Review: Counting Sheep

Style: immersive theatre

Where: The Vaults

To note: make them aware of food allergies, preferences etc. Strobe lights used.

5/5 stars

I am blown away.

Rarely does taking part in a piece of theatre speak so directly to the core of my being, but Counting Sheep is one of the most exciting, moving and provoking pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

Set in Ukraine around the 2014 revolution we are introduced to the action by Mark – a Canadian of Ukrainian heritage who is visiting the country as a travelling musician. He gets swept up in the revolution and through him so too does the audience.

Read more at Plays to See.

Review: The Greatest Snowman

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Cast of The Greatest Snowman. Photo credit @arabellaitani

 

Title: The Greatest Snowman

Style: immersive dining

Where: Pedley Street Station, Bethnal Green

To note: make them aware of food allergies, preferences etc.

3.5/5 stars

The Greatest Snowman is enormous – if slightly confusing – fun.

Played pretty much as a straight up pantomime, it come across as charmingly childlike and simple. The storyline is not taxing, and the immersive element was less prominent than in recent production by the same team Journey to the Underworld.

The food was just as delicious though. And what made this production considerably less child-friendly was the copiously flowing booze. Not that this reviewer is complaining about that! But it does make for a slight sense of dichotomy. This is a show I think my nephew and niece would enjoy, in an atmosphere I probably wouldn’t bring them to.

The scene is set by the conductor Doris (Ingrid Miller – whose performance owes more than a little to Su Pollard in Hi Di Hi) who welcomes us and flogs us Babysham (which is just as grim as you remember it being). There is then a battle for the spirit of Christmas embodied in the life and backstory of Mr Snow (Chris Heaney) – a human raised as the last of the snow people.

This is a silly romp and a highly enjoyable one. Much of your enjoyment does come from the others at your table as when the food is served the action is paused. We had a delightful bunch and were well looked after. No part of this experience is left much to chance.

Afterwards, we spent time in the lovely Christmas grotto themed bar – I highly recommend the gingerbread based cocktails.

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Photo credit @arabellaitani

Overall this is a great, fun, lighthearted night out. The food is way above average and the ambience is a delight. Once again this is not theatre that will change your life, but it will give you a rollicking good time. Just watch out for the morning after!

Review: Divine Proportions

Title: Divine Proportions

Style: immersive dining

Where: The Vaults, Waterloo

When: Until 12th January

To note: make them aware of food allergies etc.

3/5 stars

Divine Proportions promises much and almost – almost – delivers.

The party atmosphere is apparent from the beginning. Audience members are encouraged to dress decadently and buy further glitter on arrival.

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Your intrepid author attempting to dress like a glamorous goddess…

The music is classic hen night decadence and performed brilliantly in the downstairs bar by the cast who writhe with appropriate abandon. In fact, the downstairs bar action is by far the highlight of the show.

The problem with the main action is partly one of the venue and partly one of the production.

In terms of the venue, there is no sound amplification in the parts of the room furthest from the stage. Given the open inducement to get raucously drunk and the Saturday night crowd’s absolute willingness to do so (our party was no exception), we couldn’t really hear a lot of what was going on.

The venue was very full and as such the action on the night was very much dependent on who you were sat with or next to. I went with one other person and we were surrounded and somewhat overwhelmed by much larger groups. To avoid that, I would recommend smaller groups go during the week.

IMG_0475 c Lara Maysa

Divine Proportions had a pretty high innuendo threshold and there were some genuinely sexy moments to behold. The worshipfulness of the Maenads towards Dionysus was well played in particular. A slight bugbear of mine is that for a show all about the worship of all things flesh – all the flesh was very much female. No man-candy to behold. While most of the time an all-female cast would be held to be radical, and certainly Dionysus’s empowered sexuality was an exemplary performance of a woman – or even a goddess – at home in her own body. But to have an all-female cast at this kind of show felt almost reactionary. Women for looking at and encouraging the audience to eat drink and be very, very merry.

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Divine Proportions is a fun night out. Not quite theatre, not quite burlesque, not quite vaudeville it is a decent meal with a floorshow you enjoy what you can catch of this. What I can’t tell is if it has pretensions to be more than that. if so, it should give those up and embrace its hen-night destiny.

 

Review: Frankenstein

Title: Frankenstein
Style: Site-specific promenade
Where: Sutton House, 2 – 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, E9 6JQ
When: Until 3rd November
To Note: Mobility required – will climb stairs, dress warmly

Rating: 4/5

Frankenstein sets itself firmly in the 80s before the show begins with a thumping and iconic 80s soundtrack. As you enter the “squat” space and are greeted by a group with a very strong ‘Legs Akimbo‘ vibe telling ghost stories. As Mary speaks, she tells of a dream she had – a dream the group shared of a family suffering a tragedy.

As they tell it the story takes over and we are led through their interpretation of Frankenstein.

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L-R: Justine (Katy Helps), Henry (Chris Dobson), Victor Frankenstein (Jeff Scott), Elizabeth (Jennifer Tyler_). Photo by John Wilson.

First my usual bugbear. This isn’t an immersive production despite being billed as such. Yes, the audience goes on separate journeys in the first half, but there is no interaction between us and the characters and no audience-led content.

