Tag Archives: Hazel Low

Belly Up

Belly Up

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Belly Up

Belly Up

Forge – The Vaults

Reviewed – 23rd February 2020

★★★★★

 

“Grogan and Higman’s script allows serious debate alongside gratifying comedy”

 

A word of warning passed down the long queue of people waiting to see the new play “Belly Up” at the VAULT Festival – “This is massively inappropriate!”

That didn’t stop a full house wanting to see Julia Grogan and Lydia Higman’s extraordinarily funny and ingeniously written piece, on at the Forge venue for just one night.

It covers similar ground to “The Welkin,” currently being staged at the National Theatre, but in its 60 minutes manages to be a better piece of work, gives a clearer perspective of the wider historical context and has more deep-rooted issues to raise about women’s rights through the ages.

Set at the end of the 18th Century, when George III was in the “middling” stage of his infamous madness, we are introduced to lesbian maidservant Liberty Whiteley (the show’s co-writer Julia Grogan, satisfyingly assured, winningly likeable and utterly credible) who is about to be hanged for murder.

We flash back a year to February 14th 1795 as the engagement party for her master’s conceited foppish son, Barnaby Wallace Croft, and her own sweetheart is being planned. As we see an increasingly outrageous Barnaby (a brilliantly awful creation by Michael Bijok) flirting with other women and generally being a dandy dick (“lay off the canapes as you’ll have a coq monsieur later!”) Liberty confesses in one of her audience asides, “You’ll probably guess who I murdered that night…”

When he tries to force himself upon her Liberty puts a permanent end to his advances: “It was Liberty Whitley in the parlour with the candlestick.”

Realising that she can earn a reprieve if she is pregnant Liberty “pleads the belly” – but then has to find a way of making her claim a reality while stuck in a women’s ward. The only way to escape being banged up in Newgate Prison is to, well, be banged up in Newgate Prison and the best chance on offer is to find a willing accomplice in the insanity ward (into which Liberty is immediately thrown on proclaiming, “I’m a woman and I deserve the right to vote!”).

There’s a wonderful array of colourful characters in this romp, all richly played by five actors, ranging from an S&M jailer (Bijok again) and tart with a heart cellmate Nancy (Anna Brindle, who also excels as Liberty’s lover) to the God-fearing fellow prisoner Keith (a sublime Matthew Grainger) and the resplendent “Mayfair prostitutes” serving up the prison grub (Grainger and Bijok). Annabel Wood is a helpful addition, underlining several of the historical, medical and legal niceties in her various roles.

Design (Hazel Low) is basic but fully functional. In a very limited acting area with little in the way of set, authentic costumes and occasional props (such as movable prison bars) serve their purpose surprisingly well.

Modern language is used effortlessly along with a wildly contrasting mix of musical styles (Noughties pop and a classical string version of Like a Virgin among the playlist, adeptly arranged and composed by Georgina Lloyd-Owen) but nothing seems in the slightest bit incongruous such is the flair and quality of the writing and extremely tight and polished direction by Lauren Dickson.

Grogan and Higman’s script allows serious debate alongside gratifying comedy, which is pleasantly daft without falling to the excesses of Carry On bawdiness.

This is a significant work that has much to say about the treatment of women, justice, choice and sacrifice as well as unjust systems that create victims. The final message about the fight having some optimistic outcomes through history but still not being over is as powerful as you will find in any full-blown drama, let alone a one-off fringe production beneath the railway tracks.

It will be a big disappointment and a real surprise if this Daring Hare Productions show doesn’t develop into considerably greater things. The expert team behind it is surely fearless enough to make it so.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

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The LIttle Prince

The Little Prince

★★★★

Omnibus Theatre

The LIttle Prince

The Little Prince

Omnibus Theatre

Reviewed – 7th December 2019

★★★★

 

“a delight for both children and adults alike”

 

With neon lights now flashing at every turn and Christmas markets in full swing, Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre brings us a touch of something different in the festive season. The Little Prince is a heart-warming tale: the eponymous lead leaves his beloved home, asteroid B612, to embark on a journey across space in the name of friendship. On his travels, he meets the lone occupants of various planets who are mostly ill-equipped for anything near friendship, apart from an unlikely fox.

This is a classic tale by French writer, Saint-Exupéry and explores themes of human imagination and friendship. This adaptation (directed by Marie McCarthy) does justice to a relatively complex fable and the script (Sally Pomme Clayton) hovers thoughtfully over different stops across the universe, managing to simplify the plot without losing its charm.

The set (Sophia Pardon and Hazel Low) surpasses all expectations for a small theatre production: earthy rocks and boulders; a broken, up-turned plane downstage left; a puppet plant baobab; a swathe of white lights shimmering above us as the night sky. The detail is astounding, the efforts commendable.

The lighting (Rachel Sampley) is equally creative. A spotlight displays etchings on rocks and there are bright alien greens and reds. A small chasm at the back of the stage hosts scenic projections which transport us through different planets. A lovely moment is when the Prince climbs aboard his trusty bird and we fly across the universe, complete with uplifting sounds (Jon McLeod) and brighter lighting.

Costume is on par, if not more pleasing. What a joy to see the garlanded rose costumes; the geographer even has a map decorating his tie. We must applaud the sheer effort that have gone towards the aesthetics.

The cast is a trio of star performers. Royce Cronin plays Rose and a range of the other planetary occupants. He is entertaining and lends a panto energy to the piece with his large gestures and hearty song, albeit not the most tuneful. The lead, Comfort Fabian, is a charming and perky Prince, brimming with youthful fun and innocence. The star performance was delivered by Vera Chok. Her acting is enchanting as she transforms from the concerned and narrow-minded pilot at the start into a multitude of stunning characters including the fox who is the most engaging character on stage. She involves children in the audience in dance and jokes and brings the room to life.

I cannot praise enough the efforts that went into the intricate set and prop design. This marries perfectly with a story which tells of the limitless powers to the imagination. This is a journey both about the self and the way we treat loved ones and leaves you full of Christmas cheer. While the main themes clearly shine through, clever more nuanced meanings rustle under the surface of the earthy stage, making it a delight for both children and adults alike.

 

Reviewed by Amy Faulkner

Photography by Dan Tsantilis

 


The Little Prince

Omnibus Theatre until 30th December

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Selfish Giant | ★★★★ | December 2018
Hearing Things | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Orchestra | ★★★ | January 2019
Lipstick: A Fairy Tale Of Iran | ★★★ | February 2019
Tony’s Last Tape | ★★★★ | April 2019
Country Music | ★★★★ | May 2019
Othello: Remixed | ★★★★ | June 2019
Lone Star Diner | ★★★ | September 2019
Femme Fatale | ★★ | October 2019
Fiji | ★★★★★ | November 2019

 

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