Review: The Jungle at Playhouse Theatre

“The Jungle isn’t just a piece of theatre – it’s a glimpse at the world through the eyes of those who lived through the horrors in Calais.”

The Jungle Playhouse Theatre

The Jungle was first performed to audiences late last year and, after the disappointment of missing out on seeing its debut at the Young Vic, I was lucky enough to snap up tickets as soon as its transfer to Playhouse Theatre went on sale.

It was January 2015 when a migrant and refugee camp emerged in the French city of Calais. With more than 7,000 people inhabiting the camp at its peak, the people who came to call the Jungle home had fled their homes in the Middle East. In fear of their lives, many traveled by boat in risky conditions with one thing pushing them forward: the thought of setting up a new life for themselves in England.

Stepping foot in the transformed Playhouse, I knew instantly that this was going to be the most immersive piece of theatre I’d witnessed. Colourful materials draped from the ceiling; hand-painted signs bearing the phrase ‘London calling’; long, uncomfortable benches lining the narrow stage for audiences, my own seat a cushion on a podium… There was hustle and bustle from the get go, bringing the recreation of Salar’s Afghan Café (reviewed by late food critic, AA Gill, for The Times newspaper) to life. We were handed sweet tea and Nân-i Afğânī (an Afghan bread) by the cast, already in character and drawing us in with them.

When English volunteers arrive in the Jungle to assist with re-housing and educating the young, there are mixed reactions from the multi-national inhabitants of the camp – and understandably, as it’s often difficult to tell whether Eton boy, Sam (Alex Lawther), is intentionally condescending or genuinely oblivious to the way he comes across.

The predominant speakers amongst the refugees are Salar (Ben Turner), Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmed) and Okot (John Pfumojena), whose recounts of their ordeals are so heartfelt that it’s easy to forget that the cast are acting.

Every element of this show – from the moments of darkness and torchlight to the loud sound effects of the machinery arriving to demolish the camp – is so well-thought-out that, as a member of the audience, it’s a challenge to fight for the panic and chaos not to take hold of you. Or perhaps the challenge is to let it?

Staged drama is combined with haunting, real-life footage, including images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a beach; images we all undoubtedly remember but would definitely rather forget are there, unavoidable on television screens and the silence that echoes around the auditorium dares you to put yourself in the shoes of these refugees, if only for a minute.

The Jungle isn’t just a piece of theatre – it’s a glimpse at the world through the eyes of those who lived through the horrors in Calais and an insight into the great lengths they went to in order to get there (as well as to leave again in an attempt to reach British shores).

For audiences, this is a couple of hours of eye-opening entertainment; for others, this was a reality they didn’t have a chance to escape from simply by standing up and stepping out of a theatre.

This is an important story that needs to be told far and wide. The Jungle needs to tour the country, make it to Broadway and beyond – but in case it doesn’t, I implore you to go and see it before its run comes to an end this November. The people who once called the Jungle home deserve for their story to be heard.

Closing date: 3rd November
Approx. running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, including interval
Understudies: none

Review: Frozen at Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Dark and disruptive, Frozen doesn’t make for comfortable viewing – and rightly so.”


In the days running up to my most recent visit to the West End, many people thought I was travelling to watch princesses skate around an ice rink singing Let It Go. In reality, Bryony Lavery’s Frozen could only be described as the polar opposite of its Disney blockbuster namesake.

Set in England in the 1980s and 1990s, this psychological thriller returns to London some 16 years after it appeared in the National Theatre. Frozen tells the stories of Nancy (Suranne Jones), Ralph (Jason Watkins) and Agnetha (Nina Sosanya), three people whose lives become intertwined in the grisliest of circumstances.

Ralph is a disturbed individual with a fondness for tattoos, a beloved collection of pornography tapes featuring minors and a habit of kidnapping, abusing and murdering children. Heartbreakingly for Nancy, her 10-year-old daughter Rhona falls prey to him on the way to visit her grandmother one afternoon, though she doesn’t discover this until several years after her disappearance.

