Preview: My Mind is Free by Sam Hall

My Mind is Free imageAs regular visitors to this website will know, 17Percent’s founder, Sam Hall, has been working on a play about human trafficking, which tours in October 2015. The play has been cast and rehearsals are about to begin. 

The main aim of the play is to raise awareness for World Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2015). There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world, with approximately 13,000 in the UK. Modern day slavery victims include: women forced into prostitution, imprisoned domestic staff, and workers in fields, factories, building sites and fishing boats.

Jude Spooner, founder of London-based Rah Rah Theatre Company, commissioned playwright Sam to tell stories of human trafficking in a play, which tours venues in London and the Southeast this October, supported by Arts Council England.

Jude and Sam were inspired to team up on the play to raise awareness of this injustice in the UK. Sam was first inspired to start researching human trafficking after being approached by Merton Against Trafficking to write some stories for a fundraising event in 2014. Jude is part of New Malden Abolition group, a group set up to help the charity Hope For Justice  which exists to put a stop to human trafficking and slavery in our generation, so has an interest in the topic. Her goal is to share her knowledge about this modern day crime and to create an artistic response to this, which will both provoke and disturb in equal measures.

My Mind is Free will tell the stories of some of the people who have fallen into what can only be described as modern day slavery and the play is inspired by true life stories from victims, which have then been fictionalised.

Where possible, each performance will also have a speaker from an anti-trafficking charity so the audience can find out more about what to do if they think somebody is being trafficked near them.

Full list of venues: (for more info and to book visit the website).
Thursday 1 October 2015 7.30pm:  Margate House, Margate, Kent
Friday 2 October 2015 7.30pm: The Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable, Kent
Saturday 3 October 2015 7.30pm: Haslemere Abolition Group, Haslemere, Surrey
Sunday 4 October 2015 3pm: Wimbledon BookFest, London
Monday 5 October 2015 – 7.30pm: Strood Baptist Church, Strood, Kent
Tuesday 6 October 2015: King’s College London, Strand Campus, Ground floor, London
Wednesday 7 October 2015 7.30pm: Colour House Theatre, London
Thursday 8 October 2015 8pm: St Catherine’s Neighbourhood Centre, Reading
Friday 9 October 8pm: Balham Baptist Church, London
Saturday 10 October 2015 7.30pm: New Malden Baptist Church, London
Sunday 11 October 2015, 7pm (starts 7.30pm): Rochester Literature Festival 2015, Kent
Monday 12 October 2015: Resource for London, Holloway Road, London
Tuesday 13 October 2015: Katherine Low settlement, Battersea, London
Wednesday 14 October 2015 7.30pm: The Library, Willesden, London
Thursday 15 October 2015: KAHAILA, Brick Lane, London.
Friday 16 October 2015: Fairfield Halls, Croydon

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Review: Orchid by Michelle Payne and Daniel Len, at Moors Bar in Crouch End

Photo of Jimmy Jameson and Michelle Payne)

Jimmy Jameson and Michelle Payne.

Imagining the future can be a hard task in your twenties; each day is beset by renewed anxiety about where you’ll be – and what you’ll be doing – next week, next month, next year. And it’s even more difficult to conceive of when you throw an apocalypse into the mix.

With all the hype going on in Scotland this month, it’s necessary to be reminded that the artistic world down South and in London doesn’t go on hiatus for all of August, but continues producing exciting new work, particularly as part of the Camden Fringe festival. Michelle Payne’s debut play Orchid, written with Daniel Len and directed by James Milton, conjures a bleak world after ‘The Fall’, where human survivors are living in the underground tube network. The story follows a group of five friends, who form part of a community who trade their supplies but are under constant threat of being sieged by another larger group like King’s Cross. Against her friends’ protests, and the on-going fight for safety, Orchid (Payne) wants to do the impossible: find a way back to the surface, to a world that she can now barely remember. For her, anything would be better than the darkness where night and day are indistinguishable. Orchid touches on similar imagery and ideas as other post-apocalyptic dramas (scenes from The Road, The Hunger Games, and Children of Men flashed through my mind while I was watching Orchid’s journey unravel) although the play’s scope is certainly more London-centric. Despite the limited stage space of the Moors Bar Theatre, the production manages to envisage a huge landscape of detritus and decay. The costume and lighting design show inventive touches, including the slightly wacky use of torches. A gentle score, composed by Tom Baynton, also accompanies the action.

