“With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre”
This is the true story of how a floating corpse kept Hitler off our shores. Set in the Home Office in 1943, the Double Cross Committee is busy brainstorming brilliant plans to win the war – exploding seagulls, spies disguised as flamingos and eavesdropping insects are all among their finest ideas. But the winning gambit involves the corpse of a soon-to-be married young man named Bill, who enjoys cocktails at the Ritz, dinner at the Groucho Club, fine tailoring and, oh yes, he’s not real.
Sitting somewhere between Monty Python and Mission Impossible, SpitLip’s ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is full of catchy numbers, quick wit, and a lot of heart. Each cast member transforms in to a plethora of dimensional characters with a mere hip swagger or a slight pursing of the lips. A lot of fun is had with gender roles and stereotypes, and to great effect.
Felix Hagan’s musical direction also sees a brilliant display of composition, and musical ability from the whole cast: each and every one sings beautifully and, believe it or not, raps like a pro. Special mention goes to Zoe Roberts (playing Bevan among others) whose rhythm is infectious – you feel as though you might accidentally join in. Along with his brilliant physical comedy, Jak Malone also has a heart-breaking falsetto – a surprising yet effective combination.
The set (Helen Coyston) and lighting design (Sherry Coenen) create illusions of a much grander space, illustrated with particular prowess during a hectic split-scene between a big, bawdy cabaret song and dance, and a dark and echoing submarine under threat of attack. With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre.
This production has the feel of something just on the cusp of great success – see it before word gets out and there are no tickets left!
“the piece resounds with leitmotifs and slogans that, though memorable, threaten to drown out the subtler refrains that form the crux of the subject matter”
The theatre company ‘Nouveau Riche’, which won The Stage Edinburgh Award for its production of “Queens of Sheba”, present quite vital theatre that is stripped back visually but rich in words that quite often dazzle with their pin-sharp focus. Now at the VAULT Festival for a limited run, “Queens of Sheba” tells stories of racism and misogyny from the perspective of four passionate Black Women. The capital letters are intentional – lifted from the programme notes – but are they really necessary? The message is surely powerful enough in its own right, without the need for the upper-case emphasis.
Based on the poetry of Jessica L Hagan and adapted for the stage by Ryan Calais Cameron, the piece resounds with leitmotifs and slogans that, though memorable, threaten to drown out the subtler refrains that form the crux of the subject matter. You need to read beyond the headline grabbing soundbites to realise that there is a more complicated story. Initially it feels like a bit of a tirade replete with sweeping stock phrases, but these are, in fact, quite moving, individual stories.
On a bare stage the four performers; Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku and Veronica Beatrice Lewis, speak alone, speak in chorus, sing, rap and harmonise with an “all for one and one for all” attitude. Their tales are told with witty self-deprecation. Stories from the office workplace, a disastrous first date and from the queue outside a London nightclub – the latter based on a real incident when they were refused entry to the club for being “too black”. It brings home the truth that issues of racism are not black and white, but have many shades.
For the majority of the audience, though, it does feel like the ‘Queens of Sheba’ are preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of entertainment value. The close-knit choreography defines the unison of these four girls, complemented by the tight harmonies when they burst into a cappella song; and peppered throughout are some delightful comedy moments that give a refreshing nod and a wink to the polemic. There is a particularly pertinent impersonation of a white man’s stumbling malapropisms on his first date with an “exotic” girlfriend.
In a limited time, much ground is covered, but inevitably much is left out too. Both its strength and its weakness. After an hour a kind of relentlessness sets in, like a slam poet who outstays his welcome. But at the same time, we do still want, and need, to hear more from these extraordinary women. This is an emotionally charged piece of theatre that is undeniably urgent.