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Saturday, July 23, 2016

'Turf' at the King's Head Theatre, 22nd July 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


After years of toil, Eddie's gotten his toe on the housing ladder. No more miserably living in house-shares with antisocial weirdos. No more throwing his wages into a landlord's bottomless pockets. No more worrying about whether his tenancy will be pulled out from under him like the proverbial rug. He's even got a lovey-dovey new girlfriend, Anya, who he's impulsively decided to ask to move in with him. As his Dad puts it: "you've got the whole set now."

Life would be perfect, were it not for the tiny white flowers nudging their way out of his bathroom skirting board. And the sudden appearance of nettles growing from the base of his kettle. Or the ivy that's begun to creep over the edges of his leather sofa...

What the hell is going on? What transpires is a gently magical realist ghost story that deals with grief, the concept of 'home', ownership of property and the dangers of swaddling yourself in memory.

Turf is a well-observed, smart little play riddled with tiny observations that'll chime for most Londoners. If you're aged between 20 and 35, your chances of owning your own place are miniscule. As it stands, the only way out of the rental trap is either draining the finances of relatives to be able to afford a deposit, lucking into some elite finance job that pays £100k a year or, I dunno, winning the lottery.

Running through the play is the assertion that a human being should have a place to call home. We feel Eddie's pain as he describes cramming himself into some dingy flat-share as he scrapes together a deposit, or (in an evocative bit of writing) explaining how he craves space after living in a city that tends to squeeze people together like sardines. When he cries that he deserves a home, he's right.

Then again, Anya is also right. Doing my best to skim over spoilers as best I can, she counters Eddie's financial claim to the property with an emotional one, spelunking deep into her memory caverns as she struggles to process the death of her mother, her estrangement from her extended family and the loss her of livelihood.

Playwright Margaret Perry provides a smörgåsbord of intellectual gristle to chew on: correctly identifying and underlining the worries of young Londoners. Turf is a great text. Unfortunately, this particular production of it has a number of deficiencies that prevent it from being a great play.


First and foremost is underwhelming stage design. The surreal conceit is that Eddie's home is under invasion from plant life, though this is conveyed by chucking a few sprigs of ivy around the stage, putting some flowers in a vase and eventually revealing a fake grass rug. I get that this is a fringe production, presumably with the usual budgetary and time constraints, but what's on stage simply doesn't feel like an unstoppable invasion of greenery.

Next are a few performances of variable quality. Karen McCaffrey as Anya's dead Mum is the best of the bunch, conveying a cool, green-fingered serenity from beyond the grave. We're left wondering whether she's an actual ghost or a hallucination of Anya's, and McCaffrey's performance accommodates both ends of the spectrum. Laura Harding's Anya is almost as good: wiry, faintly strung-out and able to shift from cosy domesticity to a thousand-yard stare of pain almost instantly. The best moments of Turf come as the two interact, Anya growing slowly cosy with her ghost-mum as she sinks deeper into delusion.

It's in Royce Cronin's Eddie where the play really comes a cropper. To be blunt, he's wooden as all hell. His performance is limited to three 'gears': calm, peeved and furious, and he cycles between them without any gradients. The play is written as a fairly evenly balanced conflict between Eddie's pragmatism and Anya's sentimentality, so it's hobbled when one side of the equation simply doesn't convince.

Still, Turf is a play stuffed full of great ideas and big bundles of promise. With a bit more theatrical oomph and some performance re-tuning  it'll be something special. 

★★★

Turf is at the King's Head Theatre until 30 July. Tickets here. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

'How to Win Against History' at the Ovalhouse, 21st July 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, was pretty damn rock and roll for a Victorian peer. Born into incredible wealth and privilege, he blew it all on outrageous outfits, mountains of jewellery and ill-advised theatrical extravaganzas - becoming known for his "sinuous, sexy, snake-like dances". He died penniless in Monte Carlo at 29, having drained the family fortune. 

Outraged by his behaviour and reputation, the surviving Pagets conspired to erase the 5th Marquess from history, burning his papers, any photographs of him and generally airbrushing over his existence. The only monuments to his memory are some faded (and fabulous) photos that escaped the incinerator, a questionable tell-all interview with The Daily Mail and a summary of his life from the Complete Peerage that concludes: 
"[The 5th Marquess] seems only to have existed for the purpose of giving a melancholy and unneeded illustration of the truth that a man with the finest prospects, may, by the wildest folly and extravagance, as Sir Thomas Browne says, 'foully miscarry in the advantage of humanity, play away an uniterable life, and have lived in vain.'"
Now that is a goddamn memorable memorial.

