REVIEW! Rosa @ The Courtyard Theatre

Written and performed by Carlota Arencibia

Directed and designed by Justine Pickering

Produced by Volva Theatre

Upon entering The Courtyard, a theatre which I had not yet visited, I was intrigued to see this new play Rosa, performed by debut writer Carlota Arencibia. And throughout my curiosity only grew.

Carlota Arencibia as Rosa

Walking into the black box theatre I was first met with loud, upbeat, modern day music and the extreme contrast of a frosty white wooden set against the dark stage. Arencibia, as the protagonist Rosa, was full of energy dancing around the set in a white bra and boxers, talking towards the audience to an unseen character Miss Kauffman.

Rosa battling sleep

Rosa, we soon learn, is unusual. She has such depth to her and, with the accidental hilarity in her characteristics, she soon becomes captivating. I feel her story is almost told backwards, firstly exploring her current situation – her day to day life being obsessed with time – all of which she explains to this mysterious Miss Kauffman. Within this continuous monologue we are gradually given pieces of her past, of her childhood, of her mother, of her past lover. And we are left to piece them together how we like, which is wonderfully refreshing as well as fitting to the absurd style. However, I did feel the beginning introduction to character and place took slightly too long, and that I was almost waiting for the story to develop further.

The set design, by Justine Pickering, was bold and clever. As the play evolved it seemed to me that this is what her world looks like through her eyes and to see the same as her was both intimate and poetic.

Her morning routine

From the coffee making routine, to the psychotic episodes, from the pillow clitoris, to the indepth dream sequence, the play was absurd… but simultaneously mesmerising.

For a premiere production of a new play I was very impressed. Arencibia has written a text which is both fluid and dynamic, and she was certainly committed to the character of Rosa. There is a lot potential in these upcoming artists, and I urge you to keep your eyes peeled for further productions of Rosa by this female led company Volva Theatre.

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REVIEW! Baby @ Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham Fringe

Written by Rebecca Saffir
Directed by Jenny Horsthuis
Assistant directed by Sam Moody
Produced by Ellika Heribertson and Holly Salewski

Baby is a current, comic and poignant new play written by and starring Rebecca Saffir, and directed by Jenny Horsthuis. Focusing on love, in almost every sense, and the realisation of what it means to become an adult, this impressive premiere production took place at the Bread and Roses Theatre as part of Clapham Fringe.

Baby brings a difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking, slice of life to our attention. The protagonist; a young woman Vee, played by Rebecca Saffir, is suffocated by her home city travels to London to her lively friend Tash, played by Harriet Leitch. The raw, emotional and comical reunion ends in a spontaneous night of dance, drugs, and a funny yet conceivable one night stand with an overly confident male character Elliot, played by Lewis Page. This swift yet clear introduction of Vee’s life is then followed by a tough decision which, she believes, will not only affect Vee’s life but hundreds of others – all depending on the gender. Resulting in Vee having 4am bursts of doubt and struggling between the ethical logistics of what is right and what she truly believes to be only choice. The story line was captivating, yet the second half was slightly fragmentary in comparison to the depth at the beginning. Nonetheless, this first performance of the show was superbly executed and fully understood by the audience.

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Rehearsals: Rebecca Saffir, as protagonist Vee.

Saffir’s deft writing keeps the energy charged through out and continuously builds on the relationships between characters. It was refreshing to see brilliant new writing directed and performed to its potential. The cast were dynamic and engaging in their performance, and certainly brought life to the intimate black box theatre. Harriet Leitch, as Vee’s ardent best friend, nailed comical moments with her zealous expressions and her perfect timing. All the actors, under Jenny Horsthuis’ direction, make good use of the space and you immediately accept the minimalist design. With no set or costume changes, the piece relies on the entrances of characters and the occasional apt dance music to transport us, which works reasonably well in the compact Bread and Roses theatre, however some costume changes may work in favour of the plot, especially if performed on a larger scale.

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Rehearsals: Harriet Leitch and Rebecca Saffir as Tash and Vee.

Royal Court alumnus and creator of Baby, Saffir says, “The seed for this play was planted when I noticed how often I thought to myself, ‘Men are trash. ’ I became interested in following and exploring what might happen when you follow that thought to its most extreme conclusion. I wrote Baby to discover what happens to those of us who have read their theory and know their facts, and then have to bring those beliefs to bear on the real world.”

