Tag Archive | "Comedy"

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Review: Kiss me, Figaro!, Riverside Studios

Posted on 17 February 2014 by Kirsty Emmerson

In the hours before Valentine’s Day there must have been hundreds of holiday-specific shows that aimed to make their audience fall in love. Kiss me, Figaro! is certainly successful in its quest. Produced by the Merry Opera Company, it tells the story of a touring opera troupe whose choice of last-minute replacement tenor (Joe Morgan) does not sit well with the lead soprano (Daisy Brown). Backstage, sparks fly and tempers flare in an exciting introduction to opera that falls into a similar space to Noises Off. This time, however, the romance is key and, as with many love stories, the duo have a history that they seem to only be able to verbalise through song.

Supported by a small but wonderful ensemble, their backstage romancing is soundtracked by a handful of beautiful voices that come together to provide the audience with a pathway into understanding and enjoying opera as a medium. Each of the pieces, be it Puccini, Mozart, Irving Berlin or Donizetti (to name but a few), is arranged accessibly, some with neat introductions and some falling right into place within the story.

It is not all drama and romance, however. There are hilarious interludes from various members of the company, led by Matthew Quirk as Marcus Sherwood – artistic director of the opera-within-the-opera – and his estranged wife Jacqueline (Kristin Finnigan), who quite literally suffers anything for her art. If anything, I would have liked to have seen a little more of their story as a contrast to the central romance, but their presence is felt no matter what their roles, such is their self-assurance and resounding ability. The same goes for the rest of the ensemble, small though it is, with every voice and performance both emotionally and aurally fulfilling. Their characters, ranging from supportive to sharp, from honest to romantic, are played for the laughs as well as the tears.

The stand-outs, however, are most certainly Morgan and Brown, their chemistry on stage perfectly summed up by an early scene in which Brown toys with her beau’s feelings to hilarious but electric effect. Their vocals match well and, as characters backstage, one can almost feel the tension between them. This is heightened by the simple lighting, the dramatic scene changes and the wonderful music provided by Stephen Hose, on stage throughout and full of an unerring enthusiasm and concentration for a note perfect performance.

The Merry Opera Company here provides a sweet, funny and romantic introduction into the world of opera, with a hard-working, innovative cast who, while performing such fascinating and complex pieces, provide an entry level into a complex art form. As, admittedly, a newcomer to the genre, their crash course in operatic romance – entwined with a backstage drama-comedy – is not only satisfying, but has definitely ignited an interest in the opera and its romantic leanings. Go and see it – it could light a fire under the coldest of hearts.

Kiss me, Figaro! is playing at the Riverside Studios until 2 March, then going on tour. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.

Kirsty Emmerson

Kirsty Emmerson

Final year English student, determined to get into theatre by hook or by crook, I spend half of my time reading and the other half trying to write on anything and everything I can get my hands on. Fuelled by tea and whatever new food I’m trying this week, you’ll find me in theatres or bookshops, probably mumbling about Shakespeare or the latest cricket scores.

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Review: The Boy With Tape On His Face – Cornucopia, Palace Theatre

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Briony Rawle

When I learned that one-man mime act The Boy With Tape On His Face would be playing a full-length show for one night at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, I wondered how a performer could sustain a show of that scale alone. As it turns out, the Boy is disappointingly absent from most of the show, but in Cornucopia The Boy still achieves something actually quite remarkable.

The show is introduced as a ‘cornucopia’ of theatre designed to overthrow television, skipping from act to act as if the audience is channel-hopping between channels of live theatre. This provides a facility for an assorted jumble of what we assume to be The Boy’s favourite contemporary variety acts; thus a West End audience finds itself watching a woman dressed as a bee tap-dancing to ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’, and a comedian who catches a cabbage on his spiked helmet flung at him by a home-made catapult at the other end of the stage. The Boy has managed to smuggle dozens of variety acts into the West End under his own name, and has given them a platform that they might never have gained on their own.

