Reviews

Review: Pam Ann’s Touch Trolley Run To Galley (20th Anniversary Tour)

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Pam Ann will be touching down in London until 27 May.
Pam Ann will be touching down in London until 27 May.

8:00 PM at the Leicester Square Theatre and, with phones set to airplane mode and armrests down, it is time for veteran flight attendant-cum-comedienne Pam Ann back to cause mayhem on her 20th anniversary.

The last two decades have seen Caroline Reid as her sky-high-based alter ego, celebrating and ridiculing all that’s good, gay and glamorous about air travel. The show opens with a suitably camp recorded welcome by Alan Carr followed by a dance-along to Spice Up Your Life, featuring four on-stage “volunteer” Spice Girls picked from the audience. Mere false eyelash-flutters later, Pam is in full flight, reverting to her offensive, filthy self – imagine Bernard Manning, squeezed into a sparkly Kylie frock.

The trolley dolley lovingly talks us through the various airlines with a zeal on par with the most enthusiastic plane spotter. Much of the material centres around the largest demographic of her fan base, gay men: “I fucking hate that you queers got equality. Now you’re all married no one comes out with me anymore. I went to New York Pride and I was one of only three fuckers there!” There are tips on how to smuggle drugs through customs (“just hide your G in your Evian bottle!”), enough vulgarity to make even Joan Rivers wince (“after I’d fucked all the black men and Cubans of Miami I had an arsehole like a hippo’s yawn!”), and a ridiculing of United Airlines (“If any of you disrupt my show I’m gonna have representatives from United pull you out of the theatre feet first and smash your front teeth out!”).

There’s more than gags, though, in Pam Ann’s luggage. As in previous shows, she brings out her latest hilarious video parody; this time her target is The Great British Bake Off, with Pam digitally inserting herself in place of Mary Berry and seducing former contestant Selasi in a film short entitled “The Great British Wank Off”.

Approaching final landing, Pam Ann cranks things up a notch, as a cock-addicted, coke-addled hot mess pouring out champagne to her fans in first class. The show’s highlight occurs with a hilariously-executed trolley-dolly routine with a stick-thin Air France crew member, a horse representing British Airways (who invites guest to board via hand-written invitations), a brutally-punctual gay serving for Lufthansa and a KLM staffed entirely by lesbians. Many of the jokes stem from decades-old stereotypes, but Pam has some sharp lines about American Airlines to keep things topical.

Twenty years are a long time for any act and it shows here in places.  Some of the material feels heavily recycled, but it is done so charmingly; with her tongue planted so firmly-in-cheek, you can’t help but climb aboard.  For fans who love Pam Ann for having a bigger wig and bigger balls than any drag queen, the show is sure to leave few disappointed.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★★

Pam Ann: Touch Trolley Run To Galley (20th Anniversary Tour) continues at Leicester Square Theatre until 27 May 2017. More information can be found on the venue website.

 


Boys From The Posh Stuff: Bounder and Cad

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Two thoroughly nice chaps you’d safely take home to mother. Two Cambridge choral scholars and occasionally camp satirists at pains to remind you they’re heterosexual. One a bit shorter and blonder, one a bit like Robert Peston.

Let’s first accentuate the positive and say that they sing effortlessly, possibly with more technical accuracy than most contemporary comedy cabaret and they acknowledge that their success is accidental, following a series of private and corporate parties at Number 10 or Highclere Castle.

Bounder and Cad both have day jobs – Adam Drew develops film scripts, Dr Guy Hayward researches the links between music and walking gait and promotes a series of curiously Chauceresque pilgrimages around Britain.

The current act has a repertoire of a dozen songs well-delivered and ranging from the purely classical to pop and show tune, but of dubious topicality: a version of Me and My Shadow parodies the Clegg and Cameron coalition, but wouldn’t pass muster on The Now Show. Their best piece The Flour Duet is a choice contrapuntal between Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood but that cake feels staler now their BBC partnership is over, and on the very day Article 50 was triggered, the best they could come up with was a funny but two-years-ago duet between Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras about the Greek debt crisis.

You just know Kit and the Widow would have scrawled something more sharp and topical on their shirt cuffs an hour before the performance.

Because their humour is free from contemporary savagery, everyone says ‘oh, they’re like Flanders and Swann’ as if many can remember the piano-and-wheelchair-bound pair of gents who last performed together in 1967. But actually Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh-Atkins have already mined that seam of ‘two posh blokes in dinner jackets’, for longer than Flanders and Swann did themselves.