Although the production involves a diverse creative input, it’s clear that Payne, as writer and producer (as well as playing the title role) is the real driving force behind the piece. Her performance as Orchid is alive and engaged, and the character’s speeches are refreshingly poetic. Her hunger to look for something more, the natural world from which she descended, baffles her more practically minded companions, and especially their group leader Thomas (Jimmy Jameson), although she does receive support from the more hot-headed Kane (Dan Jameson). Emma Pritchard and Will Richards, who play siblings Grace and Jack, complete the impassioned yet thoughtful performances of this ensemble.

While Orchid has already finished its short run at the Camden Fringe, the creative team will hopefully regroup again for further festival outings in the next year (watch this space). The hour of the play feels brief – there is so much content tearing at the seams that I felt it could easily expand into a longer work, allowing the audience to learn more about this world and each character’s journey to this point. This play has come from a place of passion and frustration, its makers say, and the need to widen access to creative work to the many, not the few. However, it’s a frustration that is possibly borne from something more ominous; Payne writes, in her programme note, about living in a conflicted time. A similar feeling is echoed in a recent Evening Standard interview with playwright Simon Stephens, in which he describes our current world as one of ‘profound safety but with a deeply troubling sense that something awful is about to happen.’  That sense of unknowing, which she and Len have successfully captured in their writing, completely pervades our current culture of media desensitization. Is there still a world above, and beyond, our heads, and, if so, what does it look like? What happens when we scratch through the darkness?Like Orchid, we need to wake up and go looking for the light.

Orchid played 23-25 August 2015, at Moor Bar in Crouch End. 

(c) Joanna Lally, 2015

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Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot at Underbelly Cowgate

Courtesy of Cecilia Cooper-Colby

Courtesy of Cecilia Cooper-Colby

The ‘White Belly’, at Underbelly Cowgate, looks as though it was made to be a military air base, with a pleated roof that curves over the long and narrow space, it is an ideal setting for Rebecca Crookshank’s tale of life as a young woman in the Royal Air Force. At first she hopes to join the Marines (in her father and grandfather’s steps) but finds out that there is a limit to women’s opportunity in this division of the military. A personal account, brimming with colourful characters that she embodies across the different points in her story, it never once feels self-indulgent – rather Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a series of observations that chart importantly the challenges faced by women in a cut-throat and testosterone heavy environment.

Crookshank is a natural and engaging performer, leading the audience through the highs and lows of military – some of them serious turning points in her family life that continue without her outside of the base during her time first as a 17-year old trainee, and then as an officer posted out to the Falklands. It’s hard not to get carried away with the vital energy and enthusiasm she displays in her impersonations of rule-enforcing superiors and other officers. Her relationship with her ‘wing woman’ comes to shape a large part of her experience of the airforce, and their adventures, including heavy drinking and dancing to S Club 7 and the Spice Girls, provide some light relief (and a bit of glitz) to the restrictions of life on the base. However, she later becomes isolated from the company of other female officers when she is sent out to a base in the Falklands. There she has to deal with the constant strain of sexual harassment from her male counterparts who drive her towards breaking point, and conditions that end particularly badly for a certain stuffed animal. Crookshank’s honest retelling of makes us aware of this normalised misogyny, without railing against it or condoning the behaviour of her peers.

This spirited production as a whole is a celebration of her time, complete with creative costume changes, photo and video documentation, as well as giving a darker insight into a male-dominated institution from one woman’s perspective. Crookshank manages to juxtapose the different parts of her personality, the soldier and the creative, in an entertaining fringe debut.

(c) Joanna Lally, 2015

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Review: Where Do Little Birds Go? by Camilla Whitehill

Co-produced by Duckdown Theatre and Heavy Weather Theatre, Camilla Whitehill’s debut full-length play has already garnered some attention this year, winning the People’s Choice Award at Vault Festival 2015, and is now selling out to audiences at Edinburgh’s Underbelly. It details the experiences of Lucy Fuller, who as a seventeen year-old girl moves to London in 1966, with hopes of becoming a West End star. At the age of eighteen she is kidnapped by two of the city’s most notorious gangsters.

