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Review: Quaint Honour - The Finborough Theatre 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 21 November 2017



I confess it was with slight trepidation that I took my seat at the Finborough Theatre for this production of Quaint Honour, given that this revival is the first time Roger Gellert’s only play has been performed for almost sixty-years. It takes us to territory probably made more familiar for a contemporary audience by E.M.Forster's 1913 novel Maurice, eventually adapted into a play in 1998, and Julian Mitchel’s more recent 1981 play Another Country. All give accounts of the 'love that dare not speak it’s name’ occurring behind the closed doors of the privileged educational establishments at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, before the partial decriminalisation act of 1967. Given that Gellert’s play will have proceeded both the adaptation of Forster's work by forty years, and Mitchell’s by twenty three, makes this an intriguing prospect from a historical perspective, but how would if stand up dramatically?




The play gets off to a good start. Hallowes, the housemaster (Simon Butteriss) has to interrupt a meeting with Head of House Park (Oliver Gulley) to give two of the schools younger boys the required, and much repeated lecture about the virtues of a pure ‘christian’ love, being for the purpose of procreation over pleasure, explaining that whilst the feelings of affection and admiration for another ‘chap’ could be considered both innocent and understandable, any thoughts or actions pertaining to a physical sexual encounter was nothing less than an abomination that could not be tolerated under any circumstances. It is against this backdrop we discover that far from these talks dissuading the boys from acting on their instincts, relationships are in fact rife amongst the pupils, with one of the boys, Turner (Jacques Miche) going so far as to cajole his house prefect Tully (Harley Viveash) into a bet, that he couldn’t seduce the rather more shy and inexperienced Hamilton (Jack Archer). Tully accepts the wager, but with puritanical Head of House Park making it his mission to rid the school of the boys with such proclivities, Tully realises he must proceed with caution, unaware that his own feelings for Hamilton are about to change everything.




There is much to like here. Yes the attitudes and moralities are very ‘of there time’, but the acting is very impressive with each character being perfectly cast. The most notable performances come from Butteriss as Hallowes, who could have easily become a singular dimensioned pastiche of a bumbling housemaster, were it not for a delightfully awkward but sympathetic air he affords his character as he traverses the the tricky topic of sex with the boys. Archer also is very impressive, engagingly playing Hamilton’s naive demeanour to an uncomfortable perfection. It is Viveash as the self assured, but ultimately tormented Tully however who gives the most consistently strong performance, (imagine the love child of Matt Smith and Alexander Armstrong, were such a thing a possibility). These three actors are assisted in their roles by having the biggest character arcs to explore, but it is in getting to some of their key moments that the cracks in this otherwise worthy play begin to show, as it sometimes just takes far to long to get anywhere, being at times both woefully and unnecessarily verbose, which serves only to interrupt rather than enhance the flow of the play. Add to this the well executed yet rather austere clipped dialogue of the time, and both elements seem to conspire at times to bury the emotional and dramatic heart of the play. That the actors are successful in wrestling it back for a number of impressively moving scenes says a lot about the acting talent on display here, and thankfully by the time Archer produces genuine tears at a defining moment in his journey, we are thankfully once again invested enough to be genuinely moved.




Pace has remained the biggest issue in a number of revivals we have seen this year, and I suppose the dilemma must always be wether to stay true to the original text, or to judiciously edit for a contemporary audience. With a couple of misplaced diatribes adding little to the impact of this 2+ hour play, I think the text could possibly have been revised slightly for the dramatic greater good. That said, Quaint Honour remains highly watchable and, as possibly the final production we will see this year marking the 50th anniversary of the sexual offences act, it’s not without merit as a reminder of the social mores of the time.




★ and a half

Review: Le Gataeu Chocolat: Icons - The Soho Theatre 31 Oct - 4 Nov 2017




It’s at London’s Soho Theatre that I find myself mesmerised once again by the incomparable Le Gateau Chocolat, who brings his show Icons back for a short run this month. It was actually way back in 2009, as part of the burlesque variety show La Clique that I first encountered La Gateau Chocolat. His unforgettably moving rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Freak’ not only stole the show, (not an easy task given the quality of all the acts that night!) but it remains one performance I can still vividly remember to this day. Surprising then that it wasn’t until February this year that I got the chance to reacquaint myself with this unique performer, when he brought a revival of his 2013 autobiographical solo show Black to The Conway Hall, for which he understandably received outstanding reviews. By now I am well and truly a fan, so I was delighted to learn that another of his shows, Icons was returning to London, a show he originally performed around Christmas time last year. Like Black before it, the audience is again invited to share an entertaining, intimate and emotional hour with this bearded vision in lycra and sequins, not to mention some rather stunning ‘chapeau’s’


To consider Le Gateau Chocolat as just another cabaret drag act is to completely miss the artistry on display here, and like many artists it is to his own life that he looks for inspiration, once again musing on some of its more defining moments. Not all of these would normally be considered the ingredients for an entertaining night out, but entertaining it is as he deftly intertwines his verbal vignettes with an impeccably chosen song selection which, flanked on stage by two versatile musicians, he sings with such deliciously rich, velvet tones that they almost seem powerful enough to caress each member of the audience individually. His recollections from the days when Le Gateau Chocolat was little more than ‘Le Pain Au Chocolat’ touch upon his most personal experiences of love, loss, sexuality, tragedy, depression and euphoria, with the songs that accompany the more sobering of these brief but poignant stories being transformed into the most beautiful renditions you are ever likely hear. Before there is even the chance of drowning in the melancholia of the moment however, the atmosphere is flipped on it’s head and with the aid of glitter, flashing lights, a wind machine and a quick costume change, the audience just as quickly showing their delight at being treated to these sudden bursts of unapologetic camp disco. 


There are undeniable echo’s of Black on display here, from the autobiographical recollections to the intimacy of the bedroom staging, seen this time with walls adorned with 80’s pop and film ephemera. It is to that decade that Le Gateau Chocolate mostly returns to find the musical icons whose songs are the markers for both the good times and the bad. Listen out for reworked renditions of songs by Kate Bush, Eurythmics, Bonnie Tyler, and Madonna amongst others. It’s an emotionally and musically perfectly pitched show that moves deftly between the light and shade of Le Gateau Chocolat’s life, successfully taking the audience with him every step of the way.


Having tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum, (given that everyone should have the chance to enjoy for themselves their first taste of gateau), the show does close, pre encore, with Xanadu, which was also the one time closing-time song of choice for DJ’s The Readers Wives during their ‘Duckie’ nights at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Hearing this again only reaffirmed my belief that that there isn’t a night out that can’t be made at least 12.5% better by the inclusion of this ELO/Olivia Newton-John classic!


With stories beautifully told through reworked iconic songs, this is a divinely unique piece of performance


★★★★★


photograph: Eli Schmidt

Review: Ginger Beer - Kings Head Theatre, 117th, 19th, 21st Oct 2017

Ginger Beer Kings Head Theatre Limerence Prods


It’s back to the Kings Head Theatre for another new play in their highly enjoyable late night theatre series, a concept I am enjoying more and more as time goes on, given the originality and diversity of the programming, the opportunity it has given new writers to showcase their work... plus it’s actually just a damn entertaining way to end an evening out.


Tonights offering was Ginger Beer, co written and co directed by upcoming playwrights Hallam Breen and Phoebe Simmonds. which was first performed earlier this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to very positive reviews. On paper the play sounded like a fairly uninspiring take on the now tried and tested formula of internet dating, saunas, chemsex parties and one-night stands as the aspects of life that challenge a young gay man in 2017. Has it all been seen before… yes it has. Does this latest take on those themes draw any new conclusions, maybe not but… and it’s a big ‘but’… what saves this production is the exceptional quality of the writing, particularly in the first half, as well as the acting on display here.


Ginger Beer Kings Head Theatre Limerence Prods



The story follows Sammy, (wonderfully played by Ned Costello) who feels somewhat displaced in a whirlwind of the more transient aspects of the modern gay scene, much of which are brought to his door (quite literally) by his flatmate El (an impressive performance from Jonas Moore, as an acerbic drag performer). Theirs is an affectionate relationship and, from Sammy’s perspective, an unrequited one despite El’s propensity for drug taking and one night stands. It’s something he must watch from the sidelines despite El’s attempts to try and sweep Sammy up into the madness, introducing two potential internet ‘shags’ into their lives, Max (Joseph Kelly) and Straight (Will Kirk).


Ginger Beer is genuinely very funny, and the dialogue crackles along at an incredible pace. This is made all the more impressive by the skill with which the writers have Sammy simultaneously being both part of the action as well as continually breaking the fourth wall to comment on the action to the audience. It’s a dramatic device that could have easily got very messy, very quickly were it not so skilfully done, and at no point did this feel anything less than completely under the control of both the writers and the superb delivery by Costello, whose comic timing was a joy to watch. 


Ginger Beer Kings Head Theatre Limerence Prods



For the first half of the play the dialogue is sharp and snappy, and when the comedy hits, which it does more than successfully for the most part, Ginger Beer feels completely original despite my initial misgivings about the subject matter. It does become a play of two halves however, divided by a rather misplaced soliloquy when Sammy takes himself for a walk, playing like a disappointing ‘middle 8’ in an otherwise banging tune, and from that point the pace shifts down a gear, the tone becomes darker and more serious, which for me starts to highlight the few cracks in this production.


“I’m not sure at what point my life became a gay cliché" Sammy declares, but there are times when the play relies on one to many of these itself. That drinking beer is seen as the epitome of masculinity seems both dated and, by it’s constant repetition, over stated, (although it would be wrong of me not to point out that it did get a laugh from the audience). That a nicely decorated flat was called "typically gay", and the name of the bar where El works is The Closet also felt a bit tired, (although a google search did reveal that a bar called The Closet does actually exist in Weymouth, Dorset, so what do I know!), but it is only because of the quality of the writing displayed elsewhere that I felt these one to many hackneyed stereotypes could have been improved upon.


It is no easy task to write and perform comedy of a standard that felt as witty and original as was displayed in the first half of this production though, and on that basis I couldn’t help but think that the team should possibly have lessened their dramatic ambitions here to stick closer to this winning formula throughout. Having said that, Ginger Beer is a more than enjoyable watch. The laughs are thick and fast when they come, with Breen and Simmonds showing they are more than capable of writing fresh and perfectly paced comedy. They also manage to slip in some amusing and inventive off-stage action along the way. I will definitely be keeping an eye on Limerence Productions in the future and very much look forward to seeing what they produce next.


and a half

Review: Man-Cub - Kings Head Theatre, 18th Oct & 20 Oct 2017

Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


Those familiar with Jack The Lad’s theatre reviews will be used to us sometimes banging on about the fortuitous fit between a production and it’s venue, and in the case of Man-Cub at the Kings Head Theatre it's not so much the physical attributes of the theatre that brought an unexpected extra quality to this production, but the hot, clammy atmosphere of the venue given that this was one of the theatres ‘late night’ shows that followed a 2 hour performance of the opera Tosca. The venue isn’t best known for it’s ventilation, (the theatre is moving to new premises next year), and with the auditorium not long being vacated by 100+ people on an unusually hot October evening, the theatre already had a more than believable warm and humid club “atmosphere’, very appropriate given that’s where the action in Man-Cub takes place, making the sweat that is soon dripping off the faces of this group of energetic performers very real indeed!


Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


Man-Cub is a coming of age piece about a young mans sexual awakening as he searches to find his identity, his tribe and the acceptance he craves from them. It is a piece of devised theatre which, by it’s nature, means much is brought to the construction of the piece by the cast themselves, overseen and structured by first time director Alistair Wilkinson who sets the tone in the press notes with a quote from ‘The Jungle Book’. “(Mowgli) came naked, by night, alone and very hungry; yet he was not afraid!” With the club becoming the jungle that the action takes place in, a second, darker quote seems better placed to describe the darker ambitions on display here, “If you can’t learn to run with the pack, one of these days you’ll be someones dinner”. For me this certainly seemed to be the struggle facing a number of the characters here.


Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


This dark undercurrent is almost unintentionally evident from the very opening scene as, in the light of the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, the seemingly increasing sexualisation of the body checks by the club security on the young, scantily clad kids seeking to gain entrance immediately feels both uncomfortable and intrusive. Once in the club we are presented with a number of vignettes, the spotlight shifting to a number of the characters experiences within the loose narrative, returning throughout to the ‘Mowgli’ of this piece, a young club kid played in an exceptional performance by Alex Britt, more of who later. All this is mostly expressed by innovative and highly watchable dance and movement. Indeed, when the first spoken words do occur, it feels more like an unnecessary intrusion than a worthy addition, it’s somewhat trite observations on gay culture adding nothing to the infinitely more enjoyable interpretive and impressionistic quality of the performance. 


Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


This was just one moment in the play’s first third that unfortunately seemed to lack the same clarity and sharpness of what was to follow. Some scenes seemed unnecessarily laboured, and despite there being some really nice ideas explored, less would have definitely been more in moving between them a bit more economically. That said, when the action does find it’s stride, what unfolds on stage becomes little short of mesmorising. We witness the characters being forced to deal with the beautiful, the brutal, the ecstasy, the tragedy, the hedonism, the isolationism and the tribalism of club/gay culture, all as a rights of passage to discover themselves and the groups to which they try to find acceptance.


Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


With the flashing lights, loud music and entwined bodies of this club setting, the performance relies on the energy of the cast, all of whom deliver superbly, and at it’s most focussed there are several moments that are both genuinely moving and intensely uncomfortable to watch. Andy McCredie’s beautifully reworked rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” (played live at the piano) genuinely gave me goose-bumps, making Lizzie Manwaring's already disturbing portrayal of a sexual attack even more of a shocking jolt to the senses. It is the young lead Alex Britt who delivers a show stealing central performance however. The portrayal of his journey from wide-eyed naivety to sexual awakening is faultless, (as well as a superb bit of casting) and his reflective monologue at the end provides the second goose-bump moment of the evening. This I found doubly impressive given the energy he had clearly expelled on such a committed physical performance throughout. his bloodshot eyes and sweat covered body being proof that he hadn’t held back from the demands of the piece, and a poignant way to finish this wholly engaging piece of theatre.


Man-Cub Kings Head Theatre Jack The Lad


Add to all of the above one of the best musical soundtracks I have heard for quite some time (a note to the director… please send me the playlist!) and Man-Cub is a piece of theatre that Jack The Lad would definitely recommend you go and see.


★ and a half


photographs: Tammana Begum


Review: Tosca - Kings Head Theatre, 27 Sep - 28 Oct 2017

Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


Before I start this review I feel the need to come clean and confess that I am something of an opera neophyte. In fact this production of Tosca, currently on at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington, is probably only the second opera I have seen, the first being so long ago that I can neither clearly remember what it was called or whether I particularly enjoyed it. That I haven’t felt compelled to repeat the experience until now suggests I had been left fairly indifferent to what I had seen and heard, and that my trip to the Royal Opera House was more of a bucket-list moment than a burgeoning love affair with this particular genre of theatre. Whether that makes this review more or less relevant I guess will depend on your own previous encounters with opera, but I was certainly not alone in not having a vast amount of experience to call upon the night I went to see this production of Tosca, as there were no less than seven other members of the audience all about to experience an opera for the very first time.


Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


So why Tosca and why now! (and given that most of our reviews are usually about more LGBT relevant themes, “Why at all?” you might ask!) The answer to all of the above is that this production comes with an incredible pedigree. Award wining director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher has already directed two of our favourite theatrical experiences of 2017. The outstanding Strangers In Between (which returns with a well deserved West End transfer in 2018) and the equally impressive Coming Clean. So given these previous success's, we are more than willing to follow wherever Adam might want to take us next, and if opera is the next destination then so be it. The other reason is that we are also big fans of the Kings Head Theatre as a performance space. It was this that intrigued us the most in the run up to the evening, not being able to imagine quite how something the scale of Puccini’s Tosca, known to traditionally require a big cast and a big orchestra, could be contained within the four walls of a pub theatre!


Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


The short answer is, ‘exceptionally well’, and as the performance progressed I was more than happy to have come to it without to many pre-conceptions as, instead of spending the two hours running time comparing and contrasting every element and alteration with other productions, I was able to sit back and be dazzled by this incredibly powerful production on it’s own terms. To put this version into some sort of context, director Adam Spreadbury-Maher and soprano Becca Marriott have rewritten the libretto (check out the lingo) in English, and whilst doing so have transposed the action from Rome in 1800 to Paris in 1944, and whilst the original looked to the occupation by the French as a backdrop to the action, we are here taken to the time of the Nazi occupation of France. Whilst this might appear sacrilege to some, it’s an innovative re-imagining that works exceptionally well. 


Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


As the lights go down we are immediately thrown straight into the action with Jewish resistance fighter Jacob Cohen (Angelotti in the original), played by Thomas Isherwood, desperately looking for refuge as he is on the run from the Gestapo chief, Scarpia (played by Michael Georgiou), descending frenzied on his artist friend Cavaradain (Cavaradossi in the original), played by Roger Paterson. The music, pared down to a trio consisting of piano, cello and clarinet was surprisingly rich in sound, and in the intimate space of the Kings Head, the vocal power on display swept the audience straight into the heart of the action. It’s immediately engaging and incredibly captivating, but everything is lifted to a whole new level with the arrival of Tosca herself, played by Becca Marriott, who delivers a show stealing performance from the moment she appears, dressed immaculately in some wonderfully 1940’s clothing. (Becky-Dee Trevenen providing the costume design). Tosca’s journey is an emotional rollercoaster, delivered throughout with an intoxicating fervour. 


Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


There are obvious limitations in trying to perform such a big opera in the confines of a pub theatre, but rather than feeling this is a production trying to punch above it’s weight, its own self belief makes the space work incredibly well for its lofty ambitions, and whilst both the musical accompaniment and staging might be dramatically pared back due to the confines of the space, this production remains innovative throughout, and the combination of the powerful performances and the proximity of the audience gives it a unique energy, making the experience an incredibly immersive one on the whole. Where there is pain, we feel the pain, where there is torment we are close enough to see it with moving clarity on the faces of the performers, and where there is love…well, you get the idea.  Add to all of this the opera’s underlying themes of torture, jealousy and betrayal, and this is heady stuff indeed.


Tosca Kings Head Theatre 2017


Will I leave it as long to see another opera, probably not. Would I recommend this production at the Kings Head Theatre to those yet to experience the power of the opera for the first time… most definitely, and with this being the last opera being performed at the present Kings Head Theatre before it moves to it’s new, purpose built location next door, we suggest you get there before this production ends it’s run to experience the production and this important venue, before it disappears. 

Behind The Scenes: Gypsy Queen - King's Head Theatre, 31 Aug - 23 Sep 2017



It was way back in October 2016 that we first saw Rob Ward’s two man play Gypsy Queen, an unconventional love story between two fighters who discover the greatest challenge lies outside the ring. Since those first performances Ward and co-star Ryan Clayton have been touring the production around the UK, returning to London this month, after a successful run at this years Edinburgh’s festival, for a 3 week residency at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington.




During a tech run through ahead of the opening night for this latest run, Ward explains how the play has developed over the last eleven months. “Since you guys last saw it in October I think it’s probably got slicker. You’ll notice that the set moves now, which kind of opens up the space and creates new worlds. Full credit to our director Adam Zane for that, as well as the set designer who built the bench for us. It now transforms from being just a bench in a gym to being a caravan, a bedroom, a cinema… all these different locations. Obviously, going between characters and scenes you have got to keep the audience in the moment and I think that as a result of these changes the transitions have definitely got a lot slicker”.




The play also returns to London with the addition of a new character Andy, second in command at the gym. “Adding another character was a good way to fill out this whole world a bit more, as well as add some humour” This takes the number of characters that the two actors have to play to nine in total. “The play was always going to be a two-hander” Ward explains, “I love the dynamic it brings. I think there’s a bit of magic to it. It’s a device that you can do in the theatre that doesn’t really get done on film very often. There’s a play I loved called Stones In His Pockets about a big Hollywood company that take over a small Irish village to make a movie, and the two actors in it play the locals, the extras, the Hollywood stars. I saw this as a kid and it was just magical, seeing these actors flip in and out of the different characters.




The decision to have the two male actors play such a variety of characters certainly brings with it an element of humour to the piece, given there are two female characters for Ryan Clayton to play. “With this being a play that’s trying to say something about masculinity, it’s good fun to have the two actors going from being the hard-knock boxers in one scene, to being an Irish mother and a really camp boyfriend in the next”.




With the real life homophobic comments of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury having initially prompted Ward to revisit a shorter version of the play he had written in 2014, Gypsy Queen is still a very relevant examination of LGBT visibility in sport and a subject close to Ward’s heart. “The idea of a gay boxer within a gym not allowed to be open in the outer world… from everything that I’ve heard by speaking to people, its still quite a common place situation, not only in boxing but in quite a few different sports”. 





Jack The Lad: A knockout ★

Review: Boys In The Buff - Stockwell Playhouse, 11 July - 29 July 2017

Jack The Lad was back at The Lost Theatre, (or rather the Stockwell Playhouse, as it is now) to see the latest offering from Lambco Productions, Boys In The Buff - The Musical. Billed as the musical revue for people that hate how they look in the nude, our host for the evening Diana Diamonté (Natalie Harman) wastes no time in taking us on a journey of exploration around the nooks and crannies of her four fit co-stars, (Adam O’Shea, Shaun Roddick, William Frazer and Julian Quijano), as she presents this “Ultimate Tease, destined to please”… and please it does, not just because of the four fit lads that strut their stuff on stage, but also because of it’s amusing songs, finely tuned routines and well crafted staging which makes this production a pleasure to watch.


Boys In The Buff - Jack The Lad - Review


There are some suggestive ‘Full Monty’ references and a rather less expected Shakespearian striptease, but it’s from ‘Cabaret’ that writer Chris Burgess and director Sam Rayner seem to take their main inspiration. Unfortunately this production doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of that particular classic, but it certainly has it’s moments, and where this production really scores is when the actors break character to question what they have actually agreed to appear in, that being a musical revue where a big naked finalé is looming ever closer. On their way to that finalé, there are some light-hearted looks at our obsession with bodies and the issues we have with them in this selfie obsessed age, but it never takes itself too seriously, and given just how attractive these buff boys are… in the buff… it would be wrong to suggest that this is anything other than a light hearted romp. If you can come to terms with that, then you are definitely in for an enjoyable evening.


Boys In The Buff - Jack The Lad - Review


Songs like 'Size Doesn’t Matter', 'Does My Bum Look Big In This?' And 'My Foreskin And Me' pretty much set the tone for the evening, and it’s probably best that you check your political correctness in at the door on the way in too, but the songs are cleverly written, the choreography on point, and for this reviewer, most impressive of all was the creative use of lighting throughout, which more than made up for the sparse set in this high energy production.


Boys In The Buff - Jack The Lad - Review


Technically speaking, the sound unfortunately let the evening down as, despite all the singers having headset microphones, and Natalie Harman’s own voice being thankfully loud an clear, the boys voices were often lost in the mix, making some of the song lyrics hard to pick out, which is a shame as on the few occasions the sound balance did improve, the songs sounded well constructed and good fun. Then again… maybe I was concentrating on the all the wrong things given just how scantily clad these good looking guys are.


Boys In The Buff - Jack The Lad - Review


But therein lays the biggest problem this show has, as having the production notes rooting it in a celebration of bodies of all shapes and sizes, the accompanying themes of diet, self consciousness and self image all become somewhat incredulous when presented by four gym-fit male leads, ultimately leaving the show failing to make any of the promised meaningful points on the subject. Had the cast been a bit more diverse, or the set-up geared more towards the more convincingly played personal insecurities the four lads have with their bodies and their sexuality (which was also touched upon) with regards to the production they find themselves starring in, then I think this would have instantly dealt with much of the criticism that could possibly be levied against the show.


Boys In The Buff - Jack The Lad - Review


All of that said, there is no denying that you will find yourself smiling throughout the 90 minute long production, and laughing out loud at the bare faced cheek of The Boys In The Buff… or should that read ‘bare cheeks’!! If you like your theatre musical, your burlesque camp and your boys in the buff, then this funny, surprising, well staged production is definitely for you.

★★★

Review: Dyl - Old Red lion Theatre, 9 May - 3 June 2017

Dyl by Mark Weinman, is currently receiving it’s world premiere at The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington and is listed as ‘a sad comedy’, a description that can’t be argued with except to say that this is a play of two tonally distinct halves, those being a first half where the bulk of the comedy takes place, leaving the second half to deal with the more dramatic resolution of the questions that hang over beyond the intermission.


Dyl - Old Red Lion Theatre


The play is set in a flat in Aberdeen where James (played to uncomfortably pent-up perfection by Scott Arthur), has moved, 400 miles from home to start a new job as a rigger, it becoming clear that something shocking has happened to prevent him from returning home. Ryan (Laurie Jamieson) is his live-in landlord, brash and sarcastic, and not without a secret of his own. His banter fluctuates unnervingly between the spirited and the aggravated, Jamieson more than adept in taking the audience with him at every turn as they both do the linguistic dance of two strangers getting to know each other.


Dyl - Old Red Lion Theatre - Scott Arthur


Unfortunately so distinct in tone are the two halves of this play that there is a discordant feeling to the structure which may be attributed to this being Weinman’s debut play. Despite this abrupt change in tone it is however to Weinman’s credit that when his script is at it’s comedic best it has a bitter-sweet style reminiscent of Neil Simon. These scenes are given a good pace by director Clive Judd, with both leads able to inject the dialogue with some wonderful comic timing of their own.


Dyl - Old Red Lion Theatre - Laurie Jamieson


Nearly all the action takes place in the sparseness of Jemima Robinson’s minimal set design which aptly screams bachelor pad, but which also cleverly serves as a visual motif for the inner anguish James can’t get away from. Everything is painted black, with a twisted illusion that the oil he spends his time on the rig drilling for, has started seeping through the walls, even finding it’s way down the inside of the lightshade giving the action, even during it’s lighter moments, a claustrophobic and unnerving undercurrent throughout, serving as a constant reminder that all is not well in James’s mind as he tackles the demons within.


Dyl - Old Red Lion Theatre - Scott Arthur


It’s an attention to detail that works well, unlike all but one of the occasional interludes that get played out between scenes in order to move the action forward in time, which felt under realised on the whole. Only in the second half, with a segue that temporarily breaks out of the flatshare setting to briefly follow James and Ryan for a rare night out on the town, did the lighting, sound and movement feel bold enough to avoid it’s inclusion feeling oddly lacklustre and unnecessarily laboured.


Dyl - Old Red Lion Theatre - Joyce Greenaway


Despite these few issues, Dyl is actually a hugely enjoyable debut. Joyce Greenaway as James’ mother and Rose Wardlaw as Steph offer solid support, and even if the second half did feel suddenly drained of the lightness of touch that proceeded it, I was sufficiently engaged in the unfolding story by that point as to not let the mood shift bother me to much. This production is well worth a watch, whether it be for the genuine laughs in the first half or the moving drama in the second.




Review: A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Playhouse, 4 May - 27 May 2017

It’s good to see theatre company Defibrillator back on the London stage, this time presenting ‘A Lie of the Mind’ by American playwright Sam Shepard, whose Pulitzer Prize winning play 'Buried Child' was coincidently running at the Trafalgar Studios at the same time as Defibrillators previous first class production of 'Speech & Debate'.


A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Theatre


A Lie of the Mind’, originally written and performed off-Broadway in 1985, is a large slice of Americana accompanied here, as it was for the original production, by a live guitar soundtrack, composed and performed for this production by James Marples. Set in the rugged northwest, we learn that a seemingly jealous and emotionally unhinged Jake, (Gethin Anthony), has beaten his wife Beth (Alexandra Dowling) to the point where he believes her to be dead. As we join the action the two are already physically separated from each other, Beth confused and brain damaged in hospital with her brother Mike (Robert Lonsdale) whilst Jake is at home confessing his violent actions to his brother Frankie (Michael Fox). That both characters are already flanked by their brothers immediately sets the tone for a play that puts these two families under the microscope as it quickly expands the action from Jake and Beth’s sibling relationships to the broader canvas of their respective families.


A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Theatre



After the initial shock for the audience of the implied violence that proceeds the plays opening, (Gethin Anthony’s performance instantly impresses for it’s sense of menace and unpredictability) there continues to be a dark sense of unease that travels throughout the play like a spectre. On the surface the characters seem able to interact, with the dialogue flowing constantly between them, but as time goes on there is a grim realisation that whilst Beth is battling with the damage to her brain in order to rediscover her reality, everyone else has somewhat disturbingly managed to detach themselves from their dysfunctional and claustrophobic family surroundings by becoming immersed in their own self-created, self-serving reality. A reality where past events seem as easily and conveniently forgotten as they are remembered.


A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Theatre


The furthest detached from her reality would appear to be Beth’s beleaguered mother Meg, (wonderfully played with a delightful, and well measured comic touch by Nancy Crane), who manages to completely forget having ever attended her daughters first wedding in favour of the joy she feels in excitedly planning the next. John Stahl is equally excellent as her deer-shooting obsessed husband Baylor, himself slipping into an increasingly emotional and physical abyss as he watches his own dictatorial role as head of the household begin to slip away. Were it not for the bloodline that connects them, there progressively seems little left to bind either families members yet Beth, despite everything she has been through, not only manages to see love but also still believe in love. 


A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Theatre


The ability to slowly and intriguingly reveal the cracks in each of the characters emotional armour throughout the plays 140 minute running time is not only testament to the superb writing of Sam Shepherds richly observed play, but also the ensemble casts engaging performances as directed by James Hillier. Hillier is not afraid to let the plays more comedic moments shine through in a way that further amplifies a sense of the surreal in the mechanisms the characters employ in order to co-exist.


A Lie of the Mind - Southwark Theatre


The set design for this revival is simple yet effective, a divided split-level stage representing the two locations of the almost claustrophobic family homes set against the implied wide open spaces of the Montana landscape beyond the four walls. Knowing that this version of the play has been slimmed down from the somewhat longer original, I can’t help but wonder if it is the relationship between Jakes sister Sally, (Laura Rogers) and their mother Lorraine (Kate Fahy) that has suffered the most in editing process, as the extent of their reconciliation in the second half seemed somewhat out of kilter with the pace and context of the troubled relationship that had gone before. This in no way deflected from the accomplished performances given by both actress’s however and, along with the rest of this outstanding cast, ‘A Lie of the Mind’ is yet another highly recommended production by Defibrillator


Review: Miss Nightingale - The Vaults Theatre, 30 Mar - 20 May 2017

There is always a sense of value added when a venue seems somehow made for the production being performed within. Such was the case when ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ took up residence at The Savoy Theatre and likewise ’The Vaults Theatre’ behind London’s Waterloo Station feels like the perfect venue for this current run of ‘Miss Nightingale’ by Matthew Bugg, a musical that takes place in London, in 1942.



