Archive for August 17th, 2010


Mistresses of Masquerade

Tuesday, 17 August, 2010

Corsets and Tassles

Leicester Square Theatre – 15-18 August, 9pm

Burlesque is a bandwagon that everyone is jumping onto these days. Having moved in a few short years from seedy clubs to the mainstream thanks to the likes of Dita Von Teese and the UK’s own Polly Rae, it seems that anyone can don a corset and a pair of nipple tassles and call themselves a burlesque performer. The Mistresses of Masquerade in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre , in their production of Lillian Rouge and her Night of Wonders are one such group.

Corsets abound

These six girls decided three months ago to put on a burlesque show, having never performed in that genre before. While they must be applauded for their determination, they perhaps should have first gained some confidence and a bit more insider advice.

The plot of this frilly-knickered odyssey was loosely based upon Little Red Riding Hood, but although there was a girl in a red cape wandering about, it felt a lot more like Bluebeard, with a harem of semi-comatose women pulling off her clothes and preparing her to be ravished by a cane swinging bling king wolf (Shane Windebank) who spent most of his time staring at them from a chair. No one on stage, at least for the first half, appeared to be enjoying themselves. Baring your flesh in front of a bunch of strangers, especially a silent theatre audience (as opposed to the usual cheering crowds who attend cabaret), is admittedly a daunting prospect. Therefore you really need to know how to work a room, have fun, enjoy yourself and most importantly, how to tease. This involves eye contact. Almost without exception, the performers spent the forty minutes on stage staring at the ground or at each other, with barely a batted eyelash, a knowing look or even a nod to the onlookers.

Things perked up a bit when Windebank, clearly an accomplished dancer, stripped to the waist and started strutting his stuff, then launched into a tango with Monica Hopley as Red Riding Hood. This was followed by a classic fan dance and at last a sense of fun began to pervade. However, there were times when the whole thing slipped into soft porn, particularly when Marie Favre, one of the stronger performers with her enigmatic smile, luscious hair and thong draped herself across the wolf while he ran his hands pretty much wherever he wanted. It was a pity that her obvious skill was lost in the folds of sheer X-rated action.

There is a lot of potential in this production and this group. Especially noticeable is Lucy Lawrence who actually looked as if she was having a good time and gave a fantastic rendition of ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ and Aimee Hoad with her magnificent cleavage and equally strident voice. Every single one of the group is sick-makingly attractive but the only one who seems aware of this is Shane Windebank.  They need to learn to let go, to relish the Sapphic touches that are currently delivered too half-heartedly to have an impact; to stop hiding behind furniture when removing their underwear and not to get dressed again after the reveal. The tease can be dragged out over a long period of time, but once it is gone, it is gone. The trick then is to think of something else to do and to find another way to titillate.  Fumbling with fastenings, though not much of an issue, could also be helped by a few poppers inserted by a knowing wardrobe mistress (or master).

If they relax, have fun, and lose some of the heavy petting, this troupe will be a good outfit. At the moment however, the Mistresses of Masquerade still seem more like novices.

Cast: Susan Ahern, Hayley Barrett, Marie Favre, Aimee Hoad, Monica Hopley, Lucy Lawrence, Shane Windebank

Written and Directed by Jon Max Spatz; In Association with: Signature Pictures; Music: Monica Hopley; Production Designer: Tom Knight; Director of Photography: Jodie Southgate; Choreographer: Aimee Hoad; Producers: Marie Favre and Aimee Hoad

Reviewed 16 August

(c) Philippa Tatham 2010


American Bytes Back

Tuesday, 17 August, 2010

London – The Lost Theatre- 19:30 Aug 10-30 (1:45 mins)

Seven American Plays

Seven all-American ‘ten minute’ plays are here presented together (though including only a fifteen minute interval the piece still lasts ninety minutes).

The seven are: My Name’s Art, Peter Snoad; Rosie The Teddy Bear, Steven Bergman; Fate, Elizabeth Horsburgh; Marvin and Julius, Steven Bergman; The Greening of Bridget Kelly, Peter Snoad; LA 8 AM, Mark Harvey Levine; The Renta, Mark Harvey Levine.

Play after play they come, without break, there is no explanation as to why, and Prav Menon-Johannson’s makes no effort to suggest any rationale behind these pieces being delivered in the same bill.  They are just American. And sadly they are tamely American.  Only the style and the language used (and the accents are often faulty) place them in the USA.  The title of this bill suggests it will be far more cutting edge and searching than it actually is. Big questions about America are not even touched upon, let alone asked.

