(Finborough Theatre)

4 stars
Lyn Gardner

“A blistering account of the things that we will do to save our own skins, and the way the human heart betrays us. It says a great deal about the systems and structures of new writing in UK theatres that Grochala’s nugget of a play has been lying around for two years unproduced. At its best it reminds us of Pinter and Bond… the writing is grimly uncompromising and delicate in the way it depicts a world in which those who grovel become those who stamp in a never-ending cycle of power-grabbing and blood-letting.

Stephen Keyworth’s production is taut and controlled, and there is some thrilling acting, particularly from Pippa Nixon as the disillusioned May, who realises she has given all for nothing, and former EastEnders actor Brooke Kinsella reveals hidden depths as June.”

Time Out
4 stars
Critics’ Choice

“Although the Khmer Rouge-era inspiration is apparent, its geographic ambiguity makes Grochala’s play all the more powerful. Taut direction from Stephen Keyworth racks up the terror – silences are deftly held, and, in one of the most shocking but visually arresting scenes May watches as her cousin is suffocated with a plastic bag. It’s harrowing stuff, but a pertinent reminder of individual responsibility in faceless terror.”

Sunday Express
4 stars
Mark Shenton

“Gripping… Brooke Kinsella brings fierce commitment to her role as the photographer’s assistant.”

What’s On Stage
4 stars

“A fine first showcase for playwright Sarah Grochala’s powerful work… Nixon gives a strong performance but Kinsella is the subtler of the two, portraying with greater depth the moral predicament that June finds herself in. That said, the scene in which May is faced with the task of photographing her former lover is moving and electric in its intimacy.
The set and staging are simple and effective and compliment the directness and honesty of the writing itself…. Some of the play’s most affecting moments are when we are granted a brief glimpse of the tenderness and decency in these hardened characters.”

Broadway Baby
4 stars

“An emotionally gut wrenching production at Finborough theatre… Pippa Nixon brings a taut strength to May which melts beautifully into a hopeful idealism and Brooke Kinsella is both hateful and pitiable as the cold June.”

Financial Times
3 stars

Stephen Keyworth’s production is tight and sharp, and the performances are impressive, with Pippa Nixon as the intense, troubled May and Brooke Kinsella as the pretty but hard-faced June. The remainder of the ensemble work swiftly to flesh out those haunting, anonymous photographs and give us a feeling for the real people who found themselves plunged into a horrific nightmare.”

The Stage
“A well-crafted, disturbing portrait of how far a human can bend under the threat of death… Nixon, especially towards the closing scenes of the play, layers an emphatic performance with humanity. Bullish, scheming, and quite uncompromising, Kinsella has an instinct for creating a sympathetic monster while Tom Reed as Col throws emotional gunpowder into this already incendiary mixture to bring the story to its bleak denouement… Dark material, indeed.”

Extra Extra
“A hard-hitting and thought provoking sixty five minutes of theatre… Director Stephen Keyworth has created a fast, passionate, intense and emotionally draining piece of theatre; at every moment the stakes are as high as they can be – it’s a play about life and death. It is not neat or clean – it’s in your face, erratic, and at times uncomfortable. But, to be honest, what else should a play set against a backdrop of genocide and tyranny be?”

(Finborough Theatre, Trafalgar Studios, Pleasance Edinburgh & English Theatre of Bruges)

4 stars

“Darkly gripping, probing horrifying extremes of human behaviour with compassion and a rigorous moral and intellectual curiosity… Thorne brilliantly evokes the volatile mix of burgeoning sexuality and the sadism of the girlish game gone wrong, questioning assumptions about childhood innocence and moral culpability.

Throughout Stephen Keyworth’s production is engrossing and superbly acted, particularly by Elicia Daly as Mary, an uneasy blend of vulnerability, bravado and rage. Sad, scary; uncomfortably fascinating.”

