Theatre review: Great British Mysteries?, Soho Theatre

An offbeat comedy two-hander that is wonderfully silly but lacks a little substance

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Will Close and Rose Robinson in Great British Mysteries?

 

An amusing, slightly chaotic and quirky comedy, Great British Mysteries? sees Olive Bacon (Rose Robinson) and her untrusty sidekick Dr. Teddy Tyrell (Will Close) clumsily attempt to solve a series of the UK’s most compelling unsolved crimes and suspicious sightings.

Together they host Great British Mysteries? a documentary that sets out to shine a light on such enigmas as Jack the Ripper and the Roswell alien landings without such pesky things as evidence and facts. They are the Michael Gove and Boris Johnson of dubious documentaries.

The first half is a greatest hits of their greatest mysteries, as Olive and Teddy stumble through their ‘findings’ aided with video projectors and some real-time ‘rewinds’.

The humour comes from the pair’s clumsiness and ineptitude that at first produces some riotous laughs from the audience. Close and Robinson are sparky performers and elicit great comedy currency from their repertoire of funny faces and comfortable chemistry.

But this enjoyable and undemanding comedy began to flatline a little as the second half – a full-length unravelling of the Loch Ness mystery – rolled on. Unlike the famous lake, Great British Mysteries? lacked depth, the irreverent humour never really developing from the baseline silliness.

There are still moments of excellent comic timing and clever flashes of what could be with a bit more character development and structure. Taking a plunge into comedy’s darker depths would have sustained the monster laughs into the second half.

Great British Mysteries | Soho Theatre | Until 19 May 2018

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Theatre review: Le Gateau Chocolat: Icons, Soho Theatre

Inspired by the deaths of two close friends, Le Gateau Chocolat’s cabaret show is moving, funny and life-affirming.

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Performing in front of pictures of his icons – or his ‘voodoo board’ as he called it as so many of them seemed to have been picked off in 2016’s celebrity death march – Le Gateau Chocolat’s show is a homage to the people who shape our lives through music, ideas and books. His one-hour cabaret show also pays tribute to our more immediate relationships and the effect they have on us – our first loves, our fathers, our best friends.

More than a drag act, Le Gateau weaves personal life stories in-between performing beautifully arranged versions of 80s classics, Kate Bush, Elvis, Bjork and even opera. Le Gateau’s voice is as smooth, rich and delicious as chocolate and treads a difficult line between powerful and fragile.

Le Gateau is as moving as he is mischievous. There are, naturally, plenty of laughs, many of them on the night I was there centred around Le Gateau’s interaction with a bewildered looking man on the front row. He’s a hugely charismatic presence (Le Gateau, not the man on the front row) and he would be as engaging in a Burton suit as he would in sequins.

But I wasn’t prepared for the tears, despite the show being a inspired to the deaths of two of Le Gateau’s friends, as he recounts a story of early morning phone calls signally tragedy and the floors the room with a rendition of a song he sang at a friend’s funeral.

Flanked by his backing band, who may look unassuming but can conjure up wonderful arrangements and equally wonderful wigs, he has the basement at the Soho Theatre singing along to Whitney even on an early January evening when we’d all slipped into a post-Christmas back-to-work January tee-total slump.

The perfect antidote to the January blues.

Le Gateau Chocolat | Soho Theatre Downstairs | Until 7 January 2017

Theatre review: Fury at Soho Theatre

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Fury at the Soho Theatre

 

Light on plot, but full of passion and – well – fury, Soho Theatre’s modern retelling of Medea throws a cold eye over class and misogyny in today’s London

Sam is a 25-year-old single mum living in a council flat in increasingly gentrified Peckham. Her ex, Rob, hovers on the sidelines of her life, benevolent but busy with his new, pregnant, wife.

Sam’s meets her neighbour, Tom, a student swept in on the wave of gentrification one fateful day when she bangs on his door to ask him to turn his music down. There are barely two years between the two of them, but there’s a lifetime of experience. Sam scrapes by on benefits and a cleaning job she struggles to hold down, Tom is studying for an MA he can barely remember.