It’s a darkly enthralling story, expertly delivered by Jessica Butcher, who is both assertive and vulnerable as Fuller. Against her uncle’s best wishes she starts a barmaid job at The Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, where she is then scouted by the Krays to work as a hostess in their Mayfair venue, Winston’s, with the promise of beginning her career as a singer. Lucy performs songs at several points during her narrative, including a refrain of ‘Where do little birds go?’ – that is a moving reminder of her agency, despite the terrible situation in which she finds herself. The more surprisingly element to the story is the sympathy she feels towards the ‘axe-murderer’ Frank, who she is locked into a grimy flat with for four days, when it becomes apparent he is just as trapped as she is. We sense her fear knowing that she ‘will probably die here’ – it crushes her fighting spirit, but does not destroy it entirely.

The production is set in the interior of Winston’s – a bar with female hostesses and dancers who make extra cash by serving ‘afters’ to some of the clientele, and Justin Nardella’s design draws on the glamour and filth of the nightclub scene. At times the musical interludes come across as slightly forced, and the movement repetitive, although in one scene this repetition is used to build an effective discomfort in the audience as we are made aware of Lucy’s sexual exploitation.

As much as it is about Lucy’s terrifying experience of being brought into the criminal dealings of the Krays (based on the true story of Lisa Prescott), Whitehill’s play is also an evocative study of the world of 1960s East London, a time when streets were rife with the fear created by Ronnie and Reggie Kray – men, Lucy tells us, who do not have any friends. It is the strangeness of this unknown piece of history that really captivates in Where Do Little Birds Go? and proves to make a fine solo performance at this year’s Fringe.

Where Do Little Birds Go?
Edinburgh Festival: Underbelly (Big Belly) ‘til 30th August

(c) Joanna Lally, 2015

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Review: Tea Set by Gina Moxley at Pleasance Courtyard

A harrowing 50-minute monologue, ‘Tea Set’ explores loneliness and neglect at the edge of a new millennium, performed with incredible intensity by Amy Molloy. Sat at a small table in front of us, desperately trying to piece back together a broken teacup, a young woman reflects on her experience of caring for Mrs A, an elderly lady who has been left on her own for the Christmas and New Year holidays, 1999. It’s the contradiction of ending and beginning signified by the new millennium that seems to temporarily paralyse the two women, who are caught in a space where it’s impossible to determine their futures. At first, she tells us, the young woman has come here with the sole purpose to earn money, but soon develops a relationship with her charge over the short course of time they spend together. Molloy describes their revealing exchanges, and later, when Mrs A gifts an old tea set (originally meant for her daughter) to the younger woman, a bond is formed that causes an emotional surge neither expected. As we delve deeper into her history, it transpires that Mrs A has not only suffered the loss of companionship, but also been the victim of a violating event that has left her feeling hollowed out. Her family and society may see her as a burden, and at worst an inconvenience, but in reality the demands of living for her are the most difficult to comprehend. The tight, grey space of the Pleasance That lends itself well to this testimony; it’s a story that doesn’t require much in the way of set and decoration, the words do all the work.

Gina Moxley’s play is full of despair, and at times Molloy displays flashes of anger as she thinks back to the pain that leads to Mrs A’s drastic decision. Moxley raises questions over the right to choose whether we stay or go, and if those choices should be made on our behalf, and the lives (and memories)we become responsible for. ‘Tea Set’ also asks us how sentimental we should be about death, and in this vein the play confronts a pressing issue of the neglect of elderly people, something that the company as a whole is hoping to share with its audiences. Despite its traumatic content, however, the piece displays a tender relationship between these two women as one that brings some comfort to them both.

Tea Set
Edinburgh Festival: Pleasance Courtyard (That venue) ‘til 23rd and then 29th-30th August

(c) Joanna Lally, 2015

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Review: Ladylogue 2015 presented by The Thelmas

Ladylogue photo (c) 2015 Philip Scutt

Maria Yarjah in Ladylogue! (c) 2015 Philip Scutt

Ladylogue! is the second show of monologues written and performed by women, (with a mainly female production team,) presented by The Thelmas, as part of this year’s Camden Fringe Festival.