Time Out
Critics Choice & Show Of The Week
4 stars

“Starkly humorous… There’s not an ounce of spare flesh on Thorne’s treatment of a subject that could tempt many playwrights into rhetorical flat. The dialogue is never less than deftly sketched… this excellently acted production can’t be faulted.”

Financial Times
“Thorne’s writing is relaxed, natural, as is Keyworth’s direction. Very seldom indeed are we reminded that what makes this scene remarkable is that it involves the child murderer Mary Bell. Christopher Daley and Simon Darwen are immensely appealing as the soldiers; Diana May is pitch-perfect as the confident Lucy. What emerges unmistakably is that Mary Bell is a supporting character in her own life story, and anxious to be so.”

Pick Of The Week
3 stars

“Director Steve Keyworth has the deftness to keep us conscious of what Mary has done, even as the play gives a tentative, flickering sense that a second chance just might be possible for her. There’s some shrewd acting from Diana May as Mary’s prison chum, and from Christopher Daley and Simon Darwen as two squaddies on the pull. But the performance that makes it all work is Elicia Daly’s. Playing Mary, her little almond-shaped eyes, disconcertingly sharp and poignant by turns, are a documentary in themselves.”

The Stage
“Written with gritty economy and served by excellent performances… Beautifully directed by Stephen Keyworth, it expertly skips between scenes in Mary’s troubled childhood before showing us the woman she’s become after more than a decade in prison.”

What’s On Stage
4 stars

“Director Stephen Keyworth’s cast, especially Elicia Daly as Mary and Sophie Fletcher as Norma, give totally convincing performances.”

4 stars

“Dark, droll, and almost magnificent.”

Fringe Review
4 stars

“Writer Jack Thorne brilliantly captures the playful honesty of children at play and the contrasting posturing of adults.”

British Theatre Guide
“Jack Thorne’s sensitive and moving character study in unlikely subjects is given as fine a production as could be asked for… directed with exactly the right gentle touch by Stephen Keyworth.”

Broadway Baby
4 stars

“There’s a real menace in the room… Stephen Keyworth directs well, and all the performances were strong… Thorne must be commended for daring to deal with this difficult subject with sensitivity, compassion and even some humour.”

4 stars

“A fascinating and brilliant production… this play constantly manages to thrill and intrigue… Brilliantly mixing childhood innocence along the darkness all children are capable off, this play is flawlessly acted and directed. Highly recommended.”

5065 LIFT
(Pleasance Edinburgh, Soho Theatre Writers Festival, Brighton Fringe Festival)

Critics Choice in Time Out, The Sunday Times, the Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, Scotland On Sunday, The Herald, The Sunday Herald and Fest

Scotland On Sunday
Mark Fisher

”I’ve been banging on to anyone who’ll listen about the deleterious effect of the Edinburgh Fringe’s one-hour timeslots. All those playwrights shoe-horning their ideas into 60 minutes; all those directors skimping on the set. Even worse, these shows then tour the UK, subjecting a more leisurely audience to their half-baked ideas.

But I’m going to eat my words. After spending a day at Cafédirect’s 5065 Lift, where no show is longer than 30 minutes, an hour seems an extravagance. And sets? Why bother when you can express everything you want in the confines of a metal box that’s smaller than your average toilet cubicle?

On Wednesday I booked myself into eight shows back-to-back at the Fringe’s most peculiar venue, in a grassy corner of the Pleasance.

What’s immediately apparent is that the very constraints of this space – literally an elevator with two sets of sliding doors – fuel the imagination. And when the audience, which never numbers more than a dozen, is standing shoulder to shoulder with the actors, there is no room for sloppiness or short-cuts. Even the weakest show has a rare and thrilling intimacy.

This is especially true when the standard of acting is so very high. I’ll be happy if I don’t see performances better than those of Sheena Irving and Elicia Daly in Fanny & Faggot for the rest of the Fringe. Better still are the same two actresses, along with Charlotte Palmer, Fiona Paul and Felicity Well, in the utterly superb Patricia Quinn Saved my Life.

