Review of the Week (3): Little Women, The Hate U Give, Spinning Out, Buffy/Angel, The Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast

We’re three weeks into 2020 already! It sort of feels like the year is hitting its stride but also we’re still eating the Christmas cake.

It’s frosty but sunny here. Is it too small-talk-y of me to let you know what the weather’s like? I find myself writing about the weather in my diary a lot; my study has a lovely view over our garden so about 50% of my ‘writing time’ is actually ‘staring out of the window time’. Frosty but sunny is one of my favourite kinds of weather, I think. I hope that, wherever you are this afternoon, the weather is your favourite kind of weather too.

Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, and listening to this week.

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Review of the Week (2): How to Fail, Cats (2019), Frenchman’s Creek, r/relationships, Cooking with Gordon Ramsay is an Absolute Nightmare, Anne with an E

Week 2! Welcome, friend. This is my round-up of the stuff I’ve been watching, reading, and listening to over the past week. I’m writing these less as an exercise in anything actually resembling cultural criticism, and more as a record of the things I put in front of my eyes and ears throughout 2020.

The accidental theme this week is FAILURE.

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Review of the Week (1): Hootenanny, Gentleman Jack, Doctor Who, Contrapoints, What Am Politics?, Gerry Cinnamon

In 2019, I copied what my mum’s been doing for years and kept a list of all the books I’d finished. Even though I just wrote down titles and authors, when I looked back at it so I could input them all into this new website I just joined called Goodreads which I think is really going to take off, the list awoke a lot of memories and feelings. It became a reminder of my imaginative pathway through the year.

It’s felt difficult to make concrete resolutions this year, but one of the things I’d like to do is a weekly look back at what I’ve listened to, watched, and read – an imaginative pathway through 2020. I’m an introvert, I spend a lot of my free time indoors, and I’m very invested in the arts, culture, and media I consume, and I’d like to consider all of that in a meaningful framework rather than feeling guilty about never going outside.

Plus it gives me something to do with these fucking Sunday afternoons. I cannot get the hang of Sunday afternoons.

I’m sharing these Reviews of the Week publicly because every now and then I remember how much I pay for a website with my name on it just so I can be the Emily Holyoake on the first page of Google.

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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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