Theatre Reviews

Review: Penetrator by Fear No Colours

penetrator
Tom White (left) as Tadge and Chris Duffy (right) as Max

Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)

Play: Penetrator

Playwright: Anthony Neilson

Director: Julia Midtgard

Company: Fear No Colours

Genre: Thriller

Venue: C-cubed, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Performance Date: 10 Aug. 2017

Summary: “Flatmates Max and Alan are happily nursing their hangovers when their old friend Tadge arrives on their door, AWOL from the army and just in time to upset the delicate balance of chill nothings. Something happened to him in the Black Room, where the Penetrators are, something too terrible to speak of. So it must be shown.” (Source: fearnocolours.com)

Content Warnings: simulated sex, masturbation, explicit language, violence, descriptions of rape.


My thoughts

Penetrator is not for the light-hearted and neither was the Fear No Colours’ production. The play literally opens in darkness and gradually, reality begins to blur for the three characters. The shift in atmosphere commences with the entrance of Tadge, portrayed by Tom White, who is evidently disturbed by a series of events. White’s restless character was intriguing to watch, even when he was not speaking. You could see the cogs turning in Tadge’s mind which reflected on his face. Despite seeing his face, White’s character was unpredictable, which made his performance intense and thoroughly captivating.

The shift in atmosphere commences with the entrance of Tadge, portrayed by Tom White, who is evidently disturbed by a series of events. White’s restless character was intriguing to watch, even when he was not speaking. You could see the cogs turning in Tadge’s mind which reflected on his face. Despite seeing his face, White’s character was unpredictable, which made his performance intense and thoroughly captivating.

Unlike Tadge, Max hides a lot behind his dark humour and seemingly apathetic attitude. At the start of the play, Max comes across lazy, much to the annoyance of his flatmate, Alan. Some of Max’s misogynistic and abhorrent beliefs were delivered with acidic truth by Chris Duffy.  The final scenes of Penetrator are where Duffy shines, or rather, where Max is at his darkest.

However, Matt Roberts’ performance was the weakest of the three. I felt that Roberts’ expressions were annoyingly exaggerated throughout the play, in particular during the eye contact with Tadge. In general, I think the whole cast needs to project and articulate much more as some of the lines/impersonations were lost amongst mumbling, shouting, and laughter.

Why did I attend this play?

In-Yer-Face plays are not often performed due to their explicit and uncomfortable content, so it was a must.

Would I attend another Fear No Colours production?

The company regularly tackles difficult issues, so absolutely, I like being challenged.

Overall…

If you enjoy challenging, visceral theatre, then this is for you. The play is being extended at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe according to the Fear No Colour’s Twitter, so make sure to follow them to keep updated.

– Melissa Jennings


What challenging plays have you seen at the Fringe?

Let me know!

Connect with me: Twitter / Goodreads / FacebookKo-Fi


 

Literature Reviews

Review: Shopping and F***ing by Mark Ravenhill

s and f (1)

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

Play: Shopping and F***ing

Playwright: Mark Ravenhill

Genre: In-Yer-Face

Where to buy: Shopping & F***ing

Summary: The plot follows a crowd of drifters and sex traders in a seedy area of London in the 1990s. Five main characters are linked loosely and intermittently and at the centre of the play is an ever-changing love triangle of petty criminals. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: drug abuse, threat, violence, rape, blood, sexual abuse, explicit sexual language/curses.

N.B. I have also seen this play so my review will encompass my understanding of both experiences.


What I liked…

The playwright was definitely onto something. The state of society is shocking, disgusting, and unfair, and these characters are aware of it – some more than others. The first character to realise the corruption of the self is Mark, the somewhat central character of Ravenhill’s disconcerting play, and he attempts to do something about his life. This is the only character who attempts to do something relatively normal in the play.