And so to How to Win Against History, a jaunty little musical biopic that attempts to explain that, despite dying in ignominy and being  airbrushed from public knowledge, that the Marquess actually came out on top after all. In a way.

We follow Paget, played by writer and composer Seiriol Davies, as he progresses through the rigid class militarism of Eton, into the world of experimental theatre and then makes a beeline for death "of some lung thing". Accompanied by his manager/co-performer Alexander Keith (Matthew Blake) and Dylan Towney's keyboard, the trio approach history with playful irony, the relatively minimal stagecraft making sure things bounce along in a decent rhythm.

The obvious centrepiece is Davies' Paget. He approaches him as a naifish and innocent, convinced that he is outrageously talented yet completely unable to understand what audiences 'want' to see. Davies makes Paget easy to like: his performance a cocktail of one part pleasant Father Dougal-ish idiocy, one part delusional grandiosity served with a twist of concentrated camp. At times his wide-eyed enthusiasm and utter refusal to engage with reality gives him a touch of otherworldliness, making him feel like an angel gradually corrupted by exposure to cruel reality.


He's aided by a bevvy of tunes that allow the Marquess to fully emerge from his chrysalis. These performances reminded me of openly gay 70s popstar Jobraith, both eccentric performers out-of-step with the societal norms and both tragically dying young. There's a real punch to the music as Paget lets his freak flag fly - the slightly awkward young aristocrat unfurling his feathers like a peacock and giving in to his desire to shine and shimmer.

Thing is, though the Marquess is marvellously fabulous, he remains a cypher throughout. Granted, his erasure from history doesn't leave much to build a character upon, but by the time the curtain falls we feel more like we've seen a caricature rather than a human being beneath, and, subsequently, we never quite feel that we understand him. There's a bluntness to the character, and I'd have loved just a little self-reflection from him.

But perhaps there just isn't that much to understand about Paget - perhaps he is really was just a clueless popinjay who came a cropper at the hands of debtors. Is it more useful to view him as a precursor of camp culture, a man confident enough to cross-dress in public, strut around with a dyed poodle and modify his car to spray perfume from the exhaust? Here we find a more substantial morsel to chew on - a reflection on  how the rigidly stratified Victorian aristocracy could produce a creature as curious and rare as Paget.

How to Win Against History is undeniably entertaining; the songs bounce, it's funny as hell, the costumes rock and the performers are enjoying themselves as much as the audience. Still, it's one of those shows that sends you running off to Wikipedia - frothy and slightly shallow one - but deeply enjoyable show.

★★★


How to Win Against History is at Ovalhouse until 23 July, then heading to Edinburgh. Tickets here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

'Alice in Wonderland' at Abney Park Cemetery, 20th July 2016

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


It's 151 years since Alice's Adventures in Wonderland exploded into the public consciousness and its popularity shows no signs of diminishing. Alice is everywhere - popping up in various forms on screen and stage, referenced in politics, science, music, fashion, mathematics, comics and videogames. Given her frequent changes in size, this malleability is all too appropriate - Alice able to translate to damn near any medium mankind can invent.

Pandemonium Performance's Alice in Wonderland is a fairly straightforward, Victorian tinged adaptation that hews pretty closely to the original text. A promenade piece presented as a series of vignettes, we follow Alice as she encounters all the familiar favourites, ending with her capital trial in front of the bloodthirsty Red Queen.

So far, so typically Alice. What sets this production apart from the rest is the scenery. Abney Park Cemetery is one of London's secret treasures: a real-life Wonderland tucked away in Stoke Newington. One of the 'magnificent seven' cemeteries of the 1830s and 40s, Abney Park is a garden of the dead, populated by morose and mossy angels and the mouldering skeletons of Londoners past. 

On top of that is that the entire park is fetchingly overgrown. Visitors walk through paths carved into the dense undergrowth, all but the first row of graves receding into a tangled green emptiness. The effect is striking; monuments to death the bedrock for a chaotic, explosion of natural life: vines encircling tombstones, air thick with insects, trees creating a canopy above our heads. There's a pleasant feeling that you're somewhere you shouldn't be, coupled with a hint of danger (it's doesn't hurt that, somewhere in the thicket, lies an unexploded Luftwaffe bomb...)

