Review: R+J @ Access Theatre, NYC

Reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

In this modern retelling of a classic story where men are nowhere in sight. There is a museum of sorts that explains why men disappeared. But the focus of this play is on the women, so that’s what I’ll do too. The set of R+J can be described as industrial and hazardous (designed by Marisa Kaugars). Large sheets of metal are the backdrop of the scene and surround the entire performance area. The aggressive set was an accurate location for this retelling, filled with anger and passion, it is hard to imagine this version of R+J in a set any less dynamic. The warlike set is reflected in the conflict ready direction of the play.

R (Charlie Aleman) is charismatic. The show revolves around R, and they provide a strong emotional foundation for a show that at sometimes is frantic. Benvolio (Chelsea Fryer) and Mercutio (Ania Upstill) banter with R with ease, an emotional bond is clear, as the actors move forward with the plot. Perhaps I am placing my ideas of femineity on the actors and seeing traditionally male characters as more emotional because they are being portrayed by female presenting individuals. Each thought and conclusion I made during the show has me second guessing my biases.

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R+J’s costume design (designed by Lux Haac) deepens the dark nature of the play, and the set forces the audience to imagine a different world. The inherit masculinity in the black and camouflage costumes contrasts the femininity exhibited from the actors. Even traditionally female characters, such as J (Briana Sakamoto) are shrouded in black. Although her mesh shirt exuded female energy. On the other hand, the low cost but high intellect of the set creates an entirely masculine world. The Reflective properties of the metal sheets double the cast and the audience- eerily reflecting our confused and shocked expressions back onto ourselves.

My preconceived ideas lessen lust in a gay relationship, I was shocked when I found myself surprised that two female presenting individuals could be as lustful as R and J. My idea of the traditional play, my understanding of lust and sexual desire, had been dictated by societal norms. The kissing scenes and sex scenes in this production felt so strange to me because I hadn’t thought that queer love could descend into the same single-minded lust and passion that I have come to expect in a straight couple. I think subconsciously I had made assumptions, most that non-heteronormative relationships were lustless, or less lustful. I was tested by R + J and found wanting.

Shakespeares’ sex jokes feel weird, female-presenting individuals are talking about how hard their dicks are, and how they want to sleep with different women. The jokes become poignant. A reminder of how ridiculous and segregated our genders are. It seemed bizarre for a woman to make a joke, but it was just funny (to me) in other Romeo and Juliet productions. I think this is one of the many reasons this production is so revolutionary and relevant, it highlights internal sexism and forces me to confront my prejudices. These differences are mirrored in my response to the violence in the show. It feels overly violent, and I wondered while watching, would I have felt that way if it were two male presenting individuals fighting to the death?

It feels strange for J to wait for R to take action. In this retelling, there is no fairer sex, but J still waits. In previous shows I have seen it felt natural, Romeo will go organize the wedding while Juliet waits. But when there are two female presenting individuals, why should one wait for the other to take action? They are equal. I am mortified at myself, and my complacency. The power imbalance between Romeo and Juliet in classic telling’s of the show are increasingly obvious as I watch the classic story unfurl.

At the top of Act II the show began to drag a little. This does happen (in my opinion) in almost all Shakespeare plays, so it wasn’t too outside the ordinary. What was strange and unique to this production was the confusion caused by actors playing multiple roles, sometimes in the same scene. That was truly one of the most confusing aspects of the show.

R crying seems too feminine for the character as portrayed by a female presenting actor, and again this show puts my own notions of gender to shame, as I am faced with my deeply innate response to men crying, which is to perceive them as weak. R is described as “a child and a beast” and this stood out to me. During R + J, I was faced with a lot of confrontational ideas and this line stood out to me as powerful as it was a strong and reasonable way to define a man, but not a woman.

