Life Ain’t No Musical – The Remix

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I was privileged to see Life Ain’t No Musical by Act Now (the youth initiative of Cardboard Citizens)last year, my thoughts on it are here.

A year later a new cast tackle this musical about the challenges homeless youngsters face, with the same passion and pizzazz as their counterparts last year.

I saw it last night at a special performance in London’s City Hall. From our top floor room we could see the sprawling city. How many out there were going through what the youngsters were portraying as theatre for real tonight I wondered?

This isn’t a gloomy piece though, no it’s brimming full of hope.

As Adrian Jackson (Artistic Director of Cardboard Citizens) pointed out to us at the beginning of the evening, “Art can change the world“, and as Tony McBride (Director of Life Ain’t No Musical) reminded us, “art reflects the world too”.

This is a piece of theatre that reflects and changes the world. I’m honoured to have seen this fresh and vibrant cast perform it.

ps I really think Cardboard Citizens should release the music/script as I’m sure many youth theatres around the country would love to put this piece.

pps Cardboard Citizens relies on donations to allow their transformational theatre to take place, if you can, please go here and give generously.

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A Few Man Fridays by Adrian Jackson – Riverside Studios – Review

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Adrian Jackson’s latest play brings to life the true life story of a paradise lost, that of the Chagos Islanders. Never heard of them? Until Wednesday night I’d not heard of them either. Adrian Jackson has written a play about the island and more importantly the islanders who were evicted.

It’s told from the viewpoint of Prosper a mental health patient trying to piece together his past and his memories of people and dogs. Linked into this are his counsellor and her marine biologist husband. As we journey through the history of the islands we are confronted with the injustice the British and Americans have done and also how conservation can also be used as a political tool.

I spoken before about my admiration for Cardboard Citizens and the work they do and I’ve enjoyed the previous productions of theirs I’ve seen (for reviews see, here and here) . I always come away from them having learnt something and with this production it was the same. Their skill is that it never comes across as “preachy” or like it’s meant to be “educational”. That’s because it’s told through the stories of people. This isn’t a play about issues, it’s a play about people.

The island references came thick and fast, but the story is certainly timely with the Falkland Islands being in the news again this week. The play makes the grim but important point that the Falklands are inhabited by white people and have possible oil reserves. Diago Garcia was inhabited by black people and had no oil, perhaps this is why the British were not so interested at the time?

The cast give good performances, I thought Ansu Kabia was a strong lead as Prosper. The rest of the cast play numerous characters, Sharon Duncan-Brewster was exceptional, movingly so as Madame Talate and then switching to the smarmy and manipulative politician Peter a few scenes later (as well as other roles throughout too). Nicholas Khan is one of the highlights of Act 2 with an uncanny impression of a well-known person (no I’ll not tell you who it is, you’ll have to go and see it, as I don’t want to ruin the surprise). Johanna Allitt gives a tender performance as the Counsellor trying to help Prosper and her Conservationist husband is shown to be struggling with the options of conservation of a reef and it’s species over the human rights of a group of people by Alasdair Craig. Tom Hodgkins and Josian Fauzou support the play well with their numerous roles.

Act 2 is certainly the stronger of the Acts, and I do feel the play could do with a bit of editing to tighten it up and increase the pace in certain scenes. I like the staging and use of projections that range from Mickey Mouse, to coral reefs, to Maggie Thatcher! I especially liked the floating fish (pictured above). There is a scene where the dialogue is via comments being posted on YouTube which I thought was a very contemporary way of conducting dialogue.

So I recommend going to the Riverside Studios and catching this interesting piece of theatre.  You’ll come away having learnt more about the Chagos islanders and the islands history told in an entertaining and creative way.

STARS : * * * (and a half)

Three Blind Mice – Cardboard Citizens / Bola Agbaje – Toynbee Studios – Review

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Off I headed to Aldgate East on Wednesday night to see Three Blind Mice, I stopped at a cashpoint to get some money out to pop in the donations bucket for Cardboard Citizens and was amused to be given the following options by the  machine with regards which language I’d like; “English”, or “Cockney”!! In hindsight I wished I’d pushed the cockney option, perhaps next time.

The Toynbee Studios was heaving, a tangible atmosphere as we mingled prior to going into the theatre. I was amazed at what an amazing space/theatre the Toynbee Studios is. London has many theatrical gems tucked away in all sorts of places. This is a fabulous theatre, which I’m pleased to say was packed. I recognised a few faces in the audience, they were cast members of the previous Cardboard Citizen’s event Life ‘aint no Musical that I saw earlier this year. Adrian Jackson (Artistic Director) greeted us all and informed us this was the 30th out of 46 performances of this play. It’s been touring hostels prior to it’s two night at the Toynbee Studios and it’ll then finish off touring.

Forum Theatre is a slightly different form of theatre, developed by Augusto Boal. Cast Member Terry O’Leary explained the concept to us. It’s easy to understand, the play is performed straight through. Then we voted on which character/scene we wanted to focus on. The cast then started performing again but at ANY moment a person in the audience can shout out “STOP!”. The audience member then gets up and acts out how they would do things differently.

The play itself struck a chord with me as I have a close family member who lives in social housing and they had their own problems with mice and rats, just like these characters. We followed the mice as they worked their way through three flats and the human inhabitants they found in each one, and the issues each was facing. Cardboard Citizens felt it would be useful to have a play that looked at the issues people face when they go into their first house. Often this is when some of their real troubles begin. Bola Agbaje’s script contained the right amount of drama and fun and the cast performed superbly well the multiple roles they each took on. Jonathan Whitty, Shara Ismail, Helen Donoghue, Andre Skeete and Terry O’Leary, gave compelling and powerful performances.

Jonathan Whitty and Andre Skeete

Then it was on to the Forum Theatre part, what an experience! Again I must say how impressed I was by the cast. They not only perform a play they then have to improvise it with strange people on stage with them trying to change the play’s action. Their improvisational skills are some of the best I’ve seen. The suggestions from the audience ranged from the insightful, helpful, not so helpful and frankly hilarious. My personal favourite was a suggestion to take two of the protagonists onto the Jeremy Kyle show! Despite the serious issues being discussed, I found the Forum Theatre section to be absolutely joyous. I was surprised how we all engaged and Terry O’Leary’s experience as a Forum Theatre Joker showed. The Joker role acts as “chairman” of the Forum Theatre section – no mean feat with all that’s going on!

I left with an insight into the struggles that people face when they go into social housing and realising how powerful Forum Theatre can be in helping people look at consequences, actions and how they can change the course of their lives.

If you want to give an Xmas present which will make a difference, please visit their website and give as generously as you can.

Terry O'Leary - There's a Rat in the Flat!