Looking to go to the theatre in London? Check out my review of “Boy in Darkness”

boy_in_the_darkness057 (2) LEADImage by Lidia Crisafulli; featuring Gareth Murphy.

If there’s one thing you must do while visiting London, it’s of course head to the theatre. More people attended London’s theatres last year than Premier League football matches.  But with hundreds of options to choose from – ranging from plays at the Old Vic, to the big West End musicals – how do you choose something that ticks all of the boxes, and is easy on the budget?

Might I suggest something a little different. The West End is wonderful, but it can be pricey, and you have the opportunity to see a lot of the big musicals in places besides London.  London is famed also for her many smaller theatres, where new works are created and daringly developed, and also where some of our most accomplished theatre-makers were born and nurtured.

The Blue Elephant Theatre is one such gem, tucked away in the South London district of Camberwell. If you’re looking to go “where the locals go”, the Blue Elephant is just the place.

Currently showing until April 4 is an adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s dark novella, Boy in Darkness. The Blue Elephant has enjoyed a special relationship with Mervyn Peake’s work, having already produced successful stage premieres of The Cave and Noah’s Ark. Boy in Darkness is the story of a privileged young teen escaping a castle; a story steeped in adventure, horror and the macabre. The novella has been re-worked as a solo performance by adaptor and performer Gareth Murphy, and directed by John Walton.

The story’s root as a novella shines through in Murphy’s performance, which is a wonderful mix of storytelling and physical theatre. It lends itself well to being a solo work, with the performer craftily switching between the narrator and the story’s four characters with a smoothness as though reading a storybook.

The energy and physicality of the piece enables the adult performer to convincingly convey the young boy’s terrifying journey. The studio theatre has been converted to utilise a thrust stage that creates an even greater intimacy, pulling the audience into the dark depths of the boy’s adventure into the underworld. Murphy utilises the space to its full potential – climbing about not only Martin Thomas’ brilliant timber set, but also scaling the walls of the theatre itself, radiators, and clambering behind the audience.

The boy’s disturbing encounter with the unsavoury characters of Goat and Hyena sends chills down the spine, but is nothing on the evil that is to come later in the form of their lord – the apparent boy-eating Lamb. The presence of these three characters easily justifies the fear that dominates the boy – in his eyes, his facial intensity, his words and of course, his movements.

Boy in Darkness is a fairytale for adults that makes the Grimm Brothers look like Disney. If you’re looking for either something different to experience – or simply physical theatre and storytelling at its finest – be sure to check it out. And at only £12.50 full price (or a tenner for students), it’s an absolute steal for theatre in this fine city.

Blog written by and play reviewed by Charlotte Everett.

Boy in Darkness is on at Blue Elephant Theatre until April 4, shows Wednesday to Saturday, with all performances at 8pm.

boy_in_the_darkness004 (2)Image by Lidia Crisafulli; featuring Gareth Murphy.

Advertisements

INTERVIEW: From “Westie” to West End – Russell Dixon

ImageRussell with Marti Pellow.

It’s a hot summer’s day on Auckland’s North Shore, and I’m sitting in a French cafe with Russell Dixon and his wife Amber. It’s somewhat amusing that we’re sitting here having this interview, when it could have equally happened in London a few weeks ago. I’m in Auckland on holiday – Russell on the other hand, has just moved back to New Zealand permanently.

This is the story of a man with big dreams, who chased them, and realised them. It’s the story of how a West Auckland boy achieved his goal of playing a leading role in a West End Musical.

Russell grew up in the semi-rural district of Oratia, where he was exposed to the magic of musicals from an early age. His father was Head of Music at Waitakere College, and directed the school shows. His mother was involved in painting stage sets for the local theatre. Recordings from his father’s own productions would often be played in the hallway as the children went to sleep. Russell recalls his father bringing home cassette tapes of West End shows like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express and Chess: “I must have been 7 or 8 when I started listening to these tapes and I thought, wow, there is this place in London called the ‘West End’. It became a dream to one day work there.”

From a young age, Russell became involved with amateur theatre in Auckland. It was during a production of 42nd St that he was identified as having the required attributes for an upcoming production of Copacabana in Invercargill, which enabled him to step from amateur to professional lead roles in New Zealand Musical Theatre. Copacabana established a good working relationship with the Director, Stephen Robertson, which led to him being cast as Danny Zuko in the Christchurch and Wellington productions of Grease, and as Gaston inthe Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin productions of Beauty and the Beast.