Setting Alice here is an instant winner, a brilliant realisation of the dreamily surreal qualities of Carroll's story. Here, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee battle atop crumbling graves; the Caterpillar puffs leisurely from atop a music hall performers last memorial and the Mad Hatter's table is a flat tomb-top. The omnipresence of death gives proceedings an appropriately gothic tinge, something played up when Alice asks a shy eight year old "who lives here?", receiving the response "dead people", to which she reacts with mock horror.


This Alice would squeak into 'success' purely through location, but the performances cement its quality. Interestingly, the show is divided into two halves, red and black. Each mirrored half has its own cast and locations, though we begin as one and eventually meet for the finale. 

I was on the black side, with Nell Hardy as Alice. Accompanying her were Sara Lynam, Caitlin McMillan, Steve Fitzgerald and Luke Willats, all of whom cycle rapidly between roles, sometimes even within scenes. The five bristle with talent, clearly delineating their roles and tiptoeing the line between funny and scary. 

Particular praise must go to Fitzgerald's Cheshire Cat - the performer's toothy grin and skinny build is a perfect fit for the character, not to mention his faintly feral mannerisms and vocalisms. Also excellent is Lynam's homicidally imperious Red Queen, her performance precisely tuned to underline her haughtiness, joy in power and cracked regality.

It's a cavalcade of excellence, but sitting at the top is Nell Hardy's Alice. Bone-skinny, with piercing eyes and calculatedly angular body language. She's believably child-like in her reactions, her unvarnished snorts of laughter and indignant reactions to illogical weirdness. But beneath that you sense something wild, untameable and powerful in her, despite the parade bizarre nightmare figures, we come to see the little girl Alice as the most dangerous creature in Wonderland.

It's a hell of a performance in a hell of a show, one clearly enjoyed by adults and children alike. Setting Alice in Abney Park just feels right - though the story has aged beautifully, the characters are at home surrounded the graves of the Victorian dead. Pandemonium Productions have tapped into a wellspring of historical, psychological atmosphere, not to mention the sheer aesthetic beauty of the Abney Park setting.

In these roasting days, when the sun dips lazily in the sky things become woozily indistinct,. It's the perfect time for Alice. Check it out!

★★★★

Alice in Wonderland is at Abney Park until 31 July. Tickets here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

'Cargo' at the Arcola Theatre, 8th July 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


After six years of immigrant-baiting, ultra-austerity, privatisation-crazy government, Britain was already shit. But post Brexit it's like we're in an accelerated timeline of fuck.

Westminster is a writhing nest of vipers, the pound is undergoing a rapid transition to monopoly money and we're probably staring down the barrel of a decade of authoritarian Tory government with its sights set on dismantling the BBC, the NHS and any part of the public sector that dares stick its head above the parapet.

You just want to throw your hands up in despair and cry to the heavens. How could things possibly can get worse? Enter playwright Tess Berry-Hart...

Set entirely within a shipping crate on a cross-channel voyage, her play Cargo imagines a nightmarish future Britain. Central to the story is the clever inversion of the current refugee crisis: in Cargo people are desperately trying to escape a collapsing Britain for sanctuary and security in Europe. It's a fantastic core idea for a play, empathising with those seeking a better life and encouraging us to identify directly with their struggle.

At the core of the story are Joey (Milly Thomas) and her little brother Iz (Jack Gouldbourne). We hear them first, whispering in pitch darkness as they worry about being discovered. To their surprise they quickly learn that they're not alone. Sarah (Debbie Korley) reveals herself as a traumatised and paranoid presence, brandishing a switchblade and ordering them to shut the hell up. Eventually, from within a packing crate, Kayffe (John Schwab) reveals himself. He quickly defines himself as not to be trusted, sending the interpersonal web within the crate into a violent tailspin.

As the characters jockey for control of the situation we learn about the calamities that've befallen the world world. Piecing together this jigsaw of misery is part of what makes Cargo so engaging, so I will refrain from too many spoilers, but I will say that it presents a scarily plausible dystopia. Like all the best science fiction, Cargo understands contemporary issues like immigration, religious fundamentalism, xenophobia, and human trafficking and takes them to logical, horrible conclusions. 

The situation Cargo presents is a nightmare, but on top of that is ladled an exceptionally intense claustrophobia. Staged in the round, we're in close proximity to the action at all times, able to see every drop of sweat, panicked grimace and flicker of emotion on the character's faces. This, combined with insanely effective lighting design that plunges us into darkness at frequent intervals, makes for a gripping and uncomfortable 80 minutes. 

