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: 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.”

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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