By this time, Russell had already begun to establish himself as a TV personality. He had filmed numerous TV commercials including the ‘Duelling Chefs’ advertisement for Pam’s Foods with Jamie Oliver, and was also the Presenter for the prime time ‘Tegel Taste Kitchen’ programmette series. This all changed when Russell joined the TV3 news team as a weather presenter in 2004. While his time at TV3 raised his profile, his commitments restricted his ability to participate in other TV productions and musical theatre – yet he still managed to squeeze in the productions of Golf at Auckland’s Sky City Theatre, Guys & Dolls for Christchurch’s Court Theatre and The Rocky Horror Show in Queenstown.

ImageRussell with Hillary Barry and Mike McRoberts, TV3 News.

After two and half years at TV3, it was time for a change and Russell re-focussed on his dream of the West End. He said to his girlfriend Amber, “I want to do something radical. Why don’t we go to London – I want to see if I have what it takes to make it on the West End?”

Russell understood the difficulties of breaking into the professional theatre scene in England. Other friends in the industry, who had already tried, suggested he might not even be able to get a London agent. Fortunately for Russell, he had recently filmed a commercial with an English girl who was returning to London and who was happy to recommend him to her agent. It was a chance.

“Moving to the other side of the world was perhaps a bit of a risk,” Russell reflects, “but from an early age I decided: I want to have an extraordinary life. It’s really about making the most of the short time we have on this planet, maximising every moment. I craved adventure, wanted to experience life, meet interesting people, take risks – and learn from them. So we did just that.”

In an experience that mirrors how life in London starts for many Kiwi expats, Russell and Amber came to London with very little money, which they also found quickly disappeared. Russell lasted only a week in a (boring) office job. Amber was temping. Russell sent letters to about 20 agents. The few that were returned to him always had the same thing to say: “Our books are full; we’re not interested.” However, Russell got proactive. He dropped off his CV in person to his former colleague’s agent, and also brought along his show reel, managing to convince them to watch it while he talked through his experience.

That afternoon, the agency called him back to say that they were willing to represent him and the next day, they called him with his first audition – The UK tour of Blood Brothers, a show he was familiar with, having been involved in an amateur production in New Zealand. Within a week, he had his first job. But it didn’t stop there. Whilst away on the 6 month tour, Russell learnt that Bob Thomson – the original director of Blood Brothers – was assembling his dream cast for a 20th anniversary production of the musical, at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool. All of a sudden Russell found himself part of a hand-picked cast, playing the role of Mr Lyons, and covering the Narrator.

After performing in Blood Brothers for a year, Russell needed a new challenge. It was difficult to leave the small cast which had become his family but it was time to move on. His next role was understudying Marti Pellow from the Band WetWetWet, in the lead role of Darryl Van Horne in the UK Tour of The Witches of Eastwick.This meant touring for another year, which was challenging to his relationship with Amber, but they managed to survive.

Following a brief ‘fill-in’ in London on the West End as Mr Lyons in Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre, an opportunity came up to perform in the United Arab Emirates premiere of the show. Russell asked Amber, “Have we had enough? We’ve been away for two-and-a-half years now; in Dubai we’ll be halfway home.” Russell took Amber to Paris and proposed. Following the Dubai production, they returned home to New Zealand as planned, got married, and Russell performed the leading male role of Chris in Miss Saigon at Auckland’s Civic Theatre. They were just getting settled back into Kiwi life when Russell got a call from Kenny Wax (Producer of The Witches of Eastwick) with an incredible opportunity: “Russell, we’re looking for someone with your skill set to perform in a brand new production called Top Hat. Would you consider coming back to the UK?”

After negotiating with the production company to organise flights – as well as give Amber a job in wardrobe so that they could be together, Russell was heading back to the UK for a 6 month tour and world premiere. The opportunity then arose for Russell to stay on with the show with its West End transfer, continuing with his own role, and also covering one of the male leads. During Russell’s time with Top Hat the production was massively successful, enjoying great houses, and winning three Olivier awards – including Best Costume Design, Best Choreography and most importantly: Best New Musical. When the time came for the actor playing the comedy lead – Alberto Beddini to move on, Russell was offered the role.

ImageAs Beddini in “Top Hat”.

“So here I was, nearly 7 years after first arriving in the UK, being offered my very own lead in a popular West End musical. Performing at the Aldwych theatre, part of an original cast, part of an Olivier award-winning production – I really felt at that time that I had realised the boyhood dream. I had achieved that goal. You hear of kids who watch the rugby and want to be an All Black, or kids who watch the Olympics and want to win an Olympic medal. I had the satisfaction of achieving the theatrical equivalent.”

The West End production of Top Hat completed its run in October 2013. A casting agent for the David Walliams TV film Gangsta Granny had seen Russell as Alberto Beddini in Top Hat and asked him to audition for a similar character in the movie. He would be first choice for the role of Flavio Flaviolli, in the event that the big star they had in mind didn’t accept, or couldn’t make the filming for whatever reason. Sadly for Russell, Robbie Williams did accept the role, but Russell did get to understudy him and was cast in another, smaller role.

