Breach Theatre’s IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE

ITS TRUE, ITS TRUE, ITS TRUE is an award-winning show from the company Breach which was highly praised at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival, where it won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and The Stage Award for Acting Excellence. The show was due to play at the Barbican from March 31st to April 9th before performances were suspended. The streaming is available until May 17th.

This gripping dramatisation of a 1612 rape trial brought by the gifted painter Artemisia Gentileschi roars down the ages centuries after it shocked Renaissance Rome.

When Agostino Tassi, the pope’s favourite artist, was accused of raping 15-year-old Gentileschi, the ensuing seven-month case was widely publicised. IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE interweaves jaw-dropping court transcripts with history, myth, contemporary insight and moments of satire to ask: how much has really changed?

Filled with ire and using modern language, the devised show shines a spotlight on a remarkable woman who went on to triumph through her art.

If you watch and enjoy the production, please consider making a donation to Breach Theatre. All donations go directly to Breach Theatre.

This new film version, shot on location in a former chapel, was specially staged for TV and originally shown on BBC4. The film is produced by Artemisia Films and Breach and was commissioned by The Space for BBC Arts.

The show runs 75 mins and is suggested for audiences aged 14+
Please be aware that the show contains: strobe lighting, nudity, strong language, violence and sexual violence.

To learn more about Breach, visit their website here.

VIEWING PERIOD ENDED

Winners of the OFFIES Awards 2020

At a ceremony at Battersea Arts Centre on Sunday 8 March, the winners of the 2020 OFFIES were announced.

In the list below, you can read my reviews of the shows by clicking on the show name.

Best Company Ensemble was rightly won by OPERATION MINCEMEAT for their run at the New Diorama Theatre.

Bill Buckhurst won Best Director of a Musical for the splendid GHOST QUARTET at the Boulevard Theatre, another well-deserved win.

In the Best Choreography/ Movement award, Oti Mabuse won for AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ which ran last year at Southwark Playhouse.

I was very pleased to see that Jordan Li-Smith, so good in Dave Malloy’s PRELUDES, won Best Musical Director for QUEEN OF THE MIST at the Jack Studio Theatre/ later transferred to the Charing Cross Theatre.

In the category Best Female Performance in a Play, Gemma Barnett won for her work in A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW which played at Trafalgar Studios 2.

In the Most Promising New Playwright Award I was disappointed that Zia Ahmed did not win for the haunting I WANNA BE YOURS which ran at the Bush Theatre.

Also, In the Best New Play Award, I was similarly disappointed that Rose Lewenstein did not win for her extraordinary COUGAR at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre.

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees alike!


Review: JOAN OF LEEDS

IN BRIEF History hijacked in funny and enjoyably racy alt-Xmas show.

Its Christmas and what better expression of the festive holiday than enjoying a show about…rampant lesbian nuns.

Breach company have chosen the recently discovered true story of Joan of Leeds to present through their alter-egos the Yorkshire Medieval Players; they are a slightly ragged group of “professional enthusiasts” more used to presenting the mystery plays, who have been asked to come up with a Christmas show.

In 14th century Yorkshire, Joan was a lusty young woman assigned to a nunnery where she caused all kinds of disturbances, finally faking her own death and going “on the run”.

Cue lots of bickering and noises off as the troupe clamber through this story which plays enjoyably fast and loose with the story outline and particularly the (historically unknown) ending, as the cast revolt and present a high-energy musical finale with a positive, liberation theme.

The five-strong actor/musician cast all work hard and effectively, with great singing voices, and the script by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett (who also directs) doesn’t waste any time.

Bryony Davies is memorable as young, lustful Joan, her deadpan look and attitude are a joy to behold. Alex Roberts is never more memorable than as the grass snake/devil in a terrifying lime green one legged catsuit and a seventies handlebar moustache. Laurie Jamieson’s buttocks appear with alarming regularity but he gets the most out of some of the less colourful characters. Rachel Barnes has an impressive vocal range and quality, despite her best moment being up a ladder. And Olivia Hirst is delightfully stick-dry as the schoolmistressy type leader (“This is what they’ve come to see” she mutters, ousting another from centre-stage).

