theatre review

‘The Mikvah Project’: A Review

Applause bellowed from every pair of hands as the lights flashed on in The Orange Tree Theatre. I had just witnessed one of the four productions in this year’s Directors’ Festival hosted here, featuring emerging directors who have studied on the MA Theatre Directing course at the Orange Tree and St Mary’s University. And I think I got lucky; under Georgia Green’s direction, ’The Mikvah Project’ emerged victorious as a fresh, fierce and contemplative storytelling of love, boundaries, and faith.

At just an hour long, the play, written by Josh Azouz, firstly introduced us to our two players Avi and Eitan, and then to the Mikvah placed in the heart of the theatre’s intimate in-the-round space. This Mikvah, described by Avi, is a pool of water in which one ritually immerses in the Jewish faith. As Avi demonstrated; the water whooshed rhythmically, bathing and immersing the space…I was entranced. I could see every pair of eyes had locked on, as mine had, to this slow, perhaps even intimate act. It’s clear Georgia [Green] wanted this focus from the outset, highlighting the Mikvah’s importance both in faith, and the story, creating an interesting axis for the play to pivot around.

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We dived in with a series of rapid-fire monologues explaining Avi and Eitan’s differing life phases. Avi is settled, 35 and married, he loves his wife and they’re trying for a baby…something he’s trying to encourage by immersing in the Mikvah. Whereas Eitan, 17, is excitable, fiery and daydreaming at college and sneaking into clubs with his brother’s ID. Their paths cross every Friday at the Mikvah, each encounter bringing them emotionally, and later physically closer together, as they chat about family, relationships, their faith, and, of course, football.

Eitan, exuberantly played by Dylan Mason, is the dominant, coming-of-age force, pushing all available boundaries around him [I pray I wasn’t alone in experiencing flashbacks to memories of my sometimes obnoxious teenage self…]. Though cringing hard, it was easy to empathise with his pressures of family expectation, understanding his sexuality, and feeling, well, lonely. His energy and boyish naivety kept the feeling light however as he bounced around the Mikvah, coaxing and engaging Avi who, thoughtfully played by Robert Neumark Jones, seemed buoyed by Eitan, offering him the advice and guidance he’s seeking.

The pace of the play quickened after Eitan kisses Avi in the Mikvah one evening [I definitely gasped]. Though he was initially repulsed, it was gripping to watch Avi wrestle with his feelings; does he want this too? Does this change his feelings towards his wife and his faith? Is this just an early on-set mid-life crisis? Is it just…a crush?

You could feel a tangible change in the atmosphere of the theatre. The boundaries of their relationship had blurred and developed from familial, or confidantes, to something more. Despite the growing intensity, their developing relationship reached a head after Avi abandons a wild weekend away with an enamoured Eitan, returning home to find his wife pregnant – his Mikvah immersing had worked.

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Following the waining of Avi’s interest due to his joy of a growing new family, Dylan [Mason]’s expression of the hard fall that follows from a heady first love was exemplary. Holding the same concentration from the room as Avi’s earlier immersion, his performance was captivating, it felt raw and painful and encouraged further flashbacks of heartbreak I’m sure we all have. I would agree with The Orange Tree Theatre’s testimony here of “the audience wrapped around the players” for “close-up magic”. It was indeed magic.

The dissolution of their fling felt dramatic and short, and the end of the play seemed to come around quickly. Before I knew it, the last line “I feel nervous” was uttered by Eitan and the lights came up to the aforementioned and deserved applause.

But I wanted more.

I wanted to know if Avi’s feelings for Eitan were real and if Eitan’s were just a youthful crush or something more. I wanted to know what role their faith and the Mikvah would play if Avi and Eitan had pursued their relationship; has Avi succumbed to pressure from his community to stay remain with his wife? And so on and so on.

Ultimately, I think my need for answers and more time with these characters is a testament to a high-quality performance and fresh new direction and writing. A highlight, being Georgia Green’s use of the Mikvah as a physical focal point in the room; a constant reminder to the audience of how these two characters had been brought together, and also how they might be kept apart. ‘The Mikvah Project’ is definitely one to see, and Georgia Green is perhaps one to watch!

Four stars for The Mikvah Project.

