Tag Archives: Norah Lopez Holden

The Flea

The Flea

★★★★

The Yard Theatre

THE FLEA at The Yard Theatre

★★★★

The Flea

“this is an exciting and stylishly gritty production that does justice to every single story it tells”

In 1880s London, a flea bites a horse that kicks a man, setting off a chain of events that ripples from the boys of the postal service to Queen Victoria herself. Written by James Fritz and directed by Jay Miller, The Flea is an exploration of the threads that run across London, connecting the poor telegraph boy Charlie Swinscow with his mother, with local bad boy Henry Newlove, with Bertie Prince of Wales, and with a queer aristocratic sex ring that will shock the nation. It is not a period piece but a vibrant, vital play that sparks and seethes; an intoxicating production that probes sensitively at the questions at its heart.

Spanning such vast networks, it is remarkably self-assured. Just five cast members share twelve roles between them, and it is a testament to the extremely talented actors that the doubling works as well as it does. We watch Séamus McLean Ross swing effortlessly from the reserved and somewhat listless Charlie Swinscow to the roaring Bertie Prince of Wales, and Norah Lopez Holden is magnetic as the heartbroken seamstress Emily Swinscow, and as Queen Victoria. The highlight is Connor Finch, who delivers nuanced and moving performances as both the bruised, swaggering post office clerk Henry Newlove, and the aristocratic playboy Arthur Somerset, his life and love crumbling before him.

The set, designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen, is an unsettling approximation of a Victorian living room, or perhaps a giant mouth, where all the furniture is of an uncertain size, and the cast must clamber up chairs that hang high on the wall, or squeeze themselves into a tiny chaise lounge. This works well alongside the production’s exploration of scale: as we move through the play, it becomes apparent that just about everybody is under the boot of, or looking for the approval of, a higher power. The costumes, designed by Lambdog1066 (with hair and makeup by Dominique Hamilton), are also excellent, traversing the boundary between the ostensibly historical setting and the uncanny, slightly twisted world we find ourselves in. Combined with atmospheric yet subtle sound and lighting design (Josh Anio Grigg and Jonathan Chan respectively) the staging is very versatile, and apt for exploring the play’s sprawling plot.

At times the ambition is too great. It is a testament to Fritz’s writing that no relationship exists in a vacuum, but keeping up with each character’s complex associations and motivations can grow exhausting. Towards the end, the play grows slightly unwieldy and tonally uncertain, carried away by its own potential for vastness. Particularly an extended scene between Queen Victoria and God Himself, while brilliantly delivered, feels unnecessary and distracting. Instead, the play is at its best when it is probing closer to home, managing to pose some incredibly difficult ethical questions without purporting to offer any simple solutions. Ultimately, this is an exciting and stylishly gritty production that does justice to every single story it tells, all the way from the flea through to Queen Victoria.


THE FLEA at The Yard Theatre

Reviewed on 21st October 2023

by Anna Studsgarth

Photography by  Marc Brenner

 

 

 

 

Links to more of our recent reviews:

 

Gentlemen | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | October 2023
The Changeling | ★★★½ | Southwark Playhouse Borough | October 2023
An Evening Of Burlesque | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | October 2023
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane | ★★★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre | October 2023
The Least We Could Do | ★★★★★ | Hope Theatre | October 2023
The Alchemist | ★★★★ | Mathematical Institute | October 2023
Shakespeare’s R&J | ★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | October 2023

The Flea

The Flea

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The Art of Illusion

★★★★★

Hampstead Theatre

THE ART OF ILLUSION at the Hampstead Theatre

★★★★★

The Art of Illusion

“This is true ensemble playing, where no one actor is the lead, but where each actor plays every part as though it were a starring role”

 

There are many illusions at work in the wonderful Art Of Illusion by Alexis Michalik, and you will enjoy watching this tale of magic tricks unfold. Waleed Akhtar’s lively translation of the French original, together with brilliant ensemble work by the actors under the direction of Tom Jackson Greaves, means the playing time of one hundred minutes flies by. It helps, too, that the production is staged in the more intimate Hampstead Theatre downstairs. It’s a space ideally suited for a play that has to be seen in close up by the audience, to succeed. The flexibility of the space allows a cast of characters from different times and places to constantly change right in front of your eyes — a sort of magic all by itself. And oh yes — let’s not forget the sounds of high stakes soccer matches that are a constant background to the action. On more than one occasion, it’s soccer that literally saves the day for our intrepid magicians in this play.

Soccer and magic tricks? What kind of a story is Michalik telling in The Art Of Illusion? We begin by thinking it’s an unlikely love story between a lover of mathematics who has come to believe in fate, and a petty thief who has stolen her bag. When December decides, on a whim, to return the stolen bag to April (yes, those really are their names) an extraordinary story unfolds. A Watchmaker is presiding over a tale that goes back several hundred years and connects seemingly unconnected people. What starts as a random encounter between two people turns out to be anything but. And as part of the magic of The Art of Illusion, this is also a story about how magic morphs into the tricks of early film making. We get to see how one Georges Méliès uses his knowledge of stage magic to produce film magic. And that’s just one intriguing tale told by this medley of extraordinary characters who begin as traveling conjurers and mutate into inventors of film. The biggest trick of all is watching how Michalik weaves his stories of 1776, 1828, 1871,1984 and 2000 together. Watching The Art Of Illusion is to marvel at the way in which the dramatist, as conjuror of time, mixes and matches all these different periods together while still moving the action forward. It’s ultimately all a gigantic act of illusion, starting with the magic tricks the actors perform to get the audience warmed up, to the way in which they transform from character to character. These character changes, often across gender and time periods, embody the same kind of effortless legerdemain in the acting, as the playwright manifests in his script.

There’s a lot, dramaturgically speaking, packed into The Art Of Illusion. The whole thing succeeds because every part of this production has been so carefully crafted, and fits together so well. Jackson Greaves has done sterling work in the direction and staging of this clever and engaging script, ably assisted by designer Simon Kenny. Matt Haskins and Yvonne Gilbert do great work with the lighting and sound, and there’s an “Illusion Consultant” (Ben Hart) on hand to assist with getting the magic tricks right. But the lion’s share of praise should go to the actors. Rina Fatania, Bettrys Jones, Martin Hyder, Norah Lopez Holden, Brian Martin and Kwaku Mills keep up a relentless pace, yet each character they portray is so clearly defined. This is true ensemble playing, where no one actor is the lead, but where each actor plays every part as though it were a starring role. The closest anyone comes to stealing a scene is probably Rina Fatania, whose portrayal of a mouthy fifteen year old video game player, is a great conclusion to the dazzling tapestry of characters in this play.

The Art Of Illusion is playing now at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until January 28th. Don’t miss it.

 

 

Reviewed on 3rd January 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Robert Day

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022
Sons of the Prophet | ★★★★ | December 2022

 

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