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Thursday, February 11, 2016

'My Son's Husband' at Theatro Technis, 10th February 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


My Son's Husband is an amiable sort of show. Adapted from Daniele Falleri's 2012 Italian play Il Marito di Mio Figlio, Raffaele Cericola of Night Express Live brings a distinctly European brand of high-strung familial farce to the London stage. Translating comedy effectively is a tricky task, especially from Italy to Britain: two countries with distinctive ideas of what's funny and what's not.

The play centres around the impending marriage of George (James Pacileo) and Michael (Federico Moro), two besotted twenty-something Italians. We meet them as they nervously await the arrival of their respective parents. Waiting for the in-laws is a series of dramatic revelations: not just that their children are getting married but that, *gasp* they're gay!

George's parents are brusque, working class conservatives made good. His sturdily built father Ignacio (Tino Orsini) runs a successful tannery and his mother Maria (Yvonne Wickham) is a brassy housewife. Michael's parents tend to the neurotic; his Dad, Agostino (Roberto Benfenati) is a nervous wreck and his mother Amalia (Stefania Montesolaro) is a wistful 60s radical.

Each parent processes their sons' sexuality in different ways. George's burrow deeply into denial, frantically searching for ways to 'prove' he's not really gay and researching methods to convert him back to heterosexuality. Michael's are somewhat more supportive, but quickly discover that the situation shifts the ground under their own marriage. Tossed into the mix is waitress/psychology student/would be actor Laurie (Irene Possetto), a flirty ditz who George's parents see as the ideal decoy to lure their son back to straightness.

For the most part, My Son's Husband proceeds precisely how you'd expect. Farces tend to work in stereotypes, and this play is crammed with them: the gay men want to be fashion designers, the gruff vest n' chain wearing patriarch is a casually homophobic lothario, the mothers bitchily exchange remarks on each other's appearance and so on. 

That archetypal nature, combined with an obvious reverence for La Cage Aux Folles and the films of Pedro Almodovar (who's name-dropped constantly) makes for a familiar experience. From the moment we meet these characters we know where they're going and have a pretty damn good idea what the final scene will involve. But, then this is a comedy - the narrative isn't half as important as whether it makes you laugh.

Mark Kermode, a critic who have an awful lot of respect for, has a 'six laugh' rule that I review by; i.e. if a film/show gets at least that amount of chuckles it can't be deemed a complete failure. My Son's Husband easily passes this test, wringing a moderate amount of genuine giggles out of me me. These gags aren't stretching the boundaries of comedy, but they are at least competent. 

For example: George has prepared his father for some shocking news, then reveals that he and Michael are to be married. Ignacio reacts with delight, then eagerly asks where the brides are. Upon being told that there's something he doesn't understand about the situation, he runs through an extensive list of what could possibly be wrong with a woman. Eventually he's gently told that the last 30 years have seen a social revolution that's expanded the ways that two people can be joined in marriage. He sits on the sofa, face sagging with realisation. "Oh my god." he exclaims. "She's black."

This is just one of many solidly written and delivered gags sprinkled throughout the show. There's nothing here that's gut-bustingly funny, but this easy to tap into seam of mischievous, easy-to-digest humour runs through the play from beginning to end.

That it's funny is My Son's Husband's saving grace, as dramatically it's riddled with problems. The most glaring one is that George and Michael have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Their love is the fuel that's powering this plot, and though they explain that they're crazy about one another, I never once saw a flash of attraction in their eyes. Indeed, for most of the play Michael is rather unpleasant, making it difficult to see what the far nicer George sees this grumpy sadsack.

I suspect that this lack of chemistry is the result of some rather creaky performances, possibly exacerbated by actors not performing in their first languages. While the older members of the cast (playing the parents) all acquit themselves well, the performances of George, Michael and Laurie are flat and stilted.

I have sympathy for these actors; to act in a second language must be nerve-wracking, but often you can tell that they settle for reciting the lines rather than performing them. Even here they occasionally stumbles: some of the faster paced sections of dialogue are indecipherable.

Despite these flaws I can't bring myself to dislike My Son's Husband. As I stated at the outset it's a friendly, open and welcoming sort of show, one that's eager for the audience to have fun. It's got a good heart, and that goes a long way.

★★★

My Son's Husband is at Theatro Technis until 14th February. Tickets here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

'Hamlet Peckham' at the Bussey Building, 8th February 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Hooray! Good Shakespeare!

