Comedy Review: Dylan Moran @ Tyne Theatre & Opera House

March 30, 2016 2:00 pm
For more shows at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, visit the website here.
Reviewed by Nina Keen

See more reviews by young writers in the North East at Cuckoo Review.

Before the show even starts, curiously titled Off The Hook is already brilliant, as drawings and watercolours from the comedian’s various books are projected onto the back wall. They are surreal, interesting and often hilarious. The stage is still empty and already Dylan Moran seems to be nailing it.

As soon as he does come onstage and begins his signature mumble-grumble-build-up-into-strange-mumble-yelling, he’s so unique, so quintessentially ‘Dylan Moran’, that in the early stages of touring this show it must’ve almost felt almost like he was asking “Did you miss me?” to audiences. From political material about the EU to anecdotal stuff about getting older and grumpier, his self-conscious cynicism and bleakness ad absurdum, which have, of course, become his trademark, hit home run after home run.

His relentless misanthropy and almost aggressively sardonic phrasing work brilliantly for his material, giving even observational stuff on subjects that could otherwise feel a bit tired or over-done a genuine freshness and a real edge. Not everything is one hundred per cent original, naturally (sometimes, like when he talks about his wife and the differences between the two of them approaching an almost ‘her indoors’ feeling, his material suffers for it) but generally speaking, there’s a real sense when watching Dylan Moran that you really couldn’t be watching anyone else. His humour is intelligently blacker-than-black, and rather than simply opting for ‘did he really just say that?!’ punch lines laced with lazy shock ‘value’, he takes seriously heavy topics and moulds them into something comically absurd. His bit about “ISIS going well with cheese” ingeniously captures and reflects society’s desensitisation to real life horror.

Occasionally though, it feels like he does rely on a strangely blunt approximation of his character to make lazy jokes he couldn’t otherwise get away with. ‘Dylan Moran’ is so much more than a cantankerous old bugger who was once old before his time but is now growing comfortably into his cynicism; he’s a self-declared misanthrope who at least cares a little bit about other people and morality even though he claims not to care at all.

For the most part, though, Off The Hook is a very enjoyable and brilliantly crafted show. For the most part, it’s clever, it’s insightful and it’s very, very funny. Indeed, if instead of the two sections of forty minutes it were an hour-long show with some of the more obvious material taken out the audience would be happier for it. His tone and his presence are so excellent that he manages to make things like bringing himself back on track after a tangential rant and even pausing to check the time downright hilarious. His delivery, which varies from muttering to yelling (yet always somehow mumbling), is unique and brilliant, as is the way he crafts his comedy. If only that were all there is to it.

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THEATRE REVIEW: Stowaway @ Customs House, South Shields

27th February 2016
See more events from the Customs House on their website
Review by: Carla Melanco
Read more reviews by young writers in the North East on Cuckoo Review

Entering the Customs House studio, I was not completely sure what to expect, but having seen studio plays at venues such as Live Theatre, I knew that this style of show could have a lot to offer, and can often present insightful, moving topics to small audiences from a simplified stage setting.

Stowaway, performed by Analogue Theatre, tells the story – or rather parts of the story – of Aditya, an Indian man who is constantly searching for a better life. As a plane descends into Heathrow airport, the wheels unfold and Andy looks up at it from a nearby B&Q car park. He notices something falling towards him. It is the frozen body of a man, Aditya, who crashes into the ground. The rest of the play deals with the before and after of this man’s life, presenting it’s audience with some tough questions.

Rather than tell the whole story of his life chronologically, the play – written and directed by Hannah Barker and Lewis Hetherington – begins with the death of the man and works back over, taking snippets of his life, told through different narratives and points of view. Initially set onboard a Boeing 777, entering the theatre we were met with a soundscape of announcements and background noise from inside an aeroplane. As the play began to get going, it was clear that this was a fairly physical piece of theatre; the opening sequence, largely without dialogue, was more like a contemporary dance piece than a conventional, dialogue-heavy play. However, it worked; it set the scene of the plane and suggested the sense of claustrophobia and small annoyances one encounters on an aircraft, while also hinting at the constantly changing times and locations of the play.

Telling the story of one man’s struggle to change his life, Stowaway hits on many topical issues relevant to our society. With the constant presence of the migrant crisis in today’s media, Stowaway effectively presents the sense of desperation – but also hope – that migrants moving to the UK or anywhere else for that matter, are likely to feel. Although the idea of a frozen body falling through the sky may seem like a remote possibility, we need only look back a few months to find a real life example of a strikingly similar situation, and suddenly it seems all the more poignant for us today.

