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    Interview: What We Didn’t Get Taught At School

    Holly Delefortrie on her one-woman show, Sex-Ed Revisited

    Do you have memories of awkward, red-faced sex-ed lessons at school? Lucky for us, Holly Delefortrie is here to save the day and rewrite the rules with ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’. This female-driven comedy, playing at the VAULT festival for one night only on 27 January, aims to answer your unanswered questions and put the fun and pleasure back into sex-ed.

    We were lucky enough to sit down with Holly and take a deep dive into the inspiration behind this intimate adventure.

    We’re so excited to discuss ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’! Could you describe the premise of the show for us?

    Sex-Ed Revisited is an empowering one woman comedy. It uses clowning, confessional storytelling, interactive games, and song to uncover missing gaps in our knowledge of female-focused Sex Education.

    The show starts by welcoming the audience into the fictional world of the ‘Oh, Oh, Oh’ orgasm support group; where it’s my character’s turn to share. Throughout the course of the show the audience and I embark on a quest for climax; uncovering the myths and filling the gaps in knowledge that get in the way of pleasurable sex. I would describe the feeling of the show as a Kylie-inspired sex-pop adventure, with a number of her pop classics playing throughout the show.

    Would you say that this is quite a personal show for you? Is it based on personal experiences?

    I00%! Instead of feeling empowered and prepared, sex education left me terrified. It took years of feeling sexually unsatisfied before I realised that it wasn’t just about the other person. Sex was something that I was able (and meant) to enjoy!

    It’s so refreshing to see such an open and honest discussion of sexual education; especially female-led! What do you hope audiences will gain from the show’s message?

    I think sex and pleasure need to be shouted about from the rooftops! So many people have unanswered questions, particularly when it comes to the female experience. This topic needs vulnerability and for people to feel comfortable enough to admit what they don’t know and also feel empowered to ask what they want to know more about.

    I always aim to stage open and honest conversations with an audience. Creating a space where an audience can have their say is really exciting for me. I also strongly believe in comedy’s power for making social taboo topics more accessible for a wide range of audiences. I’m always willing to be the idiot in the room as we figure things out together. With this show, it’s not about coming in with all the right answers, but the discoveries you make along the way.

    You described the show as a ‘Kylie-inspired sex-pop adventure’, so we need to ask the important questions: favourite Kylie song?

    Ok, it has got to be ‘On a night like this’. It’s the song I first imagined the show to!

    My favourite album is Fever (full of classics) and my favourite video is ‘All The Lovers’ which I feel encapsulates the show; especially from a pleasure perspective.

    Sex-Ed Revisited has a fair few content warnings and age restrictions! I’m interested to know if this aspect of theatre production affects your creative process at all?

    The show talks about sex in a playful and honest way; but there is no doubt that it doesn’t shy away from the subject! I don’t think restrictions should get in the way of Sex-Ed and encouraging positive conversations. For example, at one point the show teaches the ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ of the female anatomy. This is an entertaining part of the show but, genuinely, there are too many adults that don’t know their vagina from their vulva! The focus here is pleasure as a good thing and enthusiastic consent. Let’s ostracise violence and welcome orgasm.

    You describe yourself as an interactive solo artist, what makes you want to incorporate this style of storytelling into your performances? Does this sense of improvisation ever scare you?

    As a performer, I love the freedom and play you get from interactive shows. The comments and stories the audience come out with during some of the show’s games are brilliant and always surprising. The improvisational nature of the show means that every night is different, it keeps you on your toes and sometimes that can be scary. However, I love clowning! Putting yourself in the sh*t and not knowing the outcome can be really liberating.

    Do you have any particular goals in mind for ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’?

    The plan is to take the show to Scotland for my Edinburgh Fringe debut as well as tour other festivals and venues this year. I would love to make the ‘Oh Oh Oh’ orgasm support group a real thing in the form of game/activity-based workshop sessions for identifying women to share their thoughts on sex and pleasure. These will be run with a sexual health specialist present and launched as part of Camden People’s Theatre’s community engagement program.

    Finally, what sort of advice would you have for anyone looking to pursue a similar style of storytelling? Any important life lessons you’ve learnt along the way?

    1) Trust your audience! They are here for the ride so take them on your journey.

    2) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes (easier said than done). Mistakes can lead to the most brilliant ideas and funniest of moments!

    3) Trust your instinct and your own way of making. There is no right and wrong way of making a show, it will be different every time.

    4) Note down all your ideas and concepts no matter how wild they seem! They have a funny way of coming back, just when you thought you had forgotten them…

    Thanks again to Holly for finding the time to chat to us. You can catch Sex-Ed Revisited at VAULT Festival on 27 January. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Who Needs Phileas Fogg Anyway?

    Katie Overstall and Nell Thomas on Around The World With Nellie Bly

    From the Edinburgh Fringe to the Waterloo VAULT Festival, via a trip round the world, performer Katie Overstall has joined her character Nellie Bly on a massive adventure this year. We were delighted therefore when Katie, along with director Nell Thomas, found five minutes to tell ET about this fascinating explorer and what to expect from Shedlight Stories‘ Around The World With Nellie Bly

    Well, we’ve all heard of Phileas Fogg and his trip round the world in eighty days, but Nellie Bly is less well-known. Was she a real person, and what trip did she undertake exactly?

