REVIEW: ORANGES & ELEPHANTS (Hoxton Hall) ★★★★★

One of the big revelations of modern times is that quite a lot of what we think we know in history is bollocks. The history of facts fell to ‘interpretation’, history’s version of #fakenews. Slanted and repossessed by people with their vested interests cloaking the truth. His-story is dull men in action slacks leading us by the hand through what they want us to know – or allow us to. Time is really up.

A lot of nonsense is often spoken about the ‘good old days’ of Victorian Music Hall revered now as the museums of the marvellous. The music halls were working venues and housed good and bad, like today some of the worst was the most popular … you can’t stop the tide. Music Halls housed the work of the people and sometimes people can be pretty shit.

One thing that is undeniable though is that the music halls were spectacularly built, born to be welcoming and have proved to be future proof. Hoxton Hall is a grand venue, snuck away in back arse of East London grinning furiously at it’s more modern neighbors begging to be gentrified with an ‘I’ve seen ‘em all come and I’ve seen ‘em all go’ facade.

It is also the perfect journey for the start of what is going to be a very long and prosperous journey for tonight’s show, Lil Warren’s ‘Oranges and Elephants’; a musical journey through the girl gangs of the 1800s. It’s rich territory in character, plot and song. Enticing vices and visceral violence, this is a show that really has something for you all … with songs – and a sing-a-long to boot.

I ‘m a fan of Lil Warren and her no-frills approach to theatre. Her shows are always surprising, direct and uncompromising. She has a simple formula, take a great story that no-one else knows, tell it well, cast the best and bugger the rest.

Oranges & Elephants is a powerhouse all women production centered on the hitherto hidden history of the Victorian turf wars between the girl gangs of South London’s Walworth Road and East London’s Bethnal Green. It’s a show about the displacement of women in the capital at a time when the economy valued only men … women survived how they could.

In this show Warren’s economies are supersized to spectacular scale by director Susie McKenna, and fitting the music hall setting like a hand to a glove. Susannah van den Burg shines as our host and the prop leading the show and punctuating the narrative with asides and a chorus, the script is tight with razor sharp dialogue delivered by a premium cast of women actor-musicians.

Naïve – the unkind would say wet – Mary (Sinead Long) arrives in London and immediately catches the attention of Nellie from the Elephants, played by the brilliant Christina Tedders, who first steals her bag but what Mary steals in retaliation is Nellie’s dream and ultimately her life. Rebecca Bainbridge is scarily stand out as the misanthropic asocial Ada and keep an eye on Sarah J Warren as the minxy Minnie, underplaying the fool with perfect comedy timing.

Oranges & Elephants is no casual reverie; this is social history writ large, unmediated and untamed. Its perfect theatre, both savagery and delight in two equal portions across two brilliant acts. Miss this and miss out.

Reviewed by Barry Ryan


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