Review: CHASING RAINBOWS

CHASING RAINBOWS at Hoxton Hall. Thursdays to Saturdays until July 20th. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF Compassionate and poetic play about the tensions of modern motherhood given strong voice by a fine central performance

CHASING RAINBOWS is the uplifting, deeply human and inspiring story of Ama Baptiste – the first black woman astronaut. High above the Earth, alone in the space station, she records segments of an address for her daughter’s high school graduation class of 2019. Except that her daughter doesn’t want her to do it.

This is a story of the tensions of contemporary mothers, endlessly trying to square the circle of doing what is best for their children, whilst not losing sight of their own aspirations.

Video recorded answers to written questions from the graduates punctuate Ama’s relating of her life journey, interspersed with conversations – past and imagined -between Ama and her daughter Sola.

She tells of her struggle to excel and succeed. Battling the self-limiting beliefs of her native West Indian community – from the religious mother exhorting only prayer and churchgoing, to the bricklayer husband who calls her aspirations “stupidness”, as well as the injustice of sex inequality (“If I had a cock no-one would question my motives”). She forges ahead to make her mark upon the world, making plans to share that with her young daughter. However, “Nine years and a rocket full of tears” later, Ama is in space and her daughter is graduating. Time has created its own kind of non-geographical distance. And Sola has her own news for her Mother, too.

Lack of understanding leads to self-doubt and self-blame. “Is that why you left, ‘cause I’m stupid?” says Sola. Ama describes her own relationship with her Mother as difficult, echoed in affecting moments of reaching for understanding with Sola- and missing, making them all the more poignant.

Guilt, sadness, regret and yearning all play their part in the feelings which dart across Ama’s face and through her mind. An engaging, genuinely touching and authentic portrayal by Donna Berlin as Ama (attached to a flying rope) holds the stage, enhanced by the late appearance of Emmanuella Toure playing daughter Sola.

Ama’s final decision to record the speech in spite of her daughter’s protests validates herself and is an emotionally liberating moment which was felt through the audience, who gave a warm and enthusiastic reception to this affecting and sincere hour of feminist theatre. “I had to sing my own song”, she says, “I own this story”. And we applaud her for doing so.

OneNess Sankara’s verse-woven script flows well, without pretence,  and often makes it possible to really enjoy the use of language. Karena Johnson’s sensitive and compassionate direction allow the words to breathe and the performances to rise.

The use of flying gives a partial freedom from gravity and Berlin is confident in its use, but I do wonder if more might have been made of that element of the show: but it is nevertheless interesting in its contradiction as an expression of both liberation and confinement.

As a play, CHASING RAINBOWS offers no solutions, excepting the advice shared to the graduates by Ama herself when asked what the three most important qualities are in life “Respect, forgiveness and patience”. Qualities we could all do with more of. But the play is valuable in allowing us to empathise with modern mothers, and to remember that they, like us, are just doing the best they can.


CHASING RAINBOWS plays at Hoxton Hall on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until July 20th. Information and tickets here


Shows to look forward to in July 2019

Welcome to July’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.

Off-West End


CHASING RAINBOWS is an engaging and heartfelt examination of the many tensions of modern motherhood, as seen through the eyes of the first black woman astronaut. As she orbits the Earth, preparing to record a speech for her daughter’s school graduation ceremony, she reflects on the joys and costs of achieving her goals whilst trying to stay true to her roles as a mother and a woman. An ear-catching verse script is brought to life effectively by actor Donna Berlin as Ama the astronaut as she floats through space, separated from her daughter by more than distance. Berlin gives an committed performance which makes this show worth seeing. At the Hoxton Hall, another glorious old survival of a Victorian music hall. Playing Thursdays-Saturdays until July 20th.


SPITFIRE SISTERS is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Space from 2 to 6 July. A long overdue celebration of women in World War Two, this play centres on a 19-year-old Northern lass who takes to the air in a fighter plane, armed with only a compass. Her mission? To deliver fighter aircraft to the forces on the front. And she wasn’t the only one.

Discover the true, untold story of a collection of fierce, pioneering British and American women who took to the skies in World War II to fight for victory alongside the allies, all whilst achieving equal pay with their male counterparts. From award-winning play-writing trio, Three of a Kind, and directed by the Space’s Artistic Director Adam Hemming, SPITFIRE SISTERS is a celebration of the passion and determination of these unsung heroines ‘eager for the air’.


The Finborough Theatre has come up with a full-throttled treat of melodrama which is playing its last week, closing July 6th. Directed by the reliable Phil Wilmott, AFTER DARK is a mid-Victorian hit play by highly-successful writer Dion Boucicault (The Shaughraun, London Assurance, The Octoroon, etc). The tiny 50-seat Finborough hosts a cast of twelve (!) and the many melodramatic scenes include train crashes, river rescues, dastardly villains, plucky heroines, salacious scandal and dark secrets, all crackling with the energy of a London of fresh peril and opportunity. All this and the new-fangled London Underground railway too! A treat not to be missed.