When J is found ‘dead’, there is a single light that follows her. J is found by R, and the long soliloquy begins. I never thought about how truly toxic R’s masculinity is until a gender non-conforming individual portrayed him and he was so clearly made to look ridiculous through his bravado and self-imposed masculinity. R takes the poison and violently throws up. My response to this was that it was accurate yet entirely melodramatic. J’s demise is powerful, touching and modern. The drama feels accurate to the text, and to Shakespeare, but with a female presenting individual in the role, it felt over the top.

I have seen countless retellings of this story, but never before have I been so surprised by my response to this well-known and well-loved story. I was moved, angered, and made to question myself throughout the show. Although confronting this show is worth seeing. It might not be what you want to hear, nobody likes discovering dark and ugly things about themselves. But I feel this show justly deserves a receptive audience.

4stars

 

 

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5 ways traveling makes me a better theatregoer

by Annie Zeleznikow

If you follow me on Instagram (which you all should @_anniedaynow_) you might have noticed that I am traveling through Europe. Through numerous train journeys and countless cinema-going experiences outside of the English-speaking world, I feel I have gained new insight into extracting and enjoying the most from my theatre experience. I wanted to share these new insights with you, dear reader. Going to new places and exposing yourself to foreign cultures enriches one’s understanding of themselves, the world, and THEATRE. Travelling is marvelous, as is theatre; and both are deserving of your time and attention.

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  1. Be courteous of others and they will do the same. Show respect to others, and if something goes wrong, you are in it together. You’ll help each other out. if you freak out because you don’t speak German and you’re afraid you’re heading towards Russia, ask for some help from a fellow passenger, usually, they are willing to help a sobbing 20-something-year-old.
  2. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. When traveling, I would mostly wear yoga pants and trainers. And do you know who cared? No one. It was comfortable and able to do the task at hand- fall asleep on public transport. If your nervous about what to wear to a Broadway show, wear whatever makes you comfortable, or whatever feels best for the occasion. I have seen heaps of people rock Potter wear to Cursed Child, and they are all killing it.
  3. If you don’t understand what is going on, just lean into it. Someone will explain it afterward if you remember to ask. Just enjoy what is happening around you right now, everything else will follow.
  4. Take time to close your eyes. Although I loved watching the French countryside roll by, sometimes I need a rest from the overload of stimulus. Often big production shows can be overwhelming, and demand attention from all your sense. I try to close my eyes if the songs are particularly sweet, and I want to focus on the vocals.
  5. Do what makes you happy! All experiences are your own- and this summer I’ve tried to take upon myself only tasks that make me happy. The same goes for theatre! I’ve seen some shows multiple times, and although its costly, and I am not widening my musical repertoire, those shows make me happy. And I get something new and exciting from the same show each time I see it.

Review: Laura Bush Killed a Guy @ The Flea Theatre, NYC

reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

I was welcomed into the theatre with an offer of a pen and a cowboy cookie. Delighted, I took my seat and was surprised to find two things. One, this was a one-woman show with no intermission and Two, my uncultured assumption that Laura was one of the Bush twins was wrong. I was surprised to find a well-groomed older woman, George W. Bush’s wife Laura.

Munching on my cookie, Laura (or First Lady Bush, or Mrs. Bush now I guess) began sharing her renowned Cowboy Cookie recipe in detail. This long monologue bookended the show, Laura used her recipe as a method of connection with America, and on a smaller scale with our audience. The mirroring of her words continues throughout the show if I paid close attention I could see the dual image Lisa Hodsoll was creating in her portrayal of the First Lady.

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Hodsoll’s engaging and thrilling storytelling captured the small audience. Ian Allan used carefully crafted words to paint a specific image of Laura Bush. Laura’s story was told as though to a friend, with whom she was happy to lie to. Halfway through the show, Laura retold an earlier story, with different motives around the accident. My personal feelings of betrayal shocked me. Hodsoll had made me her friend, only to tell me she had been lying the whole time. This dualism of Laura added both suspense and intrigue to the show. Hodsoll had my full attention.

