Review of The HIV Monologues at the Ace Hotel

The HIV Monologues (c) Eliza Goroya

The HIV Monologues (c) Eliza Goroya

The HIV Monologues is a poignant and as theme-affirming as you would expect but unfortunately, stand-alone, lacks the punch of productions similar to it, such as William M. Hoffman’s As Is. This play follows through the crossing lives of four individuals; Alex (a struggling actor who lands a role in a play regarding HIV), Nick (Alex’s one-off Tinder date, recently diagnosed HIV Positive), Barney (the HIV-positive playwright to which Alex plays in) and Irene (an NHS Nurse who’s helped HIV/AIDS patients since the outbreak in the 80s). All these characters have their own story to tell and with this, makes this play something worth acknowledging.

We meet Alex (Denholm Spurr) going to meet Nick (Kane Surry) on a Tinder date and soon it is revealed Nick, his date in question, has recently diagnosed HIV-Positive. Alex freaks out and the date ends abruptly. Following this, Alex finds himself auditioning for a play where the playwright, Barney (Jonathan Blake), is HIV-Positive. Barney’s nurse, Irene (Charly Flyte), also gives her thoughts and shares her stories on helping with the disease since the 80s to now.

The cast have great chemistry and keep the attention of their audience. What can be awful about a show created with monologues is that it can sometimes be very aware to an audience that it’s just a series of monologues – but the cast are engaging with their stories throughout. The HIV Monologues can currently be seen at the ACE Hotel in Shoreditch. Writer, Patrick Cash manages to flow the stories well and gives the audience a multi-dimensional look at its characters, all inspiring and also flawed in their own ways – we are able to understand all their intentions and sympathise at times. Their drives are displayed clearly and can make those unaware of the LGBT Culture and the HIV/AIDS stigma a lot more informed without throwing it in their faces. Luke Davies’ direction is calm and subtle, leaving the actors a lot of freedom. The criticism is that the play, for the most part, is all on one-level – you come out feeling the same way you did when you came in. However, being a gay man, LGBT advocate, writer and performer in my own right, I can admit that this may not be the case for people outside of this spectrum.

This play has seen the attention of many foundations and community charities such as The Terrence Higgins Trust and rightfully so, but after seeing its audience and reading its acclaimed reception, I can see the play as ‘reciting to the choir’ and not even exactly preaching.

By putting this play on tour, perhaps putting it in GCSE/A-Level schools and even workplaces, The HIV Monologues could help even further with getting rid of the stigma that comes with the being HIV-Positive and educating on PEP/PrEP and the whole situation nowadays which, in an after-show discussion, was one of the main problems charities and the NHS are having now with dealing with their cases.

The HIV Monologues may not hit as hard as it hopes, but from its successful run last year and this revival, I hope for more venues on a national scale.

3 and a half stars

Review by Elliott Jordan

After a critically acclaimed launch at the end of 2016, Dragonflies Theatre’s new production returns in 2017, exploring HIV amongst gay men through a series of interwoven stories. Writer Patrick Cash and director Luke Davies continue their work, including show The Clinic and The Chemsex Monologues, in bringing important queer stories to the UK stage with The HIV Monologues, which stars inspiration for the film Pride and one of the first people to diagnosed with HIV in the UK Jonathan Blake.

Alex knows nothing about HIV but knew he should have worn the power bottom singlet. Nick is his Tinder date who’s just been diagnosed positive, struggling with self-worth. Their date is going amazingly until Nick discloses his diagnosis… And Alex reacts in the worst way. Through meeting Irene, an Irish nurse who treated AIDS in the 1980s, and Barney, who was saved by the 1996 medication, Alex gets on PrEP, but will he be able to win Nick back?

The HIV Monologues
Writer Patrick Cash
Director Luke Davies
Producer Dragonflies Theatre and Theatre Bench

Cast Jonathan Blake, Kane Surry, Denholm Spurr, Charly Flyte
Performance Dates February 2nd 2017 – February 19th 2017
Running Time 70 mins
Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JQ

The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York’s Theatre – Review

The Glass MenagerieThe Glass Menagerie is a memory play, says the narrator, Tom Wingfield, at the beginning. He knows what’s going to happen. He tells us it will be the arrival of that long-delayed something we live for.

The set glows, the impression is of warmth and welcome although it’s the small interior of an impoverished 1930s apartment in St Louis where Tom lives with his mother and sister. The apartment is entered by means of a fire escape, which stretches way up into the dark, as if it’s a ladder to the stars.

