Tag Archives: Anita-Joy Uwajeh

“Brenda’s Got a Baby” at the New Diorama Theatre

Jessica Hagan’s new play is easy to enjoy, being a bright comedy focusing on Ama and her wish to have a baby before she is 30. Providing insight and sharp dialogue, all aided by strong performances and appreciative direction from Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, it’s a show to sit back and enjoy.

Ama’s goal to become a mother gets harder as the play goes on. Her sister, Jade, and her mother have opinions…and aren’t scared to share them. These are strong characters, talking sense, if not always at sensitive moments, and make great roles for Jahmila Heath and Michelle Asante, who are both fantastic crowdpleasers. Meanwhile, Jordan Duvigneau does well as the dastardly boyfriend, while Edward Kagutuzi makes as endearing partner for Jade.

Ama is our star, though, and Anita-Joy Uwajeh, who takes this big role, is superb. Her initial contempt for the titular off-stage character, a girl who got pregnant at school, doesn’t endear Ama to us. And it gets worse! As well as being a snob, Ama manipulates and uses the therapy she has had as a tool against others, as she “lies and schemes” with increasing desperation, which becomes more and more fun to watch.  

The question of how much of a success Ama is adds some weight to the play. Many would be jealous of a career woman with a good job who buys her own flat (at 28… in London!). But although Ama has done everything “by the book”, she is judged as a failure because she has no children. Uwajeh handles her character’s frustration, anger and sadness with a light touch that is perfectly pitched.

Hagan wants to up the stakes, and the play gets darker. Important facts about medicine are introduced and Ama becomes ill – “spiralling” – through her desperation for a child. As she gets crazier, so does the action… well, a little. A couple of twists aren’t that much of a shock and the play doesn’t quite know how to bring things to a close. But it’s all still funny and the performances consistently strong. You might miss surprises in this show, but its appeal comes from recognising the characters and the dilemmas. It’s comforting rather than confrontational and, since that is surely the aim, Brenda’s Got a Baby is a job well done.

Until 3 December 2023


Photo by Cesare De Giglio

“Grotty” at the Bunker Theatre

Damsel Productions is an exciting young company on to a winner with Izzy Tennyson’s new play. Rolling up its sleeves and getting… well, very dirty, this show answers the palpable need for diversity and work from women on stage. So the first thing to say about Grotty is that you should go!

Tennyson guides us through a world seldom depicted – the lesbian sub-culture of East London – with fierce intelligence, wicked humour and a throbbing heart. The play is funny, but this isn’t a fun trip. Taking to the stage as “sad little lesbo” Rigby, Tennyson leads us on a revelatory journey about youth today. There’s a litany of millennial woes providing five-star laughs – from Facebook to flats – arguably more than enough for any coming-of-age story. But the major concern isn’t sexuality – it’s mental health. The “chronically disheartened” Rigby dangerously self-medicates, and the play is frank and frightening in its personal telling of this increasingly important issue.

Tennyson’s writing is invigorating, showing a yen for the macabre and a strong sense of the theatrical that some might feel needs tempering. There’s a lack of polish, which it’s tempting to suggest is a perverse, stubborn idea about being radical. But the raw ideas are profuse, exciting and profound. The script overreaches, but director Hannah Hauer-King does a good job at restraining it; her use of the performance space is brilliant – sympathetic to the script and aiding clarity.

Rebekah Hinds, Izzy Tennyson and Grace Chilton
Rebekah Hinds, Izzy Tennyson and Grace Chilton

For all her bad posture and face pulling, Tennyson is incredibly magnetic. Her observational comedy is spot on, her talent for satire considerable, and she is a real original. Too many lines are hurried, there aren’t enough pauses for some great jokes, but I was transfixed by this performance. Her fellow actors often do better at the technical delivery of her words. With fewer idiosyncrasies, Rebekah Hinds and Grace Chilton put on a fine show as ex-lovers who have affairs with Rigby in turn, making a plot line crying out for elaboration work. And Anita-Joy Uwajeh is superb with her transformations into three roles.

Anita Joy Uwajeh
Anita Joy Uwajeh

So what really is grotty? It’s not the play’s explicit sexual content. Although Rigby’s encounters with symphorophilia are darkly hilarious, her definition of lesbian sex is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. What’s grotty turns out to be the connections between people: the characteristics and insights we pick up from lovers, the inheritance of our experiences. And this idea is, frankly, a downer. What happens to the capital-letter Self from such a premise? In Rigby’s demented, disturbing struggle, Self is compromised and objectified, becoming “an experience rather than a person”. And defined by work – “I am an intern” is the drug-induced cry – not an identity, just a job. Add a matricidal urge that would have a psychoanalyst doing cartwheels, leading to a twist brilliantly handled by Hauer-King, and we come close to being lost in Tennyson’s psyche – so compelling does it become. But the real kicker is this fear of connection when applied to a Structuralist simulacrum that offers love – a meeting with another, I suspect that should be an Other, who mirrors Rigby. And is rejected. At this point you just want to hug the girl. Not so much grotty as grim – but brilliant at the same time.