    KATIE: She was a real person! Nellie Bly was a journalist, living in New York in the late 1800s. Nowadays we’d call her an investigative journalist – she wrote all sorts of incredible stories, often putting herself in harm’s way to do so.

    NELL: In our show we focus on just one of her stories; her solo journey around the world, which was inspired by Jules Verne’s book published about 20 years beforehand.

    After convincing her male editors that she was more than capable of undertaking the journey alone as a young woman, she attempted to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional record and make it from New York all around the whole world and back to New York in less than 80 days.

    Taking a similar route as Fogg in the book, she travelled across the Atlantic, through Europe, Africa, and Asia, across the Pacific and across the United States via trains and ships. Not an easy journey in the 19th century!

    She had to deal with ocean storms, snow storms, delays, and even a competing journalist attempting the same thing in the opposite direction. She visited some incredible places and met a whole host of people along the way (all played wonderfully in our show by Katie) and even got to meet Jules Verne himself.

    You wrote the show yourself: why did you choose to tell Nellie’s story, and why for a young audience?

    KATIE: Nell brought Nellie’s story to me, and I thought it was fantastic – bursting with theatrical promise. I loved that it was a story about a young woman standing up for herself and testing her own limits. I also really love that she started her journey just to see if it was possible. She had a magnificent sense of curiosity.

    NELL: I had come across Nellie by chance and the more I read about her, the more I knew I wanted to make a show about her. Katie and I have worked together quite a lot in the past and we love finding fun and imaginative ways to tell stories and this seemed like it would be the perfect fit. There was the opportunity for adventure, jeopardy, lots of silly characters, and even a monkey! It became pretty clear early on in the process that this would be for a younger audience.

    KATIE: The story presented the opportunity to tell an adventure story that isn’t just for boys, and hopefully we will be able to encourage kids of any gender to be curious and adventurous.

    NELL: I’ve seen studies that show that around the age of eight girls become less confident and lose interest in things they were previously invested in because they are considered activities or subjects for boys, so I really wanted to pitch it at that age range and hone in on the themes of self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-belief, and not letting others tell you that something you’re interested in isn’t for you just because of your gender.

    What kind of person is Nellie?

    KATIE: She’s bold and determined and very practical. She looks for the good in everyone and doesn’t put up with gossip or cruelty. She can be rather stubborn and single-minded though, but she usually admits when she’s wrong eventually!

    Can you tell us a bit about the puppet characters?

    NELL: We have a few, but our main puppet is a monkey (a long-tailed macaque to be more precise) called McGinty. He is based on the real monkey that Nellie adopted in Singapore on her trip and brought home with her to New York.

    Once we decided we were going to aim the show at kids we knew that we had to include him in our story. Throughout the development of the show he became an integral part of it and essentially becomes Nellie’s best friend, her confidant, and even the voice of reason on occasion (even though he is non-verbal).

    He is a fantastic puppet made by Shaun Lati, and is designed to be able to be puppeteered by one hand, allowing Katie to keep him moving while doing the million other things that need to be done in the show simultaneously!

    KATIE: Also he’s really cute.

    NELL: Yes, he’s been a very big hit with the kids. Big and small!

    Do you also use original music and sound in the production?

    NELL: One of the first things we discussed when developing the show was that it should be easy to travel. Like the real Nellie, we travel very light, there are no big set or tech requirements, so we rely a lot on sound to set the scene.

    We originally worked with a sound designer called Joe Hewitt who helped us through our R&D and then with Julian Starr who completed the sound design with wonderful music and a soundscape to really create the atmosphere of the play. It becomes a great shorthand to show where we are in the world at any given point and when there is danger or jeopardy, and we obviously do a lot of travelling in the story, so there are a lot of train and boat noises required to give a sense of motion.

    We also worked with a few other actors to build up some of the soundscape and add some additional voices in. Katie plays so many different characters that it’s nice to give her a bit of a break!

    Why do you think Nellie’s true story is not as famous as that of the fictional character of Fogg?

    KATIE: At the time, her journey was making national headlines daily and was a hugely popular story in America. On the last legs of her trip, crowds would be waiting at every train station she passed through in order to see her. She even wrote a book about her journey, but I suppose it’s hard to compete with an already famous author like Jules Verne, and history does have a tendency to overlook women…

    NELL: This year marks 150 years since the publication of the novel Around the World in 80 Days, and you just have to look at how many adaptations of the story there have been in that time to see that there is something about the tale that people love. I just don’t think they have been given the opportunity to learn that a woman actually attempted this feat in real life. I hope that our show goes a little way towards people recognising that this didn’t just happen in fiction.

    You were at Edinburgh this summer in the sunshine – are you bracing yourself for winter at the Vaults, or will Nellie’s resilience see you both through a residence at the dank cellars?

    KATIE: Honestly, I’m kind of looking forward to it. My costume is quite a heavy Victorian style dress – very beautifully made, but very hot! In the summer sun it was a bit much, so maybe a dank cellar is just what I need!

