Meeting Cassandro: Mexico’s most iconic gay wrestler

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Lucha Libre is not just a sport. It’s also theatre. And it’s a kind of ritual violence, acting for its audience like a communal catharsis. Wrestling characters destroy each other in the name of good and evil, often echoing issues of politics or identity in the Mexican psyche…

Click here to read the rest of the article on Dazed

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Samuel Beckett’s The End review

Conor Lovett gives a deeply masterful performance of Samuel Beckett’s oft-forgotten short story, The End, as part of his one-man Beckett in London festival

Hats, boots, excrement, a hobo and death’s beckoning: many of Beckett’s familiar tropes are here in this prototype of his notoriously absurd plays, as part of a one-man Beckett in London festival at the theatrically derelict fringe theatre The Print Room.

Cast out of a mental institution, the solitary deadbeat protagonist hints at having had a lobotomy, which he hides behind one of Beckett’s signature hats. We bear witness to the putrid descent of the final months or years of his life, right down to the eczema in his behind. As with all of Beckett’s signature down-and-outs, he is struggling to survive and yet waiting to die.

Husband and wife duo Judy Hegarty (director) and Conor Lovett (actor) of Gare St Lazare theatre company have chosen to dramatise this wrongfully neglected short story as a monologue, as part of a new one-man Beckett festival.

Conor Lovett’s mild-mannered performance gives Beckettian futility its perfect theatrical expression: his tone of levity remains steady and unresponsive to his character’s great misfortunes, levelling out the events of his life into a litany of nothings.

The production, which has already toured Europe and the US, was roundly dismissed in The New York Times by Laura Collins-Hughes, who could see no reason why the prose should be dramatised. But this is missing the extraordinarily new and entirely befitting aspect that Judy has brought to the piece:

Rather than describing a human situation for the reader to reflect upon, Lovett and Hegarty have created one in front of an audience so we may experience it. Specifically, the experience of living – or being trapped – in time.

Observing the narrator, disintegrating repulsively as he approaches his End, makes us acutely aware that everything he does is to pass the time, or, as he puts it, ‘play the part’ of someone living. Are we the same? Perhaps his situation only differs to ours in degree rather than kind.

There is total disparity between his description of his own mental and physical putrefaction, and his appearance on stage as articulate and charming, with perfect comic timing. Just a couple of benches form the sparse set and Lovett’s appearance as a bald nondescript middle-aged white man similarly does little to furnish his words.

This paradox is a powerful tool: as an archetype rather than a specific man, his words become a comment on the essential nature of our shared human condition.

Inescapably and meaninglessly alive, one can only wait for The End, though the pain of boredom can be momentarily relieved (as we learn: “Scratching is superior to masturbation”). But of course, as with all Beckett, it’s brutally funny. Lovett deserves significant acclaim for his deeply understood rendition, which holds a mirror to the audience and shows us what it means to be human.

Click here to read the article published on culturewhisper.com (paywall)

Review: Elephants, The Hampstead Theatre

A year and a day after the murder of her son, Sally attempts to have a happy Christmas.

Rose Heiney’s first play “Elephants” unpacks a family’s sometimes unsavoury struggle to find a way to be around each other in the wake of this death, which wrenches them from their comfortable middle-class lives.

The audience enters through a low-ceilinged wooden shed, with the evocative bric-a-brac of family – boxes of kids books, failed arts and craft attempts, a skateboard – and treads across the living room carpet on the stage to take our seats. It’s disorientating to be sitting in Polly Sullivan’s incredibly detailed set, with Ikea lampshades and bowls of crisps for the audience to nibble, which blurs the distinction between audience and the action of the play.

Sally (Imogen Stubbs) tries to pave over her family’s grief with Buck’s Fizz and enforced jollity, but only succeeds in pressurising everyone around her into emotional disintegration [nicely summed up]. It is only when she reaches crisis point and abandons pretence, joining her daughter in a childlike disregard for propriety, that the family can begin to process their tragedy.

Daughter Daisy (Bel Powley) acts as a barometer of the family’s insanity. Her recent return from a private psychiatric clinic (“She wasn’t mad enough for the NHS”, snipes her father) is another elephant in the room that cannot be allowed to puncture the façade. However, while in therapy she has learnt that painful thoughts should not be left unsaid. Her dangerous words threaten everyone on stage. Powley’s performance captivates, with her gawky physicality, which belies her ceaseless drive to butcher her family’s relationships.

