Emelia Marshall Lovesey Review

emelia

Review of Harrogate by Emelia Marshall Lovsey

Harrogate, a play which premiered at the High Tide Festival in 2015 that has been revived by the Royal Court before it goes on tour, is another champion play by the brilliant Al Smith. Harrogate follows the story of three women and a jobless father who misses the past and is desperate to control his daughter. Throughout the play he struggles to control and suppress his dark sexual desire which would ultimately destroy his family. The play opens with an overly concerned father questioning his daughter about the clothes she wears, make up and even her love life- whilst pouring her a Bailey’s. Or is something else happening here… The subtext of the scene seems sinister from the offset yet it is so subtle it could easily be missed. To say more about the plot would spoil the many twists and turns of this masterfully written and crafted piece of theatre.

The stage is a clean, pristine white and scarce which serves to illuminate how ‘dark’ what is happening on stage really is. The lighting and sound choices add another element of sinister to the audience’s already troubling sense of unease, something is not right here. Richard Twyman directs this piece beautifully, keeping a fast pace throughout and constant sense of imminent fear. The show is unwatchable in moments and completely compelling at the same time. For one woman in the audience it was all too much and she left crying. Yet that’s the genius of the piece, nothing really needs to happen for it to be shocking and disturbing- one father, trying, with various degrees of success to suppress his thoughts and at the same time ‘indulge’ them without going there, is enough to send shivers down your spine.

This play is performed excellently by Nigel Lindsay playing Him and Sarah Ridgeway playing Her, Her being three different women. The subtle differences in Him when he interacts with each woman is fascinating. The subtle nuances of Ridgeway’s performance for each character are equally as intriguing. So are the unsettling similarities between the characters; particularly the mother and daughter, whose generational mirroring along with the use of reverb seems to imply perhaps that a person’s child echoes their sexual partner. The outstanding performance given from Ridgeway forces the audience to ask uncomfortable questions about how different each of these women really are and with that it explores male sexuality. In particular their possible tendency towards younger women. Her performance is nothing short of extraordinary.

The dirtied relationships Him has with Her, the teasing uncertainty that this play is fuelled by and the unspeakable thoughts that eek out in the final scene where the anti is upped- makes for exceptional theatre. From scene to scene this show gets more and more compelling. Al Smith’s writing with sharp wit, clever dialogue and a dark, disturbing tale, paired with incredible performances, slick and masterful direction from Richard Twyman- makes this production one of the must see shows of the year. Harrogate is reminiscent of The Nether without a virtual world; which begged questions such as where is the line and what does it mean to cross it? Like The Nether, Harrogate’s a brave piece of writing which asks difficult questions and explores a hard hitting topic. It is also more than that, it beautifully explores how people, things and relationships change over time. A harrowing show that will leave you with an uneasy queasiness in your stomach, a real must see that is by no means easy to watch.

Harrogate plays at The Royal Court until the 29th of October before going on tour.

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Theatre Review by Emelia Marshall Lovsey

emelia

Review of Diary of a Mad Man

Written by Emelia Marshall Lovsey

Diary of a Madman tells the story of anti hero Pop Sheeran. For generations his family have been painting the Forth Bridge with pride, a job which takes so long that by the time he has finished painting, he has to start again. The problem is: there’s a new paint which lasts for fifteen years- if Pop uses it, he’d paint himself out of a job. Furthermore, a young Englishman studying engineering has come to stay with Pop’s family and caught the eye of his daughter. These combined forces cause him to start to lose his sense of personal, professional and national identity as well as his sense of purpose and with them he begins to lose his mind. Meanwhile his caring wife with the help of modern medicine and his beloved teenage daughter, try their best to keep him together.

This production of this play, despite its laugh out laugh moments, is fraught with tension. In a way, it echoes and draws similarities with Arthur Miller’s: A View From A Bridge. This play, written by Al Smith, despite its sheer brilliance, appears very occasionally at times as a little cluttered and sometimes difficult to follow. Though following a descent into madness is probably no easy thing. Either way, this is easily forgotten and forgiven due to the gripping nature of the story, compelling and captivating characters and impeccable quality that this production offers from start to finish. The play is in moments abstract and out there, which in another production could easily undermine the show; however in this case it is pulled off magnificently. This show is as slick and as sharp as a production you might find on at The National Theatre, a credit to the director Christopher Haydon and all the other creatives on board.