Similarly, the play also represents the struggle for workers, particularly in third world countries where pay is low and workplace rights are very loosely enforced. With part of the play set on the building site of a tall skyscraper, supposedly the greatest spectacle of modern engineering in Dubai, it screamed of the corrupt, selfish and money-led organisations that actively exploit workers’ rights for financial gain. The skyscrapers themselves, towering, imposing structures in the audience’s minds, seemed to act as a metaphor for the cutthroat, ruthless idea of the survival of the fittest which workers are seemingly bound to at the moment.

On another level, the playful conversations our protagonist, Aditya, has with his sister, add a level of sincerity, background and vulnerability to his character. He is a boy with big dreams and a lot of hope, and the dialogue with his sister, set on the beach of their home town, added an element of lightheartedness to this otherwise rather serious piece. Also, it touched on the idea of contentment with life, challenging the idea that we should always strive for more, suggesting that perhaps the greatest prize of all is satisfaction with life as it is.

Though it was at first difficult to get in tune with the changing scenes and dialogue, after the initial moment of readjustment, the interwoven storyline created a fast paced piece, told through the eyes of many characters, highlighting the role of the media in third-party retellings of the story. Performed with only four actors, three chairs, two microphones and one piece of scaffolding, the show was constantly changing, taking snippets of scenes and conversations and characters and bringing them together to form a cohesive thread. The result was impressive; far from the chaos one might expect this to cause, it created an interesting, thought-provoking play with interwoven threads of backstory that are pieced together to form a character who, although actually dead, we sympathise with retrospectively.

Leaving the theatre, my head was buzzing with questions: how many more migrants have died like this? Is it right to turn a blind eye? But then, what gives anyone the right to tell his or her story? Is it dangerous to strive for something better, or should we be content with what we have?

Far from telling the story of just one man, Stowaway delves into many areas of morality in politics, in the media and on a personal level, making its audience consider, not only the wider picture of migration and poverty, but also the real, human feelings behind how and why someone would risk their life to reach another country. Thought-provoking and moving, this is a marvellous example of what studio theatre can be.

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THEATRE REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show @ Sunderland Empire

20th February 2016
See more at the Sunderland Empire website
Review by: Chloe Allan
Read more from young writers in the North East on Cuckoo Review

Ever since I was young and my uncle secretly let me borrow his worn out copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (unbeknownst to my mam who had prohibited me) I have been hooked on it. I lent it to my friends and slowly but surely we ensured this cult classic earned a place in the hearts of our friendship group, so much so that myself, my sister and ‘out’ friend Ellen quote it to each other every day; at this point Rocky Horror seems to have slipped into our every day dialogue. As we took our seats, my sister and I could hardly contain our excitement for a spectacular night of eighties glam, glitter and sequins.

I’ve always craved the opportunity to see this live but I didn’t quite know what to expect from a live performance: drag queens, Tim Curry, spandex? All I know now is the show provided everything an audience could wish for in abundance, with a healthy dollop of corsets and science fiction thrown in for good measure.

Rumours had reached me beforehand relating to the show’s emphasis on audience participation, but I thought very little of it. However, as I took my seat and the curtains were drawn, someone next to me shouted an obscene innuendo at the stage and I was so embarrassed. I remember looking along the row to gaze at everyone else’s reactions but no one seemed to mind – actually they joined in, even the actors. The narrator’s amazing sense of improvisation guided the narrative, giving the audience as much ad lib as possible to make the show participatory. At the same time, he was deft in knowing when the narrative needed to continue. As the performance drew on, the audience showed no reserve in shouting at the stage, myself included, with the encouragement of the actors.

With a truly engaging Frank N. Furter, it was more taxing to resist the encouragement to participate then to give in. To be honest, the most challenging aspect of watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show was sourcing the will power to resist reciting the script on behalf of the actors and dancing alongside them. Luckily, however, movement was encouraged and the audience all danced ‘The Time Warp’ together.

I could talk about how the performance was faithful to the 1975 adaptation while still allowing the actors space to experiment with their characters or of the massive talent on display from the whole cast but there is so much more to the show than that. Most of the people who attended this performance will have done so more than once (I’m sure I’ll become one of them), and the fact that row upon row of audience members are still showing up laced in glitter, squeezing into corsets after all these years proves the adoration people feel towards The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can completely see why. For so many people to brave the last metro back from Sunderland to wherever they were heading dressed as Magenta or Riff Raff really goes to prove how special this show is to people.

