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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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Reading Rep Theatre



Reading Rep Theatre

Reviewed – 19th October 2021


“a thoroughly modern and uncompromisingly Queer story”


In an age of toppling statues, do we need heroes any more? Reading Rep has just begun its first ever season in a new home with a play which is partly about Oscar Wilde. This multi-facetted new adaptation of Wilde’s only novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is an appropriate choice for a Reading-based community-focused professional producing theatre which has as its mission the transformation of lives through theatre.

The Rep’s new home is an impressive £1m conversion of a former Salvation Army hall on the east side of the town.

Phoebe Eclair-Powell and Owen Horsley’s smart and engaging play interweaves the story of a beautiful man who makes a Faustian pact with his own portrait with that of Wilde himself, who was imprisoned in Reading gaol after being found guilty of gross indecency with another man. For many of us, Wilde remains an inspiring and heroic figure, not only for his literary talent but also for the great injustice of his conviction. An official pardon was issued in 2017, the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the crime for which he was convicted.

Eclair-Powell and Director Horsley have made ‘Dorian’ a thoroughly modern and uncompromisingly Queer story. It is peppered with references to the hit TV series ‘Pose’, EastEnders and even Blackadder. Some 16 roles are shared by a lively and appealing cast of just three young actors.

In this fast-moving show we see Dorian in a Victorian artist’s studio as well as in the gay nightclub Heaven. We are also reminded of the death of George Michael. It features an excellent picture frame themed set by E.M. Perry and some effective lighting by Simeon Miller. There are also some gorgeous costumes supervised by Fran Levin.

Successfully casting a ‘wonderfully handsome’ character of ‘passionate purity’ is no mean feat. Andro Cowperthwaite is a most impressive choice for the role. His characterisation is committed and compelling, his delivery excellent and his physical presence entirely suited to the role.

Ché Francis tackles the difficult role of both Wilde himself and that of Henry Wotton, who convinces young Dorian of the extraordinary value and fragility of his own beauty. In this fairly breathless piece, their delivery sometimes lacked clarity.

Francis was partnered by RADA graduate Nat Kennedy who plays both the painter Basil Hallward and Wilde’s lover Robbie Ross as well as a number of other characters. These were vivid and often appealing performances which made much of the comic material in the play, partly at the expense of genuinely engaging this reviewer’s sympathy for Wilde’s predicament.

According to one psychologist, to be a hero, one has to be deviant. See the play yourself to decide if Dorian’s Wilde is a hero or not. Whatever you conclude, you will be guaranteed a rich and engaging evening from an enterprising company which deserves every future success in its impressive new home.



Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Holly Revell



Reading Rep Theatre until 7th November


Other shows reviewed this month:
Dumbledore Is So Gay | ★★½ | Online | October 2021
Back To The Future | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | October 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | October 2021
Love And Other Acts Of Violence | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | October 2021
Yellowfin | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2021
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | October 2021


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