Tag Archives: Shazia Nicholls

Paradise Now

Paradise Now!


Bush Theatre

PARADISE NOW! at the Bush Theatre


Paradise Now

“Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s direction makes so much sense and is so smooth and clever, that it lifts the play further off the page”


There’s a moment when the man handing over my ticket says: “You do know the running time is 2 hours 40, right? Including interval!” that I thought ‘how can I make a polite run for it?’ Afterall, as he pointed out, most plays at the Bush Theatre are little more than an hour. I hadn’t eaten, I’d travelled an hour to get to West London; my dog was at home. 2 hours 40 feels like a long time for a play in 2022.

It turns out that I would sit through six more hours of Paradise Now! (by Margaret Perry). I would accept days of an Inheritance-like sprawl of this play – about an intergenerational group of women dealing with loneliness and unfulfilled ambition, as they get sucked into the heady world of multi-level marketing by Alex (Shazia Nicholls).

Five women, from different ages and backgrounds, all on a quest to find meaning in life. The story focuses on Gabriel Dolan (Michele Moran), who lives in a London houseshare with her big sister Baby (Carmel Winters) and TV-presenter-wannabee Carla (Ayoola Smart). Gabriel has recently experienced a significant depressive episode, something her big sister reminds her of constantly when she comes home from her retail job, knackered. “You won’t sleep on the couch again, will you?” Gabriel asks, and Baby immediately falls asleep on the couch.

Gabriel’s journey into selling essential oils to other women is motivated by wanting to help her sister get out of the 30,000 hours she’s given to the store – there’s a heartbreaking scene at the very end of the play where Baby says no-one even gave her a leaving card when she retired (but even the most heartbreaking moments are riddled with Perry’s wry jokes and whip-sharp commentary on life).

Enter the stage: Alex, a woman who recruits other women to sell essential oils. She’s glamorous, an excellent seller, but cracks of insecurity start to show. She’s acted brilliantly by Nicholls, who manages to convey the multi-faceted personality of this multi-level marketing guru with precision and humour. She encourages women who feel they have nothing to be proud of in life to start mini-businesses and become someone – in this case, by selling “a little touch of luxury at an affordable price point.” But she’s no saint, as we see her begin to unravel throughout the play – at one point while being attacked by a robot vacuum cleaner.

The essential oils business (called Paradise) is marketed as a ‘team, a family’, and our band of characters enter into the business with varying levels of enthusiasm. For some, like Gabriel, it appears to be a lifeline, and offers a chance for her to experience a different kind of life where people believe in her for the very first time. The enthusiasm is perfectly tempered by Anthie (Annabel Baldwin), Carla’s girlfriend, who, as an outsider, brings a note of healthy skepticism to the proceedings. Baldwin uses their face to convey bafflement at what’s going on throughout, and they have both outstanding comic timing and dance skills, employed to show their fruitless search for success.

My only (tiny) criticism is the script’s tendency to throw in exciting-sounding backstories that aren’t fully explored. Laurie (a slightly unhinged and blunt character played exquisitely by Rakhee Thakrar) reminds Alex multiple times that she knows her from school. Alex can’t remember her, but we never found out what happened at school to make her reappear in the very offbeat way she has. There’s also a coming-out memory, which didn’t feel completely necessary.

However, these minor dramaturgical questions aren’t enough to detract from the sheer joy of a production that sings: there’s simply no real bum note. The writing is sharp and with one-liners genuinely so funny that the actors sometimes swagger when they say them because they know they’d raise the roof at a stand-up set. The set is modern, dynamic, with space-saving furniture devices that would leave IKEA begging for the patent from set-designer Rosie Elnile. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s direction makes so much sense and is so smooth and clever, that it lifts the play further off the page and thrusts it to even greater heights than the already tight and genius-script.

It is, fundamentally, a joy, with meditations on ambition, exploitation and loneliness all delivered in a way that makes the audience genuinely empathise with the characters.

Go, go twice, go again. You’ll have no regrets.



Reviewed on 9th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Helen Murray



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Lava | ★★★★ | July 2021
Favour | ★★★★ | June 2022
The P Word | ★★★ | September 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Review of The Scar Test -5 Stars

Scar Test Rob O'Kelly

The Scar Test

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 6th July 2017





“an urgent and important message that everyone should hear”



The Scar Test presented by Untold Arts and directed by Sara Joyce was a fantastically honest production reflecting how refugees are treated from individual female perspectives. Written by Palestinian-Irish playwright Hannah Khalil the production was centred around verbatim interviews with women detained in the Yarlswood Immigration Removal Centre. The play explored the injustices and humiliation faced by refugees and portrayed an important message. The narrative consisted of snapshots of different stories and the frustrations faced by innocent women trapped in the system.

The characters were personable, often incorporating humour to emphasise their relatability. Rebecca Omogbehin’s performance was distressing and powerful. She played a woman who fled her country after suffering unspeakable abuse whilst trying to maintain dignity and pride. She poignantly captured the sense of shame the woman felt by having to reveal her scars and waiting to find out whether the physical and emotional damage would be deemed sufficient evidence to grant her asylum in the UK. Shazia Nicholls displays seamless versatility in her portrayal of a wide array of characters, notably a frustrated and exhausted solicitor desperately trying to assist these struggling women who desperately need help and legal representation.

The set was minimal with the presence of four ceiling mounted CCTV cameras, never allowing the audience to forget that the detainees were always being watched and gave it a prison like feel. The use of costume by Amelia Jane Hankin was also effective, with the whole cast in grey giving a sense of institutionalised uniformity and the lack of individual identity felt by the detainees. All the performers wore hoods that were put up when playing the role of security, the faceless, insensitive representation of the system.

The production was a moving and harrowing insight into the emotional turmoil faced by female refugees. The performances were extremely emotionally charged and at times distressing but it was a sensitive, hard-hitting production that successfully communicated an urgent and important message that everyone should hear.

Reviewed by Olivia Ellison

Photography by Rob O’Kelly


Soho Theatre thespyinthestalls



is at The Soho Theatre until 22nd July



Click here to see a list of the latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com