Orson’s Shadow -Broadway Baby Review


Orson’s shadow looms heavily in Austin Pendleton’s play about the prolific director; not only over the protagonist but over the entire play which whilst fascinating and faithfully performed, struggles to overcome its creative shortfalls.

Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, incredible icons in their time, brought together in one room. That’s the play’s real hook; an exploration into the lives of these larger than life people. It’s a fascinating subject – when Welles and Olivier teamed up to create a production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros at the Royal Court in London, it did not go well and what might have been a huge moment in cinema and theatre history went largely unnoticed, as did much of Welles’ talents after he was forever in his own shadow after Citizen Cain. Unfortunately, like its titular character, this play, although clearly containing strokes of genius, also often struggles to find its feet.

Watching actors play actors and critics (Edward Bennet is a brilliant Kenneth Tynan, Orson’s dear friend and critic) is often a curious thing. Particularly if you’re an actor or a critic yourself. It often takes you out of the action, reminds you that you’re watching a performance. There’s clearly an awareness of this feeling in the play’s occasional meta structure which breaks out of the drama to allow a character to talk to the audience about dates and personal opinions, as though looking back in a journal. But that’s all these meta moments do and they often feel like missed opportunities. Why weren’t these meta moments turned into striking cinematic monologues to bridge the gap between these theatre and film icons? And delve deeper into the psychological states of these typically tortured artists? They’re not nearly stylistic or committed enough and often just draw your attention to the limitations of the production.

For a play about one of the most innovative directors of our time, the direction is very pedestrian – with props here and there which often get in the actors’ way as well as the audiences sat in the round. The play oddly feels dated, stuck in the time it takes place, which seems at odds with the narrative which constantly reminds us how Welles was ahead of his time.

The actors too, often struggle to find their own skin in these larger than life roles – that’s not to say the performances are not impressive; John Hodgkinson certainly emits Welles – he’s got the trademark sneer down to a T. And Adrian Lukis exudes the theatricality of Olivier with vocal and physical precision. But the problem is we don’t really get to see the real people behind the icons. We just see them as they were most famous for and the performances, at times, border on stereotype imitation. Olivier is flamboyant and whimsical, Vivian Leigh is manic. Of course that’s probably a perfectly fair portrayal, but there seems to be a layer that the actors have not yet fully found and which the script only scratches the surface of. We almost get there with Gina Bellman’s brilliant and disturbing portrayal of Leigh’s manic depression, but the role doesn’t feel wholly hers, but it may yet. There’s a fantastic and heart-breaking biopic all about Vivian Leigh just waiting to be made.

There are fantastic moments. The second act erupts into side-splitting hilarity and aching drama as we watch Welles attempt to direct Olivier, and we see Vivian Leigh lose control. But there’s an unevenness and sad lack of inventiveness to the production. What’s more it feels long and many of the scenes could do with a healthy edit to sharpen up the otherwise intelligent, witty and well observed dialogue.

It’s definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re interested in Orson Welles (and why wouldn’t you be?) But it feels like it could have been so much more.


Major Tom at Battersea Arts Centre Review


Told through a journey into the comparable worlds of beauty pageants and dog shows, Victoria Melody’s Major Tom explores how easy it is to become obsessed with personal image and competitiveness.

It’s quite a novelty to walk into Battersea Arts centre and see a bunch of dogs sat on the steps of the old town hall having their pictures taken. The novelty continues when you walk into the space and the Basset Hound, Major Tom, lies by the door looking up at you and letting you pet him as you go in. IT’S A DOG ON STAGE! And he’s a very likeable, very sleepy dog. Victoria Melody warns at the beginning of the show not to get too excited about Major Tom as he’ll mostly be asleep through the whole thing. But that’s not a problem as the audience clearly loves seeing him sleep, wake up, yawn and go back to sleep. It’s clear that Victoria Melody’s Bassett Hound Major Tom is a big draw to the show. After all, he’s got the title.

In Major Tom, Victoria Melody tells the story of how she came to be the owner of such a sleepy hound and how she decided to enter him into dog shows to prove what a unique and special dog he is. After being told a number of times that Major Tom wasn’t good enough to win, Victoria became concerned about the dog’s possible low esteem so she decided to enter herself into a beauty pageant so she could sympathise with the pressure of being best in show.

