The Thinking Drinkers’ Pub Crawl

I’ve seen two shows by the Thinking Drinkers, both in London, but this time I ventured up to Letchworth Garden City to see them on tour with their latest, The Thinking Drinkers’ Pub Crawl. There were a few of us; we stayed with friends who live nearby and made a day of it. Incidentally, did you know the first roundabout in the UK can be found in Letchworth? It was built in approx 1909 and is just down the road from the Broadway Cinema & Theatre, where this show took place.

Anyway, I digress. The Thinking Drinkers specialise in shows about the history of alcohol, offering up samples of booze to the audience as they take us through the show. This particular production is themed around the pub, and we are taken to various different kinds of pubs around the world, from early Greek taverns to Victorian gin palaces and Wild West saloons. Along the way we sample whisky, gin, rum and vodka, with a beer to wash it all down. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes and funny sketches, including a dildo race (it made sense at the time).

I enjoyed this latest instalment of the Thinking Drinkers’ unique brand of comedy, and I’ll keep my eye out for their next show.

Advertisements

We Know Now Snowmen Exist

It’s rare to get a Cumbrian theatre company in London, but Highly Suspect have brought their mystery thriller, We Know Now Snowmen Exist, to The Space on the Isle of Dogs. Based loosely on the Dyatlov Pass incident, the tale is set in the present day and depicts an expedition made by five girls, none of whom will return.

Chloe, Hayley, Rachel, Lisa and Zoe are on a charity hike, raising money in memory of a friend who died by suicide. The beginning of the play in particular is very funny; writer Michael Spencer is impressively good at knowing what five girls stuck in a tent might talk about: everything from sex to She-Wees, exes and embarrassing moments. However, there are more serious moments, as one by one each girl’s background is revealed to us. Religion, alcoholism and self-harm are just some of the topics discussed, as each person’s reasons for coming on the hike are revealed.

Things go wrong when the radio stops working and eerie chanting is heard. The girls must decide whether to turn back or press ahead and make it to the top of the mountain. The sound effects are genuinely creepy and the overall atmosphere effective; impressive for such a small space. Towards the end of the play, there is a twist that I certainly didn’t see coming and that adds a different dimension to what has been going on.

We Know Now Snowmen Exist is a unique, powerful play that amuses and amazes in equal measure. Definitely recommended.

The Son

Florian Zeller’s plays have been popular in London for several years now. I’ve seen The Father, The Truth and The Height of the Storm, although sadly I missed The Mother, which played at the former Tricycle Theatre. The Son, a companion piece to The Father and The Mother and like them translated by Christopher Hampton, is one of the first shows in the newly renamed and refurbished Kiln Theatre. It is directed by Michael Longhurst.

As the title suggests, it focuses on family relationships and, more particularly, the son of a divorced couple, Pierre (John Light) and Anne (Amanda Abbington). Teenage Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) has stopped going to school; he is moody and miserable. Clearly he is suffering from depression, but his parents don’t know how to handle it. In an attempt to start afresh, Nicolas moves in with his father, Pierre’s new partner Sofia (Amaka Okafor) and their baby son, but as this doesn’t prove to be a magic solution, they are unsure what to do next.

I must admit I found the play incredibly tough to watch. Having suffered from depression myself, I recognised some of the things Nicolas was saying, and the reactions of his parents in several ways mirrored those of my own parents. Light and Abbington capture the bewilderment and uncertainty of wanting to look after their son, but not knowing how. They love Nicolas and try their best but ultimately, they don’t know how to handle the situation. Laurie Kynaston¬†gives a superb performance as the troubled teenager.

Lizzie Clachan’s set, with sliding doors and bare walls, captures the minimalism of a middle-class home while leaving space for Nicolas to throw things around as a representation of his disordered mind. The play lacks the time-slips and tricks of Zeller’s previous works, but the ending is like a punch to the gut and leaves you reeling.

Already, I can see The Son being one of my favourite plays of 2019. It made a huge impact on me and I’m pleased I made the time to see it.

A Hundred Words for Snow

A Hundred Words for Snow is the story of one teenage girl’s unlikely trip to the North Pole. It’s a story about adventure, exploration and about finding yourself. It’s also about grief.