The Thelmas are a company founded in 2014 to make a positive difference to the gender imbalance in UK theatre. They say they are “passionate about seeing more work commissioned that is written by women, of women, for everyone, and our work reflects this”.

Ladylogue! featured six monologues from writers Lucy Foster, Madeline Gould, Mina Maisuria, Maria Yarjah, Sarah Milton, and Serena Haywood. Thematically they talked a lot about loss and feelings of powerlessness or invisibility. The Thelmas didn’t set a theme, and were interested that the links emerged, and see this as a possible reaction to the current political climate, where women have been among those hit hardest. It is a valid theory – a national malaise/unease is often either reflected, or totally ignored, in the art produced at the time. These plays are subtle mirrors. But despite thematic links, the stories all managed to vary immensely in style and tone.

Ghost by Lucy Foster told the story of a sister’s loss, Ladykiller by Madeline Gould introduces us to a psycho-killer just after her kill,  in My sons are doctors, a woman is forced to hide in a supermarket toilet, where she reveals her loss, then the irrational thing she’s doing because of it, Family (Mis)Fortunes written and performed by Maria Yarjah, is a very funny piece about the perils of having a family who are internet-savvy, The Night Tella by Sarah Milton is a poetic story about a wild night that leads to tragedy, and Zero by Serena Haywood, takes us into the sci-fi fantasy world of an agoraphobic.

The standout pieces were Madeline Gould’s Ladykiller performed by an alternatively credibly weepy then scarily psychotic Hannah McClean, her performance of this bravado character had the audience in stitches. In fact all the writers managed to vary the tone within their pieces between dark and shade, with a host of LOL moments, and quite a lot of PMSL, and the actors all did a really fine job with the tonal variety. My favourite play, The Night Tella by Sarah Milton, performed by Joana Nastari, was in verse, inspired by the Hilaire Belloc poem, Tarantella. There is something satisfying, perhaps reminding you of childhood, about listening to high octane structured rhyming, and I would like to see how this could be sustained over a longer piece. In a world where a lot of theatre sounds and acts like Eastenders or Made in Chelsea, this play really stood out.

Another link was technology – and perhaps the isolation that has come with it. It’s possible to be alone with 3,000 friends online. A young woman in Family (Mis)Fortunes finds her new boyfriend stalked around Twitter and Facebook by her father, and in Zero, social media actually ends up saving a life.

Unlike a lot of monologues, what was so standout about these six is that they were complete stories with a beginning, middle and end, even if not in that order, and even if the end in so many of them was really only another beginning – particularly in the last play Zero by Serena Haywood. So many monologues only capture a mood, rather than trying to tell a story, but these were fine examples of good storytelling. All in all, a very entertaining show, with fine writing and performances – catch it while you can!

Ladylogue! is on at The Tristan Bates Theatre.
Tue 18 – Sat 22 Aug 2015, 6.00pm

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Edinburgh Preview #2: Joanna’s top Edinburgh picks

Photo at Edinburgh festival

At the festival

This weekend I am bound on a train to Edinburgh for what is, incredulously, my first experience of the Fringe festival, and I’m hoping to see as many productions/performances as physically (and emotionally) possible over the course of the next four days, with the intention of reviewing several of these for 17Percent. There is some enticing work being generated by women at this year’s festival, including an abundance of one-woman shows, and, in my best Lyn Gardner impersonation, here are a few of those shows that I’m most looking forward to:

Comedy
Tamar Broadbent – Brave New Girl 
(Cowgatehead) One of my favourite solo performers – Tamar blends her musical talents with her stark and hilarious outlook on getting through life as a twenty-something. She mixes song (mostly upbeat keyboard and vocals) with a few crazy anecdotes, tied together but a general narrative or theme. I first saw her perform a preview of her 2013 Edinburgh show, Almost Epic, which traced a troubled trajectory from Surrey schoolgirl to professional rock star. This year, her 1-hour slot at Cowgatehead is all about toughening up and facing whatever the world throws at you, even when dressed in a mini-skirt – it should be a hoot.

Lily Bevan – Pheasant Plucker (Med Quad, Underbelly) An established writer and director – she is currently working on ‘Talking to Strangers,’ a BBC4 Radio programme with Sally Philips –Lily is also an incredibly funny woman. Pheasant Plucker promises to be a bizarre and entertaining series of character observations, from enigmatic yoga instructors and a woman who channels her relationships through Sylvanian families.