Further amping up the dramatic potency are four excellent performances. Each of these characters is damaged in their own way and each conceals secrets that're gradually winkled out of them. Highlights are Milly Thomas' Joey, whose familial protectiveness curdles into something disturbing. Joey, we think, has her head screwed on straight - Thomas ably conveying the ways her character puzzles out and tries to control the situation. She's best when things are fast unravelling in the closing moments of the play: Thomas capturing a complexity in her reaction that belies her acting skills. 


Also excellent is John Schwab's ugly American. Constantly lying and openly manipulating the rest of the characters, he exudes a impressively slimy repellence. Schwab smartly plays Schwab as barely hiding that he has ulterior motives, but remaining slippery about what they might be. By the end we see him (and to some extent the others) as logical products of a society that encourages its citizens to eat one another: scapegoating, trading in misery and othering in an orgy of suspicion and petty hatred.

All this makes Cargo one of the most suffocating, intense nights at the theatre I've had in ages. Making our simulated suffering bearable is the knowledge that there are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers living through this torture right now; sexually abused by people traffickers, escaping bombed-out homes, persecuted by crazed religious fundamentalists and facing incarceration without rights in squalid detention centres.

Most people - even those that profess care - merely cluck their tongues and murmur about how awful these things must be. But, deep in the back of the mind, lies the Western sense of superiority. After all, these people clinging to rickety boats and drowning in the Atlantic just aren't like us: our politicians dehumanise them as 'swarms' of people, our commentators describe them as 'cockroaches'. 

Cargo cements the old maxim: there but for the grace of god go I. On leaving the theatre I felt sick with guilt and feeling an ominous sensation that the shitty future it presents may be the one awaiting us. It's an outstanding play, coming in the absolute perfect political and social climate for it. I see a lot of plays that comment on contemporary politics, but rarely (if ever) as incisively and effectively as this.  I can't recommend it enough and it gets a very rare five stars.

★★★★

Cargo is at the Arcola Theatre until 6 August. Tickets here.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

'Broad Shadow' at the National Theatre, 7th July 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


Broad Shadow is a straightforwardly effective play that's ripe with complexity. I see an awful lot of theatre each week and lots of it is pretty goddamn terrible, but this brief n' breezy thirty minute one act piece knocks most of the rest into a cocked hat. 

And it's written by a 16 year old.

New Views is the National Theatre's annual playwriting competition for 15-19 year olds. Broad Shadow is the winner, having triumphed over more than 300 entries from over sixty-six schools across the UK. I cringe when I remember my teenage scribblings, so I have no envy for the panel of judges tasked with sorting through this stuff. I don't want to assume too much, but there must be an awful lot of embarrassingly overwrought bilge to grind through.

But I bet it's all worth it when you come across a playwright like Molly O'Gorman. She's a student of Brighton College and, drawing from her experiences of growing up in Ireland, gives us an incisive perspective into the shifting relationship between mother and daughter.

Róisín (Roxanna Nic Liam) ekes out a living working at Lidl in a small Irish town. Life isn't sunshine and roses, but neither is it completely miserable. Her prospects takes a turn for the better when she's asked if she'd assist with a new supermarket in distant Belfast. It's easy to sympathise with Bowie-fan Róisín's attraction to big city lights and the prospect of a fresh star, especially when you see what's going on at home.

Surrounded by dirty coffee cups and swaddled in a stained dressing gown, her Mum (Eileen Walsh) has surrendered. With her husband recently dead, Róisín is s the sole bread-winner and Mum has resigned herself  to a sofa-based fate of crap TV and moody resentfulness. Essentially the relationship between mother and daughter has been inverted - the child responsible and forward thinking, the mother prone to emotionally manipulative outbursts. But with Róisín making escape plans, the situation reaches boiling point.

Though there's much to praise here, most obvious is the care and subtlety with which the central relationship is written. Róisín and her mum feel like they've been bickering forever - and each knows precisely how to needle the other. Róisín is more obviously sympathetic, gritting her teeth and feigning cheeriness for as long as it takes to escape. The mum is somewhat less attractive as a character, but her morose depression is keenly and emotively conveyed. With a dead husband, daughter preparing to flee and little future prospects, why not just waste away?

This whiff of morbidity is accentuated by the play taking place on gigantic weathered stone slabs, Ikea furniture perched awkwardly on top. It creates a vast emptiness, emphasising the distance between the two, as well as evoking a loose graveyard vibe. Though never  explicitly communicated, O'Gorman's writing hints at the mother's suicidal thoughts, the living room becoming a vast grave-in-waiting. The mother seems willing to take the plunge and she'll to drag Róisín down with her. We find ourselves willing her to escape this black hole - to get the hell out of dodge.

