Tag Archives: Ellie Jones

“Tanzi Libre” at the Southwark Playhouse

The prestigious Southwark Playhouse has relocated from the arches under London Bridge to a new venue in Elephant and Castle. It opens with the unashamedly populist Tanzi Libre, a show that should make it welcome among its new neighbours. Of all the performances reviewed for The London Magazine, this tale of a young girl’s struggle through life – as a Mexican wrestler – must be one of the oddest, but because of its originality, also one of the most fun.

Writer Claire Luckham’s story started out in Manchester but, in this incarnation, the action is moved to South London. From a baby wrestling with her mother, through school and courtship, Tanzi’s tale puts a heavy weight on audience participation. A sign at the entrance requests our boos, hisses and heckles. It’s an essential part of the night and if it’s your kind of thing you’ll love it.

The staging, set entirely in the ring, really enforces wrestling’s theatricality. Martin Thomas’ superb designs and costumes fit the brash writing and songs with a suitable tongue-in-cheek feel. Deliberately, the only thing about the show that’s polished is the wrestling itself – it would have to be to avoid serious injury, and both the cast’s and director Ellie Jones’ bravery here is quite astounding to this timid spectator.

Throwing one another around, pretty much constantly, impresses, especially when it comes to the finale where Tanzi (Olivia Onyehara) wrestles her husband Dean Rebel (Kazeem Tosin Amore) in order to decide who stays at home with their child and who gets to pursue a professional career in ring. All the stomping and shouting inevitably gets in the way of comprehension, and the singing certainly isn’t a priority but with Mark Rice-Oxley’s rousing performance as the compere there’s little time to question the show’s politics or problems. You should be too busy yelling along.

Until 22 June 2013


Written 22 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“The New World Order” at Shoreditch Town Hall

Promenade theatre has been fashionable for several years now. Theatre practitioners often want us to leave our comfy auditoriums and test an audience’s dedication by taking it to new and often less salubrious locations. It’s best to be agnostic about the practice but Hydrocracker has a production of five short Harold Pinter plays, presented as The New World Order, which is worth going a long way for.

Certainly, at least as far as Shoreditch Town Hall. After being frisked and given identity cards, the audience is taken to meeting rooms and then travels down to the building’s scruffy basement, shovelling around its seemingly labyrinthine rooms. The constant theme is Pinter’s nightmarish vision of a state slipping into totalitarianism. The short plays unfold with increasing violence and fit well with the promenade format, but that is the only comfortable thing about the evening – this is powerful political theatre.

Whether The New World Order is more forceful because of this format is an open question. Director Ellie Jones does a superb job: not only in marshalling the audience (although it must help to have a cast playing soldiers who can shout at people) but also in maintaining tension, atmosphere and linking the scenes. Nonetheless, the complicity with the soldiers that is hinted at can’t really grow. You are given the chance to try and help one of those held prisoner but few will, not because they are unfeeling, but for fear of disrupting the performance. Putting actors into the audience never really works – you can sense them a mile off! And while the often incredibly close proximity to the action is intense, it can be intimidating which, sadly, stifles Pinter’s savage humour.

Jones’ direction is impressive because she appreciates the urgency of Pinter’s late political writing. As a recent production at The Print Room demonstrated, these plays are strong enough to be performed with minimal sets, and Jones anchors her work in the script, bringing out a stringent performance from Hugh Ross, who plays the terrifying Minister of Cultural Integrity, and a small but remarkable cameo from Jane Wood. And Jones has a final trick up her sleeve: as one of the victims is released, the audience follows him into the night. This denies the cast its well-deserved applause, yet provokes thought on the long journey home.

Until 11 December 2011


Photo by Matthew Andrews

Written 21 November 2011 for The London Magazine