Agnetha, an American psychologist, has an interest in criminal psychology and works to unearth the reasons behind why people like Ralph behave the way they do. Frequenting the prison where Ralph is held, she works to gain his trust – and insight into why he did what he did.

For me, Watkins was the stand-out performer from the get-go, delivering a performance that was no less than chilling. So convincing is his performance that there were times throughout the play when I actually forgot that he isn’t the character he’s portraying. As unsettling as it was to watch Ralph pore over his VHS collection and treat each tape with such care and affection (even referring to them as ‘precious’ at one point, which was all the more disturbing given that the word is oftentimes used to describe a child), there are moments when he appears entirely harmless. And that is exactly what makes Watkins’ performance so sinister.

Jones, staring off into the distance as she delivers her monologues, creates a likeable character from the outset; something I’ve found her able to do in all her on screen roles. Frozen gifts her with some powerful scenes and, although the tension is occasionally broken with a witty comment or two, Nancy’s grief never fades – it’s almost as though you can see it resting upon her shoulders, weighing her down.

Sosanya portrays multidimensional Agnetha with true conviction. Smart and savvy, Agnetha’s character is much more difficult to empathise with, despite having so much empathy herself. To say that it’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who would choose to comfort a convicted paedophile and serial killer is an understatement yet, somehow, Sosanya succeeded in getting me to feel something more than disgust towards Ralph, if only for a split second.

Ralph, having lived most of his life emotionally detached from the crimes he’s committed, struggles under the weight of feeling a sudden sense of remorse for the things he has done and – with young characters unseen throughout the majority of the show – I feel this makes Rhona’s appearance in the final few scenes representative of Ralph’s new-found conscience.

Dark and disruptive, Frozen doesn’t make for comfortable viewing – and rightly so. The life-destroying events that Frozen brings to stage exist beyond the walls of TRH and that’s exactly why this story is such an important one.

Approx. running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Understudies: None

Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Apollo Theatre

“Act One is dominated by Miller and O’Connell, baring the trials and tribulations of Brick and Maggie’s broken marriage for all to see.”


I’ll be the first to admit I don’t read into plays too much before I book tickets. I’m sold after a brief glance over a plot overview or a stand-out performer on the cast list. Sometimes, if a show has received a string of five-star ratings, I’ll even book tickets without having a clue what it’s about.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was different, because Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was written by Tennessee Williams. It was just several months ago (seven, to be precise), when I fell in love with Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, so it wasn’t a case of waiting to discover how many stars the show would receive; if he wrote it, I had to see it.

And so it was with high expectations that I entered the Apollo, confident in a cast list which was inclusive of Sienna Miller, Jack O’Connell and Colm Meaney.

The striking thing about this performance, however, wasn’t the new take on Williams’ characters; it was the direction in which director, Benedict Andrews, had taken the 1955 play. In a modernisation which caused mixed feelings among audiences, we see husband and wife Brick (O’Connell) and Maggie (Miller) holed up in their room with little but a shower and several bottles of whiskey to distract them from the tensions in their relationship – both of which Brick turns to frequently.

It’s quite clear that something’s eating away at Brick; he’s sullen, serious, and forever on the defensive, not to mention a self-confessed alcoholic. Maggie unabashedly showers Brick with unwanted sexual advances, telling him how desperate she is to have a child, yet he keeps rejecting her. Could this be because he’s drowning in regret over his failure to reveal his true feelings to good friend, Skipper, before he died? Brick denied that he had any romantic feelings for Skipper years ago; in doing so, did he deny himself of what he really wanted?

Act One is dominated by Miller and O’Connell, baring the trials and tribulations of Brick and Maggie’s broken marriage for all to see, behaving as no-one would outside of the comfort of their own four walls. Walls which, in this instance, are ironically golden.

Act Two shifts the focus onto the relationship between Brick and his father, referred to as Big Daddy (Colm Meaney). He doesn’t yet know it, but Big Daddy is dying and that’s perhaps the thing that terrifies him most.