There are few things more painful than watching the Bard being mangled, so I approach fringe interpretations with wariness. You can tell in the first couple of minutes whether the night's going to be a hit or a hash: whether the dialogue is delivered as a clumsy word salad or with rhythm, grace and emotion?

The Ronseal-titled Hamlet Peckham quickly establishes itself as the latter. Staged in the CLF Theatre, tucked away deep in the bowels of the labyrinthine Bussey Building, this is a sleekly minimalist Elsinore. Performed on a largely bare stage in monochromatic costumes, the design accentuates Hamlet's totemic elements: a bed, a dagger, a set of rapier, a cup of poison and poor Yorick's skull.

The show's USP is that you get three Hamlets for the price of one, divided (as per the programme) into "the problem, the plan and the solution". It's an eyebrow-raising decision - casting one effective Hamlet is a tricky proposition, let alone three of them. Impressively, Hamlet Peckham manages it with the trio Sharon Singh, Max Calandrew and Izabella Urbanowicz. 

The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, with particular praise going to Gil Sutherland's amusingly blithe Polonius. Sutherland pitches Polonius' oblivious analysis of Hamlet 's madness perfectly, successfully being both funny and touchingly paternal towards Ophelia.

Diana Gómez's intensely vulnerable Ophelia also impresses. She crumbles almost before our eyes, inexorably heading before suicide. I've seen a whole bunch of other Hamlets where, in less-talented hands, Ophelia simply looks pathetic. Gómez captures the pathos in her misery, particularly when Hamlet psychologically steamrolls over her his "get thee to a nunnery!" routine.



But the big question behind this production is whether the triple Hamlet gambit pays off. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, the thinking behind it is sound: "it is a metaphor that we can perhaps all relate to. Maybe we all have something that we need to do that something keeps us from doing". Also, it's interesting to contrast the three different approaches to the role. Common to them all is a simmering violence, but each has their own take on his mania, ranging from a realistic teenage tetchiness right through to a grim death-wish.

Thing is, by the end I found myself wishing I'd been able to see one of these actors perform the part in full. My favourite of the three was final Hamlet Izabella Urbanowicz; she had this wild fire in her eyes and whipcrack tensile tautness to her body language. She spat out the dialogue with machine-gun anger, that collapsed into remorse. I know this tale inside and out, yet her final moments really hit me in a way that few Hamlets (or any other Shakespearian characters for that matter) ever have.

On top of this, Hamlet Peckham is, to it's detriment, obsessed with audience participation. Hamlet asks the front row "To be?" and waits for someone to respond "Or not to be.",  the grave digger Shanghais someone in the audience into helping shift scenery and a volunteer even gets a minor part (with lines!). It's a brave choice from the company (especially the last one), but they're essentially gimmicks. Distracting gimmicks at that.

As this production is concerned with democratising Hamlet the audience participation bumph theoretically makes sense. Yet the entire reason the play is considered Shakespeare's masterpiece is because it's already completely, thoroughly and totally relatable and accessible to audiences. We don't need to literally become involved in the action to get it.

It's frustrating: 90% of Hamlet Peckham is the best Hamlet I've seen in years. If they'd played things a bit straighter and toned down the gimmickry it'd have been a rare five star review. As it is, it falls tantalisingly short of excellence. 

It's still really really really good though. 

★★★


Hamlet Peckham is at the Bussey Building until 27 February. Tickets here.

Friday, February 5, 2016

'Weald' at the Finborough Theatre, 4th February 2016

Friday, February 5, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Set 'somewhere in rural England', Daniel Foxsmith's Weald transports a west London audience to a remote countryside livery, crewed by two men who care for a smattering of horses. the  bucolic setting quickly proves a laboratory in which to experiment with masculinity;  the play prodding and poking its lab rat characters in an attempt to understand the soul of a man.

The play is centered on two men: Sam (Daniel Crellin) and Jim (Dan Parr). Jim is returning from London after six years away. He presents himself as typically cocky 25 year old whose fully acclimatised to urban life. Now he needs a job.

Enter Sam, owner of the yard, and so intrinsically rural that he probably shits fresh potatoes. He's in his 50s, constantly staring off at the horizon through squinted eyes as if trying to spot oncoming rain. He's clearly lugging round a bagful of regrets but here, at the livery, he's settled into a comfortable groove.

