The Delight of Dogs and the Problems of People by Rosalind Blessed.

Nobody ever really knows what takes place behind closed doors. Which allows domestic abuse to thrive undetected and the first signs we often hear about it is when tragedy strikes. Often followed by an outcry of why didn’t the victim speak out. Rosalind Blessed’s play The Delight of Dogs and the Problems of People gives an insight into how a victim is manipulated and “made to feel” as to why speaking out is not that straightforward.

James (Duncan Wilkins) begins their story on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary evening as he is preparing dinner for Robin (Rosalind Blessed). The scene of domesticity appears to be completely normal. Why wouldn’t someone cook an anniversary meal to show someone how much they care?

The dense storyline is brilliantly scripted with Wilkins deadly portrayal of James bringing the twisted and calculated mind of a perpetrator uncomfortably to life. There are many keys words used and he often adds a sly laugh at the end to pretend that he was just kidding. There are so many trigger messages delivered throughout which are unnerving.

The death of their beloved dog Ben sees the couple reunite again after Robin had fled their family home. The meeting is fairly brief as the couple bury him, but as James starts to question Robin his old habits return. Questions remain unclear as to the nature of his death. Yet killing family pets has been documented as part of a perpetrators profile. They will destroy anything the victim loves to relish in causing.

This isn’t an easy play to watch. Yet, I felt it delivers an extremely important insight into how domestic abuse takes place. How it demoralises the victim and empowers the abuser. The rational thought process used by James into how “she made him do it” from an outsiders perspective as an isolated incident could easily be believed. Which is exactly what the perpetrators rely on.

The online production filmed by Aydan Wilder has captured the intense drama between Robin and James throughout the entire performance. The skill in which he focuses in at the exact time on each character during key scenes is superb. Filming live Theatre in a Fringe venue which is often small with limited flexibility is definitely not an easy task. Wilder has done this production justice with his camera skills.

This play is an eye-opening account for anyone who is unsure about how domestic abuse manifests inside a relationship and the play offers a very raw and honest answer. What makes this play harder to watch is knowing that for many thousands of people this staged version is actually their reality.

Please use the link below to see this and other productions on the online Fringe festival site. For anyone affected by any of the themes in this production please check out the websites below and please do not hesitate to ask for help.

Five Stars.

Cast

Robin-Rosalind Blessed

James-Duncan Wilkins

Director-Caroline Devlin

Filmed by-Aydan Wilder

https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/

https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help

What is domestic abuse?

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/

https://freedomprogramme.co.uk/lwd.php

Baaba’s Footprints by Susan Hingley.

I had been due to review Baaba’s Footprints at the Vaults Festival in March 2020, the fast spread of COVID-19 saw me cancel my review diary just before the Theatre’s all shut. For the first time, I didn’t feel safe travelling to London. Now for the new Oncomm category in the Offies franchise, I can now review this production from home. I am not sure I could ever get used to reviewing this way however, for now, it’s my only contact with the Theatre world.

Yu (Eyre Kurasawa) loses her job at 39 leaving her bereft and suffering from an identity crisis as she begins to question her life. The pressure to marry is pushing down heavily onto her shoulders yet she likes her life the way it is and enjoys being single. However, peer pressure keeps telling her it’s time to settle down and get married fulfilling the role that is expected from her. Yet rather than staying and succumbing to others expectations, she chooses to grab her passport and travel to San Francisco.

The choice of country isn’t just a random decision Yu chooses to follow in her Grandmother’s Takako (Tomoko Komura) footsteps. Takako had embarked on this journey at 16 and had been one of the “Japanese Picture Brides” who were married on paper and travelled alone to their new husbands and a new country armed only with their passport, bag of belongings and a photograph of their betrothed.

Throughout the play, there is a strong sense of identity and the inability to settle down where neither woman feels as if truly fit in. I think this story can translate across to anyone regardless of gender, race or sexuality as many people struggle with fitting into the roles that they believe they should be fulfilling.

Susan Hingley’s new play balances the generations and timelines smoothly. Although circumstances between the generations were different the feelings of loss, disappointment and not fitting in are shared across the timeline by both generations.

Hingley’s writing is superb in bringing together a strong well-balanced look at how the characters felt about themselves and their place within the world while at the same time it took account of how they perceived others possibly saw them too. After all, nobody is ever certain about how the outside actually views us.