    Thanks very much to Katie and Nell for this fascinating insight into a true life inspiration. Around the World with Nellie Bly is aimed at families and children age 6+ and runs at the Vaults from Saturday 28 January to Sunday 5 February More

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    At Under the Radar, Stories Unfold via Sexts, Tweets and Puppeteers

    The Public Theater’s experimental theater festival is back in person for the first time since 2020. Here, our critics review a handful of the works on display.‘Your Sexts Are ____: Older Better Letters’Through Sunday. Running time: 1 hour.The art of talking dirty has withered of late. Or so Rachel Mars sets out to demonstrate in “Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters,” her filthy, funny yet eventually cloying performance piece dressed in the incongruous drag of a lecture.As evidence of the downturn, Mars compares some cherry-picked examples of epistolary smut with actual sexts she has solicited online. But do electronic acquaintances really stand a chance against the likes of James Joyce in full flower? Especially when the acquaintances are present only in the form of screenshots and Joyce gets rapturously read aloud?Though occasionally non-gross (“If you were here rn in my car what would we be doing?”) and on several occasions eliciting clever responses (“Probably arguing”), the sexts aren’t very sexy. Instead, as Mars’s presentation makes plain, they are dully goal-oriented, like Slack messages setting up meetings. They take no interest in the process of arousal or the way exquisite, elaborate and even embarrassing language can be part of it.Joyce, on the other hand, writing in 1908 to his lover (and later wife) Nora Barnacle, spins arias of sexual and scatological rapture that go so far past pornography as to crash the gates of literature. The man seems to have been unblushable — and the woman, too, though her responses have been lost and can only be imagined (as the show in fact does) by implication.The recovery of women’s sexual voices, especially queer ones, is Mars’s deeper theme here, a theme to which she lends some autobiographical muscle. Yet in doing so, and in moving from Joyce to the fevered Frida Kahlo, the cosmic Georgia O’Keeffe, the grand Radclyffe Hall and the prim Eleanor Roosevelt, her original sexts-versus-letters argument begins to fray.For one thing, those women’s letters are too romantic to be dirty. Then too, they are not the writers that Joyce, or for that matter Gertrude Stein, were. When Stein, in a letter to Alice B. Toklas, says she wants to treat her “wifie” to “an entire cow,” you don’t know whether “cow” is a pet word for “orgasm” or an actual pet. Either way, it’s brilliant, and you may wish she’d written it to Roosevelt. JESSE GREEN‘Moby Dick’Through Saturday. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes.A large-scale puppet adaptation of “Moby Dick” is brought to life by a French-Norwegian company that includes the musicians, from left, Guro Skumsnes Moe, Havard Skaset and Ane Marthe Sorlien Holen.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesWeathered and wild-haired, Ahab is a grizzled sea captain on the hunt, dragging his crew across oceans in search of his particular prey: the whale who took half his leg.Now Ahab inhales deeply, scenting in the salt air the presence of his nemesis.“It is Moby Dick,” he says. “I am sure of it!”In swims the white leviathan — not the lithe, tormenting beast of Ahab’s vengeance-soaked fantasies but a tattered, battle-worn creature with moldering flesh and a lumbering strength that’s no less fearsome for its gracelessness. He takes Ahab’s whole ship in his dagger-toothed mouth and claims decisive victory.Apologies if that plot point is a spoiler, but it is impossible to ruin with mere description the experience of the French-Norwegian company Plexus Polaire’s exquisite “Moby Dick,” a large-scale puppet adaptation of the Herman Melville classic. From its first moment on the vast N.Y.U. Skirball stage, when glittering fish appear, their tails swishing in the darkness, the wondrousness of this show lies in its spectacle and ambience.Directed by Yngvild Aspeli, this is serious artistry, with 50 puppets (many life-size, others Lilliputian or gargantuan), seven actor-puppeteers and three musicians whose underscore modulates the mood as deftly as the intricate lighting (by Xavier Lescat and Vincent Loubière) and beguiling video (by David Lejard-Ruffet). Just one quibble: When the music’s volume rises, it can drown out the dialogue.The show’s narrator, of course, is the sailor Ishmael — sometimes a puppet, more often a human played by Julian Spooner. Ahab’s crew, Ishmael says, “seemed to be picked and packed specifically by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniacal revenge.”There is real-world resonance to the notion of unhinged leaders reckless with their followers’ lives, but this is not the production to explore that. On a set by Elisabeth Holager Lund, where the ribs of Ahab’s ship are made of whale bone, Aspeli’s “Moby Dick” is more interested in the specter of death that shadows the voyage. And it does not blink from violence: A scene involving a mother whale and her calf is first touching, then horrifying.But this production is also about the relish of life — including the pleasure of friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg — and the abundance of beauty all around. The breathtaking puppetry embodies that loveliness.If you missed Plexus Polaire’s arresting “Chambre Noire” at Under the Radar in 2019, don’t make the same mistake with “Moby Dick.” It’s running only through Saturday, then at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival Jan. 18-21. Hurry. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES‘Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner’Through Jan. 22. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.Jasmine Lee-Jones’s play about cultural appropriation, colorism, sexuality and more features Tia Bannon, left, and Leanne Henlon. It reminded our critic of Adrienne Kennedy’s “Funnyhouse.”Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesIn 2019, Forbes magazine named Kylie Jenner, a lip kit trendsetter, the youngest self-made billionaire. A year later, Forbes retracted that honor. Jenner, the magazine announced, was not in fact a billionaire. (And using a term like “self-made” to describe any Kardashian-adjacent adult had always been suspect.) This failure of journalism and accountancy did have one upside: It inspired Jasmine Lee-Jones’s vicious, playful, indignant work, a Royal Court Theater production being presented at the Public Theater.Offended by Forbes’s celebratory tweet promoting its initial article, Cleo (Leanne Henlon), a young Black British woman who uses the handle @Incognegro, composes a couple of posts of her own, which imagine Jenner poisoned and shot. The tweets go viral. And despite the warnings of Kara (Tia Bannon), her mixed-raced friend, she keeps tweeting, pained by Jenner’s insouciant appropriation of the full lips typically associated with Black women. (Cleo has been bullied for the plump lips that Jenner, a white woman, bought and built her brand upon.) The tweets are unnervingly violent: “Can you take a selfie whilst being lit? But like actually lit on fire?,” Cleo types. (That would be method No. 5: immolation.) A riff on Adrienne Kennedy’s “Funnyhouse,” retooled for digital natives, “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner” is a meditation on Black womanhood and identity, online and off and in the murkier spaces in between.As directed by Milli Bhatia, Lee-Jones’s script shifts between the surrealism of the endless scroll — in which the two actresses voice memes, GIFs, emojis, tweets and retweets — and the relative naturalism of Cleo’s room. But even here — under a tangle of rope and lace, designed by Rajha Shakiry, that seems to literalize the World Wide Web — the argot of social media invades. Abbreviations like “idk” and “lmao” overrun ordinary speech. And virality seems to empower Cleo in adverse ways. Yet the play, ardently acted, is ultimately hopeful.The internet is a sewer. Yes, of course. But in real life, two friends, however divided by colorism and sexuality, might find their way back to each other. That this is achieved by the imagined murder of another woman, however entitled, is one of the show’s stickier points.On Wednesday, the second night of the run, technical difficulties plagued the show for nearly an hour. Then the difficulties stopped it cold. After a 15-minute pause, the play resumed, with the sound and light cues now appropriately synced to the script. Those miscues had been a distraction, particularly when it came to understanding the actresses, whose speech was warped by wonky microphone effects. Still, maybe there was a lesson somewhere in this technical mess. The technologies of social media can amplify individual voices. But it can distort them, too. ALEXIS SOLOSKI‘A Thousand Ways (Part Three): An Assembly’Through Jan. 22. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.“A Thousand Ways (Part Three): An Assembly” by 600 Highwaymen is a participatory, experimental piece about finding communion.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe final installment of 600 Highwaymen’s pandemic triptych takes place in an antiseptically corporate room on the top floor of the New York Public Library’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.A participatory, experimental piece about finding communion in a disrupted but healing world, it requires little more than a stack of notecards, a rubber band to hold them and chairs for the audience members, who are also the actors. In theory, you could perform it anywhere.But it is tough to cast a dramatic spell in an unadorned event space, and hard to focus the attention of a group when floor-to-ceiling windows look out on a wraparound terrace where visitors come and go against a busy cityscape.If only this kind-spirited show by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone were being staged in a theater, a space designed to shut out distraction. How strange that the Under the Radar festival chose otherwise for the finish to a triptych structured like the industry’s shutdown and return: lonely isolation, cautious distance, disquieted reunion.On a recent afternoon, “An Assembly” had none of the quasi-sacramental feel of the previous parts of “A Thousand Ways.” It felt instead like doing a team-building exercise with a dozen amiable colleagues I’d never met. We spoke lines, answered questions (“Who here is worried?” “Do you have any tattoos?”) and moved about as the notecards instructed.A tall guy volunteered to take the first turn with the script. “This won’t be recorded,” he told us, reading from a card. “We won’t look back at it.”And I thought: We won’t? I’ve looked back with such affection on the earlier parts: the ways they asked me to imagine the humanity of people I did not know, and let them do the same with me — fostering empathy and connection in a time of antipathy and aloneness.The first part, “A Phone Call,” matched two strangers for a script-guided telephone conversation. I did that from my apartment in late 2020. The second, “An Encounter,” seated two strangers across a table, separated by glass and following a script. I did that at the Public Theater, in an empty auditorium, in mid-2021.Those works arrived when theater lovers unappeased by streaming were ravenous for any semblance of the live stuff, and craving human interaction. By now, we’re used to being with strangers again — if not to passing their keys and phones from hand-to-hand, as Part Three asks us to.Well over a year into the industry’s revival, “An Assembly” feels belated. It is calming, though. And if the people in your group give off a considerate and patient vibe, as those in mine did, it’s heartening, too. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES More

