Tag Archives: Ayesha Antoine

“Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Hampstead Theatre

Danny Sapani’s star performance makes Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play fly. The script, neatly directed by Michael Longhurst, is a quality affair: considered, solid, maybe a touch slow to start. Sapani makes the most of the play’s strong moral dilemma and brings out the text’s focus and intrigue.

Sapani takes the part of Walter ‘Pops’ Washington, a former black police officer who was shot by a white rookie while off-duty. How’s that for a smart take on police violence? And if you think it needs a twist, well…Guirgis’ plotting is so strong it doesn’t deserve a spoiler.

Black, white, blue, and green

An eight-year battle for compensation brings money into the mix. Although Washington stresses his motivation is a matter of principles. Add his wife’s death and it’s no surprise our hero has been left a mess. Or has he? Maybe…he was troubled before. Throughout the twists Sapani commands attention. He is believable as both stubborn and dignified, gruff, yet loveable, easy to dislike and winning admiration. Washington is a strong creation, brought to life with style.

Martins Imhangbe
Martins Imhangbe

Unfortunately, the main character overwhelms the show. Other roles – all well-acted – don’t just pale, they fade away. Washington’s misfit family come too close to caricature. There are funny moments, with strong performances from Tiffany Gray and Ayesha Antoine. And moving ones, played by Sebastian Orozco and Martins Imhangbe (the later especially strong with a great mix of anger and frustration). But they are all just foils, circling around the central figure.

For a London audience, Sapani’s recent role as King Lear will spring to mind. Especially as the character’s rent controlled apartment is under treat and his kingdom about to disappear! Indeed, Washington’s ironically regal touch makes for great moments. But it’s the differences that are more interesting and come in the form of former colleagues, capably played by Daniel Lapaine and Judith Roddy. Their efforts to persuade Pops to settle his law case are strong scenes. Longhurst brings out considerable momentum. They show us different power dynamics, with a balance of discomfort and humour the whole show aims for but isn’t always present.

Until 15 June 2024


Photos by Johan Persson

“Napoleon Disrobed” at the Arcola Theatre

There’s no need to worry about any tricky starter-for-ten questions on European history here. This adaptation of Simon Leys’ book simply speculates that the French Emperor escaped from his prison on St Helena… then lived out his life selling watermelons. It’s a crazy comedy that’s a lot of fun.

The Told by an Idiot company is transparent about the construction of a theatrical piece. When it comes to emperors and clothes, the deceptively rough and ready treatment works especially well. As sweet as it is clever, Michael Vale’s rocking stage, the basic props and even the audience participation create a sense of good cheer.

The show has a camaraderie that’s carefully fostered by director Kathryn Hunter – you want to laugh along. The expert comic talents of Paul Hunter, who plays Napoleon, are the key: combining slapstick and quick gags, his physicality is remarkable. Alongside, Ayesha Antoine takes many roles, all capably, then excels as Ostrich – the woman who falls in love with the diminutive despot.

The comic timing from Hunter and Antoine is as good as any stand up and, for a while, it feels as if humour will be an overpowering fillip. But this alternative history is an efficient way to look at a man (any man?) with an inflated ego and examine what happens when status and accolades are gone. Since being Napoleon is such a common grandiose delusion, our hero here doesn’t stand a stand a chance of resuming his former life – cue the single best moment of audience participation I’ve seen, when it dawns on Bonaparte that nobody will believe him. It’s a laugh to watch his new humdrum existence, even his frustrations. And, as his love for Ostrich develops, the play becomes surprisingly moving, making this quirky comedy a satisfying show that’s a towering success.

Until 10 March 2018


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Venice Preserv’d” at Paynes and Borthwick Wharf

Another ‘immersive theatre’ piece, Venice Preserv’d begins at the Cutty Sark. The first part is a promenade where audience members march along the Thames accompanied by musicians and performers past bemused tourists wondering what the hell is going on. Not practised at waving a large flag and generally uncomfortable about being part of the spectacle, I had some trouble entering into the spirit of things. But others had come dressed for the occasion and, on a nice night, it was a jolly stroll. Quite a long walk, actually, into a very residential area, as the final destination is the new development Paynes and Borthwick Wharf, transformed, by our imaginations, from Greenwich into Venice.

Greenwich is often used as a location for films – it’s surprisingly versatile, and using the dramatic backdrop of Canary Wharf to parallel the mercantile Renaissance city is thought provoking. The tone of menace within the play – terrorists are threatening the city – is a tough call, though, and the carnival atmosphere seems at odds with what follows. However, director Charlotte Westenra, working with designer Helen Scarlett O’Neill, uses the still unfinished site well. Credit, of course, to the property developers United House, La Salle and Lane Castle for such an exciting project.

It has to be noted that, for all the inventive touches (getting the audience to wear cloaks, giving them lanterns and having a real go at improvised, individual action with the crowd) the most effective parts of the show don’t really need them. When you settle down into a seat, the sets are good and there is some impressive video. Venice Preserv’d is a late Restoration tragedy, a once popular work, by Thomas Otway, that’s well worth seeing: a strong script full of “power, honour, wealth and love”. The second ingredient is the key. Honour is the obsession that drives the action – which can seem odd, but Westenra’s pace and precision makes the play really entertaining.

Best of all, Westenra has secured some fine acting from her leads. Here the ‘up close and personal’ feel of the production really takes off. Ashley Zhangazha is fantastically compelling as Jaffier, torn by loyalty towards his friend Pierre, performed by Ferdinand Kingsley in an appropriately grandiose manner, and his wife Belvidera, played superbly by Jessie Buckley. Vacillating between despair at his own fortune and the state of Venice, while his wife advocates loyalty to the city, Zhangazha’s chemistry with Buckley is electric. There’s also a strong performance from Ayesha Antoine as a sexy and intelligent courtesan. All four deliver their lines impeccably – no extras are needed – and are a joy to listen to.

Until 8 June 2014

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 May 2014 for The London Magazine