Tag Archives: New Diorama Theatre

“It’s true, It’s true, It’s True” from Breach Theatre

It is wise to stress the veracity behind this theatrical rendering of art history’s most famous criminal case. If it wasn’t made clear that the events and dialogue come from the actual court in Rome 1612, during the trail of Agostino Tassi for the rape of fellow painter Artemisia Gentileschi, then it would be hard to believe.

Even if the show, originally commissioned by the New Diorama Theatre, has failings, it is a powerful depiction of awful events: a call for justice, showing how in rape cases it is the victim who is interrogated and made to suffer again, and also showing a spirit that proves indomitable.

For most of the play, there are three performers – all excellent and skilfully directed by Billy Barrett – who double as witnesses and lawyers without confusing the action for a moment.

Kathryn Bond delivers brilliantly as family friend Tuzia, a former companion with a sly edge, who is coerced and frightened. Sophie Steer takes the part of the despicable Tassi, full of arrogance and violence, along with mentions of the pope. In the opinion of one of the judges, this artist was “very impressive”.

Understandably, Ellice Stevens steals the show as Artemisia. With remarkable conviction, dismissing countless accusations of a “wild” disposition and promiscuity, the incredible pressure placed upon her is at once moving and infuriating to watch. Confronted by her rapist, she is questioned by him and – literally – tortured: a cleverly staged moment that enforces the event’s particular cruelty.

All this is great stuff, frequently gripping, but the production stumbles when it tries to add more. Artemisia’s discussions of her art works are fascinating, but recreating them as tableaux injects a humour that feels misplaced. Then there is the show’s music, a collection of misjudged genres that interrupt the action and prove distracting. The soundtrack culminates in a punk rock pastiche that includes a fantastical appearance by the biblical Judith, a repeated subject of Artemisia’s art, that’s out of keeping with the show.

This story is important enough not to need surreal additions and the company talented enough to tell events simply. Maybe the baroque touches were felt to be in honour of Gentileschi’s art? Far better are the moments when Artemisia is allowed to speak for herself – moments when Stevens is magnificent. That Artemisia was questioned “so many times” becomes oppressive, an artistic paralleling of the trial experience. Countered by Artemisia’s heart-breaking repetition of the play’s title, the subject is given a voice as powerful as she deserves.

Until 29 April 2020

Available via https://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on/its-true-its-true-its-true  to donate https://paypal.me/itstrueitstrue

"The Incident Room" at the New Diorama Theatre

If you are a lover of true crime stories, you’ll lap up this show. An in-depth retelling of the Yorkshire Ripper case that gripped Britain in the late 1970s, the detail is fascinating and the story compelling. But there’s more to Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s play – an intelligent engagement with history makes their work the very best of its kind by questioning the genre it is part of.

Hirst and Byrne condense events with skill, but their real triumph is in imposing focus on the story by highlighting police work and effectively ignoring the killer. The raw material is fascinating: the lengths the police went to over tyres, bank notes and the sheer number of people interviewed.

Yet what provides the driving force for the show is the tension of working a case that is massive and inventive – apparently changing police procedure – but was ultimately a famous failure. Aided by excellent live video work, designed by Zakk Hein, and a Kafkaesque set from Patrick Connellan, Byrne, along with Beth Flintoff, directs with discipline. The action – in reality slow, boring, work – becomes engrossing and the impact of events powerful.

The Incident Room at the New Diorama Theatre credit The Other Richard

The precision creates characters a long way from your average crime drama, surely aided by the fact that the show is devised by its ensemble. A cracking cast rises to the material with solid performances. As police under pressure Colin R Campbell, Peter Clements, Ben Eagle and Jamie Samuel are all good, creating an impression of a tight team with conflicts big and small managing to inject a surprising amount of humour. But Hirst and Byrne are relentless and focus further.

For The Incident Room has a steely eye on both sexism and the responsibilities of telling stories of this kind. Parallel instances of women in a men’s world reflect both of these concerns. A female journalist, played with winning presence by Natasha Magigi, who sees the chance for a big break, provides commentary while piling on the dramatic pressure. Meanwhile, detective Megan Winterburn, ignored for promotion and doing far too much typing, narrates events in a very special fashion. As Winterburn re-enacts the case in her mind (as if she were rewriting the story, like the playwrights) we see how what she could have done haunts her. Hindsight reveals how traumatic the case was for the police involved. It makes a star role for Charlotte Melia, who gives a magnificent performance.

The Incident Room knows that its subject matter treads a fine line between truth and “titillation” and is careful to address the victims of the Ripper’s crimes. Here the skill is to continue to reflect those concerns about story telling in such a sensitive, honest, fashion. With a woman who survived an attack, Maureen Long, the wish is to be forgotten. Fearing she will be forever defined by her victimhood, an address to the audience, delivered with passion by Katy Brittain, who takes the part, serves as a powerful theatrical moment characteristic of a show marked by both brains and sensitivity.

Until 14 March 2020

www.newdiorama.com

Photos by The Other Richard

"Antigone" at the New Diorama Theatre

My theatre year is off to a great start with a new company – Holy What – and a challenging version of Sophocles’ tragedy from Lulu Raczka. Interrogating the Greek classic, while using it as a source of inspiration, results in a piece full of ideas and surprises.

The obvious difference is that we see only Antigone – the one who defies the law to bury her brother and is executed as a result – with her sister. In this two-hander, the performers mimic other characters and, in some sense, act as their own chorus. But for me the bigger twist is that both are presented as youthful enough to still be playing games of make-believe. While turning them into wannabe clubbers and throwing in a Beyoncé track might be slightly predictable, making them so vulnerable is emotionally effective and raises plenty of questions about autonomy and responsibility.

Annabel Baldwin takes the title role with a tomboyish streak that makes you wonder about her motivations: how self-conscious is her rebellion? Might it even come close to a tantrum? Yet ‘Tig’ is an appealing figure through Baldwin’s energy, full of passion as well as pondering moral questions. Director Ali Pidsley takes the cue of focusing on the fantasies the sisters act out – imaginary trips to bars and pretend love affairs. These colour the distinctions between words and action that run through the text, as well as the heart-breaking questions of whether or not Antigone should act, and then what she should do next.

Pidsley keeps focus throughout: with Lizzy Leech’s circular stage, part play pit, part burial ground, and lighting from Tim Kelly making the action and ideas consistently guided. And there’s more. Raczka looks just as much at Antigone’s sister – prizes for the remembering the name – Ismene. Creating a brilliant role, in which Rachel Hosker excels, Antigone becomes just as much Ismene’s play, providing a new perspective. And it’s a view Raczka ensures we relate to. A long coda to the piece about Ismene’s future life shows how Sophocles has been used as a springboard to great effect.

Until 1 February 2020

www.newdiorama.com

Photo by Ali Wright

"Joan of Leeds" at the New Diorama Theatre

Breach Theatre’s successful new musical comedy is a rude and riotous show that could become a cult classic.

If you love a nun in a musical (and why wouldn’t you?), Joan of Leeds has three of them. Brilliantly decked out in safety-orange habits, that they’re mediaeval nuns adds to the fun. And – even better – it turns out they’re all pretty rude. The dramatic dilemma for our titular heroine, played with a suitably feisty attitude by Bryony Davies, is a struggle with her carnal desires. She’s tempted by saints as well as sinners and tries not to succumb… just not for long.

Joan isn’t just a naughty nun, she’s a lesbian one. With her Sapphic sister, a role that allows Rachel Barnes scope for her excellent singing, there are tender moments, considering this is all-out comedy. And we can leave inspired as the couple prompts a sexual revolution for the 14th century that (with a touch of Ken Russell) might be a bit too much for some people even today.

Alex Roberts and Bryony Davies in Breach Theatre's "Joan of Leeds"
Alex Roberts and Bryony Davies

Add in Joan’s escape from the convent (she’s the original nun on the run) and time as a bored housewife, and there’s plenty going on. Aiding all the action is a great Mother Superior, Joan’s psychiatrist and… the devil: all played with fantastic comic skills, and no inhibitions, by Alex Roberts and Laurie Jamieson.

Meanwhile, Joan’s Bishop turns into the villain of the piece. It’s a great role for Olivia Hirst, whose character tries to narrate, in verse, and control the action with increasing frustration. Hirst uses the Yorkshire accent to especially good effect and gets the most of co-writers Elice Stevens and Billy Barrett’s consistently delicious rhymes.

Joan of Leeds is full of funny touches – keep your eyes peeled. But its success really comes from providing takes on not one but two genres. Based on a believe-it-or-not story, Joan did exist, and the show is an effective spoof on documentary theatre, showing us the story’s manipulation as we watch it. Being presented by the Yorkshire Mystery Players, there’s also a twist on am-dram-goes-wrong. So we get all the usual fun of “professional enthusiasts” not quite coping – handled expertly by the real director, Barrett. Such a firm base makes the show double the fun and smart from start to finish.

Until 21 December 2019

www.newdiorama.com

Photos by The Other Richard

"Conspiracy" at the New Diorama Theatre

A hit at the Edinburgh Festival and the winner of an Untapped Award, Barrel Organ’s new piece is a comedy gem. With three fantastic performers, a topic ripe for satire is handled with wit and intelligence in a show full of surprises.

Rose Wardlaw takes the lead. As the audience sits in on a presentation about a famous photograph, she’s brilliant at muttering asides, her character too uptight for her own good. The picture hides a conspiracy that just keeps on growing – to Wardlaw’s exasperation. As the project gets more ridiculous, ignoring efforts at serious research, she gets funnier and funnier.

Azan Ahmed is the first to elaborate a further conspiracy. With a penchant for movie quotes, his character is downright sweet, and it seems cruel to laugh at his enthusiasm. The gullible energy and sheer joy at thinking he has discovered something new is utterly convincing and Ahmet manages to convert these qualities into something more serious as the action develops.

By the time we get to Shannon Hayes, we are in spoof territory. It isn’t a plot spoiler to say that the moon landings make an appearance. Best of all is the Elvis impersonation from Hayes, who gradually increases the mania in her performance with skilful calculation. It turns out she’s been playing a different game, the precursor for which is a streak of mischief that has added to the fun all along.

Devised by the company, with a text from Jack Perrin, pretending the trio are amateurs is a great idea to get a lot of laughs. Of course, delivering such fumbling around is tricky stuff and Dan Hutton’s direction is really as pin sharp as you could wish. The only problem – clearly indicated – is that conspiracy theories don’t finish, they just get bigger.

Trying to be serious too close to the end of the show seems a mistake. And a final tableau, where the characters inhabit their fantasy (well, that’s my guess anyway), proves too strange a change of key. Both give rise to the suspicion that the team didn’t quite know how to end things. I’ve no proof of that, of course – maybe photos or recordings of rehearsals will surface? Maybe someone overhead something? There must be a reason… Still, nothing can detract from a whole-hearted recommendation for a show that shouldn’t be kept a secret.

Until 5 October 2019

www.newdiorama.com

“Keep Watching” at the New Diorama Theatre

A company that’s well worth following, Engineer Theatre Collective’s new show is notable for its stylish looks and clever invention. The chosen subject matter is rich – our increasingly surveyed lives – and there’s no lack of ideas about depicting the contemporary condition. The cameras that surround us, the devices that are with us, and a sense of exhaustion are all impressively incorporated into the action. But the story itself is poor. And if you like your theatre with a strong narrative, this becomes a weakness on the part of a strong team. 

What little plot the play has is far too predictable. Arguments for or against technology – based on a balance between invading privacy and providing safety – are thin. The show ends up as a vague jeremiad on modern life in terms of a fear of being “swallowed up”, powerfully conveyed but with little outcome. There are far too many ideas set in motion and left unresolved. Engineer is a collective, remember? Maybe writer and dramaturg Jesse Fox has not been listened to quite enough? Simon Lyshon’s direction is tight from scene to scene, but there’s a lack of detail in favour of a general atmosphere.

Nonetheless, the execution is excellent. There are three strong performers. The action focuses on Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, who plays a surveillance operative who inveigles herself into the life of Kat, an emotionally fragile nurse played by Beatrice Scirocchi. Wonders are worked with underdeveloped roles by both actors. Meanwhile, George Evans holds his own as a brother in trouble, who also makes a great deal out of little. And this is a real ensemble piece as the performers take over the scene changes and leap into extra roles. More highlights come with excellent sound and lighting design, from Dom Kennedy and Bethany Gupwell, respectively. It’s exciting to see so much creativity, and that much of it is so simple and low-tech impresses all the more. It’s the company rather than this piece that deserves continued observation.

Until 4 May 2019

www.newdiorama.com

Until 4 May 2019

“Plastic Figurines” at the New Diorama Theatre

The Manchester based Box of Tricks Company has, thankfully, brought this admirable show to London again. Director Adam Quayle’s finely honed production of this short, tightly written two-hander is the moving story of Rose and her autistic brother Michael, who deal with their mother’s illness and death while struggling to cope with their life together.

The performances are first class. Vanessa Schofield plays a young woman with the responsibility of caring for a sibling thrust upon her. There’s a terrific balance of “sad and scared”, alongside sincere affection for the boy. As Rose tries to deal with her own grief, Schofield’s performance becomes increasingly impressive. Jamie Samuel’s Michael is a close study: his reaction to physical contact or dirt treads a fine line between being moving and distressing. And his obsession with the toys that give the play its title is thoroughly observed.

Playwright Ella Carmen Greenhill isn’t shy of sentimental touches. The subject matter calls for emotional catches, of course – poignant moments that stop you in your tracks – but any predictable touches, a letter to be read after their mother’s death or an uncharacteristic moment of emotion on Michael’s part, are justified by results. This is an affecting text that shows great potential. Good writing, great performances, a show to see.

Until 22 October 2016

www.newdiorama.com

Photo by Richard Davenport

“Lottery” at the New Diorama Theatre

Part of this great venue’s emerging company showcase, a debut play from writer and director Simon Paris shows that Fictive Theatre is a talent to watch.

