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Review Round-up: Celebs & Gods Worshipped at Globe

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Chris Hannan’s new play The God of Soho opened last week (1 September, previews from 31 August) at Shakespeare's Globe.

The play, directed by Raz Shaw, is billed as a "morality tale for the modern age" which tackles topical issues including celebrity culture through the eyes of modern deities who find themselves having to mix with trashy TV personalities.

The cast includes Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia, A Clockwork Orange at the RSC, Holding On, The Long Firm, Outlaws and most recently The Beggar's Opera at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park), Emma Pierson (Little Dorrit, Hotel Babylon) and Edward Hogg (Bunny and the Bull, White Lightnin' and Woyzeck at the Gate).

The God of Soho continues in rep at the Globe until 30 September 2011.

Michael Coveney

"Chris Hannan's new play is a riotous comedy of gods and mortals with much bad behaviour and serious trashing of the celebrity culture … It is written in a heightened, lightly learned, scatological style that lifts the show to the edge of a mythical, classical… then tips the characters into a nightmarish underworld of Soho streets and Essex hinterland … Raz Shaw's vibrant, sensational production is a catalogue of sex, strutting and fetishism, but it never loses sight of an exemplary purpose while indulging the dark side of our fantasy life. Even the brief flash of nudity is beautiful, and the cheerless coition scene between Natty and Baz very funny. In all, this is another significant night for the Globe and Dominic Dromgoole's campaign to push contemporary playwriting towards a new Jacobean level of energy and theatrical gesture. And the terrific music of Alex Silverman and glorious design of Hannah Clark are backing him all the way."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Shakespeare's Globe is a unique venue. It takes a certain kind of big and bold drama to inhabit it fully … Chris Hannan… is an apt choice to write for it. Yet this strange confection would be better suited to a smaller stage … We're in the company of Phil Daniels's jaundiced Big God and his daughter Clem (a vivid Iris Roberts) … The action revolves around trashy C-list starlet Natty (Hotel Babylon's Emma Pierson) and her gormless rock-star boyfriend Baz (Edward Hogg) … Hannan's writing is now and then inventively salacious. He has the knack of coining disturbingly odd images: one character's conscience is a 'moving carpet of cockroaches', while another is condemned for having 'the soul of a cocktail pianist'. But mostly this is baffling fare … There are moments of genuinely pungent comedy in Raz Shaw's production ... In the first half the play lacks dramatic life. In the second it feels more vital. Yet the characterisation is paper-thin, and it isn't coherent. Instead it presents a succession of half-developed ideas and asks a huge amount of the committed cast. It raises some laughs but rather than contemporary zest or a sense of delirious carnival we're left with a bitter taste - and not even a strong one."

Paul Taylor

"The piece kicks off from the promising premise that the campily dysfunctional deities… are starting to lose a sense of their own reality and therefore plummet to a world… where they collide with the trashy celebs who are their contemporary counterparts … Periodic injections of punchy music… can't disguise the inertness of the material … Clem, the Goddess of Love (Iris Roberts) hunts for a different mode of being and fixes on reality TV star Natty whose tacky glamour and narcissistic self-loathing are brought to vibrantly vulgar life by the brilliant Emma Pierson. Natty's relationship with her rock-star boyfriend Baz (Edward Hogg) is fought out on the front pages of the tabloids … There are some surges of offbeat lyricism … What stays with you most, though, is the evening's peculiar emphasis on excrement – from Natty's song "I'm So Shit" to the heart-shaped colostomy bag worn (and used) by Big God's wife."

Libby Purves
The Times

"The gods wear random white robes and gold biker boots. Big God sees 'a lack of loveliness in the world'. He and Mrs God… are worried about their daughter… who descends into Soho looking for “something sexier than sex” … The cast list for Chris Hannan’s play drools 'sex workers, fetishists, punters, people from the underworld, media types'. Baz and Natty (Emma Pierson) are a warring celebrity couple ... Edwardo and Teresa, the local mentally ill homeless, are purer spirits than the celebs. Only once do things brighten up, when Big God, in a personal crisis, addresses Edwardo (Richard Clews) … But that’s the high point. If you’re going to do this sort of thing — even in a theatre world attuned to whimsical absurdism — then do it well … Shouting 'shit' does not guarantee either wit or grit … Hannan is an acclaimed playwright; Raz Shaw is a seasoned director, not that you’d guess … Dominic Dromgoole’s Globe has had a great season. Why now inflict on actors and audiences this farrago of maundering… leering and cheap shots? It has the seed of an idea, hardly original… but it never flowers ... The Globe audience is patient and loyal. But the response was muted, even in the age group who laugh at anything."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Dramatist Chris Hannan appears to have written the play while… experiencing a terrifying attack of logorrhoea … As in Greek myth, the gods find themselves mixing it with the mortals down on earth, in particular Natty, a self-loathing reality-TV star … There is a great deal of potty-mouthed ranting... lurking in this inchoate mess are some sharp observations about the degraded celebrity culture that now blights British life … And throughout big issues are raised only to be smothered in a manic verbosity… one leaves the theatre feeling drained ... Raz Shaw’s wearyingly energetic production includes… a great deal of shouting … There’s some pretty good jazzed-up ska, R&B and hip hop ... The sprawling chaos of both play and production is a shame, because… some of the performances excellent. Emma Pierson… plays the reality-TV star with a persuasive mixture of vile temper… and underlying vulnerability, while Iris Roberts is genuinely touching as the goddess of love expelled to the mean streets of Soho. Nevertheless, it is a huge relief when this noisy… show finally grinds to a halt."

Maddy Costa

"It's a mark of the chutzpah of playwright Chris Hannan, director Raz Shaw… that the big song-and-dance number at the heart of the show has the cast joyously declaring: 'We are so shit'. Are they writing their own review? Certainly, there are moments when Hannan's jaggedly poetic script lacks clarity … But that rumbustious verve is also one of the show's appealing features, along with a cast of… characters whose fragility… make them more compelling than repellent … At heart, this is a soppy play, a plea for… more humanity in our dealings with each other. But Hannan conceals that soppiness beneath… language that invites winningly vivacious performances, not least from Emma Pierson as… Natty, Edward Hogg as… Baz and Iris Roberts as… Clem."

- Katherine Graham


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