Rory’s (short for Aurora) dad was an explorer. Well, not really. He was a geography teacher. But he always wanted to go to the North Pole, following in the footsteps of the “beardy explorers” like Fridjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. When he dies, fifteen-year-old Rory comes up with a plan. She’ll take his ashes to the Arctic.

This one-woman show stars Gemma Barnett, who is wonderful as the likeable, naive Rory. She draws us in to her story, engaging directly with the audience and making us care about her. The set is simple but evocative, symbolising the icy north.

Tatty Hennessy’s play makes us laugh and cry as Rory loses her virginity to a boy she meets while carrying her dad’s ashes in her backpack, makes a new friend camping out on the ice, and encounters a real life polar bear. This short but memorable production is a joy to witness.

Communicating Doors

Communicating Doors is a play by Alan Ayckbourn; originally premiered in 1994, it was revived in 2015 at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I missed that production, so I was pleased to see that I had another chance in the form of a production at the South London Theatre.

Set in a single hotel room and beginning in the present day, Poopay, a call girl, is requested by a client, only to find that she is being asked to deliver a handwritten confession of fraud and murder by the close-to-death elderly Reece. When Reece’s criminal business partner, Julian, gets wind of what is going on, Poopay makes her escape through what she thinks is a door to a cupboard, but which turns out to be a portal to the same room nineteen years ago. Can she turn this to her own advantage and save not only her own life, but the lives of Reece’s first two wives?

Considering I saw this production on International Women’s Day, I was pleased to see that this is a play in which women work together and help each other to thwart the intentions of the nefarious Julian. There are some truly tense and moving moments, but there are also some very funny ones, particularly towards the end. The set is impressive and there are some great performances, particularly from Steph Urquhart as Poopay.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and the production: clever, engaging and memorable.

Strike Up the Band

Strike Up The Band is a classic American musical with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and a book by George S. Kaufman; amazingly, this production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, directed by Mark Giesser, is the UK premiere. Described as “a musical fable of love, war and cheese,” it starts off in Horace J. Fletcher’s American cheese factory but ends in Switzerland, where the cheese magnate has sponsored a war to protect the monopoly on his cheese.

If this all sounds absurd, it really is, but it’s good fun. As Fletcher strives for cheesy superiority, there are a number of subplots in the shape of his daughter Joan’s developing relationship with journalist James Townsend, who – gasp! – doesn’t like cheese, as well as the romance between young Anne and the plant foreman. Unfortunately, these did have a tendency to drag the thing out – the show ends up at just under three hours long, and I did wish it was a bit shorter. Nevertheless, the old-school musical numbers are entertaining, and the impressively detailed set evokes golden-age Hollywood musicals – even if the introductory projections were invisible to half the audience.

Despite the old-fashioned atmosphere, the satire remains sharp and relevant; there’s a great moment when the key players in the war don yellow baseball caps bearing the phrase “Make America Grate”. There are some strong performances from Richard Emerson and Pippa Winslow, though the singing from some of the other cast members wasn’t first class. Overall, though, I’m still glad I’ve seen this rarely-performed show.

Violet

Violet is a 1997 musical by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, Or Change) and Brian Crawley, based on the short story The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of a young woman, Violet, who was facially disfigured in an accident when she was a young girl. She embarks on a journey in the hope that a television priest will heal her.

The show is performed at Charing Cross Theatre in a new in-the-round configuration. There’s a revolving stage, and most of the performers are on stage throughout in one guise or another. It’s a mesmerising spectacle, if not always the clearest way to tell the story. I admit to being confused in parts, at least at the beginning. Throughout we witness Violet’s journey, with flashbacks to her earlier life, and gradually it all begins to fit together.

As Violet, Kaisa Hammarlund is superb, inhabiting the character of an awkward, naive but likeable young woman. On Violet’s journey, Jay Marsh and Matthew Harvey are both excellent as the two soldiers she befriends along the way; Monty is the one Violet is immediately attracted to, but she soon realises she has a lot in common with the black serviceman, Flick – both of them have to contend with prejudice because of their looks.

Tesori’s score is evocative and plays with many musical styles. However, for me there wasn’t a really memorable melody to grab hold of.

I’m not sure how believable the story is: would someone really be so naive in the 1960s as to think they could be healed by faith? (Well, this is America, I suppose). Still, for all its flaws it’s an enjoyable, well-performed show that’s worth seeing.