Lucy Popescu

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Posts Tagged ‘Arcola Theatre’

Theatre Review – Not Talking

Posted by lucypopescu on May 9, 2018

Not Talking by Mike Bartlett

In stressful situations it is often easier to keep quiet, to say nothing.

Mike Bartlett’s bittersweet drama about the perils of not talking is given its stage premiere 12 years after it was first conceived and adapted for radio. James Hillier’s fast-paced production, Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting and nuanced performances help ensure its successful transition to stage.

James (David Horovitch) and Lucy (Kika Markham) have enjoyed a long marriage and an apparently contented life in Sussex. But painful events are not spoken of and they have never shared their grief over an early loss that marked them both. Furthermore, Lucy has kept silent on something that might have destroyed their marriage and transformed James’s life forever.

 Amanda (Gemma Lawrence) and Mark (Lawrence Walker) are two young soldiers who become romantically involved while waiting to be posted to Iraq. Their mutual silence about a terrible act and an abuse of power eventually drives a wedge between them.

Lucy and Amanda find solace in playing the piano, in particular a piece by Chopin. For them, music replaces words and helps alleviate powerful emotions. When James learns of the secret Lucy has been harbouring for a lifetime he takes action and his fate becomes intertwined with those of the two soldiers with unexpected consequences.

Bartlett’s skill as a writer is very much in evidence in this early work. Monologues overlap, time is temporarily suspended as two characters describe the same memory, Chopin’s prelude is a powerful motif and the plot threads are pulled neatly together at the end. As his play amply demonstrates, it pays to talk.

Arcola Theatre

Until 2 June

020 7503 1646

 Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre review – Thebes Land

Posted by lucypopescu on September 15, 2017

THIS terrific meta-theatrical play by Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco memorably opens the 10th CASA Latin American Theatre Festival.

Superbly translated by Rob Cavazos, adapted and directed by Daniel Goldman, Thebes Land succeeds on many levels. I’d love to see more by this playwright.
T (Trevor White), wants to write and stage a play about Martin (Alex Austin), who is serving a life sentence for a brutal patricide. T begins visiting Martin in prison in an attempt to understand his motivations for stabbing his father 21 times with a fork. Initially, the “Ministry of Justice” tells T that Martin can play himself in his Arcola production.

Then this is deemed too dangerous, they reverse their decision and, T has to employ an actor to play the role. RADA student, Freddie (Austin) is auditioned and cast and he begins to makes his own suggestions as to how the play and his character should develop.

Jemima Robinson’s imposing giant cage, complete with CCTV, dominates the stage. This serves as Martin’s prison, the basketball court where he meets T and the rehearsal space.

T enjoys referencing classic texts, art and music from Sophocles’ Theban plays, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Franz Kafka and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 in C major. These references mean nothing to Martin and therein lies much of Blanco’s humour – how stories are constructed and interpreted to meet our own needs.

The play is also semi-autobiographical – as T and Freddie add their own creative ideas to the production, elements of Austin and White’s personal backgrounds are cleverly exploited.

The end result is funny, caustic, poignant and profound. Don’t miss.

020 7503 1646

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre Review – Combustion

Posted by lucypopescu on June 18, 2017

Asif Khan, last seen at the Arcola performing Hassan Abdulrazzak’s one-man show Love, Bombs and Apples, has turned his hand to writing and his remarkable debut Combustion, about a small group of British Muslims and their response to Islamophobia, is a tour de force.

Set in modern-day Bradford, a group of Asian men have been imprisoned for grooming a young white girl for sex. The consequences for the girl and her family have been devastating and tensions are running high. The English Defence League is up in arms and has planned a protest march.

Shaz (Beruce Khan) owns a car repair garage, works hard and is looking forward to getting married. He tries to keep out of trouble, but business is suffering and his feisty younger sister, Samina (Shireen Farkhoy) is intent on speaking at the counter demonstration led by the Muslim community.

Nervous about the reaction of his prospective in-laws, Shaz tries to prevent Samina from continuing her activities with the local peace organisation and becomes increasingly controlling. Meanwhile, Samina finds an unlikely supporter in Andy (Nigel Hastings) a former EDL member who switches sides.

In Nona Shepphard’s fast paced production, Shaz’s two mechanics provide much of the humour. Cocksure Ali (Rez Kempton) has his eye on Samina while Faisal (Mitesh Soni) yearns for someone kind to marry and thinks he’d be safer in Pakistan.

Khan treats his sensitive subject with both humour and intelligence. His nuanced characters and clever plot twists keep us guessing to the end and the play’s dark denouement is truly shocking. Smart and topical, Combustion is a must see during these troubled times.

Arcola Theatre

Running until 24 June                                 

Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre review – The Plague

Posted by lucypopescu on April 22, 2017


The Plague After La Peste by Albert Camus

Adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett

Arcola Theatre, Running until 6 May

Box Office: 020 7503 1646


Albert Camus’s 1947 novel describes the effects of a plague in the French Algerian city of Oran. Some claim La Peste was inspired by the cholera epidemic that ravaged Oran in 1849, others thought it was about the Nazi occupation during World War II. This ambivalence is part of the story’s power and one that Neil Bartlett fully recognises in his engaging, multi-layered production.

Played out on a largely bare stage, Bartlett’s adaptation opens with five characters sitting behind a table at some sort of official enquiry. They begin to share their experiences. The first sign of the impending catastrophe is the discovery of rats’ corpses. Then people start to die and the authorities fail to take decisive action.

Dr Rieux (Sara Powell) works tirelessly to save lives but there are other, less scrupulous characters. Rambert (Billy Postlethwaite) is a journalist more interested in escaping the city’s lockdown to be reunited with his girlfriend than reporting the truth while Mr Cottard (Joe Alessi), a petty criminal, tries to turn events to his advantage and make money smuggling desperate people out of the city.

I was reminded of the HiNi pandemic, the Ebola outbreak and the current refugee crisis. What Bartlett draws out are the human responses to tragedy – some kind, others cruel, or self-serving. But as Dr Rieux remarks, the most merciful act is “to speak up and bear witness; to make sure that there is at least some memory of the injustices and violences that are done to people…” It’s a poignant piece of theatre with particular relevance to our troubled times.


Originally published by Camden Review

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Theatre Review – Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre

Posted by lucypopescu on March 20, 2015

ShrapnelIn December 2011, thirty-four unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in an isolated mountain village on the Turkish-Iraqi border. The group of traders and their mules had been picked up by a Predator drone. The Americans passed on the intelligence to the Turkish military who, claiming they were terrorists, gave the order to bomb them. Nineteen of the victims were children. The Roboski massacre is the subject of Anders Lustgarten’s compelling political drama, performed in English with Turkish surtitles.

Matching the number of dead, thirty-four short, fragmented scenes are played out on a traverse stage, bare except for a table and chairs. A huge screen dominates the action, depicting the convoy being followed by military drones. They include diesel smugglers Husnu (Aslam Percival Husain) and his fourteen-year old nephew Savas (Josef Altin). Throughout the play’s seventy-five minutes, the ensemble cast share the names of all thirty-four victims of the aerial bombardment. Some, we learn, were teenagers who had engaged in small-scale smuggling to pay for their education.

We’re also shown an arms manufacturer extolling the virtues and profitability of modern warfare and two workers in an arms factory, seemingly unaware that the devices they construct might kill innocent civilians. Two journalists (both played by Karina Fernandez) offer different perspectives on the massacre; one toes the party line, demonising the Kurdish people, the other attempts to report the truth.

Shrapnel is impressively acted and Mehmet Ergen’s gripping production packs a visceral punch.

At Arcola Theatre until 2 April

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Originally published in Camden Review



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Theatre review – Ghost from a Perfect Place

Posted by lucypopescu on September 29, 2014

ghostYou can see why Philip Ridley’s Ghost from a Perfect Place would have shocked audiences at Hampstead Theatre when it premiered there twenty years ago. The play encompasses the sexual abuse of children, torture and murder among other examples of human cruelty. At the time, the Guardian‘s Michael Billington called it “degrading and quasi-pornographic in its use of violence”. This is its first major revival to date and Ridley’s searing drama has lost none of its power.

Mobster Travis Flood (Michael Feast) has returned to his East End stomping ground some twenty-five years after his hasty departure. He visits Torchie Sparks (Sheila Reid) in her dingy, fire-scorched flat with a view to meeting her grand-daughter Rio (Florence Hall). Back in the 1960s, Travis ruled the roost, extorting protection money. He was known for his sharp suits and the white lily he always wore in his lapel. His careful grooming was in sharp contrast to the casual violence meted out by himself and his gang. Travis clearly wreaked people’s lives but glorifies his past, proudly handing Torchie a book about his reign of terror.

Travis can’t recall having met Torchie before so she attempts to jog his memory with a series of anecdotes. Gradually her recollections become darker. The “heydays” of the past were not such a “perfect place”, after all, and Torchie is keen to tell Travis about her own share of heartache. Finally, she reveals how their lives were connected and remain irretrievably intertwined.

In the play’s second half, Rio, head of a girl gang, and two of her followers, Miss Sulphur (Scarlett Brookes) and Miss Kerosene (Rachel Redford), proceed to taunt Travis, who is now gagged and tied to a chair. As Travis is forced to receive a taste of his own medicine, Ridley drives home the point that violence begets violence.

Russell Bolam rises to the challenge of directing two very different halves. In the first, he uses the characters’ dialogue and their sly humour to create an atmosphere of Pinteresque menace. The tension is only unleashed in the second half with the girls’ high octane performances.

Ghost from a Perfect Place is about the fetishisation of violence. Ridley combines stark prose with allegorical flourishes: In a clever twist, he turns the memory of a dead teenager into a quasi-religious cult while the elements of fire and water are a recurring motif. Aptly this revival is at the Arcola, within spitting distance of the play’s setting.

Originally published by TheArtsShelf

Running at the Arcola until 11 October

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