Alice and Fiona have been living in Rotterdam for seven years. They were only supposed to be there for one. It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and Alice is composing an email, and redrafting it, and spell checking it, and redrafting it again. She is trying to come out to her parents as a lesbian. But just as she is about to press send, her partner Fi delivers some unexpected news. Fi is a man, has always been a man, just wants to “stop trying to be a woman”. He asks to be called Adrian, the name his parents would’ve given him if they’d known he was a boy when he was born. The two characters spiral on different journeys, Adrian coming to terms with his gender identity, with the violence of being misgendered and the possibilities of hormones and surgery. Meanwhile, Alice questions her sexuality all over again, as she begins the process of accepting Adrian, and herself.
Jon Brittain’s script is a weaving explosion, each scene launching into the next (also thanks to Donnacadh O’Briain’s energised direction). The relationships between our four characters are gradually revealed, connecting them in different and surprising ways.
The set, designed by Ellan Parry, shows a black and white Amsterdam, splattered with pink, vivid purple, neon light, even covered with blue balloons at one point in the play. It isn’t anything hugely exciting but it doesn’t need to be. It allows for the different places the play takes us to, to be created, and for the story to be told. The mirrored door, throwing light across the audience every time it is opened is particularly lovely. Cleverly, even the details of the set, with backlit gendered toilet signs above a bar, are a constant reminder of the weight of gender, and the way we perceive it, in society. The fireworks thrown out into the audience – or seemingly so – are a really effective moment of lighting design from Richard Williamson.
The play is punctuated by some incredibly powerful and emotional images, but it is also laced with humour, and the actors find the balance between these moments really well. In fact the cast is strong all round. Lucy Jane Parkinson has a brilliant presence onstage, humourous at first, strong to the point of near aggression, deeply vulnerable when Adrian phones his mum to come out to her for the first time. A vivid performance of need and strength. Bethan Cullinane’s Alice is wonderfully played. Still closeted and unable to let go, she meets the vibrant Lelani (Ellie Morris) who takes her to parties and smokes weed with her. There is so much humour and life in this journey, and it is delicately undercut by Alice’s own struggles with her sexuality, and her frequently cruel way of processing Adrian’s transition. Elijah W Harris takes a couple of scenes to become grounded in the role of Josh, but when he does he is immediately likeable, and the relationship between Josh and Adrian in particular, feels warm and genuine.
This is a play through which you will laugh and cry. It discusses gender, sexuality, family, love and Rotterdam, and is delivered by strong, honest performances from a talented cast.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography courtesy I AM Marketing
Brighton Theatre Royal until 10th April then UK Tour continues
“Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle”
What a treat this is. Turning a successful film into a stage musical isn’t an easy task, but this production by Selladoor manages it wonderfully. The story is true to the original and if you are wondering how the small Arcola stage can accommodate a VW van, a motel, a hospital and a Beauty Pageant, go and see it purely for the ingenuity of David Woodhead’s design.
This is one of those evenings at the theatre that has the audience buzzing and leaving the theatre with huge smiles. Some will also have a tune in their head, as there are some truly memorable songs (William Finn) in the show. The cast are excellent; this is a real ensemble piece where everyone gets a chance to shine, even those with smaller roles, such as Imelda Warren-Green who personified the old adage that there is no such thing as a small part with hilarious performances as Linda and Miss California.
For those not familiar with the film (written by Michael Arndt), the story is about the Hoover family; a rather dysfunctional tribe, who drive from New Mexico to California so that their daughter Olive can enter a children’s beauty pageant. Olive, played this evening by Sophie Hartley Booth was the heart and soul of the show. She was hilarious, sweet and utterly captivating. Her performance in the talent competition brought the house down. Three other children, Ellicia Simondwood, Yvie Bent and Elodie Salmon played the Mean Girls, both the voices in Olive’s head that tell her she isn’t good enough and the other competitors in the beauty pageant. And delightfully mean they were.
The rest of the family each have their problems. Paul Keating played Frank, the gay uncle who has unsuccessfully tried to kill himself, with a gentle sureness of hand. Gary Wilmot’s scandalous grandpa is living on the sofa. He loves to shock, yet has real warmth and Wilmot brought a gorgeous tongue in cheek style to the role. Sev Keoshgerian managed to be very funny, characterful and convincing as Dwayne, Olive’s brother, even during the majority of the show when he doesn’t say a word. The parents, Richard and Sheryl, played by Gabriel Vick and Laura Pitt-Pulford are broke and struggling. Gabriel is optimistic about his ‘ten point plan for success,’ and expecting a book deal that never comes, but despite all the setbacks and obstacles, the family are determined to get Olive to the pageant. Pitt-Pulford sang ‘Something Better Better Happen’ with such genuine emotion that it brought a tear to the eye, and Vick’s ‘What You Left Behind’ was powerful and touching. They felt like a real family, each individually falling apart but coming together in the face of their difficulties; pushing the van to get it started, determined to finish the journey.
The two other cast members are Ian Carlyle and Matthew McDonald, who both take on a couple of contrasting roles. Carlyle is outrageously loud as the wonderfully dreadful pageant host, and equally good as the man who stole Frank’s lover. McDonald also convinces, both as the ex-lover and as the long suffering technical guy at the pageant.
Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle. There is a stunning live band above the stage (Musical Director Arlene McNaught) that perform their hearts out for every number. The perfect package is completed with great sound (Olly Steel) and lighting (Richard Williamson) throughout and some excellent choreography (Anthony Whiteman).
If Little Miss Sunshine gets a West End transfer, and it deserves to get one, I will be happy to say that I saw it in this smaller, more intimate space. Do go, if you can. The whole thing is a joy.