Theatre reviews: Avocado, Robin Ince, The King’s Speech

Rebecca Grant in Avocado, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Rebecca Grant in Avocado, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
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Avocado, West Yorkshire Playhouse, reviewed by Nick Ahad *****

This is what theatre is for. A unique art form that does things to your heart and soul that no other medium can do.

While watching Avocado, a world premiere of a new play by Eve Ensler, I was reminded of the Tom Hardy movie Locke, set almost entirely in a car. I wondered why that film, while brilliant, doesn’t do the same thing that this piece of work, set entirely in a crate in which a trafficked woman is escaping her captors, does.

It is because Ensler’s script, and the intensely powerful production of it, requires the audience to fill in the gaps. And it’s in the gaps that the greatest horror exists.

This is an incredible production, particularly since it is not being staged in a theatre, but in a makeshift arena inside the Playhouse’s rehearsal room. Mark Rosenblatt’s sensitive and intense direction is staggering and Mic Pool’s soundscape a character in itself.

Part of the Play, Pie and a Pint series of work, this half hour piece of work could run the danger of leaving audiences feeling short- changed, were it not so absolutely rammed full in its short running time.

We meet actor Rebecca Grant in a shaft of dim light. She’s inside a box on a boat, heading for a place called “Asylum”. As the boat sways and a baby in another crate cries, the stowaway is on the edge of her sanity, waiting for her captors to discover her or the “whackers” to pound on the outside of her crate and disturb her. As she tells her story – incoherent, unstructured, unbound by the rules of conventional narrative, we learn the truths about her life – sold into sex slavery, men buy her body but her soul remains unbroken.

An absolutely vital part of this performance is the second half panel discussion, which I plead with you to stay for. Easily one of the most human and humane pieces of work I have seen.

• To May 30.

Robin Ince, Leeds Comedy Festival, reviewed by Nick Ahad ****

This is the first year of the Leeds Comedy Festival, which seems unlikely and a little bit ludicrous. Why has it taken so long to materialise? 
Thanks to uber-comedy promoter Toby Jones, it is finally here and if the eclectic, high-quality line-up is anything to go by, it is a fixture I hope we will be seeing on a regular basis.

The great joy of a festival is that, without wishing to be exclusive, it means you are likely to be watching an artform you love with people who love that artform.

Perhaps the fact that it was an audience that really wanted to be there that made Robin Ince free-form a little more than he might have. Ince, a brilliant enthusiast about science and physics in particular has many brilliant qualities, three of which are that he knows how little he knows when it comes to physics, he wants to know more and he wants to share how little he knows and infuse his audience with the same enthusiasm he has for the subject. That might make his stand-up show sound like a lecture, but his enthusiasm and gift for telling a story makes it incredibly engaging and, fortunately, very funny.

He was supported on Sunday night by an extraordinary talent, singer-songwriter Grace Petrie. She’s sung for Radio Four and Billy Bragg is a fan. Enough said.

Leeds’s first comedy festival closes tonight with the Upfront Comedy Jam. Simply: support it so we can have another next year.

The King’s Speech, Leeds Grand Theatre, reviewed by Liz Coggins *****

Transferring an Oscar-winning film to the stage can be a gamble – but in the case of The King’s Speech – it’s a gamble that’s paid off.

One of the secrets of its success is that author David Seidler, doesn’t only look at the close relationship between Logue, the unconventional Australian speech therapist, and The King, but has added a cocktail of political and social references that are not referred to in the film.

He does this by the clever use of mischievously humorous conversations between Churchill, The Archbishop of Canterbury and Baldwin referring to the measures taken to make sure George V died at the right time, Wallis Simpson’s bedroom antics and Hitler’s plans to make Wallis and Edward King and Queen if he won the war.

Roxana Silbert’s production is seamless, slick and excellently choreographed on an imaginative set with scene changes that are executed by the cast to perfection.

The King’s Speech demands strong and convincing characters and this is exactly what makes this production tick. Raymond Coulthard (Bertie) and Jason Donovan (Logue) excel in their contrasting roles creating a believable bond between the grumpy heir apparent and the irascible Aussie speech therapist. Playing Logue has re-inforced Donovan as a talented and versatile character actor who can successfully take any part in his stride. In the role he is simply amazing balancing sensitivity and intelligence with humour one moment and moving to pathos the next. Coulthard contrasts beautifully as the bullying, stuttering spoiled Bertie. His mood swings,vulnerability and the ultimate realisation of his future role are played with utter conviction and deep emotion.

One of the finest drama productions at The Grand for a long time.

• To May 30.