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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: 'James Cook: The Voyages' & 'Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land' at the British Library, 20th June 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

On 26th August 1768, Captain James Cook departed Plymouth aboard HMS Endeavour with the stated objective of observing the Transit of Venus from Tahiti (thus helping determine Earth's distance from the sun), together with a more confidential mission to search the south Pacific for Terra Australis Incognita - the mysterious unknown southern continent. By the time he returned in July 1771 he had redrawn the globe, charting the eastern coast of Australia and New Zealand and had had first contact with multiple indigenous peoples.

The British Library's James Cook: The Voyages displays a wealth of documents, sketches, and artefacts from this first voyage and two subsequent ones to Antarctic waters and his doomed quest for the fabled North-West passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 

From the British perspective, these were courageous ventures into a savage land, with Cook's scientific explorations a gateway to the commercial expansion of the Empire. For the indigenous peoples, Cook's boot landing on their shores marks the beginning of their racial, economic and cultural subjugation and exploitation under colonial rule, the consequences of which still reverberate today. 

The exhibition leans into this dichotomy, subverting every bit of patriotic swashbuckling with representatives of the cultures explaining how their ancestors dealt with Cook's arrival. Its impossible to conclude whether Cook's voyages were a net good or evil, with perhaps the best summary being a Maori historian who shrugs with resignation: "It happened". 

As you travel through the various rooms you find yourself weighing up the morality of Cook. Even if you walk in armed with the knowledge of the consequences of colonialism, it's easy to feel an exhilarating Boy's Own call to adventure when you look at an unfinished map of the world with 'Parts Unknown' in the distant corners. Similarly, when you get into the nitty-gritty logistics of the expedition - the navigational methods, keeping the crew alive, methods of communicating with distant peoples and the sheer distance travelled - you begin to understand the scale of what these men set out to achieve.

The emotional heart of the exhibition is a series of sketches and drawings created on these voyages - their impact amplified by the fact that most of these artists died before returning home. An obvious highlight is Sydney Parkinson's tentative sketch of a 'kangooroo', in which you sense how important the artist knew it was to get the details right to communicate this surreal animal to audiences back in Britain. 

Then there are the careful profiles of the facial tattoos of Maori warriors. First contact was violent and relations were uneasy, but there's a respect baked into the artist's precise lines - as if they recognised a reflection of their own martial discipline in this alien culture.

Dramatic paintings from the second voyage by William Hodges also thrill, particularly a fantastically widescreen 'Cinerama' view of Polynesian war canoes on display. They look like science fiction apparitions, scenes that wouldn't look out of place in Moebius' L'Incal. Later paintings of the ships dwarfed by icebergs in the Atlantic make the ship look as if it has breached a strange unknown dimension, a little wooden husk of civilisation bobbing between uncontrollable cosmic forces.

It's easy to get swept up in this romance, but the careful layering in of the consequences of Cook's actions means we're never in danger of hagiography. By the time we get to his death at the hands of a Hawaiian tribe he appears to have waged a pointless war on, it feels like a fitting end to his story.

But, functioning almost as an extended epilogue, the neighbouring exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land continues some of the themes of The Voyages. We get a quick recap of British slavery, emancipation and Empire in the Caribbean, the historical forces that brought HMT Empire Windrush to Britain with 800 Jamaican passengers hoping for work. It was neither the first nor the last of these trips, but for some reason, it is this arrival that has lodged firmly in the British consciousness (and is obviously extremely timely right now).

What's on display closes a historical circle:  Britain ventures out into the world, exploits and commercialises its resources and peoples, builds an Empire on which the sun never sets, and begins a process of transforming people into mirrors of British values. Of course, cultural cross-pollination was also happening, with Britishness changing to accommodate its new  Imperial citizens - beautifully symbolised by the exhibits showing Caribbean culture in Britain.

It's often said we live in the age of identity politics - if that is true then we need to not only understand what our identity is, but the ways in which it has and will continue to evolve. These two exhibitions let us sip at the primordial soup of the modern Britishness: showing not only how we changed the world, but how it changed us. It's a sentiment beautifully summarised in Michel Tuffery's Cookie in the Cook Islands, imagining Captain Cook transformed by his explorations, with Polynesian features and flowers in his hair.

Captain Cook: The Voyages is open until 27 August. Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land is open until October 21st. Details here.

