First published on Blogcritics
By Natalie Bennett
Good roles for female actors are hard to find, but like London Tube trains, in one play, <i>Untitled Matriarch Play (or the Seven Sisters)</i>, playing for this week only at the Royal Court, seven come along at once.
Playwright Nikole Beckwidth has given the fine cast – who are playing in ensemble with six plays over seven weeks – one can only hope there are this many good women’s roles in all of them – a comic but not light piece that they can really get their teeth into.
A dysfunctional mother, powerfully played by Siobhan Redmond, has gathered her four daughters together, all childless, all hopelessly self-centred and dysfunctional each in their own way, to tell them that she’s finally going to make her life complete, through having a son through a surrogate mother.
This is a true ensemble piece – each character has, literally, their time in the spotlight, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for multi-actor mayhem as the family, and surrogate, gather in the family living room, and rapid-fire two-handers, as they interact in turn.
The subject is well, life really, particularly female life, aging, dissatisfaction with your lot in life, and the difficulty of changing it. Sometimes the gags are a bit on the obvious side – Anna Calder-Marshall as Grandma Sylvie has some powerful monologues, but some of her misunderstandings through deafness or confusion are on the groan-inducing side.
Some of the gags, particularly those focusing on the restrictions on female roles, however are laugh out loud, if bitterly, funny. “You don’t even like any of the children you have. All the more reason to have another.”Then determined single and sexual, body-obsessed Mimi (Natasha Gordon): “You have kids and everything you own is sticky.”
And there’s an excellent topical gag about 15-year-old Beckah, convincingly played by Farzana Dua Elahe, not reading her emails.
The play is a long single act of one hour 40 minutes – no readmittance we’re firmly told at the entrance. But it held a near-packed audience tonight tight in its grip – there was little shifting of buttocks or rattling of bags. I did wonder if it might be considered a bit too overpoweringly female for some of the audience, but overheard comments from male audience members on the way out were universally glowing.
And if the ending is a bit too tight and neat, and way out – as is the whole frame really – well this production is so well put together, amazing in the apparent week’s rehearsal, that the cast pull it off.
One to see if you get a chance.
Another view: Partially Obstructed View.
The play continues at the Royal Court until July 13.
by Sarah Cope
Last month, my six-year old co-reviewer and I saw a charming stage adaptation of ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. We commented then that this larger-scale, West End production would have to go a long way to beat that charming production, which held us spellbound for 40 memorable minutes.
Rather than puppets, this much-anticipated adaptation at the Lyric has adults taking the roles of father, daughter, son and, curiously, the dog. Rowena Lennon, who plays the daughter, deserves special mention. Lennon appears to specialise in playing children (she played Phyllis in the stage adaptation of The Railway Children, also reviewed here). It is something about her buck teeth, which she exploits to good effect, and her quite hapless expression, that somehow means she excels in portraying characters much younger than herself.
This is a high-energy show, which employs audience participation to keep the kids interested. The actors come out into the audience and put a lot of effort into involving the children, and the results pay off.
This approach is especially important when staging children’s theatre productions in large venues; it is all too easy for children to start focusing on the sweets their neighbour is eating rather than the action on the stage. As a reviewer, I’m always checking whether the kids remain engaged throughout, and here the majority were captivated.
Not only is this an interactive show, but it’s one where one becomes physically involved too. Squirted with water – or should I saw drenched? – I would advise people sitting in the stalls to bring a small towel along with them. I was surprised that the theatre allowed such extreme water-based shenanigans. Perhaps they reasoned that the upholstery would be protected by the audience’s bodies and clothing. They were right.
When the characters had to wade their way through mud, we were worried this might also be lobbed our way. A curious thing about the ‘mud’ was that it was very red in colour. “Is it ketchup?” I heard one child ask. My only conclusion is that, when the characters start smearing the mud around, perhaps it was thought that if it was too brown it would’ve looked too much like a dirty protest. Fair enough.
Although we were not covered in mud, our sensory journey was not over at this point, as we were later to be covered in very fine soap-suds, which, as any parent who has read this book to their offspring 20,000 times or so will know, is meant to be the “swirling, whirling snow storm”.
This totally sent the kids into raptures, though I wondered whether the kids who weren’t sitting in the stalls got the benefit of the bubbles too?
This is treat of a show, though if I had to pick one adaptation over the other, I would plump for the Little Angel’s smaller though slightly more charming production. The music, songs and singing were sweeter, more refined, and infinitely more memorable at the smaller show.
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt continues at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until September 8.