The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby: The Musical 


Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue:  Riverside Studios, Crisp Rd, London, W6 9RL.


Low Down


Joe Evan’s music & lyrics and Linnie Reedman’s adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby’s nostalgic view of America between the wars glistens and sparkles with a destructive glory. The tragic love story of rich girl and poor hero works around powerful themes: loyalty and love, faithfulness and betrayal combines with the individual’s pursuit of the American dream for happiness and economic success. The music is dynamic and story is coherently presented beginning from the moment when the pretty socialite, Daisy, and heroic soldier, Jay Gatsby, are separated by war and circumstances. Gatsby’s failure to return to that blissful state culminates with a string of fatal consequences which implicates the other lives on stage.



The central motif in Ruby In The Dust Theatre Company’s Great Gatsby was the way in which the musical was literally created by musicians taking on the different roles in the play:  Naomi Bullock as the earthy Myrtle plays Clarinet, Imogen Daines as Daisy’s loyal friend, Jordan Baker, plays violin/viola/ guitar, Patrick Lannigan as the underworld figure of Meyer Wolfsheim plays double base, Kate Marlais as Catherine, Mytles’s sister, plays violin, Janna Yngwe as the flapper plays cello, Nicholas Waters as George Wilson plays banjo and Henry Wyrley-Birch as multiple characters of waiter and policeman plays the trumpet.

The exception to this dynamic transformation of roles is that of music director, Greg Arrowsmith, and lead characters Daisy played by Matilda Sturridge, Jay Gatsby by Michael Lindall, Nick Carraway by Sid Phoenix and Tom Buchanan by Ian Knauer.

It was less pleasing to see who among them were given musical carriage through the songs. For instance, I thought Nick Carraway as narrator was given too little to sing, particularly since Sid Phoenix seem to possess such a wonderful voice. It also seem odd that the hero Jay Gatsby had NO songs to sing, either on his own to give the audience an insight into his dilemmas, a classic device in musicals for heroes, or share with Daisy.  I remember thinking as Daisy sang her first solo, why is Jay made to just stand around? Why isn’t the song a duet? The role which seems to be the most well balanced between song & spoken part was the role of Daisy’s rich husband, Tom Buchanan: Ian Knauer brings class and polish to the role with a fine voice and his role is well written stylistically.

The weakness of the production was the design of the space. From the start it just looked as though the set was too big for the space. As the show went on I watched actors hit their heads on the low hanging intricate arch that dominated the performance space: taller actors had to bend under the central doorway as they entered onto the stage and every performer seemed forced to manoeuvre around the gigantic sofa placed directly in front of the double door entrance.

Most unfortunate of all, as far as I was concerned, the stunning orchestra and its transformation into various roles in the drama was turned into a group which had to endure making an awkward series of shuffles within a very cramped space. The space also didn’t do anything for the costume designs. They seemed like clumsy overdone dress-ups in which evening dress is worn even in bright daylight.

Yet I could see the effect of the glitz and glamour could work in a space three times the size of the Riverside Studio. This was particularly apparent as the froth and bubbles of Act 1 turns into the tragedy of Act 2 as Myrtle and Jay Gatsby are killed while Daisy and Tom escape their responsibilities towards people they avowed to love.

Yes, The Great Gatsby holds much potential for becoming a really stunning musical.

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Friday 24 May 2013

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The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure

The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure @ Blue Elephant Theatre



  • Director, Ian Nicholson
  • Researchers Simon Day (with the collaboration of Aitor Basauri)
  • Devising cast: Dennis Herdman, Merce Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez
  • Writer and Adapter, Tiffany Wood

As I viewed The Knight of the Sorrowful Figure on Tuesday 21st May but I felt considerable misgivings with its most basic issues of form and content. I offer my views without prejudice and hope they are helpful in continuing to develop the work.

