Hello all. As you may or may not know, I now have the pleasure of being a fully fledged reviewer for Bargain Theatre London, so I thought I’d post a few of my latest reviews here for your perusal.
Lot’s of exciting news coming your way re. Poleroid in my next blog post. It’s going to be an epic one so get ready for it!
MISS JULIE @ THE BUSSEY BUILDING, PECKHAM
Miss Julie is a personal favorite of mine, so I was keen to see director Vernon Douglas’s version when it popped up, having missed the Young Vic’s production earlier this year. It might be seen as a bit risky to attempt to put on a classic play on the London fringe scene, due to the current fashion for new writing on fringe and classics being given their time at more established venues. However, Odd Man Out Productions have squashed this pattern and added their production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie into the mix. I was initially a little surprised to see this play being produced at Peckham’s wonderfully atmospheric and quirky Bussey Building, due to the venue’s recent links with the Royal Court’s “Theatre Local”, however the old-fashioned, warehouse-esq feel lends itself perfectly to the servants quarters of Miss Julie’s house where our play is set. A violinist, who, from the start, provides a dark, mysterious atmosphere, serenades the audience as they enter. He then continues to under score throughout the play. In general I find music used during dialogue to be a little bit of a cop out for the actors involved, as the music often forces a particular emotion on to the audience rather than the actors having to work hard themselves, however in this case it works, and the music, improvised beautifully by Jose Gandia, gives a lovely tone to many of the more poignant moments in the play without being over powering or distracting.
Miss Julie is a challenge for any young actor as it deals with the complex but universal themes of love, power, idealization, equality, inequality, class, money and status (to name a few), however the cast do well at telling the story clearly to a receptive audience. Lydia Orange provides a beautifully, posed and at some points vulnerable Miss Julie, and drives the bulk of the play with vigor and energy. However, her relationship with Jean (Nicholas Clarke) isn’t entirely clear and she sometimes comes across as more of a spoilt teenager rather than the manipulative lady of the house. The lack of chemistry between the pair and her lack of provocation towards Clarke makes it hard for the audience to invest in the power shift later in the play.
Clarke seems a little hesitant at times, stumbling over the text slightly which immediately detaches the audience from what’s going on onstage, however he begins to take control of his role and provides a delightfully sinister Jean as the play progresses. The performances are a little safe throughout, and as the text is so full of extremes and opportunities, they could do with playing with these more. The play is directed simply but clearly, allowing the audience to focus on the relationships between the actors rather than the esthetic’s of the production, however at times Douglas’s directorial choices are a little odd and obvious – particularly noticeable in Christine’s (Henriikka Kemppi) movements which are often a little distracting. We do glimpse some passion from Kemppi in the fierce revelation scene with Clarke towards the end of the play, however again we need more clarity and meaning in the couple’s relationship from the outset in order to empathise with Kemppi’s plight later in the play.
It also isn’t entirely clear what period the play is set as we get little indication from the set and the costumes are perhaps a tad generalized and confused. I couldn’t help but feel that more of a sense of setting could have been evoked throughout, as I didn’t really believe their was a party going on in the other room, or that it was Midsummer’s eve – not helped of course by the cold auditorium!
In all, this is a pleasing production of a complex and beautifully written play, given life by the young cast, and it is worth a watch, however it lacks a certain amount of maturity and depth, which Strindberg’s piece perhaps needs to do it real justice.
SEALAND @ THE ARCOLA TENT.
Before seeing this production, I had no idea that the world’s smallest nation, Sealand, is an island just north of the Thames. In a pocket-sized programme shaped like a passport (“This passport is for marketing purposes only” written on the back just incase anyone was mistaken into believing they could actually leave the country with it), I was fascinated to read that there is! Sat waiting for Luke Clarke’s play to begin, focused on a small, square, wooden platform in the middle of the intimate, unique and atmospheric auditorium of the Arcola Tent, I couldn’t help but feel that I had indeed stepped into a different world, far removed from the whir of the Dalston traffic and trains which can be faintly heard outside.
The show certainly gets off with a bang as the cast of five crash on stage with torches in the midst of a storm dramatically created by some excellent sound effects, which makes a thrilling opening sequence. We are quickly introduced to the two families that the play centres around, who are guided by island owner Ted (Adam El Hagar) a man who has come to Sealand to escape from a broken Britain, obsessed with creating a perfect nation seven miles out to sea.
From the minute Jessica Stone steps on stage, she is totally convincing as the provocative, bolshy, twenty-first century teenager Sarah, daughter of up-tight painter Liz (Janut Etuk) and alcoholic husband Gary (Seamus Bradford). Stone’s energy and excellent comic timing means it is hard for the audience to take their eyes off her, as she reacts superbly to the situations that unfold. Clad in a grey boiler suit, she wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Misfits. The scenes between Jessica and Ed Pinker who plays Ted’s son Alex, are very engaging as the pair bounce off each other with a series of hilarious dialogues, mainly focusing around Alex’s lack of experience with the opposite sex. The dialogue is snappy and there are some very funny, cleverly staged physical sequences between the young actors who have a refreshingly good rapport, although the character of Alex seems a lot younger than Sarah.
Unfortunately, I am less convinced by Ted’s obsession with utopia, which is supposed to drive the play. The humour that underpins the more serious scenes is enjoyable, but I just wish the discourse was a little less domestic, actually dealing more with the main subject which, when addressed, is written in slightly uninteresting, preachy chunks, instead of supporting the situations playwright Luke Clarke has put his characters in.
The script as a whole, is a little flat, so it seems hard for the actors, particularly Adam El Hagar, to get the stakes high enough for the audience to really invest in the dramatic twist in Act Two. Similarly the sub-plot of alcoholic father Gary forced into the basement by his wife, due to the effect his drinking was having on his family, is almost entirely solved and forgotten by the end of the first half. This being said, I think El Hager, Etuk and Bradford all do well playing characters which are a little out of their age range.
Overall, an enjoyable piece with some convincing and charged performances by the young cast, who manage to give life to a slightly bland and unsatisfying script. It does well to showcase the emerging talent coming from the Contemporary Theatre course at East 15 Acting School, where this play was conceived, and I look forward to seeing the accomplishments of their future graduates.