Plays
Lucy Grace –
Garden (Pleasance Courtyard) I recommended Garden last month in my preview here. Its sensitive portrayal of modern city life and individual isolation feels immediate, and I’m sure that this tale of unexpected office horticulture will have grown into its own all the more by the second week of August.

Camilla Whitehill – Where Do Little Birds Go? (Underbelly Cowgate) Where Do Little Birds Go? is the story of Lucy Fuller, a 24-year old East Londoner who, in the 1960s, was kidnapped by the notorious Kray twins when she was just 18. It won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Vault Festival, and has been picked as one of Natasha Tripney’s Top 3 shows for the second week of the Fringe, and is now selling out at its (now) limited sixty-seat Underbelly location.

Victoria Rigby – Girl from Nowhere (Pleasance Courtyard) I am really excited to see Girl from Nowhere, most of all for its setting – Texas in 1969, a time when the country ‘is bursting with peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll.’ In the midst of this excitement, rock singer Jeannie is desperately trying to escape her oppressive hometown, and the pressures of being a Southern girl, in search of fame and legacy. Written and performed by Rigby it promises a dark account of celebrity culture and the desire to have your voice recognised.

Gina Moxley – TeaSet (Pleasance Courtyard) A solo performance by upcoming actor Amy Molloy, this piece tells the story of a young and an elderly woman, who become tied together in the wake of the terrible trauma suffered by ‘Mrs A’. It explores loneliness, death and being a burden on society.

Corn Exchange – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing / Sonya Kelly –How to Keep an Alien (Traverse Theatre) It’s wonderful to see a continuing presence of new Irish work at the Traverse theatre this year, who previously generated a lot of interest around Dead Centre’s production Lippy. I have been waiting to see Corn Exchange’s production of A Girl is A Half-formed Thing since it premiered at the 2014 Dublin Theatre Festival, and which has received a huge amount of praise for Aoife Duffin’s performance (she has already won The Stage award for Acting Excellence in her Edinburgh appearance). Director and adaptor Annie Ryan has said that as soon as she read Eimear McBride’s heartbreaking novel, she knew she had to make it in to a piece for the stage. Also on at the Traverse is Sonya Kelly’s one-woman play, about Kelly’s struggle with the Irish immigration office, to prevent her Australian boyfriend being deported, which looks like an interesting exploration of love and visa applications.

Brigitte Aphrodite – My Beautiful Black Dog (Underbelly Cowgate) A glittering musical that tackles the surging themes of depression and mental health, which seems to be underlying much of the work presented at this year’s festival, Aphrodite wants to encourage audiences to own their black dogs. Many artists currently in Edinburgh have created a focus on breaking down the stigma that surrounds depression, anxiety and other, perhaps less well-known or understood conditions. This show features, among others, as part of the Sick of the Fringe, an initiative conceived by Brian Lobel that is running alongside the festival, and invites audience members to respond to shows dealing with mental health issues. Lobel is interviewed by Hannah Ellis-Petersen in a Guardian article, which also discusses Aphrodite’s production here.

(c) Joanna Lally, 2015

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Review: Zero Down by Sarah Hehir

Zero Down cover

Zero Down

Following on from her well starred success with her first full theatre production Child Z, Sarah Hehir returns to the gritty social terrain where “having to” is the name of the game. Set in a nurses’ restroom at Silver Apples Care Home, possibly a week or two in the future, three trapped souls fret and fidget with one eye on a monitor waiting for something to do.

Leyla (Elizabeth Nicholson) is a dreamer, throwing her moves about the clothes prop as she pictures herself fronting her own pole dancing club, though only classy stuff mind. Erin (Sadie Tonks) is a tourist who may also be travelling on business, and she pictures herself elsewhere too. But she has aims not dreams. There is somewhere she has to go.

Both Leyla and Erin get their chance to project in the spotlight, one shaking her thing, the other accepting a Pulitzer. A chance to show us their future. But not Benny (Katherine Hurley). She doesn’t dream. One child down and Wonga on her back she stalks the set Kowalski -like spitting hate at Erin for her perceived upper class background, kicking off about immigrants, and gently bursting her old friend Leyla’s bubble.

