“this spirited show in London Bridge is going to bring a smile to a good many people’s faces over the next few weeks”
Oscar Wilde’s 1887 short story is given a 21st century makeover at one of the capital’s leading theatres for young audiences.
Diplomat Hiram Otis is posted to England with his rabble family. They rent an old Gothic mansion that turns out to have a resident ghost, one Sir Simon Canterville. Attempts to spook the Otis’s by Sir Simon are ignored by the streetwise New Yorkers and this ghost who has been looking for a resting place for over three hundred years is in utter despair, until baby of the family Virginia, takes him seriously, listens to him and helps solve the riddle that will allow him to rest in peace.
This tale is presented with the aid of illusion and magic, Sir Simon having his head under his arm, objects appearing and disappearing, flying furniture and even a body being sawn in half. A simple set (Rosie Elnile) consisting of a blood stained carpet, two large tables and a model house symbolising the mansion are all utilised to the maximum and moved about with an impressive slickness. Lighting (Prema Mehta) is immensely impressive, the windows in the model house all lighting up and the illusions neatly disguised.
This is a highly amusing adaptation, every neatly constructed line seems to contain no words with less than six syllables and the characterisations are pitched perfectly for a young audience, with the humour appreciated greatly by the children, without it being childish. This is a thoughtfully directed piece by Justin Audibert, a huge amount of energy has been injected into the play and so much of the action is delivered with a real flourish.
All the cast are strong, the twin boys, played by girls (Rose-Marie Christian & Mae Munuo) always in unison, Nathaniel Wade enthusiastically playing elder son Washington who is inventing a hat containing an umbrella and Safiyya Ingar charming as green fingered Virginia. Maple syrup loving Dad (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) and interior designed obsessed Mum (Beth Cordingly) are spot on with their relationship and handling of their slightly troublesome offspring. Paul McEwan has a ball playing Sir Simon, I was concerned that the way he slurs a lot of his lines could make it difficult for youngsters, who are hanging on his every word, to decipher what he’s saying. Annie Fitzmaurice as the Scottish housemaid is a positive delight, it was like lifting Private Frazer from Dad’s Army into a female body, all doom, gloom and threats of varicose veins, she was hilarious.
The pace slackened a little in the second act, but the packed audience, consisting mainly of children, absolutely loved it. The young lad sitting next to me rushed back from the interval and announced that he couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
With Unicorn’s magic and a ghost, I think that this spirited show in London Bridge is going to bring a smile to a good many people’s faces over the next few weeks and is perfect material for all the family.
“cleverly creeps under our skin as a piece of theatre and leaves us with a lot to contemplate”
A woman breaks into her parents’ home to steal money for drugs; a prisoner sees every object as a possible way of killing herself; a sex worker waits in the cold for an extra ten pounds…
For forty years, Clean Break has been changing the future of women during and after their time in prison by both providing an outlet to challenge their misrepresentation in popular entertainment and as a formative process for learning, expression and evolution. Alice Birch’s commission to celebrate this gives carte blanche from a selection of 100 scenes – any number, any order – which address the manifold causes, processes and effects of being caught up in the criminal justice system. By the very nature of the crimes women commit, locking them away is less a safety measure for the rest of society than distancing them from their own threats with devastating repercussions for them, those they depend on and who depend on them. Director, Maria Aberg, has carefully chosen and arranged her selection to touch on lives blighted by a structure which does not confront these complex pastoral issues.
With a brilliant choice of cast, the scope for illustrating the breadth of age, race and class of these women works well visually as well as within the script. Rosie Elnile’s versatile set of raised, individual box rooms around a central space forms different levels of impact for the audience, from the feeling of observed, intimate conversations of abusive relationships and foster care to being drawn into the group spirit of prison life. Some scenes work better than others, however, which produces a somewhat uneven flow. After fragments of emotional experiences at home and in prison, of mothers, daughters, prisoners and staff, the action’s centrepiece (and scene number 100) is a dinner party of old friends. Here Birch brings together all the elements of the good-doing, professional society, patting each other on the back and having another glass of wine. The overlapping conversation between the guests is superb, hypocrisy slowly smouldering as their personalities unfold (the detective, the documentary maker, the therapist, the charity volunteers…) until the one outsider, played by Shona Babayemi, in a passionate outburst, can stand the insincerity no longer.
There are strong performances all round, though our natural expectations for an imposed narrative makes it difficult to completely engage with the characters. Thusitha Jayasundera shows us the painful impotence of a mother who is told her daughter has committed suicide in prison and we feel the confused heartbreak of Joanna Horton as the mother who sees no option for her children but to kill them. In a truly sobering moment, Lucy Edkins and Kate O’Flynn’s quietly powerful final scene as mother and daughter sums up the tragic personal loss of the ignored. Despite the dark and distressing subject, the writing, acting and direction balances sadness with humour. ‘Blank’ cleverly creeps under our skin as a piece of theatre and leaves us with a lot to contemplate.