The Right Ballerina (5 Stars)

The Right Ballerina
Hen and Chickens Theatre
Review by Richard Lambert 5 Stars *****

”a new play that eviscerates our perception of right/left wing politics. The play is inspired by the real life case of Simone Clarke, a ballerina with the English National Ballet who was “outed” as a BNP member in 2006. With the recent Brexit vote and the Trump candidacy for US President, tensions between the right and left sides of the political spectrum have flared once more – and this cautionary tale looks into the possible pitfalls of political bias in the arts”.

Playwright Billy Cowan
Production Company Pump Out Productions
Jack Stevens – Adam Grayson
Penny Leigh – Genevieve Berkeley-Steele
Trevor – Gregory A Smith
Mr X – Filip Krenus
Director Matthew Gould

First impressions were daunting – messy festoon of cables looping into the tech box. Poor quality video of a ballerina projected onto a black side wall that splashes on the “Push Bar to Open” Fire exit door sign. Houselights glaring in your eyes. Oh dear. Why did I come when there are so many other options for things to do in London on a Friday night?

Jack Stevens  (played by Adam Grayson ) came on stage, the lights switched and the performance commenced. This is the ballet company and you’re in the Artistic Director’s office. This particular Artistic Director is tall, thin, well turned out, and looks like he wants to be a ballet dancer or perhaps was previously a ballet dancer. How typically lush! He usually wears a shirt and tie, a jacket for meetings, neck tie taken on and off, shirt tucked in and out, all little clues indicative of his changing emotions portrayed throughout the 75 minutes you spend with this character. Little subtle clues that are just so perfect! The collaboration between the Director (Matthew Gould), the actor and the Costume Designer (Boaz Torfstein) serve the book so well!

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As Adam Grayson sets up for the day, he pours a cup of coffee from a flask and you can see the coffee and it steams. It steams! I’m now hooked! The attention to detail is flawless! The wooden desk is very slightly shabby. The table lamp is stylish. There are theatre costumes in the corners gently lit with angle poise lamps – exactly the sort of thing you’d see on a backstage tour of an Opera House.

With only 10 lighting fixtures in evidence the lighting designer (Mitchell Reeve) pulls it all together. You can see all their faces where and when you need, there’s side and back light for dimension, enough changes to demonstrate passage of time and time of day.

We’re introduced to the Principal Ballerina, Penny Leigh (played by Genevieve Berkeley-Steele). Before she says a word you know by her look that she’s a pro Ballerina – her clothes are shapely, bare-backed soft blouse, her hair is pulled back to show her face, her shoes although not ballet shoes are soft and flexible. She sits and articulates her script with foot movements. As her life gets tougher her costumes reflect – she starts wearing “don’t mess with me heels” and clothes that show a more business-like manner. Again, the detail here is stunning!

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Within 5 minutes of watching this play this cynical “wish I wasn’t here” was captivated and held in the palms of their hands for the rest of the play!!!

The script (written by multi-award winning Billy Cowan) is extremely well constructed. I see from the programme that he also wrote “Caretakers” which I enjoyed at the Brighton Fringe earlier this year. The story is gripping. I remember when the English National Ballet had a PR nightmare when their Principal Ballerina was outed as a member of the BNP.  There were protests. As unsavoury as this choice might be, should it be allowed to affect someone’s job? And when you’re a ballerina, it isn’t a job – it’s a way of life, it’s passion, dedication, talent, total commitment. Should that be taken away because you have concerns about UK immigration?

The questions posed in this play are so pertinent and relevant today. With Brexit supporters ostracised, Trump supporters vilified and the media portraying anyone who holds these beliefs as “dumb people” should any of this be allowed to interfere with your job, especially when competition for that job is so high and you’re a hard working individual who happens to be very good at what you do.

The cast and in particular the Director brought a lot to this production!

This is the play that everyone should see!!!

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