Laura tells two stories about an orphanage. She went once with her parents, and she went once with George. This reflection of events provokes powerful emotions and was successful in engaging me in meaningful thought about the Bush family, something I had thought impossible. Laura speaks about visiting countries in the Middle East, and how the weight of a Burka surprised her. Hearing stories of Laura trying new things and opening up her world to new experiences impressed me. In light of modern politics, this show cleverly introduced a more sympathetic woman than I would have suspected.

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Laura tells two stories about how she met George. At this point, I’m not sure what to believe. I’m not sure if it matters which story is true or accurate. The emotions a felt in response to each story was real for me. Although jarring, I found this show thought-provoking and engaging. The atmosphere was electric and like a true politician, Hodsoll had me eating out of the palm of her hand.

3-stars

REVIEW: The Fourth Wall @ A.R.T, NYC

reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

The fourth wall is an interesting idea for a show, it questions the formatting of plays, of life and of politics. The one-act provided some intellectual stimulation. The show focuses on a husband and wife who are at ends about the arrangement of their furniture. Peggy (Ann Marie Morelli) insists on keeping the fourth wall of their living room empty, which concerns her husband Roger (Stephen Drabiki).

The set design for the show was interesting, and a focal point for the plot. Often the characters address the benefits of a set for a play and are eerily aware of their roles in the show at hand. The constant reminder that the audience was watching a play did not necessarily have the desired effect, as it felt forced rather than enticing.

The gimmick of the play is the self-awareness of each character, and how frequently they refer to their lives being a play. This self-awareness could have developed into something interesting and powerful. Instead, I found it to be slow and convoluted. Characters acknowledge for the majority of the show on the fact they were in a play, rather than subtly and slowly coming to a realization.

Roger, Peggy, Julia (Pamela Sabaugh), and Floyd (Nicholas Viselli) weave their way through increasingly ridiculous plot driven by a need to acknowledge their presence is confide within a play. The plot, which centred around Peggy’s need for a blank fourth wall, fell flat. Some comments about the fourth wall were insightful. The perplexing wall can and often represents the hollowness of humanity, which at times during the show is a powerful image. However, the depiction of human connection and the depths it requires is quickly drowned out by forced puns, silly jokes, and dry dialogue.

Including an actress who is wheelchair bound and an actor who is hard of hearing felt like a profound choice. Julia stood her ground as a central character to the story and continued developing alongside her co-stars. This casting felt powerful, and despite the show feeling flat, the addition of all-ability casting made a significant impact on me.

There were several songs sprinkled throughout the play. The songs served little purpose, other than to act as transitionary moments between scenes, as confessed by the characters themselves. It seems these songs were there to add time to the show. It was disappointing that there were no other benefits to the songs, those would-be soulful moments were wasted.

The language of this show was superfluous, as the characters endlessly overused theatrical terminology and clichés. Despite what the author may think, acknowledging theatre clichés does not make those clichés permissible. The Fourth Wall fell victim to an inordinate number of theatrical clichés, which surmounted to a slow and dull show.

The back wall covered in mirrors was an excellent set design, the actors and the audience are both reflected back upon themselves. As a show about breaking through, it was poignant to watch actors from all angles, and to see yourself on a stage the characters acknowledged were real.

The interesting end doesn’t quite make up for the dull start and relentingly long middle. This one act show develops slowly and misses the mark. There is a clear and strong heart to it, however, and the messages that motivate the characters are powerful. Although not entirely enjoyable, there were interesting and thoughtful aspects of The Fourth Wall.

2-stars

 

Do you HEAR the people sing?

Written by Charlie White

So, I recently went to the theatre and unfortunately…I struggled to pick up the dialogue and therefore missed parts of the story. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the actors didn’t wear mics (as it was a play) and they had extremely strong accents. This then sparked the idea for a blog focusing on the sound/hearing aspect of shows.

