Arcola Theatre

Review: How to Date a Feminist ★★★★ – Samantha Ellis does it in style in this fast and funny comedy

how-to-date-a-feminist-at-the-arcola-c-nick-rutter-2016-2 Ah, the F word again. No surprises there. But it's the man who's the feminist in Samantha Ellis’s fast and funny spin on Hollywood screwball romcoms, billed as "a romantic comedy turned upside down".

Kate is a journalist who happens to be Jewish. She also happens to have a fatal attraction to bad men, both on the page (Heathcliff) and in the all too solid flesh (her ex is her promiscuous editor). Then there's Steve, a man who happens to be a feminist. His mum brought him up at Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, while Kate's dad is an Israeli brought up in a refugee camp. She wants to be swept off her feet and into bed. Steve probably wants to sweep the floor for her first. Can they get (and keep) it together despite their prejudices, their predilections and their parents?

Ellis has huge fun turning our preconceptions on their heads, giving artisan baker Steve all the PC lines (his marriage proposal begins, “I want to apologise for the patriarchy”) and Kate the, er, balls.


With delicious wit, Ellis follows the pair's rocky road from meeting at a fancy dress party – she "symbol of female power" Wonder Woman, he "brilliant ethical hero" Robin Hood  (the quotes are Steve's seals of approval - Kate's opening quip is "Are those ladders in your tights or stairways to heaven?") – to very cold wedding day feet at a yurt in Greenham, not the hall in Hendon favoured by Kate's dad, though there is a rabbi to bless the couple and a glass to stamp on.

Ellis zigzags back and forth in time with panache and Matthew Lloyd directs the dynamic duo of Sarah Daykin and Tom Berish with matching brio. Thanks to designer Carla Goodman's clever costumes and some artful velcro, they win our hearts with their onstage lightning changes, morphing into his mum and her dad and their exes in the wink of an eye, literally, as they revel in sharing the fun.

Ellis has some real points to make about those preconceptions and a fine skill at suggesting the emotional hinterlands of her lovers and their parents. And the icing on the cupcake (even though Steve doesn't approve of those either) is that it really works as a romantic night out, too.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Nick Rutter

How to Date a Feminist runs until Saturday 1 October, 8pm & 3.30pm, £17, £14 concs, at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL; 020 7503 1646.

The show then tours to Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough on Friday 21 & Saturday 22 October,; and Watford Palace Theatre on Friday 4 & Saturday 5 November,

JR OutLoud: Writer Samantha Ellis talks about how to write a romantic comedy for the 21st century

Samantha Ellis’s play How to Date a Feminist is currently on at Arcola Theatre. Her heroine is Kate, a journalist who happens to be Jewish. She also happens to have a fatal attraction to bad men. Her hero is Steve, a feminist who happens to be a man. His mum brought him up at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, her dad is an Israeli brought up in a refugee camp. With these characters Ellis explores love in the 21st century.

Samantha talks about her influences, including vintage screwball Hollywood comedies, her own background, growing up in London with Iraqi Jewish parents, and her other plays and books.

Photo by Nick Rutter

How to Date a Feminist runs until Saturday 1 October, 8pm & 3.30pm, £17, £14 concs, at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL; 020 7503 1646.

Listen to more interviews and audio tours of exhibitions on our JR OutLoud page.

Review: Judi Herman discovers drama and comedy on a women’s cancer ward in Anat Gov’s Happy Ending

Happy Ending (3) - c Piers Foley_press2015 Entering a space equipped with hospital beds and drip-stands, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in an operating theatre, rather than the kind with lights, action and music. But then Happy Ending is a play about women facing up to life with The Big C; cancer.

Managing it as best you can usually means coping with invasive, uncomfortable and time-consuming therapy, time spent on a hospital bed hooked up to a drip stand. Not the stuff of which musicals are made. Well, there’s a lot less blood than that shed by Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and fewer lives lost than on the barricades manned by students in the Paris revolution of 1870 central to Les Misérables.

This is a meditation on and exploration of how we face up to cancer. There’s a lot of fighting talk at the moment in ads for cancer charities urging us to take on the disease and beat it at its own game. But the conclusion of Happy Ending is that there are different coping strategies and different outcomes – no right or wrong way to face and fight cancer – and sometimes we have to make our own choices. We may share those choices with those who care for us or we may choose not to. I say "we", as it is easy to identify with the four brave women on stage, who each embody different ways of coping and many of us have faced (or will face) their choices.

But Happy Ending is of course is a musical show and although Anat Gov’s story explores the issues from the inside (she died from cancer in 2012), she manages to be funny and uplifting en route for the "happy ending" she writes for her central character actress and minor celebrity Carrie Evans, newly diagnosed with the disease (a delicate and detailed performance from Gillian Kirkpatrick).

There are some original and unexpected dance routines – drip stands make elegant partners – there’s a Gospel chorus and even cancer itself is embodied by an attractive young man (Joe McCourt) in a steamy tango. There are killer lines too (yes, the gallows humour is catching): “There’s nothing like the smell of fresh cancer in the morning," says one patient, old hand Silvia (played by the excellent and feisty Andrea Miller). She has been fighting cancer with every treatment possible for so long that she is almost like the top dog in a prison drama (or the block elder in a camp). This lady is a survivor of Auschwitz, so how can she let cancer get the better of her?

Carrie (Gillian Kirkpatrick), Miki (Karen Archer), Silvia (Andrea Miller) and Sarah (Thea Beyleveld) gossip in the ward following Carrie’s arrival

Silvia is one of the other three women who embody different ways of coping with their cancer. Miki (the bouncy and attractive Karen Archer) is an ex-hippy who has found so many positives in her diagnosis that she almost has a new lease of life. For a start it has led to a reconciliation with the estranged daughter she neglected during her days of tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Then there’s the devout young Orthodox mother of many, Sarah (Thea Beyleveld, both touching and convincing in her fervour) who trusts in her faith in God to get her through – though she does not trust her yeshiva student husband to look after the children and the plumbing at home.

Yes they are types, but they turn in great performances, as do the supporting (literally) cast of nurses and doctors, led by cheery dedicated nurse Fiona Jodie Jacobs (perfectly channelling a type I recognise from my own recent spell in hospital) and hunky Dr Lynch (Oliver Stoney), the alpha male medic who might have stepped out of any TV hospital drama – cold and caring at the same time.

Director Guy Retallack and Hilla Bar, who adapted the story from Hebrew, have relocated the drama from Israel to North London with the odd mention of, for example, Parliament Hill. Shlomi Shaban and Michal Solomon provide songs that are more stand-out moments of exploring Gov’s theme than the score of a musical moving along the plot or illuminating the characters.

By Judi Herman

Happy Ending runs until Saturday 7 March.  7.30pm (also 3pm Wed/Sat). £12-£19. Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL; 020 7503 1646.