Tag Archives: Justin Williams

Who Cares

Who Cares

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Who Cares

Who Cares

Cage – The Vaults

Reviewed – 21st February 2020

★★★★★

 

“The lightness in the whole production betrays the skilful way in which the story is told and the issues explored”

 

Austerity Britain has a lot to answer for with its meaningless and mean-spirited social re-engineering responsible for many devastating things in contemporary society, not least the tearing apart of communities.

Many writers have been inspired by the crisis yet in Conor Hunt’s powerful new play “Who Cares” politics take a back seat to the more important reality of friendship winning through against all odds.

Last year Anna Jordan’s “We Anchor in Hope” showed how the closure of local pubs to make way for supermarket express stores, classy restaurants and luxury flats was ripping the heart out of community life.

In “Who Cares” the starting point is the same, as friendly Manchester local The Crown faces closure. But the pub is a sanctuary for a young disabled man, the only place he feels safe after being forced to move with his mum from their Camden flat because the council hadn’t the time to fix a broken lift.

Instead of descending into the sort of sentimentality beloved of TV soaps, a play which could so easily have focussed on a person’s disability stands out for concentrating on the value of true friendship, fighting against the odds and breaking away from self-imposed limitations.

The two characters are so well-developed over the course of an hour that this genuinely feels like a promising pilot for a TV sitcom. You can engage and empathise with them from the start and we want to know more about their lives and futures.

Reece Pantry’s Jamie suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of the long-term degenerative condition Muscular Dystrophy. Pantry, who has MD himself, quickly avoids any attempt to milk sympathy, believably portraying the sense of isolation and desperate need to save a pub where he feels accepted for who he is. It is no surprise Muscular Dystrophy UK has been so supportive of the production.

Kyle Rowe has the confident air of a young Christopher Eccleston in the role of pub landlord Daniel. Beneath the bluff Northern exterior lies a tender sincerity and the relationship between the two men is beautifully painted, from Dan helping Jamie fill out important forms to the pair singing Sonny and Cher at a karaoke.

There is an hilarious and touching scene in which Dan finds a Snow White outfit and wears it knowing how ridiculous he looks just to help his friend gain confidence in chatting up girls. The sight of Rowe in the costume will be one of the lasting images from this year’s VAULT Festival.

Emma-Louise Howell directs with a touch that is firm enough to move the plot along, yet with a delicacy that allows the two characters to develop naturally. The lightness in the whole production betrays the skilful way in which the story is told and the issues explored.

The set (Justin Williams) is an extraordinary recreation of a pub interior, at the start littered with the debris of a hen party the night before. Later on comedian Bradley Walsh even manages to make a sort of cameo appearance. It is a good example to others of using decent set and props fully rather than leaving absolutely everything to the imagination. Lighting (Joseph Ed Thomas) and sound (Jack Ridley) also do much to evoke the various moods.

It is refreshing to see such mature writing from someone up and coming and Hunt is clearly going to be a name to watch. Despite its warm heart “Who Cares” also has the capacity to provoke and dares to ask hard-hitting questions in a battered Britain.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Ali Wright

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

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Soho Cinders

★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

Soho Cinders

Soho Cinders

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 28th October 2019

★★★★

 

“despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing”

 

The setting for “Soho Cinders” is Old Compton Street, a street that knows no shame, where theatre goers rub shoulders with prostitutes and local businessmen on their way home are having one last drink as they collide with a younger crowd arriving for their first. It is a world which never really existed but you kind of feel it might have done. It is London as we know it, but with a technicolour gloss coating that fits perfectly with this modern-day retelling of ‘Cinderella’.

With music by George Stiles, Lyrics by Anthony Drewe and book by Drewe and Elliot Davis, the classic fable is given a satirical twist with a plot that is, in turns, comedic, romantic and serious. The mix of politics, scandal and true love is flawlessly balanced so that, despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing.

Young, impoverished student Robbie is ‘Cinderella’, scraping a meagre living in his late mother’s laundrette, but facing eviction from his ‘ugly’ stepsisters who run the strip club next door. He just gets by with the occasional pay off from a local ‘Lord’, but when he begins a secret liaison with the already engaged Mayoral candidate, he looks set to lose everything. And everyone. Luke Bayer captivates as Robbie, having us rooting for him throughout. When he sings “Happy ever afters always turn out wrong”, we both wish and know that he’ll be proven wrong and he’ll find his prince. Part of me, however, wishes he would straighten up and fall for his co-worker and best-friend ‘Velcro’. Millie O’Connell imbues Velcro with a warmth, loyalty and irreverent wisdom that makes it one of the stand-out performances.

The show stealers are surely Clodagh and Dana, the stepsisters, though they do have a head start. Davis’ script is overflowing with brilliant one liners and these sisters have the lion’s share of them. Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman certainly make a meal of them too with unforgettably hilarious performances. But each character is given their moment to shine, while the ensemble highlights Adam Haigh’s dynamic choreography. Stiles and Drewe’s eclectic score is a catchy mix of ballads, duets and showstoppers, ranging from the achingly beautiful “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” through to the fiery “I’m So Over Men”, which is reprised with a clever double-entendre re-interpretation of its title.

“Soho Cinders” is a musical with a heart full of passion and a belly full of laughs. As the nights draw in and the cold fronts approach the city, this show will certainly reignite the cinders and leave you with a feeling of warmth. The moral of the fairy-tale is in plain sight, but it doesn’t quench the enjoyment. This incredibly talented cast have as much fun as the audience. An audience who will still be humming the tunes way after midnight. Go! You’ll have a ball.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Soho Cinders

Charing Cross Theatre until 21st December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Harold and Maude | ★★★★ | February 2018
It Happened in Key West | ★★ | July 2018
Mythic | ★★★★ | October 2018
Violet | ★★ | January 2019
Amour | ★★★★ | May 2019
Queen Of The Mist | ★★★★ | August 2019

 

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