Sunked by Chris White – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

As part of this Easter’s LAB season, writer and performer Chris White brought Sunked to Theatre Royal. The play skilfully blends poetry, music, spoken word, and James Cameron. Opening with the audio of a phone call from his co-star, informing Chris that he’ll no longer be performing the play, we get off to an awkward start. But it works, making Chris even more endearing. Chronicling his attempts to raise the Titanic while avoiding the wrath of James Cameron and Celine Dion, the play’s nicest moments are Chris discussing his relationship with his mother. The bizarre other additions are a lot of fun to watch but this familial relationship is the play’s heart. Chris is an incredibly talented wordsmith, I particularly enjoyed the section involving some Beautiful South references. I challenge anyone to see this and not leave feeling buoyed.

Slight tangent here – but I saw a previous review that suggested the use of swearing undermined the performance. For me, swearing isn’t inherently offensive. It’s dependent on context and nothing in the context of delivery here seemed offensive. Swearing in my opinion can enhance a message rather than undermine it, which I felt it did here. I understand that different people have different thresholds for offence, I was just very surprised that anyone could feel offended by such an amiable performer. It seemed a strange critique of a wonderful play*.

I guess don’t see it if you’re sensitive to usage of ‘bad’ language? You’d be missing out though. Chris White is an interesting, engaging performer, sure to have a bright future ahead of him.

*I should note, the rest of the review was on point. Just one lil section on swearing that confused me.

49 Donkeys Hanged

49 Donkeys Hanged by Carl Grose – The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I was very excited to see 49 Donkeys Hanged as I’ve been involved in the production since I first began my placement at TRP. I should stress that by involved I mean I did some low level admin type stuff for it. But I’d read the script ages ago, seen the design models develop and read all the rehearsal reports. I thought it was shaping up to be something special and I was right.

The Drum has had all of its seats removed, replaced by scattered hay bales to draw us into the strange world of Bosanko Farm. The play is a promenade piece, so you can follow the action around and get as up close as you want. Some chose to sit on the strewn hay bales but for me, the ability to move around and change vantage point made for a great experience. Inspired by a headline Carl Grose saw whilst traveling in South Africa, the play takes place on a run-down farm in Ventongimps, Cornwall. The characters are closely married to their Cornish environment with local references and in jokes aplenty – unsurprising given that Carl Grose himself is Cornish. We follow the tale of Stanley Bray, a struggling farmer mysteriously compelled to commit the strange task of hanging 49 donkeys. He is as confused about why as we are. Bray’s wife, Joy hasn’t left the house for 30 years following the disappearance of their son Bobby. The two threads of the plot come together in a surprising twist, raising questions about storytelling itself and who really owns our histories.

Despite the gruesome title the play is hilarious, with particularly strong comic performances from Will Hartley as Carl Grose and Ed Gaughan as Stanley Bray. The Drum is choc full of atmosphere and music provided by Dom Coyote (roving the audience as Randy Williams) will be caught in your head for days.

It’s such a fun piece, highly recommend you see it!

49 Donkeys Hanged also had a writer’s response evening.  Following Thursday’s performance Theatre Royal presented three short response pieces. The evening came about following a call out to local writers. Eleven responded and were invited to see the play, with 48 hours to write their own ‘response’ piece. Writers chose to interpret the idea of a response in many different ways, from introducing the characters to new environments, suggesting what may have occurred in the future for Grose’s characters, to creating entirely separate pieces inspired by the play’s themes. From these submissions, three were chosen to be performed by the 49 Donkeys Hanged actors.

The chosen pieces were some of the ones who had opted for entirely separate stories. The three plays were very impressive, particularly given the limited turnaround time the writers had. It was interesting to see what people perceived the play’s strongest themes to be. The writers chosen were Sam Parker, Mich Sanderson and Alex Robins. By chance, all three of those chosen have been involved with TRP’s LAB company scheme, which I think demonstrates the strength of the talent TRP is nurturing. It was a great end to the evening and something I really hope we continue to do.



IdeasLAB – The LAB, Theatre Royal Plymouth

IdeasLAB is a sort of scratch night offered by Theatre Royal Plymouth. It allows local creatives to showcase early stage work and get a feel for how it could develop. I saw 4 fifteen minute extracts, all of which were impressive in their own way. It was my first experience of filling out feedback forms for a show. I have a feeling most of my feedback was essentially useless, I’m not great at deciding what I think spur of the moment. I really enjoyed the night though. It’s a great example of what TRP is doing to help develop talent in the area. It was also another chance for me to experience something new. I’ve never attended a scratch night or anything like it before but it’s something I’ll be doing a lot more often now!

The pieces I saw were:

Efferus Collective’s Pithed – a dance piece inspired by the case of a woman who lost all sense of proprioception. It was unsettling at times, with some great live drumming to accompany it.

FullRogue’s WILD SWIMMING A Brief and benighted history. – an extract from a play (I think!) discussing gender roles throughout history, told through the lens of a couple on a beach, possibly going for a swim.

Chris White and Poppy Pedder’s KIN – inspired by Black Mirror this short play presented a dystopian future where humans are permanently linked to someone, their KIN. It presented how loneliness can creep in, even within a close relationship. Despite dark themes it was funny throughout.

Alex Robbins’ Bear With Me – Ostensibly the story of a writer getting his leg caught in a bear trap and coming to tell us the tale. It blurred the lines between truth and fiction, what was performance and what wasn’t. And featured some honey eating bears.

I’ve added in those fairly dry descriptions of plot because the pieces were all in their very early stages. I figured it’d be a bit of a dick move to be writing reviews of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of the pieces develop from here.

La Forza Del Destino

La Forza Del Destino by Verdi – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I don’t really know what to say about this. The Welsh National Opera is clearly formed of some very talented individuals. The power of their voices is impressive and the orchestra all sounded great. I loved the set design. But I was also bored stiff for the majority of the performance. Even with surtitles (which weren’t always working) and the programme’s synopsis I struggled to follow what was happening. There’d be wild applause for some sections, more muted applause for others and I couldn’t tell what was any different. I had no idea what was eliciting the extra cheers. This is the first opera I’ve ever seen, so I have a feeling a lot of me not enjoying it stemmed from me not understanding the conventions of opera. I’m glad I saw it, as it’s something I’ve never experienced before. I just didn’t especially enjoy it, which made me feel very guilty as I feel like it’s something I should have appreciated more. The whole experience made me feel like a bit of a rube really! – Through no fault of the WNO I might add!