Tag Archives: The Yard Theatre

“The Flea” at the Yard Theatre

The Cleveland Street scandal of 1889 concerned a male brothel in Fitzrovia, and the characters in this play either worked or visited there or investigated it. But, playwright James Fritz aims for a very different kind of historical drama and is open about not always following facts. Both its look, and bold direction from Jay Miller, provide originality for the production. Yet just as good, beneath the style, there’s fine storytelling and an intelligent engagement with history.

In this tale about the exploitation and persecution of gay men, the smartest move is to focus it on a woman – the mother of one of the boys who prostituted themselves. Doing an excellent job, Norah Lopez Holden plays Emily Swinscow, serving as our narrator and reminding us that this is an unpleasant story about desperate people forced into sex work. A lot about the production is cool, but this mother’s care for her son provides warm emotion.

The five-strong cast all take on more than one role and much of the casting stimulates through its sharp eye on class distinctions. To take the most obvious example, Lopez Holden also makes an appearance as Queen Victoria, showing how the scandal reached the highest levels of society. But note, Victoria shares Swinscow’s concerns for family. The monarch tries to make a deal with God to protect her grandson, even though it is the wrong thing to do.

Yes, God… they makes an appearance in the play, too. And let’s just say that Victoria gets very excited about the chat. Scott Karim does a divine job in the role, and it isn’t The Flea’s only crazy moment. Showing great skill, Connor Finch, Séamus McLean Ross and Sonny Poon Tip all join in the fast-paced, often comic, action. Miller makes sure it’s always clear what is going on. And there’s also considerable sympathy for all involved.

Sonny Poon Tip and Séamus McLean Ross

It’s going too far to say that Fritz shows sentimentality, but he has an eye on this most Victorian of traits. Finch makes a superb stage debut, movingly depicting two very different figures, while Poon Tip’s turn as one of the aristocrats drawn into trouble proves powerful. The play is harsh to those in charge and their agendas. Again, Karim excels as police Inspector Abberline, while McLean Ross’s nightmarish Prince of Wales is a marvel. But The Flea doesn’t blame. Highlighting compromises, some horrid, that characters make because of historical circumstances is a mature response to the period.

Séamus McLean Ross and Connor Finch

To save the best until last, it’s a pleasure to highlight a costume designer – Lambdog1066. What performers wear often only comes into focus if something is incongruous. Here, it’s all wrong! And brilliant as a result. The invention is fantastic (and so is the construction of the clothes themselves). The designs bear in mind the different roles to be played, with ruched sleeves joined to uniforms, or bolero and biker jackets looking both scruffy and smart. All sorts of materials are used – rags, carpets, even pottery. They do look crazed, but they help to tell the story. This aesthetic aids the aims of the play brilliantly and shares its intelligent originality.

Until 2 December 2023


Photos by Marc Brenner

“The Cherry Orchard” at The Yard Theatre

Chekhov in space turns out to be a great idea. Vinay Patel’s inspired version of the Russian classic has theatre’s most famous trees on a spaceship that is searching out a new home for humanity. The mission is led by successive generations of clones, who have plenty of time to philosophise while those below deck do the work. With a new take on an aristocracy (whose members are actually inbred) and plenty of speculation on the human condition, Patel’s adaptation is stellar.

It makes sense that the astronauts are either wildly busy keeping the ageing ship going or have plenty of time to lounge around displaying a mix of ennui and desperation you can recognise as Russian. But Patel’s version stands happily on its own – you don’t have to know the source material. True, some dialogue is clunky (maybe it seems strangely dated)? But the characters are dealing with the weight of the past, even if the action is set in the future. The mission started centuries ago and how much old aims and rituals should shape lives becomes a burning question.

The performances are overall good – but not all are great. While Patel handles the classic plus another genre on top, juggling both proves too much for some actors, who seem stuck in a more traditional version of the play. There’s some waving of hands (ironically, explicitly warned against in the script) and stagey yawning (you know the type). And some delivery emphasises rather than accommodates long-winded speeches. It should be stressed that possibly the hardest role, a reimagining of the play’s manservant, isn’t part of these reservations. Despite being literally robotic, Hari Mackinnon’s Feroze is full of life.

Thankfully, a central trio of relationships – between the Captain, one of her daughters and an aspiring engineer – is strong, with excellent performances from Anjali Jay, Tripti Tripuraneni and Maanuv Thiara, respectively. Jay’s matronly role is aided by a focus on the fate of her son that leads to emotional moments. Her character aims to be “warm but at a remove”. That she does not quite manage this gives Jay a great deal to work with.

The production glides over some of the odder moments of Chekhov – the characters’ strange emotional intelligence and obsessions – which Patel, wisely, doesn’t linger on. All that misery and unrequited love can prove tiring if the pace isn’t strict, and director James Macdonald handles this perfectly. There’s also an atmosphere of menace that is particularly impressive.

Final praise goes to the convincing design. Even a decrepit spaceship on a budget isn’t easy, but Rosie Elnile makes shabby touches work for her. And her design suits the space perfectly. The use of a revolve and windows in the ship are simple, subtle and effective. Which really sums up the whole production. Behind the headline of a radical new version, the show works in a clear and concise manner.


Until 22 October 2022

Photo by Johan Persson