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Skyfall‘s Sam Mendes directs a poetic production rich with acting talent – ★★★★½

In hindsight, my review of The Lehman Trilogy during its National Theatre run seems rather disingenuous. A mistake with timings meant I missed the first half an hour of the performance – a tragedy when every minute of this three-hour show is worth savouring.

It opens with Henry Lehman’s (Simon Russell Beale) first perceptions of America – a ‘music box’, he calls it. Arriving in the States from Bavaria with his brothers in tow, Stefano Massini’s play – adapted by Ben Power – charts the rise of the Lehman Brothers Bank before its bankruptcy in 2008.

One of the production’s clever motifs can be found in Es Devlin’s set – a twisting office space turning to the tune of pianist Candida Caldicot’s melodies like a music box of its own. The world revolves around the Lehman brothers, and then, over three acts – and as one character notes – we see the end of it.

Along the way, we’re introduced to countless other characters: generations of the Lehman family, their lovers and fellow businessmen. Each character has their own characteristic, and each actor excels in the numerous unique roles. Russell Beale is hilarious as the assertive Phillip Lehman, The Crown‘s Ben Miles is captivating as Emmanuel Lehman with his prophetic dreams, and Suits‘ Adam Godley is witty as Mayer ‘The Potato’ Lehman.

At one point, Phillip is asked about ingredients – money being his main one. If we look at this play as a whole, meticulous direction, phenomenal performances and a mesmerising original score combine to make the perfect recipe for theatrical success. Trust me, you can bank on The Lehman Trilogy being an incredible night out at the theatre.

The Lehman Trilogy is now playing at the Piccadilly Theatre until 31 August. A NT Live broadcast of the production will be streamed to cinemas on 25 July.

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the opening night of the show for free in exchange for a review of the production. I was requested to mention the NT Live screening but this was not mandatory. I have received no payment for writing this review. All views stated are honest and my own.

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Daft and riotous, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play on Shakespeare’s “dark lady” is a theatrical firecracker – ★★★★★

Why haven’t we heard of Emilia Bassano? The first female professional poet – considered by some as the Bard’s “secret muse” – has never received a level of attention from theatre audiences, in a sense that is somewhat symptomatic of society at the time. That is, until now.

After a run at Shakespeare’s Globe, Malcolm’s production moves to the Vaudeville Theatre. Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins share the title role, and lead a diverse all-female cast, with disabled actresses Sophie Stone and Nadia Albina amongst them.

The creative decision means the women also play the men – with hilarious results. In a time where males were terrified of female success, the cast exaggerate the panic to the point of absurdity. When pompous Lord Howard (Jackie Clune) cries out about the “preposterous notion” of a world where “woman are seen as equal”, the audience cheer and applaud – each member of the crowd united by the same frustration, anger and desire for change.

Amidst this all is the famous bard himself. Portrayed by Charity Wakefield with an eccentric complexity many associate with the acclaimed poet, Shakespeare is a loveable, self-centred jerk in amongst the play’s many sexist men. We hate him for his exploitation of Emilia, but we love him when he proceeds to tell the audience how good his plays are.

It’s one of the many fourth wall breaks across the production. Pants and washing are flung at audience members from the boxes, the cast clamour in the dress circle for a view of the show and at the right time, Perkins’ Emilia preaches to us all. Meanwhile, a group of strong female musicians set the tone with delicate strings and vocal harmonies. The parallels and crossovers between Shakespearean England and the present day are overt and striking – from Elizabethan characters dabbing and flossing on stage to the same female oppression shown on stage ringing true all these years later.

Each iteration of Emilia has their own moment on stage. Coomber’s reaction to the loss of her child is devastating, Leonce’s monologue about grief is impactful, and Perkins’ delivery of the epilogue – a message to modern women – is fiery, rousing and rapturous. Cutting into a timely issue with razor-sharp precision, Emilia is a raging call to arms for the feminists of today.

Emilia is now playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 1 June.

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Klein-Mekongo’s solo show about abuse, femininity and adulthood makes a strong return to the Bush Theatre – ★★★★

What does it mean to be a woman? When everyone around Evie is telling her how she should be, she feels confused and frustrated, and loses herself in the music of garage and the noughties.

Yvette is a 13-year-old girl’s exploration of identity – a 55-minute life story shaped by parents, relationships and school bullying, and told through creative lyricism and prose. Tightly paced, it’s a candid tale of discovery, with each chapter bookmarked by songs, poetry and spoken word.

Photo: Helen Murray.

Evie (Klein-Mekongo) walks on stage and taps the microphone. Armed with rhythm and a loop pedal, the teen begins with an honest introduction: “Here’s what it is, I fucked up bare times,” she says, striking a personal tone which underpins this raw production.

In the opening, we see a sassy and innocent Evie, one which twerks, grins and dances to JP Tronik once home from school. She’s having fun, and we know it. She tries to make us laugh, and she succeeds (an instance where she tries to shave whilst drunk in a bathtub proving particularly comical). In such a short space of time, Klein-Mekongo paints Yvette as charming and likeable, in a way which makes the darker moments all the more impactful and traumatic.

Klein-Mekongo’s first professional play sees her charge through the emotions with piercing precision. Alongside an impressive vocal ability, the London actress knows how to create a sense of character, with Yvette’s strict mother’s rejection of a party invite being delivered with hilarious comedic timing. In Evie’s case, it culminates with a striking performance of an original number by Klein-Mekongo, concluding the teen’s journey with formidable passion and conviction.

Yvette is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 4 June.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Yvette for free in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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A euphoric anthem for the heartbroken, Good Things Fall Apart is reserved and empassioned in equal measure.

American DJ Illenium has a talent at making the melancholic melodic. Tell me what you hate about me. Whatever it is, I’m sorry, singer Jon Bellion chants in the hard-hitting chorus to Good Things Fall Apart, a punchy track about self-pity and overthinking.

ILLENIUM, Jon Bellion - Good Things Fall Apart (Lyric Video) - YouTube

The DJ’s new single, much like recent release Crashing, is Halfway between a reflective, chilled acoustic for emotional late-night listening and a gritty electronic hit. The repetitive rhythm and staggered lyrics not only work well under the instrumentals, but do well to represent the frantic thoughts of an individual mid-reflection.

The latest in a string of new releases from the artist, Good Things Fall Apart continues Illenium’s talent at creating euphoric catharsis.

Good Things Fall Apart is available to stream and download now.

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Creative sound design elevates an otherwise mediocre play from The Writer‘s Ella Hickson – ★★★

The audience is all ears for the National Theatre’s latest Dorfman production. Listening in through individual headsets, we are the fly on the wall eavesdropping on a relationship in post-war Berlin. It’s a symbolic artistic decision for a script set in a suspicious and apprehensive Germany, but nothing more.

Phoebe Fox (A View From The Bridge) is the title character and the only performer mic’d up in ANNA‘s 65-minute running time. We hear what Anna hears, which hones our focus on an unsettled protagonist as much as it limits our perspective of the wider story. If an actor is not in close proximity to Fox, then their lines become background noise. Whole dinner party conversations are lost as a result of poor audio, weak projection and unfortunate direction (from Machinal‘s Natalie Abrahami).

Sound designers Ben and Max Ringham do well to emphasise the tense atmosphere and ambience in Vicki Mortimer, but their imaginative composition can only be appreciated in moments of darkness. When the lights are down and Anna walks around her living room in the darkness, it’s the opening of a door and the scratch of a record player which guides us through the scenes in what are the most exciting moments in this disorientating production.

Strip away the elaborate audio gimmicks and we’re left with a basic story about a wife and husband in a turbulent relationship and an unwelcome dinner guest. Fox exudes anxiety and confidence in equal measure in what becomes a stressful evening for the protagonist, and displays some tense and gripping chemistry alongside Poldark actor Max Bennett. Quiz‘s Paul Blazely also delivers a respectable portrayal of Anna’s husband, Hans.

What’s supposed to enhance their performances – that is, an experimental approach to sound in theatre – instead becomes a distraction to an extent where the production would likely be more impactful without the technicalities.

At the curtain call comes a final plea: keep us safe – no spoilers, the lettering held up by the cast reads. For a show all about secrets, it’s a fitting request. If only there were enough secrets to spoil…

This review is of a preview performance. ANNA is now playing at the Dorfman Theatre until 15 June.

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Not long after signing to Polydor Records, the London quartet return with an anthemic ode to “young love and moving on”.

It’s easy for a love song to dwell on the doom and gloom of a break-up, but the latest single from Sea Girls offers a new kind of catharsis.

Reflecting on and accepting a previous relationship with gritty dismissiveness, lead singer Henry Camamile talks about “[dropping] a bomb on the past”. “The damage is done,” the vocalist concludes in the song’s catchy hook.

Sea Girls – Damage Done (Official Audio) - YouTube

Instrumentally, the creativity lies in Oli Khan’s drums, offering a complex driving rhythm so strong that its absence in the bridge is clearly apparent. In this section and the post-chorus, Camamile breaks up the line “talking to myself again” over Khan’s expressive drum solo.

Credit where credit’s due, Damage Done is certainly imaginative and with a unique approach to the breakup song, it’s definitely a refreshing listen too.

Damage Done is available to stream and download now.

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Stephen Jones delivers a powerful standout performance in this fiery Irish tragicomedy – ★★★★★

Playwrights David Horan and Iseult Golden have certainly done their homework. CLASS, a tense and fast-moving production, handles the tough topic of learning difficulties and its impact on a family with delicacy and sensitivity.

Photo: Helen Murray.

Stephen Jones (Brian) and Sarah Morris (Donna) are the two ex-partners staying behind after class to meet with the timid Mr McCafferty (Will O’Connell) to discuss their son Jayden’s progress. When the teacher recommends that Jayden should be seen by a psychologist, the three characters find themselves embroiled in a heated confrontation.

The meeting takes place in Maree Kearns’ colourful and intimate classroom, where Jones and Morris become a hilarious double act in amongst the tension. The parents become the children in many ways than one, scrawling #FML and ‘Donna Woz Here’ on the blackboard when the teacher leaves the room and later, in alternative scenes, playing Jayden and his classmate Kaylie in an after-school homework club.

As the play progresses, we see more of the family issues bleed through into Jayden’s conversations in class. A letter-writing exercise subtly references the nine-year-old’s distance from his father – something which then comes to a head in Jones’ heartbreaking final scene.

Meanwhile O’Connell’s Mr McCafferty finds himself in the middle of it all, mediating Donna and Brian’s disputes with a naïve and condescending tone which only fans the flames of the character’s short temper. “Gold star for me,” the father retorts in the opening scene, in a moment of conflict which only snowballs over the course of the production to reach a shocking climax.

Keen not to turn their production into a 95-minute shouting match, Horan and Golden inject childish humour throughout to lighten the tone. Watching three adults dabbing and flossing, although cringeworthy, served as some amusing comic relief.

A fast-moving drama with humour, conviction and charm, CLASS is an emotional exploration of when personal and educational interests collide, with some devastating results.

CLASS is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 1 June.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch CLASS for free in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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It’s rather unfortunate that in order to hear what’s being said at a comedy gig, I have to sit close to the front. This is especially when a 20-something journalism graduate with a mild hearing loss is quite the easy target for the front row…

Thankfully, the Laughing to Deaf comedy night at The Comedy Store allowed me to retreat to the third row, with British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters and speech-to-text reporters being available throughout the night. The wonderful people at Action on Hearing Loss kindly invited me down for the evening to check it out.

Photo: Action on Hearing Loss.

Previously, comedy sometimes had a feeling of loss or confusion with it as a deaf person. I either missed the punchline altogether or processed it in my head moments later, when the comedian had moved on to joke about another subject. The same applies to theatre shows, too.

Fortunately, at Laughing to Deaf, everyone was in the same boat, and at times a typo on the screen or a crude word in BSL often added more to the comedy and jokes being told on stage. When a series of explicit gags were said during Ed Gamble’s set, the comedian joked that he’d only be getting 30% of the applause at the end of his set. Interpreter Karl – who did a fantastic job alongside Audrey and the two palantypists in terms of communication support – certainly stole the show at times during the night due to some of the obscene words and phrases he had to sign throughout the night. Hats off to him.

Bravo to all the comedians as well. Action on Hearing Loss ambassador Samantha Baines was a hilarious MC for the night, and Angela Barnes, Eshaan Akbar, Ed Gamble, Russell Howard and John Bishop were all brilliant. Hearing that Samantha, Angela, Eshaan and John all had connections to deafness or hearing loss was especially refreshing.

Yet one of the best parts of the evening came from what happened off-stage. Throughout the night I bumped into several deaf writers whom I had had many a conversation with online. It was great to see Ellie (or Deafie Blogger fame) once again, and to finally meet Louise (of Louise Deaf Awareness) and fellow deaf journalist Josh Salisbury.

Now, to say that comedy brings people together is common knowledge, but Laughing to Deaf also saw us come together to celebrate Action on Hearing Loss and the amazing work that they do to support those with hearing loss.

If you want to find out more about them – including their Don’t Be A Doughnut campaign as part of Deaf Awareness Week – visit their website and give them a follow on Twitter.

Note: I was kindly invited by Action on Hearing Loss to attend their Laughing to Deaf comedy night for free in exchange for posting content on social media and on other platforms. I did not receive payment and all thoughts and opinions in this piece are honest and my own.

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Four years after their sophomore record Beneath the Skin, the Icelandic rock group are back with Alligator – a snappy, anthemic track from their upcoming third album.

“I see colour, raining down,” sings co-vocalist Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir in the song’s opening verse. With a new, brighter aesthetic and a vibrant music video to boot, Of Monsters and Men’s lucid imagery is quite the departure from their gloomy and monochromatic second album.

Of Monsters and Men - Alligator (Lyric Video) - YouTube

Untamed, Alligator sees hard-hitting drums lurch from steady pacing to scattered tom rhythms alongside gritty guitar. Co-produced by Rich Costey – who has previously worked with the likes of Muse and Chvrches – the influences are bold and striking.

While perhaps more loud and impactful than previous singles, OMAM’s lyrics remain as imaginative and otherworldly as ever, with Nanna writing about “fever dreaming” (a more plausible name for the record) and 22 women stood by a bank crying.

For a song named Alligator, there’s little to no reference to the reptile in the three-minute track, but that doesn’t stop Of Monsters and Men making a powerful and hard-hitting comeback.

Alligator is available to stream and download now.

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After their hit collaboration on the track Living, the Dutch producer and Too Close singer reunite on a single which swaps the usual fanfare for comfortable indie sincerity.

If there’s one thing that’ll motivate you to do something, then it’s the rousing vocals of Alex Clare. On a stripped-back dance hit, the soulful musician gives advice such as “it’s not how you get knocked down, it’s how you get back up” to make the point that failure is key “if you want to be a winner”.

Bakermat - Learn To Lose ft. Alex Clare - YouTube

The lyricism in the chorus of this summer single is cliché and too reminiscent of songs which have come before. Whether it’s the opening of the pre-chorus channelling the party banger Tubthumping by Chumbawamba, or “go hard or go home” somehow inducing flashbacks to will.i.am’s crazy electro-rap T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever), Learn to Lose doesn’t add much in terms of songwriting to the over-populated motivational music scene.

Away from the basic but catchy hook delivered with soul by Clare, writers Nathaniel Ledwidge and Rhys Lewis create an interesting narrative across the two verses and the bridge – moving from feelings of hesitation to care-free and then reflection. It’s a rising and falling arc replicated in Bakermat’s production, the first verse restrained to the looped guitar melody which runs throughout the track. The second verse is branded with the DJ’s traditional liveliness with a jumpy drum rhythm, and then we are faced with a familiar, limited bridge before the song’s vibrant conclusion.

There’s a sense that Learn to Lose was intended to be a punchy and inspiring track about losing and success, but with the instrumentals and production trumping the mediocre lyrics, it instead passes as a laid-back summer hit for casual listening.

Learn to Lose by Bakermat (feat. Alex Clare) is available to stream and download now.

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