London Performance Now: Athena at The Yard Theatre 2021 by Ana Rosales – Review

Athena | The Yard Theatre

I’d been wary, coming in. Of course, visiting a new place alone is almost inevitably nerve-racking, and this is certainly the case during my visit to The Yard Theatre, where I’m set to watch Athena, a story by American playwright Gracie Gardner. But there’s more to my hesitancy than the simple novelty of The Yard, for all its gentrified millennial aesthetics. 

As an American student in the UK, I was curious to see British theatre-makers handle the Americanisms embedded in Athena’s text. Upon arrival I wasn’t sure what to make of the company, but I’m happy to report this production has successfully snuck into my heart. 

Starring Millicent Wong as titular Athena and Grace Saif as friendly rival Mary Wallace, the show pushes audiences right into the deep end of American teenage girlhood, with the added edge of high school sports—in this case, fencing.  

The story unfolds mostly through the girls’ training sessions, and while they seem to have little in common outside the sport, Athena and Mary Wallace manage to build a steady rhythm toward friendship. Featuring the most realistic teenage girl dialogue I’ve heard in a long time—brava to Wong and Saif’s delivery, and special compliments to voice coach Rachel Coffey for honing some impressive American accents from the performers—it became easy to lose myself in the show’s pleasant authenticity. 

The production’s staging is effective, for all its no-frills dramaturgical choices. Taking place on a mostly bare stage, our only clue to any concrete environment is a long blue rectangle painted diagonally through the stage floor—the piste, fencing strip—and most scene changes are signaled with lighting cues. The choreography is thrilling to watch, too. Fight director Claire Llewellyn does a brilliant job molding the physicality of fencing into rich and meaningful movement that is reflective of the characters. 

The play culminates in an epic, real-time fencing match between the two girls, a wordless 12-minute face-off. But this grand finale is quiet—eerily so. With no dialogue (save for an occasional disembodied ‘en garde!’), all we hear are the shuffling of feet and the clanking of sabres. Part of me wishes there had been something to underscore this: music, or maybe muted cheers from spectators. But on the other hand, the quiet makes for a thoroughly tense experience. It’s a deliberate risk, but one I’m still not sure is entirely worth it. 

Athena also tentatively approaches themes of class. Although this is not explored much further than mentions of suburban morning routines and the woes of commuting, I find the subtle scratching of these topics a poignant reflection of adolescence itself—at this age, you’re wary of showing off those most vulnerable parts of yourself, including the intricacies of class. For two young fencers, letting your “garde” down is the bravest thing you can do. 

If you’re the kind of theatregoer who finds value in the mundane, and value in even the most ephemeral relationships, watch Athena. It really is a gem. 

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London Performance Now: Pink Lemonade at Bush Theatre 2021 by Lola Ellenberg – Review

Pink Lemonade | Bush Theatre

There are few things as uniquely special as a live theatre performance that educates, inspires, and leaves you in awe. In Pink Lemonade, a one-person show playing at the Bush Theatre, writer and actor Mika Onyx Johnson does exactly that, and we are all better for it.

Pink Lemonade follows Mika on their journey navigating romantic relationships and living as a trans masculine person. Whether it is because trans stories often go unheard or due to the fact that this is an entirely innovative piece of theater, I was left with the powerful impression that this was unlike anything I had seen before. Mika combines movement with monologue, utilizing rap and spoken word to tell their profound story. It is a testament to Mika’s storytelling skills that this incredibly personal narrative is so natural to empathize and connect with. The plot, like many other aspects of the show, is unconventional. In lieu of a traditional three-act structure, Mika instead floats through time and space, taking us back to life pre-transition and breaking the fourth wall to tell us directly their experience through the lens of memory. This experimental mode of storytelling so closely reflected Mika’s lived experience, and I found myself entirely caught up in Mika’s world and words from start to finish.

When my friends asked me what Pink Lemonade was about, I had a hard time articulating the magic that I saw. “It’s about sexuality, identity, life…” and they looked at me with curiosity and confusion. Though there is a plot – the show is essentially told through the parallel romantic experiences Mika had with two women, respectively – the show transcends the limitations of a traditional plot-driven play. As Mika raps, moves, or speaks, we are left with the feeling that this isn’t just dialogue, but is philosophy. There is something so enlightening about the way Mika tells their stories, and it also speaks to the power of live theater in general. I attempt to do so here, but it would be impossible to perfectly generate through words what we as a joint audience saw take place in the Bush Theater.

Pink Lemonade takes place in the black box studio, and the glowing, colorful lights illuminate not just Mika but also the audience members that surround the stage. I had the feeling that this was a communal experience, and it was absolutely fitting that this was live theater, because the show, space, and most significantly, Mika, were just teeming with life.

