Review: DRIP, DRIP, DRIP

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP runs at The Pleasance Downstairs until March 21st. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF NHS staff battle racism in an alarming, intriguing and vital play for our unstable times

“We don’t tolerate “Othering”” says Steven the NHS Manager to Doctor Rahmiya. But “othering” is everywhere in Pipeline Theatre’s DRIP DRIP DRIP, a complex look at the “cancer” of racism and the ways it impacts upon two victims of that prejudice.

David, a white nationalist ex-lecturer learns he has brain cancer. In hospital he encounters overstretched yet measured and professional oncologist Rahmiya and charmingly hopeful nursing assistant Daniel, a refugee from Eritrea who is haunted by separation from his younger brother.

Agitated, fussy and ill at ease with himself and others, David is socially isolated, with only his cat to care for; he presents a pathetic yet still dangerous figure. Even Rahmiya falls into the trap of allowing herself to feel sorry for him, even going out of her way to feed his cat. But when the true horror of his beliefs are exposed, their corrosive nature test those attempting to care for him.

“It’s not about you” David blusters to Rahmiya after his beliefs have been exposed, fully aware how repellent his ideas are and embarrassed at their outing. But as we have seen, people can be incited to hate groups far more easily than individuals.

The absurdity of a dying man prejudiced against those who are keeping our healthcare system afloat (and him alive) seems an apt metaphor for a country rabidly desperate to cut off its own nose to spite its face.

The play’s writing (by Jon Welch, who also directs) is intriguing, twisty and at times challenging. There is an admirable even-handedness in the writing in that it takes on a range of assumptions, each of which can be seen as shaded and not binary, highlighting the reality that everyone is human. The range of differences in play are intriguing – man/woman, young/old, British-born/ Refugee, Christian/ Muslim, and make for a complex context through which the characters navigate. It was only the very last scene which I felt was a little unnecessary after the excellent scene which preceded it and, to me, felt like a more natural ending.

The acting is first-rate throughout. Lydia Bakelmun plays Rahmiya with a restraint and humanity that highlights her caring nature whilst also subtly pointing up the way that life, work and once-removed childcare is wearing her down. Her composure contrasted with David’s rantings speaks volumes about integrity and humanity.

David Keller is very effective as elderly paranoid David, out of control, out of time and out of love. His performance made my skin crawl (in the intended way). Michael Workeye brings a youthful , hopeful yet haunted Daniel to life with great charm and brotherly care in an impressive stage debut.

The design (by Alan and Jude Mundin) is ingenious in its creative use of a number of  hospital-related components; there is also clever use of projections, all making the most of the limited stage area.

Towards the end of the play, David’s death may be seen as a symbolic triumph, however the play reminds us that there are plenty of people waiting in the wings to continue the bigotry; the kind of people on the bus who shout at Rahmiya’s children to “go home”. But as Rahmiya says, “how do you go home when you are already there?”

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP runs at The Pleasance Downstairs until March 21st. Information and tickets here


One gripe. On my visit there was no cast sheet or other information available – very disappointing to audiences but also, surely, to the cast and crew themselves. Credit where it’s due please!


Review: NO SWEAT

IN BRIEF Bleak, effective youth homelessness drama simmers angrily in moving production

Just occasionally, a show comes from out of the blue to highlight something which for some reason has gone under our collective radar. NO SWEAT was born out of the untold, unseen homelessness crisis in the LGBTQ+ community. Why unseen? Because so many use 24-hour gay saunas as a place of rest and refuge from the harsh realities of the world outside. In a venue where being gay is “the norm”, it may appear to some quite seductive to think of these places as a refuge. However, the sexualised environment leads many to selling sex to survive, which can also lead to drugs. These traps that many vulnerable young gay people fall into are unforgiving and highly damaging.

NO SWEAT tells the stories of three young men who take refuge in FLEX, a London gay sauna. Charlie, the Pakistani asylum seeker who cleans the place for a pittance; and customers Alf, a Welsh body-for-hire and naïve, numb newcomer Tristan. All three having fled from parental rejection and ejection from the family homes, with no means to support themselves.

As their stories and experiences are shared, what is also revealed is the desperation and loneliness of these young men, each at the mercy of others to survive. Forced into “survival sex working”, Alf educates Tristan in how to exist in this new world of 24-hour heat, where they are part of the majority – but still outsiders.