Words by Helen Brake for Anthem Online
Photographs by Robert Day

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‘Beige Walls And Navy Sofas’: A Camden Fringe Review

Beige Walls And Navy Sofas played at Camden People’s Theatre 2nd – 3rd Aug as part of The Camden Fringe 2019. We previously reviewed this show when it debuted at Catford Fringe’s scratch night back in 2018, which you can read here.

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Last night I attended the performance at the Camden People’s Theatre as part of this year’s Camden Fringe. CPT is an intimate and welcoming venue that prides itself on giving a platform to shows that push boundaries and explore much-needed topics and voices; Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does just that.

As soon as Courtney McMahon enters stage everyone is intrigued. Although it is a solo performance, it is engaging from the offset and quickly feels like a privilege to be invited into this autobiographical tale. Beige Walls And Navy Sofas takes us on a journey through Courtney’s childhood as her mother becomes a foster carer, and the adjustments to suddenly having some brand new siblings to call family.

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Having lived with approximately 50 siblings in her lifetime, Courtney’s retelling of her experiences and the open and honest dialogue she creates, weaving a picture of the good alongside the challenging aspects of fostering, is a crucial one. It is one that’s told with humour, love, and a whole mix of emotions in between.

The snapshots of Courtney’s life are pieced together in an endearing, arresting way, and the 60-minute journey flies by so quickly that you don’t want it to end. I could have definitely watched more of this story, but at the same time, the show that Ghosted Ink have created is a fantastic way to start the conversation and raise awareness of experiences of fostering. Especially, from the siblings’ point of view, which is not something often represented at all. 

I was drawn to see this show because of my own experience of my family becoming foster carers when I was younger and thought it was brilliant that someone had made a performance piece about something that before now, I didn’t think anybody else could ever really “get.” Coping not just with living with new brothers and sisters, but also inevitably saying goodbye to them was something that I really struggled to articulate growing up, and still do. Yet here, watching Beige Walls And Navy Sofas, someone was standing in front of me doing just that.

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What the show did brilliantly was raise the point of loss. Loss is something that is overlooked in our perceptions of the care system in all different ways, and this show gives a platform to that. It also made me realise though, that even when those connected to foster care will have very similar experiences in some ways, we can never expect to know someone’s own unique pathways of loss.

Even though Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does not shy away from tackling these complex topics, it is still punctuated with many moments of light relief and genuine laughs.

The minimal props and set dressing supporting the world of the performance fit delightfully well, and capture some early 2000s nostalgia in working-class London perfectly. We easily transport ourselves to the family living room for TV dinners, Christmas, and fights over Bratz Dolls without question. Watching Courtney’s character cycling around on a pink kids bicycle, or talking to a Yorkshire pudding that’s meant to be her Nan’s dog is both amusing and entirely fitting. The way that more serious tones are balanced with comic moments is well placed and sincere, meaning that we enjoy every minute.

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I think that if you don’t know much about fostering then this show would be a really eye-opening experience from a lesser-voiced perspective. That said, even if you would just like to see a great play that makes you laugh, think, pull Christmas crackers and sing to George Michael (yes, really) then this production is a must-see.

Perhaps the most poignant part for me was toward the end of the show, when Courtney reveals a chart marking the growth of herself and all her siblings through the years, adorned with photographs and memories of all the brothers and sisters that have passed through her and her Mum’s house, and sat on those Navy Sofas with cups of tea, watching Saturday Night Takeaway. It really brings home that beyond all else, this is a show about experiencing family, but that acknowledges family in all its different shapes and sizes and confronts what it’s like to deal with those shapes and sizes changing.

Congratulations to Courtney and the Ghosted Ink crew on a moving and much-needed show. I’m excited to see this play continue to grow and am very much looking forward to seeing what the collective do next.

Five Stars for Beige Walls And Navy Sofas.

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Keep up to date with all things Ghosted Ink here:

Facebook: Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Twitter: @GhostedInk_Arts
Instagram: @ghostedink

You can visit https://www.fcwu.org.uk/ for information about the Foster Carers IWGB Union.

Credits:
Writer/Performer – Courtney McMahon
Director – Niamh Parker-Whitehead
Technical Manager & Designer – Lilly Woodford-Lewis
Stage Manager – Molly O’Niell
Assistant Stage Manager – Isabelle Leach
Set Design – Niamh Parker-Whitehead & Constance Price
Producer – Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Field Recordings – Sam Kemp & Catherine Hawthorn
Special thanks to Elizabeth Parker, Cerys Barker & Arnold Senoga

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Ghosted Ink.