Much as I love and respect the pioneering work of Adele Anderson and Dillie Keane with Fascinating Aida to whom Bounder and Cad also pay homage – they are also approaching the stage of their careers when they may consider whether it’s worth flogging the old Peugeot round the shires every winter to stay in a succession of Travelodges and entertain the people they’ve already entertained before.

Trying to give feedback in a positive way – their Teddy Bear’s Picnic song lampooning modern preferences for quinoa and quiche is genuinely funny, but it’s a cardinal error to repeat the same words in two choruses of a patter song, particularly when it would be fairly easy to write a fresh set.  There’s a certain shuffling on stage which looks like clumsiness but could be sorted out by a director, but the most fundamental problem is there’s too little differentiation between the onstage characters.

For a double act to succeed, even without resorting to the Music Hall convention of straight man and comic, you have to vary the personas: although as pairings coming from similar backgrounds Fry and Laurie, Armstrong and Miller, Mel and Sue, French and Saunders, even – God help us – Ant and Dec all learned this early on: one of you plays the more serious, pompous or pedantic role and the other sparks off it with the sarcasm.

Early days. If Waitrose did cabaret, this could be it: but in the harsher competitive arena of the urban comedy and cabaret circuit, we’d welcome something more pointed.

Bounder and Cad: Implicit Content, Crazy Coqs/Live at Zédel, London W1.  29 March 2017, 9pm.

Will The Enduring Wonder Of Cirque Du Soleil Last Forever?  

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When you think there is nothing left for Cirque du Soleil to amaze us with, they come up with something newer, fresher, more death-defying and more artistic. They have been doing it for 33 years now so we shouldn’t be surprised at the depths and wonder of their collective imaginations, but some critics have watched their latest show and asked whether their creative pool has run dry?

Amaluna has returned to the Royal Albert Hall for a second run, until the end of February 2017. It first played to sell out crowds last year, and the two and a half hour spectacular, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is still packing them in. The show contains the usual range of circus disciplines, elaborate costumes and visual artistry, but some reviews have described a ‘tried and tested formula’ and the new show being ‘conceptually bland’ despite the addition of two new acts compared to the 2016 version.

Cirque du Soleil’s 33rd production is a unique gathering of artistes from around the world and the stunning mix of balance, dexterity, nerve, athleticism and contortion on display is certainly receiving few complaints from audiences. Packed houses are still dropping jaws at the drama, suspense and sheer theatre of the spectacle before them, and the sweeping majesty of the Royal Albert Hall is certainly a fitting backdrop to Cirque du Soleil’s dazzling show.

The Canadian entertainment company were formed in Montreal in 1980, and with the aid of Government grants managed to create their first show, Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Its success secured a second year of funding and they have never looked back.

Today they are the largest theatrical producer in the world, employing over 5,000 people but staying true to a collective work ethic, whereby all the performers help with props and changing sets rather than using stagehands. Of the 33 individual shows that have stunned audiences all over the world, 18 of them are still active now and are either touring or taking up a residency somewhere. The company has toured every continent and plays to 9,000 people per night in a Las Vegas run it has maintained since 1993. They also have a residency at Disneyland in Florida and have performed at the Oscars ceremony twice, in 2002 and ten years later in 2012.

With other circus performers pushing the boundaries of contemporary circus all the time, it is true that Cirque du Soleil need to innovate to stay ahead of a game they have lead since forming in 1980. Can they find new ways to balance, swing, jump, throw and catch? Innovation has always been at the heart of Cirque du Soleil’s principles, along with comedy and a non-traditional approach to the circus and what people expect.  History suggests they can re-invent themselves again, take that ‘tried and tested formula’, spin it on its head and come back with something you couldn’t predict and couldn’t even describe, and we are more than willing to give them the opportunity.

Tickets for Cirque du Soleil can be booked today at BoxOffice.co.uk

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Back from Broadway: Cynthia’s Comin’ Home

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There are few divas for whom you would queue an hour in the pouring rain on a cold night in January, but it was almost worth getting trench foot to witness the extraordinary, uplifting, generous and eclectic ‘comeback’ concert with which Cynthia Erivo chose to favour her loyal London mailing list.

Only circulated a week before, it was an instant sellout and even snaking down the flooding pavement the excitement was shared like we were a secret sect as customers spilling out of steamed-window Shoreditch eateries asked what we were queuing for and shrugged off our enthusiasm with a ‘never heard of her’.

