Reviewed – 13th February 2019
“the onstage members create five well-delineated characters and enliven a familiar genre with some fluid story-telling”
Where better to stage a tale of London’s 1920s criminal underworld than in a venue hidden behind anonymous double-doors down a service road below Waterloo Station (yards from where eight men were killed in a 1927 riot between the McDonald and Sabini gangs)? It’s here, as part of the VAULT Festival, that the suitably-named Incognito Theatre Company tell, with immense vitality, a story of two small-time East End gangs. One, all-male, is a group of pals recently demobbed and desperate for the good life; the other is an all-female team who delight in duping drink-sodden gents as they roam London’s clubland in search of a good time. Tiring of the petty rewards to be gleaned from fixing fights and picking pockets, respectively, the brawn and brains realise that they could be better together and form a powerful alliance. Led by the ambitious Felix Vance (George John) they grow into a syndicate of successful felonious enterprises, enjoying glamour and excess to the point where they feel, mistakenly, ready to take on London’s most dominant and vicious gang.
There is another gang at work here in the team of old school friends who founded this now independent theatre group. As well as exuding rambunctious esprit-de-corps, the onstage members create five well-delineated characters and enliven a familiar genre with some fluid story-telling. Angus Castle-Doughty is perfect, attacking the role of pugilist Tom Carlisle with fierce commitment while still creating empathy. Jennie Eggleton inhabits the hard-as-nails Elsie Murphy with chilling accuracy. All display impressive accents and movement, not to mention the stamina necessary when dialogue is woven into a continuous sequence of beautifully lit moments of physical theatre. The non-stop pace allows few pauses for breath with audibility suffering slightly, but even at full pelt the cast manage to invest unlikable characters with redeeming qualities.
The high point is an illegal boxing scene in which bandages are used ingeniously to evoke the ring from various angles, including the vertigo-inducing perspective of the Tom as he takes his dive. Credit goes to Director, Roberta Zuric, Choreographer, Zak Nemorin and Fight Choreographer, Lisa Connell but also to Sound and Lighting by Oscar Macguire and Freya Jefferies. The script sags when the mob reach the height of their infamy as, with nowhere to go, the characters reflect, row, dance and drink together without further exploration of their lives, relationships, or anything else. But that is a minor reduction in the voltage of this energetic display.
The company’s all-female management have clearly inspired a team ethic, as off-stage and on-stage creatives work throughout to create an hour of relentless entertainment. Their slick yet punchy show proves that gangs work well in the West End too.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Tim Hall
Part of VAULT Festival 2019