I myself am a hearing aid wearer and have had problems with my ears since being a child, so this is quite an important subject to me (especially when it comes to hearing in a theatre) as I’m sure it is to most theatregoers.

The majority of the time, most shows are pretty good at making sure things are at a suitable volume and of course there is the well know lesson of projection and ‘making sure your voice hits the back of the theatre’ (I assume…is this still a thing now?)

However, there are times when maybe the music can be a little overpowering or perhaps the characters might be deep in conversation and you can’t quite catch everything they are saying.

If any of you reading this are familiar with hearing aids or anything along those lines you’ll know most theatres now have what’s called the loop system, which if your hearing aid has it activated you can connect to it and the sound will be sent straight through to your hearing aid (I’m also an Audiologist so fit hearing aids for a living).

 

 

 

Some of the shows I’ve seen recently have varied a lot hearing wise. Firstly, the Ferryman. As much I loved the show and was extremely shocked by the ending (you have to be there), I did have a bit of trouble hearing it all. Yes, this is the play I mentioned at the beginning and I’m afraid I did struggle at times to understand what was being said. Despite this, you do get used to it by the end and I managed to follow the gist of it. My advice if you’re going to watch this is maybe trying to have a little idea of what it is about beforehand and have your concentrating caps on when you see it!

Another show I recently saw was the Cursed Child. I am pleased to say most of the actors in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child spoke very clearly and the sound was pretty good throughout the show! Occasionally if the characters were having an argument or got a bit carried away with emotion certain things might not come across quite so clearly.

Overall, musicals tend to be at an appropriate level in order for us to take in the beautiful scores or talented voices so generally, I’m sure a lot of people will manage fine. For those who do not or those who are interested in knowing a bit more about this side of things, there will be a short section on the sound/hearing quality included in our upcoming reviews. The aim is to hopefully help and guide people who may struggle so they know what to expect when going to see a particular show. So please keep an eye out for that in the future and be sure to hear the people sing!

REVIEW: SeatPlan

Written by Nathan Deane
Contributions from Charlotte White

A useful tool for UK theatregoers, SeatPlan is a website that takes the average auditorium plan and makes it interactive, allowing users to add photos from the seats and leave reviews of their seats. Users earn rewards from each photo uploaded and can also enter competitions and buy tickets via the website.

Despite a quite confusing interface, the tool is extremely helpful to the average theatregoer, if you’re based in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Manchester or Oxford. Whilst SeatPlan isn’t limited to those 6 areas, it doesn’t go much further than them, leaving people outside of those areas with local touring theatres in the dark of where to sit.

The site only has the major theatres, so you can’t get seating maps for some Off-West End venues such as Southwark Playhouse or Greenwich Theatre, which limits the usage to some theatre-goers.

The rewards are enticing, you earn 40p for each photo you add to the site and the pennies go towards theatre tokens – an exciting reward for any theatre fan. For an extra 40p, make sure you take a photo of your ticket stub!

The new, updated interface makes it hard to find the interactive seat plan, a feature I couldn’t find and had to ask my Facebook friends to help me find it when the update happened. Nevertheless, now I know where it is I can use the tool whenever I want.

The seat reviews are informative, usually accompanied by photos of the view and star ratings of the comfort, view, legroom and the show itself, providing a deep enough insight so that when you book your ticket you’ll know whether the seat is right for you.

The ticket booking system is easy enough, with discounted prices scattered around and easy to use seating charts.

I use the SeatPlan site quite frequently and, although it has a few minor issues, it’s a brilliant tool that anyone who is able to access a London theatre should use, and with the rewards system it’s a great way to fund your theatre-going!