But that is their loss, because not only did Ms Erivo leave London a definite musical theatre star on her way to The Color Purple on Broadway, she has returned with her brightness burnished to a dazzle, and with a trail of performances and landmark events she was visibly excited to share with this loving crowd.

Her voice has grown significantly since The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory or Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studios.  It was her 30th birthday a couple of weeks before this concert yet there are moments you look at Erivo – and this is only a compliment – and think she seems ageless. She has such mature vocals, and has already mastered so many musical genres and sings so reflectively that for a moment she might have a look of Joséphine Baker and a lifetime of experience in her phrasing.  Baker was a civil rights activist, too, and Erivo certainly doesn’t shrink from political engagement either.

Everything was introduced with an anecdote highlighting her extraordinary year – one of her most moving being singing ‘The Impossible Dream’ in a segment representing JFK at the Kennedy Centre Honors in Washington, when Aretha Franklin joined in the chorus and the Obamas were in the audience.

She is resolutely unafraid to tackle the iconic – how else could her concert include Billie Holliday’s ‘God Bless The Child’, Eva Cassidy’s remarkable 1992 arrangement of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and perhaps most daring of all, allow her to outshine Whitney in ‘I Will Always Love You’ which brought the house down. She sang a rare Etta James track, and to thunderous applause, welcomed to the stage her friend Leslie Odom Jr, star of ‘Hamilton’ for a duet from the show before introducing the wonderful ‘You Will Be Found’ – first-act closer from the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, written by her other friends Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

She can belt, she can blast the rafters, she can improvise, but she never over-decorates: seizing the Carole King anthem ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ she drove the words home harder than Aretha herself, but constantly pulled them back to a confidential whisper, especially on the title phrase.  She spoke, as always, to the room, but if she was privately aiming this at her partner, Aladdin’s Dean John-Wilson who she namechecked in the audience, he is truly the luckiest of men.

And so, for two hours, were we.

 

Cynthia Erivo: Hey, It’s Been Some Time: Shoreditch Town Hall 29 January 2017, 7.30pm.

 

 

 

Review: Becoming Shades, Vaults Festival

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Persephone, daughter of Zeus has been abducted. Deep in the Underworld she fights against her imprisonment which has brought perpetual winter on earth.

This is the story of Becoming Shades, staged as part of the Vaults festival. The shadowy outlines of the forgotten myth have been reimagined for modern times by London-based company Chivaree Circus. It is also really about confinement and release and as a promenade piece in the murky tunnels below Waterloo, it does not have to try very hard to be the immersive experience it sets itself up to be.

There are various performances here from the various denizens of Hell and, no matter how each set piece varies in skill and sophistication, the way they are weaved into the story and the neatness of the promenade style direction must be admired. A figure who resembles a skinny, faceless Fester Addams (Malik Ibheis) with flashing, lit-up hands gives us our pre-performance instructions like a freaky airline attendant. Later, he gently ushers us round the performances, telling us to sit and stand as if this is some kind of church or court. His presence and actions unify everything, whereas in other promenade pieces this mechanism can feel intrusive.

It is Persephone’s story, however. Her capture by Hades, the ruler of Hell, is imagined here as a love story and she both wants to escape from him and cannot resist him. The two tautly defined performers illustrate this magnificently, in tumble routines from silks and in balletic lifts.

Persephone, though, is no dainty victim: her considerable strength makes the couple’s dynamic more even and, hence, more interesting. Being so close in the fairly small space also adds to our fascination but almost our discomfort too, a confinement of our own. There’s a feeling here of watching a lion prowl his cage in the zoo.

Elsewhere, the visibility of sheer muscle power work well with the Greek mythic origins, where physical prowess was celebrated in all its forms. For example, Hades flexes and parades his muscles at us before attempting to balance precisely on stilts on his hands, reminding us his body itself is as much an aspect of the performance as anything else.

Release is brought out in the ways light is used. Candles are given to shared out amongst the audience so all can take part in a votive scene while pagan dancers brandish flaming candelabra. It is most successfully used through live music from Becks Johnstone, a singer-songwriter whose soaring notes have already filled London tube stations before she found herself here, performing under one. The contrast of her voice – part Portishead, part hymn and folk-like – with the darkness and musty air around her, gives her work added poignancy.

The light at the end of the tunnel for Persephone is she gets to visit Earth once a year to bring warmth in the form of Spring. In these bitter few weeks of winter, we sympathise with her yearnings, yet are glad to be released from the Vaults and the intensity of the night.