Both characters have hidden depths and both gradually reveal their secrets over the course of the play. These add up to a snapshot of classical masculine paranoias: from the sexual/romantic, through financial and right through to more nebulous ideas of legacy and a place in history. 

Foxsmith is a careful and literate writer, carefully constructing his characters to ensure that they work as both philosophical communicators and propel the narrative. For the majority of the run-time, it's the older Sam that does much of the intellectual heavy lifting: quoting Shakespeare, Marlowe and Oliver Cromwell, giving the younger Sam lectures on the Civil War battleground their livery lies atop and attempting to impress upon him the notion that individuals should consider themselves a speck in the flow of history, or, to put it his way "you follow those who came before you".


It's a seductive argument, grounded in hundreds of years of tradition and couched in the words of England's greatest literary geniuses. Yet Jim finds it wanting, summarising his position simply with "I am my own master". Their differing outlooks create friction that eventually igniting into conflict as outside events intrude.

Underneath all that are the constant off-stage presence of the horses, presented as symbols of untamed, mysterious power that neither man can quite understand. They know the apparatus (shoes, feed, bridles, cleaning etc) like the back of their hands, but there's some surging spiritual power in the animals that unites the two.

Weald is both a complex psychologically and philosophically complex and resolves satisfyingly (if a little predictably). Crellin and Parr give it some decent dramatic welly, folding vulnerability, bravado and mordant humour into a recognisably rural mindset. Both men do a impressive job in reacting to the subtleties in each other's performance, visibly trying their hardest to empathise with one another through a thick emotional fug.

Ordinarily, this would tick all my boxes. Unfortunately for Weald, last September I saw Bea Roberts' And Then Came the Nightjars, which also explores masculinity, also takes place in a rural setting and also uses farm animals as a potent spiritual symbol. Weald suffers in comparison on almost every level, for example: Weald has an effective mise en scene, yet the wooden floor looks too fresh for an old livery and while the backdrop has a cursory splattering of mud, the costumes (except the boots) look almost new. Meanwhile, Nightjars practically manhandled its audience into a Land Rover and dropped us off in leafy Devon.

Don't get me wrong, Weald is a pretty damn good play. It's smart as hell, well-staged and features two actors who obviously hold themselves to a high performance standard. But I've seen these themes, symbology and arguments done before - and better.

Once you've had silk, cotton just isn't the same.

★★★

Weald is at the Finborough Theatre until 27 February. Tickets here.

Photos by Alex Brenner

Thursday, February 4, 2016

'Swing By Around 8' at the Bread & Roses Theatre, 3rd February 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments



I've got a pretty good sixth sense for impending theatrical crapitude. One man vanity productions are a classic bad omen, as are plays entirely based around tortuous metaphors and am-dram Shakespeare. The 'classic English farce' is another giant red light, a soup of cripplingly bourgeois bubble-wrapped quasi-humour that generally feels like you're watching an prime time ITV sitcom circa 1988.

So, alarm bells were blaring as I sat down for Jessica Bray's Swing By Around 8, which ominously promised "an unconventional dinner party full of innuendoes, miscommunication and wine". As anticipated, what followed was crammed with masturbatory middle-class wibbling, a cast of thinly sketched archetypes and, of course, a veritable avalanche of crappy innuendoes. 

But, crucially, mercifully and sixth sense defyingly, it was funny.

Katherine and Matt (Elizabeth Lloyd Raynes and Donncha Kearney) are having relationship problems. They're in their early 30s and, after being together for nine years, things have started to go a bit stale. To spice things up a bit they've decided to dip their toes in the murky waters of swinging. Enter (via a mutual friend) Amelia and Elliot (Laura McKee and Jonathan McGarrity).

With a dinner party all set to go and a mood-setting playlist cued up, the two couples get to know one another. Almost instantly, Katherine and Matt have a quiet crisis, their guests have brought their dog and seem oblivious to the oncoming orgy. Is it possible that they don't know? Do they think they're at a regular dinner party? How on earth do you ask and maintain a sense of polite decorum. What will the neighbours think?


Billed at an hour but coming in closer to fifty minutes, Swing By Around 8 is a brief and breezy play that's unlikely to lodge in the memory for long. Every character is sketched broadly and, while there's semblances of narrative arcs, they abruptly terminate. Theoretically we're supposed to care whether Katherine and Matt work through their problems - their desperate scrabbling to maintain the relationship is presented sincerely - but by the curtain pretty much everything is left unresolved.

