FringeReview UK

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FringeReview UK 2016

A View From Islington North

Intermittently thrilling plays from the urgent left, two premieres and a couple of small gems roughened by the tumble of Westminster and the Corporates that really must be seen - unless you’re Gideon.


Acorn

Persephone and Eurydice, embodiers of two Greek myths, find themselves reaching out in the Underworld. Except Persephone’s an overworked bereaved junior doctor with huge attachment issues. She has to deal with a flock of Eurydices: distrait child, disturbed teenager, new mother, someone with mental distress seeking out seven dwarves in a lopped tree trunk. Welcome to the world in an Acorn.


Boy

A superbly bleached-out vision of a seventeen-year-old’s prospects on a stunning conveyer-belt set. Not a comfortable but necessary seventy minutes.


Brideshead Revisited

Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Brideshead, the first for the stage dazzles with stagecraft and storyline but something’s lost tail-chasing the detail.


Burning Bridges

Asperger-conditioned Sarah’s reels off her interests: ‘TV, One Direction, Bears, Ghandi, Oral Sex not necessarily in that order.’ This remarkable, necessary play explores the crisis provoked by Sarah’s single atypical act, and how it shows she’s improving - leaving domestic devastation. Shindler beautifully judges the pathos and development in each of her three main protagonists.


Counting Stars

Gupta’s not too likely to pay the penalty for her spectacular 2009 debut aged twenty-one in What Fatima Did. This is her third full-length, a clear-headed warm-hearted play packing much story-telling into its sixty-five minutes, a convincing portrayal of exploited lovers in Woolwich now.


Cuttin’ It

Superb distillation of the costs of FGM to victims and victim-perpetrators, James reaches out to all in this searing two-hander.


Cyprus Avenue

Devastating drama about the DNA of bigotry; and it all starts in surreal farce


Doctor Faustus

Kit-off Harington stars in this rewritten Marlowe piece, long on sex and violence but short on Marlowe. Intermittently brilliant.


Elegy

Starring Barbara Flynn and Zoe Wannamaker, Nick Payne’s new play – a thrilling and devastating probe at our identity - picks up the threads of science, self and mortality from Constellations and The Art of Dying, marking his most ambitious play since the former.


Father Comes Home from the Wars

In three hours there’s hardly a missed beat and the title will tease and baffle in its implication long after the end. Brave visionary theatre, it doesn’t require that much from audiences to enthral.


Glasgow Girls

Even on fictive terms this would garner praise for its raw power, its beating passion for justice and humanity. Difficult as it might be not to come away warmed this ensemble – and original musical – make it so very easy. This needs to be everywhere and should be shown if not live, then screened.


Guerilla Aspies

This is an absolutely necessary and enagaging show about Aspergers we need to see back. The audience was packed, and exhilarated, Wady making contact with nearly everyone but in a creative and – yes – neutrotypical way.


Haim: In the Light of a Violin

Mesmerising, heart-rending concert-cum-narration of a child’s journey through violin lessons to auditioning in Auschwitz, and beyond as told through his eyes.


Holes

Holes sashays between naturalism and fable, some predictable some not. Noad and McGann strongly characterise. Roberts and Purchese make something special out of the comically horrifying. Richards has produced a sovereign reading of a troubled, brilliantly unequal question mark.


Hotel Cerise

Ellen Thomas fills the central role with warmth, quixotic generosity, occasional faded grandeurs and a bewitching illusion. Greer has otherwise ingeniously captured the Chekhovian amplitude and capacity for delicacy and tenderness in the face of death, her description of Chekhov. That’s really something.


Human Animals

A thrillingly compressed dystopia crossing The Birds, and Caryl Churchill with draconian government opportunism.


Imogen: Cymbeline Renamed and Reclaimed

This production sucked in a whole audience and breathed it out with laughter. Its power’s a popular, indeed populist one. And in Maddy Hill’s furious dove we’ve identified an Imogen many can reclaim, or claim for the first time.


Joan, Babs & Sheila Too

A stunning traversal of Joan Littlewood’s life by Gemskii and Conscious Theatre. Without her, there would never have been A Taste of Honey, Oh What a Lovely War, or much of postwar British theatre.


Kenny Morgan

Superb take on Rattigan’s lover’s suicide attempts, that inspired Rattigan’s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea.


Love

This devastatingly detailed play is a quiet shouter, and the more harrowing. Its terrible legacy is that with a few term-changes, it might be played in thirty, fifty years. The poor and destitute seem to be needed to calibrate, even manifest obscene wealth in their opposites. It should send people into the streets, but then it already has.


Love and Information

Stunning ensemble play, Churchill’s flickering meditation on how we communicate and convey love and every other shade of being.


Motherhood: (Un)speakable, (Un)spoken

Moments into this one-woman play, Joanna Rosenfeld - emerging in a poke of fingers from a cagoule of brown paper - over-voices herself giving witness to tens of verbatim experiences we hear. This tells us the baby’s a parasite, sucks all your nutrients, calcium from your teeth for instance, causes injury, often permanent, can kill. This is - literally - epic interior theatre.