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    Interview: Singing The Elephant Song

    Jason Moore & Ian Nicholas on The Elephant Song

    OnBook Theatre are just about to bring Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon‘s The Elephant Song to Park Theatre for it’s UK premiere. The play follows the suddenly disappearance of a psychiatrist from a mental health unit and Michael, a young patient, is suspected to be involved.

    We are always excited to see new thrillers coming to the stage, so were delighted to be able to catch up with OnBook’s creative partnership of Jason Moore and Ian Nicholas to find out more.

    [embedded content]

    Great to meet you both, shall we do introductions first then?

    We’re Jason Moore and Ian Nicholas and we created OnBook Theatre in the summer of 2021. Jason is a director, Ian is a set and costume designer. Together we produce plays that we feel passionate about. We seem to be attracted to plays that deal with human relationships, with a dark, comedic undertone. The Elephant Song is no exception. It’s a psychological thriller, with a surprise ending. It’s the kind of play that will haunt you afterwards.

    Are we right in thinking that there is also a lot of humour in The Elephant Song? The press material talks about ‘verbal tugs-of-war’ – does this lend itself to black/dark comedy?

    The playwright, Nicolas Billon, has peppered the script with lots of witty, intelligent dialogue and in that respect, it feels like dark comedy at times. But at its core, it’s an emotional story of a young man who is fighting to be heard.

    How did you first come across the play and what piqued your interest about it?

    Ian saw the movie some years ago and loved the story. After researching its background, he went on the hunt for rights, which led him to playwright Nicolas Billon and his agent in Canada. Finding out it had never been produced in the UK made him even more determined. Several emails and phone calls later, we were in business.

    Have you spoken with Nicolas directly then, and has he been involved in the process so far?

    Absolutely. We reached out to Nicolas and were thrilled to hear from him. After a zoom meeting and several emails, we feel very lucky to have his blessing and involvement in the process. Even better, he’s flying to London to see our production, and he’s agreed to participate in a Q&A after the performance on 24 January. It’s a rare privilege when a theatre company gets to work closely with the writer so we are extremely lucky.

    You’ve brought together three very experienced actors, how was the casting process?

    The casting process was a little unusual. We both saw Gwithian Evans perform last year and were immediately impressed. He was the first person we cast. Louise Faulkner and Jason went to drama school together. Ian was talking to her about another production altogether. While he didn’t think she was right for that part, Ian instinctively felt she was perfect for Miss Peterson. He sent her the script and her marvelous audition proved she was perfect. We never auditioned anyone else. Similarly, in casting for Dr. Greenberg, we reached out to friends at CDM Talent Agency. They sent Jon Osbaldeston over and again, same story. Wonderful audition and never auditioned anyone else. So, all three actors were our first and only choices. How lucky can you get?

    How have rehearsals been going? Did you take a break for the festive period or has it been all go?

    Rehearsals have been going great. We had Christmas Day off but that was it. As producers, we work 24/7, always checking emails, always putting out fires. That’s what theatre producing is about. Managing everything. It’s not for the faint of heart.

    Park Theatre is a lovely venue and PARK90 can be configured in so many ways, can you give us an idea of what you have planned?

    We’re performing in the thrust, so we’ll have audience seating on three sides. It’s a modern, intimate space and just the right size for this play. The last two plays we produced were in the thrust too, it’s a ‘fly on the wall’ approach that we really enjoy. Firstly, there’s not a bad seat in the house. Secondly, there’s no distraction, you’re just a few feet from the stage, immersed in the action.

    What is next for you after The Elephant Song?

    We are producing Neil Simon’s classic comedy California Suite at OSO Arts Centre in Barnes. That opens February 21. And we are currently piloting OSO’s Youth Theatre project, working with young people interested in Theatre. After that, we’ll be working on two brand new plays, one’s a comedy, the other a courtroom drama based on true events. But we’re also passionate about musicals and produced two sell out cabarets in 2022, a format that we want to expand upon in 2023. We are blessed.

    Our thanks to OnBook Theatre for taking some time out of rehearsals to chat with us.

    The Elephant Song plays at Park Theatre from 18 January until 11 February. Further information and tickets can be found here. More

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    Paul Mescal in a Streetcar Named Desire