Husband Richard (Richard Lintern) has opted out. Deep in the throes of a bout of alcoholism, he has disappeared into himself and remains there as a mere placeholder figure in Sally’s Christmas production for much of the play. That is , until a stunning breakthrough monologue delivered from “his shed”, where he has retreated emotionally and physically since long before the action of the play. In a particularly beautifully written section of script, he finally removes his mask and shares his recurrent nightmares.

The production is cleverly cast, each character a fully fleshed picture of concerns, flaws and saving graces. If the first half seems an ever so slightly staid family drama, it sets up a second half of imaginative reversals and weighty character breakthroughs. Witty, at times difficult, and always intelligent, this is a full production deserving of a much larger audience.

“Elephants” by Rose Heiney, Hampstead Downstairs 11 December – 17 January. £5-12

Preview: The Way Back Home, The Young Vic

This first collaboration between The Young Vic and the English National Opera is an introduction to the art form for children. The Way Back Home is adapted from the cherished children’s book by Oliver Jeffers, an inspirational tale of a boy who makes an Icarus-like flight into the sky, beforecrash landing on the moon.

Here, he must learn to extend his hand in interstellar friendship to an initially terrifying Martian, similarly lost and in need of help to find The Way Back Home.

Katie Mitchell, awarded an OBE for her auteurist contributions to British theatre, and Vicki Mortimer, whose vast body of design has accompanied everything from Beckett to classical opera, are the attractive team behind this production. They previously brought us Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat at the National Theatre, which The Telegraph have predicted will ‘become a national institution’.

Rory Mullarkey, who in this year alone has been awarded the Pinter Commission, the George Devine Award and the James Tait Black prize, has adapted the script from the original. The score, performed by the ENO orchestra, comes to us from Joanna Lee, described by the Guardian as a ‘considerable talent’ We think she’s just the right fit to bring this story alive for ages 5-8 and any adult associates equally open to the lessons contained (and a wonderful night at the opera).

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: Assassins, The Menier Chocolate Factory

TV mega star Catherine Tate comes to an 150 seat intimate fringe venue in the spectacular black comedy musical Assassins.

Catherine Tate is coming to the Menier Chocolate Factory as the lead role in the 90s Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins. But this is not your average musical: it opens with the Presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief” eerily distorted as it plays through the steam and whistles of a carnival calliope. Set in the shooting gallery of an American fairground emblazoned with “Shoot the President – win a Prize”, the production sees real life historical assassins take to the stage to uphold their “right to be happy” (i.e. the right to bear arms, protected by the US consitution).

Expect demented hilarity that will send tears of laughter from streaming down your face, and yet have you half wishing you weren’t laughing at all, as the play examines giant American themes of the dark side of power and celebrity. It sounds truly bonkers, but under the award winning direction of Jamie Lloyd and with such a stellar cast, including such musical acting greats as Mike McShane and Carly Bawden, we trust this will be a spectacular night.

Tate is best known for her TV roles on Doctor Who and The Catherine Tate Show, but in fact she is no stranger to the stage, which is where she started with prestigious companies such as the National Theatre and the RSC. Her last major stage role in the UK was as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham Theatre in 2011, which she couldn’t have suited better. This is a woman at the top of her powers, using her comedy prowess to tackle intense subject matter in a role quite different from anything she has done before.

Preview: Freak, Anna Jordan, Theatre503

Anna Jordan’s new play comes to London after gathering quite a following at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

‘I don’t believe in writing plays without humour and hope’, says Anna Jordan, writer of ‘Freak’, which has come straight to us from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. ‘Freak’ is a new sex-fuelled play about young women whose driven sexualities place them as rebels against society. We can expect to be taken on a whirlwind ride by a play that moves from warmth and wit to the uncomfortably wretched.

‘Freak’ was the word on everybody’s lips when we visited the Edinburgh Fringe, and A Younger Theatre described the production as ‘capturing the Lambrini-soaked malaise of youth with rare precision’. We’ve already noticed a new literary trend of bad girl heroines who are reacting against the idea that to be a powerful women is to be perfectly in control. Instead they are, as Eat my Heart Out author Zoe Pilger put it in her conversation with Culture Whisper, ‘failing at being a woman to achieve a kind of freedom.’ We’re glad that this production shows women across the arts are taking their turn to glorify callous hedonism.

Anna Jordan was the winner of the Bruntwood Prize 2013 with her play ‘Yen’: a story about how environment defines us, inspired by a real life event Jordan read about in a local paper in which two boys, too young to have developed into into fully fledged personalities, commit an unthinkable murder. Her previous plays have had runs at the Bush Theatre and the Soho Theatre, and her writing has been described by The Observer as “Unflinching … laugh out loud funny”. If her recent successes are anything to go by, this will be an production that invigorates and leaves you the audience with plenty to think about.

