Shine @ Traverse Theatre

Video Rights:
Live Theatre

Writer: Kema Sikazwe

Director: Graeme Thompson

What defines you? Is it your past, your family? Perhaps more realistically it’s the societal labels attached from unwelcomed comments; immigrant, black, poor or untalented which ‘brand’ us. I, Daniel Blake actor Kema Sikazwe’s Shine gives an account of his own difficulties in finding his ability to not be a product of the system.

With growing resistance to theatres’ promoted history of the stories of the white middle classes, Sikazwe’s Shine requires a unique edge to stride out. It accomplishes this through its lyrical prowess – making its music the core element. It’s a pleasant reference to the narrative, that Kema’s late mother told him the power music holds and that his abilities make him shine out in the darkness of reality.

So, who are we? For Kema, he was a young boy being brought over to the council estates of Newcastle. While it wasn’t the mansion many in the Commonwealth had expected, it was still to be their home. Tragedy, racism and bullying followed – the depraved nature of uninformed people who couldn’t figure out who they were, let alone Kema. On the wrong path, music offered freedom of expression as well as therapy.

Where Shine is at its most impressive is as its music is constructed around us, Sikazwe as its maestro. As he discusses the impact music has had not only on his life but the lives of others, there’s a sense he isn’t acting. This feels real, selling his intentions even more. From the comedic turns to the serious. We are treated to renditions of dance beats, building and growing in crescendo – tunes we are all familiar with at the back of the bus.

At the risk of trivialising, Shine isn’t pushing a narrative entirely unheard of. Its importance is just as paramount though, Sikazwe’s actual accounts of bullying due to immigration or class is a relatable concept deserving to be at the forefront of theatre. What this production benefits considerably from is its musical interludes with rap styled delivery. The score is the standout aspect of the production, crafted in a manner to both entertain as well as inform.

Inspired by his ability at school to rap, the lyrical composition of these numbers is excellent. Furthering the inner turmoil of emotion, without having to spout exposition. Utilising the sound design one distinct number about firearm violence in Zimbabwe is met with chills at the sudden outbursts, Sikazwe physically conveying the anguish throughout.

Emphasising the storytelling element of the production, a keenly designed lighting from Emma Bailey has been incorporated into the set. Strip illumination adorns the walls that contain Sikazwe’s emanating moods, which ebb with the musical score. It’s quite a simple set piece, with the three flats acting to bathe Sikazew in warm light – yet at a moment’s notice confine him.

Hoping to shine bright enough to cast away shadows some audience members struggle with,Shine is an emerging voice amidst a sea of previously ignored narratives. Its individual nature should be respected, but it’s coming of age narrative doesn’t communicate anything revolutionary. That said, with issues surrounding racism, prejudice and violence ever present; perhaps a booming collective voice is required to hammer the point home. Nevertheless, Sikazwe’s performance is heartfelt, his delivery through song as well as spoken word, makes for an engaging piece.

Review originally published for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/shine-traverse-theatre-edinburgh

Live Theatre: https://www.live.org.uk/whats-on/shine

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof @ The Studio, Festival Theatre

Image Contribution:
Marion Donohoe

Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Mike Paton

Just shy of 75 years ago Leitheatre would emerge in humble beginnings, finding its namesake in the early seventies. A group banded together with two key concepts to their community – to adore dramatics and reflect on their roots in Leith. After covering a variety of authors and playwrights, the dramatic group have taken perhaps Tennessee Williams’ beloved, if at least most well-known, production on for their 2019 repertoire. Join Leitheatre in the humid plantains in America’s South for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There are two things we dread more than others, death and the truth. How fortunate that both reside in the core elements of Williams’ play. Communicating the opposition to facing these aspects of life is difficult, easy to trivialise but Leitheatre have managed to maintain a desirable dignity.

Tangled amidst their own strands of deceit, the Pollitt family seem to struggle to be honest with one another. Celebrating the landmark 65th birthday of Big Daddy, the family conceal his health struggles from the patriarch and his wife, Big Mamma. The William’s play looks at a plethora of life’s difficulties regarding sexual desires, mendacity and repression.

None so repressed than that of fierce Maggie, wife to Brick and daughter-in-law to Big Daddy. She’s striking, physically engaging (and knows it) but can’t seem to regain the lost intimacy with her husband. Nicole Nadler has perhaps the troublesome task this evening, with Maggie receiving a heft of the productions lines. She performs well, her feline curls and fluid motions represent the character but lack the punch when Maggie is pushed too far.

Big Daddy Pollitt, a character whose reverence is recognised in theatre. His offstage presence is felt through the first third of the play – requiring an imposing performance to match expectations. Rising to these measures is Hamish Hunter, who from the moment his cigar-chomping Big Daddy strides into the room – there is no question to who controls the plantation.

