Friday, 20 March 2015

Bouncers: Review

John Godber’s 1997 play is the most famous of his works, with a new production of Bouncers opening every week. Furthermore, it is popular with young companies and is a set text for GCSE. This, therefore, made it an obvious choice for Phoenix Theatre Arts. This production has made the Studio Theatre in the Harlow Playhouse its home for the last three nights.

The play focuses on the lives of four bouncers, and the people who they meet in their jobs. We meet four girls out to have fun, four boys who seem intent on leaving the club with a girl (any girl!) and the four bouncers themselves, who are all portrayed very well on the whole by the cast.

Prior to getting underway, the four Bouncers came out into the audience and began to abuse the audience, setting the tone for the consistent breaking of the fourth wall that ensued. Whilst this was quite funny at first – I myself was mocked for “sitting like a girl” – the spectacle lasted over five minutes and began to drag which did reduce the effect of this slightly.

Will Edden, who has previously played Gavroche and Dodger in the West End, portrayed each of his characters confidently and very clearly enjoyed his role.  

Drew Gregg, playing Ralph, was physically strong, ensuring each of his moments had purpose, and made a particularly convincing Sexy Suzy! His subtle movements during a scene in which the other bouncers complimented him on the size of his manhood were particularly noteworthy.

Daniel Boulton had the difficult role of playing Lucky Eric who, alongside some of the funniest moments, also had the responsibility of numerous monologues throughout offering a ‘social commentary’. His comic timing was very good, and he was able to use his physicality to his advantage, often co-operating with Edden in a ‘little and large’ style duo.

The stand out bouncer, however, was fourteen year old Joseph Vaiana. The sheer versatility between each of his characters was excellent, and his impression of a typical North-Weald style salesman was spot-on. As Rudd, he never stopped reacting to the other bouncers and did stand out.
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Bouncers Set, designed by Trevor Pavely
The design, by Trevor Paveley was minimalistic, as synonymous with Godber’s play, but worked nicely. The nightclub sign was a smooth touch, however the door could have been perhaps secured better as it did expose the actors at points when waiting to enter, which did reduce the clever back lighting, as designed by Rob Dyer.

From watching this production I get a great sense of collaboration between the cast and director, Jeanne Stacey. They worked well to bring the script well into the 21st Century, with references to Uptown Funk and Van trainers, however some elements, for example the inclusion of a Thriller dance, seem out of place and almost superfluous to the flow of the piece. Furthermore, at times, the sound was too loud to hear the actors even in the front row of the intimate studio theatre.


Nevertheless, four very exciting performers managed to entertain their audience for the evening, giving a very honest and funny insight into the UK club culture and, more importantly, a good production of a play I will admit to disliking with a passion.

More information on Phoenix Theatre Arts can be found 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Nether: Review

Between the Royal Court and the innovative Headlong, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the show you are about to see will make you think, questioning your own morals and opinions. In their latest piece, The Nether, recently transferring to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre, they create an online world in which complete and total sensory immersion is the goal. Taste, smell, touch and even sex are achievable sensations. The play debates the role of the internet in our lives now and in the future, as well as crossing the uncharted boundaries of debating paedophilia on stage.

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Sims (left), played by  Stanley Townsend, and Morris, played by Amanda Hale.

Jennifer Haley's script is phenomenally written; in a play which is a cross between cop thriller and exploration of this extraordinary realm, she manages to make the time fly effortlessly, even embedding humor at some of the darkest points in her 80 minute play. Combined with the set design of Es Devlin, who was responsible for the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games and Kanye West's Yeezus tour, blows your mind as the interrogative grey wall falls for the first time and we are transported into The Hideaway - where "customers" are able to, through the use of avatars, have sex with children - reminiscent of a Victorian manor house, tall Poplar trees and Elk heads along with the delicacy of Iris' bedroom lulling us into a false sense of security and triggering gasps from the audience each time it was unveiled. Working in cohesion with the excellent videos of Luke Halls, the transformation from reality to virtual reality is insane, questioning which of the two actually is more real.

The astonishing visuals of the production are matched by an excellent cast; Amanda Hale was good as Morris, who interrogates the users of The Hideaway, however at times towards the end of the play lost some volume. David Calder who played Doyle was especially convincing and heartbreaking in the final scene, whilst Stanley Townsend was haunting as Sims, leading us to question the morality of his actions. The role of Woodnut was played by understudy Will Irvine but he put in such a strong performance it is hard to see how he is simply an understudy. The role of nine year old Iris was played by Isabella Pappas who, quite frankly, was extraordinary. Her genuine innocence, love and affection displayed would be unrecognisable in many actresses older and more experienced than her, so watch out for that name!

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Iris (left), played by Isabella Pappas, and Woodnut, played by Ivanno Jeremiah. 

The Nether makes you ask very uncomfortable questions: how safe is the internet? Can we allow making our dreams a reality, albeit a virtual one? Is having sex with an avatar in a virtual reality a truly negative thing if it ensures that these men do not repeat their behaviour in the real world? Jeremy Herrin's sublime direction, combined with superb sets, video and an excellent cast to pose these difficult questions in a way which will stick with every audience member for a long time after the show has finished. As a result, the show will never achieve a standing ovation, as much as it deserves one. Buy tickets, I urge you. The Nether changes the way we think, and is superb in the way it does so.

The Nether is currently running at The Duke of York's Theatre until the 25th April 2015. Tickets are available from the theatre box office, by calling 0844 871 3051, or by visiting their website