To give you a flavour of the delicious inventiveness and clarity of Jordan’s writing (and also of the graphic and sexually explicit adult content), click here to download Freak’s opening monologue.

Review: Chimerica

‘Chimerica’: the implication is a monstrous concoction created out of two vastly different, grotesquely mismatched species, inextricably linked by virtue of being the world’s foremost economic powers. Yes, it is around these two polestars – China and America – that the various oppositional ideologies explored in the play are arranged; but no, Lucy Kirkwood cannot be faulted for being overly simplistic, as she never allows us to rest our minds in clear cut distinctions or stereotypes. Though out of the context of the play some of the characters’ perspectives and driving ideologies might seem caricatured, they are always sufficiently subverted by a host of other characters with oppositional opinions so that we, the audience, cover in our own minds all the ground between these extremes. The lofty idealism of the main protagonist, Joe Schofield, is set against a background of brutal humour, which repeatedly uses a banal, physical reality, undercutting notions of the individual’s importance or heroism: on finding out that his colleague has been paralysed from the waist down, Mel quips, “Man, that sucks. I have to find a new racquetball partner.” The script is choc-a-bloc with sound bites, easily digested like consumer culture: “I sleep in a tupperware box and eat nothing but steamed kale.” “This is a country which has gone from famine to slim-fast in one generation.” These ideas are amplified by the revolving set which transforms into various slickly purpose-built pod-like living spaces.

The plot takes its focus from a well-known historic image of one anonymous Chinese man with what we assume to be superhuman bravery, standing in the path of a tank during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The image is shocking. This man is made miniscule in comparison to the ruthless-looking tank which he stares up at, and must know full well that this army has made no bones about killing his fellow countrymen so far that day. We read into his body language, his slightly askew posture: in this overwhelming situation, perhaps he is in a nirvana-like state, kept standing by the overwhelming power of the needs and desires of his people. A hero maybe? Kirkwood reminds us that this is not reality, but rather “a photograph of one country by another country”, specifically by America, for whom the culture of heroes is almost superstitious, entwined with the constitutional notion of individualism – “All men are created equal” and anyone can achieve great things. This image of the tank man, the visual and intellectual heart of the production, is a jumping off point for exploration of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, in which the basic premise is that “photographs furnish evidence” and “appropriate the thing photographed”. Throughout the production this image is misread and used to serve the agendas of different characters, as well as the audience. A schism has occurred: we imagine photographs to be accurate depictions of the real world, but images are unavoidably ambiguous, nuanced with what we wish to see. They are dissociated from reality. Looking at the image, recognising our own visceral reaction, we, the audience, congratulate ourselves on our compassion and understanding, but our response is misdirected and in fact we have excused ourselves from truly engaging with the situation.

Tessa Kendrick, leading female protagonist, points out that the culturally imperialist American ego has projected its own perspective onto China in an unexpected way. Tessa breaks down in her business presentation, because the task she has been set is based on a false premise: that China’s rapid evolution from third-world to first-world country is necessarily tied up with an aspiration to become America. Repeatedly, we see Chinese characters play up to this assumption, wryly donning the role of naïve barbarian. Zhang Lin says to Joe Schofield of their dinner plans that he is taking them ‘Somewhere very special, I’ve been saving up, it’s called Pizza Hut’, before watching Joe’s face for a look that will be both patronising and patronised. We meet a Chinese stripper before she goes onstage for her United Nations gig. She is wearing a sequinned stars-and-stripes bikini. The implicit offstage scene is of a group of zombified delegates, swallowing a strange alternative version of their situation, egos flattered by cocaine and her feigned appreciation of their cocks and their country.

Originally published by The Kaleidoscope Project.

Review: Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself

This was my first time sitting through a musical set relating the history of the papacy up until the end of the 14th century, so I was open to the evening being one of any kind. Joe Murphy tells us that he normally performs with a band who could not make it, so instead he has Polly Maclean accompanying on voice and melodeon – a small handheld keyboard with a tube in which to blow into and produce sound. The venue is difficult – the air conditioning sound won’t turn off, something in the kitchen keeps making grinding noises and the concert happening upstairs is by a mile the loudest pub performance I have ever heard – but Joe apologises charmingly and we move on.

