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The Gretchen Question

Arctic Adventures

The Gretchen Question

by Melly Still and Max Barton

Fuel Theatre at the Master Shipwright’s House, Deptford until 2nd October

Review by Patrick Shorrock

The Gretchen Question is a wonderful display of theatrical virtuosity in a glorious setting (the Master Shipwright’s House, which is one of the few remaining parts of Deptford’s former royal dockyard, founded by Henry VIII in 1513).  Whether Melly Still’s and Max Barton’s piece is a viable play or not is, perhaps, more open to question.  But it certainly makes for a stimulating and enjoyable evening in the specific site for which it was devised.  However, punters are strongly advised to wrap up as warm as possible.  Sitting down beside the River Thames for 90 minutes without an interval on a late September evening is a decidedly chilly experience, but well worth the trip. 

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Death and the Maiden

For Want of a Nail…

Death and the Maiden

by Ariel Dorfman

The Questors Theatre at Questors Studio, Ealing until 1st October

Review by Andrew Lawston

One evening, married couple Gerardo and Paulina Escobar bicker about whose job it ought to be to keep their car’s spare tyre inflated, as they celebrate Gerardo’s appointment to a new Commission.  It ought to be a familiar-enough domestic scene, but the audience have already seen Paulina pull a gun from a drawer on seeing an unfamiliar car outside their house, and we quickly learn that the Commission has been appointed to investigate murders and other human rights abuses committed under the Escobars’ unnamed country’s previous regime.  From the outset, Death and the Maiden’s tone is unsettled and intense.  The cosy domestic setting of the Escobars’ seaside home is a thin veneer over a couple, and a country, who have clearly suffered huge psychological and physical damage.

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Our House

It Must Be Love

Our House

by Tim Firth, music and lyrics by Madness

TOPS Musical Theatre Company at Hampton Hill Theatre until 24th September

Review by Heather Moulson

To attend a production by TOPS is always a treat.  I have enjoyed many of their detailed musicals in the past.   Our House certainly did not disappoint, and my companion commented that the TOPS show of this London love story was as good as the West End version he saw some years back. 

So where to actually start?  With a backdrop of a Sliding Doors plot, there was a choice of destiny, with break ups, heartbreaks, relevant issues, an unforgettable Las Vegas number and a car wheeled onstage.  If the story sagged a little at times, the vibrant choreography and strong singing more than compensated.

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Poems for Ukraine

Mourning for Ukraine: How Poets Tried to Make Sense of Lives Lost

Poems for Ukraine

Poetry Performance at The Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 16th September

Review by Greg Freeman

When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, a number of UK poetry groups and organisations reacted with heartfelt events and initiatives in protest and sympathy.  One was a group based in Teddington, south-west London, Poetry Performance.  Its organiser Anne Warrington called for submissions from its poets and beyond for an anthology.  Last Friday saw the launch of that anthology, Poems for Ukraine, packed with honest, angry and compassionate thoughts about the deaths and damage wreaked on Ukraine and on his own people by Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin.

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Miss Julie

Misalliance

Miss Julie

by August Strindberg, adapted by Howard Brenton

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 24th September

Review by Louis Mazzini  

First performed privately in Copenhagen on the 14th March 1889, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie was, on its first publication in an English translation, deemed to be “a play so revolting that even the plot is impossible to describe”.  After more than a century, what was once shocking and novel in feeling and technique, feels old-fashioned even when re-presented in Howard Brenton’s modern language adaptation.  Strindberg was an exponent of naturalism and what he described as forsøksteater (experimental theatre).  His aim was to bring about a radical change in the presentation of drama by posing issues and questions for the audience without providing resolution or answers, while at the same time encouraging producers to allow actors to perform naturally and even to extemporise.  However, while Strindberg was originally seen as challenging orthodoxy with respect to the role of women, today – in the wake of the #MeToo movement – he can appear like simply another male playwright relying on over-familiar tropes about women and their motivations and, as is the case with some of the other great nineteenth century melodramas, the once startling conclusion of Miss Julie is today as predictable as it is unconvincing.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Dream Unravelled

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare, abridged by Roger Warren

Putney Theatre Company at the Putney Arts Theatre until 17th September

Review by Vicki and Chris Naylor

As much part of an English summer as cricket on the village, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is part of traditional open-air activities of balmy days.  And this year’s Hurlingham Arts Festival featured Putney Theatre Company’s abridged version of Shakespeare’s magical summer show in a successful open-air run.   However, those record hot days of this balmy summer gave way all too soon to thunderstorms and heavy rain, and the show has is now transferred into the company’s own Putney Arts Theatre just across the river from Fulham’s Hurlingham Club, better known for polo, tennis and croquet.

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Yellowman

Matter of Black Lives

Yellowman

by Dael Orlandersmith

Orange Tree Productions at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until 8th October

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“If you’re born in America with a black skin, you’re born in prison”, said Malcolm X.  Dael Orlandersmith’s play Yellowman further points out that black is only a starting point and there are many types of prison.  This two-hander play is a clever and absorbing examination of what that means in real life.

Two characters, Alma (Nadine Higgin) and Eugene (Aaron Anthony) are growing up in the searing heat of South Carolina in the sixties.  The title Yellowman refers to the derogatory term used to describe the lighter skin tone of Eugene.  Alma is darker skinned.  The action follows the trajectories of both their lives as they become aware of, and struggle to free themselves from the race-based system they’re caught in, before it damages them as it has their parents before them. 

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Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022

Queen Elizabeth II

21st April 1926 – 8th September 2022

The Sea Between

Rising Tide of Anxiety

The Sea Between

by Demi Leigh

Driftwood and Kibo Productions at the Barons Court Theatre until 17th September

Review by Denis Valentine

The Sea Between, written by Demi Leigh, offers a great snapshot into a modern day problematic relationship whilst intertwining with elements from Greek Mythology.

Leigh (Ginny) and Matthew Kay (Mike) play their two characters well and both bring a high sense of definition and realism to their roles.  The chemistry between their two characters builds from the awkward first meeting into being more familiar, but never properly knowing each other.  The audience, as the fly on their wall to their relationship, can clearly see through well-played foreboding moments where the problems lie, as the play explores those red flag incidents that can be so easily missed when you’re in the subjective rather than objective position. 

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The Bear + And I Decided . . .

Mind Games

The Bear

by William Walton, libretto by Paul Dehn and William Walton from the play by Anton Chekhov

And I Decided …

by Daniel Felsenfeld, libretto by Robert Coover, Will Eno and Jennie Ketcham

Opera at Home at the Arcola Theatre until 7th September

Review by Heather Moulson

I was looking forward to catching the seventh week of the Grimeborn Opera Festival at this cutting-edge theatre off Dalston Lane, for a double bill of somewhat singular opera.  I have seen edgy theatre there before, and Grimeborn’s aim to see opera differently was alluring.  I settled down in Studio One amidst the full, predominately middle-class audience … the Bohemians staying at home presumably. 

Opening up to The Bear, an operatic parody on Chekov’s play of the same name, the solitary pianist, Daniel Felsenfeld played a haunting introduction, lulling us into the great man’s bleak humour and sardonic wit.  A dark and sombre set with a grieving widow, Popova, sitting in black alongside her outspoken maid Lusha, the former’s grief turning to anger and disillusionment with her late husband.  The smartly dressed, vibrant presence of Smirnov, a peasant landowner, turned events around as he confronted the aristocratic widow for outstanding debts.  Mind games were edgy and played with real wit, to the point of turning to pistols, before he realised how much he loved her.  So much so, he would waive the deceased’s debt to pursue the snobbish and alluring Popova.

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