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‘Brings some cheer to dull January days’: PRESS PLAY HERE – Theatre Royal Stratford East (Online review)

Here’s a novel presentation idea from Stratford East Theatre. We definitely can’t go to the venue at the moment, so instead the venue has come out to us  in the form of a diagram map with several of the rooms containing a short, filmed performance. They’ve called it Press Play Here – because that’s what you do – and it features a couple of monologues, a mini musical, a condensed cabaret and even a potted panto. I’m a bit behind the curve in reviewing this simply because it got rather buried at the bottom of my inbox in a flurry of email which arrived just before Christmas but I’m glad to say it still has another month to run so plenty of time to catch up.

The idea is that you can watch the pieces on separate occasions or simply work your way round in a random order. I decided to do the latter and figuring that any performance needs to be preceded by some practice I headed first for “the rehearsal room”. This contained a monologue Romani Girl written by Ambreen Razia and performed by Fatima Abukar. This was a good opener (but, hey, you make your own choices), simply because it started with the doors to the theatre bursting open and the character of 16-year-old Aisha rapidly taking us on a tour of the whole, deserted, building.

While it’s quite sad to see the empty space it at least gives Abukar plenty of space around which to race while telling her story of loyalty, friendship and families. The piece ends on the roof of the building where the protagonist must make a difficult choice. Abukar gives an assured performance for one so young and dominates the spaces in which she is playing. Truth to tell I didn’t always keep up with the modern youthspeak terminology, but the action carried the piece even when words were eluding me.

Next, I went to Le Cabaret De Rien (literally the cabaret of nothing) both written and performed by Alexander Luttley. This was a clever little piece which captured the ennui of lockdown with Luttley becoming increasingly bored and restless until they make a toy theatre. This fuels the imagination (well, theatre does that, doesn’t it?) and they start to imagine a proper theatrical space (the Stratford East stage) with them on it. Inspired to pay tribute to icon Vera Lynn, they do so in style. Mo in the mini musical Meet Mo by Leo Butler is similarly disenchanted with lockdown especially being separated from her granddaughter. The piece is performed by Jenny Galloway and shows how her imagination also takes flight until she’s brought back down to earth with a bump. The piece ends ambiguously but not before Galloway has given us full value for our 15 minutes.

I’m not sure whether well-known actor Nick Holder has played a panto dame before but on the evidence of the piece Jack And The Beanstalk he definitely should. It’s like writer Robert Hyman has taken all the best panto gags he can find (and by best, I of course mean worst) and turned them into a 20 minute stand up performance for Holder to fire off – no mean feat when there isn’t an audience to react. It’s actually quite poignant when one recalls all those cancelled pantos up and down the land, but tradition is upholdered (see what I did there?) until next season rolls round when, if the fates allow… The final piece was, perhaps the strangest as writer/performer Daniel Ward extolled the praises of Ribena, a real constant in our ever-changing world.

Celebrating the venue itself as well as the talent that plays at Stratford East, the show is ably directed by Sita Thomas and Eva Sampson. Press Play Here is mostly undemanding fun obviously designed with Christmas in mind, but which brings some cheer to dull January days. And, at least, it gets you out of the house and back in a theatre – even if it is only virtually.

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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