Tag Archives: Andrew Koji

“#AIWW: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei” from #HampsteadTheatreAtHome

This collaboration with China’s most famous contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei, marked something of coup for Hampstead Theatre back in 2013. Adapting the account in Barnaby Martin’s book, Hanging Man, playwright Howard Brenton’s clearly political and cleverly dramatic account of Weiwei’s Kafkaesque detention in 2011 is surprisingly entertaining and serves its subject admirably.

Weiwei is the star of the piece – convincingly so – and the show makes a terrific role for Benedict Wong, who conveys the artist’s magnetism perfectly, while also making him an approachable figure. Aided by Christopher Goh, Andrew Koji, Orion Lee and David Lee-Jones, as those who imprison him, his captors are given an identity and humanity, while the discussions about his art are exciting.

Director James MacDonald works hard to inject energy – this is, after all, a show about a man locked in a room. But the idea behind Ashley Martin Davis’ set – a giant packing case that might hold artwork, with accompanying supernumeraries and crew acting as unconvincing galleristas – feels unnecessary. Likewise, touches of the metatheatrical are forced: the suggestion that the imprisonment becomes the artist’s “greatest work”, not lost on those in power during a rare moment of perspicacity, is too unsubtle. And scenes that show the politicians behind events, with uncomfortably sinister roles for Junix Inocian and David Tse, are low points. These scenes are a marked contrast to the authenticity Wong and the source material bring.

The surprise comes with the humour in the piece. There are plenty of laughs at how crazed Weiwei’s interrogations were. Accused of murder, immorality, but ultimately being a “swindler”, it’s almost a shame those imprisoning him aren’t given a stronger argument… for the sake of the drama rather than Weiwei, of course. The tension of his awful imprisonment is conveyed, and Wong does very well with this. And Brenton gives the interrogations an impressive poetic touch, as repeated accusations contain a rhyme if no reason. But it’s Weiwei’s cool spirit – best reflected in that wry humour – that shows him unbroken and inspirational.


Until 3 May 2020

Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

“Shangri-La” at the Finborough Theatre

Amy Ng’s new play takes us to China, tackling relationships with Tibet and the West through the well-applied prism of tourism. Our heroine is Bunny, skilfully portrayed by Julia Sandiford, a local who becomes a tour guide and photographer and whose breaking of taboos neatly establishes the play’s dramatic dilemmas.

Bunny’s employer is a company that aims for authentic and sustainable travel. Sounds nice. The naïve boss (Kevin Shen) wants “relationships not transactions”, and yet Ng’s strong script falters with the former, unaided by director Charlotte Westenra’s speedy pacing. This remarkably assured first full-length play deserves a more nurturing delivery.

Andrew Koji and Rosie Thomson
Andrew Koji and Rosie Thomson

Bunny’s dedication to her employers for isn’t quite convincing, while her animosity to her fellow guide (a standout performance from Andrew Koji) also stumbles. Credit is deserved for showing restraint when it comes to jokes about their rich-bitch client. Rosie Thomson, who takes the role, tries hard to add some depth, also impressing in flashbacks as a photojournalist who bribes and inspires Bunny. It’s a shame these first encounters with a camera – Bunny’s biggest passion – are the poorest scenes, being written too literally and delivered too quickly.

When it comes to those “transactions”, though, Ng is pin sharp and develops her play perfectly. The exposition of history and culture impresses and informs without condescension, while the economic arguments and impact of tourism are explored with nuance, and deeper repercussions ripple out nicely. Putting forth so much discussion so comprehensively is often what playwright’s struggle with most. Shangri-La leaves you wanting to see where Ng will visit next.

Until 6 August 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander

“In the bar of a Tokyo Hotel” at the Charing Cross Theatre

With the benefit of director Robert Chevara’s intelligent handling, here’s an unmissable opportunity to see a rarely performed late work by Tennessee Williams. This startlingly innovative play, which ruthlessly examines a broken marriage, shows Williams’ unique and challenging voice in a new light.

Mark is a successful artist who believes he has made a breakthrough with his painting, with a new style that has clear parallels with Williams’ writing. According to his sexually ferocious wife Miriam, he has simply gone mad. Aggressive advances toward a barman fill Miriam’s time as she waits for Mark’s agent to arrive and take him away – she’s had enough of him and his art.

Andrew Koji

These are tough roles that Chevara supervises carefully. David Whitworth is entirely credible as the (literally) unstable, dying artist. Andrew Koji and Alan Turkington, playing the barman and gallerist, appreciate the piece’s humour perfectly. Linda Marlowe has the star role, delivering a mesmerising performance that establishes Miriam as another leading lady in the Williams canon.

In this hugely difficult text, few lines of dialogue are completed – a treatment that toys with naturalism while being extremely stylised – so it’s forgivable that the delivery isn’t quite perfect. And yet the stilted language has a distinct and demanding beauty. Key words are isolated and repeated for weight, creating a rhythm to the piece that carries into Miriam’s witty insults, desperation and, finally, transcendental ideas.

Inspired by Japanese poetry, the sensibility is still Williams, making a fusion of East and West that’s often disorientating and exquisitely reflected in the production’s video projections. There are times this play feels like an out-of-body experience – characters describe actions we can clearly observe – compounded by suggestions that Mark and Miriam are really two sides of the same character (get your head around that one). A weird and wonderful play that stands alone and proud.

Until 14 May 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander