JR OutLoud: London actor Jessica Martin talks political plays, Spitting Image and graphic novels

In Shirleymander Jessica Martin plays Westminster Council leader Shirley Porter in Gregory Evans’ dark satire charting the events behind the Westminster ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s. She tells Judi Herman more about the resonance for 2018 of a play staged in a theatre barely five minutes from Grenfell Tower. Martin describes the scandal as “a real-life House of Cards situation” and Porter as “a north London Marie Antoinette”. The Spitting Image star also gives a taste of her Edwina Currie, and we get a peek at some of the exciting graphic novels she writes and illustrates too.

Shirleymander runs Wednesday 23 May – Saturday 16 June. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £25, £15 concs. The Playground Theatre, W10 6RQ. 020 8960 0110. www.theplaygroundtheatre.london

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Review: Life and Fate ★★★★★ – Love’s victory over totalitarianism is a total theatre triumph

Vasily Grossman’s 855-page account of life across the Soviet Union during World War II has been compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Adaptor/director Lev Dodin and his Maly Drama Theatre company from St Petersburg have honed it into three hours of gripping theatre, by turns shocking, moving and funny – sometimes all three simultaneously. They have wisely concentrated on the story of the family of Viktor Shtrum, the Jewish physicist at the heart of Grossman’s novel, while ensuring that other key characters get the stage time they deserve. The predicament of the Jews that underpins the novel is placed firmly centre stage.

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JR OutLoud: Tik-sho-ret’s artistic director Ariella Eshed talks about the haunting show Under the Skin

As Tik-sho-ret Theatre Company prepare to bring their haunting production of Israeli playwright Yonatan Calderon’s Under the Skin to Brighton, Judi Herman speaks to the company’s artistic director Ariella Eshed. Discover the few known facts about concentration camp guard Annelise Kohlmann as the story of a love affair between her and a young female prisoner unfolds, before revealing the aftermath in 1991 Tel Aviv under threat during the Gulf War. Read about the show in more detail in our review of Under the Skin.

Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

Under the Skin runs Wednesday 16 & Thursday 17 May in Sussex as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. 7pm. £10, £8.50 concs. The Warren: Theatre Box, Brighton, BN1 4GU. www.brightonfringe.org

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JR OutLoud: Canadian writer Hannah Moscovitch discusses her award-winning show Old Stock and more

In a life-affirming show woven from the true story of her great-grandparents, Canadian writer Hannah Moscovitch uses klezmer and drama to tell the tale of two refugees arriving in Nova Scotia in 1908, having fled the pogroms in Romania. Here Moscovitch reveals more about Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, a double award-winning show (on the Edinburgh Fringe 2017) with real contemporary resonance and relevance from Canada’s 2b Theatre Company.

By Judi Herman

Photo by Stoo Metz Photography

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story runs Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 May in Bristol as part of Mayfest. 7.30pm (Thu-Sat), 2.30pm (Sat only). £5-£21. Bristol Old Vic, BS1 4ED.
https://bristololdvic.org.uk

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Review: The Shakespeare Flickbook – A visually intriguing gift from the late graphic designer Abram Games for the bard’s 454th birthday

© Philip Sayer

In 1975 Abram Games, one of Britain’s greatest graphic designers, was commissioned to make a Centenary Appeal poster for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His brilliant solution was to become known beyond the British Isles: the face of Shakespeare built up from the titles of all the plays as they appear in the First Folio.

The poster has been seen all over the world, but Abram Games intended much more. After his death, his daughter Naomi discovered a mock-up he had made of a flickbook. As the reader flicked the pages, Games planned to make Shakespeare’s face gradually appear.

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Review: Secret Life of Humans ★★★★ – A beautifully-realised theatrical account of human endeavour

Before Homo sapiens there was Neanderthal man. And before Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Attenborough, there was Dr Jacob Bronowski. A Polish Jewish refugee, Bronowski became one of the first intellectuals to achieve TV stardom with his series The Ascent of Man. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which playwright David Byrne cites as one of his biggest inspirations, Yuval Harari argues that sapiens wiped out other human cousins. Of course, Byrne isn’t arguing that television pundits are lethally competitive (though that might make a compelling reality show), but with the company, and co-director Kate Stanley, he has devised a provocative and engaging evening that fleshes out scientific theory onstage by interlocking Dr Bronowski’s story with the meta-story of sapiens – and the story of a one-night stand. Thus, one of Harari’s other central theories, his perspective on relative time – that sapiens’ time has been short compared to life on earth and is not limitless – is demonstrated in just 90 minutes.