Of the three lead performers, I felt it was Miller who gave the best performance, with her simpering, Southern belle tongue and her ability to show the vulnerabilities that lie behind such a headstrong character. She featured very little in Act Two and, I have to say, the second half was severely lacking without her.

When it comes to O’Connell, I certainly admire his confidence on stage; when lights go up at the start of the show, they reveal O’Connell sat naked in the shower and this isn’t a one-time thing. Many asked the question: was it necessary? Perhaps not. Did he deliver with complete professionalism? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe these scenes will pave the way towards making nudity on stage less of a taboo.

His American accent, on the other hand, was a slightly different story and, although he was convincing at times, there were too many moments when I could detect his native undertones.

All in all, I can’t say that this production blew me away, despite some huge talent being involved in its creation. While I’m all for modern theatre, I feel that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was maybe one best left in the past – not literally, but certainly in terms of the production concept.

Approx. running time: 2 hour 45 mins
Understudies: none

Review: Disco Pigs at Trafalgar Studios

“Catching Colin’s eye is somewhat unnerving because, in that moment, it really is difficult to remember that he is not Pig.”


It’s been a while now, since I went to see Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell in Disco Pigs in Trafalgar Studio 2, but it’s fair to say that it still remains at the forefront of my mind.

First of all, let’s set the scene: Studio 2 is an incredibly intimate venue, with the capacity to hold just 98 people in the audience. Studio 2 has no stage – it’s merely a dark room, and those sat in the front row (as I was), literally have the performers just centimetres away from them. Let’s refer to it as ‘spitting distance away’ since, yes, I did actually get some spit on me at one point during the performance. I wonder if that counts as audience participation..?

An intense setting for an intense play. Perfect.

Once I’d become accustomed to feeling as though I was back in drama class at school (in terms of proximity to the actors, not their acting abilities), I next had to acclimatise myself to the accent and dialect used in the show.

To give a little background, Disco Pigs tells the story of two inseparable friends, born on the same day in the same hospital and raised in Cork, Ireland. So close are they, that they’ve created their own language, which certainly renders it a challenge making sense of the dialogue for the first 15 to 20 minutes of the show.

Just turned 17, ‘Pig’ and ‘Runt’ venture outside of the universe they’ve created inside their heads for the first time to the world of disco, and in no time at all, we witness them spiral out of control.

In their new-found world of disco and drink, they party like tomorrow is never going to come, revelling in a game whereby Runt seeks attention from other men before Pig marches over, acting the affronted boyfriend and confronting each man who has fallen prey to their manipulation.

Perhaps predictably, Pig’s fierce protectiveness over the girl he has grown up with turns to feelings of romance. When they finally make it to the Palace Disco – the one Runt has set her heart on – the latter is surprised to find herself enjoying attention from a certain male, all thoughts of game-playing forgotten. Pig, however, doesn’t realise it’s game over, and he can never come back from the result of his actions that follow.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the production’s British debut, both roles were impeccably cast. Evanna’s very aura makes her an intriguing figure to watch on stage, and she immerses herself in this role with clear passion and thirst to explore the character. Her vacant expressions combined with the strong delivery of her lines make the character as baffling as I assume she was meant to be. As an audience member, you wouldn’t be alone in wanting to be able to read Runt’s mind, simply because she is that eccentric.

With Colin, it couldn’t have been more obvious that he gave his all to the performance – the evidence was there to see, from the wild glint in his eye, to the sweat pouring down his face. While he and Evanna both make frequent eye contact with audience members, catching Colin’s eye is somewhat unnerving because, in that moment, it really is difficult to remember that he is not Pig. With his outbursts of anger, it feels dangerous to be in his presence, and I’m sure the audience member who had to move hastily out of the way when he sent a prop flying can account for that!

For a show with such basic production values – think minimal props and set, no special effects, just disco lighting and blaring music – Disco Pigs has an incredible way of drawing you right in and rendering you unable to look away. Although moments in the show lack clarity and leave you feeling confused, the enjoyment remains, and I for one left Trafalgar Studios wondering what the hell I’d just witnessed.

