May 22, 2017

Theatre Review: Late Company at Finborough Theatre

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
Tackling the sensitive subject matters of suicide, sexuality and depression, Late Company is subtle in its delivery, but by no means skirts around the issues. It hits with a hard punch right to the gut and puts you through the wringer, leaving you reeling afterwards.

Directed by Michael Yale, who directed This Little Life of Mine at Park Theatre last year (read my review here), and written by Canadian Jordan Tannahill, Late Company is set in Canada. The play casts the audience as the awkward – in this case – sixth wheel to a domestic dispute. When we meet married couple Michael (Todd Boyce) and Debora Shaun-Hastings (Lucy Robinson), they are fussing over placemats and pacing – backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

It’s been a year since their 16-year-old, openly gay son, Joel, committed suicide. They have invited one of the boys who bullied Joel at school, Curtis Dermot (David Leopold), and his parents Bill (Alex Lowe) and Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) over for dinner.

When they arrive, Tamara’s a bundle of nerves, wrapped up in a neat package of blood orange colour coordination, while Bill makes strained small talk and Curtis is practically a mute. They’ve gathered so that Debora and Curtis can exchange letters about words unspoken and feelings unshared since the incident. All the while, a chair at the table remains empty for Joel, his absence looming large – the elephant in the room.

Curtis (David Leopold) reads his letter to Debora (Lucy Robinson), photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
Robinson is adept at moving between Debora’s emotions of explosive rage and whimpering remorse. She’s like a simmering pot of suppression – until she boils over. In one scene, she throws and smears guacamole around the room. Debora is a metalwork artist and as she engages in her solo food fight, she’s exploring a whole new type of art – performance.

With the Dermots’ insufferable nattering to eradicate any uncomfortable silences and their self-serving comments – “boys will be boys” and “you’re inviting trouble when you flaunt your sexuality” – we can hardly blame Debora for throwing guacamole, nor would we blame her for throwing punches.

What Late Company gets right is that feeling of something bubbling just underneath the surface. It’s evident in Curtis, who’s seemingly furtive and emotionless, but also acutely attuned to his memory of Joel. The play does not directly address why, but we can come to our own conclusions – and that’s enough.

The timing and the venue could not have been a more perfect fit for the staging of Late Company. It began its run on April 25th, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week from May 8-14th, and came to a close this weekend.

The Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court is entered and exited through the pub, which makes for a quaint off-West End theatregoing experience. With its 50-seat capacity, it makes the growing tension in Late Company palpable – and inescapable. This is especially true from my front row seat as an invisible guest, a fly on the wall of a very difficult conversation.

Rihanna’s “Stay”, the original featuring Mikky Ekko, is a chilling backdrop to an already chilling narrative that informs the play’s dialogue. “I want you to stay…” And stay with you, this play will.

Find out more about the Finborough Theatre here.

April 24, 2017

Defying Gravity: Bushra Fakhoury’s Danse Gwenedour sculpture unveiled at Marble Arch

Bushra Fakhoury's Danse Gwenedour
A gravity-defying sculpture was unveiled last month near Marble Arch as part of Westminster’s City of Sculpture series.

Bushra Fakhoury’s Danse Gwenedour is a joyous celebration of life, inspired by the folkloric dance performed by villagers in Bretagne, or Brittany, France. Masked figures hold hands in a circle, three of them suspended in the air through the support of a fourth member of the group.

The sculptor finds inspiration in myths, fables, folklore, carnivals, parades, the powers of observation and good old-fashioned people-watching. Fakhoury’s expertise can be traced back to the age of seven, when she carved out flowers and animals from marzipan.

Although she was born in Lebanon and has lived in places such as the Ivory Coast, France and Kenya, she’s called London home for 40 years. She received her PhD in Art Education at the University of London.

With its inception in 2012, the City of Sculpture programme’s aim is to provide temporary pieces of public art for residents and visitors. Individual artists and over 15 galleries have taken part, with pieces covering more than 20 sites across Westminster.

Fakhoury was joined by Councillor Robert Davis MBE, founder of the City of Sculpture, and Robert Roux, the Deputy Mayor of Nice, on 11 March to reveal Marble Arch’s uplifting new addition, Danse Gwenedour.

Another of Fakhoury’s sculptures, Dunamis, stands at 9 metres tall south of London’s Park Lane. Unveiled in 2013, it depicts a man in a pointed hat holding up an elephant by just its trunk.

To learn more about Fakhoury's work, visit her website or – better yet – see it for yourself.

February 25, 2017

A Clockwork Orange at Park Theatre is Real Horrorshow

Alex (Jonno Davies) endures an experiment to try and "kill the criminal reflex", photo courtesy of Matt Martin
Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange has delighted and horrified readers for decades – as has Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation from 1971. Now, Action To The Word’s theatrical staging of the cult classic has returned to London’s Park Theatre after its debut at Soho Theatre in 2009.

The tale follows Alexander (Alex) DeLarge and his “droogs”, Georgie, Dim and Pete, in their quest for ultraviolence. But have the foursome found their feet on stage? Well, this all-male production is –  as they would say – real horrorshow.

The teenagers use the term to indicate something good in Nadsat, which is English laced with Russian influences. The play honours the original plot and language, so a quick refresher beforehand might be advisable. Otherwise, the storyline is a minefield to navigate, especially when the artistic director, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, has sprinkled it with an additional layer of homoeroticism.

Photo courtesy of Matt Martin

Alex (played by the hunky Jonno Davies) and his droogs casually kiss one another, strip down to just their muscles – no complaints here – and brutally rape other men. In one scene, Pete (Tom Whitelock) finds Alex being called “Little Alex” by his probation officer Mr Deltoid (Damien Hasson) hilarious. The dots are joined pretty closely together with a lascivious lick of Pete’s lips and a well-placed glance down to Alex’s…you know what.

It’s all fun and games until Alex is arrested for murder and rape. In jail, he takes part in an experimental programme that will reduce his sentence and render him averse to all forms of violence.

Each of the eight cast members, besides Davies, performs three roles. They morph seamlessly and manage to excel at each accent, posture or gender change. For the limited female characters, they don a tutu or a pair of killer heels.

Pete (Tom Whitelock) drinks his moloko like a good boy, photo courtesy of Matt Martin
Davies is the cheeky chappie we all expect Alex to be, with his cocksure attitude and cat-that-got-the-cream grin. In this case though, his drink of choice is milk, or moloko, spiked with drugs.

The minutiae of facial expressions are detectable because of the theatre-in-the-round setup. The stage almost spills into the audience on all four sides, making for intimate viewing in a space with a capacity for 200 people.  

When Alex takes a bite of an orange, peel and all, the audience feels the juicy spray. As the droogs run rampant and target their next victims, the fight scenes are literally in-your-face. It’s a wonder no one receives a blow to the head with Dim (Sebastian Charles)'s golf club for looking at him funny. Ultraviolence, not love, is all around.

Photo courtesy of Matt Martin
The droogs occasionally break into graceful dance sequences – choreographed by Spencer-Jones and set to a soundtrack ranging from Gossip to Placebo to Alex’s favourite, Beethoven.

A wooden table and four chairs receive most of the battering in the minimal set. Pops of orange are cleverly interjected throughout – in the form of a camera, underwear, a bottle of Lucozade and even the blaze of an orange spotlight.  

While the play’s conclusion is not as satisfying as the film’s, we must raise a big glass of moloko to this rendition of A Clockwork Orange – it’s real horrorshow.

A Clockwork Orange is showing until 18 March at Park Theatre, N4 3JP. Phone the box office on 020 7870 6876 or book online here. The runtime is 90 minutes with no interval.