Peter Snoad’s My Name is Art is the first piece on the bill.  Anthony (Michael James-Cox) is appreciating a mound of ‘Styrofoam spheres’ delicately decorated with American flags on cocktail sticks.  The simple lighting casts clear shadows on the bare pale stage floor.  The atmosphere of an art gallery is evoked, though the light colour is a shade too warm to properly achieve the naturalism aimed for.  Gloria (Zoe Lister) is depreciating the very same ‘work of art.’  Their costumes stereotype them; her spotty dress and market stall tacky Chinese bag, his jeans and grey blazer, dark scarf and thick rimmed square glasses.  The argument is hackneyed and Prav Menon-Johansson has done nothing to alleviate the boredom of the ‘modern art isn’t art’ argument poked fun at by yet another writer.

Direction is wooden and at times interferes with the flow of the piece.  There is too much movement, with actors conspicuously slavish to ‘blocking’.  Zoe Lister is particular guilty of meaningless puppet-like gestures that look uncomfortable.  Soon the stage action becomes a tedious push-me-pull-you of speak-walk, speak-walk.

Yet perhaps what is leading to this level of stage-awkwardness is misplaced sexual tension.  While both Gloria and Anthony should be focused on an argument about modern art, as the play’s rather silly outcome is to make clear, what becomes the main question is ‘who fancies who?’ Even Michael James-Cox’s most powerful speech on the meaning of modern art is undercut by the feeling that he is just trying to impress the girl.  Perhaps this is an inherent difficulty with employing actors who are peers, playing older than they actually are.  Whether this is true or not, sexual undercurrents nibble needlessly on several of these American bites.

When ‘Art’ (Chris Mitchell) bursts onto the stage in union jack underwear, tattooed with the word ‘Art’ in red glitter on his torso, and the word ‘Fucks’ down his spine the conceit of Snoad’s play is revealed. The direction is piteously tame.  Lines in the script suggest that Art should be naked. Replacing this shocking statement with Chris Mitchell’s game-show host smile, insipid cockney accent and constant air boxing is irritating and unjustified.  Michael-James Cox is bound to not see through his act by the script, but the act is infuriatingly transparent. In this production the play lacks (no pun intended) its meat.  The question of whether modern art has meaning or is just as capitalist as shocking people through pornography is lost.

However, this seven-part bill does improve.  The first taste is the bitterest.  The second bite, Steven Bergen’s Rosie, The Teddy Bear, is a more orginal, less heavy-handedly directed and genuinely touching one. This is the monologue of Rosie (Catriona Troop); a pig-tailed little girl in pyjamas clutching a teddy-bear.  It soon becomes clear that Rosie is not the little girl however, but the bear. Ben Pickersgill’s simple lighting; a warm, dim spotlight, perfectly captures the downcast nature of this toy lying by the side of the freeway.  It also evokes the sense of strangeness that the piece needs.  Catriona Troop’s acting is elegant and engaging.  She whirls with the ‘breeze of the passing cars’ and subsides into a giggling fit.  Her lightness of presence and genuine joy is appealing.  Yet as the dark nature of the play mounts Catriona Troop is equally exciting to watch.  Her wide eyes and terrified voice as she recalls how she ended up discarded on the curb draw sympathy and emotion.  This piece realises the power of a young actor allowed to take charge of a beguiling script.

Fate by Elizabeth Horsburgh is the third byte.  Charles Reston (Man) and Samantha Kisson (Woman) handle this clever, if somewhat predictable, piece of comic writing with delicate flair.  Man (Charles Reston) is dressed in the impractical fashion of a ‘tortured’ Liberal Arts Student (scarf and t-shirt).  His boyish good looks and intelligent confidence give him the presence to fill a role which arguably is written for someone older.  Woman (Samantha Kisson) is brilliantly whiney. Prav Menon-Johanssen’s costume choice is again, simple but appropriate.  The Pale and elegant summer dress worn by Kisson and the jangling beads and bracelets that complete the ensemble establish her character as a hippy-ish poet trying to attract a man.  The sexual tension Charles Reston and Samantha Kisson exude on stage together is masterfully handled.  Their game of improvised romantic cat-and-mouse encourages pleasant laughter.  Charles Reston is especially able, likeable though stupid he manages to deliver ridiculously arrogant and silly lines with brilliant conviction.

The final byte of the first half is Marvin and Julius by Steven Bergman.  Two guinea pigs discuss the pros and cons of freedom upon the realisation that when the roommates that own them graduate they will be separated.  The costumes are brightly coloured and suitably cartoonish, as is the acting style.  Michael James-Cox as Julius is easier to warm to than Chris Mitchell.  His sense of comic timing and caricature is winning.  His deadpan delivery offsets the silliness of the play’s central conceit well.  The story is touching, but does not lead itself easily to theatrical presentation.  The play feels like animation accidentally staged.

