Theatre Review: Coriolanus // National Theatre

At a time when our world appears unrecognisable, where the very crux of democracy is being questioned as we are denied our liberties for the sake of public health in this pandemic, and as many people all over the world fight for human rights for black, Coriolanus has rarely seemed so relevant.

Caius Martius, later renamed Coriolanus after his heroic victory against the Volscian city of Corioles, seals his own fate by underestimating the power of the people.

Although perhaps one of Shakespeare’s less well-known plays, Tom Hiddleston’s charged performance allows us to unpack the complexities of his character as he oscillates between family duty and a soldier’s pride.

Image Credit: Johan Persson

However, it was Deborah Findlay as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ fiery mother, who stole the show.

Although it may appear that this show is about an arrogant soldier out for revenge on an ungrateful rabble and the state which exiled him, it is equally about the role of a mother.

Contrary to the dated stereotype, Volumnia holds a great deal of power in Rome via her son, and she refuses to stay quiet while her son makes a mess of his position in power.

She is far from humble, taking credit for her son’s achievements and aggressively demanding that he obey her requests whenever diplomacy is required.

While the family relationships are not fully explored in the piece, the mother-son dynamic we see on stage drives the narrative and, in the end, causes the protagonist’s downfall.

Image Credit: Johan Persson

The pertinence of this piece in 2020 can be seen through the questions Shakespeare poses:

What are the consequences of arrogance and hubris in a leader? How easy is it to manipulate the population? Is it enough to demand power through one’s bloodline, or should it be earned?

All these questions are meaningfully explored in this performance as Coriolanus’ sense of entitlement, mixed with his underestimation of the very people he was born to govern, leads inexorably to a disastrous outcome.

The production was modern and stripped back, focusing the audience’s attention on the human relationships onstage; however, at times it felt too bare, with little signal of a change of location.

However, a relatively sparse set became Rome with simple props and set design paired with clever lighting.

Hiddleston battle wounds were skilfully executed, and Aufidius’ drenching of himself in Coriolanus’ blood as he hangs by his feet onstage was a technical triumph.

Image Credit: Johan Persson

The exploration of male identity and its interconnected relationship with strength, battle and victory is explored in the piece as Coriolanus succumbs to anger and revenge then finds himself pulled in direct opposition by love, tenderness and loyalty.

Tom Hiddleston gives an enchanting performance, as we see how being too honest and fearless can give rise to unintended consequences.

War and conflict are tropes that run through the play, and whether real or metaphorical, we as a society are always at war.

At war with other countries, at war with one another on political decisions, at war with ideological beliefs that underpin the workings of the state.

As the world protests against engrained and institutional racism, this piece reminds us of the power we can have as a people. The power for long-lasting, unprecedented change.  

The full production can be watched until 7pm June 11th 2020 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHqkEruwBT0

Featured image: Johan Persson

REVIEW | I am (not) Kanye West | Bunker Theatre

F4C0384C-9A74-4216-9907-D6E07D5305D4This show is the story of Tash, a girl from East London who goes off to university with all the hopes and dreams of any fresher, only to find out it isn’t as she expected.

This one-woman piece is an exploration of the Black female queer experience in a world in which being ‘woke’ and ‘checking one’s privilege’ is widely accepted and encouraged.

However theory and practice are two very different things and Tash’s story demonstrates just how prejudiced and ignorant people can be despite their education or open-minded nature.

Toying with the notions of tokenism, Tash gets herself involved in a project headed up by a posh blond male white (everything she is not) Masters student who intends to capitalise on Tash’s identity.

Watching this show reminded me of so many of my own experiences at university, where it can be difficult for anyone to find people on their wavelength, never mind when you are part of one or more minorities.

Although 8% of university students in the UK are Black compared to 3.3% of the UK population, it can nonetheless be an isolating experience for Black students.

Feminism as a school of thought is also examined cleverly in this production as we see a stark division between different waves of feminism where there appears to be little overlap between different communities all supposedly fighting for the same cause – female emancipation.

