Tag Archives: Peter Pearson

Gin Craze

Gin Craze!


Royal & Derngate

Gin Craze

Gin Craze!

Royal and Derngate Theatre

Reviewed – 21st July 2021



“The energy of the full ensemble numbers has the audience clapping and whooping”


This new musical – book and lyrics by April de Angelis, music and lyrics by Lucy Rivers – brings to life William Hogarth’s shocking 1751 etching ‘Gin Lane’ portraying grotesque caricatures of people suffering from the Gin Craze that was rife in the early part of the eighteenth century. As the curtain rises, we meet a number of these ladies under the influence who sing, dance, and extol the virtues of their favourite tipple. A pawn broker’s sign hangs close to the stage, the same sign as in Hogarth’s print.

The set (designed by Hayley Grindle) is built on two levels and reinforces a view of the class divide with the wealthy Fielding family and a semi-sozzled Queen Caroline appearing on the upper level whilst the gin ladies are firmly rooted on the ground and at the bottom of society. Through the shadows of wooden beams and hanging ropes, we can see various musical instruments: harpsichord, violin, cello, double bass, guitar, timpani. Each member of the eight strong ensemble takes their turn at becoming the band. Plus the ever-present MD Tamara Saringer at the keys.

For much of the time we could describe this as a folk musical. The singing is gentle and refined, the lyrics ballad-like in form, and the duets between the two main leads contain excellent close folk harmonies. The arrangement of the songs is most striking particularly those making use of violin and cello underlay.

The energy of the full ensemble numbers has the audience clapping and whooping. “Gin Dive” is the standout song that reappears close to the end in a poignant unaccompanied close harmony version. “It’s the Law” becomes a good old cockney knees-up with comedy trombone. Many of the scenes can be described as bawdy – and are especially enjoyed because of that – at times they are out-and-out plain rude.

The plot – or the message of the show, perhaps – is summed up with the song title, “What does a woman have to do to get a better life?”. We follow the journey of Mary (Aruhan Galieva) who whilst working as a servant is knocked up by the visiting priest, kicked out into the street, tricked into giving away her baby, and narrowly avoids rape and prostitution by setting up as a gin hawker. We learn that life for a woman is not a bed of roses. But then, Mary befriends Lydia (Paksie Vernon), her saving grace.

Director Michael Oakley produces the most spirited scenes when the gin women appear on stage together. If their individual characters do appear on the caricature side of sincere then we can allow that they may have been first based upon a cartoon. But, in the midst of tragedy, despite the best efforts of this hard-working cast, there is little tension to be felt and we remain unmoved. Particularly, much of the momentum is lost after the interval as attention turns away from the rumbustious Gin Lane into the genteel home of the foppish Henry Fielding (Alex Mugnaioni) and his do-gooder sister Sarah (Rachel Winters).

April de Angelis and Lucy Rivers have created a most fascinating feminist – and musical – response to an interesting period of English history which reflects well on Hogarth’s masterpiece that initially inspired the idea.



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Ellie Kurttz


Gin Craze!

Royal and Derngate Theatre  until 31st July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | May 2021


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Welcome to the UK

The Bunker

Welcome to the UK

Welcome to the UK

The Bunker

Reviewed – 25th January 2019



“a surreal and politically simple mix of moments which fail to deliver either laughs or insights”


Walking down into the Bunker Theatre in Southwark, you’re greeted by a “UK Passports to the right, EU to the left” sign above the door, and are handed a raffle ticket by a faux-bearskin-guard on entering the theatre proper. Then you sit down on some balloons, surrounded by a ribboned set surrounded by sketches and collages across the back walls. A strange and confusing introduction to a strange and confusing show.

Welcome to the UK, directed by Sophie NL Besse of PSYCHEdelight, studies the life of refugees and immigrants to the UK, and extrudes these ideas through a malformed mould which was obviously once meant to resemble a carnival. In theory, the joyous song, dance and performance on stage juxtaposes against the unhappy reality many new arrivals face to create a biting satire; in reality, the show is a surreal and politically simple mix of moments which fail to deliver either laughs or insights.

The authenticating foundation of having real refugees as actors ultimately subsides because, although many refugees can deliver the performance and presence necessary (think The Jungle at Playhouse Theatre), in Welcome to the UK these actors are not telling their own personal stories, but are almost always corralled into playing on-stage refugees. The actors are neither explored as real stories nor trusted as professional versatile actors.

It’s hard to find a substantial guiding light as the different pieces pass by the audience with scene changes you could park a car in; drag queens give way to a Gollum-like creature, followed by an emotional phone call entirely in Arabic, then back to the drag queen or a strange cloud-headed Theresa May. It only gets more dreamlike with pantomime scenes about Popeye, versions of Romeo and Juliet, and a bit where the song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ makes ISIS executioners drop their knives and dance into backstage. The carnival theme doesn’t just bulge at the seams, it bursts wide open at the climactic scene where a sinking boat in a storm is the not-so-subtle metaphor for a post-Brexit Britain.

It’s worth noting that the music was clever and versatile plus the singing brought many scenes the energy and professionalism they so badly needed. Reading the programme was almost as cryptic as the show, so this writer, unfortunately, can’t give credit where it’s due, but the actress playing our cloud-headed PM gave a brilliantly tight and skilled performance with an energetic and intimidating character, wonderful accordion playing and an exceptional vocal performance.

Ultimately, Welcome to the UK, fails where it has politics, but not performance. Like a cart with the horse set behind it, this show cannot keep a straight path but continuously veers outwards towards everything from Titanic-references to a funny joke about Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Political Theatre has a long and illustrious history and left-wing Political Theatre in particular but Dario Fo this is not.


Reviewed by William Nash

Photography by José Farinha


Welcome to the UK

The Bunker until 16th February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Nine Foot Nine | ★★★★ | June 2018
No One is Coming to Save You | ★★★★ | June 2018
Section 2 | ★★★★ | June 2018
Breathe | ★★★★ | August 2018
Eris | ★★★★ | September 2018
Reboot: Shorts 2 | ★★★★ | October 2018
Semites | ★★★ | October 2018
Chutney | ★★★ | November 2018
The Interpretation of Dreams | ★★★ | November 2018
Sam, The Good Person | ★★★ | January 2019


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