Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Risqué

Written by Tim Coakley
Directed by Murray Hecht
 
First seen a few years ago, they’re back with a new set of nine sketches, in a fun and fond nod to Benny Hill, Carry On and every 60s and 70s sitcom. Chat line girls, dominatrices, adult babies and pups, a visit to the knobs and knockers shop in a ‘four candles’ sketch for post watershed, and of course Matron, it’s all here, like 80s alternative comedy never happened. The women are powerful, dominant and definitely in control in Risqué’s world.
 
Standouts include Lena Richardson’s dom, getting down to business with her furry newbie client (Dave Lee), ending in a surprisingly sweet and unexpected unmasked moment, and Sascha Cooper’s flamboyant visit to Tim Charles’ shy and helpless doctor.
 
The final sketch, set in a failing strip club with Hill as a glum wannabe stripper, Charles as the faded club owner and Cooper an exasperated pro is the highlight; echoing Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore it has the potential to develop into a play in itself.
 
Quick costume changes, simple settings and each sketch flowing into the next, I’d have liked the pace to be tightened up throughout, pepping up the pace, speeding up the changes – maybe even giving time for slipping another one in …
 
A 21st century take on a very British seaside postcard style of humour.
 
At the Latest Music Bar 30/5 – 1/6
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Acme Dating and Detective Agency

Written by Timothy Coakley
Directed by Murray Hecht
 
Possible spoiler alert!
 
Neil James as Charles de Vere, successful, confident, yet desperate, looking for love and about to step into the strange new world of the dating agency. Tabitha Wild as Annabelle Kensington is elegant, slinky, a poised cut-glass inquisitor filleting him in seconds.
 
But it isn’t what you think it is. Nothing is. The writing’s twisty and turny, characters playing characters, and just when you think you’ve got the measure of it – you haven’t. Snappy and pacey direction and two assured, versatile performances blend polished banter, messy truths and confiding asides to audience, the pair dancing round each other playing layered games with what’s real, what isn’t.
 
Pay attention, because in these glimpses of a relationship in flux, reveal after reveal, unpredictable shifts in accent, class and sexuality, nothing’s fixed. The effect is clever, surprising and in the end, poignant.
 
At the Latest Music Bar 30/5 – 1/6
 
Philippa Hammond
 
 
 
 
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Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Maestro

A new piece on the life and work of Donizetti from Magichour Productions, featuring live operatic performance

Written by Duncan Hopper and Mike Wells

The music of Donizetti

This new piece on the life and work of Donizetti from Magichour Productions, featuring live operatic performance, is currently on tour around some beautiful Sussex locations. Tonight’s venue, the Regency St George’s church, Kemptown, Brighton, perfectly sets the scene.

Donizetti is dying, his mind filling with memories of life, love and music in his final hours.

Robert Tremayne makes a dashing Donizetti, handsome and magnetic in his prime, fading from glamorous peacock to ruined wreck at the end of life. There’s tragedy and humour here too, with knowing digs at the outrage of lockdown and masks ‘in this day and age’.

As the flirtatious opera singers and battling divas in his life, Karen Orchin fills the generous space with soaring voice, with solo grand piano accompaniment by Simon Gray. Being this close to a soprano delivering some of Donizetti’s greatest arias is a terrific experience.

Sophie Methuen-Turner gives a gentle sweetness as his supportive, loving wife Virginia, and transforms physically and vocally into the formidable Contessa, both commanding and frail.

While the piece reads more as a musical docu-drama than a play and recorded music occasionally played under the spoken word can make a few speeches a little challenging to hear, it’s an intriguing glimpse into key points from the composer’s life and work, with live operatic highlights.

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza’s award winning 2008 play all feels very contemporary; a middle class comedy of manners for now, with the main theme ‘what lies beneath?’

Yasmina Reza’s award winning 2008 play all feels very contemporary; a middle class comedy of manners for now, with the main theme ‘what lies beneath?’

On the surface, it all starts in such a civilised, cultured way. Coffee and clafoutis, chaise longues and tulips. Two pleasant couples, meeting for a nice chat about a little … disagreement … between their young sons. Then all begins to unravel.