The show is a tight squeeze onto the Diorama’s stage, but its makeshift look is part of its charm.

The audience hooted and howled, stamped and cheered, and generally we all had a great time.

Prehaps Breach might have started an alternative panto trend? I do hope so.

JOAN OF LEEDS runs at the New Diorama, London until 21st December. Details and tickets here


Review: TOKYO ROSE

IN BRIEF Strongly-voiced musical retelling about the woman framed as an anti-US propagandist focuses on the injustice.

Inspired by a true story of the rare case of an American citizen tried for treason in 1949, TOKYO ROSE is a musical interpretation of the story of US-born Iva Toguri. Young and somewhat impressionable, Iva was repeatedly caught in a web of circumstances, persecuted and imprisoned for 6 years for broadcasting wartime anti-American propaganda.

Although born in the US, even in her own country, Iva is portrayed as an outsider- fellow university students assume she is from elsewhere simply because of the way she looks. Kind and somewhat naïve, she journeys to Japan to care for a sick aunt. When Pearl Harbour changes everything, and unable to go home, Iva is at first cajoled and then commanded into becoming one of 14 female broadcasters spreading fake news to the US troops. The war’s end brings further misery as she is tricked into a newspaper interview and subsequently tried and jailed for 6 years, the prosecution case later proved to be riddled with lies and intimidation.

The talented trio of Maya Britto (as Iva), Lucy Park (as the Aunt) and Yuki Sutton (as Mother) all impress with their voices, with Britto having the best numbers and in the quieter moments allowing the audience to empathise with Iva’s situation.

The rest of the characters felt sketchily drawn and were played in a broad range of styles.

The music is interestingly scored and often good to listen to (although the rap style stuff didn’t work for me). For the majority of the time we are listening to song after song belted out which although impressive at the start, loses its impact after a while, and the quieter “Letters Home” pieces come as a welcome relief, as well as allowing the performers to use a different vocal range.

It is vital that real stories about people facing injustice are told through the power of theatre. Although showcasing three voices that I am very glad to have heard, at times I really wanted more of the story rather than having to make each piece of the story a musical number accompanied by (sometimes an overabundance of) choreography. Therefore I wondered whether the musical form was the best vehicle for the interpretation of this story.

The natural outrage about the many injustices meted out to Iva is clear in the show’s approach. I did feel that at a few moments the anger risked becoming uncontrolled and getting in the way of the story rather than supporting it.

Nevertheless, I was glad to have finally seen the show, and the three very interesting central performers too.


Theatre FootNotes for June 2019; A summary of other theatre events in my diary

13th June – GLOBAL INDIGENOUS VOICES at the British Library. Third in a series of Global Voices Theatre events, this was presented in association with Border Crossings as part of the tenth annual Origins festival 2019 . Fifteen-minute extracts from five plays from New Zealand, Alaska, Canada, and America were given a rehearsed reading for an audience of around 150. The event was guest curated by Madeleine Sayet and presented by Global Voices Artistic Director Lora Krasteva and Producer Robin Skyer. Global Voices Theatre is now an Arts Council funded organisation, yet another reason to celebrate their continued development.


18th June – CASH COW by Oli Forsyth. At Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until 20 July.

Tennis is a dynamic and exciting visual game. CASH COW, as presented here, is. so static and non-visual that it could play on radio with no loss whatsoever. A smart set and some fancy lighting does not change the fact that this is a talk-heavy, resolutely un-visual show.

The play’s viewpoint is rather belied by the title. Two parents are told that their ten-year old child is exceptional at playing tennis, so they invest effort and resources into honing her talent. So begins a 20-year journey studded with tennis coaches, globe-trotting, using drugs to manipulate natural development to fit the rigid playing schedules, separation on different continents, and much more. Money is the driver, and the child pays the price.