It's on the strength of its jokes that the play relies, and for the most part, here it succeeds. Swing By Around 8 is hardly Oscar Wilde - the tone can best summarised by Bray's ruthless mining of every comedy atom from the word 'spatchcock'. Still, though the set-up might be creaky and the punchlines visible a mile off, they work: I laughed.

Much of this is down to a cast who all have well-developed funnybones. Kearney in particular as a nice line in aloof disbelief, getting a decent amount of mileage his well pitched deadpan reactions, Raynes provides an effectively strained eroticism and awkwardness that never fails to amuse and McGarrity has a nice line in smarmy lotharioness. 

My fave was Laura McKee, who also impressed in last December's Full Circle. She's got an nice loose-limbed physicality which adds a kinetically comedic element to her performance. The funniest bit of the play is her drunken cod-flirtiness with a policeman (Sam Blake) that she believes to be a strippergram. It's just straightforward and direct comedy - and works gangbusters.

Swing By Around 8 isn't rewriting the comedy rulebook. It's not even suggesting any edits. Were there not references to wireless speakers and the internet you could imagine this as a restaged production from the 1970s and no-one would be any the wiser.

That said, it's light, undemanding and has brevity on it's side. Most importantly it's funny. There are few things worse than an unfunny comedy, but this wrung more than a couple of genuine giggles from me. So, a success. A safe and unambitious success, but a success nonetheless.

★★★

Swing By Around is at the Bread & Roses Theatre until February 6th.

Photos by David Loveday

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

'Jeepers Creepers' at the Leicester Square Theatre, 1st February 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Well, I only know Marty Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein, but hey, I'm sure this biopic play will fill in the blanks! 

Fat chance. 

Jeepers Creepers is tailored to an extraordinarily specific audience: die-hard fans of obscure 1970s comedians. Split between a few distinct time periods, we spend 90 minutes in the company of Marty (David Boyle) and his put upon wife Lauretta (Rebecca Vaughan) as they bicker their way through a box of fags and neat spirits.

We cover his excitement and ambition during the production of Young Frankenstein in 1974, his abortive efforts to establish himself in Hollywood whilst maintaining his artistic credentials in 1978 and his booze-soaked demise in a Mexico City hotel in 1982.

A successful biopic should achieve two important things. Firstly, to do justice to its subject and provide fans them with a new viewpoint on their personality, behaviour and legacy. Secondly, it should explain to anyone unfamiliar with the subject precisely why they're worth paying attention to. A truly successful biopic should transform non-fans into fans and leave them wanting to learn more.

Jeepers Creepers not only fails to explain why Marty Feldman was important, but made me actively dislike the man. What's blindingly obvious in the first couple of minutes is that Boyle's  Feldman is incredibly annoying. Looking somewhat like Noddy Holder, he bounces around the room like an excited poodle, spouting an apparently endless series of bad jokes and self-pitying pabulum about how he's unappreciated as an artist.

His audience is his wife Lauretta (Rebecca Vaughan). Her role is to lounge in bed, smoke, listlessly browse Vogue and profess her love for Feldman despite his constant and boastful infidelity. I have no idea what she sees in him - I only spent 90 minutes in Feldman's company and I was crawling the walls. 


And y'know, kind of importantly for a show about a comedian - it's not funny. I was busy on press night, so saw it on a regular evening. I can only assume that paying punters must be Marty Feldman fans, or at minimum Python fans that're familiar with his work. Yet the crowd sat in stony silence, punctuated only by muffled coughs and the uncomfortable shuffling of numbed butts.

The most interesting thing that happened was also the most awkward. Sat next to me in the front row was a guy with dwarfism. I'd had a brief chat with him before the show began, and from what I could gather he seemed relatively enthusiastic about Feldman. Then, about mid-way through the first act there was a teeth-grittingly uncomfortable series of crappy jokes at the expense of people with dwarfism. I flicked my eyes right to see fingers gently tightening around a water bottle.

He didn't return after the interval and I can't say I blame him. I felt bad for him. I felt bad for the actors to having to deliver those lines in his presence. I felt bad for me to have to witness it all!