A play of contemporary relevance, talented actors, and emotionally striking text, Baby certainly has a bright future after this exciting premiere.

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Previous review:  BIRTH @ Pleasance Courtyard , Edinburgh Fringe

REVIEW! BIRTH @ Pleasance Courtyard , Edinburgh Fringe

Conceived & Directed by Guillaume Pigé
Devised by The Company
Performed at Edinburgh Fringe until 25th August

In the busy queue amongst the Edinburgh Fringe goers the excitement for Theatre Re’s BIRTH was high, and rightly so! As this was one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

Theatre Re, known for their international success Nature of Forgetting (which I was lucky enough to see last year), has not let the bar drop with this new production BIRTH. Guillaume Pigé has directed another wonderfully human and tremendously moving performance, this time exploring the sensitive subject of child loss and foundations of family.

BIRTH

The black box theatre was minimalist; with a dimly lit dining table centre stage. As soon as the performance started the mesmerising music, composed and performed live by Alex Judd, gently guided us into the world of physical storytelling and I was completely immersed within seconds.

Ultimately, it was the continual flow of the performance which I found most impressive – the energy never dropped. Not even during transitions, which can sometimes be a productions biggest flaw, however Theatre Re found an aesthetically creative and efficient way to slip into the next scene; by flowing a giant sheet over the whole stage as characters appeared and disappeared almost like a beautiful magic trick.

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The story follows three generations of women in one family; non-chronologically showing each of their lives and how their experiences intertwine with each other. One of the highlights of the piece being when Emily, played by the extremely talented Eygló Belafonte, gives birth. Instead of the generic panting and pushing, Theatre Re have found an amusing and artistic way of portraying this with a detailed dance between the husband and wife, and ending with a marathon sprint with cheers of encouragement from the whole family, this may sound simple but it was so unbelievably effective.

Throughout the performance I heavily reflected on my childhood, my family, and my sisters, and was certainly not the only one with tears in my eyes. It is safe to say that Pigé has created such a memorable and dynamic piece of work, which should be performed all over the world. The company have an astounding ability to devise such original and heart felt moments, I congratulate them on their much deserved success.

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REVIEW! Mating in Captivity @ The King’s Head Theatre

Flo Taylor Productions in association with We are Kilter 

Mating in Captivity is a comedy by New Zealand writer Oliver Page. The European premiere directed by Ed Theakston is at The Kings Head Theatre from 30th July-4th August. 

The play kicks off with a bang as Annie and Rob burst in from their wedding reception, only to find a naked man in there bed. As the story unravels we realise that the man (Jacob) is not the psychopath which Annie thought but Rob’s ex boyfriend who he invited back to his home on the night of his wedding. 

The comedy is masterfully directed, it is fast-paced, witty and full of energy. However, at times it feels like the audience are waiting for the next joke. It is a very funny play which had the audience in stitches but it would be nice to have a contrast in the play to show the gritty reality of the situation. Even when Annie is upset, it still feels comical. 

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All three actors are exceptional and their relationship on stage is captivating. Jane Christie (Annie) plays a funny and confused Annie who is not scared to say exactly what is on her mind. Rowland Stirling plays the anxious and chaotic Rob and he does this very well, he is a hilarious and sometimes ridiculous character! George Rennie (Jacob) has some sympathy from the audience as he is in an unimaginable awkward situation but his lust for Rob and a hard push from Annie makes him stay.  

Mating in Captivity is a fast-paced, funny play with an outstanding cast. There are surprises all through the play and an outrageous ending. It would be great to see this comedy developed further.

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REVIEW! Naked People Waking Up @ Etcetera Theatre, Camden Fringe

Directed by Olugbeminiyi Bammodu
Devised by Concept Theatre
29th- 30th July 2019

Naked People Waking Up was a perfectly minimalist production, focusing on the text and the capable cast to take us through the very different lives of each character. Performed in the slick black box theatre at Etcetera Theatre, the performers’ ability to multi-role and find the truth in the text made the different scenes believable without needing extravagant set.

