Review: Bunnies, New Diorama Theatre, London

Editor’s Rating

A play about a farmer who feels he must resort to culling whole species in order to save his livelihood could, on the face of it, be no more topical. With much discussion over whether or not to cull the badger population in an effort to stem the spread of bovine tuberculosis, and a proposed (and possibly overdue) ban on the importation of ash trees to try and prevent the spread of a disease to our own native stocks, there are issues worthy of discussion and debate aplenty here.

Kieran Lynn’s Bunnies, currently playing at the New Diorama theatre, is not that sort of play. Instead, it is a curious attempt at political satire that seems to revel in the crudity of its allegory, just as it revels in acts of violence and bad taxidermy. It is set on a farm, and there are animals involved – but Animal Farm this is not.

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Review: Bunnies, New Diorama Theatre, London2Scott Matthewman2012-10-29 08:48:30A play about a farmer who feels he must resort to culling whole species in order to save his livelihood could, on the face of it, be no more topical. …

Paul Sinha: Last Christmas, Soho Theatre Upstairs

Paul Sinha’s latest warm and self-deprecating comedy show brightens a London in August that’s normally depleted of top-flight comedians

In August, most British comedians move up to Edinburgh. It’s a huge part of the comedy year – several comedians will spend the months preceding to try out their new material and hone it, deliver it once a night at the Fringe, and then spend the next few months reusing that material wherever they can until it’s time to start the cycle again.
Paul Sinha has, in the past, done a similar pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a renowned sports fanatic, though, he chose to forego that experience this year in order to attend the London Olympics. And that means that, in a month where London comedy is usually running on depleted stock, we get his new show, “Last Christmas”.

Now the last time I saw Sinha live was at Comedy Camp, back when the bar on Archer Street that is now an identikit wine bar was a gay venue called Barcode and had regular comedy nights every Tuesday. This was probably at least ten years ago now, but Sinha’s relaxed, self-deprecating warmth hasn’t changed.

Introduced by a cheesy acoustic version of Wham!’s Yuletide hit, Sinha – an inveterate quizzer, ranked 20th in the UK and now a regular on ITV1’s The Chase – treats us to some trivia about the pop tune, before revealing that has no basis for the rest of the show: instead, it is about his own last Christmas, during which he found himself joining his family on a jeep trip through the Himalayas and genuinely thought he was going to die.

What follows is an exploration of what is necessary to have led a satisfying life, and around that hang various anecdotes from Sinha’s own life.

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They Came to a City, Southwark Playhouse

Editor’s Rating

I’m not all that familiar with JB Priestley’s works, other than An Inspector Calls and, to a far lesser extent, The Good Companions. Apparently not many people have had the opportunity to get to know They Came to a City, as according to the programme it has only been staged three times since its original premiere in 1943.

After seeing this new production in the vaults at Southwark Playhouse, I can quite understand why.

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They Came to a City, Southwark Playhouse2Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:43:33I’m not all that familiar with JB Priestley’s works, other than An Inspector Calls and, to a far lesser extent, The Good Companions. Apparently not ma…

A Rude Awakening, New End Theatre

An allegorical fantasy set in a far future where homosexuality has become the norm and straight people are barely tolerated as genetic freaks, what A Rude Awakening loses in subtlety it gains in some good performances and one or two killer one-liners.

Jonathan Woodward leads an able cast as the homophobic politician who, upon being revived in the far future, finds himself ostracised because of his heterosexuality. It is through his conviction that the early scenes, set in the present day, escape being regarded as a crudely drawn depiction of US politics in which even a gubernatorial candidate describes their part of America as “the South”.

The production is somewhat thrown off-kilter by video inserts which are by turns either preposterously surreal or hilariously comic. Sarah Wolff’s performance in the news parodies are especially noteworthy, but they sit oddly with the otherwise dramatic tone of the live performances.

Ultimately, though, Barry Peters’ first play is hamstrung by a lack of clarity of the satirical message he is attempting to convey. Rather than questioning modern-day prejudices, or even suggesting that a majority’s dominance over a minority is in itself the catalyst for bigotry, the impression the play leaves behind is that, whatever the century, you just can’t trust a politician.

* Reviewed for The Stage

: Barry Peters

: New End Theatre

: Genevieve Adam, Chris Barley, Sean Browne, Morgan Deare, James Le Feuvre, Lucy Newman-Williams, Sarah Wolff, Jonathan Woodward

: Olivia Rowe

Knocked for Six – The End of the Line, Roadtrip Workshop

As someone who commutes every day, I become aware of the diverse range of people who use London Underground. With every opening and closing of the tube doors, the ethnic, socio-economic and dramatic mix of my fellow travellers can change in an instant.

As such, the Tube is the perfect setting for The End of the Line, a series of short playlets from young writing collective Knocked for Six which has just finished a three night run.

Piled into The Workshop, a club space in the basement of the Roadtrip Bar in Old Street, we were arranged on benches either side of a thin promenade space. Any fears that the arrangement meant there was not enough space for the actors were appeased when it became clear that the front benches were also the stage, with the central seats being occupied by a succession of interesting characters.

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Zip, Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Last night, I made my first ever visit to Kentish Town and the Lion & Unicorn theatre. I was there to review a new musical, Zip, written by a small team headed by the theatre’s artistic director, Ray Shell.

I wish I could say I liked it more than I did. Inspired by the increasing number of needless deaths due to knife and gun crime, there seemed to be a rage at the heart of the piece that needs an outlet. However, like all too much real rage, it was unfocussed and seemed to strike out in so many directions that there was no killer blow.