The talented cast of Diary of a Madman do an excellent job of telling this powerful story. Mel McCloud played by Lois Chimimba offers much needed comic relief. Louise McMenemy playing Mel Sheeran is a convincing teenager. Liam Brennan who plays Pop is the best thing to hit the stage since Mark Strong in a View From a Bridge at the Young Vic. He was nominated for an Offie for his extraordinary performance. He plays a character which an audience could easily find themselves disliking and yet he endears us to him as we find ourselves feeling great empathy for our anti hero. His stella and electrifying yet tender and sensitive performance is enough to leave any audience member feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut, ready to weep. It’s shows like this which are the reason we go to the theatre.

This moving production has a political undercurrent and begs questions about nationalism, identity, families, mental illness and insecurity. The story is enthralling. The direction and staging is on point. The acting is brilliant. This is a must see production, catch the London transfer from Edinburgh at The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill until the 24th of September.

Theatre Review

cuttin it

by Charlene James at The Royal Court

(First produced at the Young Vic.)

This powerful, heartbreaking and haunting piece of theatre begins as a seemingly innocent, upbeat and sweet story about how two teenage girls become friends. This deception which lulls the audience into a false sense of security makes the rest of the play all the more devastating and shocking because this isn’t another ‘nice little’ story. This award winning play by Charlene James, instead broaches the difficult topic of FGM (female genital mutilation) in the UK, and gets it absolutely right. James dedicates the play to the staggering 500,000 girls and women in Europe that Amnesty International estimates are suffering from the life-long consequences of FGM. The play with it’s sharp wit and clever writing is fuelled by a sense of urgency and an anger that will eventually bring any unsuspecting audience member to tears by the end.

It is refreshing to see two female actors on stage, playing complicated and compelling females not stereotypes, whilst taking on the huge demands of the play. Adelayo Adedayo gives an outstanding performance and the acting from the small cast made up of Adedayo and Tsion Habte is brilliant throughout. Adedayo plays Muna originally from Somalia, a feisty, street smart and popular teenager who loves Rihanna and her little sister. Habte plays Iqra, a mild mannered, naive and shy teenager who recently moved to England from Somalia following the death of her family. The two teenagers who at first seem to be opposites, happen to connect and realise they share the same secret: they are both victims of FGM. Muna is scared her little sister will be mutilated meanwhile Iqra believes it is the only way for a girl to become a woman, the only way to be pure for their future husbands, a tradition that must continue…

The imposing set, made up of a concrete block of stairs, is effective in making the audience feel alienated and distanced. This adds to the sense of unease and discomfort we feel as the story unfolds.  That is until the last moments of the play, when the set turns sinister and almost becomes a graveyard for many young girls that are victims of FGM. This eloquent production from Gbolahan Obiesesan and striking image to end is enough to leave the audience thinking about FGM for a long time to come. The message is simple: the estimated 137,000 girls and women living in the UK with FGM (*1) cannot be ignored any longer. Since 1985, FGM has been illegal in the UK and since 2003 it has been illegal to take a child out of the UK to be cut (*2). This alone however, as clearly illustrated in this production, is not enough to stop FGM and more action needs to be taken.

In this harrowing and devastating piece of theatre, we begin by laughing with two school girls and end up weeping as their lives are shattered. The ending of the piece does not particularly come as a surprise, perhaps because of the inevitability of FGM for girls born into this culture. The piece begs questions such as: ‘how is this happening in the UK?’ ‘How can we stop it in the UK until it is ended worldwide?’ ‘Why is this even happening at all?’ This production highlights that FGM has more to do with community, culture and tradition than anything else: “We do it because we have always done it”, “It is who we are” and “We do it because it is our culture.” It seems so impossible and so unjustified that this is happening that the haunting thought: ‘What will make them stop?’ floats in the air like a bad smell as the lights go down. Unrelenting, emotional, moving and intensely uncomfortable: book your tickets for this show now because this story needs to be heard and change needs to happen. Prepare to be haunted for some time after the show.

emeliaEmelia Marshall Lovsey

Sources:

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/fgm-facts-statistics/  *1

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/06/female-genital-mutilation-foreign-crime-common-uk *2

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/