I can understand how Pink Lemonade may not be for ‘everyone’ – it is bold and liberated and empowered, and though in my opinion those are amazing qualities, I wouldn’t be surprised if some disagreed. However, I would urge anyone with the opportunity to see Mika’s work to do so. The one note I wrote down in my notebook immediately after the play was, “Mika is an artist in every sense of the word.” Artistry like this is rare, and when it does present itself, we would be remiss in missing it.

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London Performance Now: Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe 2021 by Joseph Gallagher

Romeo & Juliet | Shakespeare’s Globe | Until 17 Oct 2021 | Tickets from £5

I walked into the globe theatre with a certain expectation of what performance I was going to be watching. I did not see that performance. The setting of the show was within modern day and the dress matched it. Vans, Nike tracksuits and neck tattoos among other features set the play very much in the 21st century, mixed in with modern day slang and drug abuse. Ola Ince overall, created a modern day version of Shakespeare’s most well known play, but it is not without its flaws.

Ince decided to focus on the mental health aspect within Romeo & Juliet, which I for one, had never really appreciated nor noticed if truth be told. The need for this message in todays society is extremely needed. With how much mental health is spoken about recently and especially with under 25’s, Ince made the correct decision to focus on this element of the play.

However, this did have some major fallbacks, Will Edgerton’s ‘Tybalt’ had very little time onstage so much so that when Romeo kills him, the weight of the moment did not strike a single nerve as I was left wondering why I should care for this person and therefore why should Juliet care enough to try and convince her parents to postpone her marriage to Paris.

Within the play too were multiple moments when the actors would break the fourth wall and directly address the audience with some quite eye opening statistics. The statements made had a lot of prevalence within the story and where a good addition to the action. However, the way they were delivered, in a very jarring pause of the performance and a preachy tone created an uncomfortable feature in the performance that didn’t work a single bit.

Alfred Enoch’s ‘Romeo’ and Rebekah Murrell’s ‘Juliet’ were fantastic within the performance. Both had a lovely frantic energy to them that could only be given to youth. An organised chaos with Romeo often on a BMX just lingering in the street and Juliet running around her bedroom throughout. The infamous balcony unfortunately lends itself to have Murrell on the actual balcony of the Globe but Enoch running through the audience (with a mask) and swinging on ladders placed in the pit added a new element to what can be a cliché scene. Sirine Saba as the nurse was a personal highlight. Even when not the main focus of a scene, she constantly stole the show with her exaggerated expressions and a comic relief with the second half of the show. Zoe West and Adam Gillen shined as the loveable rogues of Benvolio and Mercutio respectively. The cast as a whole was brilliant but they were my standouts. The run finished on October 17th as the Globe shall begin its run into the Christmas season with ‘The Fir Tree’ starting on December 20th.

Photo credit: Alfred Enoch as Romeo, Sirine Saba as Nurse and Zoe West as Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet, Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021. Photographer: Marc Brennert, Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021. Photographer: Marc Brenner

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London Performance Now: Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe 2021 by Morgan Tuttle

Romeo & Juliet | Shakespeare’s Globe | Until 17 Oct 2021 | Tickets from £5

Many people have expectations or ideas when they hear Romeo and Juliet. It could be grand ideas of Elizabethan costumes or a tragic teen romance, but the recent production at the Globe likely had many reassessing these ideas.

An extraordinary cast, led by Alfred Enoch of How to Get Away with Murder fame in the titular role of Romeo, comes on at the beginning with everyone dressed in red and black colored contemporary clothes. One by one, all of them introduce themselves, and the band, while Mercutio recites the famous opening. The show then kicks off not with dramatic Shakespearean language but a statistic. Throughout the entire production, this sharing continues with several actors breaking their character to share a fact or statement about teen mental health, the effects of a damaged home, or societal dangers. These facts are repeated on an LED screen at the top of the stage like an ominous foretelling of the scene below. From this, it becomes very clear that this is no longer a story of love.

The play itself has had cuts made, like many productions of Shakespeare’s works. Those who know Romeo and Juliet like the back of their hands might find themselves thinking this production lacking in romance. While many of the romantic soliloquies that are well known are cut, a different and rougher version of this beloved play arises.

This interpretation emphasizes the tragedy at the heart of this show and the actions that cause it. This is a stage that is rarely still with actors riding BMX bikes and violent fights and encounters happening often. Music can be heard in the background, loud, brassy, and percussive, bringing greater levels of tension to the story. This choice in keeping actions over romance coupled with the statistics give a darker story.

Romeo and Juliet are no longer two love-struck teenagers who are driven by their passions. They are two teens who find comfort in each other in a world where violence finds them both at home and in society. The choices of the director and company give a production that finds itself aimed at a younger audience. It creates a story that many can relate to or see themselves in and then follows up the action with resources to get help if they related to any content.

While this is may not be a production for the Shakespeare purist, it is well worth the time to go and see it.  

Photo credit: Rebekah Murrell as Juliet and Alfred Enoch as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021. Photographer: Marc Brenner

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London Performance Now: Milly Miller-Adams on Performance Live: Kae Tempest

Performance Live – Kae Tempest | BBC Two

Having previously read Let Them Eat Chaos by Kae Tempest before watching this performance I arrived already appreciating their skill and talent. However watching them perform this live in front of a receptive audience with music to accompany gave new life to these words. Kae explores many contemporary issues in this 60 minute set through a continuous spoken word poem which weaves the lives of 6 strangers living on the same street.

Kae’s passion is tangible. They observe the world so astutely and are able to convey the feelings, worries and routine that we have become too used to living through. It would be an honour to watch Kae perform live however this filmed performance did well to capture the electricity they produced in the room.

Some excerpts below:

“The people are dead in their lifetimes
Dazed in the shine of the streets
But look how the traffic’s still moving
System’s too slick to stop working
Business is good, and there’s bands every night in the pubs
And there’s two for one drinks in the clubs
And we scrubbed up well
Washed off the work and the stress
And now all we want’s some excess
Better yet, a night to remember that we’ll soon forget
All of the blood that was bled for these cities to grow
All of the bodies that fell
The roots that were dug from the earth
So these games could be played
I see it tonight in the stains on my hands


In glamourous magazines, who’s dating who?
Politico cash in an envelope
Caught sniffing lines off a prostitutes prosthetic tits
Now it’s back to the House of Lords with slapped wrists
They abduct kids who fuck the heads of dead pigs
But him in a hoodie with a couple of spliffs
Jail him, he’s the criminal”[1]

[1] Kae Tempest, Europe is Lost, Let Them Eat Chaos

This post is part of London Performance Now Series. Read more about the series here

London Performance Now: Maya Ostrowska on A Small Gathering

A Small Gathering | Home (Manchester)

Image: Manchester Home, A Small Gathering

A Small Gathering, created by Charli Dubery, Deborah Pugh, George Mann, Nir Paldi & Sam Halmarack, is described as ‘A triptych of shorts served 2m apart’.

The character we meet in the first short is Mr Pink, whose performance is nothing short of utterly bizarre. Illumined by dramatic lighting, he makes peculiarly comical facial expressions and gestures. After a sequence of shaving and applying lipstick, he attempts to go outside but due to COVID, he cannot. His nemesis (one more threatening than a global pandemic,apparently) is a small cupboard, which threatens him throughout an obscene dance he performs on his sofa. It reflects the madness that comes as a side effect of quarantine. It’s worth watching just for its humorous aspect alone.

The second short, titled Rewilding was undoubtedly inspired by the nation’s, and in-fact the world’s, phase of hoarding toilet paper and panic buying. A woman trying to muster up the courage to leave her canal boat to go food shopping. Humour is also at the forefront of this short, at one point she tapes up her window excessively, adding various ´keep away´ notes,finally settling on ‘just fuck off’. She also battles a toilet paper monster so there’s that.
Cynthia’s party is the last of the three shorts and definitely wins the prize for being the creepiest of the three. If you don’t like porcelain dolls with missing eyeballs you might want to skip this one. It depicts a quarantine tea party where only one of the guests is human. That doesn’t last for long, as we see a horrifying, though well edited sequence of a woman slowly turning into a doll. What a fun tea party.

These shorts are highly entertaining and a vividly portrayal of descending into madness – a state I think we can all relate to in some capacity, due to the times we are currently living in.

This post is part of London Performance Now Series. Read more about the series here

London Performance Now: Lucinda Saufley on Amaluna

Cirque du Soleil: Spotlight on “Amaluna”
Thoughts on the Recording
Blogpost by Lucinda Saufley

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Cirque du Soleil live can agree that it is nothing short of a spectacle. Cirque’s initiative to bring some of its one-of-a-kind performances to YouTube in a series of “spotlights” allows audiences far and wide to experience the magic from the comfort of their own homes. However, comfort might not be on the wish list of someone wanting to see Cirque perform. This spotlight on Amaluna is filled with death-defying circus tricks, live music, and breathtaking choreography. However, it’s just not the same – it’s hard to be brought to the edge of your seat when you’re sitting on a couch.

Some aspects of the show are augmented by the recording: the camera captures details like lighting effects and artful makeup you might not fully appreciate from the pit. The recording also enables you to better tune into the original soundtrack, which might fall second to the visuals if you were at the live show. Despite these positives, there are far more drawbacks in my opinion. For one, the energy and urgency intrinsic of a show like Amaluna are lost. Watching a human bend into impossible shapes while balancing on a tiny pole is still impressive, but the adrenaline isn’t pumping as it might if that human was right in front of you. When watching a recording, you know the aerialist won’t plummet from the rafters. You know the juggler’s balls of flame won’t end in fiery tragedy. Additionally, some of the magic is lost when the many camera angles reveal aspects of the set that audience members aren’t meant to be privy to. In one acrobatic number, a platform that appears impossibly narrow from the front is revealed to be comfortably wide – and other such little let-downs. It’s a bit like ripping the trench coat off a giant and finding it was really two people stacked upon one another all along.

This post is part of London Performance Now Series. Read more about the series here

London Performance Now: Emma Semani on One Hand Tied Behind Us at Old Vic

One Hand Tied Behind Us | The Old Vic

The Old Vic is hosting a four-part series of monologues in recognition of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, curated by actor Maxine Peake and directed by Annabel Bolton. Under the umbrella title One Hand Tied Behind Us, the series began on Monday 1 March with Betsy by Ella Hickson, performed by Jill Halfpenny. On Tuesday 2 March, Contactless by Maxine Peake, performed by Siobhan McSweeney premiered, followed by Imagine That by Kit de Waal, performed by Flo Wilson on Wednesday 3 March and finally Mother’s Little Helper 1963 by Jeanette Winterson, performed by Celia Imrie on Thursday 4 March.

A comedic quality came with the honesty of self-reflection and admission of the failures in a relationship during lockdown. The self-empowering monologue by Susan Wokoma highlights prevalent issues of gaslighting from a partner in an intense period of claustrophobia and forced closeness. “It’s not like he hits me” is a summary of the excuse’s women give to defend their maltreatment, with the form of gratitude often imprisoning us to an alternative of escape. She is punished questioning her situation, blamed as a product of her family who must have ‘planted’ the seeds of doubt within her. The three-part monologue, told intimate and charismatic at a dressing table surrounded by products of femininity on International Women’s Day, marks the stages of a toxic relationship, revealing her loss of self as she gives her womanhood to a man. She is seen applying makeup, getting ready whilst telling herself ‘I’m hard to love’. Her own insecurities are echoed by the voices of society, with the doctor naming her to be a cause of her husband’s depression, to which she masks with a chuckle of backhanded approval ‘I’d love to fuck off and let him be happy”. Her own voice is echoed by the lies told to her that make feel inadequate, and the audience are left to question how much of their own voice, their personal internal narrative, is truly theirs.

This post is part of London Performance Now Series. Read more about the series here

London Performance Now: Emma Howes on The Coronavirus Time Capsule, Company 3

The Coronavirus Time Capsule | Company 3

Amidst the angst, anxiety and abrupt drought of motivation provided by the summer that we will, unfortunately, never forget, a new group of voices emerged to share their side of the story. The Coronavirus Time Capsule has given an outlet and voice to those who were most impacted by the pandemic,  – young people! Company 3’s pandemic project is a compilation of weekly work created by teenagers around the world, giving insight into their new lives as everything they know moves inside and online.

The project is led in collaboration with multiple youth theatre and community groups, meaning there are varying levels of performance from video to video; yet a sense of optimism, creativity and eagerness to express is apparent throughout. Comprised of skits, stop-motion animations, baking tutorials, dances and unfiltered opinions, the videos resemble those of early YouTube – there is no need to perform for the audience, and though aspects of popular youth culture and vloggers have definitely influenced these creators, it is simply innocent creativity and expression.

Beyond highlighting we are living in future history, and these creators having some great footage to show their grandchildren, the Time Capsule emulates a true glimpse of hope for the future, both near and far. Young people are often told to get outside and make the most of their youth, for that freedom is short lived, yet here is proof that they are still able to make the most of their young, creative spirits whilst unable to truly live their lives. If they can pull together good spirits through this, then there’s hope for the rest of us still.

This post is part of London Performance Now Series. Read more about the series here

London Performance Now Blog Series – Introduction from Dr Catriona Fallow

London is one of Europe’s most exciting theatrical cities, with a variety of live performances on offer at any given time. In 2020-21, the challenges to the theatre and performance industry have been widespread.

Despite these difficulties, a range of innovative and exciting work continues to be made while the industry prepares to make potentially difficult, challenging, and exciting changes that may well affect the theatre and performance ecology in London – and beyond – for years to come. 

To take advantage of this moment in London’s performance history, this semester students on London Performance Now have been exploring a range of performances and different performance modes to examine how we read and analyse performance events both live and online. As part of this, we’ve been developing strategies for reading performance in ways that recognise the importance of how and where these performances take place, who they are for and how it relates to the times we are living in.

These short blog posts were developed in response to shows that the authors chose to view and provide a snapshot into different kinds of work that’s available online. From circus to poetry, monologues, applied performance and online festivals, there’s still a great range of work out there to watch and enjoy!

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