A Clown Show About Rain @ The Pleasance, London

Downstairs at The Pleasance I was lucky to watch a gem of theatre ‘A Clown Show About Rain’ by Silent Faces… my mundane Monday was marvellously uplifted by this comical yet meaningful performance.

‘A Clown Show About Rain’ was story of fishermen; three busy at sea, and another two on land with a hook in their hands. Although the two groups never do meet, the dynamic provided a quick switch in narrative which kept the audience’s attention throughout. From sandwich wars, to lip syncing solo’s, to many many cups of tea… there isn’t much missing from this unique clowning show. The trio of clowns on the stormy ship; Josie Underwood, Cara Withers and Stella Kailides kept me smiling with their bright yellow raincoats, perfect comic timing, and likable personalities. I was immersed in the relationships between them and their individual mini (yet funny) hurdles. Cordelia Stevenson and Jack Wakely also took the stage with their kahki fishing outfits and packed lunches, the mismatch pair bounced off one another and although not as physical as the yellow trio their personalities were just as clear.

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The way the ensemble seamlessly worked together to gradually overlap the two worlds was brilliant; at one point the yellow raincoat clowns were midway through their jolly mop-dance (yes, I made that name up but I think it should be a thing) whilst the other two scout-like clowns weaved through them following their compass in a hurry. At these high energy peaks the stage was alive, and the physicality of the characters was fully appreciated.

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Overall, it was the facial expressions of every performer which made you laugh out loud, particularly Wakely eyeing up Stevenson’s sandwich and the dead pan gaze from Withers is comedy gold (She is certainly one of my favourite characters I’ve watched this year). Towards the end you begin to realise the message of the piece surrounding mental health, and once I’d caught on I immediately wished I had known sooner so I could have appreciated the links throughout. However, the delivery of this poignant moment was beautifully gentle, and the simplicity made it even more touching.

I would certainly recommend joining Silent Faces on their boat of laughs and following their compass to a place of humanity and understanding… (In other words; go watch and have a giggle!)

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit…* @ Finborough Theatre

Written by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Bethany Pitts
Featuring Cara Chase, Robert Crouch, Cariad Lloyd, and Kristin Milward.
Presented by Arsalan Sattari Productions in association with Neil McPherson
Tuesday, 2 October – Saturday, 27 October 2018

*Okay, so the full title of this piece was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, but that made this post title far too long!

Set design by Isabella Van Braeckel. Photo by James O Jenkins

My experience of the pub theatre scene in London has spanned an eclectic mix of plays, from tried-and-true classics to material still in the rough work-in-progress stages, from the clever to the dumb, high calibre to low. A Funny Thing… was easily the highest quality piece of theatre I’ve seen in this range.

From the moment the plasticky pastel green divider curtains are pulled aside to reveal an excellently-executed hospital ward, complete with two patients who remain slumbering in their identical beds throughout the majority of the play. Isabella Van Braeckel is to be commended on her flawless set design, which is not only hyper-convincing but also features wonderfully sardonic touches such as the winkingly vaginal abstract artworks on the walls.

As the play starts to develop, however, the dialogue is quickly revealed to be less convincing and realistic than the set. Characters Karla and Don meet in the gynecologic oncology unit where they are both visiting their (probably) dying mothers; she is a young, foul-mouthed millenial who works as a stand-up comedian, and he is an awkward middle-aged slob with an unstable temperament. Their initial interaction is explosively confrontational, and the following 180-pivot of their their relationship also beggars belief, particularly since a lack of onstage chemistry makes it feel somewhat forced. As the characters rush to bare the crevices of their minds in all their filth and generosity, I couldn’t help feeling a slight British distaste for what seemed like a very American type of candid emotional display, with all the subtlety and hidden meaning of a sledgehammer.

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Kristin Milward as Marcie. Photo by James O Jenkins

That said, as the play progressed and it became clear that it was to be a sustained artistic and thematic choice, this brutal honesty and unflinching examination of its characters’ psyches grew on me. The three individuals of Don, Karla, and her mother Marcie are revealed to be riddled with flaws, yet each has their own vulnerability, inner strength, and moments of shining kindness. Each grows as a person during the course of the play, and learns to form stronger, healthier connections with those around them. And along the way, they are harshly hilarious – particularly Kristin Milward as Marcie, who managed to steal scenes despite being confined to a bed and drip and, largely, unconscious. For every snarky burn or crass joke, there is a witty observation, a crackle of deliciously dark humour, or a burst of shared joy, and it is in these moments that the play is at its strongest.

My enjoyment of this clever comedy was only slightly marred by a sprinkling of unnecessary shock-value jokes; for the most part, the play was “edgy” in a good way, but it did occasionally cross the line into ableism or homophobia which didn’t add anything to the value of the play. Although these cracks detracted slightly from the moral weight of the play, they can at least be partially justified by the fact that none of its characters are, especially at the beginning, particularly good people.

Overall, A Funny Thing is an excellent, funny, poignant new piece of dark comedy and social commentary from American playwright Halley Feiffer. I felt buoyed by every shameless celebration of female sexuality and masculine vulnerability, and touched by the emotional rawness of these complicated relationships. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart… but in the end, for a show that is largely about death, disease, and dissatisfaction with life, there is a remarkable amount of cautious optimism and love woven in.


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Cariad Lloyd and Robert Crouch as Karla and Don. Photo by James O Jenkins

Rallying Cry, Apples and Snakes @ Battersea Arts Centre

Presented by Apples and Snakes
Directed by Rob Watt
4 – 6 October

Apples and Snakes create spaces for unheard voices to be heard and champion poets and poetry. Rallying Cry is a immersive performance exploring Battersea Arts Centre as part of Apples and Snakes 35 year anniversary celebrations.

The space was alive when I stepped into the venue. The previous audience who had the 7.30 slot were all gathered on the stairs of the grand space with a choir performing in front of them. The atmosphere was fantastic and I was excited for my slot to begin.

However, when the performance began it was very chaotic and felt disorganised. The audience were split into groups with a title (mine was Campaigner) yet there was no context to this grouping, it felt like a convenient way to split the audience. Our Leader was pleasant yet failed to rally up the audience therefore it did not feel at all like a protest and the atmosphere was very flat.

There were four spoken word performances that I saw as part of my journey, all of which were very interesting and had captivating moments. Two of these pieces were exceptional, the audience were engaged and the pieces were very moving. However, the other two pieces were interesting but lacked passion and power behind the words therefore it was difficult for the audience to engage or relate.

An excellent element of this performance was that the show had a great community feel to it. There was a performance from the BAC Beatbox Academy and a local choir. Both of these performances were fun and filled with energy.

This show has lots of potential and is a great night out to enjoy some poetry, music and the more quirky elements such as the Beatbox group. It doesn’t feel very powerful which was disappointing considering the content of the speeches.

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