Thanks to Crafted Media for the invitation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: 'Section 2' at The Bunker, 19th June 2018

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

You should hope you never have to grapple with mental health law and the rules and regulations governing treatment without consent. While it's never personally affected me, I frequently encounter it in my professional life and I've seen the emotional burden it places on families and individuals. All this made Paper Creature's Section 2 an equally moving and instructive theatrical experience.

Written by Peter Imms, and based on his own personal experiences of a friend being sectioned, Section 2 is a modest drama about a young man, Cam (Nathan Coenen) who, for no obvious reason, started behaving erratically. He is subsequently placed under a 'Section 2', which means you can be detained in a hospital for up to 28 days. 

We open the play on the 28th day, on which it will be decided whether Cam can be released to his girlfriend Kay (Alexandra Da Silva). She has spent the last month slowly unravelling at the stress of visiting the clinic, observing Cam's behaviour and the uncertainty of the future. Evaluating whether he should be released is Cam's key worker Rachel (Esma Patey-Ford), balances sympathy with Cam and Kay against her medical impartiality.

Walking in the middle of this is Pete (Jon Tozzi). He's a school friend of Cam's who hasn't seen him in five years, yet recently received a call from him asking if he'd visit. He's essentially the audience viewpoint: a reason for the characters to explain the situation to the audience and react the way we're reacting.

Much of what makes Section 2 so effective is what it chooses not to do. This is a naturalistic, sensibly staged, linear human drama with a laser focus on its goals. I've seen theatre about mental health that seizes upon the idea of a disorganised mind and uses it as a springboard for a load of avant-garde wankery. Not here: Cam's condition isn't sensationalised at all, making it that much.

Imms wrote the play with input from the mental health charity Mind, who ensured that the technical and legal details of the story are accurate. This attention to detail is obvious in the final product, from Kay's slow-burning desperation at watching Cam appear to deteriorate the longer he's at the hospital, to the memory loss and slowness caused by his medication, down to the drab breezeblock walls punctuated by creased 'uplifting' posters. 

In addition to a carefully written script and sensible staging, the performances are uniformly brill. Da Silva's Kay is believably frayed at the edges, trying and failing to suppress her frustrations and to do her best for her partner. A breakdown late in the show teeters on the edge of being too broad, but Da Silva has put in the performative legwork to make it come off. Meanwhile, Patey-Ford gives a masterclass in pragmatism, treating the situation with a tragic familiarity. You sense she has seen situations like this play out many times before and knows how long and painful the road ahead for Cam is going to be.

But it's Nathan Coenen's Cam at the centre of the play, and he delivers one of the most intensely realistic portrayals of a severe mental health condition I've seen in on stage in a very long time. In the most gut-wrenching moments, he plaintively explains that he knows something is wrong but has no idea what. This intense apologetic vulnerability is at odds with what we hear about his outgoing, rugby star past, making his confused diminishment and the brief moments the 'old' Cam surfaces into extremely powerful theatre. 

This all adds up to an emotionally and intellectually satisfyingly three-dimensional drama that doesn't screw about. It's not the easiest play in the world to watch, but learning about this topic is important and I genuinely feel I've had a peek behind the curtain at the consequences of mental health law. Recommended.

Section 2 is at The Bunker until 7 July. Tickets here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: 'Legally Blonde: The Musical' at the New Wimbledon Theatre, 18th June 2018

Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 3 Stars

The world is a pretty serious place at the moment, a quality which appears to be reflected in the shows I've been invited to lately. The spectrum begins at 'yer basic straight-laced, issue-focused political theatre, going right the way through to immersive pieces that promise to let me "experience the realities of life in a Nazi death camp". Jeepers.

So it was with a weird relief that I opened the email inviting me along to Legally Blonde: the Musical. Sure it looks like the kind of chintzy good-time mainstream musical theatre that I generally avoid like the plague (to the point where other theatre critics I know were surprised to even see me there), but I figured I was due some kind of palette cleanser and hey, I enjoyed the Reese Witherspoon movie way back in the day.

Legally Blonde is the story of Elle Woods, initially seeming like a typical blonde valley girl. After her boyfriend dumps her for not being 'serious', she resolves to win him back by attending Harvard Law School and proving her smarts. It's a story with bones rooted in ancient college comedies that The Simpsons was taking the piss out of back in the 90s - stuff-shirt college admission boards, preppy students, frat houses and sororities and so on. In the end, it posits one burning question for our age:

Can a rich, attractive, white woman really become a lawyer?