The most important thing I want to communicate is that I wasn’t any more clearer at the end of the show why you had chosen such an iconic work as Don Quixote other than to use the work to say ‘the Spanish are a passionate people’. The problem for me was that as an audience member who has experienced Cervantes’s masterpiece in so many different forms – novel, film, original play [Rocinante, Rocinante] – it was impossible for me to accept the novel could be reduced on the simple pantomime plot which was presented in your play. The metatheatrical devices seemed little more than the slapstick of clowns who were on a quest to nowhere because, as you know in modern pantomime, the narrative is just an excuse to string together the physical and verbal antics.

I have no problem about satirising the ‘literacy canon’ but in order to create the provocatively profane I believe you first have to acknowledge what’s sacred in the first place.  I could see no evidence from what I saw that the team had done this in what was performed.

Why do you suppose the story of Don Quixote has been influential for over 400 years?  The ‘Q & A’ session addressed everything but this key consideration.  As a theatrical device to grab the audience it had promise but I believe it took the audience away from knowing anything about your grapplings with a 400 year old story that still exists in the popular imagination.  That’s got to make your work futile in the wrong sense. You had an opportunity to take on a giant of literature but it seem to me that first of all you needed to see the gargantuan proportions of its legacy in the first place. The research shows for instance, that Cervantes had a deliberate purpose for his book[1]

it would seem that Cervantes wrote his novel solely for literary purposes, in order to destroy a literary genre; it would be a caricature of a man whose brain has been infected with the virus caught from reading such romances as Lancelot, Tristan, Palmerin, Belianis etc., – of which an autodafe is arranged in chapter VI.

Now it has been the general trend among critics (including that poet-critic Unamuno) to brush aside, as of no central significance for our novel, the critical program proclaimed by the author of the Quijot: derribar la máquina of the romances of escapism. After all, they argue, the centuries-old fashion of these romances had reached its height a century before Don Quijote, and was already in its decline by 1560; how they should Cerbantes have been impelled to attack its influence in 1605? Or, even if this was his initial purpose, it was soon lost sight of, as the novel gradually developed beyond its original didactic scope, growing in breadth, and vision and humanity.

But I beg to disagree: too much has Cervantes, in the preface written at the completion of the First Part, and on the last page of the whole book, insisted on his literary program. And if the critics have been so eager to disregard his expressly-stated purpose, in favour of one supposedly more closely allied to human nature and life, it has been, perhaps, because they have failed to grasp the magnitude of this purpose, and the human problem implied therein. For what Cervantes did was to POSIT THE PROBLEM OF THE BOOK[2], and of its influence on life – a problem that has developed in the course of the last centuries, a problem as challenging today as it was to Cervantes. He was the first to grasp the proportions of this problem….







What is the benefit of taking on the importance of Cervantes in your work?

Consider Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  Look at the way he grows the play out of the Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is now a masterpiece in its own right as it resonates the dramatic tension and structure of the original source. I see no reason why Cervantes cannot offer you the same creative achievement as Shakespeare did for Stoppard.


[1] On the Significance of Don Quijote Leo Spitzer MLN Vol. 77, No. 2, Spanish Issue (Mar., 1962), pp. 113-129


[2] Spitzer’s emphasis not mine

King Lear


Magnificent from the outset: I was gripped viscerally and imaginatively from the moment the thunderous music catapulted Lear’s savage kingdom onto the stage.

The last time I viewed a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear was in 2009 when Liverpool Everyman and the Young Vic co-produced the play, directed by Rupert Goold and starring Pete Postlethwaite. The images of the production that remain rest very much on Pete Postlethwaite’s portrayal of a frail old man who muddled through domestic arrangements with his adult children. While I loved the production, it would be true to say that I experienced Goold’s production as a  kind ‘domestic’ rather than dynastic drama. The most powerful effect of the play on me was seeing Lear in the rain, brutalized by the knowledge of his loss of authority over even his own daughters.

Ricky Dukes’s interpretation of the play seems based on a totally different hypothesis: showing that in presenting Lear as a woman the themes of frailty and age could have always been intended by Shakespeare to be a mask covering up Lear’s savage rule, arising from a monarch’s arbitrary and unjust use of power.  The strength of Jennifer Shakesby’s characterisation of Lear as an Amazonian warrior at the height of her powers is wonderful to watch. And it is made even more stunning through Rachel Dingle’s costuming of the character in a greatcoat of feathers and fur, which, later is stripped off as are her dignity and sanity. Lear is reduced to being a madwomen on the heath, walking barefooted & dressed down to a simple white petticoat. Her strength is only momentarily regained as she carries her dead child Cordelia through the heath-now-battlefield on which her daughters and their allies fight for control.