It would be hyperbole to describe Jeepers Creepers as a spectacular failure: this is a small-scale labour of love on a slim budget in a confined space. But it is absolutely a failure from top to bottom. It's a little mindboggling that this was directed by the undoubtedly talented Terry Jones, former Python and former friend of Feldman. Being as charitable as I can, he's having a seriously bad off-day.

I knew almost nothing about Feldman as I arrived and I left with zero desire to know more. Maybe he really was an unrecognised comedy genius, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell from this bafflingly misjudged play.


Jeepers Creepers is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 20 February. May God have mercy to the cast. Tickets here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

'Trumbo' (2015) directed by Jay Roach

Monday, February 1, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Hollywood rarely misses an opportunity to self-mythologise. Each year sees a smattering of glossy biopics, ranging from the great (Ed Wood) to the alright (Hitchcock) to the downright dreadful (Grace of Monaco). It's a decent excuse to have some pretty A-listers  swan around in tuxedos and retro frocks, vamping up that Golden Age Hollywood chic in a thick fug of cigarette smoke. 

Trumbo does all that, yet sets its sights on loftier goals. Its subject is Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), celebrated screenwriter and Communist. Set in postwar Hollywood, the film explores the impact of the notorious Hollywood 'blacklist' and the creeping onset of Cold War anti-Communist paranoia.

The film is segmented into three loose acts. In the first we meet Trumbo at the height of his success; regarded by the studios as a guaranteed hitmaker and offered meaty writing contracts. He's surrounded by a loving family and living in bucolic rural luxury. Soon, dark clouds appear on the horizon as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) 'exposes' Trumbo as a left-wing political agitator.

With the help of John Wayne (David James Elliott) and his 'Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals', the rabidly anti-Communist Hopper pressures the studios to blacklist Trumbo and his political associates - who become known as the so-called 'Hollywood Ten'.

We then slide into a 'Mr Trumbo Goes to Washington' style courtroom drama, following their legal battle with HUAC, before eventually settling into a study of how blacklisted screenwriters continued to work (and win Oscars) despite them being persona non grata.

Trumbo tells this tale with a minimum of fuss and, as far as I can tell, provides ab accurate history lesson of the darker days of Hollywood. Purely on a surface level it's novel to see a piece of contemporary prestige awards bait that takes a passionate left-winger as its hero and dares to criticise 'legends' like the truly abominable John Wayne. 

Cranston is excellent as the grumpy, sardonic and undeniably talented Trumbo. He's continually evolving: the emotional and physical toll of his experiences clearly visible in his features and behaviour. Cranston captures the essence of the man, sustaining even through resigned misery of humiliating induction to prison, his amphetamine fuelled bathtub editing sessions or the many interactions with family and friends.


He's ably assisted by fun supporting turns from Mirren's diabolical hat-loving villainess, Louis CK as one of Trumbo's more committed Communist friends and, most enjoyably, John Goodman as a shouty, violent B-Movie impresario (I doubt there is a film that couldn't be improved by adding a furious John Goodman smashing things with a baseball bat.)

Great as all this is, Trumbo never rises too far above competent. It primarily falls into a familiar trap: how do you portray genius on screen? Sports and musical biopics have it relatively easy, but trying to make a genius writer cinematic often proves a tough proposition. Despite the many scenes of Trumbo slaving over a typewriter and furiously smoking, the film never comes close to analysing why his work on Roman Holiday, Spartacus et al is so magnificent. It settles for the lazy option: having practically every other character repeatedly state "this guy's a genius!" and hoping we'll go along with it.

Secondly, we get a rather shallow view of Trumbo's Communism. The deepest we get is a risible sun-dappled horse-riding scene in which Trumbo's poppet of a daughter innocently enquires "Daddy, are you a Communist?'. Trumbo proceeds to explain that if she'd share her sandwich with a hungry classmate, then she's a Communist too. I guess technically that works, but Trumbo's Communism quickly proves indistinguishable from contemporary liberalism.

Finally, there's a general lack of directorial oomph. Jay Roach, generally known for broad comedy (the Austin Powers series, Meet the Parents/Fockers and Borat) settles for a flavourless invisible style that's primarily two-shot, over the shoulder conversations. Things are further flattened out by a godawful plinky-plonky score that heavyhandedly commands you to feel emotion.

For all that, I liked Trumbo. I knew about the Hollywood blacklist and the anti-Communist witchhunts going in, but the particulars of how writers got around it and consequences on individuals eluded me. After this I feel that I've got a decent handle on the whos, the whats and the hows. I just wish the film had a but more bravery and adventurousness.

