Tag Archives: Hazel Low

Paradise Now

Paradise Now!


Bush Theatre

PARADISE NOW! at the Bush Theatre


Paradise Now

“Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s direction makes so much sense and is so smooth and clever, that it lifts the play further off the page”


There’s a moment when the man handing over my ticket says: “You do know the running time is 2 hours 40, right? Including interval!” that I thought ‘how can I make a polite run for it?’ Afterall, as he pointed out, most plays at the Bush Theatre are little more than an hour. I hadn’t eaten, I’d travelled an hour to get to West London; my dog was at home. 2 hours 40 feels like a long time for a play in 2022.

It turns out that I would sit through six more hours of Paradise Now! (by Margaret Perry). I would accept days of an Inheritance-like sprawl of this play – about an intergenerational group of women dealing with loneliness and unfulfilled ambition, as they get sucked into the heady world of multi-level marketing by Alex (Shazia Nicholls).

Five women, from different ages and backgrounds, all on a quest to find meaning in life. The story focuses on Gabriel Dolan (Michele Moran), who lives in a London houseshare with her big sister Baby (Carmel Winters) and TV-presenter-wannabee Carla (Ayoola Smart). Gabriel has recently experienced a significant depressive episode, something her big sister reminds her of constantly when she comes home from her retail job, knackered. “You won’t sleep on the couch again, will you?” Gabriel asks, and Baby immediately falls asleep on the couch.

Gabriel’s journey into selling essential oils to other women is motivated by wanting to help her sister get out of the 30,000 hours she’s given to the store – there’s a heartbreaking scene at the very end of the play where Baby says no-one even gave her a leaving card when she retired (but even the most heartbreaking moments are riddled with Perry’s wry jokes and whip-sharp commentary on life).

Enter the stage: Alex, a woman who recruits other women to sell essential oils. She’s glamorous, an excellent seller, but cracks of insecurity start to show. She’s acted brilliantly by Nicholls, who manages to convey the multi-faceted personality of this multi-level marketing guru with precision and humour. She encourages women who feel they have nothing to be proud of in life to start mini-businesses and become someone – in this case, by selling “a little touch of luxury at an affordable price point.” But she’s no saint, as we see her begin to unravel throughout the play – at one point while being attacked by a robot vacuum cleaner.

The essential oils business (called Paradise) is marketed as a ‘team, a family’, and our band of characters enter into the business with varying levels of enthusiasm. For some, like Gabriel, it appears to be a lifeline, and offers a chance for her to experience a different kind of life where people believe in her for the very first time. The enthusiasm is perfectly tempered by Anthie (Annabel Baldwin), Carla’s girlfriend, who, as an outsider, brings a note of healthy skepticism to the proceedings. Baldwin uses their face to convey bafflement at what’s going on throughout, and they have both outstanding comic timing and dance skills, employed to show their fruitless search for success.

My only (tiny) criticism is the script’s tendency to throw in exciting-sounding backstories that aren’t fully explored. Laurie (a slightly unhinged and blunt character played exquisitely by Rakhee Thakrar) reminds Alex multiple times that she knows her from school. Alex can’t remember her, but we never found out what happened at school to make her reappear in the very offbeat way she has. There’s also a coming-out memory, which didn’t feel completely necessary.

However, these minor dramaturgical questions aren’t enough to detract from the sheer joy of a production that sings: there’s simply no real bum note. The writing is sharp and with one-liners genuinely so funny that the actors sometimes swagger when they say them because they know they’d raise the roof at a stand-up set. The set is modern, dynamic, with space-saving furniture devices that would leave IKEA begging for the patent from set-designer Rosie Elnile. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s direction makes so much sense and is so smooth and clever, that it lifts the play further off the page and thrusts it to even greater heights than the already tight and genius-script.

It is, fundamentally, a joy, with meditations on ambition, exploitation and loneliness all delivered in a way that makes the audience genuinely empathise with the characters.

Go, go twice, go again. You’ll have no regrets.



Reviewed on 9th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Helen Murray



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Lava | ★★★★ | July 2021
Favour | ★★★★ | June 2022
The P Word | ★★★ | September 2022


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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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