However, there is no escaping the fact that Lazarus Theatre’s Lear continues to be Shakespeare’s morality play on bad parenting: Duke shows, as other directors have done before him, that it is Lear’s parenting of three daughters through favouritism and her use of inconsistent sanctions and rewards that leads to her demise. And as other productions have shown, the Goneril and Regan are presented in the early part of the play as perfectly responsible to reject their parent’s riotous company. After all, what use does an out of work monarch have for 100 servants? Like in all tragedies, it follows then that Lear destruction is based on her own ‘fatal flaw’: a lack of insight and reason rules her life, crowded out by an hubris which cannot be mollified until it is ‘too late’.






Lear – Jennifer Shakesby

Gonerill – Lucy Hagan-Walker

Regan – Alice Brown

Cordelia – Nellie McQuinn

Albany – Stephen MacNeice

Cornwall – Filip Krenus


Gloucester – Robin Holden

Edgar – Harper James

Edmund – Lewis Davidson


Kent – Danny Solomon

Burgundy – Stuart Mortimer

France – Mathew Foster

Oswald – Joseph Tweedale

Worcester – Dominic Attenborough


Nurse – Gemma Beaton

Julia – Jen Holt

Catherine – Elle Dillon-Reams


Directed and Designed by Ricky Dukes

Original music by James Fogarty

Lighting Design by Rachel Smith

Sound Design by Nick Kent

Costume Design for Lear by Rachel Dingle

Associate Director – Gavin Harrington-Odedra

Assistant Director – Rebecca Hill

Production Manager – Ina Berggren

Stage Manager – Katie Lydon

Photography by Adam Trigg

Production Image by Will Beeston


Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage 


Genre: Drama

Venue: Greenwich Theatre Crooms Hill London SE10 8ES  


Low Down



There’s something quite brilliant about the way Ricky Duke deals with the realisation of poetic language in Dido Queen of Carthage. For me, he seems to work with the metaphors that characterise mythical places and peoples with a boldness of approach that is quite breathtaking. Coming into the Greenwich Theatre and viewing the pre-set of an arrangement of large umbrellas on a circular platform shrouded in mist grabbed my imagination from the outset. The intermingling of ‘gods’ into human affairs is presented quite starkly as extensions of what we now understand to be psychological impulses to be loved and to belong. Elaborate narrative schema is tied together with Dukes sharp understanding of giving each action on stage a motivation towards that end.

The love story of the Trojan hero Aeneas and Queen Dido caught up in Jupiter and Venus’s power play is transformed into a familiar contemporary problem of lovers yearning to find a place to exist.  But this is not the ‘star-crossed’ nature of tragedy of warring families as we see in Romeo and Juliet.  It is the tragedy of adult lovers who for a moment step out of their roles: Aeneas in his destined role of the founder of the glory of Roman civilisation and Dido of the limits of her role as ruler of Carthage.



I loved watching the wonderfully inventive use of the circular performance space and the startling entrances and exits of the play’s characters, which seems to me to be a trademark of Duke’s brilliance as a director. Nonetheless, I wished I had a theatre program in my hand that mapped the complex relationships of Homer’s and Virgil’s mythical heroes. The relatively lesser known and studied plays of Christopher Marlowe means that audiences would not be as familiar with his characters as those of Shakespeare’s.  This was my experience on the night as I grappled with understanding Aeneas’ relationship with Venus his mother and his imperative to get to Rome.

The lack of a good theatre program aside, I saw how Duke took every opportunity to flag the importance of location and relationships in the dialogue.  The ensemble did extremely well to naturalise the demanding monologues and dialogue.  But I believe that it came at the cost of their presentation of raw emotions to which the words allude. I found there is still too much in the production that seems like working out ideas rather than showing the unbridled passion of tragic love. Ironically, this is not what the opening moments between the lusty Jupiter and Ganymede would suggest. However, the rest of the play seems quite prim and proper.  For instance, the scene in the cave in which Aeneas and Dido first consummate their love is presented more like naughty romp.