Which is a metaphor for something else this play is about. The ways in which people’s minds may reach in isolation for their own secret dreams and illusions while daily sharing physical places. A woman requires a man as a financial necessity in these times.

Tom, played by Michael Esper, works in a warehouse in a job he detests while longing to be a writer. He’s been obliged to take on the financial responsibility for his mother, Amanda and fragile sister, Laura, because his father has long ago wandered off into irresponsibility, to explore the world. As Tom wishes to, as Tom knows he will, looking back on the events he’s describing in the play. He’s the bad son of a bad man, he says.

Cherry Jones played Amanda in director, John Tiffany’s original production of the play which opened on Broadway to considerable acclaim. Her appearance in this role at the Duke of York’s Theatre marks her West End debut where Miss Jones is commanding as the great stage character that is Amanda Wingfield. A woman who attempts to control her adult children while they evade her, just as their father did, Amanda is desperate to ensure the family’s continued survival by whatever means she must, dealing with her straightened circumstances with bravado and dash, sometimes delusion. Her melodramatic propensity for bragging about the supposed glory days of her youth makes her appear ridiculous at first.

But it is Amanda’s inner world of the delight of reminiscence, whether embellished or not, which carries through the difficulties of her impoverished, disappointing present. As she ruminates about other lives she might have enjoyed, if only she had not fallen in love with the man she did. As she tells her daughter to wish for happiness and a little luck.

Tom and his mother explore their relationship in the first act, bound together in place but isolated from one another in strident frustration and resistance. He fights with his mother to claim his identity as she fights the same old desperate battles she must once have fought with his father, seeking to make him stay.

It is Laura, played by Kate O’Flynn, who brings beautiful nuance and delicacy to this family and also to this production. She slips into Tom’s memory of the family sitting room through the back of the sofa. She’s a delicate, crippled girl, who thinks little of herself, aware she is strange, not like other girls. For Laura is by inclination solitary, visiting the penguins at the zoo daily while pretending to be at college. She also has a collection of ornamental glass animals, one of which is a unicorn, she loves to play with. When Laura’s alone, as she engages with this tiny menagerie, many small lights reflect in the water pools surrounding the hexagonal petals on which the set sits. It’s a beautiful, moving representation of the world of the imagination.

Laura is forced by her mother to participate in a meeting with her brother’s friend from work, played by Brian J Smith. Hilariously, Amanda welcomes this Gentleman Caller to her home in the Southern Belle style dress she was wearing when she first met her no-good husband, and proceeds to flirt with him.

It is however when Amanda and Tom have left the stage to Laura and her Gentleman Caller that magic happens. What is conjured up between the pair of them is the creation of a memory sufficiently tender to haunt them both for the rest of their lives.

Brian J. Smith and Kate O’Flynn work perfectly together, his masculinity, her femininity, their characters different natures complementing one another as they open up sufficiently to one another to discover they are able to share and marvel at each other’s inner worlds. How they shine, these two as they do that.

Go. It’s a wonderful, unforgettable production.

4 Stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Time is the longest distance between two places.

Following a multi-Tony Award-nominated run on Broadway, Oliver and Tony Award-winning director John Tiffany (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, Let the Right One In, Black Watch) revives his visionary staging of Tennessee Williams’ heart-rending masterpiece about a family struggling to survive on hopes and dreams.

A domineering mother. A daughter lost in a world of her own. A son desperate to leave. Former Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield, played by Tony Award-winning Broadway icon Cherry Jones, enlists the help of son Tom (Michael Esper) to find a husband for her fragile daughter Laura (Kate O’Flynn). But will the long-awaited ‘gentleman caller’ (Brian J. Smith) fulfil or shatter the family’s delicate dreams?

A universally acclaimed creative team bring 1930’s St Louis stylishly to life. With movement by Olivier Award-winning Steven Hoggett, Set and Costume Design by multi Tony Award-winner Bob Crowley, Lighting Design by multi Tony Award-winner Natasha Katz, Sound Design from Olivier and Tony Award-winning Paul Arditti and Music by celebrated composer Nico Muhly, this is a stunning and evocative production of Tennessee Williams’ heart-breaking classic.

The Glass Menagerie
Duke of York’s Theatre
45 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG
Book Tickets for The Glass Menagerie

  • Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Show Opened: 26th January 2017
  • Booking Until: 29th April 2017

    Book Tickets for London West End at www.londontheatre1.com

Review of Christina Bianco’s O Come All Ye Divas at Charing Cross Theatre

Christina Bianco

Christina Bianco – Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Christina Bianco has made audiences sit up and take notice over the years, garnering attention through her incredible ability to impersonate and entertain. From starting off with her YouTube channel, notching up a cool 23 million views, and going on to appear on high-profile shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, This Morning and Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2, she has often been referred to as ‘the girl of a thousand voices.’

