Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 10th January 2019
“Warden has raised important questions for our social media obsessed world”
Liv Warden’s play Anomaly is described as: “An unsettling debut play, exploring sisterhood, reputation and loyalty.” Phillip Preston, a powerful man in the film industry, has been arrested for GBH, after assaulting his wife. But the play is not about him. The only characters are his three daughters Piper, Penny and Polly, played by Natasha Cowley, Katherine Samuelson and Alice Handoll respectively, and their struggle to deal with what has happened to their family, and to cope with the media fallout. Piper, the eldest, works in the family business and has to try to keep it intact during the scandal following her father’s arrest. Penny is an actor in LA, who is in demand on the chat show circuit, and who has, until now, benefitted from being Preston’s daughter. Polly is the youngest, and the most fragile, newly out of rehab, both a catalyst, and a victim of excessive media attention.
The three women do not often communicate directly with each other, giving a fractured feeling to the play, appropriate to their fractured worlds. They are a strong cast, and each convince in their roles. Alice Handoll’s Polly is engaging and moving as a rebellious but vulnerable young woman. She is the only one who is worried about their mother. Penny becomes more ‘human,’ and likeable as the story develops, but Piper does not follow the expected route. It’s a tribute to Natasha Cowley that I really didn’t like her character, despite her moments of emotion as revelations pile up.
Holly Ellis’ lighting design, sometimes, having the sister who is speaking lit, while the other two remain in the shadows, works well to portray the separate struggles of the women and the lack of any true ‘sisterhood’. The voices of unseen characters, such as a talk show host, a radio presenter and Piper and Penny’s spouses work to provide context and give the women a way of telling their story. But, of course, those stories are twisted and manipulated by the media. The sister’s distant and chilly relationships fit beautifully into Charlotte Dennis’ white, contemporary set. It is hyperstylised, with a slash of red, like a torn piece of a tabloid headline and just three white blocks that the sisters sit on. The sound design, by Fuzz Guthrie is also atmospheric and abstract.
Anomaly an unsettling play that leaves the audience questioning; why do we fixate on family tragedy and the pain of others, particularly the rich and famous. And why do we still blame women who perhaps don’t speak out, or who cannot accept the reality of the male brutality that they are confronted with. Your father is still your father, if he causes serious harm to your mother. How would that feel, how would we cope if it happened in our family? Warden has raised important questions for our social media obsessed world, and Adam Small’s direction keeps the stylised world of the play on point. This play packs a punch with its timely look at an issue that has been brought to the fore by scandals like the Weinstein affair.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Headshot Tom
Old Red Lion Theatre until 2nd February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop
Reviewed – 1st February 2018
“the three actors delivering palpable chemistry”
Welcome to the Kennedy administration, a time when race riots are escalating, the fear of nuclear war is unending, and the President keeps locking himself in the pool house with young ladies. In this piece developed through the London Theatre Workshop, Lizzie Freeborn takes us on a musical exploration of one of most glamorous and fraught periods in modern culture.
The show opens with a wide-eyed Irish girl called Maria (Sylvie Briggs), who finds herself in the confidence of Jackie Kennedy after being taken to America by the seedy Davy (Adam Small). Briggs is very engaging to watch and exudes an innocence which greatly contrasts with the scheming and deception the plot is so rife with.
Marcia Sommerford is poised but determined as Jackie Kennedy, and brings strength to a woman having to accept her husband’s infidelities and the pressures of a high-profile existence. “This isn’t a home, it’s an institution!” her husband reminds her harshly as she tries to create some domestic normality. Robert Oliver is suitably charming as JFK, and possesses an incredibly powerful voice (very fitting for the leader of the free world). Kenny O’Donnel (Lewis Rae) struggles to work for the interests of both parties while remaining impartial, and Rae succeeds in showing the conflict of professional obligations and personal opinions.
The costumes (Hal and Ruthie Theatrical Design) are very well done and include a notable number of changes for each character. Jackie Kennedy’s silk nightgown is a clever reminder that the First Lady was not lacking in sex appeal, albeit a more subtle kind than displayed by her more buxom love rival. In ‘Pentaxia’ we are shown the chemistry between JFK and his two partners as they dance around each other. This number demonstrates how JFK can be both an affectionate husband and a serial womaniser, with the three actors delivering palpable chemistry between them.
The subplot involving integration adds a nice balance to the glamour of the Kennedy-centred storylines, and leads to one the standout songs ‘You’ll Hear the South Roar’. Ashley Knight throws himself into the role of the prejudiced Southerner Jerome Kingsley and Florence Odumosu gives a powerful performance as Grace, a black staff member trying to protest injustice without jeopardising her position. Her son Marvin (Jamal Franklin) might even be more charming than the POTUS himself and his number ‘You Bet You Be Glad’ is particularly enjoyable.
Freya Tilly plays Marilyn with an effective differentiation between the public persona and the private, and gives an impressive rendition of the infamous ‘Happy Birthday’ incident without straying into parody territory. Marilyn’s death is staged particularly well (Tim McArthur) as the star walks away from the president who has grown bored of her and towards a brightly lit doorway at the back of the stage.
This was a thoroughly entertaining experience that offered alternative perspectives on iconic moments from this period. The score is strong throughout with more than a few standout moments from the cast, a definite recommendation.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop until 24th February