‘Congratulations You B@$T@*D!’: Edinburgh Fringe Review

Showing from 20th – 25th Aug 2018 at Venue 36, The Perth Theatre @ theSpace on North Bridge Hilton Edinburgh Carlton Hotel, 19 North Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE.

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Whether you’re a die-hard fringe goer, or you’ve just popped up for a weekend to see what it’s all about, there’s no doubt you’ll find something that’s up your street.
An explosion of veteran stand up comics, first time performers, scripted, unscripted, spoken word, silent movie; you name it, it’s probably at Fringe.

And whilst it can be great to immerse ourselves in the kind of shows we know and love, a lot of the beauty of Fringe comes from the unexpected. It comes from experiencing the unknown and choosing to see something you might not usually go for. So when I got the chance to see Congratulations You B@$T@*D, I decided to do exactly that.

A theatre piece created by South East London based Ghosted Ink, the up-and-coming art collective’s debut show sees Mia and Nick, two down on their luck writers, wondering if they should give up on their ambition. However, after one drunken night of creativity, they find they might just have cracked it.

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Congratulations You B@$T@*D delights the audience with its humour and witty dialogue from the outset. Brought expertly to life by both performers, creating recognisable characters we all know (or are) in our lives.

We meet the wonderful whirlwind of nuanced expletives that is Mia (Georgia Crowther) and the seemingly more logical and tempered Nick (Laurence Platt) just as their newest script has been rejected again. Their carefully crafted characters are instantly brought to life in a relationship familiar to us all. Two friends who in equal parts love, and are infuriated by, each other.

The first half of the performance builds the dynamic between the two friends wonderfully. Despite the piece only lasting 45 minutes, I felt as though these were people I was so familiar with; people who had struggled together but also experienced joy and hilarity with one another. I laughed with them, got angry when they did, was sad when they were.

The comic timing of Crowther is spectacular and the way both actors seem to effortlessly bounce off one another is incredibly enjoyable to watch. The intimate space, and minimal but carefully thought out set design works perfectly to set the atmosphere. As soon as I saw all the crumpled-up-uncrumpled-and-then-crumpled-again pieces of work discarded everywhere and the random array of ideas and inspiration pinned up on stage, I thought “yep, been there.”

I spent most of the beginning half of the piece belly laughing at Nick and Mia hurling raucous insults, drinking copious amounts of ‘Pan Juice’ and spouting sparks of creative genius as they try to invent the next best thing. Punctuated with music from the likes of Bowie and Kate Bush as they take turns to type the masterpiece, the phrase that immediately came to mind was the popular mantra of ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. Yet as the play progressed it became clear it was much more like ‘Write drunk, edit drunker’, and whilst this was fabulously funny to witness, the script is very much flipped as we come into the second half of the play.

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A poignant scene arises as the two characters disagree on what the next step should be. Nick laments that he’s sick of being an “artist” and is sick of how they live, scrabbling to make ends meet and waiting for it all to get better when it never seems to. A far cry from the drunken hilarity witnessed moments ago, it suddenly hits home the reality of trying to make it, of struggling to pay rent, of doubting your own ability. It’s here that I really appreciated the thoughtful writing. Platt conjures a well-observed depiction of young friends and creative relationships in today’s competitive world those of us in the arts can relate to all too well.

For a group’s first Fringe run, its a credit to them how well they take the audience on a hidden rollercoaster of unexpected emotion, and it’s far more than just a play about getting wasted (even though they get very wasted.)

Congratulations You B@$T@*D explores artistic integrity, success and what ‘making it’ can actually mean. Moreover, we see the ever poignant themes of friendship throughout; we see two people pushing and pulling to hold onto a changing relationship as the both of them try to find their footing in the creative world, without sacrificing their own morals.

Ghosted Ink’s first show is a very worthwhile watch that I’d highly recommend checking out if you’re at Fringe this year, where it’s running from the 20th -25th August. If not, you can keep up to date with all their creative ventures by following @ghostedink on Instagram, @Ghostedink_AC on Twitter or Ghosted Ink Arts Collective on Facebook as well as with #CYBFringe.

A well deserved FOUR STARS for Congratulations You B@$T@*D!

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images courtesy of Ghosted Ink.