His “flatmates”, Robbie and Lulu, are quite relatable as they struggle with finding a purpose in a society revolves around money. Robbie, in particular, delivers a heartfelt monologue about the state of society:

ROBBIE:

I was looking down on this planet. Spaceman over this earth. And I see this kid in Rwanda, crying, but he doesn’t know why. And this granny in Kiev, selling everything she’s ever owned. And this president in Bogota or … South America. And I see the suffering. And the wars. And the grab, grab, grab.

And I think: Fuck Money. Fuck it. This selling. This buying. This system. Fuck the bitching world and let’s be … beautiful. Beautiful. And happy. You see?

(p.40)

There are several other moments like this throughout the play, and those particular moments made the play stay with me for a lot longer after reading.

What I disliked…

In-Yer-Face theatre is either a hit or miss. There are so many vulgar and sexual expletives and references that I found the text overwhelming to read at times. I found Mark rather boring compared to Robbie, Lulu, and Gary, his character just went full cycle and that was that. Perhaps that was Ravenhill’s intention.

Why did I read it?

Having seen the play, I wanted to experience the monologues that moved me again.

Does the playwright have other works?

Mark Ravenhill has written several other plays, Handbag, Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat, and Some Explicit Polaroids.

Overall…

If you like challenging, disturbing drama, then this play is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: Angels in America

 

angels in america cast
National Theatre’s Angels in America. Top (left to right): Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, and Russell Tovey. Bottom (left to right) Denise Gough and James McArdle.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Play: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Playwright: Tony Kushner

Director: Marianne Elliott

Summary: The play follows a group of people who are struggling to understand the world around them in mid 80s America, and as the third-millennium approaches, it is realised that everything will change.

N.B. I watched Angels in America in two parts via a National Theatre Live broadcast. I also have read Angels in America prior (wait a minute, did you just make a pun Melissa? – YOU BET I DID!) to seeing a live performance of it.

What I liked…

Angels in America is a modern epic, a web of interconnecting social, political, racial, spiritual issues. It is a must see for anyone who loves theatre and/or literature. In all honesty, I was not that impressed when I first heard of the cast.  However, after witnessing the plays, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, a week apart, I could tell that the actors were very much invested in their roles.

The main characters, Roy Cohn, Prior Walter, Louis Ironson, Harper Pitt, and Joe Pitt, are the epicentres of the plays. Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn (the only character based on a real person) was incredibly vibrant, disturbing, violent, and hilarious; he delivered his lines with authenticity, even in moments of silence. His performances were my favourite.

James McArdle was also incredibly committed to his troubled character, Louis, delivering some intense monologues that were both baffling and enlightening. I think that sums up Louis Ironson, to be honest. McArdle’s relentless emotional energy was not forced at all. In a similar light, Denise Gough particularly shone in her monologues; her character, Harper, seemed to take up the whole stage. Harper’s thoughts and feelings seemed organically produced by Gough, which made Harper seem tangible to the audience.

What I disliked…

Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Prior Walter did not sit right with me. His performance felt hollow and fabricated, which was disappointing considering his character’s major role in the events of Kushner’s play. Vocally, Garfield seemed to settle into a stereotype, which became grating after a while.

Russell Tovey’s performance was possibly the worst out of the main cast. His lack of vocal control was displeasing to the point that I winced at his shouting. In terms of his physical performance, he did not seem grounded in his character, which was noticeable in the moments of high energy.

The staging and set of Angels in America was just all right. The set changes seemed too long. I found some of the camera angles random, although it did allow me to see some of the characters who were still deliberately on stage, but I am not sure if the London theatre audience could see this or not.

Why did I see it?

Having been confused by the text, seeing it was a must.

Would I see another National Theatre production?

Yes, Angels in America was quite a feat and was treated very well by NT.

Overall…

This cast of Angels in America was not my absolute favourite, but I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Kushner’s epic in the flesh (relatively). It is a play that I will continue to see again and again.