Through no fault of Leitheatre, ensure a bathroom stop before the second half. Ideally bring a snack for the rest of Williams’ play, which is a trek. It tackles a vast array of family disputes, unearthing as it solves. We receive answers to questions, some minor resolutions and at the centre a poignant interaction from Brick and Big Daddy.

Here, Kevin Rowe is able to show his performance capabilities, working off one another to draw out the best in each other. Teetering on a subtle edge regarding Brick’s relationship with male companion Skipper, Rowe handles the exchange with tact, respect and a needed connection with the audience. The tenderness communicated by Hunter offers the attachment to Big Daddy the audience requires; it pushes the character from potential explosive antagonist to understandably (if crass) human.

A commendable effort is put into the visual nature of this production, not solely relying on the performance aspect. Giving dimension to the piece is Stephen Kajducki’s sound and lighting design. Fireworks, unexpected but welcomed bring the minor touches which lift the amateur group above others in its field.

Capturing a chunk of pathos, Leitheatre does a remarkable job in bringing one of Williams toughest plays onto the stage. In a fully commendable effort, they breathe life into rich characters, some with higher effect than others. Move quicker than a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, get yourself round to bask in the proud satisfaction of local talent.

Tickets availble from Capital Theatres:
https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof

For more information on Leitheatre, please visit:
https://www.leitheatre.com/

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery @ King’s Theatre

Video Rights:
Mishief Theatre

Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields

Original Director: Mark Bell with Mischief Theatre

Tour Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward

Mischief Theatre has capitalised on farce. Following on from the Olivier winning Play That Goes Wrong and the equally successful Peter Pan Goes Wrong, they keep their prized wits but bring their talents to a different setting.

As one would hope with the title The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – laughs are in no short supply. Maintaining the signature physical elements Mischief Theatre are known for, nothing can be trusted: no set piece, no prop and certainly not any of our characters as we stray into a show about a (not so) simple bank heist with added romance and slap-stick.

Just there, on the edge of ‘too far’ sits a joke. A joke which few dare push further for fear of repetition or staleness. Mischief Theatre, in a manner only they seem to get away with, kick that joke as far possible. What ensues is a precious ability to push a laugh to its boundaries without losing the crowd.

Everyone plays a tremendous role; nothing is half-hearted. If we can though, spare a thought for dear old Warren played by Jon Trenchard with a performance so charmingly pitiful you cannot fail to appreciate the characterisation put into such a heavily dedicated role. Easily the standout performance of the production, excluding Simon the Seagull.

Standing out for Trenchard is no easy feat, given David Farley’s set design. To describe this as technically ingenious still isn’t as rich a compliment as is needed. In theory and almost 100% in practice, an unfolding set piece works remarkably, allowing for plenty of space for performers whilst hiding the gags from the audience. The real gem though, without spoiling, is a truly unique birds-eye view from the heist. The humour, performances, set design and David Howe’s lighting work together to split any sides left intact in the audience.

Parody for many has lost its way in a string of knockoffs with no heart. Mel Brooks lives by the code that to make a successful parody, you have to love what you’re lampooning. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields are clearly inspired by iconic cinematic influences from the nineties and late fifties. From over the top fits of hilarity such as The Great Race or Brook’s own Great Train Robbery. Nowhere though does it feel more akin to than that of the nineties with John Walters Cry Baby, Liam Jeavons’ providing his best Jonny Depp via James Dean.

Another element reminiscent of the 1990 film, and unexpected are the musical interludes found in the production. A current addition to Mischief’s repertoire, the sound design for The Comedy About a Bank Robbery brings about tighter musical transitions than the most musicals. In particular, a rather stirring rendition of Peggy Lee’s (or Jessica Rabbit) Why Don’t You Do Right? from Ashley Tucker.

In the push for a narrative away from the stage settings of the past, The Comedy About A Bank Robberyloses the sneakiest trick. In moving from deliberate failed set pieces, the seams and sinew show. They only detract slightly, being more prevalent in the second acts fast-paced entrances and exits. Suspicions arise this is more due to the touring nature, but heavy secure bolts cause flowing comedy to sometimes jam, throwing off timing.

So, they’ve done it again, Mischief Theatre has torn apart murder mysteries, confuddled the pantos and are now robbing our hearts with a bank robbery. This is a comedy that delivers on its name. We can’t wait to see which genre Mischief take aim at next.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-comedy-about-a-bank-robbery-kings-theatre-edinburgh

Run ends 18th May – continues touring:
https://www.thecomedyaboutabankrobbery.com/uk-tour

Six @ Underbelly George Square

Image contribution:
Idil Sukan

Lyricist & Composer Toby Marlow

Playwrights: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Believe all of the hype you may have heard, Six is a concert-style musical which, like its women, will stand the test of time.