I imagine that the play is still unfolding for the company’s 16 players who work as an excellent ensemble.  Alice Brown as Dido and Joseph Tweedale as Aeneas can be applauded for their roles as the lovers but I feel they should push themselves further in exploring the desperate motivation of their tragic situation. The interplay between Dido’s rejected lover Iarbus, played by Robin Holden, and Dido’s sister Anna, played by Gemma Beaton, provide a good balance which which could be portrayed with even more cruelty.

Special mention should be made of the use of a puppet for the child, and Aeneas’s son, Ascanius. The presence of the manipulated puppet gives a literal dimension to the way the character is used as a hostage in the drama between Dido’s desire to keep Aeneas. The other roles of the Trojan and Carthagian mortals are all strongly presented: by Danny Solomon  as Sergestus, Dominic Attenborough as Hedro , Mathew Foster as Achates, Nellie McQuinn as Nurse, Stephen MacNeice as Cloanthus, Stuart Mortimer as both Prologue and Ilioneus. This can also be said of the portrayal of the gods through Elle Dillon-Reams as Cupid, Harper James as both Ganymede and Mercury, Jen Holt  as Juno, Lewis Davidson  as Jupiter and  Lucy Hagan-Walker  as Venus. I was particular impressed by the way their characterisation was spectacularly reinforced by Alice Pocock’s stunning costume designs and Rachel Smith’s lighting design.

I hope that Dido remains in Lazarus Theatre’s repertoire for many years.  I suggest that it is well on its way of becoming a stunning production which deserves to be embraced by many audiences globally who love English-speaking classical drama.

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Wednesday 15 May 2013

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Boy in Darkness

Boy in Darkness 


Genre: Drama

Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre 59a Bethwin Rd Camberwell London SE5 0XT


Low Down


I confess to never having read Peake’s Boy in Darkness. Despite that, I was ceased by Gareth Murphy’s physical articulation of a young boy’s struggle against oppressive rituals. His performance shows how it is the imagination that fuels the boy’s courage in the face of unimagined horror. It’s a perfect metaphor for the oppression and violence which seems the particular journey of young men who even today are called on to enter war zones and battlefields that seem set up to brutalise them.




I find it always a privilege to watch work in development.  The dramaturge and theatre historian in me knows that it’s a unique moment that will never come again.  What you see before you is the raw energy and commitment of artists who just have to tell the story. You just know that you’ve witnessed something special.

Director Aaron Paterson’s decision to keep to the integrity of Peake’s story, rather than coat it with the spectacle-making stage technologies of flashy lights, projections and other paraphernalia which the digital age makes accessible, testifies to a highly disciplined approach. The exactitude of white lights, precisely timed, together with a simple mat designated as a focal point from which the action explodes outwards and the performance area coated in the white dust of the harsh world which Peake designs for the story is highly evocative.

Gareth Murphy’s training as a mime artist gives him a control of movement which is a pleasure to watch as he transforms his body into the various characters of the story. But his one-man show is way beyond the simple storytelling technique of an animated presentation.  It seems almost to evoke a new form of drama: a hybrid between dance, mime, narration and the arrangement of the performance space to include the audience in the dust land of Peake’s imagination. For me, it seemed like watching a ballet with narration.

Certainly, the work needs further development. The design of the performance space is rich with possibilities that need more exploration.  The organisation of the narrative in the space needs even more tough minded and disciplined articulation that can only be done in performance, as the director and performer work with different audiences over time. I believe the play could also look towards developing a sound track around the characterisation of the Lamb

Nonetheless, there is no doubt in my mind that all the key elements are in place.  It is an evocative one-man performance that calls on the dynamism of a balletic performer supported by a highly discipline use of scenography and lighting. It is great work longing to be fully realised.