And all the while like a dripping tap the unseen supervisor sits off stage dishing out threats to zero down anyone who takes too long or steps out of line.

Something here has to give, and of course it does. A great strength of the play is how the tension builds on an excellently thought out set, where the toilet is a place for the characters to be unseen but still felt. The only place you can signal for help…

Erin is of course, not quite what she seems. She is going to be a journalist come what may, and she has something on Benny. And here are the great moral questions that Hehir asks us to ponder. How much allowance can we make for a despicable act committed under the most intense pressure? And do the ends justify the means?

I have seen many, many dramatic stories but this play will keep you guessing till the end about what Erin will actually do about what she knows when it comes to it. She doesn’t have to act in any particular way. Her hand is not forced in the same way as those of her colleagues. If she called her dad he could stop it all…

The writer gives us a nuanced vision of people trapped in the race to the bottom where there are only shades of grey. Their own hand partly got them here to varying degrees but the eye in the corner is the only real villain on stage. This is no way to make a living, such as it is.

It is greatly refreshing to see an all female cast firing off each other in this claustrophobic setting. In an excellently paced production directed by Sophie Boyce, Katherine Hurley stands out as the blustering Benny, slugging long after the bell has rung. Her slow implosion when confronted with her deeds was a sight to see. Benny is unpleasant for sure, but it would be easy to make her a monster and neither writer nor actor did this. Also a word for Elizabeth Nicholson as the gentle soul, Leyla. A nice understated performance in a role that could easily have been just a foil for the other two protagonists.

One thing I would say is that the character of Erin does jar occasionally. We are given a hint that her life has been harder than she makes out but that is left somewhat hanging. The finale of the play hinges on the decision she has to make and this spectator was not convinced that any great torment was going on particularly. As Leyla says in a pivotal moment “What you’ve got there… it would ruin her life”, and yet I did not really feel that something important was taking place at that point. Just a touch “poor little rich girl” for my liking. Or maybe that’s all Erin is and we’ve all been had. That seems to be a thing with plays by this writer. You need to watch them again to see what you missed…

All in all though a most enjoyable and thought provoking production that I would certainly encourage you to go and see.

Zero Down is at Theatre503 til Saturday 15 August 2015. Book here

Review (c) Barry Fentiman, 2015.

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Review: The Heresy of Love by Helen Edmunson

The Heresy of Love pic

The Heresy of Love

The round O of Shakespeare’s Globe may appear to be a static structure, but in fact this space is forever changing its contours, and reconstituting itself from the inside out. In the last two years, approximately, with the construction of the Sam Wanamaker indoor playhouse now complete, the Globe has undergone an identifiable  shift from summer attraction to an all year-round producing theatre. Add to this the renovations of the downstairs foyer, which now opens out onto Bankside and New Globe Walk, there is more of a blend of the old and new than before. Although nostalgic in its architecture, the Globe always feels vivaciously modern. This undeniable newness is, surely, the key to its success. And given that the programme deals predominantly in works authored by a 400-year old male writer, it’s exciting to see that Dominic Dromgoole’s last season as Artistic Director, entitled ‘Justice and Mercy’, includes two plays by contemporary women playwrights. First off is The Heresy of Love, which also features as part of ‘Mexico in the UK 2015’ cultural exchange programme. Towards the end of the summer season the Globe will also premiere Jessica Swale’s new play Nell Gwynn, exploring the life of one of the first known British actresses at Charles II’s court. Adding to the growing presence of female voices in the Globe’s 2015 programme, transmitted through stories of inspirational women from history, next year Dromgoole will be succeeded by Emma Rice (currently co-director of Kneehigh) as the Globe’s first female Artistic Director,

