Tag Archives: Cat Robey

“On Arriving” at the Vault Festival

Given its subject matter of refugees, this monologue from Searchout Theatre is sure to be powerful. The topic, which has led the company to partner with the charity Refugee Action, is an increasingly pressing concern. But the show also deserves attention as theatre: convictions aside, its execution has to be the focus for review, and the show is exceptionally strong on many fronts.

The painful decision taken by a young woman to leave home, not once but twice, is explored, and we hear of perilous journeys and camp life. Yet Ivan Faute’s skilfully written script is surprisingly understated. Despite the horrors undergone, observations have a reasonableness about them that creates a consistent voice – a tone that is engaged, credible, and indicates in-depth research on the part of Faute. Where our unnamed refugee is coming from or going to isn’t stated. Instead of politics, the rich details in the show are thoughts and feelings.

Sophia Eleni in 'On Arriving' credit Steve Gregson
Sophia Eleni

Director Cat Robey’s close appreciation of the text values its intelligence. It would be so easy to make On Arriving relentless, but there is a degree of abstraction from the character that gives us space to think. The many questions and observations highlighted challenge just as much as they create sympathy. Our subject can still analyse and empathise, no matter how awful the situation.

Of course, the play contains traumatic drama. The scene of a boat crossing is particular intense, almost uncomfortably so, in creating a sense of claustrophobia. Special praise goes to the play’s performer, Sophia Eleni, who does an exceptional job of conveying incredible tension while making the action so clear. Throughout, On Arriving is a huge achievement for Eleni, and surely an emotionally draining experience. Each scene is presented with care for its particular concerns: the mix of pain and anger, anxiety for the future and reminiscence about the past are carefully considered and explored. Such detail and complexity create agency for a character so cruelly denied just that degree of care.

Until 9 February 2020


Photos by Steve Gregson

“The Good Landlord” at the King’s Head Theatre

This play’s première early in the year at the Vault Festival was a fraught affair, given the recent death of its talented writer Michael Ross. Having collaborated on the play with Metamorph Theatre, the author’s absence for finishing touches was clear. But also obvious, thankfully, was the play’s potential. The story of a London flat with cheap rent because its tenants are to be watched by cameras is topical and challenging. The script is a sharp comedy with clever content. And now, given more time, its quality shines through.

Director Cat Robey deserves much of the praise. The production is sharper, pacier and generally more confident. The plot comes to the fore as flatmates Tom and Ed react to being recorded – we want to know what happens next. The balance between the serious themes in Ross’s writing – relative poverty, pervasive technology and the painful issue of body image – are all deftly handled. The characters feel grounded, a delicious mix of introverts to root for and extroverts you can laugh it (although I suppose that might be the other way around for some!). A quartet of strong performances come into their own with the aid of Ross’s witty and intelligent lines creating interesting characters just the right side of satire.

Rupert Sadler gives a strong performance, having bedded down into his role as Ed. Initially calmer than in the show’s first outing, Ed’s desperation to keep living in the flat develops nicely into a mania. And his fascination with the “all-mighty, all-seeing” landlord leads to a clever play with masculinity that does the text justice. Above all, Sadler is funny throughout. Likewise, Phoebe Batteson-Brown shows her tremendous comic skills with a performance of great assurance – don’t miss a single move she makes as the scary estate agent Clarissa, for each intense twitch is worth a laugh. While these two characters aim at conventional success, Ross points out that their grasp on reality is thin; flights of fancy Ed and Clarissa embark on are deliciously delivered highlights.

Joining the team is Sophia Eleni, playing Clarissa’s PA, who skives off work to become a voyeur of the guys. There’s still room for growth here, as the role connects to an examination of working life that fascinated Ross and could be developed. Nonetheless, Eleni makes a sweet love interest for the landlord’s more reluctant tenant Tom, played by Theo Ancient. Having recently toured Ross’ The Shy Manifesto, Ancient knows the author’s work intimately and it really shows. Tom is a fascinating mix of insecurity and confidence, a balance of sensitivity with an intelligence that doesn’t suffer fools.

The Good Landlord is still a work in progress (according the company’s hand out). But the improvement here is commendable and the show is on the way to becoming a fringe hit. The plan now is to take the play to Edinburgh next year and good luck to the team. Follow @M_MorphTheatre for news. I don’t give stars on this blog, for fear of being too reductive, but this is a firm four with no small amount of confidence that a sought-after fifth is on the way. 