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Friday 10 May

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Genre: Drama

Venue:  Theatre Royal Stratford East Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford, London, E15 1BN


Low Down



In the most straightforward sense, Rikki Beadle-Blair’s new workGutted has all the hallmarks of a classically crafted piece of ‘epic theatre’.  Its episodic structure is linked as tightly and economically as any Brechtian drama.

The play’s characters from South London are the Prospect family.  They are consciously working class, a perspective tying them directly to the epic ‘political’ theatre form that borrows much from Marxist views on class warfare. And as Brecht brought together class and crime on London streets in Threepenny Opera, Rikki Beadle-Blair makes similar links within the lives of the four Prospect brothers through their encounters with petty car theft and going to jail.

The playwright’s use of Brechtian techniques is also seen in the iconic naming of characters: the surname ‘prospect’ is a clue, as are the Christian names ‘Matthew’, ‘Mark’, ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ as radical forms of truth bearers, like their namesakes, the four writers of the Christian gospels.  Through these names the playwright sets up a sense of they can be identified as essentially storytellers. They are characters in a play, they both directly address the audience and speak naturalistically to one another and to other characters in the drama: to their mother Bridie, their wives and girlfriends.

In this production, Rikki Beadle-Blair is also its director, designer and composer. He shapes each detail of the narrative in a performance space flanked by tall mirrors, with four simple projection screens suspended halfway between the back wall of mirrors and centre stage. The projections are mostly photographs of the four men as boys, taken in school uniform / school photo form or taken with their girlfriends. I notice the clean look of the characters in the photos in comparison to their more crumpled appearance on stage. One panel of the four screens displays text naming or commenting on the scene below. The non-naturalistic performance space is mostly bare, with occasional tables and chairs moving on & off stage, whenever there is a need to define locations such as a restaurant or a backyard house party.

The story around the Prospect boys shows the everyday happenings in their lives: it begins with Matthew, a professional footballer, in a rehab clinic. As the family assemble in the hospital reception area to pick him up and bring him home, where they’ve organised a ‘welcome home’ party, the story moves between the present and the past to reveal to the audience the events which lead to this point.

The extraordinary thing is that while at a conscious level you view the ordinary happenings of the four men, their mother, their girlfriends and wives, something else happens in the telling of their stories. They are changed and you are changed. The personal is political.




While it would take more than the length of this review to describe the wonder of what I saw performed on stage, I will describe the areas ofRikki Beadle-Blair’s Gutted which I came to admire the most.

To begin with, I couldn’t help being impressed with playwright’s use of ‘working class’ language. It seems to me to be done in the most remarkably poetic way, especially through its swear words and its use of silences. The authenticity of a so-called ‘limited’ working class vocabulary is completely re-thought! This is not a play for the faint-hearted, the dialogue sparkles with swearing. Unfortunately, it means that schools, for instance, will not be able to bring students under-16 to see it. Ironically, it is the most well-crafted play which any teacher is likely to show young writers about the use of language itself.

It is also ethically above reproach as it comes from the playwright’s exemplary respect and empathy for his characters.  It is not possible to see the Prospect family as anything other than worthy of admiration for the gallant way they make the small but life changing difference to situations that we come to discern in the play as child sexual abuse and physical violence.

At the same time, there is no hint that as an audience we are put in a position to deal with the abuse and violence in anything but an appropriate way. Remarkably, this is because the need to change is not removed from the Prospects but clearly seen to be their individual and collective responsibilities.

For instance, Matthew’s relationship with his girlfriend Lucy is dangerously dysfunctional as it lives on the cusp of gratuitous sexual wish fulfilment & the abuse of young boys. It is Matthew and Lucy who end their relationship and come to understand that ‘some people shouldnever be together.’ She is too broken for him and he for her: neither have enough personal strength to deal with each other’s pain and dysfunction, while, thankfully, they are not so damaged that they don’t know that they are in danger of becoming even more dysfunctional if they continue being with one another. At the end of the play, when his mother, Bridie, invites Matthew to bring Lucy to breakfast with the family, Matthew prophetically and simply states “I can’t Mum. Lucy can’t make it.”

