Tag Archives: Ash J Woodward


The Yard Theatre



The Yard Theatre

Reviewed – 5th June 2019



“at an unsettling, anxiety-inducing pitch, the play takes us to the darkest corners of our society”


In small town America, Sam (Michelle Fox) and her husband John (Mark Quartley) have a thing for guns. ‘Thing’ as in obsession: they can’t leave the house or sleep without one. ‘Thing’ also as in fetish: the cold steel plays a prominent role in their sex life. Sam was kidnapped when she was thirteen. Someone with a gun rescued her. Guns are her comfort and her safety.

But one night, John accidentally shoots Sam in the arm during a sex game, and they decide to cut guns out of their lives completely. This is easier said than done when Sam’s brother Scotty (Nima Taleghani) comes to stay with a full arsenal, and the news reports a local girl, Jessica, has been kidnapped. All of Sam’s unresolved emotions come flooding back. Under the pressure, cracks spread through Sam and John’s marriage, Sam’s mental stability, and their gun-abstinence pact.

Far from being simple gun control propaganda, Sarah Kosar’s Armadillo is bold enough to delve into an issue most of us want to see as black and white. At an unsettling, anxiety-inducing pitch, the play takes us to the darkest corners of our society: where young girls are kidnapped, sexually abused, and murdered. Where even the staunchest anti-gun activists might catch themselves thinking, ‘if I’d had a gun…’

The design team submerges us into the nightmare, creating a paranoid fever-dream of flashing neon lights and pulsing, hallucinatory blackouts (Jessica Hung Han Yun), sharp sounds (Anna Clock), and disrupted media projections (Ash J Woodward). Like ticking bombs, the constant, ominous presence of guns keeps the audience on edge throughout the ninety minutes. Stuffed in couch cushions, under pillows, in the freezer, firearms are littered throughout Jasmine Swan’s clever, intriguing set. Raised platforms display a deconstructed house (a mattress, a toilet), encircled by calf-deep water.

Kosar impressively interrogates the complexity of Sam’s trauma as she struggles with whether she’s justified in being as damaged as she is. “Nothing really even happened!” people love telling her, since her kidnapper threatened but never touched her. However, John and Scotty are noticeably shallower characters. The dialogue between the three of them is uneven, awkward, and unnatural, which carries over into Fox, Quartley, and Taleghani’s delivery. It may be a stylistic choice by Kosar and director Sara Joyce as part of the uncomfortable, surreal aesthetic, but the stilted lines prevent the characters (even Sam) from feeling like real people, which makes them difficult to connect with.

There’s plenty of sharp observation in the play’s themes of addiction, enabling (and the guilt that motivates it), coping with trauma, toxic relationships, fetishising violence, and self-destructive behaviour. Armadillos famously jump when scared, which often results in them being hit by cars that would have harmlessly passed over them. Their defence ironically puts them in more danger. It’s a shrewd analogy for the way Americans reach for automatic weapons in search of safety.


Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Maurizio Martorana



The Yard Theatre until 22nd June


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Hotter Than A Pan | ★★★★ | January 2019
Plastic Soul | ★★★★ | January 2019
A Sea Of Troubles | ★★★★★ | February 2019
Cuteness Forensics | ★★½ | February 2019
Sex Sex Men Men | ★★★★★ | February 2019
To Move In Time | ★★½ | February 2019
Ways To Submit | ★★★★ | February 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


The Divide – 4 Stars


The Divide

The Old Vic

Reviewed – 9th February 2018


“Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy”


A century from now. Sarum, south of the Divide. Post-plague. In the aftermath of a fatal disease which has wiped out most of the male population and consequently blamed on women, the two sexes live geographically separated; men dress in pure white and women in sinful black; homosexual relationships are the norm and heterosexuality is prohibited. Alan Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy. Its reception by those expecting a new experimental play has to some extent ignored its history. It was conceived as a piece of prose which could also be performed as a narrative for voice, first presented in Scarborough (2015) as an innovative five-part, day-long reading, whereas this lavish and detailed production is an adaptation by Baylis Director at The Old Vic, Annabel Bolton.

The Divide is turned from prose to drama using an array of techniques. Laura Hopkins’ versatile, gauze-layered set uses platforms and sliding panels which give a sense of expanded space and is embellished with intricate projections, including hand-written manuscript, and imaginative and meticulous lighting (David Plater and Ash J Woodward). Immaculate Amish-inspired costumes are beautifully devised, adjusting from the initial monochrome as the story progresses and original music by Christopher Nightingale is performed onstage by musicians and choir, all building up a sense of grandeur and expectation. Yet the author’s intended lightness of the tone is signalled with humour from the start. Taken from diaries, letters and meeting minutes, the script is, by nature, wordy. However, in pursuit of theatricality, subtle touches such as the artful, upside-down shadows are easily overlooked and there are some awkward changes of timbre, for example, the candlelit community choir overlap uncomfortably with the down to earth style of the dialogue.

The fluidity and variety in the staging is much needed to hold the audience’s attention for this trim four-hour version and the inevitable wordiness of a production shaped from prose is remarkably performed, even if the characters are often defined by narrative rather than dialogue. Erin Doherty is outstanding as quirky Soween who, through her diary written from the age of nine, recounts the development of her own feelings and relationships and her part in the downfall of the Divide. Jake Davies’ Elihu, her brother, is excellent, portraying innocent perplexity at the workings of the world, and there are fine performances by Weruche Opia as Giella, who sparks the forbidden feelings, Thusitha Jayasundera as Mapa, patriarch of the family and Richard Katz who plays Elihu’s irredeemable tutor.

A dystopian society built on homosexual relationships is perhaps an unintentionally reactionary view, and the influence of Margaret Atwood is hard to deny. But in the end, for all its new ideas, futuristic genre and topical themes, The Divide has Ayckbourn’s hallmark charm and commentary on the misunderstandings and miscommunications between the genders, in a grandiose but watchable production.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington 

Photography by Manuel Harlan


The Divide

Old Vic



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com