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THEATRE REVIEW: Get Carter @ Northern Stage

20th February 2016
Review by: Sam Grist
Get Carter runs until 5th March. See the Northern Stage website for details.
See the Cuckoo Review website for more reviews by young writers in the North East.

Having been such a huge fan of the film, I was thrilled to the chance to watch Get Carter, the region’s most notorious cinematic experience come to life on stage.

A seemingly endless pile of bricks rising up out of sight alongside some wonderful lighting gave the impression of an orange tinted sunset. This created the vibe of Newcastle being a cold, hard, gritty city – fitting for the time. It was hard not to be taken aback by such an epic setting. One aspect that really grabbed my attention, though, was the coffin at the front of the stage.

The play was a tense, angry affair from the opening moment to the last, filled with long monologues, and of course, plenty of swearing. The plot largely drifts away from the film and offers a fresh take on the original novel Jack Returns Home by Ted Lewis. The focus this time is mostly on creating an internal struggle in the cruel realities of North East England, as opposed to showing off the perfect assassin that Michael Caine plays in the film. The central character here is even less redeemable, however, and actually comes across as a psychopath a lot of the time – an insane man in an insane world. Noteworthy also, and perhaps unsurprising, is that the play shows its world through language a lot more than the film does. Viewers of the film might remember a lot of fighting and action but much of that is cut here.

Artistic director Lorne Campbell and playwright Torben Betts deserve full credit for recreating this world; the decision to have the late Frank Carter follow Jack around through for the whole play was a wonderfully creative touch which really made apparent the internal struggle of the main character.

Much of the play gave off the impression of new, engaging theatre at its best but it isn’t without flaws; it can sometimes get bogged down in a scene and can be a little dull when waiting for the next piece of information that drives the plot to come along. However, this could be down to the fact everyone is already familiar with the story, making us more impatient to find out the next twist that will drive the action.

Somewhere between the character development and words of this play and the non-stop action of the 1971 film lies the best way to capture this thrilling, gripping tale that will allow it to truly shine. Having said that, any theatre piece which can take your breath away and have you fully submersed within minutes is definitely the type of play I like to see.

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THEATRE REVIEW: Peppa Pig’s Surprise @ Darlington Civic Theatre

Saturday 6th February
Review by: A.T. Hills
See more tour dates for Peppa Pig’s Surprise

As soon as children hear the distinct ‘Peppa Pig *snort*’ theme tune on the television, it sends them stir crazy with anticipation of the latest episode (or is that just my kids?) and the Peppa Pig live show at Darlington Civic Theatre at the weekend was no exception. The crowd wasn’t just alive with the sound of grumbling children, but was more of an electric anticipatory atmosphere as we eagerly awaited the big tummy of Daddy Pig and the wailing cries of Baby George and his scary green dinosaur to enter the stage.

With my eight and five year olds in tow, they were on the edge of their seats when the presenter of the show, Daisy, came out front and centre on stage in search of Peppa and her friends. With her child-friendly squeaky voice, jolly dance moves and early crowd participation, the kids (and probably some parents too!) were whooping and waving like crazy as Daisy tried to play hide and seek with Peppa, Susie Sheep and Pedro Pony. The premise of the show was that Mummy and Daddy Pig had a big surprise in store and the crowd joined in with the songs and dancing along the way in the build up to the big surprise.

Now one particular song about splashing in muddy puddles, which every Peppa aficionado will know is her favourite pastime, was accompanied by water jets at the side of the stage squirting the crowd in the stalls every time the word ‘splash’ was said – and let me tell you that there were quite a few! It made me glad that we had seats in the heavens because those poor people, however much they were laughing, must’ve had quite the soaking by the end of the routine. However, one downside to sitting up so high was that the illusion of the characters was spoilt a little, as you could see more of the puppeteers moving the characters around than you could see the actual characters. I think if I went again, I’d certainly sit at least in the lower tier, if not the stalls. But, the kids had a wonderful time regardless so I can’t complain at all.

There was one particular scene, when the family are spending time beside the sea, where the theatre was enveloped in black and UV lights and dancing fish, jellyfish and one particularly funny crab were flying around on the stage. After having returned from our family holiday to Walt Disney World in Florida late last year, this part of the show was very reminiscent of Disney’s Under The Sea show, which sees Ariel and her underwater friends dancing around on stage in UV lights. My kids absolutely adored this part of the show.