There's a decent argument to be made that Legally Blonde is a bit offensive in the way it rejoices in a super-privileged 1%er going to Harvard, but honestly, the show is so much fun that for once I'm going to leave the socio-political wrangling to one side and just enjoy the toe-tappin' tunes and snappy one-liners.

And damn there are some fun songs in here. Whipped Into Shape, involving a lineup of synchronised dancers with skipping ropes is an outright great pop song, ably led by Helen Petrovna. Gay or European at first raises a little eyebrow at where this might be going before erupting into a stonkingly fun on-stage Pride march that brings the house down. By the time the whole cast is on stage grinning and dancing their way through the show's bounciest numbers, the vibes have become so infectious you'd need a hazmat suit not to start dancing.

This is delivered by a cast rehearsed to perfection, who manage to play it extremely broad without descending into total farce: while the characters and events might be ludicrous we still essentially care about Elle's various predicaments. Much of that's down to Lucie Jones' nicely caricatured performance, effortlessly walking a tightrope between believability and cartoonish exaggeration. Even before she's proving her mettle in Harvard, Jones' Elle seems to radiate subtle intelligence despite her bimbo-ish accessories.

But there's a big problem here - the use of real animals on stage. In the movie, Elle famously carries her chihuahua everywhere and in defiance of the old stage maxim about not working with animals, the show includes two dogs in its cast - a Chihuahua and an English Bulldog.

The chihuahua occasionally looks a little awkward but has apparently been trained to appear in the show since it was three weeks old, so I suppose it's at least used to the situation. However, the bulldog spent its scenes straining on its lead to escape the stage or (appearing to) cower in fear on the floor under the stage lights. Both animals elicit a chorus of 'awwwws' from the audience, but the bulldog's obvious discomfort and stress made me genuinely uncomfortable - and I wasn't alone in feeling this - I heard whispers of "that poor dog..." from people sat behind me. I'm not going to say it entirely spoilt the night, but these scenes certainly left a sour taste in the mouth.

It leaves a show that I really enjoyed 99% of and were it not for what looked to me like mild animal cruelty it'd have been a glowing recommendation. Perhaps that bulldog was just having an off night and it wags its tail happily the rest of the run, but it's difficult to get over the bad vibes of watching an unhappy dog struggling to escape the stage.

Addendum: having done a bit of research it seems that the show auditions a local pet bulldog for the part on each stop on the tour - using pets that haven't been trained for stage work probably explains why this one looked so scared.

Legally Blonde: The Musical is at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 23 June, then touring. Tickets here. 

Photos by Robert Workman

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: 'Nine Foot Nine' at The Bunker, 14th June 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

I was sold on Nine Foot Nine the moment I first heard its Charlie Kaufman-esque premise: how would the world change if the majority of women suddenly became nine foot tall? It's precisely the kind of high concept idea that appeals to me, with the play promising to examine how women being inarguably the stronger sex would affect society. 

Sure, it sounds a little bit like someone's internet fetish brought to life, but I was curious to see how the production would put nine-foot characters on stage. Actors on stilts? Casting tall women actors alongside short men? Some kind of forced perspective or miniaturised props?

The narrative skeleton is a domestic drama about a British family, comprising Mum Cara (Alexandra James), Dad Nate (Paul O'Dea) and daughter Sophie (Natalie Kimmerling). We open two months before the big change (referred to as 'sprouting') when Cara finds out she's pregnant. The rest of the play runs through a jumbled chronology which skips back and forth over 16 years in which we see the short and long-term consequences of the situation. In addition, we get snippets of news reports that flesh out this new society.

Playwright Alex Wood and company Sleepless Theatre treat a surreal situation very seriously and have clearly thought long and hard about how things might change. The best bits are when we see how gender relations have shifted, with men finding themselves shunted into a physically submissive role and getting a taste of vulnerability. The flipside is the 'sprouted' women gaining a new physical confidence, which, through protest, begins to translate into a global political shift towards the new feminine.

The granular details of this are excellent: schoolgirls having 'petering parties' when they've reached their new height where they celebrate their silvery sprout marks; there's new fashion, architecture and sex toys for these powerful women; who are instructed to be very careful around the 'little boys' that surround them. 