The friction that their two dramatically different lives creates sparks a spiral of events that leads to Sams sense of reality fracturing and an increasingly unstable grip on her family and mind.

Fury is a modern re-telling of Medea, and, like Medea, Sam is not cut from the likeable female mould, nor is she one of the saintly poor that writers through the generations have portrayed. She is hugely flawed: she sleeps with her friends boyfriends, hits her children, backchats to employees. But she is in a very modern trap, just about surviving in a city bloated with wealth, she is forced into a life where she has neither money nor choice, where society demands her to be perfect in exchange for what little help and sympathy they allow themselves to give to a single mother who doesn’t seem grateful for the miserable lot life has given her.

Fury is more than a Greek re-boot; Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s script examines class in modern Britain where the poor, stuck on welfare, rub shoulders with the All Sainted-ed shoulders of the middle classes that are increasingly encroaching on Londons traditional working class areas – and homes.

The staging is punchy and Hannah Hauer-King’s director fluid, the chorus circling the stage telling Sam’s story through words and song. The cast are all superb, Sarah Ridgeway as Sam carries her character’s weights with such intensity she looks done in at the curtain call. Alex Austin as Tom straddles the line between creepy and caring so well you never really know what you think of him even when his part in Sam’s downfall is laid out so starkly.

Fury does rather creak under the weight of its own issues that somewhat derails the narrative. Eclair-Powell’s message heavy writing is powerful, but the light plot didn’t quite capture Sam’s life with quite as much authority as the weighty subject matter demanded. But Fury remains a punchy, fiery, necessary and entertaining production with an impressive cast at its heart.

Fury | Soho Theatre | Until Saturday 30 July 

Theatre Review: Quietly, Soho Theatre

Declan Conlon as Ian and Patrick O’Kane as Jimmy in Quietly at the Soho Theatre

Declan Conlon as Ian and Patrick O’Kane as Jimmy in Quietly at the Soho Theatre

Football forms a background to Quietly, Owen McCafferty’s Belfast-based drama, but the odds played out on stage in this searing 75-minute play are far bigger and run much deeper than even Bill Shankly could imagine.

Quietly is Northern Ireland’s brutal history in microcosm set in a pub on the city’s fringes where a Catholic and a Protestant meet to play out their own linked personal and painful history.

Northern Ireland are playing a World Cup qualifying match against Poland at home. Polish barman Robert is supporting his home nation with vocal frustration. As usual, he has just one customer, regular Johnny, a morose man shrouded in disappointment resentment, seeking refuge, as he does every night, in this pub at the top of the road. But tonight Jimmy warns Robert to expect another punter and that there “may be shouting”. When the third man, Ian, arrives, there is more than just a bit of shouting, his presence setting off sparks that ignite the fire of these two men’s shared personal history throwing up confessions, half-apologies and regret as Robert looks on as referee.

This tight 75 minute long play bristles with anger, disappointment, resentment – and forgiveness. As the play reached its emotional crescendo, there was a lot of sniffling which I can’t believe was all due to hayfever. But in amongst the angst there were some lovely amusing  moments that cut through the gloom.

Quietly is unpretentious, striking and deeply moving in its simplicity, these are not men used to talking about their feelings or admitting their mistakes. Johnny and Ian’s story is one of many from a certain point in Belfast’s history and its power lies in the way McCafferty draws out the personal from the newspaper headlines. Theatre is so often about small things wrought large – an end of an affair, a family secret – but Quietly is a big story diluted to its essence; the pain of two families destroyed by hate, the effect of history on individuals.

As affecting and as nicely structured as McCafferty’s script is, it’s the actors who elevate Quietly to such an emotional place. Patrick O’Kane, an old school friend and long-term McCafferty collaborator, as Jimmy pulls out a controlled powerhouse of a performance that’s moving yet low-key. Declan Conlon is unassumingly brilliant as Ian, a man weighed down by his past and Robert Zawadzki as the barman brings a lightness of touch when most needed.

Unshowy, yet exhilarating and gripping, the brilliance of Quietly should be shouted from the roof tops

by Suzanne Elliott