During the story Tash encounters homophobia from the African Caribbean Society and racism from the LGBTQ+ community, and it is the intersectional nature of her identity that her fellow students seem to struggle with.

The performance lacked momentum as it approached the end, however it picked back up soon enough, ending with a heartwarming if not deflating conclusion that we are far less accepting than we give ourselves credit for.

This show is not to be missed, especially for those at university, and I cannot recommend it enough – we need more theatre productions coming from Black women in the UK! I hope to see this on a UK tour soon.

REVIEW | Asking For It | Birmingham REP

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Written by Louise O’Neill and adapted for the stage by Meadhbh McHugh, ‘Asking For It’ is a play about consent and gender relations in our society. We are introduced to Emma, played by Lauren Coe, and her group of friends at an Irish secondary school. However, at a party, she is brutally gang raped and abused with little to no memory of the events. Photos of the assault are posted on Facebook and her life is changed forever as she battles with the perpetrators of the attack as well as her own family and her inner demons.

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As a 25-year old woman who went to the university where the rape chat scandal happened, this show hit me very hard as the events made me think of this scandal and all those involved. Lad culture and sports culture can often play a role in this sort of abuse, and one of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is why we as a society have raised boys and men to believe that abusing, raping and disrespecting women is a way to be seen in a better light by their peers. Rather than looking at this production and seeing a group of badly-behaved boys doing something wrong, we need to be taking some responsibility for the actions of younger generations and the way in which the patriarchy normalises them.

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What I found particularly interesting about this production was the role of social media in the young characters’ lives, and the speed and ease at which someone can be victimised and belittled. The internet is a marvellous thing, and it enables me to speak to you all on this blog right now, but this show made me grateful to be of a generation where Snapchat, Instagram and other similar platforms did not exist. Although Facebook was a big deal when I was growing up, the selfie culture was not as extreme and most of our phones weren’t good enough to have those kinds of apps.

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This thrilling production raises questions about consent, and the grey areas in between. The ambiguity surrounding consent – people not knowing whether they have been assaulted or not, how to ask for consent without feeling uncool – is a contested subject, but it is shows like these that enable us to speak about these issues. It is tremendously worrying how many cases of rape and sexual assault go unreported, and the way in which survivors are mistrusted or made to doubt themselves is a huge trope in this play. This is a show about fear, about courage, and about the toxic masculinity that is plaguing our society.

REVIEW | Extraordinary Wall (of Silence) | Birmingham Hippodrome

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Extraordinary Wall (of Silence) is a show that questions our assumptions of normality and physical superiority as a society, and makes us reflect on our own behaviours and beliefs. Incorporating elements of physical theatre, Ad Infinitum have created a masterpiece exploring the experience of a handful of individuals and the deaf community as a whole. Based on interviews with a number of people of different ages and backgrounds, the company expose and analyse some of the most challenging moments of those interviewees’ lives. As someone who is not part of the deaf community, I found the piece incredibly informative as it took us on a journey over centuries of historic events and decision-making, through various schools of thought including the condemnation of sign language as a primitive means of communication – something we now know to be a valid and invaluable language.

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The soundtrack was highly affective, enhancing the production and making for a truly visceral experience. The touching stories of the characters, such as one who has a cochlear implant but struggles in ways we might not have expected, are tremendously emotive, and the cast of four multirole effortlessly as we follow the characters through their life journeys, from abuse, manipulation and bullying, to solidarity, love and belonging. This production is an emotional rollercoaster that nonetheless manages to remain thoroughly enjoyable throughout. The set was stripped back, allowing us to use our imaginations as the actors mimed the scenery, and it was not hard to get lost in the story due to the utterly captivating way in which the company perform.

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Extraordinary Wall (of Silence) is a tremendously enlightening piece of evocative theatre that stays in your mind long after the show has come to an end; we need to be telling more stories like this from the perspective of marginalised and underrepresented communities so that we can better understand and empathise with one another. As a hearing person, I was reminded of my own selfishness and of how I can make assumptions that are unhelpful, which is now something that I will endeavour to improve. This piece makes us want to be better and to instigate positive change in our society without a patronising or proselytising tone.