The whole thing lasted for an hour and a half, with a small interval, and all in all it was a really cute show for kids. Lots of crowd participation, songs (including the Peppa Pig favourite of Bing Bong Boo, sans Madame Gazelle sadly) that had the words on stage for everyone to sing along to, while Daisy the presenter made this a hit for the youngsters and their parents. In fact, my daughter whispered during the show and summed it up perfectly for me. She said: “Mamma, this show makes me so happy.” So there you have it: happiness personified by a five year old for Peppa Pig Live!

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THEATRE REVIEW: Land of Our Fathers @ Live Theatre, Newcastle

1st February 2016
Review by: Sam Grist for Cuckoo Review
Image: Polly Thomas
See more reviews by young writers for Cuckoo Review by clicking here.

A show about mining in the North East is always going to go down well, and I strolled up to the matinee performance of The Land of Our Fathers having been unable to get an evening ticket. It was an older crowd, due to the earlier start time, and I’m pretty sure none of us really expected to see the spectacle we had in store. Well, perhaps almost everyone as the gentleman sitting next to quipped to his wife “Welsh buggers down a mine, bloody hell there will be singing.” Practically not a second passed between that and the Welsh hymn sang to open the proceedings.

A play about six miners trapped in a mine, all of different ages, this was heart-warming, enjoyable, dark and tragic all at the same time, yet there is so much more to say about Chris Urch’s play. One of the more creative ways to use lighting in theatre was on display here, with very vivid, dark stage lights being applied to some scenes, while in others the stage descended into complete darkness. The meagre light reflecting off the actors’ hard hats was certainly intuitive.

Along with this, there were some fantastic acting displays and some wonderful writing on offer, particularly in the monologues towards the end. It added up to one vital theme that ran through this play from the first moment to the last: the feeling of being trapped. The overwhelming sense of being stranded underground with no knowledge of the outside world, being forced to live in close quarters with five other men was prominent throughout. This allowed the to flow drama as our character’s deepest secrets were revealed to the audience.

The use of so many different perspectives was a great touch. We got a sense throughout of each character’s views on politics, culture, society, community and more, and this really built up a picture of the time and place in which they live. We get the full range of experiences from our old and young cast, with one character on his first day and another just days off retirement. This added a number of different viewpoints but the same fears in terms of dying down in that cold, dark room. It’s such an emotive spectacle for the audience to see.

A wonderful play that has been building a head of steam for the last few years, a massive well done must be given to the production company behind it. It’s a definite must see just to understand exactly what the mining industry meant to industrialised sections of the UK in only the recent past.

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FILM REVIEW: Room @ Tyneside Cinema

Currently showing at Tyneside Cinema.

See more reviews by young people on Cuckoo Review.

Imagine being locked in a room for seven years, your only point of contact with the outside world being your abusive abductor. Imagine spending the first five years of your life trapped in this room, convinced that there was nothing outside. This is the story of Room directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, the author of the original novel on which it is based.

Room focusses on Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) who was abducted at the age of seventeen by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) and locked in his garden shed. Joy has a five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who is a product of rape by Old Nick. After seven years stuck in ‘Room’ Joy decides enough is enough and attempts to free them both from the confines of the hell in which they inhabit.

Understandably, this film is a difficult watch due to its extremely upsetting subject matter, but as it focusses more on the relationship between Joy and Jack, it is an ultimately rewarding watch. The fact that Old Nick is barely even in the film is a wonderful touch, as it helps presents the horror of the story in a more nuanced way, building a sense of dread, and making the film even more powerful in its attack. With so much left to the imagination, this film is mostly seen through Jack’s eyes, which, in parts, makes it all the more devastating, as he does not fully comprehend his terrible situation.

All the performances in Room are great, but the standouts are Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson inhabits the character of Joy perfectly, realistically portraying her horrifying situation, while also nailing her adjustment to freedom in the second half of the film. Tremblay gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen, if not the best. His commitment to the role and the fact that his performance is wholly convincing is brilliantly captivating. He is definitely one to watch in the future. However, the best scenes are probably when Larson and Tremblay are together; their chemistry and bond is so strong that you could be fooled into thinking they are actually mother and son.

Being nominated for four Oscars and also picking up a few other gongs over the awards season, Room is clearly a triumph by both Abrahamson and Donoghue. With nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Larson this film is definitely one to see. Do not be put off by the heavy subject matter, as this is unlike any other kidnap film, shifting focus to an extraordinary relationship between mother and son. It is an emotionally challenging film, but definitely rewarding in the end. Its nuanced nature is a masterstroke, creating one of the best films I have ever seen. Even though Room came out of nowhere, it is definitely going to stick around.


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