Miss Nightingale



This is our second visit to the venue, having previously enjoyed Nathan Lucky Wood’s ‘A Haunting’ there in February, (see previous review), and whilst on that occasion the venue also added it’s own unique atmosphere to the performance, so to for ‘Miss Nightingale’ the brick arched performance space of The Vaults not only brings to mind the bomb shelters that were a refuge for many during the air raids in the war torn Britain of the day, but the space also doubles up wonderfully as the venue for the new smokey underground cabaret club being run by Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe, (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead) who hires feisty northern singer Maggie Brown (Tamar Broadbent), along with her gay Polish refugee songwriter George, (Conor O’ Kane) to be his new star attraction, transforming Maggie into the titular Miss Nightingale. (You’ll have to wait a bit longer for the real innuendo’s to start, of which this musical finds plenty to play with).



Miss Nightingale



Having started life as a small scale chamber musical in 2011, this production certainly needs to be commended for being that increasingly rare commodity, an original musical not based on a book, a film, or a cobbled together collection of pre-existing pop songs. It is also noticeable for being a mainstream musical with gay characters at the very heart of the story, not immediately obvious from the title, but nonetheless the audience is transported back to a time when homosexuality was illegal and if discovered, the perpetrators of the then crime could either find themselves being subjected to blackmail or imprisonment depending on who they were unlucky enough to have been discovered by. This production therefore comes as a timely reminder of what life was like prior to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, the fiftieth anniversary of which continues to be commemorated by events throughout the year in the UK.



Miss Nightingale



Miss Nightingale’ is set against a lovingly recreated backdrop of war-torn Britain in the 1940’s where the emerging love story between Frank and George unfolds, conducted in the same clandestine way as the black market trading that goes on around them. With so much at stake for Frank and George whilst pursuing their relationship, it is a shame that the polarised emotions of abject joy and internal anguish generally failed to fully translate into the performances during the first half. Of the two actors, it is O’ Kane as George who comes across as the more passionate, and from who we get a real sense of not only how precious the possibility of finding love at such a time was, but also the importance of standing up and being counted wherever possible. A similar sense of the inner elation, confusion and turmoil isn’t as fully realised in the more measured performance of Frank. Granted, his is a character played with the archetypal stiff upper lip and emotional reserve often equated with the British gentleman of caricature, but this was perhaps at the expense of some potentially more nuanced emotional moments that ultimately failed to ignite, in particularly during his first big ballad, ‘Mister Nightingale’, which I felt had the potential to pack a far greater emotional punch than it did despite being vocally flawless in its delivery. It was however left somewhat statically performed in what also felt like an under directed moment by Bugg.



 Miss Nightingale



Whilst the productions strongest point might not have been the way the characters internal emotions were conveyed, I am happy to say that things changed gear when an external source threatens Frank with blackmail upon the discovery of his dark secret. It’s a welcome change of pace from the middle of the first act that is built on throughout the rest of the musical, raw emotions then being played much closer to the surface.



Miss Nightingale



As dramatic a storyline as this sounds, this is still at it’s heart a good ol’ slice of musical theatre, and there are plenty of songs peppered throughout, the style of which fall into several categories. The bawdy, saucy, innuendo laden music-hall songs that constitute Miss Nightingale's act were a joy to listen to, being a well observed and accurate pastiche of the songs sung at the time to boost the moral of audiences during the war. (‘Got To Get Your Sausage Where You Can’ being an instant favourite). Another style that added some real musical gravitas to the proceedings was the surprisingly frequent and skilfully written, multi-character populated songs that allowed multiple viewpoints to be woven together through the simultaneously sung counter melodies of various members of the cast. These were superb and made for some of this musicals more powerful moments, leaving in no doubt the musical credentials of the cast, all of who at various stages of the production would find themselves playing in the band when not required in character during the story. 



Miss Nightingale



It’s clear that a lot of multi-talented performers have found there way into this production who can act, sing and play multiple instruments, including the three actors already mentioned alongside Niall Kerrigan and Tobias Oliver, but Matthew Bugg also gets to add writer and director to his credits, along with acting and being one of the aforementioned musicians. Whether this is one role to many for the auteur is debatable, given the occasional aspects of this production that could have possibly benefited from an external eye being cast on it, but there is more to like than dislike about this production, not least of which is the presentation of this slice of gay history in a musical, likely to now be seen and appreciated by a much more diverse audience than would normally find themselves watching such a tale, which also made it a refreshing as well as entertaining evening of theatre. 


Review: Natives - Southwark Playhouse, 29 Mar - 22 Apr 2017

Natives is a new play by Glenn Waldron receiving its UK premiere at London’s Southwark Playhouse directed by Rob Drummer with Boundless Theatre. This superb production has definitely reset the bar for 2017, with it’s incredibly fluid and well paced writing, performed faultlessly by the three impressive leads, two of who are making their noteworthy professional stage debuts.



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



It’s a story of peer pressure, world events, and a new era of technology led societal norms that are all being brought into increasingly sharp focus through the peripheral vision of three youths not far into their teenage years, as they struggle to cope with the fallout of a life lived in the digital age. Referred to only in the plays text as A, B and C, the three quite different characters become an everyman for a cross section of teenagers who are both fully interacting with the seemingly life enhancing technology at their finger tips, whilst simultaneously finding themselves drowning in the side effects of it all.



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



A, B & C are living quite independent lives from each other given that they are located in three different locations around the world, and as their stories develop independently of each other, on a day that happens to be each of their fourteenth birthday’s, each are destined to face some home truths and hard realities. Between the skill of the writing and the direction of this production each characters story, whilst at times frenetically cut between, actually dovetail beautifully with one another, the constant interchange and location shifts being deftly handled with the aid of some imaginative lighting (Zoe Spurr) and sound design (Father)



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



Although at it’s heart Natives is three intercut monologues, the performances and the script effortlessly transports us to new locations with the unseen characters that populate each skilfully brought to life by the cast. This is all the more impressive given the sparsity of the staging, something immediately noticed by my companion for the evening who, used to the elaborate set designs of the more commercial West End theatre, seemed immediately concerned that on this particular night he might have agreed to see something a bit too ‘fringe’. All the more incredible then that he, like the rest of the audience for this sold out performance, was captivated by the power of all three actors ability to fluctuate between the hilariously funny and the heartbreakingly sad. The stage, a bit like a catwalk with audience located on either side, was illuminated by projections for the duration of the play, (designed by Cate Blanchard). The first few rows of seating on either side were not sufficiently elevated to easily make out exactly what these projections were, or what their significance to the action might have been. Personally however, I remained quite relieved by the ambiguity an unclear line of sight brought to these, given that this addition might have been an unnecessary distraction that deflected rather than enhanced the emotive quality of the performances. (Although someone that sat higher might beg to differ with me here).



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



As the play progresses, so the characters awareness of themselves, the world around them and their place in it slowly begins to change, and I confess to being moved close to tears at one point in each of the storylines. That’s not to say this is a bleak affair, far from it as there are still plenty of laughs and, for the most part, a sense of hope that these three teenagers will learn to make sense of it all and become part of the generation that will affect change. The journey continually demands the audiences reappraisal of all three of the protagonists characters though, and in doing so it becomes impossible to rate one performance above the other, with Elle Purnell, as ‘A’, Fionn Whitehead as ‘B’ and Manish Gandhi as ‘C’ all delivering first class interpretations. That we were witnessing a lot of upcoming young talent was recognised by the rapturous and extended applause at the end.



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



Whilst there is a great temptation to recall some favourite moments, this reviewer thinks it would be unfair to spoil any of the plot shifts that I had the pleasure to experience first hand. That said, with Manish Gandhi’s character being located in an undisclosed war-torn middle eastern country, the pertinence of his story comes crashing through into reality when, as recently as 29 March, a viral video is reported on showing ISIS terrorists throwing a man from a rooftop to his death for being gay. It is an image as shocking and unforgettable for anyone that has seen it as it is for ‘C’ in the play, as he becomes relentlessly haunted by a similar image during the day of his fourteenth birthday.



Elle Purnell - Fionn Whitehead - Manish Gandhi



A highly recommended and must see production if ever there was one, and whilst Boundless Theatre clearly excel in creating poignant theatre for young people, this play is by no means exclusive to any age group and is an enlightening snapshot of self discovery and innocence lost for all.   

Review: Roundelay - Southwark Playhouse, 23 Feb - 18 Mar 2017

Roundelay


At first glance Visible's production of Roundelay, written by Sonja Linden, directed by Anna Ledwich and currently on at the Southwark Playhouse, is not typical of the plays Jack The Lad has been putting his reviewers hat on for, it not ostensibly being a piece of LGBT theatre, although I was impressively surprised to find the theme not completely ignored either, it playing a part in one of the 7 interconnecting vignettes aiming to challenge society’s taboos about love and sex in the third age, and as such it’s themes are clearly universal, whether they be wrapped up in a straight, gay or a bisexual context. However, Roundelays touchstones were to be an altogether headier brew of dementia, divorce, bereavement, infidelity, seduction and sex.


Roundelay

 

“You know what they say, love makes the world go around. And sex of course – when you can get it”. These are the shows opening words from Clare Perkins sassy ‘Ringmistress’ our hostess for the evening in this circus of life, the play also being performed in the round as if in a big-top. This circus theme is returned to in the interludes between the various interconnecting stories, all of which Perkins introduces in an impressively commanding performance, her high heels and whip cracking all geared to bring an undercurrent of sex and scandal to the proceedings. That scandal is probably strongest in the fact that the play addresses both openly and honestly the subject matter at hand, as the vignettes themselves, whilst both raw and frank, are also actually both touching and poignant, never more so than with the character of Evelyn, played by Annie Firbank. Her story of life, loss and lust are moving and revelatory, played to perfection by the 84 year old actress.


Roundelay

 

I wouldn’t normally find it necessary to reveal an actor’s age as part of a review, but not to do so here would be to miss the point, as not only is the average age of the company the very thing that underpins the very heart of the play but also, founded in 2012 by writer Sonja Linden, Visible was created specifically to highlight issues of older age. If all this is sounding a little dry, then think again. There are some lighter moments peppered throughout, and the return of the Ringmistress between stories soon picks up the pace and shocks the senses. The three younger characters (Elan James as Daniel, Anna Simpson as Evie, Hattie and an Aerialist… this is a circus after all, and Ru Hamilton appearing as a multi-instrument playing Pierrot) produces a counterpoint to the scenes played between the companies elder members, serving as a reminder that when time is short, decisions need to be taken quicker, and opportunities grabbed with both hands.


Roundelay

 

Roundelay also has Movement Director Diane Alison-Mitchell on hand to weave some more choreographed pieces into the narrative, a stylistic approach I have previously seen utilised in a number of plays to great effect. Whilst it’s use here is a lot subtler than it was in Outbox TheatresAffection’ at The Glory last year, it is a device when used well that can bring a much greater depth to the emotional currency of the character than just words alone, and indeed it is once again with Annie Firbank’s character, and her dance with a younger self, that really adds so much more to our perception of her relationship to the ageing process. “I so struggle with this bloody business of getting old” she declares at one point whilst almost seducing her much younger lodger, Daniel.

 

Roundelay


The whole cast bring incredible experience to their roles, and with it the stories that unfold have the power to move audiences of all ages, resonating with either their past, present or future. Only in one brief scene did the pace seem to drop momentarily, but otherwise Roundelay remained engaging, insightful and scandalous. It's 90 minutes well spent at the theatre.

 


 

Review: Speech & Debate - Trafalgar Studios 2, 22 Feb - 1 Apr 2017

Speech and debate


If you are currently getting frustrated by going to see an endless stream of CGI stuffed franchise films, or are bored with binge watching countless box sets of a series that should never have really survived beyond a second season, then there has never been a better time to get yourself back into the theatre to check out some of the really cool independent productions that have been proliferating around London this year.


Speech and debate

 

That’s not to take away from the seriously impressive screen credits previously notched up by the three leads starring in the UK premiere of Stephen Karam’s excellent Speech & Debate, most notably Revolori who played Zero the lobby boy alongside Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Actually this reviewers film of the year in 2014). The fact that all of this young,  dynamic cast are seeking out theatre productions of the calibre on display here is just one indication that 2017 is definitely turning into a vintage year on the London stage, not only for these incredible independently produced plays, but also for a fresh wave of some intelligent queer theatre. Whether this was 2016 Tony Award winner Stephen Karams intention when he wrote the play is unknown, but this first class production is definitely one that we can’t recommend highly enough.


Speech and debate

 

An incredible cast and the sharply written contemporary script (social media, podcasts and gay dating apps all driving the story along) means the 95 minutes flies by in this surprisingly funny play, effortlessly delivered through the comic timing of the three main leads under the strong direction of Tom Attenborough. At it’s core is a story of three misfit teenagers, brought together by a sex scandal in their school with nobody taking them seriously until they discover the truth about each others stories, and decide to speak out. Despite the ever present feeling that events could spiral into ever darker territory for Howie (Douglas Booth, seen here making his West End debut), Solomon (Tony Revolori) and Diwata (Patsy Ferran), the unraveling events are handled with a deft, light touch, keeping the action never anything less than thoroughly engaging and often hilarious right from the start. Charlotte Lucas also offers strong support in two smaller roles as Teacher and Reporter.


Speech and debate

 

With an increasing trend in new theatre to have the stage already populated, with action taking place as the audience arrives, so it was that we find Booth under his duvet, busily texting on a gay dating app as we took to our seats. We become privy to his messages by the projection on the wall beside him, and through the reply of a surprise respondent the story begins to unfold. There is a real beauty in the pacing of all the characters revelations, continually bringing fresh depth and understanding to their individual motivations and agenda’s, brought together by the revelatory common cause that even gives the cast the opportunity to present an unforgettable song and dance number! (Yes.. really!)


Speech and debate

 

Whilst we have nothing but praise for Booth and Revolori’s faultless performances, it is the wonderfully cast Patsy Ferran’s hilarious portrayal of Diwata that remains the most memorable. Her laid-back yet comedic delivery makes sure a laugh is secured at every turn, with the audience enamoured by her performance throughout.


Speech and debate

 

Having since learnt that the play is to be made into a movie, it will be more than interesting to see how the play gets translated for the screen, but it is hard to imagine that a better cast or a stronger performance could be found, so do yourself a favour and make sure you get to see it at the theatre first. 


Review: A Haunting - Pit at The Vault Festival, 15 Feb - 19 Feb 2017



It’s not often we can start a review by saying we’ve been underground to the Vault for an awesome night in the Pit! Hopefully, this will make more sense when I explain that the Pit is the performance space where Nathan Lucky Wood’s ‘A Haunting’ is currently playing, directed by Jennifer Davis as part of The Vault Festival in London.


Holy Botha Izabella Urbanowicz A Haunting


With the action occurring during a Halloween eve, the musty atmosphere of the brick arched venue itself helped to amplify the palpable sense of trepidation that is in the air right from the start, the venue being quite literally located under the railway lines feeding London’s busy Waterloo Station. This stark venue reminded us of a concert seen last year in one of London Bridge’s bascule chambers deep under the Thames, and there is no underestimating the unique quality these unusual hidden performance spaces add to the occasion.