After the interval three bites remain and it is more of the same.  The writing is hit and miss, the direction is at its best when it is at its most minimal, light and costume are suitable, the cast are slightly too young to do complete justice to the characters they are being asked to embody (though they attempt to do so maturely).  In Peter Snoad’s The Greening of Bridget Kelly sexiness works detrimentally, confusing what the play is really about (patricide, religion and the nature of sin). Mark Harvey Levine’s, LA 8 AM is a smart piece of writing cleanly delivered, but the choreography interferes with the tragic aspect of the piece.  Charles Reston and Samantha Kisson become too involved in the story they are telling and the chill of them being mere statisticians is broken by this.

The last bite, Mark Harvey Levine’s The Rental, leaves a bitter taste.  Zoe Lister is again wooden (though this is slightly more appropriate to the character of Gloria).  However her casting as a thirty-year-old (she, like the rest of the cast, is most probably in her early twenties), undermines the clichéd Bridget Jones conceit of the play.  Chris Mitchell’s portrayal of Harold is as irritating as his earlier appearance as Art.  Prav-Menon Johannsen’s decision to allow him to slip into cringe-worthy musical theatre ditties was very poorly made.  While the Harold of the play is an ideal boyfriend, unrivalled at sweeping ladies off their feet, in this production the character created is of notably less importance than celebrating Chris Mitchell’s insipid talents.

Though there are pearls in this production, Rosie, The Teddy-Bear, Fate and the intriguing conceit of LA 8 AM, the lack of rationale behind staging these pieces in one bill and their lack of real originality, their clingy direction and the frustrating under-aged casting all mean that these seven bites do not make a satisfying meal. Perhaps this is because, overall, the production feels like a showcase, produced to platform the writing and the cast but not to entertain the audience.

Cast Credits:  Zoe Lister – Gloria/Sonja. Michael James-Cox – Anthony/Julius/Kevin.  Chris Mitchell – Art/Marvin/The Priest/Harold. Catriona Toop – Rosie/Bridget/Paige.  Charles Reston – Man/AAA.  Samantha Kisson – Woman/GGG

Company Credits:  Producer  – Liminal Space & J.J. Williams.  Director/Designer –   Prav Menon-Johansson.  Lighting Designer –  Ben Pickersgill.  Sound Designer-  Sam Charleston.  Technical Operator –  Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson. Assistant to Director – Andrew McRobb. Photography – Pete Le May.

Also Credited: Juliet Swindells, Kamals Swindells, Peggy at The Miller Centre, Sophie Taylor, Tom Hough, Giles Foreman, Anatole Menon-Johannson, Peter Bull, Melanie Mehta, Mary Howland, James Mountford, Jenny Rusby.

(c) Rebecca Gibson 2010

Reviewed Saturday, 11 August 2010 / The Lost Theatre



Tuesday, 17 August, 2010


Phoenix Artists Club, 8 – 10 August, 20.30  (2hrs 20min including 15 minute interval)

A band of female cleaners gather in the tearoom before and after their evening shifts.  They share their hopes, dreams, problems and secrets.  Mo (Hazel Bell), the older woman with the disinterested husband, Liz (Diane Lefley) the upper class woman with a past, Chrissy (Nia Dunbar) the hapless, romantically unlucky looser magnet and Helly (Jill Bailey McCleary) the had working Greek migrant with a mission, all rally around the natural leader, Dee (Yvonne Patterson), and her dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter.  This sets the five women on a rollercoaster of hope, self-doubt, and ultimately sees them gain a new appreciation of themselves, each other and their potential as individuals and a group.

There were several songs in the show and they were a mixed bag.  While some are quite forgettable, others were really good tunes.  Most are unfortunately made more difficult by backing tracks that are a little too loud in comparison to the non-microphoned singers.  Lead vocals by Yvonne Patterson are warm, engaging, sincere and well sung.  The musical highlight of the show is undoubtedly ‘God Bless the Working Woman’ in which Yvonne Patterson’s evocative singing is supported subtly by the other members of the cast to create a poignant scene.

The joy of this show is in the characters.  We see five very different women onstage and it is easy to become interested in who they are and how they interact with each other.  Yvonne Patterson’s Dee is a straight talking northerner with big dreams and a large dollop of self-deprecation, Hazel Bell’s Mo is a likeably rough around the edges cockney, while Diane Lefley’s Liz is a very believable posh girl fallen from grace.  Chrissy (Nia Dunbar) is endearingly hopeless and has some very funny moments while Helly (Jill Bailey McLeary) is delightfully earnest in her cultural and linguistic faux pas.