Notable acts include The Noise Next Door, who invent a hilarious boy band-style love ballad on the spot for an audience member, as well as Joe Black’s wailing minor-key version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ accompanied by the accordion. Burlesque queen Lili La Scala sings us ‘I Google You’, deadpan comic John Moloney tickles us with the hypocrisy of the RSPCA, and the Gein’s Family Gift Shop made me absolutely howl with their sketch about a gorilla learning sign language. There are fabulous smeary-faced, coke-sniffing ballerinas, a mind-reader who can’t read minds, and a man doing an impression of a raptor to the Jurassic Park theme music. Because why not? Not to mention a surprise appearance by the legendary magician Paul Daniels.

The choice of venue, though historically apt given the Palace Theatre’s relationship with variety in the early twentieth century, perhaps holds the show back slightly, as performances mostly designed for cabaret clubs and fringe venues seem slightly agoraphobic in the large auditorium. At one point, comedian Terry Alderton’s Gollum-esque alter ego growls “The ones on the bottom [in the stalls] understand, but the ones on the top [pointing to the gallery] don’t”, aptly acknowledging that this kind of theatre needs proximity between performer and audience, and is damaged by the segregating grandeur of a gilded proscenium arch. There were also problems with the tech which badly let down the show, affecting almost every single performer: most unforgivably, some of the comedians were left floundering in excruciating post-punchline limbo, unable to exit until their light had gone to blackout. It also feels as though more could have been done with the ‘television’ design concept, which doesn’t make the most of the well-edited and entertaining snippets of terrible TV from over the years that flash up on a screen in between acts.

The overall effect is that of an Edinburgh Fringe-flavoured Britain’s Got Talent, clips of which are cleverly and self-consciously featured in the video interludes. However, this talent show comes without the smooth-edged squeaky-cleanliness of BGT, instead offering us an exciting peek into the wilder side of theatre from our comfortable plush red seats. After all, variety is the spice of life.

For for more information on The Boy With Tape On His Face and upcoming shows, see The Boy With Tape On His Face website.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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Review: Nish Kumar is a Comedian, Soho Theatre

Posted on 14 December 2013 by Amina Bhuiyan

Nish KumarOver the next two weeks in the heart of Soho, Nish Kumar is being funny. Humbly inspiring affection from the audience and, more remarkably, his critics, Kumar speaks about being “ethnically ambiguous” and his experience of online identity theft. The thieves have not stolen his details for monetary gain as you would expect, in fact it is simply his face which they have used to represent the term “confused Muslim” in the world of the web. Indeed, when you search the term, memes with his face plastered on them appear with amusing and often offensive slogans.

Kumar is offended not only because he has not permitted this use of his face, but also because he is not a Muslim. Its not that he finds being regarded as a Muslim offensive he says, its just that he’s not. And he has the foreskin to prove it – thankfully he only tells us this part.

Kumar identifies himself as British Asian and though some of his comedy centres around this, not all of his cleverly structured skits do. Originally of Indian origin, Kumar experiences racism. However, it is not the predictable slurs he finds himself on the end of. Being ethnically ambiguous (a term he has coined, which begs the question of why it isn’t more widely used – it is exactly this type of concise truthfulness that makes his show funny), Kumar often finds himself on the receiving end of insults for pretty much any race that isn’t white, resulting in quite peculiar reactions.

Reference to current events make for a relevant show. Scattered with his astute and well put observations, which vary between great mirth and grave seriousness, his set moves at a well measured pace.

Having had a critically acclaimed run this year at the Edinburgh festival, he now brings Nish Kumar Is a Comedian to Soho. Kumar is clearly on his way to mainstream success. Perhaps it is because he isn’t quite there yet that, unusually for a comedian, he seems like a very affable, regular man with a wonderfully quirky world view.  I would warn you not to be misled by this demeanour though, as he put some latecomers in their seats very quickly with some sharp quips and the best of swear words!

I would advise you to go and see him quickly because he is funny, genuine and we need more variety in the current face of British stand up. But mainly because he is really funny.

Nish Kumar is a Comedian is running until 21 Dec at the Soho Upstairs For tickets and more information go to the Soho Theatre website.

