Tag Archives: stream.theatre

“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


“Scaramouche Jones” from stream.theatre

This revival of Justin Butcher’s 2001 play affords the opportunity to see an intriguing and acclaimed text. The “long and weary” life of its centenarian character, a famous clown, of course, recalled on the night of his death at the end of the 20th century, is a compelling yarn that balances elements of the fantastic with weighty concerns. 

Scaramouche’s life is colourful, to say the least. But it is also one filled with trauma and pain. His birth in a brothel in Trinidad, his life as a snake-charming slave and eventual arrival as an immigrant in Britain show us a world where people “mingle and co-mingle”. The globe-trotting Scaramouche covers a lot of ground.

As a consideration of Privilege, with a capital P, the character’s complexion (without make-up) proves a fascinating motif. Jones’ skin helps him in bizarre and unexpected ways. His whiteness saves his life. But note, it is also a mark of pain: frosted tears, white sand and lime from burials all contribute to the “seven white masks” that are the play’s subtitle. Start your debate.

The text is full of vivid images and incredible characters. Scaramouche’s mother, the “charming villains” he meets, and the “beggars and invalids from the four corners of the globe” create the world picture Jones aims for. And such a vast canvas makes the play a tricky one to perform.

To describe this particularly ambitious monologue as competent is not faint praise. Director Ian Talbot’s presentation is clear and concise. But the use of sound effects is overplayed – they add little to the descriptions of events. And both Talbot and his performer, Shane Richie, try to inject energy unnecessarily. Along with lots of accents of, erm, variable success, Richie’s delivery becomes grating, his sense of rhythm too monotonous.

Richie does rise to the play’s central scene. Scaramouche’s time in a concentration camp is a strong moment for all. Nailing the emotion and ambiguity of the play’s hardest, and best, scene becomes an unforgettable moment. It’s as a grave-digger that Scaramouche, incredibly, discovers his ability to make children laugh. His big picture approach ensures these ‘tears of a clown’ are peculiarly original, poignant and thought-provoking. 

Until 11 April 2021


Photo by Bonnie Britain

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Stream.Theatre

This ambitious new show makes a valiant effort in a tricky category – the family musical. Inspired, like the Disney film, by Goethe’s poem, we get the famous brooms, brought to the stage with the aid of Maia Kirkman-Richards’ puppetry design. But the show aims to please more than children, unfortunately to its detriment.

Our apprentice is a feisty young woman called Eva, a huge role for Mary Moore, and the sorcerer is her Dad, played by David Thaxton. It’s a good twist to have a “little anarchist” as the star, and her father is a magician far from the usual stereotypes. Both performers have strong voices and acquit themselves well. 

Problems comes with writer Richard Hough’s characterisation. The exploration of the troubled family relationship is predictable and laboured. Eva’s coming-of-age story is poorly handled, her father’s perspective shoe-horned in. The transformation Eva sings about isn’t one I’m sure we need… I quite like her from the start! That said, for a young woman with magical talents who manages to save the world (sorry about the plot spoiler), Eva needs an awful lot of validation. A burgeoning love affair (with a poorly drawn character Yazdan Qafouri tries hard at) further slows things down.

Marc Pickering

On top of this family drama, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is also a climate change parable. The Northern Lights, the source of magical power, are being exploited… with dangerous consequences. The too simple scenario at least gives rise to some unusual villains. Marc Pickering is excellent as factory owner Fabian Lydekker: in a show so lacking in humour, he’s a real highlight. Dawn Hope’s role as mother Lydekker is hampered by the poor comedy, and plot twists that come too late, but is admirably far from cartoonish.

With so much going on, including the neat idea that Eva and her father can hear “the music of the aurora” the score struggles to hold the show together. Ben Morales Frost’s music tries hard; he knows variety is needed but a wish to be epic creeps into most pieces and the result feels self-conscious and generic. The lyrics are better – they scan well. Indeed, it’s only with Eva’s love interest that Hough stumbles.

More than usually, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a show I feel should be judged on stage. It’s clear that Scarlet Wilderink’s work directing the puppets would be better appreciated live. Likewise with the magic tricks and Steven Harris’ choreography, including a very neat treatment of the Northern Lights. And I’d love to know if Pickering’s big number – surely a show-stopper – is the success I’d bet on. Director Charlotte Westenra, whose work is impeccable, has assembled a talented team that could create the atmosphere needed to make the show magical. Although the production and filming are accomplished, I’d like to feel this is a training run for the real thing.

Until 14 March 2021


Photos by Geraint Lewis

“Falling Stars” on stream.theatre

Peter Polycarpou’s show fell afoul of the second Coronavirus Lockdown earlier this month. Thankfully, this version for streaming, produced by Ginger Quiff Media, is a real treat.

Based on a cache of sheet music – of “glorious forgotten melodies” and massive hits – found in an antique shop, the piece is a fantastic collection of songs from the 1920s.

Polycarpou’s delivery of the stories behind this musical miscellany is a lovely mix of facts and fun; he proves to be a great guide. The musical archaeology, aided by arranger Mark Dickman, is combined with sheer wonder at the talent and artistry of the past. The sense of joie de vivre Polycarpou admires, and brings to the stage, is grounded with details about the composers, some famous, others now obscure.

Sally Ann Triplett, in fine voice, aids the show’s pace. The variety of moods, reflected in the song selection, is also ably handled by director Michael Strassen. Triplett moves effortlessly between ballads and comedy numbers. The couple make a convivial pair; a sense of their friendship making even melancholy numbers strangely welcoming. A shared enthusiasm for the music of Charlie Chaplin is contagious: as Polycarpou suggests, Chaplin’s music for his films could make a show of their own… yes please!

Welcome though the recording is, I’m sure Polycarpou and Triplett would agree this music is best live, with loved ones and maybe a drink… I’m thinking a cocktail. Fingers crossed, two dates are planned 8th and 9th January; so, watch now and book for later.

Streaming until 29 November 2020


Photo by Paul Nicholas Dyke