Tag Archives: Oval House

“Gaping Hole” at The Ovalhouse

Writers and performers Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead are playing a literal part in this venue’s special “demolition season”. As the theatre says goodbye to its current home, the hole in the title of this show turns out to be real – a big part of the floor has been taken away! Mars and Wohead have given themselves an unusual stage for an original show that’s full of creativity.

Gaping Hole is a two-hander that looks at fiction – in particular the gaps and flaws in plots – with wit, imagination and charm. Starting out with straight comedy, Mars and Wohead chat about silly moments in Hollywood movies in a lovely convivial manner.

A couple of cinematic puzzles are taken up – from The Shawshank Redemption and Titanic – to be elaborated into fantastic stories. The crazy developments (any revelations would be real spoilers) build cleverly; the storytelling skills are impressive.

The work behind crafting these additions to both films is paralleled with effort of a different kind. Building things lies at the heart of Gaping Hole and as the deconstructed floor is covered – what a strange pleasure watching people at work is – we arrive at another section for the show.

The idea of “personal plot holes” asks how our actions don’t fit the stories we like to tell about our own lives. Wohead imagines his own future death while Mars takes a trip into her past. It’s a fascinating idea for artistic motivation that proves tremendously constructive. If there’s a failing, it’s with how short the whole show is.

As the Ovalhouse plans to reopen in Brixton in 2021 (you can follow plans at #RoadToBrixton) the solution seems obvious. A long-time location for radical theatre makers just like Mars and Wohead, here’s hoping they find a home at the new venue so that they can continue to explore and tell their tales.

Until 23 November 2019


Photo by Alex Brenner

“Mirabel” at the Oval House Theatre

This cerebral piece, simply billed as a story told by Chris Goode, is adventurous, exciting and, ultimately, puzzling. It’s a show that uses theatrical conventions expertly and proves to be entertaining. But it is so deliberately destabilising that it’s hard to take away much – avoid it if fables frustrate you.

We start settling down to a something close to a fairy tale, though always for adults. It’s the end of the world and Mirabel is alone… apart from her talking teddy bear. In search of adults, she assembles a gang that includes ghosts and a rock as we journey through an apocalyptic landscape.

All this is beautifully written by Goode, who plays with many a sci-fi trope in his narrative. Simple sentences present complex imagery and are startlingly original, with plenty of humour, too. It’s a long monologue, but Goode’s skills as a performer are excellent and he holds an audience well. Aided by director Rebecca McCutcheon, a set comprising hidden depths by Naomi Dawson, and great lighting design from Lee Curran, Mirabel is wonderfully staged. A section of animation from Lou Sumray is stand-alone strong.

As evocative as the story is – and considering its bizarre touches, that’s a big achievement – judging its effectiveness surely requires the play to have clearer aims. This can’t be an exercise in seeing the world through the eyes of a child as, fantasy aside, Mirabel isn’t believable. Political concerns, such as the environment or consumerism, are oblique (they’re bound to be if you bring in UFOs). Is it an allegory? Maybe: the depths of Mirabel’s loneliness are painfully detailed and her growth during the play gives us plenty to ponder. Yet what the script describes as a coda, a bravura spoken-word section, suggests that pinning his work down wouldn’t please Goode. An explanation for the story is offered, then withdrawn, as chaos encroaches to unpleasant effect.

The world of Mirabel that we are allowed access to is well worth visiting. If you like travel for its own sake, then this is a first-class voyage. I am just not quite sure if the trip has any larger point.

Until 17 November 2018


Photo by The Other Richard

“Coconut” at the Oval House Theatre

Guleraana Mir’s debut production shows a writer of sound promise. This is a romantic comedy of multi-cultural manners with a great sense of humour, but looking for serious commitment. The titular insult is that someone can be brown on the outside yet white on the inside and our heroine Rumi comes to ‘own’ the label in Millennial style, providing an alternative happy ending in the process. Audiences are ripe for different kinds of stories just like this – about a young modern Muslim woman – and Mir’s writing is a terrific response to demands for unstereotyped diversity, with a brilliant lead character and an emotional journey that feels realistic, regardless of how modish.

There are problems, which a firmer hand from director and dramaturg Madelaine Moore might have corrected. Structurally there are too many short scenes, some of which could be cut, and there’s a lack of confidence about when to call it a day. Considering the clash of cultures, with Rumi’s double life of booze and bacon, there’s surprisingly little tension – maybe that’s the point? The role of Simon, Rumi’s love interest, relies on the performance of Jimmy Carter to really work; his conversion to Islam is relegated to a subplot and big issues aren’t addressed with enough attention. Likewise, the character of an Iman is uncomfortably flat, the scenes are slow, and the subject matter cries out for more perspectives. The wish to meet parents, vividly mentioned, threatens to become overwhelming.

Coconut is resolutely one woman’s story and, thankfully, what a woman. Rumi commands so much attention she has an alter ego – brilliantly portrayed by Tibu Fortes as a fantasy figure called Riz – and is overall adorable. I am biased, since she is a blogger (food, not theatre) but her frankness, self-knowledge and above all risqué humour should win over anyone. Here’s Mir’s strength: the comedy is brave and strong, with several laugh-out-loud moments. In the lead, Kuran Dohil is a real find, it’s hard to believe hers is the evening’s second professional debut, so comfortable does she appear on stage. The play’s finale sees a new career for a Rumi as a stand-up comedian, billed by Time Out as “one to watch”. With her delightfully natural performance and impeccable timing, I’ll second that review.

Until 28 April 2018


Photo by Greg Goodale