Roly Botha A Haunting


A Haunting starts with home alone Mark (played by Roly Botha) chilling out on his computer, online gaming against an anonymous stranger who he has never seen but has clearly been talking to for some time. It soon becomes apparent that all is not quite as innocent as it may seem, with both initially seeming to have intentions beyond the computer game play that seems to have brought them together. The ominous sense of foreboding increases as the mysterious stranger begins to manipulate the 15 year old Mark into agreeing to a physical meeting.


Izabella Urbanowicz Roly Botha A Haunting


Definitely still very much on Jack The Lad’s ‘one’s to watch’ list, actor Roly Botha finds himself in the company of two equally impressive actors, much as he did for his stage debut in Tommy Murphy’s ‘Strangers In Between’ at The Kings Head Theatre earlier this year. Now in the superbly written ‘A Haunting’ (which also premiered at The Kings Head last year), Botha once again nails his portrait of a naive teenager who is both sexually confused and gets increasingly out of his depth as the mysterious events of the play unfold. This may not be a million miles from the character we last saw him play, but the occasional bursts of adolescent swagger being juxta-posed superbly with the characters more vulnerable and nervous qualities makes this a slightly less manic performance than previously seen, but equally well observed.


Jake Curran A Haunting


Jake Curran, the only surviving member of the original cast, reprises his role as the mysterious and unnerving Ghost, a character constantly teetering on a fine line between desperation, manipulation and vulnerability, all deftly played with a fluctuating sinister undercurrent. Izabella Urbanowicz also joins the company as Marks mother, playing her own characters emotional journey over the course of the play from cold, power dressing business woman to distraught mother in fear as much for her sons wellbeing as she is for her own apparent past to be revealed. It’s fair to say that all three actors deliver performances pitched perfectly as the play slips into ever more unexpected territory.


Roly Botha A Haunting


This is sharply written stuff by Nathan Lucky Wood, who delights in wrong footing the audience throughout, and what seemingly starts out as observations on privacy, internet grooming and trust soon takes the story into increasingly darker and more sinister places, and as the exquisitely layered strands of this play unfold, the audience in this sold out venue could not help but be anything other than completely captivated by the unnerving journey they were effortlessly being swept up in. Jennifer Davis’s direction is solid within the limitations of the venue, managing to create and connect the three locations in which this play takes place with style and ease.


Review: Strangers In Between - The Kings Head Theatre, 10 Jan - 4 Feb 2017




Well… we definitely were not expecting the bar to be raised quite so high this early in the new year, but if this play is anything to go by then 2017 is shaping up to be something of a golden year for gay theatre, although officially this production of Australian playwright Tommy Murphy’s “Strangers in Between” actually had it’s British premiere at London’s Kings Head Theatre last year, (having originally been performed in Sydney, Australia back in 2005). Needless to say Jack The Lad deftly managed to avoid reading any detailed reviews from previous productions, preferring as always to come to the work fresh now that it has returned to the The Kings Head for a second run. A general impression that it was going to be good had managed to filter through, but we weren’t prepared for just how much we were going to enjoy this play.






Tommy Murphy’s dialogue is both delightfully uncontrived and lyrical, containing some hilariously juxta-posed lines that are made all the better for hearing it performed in it's intended native Australian accent. (Actually, one of the actors is not originally from Australia, but we will leave you to work out which… if you can!). This wonderfully observed dialogue is taken to new heights by the quality of it's delivery by the three actors, most noticeably by the superbly cast Roly Botha in the lead role as Shane, a small town boy alone and finding his feat in the big city. Whilst this may not sound like the most original premise for a slice of gay theatre, the devil is most definitely in the detail in this production, with both script and performances lifting this rights of passage play far beyond expectations.






Botha’s performance as the young protagonist is perfectly pitched, allowing himself to become completely consumed by his characters nervous, youthful energy, played here with palpable vulnerability that never once strays off into the realms of caricature, it being a much more sensitive portrayal with the power to have the audience both howling with laughter as well as breaking their hearts. Such was the total conviction of his performance that it put me in mind of a young Leanardo Di Caprio’s breakthrough performance in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’, equally mesmerisingly powerful in the conviction with which it was played and for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994. All of which leaves us thinking that Roly Botha is definitely a young actor to keep an eye on.






Superb performances were also delivered by the supporting cast of Stephen Connery-Brown as Peter, and Dan Hunter whose shoulders it fell on to play two characters in this production, those being Shane’s love interest Will, and in marked contrast he also plays Shane’s brother Ben, the latter giving Hunter a much wider emotional range to play with, managing to infuse the characters disturbing unpredictability with a vulnerability that gave the character impressive depth.






The scenes between Shane and the older, sometimes wiser Peter are also nothing short of a joy to watch, the contrast between Shane’s youthful naivety and Peter’s fifty year old matter-of-factness played out beautifully. Credit must clearly also go to Adam Spreadbury-Maher for his direction, keeping the audience fully engaged in the action throughout. An unexpected twist in the second act is skilfully handled as are the transitions between scenes. 


No surprises then that this gets five stars from Jack The Lad, and couldn’t come more highly recommended.






Strangers In Between is at the Kings Head Theatre is 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN - 10th January and 4thth February





Photos: Andreas Grieger

Review: The Crumple Zone - The Clapham Omnibus, 20th December 2016



We sincerely hope that the events that unravel in the small, seasonally decorated Staten Island apartment of Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone (Clapham Omnibus until 23rd December – Pleasence Stage Space 27th-29thDecember) aren’t representative of the average festive season friends will be sharing across the country this year, although I am sure there will be a number of familiar touchstones in this play that the audience will relate to during this seasonal dark comedy in which Terry, Alex, Buck, Matt and Roger negotiate love, infidelity and friendship over an eventful Christmas, and as their various friendships and relationships get tested it becomes evident that their's is not necessarily going to be a season of good will to all men.




That said, there is plenty of humour here, most coming from the acid tongue of Terry, (played by Samuel Tucker) who hits the ground running from his very first appearance, dressed in only a pair of boxers and a T-Shirt, launching into a diatribe not only against Xmas, but the fact that his friend Buck (who he has a crush on), is having an affair with his roommate Alex, who is already involved in a long term, long distance relationship with actor boyfriend Matt. (Don't panic, these connections become much clearer as the play progresses). Terry also bemoans in his standard, hyperbolic way that he always feels on the periphery of the action, relegated to just a bit part in the soap opera of his own life!




Terry’s caustic tirades (of which there are many) hit fever pitch almost immediately, which unfortunately leaves little room for the character to develop too much over the duration of the play, almost having been taken as far as he can go within the first ten minutes. That’s not to say that Tucker doesn’t take ownership of the role and performs it with gusto, and being favoured with some of the scripts funniest one liners his performance is undoubtedly a strong one, if hampered only by the one dimension Terry seems to be allowed. It’s a problem that is apparent through much of the first half as the continuous verbal jousting between Terry, Buck, (played by Jack Armstrong) and Alex (played by Kit Loyd), is played for the most part in just one gear, that being ‘full-on’, although in fairness this production is billed as making “Big Brother look like Enid Blyton!”




Despite the arrival of Roger, Terry’s ‘pick-up', (played by Myles Rogerson) bringing a slight change of pace to the proceedings, it’s after the intermission that this play really seems to find it's stride, with the arrival of Alex’s boyfriend Matt (played by Tim Jennings). The development in the action allows the actors space to bring more light and shade to their characters, who have no other option than to confront each other and the consequences of their actions, making the performances and the drama feel more engaging.




Unfortunately just as this stronger second half was firing on all cylinders during the performance I attended, the play was brought to an abrupt halt when one of the actors was unfortunately taken unexpectedly ill, so there will definitely be no spoilers as to how the action resolves. That I was sufficiently invested in the production to want to return and find out how the situation plays out I hope is testament to the fact that, despite my misgivings in the first half, The Crumple Zone is definitely an enjoyable, if full-on look into the negotiations that make up modern gay friendships and relationships. Like a nineties adjunct to the hit 1960’s play The Boys In The Band, the claustrophobic confines of the apartment are palpable, with the well timed comedy bringing plenty of light relief to the plays darker strokes.




The Crumple Zone will be transferring to the Pleasance Stagespace between 27th and 29th December where I must confess I am very much looking forward to finding out how the play ends.

****

Review: Charming Dick - The Cockpit Theatre, 7th December 2016


Last night I had my pantomime virginity well and truly plucked from me, having gone to see the Royal Vauxhall Taverns production of Charming Dick, written by Paul Emulsion Daly and currently playing at The Cockpit Theatre. Now, pay attention boys and girls because here comes the science bit… Charming Dick made it’s debut at the RVT last year, but having been seen by members of the aptly named Cockpit Theatre, (no, you couldn’t make this up!) a request was made for it to be ‘re-erected’ this year as a co-production, giving the Cockpit it’s own adult pantomime experience for the first time,… and adult this certainly is.


More ‘In-Your-End-Oh!’ than innuendo, the jokes come thick and fast, delivered by a brand new cast in a topically tweaked script. Director Tim McArthur takes on the role of Aunty Twanky ("the ’T’ is pronounced silently"), a more hirsute pantomime dame you are unlikely ever to see again, (and a vision that I guarantee will stick with you long after you leave the theatre!) All of the new cast are fantastic and commit themselves 100%, not only to the necessarily over the top characters they play but also to the long-standing traditions of panto. Needless to say, there’s audience participation a plenty. (“Oh no there isn’t!”) Oh… yes there is, but it doesn’t take long before most of the audiences inner child is set invigoratingly free, (aided no doubt by a few drinks at the bar beforehand), and in no time at all we are all shouting out our love for “Big Dick”! (Big Dick of course being the titular character played by Alistair Frederick!) The Wicked Witch is played to malevolent perfection by Matthew Floyd Jones, one half of British musical comedy double act Frisky and Mannish, with the dashing Stewart Briggs bringing his ‘A’ game to the role of Prince Charming and Abigail Carter-Simpson being worked to capacity in a number of roles, Red Riding Hood and Babe Woods being just two. A shout out also has to go to musical director Patrick Rufey for his solid musical accompaniment and cheeky ability to get in on the action too.


Charming Dick is actually a pantomime that gets deliciously ‘meta’ in places, and a few unscripted ad libs only add to the hilarity, for cast and audience alike! Despite not having seen this production at the RVT last year, it is hard to imagine it working quite as well as it did at The Cockpit Theatre, being performed ‘in the round’ and directed to make the best use of the space, despite the minimal stage dressing.


With this reviewer no longer able to claim to be a Pantomime virgin, my thoughts on the experience are that if I had seen this as a child I think I might have been scarred for life, but as an adult (allegedly) it is nothing short of a hilarious night out and comes highly recommended if you are in the mood for some smutty, irreverent and wickedly funny comedy and are able to give yourself up completely to this first class adult panto experience.


*****


Charming Dick is on at London’s Cockpit Theatre until 23 December.

Review: The HIV Monologues - JuJu Bar, 22 Oct - The Miranda, Ace Hotel, 27 & 28 Oct

On Saturday 22nd October we got to see the very first performance of Patrick Cash’s latest play ‘The HIV Monologues’, exploring HIV amongst gay men through a series of interwoven stories. It is equally a very moving story about love, both lost and found, and of course sex.




The first night was a performance that very nearly didn’t happen, owing to the original venue having been flooded the night before. Luckily, and somewhat miraculously, a new venue was found the morning of the performance, and in true theatrical style the show did go on. With staging and lighting all needing to be re-imagined for the new venue, it’s a day I am sure the ensemble will not forget in a hurry, but if there was ever a case of ‘What you haven’t seen, you’d never know’, this was it. Whilst maybe not completely technically flawless, understandable under the circumstances, the production lost none of it’s impact as a result, and despite this last minute curve ball being thrown at cast and crew, all four actors achieve exceptionally powerful performances, bringing to life an incredibly moving and thought provoking script by Cash.




Having seen the critically acclaimed ‘The Chemesex Monologues’ when it returned for a second run to The Kings Head Theatre back in August, (see review), there was no doubting the skill of all involved, and indeed two of the actors from that play join the cast this time around. However, those familiar faces along with the return to the monologue format once again favoured to tell this story begged the question whether, given that we were somehow already in familiar territory, Cash and director Luke Davies could make this new production feel fresh, relevant and find something original to bring to the conversation around HIV. I am glad to say they succeeded on all counts, and through the different but eloquently interwoven experiences the four characters go through, the play manages to span the history of HIV and AIDS, from the eighties to the present day, with a script that deftly traverses not only this extensive timeline but also the gamut of emotions experienced by the actors in each monologue, managing to be both as humorous as it is incredibly moving.




Denholm Spurr returns, having played Nameless in ‘The Chemsex Monologues’ to play Alex, an actor in his early twenties who struggles in his extreme ignorance of HIV when his dream date Nick (Sean Hart) reveals he has recently been diagnosed with the virus. The wonderful Charly Flyte is also back, having played Fag Hag Cath in Cash’s previous play, this time playing a young Irish Catholic nurse, herself confronting HIV for the first time when she is charged to look after her first patient with Aids.




Whilst all three parts are played flawlessly, it is Jonathon Blake as Barney that both surprises and moves us during his appearance as a writer who lost his lover to Aids in the 1980’s. The resonance Blake brings to the role, himself being one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK, is incredibly moving. (He was himself played by Dominic West in the film ‘Pride’). Blake gave up acting in 1981, a year before he was diagnosed, but appears here in what can only be described as a triumphant return to the stage. His delivery goes far beyond that of someone who has not acted for over thirty years, the audience hanging on to every word during his captivating performance.




Luke Davies does a great job directing once again, not only in the impressive way the story is passed from one character to the next, but also in the staging of Spurr and Hart’s final scene which, whilst almost breaking free of the monologue tradition, pulls the audience in to the very heart of their story.




For the flawless way Patrick Cash manages to both engage an audience as well as command their emotional responses with such dexterity throughout his writing, his work is something I shall continue to look forward to, whatever themes he decides to explore next.


****


There are two more chances to see The HIV Monologues during it’s present run on Thursday 27th & Friday 28th October at London’s Ace Hotel.

Review: 5 Guys Chillin' - The Kings Head Theatre, 15 Oct - 5 Nov

I must confess to not having known very much about 5 Guys Chillin’ prior to seeing it on it’s current run at The Kings Head Theatre in London. Surprising given that it first appeared at the Brighton Festival back in May 2015 before going on to enjoy successful runs in London, Dublin, Edinburgh and most recently New York. That said, it’s refreshing to come to a production without too many preconceptions and for this reason I avoided reading any of the original reviews prior to the performance. I had already guessed it wasn’t going to be a play about five guys sitting around having a bit of bawdy banter over a cup of coffee, which is clearly what at least one, still quite shocked member of the audience was expecting as I heard him tell his friend afterwards at the bar, adding that he thought the reference to “G” had initially been a shorthand reference for Gin! He couldn’t have been more wrong, this certainly not being a play for the feint hearted.




If your own knowledge of the whole ‘chill’ scene is equally as vague as the man at the bar’s, then be prepared for a rapid, intense, graphic and hard-hitting education. Whilst the five characters in the play do indeed chat to each other about their lives and previous party experiences, the substances they have come to rely on to fuel their evenings are much stronger than caffeine, and as the drugs take effect they talk, dance, kiss, have sex, swap partners, swap drugs, and repeat, with the audience being there right from the start to witness this hedonistic chem-fuelled chill-out unravel into something altogether darker. With the graphic nature of the conversation and the action being made all the more intense by the intimacy of the venue itself, this is just about as real and raw as theatre can get, although thankfully never allowing any of the action to seem gratuitous.




It’s a play that’s success ultimately hinges on the interplay between the five characters being believable. This I am glad to say it was from the start. Whether friends or strangers, (such being the very nature of the chill-out) the interaction between characters is played to perfection and as the fragile veneer of this hedonistic night begins to crack we are allowed to see a more intimate portrayal of both the characters and the chemsex scene itself which has for this group, and many groups like them, become the interaction and recreation of choice.




The conviction with which the interaction between the characters is played would have been of little surprise had the company of actors remained the same for the 17 months since the play first appeared, but it’s return to the Kings Head Theatre see’s only one of the original cast coming back, the superb Elliot Hadley reviving his role as ‘R”, one of the more demanding roles in the production and played to perfection. It’s a character that could have so easily crossed the line into caricature, but Hadley deftly avoids this, and with ‘R’ forming one half of the only couple at the chill-out alongside Ricky McFadden as his partner ‘B’, both skilfully reveal as much about their relationship in the use of their body language throughout as they do through the dialogue.




Already impressed by this strong cast, we discover that Stuart Birmingham who plays ‘J’, is not only the newest member of the ensemble but, having been brought in only five days before the opening night, had only clocked up 2 full days of rehearsals, making the incredibly well observed minutiae between the characters all the more impressive. Not that the play should be watched with these considerations in mind, and indeed there is no time to even consider them as both Birmingham and Cesare Scarpone, (as ‘M’) are already deep into the action as the audience takes it’s seats. It’s a bitter suite experience as we are initially swept up into a lifestyle being lived without any consideration of repercussion or consequence, but the laughs that come so freely during the first half of the play are slowly silenced with the realisation that the characters are not only surprisingly aware of the darker sides of their actions, but the fate of Adi Chugh’s character, ‘PJ’, particularly resonate given that his is a life we get the most insight into outside of the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere of this single set play.


Sharply written and directed by Peter Darney, he is keen to point out in the programme notes that as a piece of verbatim theatre there are no conclusions to be drawn or judgements to be made other than those brought to the piece by the audience themselves, a stance that serves this play well, and not lost in the discussions that will no doubt follow on from each performance of this play.




Having experienced 5 Guys Chillin’ so closely to the current production of The Boys In The Band, I couldn’t help but wonder that if Mart Crowley was to write his play today, whether this might have been the result, an uncomfortable comparison of just how much times have changed.


****

Review: Gypsy Queen - Above The Arts, 10 Oct - 15 Oct

It seems like Jack The Lad is never out of the theatre these days, and last night was no exception as we paid our first visit to the space above the Arts Theatre in London’s West End to see a new play written by Rob Ward “Gypsy Queen”.




“Can two men raised to fight ever learn to love” is the intriguing strap line on the flyer that introduces us to the story of George O’Connell, also known as ‘Gorgeous George – The Gypsy King’, (played by Ward himself), a bare-knuckle fighter and traveller who enters the world of professional boxing where he meets equally cocksure (no pun intended) gay boxer Dane Samson (Ryan Clayton), an encounter that will have significant consequences on both their lives. It’s a story that gives Ward the opportunity to explore a number of themes, most notably those of coming out whilst simultaneously highlighting the ongoing homophobia that still exists in sport today. Indeed it was the real life homophobic comments by heavyweight champion Tyson Fury that apparently prompted Ward to revisit a shorter version of the play he had written in 2014, transforming it into this production of ‘Gypsy Queen’.




There is a lot to like about this play. The story is current and deals with situations and emotions that, if not already experienced by most gay men in some form or other, are certainly easy to relate to. This is done both dramatically and with plenty of humour, and the well written tight script pushes the action along at a fair pace.




The venue itself is an intimate space, and the few props that get used are done so to good effect. That said, given the sparse staging it felt like a bit more could have been done to help the audience through the transition to different locations with some slightly more inventive lighting and audio segues. There were some, but unfortunately any off-stage sound seemed played at an almost apologetic volume, doing little to help transport us from one location to the next.




What also took a bit of getting used to was the brave decision of having just the two actors take on the plays 7 characters between them. Whilst this worked well on the whole, and certainly kept the action moving, the necessity for Dane Samsons father to be played by both actors at different times in the play, as well as being a figure we had to imagine for the beginning of another scene, seemed one distraction too many whilst trying to adjust to the conveyor belt of character changes we were already being presented with. That said, both actors gave their all to each character, although it would be a push to suggest that Clayton was quite as convincing as Georges god-fearing Irish mother Rose as he was the muscular boxer Dane, the transformation relying on a Leopard skin jacket to try to conceal his not unimpressive physique.




Fortunately, Roses character is mainly played for laughs, and there are certainly plenty to be had here, but it’s equally impressive how everything gets reigned back for a number of the plays more touching moments, and it’s as George and Dane that the actors really find their stride, as we are taken through George’s journey of having to re-evaluate the macho bravado of both his traveller heritage and the sport that he adores, as well as dealing internally with the self-acceptance of his own sexuality. It’s these moments that really give this play its heart, being ultimately a love story at its core.




With George and Dane, Rob Ward has created two characters you do actually find yourself caring about after leaving the theatre, and with this reviewers only gripes being more about the technical side of this production than the wonderful writing and solid performances from both Ward and Clayton, this is definitely a worthy addition to the current crop of exciting and inventive new LGBT theatre, and is well worth seeing…I even had to buy myself some Pom-Bear for the journey home, humming the Buzzcocks “Ever Fallen In Love” all the way… it’s a Gypsy Queen thing… go check it out! 



Review: The Boys In The Band - Park Theatre, 28 September - 30 October

The 1970 film adaptation of ‘The Boys In The Band’ was made to faithfully commit to celluloid the off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley, that in it’s day was both ground breaking and highly successful. Unusually the film went as far as to cast the actors from the original theatre version to reprieve the roles they had made their own on stage. This latest revival, the first for 20 years, is also committed to faithfully recreating that same look and feel of the original play with incredible detail. It’s a strategy that means the production can, on occasion, feel slightly anachronistic for a contemporary audience in 2016, even though many of it's central themes remain timeless. By bringing a sense of context to the proceedings however, the relevance of this revival instantly makes a lot more sense, and as the lights in the auditorium dim and the sixties music that welcomed our arrival gets switched into high-speed rewind, we are transported back through the decades in an audio-visual vortex, back to 1968 where we are reminded just what a landmark production this was.




The story takes place in the New York apartment of Michael (Ian Hallard) who is hosting a party for Harold (Mark Gatiss) and, as his 7 friends gather, the proceedings get interrupted by the arrival of a cowboy hustler (Jack Derges), who has been paid for by the effete Emory (James Holmes) as a gift for Harold, as well as the arrival of Michaels ‘straight’ college friend Alan (John Hopkins).




That the play opens with a 16 minute two-hander between Michael and friend Donald (Daniel Boys) means the action takes a while to really find it’s stride. Understandably, for the audience watching in 1968, this initial open and frank conversation between two unapologetically gay characters on the mainstream theatre of the day would have been an unprecedented spectacle in itself, given that the original production hit the stage a year before the Stonewall riots and at a time when homosexuality had only been legalised in one American state. For them the references to three “pricks”, three “faggots”, two “queens”, three “screaming queens”, five “fairies”, one “queer”, one “masturbation”, two “cunts” and one “fuck-you” that pepper the initial conversation would have probably been enough to leave the assembled audience reeling. The passage of time has somewhat robbed the scene of much of it’s punch today however, and despite the opening interaction between Michael and Donald being skilfully handled by both actors, it’s not quite enough to save the scene from feeling the most hindered in terms of pace by the age of the play.


Everything changes however with the arrival of the wonderfully played Emory and the remaining entourage, and from this point the play crackles along. Harold’s own perfectly timed entrance into the proceedings just before the intermission is one of the plays more deliciously enjoyable moments, and provides Gatiss with yet another roll he seems almost destined to have played at some point in his career. The intermission does unfortunately interrupt Michaels slow transition from the amiable sober host of the first half to the cruel drunken protagonist he becomes in the second, but once there Hallard relishes in the opportunity to play the more vicious side of his characters nature, and does so with unnerving gusto.




It’s a play that will still probably divide audiences, gay and straight, as much now as it did back in the sixties, both for the archetypal portrayal of its characters and for some of its far from politically correct references, but this is ultimately a rewarding if somewhat bitter-sweet experience as when firing on all cylinders The Boys in the Band is hilariously funny, but the acerbic one liners as the characters gradually begin to turn on each other add an uncomfortable albeit compelling darkness to the proceedings. There is much still to be found for a modern audience to connect with in this production helped along in no small measure by the incredible ensemble, all of who are superbly cast.




The Boys In The Band ****  Park Theatre, 28 September - 30 October (production photo's: Darren Bell)


Review: Affection - The Glory, 13 - 24 September

Knowing that I was going to see 'Affection', a new devised play about bodies, intimacy and HIV (playing at The Glory until 24th September) a friend declared, “Is that really what we (the gay community) need, another play about HIV? There must be other stories to tell!” Think of that comment what you will, but I am sure his will not have been a lone voice of dissent upon hearing the subject matter Outbox Theatres director Ben Buratta has chosen to address with this latest production, his rationale being that with the rate of Londoners contracting HIV in 2016 rising dramatically and the NHS’s refusal to fund PrEP making headline news, this was actually the perfect time to reinvigorate the conversation around HIV in a contemporary and thoroughly engaging way which, I am glad to say, is exactly what he has achieved here.


Outbox Theatre - Affection - The Glory


The play begins by filling the room with an erratic, pulsating beat, it’s punching rhythms reflected by the twisting, convulsing movements of the eight strong ensemble lined up against the back wall of the stage. Credit goes to Movement Director Coral Messam here, whose various choreographed interludes both mesmerise and unnerve in equal measure with their energy and their imagery.


It very quickly becomes clear that this is not a play in the conventional sense, as these movement pieces continue to be peppered throughout a number of superbly written and skilfully acted self contained vignette pieces, a risky strategy given that no individual scene seemed to last any longer than 5 minutes, but due to the skill of the very tight script (Jodi Gray) and superb acting throughout, the audience is able to engage immediately with the characters in each story, the narrative of which we are thrown into the heart of with minimal exposition. On the whole these scenarios felt fresh and current, none moreso than one of Jack McMahon’s characters vlogging his way through a life led with HIV, that also surprisingly providing some of the biggest laugh out loud moments, of which there are several. Jack was also in part responsible for one of the plays most emotional moments in a scene he plays near the end with Gavin Duff, both actors and audience alike ending the scene with tears in their eyes. It would be wrong however to single any of the actors out as all shone in this production, as much in their commitment to their characters as to the stories they were telling, the result no doubt of the play having been built around the company's research and own improvisations during the early stages of putting 'Affection' together.


Outbox Theatre - Affection - The Glory


Only one of the scene’s felt weaker by comparison to the others, this being due in part to the familiarity of the situation and the feeling it had been seen in other plays before, but this feeling of slipping into the familiar was short lived, and on the whole 'Affection' felt original, innovative and highly watchable. As incredibly engaging as the scenes were on the whole, this was not a play whose ambition was to draw conclusions, be they moral, political or emotional, and neither was it meant to be, the director having declared from the outset his desire to create a piece that would spark further conversation. This it definitely will.


Outbox Theatre - Affection - The Glory


As an interesting side note, having spent a day in rehearsals with the company, (see Jack The Lad, issue 07), none of the pieces I saw being devised on that day made it into the final show, something I think shows just how challenging the process of devised theatre is, and how committed the vision of the director and cast needed to be in producing a work that ends up being as refreshingly original as 'Affection'. 

*****

Preview: Outbox Theatre - Affection (The Glory - 13-24 September)


In late August 2016 Jack The Lad had the privilege of being invited for a rare glimpse behind the scenes as Outbox Theatre rehearsed their latest production 'Affection', performed in London at The Glory (13th - 24th September) and in Birmingham @A. E. Harris (30th Sep - 01 Oct). Outbox Theatre have been producing devised theatre with a company of all LGBT performers for six years, it’s aim being to focus on “Telling the forgotten and unheard stories of the LGBT community”.  The ambition for this latest piece is to reinvigorate the debate around the subject of HIV, their flyer proclaiming that “Based on real-life stories, ‘Affection’ is not a victim piece. It is raw, funny and honest… because it’s about time that we had another conversation about HIV”.




Turning this into an engaging piece of theatre is an intriguing process to observe as, under the guiding hand of founder and artistic director Ben Burrata, it is the actors themselves that take ownership of creating the work, their improvised scenes being the catalyst for the group discussions and further development which will eventually be transformed into a final script by Jodi Gray. Ben say’s his intention “isn’t so much to educate people, but perhaps more to plant the seeds of ideas that will hopefully get discussed further in the pub after the play”. Jack The Lad joined rehearsals on day 9, excited to see a part of the process still in it’s early stages. “During the first week of rehearsal we’re really just exploring ideas as a company as we become more informed about living with HIV”, explains Ben. “We had a social worker come in, we had a few guys who were living with HIV come and talk to us, so it was all very much about research. This week is about taking those ideas and making them into something more dramatic”. 




With the improvisation stage now fully underway, the process of seeing what does and doesn’t work in context of the final production begins. It can be a process that demands a lot of it’s actors, not only in it’s requirement for them to bring a lot of emotional and personal parts of themselves to the rehearsal process, but they also have to acknowledge that some of the improvised scene’s they bring to the room will, by the very nature of the process, get rejected along the way. “I think you have to be thicker skinned with devised theatre than if you are working with a script” says Josh Enright, one of the actors in ‘Affection’,  “because everything you are creating is coming from you. It’s your ideas, your physicality, your words and your improvisations… but inevitably stuff will get cut and sometimes it can be a piece you were really happy with which unfortunately doesn’t fit with the overall tone of the production”. It’s a part of the process Josh is now comfortable with though. “At the end of the day we are a company. We’re not just individual actors working on our specific roles, we’re a company creating a whole piece together, which is what I love about it”.




Josh was part of the company for it's very first production six years ago, but for many of the actors involved in ‘Affection’, this will be their first time working with Outbox. Getting the company to bond during these early stages of production is an important part of the process. “It’s very rare to have a completely LGBT company”, says director Ben, “and i think there is something about that which is immediately bonding. There’s something so rare and so special about gay actors being all together in a room and being allowed to express their identity through their own work.“  It’s an observation confirmed by Elijah W Harris, a trans actor working with OutBox for the first time. “I feel like I’ve known these guys for a couple of months already”, he says. “It all got very intense very quickly, but people need to hear and see these stories and feel they are being represented”. That intensity comes hand in hand with the subject matter they are exploring as a group, and it’s down to Ben to facilitate ways in which the actors can feel comfortable and safe within the space, as well as confident enough to bring their very best work to the rehearsal room. “Whilst the actors may not be living with HIV themselves, they’ve often had experiences of that scene, whether that be the chemsex scene or the experience’s of people that they know living with HIV, and they bring all those experiences to the piece”.




