Tag Archives: Max Pappenheim

“Cruise” from stream.theatre

A strong performance from the talented Jack Holden is the highlight of his self-penned monologue. Cruise is an Aids drama and a panegyric to a lost Soho that is uneven but admirable.

Through the framework of a telephone call to London’s Switchboard helpline, we hear the story of Michael – a “veteran” survivor of HIV – told to young Jack. It’s a sensible device that forms a connection between generations of gay men, and Holden performs both roles well. Regrettably, the younger character is unconvincing and naïve.

Michael’s story, however, is fascinating. As one of the first to contract HIV, after a doctor tells him he has four years to live, he believes his days are literally numbered. Determined to live “wilder than before”, he takes a tour of Soho in the 1980s, which includes a vivid cast of characters that allow Holden to shine.

The pace – if not the delivery – is frequently breathless, which proves tiring in a long monologue: more control is needed from director Bronagh Lagan. And, while the use of songs within the story is strong, John Elliott and Max Pappenheim’s sound design is uncharacteristically overpowering.

The writing conveys a strong sense of place and it’s entertaining to meet drag queen Jackie – a “smashed mirror of femininity” – as well as Lady Lennox with her “origin story tombola”. Holden has some interesting, if studied, turns of phrase that save a script with a few too many clichés. It’s a shame that attempts at humour aren’t more successful.

The script’s patchy quality comes to the fore when Holden deals with the club scene. Sections that show Michael’s love of music are excellent: the energy and poetry are phenomenal, the filming superb and, if you’ve missed dancing during lockdown, these passages will articulate why.

The rest of Holden’s history lesson is competent but lacking the same passion, even with moments – such as the death of Michael’s partner – that should be moving.

The filming of Cruise, using lots of space in Shoreditch Town Hall and including Jai Morjaria’s lighting design, is one of the best I’ve seen during lockdown. But it’s still a relief to know that a stage production is planned – at the Duchess Theatre from 18 May. This online screening, so close (hopefully) to a return to the stage, could serve as an interesting comparison. I wouldn’t be surprised if a live performance of Holden’s calibre irons out some reservations and it is certainly something to look forward to.

Until 25 April 2021


"The Croft" from The Original Theatre Company

This online offering from a touring company, something I wouldn’t normally have the pleasure of seeing, is a thriller from playwright Ali Milles.  With a remote location that has a tragic history, there are plenty of details to spook, including flickering candles, slamming doors and no phone signal. But it’s the play’s focus on female stories that makes it stand out and, to an extent, smart and fulsome.

The Croft is driven by the romance between Laura and her older lover Susan – an interesting, intriguing and convincing relationship that Lucy Doyle and Caroline Harker both grab for all its considerable worth. The couple have problems. Laura mourns her mother, while Susan is still married with children, and their weekend away in Laura’s old family holiday home is fractious from the start. But their affection is persuasive and the characters appealing: Cain is excellent with explosions of anger, while Harker shows her character as outwardly calm yet full of panic. If the play is downhill from here, it’s a high starting point and the descent is not precipitous.

Plot is Milles’ strength, and introducing Laura’s past and the dark history of the cottage – a parallel story of two women, also of different ages, pitted against the patriarchy – is a hefty idea. Without overstating her case, Milles brings out ideas of autonomy and society nicely and keeps the action engaging. Although the result isn’t as potent as it could be – too much else gets in the way – director Philip Franks keeps matters moving, aided by Max Pappenheim’s strong sound design, which I would have loved to have experienced live.

The Croft from the original theatre company credit Charlotte Graham
Drew Cain

Problems come from too many additions. The story of Laura’s mother, and a battle for dignity against cancer, fits in thematically but slows down the play – fatal in any thriller. And it makes an unhappy second role for Harker. Likewise, all the roles for men feel a touch superfluous. A scene with Laura’s father could easily be cut (despite Simon Roberts’ efforts) and, while Drew Cain has a strong presence, his roles carry the burden of too much exposition.

The Croft from the original theatre company credit Charlotte Graham
Lucy Doyle and Gwen Taylor

Since the story of the cottage’s previous tenants, Enid and Eilene, is strong in its own right, The Croft can still be recommended. There’s a sense that Gwen Taylor, as Enid, isn’t given enough to do, while Eilene makes a strong dual role for Doyle despite having fewer appearances. But a story crying out for further exploration is an exciting proposition. Suggestions of spirits and witchcraft all lead the way and prove haunting rather than just creepy.

Available at www.originaltheatre.com

Photos by Charlotte Graham

“Cuzco” at Theatre 503

Even in a city as cosmopolitan as London, the chance to see contemporary European plays doesn’t come along often enough. This work, from Víctor Sánchez Rodríguez, went down well in Spain. Although it is a hard play to warm to, it is intriguing, has a distinctive voice and the production is first class.

The scenario – a couple taking a trip to Peru to save their relationship – is discordantly low stakes, given how much mileage Rodríguez hopes to get out of it. As both the characters become increasingly odd, observations on how “tourism perverts everything”, plenty of colonial guilt and a dash of both Marx and mythology become far-fetched and forced… yet, always interesting.

As for the couple, who (as usual for plays nowadays) are unnamed, they seem mismatched from the start. While the woman hates travel, the holiday changes her the most. She is smart and interesting and Dilek Rose gives a strong performance in the part; although how funny the play should be seems to be an unresolved issue. Her boyfriend is all passive aggression and place names. While Gareth Kieran Jones does well when emotion is called for, and saves a final uncharacteristic tirade that comes too close to ridiculous, his character is far too dull for her.

Criticism of William Gregory’s translation is difficult without a knowledge of the source, but it’s clear Rodríguez writing is heavy handed. A good deal of speech is bizarrely grandiose. And a lot of clichés slip in towards the end that make for uncomfortable listening. Further credit to the performers for making some deadened lines really live. After all, worrying about the “bourgeoisie self-contemplation of our drama” doesn’t really trip off the tongue.

Despite reservations, Cuzco is a trip worth taking. It’s a different view on plenty of issues that preoccupy British playwrights; there’s a good take on privilege for a start. And superb work from director Kate O’Connor, injecting a carefully controlled momentum, makes the play convincing throughout. Best of all is the sound design from Max Pappenheim, which supports the play brilliantly, providing an hallucinatory tone that fits the mention of a “suffocated howl” the characters experience to perfection.

Until 16 February 2019


Photo by Holly Lucas