‘The Jungle’ review – a raw and important tale of community at the heart of the refugee crisis

Incredibly immersive and delivered by a phenomenal cast, The Jungle gets to the heart of the refugee crisis in an emotional tale of hope, community and companionship.

In the UK, the Calais Jungle and the refugee crisis have only been observed from afar. Media coverage shines a light on the issue, but there is still a degree of separation – a barrier instantly broken down in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s latest production.

With singing and dancing too, this West End production is a brilliant piece of theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

If you’re lucky enough to get stall seats, then you find yourself in Miriam Buether’s ‘Afghan Cafe’, the stalls section which is very much part of the stage. Actors hand out leaflets about “another proposed eviction of the Jungle”, naans and drinks to audience members as they enter. Cultural music plays. The fourth wall is instantly broken, and you are immediately immersed in the environment.

It’s the sense of community which really shines through over the two hours and forty minutes, as cast members bounce off each other’s performances seamlessly and with ease.

So much so that there is not one overall stand-out actor. Ammar Haj Ahmad (who plays the main protagonist, Safi) delivers mesmerising monologues in an embracing and welcoming tone, whilst Ben Turner charms as the dedicated restaurant owner, Salah. Black Mirror star Alex Lawther is impressive as a British aid worker, and Trevor Fox offers some brilliant comic relief as Boxer.

Although fictional, Murphy and Robertson’s script does a phenomenal job of exploring the Calais Jungle with pure honesty. Okot (John Pfumojena)’s monologue about his attempt to make it to the UK is one of the most heartbreaking and moving parts of the play. Important points about the crisis are bluntly communicated throughout – as much as the play draws you in, it also leaves you with questions to ask once you’ve left your seat.

As such, The Jungle stands as both an excellent and important work of theatre and as one of the most important plays to see this year. Thought-provoking, moving and incredibly immersive, this must-see production is exactly what theatre should be.

Rating: 5/5

The Jungle is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London from now until the 3 November.

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‘Consent’ review – Nina Raine’s thought-provoking elaborate production raises many questions in a tense blend of love and justice

In a detailed exploration of love, justice and the law, Consent raises a lot of questions for the audience to ponder – both curious and confusing ones.

One would think that such confusion would come from the technicalities of the play being one of a legal nature, but Raine’s research shines confidently throughout in the writing. Instead, in a production which explores the many relationships of the characters on stage, what starts as a straightforward tale expands into something far more complex and puzzling.

From left: Adam James, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby, Clare Foster and Claudie Blakley. Credit: Johan Persson

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop Raine from raising some interesting points in the dialogue of her characters. The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore and The A Word‘s Lee Ingleby are amongst the cast who deliver powerful performances and showcase excellent character development. The atmosphere’s tense, and the individuals three-dimensional – often expressing contrasting opinions throughout, which is particularly interesting to see.

Mix the topic of the play and the characters with a classical score and limited set design, and things start to feel a little more intense. Yet such a tone and pace for a play which explores many ideas does lead to some points being lost. It’s upon re-reading the play text that you begin to see some of the foreshadowing and wider, underlying discussions.

An impressive cast and excellent dialogue feature in Consent, but as the plot develops, some of the production’s underlying points get lost along the way.

Rating: 3.5/5

‘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.