The Vaults festival runs from 25 January to 5 March http://www.vaultfestival.com/

 

 

 

Why You Should Choose Trainspotting

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Choose Trainspotting. Choose the Vaults. Choose interactive theatre. Choose a dash back to the last Summer of Love. Choose a loud rave. Choose to wear earplugs (one pair of, supplied). Choose strong nudity. Choose dark humour. Choose heavy Scottish accents with no fucking subtitles. Choose an awesome soundtrack. Choose to dive into a world of drugs, sex, death and job interviews. Choose the best bits of Irvine Welsh’s seminal novel enacted with conviction and character by a cast who commit every fibre of their being to the production.

Choose moving monologues. Choose brutal banter. Choose to see the film sequel. Choose to be sat on. Choose to have a pool cue miss your head by inches. Choose to be splattered by something cold, brown and wet. Choose to engage with a ferocious experience which never lets up. Choose to hold this play up as an example of how modern theatre can powerfully mimic one of cabaret’s finest qualities: kicking the fourth wall in the scrotum and then stamping on it for good measure. Choose Trainspotting.

Choose to tell all your mates about Trainspotting because, frankly, if there is anyone who sees this and still poo-poos the very concept of another night out at the theatre, they might not be the kind of people you want as mates, you ken?

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★★

Trainspotting continues at The Vaults until 15 January 2017. Tickets are £20-£35. More information can be found on the official Vaults website.

Image: Geraint Lewis

This Is How It Feels To Experience Music Through All Five Senses

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What does music taste like? What is its scent? How does it feel on your skin? With their new production Tapestries, BitterSuite seek to provide the answers and much more in a uniquely engaging and hugely uplifting performance, that will change the way you hear – and indeed touch, smell and taste – music ever again.

At the beginning of the performance each audience member meets their guide, who is there to help them throughout the experience. Then, they are blindfolded. From here, each guide helps their own member walk, bare footed, into the concert space, where a string quartet awaits. Just the short walk towards this beginning, blind as a bat, brings up questions of trust and feelings of vulnerability which are played upon, in a positive way, throughout the performance. The complete loss of sight is extremely effective in re-tuning the everyday order of the senses – particularly important for an art form for which so much of the experience is based around listening. When visual distractions are impossible, it’s amazing what you can hear.

tapestries
Image: Bittersuite

As the music begins so too is each audience member (for there are several within the space) submerged deeper into the music by their guides. It’s a very physical experience – audience members are tapped, pressed, massaged in rhythm or in feeling with the piece of music playing at that time, their arms raised and dropped, and at one point, their bodies actually lifted in the air. Never has the musical term “movement” been so apt.

But members are guided to feel the music, not just through their ears or touch, but through every sense. A tap to the chin by a disembodied hand means it’s time to open mouths and taste whatever secret treat is waiting for them.  At certain points a scent is sprayed and slowly fills the room. It’s a strange and disorientating musical isolation tank, which encourages a different and certainly more intimate approach to appreciating music than your average concert.

The music itself is a collaboration between composer Fred Thomas and poet Kayo Cingonyi, using compositions from composer Leos Janacek. It’s at intervals frantic and chilling – but there are moments of peace. One of the most soothing parts in the whole experience comes when hearing Cingonyi’s voice drifting in-between strings. In fact, as much as relying so heavily on a stranger can at first be disconcerting, the experience in itself becomes oddly therapeutic. Very few performances require the audience members to themselves give so much to the act, but in doing so there is an unspoken bond felt between everyone in the room, as everyone works together to bring this piece of music to life.

These moments are let down occasionally by the obscurity of what is needed by the guides. There are no words or verbal commands given – members simply have to follow their movements and guess whether their guides mean them to sit or stand up or walk about the room – which at times can distract from the music being played. Equally, the food surprises don’t work quite as well as other elements in translating across to the music and seem to exist purely to add another sensory dimension to proceedings.

Nevertheless with “Tapestries” BitterSuite has managed to put on a thoughtful and unusual way for audiences to get more out of their music. At the end, as the blindfolds are slipped off, it’s almost surprising to find ourselves in just an ordinary performing space. We’ve been immersed so deeply into another world that reality feels, tastes, smells and sounds a long way away.

Tapestries will be performed in New York in December and then from January onwards in the UK in 2017. Find out more at http://www.bittersuite.org.uk

Review: The Ruby Dolls’ The Brides Of Bluebeard

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Doing a show about marriage is a brave move. All the statistics point to people getting hitched later in life than ever before; more and more are avoiding it altogether. Two in five marriages end in divorce while a third don’t make it past the 20th anniversary.

