entertainment theatre

What Shows to See in East London Now

Winter is coming – and what better a time to enjoy the thespian delight of the theatre. Here’s our culture columnist, Jamie Moore’s top picks for what’s on in East London.


Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Meet Me At Dawn

at the Arcola Theatre

Marooned on an island amidst a misty sea, the protagonists in Zinnie Harris’s new play grapple with the uncanny reality of their shipwrecked predicament. Director Murat Daltaban competently helms this dreamy piece of theatre that delves into the aching discombobulation of grief, taking as its dramatic milieu a sandbank in a non-place – a parallel world where a bereaved lover has been magically gifted one final day with her deceased partner.

Harris took the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as her point of departure, which she described as “a perfect myth because, like the best myths, it explains and dramatises some point of the human experience that we otherwise are left grappling with”. The play itself must be grappled with initially, as, like the characters in the play, the world we are introduced to is confusingly alien, and the characters behave unusually given their apparent dilemma.

But as the play nears its denouement, there are moments of breathless visceral anguish, delivered expertly by actor Marianne Oldham, who has rightly been nominated for an Off West End Award for her performance. Many an eye was wet with stinging tears as the lights flared and the actors took their bows. Harris’s play boasts a painful truth; a truth that lingers long after one strides out into the biting autumn air.

Plays until 9 November
Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL


(c) Alex Brenner


at the Arcola Theatre

The woman at the heart of Maxine Peake’s new play is undeniably compelling: Beryl Burton is one of Great Britain’s greatest, but least known, athletes; a cyclist whose 12-hour distance record, set in 1967, stood for 50 years, despite the subsequent advances in sport science and nutrition. Marieke Audsley directs an energetic cast, whose commitment to the theatrical cause cannot be faulted; they are to be credited with making the evening an engaging one.

Peake’s play follows Burton’s life in a chronological fashion, dutifully documenting the critical waypoints in her life, covering both her career and personal life. We journey from Beryl’s birthplace in Halton, Leeds, where, as a child, she was diagnosed with a heart condition that threatened to preclude all sporting endeavour for the rest of her life. But such was the chutzpah and resolve of this burgeoning athlete that she defied the advice of doctors and went on to become a world champion cyclist.

Peake’s play is part documentary, part pantomime, with a kind of vaudevillian feel to it, largely due to the commendable actors who each play a multitude of characters with comic flair. It certainly does a good job of chronicling Burton’s life; a life that deserves to be venerated and celebrated.

Plays until 16 November
Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL


Photo: (C) Topher McGrillis

As You Like It

at the Barbican Theatre

Directed by Kimberly Sykes, Shakespeare’s ruminative comedy As You Like It comes to the Barbican Centre this autumn. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this daring production depicts the Forest of Arden as a liminal space; the “backstage” to which the aristocratic family of Rosalind et al. are banished, having fallen out of favour with the cantankerous Duke Frederick, played menacingly here by the imposing Anthony Byrne. The houselights flare up as the characters transition from court to forest, and Sophie Stanton (Jacques) is called to the stage by her real name as the line between fiction and reality is toyed with.

Lucy Phelps turns in a spritely performance as Rosalind. Skittering across the stage with charismatic abandon, Phelps’s connection with the audience was near-constant as she showered them with knowing looks and impish asides. Sophie Khan Levy’s effortlessly sassy Celia serves as a good foil to Phelps as the two tumble through the nether realm of Arden. Audrey the goatherd is depicted here as deaf, introducing sign language to the fray, which facilitates some amusing exchanges between the love triangle of Audrey, Touchstone (Sandy Grierson) and William (Tom Dawze).

This production is bursting with ideas, some of which spark while others fizzle. At the denouement an enormous puppet is wheeled onto the stage, manhandled into existence by several of the expansive ensemble. I admit to being baffled by what this puppet was meant to represent, but the ‘stage picture’ was striking; this sense of pleasant puzzlement defined this production, making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

Plays until 18 January 2020
Barbican Centre
Silk Street, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS

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