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Riverside Studios



Riverside Studios

Reviewed – 28th January 2020



“the best way to enjoy “Persona” is not to attempt to analyse, but just tuck into the multi-sensory and multi-dimensional feast”


A lot has changed at Riverside Studios in the past five years. Having closed its doors back in 2014 to undergo a huge renovation project, the venue now shines like a jewel on the banks of the Thames by Hammersmith Bridge, where once it felt almost lost down a back alley – almost secretive. It was always a bit ramshackle; but comfortable and with a wonderful atmosphere. A couple of years overdue, the transformed, state-of-the-art studio has lost none of the atmosphere while acquiring a sheen that brings it firmly into the digital age.

Always at the forefront of innovation, and famous for launching “Dr Who” into the world as the Daleks were filmed emerging from beneath Hammersmith Bridge, it quickly established itself as a full-blown arts centre showcasing film, television, music, theatre and visual art. A fitting choice, then, for the inaugural production, is “Persona” which blends film, music and theatre into one short burst of intriguing drama. Adapted by Paul Schoolman from Ingmar Bergman’s movie of the sixties, the story centres on a nurse and her patient: a successful actress who has suddenly stopped speaking.

Schoolman places himself into the piece as narrator and, by doing so, places Bergman there too; presenting the thoughts of the Swedish filmmaker, drawn from unpublished notes written in retrospect. In a slightly bewildering theatrical device Schoolman veers between informing the audience and then inhabiting the skins of characters within the piece. At times we are unsure whether we are in the original film, in the play, in the mind of Bergman or in the minds of the characters that inhabit Bergman’s imagination. But at least it keeps us on our toes and stops our own minds from wandering.

We are introduced to Alma, a nurse, played by Olivier Award winner Alice Krige, who is appointed to take care of well-known actress Elisabet Vogler (Nobuhle Mngcwengi) who has fallen silent. Has she lost the ability to speak, or merely the will? The two women move to a cottage by the sea when Alma decides the peace and isolation will be therapeutic for Elizabet. The deeper Elizabet descends into her silent world, the more Alma opens up. Freely knocking back the wine, Alma loosens words that used to be trapped inside her and soon she can’t stop them spilling out. Nobody has really listened to her before. Krige gently possesses the stage, but sometimes too quietly – her words often falling short of the rows part of the way up the auditorium. But it is an expertly controlled performance that rightly knocks the grandiose aspirations of the writing off its pedestal, giving a human touch to what could otherwise be seen as pretentiousness. Mngcwengi reacts silently, but seems to be the one in control, almost as though she is playing a game with her companion.

The two characters consume one another until it is difficult for them to distinguish each other. But the various themes explored in this piece threaten to consume each other too as they start dissolving into a soup of uncertainty. Bergman, and later Schoolman, are guilty of over seasoning as they investigate identity, sifting through aspects of the human condition such as truth, lies, parenthood, abortion, lesbian attraction, schizophrenia and consciousness. Bergman himself was always coy in his refusal to reveal what the story meant. He wanted the audience to draw its own conclusions. He hoped it would be felt rather than understood.

In the hands of these three actors, particularly Krige, it is certainly a show that speaks to the senses. And a fourth character, in the shape of William Close and his Earth Harp, certainly makes sure of that. Close, dynamically positioned at the harp’s resonating chamber, underscores with his semi-improvised compositions as the haunting melodies travel along the strings that stretch throughout the auditorium above our heads.

‘Persona’ originates from the Roman word that referred to a theatrical mask. The temptation is to try to see behind the mask, though the best way to enjoy “Persona” is not to attempt to analyse, but just tuck into the multi-sensory and multi-dimensional feast.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



Riverside Studios until 23rd February


Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Bells And Spells | ★★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | December 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | December 2019
The Lying Kind | ★★★ | Ram Jam Records | December 2019
The Nativity Panto | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | December 2019
Beckett Triple Bill | ★★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | January 2020
Once | ★★★★★ | Fairfield Halls | January 2020
The Co-op | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
The Long Letter | ★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
The Sunset Limited | ★★★★★ | Boulevard Theatre | January 2020
Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act | ★★★★★ | Playground Theatre | January 2020


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Fanatical – The Musical – 3 Stars

Fanatical - The Musical

Fanatical – The Musical

The Playground Theatre

Reviewed – 14th November 2018


“It all makes for a lively atmosphere, with a cast who seem to be having the time of their lives”


For the uninitiated, it’s worth swotting up before a visit to Fanatical. It deals tenderly with the worlds of cosplay, fandom and sci-fi; come prepared with your Lord of the Rings and Star Wars references brushed up. Be in no doubt: what you sign up for here is a heartfelt love letter to sci-fi and fandoms everywhere.

Fanatical is a musical set amidst the high pressure, high excitement atmosphere of a convention of sci-fi enthusiasts – in this case, ardent supporters of the (fictional, but incredibly fully-realised) world of space comic Angel 8. We too are immersed, brought along as newly adopted fans; gorgeously detailed comic art and digital projections of a really remarkable quality sweep us into the narrative.

A comic convention may seem an odd setting for a musical, but this high-energy cast make it all make sense. So high energy in fact that at times, in the relatively small confines of Latimer Road’s Playground Theatre, the volume and sheer vigour of the music felt somewhat overpowering. Audiences should be prepared for the double earnestness of musical theatre and cosplay (a fan-driven world where enthusiasts craft their own costumes) – indeed, kudos goes to those audience members in their own space-themed outfits.

It all makes for a lively atmosphere, with a cast who seem to be having the time of their lives. Especial note must go to Suanne Braun as Trix, who acts as a linchpin in both character and performance. Her laugh-out-loud rendition of ‘Any Moment Now’ was without question the highlight of the night, as Trix attempts seduction with Miranda-esque levels of awkwardness.

Writers Matt Board and Reina Hardy say in the programme that this show has been a long time in the making. It’s clear, with the attention to detail (our comic characters have animated avatars, theme music, life stories), that Fanatical is the result of a labour of love. Perhaps that love may have added to the occasional loss of discernment. The musical could be shorter and some songs, inevitably, are weaker. Overall there is certainly more filler than killer. Coming Up Next and Self-Aware are some of the toe-tappers, with the latter seeing Tim Rogers as Craig going in for some snarling judgement of the geeks. Similarly the lyrics to the excellent Nobody’s Watching, spat out with relish by Stephen Frost as frustrated writer Scott Furnish, are great fun. As ever, the bad guys get the best songs.

With less accomplished performers, this show might just tip into being an evening of self-indulgent geekery. Strong vocal and acting performances avoid this, and the cast’s abundant enthusiasm carries its audience irresistibly along.


Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Scott Rylander


Fanatical – The Musical

The Playground Theatre until 8th December




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