Roger Kay’s direction is tight, pacey and assured, delivering a quartet of pin-sharp and pointedly observed performances. Physical and verbal energy fizz in the tiny Rialto space, with a lovely sofa shift from one couple per sofa to the men briefly united in rum and resentment on one and the women united on the other.

Tom Dussek’s urbane Alain is bullish and confident, barking orders into an endlessly intrusive mobile, while making light of the ‘boys will be boys’ situation – until the appearance of the rum shifts his focus, never really on family responsibility, always on his own terms

Jenny Delisle as Annette battles with anxiety over her husband’s refusal to engage over their son’s deed, until the shock vom scene brings everything to crisis point, in a brittle study in how it can all become too much to bear.

As Veronique and Michel, parents of the injured boy, Sophie Dearlove and Neil James are the ‘nice’ ones, Veronique committed to supporting every good cause and Michel gently supporting the women in his life – yet revealing a surprisingly cruel streak.

Of course, the boys’ playground spat isn’t the only instance of childish rage boiling over; little digs and bubbling anger begin to mount, each character brooding over their own stored up issues, the civilised veneer scraped away as the booze takes hold and the masks slide off.

One of the most attention-grabbing and interest-gripping pieces I’ve seen on the Fringe, thanks to terrific harmony of writing, directing, performance and staging.

But I’m left with questions … What happened to the poor little hamster? Does mum stop taking the tablets? What happens next??

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Caitlin

Caitlin

by Mike Kenny

WLTM Productions

Performed by Christine Kempell

There’s a moment in the play where Caitlin asks us just why audiences want to watch others’ pain. And in a month where the world is watching two stars rip each other to bits in public – it’s a great and timeless question.

This piece by Mike Kenny shows us Caitlin’s pain – married to the genius Dylan Thomas, she was a dancer, but if she hadn’t married him, would we ever have heard of her?

Visceral, passionate and raw, the writing opens up old wounds and reveals deep and dreadful love for an unfaithful alcoholic slob.

We’re drawn into their world – the babies and the ghastliness of childbirth, infidelity, violation and violence, including her own attack on Dylan, the stifling little Welsh world she found herself trapped in, the glorious landscape, the mother in law she loathed – and there are moments of laughter, observations on the ridiculous situations she somehow found herself in. This just wasn’t the life she’d thought she’d have, but there’s a sense of inevitability here, the feeling that they’re both trapped and doomed by their mutual fatal-flaw addiction to the booze.

Racketing between loathing and love, indifference and absolute possession, Kempell gives a powerhouse of a performance. Rich-voiced, physical and athletic, she’s absolutely magnificent in Caitlin’s tenderness, eroticism and rage.

Currently in performance at the Rialto for Brighton Fringe and heading to Edinburgh this August

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: An Accidental Birth of an Anarchist

Sussex Playwrights Reviews:
An Accidental Birth of an Anarchist
By Luke Ofield
Directed by Neil Sheppeck
Assistant Director Francesca Boccanera
 
A live theatre performance at The Space, streamed online
 
Alice: Aurea Williamson
Lia: Pip O’Neill
Captain: Michael Jayes
Radio Ben: Gabriel Thomson
 
Two amateur activists get employed on a North Sea oil rig with the sole intention of exercising their right to stage a sit-in protest.
 
Taken from interviews with XR activists and former oil rig engineers, Luke Ofield’s new play at The Space Arts Centre, London is headlining Rising Tides’ Good Cop, Bad Cop 26 festival running alongside the Cop26 talks.
 
A simple set, a thrust stage, scaffolding around the edges with some control panels set the scene.
 
The conversation flows – and it’s a super-current conversation, tapping into everything happening today around climate change and pollution, female voices protesting for the future as the People’s Movement to Protect the Planet.
 
It can feel a bit of an Extinction Rebellion manifesto lecture, yet there are laughs, a wry, dry sense of humour and tetchy wrangling – ‘is this a hostage situation or a therapy session?’ as the enforced company spark snarky little rows while their alliance is starting to form.
 
