Thursday 22 September 2022


 Curve, Leicester

21st September 2022

‘When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,

Speak of me as I am’


Of all Shakespeare’s plays, Othello is arguably the one that has the most pertinence in the contemporary world. Frantic Assembly grasp this notion and bring the play bang up-to-date, accentuating the modern-day issues at its heart in their fast-paced, expressive and surprisingly gory adaptation (first produced in 2008, now revived in a co-production with Curve). Class, race, sexism and territorialism simmer beneath a veneer of bogus loyalties and gang culture, creating a pressure cooker of tension which eventually boils over in spectacular fashion.

Director Scott Graham and co-adapter Steven Hoggett centre the action in a run-down pub, the local haunt of a street gang led by a battle-worn Othello (Michael Akinsulire) and his ‘lieutenant’, Michael Cassio (Tom Gill). The opening scene sets the tone in an exciting whirlwind of lust, violence and camaraderie (both genuine and false) in a near wordless feat of choreography. Frantic Assembly are masters of movement and that is demonstrated to thrilling effect here; the punches carry weight and the fighting is fused with an often striking lyricism. The use of movement to convey key aspects of the story is an ingenious tool, keeping the plot hurtling forward towards that inevitable doom, where perhaps more traditional productions could get bogged down by the wordiness of Shakespeare’s verse (I say this as someone who loves Shakespeare!). So much of Othello and Desdemona’s (Chanel Waddock) relationship here is played out through choreographed moments of tenderness, passion and aggression, and by focusing on this intimacy we invest more in the characters, making the denouement all the more tragic. I also particularly enjoyed the collaboration between choreography and Laura Hopkins’ set design during the scene where Iago and Roderigo (Felipe Pacheco) conspire to get Cassio blind drunk. The walls of the set undulate in dizzying inebriation while the actors lunge, fly and swoop through the pub, pausing only for more shots of alcohol. At other times the walls of the pub expand and contract, creating cinematic zoom effects, homing in on, or isolating individual characters. Every considered detail of this production unites to create a lean yet engrossing portrait of modern Britain.

An unnervingly still presence amidst the frenetic revelry is Joe Layton’s Iago; a man that picks up on the tiniest details, who calculates from shadowy corners (at one point he literally sinks into the walls of the pub) and whispers poisonous untruths into the expectant ears of his acquaintances. Here, the racism directed towards ‘the Moor’ is of a very 21st Century flavour; Iago is jealous of his prowess, both physical and sexual, and much is made of Iago’s vengeful belief that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia (Kirsty Stuart). The racism displayed makes us even more uncomfortable as it holds up a mirror to the hypocrisies and everyday prejudice that is still rife in the world today.

Similarly, as the racism of the past is reflected in the present, Graham and co have also shone a spotlight on the misogyny at the heart of the play. Just as Bianca (Hannah Sinclair Robinson) is dismissed, slurred at and thrown to the ground, Emilia and Desdemona are the victims of the most violent language and actions. The image of Desdemona’s limp body suspended in her husband’s chokehold will haunt me, just as Iago’s final burst of aggression towards Emilia is horrifically shocking (and bloody). The previous scene between the women in the ladies loos as they lament ‘these men!’ is depressingly fatalistic, as they eventually concede to ‘let them use us well […] the ills we do, their ills instruct us so’; just as the production creates an authentic portrait of working-class territorial gang wars, so too does it depict the harsh reality of domestic violence and commonplace misogyny in society today.

The cast all play their parts with a rawness and passion that befits the intensity of the piece, and as an ensemble they move as one, creating an electric atmosphere. Frantic Assembly demonstrate again why they are one of the most exciting theatre companies working today. By stripping back Shakespeare’s play to its bare bones, the group have produced a play which is action-packed, accessible and relevant to contemporary audiences without losing any essence of the original. I was fully absorbed by this sordid microcosm from start to bloody end.

Othello plays at Curve until 1st October 2022 followed by a UK tour. It then plays at the Lyric Hammersmith from 19th January to 11th February 2023.

For full tour details please visit:

Frantic Assembly's Othello. Credit: Tristram Kenton.

Monday 19 September 2022

The Clothes They Stood Up In

 Nottingham Playhouse

17th September, 2022, matinee

It never rains, but it pours

Adrian Scarborough adapts and stars in the first stage production of Alan Bennett’s 1997 novella The Clothes They Stood Up In at Nottingham Playhouse. About a married couple who return from the opera to find their flat completely empty, the piece reflects on how we’re prone to complicating our lives with belongings, and explores unrealised dreams in a stifled marriage. In Adam Penford’s production, which has the pacing of a thriller, the result is a hugely enjoyable dark comedy in which Scarborough captures the essence of Bennett.