The line drawn in the play between right and wrong is paradoxically continuously interrogated and at the same time immutable. Therefore, while the audience observes how Lucy and Matthew end their relationship for good reasons, it also moves on a journey with brother Mark’s relationship with his wife Janine, John’s with his Muslim girlfriend Sunai, Luke’s with the transgendered Frankie and Bridie with the boy’s deceased father Eammon, a drunk and child abuser. Each relationship is in some sense iconic and therefore placed on stage so we can realise through them the truths around ending abuse and moving towards fulfilling a need for human intimacy and belonging.

The radicalness of the play, however, is in its ability to position the audience to see the ‘bleeding obvious’ and more. Mark must deal with Janine’s physical punishment of their five year old twins and John must deal with his lack of respect for women and his misuse of the Qu’ran through his relationship with Sunai. Most importantly, Bridie must acknowledge that her silence enabled her husband to harm her children and make their life hell: especially for her first born Matthew, whose exceptional skill as an athlete brought him to the attention of the local football club, Millwall, and onto whom the father transfer his aggression as well as his own desires.

In a most wonderful irony, Luke’s relation with the transgender Frankie seems to be the happiest and most straightforward of all the relationships presented. Luke simply understands Frankie’s vulnerability and the hazardous life ahead for her. He will be her knight protector. Frankie understands Luke’s need to make sense of the seemingly ambiguously moral situations in his life. She is more than able to set him straight about what really does and doesn’t matter.

There are many more elements of Rikki Beadle-Blair’s Gutted which are impressive, not the least is the play’s sense of humour.  It is hard to imagine that a play that deals with child sexual and physical abuse in such a candid way should give rise to such deep and genuine laughter as you hear in the audience throughout the performance. Like everything else in the play, it is not haphazardly or savagely done at the expense of anything or any one but arises from the truly incongruous, ridiculous and inappropriate moments in the Prospects’ world. At times, laughter is also the only response other than despair.

The levity in awful situations is alongside some of the most moving monologues I have ever heard in performance. Matthew’s eulogy at his father’s funeral hits the mark in revealing the regrets of a young man who knows he deserved better than what his father metered out to him. Death now ended any chance of changing that relationship:

I suppose I’m supposed to forgive him. And suppose what I’m supposed to do today is ask you lot to forgive him too. It’ll take you a while. But what the hell, think about, yeah? I will. Tell you what – next time we’re all together – next wedding, christening, funeral – whoever’s forgiven him by then… speak up, yeah? … Cool

Matthew also describes his father as the Irish boy who came to an England in which landlords put the sign ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ in their windows, teachers mocked his Irish accent, kids threw potatoes at him and the school caretaker spat at his face in front of the whole assembled school. He goes on to say that he father lived his life hating dogs, blacks and the Irish worst of all. But as a son, he know it was his hatred of everything, including his own Irishness which diminished him ….

Dad was a cunt. Everybody here knew him, yeah? Worked with him, drank with him, was related to him, met him. Then you know. Dad was a cunt. And now he’s dead, And it’s time for me to step up and be a man.  How the fuck do I do that? We never got round to that little chat.

The capacity to love is expressed in Gutted in real terms. Love means understanding and respecting the vulnerable, including areas of vulnerability within yourself. Fathers should protect their children.  So Mark steps up and does just that for his own children when their mother hits them: and he will do it even if that means losing the wife that he loves.

Nor should mothers be absolved from facing up to their own selfish and cruel reasons for keeping the status quo. Bridie’s characterisation in the play is a revelation of a woman’s responsibility in living in a kind of dream world in which she continued to apply mudpacks, have her hair done and wear fur coats even while her sons are being beaten and abused by their father. Yet her doing so also gives her sons a living example of how to keep going despite the presence of pain: all they needed to do was call on her.

Experiencing Gutted gives me a renewed appreciation of the meaning of ensemble. The Prospects played James Farrar as Matthew Prospect; Frankie Fitzgerald as Mark Prospect; Jamie Nichols asLuke Prospect Gavin McCluskey as John Prospect and Louise Jameson as Bridie Prospect were in every sense a tour de force. Their control and presentation of the crafted and nuanced working class South London dialogue was magnificent. But this was a play which also redefined the meaning of a minor role: Dominique Moore as John’s partner, Sunai; Jennifer Daley as Matthew’s girlfriend Lucy; Sasha Frost as Mark’s wife Janine and Ashley Campbell as Luke’s girlfriendFrankie each defined their roles with every attention to detail. Ashley Campbell adds much to the meaning of the play through his role as Moses, the imprisoned black kid that converts John to Islam.