Approx. running time: 1 hour, no interval
Understudies: none




Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Palace Theatre

“Samuel – like Anthony Boyle before him – far outstrips all other cast members on stage, despite having a fraction of their experience.”


WARNING: contains spoilers.

Since opening officially in the West End last July, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has racked up so many awards that I’ve lost count, including a record-breaking nine Oliviers. The days where theatre critics and fans were sceptical of this show are little but a distant memory and – as an avid Potter fan for the last 16 years – I have to admit that I was overwhelmed to see the show essentially giving those sceptics the middle finger.

Last month, I was lucky enough to return to the Palace for my fourth visit to Cursed Child and my first time seeing the new cast. While it may be said that the original, Broadway-bound cast were a hard act to follow, I won’t be the first to have noticed that Year 2 are taking ownership of their characters and doing an absolutely incredible job.

I’ll start with Theo Ancient (Albus Potter) and Samuel Blenkin (Scorpius Malfoy) – the true stars of the show. When you’re watching these two on stage, it really is far too easy to forget that they are straight out of drama school, and that’s what makes their performances so impressive.

Theo perfectly portrays Albus’ vulnerabilities and insecurities, and succeeds in showing audiences a likeable side to Albus – something which I doubted possible after seeing Sam Clemmett truly bring out the bratty side to Harry’s youngest son several times (and that’s not to discredit Sam’s performance, he’s great, he just plays the character in a way I struggled to find likeable).

Samuel – like Anthony Boyle before him – far outstrips all other cast members on stage, despite having a fraction of their experience. Honestly, it’s a joy to watch Samuel every moment that he’s on stage – his mannerisms, quirks and comedic timing are perfect for the role, and he certainly knows how to pull on the heartstrings, too (I needn’t say any more than ‘library scene’.) If Samuel goes on to win the amount of critical acclaim Anthony did, it will be thoroughly well deserved.

When it comes to the leading man, I see Jamie Glover (Harry) as somewhat of a ‘middle ground’ between Jamie Parker (who was incredibly shouty) and Stuart Ramsay (Jamie Parker’s softly-spoken understudy). He touches upon Harry’s troubles with a certain amount of ferocity, while keeping his struggle with fatherhood entirely relatable.

And talking of fatherhood struggles brings me nicely onto James Howard’s portrayal of Draco. While I could write about this character all day, I’ll keep it reasonably brief: for me, James brought a regality to Draco that I absolutely believe to be realistic. Both the way he carries himself and the way he speaks are so controlled, and in many ways he allows the self-assurance Draco had in his early teenage years lives on. However, Draco is shrouded in darkness due to the loss of his wife, Astoria, and clearly doubting his abilities as a father, and I feel that James hits the nail on the head when it comes to his emotions – he goes above and beyond in showing Draco’s grief and inner conflicts, not to mention his love for Scorpius and determination to do right by him. And, despite everything, James delivers Draco’s lighter lines in such a way that it’s impossible not to laugh. For me, he brings the perfect portrayal of a Draco who has learnt from his mistakes and strives to be a better person, for the sake of his wife and son, while keeping sight of key character traits that make the character development entirely believable, including his sense of superiority and burning desire to mock those around him.

My last cast member mention goes to Rayxia Ojo, who deserves some understudy love for making her debut as Rose Granger-Weasley in this performance. She was confident and commanding on stage, which made her an all-round great fit for the role.

There are many aspects of this play beyond the performances that contribute hugely towards making it the success that it is. Firstly, Imogen Heap’s musical composition. Many people, particularly the less intense fans, go to see the Cursed Child expecting to hear the tune everybody best associates with Harry Potter: Hedwig’s Theme. In reality, what Imogen has brought to the table gives the show its own identity, allowing it to break free from the Potter stereotype. From soft melodies for emotional scenes, to the harsher sounds of the AU, the soundtrack felt like a breath of fresh air for the franchise when I first saw the show, and fast became one of my favourite parts.