In adapting it from the page, Scarborough maintains the fluidity of the novella. We start in an opera house after the curtain falls on Così Fan Tutte quickly followed by a scene on the bus home. These short scenes demonstrate some witty observations which help to establish the characters of Mr and Mrs Ransome (Scarborough and Sophie Thompson). Firmly rooted in the trappings and routines of middle-class life, Scarborough quickly introduces us to the predicament in which they find themselves. On entering their Notting Hill apartment, they find it stripped bare. Furniture, clothes, pictures, teabags, even the toilet roll! Anything that’s not been nailed down and even some things that are have mysteriously vanished. Assuming they’ve been burgled the couple set about rebuilding their lives whilst also trying to solve who done it, how they pulled it off and why. One of the biggest achievements is that the play feels like it’s always belonged on the stage and feels part of the theatrical canon. I’ll avoid spoilers, but there’s a striking similarity with Bennett’s Enjoy (1980) in which the council wants to demolish a terraced house and rebuild it brick-by-brick in a museum. The accumulation of belongings over a lifetime is somewhat central to his People (2012) as well. In this way, it also somewhat reminded me of Michael Frayn’s Here (1993) in which, faced with an empty flat, a couple begin to construct their lives together.

Objects, then, carry meaning: they reflect where we’ve come from and what our social status is. Robbed of these possessions, what are we left with? For Rosemary Ransome in particular, it invites her to start again and think of new possibilities. She befriends the man who runs the corner shop, she discovers the internet, daytime TV and beanbags. The burglary even has some sexual awakenings. Thompson portrays her liberation, kindness and quiet hopes with care. Ultimately, she learns how to accept to let go and this is what sets her free. Maurice’s relationship to objects is more complex, in fact they seem to torment him more and more. Like with Ned in Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song (2008), which also deals with disappearing belongings in a nightmarish world of middle-class inertia, Maurice loses his sense of self along with his belongings. Scarborough hilariously plays Maurice’s building frustrations, at one point climbing a drainpipe to try to retrieve them.

Scarborough has chosen to modernise the setting. References to mobile phones and Brexit occasionally jar with other dialogue but I feel this helps to emphasise how insular their lives are. The play is so much about the Ransome’s idiosyncrasies but, outside their flat, we’re privy to the very different world of multicultural, 21st century Britain. References to police waiting times, petty street crime, drug addiction and more show that Bennett firmly has his finger on the pulse of societal issues. Ned Costello, Charlie de Melo and Natasha Magigi all deftly bring to life a range of supporting characters to people the play.

From corner shops, buses, warehouses and (a range of!) apartments, Robert Jones’ eye for detail in his design is superb. Elevating the apartment slightly looks aesthetically pleasing but also adds to the feel that the Ransome’s lives are compartmentalised. As well as being a much welcome addition to Bennett’s work, Penford keeps the pace moving nicely so it feels like both a thriller and a comedic romp. It certainly gave the audience what they were looking for at the performance we saw.

The Clothes They Stood Up In plays at Nottingham Playhouse until 1st October. For more information, please visit

Adrian Scarborough and Sophie Thompson in The Clothes They Stood Up In.
Credit: The Other Richard

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Mamma Mia!

 Curve, Leicester

Tuesday 14th September, 2022


‘Without a song or a dance what are we?’


There’s no denying that the UK is in a strange place at the moment. A new Government, a looming recession, a cost of living crisis like none seen before… not to mention the death of our Head of State. September has seen the country plunge into the Twilight Zone. So now, more than ever, we need a little escapism. And Mamma Mia! is just the slice of cheesy sunshine to counter the doom and gloom of daily life. The show bursts with energy, laughter and stonking great music; it’s the epitome of feel-good.

Surrounded by the rustic idyll of a small Greek island, young Sophie hatches a plan to reunite her mother with the three men that may or may not be her father in time for her wedding. Friendship, romance, family bonds and second chances are explored and celebrated in delightfully pop-tastic style, while maintaining a very British sense of humour. The ABBA jukebox musical is over 20 years old now, and feels fresh yet timeless thanks to its simple storytelling and unpretentious production. Catherine Johnson’s book and Phyllida Lloyd’s direction let the relationships between characters lead the plot, fostering infectious camaraderie (who wouldn’t want to be friends with Donna and co?) and erring just on the right side of sentimentality. Amid all this, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ songs shine. Every number is a certified banger and the music has been carefully curated to fit the action, whether in heartfelt earnestness (‘Slipping Through My Fingers’), sucker-punching accuracy (‘The Winner Takes It All’) or tongue-in-cheek glee (‘Chiquitita’, 'Does Your Mother Know?').

