Review – An Enemy of the People – Nottingham Playhouse

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 20 September 2019.

In Nottingham Playhouse’s An Enemy of the People, Dr Stockmann asserts that she has truth on her side. I think about that well-worn catchphrase of right-wing online commentators: facts don’t care about your feelings.

Of course, when the so-called sceptics of the internet say it, they’re claiming that the facts are objective, and the truth doesn’t change just because there’s something at stake for an individual or a community. But in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, the truth – that the water flowing through the baths of a spa town is poisoned – is secondary to how people feel about it.

Played by Alex Kingston, Dr Stockmann believes that her proven report about the baths will be welcomed, and that she will be praised for averting a catastrophe. But her brother, the mayor (Malcolm Sinclair), tells her instead that a complete overhaul of the water supply is impossible, that it will cripple the town’s economy, and that he believes it’s unnecessary anyway. When Stockmann stands by her report, the mayor paints her as a fantasist and a traitor, and turns the town against her.

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Review – What Fatima Did… – Derby Theatre

It’s the start of a new school year, and a group of friends take the mick out of each other as they wait for their class to start. They’re also waiting on Fatima. They take bets on when she’ll finally arrive. We don’t see her when she does. We never see her, although we hear plenty about her – because when she comes back to school after the holidays, Fatima has decided, for the first time and without warning, to start wearing the hijab.

What Fatima Did… is the second show I’ve seen at Derby Theatre in the space of a few weeks which is rammed with teenagers and, putting aside the fact that it’s making me feel old, I just want to give some space here to celebrate the absolute bloody triumph of a team who seem to know who they want to get in the door and exactly how to do it. I’ve felt this at every in-house show at Derby Theatre since I moved back last February – whenever I settle into my seat and do a quick scan around, the auditorium always seems to be full of the people who will get the most out of that show, if you judge that by the audible, tangible, laughs-and-gasps engagement throughout the evening. Derby Theatre gets its audiences.

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Review – Flight Paths – Extant and Yellow Earth

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 23 February 2019.

One of my first thoughts after coming out of Flight Paths is that it must’ve been a brilliant rehearsal process. A co-production between Extant and Yellow Earth (companies which centre the work of visually impaired and British East Asian artists, respectively), it’s a piece with a clear ethos of collaboration, showcasing aerial performance, spatialised tracking, music, projections, and integrated audio description. It also balances a lot of different narratives – the stories of the two onstage performers (Amelia Cavallo and Sarah Houbolt), audio testimony from two more (Takashi Kikuchi and Victoria Oruwari), a condensed history of the Goze (blind female storytellers and musicians who travelled medieval Japan), and all within the framework of the Japanese story of Hoichi. Layered doesn’t cover it.

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Review – Noughts & Crosses – Derby Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 8 February 2019.

In Rosa, the episode Malorie Blackman wrote for last year’s series of Doctor Who, the TARDIS lands in 1950s Alabama at the height of racial segregation. Not long into the episode, one of the Doctor’s friends, Ryan, who is black, notices a white woman has dropped her glove, and tries to return it to her. The woman’s husband slaps him.

I think I went into Pilot Theatre’s production of Noughts & Crosses expecting a slap – that sudden shock of something hurtful, embarrassing, and true. But this version of Noughts & Crosses doesn’t slap you, it just pulls you deeper and deeper, wrapping you up in history and the present and how things are supposed to be.

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The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)

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I make a resolution every New Year’s Eve to read more. This year I’ve had a vague ambition in my head to reach the (unlikely) total of 50 books. I’m on book number 26 and we’re definitely over halfway through the year (how did that even happen) so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I bloody love a good book rec post so I thought I’d take a little look back on my faves so far BUT before I get into it, a few shout-outs to things that have helped me read more this year:

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Review – Split Second – Documental Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published by Exeunt Magazine on 26 January 2018.

SPLIT SECOND by Cally Hayes
Performed at The Bike Shed Theatre, 23 January 2018
Produced by Documental Theatre

Performed by: Charlie Coldfield and Georgia Fox Robinson
Directed by: Luke Jeffrey
Sound Design: Philip Robinson
Recorded by: Duncan Chave at Sound Gallery

Along the cobbled alleyway, down the stone steps, to the cellar bar decorated with curios and mismatched furniture. Towards the circle of comfy chairs snuggled into the far corner, welcomed by dimmed lights and the bright smile of playwright Cally Hayes. A chunky set of headphones each, which glow electric blue when we’re on the right channel and clamp down firmly around our ears. A thumbs up from Hayes – and we’re away.

Documental Theatre’s Split Second is a fifteen-minute radio play about a couple in crisis. They didn’t plan for a pregnancy, and now there might be something wrong with the baby. Overwhelmed by how their lives will change, they struggle to find common ground, shutting each other out but fighting to stay together. As with all of Documental Theatre’s work, the script is based on testimony and real stories, gently and sensitively fictionalised.

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Review – Humbug! – Wandering Tiger

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 19 December 2017.