The relatable protagonists consisted of a middle aged impolite man with a comical demeanour, a woman focusing all her attention on the lack of attention she receives from her father, a young lad working in Wetherspoons despite his degree and intelligence, and an even younger school boy working on his confidence… and they wake up in an empty room together in there matching underwear  (I wasn’t 100% sure why they would all have the same underwear, but soon realised it was practical for the frequent multi-rolling and in keeping with the minimal style).

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The comical young school boy with a modern tongue and wise heart, played by Kyll Anthony Thomas Cole

The story was very clear from the start, although I felt the beginning section – where the characters woke up and met for the first time – was slightly rushed and could possibly be developed further. However the show progressed at a great pace, with the characters regularly being tossed into various flashbacks and interesting memories which allowed us to build our understanding of each storyline gradually. Too often we are spoon fed theatre, but Concept Theatre has created a strikingly fresh piece of work here.

There were many highlights to this show; the audience responded extremely well to the comical moments of the piece – jokes involving cheap Wetherspoons food etc – which gave the show a lighthearted atmosphere, only to bring us straight back in with emotional monologues of realisation. In particular, I was blown away by Cathy Parkin’s ability to bring text to life and draw us in with her emotion. All the cast were emotionally committed through the text, however I would love to see the physicality brought to life even more.

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A troubled young woman who comes to a deep realisation on what matters most. Played by Cathy Parkin

An honest performance highlighting the pressures we put on ourselves when we lose sight of what matters – in life, in love. Naked People Waking Up encourages the audience to reflect on ourselves and the choices we make. Overall, this was a well-rounded performance with a talented cast and brilliant director, a must see!

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Previous review: Mating in Captivity @ The King’s Head Theatre

REVIEW! Custody by Urban Wolf @ Ovalhouse Theatre

Author: Tom Wainwright
Creator: Urban Wolf
Director: Gbemisola Ikumelo
Wed 5 Jun – Sat 22 Jun

Rest in Peace, Brian.

It shouldn’t have happened to him. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.

In the last thirty years, nearly 150 non-white people have died in police custody. No charges of murder have been laid against the police.

A play about black deaths in police custody can really only be devastating, and that’s what this production is.

Focusing on the family of Brian Olayinka, a man pulled over for being black, beaten to death by officers for being black, Custody brings us into the crucial moments of realising, responding, falling apart – the cast give us grief and rage and bitter resignation. It’s a fictional play, but it rings true. This could have been real. This could be real. This will be real, statistically.

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We meet his mother, sister, brother and lover – and they take turns portraying Brian, who is fleshed out in such a way that the audience weeps for him too.  A man who had his life together is now only a memorial, a silhouette, a statistic. The script really explores all the different ways systemic violence against a group of people is depersonalising. It’s also, in places, funny – as family conversations are. Much more often, it is the halting, telegraphic dialect of grief – there are some things that can’t be said. The actors’ movements speak as much as the words.

The set is brilliant – mobile as the cast, but with the shape of a man’s head hanging behind the action throughout, ever present.

I couldn’t pick out a cast member to praise above the others – they all do such an exceptional job. Muna Otaru is the Mother – agonised, unable to find sense in what has happened. The politically-minded Sister who urges activism is embodied by Ewa Dina.  Rochelle James’ Lover is at a loss to find her place with the people that would have been hers if she and Brian had married, as they planned. Creator Urban Wolf, also known as Urbain Hayo, plays the brother, who finds himself holding his family together.

This play is perfect, and depressingly necessary.

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Previous Review: Transit by FLIP Fabrique @ Underbelly Festival Southbank

REVIEW! A Winter’s Tale @ The Warren, Brighton Fringe

Director: Myles O’Gorman
Assistant Director: Sophie Leydon
Producer: Frances Livesey
NEXT SHOWING: The Warren, Brighton – Sunday 26th May – 6pm

A Winter’s Tale is not the first Shakespeare play we recall, although it is named among the best of his final plays, and in this adaptation by Helikon Theatre Company I can certainly see why. This tale of desperate jealously and shocking tragedy was cleverly adapted to fit our modern world, and with their talented cast and creative directing, it was a wonderful performance.