The play's thesis is that the male political and cultural dominance is almost entirely a result of men being (on average) physically stronger and taller than women is simplifying things a bit - but I think it's a valid argument. After all, common historical arguments for why the patriarchy came about tend to centre around women being weakened (and often killed) by pregnancy and childbirth before modern medicine, combined with masculine strength being an asset in agriculture and war. Granted, modern society values flexibility and communication skills over bulging biceps, but I think Nine Foot Nine hits the bullseye when it comes to the psychological impact upon men and women of this dramatic physical inversion.

Sadly, while it gets all that right, Nine Foot Nine isn't a particularly good play. My primary disappointment was that absolutely nothing was done to visually suggest that the female characters had become larger than the men. I know that this is a fringe production created with limited means, but leaving it entirely up to the audience's imagination is a theatrical cop out and siphons away much of the core idea's oomph. As far as I could tell there's not even a performative shift in body language after the characters have grown. For example, there are scenes where the father Nate has pitched rows with his gigantic wife and daughter in which you'd expect to see him intimidated by their size, but it's played as if everything is completely normal.

The core family drama is further impacted by the jumbled chronology, which ends up confusing more than contributing and leaves the audience scrambling to catch up with what's going on with the characters. Along the way character development falls through the cracks: Cara's abandonment of her family is technically justified but isn't at all emotionally resonant and Nate's sudden collapse into depressed alcoholism pretty much comes out of nowhere.

Compounding that is that the individual performances are nothing to write home about. Best of the bunch is Natalie Kimmerling, whose progression through childhood and adolescence in this new world is nicely conveyed. Conversely, Paul O'Dea and Alexandra James have no chemistry with one another and neither character seems to evolve over the course of the show, despite the huge changes taking place in their lives.

I can't deny the ambition, intelligence and boldness of the core concept, but as it currently stands Nine Foot Nine is, at best, an interesting failed experiment. 

Nine Foot Nine is at The Bunker as part of the BREAKING OUT festival until 7 July. Tickets here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: 'The Yellow Wallpaper' at the Omnibus Theatre, 12th June 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

Adapted by Ruby Lawrence from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story of the same name, The Yellow Wallpaper is an ominous tale of psychological horror set within the walls of a single sunny room. Mayou Trikerioti's set catches the eye when you enter the theatre: a clean, minimalist, almost lemony-scented apparition - punctuated only by a cream chaise longue. It looks very Ideal Home - and very far from a nightmare.

And yet this is precisely what it becomes for writer, wife and new mother Alice (Gemma Yates-Round). We meet her in a doctor's office being poked and prodded through medical exams, full of optimism for her new role as a nurturing, caring mother. Yet, after the birth, where we're told that Alice has succumbed to a condition 'that is known to affect a percentage of women', that we recognise as post-partum depression.

Her husband and the doctor prescribe a cure that involves physical and mental rest until she's back to her old self. This involves being separated from her new baby, sequestered away into a country house, instructed to take regular naps, to eat hearty meals, to stop writing and generally to be observed like a lab rat until the men in her life judge her to be 'cured'. 

At the beginning of this process, she discovers the yellow wallpapered room in the house, which may once have been a nursery. Now she spends the long dull days staring at the way the sun and moon play against the wallpaper, occasionally catching a glimpse of some... thing existing within the pattern.

Both Lawrence's adaptation and Gilman's original short story are fuelled by patriarchal dominance. Alice spends the play being stripped of her autonomy and ordered about 'for her own good'. She's deprived of every glimmer of creativity and morsel of intellectual stimulus, and delusions and hallucinations rush to fill the mental void she's forced to occupy. 

This omnipresent sense of masculine control stretches throughout the play, with Charles Warner's 'Not-Alice' (i.e. every other character) Mr Fantastic-ally of manspreading across every single surface. He's constantly enveloping Alice in his arms, his height and reach (and constantly demeaning nicknames like "silly goose") having the effect infantilising her. 

Bolted on top of the original story is a fairytale being written by Alice for her child This story, about a Prince and Princess who go to great lengths to save the life of a frozen giant, at first felt like a distraction. However, I eventually understood it as providing a contrast in healing methods between the top-down authoritarianism of the men imposing a course of therapy upon Alice and the way the characters of the fairytale listen to and understand the plight of the giant. The key difference is that the Prince and Princess suffer greatly in enacting their successful cure, fully committing themselves to a course of action, while the men treating Alice are emotionally and physically unaffected by her condition, seeing her more as a problem to be fixed.