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REVIEW | Snow White | Birmingham Hippodrome

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With a new decade on the horizon what better way to end the year than with the fairest panto in the land? Every year the Birmingham Hippodrome pulls out all the stops for its fantastical pantomime featuring a star-studded cast, and this year did not disappoint. As Queen Dragonella hatches a plan to kill Snow White and reclaim her title as fairest of them all, this show cleverly subverts our expectations and provides an unexpected twist on the traditional fairy tale we all know so well. The set and lighting design were ingenious, and the costumes were truly dazzling, full of vibrant colours, sparkle and swish. What’s more, the cast went through several costume changes, keeping the audience on their toes as to what they would appear in next – especially Andrew Ryan’s costumes which were by far my favourite.

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The cast of this show is immensely talented, featuring Faye Brookes as Snow White and Joe McElderry as the spirit of the mirror, their faultless vocals and emotive performances really made the show something to remember. Doreen Tipton with her benefit fraud Lady in Waiting character was highly entertaining, keeping the show relevant to the Midlands with her yam yam accent, while the Seven Dwarves’ performances were extremely impressive – Craig Garner’s solo in particular was a highlight for me. 2009 Britain’s Got Talent winners, Flawless, were exactly what it says on the tin! They performed their choreography as the Queen’s Guard with effortless ease, proving to be a big hit with the kids in the audience.

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Moreover, Matt Slack was, as always, impeccable. As well as making all the parents and adults in the audience erupt into fits of laughter with his saucy jokes and teasing audience interaction, he invited a number of children up onstage to take part in the show and have some fun dancing to a silly routine. However, his montage of pop songs within a conversation with Prince Harry of Harborne, as well as the 12 Days of Christmas routine, both performed with precision and perfect timing, were some of the most hysterical parts of the show.

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Although always unseen, the orchestra were brilliant, allowing the show to go off without a hitch and even getting involved in the 12 days of Christmas routine as at one point as toilet rolls went flying from stage to audience to pit and back again… you had to be there. Another highlight of the show was the special effects, as Muddles flew over the audience on his reindeer-led sleigh. This in Act 1, along with a huge Dragon coming out into the audience in Act 2, really did add a wow factor to the show as all the children, myself included, were in awe of the reindeer and Dragon flying over us. This spellbinding pantomime is certainly not one to be missed this festive season, bringing family fun to the Midlands, but never at the expense of the parents! Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 2nd February 2020.

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REVIEW | Peter Pan | Birmingham REP

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An iconic children’s tale, Peter Pan is a part of most people’s childhood in one way or another, which is why it was so exciting to see this reimagined version for the Birmingham REP. Unlike the original, Wendy and her brothers are foster children living with their single, working class foster parent on a housing estate in Birmingham. Wendy has been forced to take on the role as mother to her brothers and is finding it difficult to negotiate between the role of parent and child. I love the concept of this production, adapting an old story and turning it into something more modern and socially relevant for audiences today, and the choice to cast Captain Hook as a woman is fantastic to see, and Nia Gwynne plays the role wonderfully.

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Although I enjoyed the show, I must admit that there were elements I was not keen on. The first half of the piece seemed disjointed and lacking a true sense of fluidity, where loud and clumsy scene changes combined with jarring fluctuations in tone and ambience made the play less polished than I had hoped. This lack of flow was not helped by difficulties flying as the actors glided from harnesses through the air, bashing into parts of the set on a couple of occasions. However, I found the second half of the piece much more thrilling, featuring a fantastic dance sequence from the Lost Ones and a tense fight scene that had all the children in the audience on the edge of their seats.

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Lawrence Walker as Peter Pan was terrific, and it was refreshing to see his character’s psyche dissected within the piece so that we better understand why he refuses to leave Neverland and why he distrusts mothers. Mastering flying with the harness effortlessly, he was a joy to watch and so were the Lost Ones, full of energy and zeal. Mirabelle Gremaud gives an ingenious performance as Tink, speaking in Minion-like gibberish, she added a much-needed touch of humour and lightness to the performance.