If I could give Gutted more than 5 stars I would! It is an exceptional play, worthy of comparison with Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem in showing a view of contemporary life that is screaming to be seen and understood. While Butterworth gave us a view of the indigenous English dispossessed from his and her own land, Rikki Beadle-Blair gives us a view of how individuals and families are implicated in creating dispossession in contemporary urban settings. But that’s only half of it, as different qualities of the same characteristics –  a mother’s touch, a father’s embrace and a young person’s talent – are shown inGutted to also have the power of changing the world for the better.  I hope that the playwright, cast and crew get every chance to show the play globally!

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Thursday 2 May 2013

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bare: the rock musical 


Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue:  Union Theatre 204 Union St, London se1 0 LX


Low Down


Jon Hartmere’s and Damon Intraboloto’s bare: the rock musical puts sexuality front and centre in the hazardous terrain of young people claiming their adult identity. As a result, the story of youths in their final year of high school at a Catholic boarding school is naturally full of teenage angst.

Identifying teenage dilemmas around the bare’s presentation of homosexuality, however, does not stand alone but is presented as an integral part of a young person’s unfolding of a whole constellation of interrelated subjects.  This makes bare much more than a single-issue morality play: issues of gender roles, sexuality and intimacy, class factors, body image, religious moral codes, as well as spirituality and family expectations move swiftly and dynamically about the stage with wondrous youthful energy.

This creates a rich and complex world in which the loving relationship between two young males, Jason and Peter, can be viewed within the wider human context of any number of expressions of young love. To make the point even further metatheatrically, Hartmere and Intraboloto use Romeo and Juliet as the school production. Created under the guidance of the broadminded Sister Chantelle, Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed lovers is briefly restored in performance as it was originally played (as the good sister points out to her ignorant class) through Peter and Jason speaking of Romeo and Juliet lines to one another in rehearsal. Ominously, the effect of the drama in reaching its destructive end is also achieved as parents, Church and State fatefully influence young lives towards their tragic end.



Director, Paul Taylor Mills, works his talented cast extremely effectively by recognising how the pivotal moments in each character’s life are linked in the religious setting of the school to the elicit spaces which the teenagers claimed for themselves such as the rave, Ivy’s birthday party and in the dormitories of the boarding school. The presence of drugs is treated equally representative of taking young people beyond the permitted school boundary.

The depth of the characterisation works around an ensemble of five leads (Jason/ Peter/ Nadia/ Ivy/ Matt) together with a well-drawn chorus of characters in other roles of Priest/, teacher (Sister Chantelle), mother (Clare) and students Tanya, Lucas, Kyra, Rory, Alan, Zack and Diane.  Together, they are the key to the successful portrayal of a complex narrative. This is a production with no weak performers: rather, a flawless ensemble of actors, singers and dancers, punch out the storyline as well as the emotion.

Ross William Wild as Jason and Michael Vinsen as Peter are a well-balanced pair, showing how different individuals are inexplicably attracted to one another: in this case, Jason the ‘school jock’ sporty type and Peter the sensitive more artistic-leaning student.  However, there are no stereotypes to be found in the musical: the theme of unrequited attraction bears down on other kids too as shown by Matt’s infatuation of Ivy.

bare represents teenagers with all their contradictions and messy lives: Lilly-Jane Young’s portrayal of Ivy in her two solos of “Portrait of a girl” and “All grown up” are stunning in their effect of giving the school ‘slut’ psychological depth. Melanie Greaney’s portrayal of Nadia is also a personal and intimate glimpse of the class clown. Her solos explore more self-deprecating tones in “Plain Jane Fat Ass” and “Quiet Night At Home”. Both girls show how they struggle to reconcile their outer appearance with their innermost hopes and dreams.