On top of that, you've got two performances that continually feed off one another, one always reacting to the other. Nic Liam's Róisín believably bristles with frustration; angry, slightly guilty and sad, but putting an optimistic shine on things whenever she can. Her best moment comes when, for once alone, she rocks out to Oh You Pretty Things. It's a moment of escapist joy that hopefully echoes her future in Belfast. Meanwhile Walsh plays the Mum like Eeyore having a particularly shitty day. She's all Edna Krabappelish "Ha!"s and snide, spiky little jabs at Róisín, her character reeking of unattractively adolescent self-pity. She's easy to despise, yet Walsh layers in so much vulnerability that she ends up pathetically heartbreaking, rather than just plain pathetic.

I'd have praised Broad Shadow no matter who it was written by, but O'Gorman deserves serious kudos for turning out something this good at 16. It's well-staged and performs, but the obvious highlight is the confident and disciplined treatment of familial conflict and a painfully perceptive understanding of the ways in which relationships gradually shift over time. Mark my words, Molly O'Gorman is a name you're going to hear more of.

★★★★

(For the sake of full disclosure, I know Roxanna Nic Liam socially)

Friday, July 8, 2016

'Peter Schlemiel' at Theatre N16, 7th July 2016

Friday, July 8, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


What would become of a man whose shadow has been ripped away? This play posits that he'd be shunned, have dirt thrown at him and considered innately suspicious. Just what quality does a shadow bring to a person - and why is it so damn important?

These are questions asked by Peter Schlemiel, an adaptation of an 1814 novella by exiled French aristocrat Adelbert von Chamisso. Though widely read on its original publication it's been largely forgotten now - or at least I'd never heard of it.

A cautionary fable, the story follows the eponymous and ambitious Peter as he unwittingly makes a deal he'll come to regret. He's alking one night when he comes across a mysterious stranger who professes an appreciation of his shadow. It's a bizarre moment, only trumped when the stranger makes him an offer: would Peter be interested in trading his shadow for a bottomless wallet?

For Peter (and I suspect most people) this is a no-brainer.What practical use is a shadow anyway? Before too long he's revelling in his newfound wealth, rapidly ascending to become a man of means and attracting the attentions of sexy socialite Mina. But after pride comes the fall: upon noticing his lack of shadow Mina's father rejects him as a suitable husband, society treats him as a leper and he descends into poverty, only wishing for his beloved shadow be returned to him.

Eventually the mysterious stranger returns offering another deal. Peter will get his shadow back, at the cost of his immortal soul. 

Peter Schlemiel feels like prototypical magic realism, the play presenting the loss of a shadow as something aberrant yet apparently not particularly shocking. Though hardly an everyday occurrence, the characters take the intrusion of the supernatural into their lives without too much comment. This makes it feel like less of a sci-fi/fantasy tale and more of a political allegory.

Problem is, it's difficult to pin down precisely what that allegory is. Early in the play we watch a gaggle of champagne quaffing socialites preen as they compare their beautiful lives. The pinnacle is them chortling over the suicide of a servant who'd been told that anyone who's not a millionaire is a "snivelling worm". From the sidelines an awkward Peter watches on, apparently unnerved by their behaviour yet determined to enter their ranks.

Later in the play he does, repeating the scene word for word in vainglorious top hat and tails pomp. On the most basic level, Peter Schlemiel demonstrates that money is the root of all evil, and that basic humanity is much more valuable. Fair enough, but you want a little more than that from something so obviously allegorical. Sadly, the much-longed for complexity never comes, the play instead tying itself up in stylistic flourishes that divert, but don't exactly tickle the grey matter.

It's a pity, there's a decent amount of quality here. Prime amongst it is Robert Hill's striking bit of set design. Theatre N16 is 'yer typical room above a pub performance space and I assume that the production is running on a pretty skinny budget. Nonetheless, the notion of a doorway/picture frame for characters to pose in, crowned by a pagan-looking wings made of tree branches is striking and well-executed, hearkening back to the primeval fairytale myth-making pulsing through the play's veins.

Mention must be also be made of Edvardas Bazys' lighting design. Being asked to light a play in which a character has no shadow sounds like a nightmare brief. Obviously, Peter has a shadow throughout, but there are moments where his silhouette is accentuated to nice effect.

