The 18th century philosopher, Bishop Berkeley, posited that the world only exists in the mind of God. So if something goes wrong with the celestial cerebellum you’re in trouble – which is what happens in Chris Hannan’s new play The God of Soho, resulting in a mind-boggling – and ambitious – new drama.
Big God (the inimitable Phil Daniels) resides in a heaven in disarray. His daughter, the Goddess of Love, the excellent Iris Roberts, has an unrequited love for New God (a brave performance by William Mannering). The couple descend to earth where they mingle with Essex celebrities such as Natty, a commendable Emma Pierson, and the unhinged homeless on the streets of Soho. All of Hannan’s self-absorbed characters are searching for something real. However, this is far more interesting than merely an exploration of celebrity culture – these are people searching for a “raw skinned, butcher naked” reality.
Hannan appears to have none of the self-doubt that affects his characters. It is difficult to be bawdier the Elizabethans (this is the Globe, after all) but The God of Soho manages just that. It is positively filthy in every way: verbally and visually, with the laughs relying on obscenity. Nor does Hannan shy away from big themes. He juggles plenty of abstract concepts with a surfeit of allusions and enough topicality to make your head spin. The really impressive trick is the way in which he deals with so many ideas while creating characters real enough to care about.
Director Raz Shaw does a great job of marshalling Hannan’s text and injecting plenty of debauchery. Both writer and director have an eye for involving the crowd, essential at The Globe. With appropriately eclectic music provided by King Porter Stomp, The God of Soho is often a riotous affair. The production has a distinctive vision that is also disconcerting. Certainly, the world inside Hannan’s mind is a weird and wonderful place.
Until 30 September 2011
Photo by Simon Kane
Written 2 September 2011 for The London Magazine
Gwilym Lloyd makes a dynamic Cyrano in this new production at the White Bear Theatre. His accomplished performance takes the audience on the emotional journey his life-long love Roxane makes – only quicker – we see past his prodigious proboscis to his charms well before she does. From a figure of fun and violence, we come to view Cyrano as ‘philosopher, duellist, wit and lover’. Lloyd achieves all this and, with such a firm foundation, director Simon Evans’ production does not fail.
Cyrano’s loyalty to his friends is one of many enduring qualities. They voice our concerns that his talents might be wasted for quixotic reasons, and also detail the depth of his virtues. Cyrano’s stoicism in the face of his, er, face is deeply philosophical. Chief amongst his retainers is Le Bret, whose down-to-earth delivery shows actor David Mildon’s appreciation of this fresh and engaging translation by Ranjit Bolt. Similarly, Ben Higgins makes his professional debut with a charming performance as Ragueneau, who is supported and inspired by Cyrano.
Evans skilfully uses the whole company in some playful moments of bandying wit that establish a camaraderie that pays off during darker moments. Cyrano’s proxy love affair has serious consequences, but there is plenty of fun along the way, including a scene-stealing performance from Samuel Donnelly as the dastardly De Guiche, who is also besotted by Roxane. And it is easy to see why everyone is mad about the girl – Iris Roberts gives a delightful performance as the playful yet sincere word buff. Philip Scott-Wallace (in another professional debut to be proud of) plays the handsome cadet Christian whose looks win her heart, with just the right amount of confusion to maintain sympathy for himself as well as Cyrano.
With a light touch, Simon Evans has brought out the complexities as well as joys of Rostand’s classic tale. It seems appropriate that even at Cyrano’s death there is laughter as well as tears and that neither seems out of place.
Until 4 September 2010
Written 5 August 2010 for The London Magazine