Posts Tagged ‘Sasha Frost’

Nell Leyshon’s play was a Covid cancellation casualty which got a BBC radio production instead. Finally, its on stage at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, where it has even more impact as a thoughtful, charming piece about both folk song collecting and life in early 20th Century Somerset.

Louie and Lucy are half-sisters, living in the Somerset levels. They are very different personalities, though they both make gloves at home and sing the songs their recently deceased mother taught them. Lucy flirts with John, who collects the finished gloves. He has another job working for the local minister and persuades Louie to take on the role of maid for the minister’s visitor, Cecil Sharp, who is on a song collecting mission. He persuades Louie to sing her mothers songs so that he can write them down for posterity, something she struggles to understand, seeing songs as things passed on orally. Their relationship develops, Sharp in awe of her songs and singing, and Louie fascinated by her glimpse into his musical world.

The personal story of the sisters is seamlessly interwoven with the story of Sharp’s song collecting, as John moves in with Lucy and Louie’s relationship with Sharp continues with his second visit. He’s brought with him a book of the songs he collected on the first visit, which provokes the debate at the heart of the play about what right he has to take these ever evolving songs with their oral tradition and arrange them so that others can sing them uniformly. Louie feels he has stolen or hijacked her mother’s songs. He doesn’t even credit her in his book of them.

Simon Robson brilliantly captures the complexity of Sharp – genuine admiration and empathy, but with a less attractive superiority and arrogance. Mariam Haque plays Louie beautifully, liking the attention and opportunity to share the songs, but resisting the changes of both Sharp and her sister. Sasha Frost is a delight as feisty, flirty Lucy, whose own rejection brings her closer to her sister. Ben Allen is excellent as John, only really concerned with his own interests. The singing and piano playing is lovely.

Roxanna Sibert’s direction is delicate, very sensitive to the material, and Rose Revitt’s design is very evocative of both the place and the period. The writing is very economical; the play never outstays its welcome. I thought it was lovely, and would heartily recommend it.

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I’ve had mixed experiences with playwright Che Walker’s earlier work, but I was positive about The Frontline and Klook’s Last Stand and this features Sheila Atim, also in Klook, who has wowed me thrice more and who has provided original music, so I booked as soon as it was announced. Though there are things to enjoy, I left the theatre somewhat befuddled.

It moves between 2016 and 2019, before and after Blaz’s period in prison. We meet his girlfriend Havana, his friend Karl, who may have betrayed him, and Seamus, the cop who caught him, a serial womaniser who has betrayed him in a very different way. Then there’s Havana’s friend Rosa and Serena the sex worker. There’s a nod to Othello, and the main theme is revenge, but there are a lot of unanswered questions, which leaves the story with a whole load of holes. Some of the dialogue is in Spanish and the setting is meant to be the Latino barrio of LA, but I couldn’t see the connection with the programme page on the Latin American gender-neutral term Latinx.

It’s all very film noir, somewhat Chandleresque, but with contemporary sensibilities, including a sexual frankness that occasionally made even me blush. Sheila Atim’s music is more of a soundscape, and a bit of a disappointment. It has a cinematic quality, helped by a screen the width of the theatre space on which stills and seemingly live video are projected. It has an atmospheric, sensual quality to it, but it didn’t deliver on the narrative front.

The performances are outstanding. Sheila Atim is as mesmerising as ever as Rosa, as is Gabriel Akuwudike as Blaz, and there are fine performances from Benjamin Cawley, Cary Crankson, Sasha Frost, and Jessica Ledon, visiting from LA, where the show was first staged. There were too many loose ends for me, though, in a show which was obtuse for its own good.

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I love the Theatre Royal Stratford East and I love its new tag line ‘A People’s Theatre’ because it is – and this play is in the right home. A BIG play; an ambitious, brave, epic, sprawling, passionate, angry, funny drama which wears its heart on its sleeve. It can best be summed up by Philip Larkin’s most famous poem ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’. In this case, sometimes literally!

The four Prospect boys are the present generation of a south London dynasty of Irish descent, two of whom are in relationships with sisters of West Indian descent. The play centres on professional footballer and eldest boy Matthew’s return from rehab, which he apparently entered to avoid a drug test (nine months earlier!). His youngest brother has converted to Islam after imprisonment at an impressionable age. Son number three is pursuing a pre-op tranny. Son number two seems to be the normal one, married with twin girls, until the skeletons in his cupboard, courtesy of his wife, come out later. Mother Bridie is devoted to her boys and you can’t help but love her – well, at first…..

It takes a while to get into the time shifts as we move back and forth to learn the sources and causes of the family’s dysfunctionality, and indeed of the family of the Lockwood girls who’ve ‘married’ into this. The characters are larger than life and the dialogue is as sharp as a knife. There is never a dull moment as you move from laughter to shock and back again on the emergence of a new fact or the use of a wisecrack. You can forgive the lurches into implausibility, melodrama and excess because it presents you with a dramatic feast the equivalent of an entire 13-part TV series in one evening.

Staged in front of mirrored walls (there’s no hiding place) its fast-moving high energy stuff with a complete set of stunning performances. All four Prospect boys (in order, Matthew Mark Luke & John!) are brilliantly cast and played by James Farrar, Frankie Fitzgerald, Jamie Nichols & Gavin McClusky. Louise Jameson is outstanding as the matriarch. Sasha Frost, Dominique Moore, Jennifer Daley & Ashley Campbell are all superb as the boys respective wives and lovers.

I’m not sure why it has taken me eight years, since Bashment at the same venue (http://www.whatsonstage.com/tickets/theatre//L2001081771/.html – mine is the top review!)  to see another play by Rikki Beadle-Blair, but I hope it won’t be another eight before the next. I said then, and will say again – Joan Littlewood would be proud. You’ll have to accept the language and you’ll have to stomach some difficult subject matter, but if you can and you do, you will be richly rewarded.

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