The three men form their own bonds and supportive gestures which bring a genuine humanity to the show and make the central dilemma of these forgotten people all the more moving. Drugs seem to follow sex in a cycle of desperation and numbness.

The performances are all of a high standard. Gentle, romantic and caring Charlie is played with delicate grace by Manish Gandhi, a sweet and generous soul in a country that doesn’t want him.

Cocky, superficially sorted Alf is played with brittle bravado by James Haymer. Denholm Spurr as Tristan gently takes his character from naïve to more knowing, but retaining a genuine helplessness, so that when he says “I don’t really know what I am doing”, its meaning becomes amplified – a strangled cry for help.

The authorities which should be helping are portrayed as doing worse than nothing- an utter failure of care. “Is this a joke?” asks Tristan at the end of his interview for assistance; those unseen forces charged with helping display a lack of respect, willpower and joined-up thinking as well as prejudice of all colours. It is a genuine slap-in-the face moment for characters and audience.

Unfortunately the ending is not a happy one, and the sadness of these lives, damaged through no fault of their own, is mixed with anger at the lack of any kind of effective lines of help for them.

Vicky Moran’s sensitive play, combining a wealth of original research, mixes the dramatic and audio interview clips with real people (which cover the lengthy scene changes) to good effect, but I did feel that the changes rather distracted my attention away from the audio. The piece undoubtedly benefits from Moran’s own direction, and she has fostered telling performances from the cast.

There is some brief nudity in the show, but I felt this rather cleverly underlined the vulnerability rather than providing any genuinely erotic content.

The only decision which didn’t quite work for me was that of asking the actors to be their own inquisitor at their interviews with authority figures, with the actors turning from side to side to represent different voices. I thought that perhaps another unseen voice (on audio) might have better captured the hardness and inhumanity of questioning, and would also have freed up the actors to maintain their carefully-crafted characterisations. However, these are small points.

As a radical call to provide properly for abused and abandoned young people, this is an important and urgent piece of theatre; both producer and writer should be thanked for bringing these issues to a wider attention. One can only hope that this spurs people to action.

Vicky Moran is definitely a writer/director to watch keenly. I also notice that the show’s producer Reece McMahon is a part of the excellent Roundhouse Future Producers scheme. I am excited to see what’s next for both of them.

NO SWEAT played at The Pleasance Theatre Downstairs (London) to February 29th


March’s Top Shows

The stained glass auditorium ceiling of the Palau de la Música, Barcelona

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

Off-West End

Opening

Hard on the heels of a first-rate Orange Tree revival of Lucy Prebble’s THE SUGAR SYNDROME, another of her plays THE EFFECT runs from 19th March to 30th May at the Boulevard Theatre.

Placing modern medicine under the microscope, it examines the fallout from a collision between love and science.

Connie and Tristan meet; symptoms develop. Racing hearts. Lost appetites. Erratic emotions. Is this the frenzy of falling in love, or simply the side effects of the new anti-depressant drug they’re testing?

Addiction comes hard and fast. But have the clinicians running the trial lost control?


Anyone who has seen the exceptionally good OPERATION MINCEMEAT (soon to return to Southwark Playhouse for a third sell-out season) will have enjoyed the brilliant performance of Jak Malone. Now Malone gets his own show in DIVA: LIVE FROM HELL, a darkly comic one-man musical, loosely based on All About Eve, has its European premiere at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre from March 17th to 28th.

As president of the drama club and star of every school show, Desmond Channing spent most of his short life in the spotlight. When a rival student Evan Harris, a hotshot transfer from New York, challenges his throne, Desmond responds as any diva would, with lethal force…

Now stuck in the ‘Seventh Circle’, Hell’s most squalid cabaret venue, Desmond is forced to relive his disturbing tale of woe.  As we join him and his band for their one-millionth consecutive show, Desmond performs with a desperate vigour in the hopes that he can prove he’s repented and can be freed from this eternal, campy torment!

Jak Malone plays Desmond Channing and the entire company of larger than life characters.  I’m confidently predicting a tour de force from this talented actor!


RUN SISTER RUN plays from March 25th to May 2nd at the Soho Theatre

“You can’t pick your family but if you could I’d still pick you”

Sisters Connie and Ursula were once everything to each other. Years on they’re almost strangers. When a family bombshell is dropped, Connie is forced to retrace forty years of sisterhood and confront a web of secrets and conflicting loyalties. Nurture competes with nature as the pair navigate their unbreakable bond, united by the same beginning but headed in different directions.