★★★

Trumbo is released 5th February.

Friday, January 29, 2016

'Underground' at the Vault Festival, 28th January 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


When I first arrived in London, sparkly eyed, bushy tailed and fresh faced, I thought of the the tube was impossibly romantic. The very names of stations were pregnant with possibility; after all who knew what wonders took place like at mysteriously named places like Seven Sisters, Temple or Elephant and Castle? 

On top of that is the pleasant, reassuring clunkiness of the thing; all snapping doors, robo-voiced announcements and that whoosh of ozone-tinged air as a train rushes out from the inky blackness beyond the platform.

A week of commuting on the Circle Line soon got rid of that sense of wonder; it's difficult summon that sense of metropolitan grandeur when you're desperately trying to maneuver your face out of a sweaty banker's armpit.

Isla van Tricht's Underground sets out to restore that mystery, exploring the tubeas a place hermetically sealed away from the outside world, where human relationships twist and warp, time stretches and the world becomes just a little softer.

Set in a faraway future where TFL have resolved their dispute with the drivers and the night tube is up and running, the play is set somewhere on the Northern Line near Kennington, where Claire (Bebe Sanders) and James (Michael Jinks) are returning from a reasonably successful online date.

Then the train judders to a halt. Minutes pass with no explanation, until an apologetic announcement that the train has broken down and maintenance staff are being dispatched. Claire and James are stuck underground, their only company each other and an obliviously snoozing fellow passenger (Adrian Wheeler). As minutes turn into hours, the two conversationally dance around one another, mutual attraction blooming. But the longer they stay here, the more surreal the tannoy announcements get. Just how long will they be trapped?

Modest, modern and perceptive, van Tricht displays a firm grasp of both contemporary relationships and the Greater London public transport network. As the play unfolds, the two pleasingly dovetail together. Underground's dating world is one of Tindr and Happn, each indispensible to the urban dater. Spotting someone you like the look of in a bar and striking up a conversation is a bit passe these days - far better to coolly sit in judgment behind your smartphone and swipe left and right.

Similarly, the tube network treats human beings as bytes to be efficiently shuffled down a series of pipes to their destinations. Once you press your Oyster card through the barrier, you become a blip on TFL's system, tracked around the network. The two systems share a preoccupation with cleanly digitally processing analogue humanity. So, by trapping a couple together in this system, Underground gently critiques the sleek ease of modern dating by creating a situation in which no-one can casually swipe someone into the abyss.

While this all rumbles away in the background, the foreground is taken up with a very well-written romance. From moment one, Wheeler and Sanders demonstrate an enviable romantic chemistry. Wheeler accentuates awkwardness and fake bravado, unsure of how much of himself to reveal, while Sanders hides behind a sarcastic and spikiness. Both characters are eminently likeable and believable - whether they're casually smoking outside a crowded bar or ravenously ripping each other's clothes off in an erotic muddle.

Frankly it's straightforwardly nice to see an on-stage romance that works. Mutual attraction is a difficult thing to convey in performance and writing without the billowing whiff of cheese, so full credit to all involved. 

Matters are helped by the smart decision to exploit the atmosphere in the Leake Street tunnels. We're ensconced underneath Waterloo station and the ceiling is periodically shaken by the doomy knocking of trains overhead. I've seen a lot of shows here and this can be distracting, but in Underground it creates a distinctly subterranean London Underground vibe that'd be hard to create anywhere else.

The only place things come a little unstuck are the more surreal segues. Sleep-deprived and disorientated, the tannoy announcements descend into a mix of free-wheeling poetry and snatches of overheard conversations. The sleeping man in the corner of the train proves to be an agitator of the fourth wall, adding a weird metafictional element to proceedings. I don't think Underground needs these distractions, at any rate, neither I nor my plus one could work out what they were trying to communicate.

At just an hour long, Underground is an eminently breezy experience, speckled with beautifully observed and played fragments of human interaction. It's got obvious heart, brains to back it up and captures that elusive, easily forgotten thrill of romance underground.

Swipe right.

★★★

Underground is at Vault Festival:

Performances: 27th - 31st January 2016
Wednesday - Sunday, 18.00, + Saturday matinee, 14.30

Tickets: £12
For full programme and ticket information, visit vaultfestival.com

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