Baaba’s Footprints is set at a fairly fast pace and watching it on the screen lost some of the Theatre magic ones gets from Fringe Theatre productions. The cameras angle was pretty good but I would have liked to have seen more of the entire stage throughout the performance. I sincerely hope they bring this back to the stage at a later date as I want to experience the whole performance.

Director Ragga Dahl Johansen overlaps scenes smoothly where the audience watch Grandmother’s role as a young wife talking about everyday life while Yu observes silently close by. The two characters never interact as they are in different time periods yet they are close enough to touch each other. A simple yet extremely effective stage direction.

The current link to watch this production is linked below. You can choose between the Online Fringe Festival and Scenesaver.

Four Stars.

https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/shows/baabas-footsteps/?occurrence=2020-05-25

https://www.scenesaver.co.uk/production/baabas-footsteps/

Baaba’s Footsteps

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.

Threedumb Theatre presents an adaptation of the short grim gothic style tale The Tell-Tale Heart by American playwright Edgar Allan Poe.  Performed by Stephen Smith with Stephanie Van Den Driesen operating the lights, sound and music they bring this macabre tale to life.

The start of the production leads you into the door and under the floorboards. It feels slightly longer than it necessarily needed to be and at times disjointed but please watch beyond this as you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Smith captures the depth of the unnamed murderer in this one-man performance. His victim is targeted solely on the basis that he has a ‘vulture eye’. Definitely not a justification for murder although through the narrator’s twisted explanation it suggests otherwise.

I especially liked the way in which Smith drew you into the horror of the storyline solely by the tone of his voice. As madness takes hold of him his speech quickens and just as you expect to be struck with a ghastly ending he releases you by softening his tone and changing direction.

Throughout his performance, it’s questionable as to whether you are watching the madness unfold before you or a calculated cold-blooded killer using madness as a justification. Although the narrator does explain that his illness has “sharpened his senses”. I would suggest that is for the audience to decide as I was personally left undecided.

It is worth bearing in mind while watching this production that the entire performance was improvised during the lockdown and Smith explained to me that the entire set was staged”…with hand-made props and no budget” from his home and his brother David behind the camera. I think he has managed to capture the atmosphere of this tale brilliantly. In watching pieces like this you get a greater sense of how creative and talented performers truly are.

The entire production is just under 30-minutes long. However, Poe wrote it as a short piece and in order to deliver the shock of the horror any longer would destroy the impact. Threedumb Theatre has certainly bought it to life and created another chilling episode in the history of this 1843 tale.



To watch this production or to find out more about the work by Threedumb Theatre please use the links below. I hope you enjoy this performance.

Four Stars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK0DsbP_DHw&t=5s


http://www.threedumbtheatre.com/

Key Change by Open Clasp Theatre.

Combining physical theatre and an extremely well-scripted dialogue between the cast of five. Key Change is a story of friendship, abuse, drugs and a lifetime of unfortunate circumstances in which Lucy played by Cheryl Dixon and Angie played by Jessica Johnson find themselves meeting first in a women’s refuge after different journeys of tragedy and abuse. They later find themselves inside the same women’s prison.

Personally, I found the scenes in which they had their phone calls to home very moving and the conflict often escalated quickly as they vied for pole position as to who was going to get to speak to their loved ones first. The women hang onto the phone tightly in order to get every drop out of their conversations with children, grandchildren and loved ones. Fighting to hold their positions in the queue with such passion there was no doubt that the audience could see just how important that grasp on the normality of everyday life was so important to each of the female inmates.

This project was funded in 1998 and based in Newcastle upon Tyne the play Key Change is based on stories from working with women inside the prison and their honest accounts of the circumstances in which they find themselves ending up inside the prison walls. This play was later performed in male prisons too as many perpetrators could see the effects of their actions.

Writer Catrina McHugh MBE along with director Laura Lindow brilliantly created a truthful and explosive production about the stories leading up to why women can find themselves in prison. Often we only see an unflattering picture of the person sentenced and rarely hear their voice or the true story of why they ended up in there.

The key point for many survivors of domestic abuse is that they don’t wish to be seen as victims they wish to be seen as survivors. This I can agree with on a personal level and the part in which they discuss the ladies empowering themselves by taking part in the Freedom Programme I can say from experience you learn an awful lot about understanding how different abusers use the same tactic in order to win over their victims. A link to this programme will be available at the end of this review.