    In London, the Irish actor stars as Stanley Kowalski in a deeply empathic version of Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”Paul Mescal’s fast-ascending screen career has taken a detour to the London stage, where he is playing Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This deeply empathic version of Tennessee Williams’s defining 1947 play is scheduled for a limited run at North London’s Almeida Theater through Feb. 4.That leaves audiences limited time to discover the sizable stage chops of Mescal, the heartthrob Irish actor who came to TV attention on Hulu’s “Normal People” in 2020 and has recently generated award-season buzz for the movie “Aftersun.” Barely a week has passed of late without his being mentioned for one or another major forthcoming film.The electricity he generates onscreen is fully evident in this latest “Streetcar” — a play frequently revived in London but rarely with the clarity and power brought to it here by Rebecca Frecknall, an associate director at the Almeida who won an Olivier Award last spring for an ongoing revival of the musical “Cabaret.”Mescal brings both swagger and sensitivity to the role, in the process stepping out of the long shadow cast over this part by its stage and screen originator, Marlon Brando. But he also exists amid a gifted company who lay bare the numerous contradictions of an infinitely rich play. Not intended as a mere star vehicle for its increasingly high-profile male lead, the visually stripped-back production is emotionally revelatory, too: Frecknall’s forensic skills allow us to look afresh at a motley gathering of people, Patsy Ferran’s tremulous Blanche DuBois chief among them, who seek understanding and compassion but just as frequently come to grief.Mescal, left, shares the stage with Anjana Vasan, who gives an outstanding performance as Stella.Marc BrennerStanley, of course, must fight his corner once he and his newly pregnant wife Stella (Anjana Vasan, outstanding) find their cramped New Orleans quarters taken over by Stella’s older sister, Blanche. Having lost the family ancestral home in Mississippi, Blanche shows up in Louisiana “hot, tired, and dirty” and on the run from a shaming and shameful past that she will clearly never escape.Purists may balk at Madeleine Girling’s raised platform set, which lacks the scenic divisions of the Kowalski household that the play repeatedly refers to. The impression instead is of an open, porous space where the actors not appearing at that particular moment often sit to one side, primed for action or for gladiatorial combat, even — something Mescal will soon be exploring onscreen.Visible well above the stage is a drummer, Tom Penn, who keeps ominous pulse with the roiling emotions of the play, as if to amplify yet further the damaged psyches on view. The rape scene ends with Blanche appearing abject in a pool of rain, as if the episode could somehow be washed away.The text’s paper lantern of legend is onstage, covering the naked light bulb that Blanche finds abhorrent. But the characters defy expectation, both in costume and physical type: Stella appears in various sweaters, incongruous with talk of the sweltering summer heat, while Ferran’s Blanche — dark-haired, large-eyed — is at some remove from the ethereal blondness often associated with this role. Nor does she make her entrance in the character’s signature white suit specified in the text. The result is a production, performed in the round, that adheres not so much to the letter of the play as to its bruised and bruising spirit. Much the same was true of Frecknall’s acclaimed 2018 revival for the Almeida, also starring Ferran, of Williams’s lesser-known “Summer and Smoke.” Frecknall takes her cue from the wounding lyricism of Williams’s writing, not his (copious) stage directions, though the inclusion of some slow-motion toward the end feels like a directorial intervention too far.I’ve rarely seen, for instance, the anger that coexists with Blanche’s fragility conveyed as clearly as it is here. She may speak in grandiose terms of her briefly beloved Mitch (an exceptionally touching Dwane Walcott) as her Rosenkavalier, but this Blanche, for all her delusions, seems to understand all too well the rum hand life has dealt her. (On that topic, the card game that ends the play has been cut.)Brought into the production late on when its original lead, Lydia Wilson, dropped out because of injury, the prismatic Ferran communicates the flighty neurotic in Blanche alongside someone nervy enough to tackle Stanley on his home turf.“I’ve got to keep hold of myself,” she says near the start, her equilibrium no less fragile than that of the brutish man-child Stanley, who cries like a baby for Stella well before his wife gives birth to their own. The bedroom is Blanche and Stanley’s battlefield, and both actors communicate the primal impulses that draw them together in a permanently disruptive date with destiny.Mescal, it seems, has his own dates pending with Hollywood, which may make such stage ventures harder for him to come by in the years ahead. (I smiled when Stanley dismisses Blanche’s “Hollywood glamour stuff,” something that the actor playing him surely knows about firsthand.)Whatever this fine actor’s future holds, his present is allied to an electrifying ensemble production of “Streetcar” that, by rights, won’t have its final stop here.A Streetcar Named DesireThrough Feb. 4 at the Almeida Theater in London; almeida.co.uk. More

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    5 Broadway Veterans on Race and Representation in Theater Design

    “Theater traffics in unconscious symbolism.” Set designers, lighting designers and a sound designer talk about skin tones, aesthetics and more.Design for live performance can cast a surreptitious spell, shaping an audience’s perceptions with stimuli we might not even notice consciously: a change of light, a snatch of sound, a detail of costume or décor. It’s encoded language, and we respond to it viscerally.To the lighting designer Jane Cox, the Broadway veteran who directs the theater program at Princeton University, that dynamic makes design ripe for interrogation in the context of antiracism. A course that she and the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins taught, about race and lighting design, was one of the seeds of a multidisciplinary symposium, “Sound & Color — The Future of Race in Design,” taking place Saturday and Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory. Organized by Cox and Tavia Nyong’o, a curator at the Armory, it will include commissioned installations by young designers of color.Cox and four other Broadway designers participating in the symposium spoke recently by phone about race and culture in design. These interviews have been edited and condensed.Mimi Lien, Set DesignerMimi Lien won a Tony Award in 2017 for the set design of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”Emma PratteDesigners for live performance create and curate an experience, right, by juxtaposing visual, sonic, tactile, spatial elements within a time-based structure. All of these chosen elements carry so much cultural meaning and emotion. The job of designers is to handpick those elements and create a design vocabulary that communicates narrative or a particular emotion. With that comes so much responsibility, because our landscape is constructed with the goal of telling a particular story or reaching a particular audience with really calibrated visual and sensory cues.There is a lot of talk about representation right now. But for me, the real interest of this symposium is the aesthetic question. Like, why do people have certain associations with certain colors, and with darkness versus light? That is a huge cultural, media, anthropological question. And I’m really interested in how the two things intersect: What is the intersection between representation and aesthetics?Jane Cox, Lighting DesignerJane Cox was a Tony Award nominee in 2022 for her work on “Macbeth.”Evan AlexanderBranden says, “Racism is a visual ism.” And he’s right. Racism is perpetrated or understood through how we see other people. How we hear other people. And that happens through the way people are dressed, through the spaces they inhabit, through the way they move, through sounds. When they’re depicted in an image or on a stage or in a movie, design impacts enormously how you see people and how you feel about them. Who’s the center of focus, who’s not the center of focus. Theater traffics in unconscious symbolism, and so does racism.My great hope is to investigate more deeply the ways in which our imaginations are colonized by our specific cultures. Designers are people who believe in our senses. How does sensory input impact these questions of racism? The point of the weekend is to try to start to find a language to talk about these things.Justin Ellington, Sound DesignerJustin Ellington was a Tony nominee in 2020 for “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” and his work can be seen on Broadway in “Topdog/Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders.”Justin Ellington“Race.” [sighs] That word. The angle I’ll be coming from is more cultural than race. A lot of the work that we do, especially with the contemporary work, is very specific about certain communities. There are people that live in those communities, and then there are people that need to do research to understand what’s going on. Living in a place and then hearing about that place that you live in is often drastically different.I was part of a workshop recently and some of the dialogue that was given to the Black characters, I was like, “I don’t know those people, never heard of those people.” Definitely imagined Blackness. As a designer, we need to read scripts and not just say, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” Because you’ll find yourself in Act II like, “What?” It’s like, “That is a terrible misrepresentation of a people.” I’m a sound designer by title but I’m a storyteller first. Sometimes I feel like a cultural watchdog.Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Lighting DesignerJeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s work can be seen on Broadway in “Kimberly Akimbo.”Hunter CanningThere’s no such thing as racially correct lighting. So in some ways I’m free of that burden. What I have as a burden is a conversation that always comes up, about skin tone — how to be able to represent performers in the best light. Lighting white skin is just as complicated as lighting other, nonwhite skin because everybody’s skin tone reflects a different kind of way. You do have to train your eye.Many years ago, I saw a show that had an Asian cast. There’s a certain idea of lighting design that we should always have a warm and a cool tone onstage. This lighting designer’s particular warm tone was very amber; amber gel has a lot of green in it. Literally the Asian people just looked like they had liver disease, warm and yellow because of the skin tone having more green in it.Adam Rigg, Set DesignerAdam Rigg was a Tony nominee in 2022 for “The Skin of Our Teeth.”Ian MaddoxWe’re taught rules. Especially in theater and opera, there are systems that we follow straight down to the architecture of the space. Which were mostly designed by white men. The future, for me, it’s not about wiping away that history. It’s about truly finding a way to find equity in the vocabulary.I don’t want to get myself in trouble, but I’ll just say it. “Ain’t No Mo’” was originally designed by a team of BIPOC designers [Black, Indigenous and people of color]. The work was shocking and exciting. Then it moved to Broadway with still some designers of color, but some white cis male designers incorporated into the team. You could feel the cleverness draining from it. It felt safer. If we’re really trying to broaden Broadway — which is what the end goal for most of us is, to able to make a living — that representation goes down to design as well. Who was in the room not saying, “Hey, ‘Ain’t No Mo’,’ it’s a really Black play.” Who was just like, “Let some white people design it”? More

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    Shakespeare in the Park Will Stage ‘Hamlet’ This Summer

    Ato Blankson-Wood will star as the aggrieved prince in a modern-dress production directed by Kenny Leon.Winter has just begun in New York, but already the Public Theater is looking toward summer: The nonprofit announced on Thursday that in June it would begin presenting an extended run of Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Hamlet” in Central Park.The production, which will be the fifth “Hamlet” in the 61 years of Free Shakespeare in the Park, will star Ato Blankson-Wood, a 38-year-old actor who was a member of the ensemble in a production of “Hair” in the park in 2008, and who has since starred there in musical adaptations of “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It.” In 2020, Blankson-Wood was nominated for a Tony Award for “Slave Play.”Kenny Leon, a much-in-demand director who this season directed revivals of “Topdog/Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders” on Broadway, will helm the production, returning to the park after winning plaudits for his direction of “Much Ado About Nothing” during the summer of 2019.“Hamlet” will be the only show in the park this summer — a reduction from the usual two-show schedule prompted by plans to renovate the Delacorte Theater, the open-air amphitheater where Free Shakespeare in the Park takes place. “Hamlet” will run for nine weeks, from June 8 to Aug. 6, after which the major renovation work is expected to begin; this winter, work in some ancillary areas is already underway.The Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, said he had been so impressed by Leon’s work on “Much Ado” that he asked him to pick a play he wanted to do next, and they settled on “Hamlet.” “It’s the greatest play ever written,” Eustis said, “so let’s give him a crack at Everest.”Eustis also said he had high hopes for Blankson-Wood. “He’s a gorgeously charismatic performer, and the complexity of his inner life, and his ability to connect with an audience, is going to make him an extraordinary Hamlet,” he said. (Blankson-Wood has a background in musical theater, and the credits for this “Hamlet” include music composition by Jason Michael Webb. “I suspect his beautiful singing voice will not be completely wasted,” Eustis said of Blankson-Wood.)Eustis said that the production would “have a contemporary feel,” but that the exact time and place where it will be set have not yet been determined. He said the cast would be diverse, but that it was “absolutely meaningful to Kenny and to me that our Hamlet is a young Black man who is torn between ideals of revenge and violence and ideals of forgiveness and understanding and even rationality, and in the pairing between those things is finding himself paralyzed.”Eustis said his thinking about “Hamlet” had been influenced by “Fat Ham,” the most recent Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which is a riff on the Shakespeare play set in the American South, and which will be running on Broadway this spring, produced in part by the Public. “I’m sure hoping that we’re going to be running ‘Fat Ham’ and ‘Hamlet’ at the same time,” Eustis said, “because those two plays talk to each other in a most beautiful way.”In prepandemic years, the Shakespeare in the Park season was followed by a short-run Public Works production, usually on or around Labor Day weekend, which was a musical adaptation of a classic story employing a mix of professional and amateur actors. The last new Public Works production there was “Hercules,” in 2019, but Eustis said there were three in development. He said he expected there would be a Public Works production staged this summer, although he did not yet know when or where it would take place. More