4stars

REVIEW: Randy Writes A Novel @ Theatre Row

Reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

The purple puppet, Randy Feltface, played hype man, MC and special guest for his comedy show ‘Randy Writes A Novel’. The glitz and glamour of 42nd Street didn’t discourage my countryman from putting himself in the vulnerable situation of performing a comedy show in the Theatre district. Randy warmed up the crowd with some honesty, explaining that if we didn’t like the show we could leave, and he wouldn’t know- not having functioning eyes and all. Randy’s honesty and self-awareness were a clever form of introduction to a different and unusual sort of show.

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Randy banters and makes conversation, as he slowly moves towards the core purpose of the show; to read an excerpt of “Walking to Skye”. Before he can get too far, Randy finds himself falling down a dark hole of Wikipedia research; truly one of the most relatable things about this show. Recounting Hemingway’s epic life, Randy keeps the audience in suspense for a little bit longer. The curiosity of the crowd is kept at bay by Randy (and by extension Heath McIvor)’s engaging storytelling. Randy avoids the possibility of a poor book review by perhaps alienating the audience- he won’t give us what he promised.

Randy continuous on his self-professed “90-minute stream of consciousness”, something I am all too familiar with. He rants about spiritual appropriation, the infallibility of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and after some heckles, he addresses the pros and cons of singing some Amy Winehouse, acapella style (deciding to give us only a tantalizing few seconds of melody). Randy masters the nuance of time and tension building, and eventual tells some tales of the homeland (Australia).

It’s about an hour and 20 minutes into the show, Randy hasn’t read a line from his book, and I am beginning to suspect I will never learn about Skye, as woeful as that seems. Randy’s masterful procrastination that at times felt slow, ends with some astute observations, most relevantly that my friend and I will leave the Theatre and discuss the nuances of the show, focusing on the different factors that impacted on its quality. Naturally, we did, only to come to the conclusion that as Theatre lovers we are sometimes clichéd and that Randy knows his audience.

Randy moves around behind his desk in a life-like way. It’s easy to forget that there are complicated skills at work whenever Randy makes a gesture. It is truly a testament to the crew and cast of this comedy show that Randy feels to me as fun, charismatic and charming as the next purple man. It didn’t hurt that I’ve missed the easy flow of conversation that occurs whenever I meet a fellow Australian, even if he’s not quite the average Australian bloke.

4stars

Randy writes a Novel is playing at Theatre Row until June 9th. Get tickets here

REVIEW: Fishbowl @ Kings Head Theatre

Reviewed by Charlotte White

So we go straight in with a conversation about whether George called his neighbour Hatty over for sex or not. George is adamant there is a leak in his ceiling, but Hatty thinks there is something more going on, but is there? Or is it simply just, a leak?

Fishbowl, a play by Jenna Kamal and directed by Alice Wordsworth and Erin Blackmore is a truly simple yet quite brilliant piece of live theatre. Essentially we watch as the only two characters in the play discuss various issues at 4 in the morning.

George is played by Nick Cope who portrayed the awkward but loveable character in such an endearing way and did such a great job of showing us as the audience how everything in life can be affected by so many little things. Felicity Green took the role of Hatty and I felt her performance had such a natural flow about it (much like the play in general). I particularly enjoyed her little cardio work out dance break!

I wasn’t expecting the show to make you think about so many things in life. As the show appeared so much like a casual conversation it made it more relatable and made you reevaluate things in your own life as you were watching it. Lots of quite deep elements of life were discussed. For example, does change only come from conflict? Or can it come from positivity?
I liked the fact that these deeper moments were contrasted by witty one liners and again some great dance moves from Hatty!

Fishbowl is a thought provoking, clever, unique piece of theatre with a natural flow that makes it that much more enjoyable to watch.

REVIEW: Mirrors @ Leicester Square Theatre

Reviewed by Alex Kirk

Written and performed by Siobhan McMillan, Mirrors is a clever and humorous take on the classic Snow White story.

