‘4.48 Psychosis’ review – Sarah Kane’s play gets a powerful retelling in this new bilingual production

Combining spoken English with British Sign Language (BSL), Deafinitely Theatre add a new, expressive dimension to Kane’s emotive writing in this bold exploration of mental health – ★★★★☆.

There’s an important underlying message in this version of Sarah Kane’s final play. Deaf health charity SignHealth says deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health issues than those who are hearing, and that they struggle to access support due to communication barriers “which only make their symptoms worse”.

Photo: Becky Bailey.

As the cast navigate the small set, sealed off to the audience with three see-through panes, these barriers become physical and all the more visible. Actors Brian Duffy and Adam Bassett deliver strong performances as the two leads struggle to communicate their feelings to others.

Communication and language are, of course, so closely tied to mental health and support. In 4.48 Psychosis, we see written text projected onto the stage, floating across the screen and complimenting creative choreography and mesmerising mimed sign language. Spoken English merges with BSL to give Kane’s writing a new, expressive impact.

At times, the subtitles disappear and we are left with just sign language on the stage. For those who are not fluent in BSL, there’ll likely be times where it’s hard to figure out what’s being conveyed. Yet, when one considers the point about communication barriers, this perhaps alludes to a wider issue.

With impressive direction from Paula Garfield and strong performances from all four of the cast, Deafinitely Theatre’s latest production offers a new, raw take on an incredibly important subject.

4.48 Psychosis is now playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 13 October.

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‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ review – Poldark’s Aidan Turner is hilarious in this bloody brilliant black comedy

Swapping the lovey-dovey vibes of Poldark for dark comedy, Aidan Turner’s latest performance is a surprising – but nonetheless refreshing – change from his role in the popular BBC period drama.

Set in the 90s during The Troubles, The Lieutenant of Inishmore at London’s Noël Coward Theatre sees Turner portray an Irish terrorist shocked by the news that his pet cat, Wee Thomas, is ‘unwell’ – to put it lightly.

From left: Chris Walley, Aidan Turner and Denis Conway. Photo: Johan Persson.

What follows is a play which is extreme in every meaning of the word – absurdist humour, blood and gore are being crammed into two intense, hilarious acts.

It’s a tone quickly established from the outset, with Chris Walley and Denis Conway delivering an incredible performance as duo Davey and Donny – one which almost rivals that of Turner.

A perfect balance between strong humour and shocking violence is struck throughout – something which is testament to Michael Grandage’s directing and ensures that the brave satire contained in Martin McDonagh’s (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) script is never once lost.

Gory, daft and extremely engaging, Aidan Turner leads a fantastic all-Irish cast in this thoroughly entertaining comedy.

Rating: 4/5

‘Quiz’ review – James Graham’s ‘coughing major’ play explores justice in a post-truth era

James Graham’s latest play Quiz is one of binary oppositions. At its heart, audience members tackle the question of whether ‘coughing major’ Charles Ingram was guilty or not guilty of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, whilst also exploring truth versus falsehood, and showbiz versus justice.

Photo: Johan Persson.

No doubt a political playwright, Graham says the “curious overlapping of light entertainment with criminal justice” in the Ingram case became a “prominent theme” whilst working on the play. Yet this particular point feels lost in amongst the nostalgic, exaggerated and slightly excessive quiz presenter impressions by Keir Charles (although this portrayal was most likely deliberate), the brief media circus scenes, gimmicks in the court case and the audience pub quiz. Although a treat for hardcore gameshow fans, the connection is a weak one.

Perhaps the strongest point suggested by Graham is one around post-truth – a political concept surging in importance in a time of Trump and Brexit. As both acts explore different narratives in the trial before asking the audience to vote, confirmation bias and manipulation are thrust into the spotlight for the crowd’s scrutiny. In a time where we find ourself subscribing to different narratives and interpretations of the facts, the investigation of this through the courtroom is Graham’s strongest point.

Accompanying the thought-provoking writing are some great performances from the cast. Utopia‘s Gavin Spokes delivers an impressive performance as the eccentric major, Stephanie Street is a solid Diana Ingram and Greg Haiste plays a variety of roles with vibrancy. Sarah Woodward and Paul Bazely also give enthusiastic portrayals of the two lawyers involved in the trial.

Chuck all this in with audience participation and a fourth wall break, and you have a thrilling multi-media production that both investigates and challenges reality. Quiz is a must for big thinkers and gameshow fanatics.

Rating: 4/5

‘Network’ review: Bryan Cranston is sensational in this timely adaptation of Chayefsky’s classic

I’m mad as hell, as I’m not going to take this anymore’ is the chant at the centre of Paddy Chayefsky’s classic film, Network. In a time of post-truth and outrage, Lee Hall’s adaptation for the National Theatre adds a present-day backdrop which makes the story all the more chilling.