That said, it is perhaps a tonal shift e too far to spend so much of the play telling this fairytale rather than grappling with the psychological reality of what Alice is going through. Though I haven't read the original short story, I found myself comparing this to classics of psychological cinema; namely Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, and Darren Aronofsky's more recent Mother!. All of these films deal with confined women under a masculine thumb whose domestic lives become hell. Thinking of these left me hungry to see a more dramatic transformation in Alice - the arrival of her mania feels like it should be the start of the third act rather than the climax.

Performatively both Yates-Round and Warner deliver the goods, though I'm on the fence about whether Alice's fourth-wall bustin' asides to the audience help or hinder. On one hand, we feel a quick connection and empathy with her, on the other breaking the artifice of the yellow room so early on feels like a waste of atmosphere. Either way, she's a believably tragic figure, playing Alice's condition without sensationalism.

By the time the curtain falls, The Yellow Wallpaper has defined itself as stylish and smart, - a play that asks a whole bunch of pertinent questions yet fails to deliver many answers. I could have done with the various fantastical and domestic elements of the narrative dovetailing a bit more neatly, with perhaps a little more time devoted to the consequences of the final scenes. It leaves a play that's entertaining and sometimes brilliantly atmospheric, but one that lands a little short of unreserved success.

The Yellow Wallpaper is at the Omnibus Theatre until 24 June. Tickets here.

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: 'The End of History' at St Giles-in-the-Fields, 7th June 2018

Saturday, June 9, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

For a person of normal economic means, choosing to live in London is like selecting 'hard mode' in a videogame. Here life is fast, brutal, competitive and overdraft drainingly expensive. Every day brings news stories about fresh nightmares, whether it be skyrocketing crime rates, housing prices beyond the ken of mortal men and women, updates on precisely how poisoned the air is, or the gradual corporatisation of the city and the squeezing out of the general public.

And yet I wouldn't live anywhere else. London is where stuff happens, and that simple fact makes it worth spending your life in a place where you have to constantly fight to keep your head above water or risk being sucked under and spat out into some grey life in a dreary nowheresville. 

Marcelo Dos Santos' The End of History is this process, showing us two Londoners finding themselves "face to face on the worst day of their lives". They are Wendy (Sarah Malin), a middle-aged artist turned charity worker who finds herself homeless and Paul (Chris Polick), a confident gay man working in property who spends a morning dealing with some cataclysmically bad news. 

They meet inside St Giles-in-the-Field church in Soho, which is a fascinating deep slice of London history. Founded in 1101 and given a mission to care for London's lepers, it has continued to care for the less fortunate ever since. The proceeding 917 years have been busy, with the church functioning as a last stop for those about to executed at Tyburn gallows, the burial site of London's first (of many) plague victims, in the middle of the famous St Giles rookery of the 18th and 19th centuries, and now dwarfed by steel and aluminium skyscrapers, with the nursery-school-cute Google HQ just over the road.

Placing yourself within the continuum of London history is a dizzying experience. If you know where to look you can walk down a pavement constructed by the Romans and even apparently innocuous street furniture can be something that has survived a couple of hundred years of history. Despite this, the city is in constant flux, with new towers sprouting like weeds. The End of History understands that all this can lead to a loneliness, that humanity can seem in very short supply in London.

This particularly London headache is percolated through Wendy and Paul's stories - though they occupy the opposite ends of the social spectrum their symptoms spring from the same psychogeographical condition. Each explains their place within the city, with Wendy a native Londoner whose Mum lived in a new long-demolished house in Soho and feels like she intrinsically belongs here, while Paul is proud of his decision to 'choose' London and hurl himself into its style and speed.

After just over an hour in their company we know them pretty well. Though they don't directly interact until the final scenes, we understand them as representing two very different tribes of Londoners: the haves and the have-nots. As they're fleshed out through monologues, songs and fourth-wall bustin' asides their complexities become apparent and the social labels we've put on them dissolve. By the time the curtain falls there's a sense of London community that's formed between the characters, the audience and the creative team, the play having nailed down a particular urban ennui that binds us together.