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Emma Blacklay-Piech (Mamillius) and Rhonwen Cash (Hermione)

With a simple, modern set complete with a projector and live streaming camera, O’Gorman created an outlook which was immediately familiar with the audience. The camera was mainly used to display the King Leontes, played by ALRA graduate Conor Kennedy, addressing his subjects (the audience) to update them on political and personal matters. The days passing were also projected as well as intimate moments in the garden between Hermione, played by Lindsey Huebner, and Polixenes, played by Lanre Danmola, which were obviously  prerecorded yet added another layer to this dynamic production. However, using so much technology within a Fringe performance can cause problems… my only fault with this piece would be the technical cues and accuracy.

The colloquial phrases interspersed with the original Shakespeare text added comical moments and also allowed the audience’s auto-translator (which we all have watching Shakespeare… don’t lie) to take a break. The main actor, Kennedy, truly grasped the comical timing of Shakespearean as well as the adapted moments of modern text. The energy and emotion he brought to the space was honest and powerful, his portrayal of Leontes’ distracted mind, stubborn outlook on his wife’s affair, and later heartbreak was all spot-on and heartfelt.

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Conor Kennedy (Leontes)

This emotionally charged piece found creative ways to display the more challenging moments of the script, for example the three deaths which drives the plot and gives depth to the characters and the text. (No spoilers here!)

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This radical portrayal of A Winter’s Tale was refreshing, dynamic and most of all well performed. I would certainly recommend a trip to Brighton to catch the last showing!

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Previous review: A Winter’s Tale @ The Warren, Brighton Fringe

REVIEW! Summer Street: The Hilarious Aussie Soap Opera Musical @ Waterloo East Theatre

Created and directed by Andrew Norris
Set design by Amy Mitchell
Performed by Julie Clare, Simon Snashall, Myke Cotton, and Sarah-Louise Young
13 May – 2 June, 2019

Writing a new musical is a very difficult and brave thing to do. Concept, story, script, libretto, music; all are essential to the creation of a new smash hit such as any budding creative would hope to add to their resumé. Summer Street is a new tilt at those windmills, robing itself in the campy, melodramatic world of the Australian soap-opera glory days of the 1990s to spin a story about love, obsession, addiction and betrayal; pretty much the topics you’d expect, really.

Summer Street is a deeply self-aware and self-deprecating portrayal of a world that never really existed. The writer’s self-professed obsession with Australian soaps oozes out of every second of the production, and though the Australian-ness of the show is little more than aesthetic, to quote a true Australian classic, “it’s the vibe of it” that sells the theme, grounded in a uniquely British view of Australia dominated by sunny days, washboard abs and optimistic alcoholism.

The world of Summer Street is brought to life by a tight cast of four, each portraying a former actor (washed-up to varying degrees) in the titular soap, as well as the several characters they play in a reunion special years after the show’s conclusion. Over two acts and over a dozen original songs we follow the cast of Summer Street as they struggle with what the show did to them and what they do to each other.

Summer Street’s original incarnation was as a juke-box musical constructed of pop hits of the 80s and 90s, which has since has had its unlicensed soundtrack replaced with original numbers, and unfortunately it shows. The juke-box musical is a peculiar beast which, with few exceptions, is fuelled mainly by nostalgia for old familiar tunes and the comedy value of seeing them in an unfamiliar, often surprising, context. Without those familiar classics – the Kylie, the AC/DC – the core of Summer Street feels somewhat hollow. Andrew Norris’ music and lyrics would be adequate in a show with a stronger book and meatier subject matter; they’re lightly amusing, provide a lot of over-the-top melodrama for the cast to work with, and showcase the singers’ abilities. However, they’re not strong or subversive enough to stand in for the pop canon they’re trying to replace. It’s telling that the standout songs, to me, were the ones that were most musical theatre-esque and least poppy (Take The Knife and Dear Mr Drew).

I have the feeling that the cast watched a lot of Home & Away and/or Neighbours to prepare for these roles, and that self-sacrifice shows. As I and my companion were both actual fair-dinkum Australians, I can say that their accents were absolutely bang-on (or appropriately exaggerated for the medium), and the only slip-ups I really caught were a couple of sentences which wandered over to Johannesburg, and a tendency to slip into loftier vowel sounds during the musical numbers (chance rhymes with ants Down Under, not aunts).

