Ugly Lovely at the Old Red Lion, Islington

This is the second time I have been to the Old Red Lion (ORL) theatre and once again I was not disappointed by what they had to offer. Either I have been very lucky with my visits or ORL only attracts the most creative teams. Ugly Lovely is written by, and stars, the talented Welsh creative Ffion Jones. Set in Swansea, Ugly Lovely, explores the love, laughter and hardships endured by the protagonist Shell. Shell feels trapped. She has a baby who lives with Shell’s mum, her boyfriend is almost non-existent and her Nan sits on the side in the form of an urn.

Ugly Lovely

The play opens with Shell and her only mate ending their alcohol fuelled night in a kebab shop. From the very outset the audience are introduced to Shell’s conflicting states of mind and her struggle between living in the past and focusing on the future. Her fluctuating personality explores spontaneity and elation which are constantly juxtaposed with feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.

Despite topics of promiscuity, suicide and betrayal, Ffion Jones and the other two members of the cast filled the theatre with a constant revitalising energy that was genuine and embracing. No matter what emotion was dominating the scene, the individual personalities of each character managed to suck the audience into their world. The intimacy of the theatre left the audience feeling as though they knew the characters on a personal level by the end of the play. The empathy felt for Shell was genuine and strong.

Ugly Lovely’s cast of three had great chemistry and managed to deliver gritty subjects in a more comfortable and easy to access manner. Despite its serious themes, this play is a comedy that had its audience belly laughing periodically. Shell, her best mate and her one-night stand were all incredibly refreshing to watch. If you want to take a trip to Wales without leaving London, to experience a story with elements that we can all relate to and to be purged of your emotions through laughter then you have only got a week left to make your way to Islington:


Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy at the Old Red Lion Theatre (Islington) is a very good adaptation of Thomas Kyd’s work. With a theme of revenge, the audience follow Horatio’s mother who sets herself the task of avenging her son’s death. To make the play all the more exciting, the character, Revenge, meddles in events causing unjustifiable deaths leading the play to a chaotic end.



The set was quite alternative, abstract and sterile making this particular adaptation of Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy very interesting to observe. At the time the play was first produced, busy sets and colourful more elaborate costumes would have been used. In this production the costumes were simple and the majority of the cast wore black. The floor was white and there were menacing hooks hanging from the ceiling. There was a sort of white-noise playing throughout the entire piece. The lighting reminded one of an old psychiatric hospital; sanitary, neutral, and occasionally flickering. The light, sound and set came together to create a real sense of uneasiness. It almost had similar traits to a psychological thriller and in some ways it could be described as one; Hieronimo did end up murdering the wrong man because she was in such a mental state that made it easy for her to be misled.

The prominent colour of the play was blue. This emphasised a coldness. When a character died, a plastic bag full of paint was carelessly ripped from a hook hanging above the stage and the paint decorated the white (and unnervingly clean) stage floor with blue splatters. The bag clearly represented life and the way that the bags could be so easily ripped showed how casually the characters were playing with life; as though it had no real value.

One of my favourite parts of the set were the opaque screens that lined the edge of the stage. Behind these screens is where the murders happened, emphasising the physical separation that death causes. For example when Hieronimo sees Horatio dead, she has no physical attachment to his body as it is behind the screen. Instead the audience are drawn to a disturbing scene that shows Hieronimo covering herself in Horatio’s spilled blood. The feeling of isolation that death can bring was vividly prominent and the imagery of the play was incredibly poetic at times.

The cast were very talented. Each had their own very individual character giving the play a real diversity that I haven’t seen in a long time. Leo Wan (Revenge) was particularly strong as was Janet Etuk (Lorenzo). Throughout the play I was filled with a feeling of eeriness and intrigue which was largely due to the actors’ presence.

This production was incredibly engaging and its combination of set, sound and light are worth taking note of. It could all be described as very simple but I believe that the way it was used really did give the play a complexity that would not have been in existence otherwise.

If you want to experience an abstract adaption of a 16th century tragedy then make sure you book tickets before the 5th March 2016: