Reviews: The Little Soldiers at Cockpit Theatre, The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios

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In this 55 minute physical theatre performance, Theatre Re open the lid of a long forgotten toy box and therein lies a small circus.
Steeped to the hilt in French stylings with only a ladder, a wire and a microphone for props, two brothers fight over the beautiful tight-rope walker. Her perpetual smile leads them above and below themselves into other imagined worlds where they fall through the sky, sleep on bunk beds and sail through the air on a porch swing. But only one of them can win the girl and things grow unsettlingly violent.
There’s no precise plot to this atmospheric Theatre Re production but it creates a world of possibilities to get lost in. The three performers, Selma Roth, Malik Ibheis and Guillaume Pige, who also directs, are supported by a brilliant live musician in Alex Judd who loops and plays the soundtrack on which the show hinges. Together with make up and costumes that are simultaneously child-like and sinister, they push themselves physically to master the illusions that help us escape into their heads.
The simple story manages to stay away from anything twee. Instead the company makes us focus on things like the fear that lies behind Selma’s perpetual smile as the ballerina watches these two men battle over her while leading them on in some evasive way.
A strong, thoughtful and atmospheric show that could perhaps say a bit more than it does, but nonetheless makes an unforgettable hour of theatre.
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For lovers of a classic farce, Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse (1958) is the pinnacle of thought-provoking comedy. But that’s for people who love farce and in Jamie Lloyd’s production at Trafalgar studios, you get little else. No moments of reflection, not enough points of pure disgust but still a great mix of institutional politics and co-worker comedy.

Simon Russell Beale plays Colonel Roote, the incompetent head of a state-run mental institution where career competition and abuse of patients is rife. He sweats and bumbles his way through his duties perfectly and after you leave the theatre, the image of his character, whose responsibilities extend over hundreds of vulnerable people, becomes a lasting, frightening picture. But while you’re watching the play, there’s little to recoil at.

Contrastly, Indira Varma as sexy Miss Cutts, who’s having an affair with her boss, hits some perfect notes. She makes an utter fool of herself as she desperately tries to find some satisfaction and power. Her delusion is matched only by John Simm’s fierce, sharp callousness as another of Roote’s subordinates. But I found myself waiting to be stirred during this play. Only after I left the theatre did I feel its strength and enjoy its politics.

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