Any Fringe-goer with an ear to the ground knows Six is one of the most anticipated shows this year. Whilst the executioner may have claimed Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – can they survive the hype? Oh, honey, these ladies haven’t just (divorced, beheaded) survived, they’ve thrived. 

Fed-up with simply being part of a rhyme, the six wives of Henry the VIII decide to strike out on their own in the form of a band. Who should be lead vocals though? Surely it must be the one Henry was wed to the longest, Catherine of Aragon? Or perhaps the one he truly loved – Jane Seymour? Vengeful, driven to sing their side of history, these women have finally decided to step out of the shadows of men, spotlight and crown first. 

Not a single number falters; from pop to techno-house, the writers of Six have excelled themselves with this marriage of entertainment, drama and engaging lyrics. Nowhere is this showcased better than through dearly forgotten Catherine Howard. Her overtly sexualised depiction in media is lampooned by Six, yet her characterisation still respected. What starts as light-hearted and passionate quickly descends as her face contorts, shifting into anguish. The twisted distortion crossing her gaze, the unyielding hands grasping and clutching at her frame, Catherine suddenly becomes to most relatable Queen for women in the audience. 

Literature makes us think we remember these six women due to their husband when in reality, we remember him due to these fascinating individuals. Without them Henry VIII’s accomplishments, invasions and shortcomings would indeed have been documented, but would culture have held onto him so? History may have been written by men – but this time it stars women, and quite rightly so

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/six-underbelly

Tickets available from Capital Theatres:
https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical

Keep on Walking Federico @ The Traverse Theatre

Image contribution:
Actors Touring Company

Writer: Mark Lockyer

Director: Alice Malin

We will never live to see every truth unearthed. We will never find all which has been buried beneath the grains of sand about our own, our parents and companions lives. No matter how hard we try to uncover these, to ponder them – we just can’t do it.

Any familiar with the courageous steps which Mark Lockyer has accomplished in recent years regarding his own mental wellbeing might recognise themes through Keep on Walking Federico. To refer to it as a ‘follow-up’ to his previous production Living with the Lights On wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, but this also stands as a solitary piece. The real grounding feat is that regardless of foreknowledge of Lockyer’s history the production accomplishes a closeness and identifiability with its audience.

Exploring perhaps the second most relatable aspect of life following our own identities – is that of our parents and where we come from. To really answer questions on ourselves, we have to know where we came from and how we came to be. So, Lockyer finds himself in Spain, responding to correspondence about his Father’s history. On the advice of his therapist, Lockyer embarks on a trip to reconnect with his parents, particularly his lesser-known Father.

To help guide Lockyer through his journey are a colourful cast of characters we have no issue in believing are real, despite their overblown nature. All given life, individuality and manners by Lockyer himself. From the enigmatic, envy-inspiring though deliciously named Dr Bueno to the rotund Dutchman that is Damon, Lockyer has encountered enough people to stage a series of plays. The physical transformation for each is impressive, accents accompanying most of them. His Mother though receives a different kind of performance.

The heart of the show rests in these interactions with his departed Mother, the gravitas too, is located here. Powerful messages surrounding death, lost opportunities and the value of parents exist in these snippets. Though suspicions lie that her characterisation is exaggerated, pushed for the stage, Lockyer portrays her with love, determination and in one scene, the monumental power only a Mother could display.

Dedication to enticing an audience’s focus down such a personal journey, even if staged with comedic elements is tricky. Lockyer’s writing is fully engrossing, luckily – we relate to the story on some level to find a reason to become invested. What furthers this is the performance put into it, Keep on Walking Federico is crafted with tremendous passion, which director Alice Malin and the Actors Touring Company are no doubt proud of.

Staged sparingly, our set is simple on the surface, yet conceals many secrets. Its design in relation to the narrative is brilliant. Gradually as Lockyer uncovers his father’s history or his mother’s heroics the set evolves with him, revealing more secrets. Geraldine Williams design works wonders with the clean-cut lighting design by Christopher Nairne.

Transitions, in an otherwise stripped back production, are irksome. Far from poor, they are complex and require adjustment when gauging which character Lockyer is playing, followed by what time period. From an early age, we encounter his mother frequently towards the end of her life. Max Pappenheim’s sound design signals a shift, an ethereal whirring. It works, but it’s the only character interaction to receive one, so change feels sudden, stifling the flow.

The production has issues with flow and wobbly transitions, but manages to keep us invested in its overall story. It does this with recognisable themes, though more importantly a notable, affectionate performance by Mark Lockyer. Keep on Walking Federico is poetically constructed, rekindling an appreciation of our parents.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/keep-on-walking-federico-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.atctheatre.com/