Edward Eng’s very entertaining play unites two threads: the 1987 protests in Singapore that were clamped down on by the authorities under the suspicion they were a Marxist plot, and Ionesco’s absurd 1959 play, Rhinoceros, where almost the entire population of a French town turned into rhinos, symbolising the rise of Nazism and Fascism leading to the Second World War. Cheryl Ho and Shannen Tan play a number of characters, including a pair of journalists trying to get a scoop interviewing a “freshly turned” rhino. There’s excellent use of multimedia – which adds to the absurdism – and heart-warming moments too, including playing with balloons with the audience and the opportunity to pet a rhino. Underneath it all, it’s a thinly veiled criticism of the Singaporean government at the time and the whole “rhinocerising” of the community is deeply unnerving. This play can signify different things to different people, and personally, I found the idea of imprisoning them all in a zoo reminded me of the current British position on sending refugees to Rwanda. The performers have a terrific rapport with each other and the audience, and what seems deceptively simple on the surface has many hidden depths that gradually occur to you long after the show has ended. Provocative yet playful, an intriguing way to start your day!
Often cited as one of Shakespeare’s famous quotes is I would challenge you to a battle of wits but I see you are unarm’d; and that sense of antagonism was the first thing I thought when I watched Flying Bridge’s production of Shortlist. Two warring novelists who clearly hate each other try to belittle the other with waspish putdowns about their writing styles, never missing an opportunity for a barbed comment or a pseudo-intellectual observation. It’s a clever idea for a play and Brian Parks’ writing is packed with insults and offences-to-be-taken. However, sometimes less is more and I did find the barrage of contumely overwhelming and, consequently, rather tiresome. This is a shame because the show features two excellent technical and physical performances from Matthew Boston and Daniel Llewelyn-Williams. A bit like The Odd Couple (literary version) but neither character shows a remotely likeable trait! Oh, and Shakespeare never wrote that celebrated line.
The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall.
Dorothy Parker sits in her apartment, talking to a young secretary who has come to help sub-edit the choices of poetry to be included in the new volume The Portable Dorothy Parker. As she re-reads her old poems, she reflects on her life so far and remembers the parties, the scandals, and the men. Annie Lux’s play puts Parker’s works to good use as they not only illustrate the nature of the writer but also entertain us in their own right. Margot Avery plays Dorothy Parker as a more laid-back, reflective character than I might have imagined her to be, and the whole show is more of a gentle entertainment than a rip-roaring examination of a feisty, rebellious, creative spirit. Enjoyable, if unchallenging.
The Courteous Enemy, The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall.
In 1958, the playwright Eugene Ionesco and the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan clashed over the latter’s review in the Observer of his play The Chairs, which broadened out to become a prolonged argument over the nature of theatre. Dan Sinclair’s The Courteous Enemy takes this event as its inspiration for what is described as an absurdist satire. It’s an excellent idea for a play, being a pivotal moment in freedom of expression during arguably the most significant decade in European theatre of the last century. But what the University of York Drama Society have created is one of the most abysmal shows I have ever seen. Infantile, crude and xenophobic, there are two and a half funny lines and I spent the rest of the show not believing what I was seeing. If laughing at silly French accents, jokes about penis size, grotesque simulation of Tynan fellating Beckett and whether someone is queer or not is your cup of tea, welcome to the early 1970s and you’ll love it. Everyone in our row sat in stony silence. Waste of an amazing opportunity.
Rock Bottom, Paradise in the Vault.
Nick Bottom turns up to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, but no one else shows up – none of the Rude Mechanicals, none of the Court; so he’s left to front us on his own. Being an old pro, he does his best, and falls back on those self-delusions of Athenian superstardom (in his head). But nothing really works and, unsurprisingly, he ends up in mental breakdown. This is a gem of an idea – agreed, Bottom has his faults, but he’s treated mercilessly by Oberon, so that his happy time with Titania is taken away from him, through no fault of his own, and you never think about how Bottom would be affected by that – and this little piece does go towards an understanding of his plight. However, in a sense, it is so successful, that Bottom’s sadness comes across too strongly to us, and it’s hard to enjoy watching him suffer. Rock Bottom has been around for a couple of years now but I still feel it could do with some refinement; we need to find him a more likeable character earlier on, so that we are on his side, (Team Bottom? why not?) before his rot starts to kick in. Much potential, but still not quite there yet.