Listen at The Etcetera Theatre 25th August 2012
Coming, as I do, from the north, I am somewhat immune to the 'grim up north' stylings of playwrights such as Jim Cartwright, Willy Russell and John Godber. They have a point to some degree, but don't have a monopoly on working class misery. It's rather refreshing, then, to see a fringe production tackling the disenfranchisement in London, with infinitely more care and attention than, say, EastEnders.

Well, of course that's not what it's all about. Although there's more than a hint of the unholy trinity in Paul Ferguson's script, it's a wonderful, restrained and heartfelt look at one man's native city, adopted father and, unsurprisingly, the need to listen. The skill, care and precision of Ferguson's work is demonstrated best by the brutal, devastating final scene. It's a cliche, but it left few dry eyes in the house and certainly warrants a repeated viewing to see how it all hangs together with the benefit of hindsight. I imagine it would be just as natural the second time around, if not more upsetting. That's not to say it's all bleak, as there are a few laughs to be had and in these, Ferguson deftly uncovers some sweet universal truths to sit alongside the darker elements.

Alex Sycamore does a great job of protagonist Jason. Initially painted with the voice, looks and mannerisms of the stereotypical chav, once you actually begin to listen, he's revealed to be an articulate, thoughtful and likeable guy. Not fussed by ballet, but not all that into football, he takes opportunities to better himself and embrace his cultural heritage.

But it's not just Jason's story. The emotional meat comes from the superb Charlie Carter as Jason's stepdad Alfie. He's truly believable as both the younger version of the character, vital, cheeky, jack-the-lad and the elderly, stuck in a nursing home with an over-talkative nurse (director Charlotte Chinn) as his companion. It's a staggering, clear transformation with the young man still behind the eyes of his shaking, aging present self.

The kitchen-sink action is punctuated with pieces of dance, largely from the skilled Eliza Doyle as Jason's love interest and later wife. But it also provides a powerful symbol for Alfie's earlier days and perhaps his own courtship of lovable, motherly wife Irene (Tina Doyle). Initially, this device is slightly confusing, but taken as a metaphor, the veil is lifted and it latterly becomes wonderfully interwoven with the rest of the narrative.

Miller Productions' show is another gem of the Camden Fringe. It doesn't overstay its welcome, it simply makes its point and leaves. But the point it makes is an honest one worth listening to, and it's made deftly, with bags of beauty and grace.

PROUD - The Lost theatre, Directed by Oliver Jack/Patrick Wilde. The Lost Theatre Company

How much is gold really worth? In this story of a young man preparing for an Olympic victory, national pride is pitched against personal anxieties as a teen struggles to balance the testosterone-soaked world of boxing with his identity as a gay man.

Lewis has just turned 18 and, to celebrate, his mum has arranged a dinner party. Of course, this being theatre, “dinner party” is code for social awkwardness, faux pas and full-blown disagreements; a setting that allows for an analysis of major social patterns on an intimate level.Proud follows the menu in style, serving up all the veiled fights and bitter undercurrents that we expect as soon as we see a kitchen table on a stage.

After a string of light-hearted battles over who is responsible for the ironing, and a handful of fights regarding what makes an appropriate fashion choice, the real antagonist enters the stage. Sleazy Mac is dating Lewis’ mum. His is an influence that polarises the genders, forcing mum to dress in a gold dress and high shoes and — as Lewis’ gym coach — urging the young man to adopt laddish mannerisms. Significantly, the brashly opinionated and homophobic Mac doesn’t know that his student is gay, an error that Lewis seems in no hurry to correct.

Charlie Carter is excellent as the homophobic boxing coach who struggles to leave the macho talk of the gym behind. As he dishes up homophobia before the aperitif, his leery sentences are punctuated by licks of his lips, an effective and subtle tick that reinforces his character’s arrogance. Mac stands for more than just one idiot; this man comes from a place where male affection and support can only be shown through a punch and an assertive comment directed at the whole room. He represents a larger picture: the macho world forcing the gay teenager to live a double life.

That said, it’s a real shame that the production has to rely on such heterosexual clichés to counter the prejudices suffered by the gay community. Indeed, there is something hypocritical in the company’s decision to fight stereotyping with stereotypes. It’s also very disappointing to see that, in the character Ally, John Stanley has scripted yet another sarcastic and marginalised lesbian who, when the play finishes, is still waiting for her happy ending.

Performed to a predominantly gay audience, this production doesn’t waste  time trying to be politically correct and elephants are kept firmly out of the room by mum Rachel (Virginia Byron), who swiftly swings from naive and unwittingly suggestive to ultra-camp. The play discusses issues relating to gay culture — from Lady Gaga to the Soho nail bomber — but its most interesting moment occurs when Lewis expresses his reluctance to subscribe to a world of rainbows and speeches, claiming that “all that out and proud stuff isn’t me”. With all its flaws, this production may be more deserving of a bronze than of a gold, but as the lead character finally accepts a sexuality without a stereotype, we know we’re onto a winner.

  LONE STAR - Edinburgh Fringe Festival  

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Lone Star, Madison Theatre Company , directed by Rob Watt, The Cellar Theatre

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Laundry and Bourbon / Lond Star - 2 One Act Comedies from Rob Watt on Vimeo.





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