Howard Beale is the anchorman turned sensationalist messenger in this thought-provoking production. Photo: Jan Versweyveld.

Enter Howard Beale (Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston), a news anchorman who breaks down live on air, announcing his plan to kill himself on his television show in a week’s time. What follows is the tale of commercial corruption and opinion vs. fact as the network obsesses over the boost in ratings…

Over nearly two hours, the story unfolds in an immersive multimedia format that further adds a modern touch to the plot. A large screen towers on-stage and on a set that serves as a studio, newsroom and restaurant (from which lucky audience members can eat and view the show) all at once. Add that to moments of audience participation and scenes outside the theatre and Ivo van Hove’s immersive direction smashes the fourth wall, bringing us further into the dystopian world.

It’s an intensity compounded by Cranston’s performance, delivering powerful and thought-provoking monologues effortlessly. Naturally, such a portrayal of the main protagonist detracts from other sub-plots – in this case, the rather under-developed story of Head of News Max Schumacher (Primeval‘s Douglas Henshall) and Director of Programming Diana Christensen’s (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) relationship. Although brilliantly acted by the pair, it’s overshadowed by a feeling of it all being a bit too cliché and – in amongst the more extreme parts of the play – feels out of place.

Yet, it’s a play which demands further thought after seeing it. With no interval, there isn’t enough thinking time to process it all until the final bow. At that point, one can consider Howard Beale’s words – including a powerful closing speech – and Max and Diana’s partnership in more depth. It’s the sign of three incredible individuals coming together. Hall’s writing mixes with van Hove’s production to create the perfect atmosphere for Cranston to take centre-stage, delivering a performance that is – in every meaning of the word – sensational.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars

Review: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child at The Palace Theatre

The magic of theatre is a hard thing to describe. With the right play, the story comes to life and it just works. So, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a story with fantasy at its core – makes its way to the historic Palace Theatre in London, one can imagine that the end result is a production wonderfully creative and immersive.

It’s understandable for Potter fans to question how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter translates onto the stage, when there’s certain restraints and no CGI on hand to help. Naturally, Potterheads want to see the Boy Who Lived and his universe accurately portrayed in this new medium. It’s most likely this faith to the story, combined with a curiosity as to how the cast pull off the magical aspects of the plot which has led to hundreds of theatre buffs buying tickets to the play. However, for those who are yet to nab a seat, they can be reassured that the stage has allowed the magic of Harry Potter to be blossom in an entirely different way to the films. Readers who were quick to label Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an embarrassing and cringeworthy fan fiction after the script was released should wait until they have seen the play before they question whether the story should be canon.

It’s a show which makes you recognise the work of those behind the scenes as much as it does of those who are performing. The opening scene throws you straight into the story, which is no doubt helped by Steven Hoggett’s smooth choreography and Imogen Heap’s soundtrack which was stunning throughout. One must also appreciate the use of lighting, too, which certainly helped to set and alter the play’s tone as the story progressed.

The play managed to achieve something which the movies failed to do for me, and that was actually create this feeling that I was at Hogwarts and a part of this world. This is no doubt down to this off-stage and on-stage collaboration, combined with the fact that it takes place in The Palace Theatre, an old building which certainly has a Hogwarts feel to it both inside and out.

Then there’s the actors and actresses. Admittedly, it felt like it took a while before some of the character’s dialogue became ‘genuine’, but one could argue that that was a result of my own apprehension. Nevertheless, Samuel Blenkin delivers an incredible performance as the socially awkward and over-excitable Scorpius Malfoy. Offering both pure emotion and comic relief, Blenkin fleshes out a likeable character the audience sympathises with. When working alongside the talented Theo Ancient (Albus Potter), the two create a tale of friendship that’s uplifting throughout. It’s also worth applauding Thomas Aldridge’s hilarious portrayal of Ron Weasley, Rakie Ayola’s sassy Hermione Granger and Gideon Turner’s performance as Harry Potter, which was exceptionally raw in certain scenes. Yet, as mentioned previously, everyone involved in the production should be given credit for the team effort. The fact that the cast pronounce Voldemort the correct way (Vol-de-MOR) was a nice touch.

However, much like how a magician never reveals their secrets, it would be wrong to unveil all of the technicalities that go into making this play what it is. Audience members were also sent a video from J. K. Rowling after the performance pleading for them to #KeepTheSecrets, so there’s that.