In Snow White, the Evil Queen discovers that there is another maiden in the land who dares to be fairer than she, and begins a hunt to kill her. In Mirrors, the Evil Queen is one of many personalities living inside the head of an enthusiastic yet entirely unoriginal and naive YouTube vlogger called ShyGirl, with a grand total of 30 subscribers.

When she is stood up by her ‘boyfriend’ (who merely uses her for sex and shows no romance at all), she becomes Shivvers – our ‘Evil Queen’ – a much more confident and down to earth character, who guides us through the story when her mirror tells her that she is no longer the most gorgeous woman alive, and begins her pilgrimage to kill her.

McMillan’s writing is clever and endearing, using mystical fairy-tale language to narrate the story, interjected with insults and stereotypes more commonly found in Facebook memes and ‘trash’ humour; the first woman that Shivvers believes is her new enemy is given the name ‘Bitchface’, and later in the play we hear all about another character’s love for chips and hummus (which was served to the audience after the show!). McMillan gives a strong performance throughout the play, in all of her characters, sometimes switching between them on alternating lines. She gives a masterclass in characterisation.

Gabi Maddocks’ direction is brilliant as well, and utilises the space superbly. The Lounge at the Leicester Square Theatre is a highly intimate space, and yet every single corner of the room is used throughout the show, thoroughly gripping your attention. The fairy-tale language in McMillan’s script parallels the fake oh-so-perfect world that YouTube vloggers pretend to have, and Maddocks’ direction heightens this further with some brilliant comedy moments – a personal favourite moment being ‘magical’ bubbles coming from a techie blowing very loudly at the back of the theatre. This is a production that is very self-aware and embraces its innocence and intimacy, and it is this that makes it such an endearing piece of theatre that will have you invested in ShyGirl’s journey.

Snow White parallels aside, I cannot compare this show to anything else. It’s thoroughly unique, totally personal, and I really enjoyed it.

4stars

REVIEW: Banana Crabtree Simon @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Reviewed by Leyla Damirel

“Banana Crabtree Simon” – these are the three words that Alan is told to remember. These three words are also the title of a new, one-man play that I was given the lucky chance to review. The play follows the character of Alan and his ongoing condition of dementia.

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Other than that, I knew nothing of the play, and went in with an open mind, although I was intrigued as to how the actor would captivate and keep the audience’s attention all on his own – it is a great deal of pressure for one person to captivate the audience and tell a story and keep the audience interested with no other cast members to help, but CJ de Mooi (Alan) managed to capture it perfectly. His characterization is flawless – in a short amount of time, you can see an almost healthy 50-year-old man in front of you deteriorate with his condition to a man who is rapidly becoming weaker as his memory fades. At one point in the show, Alan is under the sure belief that he is once again a little boy who has just attended his sister’s funeral. The way this scene was portrayed was breath-taking – I was not watching a man perform as a man with dementia. I was watching someone who truly did have dementia. The lines between acting and reality were completely blurred.

From the word go, you’re thrown right into the heart of the story; granted this is not necessarily a high energy show, if you’re expecting grand sets and orchestrations, this show is not one for you, but if you want to truly get invested into a story and really feel something, then this is right down your street. The simplicity of the setting and the lack of ‘theatre glamour’ adds to the intimacy of one man telling you his dementia journey, and being able to see his dementia increase as the show gets on is truly something special. I feel if the play were to transfer to a larger theatre, the intimacy would fade and the effect the play had on me would be lost. The use of music throughout the show only adds to the mood – as the play becomes more intense and tense, the music builds and only adds to this; every aspect of the production of this show has been accounted for, so while at face value it may seem that this is a simple play about a man with a degenerative condition, when real attention is paid to the finer details, they can truly be appreciated and the hard work that has been put in behind the scenes which is often overlooked, can truly be noticed. A beautifully heart-breaking piece of theatre, I know for a fact I shall never be forgetting the time I went to see Banana Crabtree Simon.

5stars

Banana Crabtree Simon runs until 14th April 2018. Tickets and more information can be found here.