If it’s treated as a work in progress, some further refinement would make it all the stronger. As it is, the most emotional and affecting moment comes right at the end, after the cast have taken their bows, as they each dedicate their performance to one person who has been killed on London’s streets. Alongside Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor and Ben Kinsella were names I did not recognise, people I will never know. When the list of names ends, I could sense the anger, the sorrow, the determination of the young people on stage to try and do something about it. I hadn’t felt that during the play, unfortunately.

My full review is on The Stage website now. For more information about the musical, see the Giant Olive Theatre Company website.

Calamity Jane, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

There’s a line in the show’s most famous number, Secret Love, about shouting from the highest hills. Maybe that should be Highgate’s hills, as director Thom Southerland’s latest ambitious musical production is one that deserves to be lauded at full volume.

As rambunctious tomboy ‘Calam’, Katherine Eames goes off like a firecracker, even when her gun frequently fails to do the same. The spitting image of Doris Day in her frontierswoman’s outfit, she is one of several cast members whose American accent wavers on occasion, but whose enthusiasm compensates in droves.

As Katie Brown, the maid whom Jane brings to Deadwood in the mistaken belief she is a star actress, Bonnie Hurst delivers much the best performance of the evening, providing a wholesome, warm counterpoint to Jane’s spikiness. Her transformation from reluctant singer to undoubted star during the performance of Keep it Under Your Heart is just one of several musical highlights.

Of the rest of the cast, David Anthony’s Wild Bill Hickock towers over the others just as he should. But this is not to deny the strength of the ensemble, of whom the males in particular exhibit some strong dance abilities during Phyllida Crowley Smith’s exuberant choreography.

Reviewed for The Stage

June 8-July 3
Authors: Charles K Freeman (book, based on the screenplay by James O’Hanlon), Sammy Fain (music), Paul Francis Webster (lyrics)
Director: Thom Southerland
Producer: Nick Robinson for Stage Taylor Ltd
Cast includes: Katherine Eames, David Anthony, Bonnie Hurst, Anthony Wise, Ted McMillan, Jonathan Vickers
Running time: 2hrs

Little Fish, Finborough Theatre

Escaping from a destructive relationship with her creative-writing tutor, Charlotte flees to New York to pursue a career as a writer – but rapidly finds herself a little fish in the Big Apple.

Michael John LaChiusa’s new musical follows Charlotte’s life in a freeform fashion, jumping backwards and forwards in time but cleverly using her changing relationship with cigarettes to help the audience keep track of the chronology. Maybe as a result of the source material (a series of short stories by writer Deborah Eisenberg), the overall effect is rather more of a series of interrelated vignettes than the strong narrative line that seems to be intended.

Julia Worsley’s accomplished central role adds much-needed cohesion to the various story strands. Around her, a strong cast is dominated by Laura Pitt-Pulford as the perky Kathy. Nick Cunningham’s choreography provides some impressive routines within the Finborough’s limited space, most notably as Ashley Campbell’s womanising John Paul adds heat to a theatre which already feels more like an oven.

Bec Chippendale’s ingenious foldaway set, decorated in a range of aquatic blue hues, provides an elegant frame to a collection of technically accomplished, well-performed songs. Ultimately, though, the professionalism of cast and crew cannot dull the feeling that there is something missing where this show’s heart should be.

Reviewed for The Stage

Finborough, London, October 29-November 21
Author: Michael John LaChiusa, based on short stories by Deborah Eisenberg
Director: Adam Lenson
Producer: JQ and Treasuretrove in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited
Cast: Ashley Campbell, Michael Cantwell, Katie Foster-Barnes, Nick Holder, Alana Maria, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Lee William-Davis, Julia Worsley
Running time: 1hr 35min

An overview of reviews

I’m about to enter full-on panto reviewing mode again, although given my out-of-town location and lack of driving ability the number of productions I get allocated is far fewer than some of our more hardy reviewers.

Before I do, I wanted to make sure that my own record of what I’ve reviewed for _The Stage_ is up to date. Below is the list as it currently stands.

**Update: an up-to-date list is now on my [Theatre Reviews index page](

## West End

* 17/10/08: [French and Saunders: Still Alive](, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
* 23/09/08: [We Will Rock You](, Dominion
* 03/07/08: [Monty Python’s Spamalot](, Palace Theatre
* 27/05/08: [Haunted](, Arts Theatre
* 23/05/08: [Never Forget](, Savoy Theatre
* 07/03/08: [The Viewing Room](, Arts Theatre
* 05/09/07: [All About My Mother](, Old Vic
* 24/11/06: [Gates of Gold](, Trafalgar Studios
* 10/11/06: [Porgy and Bess](, Savoy Theatre

## Fringe/off-West End

* 14/11/08: [Sweeney Todd](, Union Theatre
* 01/10/07: [Sugar Snap](, Union Theatre
* 27/09/07: [I Love You Because](, Landor
* 07/06/07: [The Christ of Coldharbour Lane](, Soho Theatre
* 29/03/07: [Total Eclipse](, Menie Chocolate Factory
* 01/12/06: [Love, Laugh and Live](, Theatre Museum
* 07/02/06: [Black and White Sextet](, Rosemary Branch

## Pantomime/Christmas

* 21/12/07: [Cinderella](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 13/12/07: [Peter Pan](, Civic Centre, Aylesbury
* 07/12/07: [The Wizard of Oz](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 19/12/06: [Aladdin](, Civic Centre, Aylesbury
* 14/12/06: [Beauty and the Beast](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 07/12/06: [Sleeping Beauty and the Beast](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 04/01/06: [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 13/12/05: [Aladdin](, Elgiva, Chesham