The Dogs of War: a complex, moving insight into mental illness

Dogs-of-WarTim Foley’s caustic and darkly comedic play The Dogs of War centres on the taboo subject of mental illness and how it can destroy relationships.

A family have moved to rural Northern Ireland; the mother and father live an isolated existence, with the mother suffering from serious mental health issues. Her husband has to look after her, catering to her sudden whims and tantrums. All they seem to have are their three beloved dogs for company. Their son Johnny studies history at university and the play begins as he comes home, unwillingly, to visit.

The writing is masterful, the performances strong, and the play really comes into its own in the second half. For a tragic, complex insight into mental illness and how it can tear families apart, go to see The Dogs of War.

Read my full review

Breaking the silence: Nirbhaya at Southbank Centre

nirbhaya“Some things are inherited without question. Like silence – it’s a code.” So says one of the extraordinary female performers in Nirbhaya. This play centres on the true story of the horrifying gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, making international news and causing outrage across the world.

The woman was dubbed Nirbhaya – fearless one – and this play’s intent is also fearless: to break the silence around acts of violence committed against women.

Nirbhaya’s brutal gang rape and subsequent death is too horrifying to imagine, but the one positive thing that came out of it is a new urgency many women have felt to speak out, to come forward with their own stories of what they have suffered. In this searing play, six female cast members do just that – they give personal testimonials about the shocking abuse they have experienced.

Read my full review of this incredible production

The People Vs Democracy at Free Word Centre

People-Vs-DemocracyThe People Vs Democracy is billed as a “live action game about power and politics in the UK”.

Taking place in the free-thinking surrounds of the Free Word Centre, it claims to reveal the truths to players about the difficult compromises that often need to be made in our political system.

A great deal of planning and care has clearly gone into conceiving, as well as setting up and visualising, the game. But does The People Vs Democracy prove effective in its stated aim of highlighting the stark realities of political negotiations?

To find out, read my full review

Black Cat Cabaret: Salon des Artistes

BlackCatSummer2014PosterThe opulent setting of the Hotel Café Royal is home to the Black Cat Cabaret’s Salon des Artistes. When you first enter, the historic, almost intimidatingly grandiose surrounds of the Oscar Wilde Bar immediately transport you to another time, preparing you for the show to come.

A continually high level of talent from all the performers elevates this show from standard and often tired cabaret fare. Although a case could be made for it being too polished and lacking in truly bizarre or spectacular acts, it still makes for a very enjoyable night out.

Read my full review

“Past claim of meaningful existence”: the defeated individual in three Beckett plays

beckettThe prominent literary critic Richard Ellman said of Beckett’s work: “He has given a voice to the decrepit and maimed and inarticulate, men and women at the end of their tether, past pose or pretense, past claim of meaningful existence…like salamanders we survive in his fire.”

More than 25 years after his death, Beckett’s plays remain notoriously difficult to decipher, often defying and subverting theatrical conventions. Award-winning theatre company Whispering Beasts have chosen to take up the intimidating gauntlet thrown down by Beckett. They are currently performing three of his short plays in succession, Act Without Words I, Rough for Theatre II and Catastrophe, at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Despite being formed relatively recently, Whispering Beasts grapple with the complexities and starkness of Beckett’s vision exceptionally well, showing that his crushed protagonists are unmistakably “at the end of their tether” and “past claim of meaningful existence” in the face of harsh external forces beyond their control.

Read my full review of their performance on Litro

Hard Graft: exploring the terrain of the father-son relationship

Capture16-440x350David Sheppeard describes his solo performance Hard Graft as being “inspired by my relationship with my father, who grew up in South Wales in a mining village…I am a queer-identified playwright – on the face of it we couldn’t be more different.”

He explores the difficult terrain of this father-son relationship through a monologue, hoping that it will come across as “funny, personal and honest.”

Sheppheard proves adept at taking the audience on an engaging and, at times, poignant journey into the intricacies and complexities of his relationship with his father.

Read my full review here

An imaginative repurposing of Macbeth by Tara Arts

Macbeth-Stratford-circus-Talula-Sheppard-600x350The London-based theatre company Tara Arts, led by artistic director Jatinder Verma, is one of the UK’s foremost creators of cross-cultural theatre. The company has joined forces with Black Theatre Live, a pioneering consortium of eight regional theatres funded by the Arts Council, and Queen’s Hall Arts.

This, their imaginative repurposing of Macbeth, incorporates live music in the form of Indian drumming, as well as Indian gestures and movement, while retaining the original language of the play. I saw it on Friday at Stratford Circus theatre, and it makes for an exceptional production.

Read my full review on a A Younger Theatre