In The Brides Of Bluebeard, The Ruby Dolls lay out the story of not one but four marriages, albeit all to the eponymous groom. Is he an eternal romantic, some kind of masochist or is there a dark plan afoot?

The Ruby Doll’s foursome of Susanna Fiore, Jessica Sedler, Rebecca Shanks and Tara Siddall are ably aided and abetted by the musical director and accompanist Benjamin Cox and, between them, they lay out a gothic fairytale stretching across decades.

For this particular outing, each of the Dolls assumes the role of one of Bluebeard’s wives. There’s the news presenter, the hippy model, the aristocrat and the opera singer, all stylishly distinguished through dress as well as physical and vocal mannerisms. All but the latest wife have died in mysterious circumstances and Bluebeard’s latest bride is on the hunt for answers. What will the bride find? [cue violent violin screech.]

Musical harmony groups are certainly not a scarce resource in London but The Ruby Dolls are a different breed to most in the way they put together shows. As well as their own original songs, they throw in mashups and updated arrangements of old songs. They cover topics as different as the works of Berthold Brecht and their own immigrant forebears. They aren’t afraid to experiment with the theatrical format, whether that means kicking down the fourth wall or including humorous “meta” moments.

For Bluebeard, all of that is thrown in with some considerable aplomb. The songs have individual and collective appeal (a cast recording wouldn’t go amiss, hint hint). Some, like this mash-up of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love and Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, are simply touched by genius.

The live effect isn’t all it could be as Fiore’s voice gets lost in the mix but her voice is better elsewhere and, as the group’s choreographer, she finds novel and intriguing ways to physically express what is being told through song and prose.

Musically, Cox provides superlative contributions to Bluebeard and raises the quality throughout. Together with the Dolls, he has created songs which are punchy and engaging. Moreover, they come with memorable lyrics and hummable melodies, something decidedly lacking from the more recent West End musicals (Groundhog Day aside).

In telling a folk story framed in themes as old as time, the Ruby Dolls have found a refreshingly sincere and heart-touching way to connect those themes with a modern audience. As with their other shows, there is an intelligence at work here which goes far beyond the basic premise of Bluebeard. Between their thoughtful approach to music and drama and their brave and smart choices of subject, the Ruby Dolls are a marriage made in heaven.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★

For information on where you can catch The Ruby Dolls in action, check out their official website.

Review: La Poule Plombée, London Wonderground

La Poule Plombee, London WondergroundRead more

Sarah-Louise Young and Michael Roulston’s latest collaboration sees them give La Poule Plombée her first full show – and, still, the “frumpy pigeon” is as comically unhappy as ever. There’s no pleasing some people.

The French mistress of misery was first seen as a character in Young’s Cabaret Whore shows and here she tells stories of woe in a manner which is more likely to bring out tears of laughter than agony.

More Gallic than garlic chicken in a garlic sauce, she is now down on her luck and down to the last remaining member of her band (Roulston on keys and in character as her much-abused accompanist). Where does she go from here?

Over the course of the show, we learn how this particular pigeon came to be standing here, almost alone both on stage and in life. We hear her backstory, a litany of bad luck, bad men and being born in the shadow of “the little sparrow” Edith Piaf. The evocative lyrics of Some Men Don’t Translate, Love Is Everything and Baggage bring out the manifold reasons behind this captivating character’s situation.

To its credit, this show isn’t afraid to delve into the dark. Perfect Papa may sound like a sweet and fluffy song but it describes the kind of childhood trauma that would keep a therapist busy for years. It’s a bravura move from Young and Roulston to downshift the mood in this way and, to a large extent, it pays off.

And let’s talk about Roulston. He is one of the cabaret scene’s less well known contributors but he has had a hand in many of the highlights of recent years. You’ll not often see his name in lights but his addition to any act or show is rarely anything other than a very good thing. Take, for example, his work with Young in their Julie, Madly, Deeply, a brilliant show based around the life and works of Julie Andrews, and his work with Dusty Limits on the veteran singer and compere’s critically-acclaimed debut album Grin last year.

Roulston is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and join in the character comedy when required: as part of Meow Meow’s Feline Intimate, he plays the last few numbers in his underwear. Thankfully, La Poule Plombée, is kinder on the apparel front and hugely benefits from his chucklesome contributions as the “straight man” to the La Poule’s more deranged demeanour.