It is the ability to tap into such a diverse range of experiences that highlights the power of devised theatre, which Josh believes will ultimately result in producing a much more engaging piece. “What we are creating is essentially our responses to these ideas… to people’s words, to bodies, to intimacy, to HIV… and it’s our responses, not only as an actor but personally as well, that bring’s out a lot more creativity than if we just had a play given to us with prescribed feelings and scenarios”. ‘Affection’ promises to be a fascinating production that see’s Outbox Theatre continuing to live up to their original ambitions, which producer Yasmin Zadeh summarises as “bringing people in the room who are comfortable with their sexuality, comfortable to talk about their experiences and basically make a show that is relevant and honest about what it means to be to be LGBT today”.


Tickets are available from Outbox Theatre


There are more pictures from the Outbox Theatre rehearsal rooms in Jack The Lad issue 7 - Available Oct 1st

Review: Do You Have A Secret Crush (Sleeping With Straight Men) - The Lost Theatre - 19 August 2016




It feels like I have been witnessing some kind of gay theatre tag team lately, as it seems Denholm Spurr is not the only young actor hot-footing it across London at the moment to appear in multiple stand-out productions at the same time, as we were tonight surprised to find Richard Watkins, (appearing alongside Denholm in The Chemsex Monologues), turning up on stage at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, to appear in Ronnie Larson's somewhat lengthily titled “Do You Have A Secret Crush? (Sleeping With Straight Men)”. 


This play is based on the true story of a young gay man, here renamed Stanley (Chris Britton) whose instant obsession with a straight waiter, Lee (Richard Watkins) compels him to contact a New York chat show for an appearance that will have severe consequences for both, as Stanley decides to reveal his secret crush to an unsuspecting Lee in front of a studio audience on The Jill Johnson Show. (The name of the play being derived from the episodes trashy, tabloid title).




Given the nature of my last minute booking to see this show, I was initially unaware that the play was taking its dramatic cues from this real life event, and I must confess that my heart sank just a little when I started to recognise the story, purely because I was really enjoying the initial relationship between Sally, the small town drag artist (Dave Lynn) and Stanley (Chris Britton). Chris plays his part with a flirtatious, camp gusto that sometimes teeters on the edge of caricature, but thankfully manages to stay on the right side of the line for the most part . Sally becomes Stanley’s confidant with who he shares his dreams of leaving his trailer park home in Pontiac, Michigan, to become famous and fall in love. This for me was by far the strongest character pairing throughout the play, which I could have easily continued to watch as their relationship unfolded, both characters being played at their best when in each others company.




However, I soon began to recognise the story from headlines back in 1995, and now becoming aware of where the plot was heading, I was glad that the strong direction (Robert McWhir) and inventive, albeit relatively sparse staging skilfully prevented the narrative from being played out in a straightforward linear fashion. The audience were taken on a journey from the small town “Flamingo” club to the bright lights of the big city TV studio, and we became part of the action itself as the the fourth wall was broken several times, initially by Dave Lynn in glorious, full-on cabaret mode, and secondly as the theatre transformed itself into the TV studio for the recording of The Jill Johnson Show itself. Whilst this wasn’t trying to be an immersive theatrical experience, it was a clever and engaging device that was used to great effect, as we all eagerly played our part by clapping and hollering on the chat show host’s cue.



Whilst at these moments the play felt inventive, with some interesting split stage techniques and creative lighting (Richard Lambert) that helped transport us from location to location, there were some issues, most notably with the sound. There’s no denying that the great use of some classic pop songs peppered throughout helped transport us back in time, (even if it did seem to take us back to the mid eighties, a decade before the actual events took place), but the music did, on occasion, linger in the background just a bit to long, resulting in it being more of a distraction from the main action instead of enhancing it. Tragically, the use of music seemed to be at it’s most unnecessary during the final scene, and swamped what could have otherwise been an exceptionally emotional moment, the drama of which was left to Dave Lynn to salvage with his poignant rendition of “Rise Like A Phoenix”, (again, not in keeping with the era we had been taken to, but movingly performed all the same). Another pivotal scene that seemed to fall just short of its full dramatic potential was Stanley’s seduction of Lee, the dialogue of which these two talented actors couldn’t quite wrestle back from it's brief slump into porn film style awkwardness... albeit one from the nineties). Lee’s real life counterpart was eventually found to have mental health and drug issues, and I think it would have been interesting to have given Richard Watkins a little bit more of this dark side to play with from the start, adding another layer to his character and increasing the sense of impending and inevitable jeopardy throughout.


If all that sounds a bit too serious for an enjoyable night at the theatre, then think again. There is plenty to enjoy here, with the first three quarters of the play being played very much for laughs. Dave Lynn gives a fantastic performance as Sally, both in and out of drag, and both Ruth Peterson as Jill Johnson and Helen Stirling as Stanley’s Mum are superbly cast in their roles. It is however Louie Westwood as Brian, the make-up artist and costume supervisor on The Jill Johnson Show, that manages to steal the stage from the sidelines whenever he appears, providing some of the biggest laughs of the night with some immaculate comic timing. Unfortunately there are only two days left of this production at the time of writing, but given that this is the third time this play has been produced in London, you just never know… there may be a chance to see it yet.


Is this the end of my theatrical tag team experience? Only time will tell! ****



Review: The Chemsex Monologues (The Kings Head Theatre - 15th Aug 2016)


What a difference a week makes as we head back to the London borough of Islington to find Denholm Spurr once again acting his socks (and his top) off in this seemingly one man mission to play all the pub theatres in the area… at the same time! He is still half way through his run in ‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor”, (See earlier review), but for the rest of this week he will be making a 10 minute dash along Upper Street, after his final bow at The Old Red Lion Theatre, (and burning 44 calories in the process, according to Citymapper), to take up his roll as 'Nameless' in Pat Cash’sThe Chemsex Monolgues’ directed by Luke Davies. (Playing until 20th August at The Kings Head Theatre) Just How many parts this talented young actor can actually hold in his head at the same time remains to be seen, but from what we saw on Monday night, Denholm had no problem in casting one character off in favour of the other as he took his place amongst this shows impressive quartet of actors.


As the title suggests, ‘The Chemsex Monologues' is about the use of drugs and group sex that has increasingly become synonymous with a darker side to gay nightlife, the playwright’s ambition here being  “to concentrate on the humanity of the characters in this world’. Needless to say, there are both intense and thought provoking scenes throughout each of the four characters fantastically delivered monologues, but these are deftly intertwined with a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud lines, showing the skill this playwright has to take the audience so sharply from one emotion to the other without missing a beat. The words of this tightly written script would of course be nothing without a level of acting to match, and all four actors are both convincing and absorbing in their parts… no mean feat given the sparseness of the staging in this intimate theatre, with only a single chair as a prop. It would be remiss of me not to report here that it was Charly Flyte’s stand out performance as ‘Fag Hag Cath’ that was deservedly rewarded with a spontaneous round of applause at the conclusion of her piece. That’s not to say that Denholm Spurr and Richard Watkins delivered anything but incredibly strong performances of their own, and Matthew Hodson was wonderfully engaging as  'Daniel the Sexual Health Worker’, (a part no doubt familiar to him through his real life roll as CEO of GMFA, the gay men’s sexual health charity), playing Daniel's fall into the world of Chemsex with some wonderfully observed nuanced moments. Naturally there is a lot to mull over having left the theatre, the subject matter being dealt with frankly, honestly and openly, but at the same time it also managed to be an enjoyable theatrical experience. 


A shout out also has to go to the lighting designer Richard Desmond who's career, we were somewhat amused to read in his program notes, had started by “lighting gay leather bars in the 1980’s”. With so little in terms of scenery and staging to set the stories locations in, it was down to the very subtle but effective changes in the lighting to take us from one scene to the next, as well as to set a variety of tones and moods throughout the play, which worked incredibly well.


All in all, (and with just the bar staff being literally the only people left to thank in this review), 'The Chemsex Monologues' is a perfect example of sharp writing, great acting and good directing in the absence of complicated staging. Go see this if you possibly can and whilst you have the chance!

Review: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor (8th August 2016 - The Old Red Lion Theatre)

It was with some regret, having not been able to make the press night for this world premiere of “The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor”, that I accidentally stumbled across a few unfavourable reviews for this play by first time playwright Simon Blow.



The general consensus seemed to be that all was not well with this production, however I took my seat in the intimate surroundings of the Old Red Lion Theatre with as much positivity as I could muster and an eagerness to uncover some dramatic nugget that other reviewers might possibly have missed. Unfortunately the play still failed to deliver, or ultimately engage, despite having at it’s disposal much that could have produced a much deeper and thought provoking piece. The effects of privilege, class, sexuality and growing old were all present and screaming to be explored in greater depth, but this autobiographical piece seemed more content to meander whimsically through a series of scenes almost as an exercise in nostalgia from the author himself, reminiscing on his own life and relationship with his uncle, Stephen Tennant, one of London’s bright young things, both of who were transposed here into the characters of Joshua (Jojo Macoriand Uncle Napier (Bernard O’Sullivan).




That Simon Blow is possibly either to close to the story, or has explored it too many times (he has also written a book on the subject) might explain why he is unable to put enough distance between himself and the material in order to extract the maximum dramatic potential from the events. The director, Jeffrey Mayhew also seemed unable to wrestle the script into a more poignant piece. This isn’t to say it wasn’t without it’s moments, and it’s few pithy one liners were gratefully received by the audience, however on the whole the dialogue lacked rhythm and conviction.




It was the young leads, Jojo Macori as Joshua and Denholm Spurr as Damien that really gave their all to the material they had been given. Jojo played his character with a spiky, nervous energy, at times awkward and even uncomfortable to watch as he wrestled with his class straddling relationship, being manoeuvred out of his inheritance, and visitations from the spirit world, which itself felt inconsistent and underplayed as a dramatic device.




It was Denholm Spurr however who seemed the most comfortable in his characters skin though, and whilst wondering how close his character might have been to the actors own personality, he gave an equally spirited performance when doubling up as French sailor Jean Baptiste in the opening scene of the second half, that lifted the play momentarily with a much needed dramatic change of pace, containing the only real point of emotional poignancy for this member of the audience.




With much of the action centred around the effete elder Uncle Napier, who had chosen to languish away his remaining years recalling stories of his youth from a permanent state of recline on his chaise lounge, the dialogue would have really needed to be a lot sharper on both the page and on the stage in order to compensate for the lack of visual drama, which unfortunately it never quite managed to do. Whilst the play ultimately failed to live up to the sum of it’s parts, the two young leads are definitely actors to keep an eye on, and I look forward to seeing what they choose to tackle next.


Runs until 27th August at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Photos: Pamela Raith   

REVIEW: Pet Shops Boys - Inner Sanctum (Royal Opera House 22/07/12)





Who knew that the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden had so much disco potential? Well clearly Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe did, as the Pet Shop Boys took a four day residency at this impressive venue for their Inner Sanctum show.




To the introductory opening chords of West End Girls, a track frequently reserved for the encore, two giant orbs rotated to reveal our favourite pop protagonists ensconced within. The crowd's reaction was immediate and euphoric, as everyone took to their feet with an explosion of applause! Pop music’s finest duo were back, not that they have ever been far from the industries front line, being one of the few bands that emerged in the eighties to remain consistently original and relevant to the ever changing music scene that surrounded them, and tonight they were ready to claim their place in pop's pantheon once again! 




The Pet Shop Boys might have won the Outstanding Contribution To Music award at the 2009 Brit Awards, but if tonight proved anything, it was that their contribution to the conversation of contemporary music is far from over. Given this career longevity of 30 years and still going strong, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a large percentage of the audience were fans of a certain age for who the duo have provided the soundtrack to their lives, and as such it would have been so easy for the evening to have slipped into an exercise in nostalgia. Both band and audience had different plans however and, having paid respect to the song that kick started their career, they immediately fast forwarded 30 years to deliver Pop Kids from this years Super album, making it clear right from the start that this was not going to be a greatest hits show, even if their back catalogue of 42 Top 30 singles is a legacy most bands could only ever dream of plundering. This unconventional tactic could have left a vacuum in a show that had clearly been consciously designed to focus on the latter half of the PSB’s career, but the fact that none of the unplayed hits were particularly missed only further proves that the art of writing instant classic crowd-pleasing pop hits hasn’t left Messrs Tennant and Lowe. The occasional nod to a few of their older classics like Se A Vida E and It’s A Sin (and a slightly unusual placed Home and Dry) were peppered throughout the show, just in case we were in danger of forgetting just how long the Pet Shop Boys have been part of our collected psyche.




The venue itself all seemed very Pet Shop Boys, and must have pleased those reviewers who like to see everything that they have ever done or said as being somehow a statement in irony, especially given that this was the tour showcasing two of their most club orientated albums to date, 2013’s Electric and this years Super, but as Neil pointed out in one of his brief exchanges with the audience, pre-war the venue had been used as a dance hall, and he called upon the 2,000 fans that packed this sell out show to help return the venue to this former glory and to the sounds of the UK’s finest purveyors of pop, we all happily obliged. 




Neil's exchanges with the audience have always felt few and far between, his reticence to wax lyrical between songs maybe due in part to the years they declared that the Pet Shop Boys would never tour, but tonight was about the music, and the brevity of the interruptions provided the opportunity for some lush seamless segues between songs. The show was a tour de force with both Neil and Chris seemingly loving every minute of it. “You are better than last nights audience” Neil declared in slightly vaudevillian fashion, and despite it being a line most of us would have heard on numerous occasions at other gigs, the atmosphere in the auditorium was such that on this occasion, more than just wanting to believe it was true - we did believe it was true! “Only slightly though!” Neil immediately qualifies, in a very Pet Shop Boys fashion.




“Here’s a new version of an old song”, we were informed before a clubbed up It’s Alright kept the room dancing. This he repeated before a rousing rendition of Go West, which to be honest didn’t sound all that different from how I remembered it, and to this pop kid’s ears is a track that has become to the Pet Shop Boys what Dancing Queen became to Abba… a sure fire crowd pleaser that suffers slightly from it’s over familiarity. However, by this time the stage had filled with dozens of dancers, anonymous in their inflated sumo-style body suits, the staccato movement of their militaristic dance moves (choreographed by stage director Lynne Page) making the track as much of spectacle as anything that had gone before.




Neil Tennant seemed genuinely taken aback by both the volume and duration of the applause that followed The Sodom and Gomorrah Show from 2006’s Fundamental album, (and a definite show high point of the evening). Chris also seemed ever so slightly more animated than usual behind his keyboard, clearly enjoying the opportunity to bring the PSB’s more club orientated disco to the stage. Creatively directed by Es Devlin, the full-on use of lasers further helped transform this rather grand and austere setting into the best nightclub in town at which, for four nights only, we all had the chance to become Pop Kids!




The Pet Shop Boys return to the UK with their six city Super Tour in February, based on these incredible Royal Opera House shows, so check out their website and make sure you get your ticket for this incredible show! 



words and pictures: simon j. webb
 

#Throwback Thursday

We grabbed performance artist Daren Pritchard for a chat way back in 2015, just as he was about to embark on his debut solo performance with his show "In Bad Taste". We're delighted to see he's back on stage on Thursday 30th June, this time at London's Royal Vauxhall Tavern which see's the return of seminal performance platform,'UnderConstruction'. Jack The Lad will of course be there to see if he delivers on his promise of taking "a satirical look at male body image and the gay community using spoken word, song and a touch of flesh". There's certainly a touch of flesh and a whole load of words in his Jack The Lad feature, so if you can't get down to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, then why not grab yourself a copy of issue 2 for yourselves. All back issues are available from our online shop, but only whilst stocks last.