Her hilarious one-woman show at The Charing Cross Theatre proves exactly why she deserves that title. From the very start, Christina is engaging and effervescent, and throughout the show, she looks diminutive and simply beautiful in a selection of stunning, sparkly gowns. The atmosphere in the intimate theatre space is warm, cosy and festive, with a giant Christmas tree set on the stage, and everybody from the on-stage band members to the audience is in good spirits.

Comedy is clearly Christina’s forte; she has the audience enraptured at all times and gleefully applauding her impressions of everybody from Adele to Shakira, from Julie Andrews to Bjork, from Christina Aguilera to Edith Piaf and Celine Dion.

Christina’s repertoire is slick and concise, and she seamlessly makes the transition between chatty, conversational anecdotes and belting out those full diva-esque power tunes.

Christina’s impersonations of these famous divas are just astounding. She announces who each person is meant to be beforehand, but to be honest the impressions are so accurate she really doesn’t need to. Some of the songs have been cleverly re-worked with Christina’s own personal comedy touches, and they totally work – the audience is thrilled throughout, laughing out loud and shouting out their appreciation. There is a sweet segment where Christmas crackers are thrown out into the audience and recipients are invited to pull them apart with a neighbour and read out the suggestions inside – some people have diva suggestions, some song suggestions. Christina then pairs these suggestions up and effortlessly creates something magical out of these spontaneous pairings, displaying what a talent she has for off-the- cuff artistry (Julie Andrews singing ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J, anyone?!)

Joe Louis Robinson lends his talent and expertise to this cabaret-style gem of a show as musical director. Working in collaboration with Christina onstage, their real-life close friendship is evident throughout – both bounce off one another in a charming fashion, and during Christina’s costume changes Joe treats us all to glorious piano interludes.

All round a truly festive and uplifting evening, O Come All Ye Divas is certainly not to be missed – a perfect night of amazing talent to warm the hearts of even the coldest Grinch in the run up to Christmas!!

5 star rating

Review by Louise Czupich

Join Celine Dion, Adele, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Britney Spears & more of your favorite female vocalists, on stage together in the singular form of Christina Bianco!

A girl of a thousand voices, Bianco’s diverse repertoire spans from Edith Piaf to Ariana Grande. Through soaring vocals and jaw-dropping impressions, the show will feature classic renditions and unlikely interpretations of beloved holiday tunes. With hilarious sketches, interactive games, and a fabulous band, Christina will take you on a seasonal celebration like no other!

Broadway and West End performer Christina Bianco’s singular voice and comedic charm has brought audiences around the world to their feet. Bianco captured international acclaim as a YouTube sensation with her ‘diva’ impression videos, gaining over 23 million views. She has performed on The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Paul O’Grady Show, This Morning and Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2.

Two-time Drama Desk Award nominee, Bianco made her West End debut in Forbidden Broadway at The Vaudeville Theatre. She has performed her critically acclaimed solo shows, Diva Moments and Party Of One, to sold out crowds in the US and the UK. She recently completed a 14 city UK tour, titled, Me Myself And Everyone Else, earning 5 star reviews across the country.

Christina Bianco’s O Come, All Ye Divas! at the Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL
Booking to 7th January 2017

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Review of THIS HOUSE at the Garrick Theatre

This House at Garrick Theatre LondonThe place of politics in theatre is a hot topic at the moment. However, if you want to see why it’s so important that it does have a place, go and see This House.

James Graham’s masterpiece has made it’s way from the National to the Garrick in style, with Rae Smith’s set working exquisitely with the narrative and allowing the show to be quick and captivating, which it is throughout. Do not let the running time put you off (the show is just under three hours long), because never has a show wizzed by with such flair.

It is an ensemble piece if ever I saw one, without a weak link in sight. It is hard to pick stand-out performers in a cast this strong, but I particularly enjoyed Lauren O’Neill’s portrayal of Ann Taylor and Nathaniel Parker’s Jack Weatherill. Both characters were portrayed as incredibly complex and yet ultimately likeable and funny. The entire cast should be applauded (as should genius director Jeremy Herrin) as all of their portrayals are well rounded and convincing and it is why the show never lags.