One difficulty with this production is momentum and oomph.  Perhaps it is the writing, or the technical constraints of staging a play with only one exit and where most scenes end with a not very dark blackout, but somehow several strong and engaging scenes seem to trail off at the end before a slightly dragging wait for the next scene. The script is constructed so that the show ends on a less definite note than it could, too.  There is a wonderfully succinct, natural end about ten minutes before the actual ending, and then the play continued in pleasant but less punchy post-script.

What the show lacks in momentum it makes up for in sincerity, with many highly believable moments and sympathetic, rounded, warts and all characters.  The many smiles of recognition which this performance elicits are made skillfully possible by the detailed work of the cast (they are all good and Yvonne Patterson and Diane Lefley deserve a mention for their utter believability in working as the two alpha female counterpoints to each other), and a lifelike staging by directors Daniel Serra (original production) and Linda Bagaini.

The five women in Scrubbers create a heartwarming show, warts and all.

Cast credits (alpha order):  Hazel Bell – Mo, Nia Dunbar – Chrissie, Diane Lefley – Liz, Jill Bailey McLeary (Helly), Yvonne Patterson (Dee).

Company Credits:  Producers – Diane Lefley and Hazel Bell, Director (original production) Daniel Serra, Director – Linda Bagaini, Stage Manager – Linda Bagaini, Assistant Stage Manager/Set Design – Julie Kevill, Lighting Design and Tech Assistant – Paul Kevill, Artwork – Daniel J Serra

Thanks to:  Maurice Huggett & Tom Walczak, Phoenix Artists Club

(c) Jennifer Skapeti 2010

Reviewed Tuesday 10th August, 2010


Angela Unbound

Tuesday, 17 August, 2010

High-energy comedy

Leicester Square Theatre – 4-29th August (50 min)

Angela Unbound is a comedy 50 minutes long with no interval. The play takes place in a hotel room in Paris.

It starts with two characters. Charles Duprey is watching a strip-tease from the character Caroline Hopkins to music. Caroline dances using a feather boa. She strips down to a lace slip dress with underwear underneath. Judging from the uncomfortable manner and facial expression of Charles Duprey, it’s safe to assume that they are not a couple and that only one of them is enjoying the show.  Caroline introduces herself as the writer Mr McBain’s muse.

Caroline Hopkins’ broad Texan accent is a contrast to Charles Duprey’s typical French accent, which emphasis the difference in family backgrounds and education and adds a comedic mood of the play.

Charles Duprey is dressed in brown top and trousers with a yellow, cream and brown satin scarf around his neck. He clutches a leather document folder containing his résumé and references.

Caroline’s dialogue and flirtations are precise, indicating that this character is not to be dismissed as a typical dumb blond. She tries to get Mr Duprey to have sex with her or perform a sexual act.  She is aware that she is lacking in intellect, but is superior in using this image/reality to manipulate others.

There is a feel a of a constant battle, between her wants and the other’s resistance. This is typical slapstick comedy.

The set is simple, with a two-seater old fashioned couch, the type you would find in a classy hotel. There are two exit points off stage and out of view; one that leads to the balcony, the other leads to the bathroom where we can hear Daniel McBain, making noise. When Charles Duprey asks what he might be doing, Caroline’s response is that he is in the bath cleaning.

Daniel McBain’s character is not seen for about 15 minutes into the play, although we do hear his occasional curse towards Caroline Hopkins from off stage behind the door.

When he does emerge, he runs in to the room wielding a large plunger towards Caroline who runs out to the balcony, leaving only him and a scared Mr Duprey in the room.

Daniel McBain is wearing a turquoise satin gown with a colourful picture on the back, shorts and a vest and black under knee stockings. His hair is messy and he has a wild look in his eyes. He talks with a deep accent explains why a man from Chicago is more American that a man from New York

His dislike for Caroline and Charles ultimately drives them together. The relationship between him and Caroline is violent verbally and physically. If it was not for the explanation given earlier in the play you would wonder why they are sharing a room, and travelling to Paris together.

The drama between the characters continues with sex, violence, one-liners and a happy ending.

Cast: Peter Glover – Charles Duprey; Jonathan Hansier – Daniel McBain; Ewa Jaworski – Caroline Hoskins

Crew: William Whitehurst – Writer; Andy McQuade – Director; Kim Moakes – Assistant Director; Mara Adina – Graphic Art; Nika Khitrova – Scenography, costume and design; Ruth Perrin – Stage Manager / Technician; Corin Rhys Jones – Production associate; Anna Sbokou – Lighting designer; Press & PR by Chance Publicity

Reviewed 4 August 2010

(c) Claudia Nettleford