Amina Bhuiyan

Amina Bhuiyan

By day Amina works for an accountancy firm in the city. By night she writes about theatre. She has worked with numerous organisations including RADA, The National Youth Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has also studied Drama & Theatre studies and English Language & Literature. Aside from theatre, she also likes a number of things - including but not limited to - food. And then writing about that as well.

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Review: Sue: The Second Coming, Soho Theatre

Posted on 12 December 2013 by Amelia Forsbrook

Sue The Second ComingTo raucous cries of “I love Sue”, a stereotypical Sunday school teacher enters a homely set embellished with tinsel, kitsch decorations and Christian iconography. Immediately, our unlikely heroine’s less-than-subtle fan club is abruptly halted by a sharp “shh”, as Dafydd James’s prim alter-ego takes her place at the piano and launches into her seasonal follow-up to the 2009 cult musical hit My Name is Sue.

With her fringe freshly home-clipped, and a familiar frumpy style adorned by the kind of cardigan that not even Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day campaign could excuse, shy disciplinarian Sue warms up the audience for her very own nativity play. Accompanied by three mardy musicians, all wearing red jumpers, badly cut wigs and frowns – and, curiously, all called Sue – James’s character delivers lyrics of deceptive simplicity in a neatly-whisked falsetto.

A one-hour comedy piece centred on what happens nine months after you get knocked up in a Debenhams changing room won’t be the first place you’d look for a settling balance of warmth, humour and winter goodwill. Fortunately, there’s an incredible sense of discipline in this work by Dafydd James and Ben Lewis. While there’s something deliberately flat about Sue’s lyrical contribution – “I’ve polished my baubles / So [. . .]  listen to my warbles”, she trills – lead performer James layers this innocence with know-how and control. On the piano, James is a veritable jukebox, powering through the Christmas hits faster than a frostbitten choir eager to get out of the cold. While Sue’s eager, smiling face is the very picture of credulity, Lewis and James’s script bears a magnificence that clashes the Yuletide idealism of our central character with the dreary banality of real life.

Like the child that inadvertently provokes laughter by spilling embarrassing home truths, Sue’s humour lies in how she seems as surprised by the nature of her revelations as her audience. Sue: The Second Coming may be conducted in a bleating falsetto but, despite her easily-imitated style (there are reports a whole front row has come dressed in wigs and jumpers ripped straight out of Sue’s closet), there’s a real truth in the character of Sue, who is a surprisingly complex being. Exhibiting unfaltering naivety, Sue sways between vulnerability and creepiness, and is someone both to worry for and worry about. There’s a foreboding undercurrent here, and the production is darker and cannier than its surface simplicity suggests.

As Sue skips around stage assembling cocktails from Advocaat, eagerly switching on fairy lights and inviting audience members to join her in an idiosyncratic take on ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, a sparkling sense of seasonal jollity is prevalent. But Sue: The Second Coming is also the theatrical Rennie to all your seasonal overindulgence, as James and Lewis’s keen eyes focus upon a more realist take on familiar narratives – for instance, as Sue follows the footsteps of Scrooge through Christmases past, present and future, the passing of time is casually indicated by the expansions and contractions of the giraffe-shaped damp patch on the wall.

Christmas can be a time of good cheer and song but, in Sue’s world, it can also be a time spent navigating the public expulsions of bodily waste, running to the Christmas tree in order to unwrap a chicken vindaloo ready-meal for one, and lamenting the life of the manky goat who is destined to lurk around biblical mangers until she is sold into the feta trade. Armed by Sue’s tainted innocence and the writers’ astute observations, Sue: The Second Coming manages to navigate the season by riffing on our ability to sentimentalise, while never falling into sentimentality.

Sue: The Second Coming is playing at Soho Theatre until 14 December. For more information and tickets, see The Soho Theatre website

Amelia Forsbrook

Formerly one of the Wales Arts International critics, Amelia moved to London in early 2012 with two big aims: to continue working as an arts writer, and to discover whether it's ever possible to pull off both telephones and flying in theatre. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance and twentieth century European theatre, Amelia writes for a number of other publications, as well as being an Off West End Assessor.

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