Tag Archives: Akiya Henry

“Perseverance Drive” at the Bush Theatre

Last night saw the world premiere of Perseverance Drive by Robin Soans at the Bush Theatre. This is the story of the dysfunctional Gillards, starting with the funeral of the mother in Barbados and ending with the death of the father in Leytonstone. The treatment is detailed and the story interesting, but broader themes are often overshadowed by a dysfunctional family drama.

Our theme is religion. The Gillards set up their own church, but the three sons have “back-slid”: one obsessed with the form rather than function of religion, another setting up his own roving ministry, and the third by being homosexual. Interestingly, the latter two contend for position as most disappointing son. There’s a wealth of detail about the church that, perhaps through my own ignorance, I found slightly distracting. The humour is welcome, but grave situations need more emphasis – could smoking a cigarette really be so outrageous? Apparently so.

Some characters are too sketchy to satisfy – Akiya Henry actually does well to get laughs out of the reborn but vicious sister-in-law Joylene, where even a dramatic backstory provides little flesh to the character. In the major role of Josh, Clint Dyer seems handicapped by some clunky lines but pulls through at powerful moments. The best performance comes from the patriarch, a picture of stern power diminished by illness, movingly depicted by Leo Wringer.

There’s a vague whiff of melodrama around Perseverance Drive. Not from Madani Younis’ efficient direction, but rather the explosive arguments that sometimes baffle and resolutions that come close to being sentimental. But the family arguments, including an excruciating scene in church, will have you gripped and Soans’ ambition to write a play about religion, marked by a lot of common sense, is nonetheless admirable.

Until 16 August 2014

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Richard Davenport

Written 11 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Barbican

Justly world famous for its work on War Horse, the Handspring Puppet Company has joined forces again with director Tom Morris for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that visits the Barbican this week. But what to do with a play that contains a donkey instead of a horse? Handspring’s solution is so audacious it caused audible gasps from a school party in the audience. Joey the noble stallion, this ass ain’t. And, without spoiling the surprise, the ingenious and mischievous approach sums up the spirit of this superb production.

A transformed Bottom, performed superbly by Miltos Yerolemou, leads workmen looking a little like East End hipsters, who are the funniest I’ve seen. Fast and loose with the text, these joyous “hempen homespuns” are the flashiest point in a thoughtful show that reworks the play from the ground up with the puppetry provoking depth and insight. One note, this is a production that benefits from a close knowledge of the play – although the rewards are too numerous to make any excuse for this warning.

The puppeteer actors are tremendous. Of particular note are a hilarious Hermia (Akiya Henry) and the stunning Saskia Portway who takes on the roles of Hippolyta and Titania. But this is a true ensemble piece, with most of the cast on stage most of the time, and Morris ensures that the puppetry infuses rather then overpowers the show.

And yet the puppetry is revelatory. Simple materials belie Handspring’s ambition, a challenge to the audience, to see how minimal they can be. Puck is an assortment of objects, engendered by no fewer than three performers. Planks of wood are given life by the whole cast, like some giant Cornelia Parker sculpture, to form the forest outside Athens, making it a living character in the piece.

Introducing a sense of animism is the show’s master strategy. The idea that spirits inhabit all kinds of objects makes this fairy world more vivid than we are used to: a dangerous, serious place that is magical and mysteriously real. Fly to get a ticket.

Until 15 February 2014

www.barbican.org

Written 11 February 2014 for The London Magazine