Major Tom is a relaxed and charming show with smart commentary under its fur. There’s no angry rant about beauty pageantry, just an informed and funny look at some of the things women go through for these pageants. It’s effectively mirrored with Major Tom’s best of show competitions for dogs – One of the show’s highlights is a hilarious side by side comparison of Melody’s and her dog’s preparation for their shows presented like a training montage. It might not be ground-breaking – beauty pageantry is generally considered sexist and objectifying – but one of the strengths of Major Tom, is how Melody demonstrates that the desire to look ‘perfect’ (or fake) and the competitiveness that comes from attaining your ‘perfection’ can be addictive. Particularly when this perfect/fake image is still paramount in mainstream entertainment and effects our general attitudes about self-image.  It’s a very current issue with increasing levels of anorexia and bulimia in the UK and the presence of social media memes such as ‘thinspire’, encouraging people to get unhealthily thin and contributing to a type of eating disorder competiveness. Victoria Melody does a good job of demonstrating how infectious this way of thinking can be whilst still keeping the show funny and enjoyable.

With a clever and current look at the obsession with body image and celebrity, a modest and easy style and a very lovable dog, Major Tom might not win best in show but is well worthwhile for its simple yet honest and poignant qualities.

Major Tom is at Battersea Arts Centre till the 27th of September.

Original article and star rating available at http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/major-tom-/703365

Thinking back over the stage version of Let the Right One In at the Apollo Theatre


Let The Right One In wasn’t a Hammer House of Horrors cheese-scare. Nor was it a convoluted story about a secret society of vampire and vampire hunters. It was more intimate and so much more refreshing.

Based on the Swedish movie that also has a Hollywood remake called Let Me In, the theatrical version of this Swedish Vampire tale came from The National Theatre of Scotland and was appropriately re-imagined in a Scottish woodland setting.

It’s a refreshing and authentic vampire tale for a generation of viewers vampired out from the likes of True Blood and glossy shallow vampire fests like Twilight and Underworld. With a beautiful story, great performances, fantastic music and imaginative choreography, Let The Right One reminded me of the fantastic potential of a genre I’d all but given up on. The play managed to be fresh, moving and exhilarating all at once. The premise is simple and refreshing – there is a murderer loose in the woods. Lonely boy Oskar is told by his distant mother not to play out there. But he doesn’t listen. The woods are his refuge from the vicious bullies at school and the rottenness of a broken home. In the woods he meets Eli, a strange young girl who has just moved in next door. Oskar immediately likes Eli and Eli likes Oskar. The only problem is it that Eli ultimately turns out to be a blood sucking vampire.

Watching Let The Right One In on the stage felt like quite a unique experience. The stage seems to be the perfect place for this genre, after all, with the immediacy and intimacy of theatre, when done well, where else can vampires be more haunting than on the live stage? – (Except maybe in a real forest, or an alleyway) – But this was no meager scare fest, although there were some truly jumpy moments; It’s wasn’t a Hammer House of Horrors cheese-scare. Nor was it a convoluted story about a secret society of vampire and vampire hunters. One of the strengths of Let The Right One In is in its toned down and very intimate story. This separates it from the majority of vampire stories we’ve been inundated with for so long now, avoiding  the clumsiness and clutter that often surrounds the vampire narrative.  And there’s no acrobatic gun-cata shoot-fests in black leather and sunglasses. – The Matrix is dead, makers of the Underworld series. The 90’s ended and many of us moved on. Also rather refreshing is that as the protagonists are children, Let The Right One wasn’t all about sex, which seems to have become the main focus and selling point for the vampire genre for a long time now. Sex arguably comes into the story, as this is after all a love story, but Let The Right One In is a much more innocent and ultimately, more sinister tale of love, obsession and cruelty.

The stage production made for a very evocative play that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre. An intriguing and unnerving ambiance was created before the play even began with figures weaving through the woodland set and an eerie soundscape permeating through the auditorium. This feeling was maintained throughout the piece and heightened at dramatic points with the excellent soundtrack. It was also greatly enhanced by the wonderful choreography where the movement was used to communicate feeling and story in visually striking and also abstract ways helping to create a piece of theatre that felt fresh and inventive. It was also as you can imagine, pretty gory in places. Let The Right One In was a wonderful edition to the West End that is over-swamped with easy crowd pleasing musicals. Let’s hope that great works like Let The Right One In continue to make it big and find space on the West End and elsewhere..

If you saw the production and would like to share your thoughts on it feel free to get in touch or comment below. If you missed it watch the original movie and look out for a revival. It’s definitely one to watch.

Ed Fringe 2014: Bill Clinton Hercules Review


“A swansong to the former President and an intelligent meditation on the decay of modern politics”

Bill Clinton was one of America’s glowing presidents, a shining democrat in the fashion of Jimmy Carter and even America’s beloved JFK. But after the scandal with Monica Lewinsky, Clinton’s lasting legacy has been cemented by that one infamous quote, ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’. However, there was much more to President Clinton than the stain he left on his intern’s dress. Bill Clinton Hercules is a fascinating one man show that is at once a personal ode to Bill Clinton and an indictment of modern politics filtered through a curious classical intrigue.