All that is done through multiple lyrical and performative flourishes that mean there's never a dull moment. I particularly liked how the songs weren't showy vocal displays, the occasional off-note making them seem that much more honest ( all boosted by the church's great acoustics). Dos Santos also effectively switches gears between comedy and tragedy, sometimes within the same line.

Malin and Polick are similarly great, balancing their character's attractive and ugly features effectively. A decent amount of the action takes place very close to the audience - I got lucky and during a pivotal moment in the climax the pair were pretty much sat next to me, the closeness of their performances really cranking up the complexity. Perhaps the only fly I can pick at in this ointment is that Malin's Wendy continually complains about her middle-aged spread - given Malin looks fit and healthy it doesn't quite jibe.

But hey, that's a really teeny fly and that's a hell of a lot of top-class ointment. The End of History feels like a play tailored to my sensibilities - combining an intelligent analysis of urban living, understanding life in London in a historical context and smart and imaginative staging. This is my kinda theatre.

The End of History is at St Giles-in-the-Fields until 23rd June. Tickets here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: 'Conquest' at The Bunker, 5th June 2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Conquest is full of smart as hell observations, the best being that the cis sexual 'narrative' is centred around the masculine experience. Within the sex 'story' female partner is the sphinx-like enigma to be overcome, a man's ejaculation marks the climax of the story and, signifies the point that she has been conquered. Hence Conquest.

The show is a relatively fast-paced and breezy two-hander written by Katie Caden, directed by Jess Daniels and performed by Lucy Walker-Evans and Colette Eaton. Though each plays a variety of characters, their base performances are as Alice and Jo, two women who meet when Alice is waiting in a pharmacy to be given the morning after pill. Initially, they're diametrically opposed: Jo is an abrasive, outspoken feminist who relishes the opportunity to crush a few toes and Alice is a model of fragility who bursts into tears at the slightest provocation.

The pair proceed to navigate choppy sexual, political and sociological waters, presenting the audience with pointed questions about the complexities of sexual consent, the subtle misogynies ingrained into society and what can be done to change things.

On paper it sounds a bit dry - something the play recognises. Its characters introduce themselves by explaining that they're probably going to annoy you and that they're the type of feminist that makes some women claim that they're "really more of a humanist". This keen sense of self-awareness goes a long way, while the play is confrontational it draws the audience in alongside it and makes us feel as if we're allied with the characters rather than being harangued by them.

Similar smarts are deployed in some impressive ensemble scenes in which Walker-Evans and Eaton play multiple members of a feminist action group. Though they warn us beforehand that things might get a bit confusing, strong physical and vocal work (combined with sensible blocking) ensure that things are always crystal clear. These characters land on just the right side of caricature and are a great satire on awkward group dynamics in protest groups, complete with miniature power struggles and some members dominating the conversation.

The only stumble comes in the finale, where things go off the rails and into broad farce. When much of the play has been set in dingily domestic environments: waiting rooms, paisley wallpapered flats and strange toilets, a sudden dive into a more exotic environment is jarring. It got to the point that I was wondering whether one of the characters would wake up and it'd be revealed that the last few scenes had all been a dream. It's a shame it doesn't stick the landing, because when the play is zeroed in on social interactions and dissecting apparently ordinary situations to reveal the patriarchy lurking within it's pretty amazing. 

It's difficult to parcel out precisely where to ladle on the most praise, but Katie Caden's script is great - studded with moments ranging from the shiver-inducingly intense to laugh-out-loud funny. At one point one of the characters bemoans taking action without understanding the theory, but Caden obviously has a tight grip on the academic thought behind the opinions and a dab hand at transmuting it into effective drama.

Walker-Evans and Colette Eaton are also great, I can't slide a Rizla between them in terms of quality. I loved the way Walker-Evans played Alice like she had a taut violin string running right through her, sitting rigidly upright, moving with bird-like quickness and fighting constant small battles to stay in control. She's so effective at this that it's almost a shock when she switches to another character. It's difficult not to warm to the way Eaton treats Jo, though it's her cynical and even more abrasive mother, forever sat back with her lips sceptically curled around a cigarette, that was the most memorable and funny performance.

It all adds up to a deeply worthwhile hour of theatre that gave me a lot of mental chewing gum to masticate on the way home. It's nice to see a play that manages to be genuinely intellectual, sincere and funny, and Conquest hits a home run on all three. 

Conquest is at The Bunker until 9th June. Tickets here.

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