It’s not just the nerve of staging a play for five players in such a miniscule space, it’s the hilarious and joyful exuberance of the performances that will keep you smiling for the rest of the week.

Alison Carr’s play is a camp tribute to Patricia Quinn, best known as Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show. Featuring two look-alike fans stuck in a lift, it is silly, frivolous and consummately done in Sam Hoyle’s production.

Jack Thorne’s Fanny & Faggott is an unsettling drama, inspired by the notorious Mary Bell killings of the 1960s, that switches from comedy to horror with alarming speed, and shows how thin the line can be between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

For more funny and contemplative drama, try Stephen Keyworth’s Honolulu (actually two plays on alternate days), which tries to reconcile the hatred between Israeli and Palestinian and is thus a valuable companion piece to When the Bulbul Stopped Singing at the Traverse and The Situation Comedy at the Pleasance.

Meanwhile, Charlatan puts a dark spin on the reality TV debate, The Aquatic Ape is a funny take on marital discord and Aliens are Scary is a daft B-movie pastiche. Finally, with its cocoa and cushions, Julie Balloo’s Morpheus Descending is an anthology of subverted bedtime stories and a delightfully funny way to finish your Fringe day. Unless you’re claustrophobic or unsteady on your pins, I can’t recommend it enough.”

The Scotsman
Roger Cox

“THERE WASN’T exactly a shortage of unconventional venues at last year’s Fringe – a group of stand-up comedians opted to hold their show on the top deck of a double-decker bus in the Grassmarket, a DJ put on mobile discos in the back of a mini-cab, and one theatre company even set up shop in a public toilet. But of all the weird and wonderful performance spaces that sprang up in 2003, the one that really fired the imagination of press and public alike was the 5065 Lift in the Pleasance Courtyard.

Sponsored by Café Direct, the Lift is, well, a lift – a shiny metal box with sliding doors. The interior measures just 2mx2m, which is barely enough room to swing a medium-sized cat, so performances are always intimate affairs, with a maximum of 14 people in the audience at any one time. In fact, to describe the Lift as “intimate” doesn’t really do it justice. This is a space where the traditional boundaries between performer and audience are completely, unavoidably, broken down. In most theatres, you can behave very much as you would at the movies: sit back, enjoy the show and clap at the end if you feel so-inclined. Here, you’re on stage with the performers so you become part of the action. If you get in their way, the actors will ask you to move, and if they want you to join in with the show you don’t have much choice in the matter. There’s something primal about the experience – this is what theatre must have been like before anyone thought to give it a name.

Last August, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day in the Lift. It was interesting to see how the different performers adapted to the space, and also to observe how audience members reacted, from the middle-aged woman who had to leave a poetry reading halfway due to an attack of claustrophobia, to the drunken crowd who boogied and flirted away to the hi-energy sounds of the Johnny Berliner Band at the end of the night. Having said that, only a handful of the shows on offer had been designed with the Lift in mind. Apart from the odd exception, such as Risa Mickenburg’s one-woman drama Firewoman’s Lift, performed by Kathy Hasse, in which actor and audience found themselves stuck in an elevator at the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, most of the acts seemed to have said: “Let’s just take the show we usually do, stick it in a lift and see what happens.” The programme was a pick’n’mix of theatre, stand-up comedy, music, film and one or two events that defied categorisation, and the whole enterprise felt more than a little anarchic.

THIS YEAR, however, things are going to be different. Under the leadership of artistic director and writer-in-residence Stephen Keyworth and content producer Sam Hoyle – both Fringe veterans – the Lift has become a much more logical place. Instead of 2003’s knuckle-chewingly complicated programme, which saw 51 acts scattered over 27 days and 297 one-hour timeslots, this year’s line-up consists of a core of nine theatre pieces – all 30-minute world premieres – plus one short film showcase.

There will still be time set aside for the kinds of one-off cabaret shows and micro-gigs that proved such a hit in 2003, but this August the Lift is all about theatre and, in particular, about new writing. All of this year’s core theatre productions will be performed by the Lift’s new Rep company, which consists of 11 actors, chosen from more than 400 applicants, and the playwrights on this year’s bill were also carefully selected.