Opening July 2nd and running to 27th July – If it’s laughter you’re after then you can’t go far wrong with Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF, returning to the scene of its first success in 1982 at the Lyric, Hammersmith. In this new production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, Meera Syal stars as Dotty, ageing actress who has sunk her life savings into a cheap production of a tired sex comedy, hoping that a quick UK tour will bag her a comfy retirement pot. Naturally, things go awry in ever-more disastrous ways, from the set to the cast to the sardines, as we see the show deteriorate from the rehearsal to the insanity of the end of the tour. With dizzying split-second timing, physical comedy and an incredibly complex plot, at its best this is a show to relax and enjoy to the full! Let’s hope this production lives up to its promise. Now where did I put those sardines……..


PETER GYNT Weighing in at three and a half hours, this’ll give you value for money! Ibsen’s classic PEER GYNT is reinvented as a riotous musical adventure for the 21st century in this National Theatre co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival (the show visits Edinburgh in August). Peter Gynt is searching for something: himself. Traveling from the mountains of Scotland to the pool-sides of Florida, he’ll meet talking hyenas, two-headed trolls and even an Egyptian Sphinx.  But his ultimate transformation may not be all that he hoped for…

Playing the rebellious antihero, James McArdle (Angels In America) is reunited with writer David Hare and director Jonathan Kent, the partnership behind the triumphant Young Chekhov at Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre. This outrageous modern myth is designed by the Tony award-winning Richard Hudson (The Lion King), with an original score from Paul Englishby (BBC’s Luther and Dr Foster) and movement direction from Polly Bennett (Bohemian Rhapsody).


Now here’s a cast for you! From 18 July, the The Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT sees its first major London revival in 30 years at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn. Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more, it runs to 7 September – and no doubt continuing elsewhere….


Also from July 18th, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is the European premiere of a new musical coming to London following a hit off-Broadway season, starring John Partridge and Tyrone Huntley, amongst others. Fashion designer Wes buys an abandoned building, not knowing that this forgotten gem was the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, starting an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration in the summertime heat with the rush of lust, sex and incense mixed in the air. Filled with a collection of beautiful love songs and power rock ballads, this is a hopeful musical about friendship, community, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It plays at the Soho Theatre until Aug 24th.


DEATH OF A SALESMAN is the much-lauded new production of the Arthur Miller classic from star director Marianne Elliott, with a standout cast including Olivier Award-winner Sharon D Clarke (Caroline, or Change), Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Selma) who makes his UK stage debut, and Arinzé Kene (Misty), in one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, as seen here through the eyes of an African American family. Not quite the ground-breaker we were hyped up to expect, nevertheless a very solid production well worth seeing. Running at the Young Vic to July 13, it has been announced to transfer into the Piccadilly from October until January 2020.


Having received very good reviews across the board, the Orange Tree in Richmond continues with Paul Miller’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s World War II hit WHILE THE SUN SHINES until 27th July, after scoring another big hit with Rattigan’s FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS two years ago.

I’ll tell you but you won’t believe me. I slept in the same bed with an earl… No, not a girl, stupid, an earl.” 1943. On the eve of his wedding, the young Earl of Harpenden – Bobby to his friends – has offered his room to Joe, an American soldier he drunkenly met the night before. When Bobby’s fiancée Lady Elizabeth turns up, Joe makes a move, thinking she must be Bobby’s ex, the wonderful Mabel Crum. But a Free French lieutenant also has eyes for her… And to complicate matters, Bobby’s future father in law turns up too. It’s London in the Blitz, and identities get confused: time to make hay…


Here’s the perfect Summer show to raise the temperature! Now playing at the Coliseum for a season until 31st August, after which it embarks on a UK tour, ON YOUR FEET! has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show.

Gloria Estefan has sold over 100 million records worldwide and is the most successful Latin crossover performer in the history of pop music.  Featuring the best of her 38 number 1 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET! is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.

ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman).


Touring the UK

Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this UK tour of AMELIE will bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart, as we follow our heroine helping others but finding it hardest to help herself. With a tuneful score and dynamic Audrey Brisson as Amelie, this is your passport to Joie de Vivre. See it in July at Bradford, Leicester, Bristol, Birmingham and Malvern . Read my review of the show here


LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is out on a national tour until September . See it in July at Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham and Canterbury. Read my review of the show here


Now well into its stride, the 50th anniversary UK tour of the tribal rock musical HAIR carries on with abandon, starring Jake Quickenden, Marcus Collins and Kelly Sweeney. See it in July at Sheffield, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton and then a week’s trip abroad to Cologne before returning to play Glasgow.


Also….

For musical fans, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT plays the London Palladium, opening on July 11th. Meanwhile at the Barbican Theatre, another Lloyd Webber / Rice musical, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, sets up for a Summer season from 4 July for 60 performances only.


NT Live Broadcasts

25 July – The much-praised National Theatre production of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is now playing the Piccadilly Theatre and runs to the end of August. With a stunning cast including Simon Russell Beale and Ben Miles as well as having such brilliant reviews behind it, I am sure it will be worth seeing. It is broadcast to cinemas across the country in the schedule of NT Live in 25 July, details here.