Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 14th December 2018
“delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment”
Upon arrival, the corridor to the theatre is packed with an expectant audience, all of adult size barring one. Nonetheless there is a feeling of festive excitement. It seems no matter how suited up and cynical we become, everybody wants a little bit of magic this time of year, and a Christmas Cinderella show seems just the ticket.
Four of the five cast members begin as puppeteers for paper birds and an infant Ella, whilst Bryan Pilkington plays a benevolent and charming father. We’re introduced to Ella first as a crying bundle in a basket, then as a marionette; a clever bit of prop use sees a pair of empty boots being puppeteered about to portray Ella’s adolescence, and finally we are introduced to Molly Byrne as the fully-grown Ella.
Her father’s death is announced by the arrival of step-siblings played by Aimee Louise Bevan and Joel Black, wearing private school uniforms and punishing scowls. Bryan Pilkington transforms effortlessly on stage from kindly father to evil step-mother as he dons a haughty countenance, house coat and matching snood.
The general plot plays out as we expect, with Ella flung in to the role of lowly servant Cinderella, generally being tormented by her new and nasty family. She of course retains a twinkle in her eye and, whilst playing in the forest, she encounters the prince, as played by Charlie Bateman. Here the two bond over a shared avian passion, and Cinderella impresses with her great knowledge of bird calls rather than an innate delicacy and ladylikeness as the classic fairytale would have it, whilst Bateman’s prince is all limbs and enthusiasm, over the sullen and rebellious heir we have come to expect. Instead of glass slippers we have studded Dr. Martens, and instead of the dreaded panto audience participation, we have a pleasantly awkward chat with the prince, trying out his party banter. Most pleasing of all the production choices, though, is Ella’s stepbrother who, rather than conforming to the two-dimensional spoilt brat trope, shows some character nuance, developing a kinship with Ella and gaining her trust as a confidante. Black plays both nasty and nice equally convincingly, and though he’s let down a little by his singing, he pulls off the part very well.
Whilst it’s near impossible to avoid the syrupy sweetness of the Cinderella fairytale, the slightly bloody ending smacks a little of Roald Dahl’s take on proceedings rather than Walt Disney’s, and we enjoy a fairly ominous minor pastiche of ‘The Birds’ in serving the evil step-mother her just deserts.
Well-timed lighting and sound give the illusion of a much grander set-up than a fifty-seat pub theatre, and on the whole, the production does a lot with a little. There are some ropey vocals, and at times there’s a bit too much acting considering the intimacy of the auditorium, nonetheless, the Jack Studio Theatre delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Jack Studio Theatre
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything
Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 15th May 2018
“Most problematic, I found, was the assumption that men watch porn and women do not”
Olly Hawes greets us as we sit down. He is a theatre maker, the writer of ‘The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything’ and one of its performers. He is joined onstage by actor Molly Byrne. Their interaction before this point has been a half hour audition six days ago, and an hour or so of chatting this evening before the show. She doesn’t know what she will be reading, and the play is performed by a different female performer each night. This is an investigation into Hawes’ own misogyny, into his influence upon the world, into his relationship to porn and how much this kind of imagery does or does not begin to dictate our actions and our interactions with the world. He asks whether we can intellectually legitimise porn. At the same time he also questions the ethics of asking someone to read unseen material containing graphic sexual content.
Hawes is a socialist, we learn, who does his best to avoid paying tax, who shops in charity shops because the clothing industry is so unethical but doesn’t mind a bit of cocaine at the weekend, who supplements his career as a theatre maker with private tutoring but doesn’t believe in the private education system. He is flawed, full of contradictions, and as a result ultimately relatable. As a performer, Hawes is charming and likeable, which creates a lovely dichotomy between the graphic descriptions of his hard-core porn habit and his onstage persona.
Formatically the show is experimental and nonlinear, weaving between personal experience and fantasy, discussing and existing upon the boundary of what is real and what is not. This experimental approach is engaging and makes an extreme topic easy to connect with. However at points the piece meanders too far, perhaps trying to cover too much in one window of time, and it is Part 3: Porn, that is the most impactful and developed segment of the show. Hawes intersperses the show with moments of audience interaction that give us time outside of the narrative and balance the piece really well. This is something he also tries to do at the end, turning the space from a theatre to an open forum of discussion between the audience and the performers, however unfortunately the open endedness of this form means the effect is rather more like a trailing off. It is a risk that relies on the audience being brave enough to comment and ask questions, an interesting risk but one that needs a contingency plan if the audience do not offer questions.
Most problematic, I found, was the assumption that men watch porn and women do not. It is a binaristic, unnecessary and generalised gendering of the division between people who watch porn and don’t, and is also solely heteronormative. If this is Hawes’ experience of talking to people of different genders about porn, it needs to be couched in the language of personal experience, not propounded as something universal.
This is an interesting piece of work, a piece that challenges our perceptions of what is going on behind closed doors and investigates Hawes’ relationship to porn and, intertwined, to women. Hawes has an exciting voice, unafraid to play with form and exist on the boundary between theatre and performance art. This piece requires a more developed ending, and a streamlining of focus to fulfill its evident potential.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything
Camden People’s Theatre until 17th MAy