Award-winning playwright Chloë Moss’ (HOW LOVE IS SPELT) new play is a witty and heartfelt story of family, class and dependence, asking what does it really mean to belong to someone?


At the Yard in East London, NEW NORDICS is an exciting festival of Nordic work from 18th to 21st March with a new bill each day.

Six directors from the UK have travelled abroad to explore what Nordic theatre and culture is – and now they present a play from each of the Nordic countries for the first time in the UK. Shows about climate change, fir trees, garages, loneliness, cows… and IKEA. The festival is full of funny, dark and explosive plays, each giving a glimpse of the countries they come from.

For the first time, Cut the Cord Theatre present New Nordics Festival, showcasing the best new Nordic plays from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This is great way to see some contemporary Nordic theatre combined with some of the best upcoming talent from the UK.


Katherine Parkinson returns to star at the Royal Court Theatre in E V Crowe’s new play SHOE LADY from March 4th to 21st.

“It’s incredibly hard isn’t it. To stay afloat.
It’s incredibly hard not to sink to the bottom.”

Viv has lost a shoe. They’re her work shoes, her weekend shoes, her only pair of shoes, and she doesn’t know what to do.

The curtains are falling, her foot is bleeding, and she’s starting to feel a little overwhelmed.
But all will be well in the world once she finds that missing shoe.


A bit close to home for some, this one? From 11th to 15th March at Greenwich Theatre, Ferodo Bridges present their immersive production, THE WHITE PLAGUE, experienced in ‘white blindness’ for a strictly limited number of audience members who will experience a city beset by an epidemic with every sense but their sight. 

When a mysterious and fiercely contagious virus starts spreading among a major city’s population, causing all infected victims to lose their sight, the government takes emergency action and isolates those affected in unprepared quarantine facilities. We follow the stories of five infected strangers who have been left to fend for themselves.  As the consequences of the epidemic are revealed, citizens are driven to expose the very brightest and darkest aspects of their human nature. 


At the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, company Playing On brings to life Philip (This Island’s Mine) Osment’s final play. CAN I HELP YOU? is a magical realist examination of the role race and gender have to play in mental health and suicide.  

An off-duty English policeman is about to throw himself off Beachy Head when he is met by a woman carrying a laundry bag and a cat box. Over the course of one night, two disparate characters learn what it truly means to be touched by the magic of hope.  

The show plays from March 3rd to 21st.


From March 18th to May 16th at the National Theatre’s Dorfman space, writer and comedian Francesca Martinez leads an ensemble cast in her debut play ALL OF US , a new play about what defines us, directed by Ian Rickson.

Jess has a job she loves, great friends and a sharp sense of humour. So, when the life she has worked hard to build is threatened, she decides to take a stand.

This powerful and timely drama explores life, love and the struggle to survive for those who don’t fit in during a time of austerity.


“Sorry I don’t fit into your preconceived notions of me

Tommy is scared of everything. Especially the kids at school who would call him gay if they saw him putting on lipstick. Jordan isn’t scared of anything. He’s not scared that he likes the way Tommy looks in lipstick. Really, he’s not.

Two women play two teenage boys in this timely story of young hearts and the rules that surround us all. LIPSTICK plays the Southwark Playhouse from March 4th to 28th.


DRIP DRIP DRIP is a dark love-letter to the NHS and the people who keep it alive.

Encountered on a ward round are Daniel, a refugee from Eritrea, now a trainee nurse; Rahmiya, a Muslim doctor; and David, an elderly white cancer patient. Just another dysfunctional NHS ‘family’. But drip by drip David’s far-right ideology seeps out, poisoning Daniel and Rahmiya’s sense of belonging…

Pipeline Theatre dissects care and cruelty with dark humour while busting taboos. At the Pleasance Theatre London from March 3rd to 21st.


Theatre 503 presents PAPER CUT from March 18th to April 11th

A young gay American soldier, Kyle, returns from Afghanistan after being injured. Only a paper cut. Or that’s what he wants his friends, family, and a potential new love to believe. PAPER CUT is a raw exploration of the physical and emotional toll of returning soldiers and how they navigate their way through another minefield – of returning home.

This is a love story told through the prism of a soldier. Someone who will die for their country, even when their country tells them every day – in small and large ways – that they are less than. It’s an examination of what it means to be a man. And even more so, what it means to be a gay man.

STICKS AND STONES is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 3rd to 21st March.