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I greatly admired the idea to create all the set from recycled materials, showing that magic and fantasy can come from anything and anywhere, and pertinent at a time when the environment is becoming more and more at the forefront of our consciousness as a society. The marvellous costumes worn by the set really made Neverland come to life, full of colour, vibrancy and humour, they subtly revealed traits of the characters’ personalities before the audience had even been introduced to them. This poignant, funny and adventurous show is a social comment on gender roles and the concept of family and childhood, and the beautiful ending sequence of the piece will undoubtedly warm your heart.

 

REVIEW | How The Grinch Stole Christmas | The Alexandra

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At this time of year, we all love a bit of festive fun, and this show provides just that. A show for all the family, Dr. Seuss’ tale comes to life onstage as we come up close and personal with the green monster who learns to love Christmas once again. The costumes and makeup for this production are quirky and stunning, taking us on an adventure to Whoville where the citizens look like they’ve just walked out of a Mr Blobby music video. The ensemble did a splendid job of waddling around onstage and making us truly believe they were creatures from another world.

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Isla Gie as Cindy Lou is very cute, and this incredibly talented child will surely go far. Her vocals were flawless and her choreography so perfectly timed, you’d believe she’d been performing for as long as the rest of the cast! Every time she sang it made my heart hurt, and no matter how much of a scrooge you might be, she is undeniably adorable. Edward Baker-Duly as the Grinch was thoroughly entertaining, channelling the Jim Carrey style-performance we love so much but putting his own twist onto the role. The children couldn’t get enough of his crude jokes and vulgar noises, shouting out to him and erupting into fits of giggles whenever he pranced about onstage in his green gorilla-like costume. Steve Fortune also deserves praise for his careful story-telling as Old Max, captivating all the children in the audience as he looks back on his adventures with the Grinch.

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The set in the first half of the performance, however, left a lot to be desired. Sparse and unnoticeable, I was left wanting more as little was seen of Whoville and nothing at all of the Grinch’s lair. It appeared that too much of this half of the show was performed on an empty, or almost, stage. Although, in the second half the set was far more exciting, painting a picture in the audience’s mind of the inside of Cindy Lou’s house. Nevertheless, the orchestra’s performance was fantastic, performing the iconic soundtrack we all know, and creating a veritable festive extravaganza for all the family. Not to mention the surprise fake snow that covered the audience near the end of the piece which made the whole room laugh and sing along. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a magical show filled with festive cheer and not to be missed this Christmas season.

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REVIEW | The Snow Queen | Birmingham Old Rep

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Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is one of the most iconic shows for families during the festive season, and although we are still in November, this show got me fully in the festive spirit. Having followed the journey of the Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) Ensemble and the costume, set and lighting design teams for weeks now, it was wonderful to see it all come together in a magical show perfect for all the family. From my interviews with these various departments I learned exactly what goes into making a Christmas show such as this (these interviews can be found on the Birmingham Local TV website, Facebook and Twitter pages), and I must commend the Old Rep for creating a brilliant show on a very modest budget.

In this 1980s style production, the music and costume were reminiscent of a David Bowie music video. The Snow Queen hurtles across the stage on her glowing motorbike, and stomps around in her dramatic silver outfit looking like a human icicle. Amy Carroll has done a wonderful job of bringing this iconic decade to life onstage and the Snow Queen’s glowing cape was definitely a highlight for me! Christina Harris as Gerda was a stand-out performance, believably innocent, genuine and loving, and her character’s unwavering devotion to her best friend was heart-warming – even for the adults in the room.

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The children in the audience appeared to love the show, laughing, shouting and being shocked at all the right moments: proof that this show has achieved what it set out to do which was to entertain and amaze the children of the West Midlands. What’s more, Charlie Keable as Hader and Tom Sturgess as Crow also deserve a mention, as these two talented performers added just the right amount of light-hearted humour to the piece, making the children erupt into fits of laughter and getting them to clap and shout out to the characters onstage. The BOA Ensemble did themselves proud, multi-roling and even going into the audience at one point to scare the children. Despite some clumsily performed mirror choreography, the Ensemble added a sense of splendour to the piece and supported the main characters effortlessly. Congratulations to the Old Rep and to BOA for a fantastically festive, fun-filled family show!