#WednesdayWords 22nd June 2016

Some #WednsedayWords from our interview with Roo, who's show 'Are You Sitting Comfortably' can be heard midday every Saturday on ELR Radio. See what goes on behind the scenes when Jack The Lad camera's caught Roo in action as he presented his old student radio show 'Hump Night'.

You can listen to all Roo's previous shows on Roobox, and read his full interview in our very first issue of Jack The Lad, available from our online shop whilst stocks last.

Roo - Are You Sitting Comfortably - ELR Radio

#ThrowbackThursday

This #ThrowbackThursday we revisit our shoot with issue 2 cover guy Joshua Moore, shot exclusively for Jack The Lad by UK based photographer Simon J Webb. If you haven't seen all the stunning images from this fantastic photo feature yet, then you should get yourself a copy of this back issue from our online shop whilst stocks last. Be warned...once they've gone, they've gone for good! 


#WednesdayWords

Some #WednsedayWords from our awesome interview with Wayne Dhesi, the founder of LGBT charity support website rucomingout.com You can find the full interview in Issue 5, our biggest edition yet, packed with 126 pages of top quality photo's, art and conversation.


Available for digital download from the Apple App Store, Google Play, Pocketmags and Amazon Kindle. The deluxe limited edition print version is still available from selected London retailers, or worldwide from our online shop.


> come for the pictures, stay for the stories.



Jack The Lad Goes To The Theatre

How would you feel if you woke up in a hospital, having been in a coma for three weeks, only to discover that you have lost all memory of the last 4000 days? Such is the dilemma facing Alistair McGowan’s character, Michael, in this play by Peter Quilter, and directed by Matt Aston at The Park Theatre, Finsbury Park.


It is not only Michael we find struggling to make sense of having eleven years missing from his life. His mother Carol, (Maggie Ollerenshaw), who has kept a vigil by her son’s bedside, is asked on her son’s awakening why she is suddenly looking so old, given his last recollection of her is from over a decade ago, whilst his boyfriend Paul, (Daniel Weyman), despite having lived with Michael in a committed relationship for the last 10 years, now finds himself completely erased from Michael's consciousness as he desperately tries to bring back memories of their life together through a mixture of old newspapers and personal photographs. His mother recognises an opportunity to reclaim some long lost influence over her son’s life however, whilst simultaneously filling an emotional gap in her own, and doesn't hold back in pointing out some of the more negative aspects of the relationship her son had with Paul.


Set entirely in Michael's hospital room, the play tells the story very much through this jostling for emotional supremacy, a dramatic opportunity possibly being lost by not fleshing out the occasional nod's given towards how much world affairs have changed in Michaels eleven lost years. There is still plenty of food for thought in this witty yet thought provoking three-hander though, not least of which comes from seeing McGowan’s character being given the opportunity to reboot his life, mentally returning to a more creatively fulfilling time as a painter, blissfully unaware of the life choices he has made in the intervening years, choices that would appear themselves not to have been made entirely without the influence of those around him.


Due to Michael's condition and the ultimate freedom it appears to have brought him, all the characters are eventually forced to analyse their own life choices over the last decade, with a few cutting home truths being fired as mother and boyfriend find themselves battling to influence Michael's decision making process once again.


We couldn't help but think this an interesting choice of character for Alistair McGowan to choose to play, as whilst he is engaging as the initially bemused and confused Michael, it is more the performances given in the struggle between his boyfriend and his mother that provides the real energy of the play, with Ollerenshaw particularly producing a deliciously well observed, acerbic performance as the sharp tounged, domineering waspish mother. There's no denying that McGowan has a great face for playing bemused and confused so well, but it unfortunately leaves a character which he seems unable to do to much with, at times leaving him, along with the audience, sitting back to watch as the strongest lines get deftly delivered during the interactions between Ollerenshaw and Weyman.


4000 days is a play that probably finds as much audience engagement in the asking of the age old question “What would you do if you had your time again?” as it does for being an enjoyable, if fairly undemanding play. That said, at 1hr 50mins, the play is never less than entertaining and is yet another perfect excuse to spend an evening at the wonderful Park Theatre.



4000 Days is on at The Park Theatre from 14 January to 13 February - For more information go here



Jack The Lad Goes To Lumiere London

London can sometimes seem like a soul less grey metropolis, especially for those living, working and commuting here on a daily basis, but at other times it can come alive as it bursts with a sense of celebration, sound and colour, making it briefly feel more like the very centre of the universe. These times usually coincide with an artistic, sporting or cultural event of which there are woefully to few. The Olympics was a biggie, a Royal Jubilee usually gets the crowds out on the streets, and even Gay Pride brings with it a rare sense of harmony and unification across different parts of the capital. This winter however, a new event came along that literally brought light to the long dark winter nights, as the first Lumiere London came to town which for four nights transformed the capitals most iconic streets with over 30 impressive installations, produced by some of the world’s most exiting artists working with light. From Kings Cross to Westminster Abbey there were over 30 light sculptures, projections and installations to discover, which 1000’s of people armed with their well produced maps came out into the cold to do, criss-crossing the city in awe of the spectacle and originality of the pieces they were presented with. Whilst this review obviously comes far to late in the day for anyone who missed this awesome event, it will hopefully serve as an advance warning that if Lumiere London returns next January, be sure to have it in you diary. This free event is definitely one worth hitting the streets for.




Issue 4 is released today!

Happy New Year, and what better way to get 2016 started than by announcing today's release of Jack The Lad - Issue 4! Hangover's be damned, we have once again packed the 100 pages with awesome images and in depth interviews.


We were thrilled to finally get the chance to chat and do a photo-shoot with kirigami artist Marc Hagan-Guirey, aka Paper Dandy, having already raved about his Star Wars themed Cut Scene exhibition in a previous blog post, (21st August 2015). We caught up with him at the launch party for his book "Horrorgami", and again for his talk and book signing at London's Foyles bookshop before finally getting to sit down with Marc ourselves for this fantastic interview and photoshoot.

We also caught up with an old friend of Jack The Lad, Stuart Hatton Jnr., who regular readers will recall appeared in issue 1 as a model for our profile of photographer Graham Martin. It had always been our intention to get Stuart back for his very own feature ever since we were introduced, but as you will read in his interview, Stuart has been one incredibly busy lad, and he takes us through 12 of the craziest months of his life, accompanied of course by some stunning new images, once again captured through the lens of male art photographer Graham Martin.

Our third profile piece is of Malaysian male art photographer Waynn Low. We had met Waynn briefly a couple of years ago when he was visiting the UK, and ever since then have never ceased to be blown away by the style, quality and ingenuity of this photographers work. Now living back in Malaysia, Waynn talks candidly about the process of creating his work in a country that refuses to recognise any rights for its underground LGBT community, and shares with us a selection of never-before printed images from his portfolio.

Simon J. Webb finally gets to share his completed photo-shoot with awesome young model Will T. Having originally been scheduled to appear in our very first issue, an unavoidable delay in it's release date meant that "The First Snow of Winter" would have appeared somewhat out of season.., not that the UK has seen any signs of snow this year, given some unusually mild December temperatures, but maybe all the more reason to be reminded here of the beauty the winter months can conjure up.

We conclude this packed edition with the work of yet another photographer we have come to admire over the last few months, Nicolai Kornum, who has produced this exclusive shoot with adult performer Kayden Gray for us, out on the night time streets of London. (Lucky for them then that the weather has been so mild!) Having been introduced to Nicolai's work via his stunning studio photography, we were fascinated to see his trademark command over both light and colour carried across so confidently from his studio work to these awesome location images, and we couldn't be happier than to have the work shown here for the very first time.

With a pictorial throwback to Brighton Pride 2015 crammed in for good measure, we think this just might just be the best Jack The Lad we have produced so far.... but then we do tend to say that about every new edition, but don't just take our word for it. Find out for yourselves... go on... dare to be different!

Jack The Lad Issue 4 flyer

A very merry Christmas to all our Jack The Lad readers

If you are already following us on any of our social media platforms, (we can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as jacktheladmag), you will have noticed that we have been running a number of festive themed images throughout December as part of our ongoing Dare To Be Different promotional campaign. These brand new images featured models old and new, some of which you will have recognised and others have yet to appear between the covers of the magazine, but rest assured we will be taking great delight in introducing you to the newbies throughout 2016. It's going to be a great year and we can't wait to get it started. In the meantime enjoy this compilation of those images, and have yourselves a very merry christmas!


Jack The Lad Merry Christmas 2015

New Limited Edition Artwork added - Joshua

We have just added two new prints to our exclusive range of limited edition artwork, this time featuring Joshua from Issue 2. Only 50 copies will ever be made at this size, (25 framed and 25 unframed) which are available from the Original Art page. Why not go and bag yourself one of these awesome prints today.



Jack The Lad Goes To Paper Dandy's Cut Scene

When Russell T. Davies made one of the main characters in 1999's "Queer As Folk" a Dr Who obsessive, it suddenly became cool for gay men everywhere to embrace their inner geek, and helped many of us come out of the Sci-Fi closet! Since then, not only has our love affair of all things Sci-Fi and fantasy increased, but the quality of the genre has, on the whole, improved dramatically, rewarding us all for staying loyal to an art form that had historically delivered some truly terrible SFX. With all the dodgy green screen, wobbly sets & rubber monsters we had to endure... CGI seemed a long time coming, but one franchise made prior to the CGI explosion, (and ironically ruined by it), will forever have a special place in the hearts of Sci Fi lovers everywhere. George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy was without a doubt a game changer, and whilst we wait with fevered anticipation for a whole new chapter of the Star Wars franchise to start, the timing couldn't be better to be reminded of some of the iconic imagery we fell in love with the first time around.


Artist Marc Hagan-Guirey (aka Paper Dandy) successfully turns back the clock to transport us back to that golden age of the first trilogy with his latest, exquisitely intricate, Kirigami exhibition Cut Scene. As usual, the hectic Jack The Lad schedule meant we only managed to catch the show on it's very last day, but we were more than determined not to miss it. The 12 beautifully presented display cases, each holding it's own individual iconic Star Wars scene, reimagined from a single sheet of cut A4 paper, certainly did not disappoint.

Held at the 5th Base Gallery located down an unassuming alleyway off London's Brick Lane, these works are mini epics in their own right that not only transported us back to a galaxy far far away, but also to our childhoods, managing to capture the very essence of the awe and wonder of a time when Star Wars was a film unlike any other. Marc Hagan-Guirey wisely limited the scope of the project to include only scenes from the original trilogy. Wether this leaves open the opportunity for his own sequel... we will have to wait and see, but the love, respect and ingenuity for the source material that pours out of every cut scene suggests that Marc is something of a fan boy of the first three films himself.

Each piece was somehow smaller than we had expected, but were all the better for it, as the format demanded the close up inspection of every intricate detail, each one delivering its own multiple "wow" factor. Here in the Jack The Lad studio we might claim to be something of a dab-hand with the paper-scalpel combo ourselves, having been required to improvise many times with these items in the studio, however...this is clearly nothing compared to the flawless precision with which each tiny detail of these scenes has been crafted. Not one cut has resulted in a furred edge of the paper, not one line has been cut a millimetre more than it should be, every fold has a crispness and precision to be marvelled at, and all of this comes together in designs that themselves boggle the mind in their complexity.

We couldn't help but smile as we overheard visitors mumbling their intentions to "have a go!" themselves, imagining the levels of frustration each would no doubt face, and the 100's of abandoned paper cutting projects that will ultimately be this exhibitions legacy. With one of the exhibited pieces having taken the artist two years to design and complete, we were more than happy just to have had the opportunity to enjoy Marc Hagan-Guirey's incredible skill (and what must be a ridiculously steady hand)!

Had this not been the last day of the exhibition we would be wasting no time in calling this a must see exhibition, (and had we been a bit quicker off the mark in our awareness of the Kickstarter campaign that proceeded the exhibition, I am sure we might have even been the proud owners of one of these incredible pieces ourselves) but, as there really is no turning the clock back, we can only advise that you watch out for whatever Paper Dandy gets up to next, and get yourselves along to see it as soon as you can! The guy has skills for sure!


Jack The Lad Goes To Brighton Pride

The sun was shining for our trip to the seaside, and after an absence of several years we were back at Brighton for their 25th anniversary Pride celebrations. It didn't take us long to remember what a special and unique atmosphere this popular pride event has! 


A bomb scare (luckily a false alarm) delayed a re-routed parade by an hour and a half, which in turn meant that it took longer than usual for Preston Park to reach a capacity crowd, but early revellers made the most of the space, as well as the shorter than usual queues at the bar tents, as the crowds slowly began to pile in to enjoy all the fun of the fair....and the Bear Tent....and the Drag Tent...and the Urban Tent...and....well, you get the picture! 

The main stage drew an enthusiastic crowd ready to show their love to all of the acts that played their part in making it a decent and varied pride line up, (including Ella Henderson, Bright Light Bright Light, Foxes amongst others), and by the time the sun had set, and the headliners The Human League took to the stage, everyone was more than ready for a bit of electro nostalgia! To write them off as being an 80's band past their prime would be to do then a huge disservice, as The Human League proceeded to put on a fantastic, fully staged show. Phil Oakey's voice had lost none of its majesty, and the crowd were more than happy to accompany them on a trip through their greatest hits! 

Inevitably, the journey home was a total nightmare, but even that didn't deter us from already putting a date in our diary for next year! Brighton, we definitely won't leave it so long next time!


Jack The Lad Goes To The Theatre

Jack The Lad found himself back at the wonderful Park Theatre in Finsbury Park last night to see “Positive”, a new play by Shaun Kitchener (who also appears as Matt).


It’s central character, 26 year old Benji (perfectly played by Timothy George), is still coming to terms with his HIV diagnosis one year before the plays story begins, but he is finally allowing himself to start dating again having previously chosen to shutdown his personal life by way of avoiding the stigma, prejudice and rejection he fears he might encounter. This is not typically the subject matter that would suggest such an enjoyable night out at the theatre, and there have been plays before that have taken an altogether darker journey through similar territory, but Shaun Kitchener has decided to make the Positive of the title as much about the up beat atmosphere of the play as it is about the diagnosis Benji has received, and what we are treated to is a warm, heart felt, laugh out loud comedy that always manages to stay respectful of its subject matter.


It is little short of incredible, given it’s perfectly pitched tone and well observed characters, that this is in fact Shaun Kitcheners first full length play, and that the dialogue in this wonderfully tight script could take the audience from a moment of highly charged drama to a moment of pure comedy with the delivery of a single line. With writing that effortlessly traverses these opposing emotions with such dexterity, and at such an early stage in his career, there are hopefully many great things yet to come from this talented young playwright.


Praise of course must also go to the rest of the cast who, under Harry Burtons direction, managed to bring such nuanced performances to the stage in a number of stand out scenes. Herein lies our only criticism of the night though, which is that given the play was performed in the round there were times we were unable to see a characters facial response to a line or a piece of action, and as such felt we were missing out slightly on yet another moment of marvellously judged acting.