Afua, a black senior manager in a secondary school, is asked to investigate online comments by a white colleague, Tina; a woman she viewed as a friend. Do Tina’s comments constitute hate speech, and, if so, should the police get involved? Afua has always fought for women’s rights, and Tina is a wronged woman, but with an axe to grind that even Afua is not prepared for. In an intensely claustrophobic setting, the clash between the two women becomes increasingly explosive; opening up questions around speech, power, race and class, that perhaps modern Britain is not ready to answer.


West End Opening

As you’ll know, I rarely venture into West End territory for my top picks, but the classy musical CITY OF ANGELS is a rare show with a superb, starry cast that demands attention. It’s a musical love letter to the glamorous world of old Hollywood and film noir.

A screenwriter with a movie to finish. A private eye with a case to crack. And a femme fatale. Just to make things interesting.

The Donmar Warehouse’s Olivier Award-winning 2014 production finally returns to London, featuring a swinging score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel and a brilliantly witty book by Larry Gelbart, CITY OF ANGELS plays at the Garrick Theatre from March 5th to September 5th (NB with significant cast changes at the end of May and July).


Off West End – continuing

In THE HIGH TABLE , the dresses are chosen, the venue’s been booked and the RSVPs are flooding in. But Tara’s perfect Nigerian wedding to her girlfriend Leah is suddenly derailed when her parents refuse to attend. 

High above London, suspended between the stars, three of Tara’s ancestors are jolted from their eternal rest. Can these representatives of generations passed keep the family together? And will Tara’s decision ever get their blessing?

An epic family drama played out between the heavens and earth, THE HIGH TABLE is the accomplished debut play from Temi Wilkey, which plays at the Bush Theatre until 21 March.

Read my **** review of THE HIGH TABLE here


Running to 3 May, BE MORE CHILL is the long-awaited UK premiere of this on- and off- Broadway hit musical.

Featuring a Tony Award®-nominated score bursting with memorable songs, BE MORE CHILL is a very modern musical comedy about the competing voices in all of our heads.

It’s about a guy who wants to fit in, a girl who wants to be noticed, and the supercomputer inside the guy’s head that tells him what to do (it wants to take over the world!). According to The New Yorker, “If you fed Dear Evan Hansen to the Little Shop of Horrors plant, you’d get BE MORE CHILL.” In other words, it’s both a relatable tale about how far we’ll go for a little validation… and an otherworldly delight about a loveable geek and his very invasive (im)plant. Sounds fun!


At the Park Theatre until March 21 is LA CAGE AUX FOLLES – THE PLAY

Many people recall with pleasure the Tony Award-winning musical, but not everyone knew that the story was originally a hilarious French play which ran for years, and which then was made into four feature films which broke worldwide box office records and were multi-award nominated . Now the Park Theatre gives you the first opportunity to see the original, riotous and heartfelt farce translated into the English language.

Nightclub owner Georges and his dazzling drag artiste partner Albin create the most spectacular shows in St. Tropez. But when Georges’ son Laurent announces his engagement to the daughter of a notoriously right-wing politician determined to bring the curtain down on the town’s vibrant nightlife, the real performance begins.

As Georges and Albin entertain their soon-to-be in laws and attempt to conceal their true nature for the sake of their son, how long can the façade last?

Directed by Simon Callow, and with a great cast including Michael Matus, Paul Hunter and Peter Straker amongst others, this should be a very entertaining evening.


At the Bush Theatre studio until March 21 is COLLAPSIBLE. Essie’s lost her job. Her girlfriend’s left. But she’s alright. Except lately she feels more like a chair than a person. One of those folding chairs. Solid one minute. And then.

From award-winning Irish writer Margaret Perry (Porcelain, Abbey Theatre), this is the hilarious, multi award-winning play about holding on in this collapsing world, starring the “mesmeric” (Guardian) Breffni Holahan, COLLAPSIBLE is for anyone who has ever felt crumbly. So that’s all of us, then!


NO SHOW at The Yard runs until March 14. Christopher Green is best known for his cabaret alter egos Ida Barr and Tina C.

This is the show that Christopher has spent over two decades making. It’s the culmination of 25 years of entertaining tens of thousands of audience members and learning exactly what makes them tick. What they want. It’s the leadership we’ve been seeking in troubling times. Frankly, I haven’t a clue but with this performer you can bet it won’t be dull!!