Motherhood:(Un)speakable, (Un)spoken

Ninety seconds into this newly-revised one-woman play, Joanna Rosenfeld - emerging in a poke of fingers from a cagoule of brown paper - over-voices herself giving witness to tens of verbatim experiences we hear. This tells us the baby’s a parasite, sucks all your nutrients, calcium from your teeth for instance, causes injury, often permanent, can kill. This is - literally - epic interior theatre.


Oil

This is a fabulous tale. Duff’s portrayal, tightrope-walking tenderness over an abyss of fear and atavistic decisions, forms the long burning-down wick of the play. Necessary theatre, and Hickson’s decision to focus on the mother-daughter axis underscores a neat parable of what we say we love, and how it might really love us back.


One Night in Miami…

This work’s even more urgent now human rights in the US and elsewhere are temporarily at the least regrouping. Kwei-Armah’s pace and dance made this beautiful to hear and behold, but even more to absorb. An all-black cast has been a long time coming.


People Places and Things

Denise Gough’s award-winning performance centres this terrifying eddy of addiction and slipping recovery.


Pigs and Dogs

In a quarter-hour we’re struck with a rich and head-spinning narrative of how same-sex culture’s been oppressed first by the west and now through European language. You end up stopping in outraged disbelief at this virulent legacy of colonialism. If you can’t see it, read it.


Sunny Afternoon

What makes this outstanding is Penhall’s wit and deft charactering of core band and satellites who interact with the complexity of a play, the way the songs move the narrative forward and are given believable geneses. This outstanding musical deserves the awards its original incarnation garnered – and it brings back The Kinks forever sharing the peak of British pop with The Who, The Stones and pre-eminently The Beatles.


Sunset at the Villa Thalia

Making noise quietly, Campbell’s new play perhaps pulls a few punches because it believes in quiet. Ben Miles dominates the stage in this uneasy parable, and Elizabeth McGovern’s uproariously funny and pathos-ridden.


The Children

This devil’s bargain of a drama is how one generation takes responsibility for the ecological box of spiders it’s let out. One strength lies in avoiding the obvious. For one thing the children are absent. Kirkwood’s masterly play resonates with macrocosmic power, towering over the minutiae of living.


The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery redefines the category, by edging beyond even recent work and revealing a classic structure entering a hall of mirrors and going mad. The musical as well as general ensemble is the most remarkably timed I’ve ever seen in a theatre, and the set designs and shifts the most frantically split into milliseconds. This is an outstanding and redefining farce in every way.


The Flick

Mesmerising exploration of three characters maintaining a failing cinema, heartbreakingly funny, mimetically riveting. One of the Nationals’ very finest new plays under the new regime.


The Sewing Group

A bare interior of untreated wood encloses three black-clad women from the 1700s sewing. A candle gutters; it’s a bleak simple life. This is a bold quietly brilliant play asking questions of how we are thought, not think and how that impacts on what we take for feeling.


The Tempest

Walter’s is a reading riven with pained clarity – a conflicted anguish visibly traced on her face – sealing the broken majesty of this performance. It’s the pinnacle of the rough magic of a production fresh, streetwise with animated verse deliveries, vocal range and above all the new-minted, brave new world.


The Truth

This is as good a machine for portraying infidelity as we’re likely to see. Hanson delivers frantic timing and hard-paced farce, O’Connor provides an elegant foil mixing guilt with anxiety, desire and cool pragmatism; Franks’ Laurence is always ready to spring shut on the luckless protagonist. Her counterpart in Portal conveys a flicker of reined-in menace, bluff urbanity waiting to pounce. Zeller quotes Voltaire’s scepticism about truth-telling: permanently unfashionable, perennially worth reviving


They Drink it in the Congo

Brace’s hugely ambitious piece is whipped along with rapid dissolves and shifts by Longhurst so its stranded complexity never becomes turgid or bewildering. Central character Stef is played with brightness turned up exactly right by Fiona Button.


Torn

Adelle Leonce anchors protagonist Angel’s volatile unpredictability in a superb register of loss, calibrating her response to various family members at zig-zag stages of her life. Martello-White’s clever touching-in of few specifics allows this ninety-minute piece to amplify a wincing universality.


Unreachable

A profoundly quizzical play about directorial and film-mogul silliness, using one liners and silliness to address these questions.


White Feather Boxer

Timely and fascinating play of a pacifist pugilist’s conscience, in 1967, and 1914 from the author of Hanging Hooke and Stella.


Whose Sari Now?

This is consummate storytelling, and Moorthy’s narrative variables attest to pitch and speed, a charactering that gifts all it can to the individual and in some cases real tales. There’s much here we cannot forget.


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Vicky Featherstone brings a little science friction to McDowall's science fantasy world, as he moves from his familiar lair