 

REVIEW | One Under | Birmingham REP

SL9D5B6AOne Under is a play exploring the concepts of family, loss and reality, as we are transported into the heart of a tragedy that unites all the characters. Cyrus, a traumatised train driver struggling to come to terms with a horrific experience goes on a quest for answers that might help him understand and come to terms with the recent events in his life. However, as things spiral out of control, reality becomes less and less certain when he begins to find clues that could lead him to the answers he seeks. I was impressed by the creative captioning and audio descriptions available to the audience, making the piece accessible to all – something that more theatres need to be doing to make the Arts more inclusive and open.

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Although in need of some fine tuning, this piece raises some important questions about mental ill-health, guilt and trauma, and how one’s judgement can be clouded by grief, but I found that the piece lacked momentum. It felt overly-long, so I would have like to have seen an increase in pace as some scenes stagnated at times. Moreover, the plot felt unnecessarily convoluted as if it were trying to do much. I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening and the significance of the events in the play, and I think this worked against the production as it was off-putting for the audience. Certain scenes felt redundant, adding to the excessively slow pace of the production, and I noticed myself thinking about the time and how long was left of the show.

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Nevertheless, the show offered a thought-provoking analysis of what happens to those left behind once someone has committed suicide. As the characters appear desperate for an explanation or someone to blame, we see how their struggle to make sense of the truth tears them apart. As someone who has experienced a friend committing suicide, I related to the characters and the frustration of all the unanswered questions they had, but felt that some of the plot was a little far-fetched. This is a promising piece of theatre performed by a talented cast, but is in need of some tweaks and changes. s

REVIEW | Acosta Danza | Birmingham Hippodrome

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As the relatively new Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta has fast become a huge part of the cultural scene in the West Midlands, so I was keen to see what his own dance company would bring to the stage and I must admit, it was more diverse and exciting that I had anticipated. The four pieces, ‘Satori’, ‘Paysage, Soudain, la nuit’, ‘Faun’ and ‘Rooster’, were a wonderful ensemble of contrasting choreography in varying styles, tones and paces, which gave the evening a sense of adventure as the different performances took the audience to different places and back within the space of just a few hours.

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‘Satori’ was beautifully choreographed and wonderfully performed, however, I did not find myself moved by the piece. I was not convinced by the huge purple sheet used for a large part of the piece to connect and/or trap the dancers, (reminiscent of Motionhouse’s Charge, but the wrong material was used in the case of ‘Satori’) which felt clunky and lacking elegance. However, after a surprisingly uninspiring first Act, ‘Paysage, Soudain, la nuit’ was, for me, the highlight of the show. The duets were breath-takingly executed, and I was utterly consumed by Lidberg’s spellbinding choreography. As well as this, the ensemble was outstanding: the trust between them so great that not even a twinge of hesitation could be detected for even the most difficult of manoeuvres. Two stand-out performances in this piece were Marta Ortega and Mario Sergio Elías who captivated the audience making everything look effortless.

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The choreography in ‘Faun’ I found to be rather self-indulgent, but Zeleidy Crespo’s outstanding performance deserves high praise. In stark contrast to the first three pieces, ‘Rooster’ was a fun and light-hearted performance full of vibrant colours, a well-known soundtrack and a brilliant appearance from Carlos Acosta himself. The block colours used for the costumes reminded me of Mark Morris and Ethan Iverson’s Pepperland, and the playful tone of the piece was the perfect way to end the show – the audience fell into laughter as the lights went down. It was great to see such significant roles for Zeleidy Crespo, as tall female dancers are not often seen onstage in certain dance styles, though this begs the question of whether the dance world is complicit in and contributing to the homogenisation of the female body in society. It should not be surprising to see a female dancer of a certain height or body shape, yet it is. I have never seen a female dancer with a body shape like my own onstage unless it was in a hip-hop style production, why is that? Why are female dancers obliged to be petite and small-breasted in certain dance genres associated with class, elegance and femininity?

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