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A Society (For the Cutting up of Men)

Man Management

A Society (For the Cutting up of Men)

by Daniel Carter

Network Theatre at Network Theatre, Waterloo until 5th February

Review by Heather Moulson

Boom!  The London Vault Festival has opened, and we are straight in with A Society (For the Cutting up of Men).  As the play opens, a vibrant bonhomie with eight women, dressed in eccentric costumes of Victorian skirts and hobnailed boots, promises a lively take on early feminist issues. 

This colourful beginning keeps the weighty piece flowing.  Genuine comic moments about dramatic music in books, and a backlash against chastity, work beautifully.   Young Victorian women question the role of men and a non-patriarchal society, and assert their determination to infiltrate the male world.    Adaptions of Virginia Woolf’s wry observations and of Valarie Solanas’ SCUM (the Society of Cutting up Men) manifesto is a great unconventional concept that verges on the true yet on the absurd.

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Thrill Me

Kill  Joy

Thrill Me

by Stephen Dolginoff

Teddington Theatre Club at the Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre until 4th February

Review by Steve Mackrell

Thrill Me is an award-winning musical thriller, written by American playwright and composer, Stephen Dolginoff, which premiered off-Broadway in 2005.  In the UK, it was performed at the Hope and Anchor theatre pub in Islington in 2019, and subsequently had a one-month run last year at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

The play is based on the true-life story of a couple of twenty-year-old students, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who kidnapped and murdered a fourteen-year-old boy in Chicago in 1924.  However, the underlying interest of the drama is not so much the murder itself, but in the exploration of the motives of the two students, and in particular, their fascination with Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of Ubermenschen, “supermen”.  This relates to the belief that certain individuals with superior intellect can act with disregard to the conventional rules of society, thereby rendering themselves above the law, and thus, not liable for their actions.  The play shows how they both test this concept, with a bold plan to carry out a “perfect” murder.

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The Red Within

Under the Bed

The Red Within

by Oihane Rodríguez

Hecate Theatre Company at the Drayton Arms Theatre, Earl’s Court until 30th January  

Review by Heather Moulson

A tense soundtrack and studied lighting created a fitting atmosphere for The Red Withinas we were greeted, as such, by Rosario amongst a striking tableau of four women.  Rosario opened up to us with pathos, turmoil and wit, slotting us nicely in the picture.  Unravelling a strict Catholic upbringing and alcoholic issues, Rosario revealed her ultimate act of homicide.  The other three women who could so easily be taken for the lead’s alter ego ’s, the loving and protective aunt, Eladia, sister Alma and close friend Regina, revealed themselves at a more leisurely pace,.  These characters had personalities and issues of their own but they were still vital for the dimensions in Rosario’s story.

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Welcome Home

Raw

Welcome Home

by Willy Hudson

Daisy Hale at the Soho Theatre until 11th February

Review by Denis Valentine

So writing a review with the last words of the shows lead in mind and the knowledge that anyone giving too much away of will result him finding them and biting a certain appendage off, it is time to talk about Welcome Home.

The show opens the audience up to the life and times of its lead Willy Hudson and is an autobiographical tale that leads almost up to the literal moment of his stepping on stage.  It becomes very apparent from the opening moments that the show is very much crafted in its lead’s image and the audience will be getting not only a piece of theatre but also a bit of a rock concert at the same time. 

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Escaped Alone and What If, If Only

Echoes of Futures Past

Escaped Alone  and What If, If Only

by Caryl Churchill

The Questors Theatre at Questors Studio, Ealing until 4th February

Review by Andrew Lawston

Two challenging plays from Caryl Churchill take up the intimate space of the Studio at the Questors Theatre tonight.  Both are brisk, under an hour in length, and walk a fine line between bleak and comic.

Escaped Alone brings four ladies together in a back garden on a summer’s day, to drink tea and gossip.  Except this meandering and often witty conversation is punctuated by monologues, often from the visiting Mrs Jarrett who relates impending visions of apocalypse.  As the back-projected sunny sky darkens, Mrs Jarrett begins to relate stories of four hundred thousand tonnes of rock crushing a town, and the gruesome lives led by the survivors.  Or she describes the public health crisis that resulted from food supplies being redirected to television cookery shows.

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Two Billion Beats

And Then What?