There is more to the papacy than I thought: this subject is full of gory stories of endless orgies, outrageous laws and unending wars – things that could only happen in a faraway Hobbesian world. The lyrics are amusing and I find myself thinking that these guys should be hired by Horrible Histories (an unoriginal thought as I see from the review quotes on the flyer). But then I find out that the orgies really are endless. This is a chronology of the popes in four parts. I’m not sure how I feel about this, especially with music being less than variable. Polly’s voice is lovely though – I wish I could have heard more of it. However, after the four-part chronology things do change up a bit. Joe moves from the guitar to the piano. He has already apologised for the noisy restaurant next door, so when I hear a small shrieking noise I assume it is that, but when it repeats exactly the same I realise it is Polly, inexplicably making owl noises with a small speaker.

I asked for Murphy’s interpretation of one of the lines, “Go to the Devil and shake yourself”. From his response, “Just let go and give yourself to the Devil”, I gather it must be pretty much a positive message, something like Willow Smith’s philosophy of “whip your hair back and forth”. I leave having learnt a lot. The show would have benefited hugely if a large audience were joining in with the chorus, tankards of beer in hand to slosh to and fro with the music, but this happened to be a quiet night.

Originally published by edfringereview.com

Review: Dare I Say It

‘Dare I say it’ is a whirlwind tour from birth right through the first day at school, house parties, first kisses, sex, death and more. It is beyond seamless. The script, entirely stitched together out of interviews, is refreshingly inventive in the fine details with no slack taken. The Prohibited Jargon theatre company has used the full potential of the real material to create a piece that is a reactive, organic force of unbelievable dynamism.

Each young actress has to portray a seemingly infinite number of characters and, while they are successful in inhabiting every  one with ease and subtlety of mannerism, these characters come together to form one “girl kind” with a few stereotypical, spitting adolescent boys in between. They are relentless, confident, and convincing. There is no weak link so it is hard to single anyone out of this true ensemble piece. Rosie Cava-Beale’s array of body language was diverse, attention-consuming and enchanting. Suzy Keeping was unafraid to sacrifice herself to allow every kind of girl to become, at once, a part of her. This is true for Grace Russell too, who starts the piece with a heavy birth scene which immediately collapses into comedy and back into the amusing tragedy of the first day at school. They manage to convey the light-heartedness of retrospect, inherent in the real lines that the words are taken from, at the same moment as the very real upset of the child.

One improvement I would suggest, is that they should not be afraid to dwell on the sad moments. Having enraptured the audience so fully they could have easily squeezed out some tears as well as the ready laughs.

‘Dare I say it?’ is truly appropriate to the performers’ age (17), capabilities, and real-life experiences, which is what allows it to appear not only polished but completely natural – this unendingly energetic piece does not even look like hard work. Apologies for the superlatives, I am simply trying to urge you to go and see this before it ends on the 18th. This is a rave review.

Originally published by edfringereview.com

Review: Elegant Nymphs

The ‘Elegant Nymphs’ are fed up. Without any of the special powers or movie deals that all the other mythical creatures get, they have decided to come to the Edinburgh Fringe to make their big debut… with this sketch show. It is energetic and intelligent, tailored to an audience who appreciate humour that is slightly off(beat), or to those who simply delight in the majesty of elegant nymphs. However, be warned: they can and will have sex with you without you knowing.

Highlight sketches include a sinister remake of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and a TV game show to find the world’s most emotionally strong man. Hugh Stanley and Anna Harris create a wordplay extravaganza, composed entirely out of 90s pop culture references for the 90s suckers out there. However, perhaps some of the most amusing bits are when the cast are just hanging out, being their normal nymph selves. In “real” life, Hugh, hoping to seduce Anna with his beat poetry, just cannot contain his creepy side and accidentally ends up stalking her and shrieking in her face that he has a horrible physical deformation.

Ollie Jones-Evans is clearly the star of the show, and entertains us with the gift of his gangliness, which has presumably instructed his particular brand of awkward physical humour. The other performers, Hugh, Anna and Rajiv Karia are also excellent performers, and they complement each other with their great energy, comic timing and general pizazz. The only thing I would say is that perhaps they would do better to stick to their longer scenes, as the weird characters and hilarious scenarios that they create are what I enjoyed most about the show.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and so if you, like me, love nymphs, ‘The Mighty Boosh’, or laughing, then make sure you pay a visit to the Bristol Revunions! One last piece of advise: I would think about where you decide to sit, because being licked by Anna Harris may be a risk factor (or pleasure) of sitting in the front row.

Originally published by Ed Fringe Review.