Lottery’s laughter starts straight away with an awkward meeting between two youngsters doing jury service. This leads us (a little too) neatly to the main event – the idea that the Prime Minister is chosen at random.

The scenario might benefit from more elaboration. How far in the future are we and did people vote not to vote? In a further twist, it’s a popularity contest for the winner – maybe more explanation might make the satire fuller.

The jokes are plentiful, with a keen eye on social anxiety and sexual tension, well delivered by Ava Pickett and Elliot Bornemann, with some nicely choreographed touches from Paris. The simple set by Magdalena Iwanska works hard, too, with shredded paper appearing continually. It’s economical, imaginative and effective.

As it happens, selecting the PM isn’t random but the decision of a mandarin in the Yes Minister tradition. Making Sir Humphrey look benign, Paris’ crazed creation isn’t even helpful enough to “foresee all sorts of unforeseen problems”. It’s a role Rhys Tees gets a lot from. Making the whole play less mad might make the satire sharper, but the surreal touches here are satisfying in their own right. Why our particular ingénue was chosen is yet another rich vein that could be explored.

Sadly, Lottery was on for one night only, but the potential here is clear, and it would be exciting to see this play refined and expanded.

www.fictivetheatre.com

Photo by Joe Brayford

“Down & Out in Paris and London” at the New Diorama Theatre

In 90 minutes of theatre that packs a punch, David Byrne brings George Orwell’s titular memoir, about living in poverty in Paris, to the stage with energy and invention. And there’s more. Updating the issues and action, the down and out in London comes from investigative journalist Polly Toynbee’s recent book, Hard Work. The two are interwoven with skill and the rewards are plentiful.

There’s a literary and biographical journey here that proves fascinating in its own right. Headed by an excellent performance from Richard Delaney, who we see develop from Eric Blair into Orwell through his time abroad. The degree of sympathy between Orwell and fellow residents in a flea-bitten hotel, or his exhausted kitchen co-workers, shines through. Karen Ascoe, who plays Toynbee, shares the ability to engender a sense of outrage as both retell the depressing consequences of penury. The writers also share a sense of guilt about their time as ‘tourists’ in the different world that the poor inhabit, with a sincerity that is essential to the success of the show.

Andy McLeod and Richard Delaney
Andy McLeod and Richard Delaney

A respectful tone is adopted when representing those the writers met, although it seems fair to say that Orwell’s encounters are more richly painted, especially in his friend Boris, a role embraced by Andy McLeod. With imaginative touches, Byrne, who also directs, has three performers (Mike Aherne, Andrew Stafford-Baker and Stella Taylor) flitting seamlessly from the 1920s to the present day, playing both the rich and the poor. The parallels drawn bring home the hopelessness of poverty and how little has changed for those at the bottom of society, making this an appropriately frustrating piece of theatre that everyone should see.

Until 21 May 2016

www.newdiorama.com

Photos by Richard Davenport

“Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow” at the New Diorama Theatre

This fun show brings film noir vigorously to the stage. It’s a detective adventure story that combines the gumshoe genre’s humour and sentimentality, updates the sexual politics and finds time for a conspiratorial twist. As the power goes out in Los Angeles, the theatre fills with atmospheric shadows. But what exactly is going on at Addison Electric to make all the filaments flicker?

This is a production with plenty of light-bulb moments. The staging, devised by the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company with director Beth Flintoff, sparks with invention. A case of smoke and sliding doors, props are used perfectly, including e-cigarettes. And as you’d expect, Nick Flintoff’s lighting design is essential. The dialogue might disappoint, given the show’s antecedents, but the focus is on movement, with long stretches that show the cast’s prowess and an impressive soundtrack.

There’s some fantastic talent here. In the title role Julian Spooner manages to convey a surprisingly complex hero. Inheriting the job from his father, this little-guy P.I. becomes his own man with satisfying subtlety. Christopher Harrisson and Matthew Wells take on numerous roles faultlessly, as well as gracefully moving around the props on wheels. Showing the mechanics of the staging, down to carrying around the smoke machines and filters for the lights, isn’t new but it’s seldom done with such understated charm.
Hum & Clay present Hardboiled at The New Diorama Theatre. 9th Feb 2016 Photo Credit: Richard Davenport 2016 richard@rwdavenport.co.uk
Stealing the show is Jess Mabel Jones, who plays all the female parts, including Shadow’s secretary and the obligatory femme fatale, using tiny costume changes and great vocal skills. Even a ditzy secretary is given her due, showing a knowing nod to the role of women in film noir. All indicative of a fresh eye on a beloved style, performed with care and creativity.

Until 27 February 2016

www.newdiorama.com

Photos by Richard Davenport