VAULT Festival

The VAULT FESTIVAL 2020 runs until 22 March. London’s largest and most interesting festival of upcoming work and rising artists, it’s like having all the fun of going to the Edinburgh Fringe but without the pricey travel and accommodation. Established in 2014 by Tim Wilson, Mat Burtcher and Andy George, it has rapidly grown to be an integral part of London’s winter scene. Last year 80,000 people enjoyed over 420 performances, which is why this is a festival with something for everyone.


Outside London

Here’s an interesting new British musical with music and lyrics by Darren Clark, who wrote the very good THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON seen last year at Southwark Playhouse.

Receiving its world premiere, THE WICKER HUSBAND is a folk-inspired show which tells the timeless tale of the outsider.


In a superficial world, where beauty is only skin-deep, meet the so-called ‘Ugly Girl’.
Ostracised by the shallow townsfolk because she doesn’t fit in, the Ugly Girl becomes the envy of her neighbours when the mysterious Old Basketmaker makes her a strong and loving husband woven from living wicker. As bitter rivalry and jealousy threaten to tear the community apart, the townsfolk embark on a cruel and destructive plan. Will the Ugly Girl’s happiness be ruined forever?

Featuring mesmerising wicker-made puppets from master puppeteers, THE WICKER HUSBAND plays at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre from March 12th to April 4th.


Also…

NT CONNECTIONS, the National Theatre’s nationwide youth theatre festival is back. Connections is open to any company of young people aged 13-19. Each Company chooses one play from a set list of ten, that they will then rehearse and perform at their ‘home’ venue, and later at a participating professional venue.

All across the UK, from Inverness to Plymouth, NT Connections enables young people to perform their chosen play on a local, professional stage, which happens between March and May. In June, the NT Festival will showcase ten of the companies, each performing one of the selected plays in a culmination of the festival. So why not spend an evening supporting your local young talent?

31 Theatres are participating across the country. For participating theatres near you, see the NT Connections page here

In London, artsdepot’s festival runs from March 30th to 5th April. Details here

Touring the UK

Anyone who loves the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.

Featuring 26 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). See it in March at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Southampton.

Read my ***.5 review of the show here


NT Live Broadcasts

March brings further encore screenings of several NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. You can still enjoy encores of CYRANO DE BERGERAC with James McAvoy, Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER, the comedy hit ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS with James Corden, and FLEABAG also appear in selected encore screenings.

To find screenings in your area, check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


Theatre FootNotes for December 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

THE WIND OF HEAVEN by Emlyn Wiliams – Finborough Theatre.

You can always rely on the tiny Finborough Theatre to bring out an unusual play for its Christmas slot. Although you can see why they were drawn to this interesting exploration of the search for faith by key 20th-century writer Emlyn Williams, sadly the play shows its age and struggles to engage.

Set in 1856, the small Welsh village of Blestin has turned away from God since a disaster swept away all its young people 11 years earlier. Dilys Parry, widowed recently by the Crimean War is visited by a money-minded circus owner and his assistant who have heard rumours of a “little man” who produces “music in the air”. The only youngster in the village, the son of Parry’s maid, is identified. He has something about him which suggests he is special, and the villagers come to believe him to be a spiritual figure, apparently confirmed when he pushes back the wave of cholera which imperils the village.

It’s a complex story, and I feel sure that written at the end of World War Two as it was, there was a lot more need in audiences for hope and a general willingness to embrace the spiritual elements of this story, with so many people having experienced direct loss in tragic circumstances who may have read its messages as cathartic. However now, 75 years later, in our modern, less religious world, its power is greatly diminished. Your reception of the piece will also depend upon your own belief and faith, if you have any. Personally I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief, but I still enjoyed the ideas and the poetry of Williams writing.

The production uses sound and lighting to good effect but despite the best efforts of the cast, who all work hard and with the utmost conviction,  the show remains earthbound.


MARTHA, JOSIE AND THE CHINESE ELVIS by Charlotte Jones – Park Theatre (Park 90).

Josie’s tired. Tired of the Bolton winter. Tired of looking after daydreaming daughter Brenda-Marie. Tired of working as a dominatrix to make ends meet. Too tired to celebrate turning forty. But her favourite client Lionel insists on a birthday party and, knowing Josie’s a huge Elvis fan, invites a very special guest. Just as hips start swinging, somebody no-one expected arrives and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet…

Written in 1999, Charlotte Jones’ play has not been seen in London before. This could be because it’s rather an unwieldy piece, very much a game of two very different halves. The first act is short but drags towards its end – superficially saucy, with flimsy characters, faux naughtiness and a soap-y first act curtain: but then the longer second act asks us to take it much more seriously- which is difficult. What also surprised me is that the play feels extremely dated, far more so than its twenty years.

