Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“delves into an abstracted perspective on very human issues, and is likely to be different from anything you have seen before”
The first thing you will notice about The Noises – a new play brought to The Old Red Lion Theatre by mother-daughter duo Jacqueline Saphra (writer) and Tamar Saphra (director) – is its main character, a dog named Luna. Shut inside a room by her owners her odd, defamiliarised speech is fascinating and hilarious; she calls sex “rump and grunty” and her owners “ma”, “pa” and “my Ellie girl”. She details all those strange things we know dogs do, from re-devouring a partially thrown up chicken (described in delightfully gruesome detail) to hiding one of every pair of shoes owned by various members of the house. Then there is her physicality, designed by movement director Louise Kempton and executed with impressive economical precision by Amy McAllister. The slight vibration of McAllister’s legs and bottom to suggest a wagging tail, the whine in her voice as she demands things from her owner, and an occasional growl are all particularly reminiscent to us dog owners of our own pets. Luna never delves too far into an animal reenactment – she doesn’t shuffle around on all fours as a child might – but there is just enough there to show us that she is not human.
The production begins with an audio description of the set, and special mention must be made to audio description and access consultants Jenni Elbourne and Amelia Cavallo for their work to make the show accessible for the visually impaired. The audio description itself adds to the show and experience, because so much of the play centres around Tom Parkinson’s sound design. Whilst the set is a single “room” with worn lino floor, a cracked ceiling and a single door stage-let, ‘The Noises’ themselves give a sense of the wider world beyond the door. At first these noises are familiar to Luna – a family argument, footsteps, a car outside – but as the play progresses they grow into something more frightening, until eventually they invade the set and even split the ceiling apart!
Thus we move from an amusing depiction of the inner workings of a dog’s mind to a deeper exploration of courage, fear and what it means to be ‘good’. Luna’s connection with the audience, looking us directly in the eye as she teaches us and tells her stories, means we find ourselves reconsidering our own outlooks. This play may revolve around a dog’s perspective, but it delves into an abstracted perspective on very human issues, and is likely to be different from anything you have seen before.
Reviewed by Katy Owen
Photography by Ali Wright
Old Red Lion Theatre until 20th April
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 29th November 2018
“a terrifically performed and well written play”
At a time when many theatregoers are looking to make their annual Christmas pantomime visit, it is interesting to see a show set over the festive period that addresses the subject of mental health in secure ‘special hospitals’ and examines the people who probably should never have been sent there.
Head-rot Holiday is a challenging, yet entertaining black comedy that gives an insight behind the closed doors of a secure institution. Whilst in the main shocking and heartbreaking, the performance shows that sometimes in tragedy there can also be humour. It was written in the early 1990s by Sarah Daniels to highlight injustices in the way that women were incarcerated in places such as Broadmoor Hospital and subsequently how they were often poorly treated. Her research for the play found that daily life was often monotonous and demeaning, women patients were often subjected to sexualised behaviour with many too intimidated to complain.
Bringing this research to life would mean so much material to cover so we see only a snapshot. Featuring three exceptionally competent female actors telling the story of three nurses, three patients and three further characters who have had a significant impact on their lives as well as they have on them. Set in a fictional version of a Broadmoor style hospital we learn about each character through monologues and set pieces in a fast moving, engaging storyline that shows whether you are patient or carer, just how easily life can sometimes take you the wrong way.
As the audience filters into the theatre we see what we later learn are two patients and a nurse. The characters speak with individual audience members which was initially quite disarming. Should we interact or merely watch? The three actors switch into each of their three character roles with ease and are convincing as they portray three very different people. Emily Tucker was worth the price of the admission alone particularly in the manner she played the damaged Ruth and senior nurse Barbara who is in an abusive home relationship. Amy McAllister performs as Dee, Jackie and Chris whilst the parts of Claudia, Sharon and Angel are played by Evlyne Oyedokun.
Will Maynard’s precise direction means each of the scenes moves smoothly and effectively. The simple grey set (Chanto Silva) makes the audience feel that they are literally in a prison. Lighting (Chris McDonnell) is effective particularly with the monologues. The sound (Keri Chesser) appropriately supported and enhanced the atmosphere.
Head-rot Holiday is a terrifically performed and well written play, though it could be argued that some more could have been learned about the main characters and less about the disco the women were expected to attend. Anyone with an interest in mental health or the terrible injustices that went on for decades in special hospitals should beat a path to the Hope Theatre.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Mark Overall
Hope Theatre until 22nd December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: