Tag Archives: Jacob Lovick

3Bugs Fringe Theatre present: House of America @ The Guild of Students

house of america

Ah, the eighties. What a glorious time of nihilism, high-waisted jeans and no work. The lack of hope that characterises the eighties is what you get in bounds in Ed Thomas’s House of America. What you also get is three under-thirties struggling to escape from the Welsh valleys, or, more pointedly, the house they grew up in and their mentally fragile mother. Mrs Lewis, Boyo, Gwenny and Sid are living on top of one another, with the threat of the cast mines looming over their simple lives and their secrets adding to their claustrophobia. To attempt to escape, Gwenny and Sid dream of travelling to America, seeing their estranged father, and being like Joyce and Jack from On the Road, while Boyo remains reluctant.

While Thomas’s play conveys an overwhelming sense of hopelessness well, it is flawed in places. The cast mines initially work as an effective metaphor for the threat of modernity and the secrets that will tear the family apart, but the constant repetitions of ‘They’re coming closer,’ and ‘They’ll destroy this house,’ undermine it, making the play quite expositional. In fact, exposition is one of the major flaws of the script: the audience is often on the cusp of figuring something out (usually due to some excellent facial expressions or body language) but is denied the privilege through speech.

However, flaws with the text aside, this production was raw, chilling and uncomfortable to watch: the things I like best about theatre. Director Tamar Williams utilised the small space of the dance studio brilliantly, and the actors’ breaking of the fourth wall added to the play’s theme of suffocation. Williams’s interpretation was also brave in that it allowed the audience to become aware of the play’s theatricality subtly: the moving and banging of chairs to suggest a temporal or spatial shift was an excellent decision, with the sounds echoing the intrusive industrialism.

 Another triumph of this production was the inclusion of music (provided by a band led by Musical Director Nick Charlesworth). While the band could play rock and roll classics with ease, the real treat was the improvised traditional Welsh music, and the beautiful singing that often accompanied it.

 This play deals with a variety of issues, including two murders, mental illness and incest; this is a script that asks for a lot from its actors. The onstage chemistry and tension between Lily Blacksell and Jack Alexander was palpable, and I wish that the script would have allowed more space for this. Blacksell and Alexander could communicate their emotions through a series of subtle facial expressions, and their interactions were incredibly convincing (and therefore very difficult to watch).

Blacksell’s final monologue was the highlight of the play: sensitively interpreted, she captured the misfortune of Gwenny’s situation – one that is entirely beyond her control – to make her a tragic, although not sympathetic, character. Blacksell was able to move Gwenny from a girlish, daydreaming woman who wants to be like Joyce Johnson to a severely ill and troubled person.

 Jack Alexander was also able to capture Sid’s daydreaming personality well: his panic during his final scenes was intense. Alternatively, Jacob Lovick and Mary Davies were at their best when providing dark humour. Lovick’s comedic timing was consistently on point, while Davies was excellent at providing Mrs Lewis’s unwitting comedy.

 During its first act, I wasn’t really sure where House of America was heading. However, its second act provided the punches I was looking for. The play perhaps tries to throw a few too many, if I’m being honest: the truth about Clem Lewis or the incestuous relationship would provide sufficient drama for one play. However, Davies’s production is sensitively directed, imaginatively realised, host to some good performances, and contains some excellent live music, making this a play I am glad I haven’t missed. 

by Jenna Clake

Infinity Stage Company Present: Mercury Fur @ The Guild of Students

mercury furHaving seen more than my fair share of plays, whether they are professional or student productions, I judge the quality of a show by how quickly I want to write my review after it (even if I’m not technically reviewing). It’s 11.18 pm and I finished watching Mercury Fur about an hour ago. I probably would have sat down sooner if I wasn’t physically shaking.

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur has a history of controversy: famously banned by Faber & Faber, this play follows a set of closely intertwined characters in an almost-apocalyptic world in which butterflies are drugs and ‘party’ is synonymous with your darkest fantasies. The characters spew lines of racist slurs, beat each other and themselves, and draw the audience into their intense relationships.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting scripts I have witnessed. The characters are so distinct (with the intentional exception of the Party Piece) and complex, each simultaneously lost in a state almost akin to childhood, and sadistic. Ridley is able to showcase his prowess by writing Elliot’s insults as epic similes; this is highlighted by his ability to then undercut this often satirical and humorous style with a conversation wrought with emotion.

 I am extremely passionate about ‘in-yer-face’ theatre: Ravenhill’s and Kane’s plays are on my shelves, and yet I have unfortunately not been able to see them performed. To call a text ‘in-yer-face’ seems to miss the point, I have realised after tonight’s Mercury Fur. What makes it so disturbing, so violating, is actually being in the presence of it.