The fast pace in which this 60-minute production moves at mimics the chaos in which many of these women have led their lives up to the point in which they arrive inside a prison. The frank and openness about Angie’s drug addiction was a refreshing account and it didn’t gloss over and romanticise anything which can often be the case in some productions. Her performance is a very honest and open account of how she would score and to what extent it impacted her day to day existence.

I would highly recommend that anyone who has not yet seen this production to try and do so while it’s still available on YouTube the link is available below.

Five Stars.

Writer Catrina McHugh MBE

Director Laura Lindow.

https://www.openclasp.org.uk/productions/key-change/

https://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/

A Separate Peace by Tom Stoppard.

During this unprecedented time during the Covid 19 lockdown creatives and Theatre companies have been trying to come up with new ideas to keep the industry alive and raise some money for those who are now out of work until the Theatres reopen.

The performance of A Separate Peace lasted approximately thirty minutes comprising of five characters. David Morrissey’s central character John Brown had called ahead to Staff Nurse (Maggie Service) asking if the hospital had a spare bed for an emergency.

When he turns up at the hospital as arranged the Staff Nurse asks him “what is wrong with him?” To which he doesn’t have an answer apart from a slightly sore finger. After trying to ascertain what his medical emergency is Brown explains it was an emergency although nothing medical appears to be wrong.

This raises suspicions by the Dr (Denise Gough) and Matron (Ed Stoppard) as to why a healthy man wants to be there. What has he done or who is hiding from? After various conversations between then, they never ascertain a reason. They ask Nurse Maggie Coates (Jenna Coleman) to befriend him and find out his reasons for being in a hospital. Surely nobody wants to just be there.

In truth, Brown isn’t hiding from anyone he just wants a break from every day and does absolutely nothing. Regular mealtimes and a simple routine are all he requires. With a bag full of money to cover the cost of his stay he doesn’t understand why it raises so much concern or be such an issue with him staying.

Matron isn’t satisfied with Brown simply doing nothing and suggests he should try basket weaving which wasn’t a success and then painting. Brown decides against using the paper provided for him and brings his room to life with a detailed countryside scene of rolling fields and trees. He explains to Nurse Coates that he wanted to bring the outside inside without going outside. The mural takes shape nicely behind Morrissey in phases as the painting and his stay progressed.

Using the Zoom meetings platform app the five actors in this production entered and exited in a similar manner to a staged performance. Dressed in black against a white background the performance is focused on its delivery alone. Only those who were in each scene were visible. For a written piece like this, I thought it worked extremely well. Although this production isn’t very long it isn’t short in its delivery.

Originally written for Television in 1964 this particular Tom Stoppard’s production has been performed to raise money for stage technicians and creatives along with supporting The Felix Project food charity too. When stuck in our metaphorical boxes during this lockdown there’s no better time to think outside of it.

Four Stars

CAST

John Brown – David Morrissey (Hangmen, Britannia, The Walking Dead)

Nurse Maggie Coates – Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who)Doctor- 

Denise Gough (two time Olivier Award winner for People, Places and Things and Angels in America)

Matron – Ed Stoppard (Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldsdtadt in the West End)

Nurse – Maggie Service (Quiz on ITV, W1A, Call The Midwife)


CREATIVE TEAM

Director Sam Yates
(The Starry Messenger with Matthew Broderick, Wyndham’s Theatre and The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; Film: The Hope Rooms with Andrew Scott and Ciarán Hinds, Cymbeline with Hayley Atwell, All’s Well That Ends Well with Ruth Wilson and Lindsay Duncan).
Video Designer Andrzej Goulding
Sound Designer Sam Glossop
Costume Designer Amelia Sierevogel
Lighting Designer Nat GreenTech Designer Tim KashaniStage Manager Georgia Bird
Production Manager Kate West
Deputy Stage Manager Kim Battistini
PR Kevin Wilson PR
Producer Curtain CallCo-producer Platform Presents
Co-producer Apples & Oranges Arts
Partner Shubert Organization
Sponsor SHURESponsor ZoomCharity The Felix Project

Drawing the Line by Howard Brenton.

Hampstead Theatre’s latest online production which is being aired this week is “Drawing the Line” by Howard Brenton which has been taken from the Theatres 2014 season.

My knowledge about the days of the British Empire is extremely limited. However, watching this production has certainly opened up my eyes to an interesting part of history and the influence the United Kingdom had over that area of the world during that period.

Judge Cyril Radcliffe played by Tom Beard has been ordered by the British government to go and map out the territories dividing up India as the empire begins to close down. A somewhat daunting prospect for somebody who had never been to India or had any previous experience in making maps or the division of territory.

