Hanna

Hanna, by Sam Potter, is the story of a young single mother, but with a difference. Hanna (Sophie Khan Levy) tells the story herself – occupied with raising her daughter Ellie, she discovers that the daughter she has loved as her own isn’t in fact hers at all. Two babies were accidentally switched at the hospital, and Hanna’s biological daughter is being raised by a wealthy family across town.

I can imagine it must be hard enough to be a young mother, without having a discovery like this to contend with. Hanna tells her tale conversationally, informally, frequently going off at tangents – she’s lively and entertaining, detailing the everyday joys and hazards of parenting while regaling us with how she dealt with this new unexpected scenario. It’s often funny, but also heartfelt, and as her story moved towards its conclusion, you could practically hear a pin drop in the auditorium.

This riveting and ultimately heart-warming tale was hugely compelling, and I definitely recommend trying to catch it.

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Close Up

I enjoyed Odd Eyes Theatre’s #Haters last year, so I was really happy to be invited to see their next work-in-progress, Close Up, at the New Diorama Theatre. Written and directed by Emilia Teglia, the piece looks at censorship, ethics and their place in media, in a manner both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Grace is an elderly former showgirl persuaded by young filmmaker, Lauren, to be interviewed about her showbiz past. As she reminisces on camera about her life and the values of mid-twentieth-century society, she is unaware that Lauren and her producer Jason might want to put together something quite different out of her words. When Grace is subsequently invited to take part in a reality TV show, she responds in a hugely unexpected way.

From the beginning I wasn’t sure how the play was going to go, but I found myself drawn in. There are excellent performances from Gilly Daniels as Grace, Sophie Delora-Jones as Lauren, and, particularly impressive, Andrew Goddard in the dual roles of Jason and Grace’s friend Kenneth Williams, the actor whose ghostly presence comforts and sympathises with Grace.

The work makes use of video projections, which add another layer of theatricality, and allows us to witness how the documentary develops apart from Grace’s words and stories. It also features Goddard in Kenneth Williams-style performances making use of Polari language, which links again to the concept of censorship. I have to admit that I had to Google what Polari language actually was – a private slang commonly used by gay men at a time when censorship was rife and gay relationships were illegal (always good to learn new things). If I was being picky, I would like to have seen more in-depth exploration of Grace’s friendship with Kenneth, but I appreciate there are limits to what can be done in an hour-long piece.

Overall, I was really impressed with this thought-provoking, funny and moving piece of theatre, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Close Up becomes in the future.

Voice of the Whale

This concert at the Royal College of Music featured three works by George Crumb: Zeitgeist, Makrokosmos and Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale). The title of the last one particularly intrigued me as I had no idea how this would be conveyed. I’d never heard of George Crumb but he seems to be a pretty unusual composer, making use of vocalisations, other sounds, and different ways of playing the piano (including pulling the strings, not just hitting the keys) in his work.

The first work, Zeitgeist, left me a bit cold, but I enjoyed the second, Makrokosmos, which referenced the signs of the zodiac. I liked Vox Balaenae a lot: it really did convey the essence of whalesong (what I know of it, anyway), and the musicians had to wear black masks and be bathed in blue light, which only added to the atmosphere.

Heaven

The Little Angel Theatre is known for its puppet shows, and I went along to their studio to see a production called Heaven, based on the works of artist René Magritte. The original 1991 production by Theater Taptoe toured the world, and this new intimate version was created by Luk De Bruyker and Willem Verheyden. It is aimed at a wide audience: ages seven and up.

Told without words, this quirky tale sees a be-suited gentleman, representing Magritte himself, walking on to a curtained stage. He encounters random objects, surreal scenarios and even representations of himself within a frame behind the curtain. Drawn into his own paintings, he has a variety of adventures.

This surreal show is incredibly charming, whimsical and entertaining. Everyone in the audience, from young children to elderly adults, was entranced. I loved this quirky and unusual piece of theatre.

The Captive Queen

I always look forward to seeing plays in the Globe’s beautiful Jacobean playhouse, and I was intrigued also to see this modern take on John Dryden’s 1675 Restoration drama Aureng-zebe. Renamed The Captive Queen, Barrie Rutter’s production, a co-production with Northern Broadsides, sets the action of Dryden’s Mughal Indian epic in a northern English mill. The story follows an emperor (Barrie Rutter) who falls in love with Indamora (Neerja Naik), the captive queen of the title, causing conflict with his two sons, the heroic Aurangzeb (Naeem Hayat) and the younger Morat (Dharmesh Patel).

At first shocked to see the gorgeous wood of the Playhouse covered in imitation grey brick, I soon grew used to the setting. In some ways the updated setting really worked: characters clocking in and out at the beginning and end of the play, swathes of coloured fabric hung or dropped from the gallery to demonstrate which factions were in power at any one time. In other respects, though, the setting didn’t quite gel for me, and I wonder if more could have been made of it. I enjoyed the atmospheric and beautifully-performed music from composer Niraj Chag, too, but I wasn’t sure about the musicians taking up a third of the stage during most of the production.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the production. Dryden’s language of rhyming couplets is easier to follow outright than Shakespeare’s. Though it has the disadvantage of potentially sounding unnatural, I thought the cast did a great job. There were some great comedic scenes, particularly those involving the Emperor and his wife Nourmahal (Angela Griffin), as well as moments of pathos, such as the scenes involving Arimant (Silas Carson), the servant whose devotion to Indamora is destined to be unrequited. The plot could be hard to follow at times, but the swathes of fabric did help!

Overall, I found The Captive Queen to be an accessible and amusing version of Dryden’s work, and one which I would definitely recommend.