You just have to go and see it, if you’re lucky enough…

Theatrical Reflections from a Rain-Painted Window

Rain pelts the windows of my Thameslink train as I type this. I’m on my way to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, and if I was able to see both parts of the play before 7pm, then my review would be up today. As that isn’t happening, I thought it would be worth talking about my experiences at the cinema, and why I’m starting to prefer going to the theatre instead of seeing a film.

An obvious point to begin with is the accessibility of cinemas today. Whilst the one where I live has a few subtitled showings, living with a hearing family with their own schedules has meant seeing films without subtitles (not to mention the fact that most subtitled performances can be shown at inconvenient times of the day). From Marley and Me to Deadpool, I can still laugh and cry at what’s happening on screen, but I miss out on the plot that comes through dialogue. This is probably why it took me so long as a child to realise that TV shows were meant to be listened to as well as watched.

However, to blame it all on accessibility would be unreasonable of me. Another reason is the fact that I’ve always been a book nerd as opposed to a movie buff. Sitting in uncomfortable seats struggling to hear just didn’t appeal to me, compared to imagining the story for yourself from the comfort of your own home.

It’s become a question of time investment. Will it be worth spending two hours concentrating on this movie, trying to hear it? Will it demand my attention or will I get bored? It’s why I now have a certain criteria for a film to meet in full or in part before I decide to see it.

  1. It has received rave reviews.
  2. It contains an actor I like.
  3. It’s based off a book I like.
  4. The trailer looks good.

However, with a play, this criteria doesn’t apply, and the accessibility is better. Granted, there’s still no subtitles (unless you’re seeing a captioned performance) but the audio quality is better. Then there’s the sense of atmosphere in the theatre which can only be achieved in the cinema with a horror movie/thriller or by breaking the fourth wall.

But to revert back to the time investment point, I guess it’s something I’ve had for many years now when you consider some of the film classics I haven’t seen:

Titanic, E.T., Alien, Predator, The Shawshank Redemption, Love Actually, The Great Escape, Forrest Gump, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Die Hard, Casablanca, 2001: A Space Oddysey, The Back to the Future trilogy, Fight Club, The Terminator, The Social Network, Psycho,  Trainspotting, Speed, Saving Private Ryan, The Shining, Guardians of the Galaxy, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Goodfellas… 

This revelation often has my friends staring in disbelief and firing me shocked or angry looks, but film isn’t really my thing. Perhaps if I have some time to see more captioned performances, this may change, but for now, I’m looking forward to Harry Potter and seeing more plays in the future.

Accessible theatre: Seeing a relaxed performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

If you’ve been around since November 2015, you’ll know just how much I love the play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. An extraordinary tale about the unique mind of Christopher Boone, I fell in love with its sheer emotiveness. So, when the opportunity came up for me to see it for a second time, of course I said yes.

Curious Incident Theatre Sign
I was able to see the show for the second time on Monday night. This time at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

However, unlike the first performance, this one was a little bit different. For the first time as a theatre-goer, I attended a relaxed performance of a play, with my good friend Connor, who is autistic.

Ahead of the performance, I had a few questions in mind. The main one being what changes to the show would there be? At the start, for example, there are a sequence of flashes. With sharp lights being a possible issue for some autistic people, seeing how they would deal with that was interesting.

Luckily, I found a video online which explained some of the changes: a reduction in strobe lighting, the theatre doors remaining open throughout, and the audience lights staying on for the whole show too. If anything, most of the changes were to calm the intensity of theatre, and it worked. It certainly felt relaxed whilst also remaining powerful and emotive when it needed to be.

Another thing I noticed was a sheet of paper detailing some of the aspects of the show which may be an issue, including shouting, lighting and sound effects which audience members should be aware of. Yet another thing which helped to put the minds of audience members at ease.

All of this had us nicely prepared for the show itself. I won’t go into too much detail about it (see my first review for that), but in short, it was another emotive, raw and magical performance. I was left buzzing, even though I had seen the play already.

Curious Cast on Stage
Some of the cast came out afterwards to answer questions from the audience.

What was even more exciting was the question and answer session with the cast and director afterwards. With this not being something offered after the first performance I saw, I was excited to put some questions to the actors, including the importance of silence in the play (how much is too much) and memory tips – these actors have to remember some complex lines indeed! It was also great to hear the cast discuss autism, too, and their approach to the issue.

Liam with actor Sam Newton
Actor Sam Newton, who plays Christopher in the current UK tour.

Thanks, once again, must go to Sam Newton (who played Christopher) for stopping for a quick photo, as well as the rest of the cast. It was a phenomenal performance. A big thank you as well to the Birmingham Hippodrome, who were able to make the show accessible to so many people.