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Review: Used to Be Blonde ★★★★ – Tomorrow’s dance stars shine in Sharon Eyal’s thrilling vision

To watch 41 very young – and very talented – dancers executing Sharon Eyal’s exacting and precise choreography is to share a life-affirming and exhilarating experience with the rest of the audience and the young company themselves. The Israeli choreographer and Guest Artistic Director at Sadler’s Wells has created a dazzling work for, and with, members of the National Youth Dance Company. They move so seamlessly together that they seem like one coiling, shimmering organism, clad in tight, shiny black bodysuits and boots (the costumes are Eyal’s concept too), their hands and faces caught in the chiaroscuro of Alon Cohen’s stunning lighting. All this is driven by the insistent techno track created by Eyal’s long-time collaborator and pioneer of Israel’s techno scene, Ori Lichtik.

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Review: Ruthless! The Musical ★★★★ – Murder, mayhem and musical fun to die for

If backstage musicals featuring mothers who will stop at nothing are your bag, you’ll recognise and revel in this no-holds-barred, wildly over-the-top spoof of and homage to the genre. Think Gypsy, think All About Eve – Ruthless goes further, placing (ahem) centre-stage a would-be child star prepared to fight to the death (literally) for the title role in the school show. That the role is Pippi Longstocking in a musical featuring Astrid Lindgren’s famous child heroine is a delicious joke for some.

In fact Ruthless! is a ‘Marmite’ musical – lip-licking or nose-wrinkling, according to taste. It’s as clever as it is tasteless and Joel Paley’s book and lyrics with Marvin Laird’s music are often very clever indeed. Paley wears his heart on his sleeve by giving his women characters – yes, this is an all-girl affair, even if one of his monstrous regiment is played here with élan (and a killer wig) by performer/choreographer Jason Gardiner – names like Judy, Eve and Ginger. Paley admits to postponing his bar mitzvah to appear in a world premiere, so he knows of what he writes.

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JR OutLoud: Director Katharina Reinthaller discusses Bertolt Brecht’s The Jewish Wife

Ahead of this year’s Yom Hasho’ah event at JW3, which features a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s chilling one-act play The Jewish Wife, JR’s arts editor Judi Herman spoke to director Katharina Reinthaller (speaking all the way from Melbourne, no less) about the vision for the performance she shares with JW3’s community programmer Eva Burke. The event will also include new translations of Brecht’s poetry, all performed by actor/singers Susanne Fiore and Peter Halpin, accompanied by pianist Ilan Lazarus. The evening culminates in a short ceremony led by Rabbi Roni Tabick and singer Aaron Isaac.

Bertolt Brecht’s The Jewish Wife runs Wednesday 11 April as part of JW3’s Yom Hasho’ah event. 7.30pm. £8. JW3, NW3 6ET. 020 7433 8988. www.jw3.org.uk

Click here to listen to a podcast by the event hosts, JMI, featuring an interview with both Katharina Reinthaller and Eva Burke.

Review: Under the Skin ★★★★ – The story of a shocking, seemingly impossible love, vividly told

Anneliese (Ilsa) Kohlmann was a guard in Neuengamme concentration camp, said to have had liaisons with female prisoners. From the few facts that remain, playwright Yonatan Calderon has wrought a short play of shocking beauty, imagining a relationship between Kohlmann and a young Czech-Jewish prisoner, talented ballerina Lotte Rosner, feted in pre-war Prague.

The action takes place both in the 1940s in the camps and in 1991 in a Tel Aviv on lockdown during Gulf War air raids. With great subtlety Calderon has two women play the younger and older Lotte – and then tops this by requiring the actor playing Charlotte in 1991 to play Kohlmann in 1942, while ‘young’ Lotte plays an unwelcome visitor in 1991, seeking to reawaken Charlotte’s carefully-buried memories. A third actor is Lotte’s fellow prisoner and confidante as well as a pair of Nazis in the camp and a ghostly presence in 1991.

Director Ariella Eshed and choreographer Revital Snir build on this coup de théâtre to create a production of great theatrical beauty; scene changes are balletic dance sequences where the actors help each other  into different garments to morph between characters and time periods on Joanne Marshall’s simple, versatile set.

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