Director Jacob Lovick absolutely understood the importance of this. Staged in the basement rehearsal room of the Guild, the audience was instantly removed from the student bubble and into a dingy flat strewn with the signs of depleting life. The play utilised the whole space, creating a sense of claustrophobia: the characters moved around the audience, absorbing them into the world of the play. The lack of interval was also a nice touch (a la Shopping and F***ing): there was no escape from the unrelenting emotions.

 It really does take a stellar cast to pull off a play like this: get it slightly wrong, and the uncomfortableness you’re trying to create will be plain awkward. This cast not only succeeded in making me cry a grand total of three times (which is quite a feat; I’ve only ever cried at five films and maybe one play), but made me feel physically uncomfortable: I couldn’t sit back in my chair, I wanted to escape and stay simultaneously, my skin was crawling and I was shaking at the end of the performance.

 I was utterly astounded by the quality of the acting in this production; not only did I forget that I was watching a play in the Guild, I forgot that I was watching students act. Calum Witney was by far the stand-out member of this cast. His accent and ability to master Elliot’s swings of emotion was phenomenal. Ben Firth also made an excellent Darren: he was able to capture his naivety and pure adoration of Elliot. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Witney and Firth; I truly believed in their bond as brothers, not only through Ridley’s writing, but the actors’ execution of it.

When Naz was introduced into the mix, I instantly prickled: Ridley introduces a character that is quite frankly annoying. However, Alice Hodgson made her loveable. I felt sincere concern for the character, and was utterly horrified when I realised her fate. Additionally, Hodgson’s performance of Naz’s monologues and her character post-torture were incredibly convincing and very distressing to watch.

David Williams was a genius choice for Lola. The text calls for a man to play this part, but at times Williams’s mannerisms and expressions were so convincing I almost forgot his sex. The chemistry between Witney and Williams was also entirely believable, and I found the scenes between the characters incredibly touching.

Daisy Tudor was fantastic as The Duchess, deftly exploring her character’s tortured mental state through carefully selected movements and delivery of lines. Pairing her with Danny Hetherington as Spinx was also a brilliant move: while I was oddly intrigued by and pitying of The Duchess, Spinx’s devotion to her was unsettling, and Hetherington’s ability to switch into Spinx’s sadistic mode was excellent. Jack Fairley still made an impression with his minor role: the Party Guest was utterly creepy and disgusting from the moment he stepped into the room, let alone when he revealed his dark fantasy.

The crew of this production must also be praised highly: the effects and make-up used in the play were very convincing; I felt entirely immersed in the world of Mercury Fur.

The point of in-yer-face theatre is to push its audience to the very limits. There were points during the performance where I really wanted to leave but was oddly impelled to stay. What I struggled with was my desire to stop it – I really did feel like it was all unfolding around me – and also the range of emotions I experienced: at one moment I would be disturbed and sickened; a matter of seconds later, I would be laughing, and I felt incredibly unnerved  by this. This is why I love plays like Mercury Fur: at the end, I feel like someone has reached inside my body, pulled something out and made me really look at it. With in-yer-face theatre, the audience is made to look at themselves and assess how they would act in certain situations or evaluate their behaviour and emotions. There is betrayal at every level in this play, sadism, cruelty, anger, and love. It is a truly exceptional example of postmodern nihilism and an intense exploration of the human state, and I (strangely) loved every minute of it.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Birmingham Footnotes @ 6/8 Kafé

birmingham-footnotesThe Birmingham Footnotes show at the 6/8 Kafé was an entertaining night out. The coffee specialist café seemed an appropriately intimate venue for a very good turnout for this variety comedy show. Lit by candle lights and introduced by an engaging compere, the tone was set for some light-hearted slapstick, wit and humour. There were numerous short stand-up acts which kept the pace of the three-part evening fast and engaging, broken up by a couple of short sketches.

It began with a trio of comedians introduced by the first of the night’s excellent comperes, Jacob Lovick, with his tales of failures in flirtation. The audience were engaged with a show that fulfilled its promise of ‘excitement’ and ‘intrigue’. We learnt to compare the classification of weed as a ‘drug’ to the notion of Pluto as a planet through Ludo Cinelli’s energetic skit and were amused by the ‘Wheatbisk’ stand-up performance by Daniel Moroney. The acts utilised a good range of comedic devices, as pointed out overtly on one occasion.

Dorian Wainwright stepped up to do the compering in the second act and after a short break the fluidity of the evening returned with a timely couple of sketches from ‘Everything but the Gravy’. In the final section the cleverly constructed storyline of Tyler Harding’s rant about the London Underground seemed a simple universal tale that captivated the audience’s imagination and provoked laughter. Following that, we were treated to the wonders of giving blood and the perceived consequences of failing to do so.

kaffe-birminghamMy only criticism during the evening is some of the jokes were not understood by the wider audience beyond the University society; however the format of the evening meant there was a comedy style for every audience member. The humour was light-hearted and self-mocking which made for an uplifting and entertaining evening.

By Adam Spicer
@adam_spicer