The simplicity of the story and production also lets the large cast shine as they jive their way through party-like ensemble numbers such as ‘Voulez-Vous’ and the post-curtain Mega-Mix, while also allowing each individual character their moment in the spotlight. Sara Poyzer’s earthy Donna is wonderfully wry, yet truly soars during the musical’s more reflective moments. Nicky Swift and Helen Anker provide fine comedic support as Donna’s loyal friends Rosie and Tanya, and the latter’s relationship with a scene-stealing James Willoughby Moore (as cheeky, lust-struck Pepper) is a real highlight. The younger cast also impresses, in particular Jena Pandya excels at imbuing Sophie with youthful charm and wide-eyed naivety.

I’m struggling to think of a time at the theatre that was as filled with such unadulterated fun; Lloyd, Johnson, Andersson and Ulvaeus have created a gleefully giddy bop of a musical. The atmosphere was electric, the audience were ecstatic and mightily united in their jubilant reaction, and this current tour demonstrates why the show continues to be a sure-fire hit across the world. And with the recent announcement of a new TV casting show centred on Mamma Mia! the hype will surely continue for years yet to come. For a dose of bottled-joy and a tonic to everything else going on in the world right now you really can’t get any better.


Mamma Mia! plays at Curve until 24th September 2022.

For full tour details please visit:

Sara Poyzer and the cast of Mamma Mia!
Credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Monday 12 September 2022


 Royal & Derngate, Northampton

10th September 2022, matinee

attention, imagination and care

Despite being critically acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time, I can’t pretend I’ve ever seen Jacques Tati’s 1967 comedy masterpiece or, indeed, any of his work. But having been brought up on the comedy of Mr Bean, it’s easy to see the universal and timeless influence Tati’s creation of Monsieur Hulot has had on the world. Theatre company Dancing Brick now invite a new generation into the stylish and comedic world of Tati. From near-misses to near kisses, the result is a visual feast of playful and stylish vignettes characterised both by slapstick and a romantic longing for a more analogue world.

Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare’s co-production starts by introducing us to the character of Hulot (Enoch Lwanga). A tall, guileless presence in a brown mac and trilby hat, Hulot then steps into the manic twentieth century world, starting with an airport arrivals lounge. Here, Hulot takes a step back to let the chorus take centre stage. With minimal dialogue, it is unbelievable what the cast of five achieve, peopling the stage with tourists, nuns, lovers, opposing sports teams, chauffeurs and air stewards as they navigate their way along travellators and down escalators. Michael Vale’s design consists of six grey, uniform prosceniums which creates a sense of depth and gives the stage about a dozen entrances. Onto this comes a flurry of colour: actors exit downstage right as one character and then enter as another character upstage left seemingly a split second later, bringing order and disorder together.

In playtime, we’re strangers to the modern world. In the next scene, Hulot waits for his meeting with a businessman. It’s a brilliant sequence which brings out the humour in the strict order we assign to the modern world. The rigidity of systems, machines and processes is satirised through the highly stylised and comical movements to which characters are reduced. This same sense of humour continues in a scene at the Paris Expo which exhibits such trivial and bemusing modern world gadgets as the bouncing jug, red and white wine in one bottle, and fondue sets. Where Dancing Brick’s production is at its best is when it pushes the theatricality of the piece which merits its adaptation from screen to stage. We see this in a clever scene in which we have a window into two neighbouring hotel rooms where actors can hilariously have a presence in both simultaneously. In the second act, a frenzied scene set in a restaurant brings back the multitude of characters we met at the airport and more. Actors go from snooty Maître Ds to clumsy workmen and from tested chefs to tormented waiters. Cats escape, cutlery goes flying and neon lighting features are on the blink. This could do with some tightening but it aims for the farcical heights of Feydeau.

This is truly a company effort. Martin Bassindale, Valentina Ceschi, Abigail Dooley, Enoch Lwanga and Yuyu Rau all deserve praise along with the stage management team led by Lisa Lewis to achieve this theatrical feat. The amount of quick changes and crossing over backstage must be exhausting. It’s all underscored by Chilly Gonzales & Pierre Grilley and Martha Wainwright’s original music which elevates the drama (especially in the second act) and adds to the French feel of the piece.

I think Playtime could achieve a stronger sense of narrative throughout as it occasionally feels rather sketch-like. For instance, I thought the motifs of the two pairs of lovers could have been more firmly grounded. But overall, I admire Playtime’s boldness and innovative approach to reinventing a piece of 20th century cinema to 21st century theatre.

Playtime runs at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate until 17th September. For more information, please visit

Enoch Lwanga, Yuyu Rau and Valentina Ceschi in Playtime. Credit: Manuel Harlan