This is a different Poule than the one I first saw in 2010. There, the character was spikier and more immediate in presence with the songs packed with razor-sharp lyrics. Here’s an example of what she sounded like:

Scroll forward six years and Poule’s new incarnation is a different kind of animal. Sure, there are the recognisable outer trappings – the costume, the wig, the accent, the melancholy, the butcher’s knife – but now ol’ miseryguts is a more mature creation. The transition from her old self to her current state of being has seen her cross from character comedy to a style more akin to songbook cabaret, a genre that usually consists of cover versions and not original works.

The move is certainly a brave one and it is a shame that it is one that doesn’t quite work. As occasionally happens when crossing the road, La Poule Plombée, is hit by traffic from both directions. While Julie Madly Deeply (another songbook-style show) had classic numbers sewn into its very fabric, this show relies on songs which generally and tonally lack in variety. There’s no denying the craft in each of them but, taken as a whole, most of the songs on first hearing lack the individuality to stand out on their own.

On the other hand, what made the frumpy pigeon such a genuinely hilarious character the first time around has been spread thinly across the show. The between-song exposition is funny and the songs have their occasional laugh out loud moments but overall the numbers lend themselves more to wry smiles than writhing in the aisles. Perhaps it is down to the longer format, perhaps there is only so much that can be wrung from the concept. Whichever, the end effect leaves one satisfied but not ecstatic.

Review: Dream Play, The Vaults

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Designed to raise the big questions about love, death and the human condition, Dream Play (at the Vaults until 1 October) is a promenade immersive theatre production. Unintentionally, it raises questions about the very essence of performance and immersive theatre in general.

The five-strong crew features a couple of familiar faces. Alt-cellist Laura Moody is a stalwart of East End cabaret institution The Double R Club; she has appeared in their spectacular London Wonderground shows and won the Miss Twin Peaks award last year. Alongside her, veteran Shakespearean actor Colin Hurley has appeared in a number of recent TV shows, not least Flowers with Olivia Colman.

The cast is rounded out with three younger members in Michelle Luther, Jade Oguga and Jack Wilkinson. Between them, the quintet explore a series of dramatic sketches which are deliberately disturbing, discomfiting and discombobulating by turn. A newly-married couple bitterly argue with the only interruptions coming from a near-naked messenger. A woman in hi-viz gear sits on the loo screaming over and over for her mother. A strange classroom lesson takes places without much in the way of light or enlightenment.

Jack Wilkinson in <em>Dream Play</em> (The Vaults, until 1 October 2016).
Jack Wilkinson in Dream Play (The Vaults, until 1 October 2016).

This play is described as “after Strindberg”, referring to the iconoclastic playwright and his 1901 opus A Dream Play.  With its nods to the then-nascent movements of Expressionism and Surrealism, the Swede’s work follows the journey of Agnes, the daughter of Vedic goddess Indra.  She has come down to check out the state of humanity and slowly comes to experience the pain and suffering inherent in mortal existence. True, some scenes in Sarah Bedi’s Dream Play‘s come with a patina of naturalism but all at one point take an unexpected dive into the dark – some more literally than others. Bright lights and sharp noises are not uncommon as are the occasional lyrical insights into what it means to be alive and to be human.

The addition of Moody gives this production a welcome twist. One episode sees her cello playing pulling and twisting another character this way and that; in others, she adds discordant chords which play on and with the mind. Within the cavernous Vaults, her music takes on a life of its own.

Laura Moody in <em>Dream Play</em> (The Vaults, until 1 October 2016).
Laura Moody in Dream Play (The Vaults, until 1 October 2016).

Dream Play is not short on ideas but neither is it long on detail. Much is left to the audience to imagine and, where the acting is strongest, any number of nightmare scenarios could fit the interactions we witness.

Clowning is used but only to inexpertly signal abstract concepts – at no point is there a strong or direct sense of emotions being compelled through the mute physical action on display. This feels like a missed opportunity in a richly-scripted play which has ample room to explore storytelling in all its forms.

Like many of its scenes, Dream Play feels like a decent concept executed poorly. Where they are employed, the extreme use of noise and lights at best do little to engage and, at worst, flip the middle finger at those earnestly trying to find sense among the metaphors and metaphysics. The staging attempts to immerse the audience in the story but, where the execution is patchy or slapdash, this exposes the faults even more. Perhaps there is a more focussed play within or perhaps this is as good as it gets. Either way, this production’s tantalising premise is not one to lose sleep over.

Dream Play continues at the Vaults until 1 October 2016. Tickets are £15 (£10 concessions). More information can be found on the official Vaults website.

Images: Cesare di Giglio