The cast also put in a decent amount of welly. Alex Marlow's Peter is a stolid and dependable stage presence, effectively conveying Peter's gradual slide into spiritual misery. He suffers a bit from having about half of his dialogue pre-recorded, but manages to find occasional moments of pathos and desperation as he reaches his 'red-line' when haggling with the devil. Said devil, played by Billy Irving, is an appropriately serpentine presence, his voice transitioning from charming smoothness to threatening in the blink of an eye. Irving displays a disciplined body language and wonderfully threatening aura as old Nick - only somewhat diluted by having to cycle between multiple characters within scenes.

Peter Schlemiel is one of those shows that goes down easy enough but leaves you faintly unsatisfied. Chamisso's novella, showing the disintegration of a man who opts for an easy path to the top, is fertile ground for saying something pointed and timely about modern culture. But this production doesn't really explore that aspect, instead presenting flashes of interesting drama but with little intellectual rigour underpinning it.

★★

Thursday, July 7, 2016

'Cut' at the Vaults, 6th July 2016

Thursday, July 7, 2016 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments


 Being completely enveloped in darkness is liberating. I'm not talking about the mere dimness you find when trying to sleep: the orange glow of streetlights creeping around the edge of the blinds, the soft red LED of your charging phone or even the shimmer of the full moon.  No, I'm talking about pitch darkness. Inky, thick and absolute. Where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, when there is no difference between having your eyes open or closed, when the idea of up and down imperceptibly shifts. 

Then a strobe and a madwoman comes at you with a pair of scissors.

That's Cut, written and directed by Duncan Graham and performed by Hannah Norris. Part narrative and part performance art, it aims to disturb, shock and horrify its audience. Central to this is constant immersion in dark, and the subterranean gloom of the Waterloo Vaults makes for the perfect setting.

Cut is as much an exercise in striking stage and lighting design as it is in storytelling. Designer Becky-dee Trevenen and lighting designer Sam Hopkins have created a fascinatingly tactile space, wrapping us in shivering white plastic wrap, stretched taut to create a kind of membrane through which light can both gently diffuse and suddenly blind. 

The focal point is Hannah Norris' flight attendant, who becomes infatuated and intimidated by a passenger aboard her flight. She breathlessly describes the feel of his eyes over her body, the awkward little glances at each other as they try to gauge the other's feelings and her erotic desires rubbing up against her fake-smile plastic professionalism. 

Throughout, the woman shuffles her various personae like a deck of cards. Putting on makeup is communicated as putting a fake face over her 'real' face, then another face on top of that. Norris perfectly conveys the toothy, rictus grin of the flight attendant - designed to be reassuring and friendly, yet the eyes remaining dead and somewhat sharklike. The more we learn about her, the more we shiver.


 Things reach a suffocating peak in an intense sequence in which she recounts a childhood memory of torturing a dying fish to death. Removing it from the water, watching it writhe and gasp on a rock, reviving it and repeating. It's as neat and effective a description of sociopathy as I've seen; reminding of the weird intensity of the opening scene of Blade Runner: "The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping."

The culmination of this is a blurring of predator and prey. Things culminate, predictably, in extreme violence. Cut presents this in the abstract, using some shrunken and stretched pieces of plastic to impressively disturbing effect.
Cut is, charitably, probably not for everyone. With its focus on atmosphere and stage design rather than narrative and general willingness to get fucking weird, it's somewhat removed from its light entertainment siblings on the Wonderground programme. But hey - fucking weird - is totes up my street.

In promo material, the show describes itself as 'Lynchian': in my experience a word that's over-used to the point of parody. Any old sucker can flash a couple of lights, wave a freaky clown mask about and play some messed up music, but they generally fumble when it comes to the psychology that underpins why David Lynch's films are so effective. But, at its best, Cut reminded me of the nightmare sequences in Inland Empire, where Laura Dern ends up broken and twisted, descending into abstraction.

Cut consistently displays a fierce artistic and aesthetic depth that shimmers even in the pitch dark. Perhaps best illustrative is the multiple meanings of the title; first and most obvious the physical act of cutting, demonstrated more than once during the show; secondly the cinematic art of cutting between scenes, as simulated here by the frequent blackouts; and thirdly (according to the programme) "The Greek Fates, three women Clotho the 'spinner', Lachesis the 'measurer'; and Atropos ... the 'cutter of the thread of life'.

Some of that stuff is apparent during the production. Some you have explained to you afterwards. Some you conclude while lying in bed, thinking over what you've experienced. Ultimately Cut is a jigsaw where the pieces don't quite fit together. 
 
But that's very much my kinda night.

★★★★
Cut is in the Vaults, under Waterloo until 31 July 2016. Tickets here.

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