The end of the year was approaching and thoughts were starting to drift back to summer in New Zealand, and again, to settling down. The decision to return home was made.

ImageRussell and Amber, “Top Hat”.

So what’s next for Russell now that he’s back in New Zealand? While working in more conventional employment, he’s also been cast as Sam Carmichael in the Dunedin production of Mamma Mia! in May 2014.

“For me, it’s been an extraordinary adventure. That’s not to say I’d never return if the right opportunity came up. While we love London and have called it home for nearly 7 years, we’ve come back to the place we love most, and where we feel most at home. We’ve got great stories, had incredible adventures.”

Meanwhile, does he have any advice for fellow Kiwis who are also chasing the West End dream?

Regardless of where people are at in terms of their training or experience, the advice Russell has to offer is always the same.

“Be realistic. You need to look at yourself and you need to look at the industry on a regional, national or global scale depending on your aspirations. You are one person in a sea of people who want to do the same thing. Unfortunately because of the number of jobs that are actually available, only a small minority will actually succeed. You might get degrees of success, or you may be one of a handful of people who get ‘the break’. What will set you apart will be:

… How you look, the sets of skills and talents you have, a heap of luck, either knowing the right people or being in the right place at the right time – and how tenacious you are prepared to be.

You’re going to have to learn to take knockbacks, prepare for auditions and be scrutinised, with people telling you that you’re not good enough. You’re probably going to have to take rejection, disappointment and failure, time and time again. This industry is fraught with extreme highs and deep lows. But strange things happen. There are exceptions to the rules everywhere you go, but try to be realistic and in New Zealand especially, make sure that you have something else to fall back on.”

You can catch Russell on stage in “Mamma Mia!”, opening on May 22 at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre.

Article by Charlotte Everett. Photos courtesy of Russell Dixon.

Originally published on NZ News UK.

 

REVIEW: Shakespeare’s “Richard III”, adapted and directed by Gavin Harrington-Odedra (Lazarus Theatre Company)

London-based New Zealander Gavin Harrington-Odedra’s dark and seductive adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III is a fitting tribute to the bard in the 450th anniversary year of his birth.

Many would agree that Bill Shakespeare’s words are timeless, and therefore should easily lean against any modern backdrop. But to do so convincingly and with a certain degree of class is rather difficult to achieve. Harrington-Odedra also had the task of editing arguably Shakespeare’s greatest history play down to under two hours. Tackling such a beast takes courage, and I’m delighted to say that in this case the risk has paid off.

The small studio space of Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre lends itself well to Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of Richard III. Audience are welcomed by the ensemble into what feels like an exclusive nightclub, and shown to their seats on any of the three sides of the thrust stage.  The intimate setting succeeds in drawing the audience instantly into the frantic and electric world of the royal house of England. The production opens with lights out, dance music, and our players raving away with only a few strobes and their neon glowstick-bracelets flashing. We have arrived in the midst of a party – peace and prosperity have been restored; Edward IV is on the throne.

ImagePhoto by Adam Trigg.

The only person not celebrating of course, is our villain Richard of Gloucester. Prince Plockey must be commended for his strong performance as Richard; the major cuts made to the script and the lack of any sort of physical disability or deformity do not do him any favours. In saying that, it is clear that Harrington-Odedra’s edits and directorial decisions are intentional and have not been made without deep consideration. Stripping Richard of physical dysfunction, Plockey is tasked with the challenge of winning sympathy somehow from the audience in the midst of his murderous and manipulative schemes, purely through character alone. The result is to consider the human behind the monster, to attempt to understand the heart of the character, free from the bias of perceived disability.

ImagePrince Plockey as Richard. Photo by Adam Trigg.

Plockey’s polished performance may not succeed in necessarily arousing sympathy from the audience, but his schemes and cheeky demeanour do succeed in endearing him to you. He is upstaged at times by the strong female characters he is playing opposite – however this only enhances his human qualities, and the production as a whole. Shakespeare has written some incredible female characters in supporting roles, and sadly they are all too often treated as an afterthought. Not the case here, however – Harrington-Odedra should be praised for breathing life back into the complex women of Richard III. Powerful performances from Catherine Thorncombe as Lady Anne and Roseanna Morris as Queen Elizabeth in particular, showcase the strength of the modern woman that we can all relate to.

ImageCatherine Thorncombe as Lady Anne. Photo by Adam Trigg.

The production oozes with dark sensuality and the stench of sex. The intimate space, cloaked in black, and intense use of lighting allow for a minimalist set – a simple, clean backdrop where we are hypnotically absorbed in to  the soul of each character without distraction. The ensemble are sexy in every meaning of the word – their look, their movement, their voice – a reflection of the upper echelons of our modern society, and on this occasion, we are willingly drawn into their circle.

ImagePhoto by Adam Trigg.

Lazarus’ Richard III is a bold and lusty production which has catapulted the bard’s work into the 21st Century at warp speed. If you love Shakespeare, be sure not to miss it. And if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, you will be after seeing this production of Richard III.

Richard III is on at Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, London, until 29 March 2014.

“Expectations”: brave triumph of NZ playwright’s debut play

I was recently invited by Shaky Isles to review a new play: Expectations, by Emma Deakin. The review has been published on NZ News UK and Theatreview – you can also read it below.

It’s on at London’s Pleasance Theatre until 24 November (click on the link for more details) – do go and see it if you get the chance.

Photo by Jenifer ToksvigImage

Reviewed by Charlotte Everett, 7 November 2013

Expectations is a brave, beautiful and artistically daring production that breathes life into discussion around miscarriage.

Being a “rainbow baby” myself (having been conceived once my parents had seemingly given up after a series of miscarriages), I have to admit I was apprehensive about seeing this production. My mother hadn’t spoken about her miscarriages – and seeing the pain it clearly brought to her eyes, I dared not ask.

For New Zealander Emma Deakin of London-based theatre company Shaky Isles, her own experience in this area prompted her to write her first play – Expectations. Given that 1 in every 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, it’s astonishing that there are not more plays, films, books and poetry dealing with this painful and devastating “fact of life” for so many people.

Deakin has courageously responded to this lack of support around miscarriage, and Expectations boldly brings the discussion out in the open.

Although the play is intense – enhanced by the use of intimate studio space, and a striking set dressed in red, black and white – it is far from depressing. Moments of heartache are balanced with a high dose of humour. The play is set within a game show – “Let’s play Expectations! Where you can play to win the BIG PRIZE!” – the relevant irony being of course that it’s possible for both teams to win the “big prize”, as well as for neither team to win the big prize.

The “games” take us on the journey of two couples: Richard and Amanda (outstanding performances from Kane Bixley and Deakin herself), and Paul and Scarlett (equally well-played by David Eaton and Natalie Ann Jamieson). Richard and Amanda are a typical, seemingly happy and well-rounded married couple who yearn for a family, but are blighted by disappointment from previously miscarrying, as well as the fear of miscarrying again – not to mention additional pressure from those around them. Paul and Scarlett on the other hand tell the story of a young woman carrying through with an unplanned pregnancy where the father is out of the picture – Paul, her housemate, providing her with much-needed love and support, from an entirely unromantic motivation. The contrast between the different lives of these two couples – teams on the game show – highlights the universality of the suffering miscarriage can bring, and the impact miscarriage can have not only on the mother carrying the child, but also on those close to her who have been supporting her through the pregnancy.

The play deals with the expectations not only of the couples who are expecting, but also with the additional pressure of others expectations: soon-to-be grandparents, friends and colleagues, nursing staff and midwives – and even fate itself, portrayed through the presence of children of the ancient gods as the game show hosts. Deakin’s words – “We’re against the odds, you know. It’s actually really hard to be born” – summarise the harsh reality that miscarriage in many respects is down to chance. The play seeks to offer hope to anyone affected by miscarriage; to inspire courage through loss and to demonstrate that life not only goes on after miscarriage, but that it can be – and is – a truly perfect and wondrous thing.

Expectations is a polished work infused with energy. This can be attributed to the talented and committed cast of seven, and the dedicated direction of Stella Duffy – who has been working closely with Deakin and Shaky Isles for a number of years – and the depth of their creative relationship shows. The resulting production – which will no doubt continue to evolve as the season continues – is the reflection of a hard-working and united cast, as well as a director who has clearly nurtured and cared for the work as a whole in a way that shines brightly throughout.

This is a brave, collaborative work that seeks to illuminate the darkness in many lives, and succeeds in doing so. In addition to raising awareness about the heartache of miscarriage, it is a truly stunning production, not to be missed.

I’m back!

Woah… can’t believe I haven’t updated this for 5 months! Yes yes, I know I’m slack…

Truth be told, a lot has been happening – a lot of changes (including the sale of my house in NZ)! That’s right, I no longer have any “ties”! I’ve also been moving around a travelling a lot. But I won’t bore you with the details, and no more excuses – the site will be kept up to date with tour and writing stuff from now on.

If you’re a tourist who has been on one of my tours between January and now and you can’t see your photo – never fear, you can get a copy of it here on my Facebook page.

If you’re curious what I’ve been doing writing-wise, you’ll find a lot on NZNewsUK (including my recent interview with Katchafire!) – and you can see what I thought of the NZ Fringe shows I was fortunate enough to see on THEATREVIEW.