So at what point did that ordinary, hopeful parent become too pushy, and then manipulative and then all-consumed? We see the slide down the slippery slope of good intentions, as the parents lose control of – and contact with – their daughter. At what point did their child become artificially induced into being a product? At what point did the parent start to refer to himself as the manager and promoter? And at what point did the parents sit down and agree “I made her” and “she owes us”?

Anyone can see that the extremes that the parents go to seem bound to engender damage in youngsters who need space and help in exploring themselves. What is very telling is that every discussion with the child featured in the play is dominated by the parent – and the (unseen) child’s answers are always one word- OK, no or yes. The child, as far as I remember, is never even given the respect of a name- always referred to as her, she, love or honey. So at no point in the whole 20 year span of this story do we ever hear the parents having any sort of discussion with the child, asking for her own ideas and what she wants to do.

At one point it is suggested that the coach is physically abusing the child, and the parent’s rightful initial revulsion is rapidly distorted by the calculation of the effect that any action will have on their investment, causing the audience to draw parallels – so surely both the coach and the parents are abusing the child, just in different ways?

Escalating dramatic distortions of relationships climax with inter-familial lawsuits and the ending is effective, suggesting the price of “success” is not worth the paper its written on.

As the distortions in behaviour happen incrementally over time, the play’s jumping about in time helps us to see the differences in a more marked way, but the audience have to do a lot of work in placing the pieces. Where it backfires is that the scenes are so short and bitty that one tires of the monotony of the concept, trying the audience’s patience and making the show feel much longer than its 90 minutes.

The fact that I have not been a parent or a child prodigy may colour my take on this, but I found it impossible to care for any of these characters, or to be particularly drawn in to this long 90-minute piece that a lot of the audience watched with their eyes shut.

Perhaps this show will be a wake-up call for those countless parents out there who are driven to push their child harder than they once pushed themselves. Perhaps it will cause them to consider the price that will be paid by all parties. And whether kids should just be allowed to be kids.


21st June – Royal Central School Graduation show – a musical A PERMANENT STATE OF EMERGENCY. Final year students in a specially-commissioned new musical, directed by Sue Dunderdale.


27th June – THE BASEMENT TAPES – seen as part of the Incoming Festival at New Diorama Theatre in London.

It is always exciting to see new work from other parts of the world visiting the UK and so I was intrigued by this New Zealand originated show which sounded full of possibilities. Sadly, most remained unrealised after this disappointing, overlong hour.

You spend a lot of time in the dark during this show. About half of the running time, in fact. Listening to a taped voice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for great theatre, in my opinion.

We are in a basement of a house in New Zealand. A teenage girl rummages around in boxes of her dead grandmother’s belongings in a superficial attempt to sort things out, making more mess as she goes. The piece gradually morphs into a kind of spook story as the discovery of a cassette tape player and some significantly labelled tapes reveals the voice of the deceased grandmother describing in dreamlike detail a murder that she may have committed.

There were significant moments of potential when I hoped that the show would spark into life, with the discovery of the tape machine and tapes: the smell of a garment embodying the sensory memory of the grandma was also a telling moment: also, the first notes of the dead grandma’s voice. All had much more potential but they appear to have just been used as punctuation.

However, the indulgent dancing to loud music which occupies the first five minutes, the poor and immature jokes, as well as what felt like padding to fill out the hour started to try the patience.  When we strayed into spooky territory with weird lights and sounds, it all just got a bit daft. Miserable old sod? Maybe. But it appears I was not alone. The teenagers sitting just along from me were checking their twitter feeds repeatedly while all this was going on. A group listening to a voice in the dark can be a very interesting experience, but here it just didn’t seem to ignite. Mind you, the illuminated exit signs and phone screens dotted around the audience didn’t help.

This could have been a very touching examination of teenage experience of bereavement, but it proved very hard to care for this careless teenager in this teenage Stephen King mash-up. The soundscape created was just OK but could have been a lot more textured and interesting (and scary!).

I was sad to have left feeling disappointed.