene, which takes a frustratingly long time to reach its dramatic climax. In addition, there are a lot of scene changes, which while executed smoothly by a well-oiled stage crew, inevitably interrupt the action and don’t always feel completely necessary.

Photo credit: Robert Piwko

We all love a good mystery, and She Wears Scented Rose is definitely that; the plot is well-crafted and keeps us guessing throughout so that even if we succeed in figuring out one bit, there’s always another twist waiting round the corner to catch us off guard. The characters are relatable enough that we grow to care about them (and in one case, really really dislike) so that when everything starts to kick off in Act 2, we can sympathise with what they’re going through. And I know I keep going on about it, but that ending does make a huge impact, with one particular image lingering in my memory – and not in a good way.

There’s already an enjoyable show here, but with a few tweaks to script and staging to ramp up the intensity, there’s potential for an excellent and even more memorable production.

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Review: Doctor Faustus at Theatro Technis

London’s most active amateur theatre company, The Tower Theatre, has been in business for more than 80 years – but shows no sign of getting tired. Their new production of Doctor Faustus at Theatro Technis is dramatic, intense and gripping, and while it may not have Kit Harington in his pants, at least in this version we can all keep track of what’s going on.

Doctor Faustus, or to give Christopher Marlowe’s play its full title, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, is the story of a bored German intellectual, who sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for 24 years on Earth, the ability to use magic, and the devoted service of the demon Mephistopheles. The years pass, and Faustus becomes famous all over the world – but it’s only when his time begins to run out that he realises what a huge mistake he’s made.

Photo credit: David Sprecher
Photo credit: David Sprecher
Tower Theatre’s production, directed by Lucy Bloxham, is a relatively traditional interpretation of Marlowe’s text, featuring two central performances that wouldn’t look out of place on a professional stage. Jonathon Cooper is charmingly eccentric as Faustus, skilfully embodying every side of the character: the frustrated genius, the cocky celebrity and the terrified dead man walking. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a man who’s entirely responsible for his own downfall, but Cooper’s Faustus is just likeable enough that we can’t help hoping he’ll find a loophole as his final minutes tick away.

He’s joined by Tower Theatre veteran Robert Reeve as Mephistopheles, the demon charged with sweet-talking Faustus into giving up his soul, and then being his constant companion for 24 years until it’s time to collect on the debt. Dressed all in black, Reeve radiates a quiet authority, and it’s clear from his sly grin whenever Faustus isn’t looking who’s really in control of the situation.

The rest of the cast take on multiple roles, most memorably having a bit of fun with the seven deadly sins (in the case of Lust, played by Matt Cranfield, perhaps a bit too much fun). This and a couple of later scenes provide welcome moments of light relief in what is, let’s face it, not exactly the happiest of stories.

Photo credit: David Sprecher
Photo credit: David Sprecher
First-time director Lucy Bloxham makes effective use of the large stage area at Theatro Technis, with multiple entrances (including the one to hell, which is positioned alarmingly close to the audience) and a curtained off area behind which Lucifer himself appears to Faustus. There’s one slightly clunky set change in Act 2, which could benefit from something for the audience to look at while the furniture’s cleared away, but on the whole transitions between scenes are clean and efficient. And the clock that regularly appears to tick down the minutes until Faustus’ downfall is a nice dramatic touch, as is Adam Taylor’s lighting design, which creates a suitably hellish atmosphere throughout.

Once again, The Tower Theatre Company have made it clear that amateur doesn’t have to mean unprofessional or poor quality. Every member of the company volunteers their time and talent for the sheer love of theatre, and that passion shines through in this and every production I’ve seen. Who needs Kit Harington?

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Review: Shakespeare Tonight at Theatro Technis

Shakespeare Tonight imagines what would happen if the Bard lived in the era of social media and TV chat shows. And indeed, the man himself is about to appear on one of these shows for the very first time. In a coup for producer Rebekah, one of the most famous men on the planet will be talking live in the studio to bubbly host Martina Fleur about his latest play, Hamlet, which has just opened to mixed reviews.

In a twist, though, Shakespeare won’t be the only guest on the show; he’ll be joined by arch rival Sir Francis Bacon, who – unlike William – is no stranger to the TV cameras. As the flamboyant, smirking Bacon makes himself at home on Martina’s sofa, and Shakespeare does his best to look cool and collected, the stage is set for a spectacular showdown between two great literary minds.

Shakespeare Tonight

There’s lots to enjoy about Shakespeare Tonight; the script, by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson is witty, wordy and packed with so many references it almost warrants a return visit to try and catch them all. The only downside to this is that anyone not interested in Shakespeare may get a bit lost (but then again, it’s unlikely they’d go and see a play called Shakespeare Tonight, so moving on…).

The addition of modern culture into the mix is also good fun, tweets from the audience presented with cheeky and irreverent charm by Martina’s warm up and social media guy, the Duke, played by an extremely likeable Paul Obertelli. Francesca Mepham, in contrast, is decidedly unlikeable in her brief but memorable appearance as the sneering bully Rebekah, who’s happy to exploit both host and guests to bring in the viewers and secure a second series. And Kaara Benstead impresses in an even more fleeting yet highly significant role, bringing the show to an emotional end as Shakespeare’s estranged wife, Anne Hathaway.

The main bulk of the show is carried by Priscilla Fere as Martina, Garry Voss as Bacon and Peter Revel-Walsh as Shakespeare, and while there’s clearly no shortage of talent on stage, unfortunately their scenes also expose some flaws in the production. Issues with acoustics mean that much of the script gets lost as actors turn away from the audience, while a few fluffed lines lead to awkward silences that interrupt the flow of the conversation and leave everyone – on stage and off – feeling a bit tense and anxious.

Part of the problem is a lack of context; though I’m not usually an advocate of canned laughter, the studio setting could perhaps benefit from some sound effects to remind us where we are and how the spectators in the room are reacting. (It seems unlikely, for instance, that Jeremy Kyle’s audience would remain silent when one guest is threatening another with a dagger.) It is made clear from the outset that we’re supposed to be the studio audience – but aside from a few occasions when the Duke invites us to applaud, we’re given little indication of what’s expected of us or how involved we’re supposed to get.

This show clearly has a lot of potential, and will I’m sure deliver on its early promise as its week-long run at Theatro Technis continues, and later in the month when it travels to Edinburgh. With an experienced director in David Parry and an undoubtedly talented cast, the problems encountered last night are all very fixable, and shouldn’t detract from what is still an enjoyable evening.

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