What it is is site-specific. It makes excellent use of Sutton House as a venue, drawing both on its recent history as a squat and arts venue and it’s gothic grandeur as a space. It works to heighten the tension right down to having appropriately creaky wooden doors.

The story is a feminist twist on the classic Frankenstein story, strengthening the character of Justine (Kay Helps) to make her Victor’s equal rather than subordinate and making the monster a woman  (Molly Small). The traditional loneliness of the monster is heightened by her desire to become a mother – to have someone to love and depend on her wholly. While This is an interesting approach that did make the women of the piece much more visible, I’m not sure how feminist it is to centre the female experience on motherhood. But the delivery – especially by Molly Small was so powerful that it worked.

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Victor Frankenstein (Jeff Scott) and his monster (Molly Small) – photo by John Wilson.

The play uses a number of clever devices. The lighting, in particular, was exceptionally well designed not just to direct your mood, but to literally tell you what was happening. The switch from the spotlights of the action to the fairy lights of the interval literally lifted the mood. The music works to set different moods throughout and as mentioned, the use of the Sutton House space works very well.

I was less enthralled by the costumes and props which blended 1980s with early 1800s in a way that didn’t quite work for me. The show of Victor playing SEGA as he deteriorated and went into himself was well done in itself, but overall, it just confused to the point where it distracted from the drama.

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Elizabeth (Jennifer Tyler) with ‘William’ – Phont by John Wilson.

A particular mention has to be made for the puppetry. Its inherent creepiness is well rewarded with a second half twist that was as brilliantly shocking as it was dramatic. Incredibly well played out, it set the scene for an incredibly affecting last 20 minutes that I found moving, disturbing and hard to shake off. If you’re anything like me, the challenge of the last 5 minutes will stay with you for some time and it is the strength of this ending that more than makes up for any pickiness I had earlier.

This is a disturbing, enlightening and properly gothic production. The ambience and atmosphere of Sutton House suits the drama perfectly and the cast delivers thoughtful scares throughout.

 

 

Journey to the Underworld

Title: Journey to the Underworld

Style: immersive dining

Where: Pedley Street Station, Bethnal Green

When: Until 7th November

To note: make them aware of food allergies etc.

3.5 stars

Schlocky Horror!

Dinner theatre is back and it’s gone immersive. This show – set in the main in a well-appointed train carriage journeying to hell – is great fun, if a little on the silly side.

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The story is pretty basic – the train’s conductor is actually a long-lost lover of a woman kidnapped by the master of hell to be his bride. For a thousand years, he’s been seeking to rescue her and tonight could be the night. Simple Fairytale fare.

The same cannot be said for the food which was anything but simple. From the sumptuous butternut squash amuse bouche to the divine chocolate and honey dessert each course was sophisticated and delightful. It didn’t necessarily match the Hammer Horror production of the play, but the interplay worked surprisingly well. I wasn’t drinking, but I was also told by companions that the cocktails were seriously up to scratch too.

Combining theatre with food has always been a tricky business (my favourite depiction will always remain Kevin Kline’s bravura performance in the much underrated Soapdish – churning out Death of a Salesman as the elderly complain about their chicken). Immersive theatre is a great answer to this. Of course the audience are noisy and rowdy – eating and drinking with abandon. They’re supposed to be – that’s part of the production.

PHOTO-2018-09-27-15-50-33-optimisedSo the cast running around serving our food, clearing our plates and keeping the story ticking along to be timed with the food (exceptionally well done here) seemed just natural. But making immersive theatre – especially a play about travelling to the underworld on a first class train – seem normal takes a great deal of skill. Claude the Conductor and his assistant Gordy did just that.

This is not the kind of immersive theatre that will challenge your inner being. It didn’t change my perspective on life and death, love or burlesque. But it was a rollicking night out. Sometimes that’s the real key.

 

Review: Accomplice

Title: Accomplice New York
Style: Immersive theatre meets treasure hunt
Where: Downtown Manhatten
When: Until October
To Note: Mobility required, alcohol and food included

Rating: 4/5

How to enjoy theatre, keep fit and see parts of Manhatten you might not otherwise experience! Accomplice is a fun, problem-solving experience which will give you your 10,000 steps all over Downtown.

You won’t receive the address until the day before you arrive and you won’t end up in the same place as you start. Along the way, you’ll be guided by a series of characters some more eccentric than others. You’ll also interact with real-life New Yorkers who will give you instructions along the way too.

Accomplice

You’re well guided through the experience. While your group will spend a lot of time alone walking between scenes and working out puzzles, the actors do pretty well at keeping your experience on the rails. Because of the alone time, your experience will be somewhat dependent on your group – throw an arsehole into the mix and it could be a considerably less fun experience.

Luckily my gang were lovely. We worked well together solving clues and following maps. We got a bit confused and tried to open a number of doors we had no right to access – but overall, we Worked well on the puzzles and found them just the right level of challenging and fun.

This game isn’t for everyone. You’ll be walking through crowded spaces and sometimes covering quite long distances. But for those who Can take the walking and crowds, this is a really enjoyable way to see the Lower East Side.