Posts Tagged ‘Brockley Jack’

Voices from Chernobyl, Brockley Jack 2 May

May 3, 2017



Picture from Tenere Arte Facebook page

This adaptation of the book by Svetlana Alexievich lasted 60 minutes straight through without an interval and contained a great deal of material in that time. It was presented in the devised theatre style (think Belarus Free Theatre) in both English and Russian–the Russian was normally translated by an other actor or back-projected, but the normal Russian chaos was just repeated.

It benefited from a very strong cast of both English- and Russian-speaking actors, and a previous outing at the Cockpit meant that everyone knew their lines (well, I can think of one minor exception).  The final scene delivered by Kim Christie as the newlywed wife of a firefighter dying from the effects of radiation was extremely affecting and marked by a wonderful sense of restraint…


the thing about the lies she had to think up to see her husband (two children already, certainly not pregnant) really went by very quickly if you didn’t know the source text and it’s important because it reflects the relation of the individual and the State which found its final expression in Chernobyl.  I think the devised theatre kind of thing tends to to become a documentary rather than a drama, and we could have done with seeing more of fewer characters.  I think that the points that Alexievich was trying to make about the uniqueness of the Soviet experiment, Chernobyl as a rent in the fabric of reality and even as an attack on Belarus rather went missing.

What could you do with them in 60 minutes?  Well start off with what you want to say and shape your narratives to achieve that, which I think is what Alexievich did.

Certainly well worth seeing and thinking about!

Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack 8 February

February 8, 2017


At the end of this second preview, which played to a full house, the actor playing Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) asked audience members to say something nice about the show on social media, or indeed in real life.

We are happy to oblige.  As a text, this was an excellent adaptation, which embodied the bright idea of getting to the basics of the characters and their story and the author’s intentions and reconstructing that from the ground up as a play.

I thought that both Christopher Tester and Stephen MacNeice (who played Pofiry Petrovich, Marmeladov, and a couple of other characters) were excellent.  We had a harried, ratty, unEnglish Raskolnikov and a Porfiry Petrovich who for once did not bore me to death.  His Marmeladov was impressive in letting you find the degradation, not drowning you with it.  I also thought that Christina Bastion was just too posh as Sonya-we are given to understand that she can read only with some difficulty and she looks up to Raskolnikov as an educated man–and as the pawnbroker Alyona, who also turned out to be Scottish.

But the production moved forward vigorously with clearly-delineated characterisations and a few well-chosen props.  And the well-worn scene where Sonya and Raskilnikov read the Bible together really got to me…

There is a video trailer here, but I’d say the show is better than it suggests.






Leonce and Lena, Brockley Jack 18 August

August 19, 2015



Very nice people at the Brockley Jack, as I’ve said before.  The scampi smelled lovely and in the theatre they had new seating–the bench in front of the tech box is no more.

The idea of Leonce and Lena is that the betrothed but unacquainted prince and princess of neighbouring microkingdoms separately run away to escape their marriage but meet anyway and get married in the guise of automata.  As such, it seems to be about the expectations of the great world confining poor bare unaccommodated man who would writhe like a grub if he were Wozzeck, and subjecting the former to merciless satire.

I think it requires hordes of absurdly identical courtiers, subjects and so on to make its point, while here we had gender-blind doubling of roles and an adaptation that seeks to give more agency to Lena where the original failed to fully realize her character, which is making a rather different point.

Among the actors, the standout was Sam Adamson as a supercharged courtier Valerio, while our Leonce acted well but wasn’t always too sure of his lines.  As for the production–what you would expect from a fairytale satire or satirical fairytale is surely ludicrous exaggeration, and we didn’t get that here.  The keynote was more like restrained and decorous, which I would say is hardly the thing.

The show is certainly worth seeing if you’ve heard of the play and wonder what it’s about, or if you know someone in the cast of course…I’m not sure about wider appeal.

That bench was actually quite useful–you could put your stuff next to you and not have to search for it on the floor at the end.

Marriage (Gogol), Brockley Jack 2 July

July 8, 2014


Picture from uktheatrenet

Picture from uktheatrenet

The Brockley Jack have written to announce a special £5 offer for Tuesday 8 July, see here.

That has prompted me to share my views on the performance I saw.  The Brockley Jack are lovely people and the toilets there are quite exceptional, but they do annoy me by putting on plays that they don’t understand (and I do).

This was all far too normal–it might have been a realistic account of a bachelor civil servant trying to find himself a wife, when the whole point of Gogol is that it’s meant to be grotesque, more specifically a diseased self trying to avoid collapse in encountering the outside world and throwing off endless sparkling fantasies in the process.  The picture on the FB page with the offer on shows that somebody may have understood something of this, but it certainly didn’t appear in the production.  There for instance we started off with Podkolyosin reading in the paper the plot of Gogol’s story The Nose, which at least gave me a surprise but destroyed the contrast between his paranoid fantasies that everyone would know he was looking for a wife and the servant Stepan’s no-nonsense resentful gruffness.  Or the matchmaker Fyokla was here played as a kind of health visitor, complete with capacious handbag, when something overdressed and overdone in the manner of a pantomime dame is required.  Or then Podkolyosin himself was far too young, good-looking, and, well, marriageable while the intended bride Agaf’ya was a kind of Jane Austen heroine (and dressed appropriately), quite naturally agitated at having to choose a husband, when she should be both stupid and a threat–Gogol was really, really  frightened of women…

The lovely extended joke about them speaking French on Sicily–because everything outside the self is uniformly and undifferentiatedly a threat to the self–went begging because we never got a sample of the French:

..try and say to him ‘Give me some bread, brother’,–he won’t understand, really he won’t understand; but say in French ‘Dateci del pane’ or ‘portate vino!’–he’ll understand,…

You don’t want to make these things too sensible–Sicily was after all ruled by the French for long enough and they might speak French there.

See here for  what I know about other Russian plays in London.


Flight, Brockley Jack 15 January

January 19, 2014


I  think that this production would give you an idea of what the play by Bulgakov was about without being the thing itself.  The action follows a group of assorted characters during the Russian Civil War as they flee from the Red Army through the Crimea and on to Constantinople and even Paris–the title is flight as in ‘run away’, not ‘flap wings’.  The play was never actually staged in Bulgakov’s lifetime, though it did appear in the Soviet Union from the 1970s.  It’s meant to be the typical Bulgakov grotesque comedy, where the characters are both…er…grotesque and pitiable, but here it was all far too matter-of-fact.

For instance, great play is made of the row of victims the Whites have hanged at the railway station where the early scenes occur, and when I last saw the play in 1992 or thereabouts we did indeed have a line of draped figures with nooses around their necks.  Here we had suitcases.  Suitcases.  Well, OK, suitcases.  Or maybe trunks.

And the playing was generally at the phlegmatic one-thing-after another level:  the one exception was Michael Edwards, a late replacement in the part of Khludov, the White Chief of Staff tormented by his past atrocities.  Even though he wasn’t necessarily word-perfect all the time, he did at least manage to play at the right emotional level.  I sometimes thought he was playing George Gordon, Lord Byron at the right emotional level, but he got a great deal nearer to what was required than anybody else.

Without asking for a naturalistic portrayal of Russian mores, you need to ask yourself:  What kind of people would say and do these things?  Consequently, In what manner would that kind of people say and do these things?  The plodding regularity of the action also meant that nothing was emphasised and nothing was a surprise…

I’m not going to complain about the White Minister of Trade and Industry speaking French badly, or about the soldiers and officers failing to move and bear themselves like soldiers and officers.

At least the actors were not made to speak with comedy Russian accents this time.  Turkish and Hungarian-Irish, maybe…

See here for what I know about other Russian plays on in London.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Brockley Jack 02 October

October 2, 2013


This is a man-in-the-moon marigold.  It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it's not brash & marigoldy in colour.

This is a man-in-the-moon marigold. It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it’s not brash & marigoldy in colour.

In this play, dating from 1964, we follow the fortunes of Tillie Hunsdorfer as she tries to escape from the chaotic influence of her mother Beatrice and first of all go to school and then win the school’s science fair.  She also has an epileptic sister (Ruth) and a ‘$50 a week corpse’ of a lodger to contend with.

The good things about the text are the striking and beautiful images drawn from stellar nucleosynthesis and radioactivity; and the idea that is good for girls to go to school and study science.  It’s also rather funny.  The bad thing is the feeling that you’ve seen all the rest somewhere before, if not in something by Tennessee Williams then in an improving Young Adult book.  Yes we can work out that Tillie is the mutant or hopeful monster produced by the loathing radiation from her mother that will destroy her sister.

As presented by OutFox at the Brockley Jack, I thought we really needed a more over-the-top performance from Betty ‘the Loon’ Hunsdorfer to keep the audience interested, but then maybe she would have been the central character rather than Tillie.  I thought that both Evelyn Campbell as Tillie and Katherine Rodden as Ruth did very well, while the production was lucid and unpretentious.  In fact, if it had been me I would have been tempted to use the extraneous light projections from their Spring Awakening to illustrate the scientific processes and the other world separate   from beauty salons, real estate businesses and hopeless teashops.

Now, with slight modifications, beauty salons, estate agents and coffee shops does sound rather like Brockley in fact…


Silence, Brockley Jack 05 March

March 6, 2013



Journeying (from Brockley Jack FB page)

This play by Moira Buffini was kind-of based on the life of Emma of Normandy and followed the fortunes of six characters:  Emma herself (here called Ymma),  her maid Agnes, Silence the 14-year-old Lord of Cumbria (not really), Roger a priest , Ethelred the Unready, and Eadric the King’s man.

It annoyed me more than a little because it the play didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do.  There was some cheap anachronistic fun at the expense of the 10th century and the feeling that the characters wanted to throw of their disguises and display correct attitudes regarding slavery, sexual violence, that God nonsense and anything else you care to think of.  (Of course, I rather enjoy anything that portrays English royalty in the worst possible effete yet genocidal light, but that’s just me.)    Sometimes it looked like we were going to get real feeling between the characters and action that sprung out of that, but it was not to be.

Then there was the journey by cart through the whole of England that seemed to have no point at all–it didn’t develop the characters or advance the plot.

If I had to say what the idea of it all was, it would have to be something about that end-of-the-world feeling, since the action took place around 1000 AD and the play ended with a speech from Roger along those lines; and we learned about Norse-style eschatology with the wolf Chaos ripping the sun from the sky as well.  Then the epilogic speech from Agnes about Ethelred being deposed and Ymma marrying Canute says that you have to go on living?

There were no programmes available on the first night, but it is possible to track down the cast on the Large Print Theatre Facebook page.  I thought they did rather well, especially Brigid Lohrey (who made the most of being an adult woman allowed to play an adult woman) and Samantha Béart (who made the most of the opposite).

Iphigenia in Aulis, Brockley Jack 02 October

October 3, 2012


Picture from Lazarus Theatre Company Facebook page

This was billed as a preview.

The play started with an elaborate session of sound-and-movement, in the spirit of the same company’s Hecuba, then morphed into semi-darkness with lighting from the side as in their Trojan Women.  The Abraham-and-Isaac style happy ending was dispensed with, as was the corresponding explanation of why Artemis had taken against the Greeks in the first place.  Agamemnon was played (by Wayne Reid) as a kindly buffer swept up in events beyond his control, while the faux domestic scenes between him and Clytemnestra (Jocelyn Weld Forester) were just embarrassing.

Many of the parts were severely underplayed, in particular the matter-of-fact acquiescence of Achilles (Jack Greenlees) to marrying Iphigenia–not marrying Iphigenia–his honour being impugned by not saving  Iphigenia.  The man is a crazed homicidal narcissist FFS!   Of course, none of this was helped by the normal problems of playing Greek tragedy in a space vastly smaller than originally intended–happenings that are meant to allow time for expectation, apprehension and release pass by affectlessly like telegraph poles seen from a train.

Director/Designer Gavin Harrington-Odedra also didn’t help himself by effectively abolishing entrances and exits with his penumbra.

Comparing this with their Trojan Women makes me think that having the wrong idea about a Greek tragedy is a great deal better than having no idea at all…

See here for other Greek plays I know about in London.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Brockley Jack 23 August

August 23, 2012


Rehearsal photo from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn’s Facebook page

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!

That’s what’s called mise en abyme even in Brockley–part of the work reflects describes or encompasses the whole.  We had flashes of brilliance and forebodings of genius from Shakespeare and a very good production from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn.  Fraser Wall as Proteus in his crotch-hanging cerise trousers and looking very beautiful well portrayed the rawness, grace, clumsiness and inconstancy of youth and Elliot Fitzpatrick was also very good and slightly more firm of purpose as Valentine.  I enjoyed the use of manic music and foregrounded scene changes to emphasise the mad impetuosity of youth and the 70s-style office furniture and drinks on trays everywhere to serve the unendurable tedium of the grown-up world.  (Was that a reference to Mad Men, taken with the tailoring?–looked like a slightly later period to me.)

Most of the things I was looking forward to seeing worked very well–in its place, Who is Sylvia? what is she was unbearably affecting, though or because Proteus wasn’t really singing.  And it had an earlier unscheduled outing as Who is Julia? just to show what lying hounds men are.  Crab turned out to be merely a stuffed toy dog, which was a bit of a let-down for the biggest animal role in Shakespeare.

But  Yes Yes Yes Yes I say

Good Good Good Good

Go Go Go Go.


Spring Awakening, Brockley Jack 20 June

June 22, 2012


A flyer distributed to homes in the vicinity of the Brockley Jack

I think I would advise anyone thinking of going to this to consult the synopsis on Wikipedia first. As they summarise it:  (puberty, sexuality, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, abortion).  Not that any of this is going to shock people in South London, but a catalogue of issues is what we got here, in a production set in the no particular time and no particular place you expect from a room above a pub.  My humble suggestion–given that I’ve really no idea how to make it stageable–would be to go for really exaggerated clutter and detail in depicting late nineteenth-century Germany, in which case repressed sexuality breaking out with disastrous effects might actually make some sense.

There was a lot of elaborate play with light projection, but I’m not sure if it added or distracted.  At the beginning it seemed to be telling me Ein wenig leben ist eine gefahrliche Sache (It is a dangerous thing to live a little), which seemed quite appropriate, but then it turned out they meant learning not living and it was the obvious quote from Alexander Pope.

On the positive side of things, I thought that Ana Luderowski was very good as Wendla Bergman and on occasions uncannily like a blonde 14-year-old classmate of mine from many decades ago.

(The rest is silence.)