It was also regrettable that the free cast sheet handed out to audiences did not include any cast or technical biographies, which could (to my mind) have been easily accommodated on the reverse of the single sheet.


THE TYLER SISTERS by Alexandra Wood – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Spanning several decades in the lives of three sisters, this looks like a very ambitious play which presents about 30 short snapshot- scenes of significant years in the three siblings’ lives from teenagers to retirement. The audience sees how their characters and situations change across the years through the oft-encountered lifetime issues- parenthood, children, divorce, sexuality, middle age, loss, conflict and retirement amongst others.

It’s an interesting idea but sadly, with the time that is spent establishing each new situation and then the reasons for the changes, there is rarely much time left to delve into the actual characters, so for all its two-hour length it (ironically) feels sketchy. In its ambitious breadth it sacrifices depth. The actors all do what they can, giving interesting performances- they work hard throughout the show and they are rarely offstage; however as a non-sibling myself (if that has any bearing upon my view) I felt this show difficult to engage with, or to care about these three people.


ESCAPE FROM PLANET TRASH by Ginger Johnson – The Pleasance

An adult queer/drag panto. It did what you would expect it to do, and the audience had fun. David Cumming (from SpitLip) and Lavinia CoOp (ex-Bloolips) were featured less frequently than I personally would have liked, these two performers being the reason for my visit to the show.


Theatre FootNotes for May 2019 – a brief summary of other theatre events in my diary

DEATH OF A SALESMAN at The Young Vic

This was always going to be a big event, so my opinions are small beer to the attendant PR tsunami. I saw this show at the first preview, another reason not to formally criticise or rate before Press Night. However, just briefly, this was already in tip-top shape from the start. Elliott and Cromwell’s idea of making the Lomans African American (which has been done before) was interesting but perhaps not quite as ground-breaking as some might have expected. Having said that, the entire cast give studied, committed performances, the standout for me being Sharon D Clarke as Linda Loman, her grinding quiet hopefulness weighted by years of neglect and disappointment, given outlet through her religious/spiritual singing. The use of music was interesting but not again quite as revelatory as one might have been built up to expect from this director team. Running time was spot on first time, with the high standard of professionalism one has come to expect from this team. Impossible to give it less than four stars.


THE FIRM at Hampstead Downstairs

Roy Williams’ play has much to say that is significant and timely. A gang of villains – the Firm of the title – meet up again over a decade after their last job, and time has changed them all significantly. “We’re not the Firm anymore…more like the Infirm” quips one character bitterly in probably the best joke in the show. The various arguments and revelations as they wait for a fifth member who never appears, highlights the long-term damage done by absent fathers, broken families and the threat of gang culture which seems so smoothly to be replacing the family unit. All this is terribly important in our country today, and the themes that Williams explores are vital and engaging and he is no doubt sincere. However, the swaggering, homophobic, loud and violent men-children characters who populate this play make it hard, if not impossible, to care about these people. For me, frustrating. The play, which ran 90 minutes straight through, had a stylish “bar” set from designer Alex Marker.


DON’T LOOK AWAY at The Pleasance Downstairs

An obviously well-meaning and earnest play about an asylum seeker gets sidelined and ultimately, sunk, by too much plot, including domestic drama and unnecessary distractions in this 90 minute play from NOVAE Theatre, a new sister company to the brilliant Idle Motion. The gritty reality of the subject isn’t really aided by some inter-scene expressive movement work which tries to explore the tension between the characters but feels a bit out of place. The piece didn’t add up and left this viewer somewhat confused and dissatisfied with a very double-edged ending, although there was some good acting by Julia Barrie as the cleaning lady.

Venue Note This venue is not audience- (or actor-) friendly. Five minutes of the play were drowned out by a motorbike revving-competition immediately outside the un-soundproofed doors of the studio, the rest of the running time underscored by singing and shouting from the drinkers in the bar next door, which made it impossible to concentrate on the play. Top marks here to the actors for not being fazed by this unacceptable distraction, which was hugely disrespectful to the performers. If you ever see a show advertised in the Pleasance Downstairs Studio, please think twice before booking!