The 14th August had been set as the deadline for India to be “carved up” the definition used by Jinnah ( Paul Bazely) in one of the official meetings. Radcliffe soon realises that the sub-continent is not just a single country as he had been led to believe. This division would never go to be straight forward. passions ran high between all the head of states who quite rightly wanted a say in how their future was going to be shaped. Tempers often flare as different cultures and religions clashed over the land, it’s borders and the ports. Who would have thought drawing a line could have such devastating consequences, which is exactly what Radcliffe was told to do.

References to cricket running throughout the play tend to be used for comedic effect and releasing tensions between the officials as it was one interest both countries shared. Although the subject matter is extremely serious and sensitive the audience is seeing this interpretation through the eyes of the writer, Brenton which is based on factual evidence bringing this important historical period to life through this dark comedy.

The Viceroy “Dickie” Mountbatten (Andrew Havill) and his wife Edwina (Lucy Black) along with PM Attlee(John Mackay) and the political activist  Gandhi (Tanveer Ghani) all played a vital role in shaping the subcontinents history and the land division that we now see today. Their interwoven relationships and influences have left a lasting unsettled legacy behind.

For an Off West End Theatre, the staging for this play is superb. The combined sound effects and set design felt as if I was transported temporarily to India. Designer Tim Hatley has proved that the smaller Theatres time after time create some remarkable productions. Another good reason to visit them once all the Theatre’s finally reopen.

Running until Sunday 19th April 10pm it is definitely one worth trying to see before it finishes. If you are interested in watching it please use the link below or perhaps use it to see more information about their future online productions. All the production team and cast are also available there too.

Four Stars.

Photo credit Catherine Ashmore.

https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/hampstead-theatre-at-home/drawing-the-line/

The Dock Brief

With the closure of all the Theatres during the coronavirus outbreak and the country lockdown. I reviewed the last production performed at The Cockpit Theatre of “The Dock Brief” which had been filmed especially for reviewing purposes. It was a somewhat unusual experience and although it’s been nice to be able to review from the comfort of my home it definitely is not something I wish to do for any length of time. As the only thing that it’s really highlighted to me is how much I’m missing not going to the theatre and reviewing first-hand from the live experience.

The Dock Brief is a two-man production written by the late Sir John Mortimer the Barrister and playwright whose most famous work has to have been “Rumpole of the Bailey”. The story is based around the relationship between the accused known as The Unsuccessful Criminal Mr Fowle(Kingsley Fowler) and his bumbling Unsuccessful Barrister Morganhall (Matthew Vernon). These two actors appeared to have an excellent connection on stage which for a production heavily reliant on dialogue it is definitely crucial.

Henpecked husband Fowle the seed shop owner has been accused of murdering his adulterous wife of 40 years. Fowle simply wants to plead guilty and get on with his jail sentence. However, Morganhall has other ideas and wants to clear his client’s name in order to help him become famous. Which would help him increase his client list at the same time which currently stood at the grand sum of One, Fowle?

Morgenhall confesses to Fowle early on that he is his only client. Which should really have raised concerns to the accused about his ability as a Barrister. This fact becomes more apparent throughout the performance as Morgenhall devotes an awful lot of time to his client, far more than I imagine a Barrister would have time for.

Glovers performance of the defendant was extremely believable and alongside his main role, he also plays a host of other characters in minor subplots mainly in the form of conversations building up to the time of the crime. These ranged from a policeman, shop owner to a Judge.

Each of the scenarios acted out during their role-play ends in a not guilty verdict. The failing Barrister certainly has an extremely high opinion of his own ability and appears desperate to make his mark in the justice system and become well known. While trying to coerce his client into following his instructions onto what to say actually happened.

I especially enjoyed the range of voices that Glover gave to each of the additional characters which allowed them to take on a persona of their own during each of their brief appearances. He certainly gave a very entertaining and interesting performance.

The filming quality was pretty good on the whole although the glaring lights often obscured the two actors faces. However, the sound quality was extremely good and both actors were very clear and concise speakers.

The company hopes to take this back to the stage once restrictions are lifted and I would be very pleased to accept an offer if they were to invite me back to see it once the production returns to the stage.

Four Stars

Kingsley Glover as The Unsuccessful Criminal
Matthew Vernon as The Unsuccessful Barrister
Director David Tudor.