This production of The Heresy of Love is a revival of Edmunson’s acclaimed play, originally commissioned by the RSC in 2012, and relates the fascinating story of its main character, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz – a scholarly nun whose intellect and faith appear to be incompatible in 17th century Mexico. Edmunson took inspiration from the RSC’s previous 2004 staging of House of Desires, penned in 1683 by Sor Juana herself, and The Heresy of Love examines a point in her life when her career as a writer of secular plays and poems becomes a controversial issue for the patriarchal authorities, particularly the newly arrived Archbishop, who see this activity as inappropriate. Despite the admiration – and commissions – that she receives from the court, and support from the conflicted Bishop Santa Cruz (Anthony Howell), they denounce her creative production as heresy and set about to silence Sor Juana. The threat of the heretical propels us both forward and backwards, to the larger dilemma of women and their position in the Church. In Stabat Mater, a meditation on motherhood and the cult of the Virgin Mary, the theorist Julia Kristeva finds love and heresy to be intimately entangled in her historical representation: ‘Nothing could be more “normal” than that a maternal image should establish itself on the site of that tempered anguish known as love. No one is spared. Except perhaps the saint or the mystic, or the writer who, by force of language, can still manage nothing more than […] to identify with love as it really is: a fire of tongues, an escape from representation.’ Here, then, is a surprisingly fervent point of departure for considering both Sor Juana’s work, and Edmunson following on from her.

There is a huge deal to commend about both the play and this current production.The strong ensemble cast, made up of seven female and five male parts, is led by an assured Naomi Frederick as Sor Juana, and highlighted with fine comic turns (and plenty of bawdy humour) from Sophia Nomvete as Juanita and Gwyneth Keyworth as Angelica. Employing some of the characteristics inherited from theatre of the Spanish Golden Age, the play creates an intriguing story of Sor Juana’s defiance against her prescribed role as a woman of God. The outdoor stage lends itself as the perfect setting for Edmunson’s imagination to come in to vivid detail, and is dressed simply with Michael Taylor’s stage design of a large iron bar frame (that at times serves to divide the persons of the court from the convent) and Sor Juana’s stacks of books, which when removed leave it looking suddenly bare. However, while the story and its aesthetics belong to the Renaissance, the subject matter feels achingly relevant. There is potentially no better stage for creating a sense of worship and reverence than the Globe, and in The Heresy of Love, we are given the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of two exceptional literary figures, one from the 17th century and the other now.

The Heresy of Love  plays at the Globe till 5 September 2015.

UK IN MEXICO 2015: More information on this celebration of culture between these two nations, and other calendared UKMX events, is available on the website

Review (c) Joanna Lally, 2015.

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Review: Jekyll and Hyde by Jonathan Holloway

Jekyll and Hyde photo

Photo courtesy Chung Ying Theatre Company.

Jonathan Holloway’s reimagined Jekyll and Hyde – has the potential to be a brilliant idea with its steampunk-cabaret style production and gender switching between Jekyll and Hyde, but it fails somewhat in the execution. Whether something got lost in translation from this Hong Kong-UK collaboration I’m not sure – the Chinese references seem rather tacked on as back story. The production uses the source material as its inspiration, but then veers off in unusual directions.

It uses the traditional white face paint of Chinese theatre, mixed with a physical style and heightened melodramatic acting, with some interludes of music and dancing thrown in for good measure.  The play sets the story of Jekyll and Hyde inside a framing device – a publisher has come to buy a manuscript of a dreadful tale which will make her fortune – the tale she is told is the terrible story we are about to witness scenes from.

Neil Irish’s set astounds – grills set in the floor leech out fog and red lights, above the stage dozens of red Chinese lanterns cluster, Victorian steampunk decadence, set the backdrop for the story about to be revealed, through trapdoors and revolving doors. Very atmospheric, and the blinding white lights keep the audience on tenterhooks.

The original story’s male Jekyll is recast as a female doctor from a wartorn country, who has been damaged so badly by her experiences at the hands of men, and rejection in her profession in the UK, that she’s gone insane. Yet her aim is to transform herself into the very thing she despises, a man, Hyde, who displays all the masculine traits she’s afraid of. (This may seem a familiar idea to horror buffs, who might remember the 1971 Hammer version of the story, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and indeed there are some grand guignol moments in the play that give echoes of the hamminess of the film.)

The performances of the two leads, Olivia Winteringham as Jekyll/Hyde and Michael Edwards as Henry Utterson, her husband, are compelling to watch, though making both Jekyll and Hyde as mad as each other, loses something of the internal moral struggle of the original story, and makes it hard to care about the ultimate fate of either.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea and an enjoyable visual spectacle, but take it on its own values, rather than as faithful to the original.

Jekyll and Hyde is at the Platform Theatre until 8 August.
Platform Theatre website.

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