According to ‘Bubba’ himself, every year the former president reads Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek play Philoctetes in which the deified Hercules appears to convince the Greeks to make peace with each other to achieve victory through unity. This is the democratic notion that the play’s Clinton believes in and it is this Hercules to whom the character relates and wishes to personify. ‘I am Hercules’ says Paisley’s Bill Clinton as he talks about global conflicts and America’s role in them. His ultimate desire is for peace, even if it must be sought through conflict.

But there’s so much more to this play than simple hero worship. It’s a personal examination of Bill Clinton and of the changing nature of politics from the latter years of the 20th century to the present day. Bob Paisley’s performance is very strong; he appropriately exudes sentiment, regret, wisdom and pride during every moment of Rachel Mariner’s brilliant script, and his Clinton impersonation is spot on. Mariner has done her homework and the play is very intelligent and very well informed, gleaning much of its personal content from Clinton’s autobiography. When the play jumps from Clinton’s personal life to American politics of the past, present and future, the observations made are razor sharp and the criticisms piercing.

Smart, funny, moving and exceptionally current, it is fantastically written with a most Bill-thentic performance from Paisley and assured direction from Guy Masterson. Bill Clinton Hercules is a swansong to the former President and an intelligent meditation on the decay of modern politics. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking play that should not be missed.

(Original article on Broadway Baby: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/bill-clinton-hercules/701227 )

Anchor, The Ophelia, Dalston


Andrew Edward’s psychological drama, Anchor is an emotionally intelligent and solid piece of new writing. It has a few shortcomings and could do with some polish, but is nevertheless a refreshing example of the sort of good theatre the fringe scene can provide.

Anchor follows the story of psychiatrist, Elizabeth. As part of their professional practice, every psychiatrist must also see a therapist themselves. In Elizabeth’s sessions with her own psychiatrist, she undergoes hypnotherapy where she has a protective anchor; an imagined ideal place and scenario where she feels safe. As the story develops we soon realise that Elizabeth’s anchor is not a very healthy one and is in fact, rather depressing. Elizabeth has a new patient, a young girl called Rosanna who is suffering from extreme anxiety and agoraphobia. As Elizabeth’s sessions with her patient continue, it becomes evident that Rosanna’s issues are much deeper and more disturbing. Elisabeth makes some mistakes whilst trying to connect with and help Rosanna and becomes emotionally involved with her patient. As this happens her own issues come to the foreground and impact on Rosanna’s sessions in a negative and ultimately destructive way.

The play explores the boundaries between patient and therapist and what happens when those boundaries are accidentally crossed. This is explored in an intelligent and refreshing way and the key relationship in the play is not a stereotypical one. The play delivers a thoughtful and provoking analysis of bereavement, self-harm, idolisation and also motherhood. It’s a heart-breaking play with some disturbing and very powerfully written scenes handled with maturity by its cast and feels honest and personal.

The play flows well with an appropriate lucid quality, thanks to its recurring hypnosis scenes and the recurring images that accompany them. Although it is, arguably, a little too plainly structured. The director has tried to address this with some risky staging techniques that do not really work well on the small Ophelia studio stage. In a way, the show is too visually ambitious for its low budget. Projections of the characters’ thoughts during hypnosis are portrayed on small computer screens and while the videos themselves work, the monitors look cheap and detract from the naturalistic performances, making it difficult, initially, to connect to the characters and appreciate the realism within the situations they are portraying. The entire stage, in fact, looks a mess. Thankfully, you eventually forgive and forget these annoyances and appreciate the effectiveness of the images and the integral part they play as the narrative unfolds. The video projections also add an intriguing perverse quality to the production; we are seeing inside the patient’s mind; seeing their true thoughts and know more about them than the psychiatrist does. It’s a clever way of demonstrating the gap between what the patient tells their therapist and what they’re really thinking.

Sadly, as is often the case for fringe plays, the ages of the actors aren’t quite right for the characters they’re portraying, causing another disconnect for audiences. It’s a small issue however, as the writing is astute and the performances are, for the most part, handled very well. It’s refreshing to see a piece of new writing that is emotionally mature and provocative without trying simply to shock its audiences and also to see performers who are dedicated to their roles and perform them with convincing naturalism and passion.

Anchor doesn’t quite feel finished, although the writer has clearly worked hard on the project. Certain developments in the play, are at times, slightly clumsy and more could be done with the ending. It may well form the basis for a very different and more accomplished play in the future. But for the most part, Anchor is a very powerful and provocative play that is worth seeing. Andrew Edwards may well be a playwright to look out for in the future.