Speaking of aunts, Julie Clare as Steph/Mrs Mingle/Marlene’s accent was so uncannily good that, blindfolded, I would’ve sworn she was my gossipy Aunt Anne. With her self-assured air, she commanded every scene she was in, and could definitely give Kath and/or Kim a run for their money. Simon Snashall was similarly superb as the comically-but-tragically alcoholic Aussie male archetype, despite bravely battling a laryngitis that left him almost voiceless by the show’s end (it was truly impressive that he managed not only to stay on key, but also to put in a hilarious improvised but in-character line referencing his affliction). Myke Cotton as Paul had less to work with than his co-stars, but he did convincingly fill the role of a tanned toned hippy straight out of Byron Bay. The final cast member, Sarah-Louise Young, had the best singing voice, and the strength to make up for Snashall’s handicap. Her acting was just as strong: she was heart-breakingly compelling as Angie, adorably plucky as Bobbi, and absolutely side-splittingly hilarious as Sheila. I wished she had had more time in this final role, as her rollercoaster accent was a work of parody art, and true evidence that she had her ears open the three times she performed at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival (thanks, programme bio). I hope I can see her perform again in the near future.

(07) Myke Cotton and Sarah-Louise Young, courtesy Simon Snashall.jpg

All in all, this was a strong cast in a show with some funny gags but just not quite enough substance to properly fill out its two-hour (including interval) run time. Perhaps as actual Australians, we just didn’t have the nostalgia for Aussie soaps which so many Brits seem to harbour, or perhaps experiencing a whole play in fluent ‘Strayan just doesn’t have the novelty value for us that it does for our English cousins. However, I can’t help but feel that the only way Summer Street could be a real hit would be to return to its jukebox roots, and songs that you just can’t get out of your head.

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Previous review: Drawing The Line by Hidden Track @ Deptford Lounge

REVIEW! Drawing The Line by Hidden Track @ Deptford Lounge

Written by Elliot Hughes
Directed by Anoushka Bonwick
Performed by Steph Reynolds, Nisal Cole, & Elliot Hughes
Produced by Beccy Smith for Hidden Track Theatre
9th – 25th May

Image credit: Rosie Powell

The theatre at Deptford Lounge is tucked away upstairs over a library, but it is a serious theatre space – large, versatile, and well-equipped. The audience and stage are contained within walls of black curtains, which make us feel like we are in our own little world. There is a large projector screen, which holds a message as the audience files in, thanking us for our presence and assuring that though this is interactive theatre, there is no pressure to take part. On each seat there is also a simple but elegant black card, reading in white letters NO, THANK YOU. We are to use it to opt out of any proffered interaction. For my companion, who is less seasoned in the ways of fringe theatre than I, this is very comforting, and allows me to convince her to sit in the front row with me. In front of us, the stage is empty, with no settings, backdrop (other than the projector), props (yet), or people. In the beginning, there was nothing.

The first signal that something is about to happen is when the projector’s looping welcome message disappears. In the sudden silence and darkness, three performers – two women and one man – begin telling a Creation myth. It’s one made up by Hidden Track for this show, and tells the story of a world in which resources spring into being from the Everything, allowing for all sorts of wonders, and all in this world, audience included, is separated into two halves by The Line (introduced on stage as a thick, heavy rope). Eventually, two nations spring up, each represented on stage by an actor as a “guardian spirit”, with the divide between them moderated by a supposedly neutral entity, the Lineswoman. Everything is cordial, with only slight underlying tension, until Points are introduced.

Points are the mechanic which encourages and rewards audience participation, and fosters competition between the two “nations”. Audience members can earn points by, as summarised by a character later in the story, “clapping, cheering, or yelling out random words” – or any other type of interaction. Basically, we have the power to name our guardian spirit, choose the national fauna, and build landmarks out of cardboard boxes – but it’s strictly a gap-fill kind of participation, with a tightly scripted plot which doesn’t allow for or rely on much improvisation. And that is not a criticism! It means that the show is always held firmly in grip, never spinning out of the performers’ control, and that momentum is kept up nicely. But there is just enough audience participation to keep us involved and entertained, and enough tongue-in-cheek self-awareness for it not to be twee.