HUMBUG! by Wandering Tiger
Performed at St Nicholas Priory, Exeter

Performed by: Charlie Coldfield, Richard Feltham, Benjamin Akira Tallamy
Written and directed by: Luke Jeffrey
Magical Consultant: Peter Clifford
Costume Assistant/Designer: Anna Palma Balint

It’s a mark of how deeply ingrained the Muppets’ version is that if you mention A Christmas Carol to me, I’ll think about how Gonzo is here to tell the story (and Rizzo is here for the food). Wandering Tiger’s Humbug!, written and directed by Luke Jeffrey, is another in a long line of adaptations that takes creative license with the plot of Dickens’ ghost story. Most of the main beats are there, but adapted for a promenade production and for a cast of three, with Charlie Coldfield as Scrooge, and Richard Feltham and Benjamin Akira Tallamy as pretty much everyone else.

Coldfield is a grouchy yet earnest Scrooge, who sticks with the Michael Caine school of playing the straight man in an otherwise comic re-telling. But whilst Humbug! talks him up as the main concern of the plot, it often doesn’t feel like his story, and Coldfield isn’t given much space to really get going with the role. Instead, the show is absolutely stolen by Feltham and Tallamy and their charismatic, comic takes on the other characters. Tallamy in particular has a flair for improvisation and self-deprecating audience interaction, and his witty, idiosyncratic take on the Ghost of Christmas Present feels genuinely different from previous interpretations of the character. The show also gains much of its warmth from Tallamy’s original Christmas songs, which are a welcome departure from traditional Victorian dirges.

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Review – Journey to the Impossible – Little Soldier Productions

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 16 December 2017.

JOURNEY TO THE IMPOSSIBLE by Little Soldier Productions, presented by The Bike Shed Theatre

Performed by: Dan Armstrong, Lucy Bishop, Duncan Cameron
Directed by: Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodríguez
Producer: Bridget Floyer, Larking Arts
Written by: Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodríguez in collaboration with Matt Harvey
Design: Sophia Clist
Sound design: Dan Lees
Music composed by Dan Lees, with additional content by Joe Darke and the company
Lighting design: Seth Rook Williams

If you’re tired of fairytales, fables, and Dickens adaptations, Little Soldier Productions’ Journey to the Impossible is a fun and unusual December alternative. It’s 1982, and three young friends looking for adventure find themselves transported to another dimension, to the strange and dangerous city of Vernopolis. They quickly find themselves separated and in trouble, and must fight to find their way home again.

Journey to the Impossible leans heavily on nostalgia to get the audience on side, and it’s chock-full of references to 80’s music, film, and trends – probably more than this 90’s child noticed if I’m honest about it. But what hits me as truly nostalgic about this show is how strongly it reminds me of those imaginary games you made up with your best friends on the playground, with the kind of storyline that’s impossible to explain to an outsider but that your friends just get implicitly. Those games where you’re a hero version of yourself, but sometimes you get to play the baddie too.

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Review – ‘Dick Whittington’ – Exeter Northcott Theatre

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 9 December 2017.

DICK WHITTINGTON by Tony Lidington and Steve Bennett
Produced by Exeter Northcott Theatre

Directed by: Tony Lidington
Performed by: Steve Bennett, Gordon Cooper, Emily Essery, Jeffrey Harmer, Jaz Franklin, Lotus Lowry, Martin Reeve, Owen Thomas, Annabel Warwick

During the interval of Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Dick Whittington, I realise the last pantomime I saw starred David Hasselhoff. The one before: John Barrowman. The one before that: also John Barrowman. (I will not apologise for still loving Torchwood. Fight me.)

But before that, the star of all my pantomime experiences was my grandad, Fred Comber, who wrote, directed, and played the baddie in every show, every year, in his small Devon village of Holcombe. These were the best pantomimes of my life and played a large part in making me believe theatre could be for everyone. And there’s something about Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Dick Whittington that brings that feeling back.

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Review – ‘The Hartlepool Monkey’ – Gyre & Gimble

This review by Emily Holyoake was originally published at Exeunt Magazine on 10 November 2017.

THE HARTLEPOOL MONKEY by Carl Grose
Presented by Gyre & Gimble and Fuel, in association with Stratford Circus Arts Centre

Directed by: Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié
Performed by: Rebecca Collingwood, Fred David, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, James Duke, Baker Mukasa, Rachel Sanders, and John Trindle
Produced by: Fuel

I’ve been to Hartlepool once, and it was the first thing that came up in conversation: “Have you ever heard the story of the monkey who was hanged?” A co-production between Gyre & Gimble and Fuel, The Hartlepool Monkey takes the unsettling local legend of a monkey mistaken for a French spy and turns it into a totally inspiring show which gets just about everything right. At the risk of sounding a bit X Factor, it’s easily my favourite performance of the year.

Actually, it’s the kind of show that makes you start saying stuff like ‘it was so much better than I thought it was going to be/than it needed to be’, because it’s unashamedly designed to work for the whole family, which tends to make us grown-up theatregoers fall into the trap of expecting something…simpler? Smaller? Sillier? The Hartlepool Monkey definitely makes me nostalgic for my childhood experiences of going to the theatre, but only because it’s been so damn long since I saw something which feels this overwhelmingly exciting to watch. I want to be able to look at five things happening onstage at once. I want to laugh louder and less politely and I want to cry at the end. I want to see it again.

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