Tight direction ensures performances bounce along with keen bubbly enthusiasm and urgent intensity from Williamson’s pink cardi-clad mum saving the world for the children and O’Neill’s boiler-suited young idealist with the stats at her fingertips.
 
In contrast, Jayes is a deep and dignified presence, a pragmatic been there, seen it all – til now, with Thomson’s unseen radio voice dialling in chirpy live interjections adding a great sense that there’s a bigger world out there, in the Mrs Wolowitz / Carlton the Doorman tradition.
 
On a technical note – Maybe it’s the venue acoustics, the tech broadcast set up, the internet connection, and with some outside noise and the storm effects, but it was sometimes hard to hear and follow the dialogue and story, especially in heightened moments. I was watching the live stream online so the in-theatre experience would be different.
 
The emergency crisis threatening to overwhelm the rig where they have to work together to avert disaster, putting aside their differences with intergenerational alliance, anger and ‘why won’t you do something’ passion is very now.
 
And it’s another new experience for Sussex Playwrights, being able to enjoy live theatre streamed from London online.
 
Ideal for those who can’t yet go out or go to smaller venues, it opens up the habit of theatre-going to a potentially entirely new audience, and offers equality and inclusion to an existing audience that would love to be able to be there. It’s a great new way to be part of Theatre audiences, and an option I think that is and should be here to stay.
 
90 minutes with a short interval, the play continues 3-12 November at The Space, 269 Westferry Road, London E14 3Rs
 
Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Am I Invisible Yet?

Am I Invisible Yet?

Written and performed by Dunstan Bruce
Directed by Sophie Robinson
Produced by Tom Dussek
Movement coach Jack Kristiansen
Lighting tech Katy Matthews

British band Chumbawamba were for thirty years anti authority, anti fascism, anti authoritarianism, pro rights for all and the class struggle – or, ‘what are you rebelling against?’ ‘what have you got?’

A packed audience of friendly fans greeted a barnstorming new solo show written and performed by band member Dunstan Bruce.

Middle age creeps up and suddenly – there it is. And we have a choice; go gently or go raging. Dunstan’s chosen to rage, rant and roar.

Now for most of us with a pre-digital past, there are boxes of photos, cassettes, maybe the odd VHS.

In future we’ll all be haunted by our billions of digital photos and reels, those ‘ten-years-back’ Facebook surprises already a jolt.

But what if you were in a band? There’s already TV clips, TOTP, chat shows, you in performance, in the papers, in youth. How you looked, how you moved, how you sounded, how you were. Then.

Dunstan’s pursued by the past, memories played out on the old telly screen of the mind; here a back wall screen and projector.

It’s a piece of performance poetry and physical theatre, recited, chanted, repeated, lyrics, slogans, questions and demands, scraps of remembered song.

Often angry and despairing, his clips echoed by glimpses of today’s young female activists, you sense the pride and support for this new generation taking over the rage mantle.

At its best, it’s funniest and most engaging when vulnerability and simplicity take over from the bravado, in the chatty ‘I can’t sing’ spontaneous bits round a guitar folk song.

Standout moments include a physical bit with – a fall? A tantrum? Then ‘Did you see what I did there? I got up!’ had the audience howling.

And some great use of the space, one with a megaphone racing all round the theatre building, downstairs, under the auditorium and back up the other side, emerging panting and triumphant.

From coat to pants the palette’s grey, beige and dull – but there’s a red mini skirted bathing costume and garish suit in the mix, that Am I Invisible Yet? sense of naughty irreverence mixed with the challenge.

A touch of clever lighting closes the show as the spotlight shrinks and focuses down to final moments on his face and a message of hope.

In the end, it feels like a show with two personas. Angry-funny, inyerface-endearing; the punky performance poet and the more mellow, reflective, self mocker, who for me was the most captivating.

There’s more subtlety, nuance and layers to be teased out from the piece, and I do hope it goes on beyond this two night event.

Philippa Hammond