It is unsurprising, however, as James Graham’s script is an actors dream. The characters are honest and realistic and he trusts the audience to be invested enough in the story to follow, rather than spoon-feeding them. He tells the stories of these people with dignity and yet not writing anyone as a hero or a villain, which so many plays about two political parties do. He is confident enough in the writing that he doesn’t seem to feel the need to highlight parallels between politics then and now, again trusting the audience to be smart enough to make their own. It avoids cheapening the story and is so refreshing to have a writer that doesn’t assume the audience isn’t intelligent enough to follow along.

I cannot recommend this show enough. It is vibrant, exciting, intelligent and charming and I imagine it will become one of the hottest tickets in town. Phenomenal acting, direction and script, you can’t possibly go wrong.

5 star rating

Review by Kara Taylor Alberts

Is a political revolution coming? Will the Labour Party collapse? Can the kingdom stay united?

It’s 1974. And Westminster is about to go to war with itself. Set in the engine rooms of the House of Commons, James Graham’s This House dives deep into the secret world of the Whips who roll up their sleeves and go to often farcical lengths to influence an unruly chorus of MPs within the Mother of all Parliaments.

In an era of chaos, both hilarious and shocking, fist fights break out in the parliamentary bars, high-stake tricks and games are played, while sick or dying MPs are carried through the lobby to register their crucial votes as the government hangs by a thread.

Premiered to universal acclaim at the National Theatre in 2012, This House written by James Graham (The Vote, Privacy) and directed by Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things, Wolf Hall), gives us a timely, moving and often amusing insight into the workings of British politics.

THIS HOUSE
Running Time: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 14+
Show Opened: 19th Nov 2016
Booking Until: 25th Feb 2017

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Review of Trumpageddon at the King’s Head Theatre

Simon Jay TrumpageddonIf you’re on a first date or insecure Trumeggedon is unlikely to be the perfect show for you. If, however, you’ve got a bit of banter and there’s something on your mind you’d like to tackle Donald Trump about, you might find this show fun.

Might, because since Trump is now President Elect, the question you’ll have to decide for yourself before showing up is whether his attitudes to women, gays and anyone he decides to categorise as a foreigner have become so alarming you won’t be able to relish the display of these characteristics as entertainment.

Political times have changed of course since August when the show became a hit in Edinburgh and Trump seemed no more than a ridiculous outsider. The show’s clearly been evolving ever since and the fluidity of its stand-up format should allow it to develop more as events unfold. Meanwhile, Simon Jay has turned himself into a very effective pastiche of a repellent Trump, complete with orange face, bouffant blonde hair and a stained suit. He’s the playing centre of the show, being accompanied occasionally only by a nerdy sidekick, whose task is to bring the tagline for yet another real day’s joke with him every time he appears.

Right from the start of the evening this Trump is trouble. Picking on as many women as possible to embarrass. Be prepared. (Top tip, do not sit in the first row at the far end of the room unless you want to be picked on.) He’s got no sensibilities whatsoever and, as you veer between laughter and discomfort, you begin to sense how peculiar it might be if you were in Trump’s presence for real. Deep resistance to even being asked to applaud is a possibility, particularly at first.

After extracting whatever fun he can from the women in the audience Jay’s Trump turns the high wattage of his attention to the members of the LGBT community, of which there were quite a number on US election night. They all enjoyed themselves with that. There was also enthusiastic engagement with those present from overseas. Not one of the Americans there had voted for him we found out.

Audience participation is at the heart of this show, which means it changes every time and some performances will inevitably be better than others, all depending on the wit of the audience. (That means you.) Going in with a question or two of calibre in mind will certainly help this show along its way. Simon Jay has a ready stream of repartee and invective at hand but the game here is generally best played as ping pong not solitaire. There is however, likely to come a time in the performance when ambivalence gives way to everyone in the room finding everything funny. Including a simple game but amusing game called Find the Bunny. (You’ll find out.)

There is a denouement of some surprise at the end. Suggesting you might like to wonder who exactly is the man behind the mask we know as The Real Donald Trump when he’s tucking his Melania up in bed for the night.

3 and a half stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

580,963 people signed a petition to ban Donald J. Trump from entering the UK. Yet he’s here in London in all his horrifying glory. Immerse yourself in Trump’s vision of the world before he blows it to kingdom come. Witness the way he works an audience up into a fervour, ask him all the burning questions and see what a world would be like if The Donald was president. From five-star writer and performer Simon Jay, this absurdist satire of the next US President is as demented, hysterical and disturbed as the man himself.

Extra date added 14th November 2016
http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/