– Melissa Jennings

 

Literature Reviews

Play Review: Romeo and Juliet

 

romeo and juliet play review.png

*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Rating: ★★★★☆

Title: Romeo and Juliet

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Genre: Tragedy

Publication Date: 1597 and 1599*

Publisher: John Danter and Cuthbert Burby*

Where to buy: Romeo and Juliet

Summary: “a play of star-crossed lovers who take a valiant stand against social convention, with tragic consequences.” (Source: Amazon)

Trigger Warnings: death, blood imagery, suicide, rape, violence, sexually implied language.

*The play was originally published in quartos (small pamphlets or books); the play was published in two parts/quartos. The First Quarto was published by John Danter and the Second Quarto was published by Cuthbert Burby.*

So. Much. POETRY!

William Shakespeare’s play is a poet’s paradise! I am not one for love poems, or sonnets in this case, but the shifting landscape of the lovers’ lives is truly reflected in their exchanges.

ROMEO:

I am too bold. ‘Tis not to me she speaks.

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

Having some business, do entreat her eyes

To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

(Act 2, Scene 2)

This is an excerpt from the famous balcony scene where Romeo sees Juliet and is helpless. I find this particular dialogue rather hilarious as he deems himself “too bold” or rather too cocky to be charming lovely Juliet. I definitely agree with him, Juliet is too good for him. What is more is that this scene symbolises their whole relationship: they are worlds apart and always will be.

What is more is that this scene symbolises their whole relationship: they are worlds apart and always will be. To me, their poetic exchanges convey that their relationship is not rooted in reality, which is proven as they do not attempt to deal with the larger issue of their families’ long-standing conflict. Nonetheless, you could read Romeo and Juliet fifty times over and still find some new metaphor within their passionate exclamations.

I felt sorry for Romeo and Juliet

Fun fact: when I first heard of Romeo and Juliet in primary school, I associated the play with a happy ending! Heck, I was wrong.

When I read this play for the first time, my reaction was confusion. I didn’t understand how the pair could have fallen in love in such a short space of time, plus, so much drama! On my second (actually third) reading, I realised that the play is about the bigger conflict between the Montagues and Capulets, the families’ fighting is the reason why everything happens so fast and why everything ends so badly.

On a different subject, there is a lot of implications about sex within the play, which was a bit uncomfortable to read at times. Also, at the beginning of the play, violence against women is expressed explicitly.

Why did I read it?

Despite being a famous play, I had not read it until I started my English Literature course.

Does the author have other works?

William Shakespeare is probably one of the most well-known writers of all time. Shakespeare has written many plays, such as King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest. He also has written lots of sonnets!

Overall…

The “star-crossed lovers” did not deserve what happened to them. Their lives were dictated to them by violence, hate, and chaos, which is indeed a cruel fate if there ever was one.

– Melissa Jennings

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: Ubu and The Truth Commission

ubu and the truth commission
Handspring Productions’ Ubu and the Truth Commission

Rating: ★★★★☆

Play: Ubu and The Truth Commission

Playwright: Jane Taylor

Director: William Kentridge

Form: Intercultural Theatre/Verbatim

Performance: Viewed online here.

Summary: “…a multi-dimensional theatre piece which tries to make sense of the madness which overtook South Africa during apartheid.” (Source: Goodreads)

Please note: I have both read and viewed this text so my review will combine both experiences.

The ASTOUNDING

The most important aspect of Jane Taylor’s play is its use of puppetry. Audience members are directed to pay attention to three presences onstage – the human actors, the puppets (animal and human), and the puppeteers. Taylor invites the audience to decipher the chaos.

When I first read the play, I thought Taylor’s use of human puppets for the real life accounts of the horrors that occurred during South Africa’s apartheid was insensitive. However, having viewed the play and reflected on this particular performance aesthetic, I believe it was an appropriate and respectful choice for the victims as well as the audiences. Having puppeteers behind the human puppet created this environment of communication where the accounts were being listened to. I think Kentridge’s staging of the witnesses brought to life the real 1994-96 Truth and Reconciliation Commission where audiences were either present or watching on their televisions – the witnesses were made central to the TRC.