That said, on the whole the simple staging was effective, and the sympathetic lighting design transported us effortlessly between Benji’s flat, a nightclub and the clinic. We, as usual, intentionally avoided other reviews prior to going to see the play, which meant we were unaware of the plot development that started the second half, the drive of which meant the play was never going to suffer the curse of the post intermission lull. This development provides the framework on which the narrative is built to a crescendo,  once again a tour-de-force in bouncing the audience’s emotions between intense drama and high comedy. In less skilful hands the action at this point, which involved every member of the cast at some stage of the proceedings, could have slipped into the territory of mere traditional farce, but it was again dealt with such well judged dramatic precision that we are never left anything other than completely engaged with the complexity of the emotions that come with this sensitive subject.


To leave such a play with a smile on our face, and a life affirming glow in our heart was totally not the response we were expecting to be walking out with. In short, we can’t recommend this play highly enough, and if you still have the chance we suggest you beg, borrow or steal tickets for the final performances.

 


Jack The Lad Goes To The RUComingOut Summer Party

Jack The Lad’s preference for entertainment in an intimate venue is the stuff of legend, (well, it is in this office anyway) which is just as well, as any party held in London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern that achieves a sold-out capacity crowd is going to push the love of intimate spaces to the limit, but a capacity crowd is exactly what the RUComingOut summer party deservedly got, and everyone was more than ready to party the night away, creating an atmosphere that was never anything less than celebratory.


RUComingOut.com is an open resource website to help inspire, support and unite gay people, young and old, who might still be coming to terms with their sexuality, or who are possibly just afraid of the repercussions that coming out might have on their lives, whether that be with family, friends or work colleagues. The site does this by offering plenty of reassuring testimonials from those that have already been on the journey and have gone on to live happy, fulfilling and successful lives.


It’s unsure how many of the crowd at last nights event might have been helped by the website, (although it’s unlikely to have been any of the hardcore female Joe McElderry fans that had staked their claim on prime positions at the very front of the stage), but it’s safe to assume that many of those attending will have had their own coming out stories to tell, and the websites founder Wayne Dhesi told of his own experiences that led up to him starting the website back in 2012. His story, along with the amazing atmosphere that filled the RVT all night, was a testament in itself that it does indeed get better!


The event was a fund raising night, and in true Royal Vauxhall Tavern tradition, an evening of variety and entertainment followed. Given the establishments long association with drag shows, it seemed only right that the fabulous Drag With No Name was on hand to make her own inaugural appearance, being a self proclaimed RVT virgin! She raised the roof, ending a number of hilarious musical impressions with a knock out Ed Sheeran parody! Joe McElderry followed (cue front row screaming fans) reminding us what a mighty fine pair of lungs he has on him, as he delivered a pitch perfect performance to wow the crowd. It was a miracle he wasn’t singing falsetto given the unfeasibly tight looking jeans he was wearing, (no doubt to his fans unparalleled delight), but Joe nailed a dynamic performance in spite of any restrictions, which might have well included the exceptionally small RVT stage, but his was a performance which, for sheer energy and delivery alone, matched any that might have been given by a young George Michael at the peek of his career! A more recent X-Factor contestant, Andrea Faustini followed to also blow the crowd away with his own style of vocal power, albeit during a less dynamic visual performance.


Any fears that the energy levels might drop as a result of the 15 minute break that followed were soon dispelled when the stage curtains were drawn back to reveal Gabrielle with a two piece acoustic backing band and two backing singers, who performed their way through a number of reworked hits that had the crowd singing along to every chorus right from the start! I’m sure Gabrielle didn’t really mean it when she expressed a wish to take us all with her everywhere.., that would be quite an undertaking, and not one for the feint hearted, but the gesture was appreciated and reciprocated by an audience who had played their own part in making an evening that this Jack The Lad thinks will be remembered for quite some time by the organisers, the performers and the audience alike!


Now, if we could just convince the RUComingOut team to have a winter party, all would be sweet! 



Jack The Lad Goes To The Gig - C. Duncan

It wasn’t so long ago that Jack The Lad was enjoying the rich live sounds of C. Duncan at The Great Escape music festival in Brighton. Back then there were only a handful of single releases as musical clues to the delights that might be waiting for us on this talented multi-instrumentalists debut album. These first audio encounters were already enough for us to predict that we were unlikely to be left disappointed, and with the album finally being released on July 17th, we found ourselves back watching C. Duncan and his band play live once more, this time at The Lexington near London’s Kings Cross Station. All the band seemed in good spirits despite having been darting around the country on a promotional frenzy, and were more than ready to finally be able to expand the set to showcase the previously unheard material. As a result, gone was their rather classy version of the Cocteau Twins classic track “Pearly Dewdrops' Drops”, but perhaps more shockingly, a drummer was included in the line up for the first time, (who we think did a first rate job in adapting the digital drums, clicks, riffs and rim shots of the studio recordings to the live environment). Following two support acts, the lads hit the stage at 10pm in front of a rather lagered up audience. The musical step change, along with the inclusion of the new songs meant things took a little while to resonate fully with the audience who, with each song, were adjusting to the more laid back groove of C. Duncan from what had just gone before. Won over they most definitely were though, and by the time Chris, Finlay and Lluis were singing a beautiful 3 part harmony to a lone acoustic guitar for the encore, the audience were well and truly mesmerised, and The Lexington was as quiet as a library in full appreciation of what had been a fantastic first outing for the new album. We are sure there are equally exciting things to come from Chris Duncan in the future, but for now we are more than happy to immerse ourselves in the lush dreamlike soundscapes of “Architect”. (And there we were hoping not to use the word “dreamlike” in this review! Sorry guys, we just couldn't help it!)



Throwback Thursday - Ryan from Issue 1

#ThrowbackThursday image of one of our favourite models Ryan. He was prepared to get completely drenched in order to make some stunning images for his fantastic photo feature that appeared in issue 1. Not seen it yet? Well its still available to buy from our online shop



Jack The Lad Goes To The Gig - FFS

It's been a while since this Jack The Lad has witnessed so little division between audience and artist than it did at FFS's gig last night, and any line of division that could have existed was well and truly crossed when guitarist Nick McCarthy decided to go crowd surfing during a perfectly executed solo, without missing a note! The crowd, themselves no doubt a combination of Sparks fans and Franz Ferdinand fans, were all out to collectively party big time, and so clearly were this combo supergroup! Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael played the perfect hosts engaging the crowd in every song, whilst performing together like long lost friends that had been gratefully reunited. Solo hits from each of the artists repertoire were perfectly woven into the newer collaborative material, and despite an encore that included an epic "Collaborations Don't Work", there was no denying that this one definitely does, every member of the band being given their moment in the spotlight to hammer the point home. The newer material was received with as much enthusiasm as the sprinkling of older hits which were oddly referred to as cover versions! Despite this indication that FFS want to make their mark as a band in their own right, (successfully in our opinion), none of the main characters broke the performing personas they had so carefully crafted in their respective bands over the years! Alex's rakish body moves, Russell's enthusiastic bouncing lunges towards the audience, and Ron's deadpan piano playing persona were all intact, (the latter only breaking character to do a 30 second dance that has itself been a highlight of many a Sparks gig in the past, done once again here to rapturous applause!) If the superb album itself wasn't enough to convince you that, for the moment at least, these two acts are finding a new reinvigorated fervour in working together, then this euphoric performance would have sealed the deal, and with a multi generational audience collectively ready to party, this gig was as close as it gets to perfection F.F.S!



Bigger, Better, Bolder!

The sensational new Issue has arrived! More pages, sensational print quality, more pictures! You won't want to miss it!




Jack The Lad goes to Pride!

Jack The Lad joined more than 1 million people in central London on Saturday 27th June for the cities biggest one day event, and one of the world's biggest LGBT+ celebrations, Pride in London. The sun was shining and everyone was more than ready to party as the parade started to wind it's way through the streets of central London, from Baker Street to Trafalgar Square, where the main entertainment stage hosted a variety of comedy, cabaret and music to entertain a lively capacity crowd! What is now largely seen as a day of celebration, a mood that was heightened this year by coming just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalised gay marriage across America, their are still those mourning the transition of the event from the political protest it was in the 80's and 90's. Political commentator Owen Jones is one such voice questioning the relevance of a pride without politics, choosing to ask "what's gone wrong?" instead of maybe questioning what's changed? Indeed, the United Kingdom of 2015 is a very different place for the LGBT community than it was 30 years ago, and maybe the images from a day of celebration, posted on social media and seen by the rest of the world, are not completely without message themselves. Indeed, the images from this years event showcase a country largely coming to terms with diversity and the LGBT struggle for equality. These were in stark contrast to those images seen less than a week later from Turkey, as heavy handed riot police took to the streets with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas in order to break up this years Pride march in Istanbul! This is obviously a clear reminder that there is much to be done on behalf of the LGBT global community, and our fight for equal rights around the world is far from over. As such Owen Jones is of course right to remind us that the LGBT community shouldn't get complacent about the success's it has achieved to date, but Jack The Lad still thinks that celebrating those success's already made can be as potent a message in the continued fight for those rights as anything else, and hopes that both party, pride, and politics can continue to send a collaborative message from the UK and it's Pride events for years to come.



New Artwork Added

We've just added a new collectable print of Jerome to the Art Shop, available as both framed or unframed options it is, of course, a limited edition and not previously seen in the magazine.



Jack The Lad recommends....

Jack The Lad checked out C Duncan at The Great Escape music festival in Brighton this weekend, and though they were performing at one of the less atmospheric venues on offer that day, (and looking slightly at odds with the daytime clubland surroundings they found themselves in), nothing could diminish the quality of C Duncans songwriting skills, and the goose-bump inducing melodies that left the audience applauding for more. A long time has passed since "Hand in Glove" (see previous blog), but the thrill of discovering an incredible new band remains the same! Check them out if you get the chance!



Outtake Friday - Jerome

It's a bit difficult to do a ‪#‎ThrowbackThursday‬ when Jack The Lad has only been out for 15 days, so we have decided to create ‪#‎OuttakeFriday‬ - shots from the sessions with the models that there just wasn't room for in the mag! This is our first issues cover model Jerome, always sexy, although here looking just a little bit confused! Oh yes, We are already loving #OuttakeFriday!!! Don't forget, there are plenty of awesome shots of Jerome in the magazine, so don't forget to pick up a copy before it sells out! Numbers of this launch issue are limited!



The first entry into the Jack The Lad Hall of Fame

It's not every day a record comes a long that changes the game forever. 32 years ago today an unknown band called The Smiths released their very first single and did just that. The cover alone makes it a worthy entry into the Jack The Lad Hall of Fame, but the song also spoke out to many jack the lads across the land! Back then music singles were released on very collectable 7 inch vinyl - Today, Jack The Lad comes as an equally collectable 7 inch square magazine....Just saying!



Roo takes time out from the radio to talk all things Hump Night

Have you got your hands on issue 1 yet? Read our awesome interview with internet radio sensation Roo as he talks Hump Night, getting kicked off YouTube & amusing sex toys!! You won't want to miss it! Get your copy from Prowler Soho, Gays The Word or direct to your door via the website today!



New Limited Edition Artwork - Ryan

We've added two new prints to our exclusive range of limited edition artwork, this time featuring Ryan from Issue 1. Only 50 copies will ever be made at this size, and it is available both framed or unframed from the Art Shop. Bag yourself on before they go.



Graham Martin shoots Alan Barton and Stuart Hatton Jnr., for issue 1

There's some fantastic pictures to be seen from menart photographer Graham Martin, as he turns his camera on this dynamic duo for a special feature in the first edition of Jack The Lad! It's not all suits and boots during this sensational shoot, but when models Alan Barton and Stuart Hatton Jnr. are looking this good all dressed up to the nines, the rest of the images should definitely not be missed!



Brayden Benton is in Jack The Lad

Check out selfie loving Brayden as he talks instagram, creme eggs, Zac Efron, underwear and hashtags in issue 1 of Jack The Lad! Of course there are also some sensational images from his exclusive shoot with us to! You can get your copy now from Prowler Soho &  Gays The Word in the UK, or direct to your door via this website.





Jack's out, and there's no going back!

Launch day has finally arrived, and Jack The Lad has finally come out for all to see! The pre-sale buzz has been amazing, and there is some amazing talent lined up already for future issues, but the journey starts here, and we wouldn't want you missing any of the hot pictures and cool interviews that fill the pages of issue one! Be sure to check it out! You can either buy it directly from the website, or from Prowler Soho and Gays The Word if you live in London, UK. If not we will gladly ship it to your door! We hope you'll enjoy getting your hands on Jack!






1 Day To Go!

The champagne is ready to pop with less than 1 day to go until Jack The Lad is officially launched, although rumour has it that it is already on the shelves of Prowler Soho and Gays The Word, but shhhh, don't tell anyone until tomorrow!



Jack Hits The Theatre

Jack The Lad spent a great night at the theatre seeing Dylan Costello's "The Glass Protégé" at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. An awesome play set in the Hollywoodland of 1949, showing the impact that a scandalous gay love affair has on a young British actor and his famous male co-star, the consequences of which are still being felt forty years later, long after the might of the studio system during Hollywoods golden age has turned against them.


Many nights are already sold out for the rest of this plays run, so tickets are scarce, but if you can grab yourself one before it closes on 9th May we recommend that you do.With strong performances from the whole cast, Jack the Lad will be keeping a special eye on the two leads, David R Butler and Alexander Hulme, to see just what they will be appearing in next.


New Jack The Lad Ad!

We think Jack The Lad cover star Jerome is rocking the suited and booted look, although it looks like he can't wait to get out of it! Don't miss his stunning pictorial in issue 1!



Less than 1 week to go

Less than one week to go realness! There's no stopping Jack now! - don't forget to go follow our Facebook page whilst your waiting www.facebook.com/jacktheladmag





Gays The Word bookshop to stock Jack The Lad

Couldn't be happier to announce this World Book Day that the awesome Gays The Word book shop will be stocking Jack The Lad from it's release date of May 1st. Yet another way you can get your hands on Jack!





Jack In The Box

Box fresh and ready for May 1st - have you reserved your copy yet?


 

12 Days and Counting

There's only 12 days to wait before you can finally get your hands on Jack The Lad! Issue One includes a profile of photographer Graham Martin, featuring some stunning images from his shoot with Alan Barton and Stuart Hatton Jr.!



Prowler Soho to stock Jack The Lad



Following a successful meeting with the great guys from Prowler, we are glad to announce that you will be able to pick up your limited edition copy of Jack The Lad - issue 1 from their soho store from May 1st. Fingers crossed future issues will be available in their other stores as well.

Teaser Campaign Ad 2

25 Days and Counting!! The wonderful, but rather wet Ryan from Issue 1's photo feature Still Waters Run





Teaser Campaign Launch

And so it begins....


With only 30 days to go before the launch of Jack The Lad - Issue 1, we have started posting a few teaser images to get the buzz started!! First up it's Jerome from our Hotel Paris photo shoot... but shhhh... it's a secret for now! ;)

Jack The Lad, Jerome, Hotel Paris, Male Model,

Jack The Lad Takes Shape

Now reaching the final stages of development, Jack The Lad is now being reformatted for it's exciting new dimensions of 7 inches x 7 inches! Bigger, bolder, better but still with enough character to make it stand out from the crowd! We hope you will agree that those extra inches will make the whole experience one you have been waiting for.



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