The special effects – as you might expect (or at least hope for) with a show that revolves around magic – are out of this world. I don’t want to go into specifics here as it will give too much away, but the honest truth is that some of the effects still leave me with my jaw on the floor, and I’m the first person to admit that I’m difficult to impress.

For me, the only part of this show that leaves room for criticism is the script. While I’m able to enjoy this show time and time again, I feel that has very little to do with the script, many parts of which seem to me to be little more than fan service. From Scorpius’ entirely unbelievable crush on Rose, to Draco’s subtle attempts to flirt with Hermione despite the fact he’s still grieving for his dead wife, the show seems to give a nod to every OTP that exists. Jo Rowling’s (I’m assuming this was her input at she did it in the novels, too) apparent need to pair characters off (or at least make them all have romantic feelings for each other) is irritating, unnecessary and adds nothing to the story.

This aside, the predictability of Astoria’s death still hits a nerve with me, and the fact that the storyline largely revolves around time travel seems to be a desperate attempt to bring back characters that Jo feels bad about killing off, if only for several minutes. As for the Voldemort-is-Scorpius’-real-daddy thing, don’t even get me started…

All in all, I feel the outstanding cast and crew, both past and present, have done an absolutely amazing job of bringing an average-at-best script to life, and bringing us fans back to the heart of the world that world that we love so much using an entirely different medium. This show will inspire a younger generation of theatre-goers as the books did a younger generation of avid readers. I admire every single person involved, and I can’t wait to see it all again.

Approx. running time: Part I – 2 hours 45 with interval, Part II – 2 hours 30 with interval
Understudies: Rayxia Ojo (Rose Granger-Weasley) and Joshua Wyatt (roles including Karl Jenkins)
Closing date: open-ended, currently booking until July 2018


Review: Queen Anne at Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Cunniffe portrays Queen Anne’s fragility to perfection; she stoops, shakes and shies away from responsibility.”

QueenAnneTheatreRoyalHaymarketAfter reading mixed reviews from theatre critics, I was really unsure of what to expect from this RSC West End transfer, but I have to say I was mildly surprised.

Having learnt little history at school, I arrived at the theatre with no previous knowledge of Queen Anne, so for me, this production was almost like a sneak peek into British history and the life of one of our past monarchs.

The show revolves almost entirely around the seemingly healthy relationship between Queen Anne (Emma Cunniffe), and her close friend and confidant, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai). However, the relationship is soon revealed to be riddled with bitterness, jealousy, with infrequent hints at something beyond platonic friendship.

Plagued by multiple health issues, Anne heavily relies on Sarah for moral support, not only in the lead up to her coronation but once she is Queen, too. The Duchess is headstrong, self-assured, and certainly knows how to pull Anne’s strings in order to influence her decisions.

When the Queen strikes up an unlikely friendship with her servant – also the Duchess’ cousin – Abigail Hill (Beth Park), Sarah gets a case of the green-eyed monster, and is soon spreading slanderous rumours insinuating that the pair are a little more than just friends.

Before your eyes, you see Anne grow from a sickly woman, reluctant to fulfil her duties as the British monarch, into a woman much surer of her own mind.  Although never entirely independent, Anne becomes more confident in her ability to make decisions as she steps out of Sarah’s shadow.

Cunniffe portrays Queen Anne’s fragility to perfection; she stoops, shakes and shies away from responsibility – quite the opposite of Garai, who commandeers the stage and appears every inch the self-confident and manipulative figure that Sarah Churchill was.

Parodical songs performed by the wits at the Inns of Court offer a lighthearted (and rather crude) break between the more somber scenes shared by the two leading ladies.

All in all, this play succeeds in bringing a forgotten monarch to the forefront of people’s minds; the story is interesting and enjoyable, though perhaps not one of the biggest must-sees to hit the West End this year.

Approx. running time: 3 hours, including interval
Understudies: none that I’m aware of