“We put adverts in the writers’ press,” says Keyworth, “and we also approached places like Paines Plough, the Traverse, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Court and got them to recommend a few names. We then asked people to send in proposals and we picked the best ones. Some are from writers who were recommended to us, and some are from people who came out of nowhere.”

In another change from 2003, playwrights were asked to submit scripts designed specifically for the Lift, so all of the events have been tailored to play well in a confined space.

In chronological order then, the first show each day, at 1:30pm, will be Shaft of Light – a showcase of short films fresh from the hotbed of new screenwriting talent known as the Script Factory. Jarvis Cocker is just one of several well-kent faces scheduled to make an appearance on the Lift’s big(ish) screen. Next up, it’s Grouchy Tiger Hidden Badger by Sarah Adams, a show that aims to teach five to nine-year-olds about the principles of fair trade. Regular Fringe-goers may be familiar with Adams’s alter-ego Jade the Folk Singer, who scooped the Babycham Funny Woman Award in 2003 for her tongue-in-cheek ditties.

Inspired by recent goings-on in the Big Brother house, Londoner Darren Murphy has written a play called Charlatan, which takes reality TV to the next level. In a show where all the contestants must assume false personalities given to them by their producer, one man loses his mind and has to be replaced. Things take an unexpected turn when the replacement, Tel, makes a last-minute decision to assume a fictitious persona of his own choosing. The young researcher escorting him down to the contest zone in a lift must find out what this persona is going to be before it’s too late.

The early evening slots are taken up by Jack Thorne’s black comedy Fanny & Faggot, which looks at the terrible things children can do when they get bored; two plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Steve Keyworth collectively known as Honolulu; Patricia Quinn Saved My Life by Alison Carr, in which the audience find themselves locked in a cupboard with two women at a Rocky Horror convention; and George Gott’s drama about two insomniac sisters, The Powder Jars.

THEN THERE WILL be a chance to see Joy Wilkinson’s The Aquatic Ape, in which an unhappy couple make plans to do away with each other while trapped within the confines of a shark cage; a sci-fi spoof by Keyworth called Aliens Are Scary, in which the Lift will double as a spaceship; and finally Morpheus Descending – a series of bedtime stories from Jenny Eclair’s long-time collaborator Julie Balloo. Blankets, eyemasks and cocoa will be provided.

As you might expect, members of the audience will have a variety of different roles to play in these productions. In The Aquatic Ape, for example, Joy Wilkinson imagines them as fish, able to hear the thoughts of the two homicidal divers who can only communicate with each other through sign language. Darren Murphy also felt the need to involve the paying public in the action of his play. “I reference the audience as drones who maintain the lift’s cabling system,” he says. “I think in a claustrophobic environment like that you can’t treat them as the fourth wall – you have to bring them in somehow.”

As Wilkinson puts it: “When the actors make eye contact with you that close-up you think, ‘This really is live theatre’.”


“I’ll be happy if I don’t see performances better than those of Sheena Irving and Elicia Daly in Fanny & Faggot for the rest of the Fringe. It switches from comedy to horror with alarming speed.”
Mark Fisher, Scotland on Sunday

“A real triumph of skill, imagination and dramatic accomplishment. Sheena Irving and Elicia Daly’s brilliant interpretation is entirely convincing and wonderfully communicative of the piece’s inherent complexity.”
The Stage

“Thorne has an incredible ear for dialogue”. Perfectly cast, utterly convincing performances.”
The Metro


“A complete delight – 4 stars”
The Sunday Telegraph

“Utterly superb…It’s the hilarious and joyful exuberance of the performances that will keep you smiling for the rest of the week”
Mark Fisher, Scotland on Sunday

“Genuinely funny and superbly silly. Truly original – 4 stars”
The List

“Carr’s script is gloriously silly and cast of five have as much fun as the audience.”
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian


“I hoped this would be good but I was surprised – in fact, it is outlandishly brilliant. It is well written, sparky, clever and funny and the cast seemed to delight in performing while the rest of us could not stop laughing.”
Three Weeks

“An excellent production of an entertaining script. Intelligent, well timed performances. Wilkinson’s script is a darkly comic affair that never loses sight of the hope and tragedy in their relationship.”
The Stage


“Aliens are Scary is more poignant in its ridiculousness than one might at first expect. But don’t be fooled, this show is light-hearted and comical. It’s a wonder the actors are able to keep a straight face!”

“Aliens are scary is a hilariously funny parody of all things American.”


”Written and directed by Amnesty Award winner Stephen Keyworth, and another example of the high quality theatre that’s overloading the lift this year. This production is a wonderful blend of storytelling and comedy and features Bob Schroedinger, a retired particle physicist turned fortune teller using his clever cat as the crystal ball. Ian Pringle is excellent as the self-doubting fumbling physicist and Lulu Rafique makes a fantastic feline with a deliciously sleek and purring voice. Up close and personal, you have got to love the Lift.”
Three Weeks

(Edinburgh Festival Fringe)

Winner of the Amnesty International Theatre Award
Sunday Telegraph Critics Choice

The List
4 stars

“In Glasgow there were ice cream wars, in London it’s hotdogs and flippant as that sounds the reality is deadly serious. Dog Well Done was inspired by the discovery of a Kosovan refugee found beaten to death in London’s St James’s Park. The story of immigrants eking out a living from professional crooks has a Dickensian ring about it – the underworld of London where seedy rogues exploit the desperate. And here Grist has his fellow countrymen – immigrants from the former Yugoslavia – over a barrel, or rather a hotdog stall. It’s a cynical cartel and the play explores with great intelligence the kind of life that many refugees face in London. There are strong performances from all and interesting casting with one of the refugees played by an Irish actor – drawing parallels with the not-too-distant history of the treatment of Irish immigrants in Britain. A compelling piece of theatre.”

The Scotsman
4 stars

“It’s not often that a food fight turns into war, but in Stephen Keyworth’s intelligent new play, Dog Well Done, selling hotdogs from a cart in a London park amounts to nothing short of a military operation.

When Marcus, a Kosovar refugee who scrapes a living at a park hotdog stand, breaks away from his ruthless boss Grist, to set up a rival stall, arson, betrayal and blackmail become as integral to the art of selling hotdogs as steel tongs and ketchup.

Marcus and his immigrant friends are cheap calories to Grist, who promises the refugees a quiet life only to swallow them, and the hotdog profits, whole.

Eking more meaning from a sausage than would ever have been thought possible, the hotdog becomes an unlikely symbol for cultural difference and the indifference of a system that lets people work all day and yet still sleep rough at night.

The play’s message is clear: it’s a hotdog eat hotdog world.”

Eyes and Teeth (North West touring venues)

“In Stephen Keyworth’s fast-moving, dark drama set in an English provincial town, the hard drinking, hard talking young men all too readily seek escape from their boredom in violence, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes contrived.  The young women make strenuous, if ultimately ineffective, efforts to avert the worst consequences of this macho behaviour, and try to get them to make some sense of their aimless lives

Ivor (Tom Cooke) rages frustratedly that he wants to do something and be someone, yet in the end has his feet on the ground, but for Rollan (Chris White) escape from violence means an unlikely enrolment in the army, while king of the streets Joll (Luke Toulson) finds rejection of true love the road to catastrophe.  Esther (Kylie Stark), the object of his affection, shares her dark hideaway with him to overcome her grief at her mother’s death, but her breaking free precipitates the bizarre duel of Ivor and Joll – and tragic denouement.  Firmly directed by the playwright, this production by Active Performance compellingly sustains it’s raw edged tempo throughout.”

The Stage                            

(The Green Room, Manchester)


(The Green Room, Manchester)