However…

I must stress that the play is better understood visually than textually. I read the play first before viewing it and it was a rather confusing experience, the only parts I understood were the verbatim testimonies.

Why did I read/see it?

This text was a part of my university reading/viewing list for my Theatre Studies.

Has the theatre company produced other plays?

Handspring Productions has produced Or You Could Kiss Me by National Theatre, Episodes of An Easter Rising by David Lytton, and Faustus in Africa (an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).

Overall…

The text was particularly upsetting to read, so I advise taking care when reading. I would highly recommend viewing the play online before reading the play, as the performance is simply amazing and surprising at times.

– Melissa Jennings

 

Theatre Reviews

Theatre Review: Jane Eyre

JANE EYRE UK Tour 2017Royal National Theatre
National Theatre and British Old Vic’s Jane Eyre

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Play: Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë)

Director: Sally Cookson

Form: Drama/Literary Adaptation

Performance Date: 7 Jun. 2017

Venue: Theatre Royal Glasgow

Summary: A young orphan, Jane Eyre, is raised by her reluctant aunt, Mrs Reed, and attempts to find her place in the world in nineteenth century Northern England.

The Good

What I enjoyed about this production was its fluidity, each scene was connected through either movement or music. The fluidity of the scenes made Jane’s development much clearer. In addition to this, right from the beginning, the cast was incredibly supportive of each other onstage; an incredible amount of energy was present throughout the two acts, you could feel it in the audience.

An actor that stood out to me, in particular, was Melanie Marshall, whose haunting vocals intensified Jane’s key moments of developments. I will not mention Melanie Marshall’s specific role in the play as it will spoil the plot of Jane Eyre, so if you plan on reading Jane Eyre ever, do not look up what Melanie Marshall’s role is! Moreover, I found Cookson’s focus on Marshall’s role rather refreshing as I had not seen her role as important before. On a side note, I only read Jane Eyre at the beginning of 2017, and seeing the production made Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece even better!

However…

I do believe it was rather ambitious of Cookson to take on Brontë’s famous novel, and I think the production underwhelmed in areas.

The cast

I was disappointed in Hannah Bristow’s stale portrayal of Helen Burns. Bristow’s characterisation was not what I was expecting; she didn’t seem connected to what she was saying and she later portrayed Grace Poole and Diana Rivers in a similar manner. There was not a clear distinction between these characters. Nonetheless, I did enjoy Bristow’s portrayal of young Adele, who was bursting with energy! Nadia Clifford, who played Jane Eyre, struggled to project her voice during Jane’s older scenes with Rochester, but then at other times, Clifford, increased her volume at random intervals. In a similar way, when Evelyn Miller portrayed St John, she also struggled with her volume, however, I enjoyed Miller as Bessie, whose warmth radiated the stage and changed Jane’s posture.

The set

The stage was set from the beginning; a series of connecting wooden platforms with ladders and stairs with a wooden runaway, with the musicians tucked between the platform and runaway. From walking into the auditorium, I knew the play was not going to be an elaborate production of Brontës novel; the play would be focused on Jane’s movement, not the change of environment.

Despite this interesting choice by Cookson and cast, the use of the set and the movements of the actors became repetitive. The majority of the actors constantly climbed up and down the platforms which slowed the scenes down considerably.

Why did I see it?

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels of all time. I had to see it onstage. It was also my first National Theatre production!

Has the theatre company produced other plays?

National Theatre is currently staging a production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Common, a new play by DC Moore, and Salome, another new play by Yaël Farber. Bristol Old Vic is currently home to Tristan and Yseult, a Kneehigh theatre production.

Overall… 

Cookson’s Jane Eyre was innovative but it lacked Bronte’s intricate characterisation. I think the production had some interesting imagery and staging but since it was so character-driven, the performance appeared to lack depth.

– Melissa Jennings