Image credit: Rosie Powell

Unfortunately, this self-awareness, momentum, and audience interaction fades somewhat at the end. After a lengthy and often absurd or surreal allegory, the plot is wrapped up with some narration that feels both prolonged and rushed, not to mention didactic. Without the veneer of humour, the philosophical and political messages begin to feel patronising, and about as subtle as a brick: jingoism is bad, so is discrimination, inequality, us vs them mentalities, building walls, etc. The only concept that really makes me prick up my ears is a line about how “the system isn’t failing, it’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do”, but this isn’t really explored except as a springboard for symbolically dismantling the system.

Other than this uneven pacing, though, the show is incredibly slick for interactive theatre, well managed, aesthetically pleasing, and just plain fun. Irene Jade is to be congratulated for an elegantly miminal design, director Anoushka Bonwick for a tightly wound and polished production, and actors Steph Reynolds and Elliot Hughes for keeping the audience well in hand and excelling in their portrayals of a wide range of characters, especially the comic ones. If you’re new to interactive theatre, this is an excellent starting point, and I would especially recommend it to families who want some kid-friendly fun which might provide an opportunity to discuss some meaty topics on the way home. Be willing to put up a hand to take part (the interactions are anything but strenuous, I promise) and to spend the rest of the night brushing chalk off your jeans legs. If any of this appeals to you at all, make sure you get in line now to buy tickets for Drawing The Line.

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Previous review: Ish… by Georgie Jones @ The Roundhouse

Review! Ish… by Georgie Jones @ The Roundhouse

Written and Performed by Georgie Jones
Directed by Jenny Bakst
Presented in the Sackler Space, The Roundhouse
3rd May, 2019

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Georgie Jones is 25 (ish) and she’s cracked what it means to be a woman. Just kidding, she’s on the same messy journey as the rest of us; unpicking sexist conditioning, examining questions of philosophy and identity, and navigating the same pitfalls that have stymied generations of women and girls. In this one-woman show, she jumps back and forth through personal stories from various stages of her growing up, interweaving them with spoken word poetry, comically exuberant dancing to accompanying 90s jams, and faux lectures on the wide-ranging topic of femininity. Dressed in denim overalls and with a face bare of makeup, it was clear from the get-go that this show would be performed with honesty and strength of character and conviction.

From the press release, I had expected this show to be mainly about sex (mis)education and how it screws all of us over, and at first it did largely gravitate back towards this theme. However, as the show progressed, it tended to stray further into the more generalised and ambitious territories of love, existential crises, and identity. The viewpoints explored in these facets were relatable, eloquently put, funny, and clever, but I felt that the punch of the show was diluted by its attempted breadth of focus. This caused a lack of direction and momentum, which I suspect Jones felt as well, as her performance – so strong and self-assured at the start, hitting every beat and knowing her work inside out – became shakier as the show went on.

As a 25-year-old woman myself, much of Ish‘s content resounded with me very deeply, even though there were some very English references and rites of passage which hadn’t been part of my growing up Down Under. But the 90s nostalgia was strong, and catapulted me right back into a teenaged world where everything was at once much simpler (I was struck by how we were the last generation to escape high school mostly unscathed by the advent of mobile internet, cyber-bullying, and social media politics) and much, much more complicated. Jones portrayed this world with wit and warmth, poking fun at herself and us all whilst still treating her younger self with compassion and affection. There were laugh-out-loud moments, a lot of sympathetic groans, and winces of “yep, I was guilty of that too…” The early pubescent panic of staring at the hair removal methods on offer at the pharmacy was brought back to me viscerally, and the grateful love with which Jones spoke about her female friendships made me appreciate my own anew. Mentions of a possible rape and resulting trauma lent some balance to the emotional range of the piece, but could perhaps have been explored with more nuance and sensitivity to avoid emotional whiplash for the audience.

Overall, this was a strong start for a young performer, demonstrating formidable stage presence as well as a compelling way with words. Ish… itself has great potential, and a lot of sparkling gems scattered throughout its content. However, I feel that the script could benefit from some streamlining, possibly being pared back to its strongest core theme of sex education, what we weren’t told, and how we found it out along the way. If this were undertaken, it could be an excellent, punchy half-hour performance which would bring laughter and contemplation to a festival stage. But even as it is already, the merits of the show make it a very enjoyable hour of theatre, and will certainly engender discussion and personal reminiscence all the way home.

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Apologies to Georgie for the tardiness of this review, and thank you for the opportunity to attend your show. 

Previous review: Fighter @ Stratford Circus Arts Center