Ironically, the most under-developed character is that of the Priest. His platitudes in sermons and the confessional show a lack of humanity which impacts dangerously on the lives of the young people in his care. There is something decidedly odd about his extreme detachment, which convention tells us is based on celibacy.

By contrast, the message of Christian charity is developed through the drama teacher, Sister Chantelle, a role which Hanna Levane performs superbly as an earthy-black-gospel-singer. She gives the young people in her charge something real to butt up against as we see in her appearance of Peter’s dream as the Virgin Mary. The motown – style solo “911! Emergency”, complete with backing singers Fia Houston-Hamilton (Kyra) and Roanna Yeo (Tanya), is a highlight of the show.

On reflection, Sister Chantelle shows up the only bias I felt in the production and that was, taken overall, that women were characterised as being more courageous, hard working and flexible then men in their attitudes towards the crises that life brings around having children. Yvette Robinson’s portrayal of Clare, Peter’s mother, is iconic in this respect. She proves that 90% of parenting might simply be sticking around and the other 10% is the struggle with your own and your child’s disappointments. Ms Robinson brings depth, charm, humour and pathos to her cameo role. As I look around and see other’s crying during her solo “Warning”, I imagine them identifying with her journey as a single mother and the courage needed to just ‘hang in there’.

In contrast, fathers are presented as either absent or downright brutal. According to Jason, his father would beat him up and disown him if he were to come out as gay man, a fact that Peter simply can’t understand. On the other hand, Peter’s father has been absent all his life and his mother puts her husband’s desertion of her in no small way down to his disappointment in having an effeminate son. By the same token, Jason’s irresponsibility towards Ivy puts him in the same class as any of the thousands of absent fathers who do not link ‘making love’ to a woman and then caring for her and their child during pregnancy and beyond.

Within the context of Catholicism that decrees most contraception as, at least, a ‘venial sin’, Ivy is nonetheless still to be judged equally irresponsible: there’s also a suggestion that she might even have been foolish enough to believe that she could ‘trap’ Jason into having a relationship with her by getting pregnant. Her eulogy to him in the finale, however, shows that she is at least prepared to face ‘the mess’ in the end. In this respect, she will carry on in Clare’s tradition of bring up children alone.

What a mess, a perfect mess
Left alone to sort it out
In the sorrow, guilt, and rage
I keep coming back to doubt

Designer David Shields and Lighting Designer Tim Deiling need special mention in making the show work in the Union Theatre’s space with a high degree of spectacle and purposeful meaning.  The transformation of the altar into both a bed and a student locker was simple but stylish: so too was the use of lights in the performance space to focus on public and private areas.

The music is accomplished through a five-piece band, conducted by Christopher Peake with keyboard, drums, guitar, bass and flute. Musicians James Hunter (drums), Jack Rowe (guitar), Paul Piers (bass) and Ruth Whybrow (flute) handle a wide range of music styles: ballads, punk rock, motown and rap.

Choreographer Racky Plews brings music and cast together in dances that show an interesting mix of deliberate teenage gawkiness as well as stylised movement. The dances in Peter’s three dream sequences give a real jolt to the senses, while other dances expressionistically reveal the feelings and ideas ‘between the lines’ such as the beautiful duet by Natalie Chua (Diane) and Dan Krikler (Rory) during Ivy’s solo “Portrait of a girl” showing how the lyrics reveal how ‘girls’ are defined by their ‘practiced beauty’.

This is not a musical with a happy ending, but even more than that, the musical finale speaks of young people left alone to work it out.  Peter sings how hard it is to find a way “when you have no voice to guide you’.  Except that is for bare: the rock opera giving us a means of advocating that Jason and Peter’s are entitled, as are all young people, to grow up and simply be themselves. Together with young lives shown in bare, the audience can move from ‘no voice’ to ‘one voice’.

No voice, no sound
No sound, no words
No words, no songs
No songs, no heart

No heart, no love
No love, no life
No life, no truth
No truth, no life
No voice!


One heart, one love
one love, one life
one life, one truth,
one truth, one life
One voice!

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Wednesday 1 May 2013

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