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    The Shed Changes Leadership Structure

    In the face of financial challenges, the arts institution is making adjustments: Alex Poots, its founding artistic director and chief executive, will now just focus on being artistic director.Having come into the world just a year before the coronavirus pandemic started, the Shed — an architecturally ambitious $475 million arts center in Hudson Yards — has weathered a bumpy beginning. In addition to sold-out performances (such as the recent play about Robert Moses starring Ralph Fiennes), the institution has had its share of financial struggles (28 of its 107 full-time workers were laid off in July 2020).Now, the Shed is making perhaps its biggest adjustment yet, announcing that Alex Poots, the founding artistic director and chief executive, will no longer be chief executive — but will continue to focus on the creative side of the institution as its artistic director.The change is effective immediately; Maryann Jordan, the Shed’s current president and chief operating officer, will handle day-to-day management in the interim.“It has become more and more clear to me that, to really take us on to the next chapter, I need to dedicate my entire time to the artistic direction of this organization,” Poots said in a telephone interview, adding that the change was his decision. “I see it as a positive step forward.”“I’m not going to say it’s not been a struggle, but we’ve gotten through it every time we’ve been confronted with challenges,” he added. “We’re very robust to have built the first arts center since Lincoln Center on an entirely new model with a completely new team.”More on the Coronavirus PandemicNew Subvariant: A new Omicron subvariant, known as XBB.1.5, is surging in the northeastern United States. Scientists say it remains rare in much of the world, but they expect it to spread quickly and globally.Travel: The European Union advised its 27 member nations to require negative Covid-19 tests for travelers boarding flights from China to the region, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.Misinformation: As Covid cases and deaths rise in parts of the United States, misleading claims continue to spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.Free at-Home Tests: With cases on the rise, the Biden administration restarted a program that has provided hundreds of millions of tests through the Postal Service.Jonathan M. Tisch, who in April succeeded the Shed’s founding chairman, Daniel L. Doctoroff, and who — with his wife, Lizzie — in 2019 donated $27.5 million toward the building’s construction, insisted this was not a demotion for Poots. “Alex has done a remarkable job over the past eight years of establishing the Shed as one of New York City’s — and probably the country’s — premiere cultural institutions,” Tisch said in an interview. “But it’s a tough job to be artistic director and C.E.O. at the same time. In conversations, Alex expressed interest in stepping back from being top executive to allowing his focus to center on ensuring our success.”Cultural institutions across the country have struggled mightily throughout the pandemic, primarily because of the lost revenue from closures and canceled performances. The Shed had the added hurdle of being just a year old, without the opportunity to build a loyal audience or donor base. In the wake of the pandemic, the Shed reduced its annual operating budget to $26.5 million from $46 million in 2020; its full-time staff is now 88.Last month, Poots sent an email to staff members saying that “in an uncertain economic environment,” the Shed would consolidate some of its artistic operations.“To align our program developments and resources, we are exploring ways of merging program areas into an interdisciplinary department that works within and between art forms in unified ways,” Poots said in the email, obtained by The New York Times. “After much deliberation, this new model includes the discontinuation of the visual arts Chief Curator position.”That curator position was held by Andria Hickey, who last February left Pace Gallery to join the Shed. She will be staying on, as curator at large.Having one chief curator “makes less sense now,” Poots said in the interview, “because we need expertise across a very wide range of disciplines.”The Shed has also had to adjust to the stepping back of Doctoroff, because of illness. Doctoroff led its successful fund-raising efforts and shepherded the institution into existence after he served as a deputy mayor under Michael R. Bloomberg, who himself supported the Shed.Other successes include the Fiennes play written by David Hare, “Straight Line Crazy”; the comedian Cecily Strong’s New York stage debut; and an ambitious three-part exhibition by the Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno. In addition, the Shed was among the first arts institutions to reopen after New York’s pandemic shutdown. And the institution managed to raise the remainder of its building costs — $135 million — during the coronavirus crisis, Doctoroff said in an interview.“We’re still learning,” Doctoroff said. “We’ve started to understand the model. I’m encouraged, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t normal start-up bumps and bruises. I think we will be incredibly successful over time.” More