Until 16 July 2019


“The Shy Manifesto” at the Greenwich Theatre

This wonderful monologue from Michael Ross is on a national tour. Let’s hope the play is showing near you as attendance is thoroughly recommended. It’s part-presentation, akin to a school debate, and also a tender story about youth that’s full of topical relevance. The trials – and joys – of being shy become moving, thought-provoking and funny in a brilliant script.

The production is a bitter-sweet triumph because of its author’s sudden death from cancer this year. While the show is hugely enjoyable, it’s hard not to regret future works we are now deprived of. That Ross missed seeing the show performed is cruel. That those involved have done such a good job is of some consolation.

With The Shy Manifesto’s hero, Callum, Ross has written a fine creation who works well theatrically and makes a great role for Theo Ancient. It’s impossible not to warm to this keen-to-quote teen, who Ancient makes such a charming, flawed figure. Engendering complicity with the audience from the start, Callum’s world view is engrossing, his insecurities and his fate at an end-of-term party affectingly emotional. Ancient moves from cowed moments to bold exuberance, as director Cat Robey paces the show expertly. Robey does particularly well in energising the script with complementary musical accompaniment and lighting. These skills combine to take us into Callum’s Bournemouth bedroom world completely, to make his worries our own and likewise his hopes for the future, be they to stay true to himself or to live around the corner from the British Museum.

Ross hasn’t just penned an unusually good teen drama. His writing reveals facts sometimes lost on our hero, which creates a delicious subtext for the audience. His crush on new boy Gilbert is just one example. It’s fascinating to explore the theme of ‘shycons’ (brilliant term) who are idolised by the introverted. And while evoking a young voice so expertly, there’s a spirit of individualism that should give pause whatever your age. Callum’s questions may be raised in a naïve fashion – he’s 17, after all – but that doesn’t make them less important. Ross uses a young narrator to point out what should be obvious, sometimes unacceptable, to all; and to challenge, frequently in a surprising fashion, some easily accepted assumptions.

Alongside this is a great comedy. Callum’s intellectual pretentions, including his contagious love of words, remind us not to take him too seriously, and it’s a talent to make the vocabulary hilarious all by itself. And the cast of extras we meet – each performed with the help of a single prop (with one notable exception) and seen only through Callum’s eyes – are all worth a joke or three. Ross was an accomplished craftsman and a distinctive voice, his writing full of compassion, intelligence and humour. The Shy Manifesto proclaims these qualities loudly.

On tour until 4 March 2019


Photo by Anthony Hollis

“After Party” at the Pleasance Theatre

Like Edward Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, James Meteyard’s play explores a (metaphorical) hangover from years of trauma and delusion. Opening with a debauched celebration, nicely summarised, we join a group of mid-twentysomethings slowly discovering their grief over a tragedy that happened at college. In this drama about adult friends living together, the ambition is impressive, but the results are uneven.

The humour is on one note but delivered well; especially by Atilla Akinci, whose character is the only one removed from past events (using him more could have aided exposition). A bigger problem is the dialogue around those big sex and death themes – horribly stilted and painfully long winded. Will is the troubled lead with a secret – credit to Jamie Chandler for dealing with some clunky lines. One analogy – something to do with a scab – is so laboured that I glazed over. Chief culprit in the bar-room philosophy stakes is Will’s “bro” Harlan, who has an attraction for abstractions that Alex Forward braves valiantly. Injecting some much-needed realism into the group is Megan Pemberton’s Phoebe – the only character even trying to act her age. Cat Robey’s direction needs to speed this indulgence up considerably.

James Meteyard and Callum Cameron
James Meteyard and Callum Cameron

Tiresome heart to hearts, accompanied by far too much forehead slapping and exasperated sighs, are in stark contrast to scenes of tension. The group’s old friend Max’s release from prison and arrival ‘home’ are superb: the mood changing instantly and the suspense terrific. It’s a small role for Callum Cameron, but he steals the show and brings out the best in his colleagues, particularly former partner and unforgiving ex-pal played by Eleanor Crosswell and Olivia Sweeney respectively. Meteyard also performs here – well, it should be added – arguing the case for Max while his own character’s agenda creates a tense undertow.

There’s a suspicion this confrontational scene was the kernel for the play – it’s strong enough – but it takes forever to arrive. Too much effort is expended on giving time to each member of the ensemble. There’s a bold end, but it’s a shame this scene is the only one that feels hurried. Overall, a work with potential that needs polish.

Until 26 March 2017


Photos by Isaac Whittingham