Until 26 May 2018


Photos by The Other Richard

“Twelfth Night” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice has chosen well for her last show as director of the Globe, with a cross-dressing comedy that updates the Bard for our gender-fluid times. If you don’t think Shakespeare and Sister Sledge mix, then be warned – Rice’s energy, sensitivity and sense of irreverence are bountiful. The disco lights are on and it’s time to celebrate her reign at The Globe.

Let’s not forget that organising a good party is hard work and can call for tough decisions. There are moments of forced jollity – musical chairs proves messy – and a close reading of the text isn’t invited. But the passion in Twelfth Night is frenzied and Rice’s insight is to allow this. Nasty edges have poignancy, fate is presented as a choreographed natural phenomenon (cleverly mocked as a touch of “community theatre”) and the laughs are manic.

The twins, Sebastian and Viola, whose adventures we follow, are used to anchor the show. In these roles Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena impress, respectively showing a touching vulnerability and sounding particular gorgeous. The confused suitors who fall for the ship-wrecked siblings are played by Annette McLaughlin, who makes for a joyous Olivia, and Joshua Lacey, whose river-dancing-mullet-sporting-lothario Duke is the funniest I’ve seen.

Marc Antolin
Marc Antolin

The trio of pranksters in Olivia’s house continue the strong comedy. Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria, played by Tony Jayawardena, Nandi Bhebhe and the super-talented Carly Bawden (another strong voice) really go for it. The revelation is Marc Antolin as Aguecheek, transforming the role with physical comedy, ad-libs and fluorescent Y-fronts. And a lisp… sorry, but lisps are funny.

Katy Owen
Katy Owen

What the production takes seriously is drag, spoiling us with cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat, whose Feste steers the tempestuous proceedings like a glittering, magical MC. It’s impossible to steal a show from six feet of sequins, but Katy Owen’s Malvolio holds his/her moustachioed own. Funny again (well, most jokes are better with a Welsh accent), Owen tackles bullying intelligently, tempting us to join in, then allowing the character to retain some dignity. Role-play can be dangerous.

All good parties depend on their soundtrack. Rice’s secret weapon is Ian Ross, whose compositions dominate the show: driving plots, aiding comedy, interacting with the text – check them out online. Using so many lines as lyrics enforces how productive treating the text loosely can be. It annoys purists when Shakespeare is tampered with, but Rice does so intelligently, aided by additional lyrics and lines from Carl Grose. The revisions sustain her imaginative interpretation, making the play both accessible and stimulating and her the sadly departing hostess with the mostess.

Until 5 August 2017


Photos by Hugo Glendinning

“Fury” at the Soho Theatre

Damsel Productions’ third show confirms that this young team can pick a great play. And that co-founder/director Hannah Hauer-King is a confident, fresh talent. An intelligent interaction with the story of Medea, achingly contemporary and set on a South London council estate, Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s script has a brave lyricism and the production is gut-wrenchingly gripping.

There are more topical concerns here than you can shake a stick at: gentrification, a clash of classes and the collapse of the welfare state. Yet there’s no trace of ticking boxes, rather a sincere wish to question the demonisation of a “terrified and lonely” single mother. Sarah Ridgeway takes the main role, a performance magically more than the sum of its parts, made intense by the play’s aim of “showing us the pieces of her life”.

An Argonaut is notably absent here. Instead there’s an upstairs neighbour, a student called Tom who comes to dominate and abuse. The role is perhaps the play’s weakest link as he’s too creepy from the start, besides the fact that anyone at college who hires a cleaner is suspect. Thankfully, when a truly evil side is shown, Hauer-King has established enough momentum for Alex Austin to shine in the part.

Eclair-Powell’s most fruitful synthesis from Euripides is the reconfiguration of the Greek chorus. Performed by a talented trio, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Daniel Kendrick and Anita-Joy Uwajeh, they are beautifully choreographed and their singing sounds great. They do so much: shaping action and interpretation, by turns interrogatory, accusatory and sympathetic. Adopting secondary characters roots us in the real world and ensures Fury is stimulatingly layered.

Towards the bloody finale, the chorus appear as social workers. This Medea’s revenge and desperation is not focused on a single man. Casting her net as wide as can be, Eclair-Powell’s ambition is brilliantly refocused – it isn’t just one woman’s life we see on stage but our whole society.

Until 30 July 2016


Photo by The Other Richard