Two Billion Beats

by Sonali Bhattacharyya

Orange Tree Productions at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until 4th February  

Review by Louis Mazzini  

When a theatre is full of young people you know that the artistic director – and the cast and playwright – are doing something right, especially as some West End theatres and amateur groups are still struggling to recover their audience to pre-Covid levels.  The Orange Tree Theatre, in Richmond, is one of the best small theatres in London and great things are expected from Tom Littler, the new artistic director formerly at Jermyn St Theatre.  And things have got off to a good start with Two Billion Beats, an engaging and realistic two-hander, directed in this revival by Nimmo Ismail and Tian Brown-Sampson.

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Steel Magnolias

Stainless?

Steel Magnolias

by Robert Harling

Trafalgar Theatre Productions at Richmond Theatre until 28th January and then on tour until 22nd July

Review by Patrick Shorrock

Best known through the 1989 film, Steel Magnolias did actually start life as a play, which is presumably the justification for reviving it and taking it on tour now.  It certainly challenges the view that the only certainties in life are death and taxes by adding a third: the importance of getting your hair done.  Truvi and the patrons of her salon see their efforts to keep beautiful as battle armour against the disappointments of life.  ‘Nobody has natural beauty’, Truvi tells her apprentice Annelle:  beauty requires hard work and plenty of hairspray.   They achieve a degree of female solidarity amidst the bickering, as their hair and nails are turned into something very different from what nature intended … …

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The Edge of Darkness

No Spine Left Untingled

The Edge of Darkness

by Brian Clemens

Teddington Theatre Club at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 28th January  

Review by Heather Moulson

As befits an Edwardian thriller, the set of The Edge of Darkness consists of a drawing room with intricate oak panelling, sinister French doors, mysterious hallways and an intriguing bureau, all picked out in very moody lighting.  The authenticity and atmosphere of this period piece, with gas lamps lit accordingly, sets the audience up nicely for this suspenseful three act play by Brian Clemens, who wrote this creepy tale in 1975.

Every character is under suspicion in this gothic yarn.  Even the somewhat bawdy yet sensitive maid, Penny, who is played with light relief by a vibrant Lara Parker, getting every detail right when waiting table, could be the one.  When the Cranwells bring their estranged daughter Emma home after losing her memory for three years, we know there is dark underlying doubt.

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Beauty and the Beast

Not Skin Deep

Beauty and the Beast

by Loz Keal

Edmundians at Cheray Hall, Whitton until 28th January

Review by Alex Montague  

The Edmundians dependably produce an annual pantomime using the post-Christmas slot to provide cheer and enjoyment to family members of all ages.  This year was no different, and under the reliable direction of Jackie Howting, with additional production by Ellen Walker Dibella, they incorporate all the stock pantomime characters and included lots of audience participation, boos and cheers and even a ghostly ‘he’s behind you’ scene in this version of Beauty and the Beast written by Loz Keal.  We were also treated to a number of large scale music and dance numbers, some using the whole cast, which was a fresh and innovative approach for the Edmundians.  Young Izabelle Sochanik-Oliver’s impeccable choreography made full use of the large cast of adults and children, who clearly had spent many hours practicing their moves to get crisply in-synch and step-perfect. 

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Little Dorrit

‘Everyone Should Have a Fantasy’

Little Dorrit

by David Hovatter after Charles Dickens

Questors Theatre at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 28th January

Review by Poppy Rose Jervis

‘In this bold adaptation of the iconic novel, we are transported to India during the British Raj, where Little Dorrit, a young, loyal daughter, works tirelessly as a seamstress to provide for her family … an impassioned adaptation that powerfully satirises class, wealth and British-Indian relations during colonial rule.’ 

As a hefty tome of some 600 pages with numerous subplots, an adaptation or ‘re-imagining’ of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens in any form would be no small or easy task.  Originally published as a serial and featuring the personally significant and oft referred to by Dickens, ‘Debtors Prison’, in which Little Dorrit was born, the story is set in London, in the 1820s, with a number of characters. 

This theatrical production, however, written and directed by David Hovatter, has fewer characters (but even so, has a cast of sixteen playing over twenty roles).  With its heavily satirised personalities and some fragile, sensitive souls, physical theatre and alternative text, it not only gives us a new perspective, but successfully transports us to India to do so.  In this insightful script, Little Dorrit’s father is a Prince who has lost his fortune but not his airs and expectations and sees nothing wrong as an older male who mourns the loss of his wife, with his young daughter devoting her life to finding ways to keep and support him.  She feeds him by sewing all day and going without food herself. 

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