The jury is in: The Crescent Theatre Company’s Consent is unmissable theatre

Words by Jimmy Dougan / Production images and artwork supplied by The Crescent Theatre Company

Anyone looking for a masterclass in theatrical form ought to get down to the Crescent as soon as possible. In this production of Nina Raine’s dreadfully topical 2017 smash Consent, director Andrew Cowie takes big ideas and wrestles them into a sleek staging that’s lean, muscular and relentlessly provocative.

This is the way real stories are told: even if I remain as ambivalent about Raine’s play as I was back in 2017, this is audacious and thrilling theatre.

Raine’s play is unapologetically old-fashioned. It opens in the home of new parents Kitty and Ed (Grace Cheatle and Scott Westwood), sipping wine with their lawyer friends Jake and Rachel (James David Knapp and Perdita Lawton – both wickedly funny). The latter are evidently at their wit’s end with their marriage, and Cowie mines some great gags from their polite barbing.

Meanwhile, Kitty is trying to set her actress friend Zara (Steph Urquhart) up with one of Ed’s prosecuting-counsel colleagues Tim (Mark Payne).

Ed and Tim soon find themselves locking horns in court. Ed is defending an accused rapist, with Tim heading the prosecution. The victim, Gayle (Katie Merriman), is virtually ignored in proceedings. As Tim agonisingly explains to her, she is effectively a witness in her own rape. She is evidence. It’s better that a guilty man goes free than an innocent one goes down, he reminds her. Why? Gayle asks. He has no answer.

Cowie’s direction distils this premise into a series of short, snappy scenes which manage to keep Raine’s occasionally laboured dialogue from feeling strained. There is a roughness to the production, a deliberately unfinished quality: the bare black wall of the Crescent’s Ron Barber Studio is exposed, and the playing space is a simple white platform with a visible props table adjacent to it.

What this does is deftly reflect the unfinished, ongoing nature of debates around women’s rights and legal protections. The actors are lit starkly from above, and Cowie and Raine ask us to play jury. When they’re not on stage, the actors sit at the edge of the playing space and watch incuriously, suggesting the roles we perform in public and private.

A shame that in such a versatile space Cowie opts to place us end-on to the action; from the back row I felt distant. Cowie’s blocking is tight, but you can’t help but notice the smallness of the playing area and the physicality subsequently feels hemmed in.

I remain mixed on Raine’s play. It premiered in 2017, right before the eruption of the #MeToo movement, and Raine famously refused to update it for a West End transfer in 2018.

The fact the words ‘Me’ and ‘Too’ remain unsaid for the two hours of Raine’s play feels jarring in 2024, and Raine ends the first act of Consent with a Christmastime confrontation that’s so implausible as to verge on melodrama – though knowing what was coming, I was able to savour Merriman’s performance.

Fortunately, these issues are easy to forget watching an ensemble this game. They don’t just rise to the challenges of Rain’s script, they pin them to the ground to deliver some of the finest performances I’ve seen in the theatre. And Cowie’s subtle and assured direction finds a beautiful shape for their work to take.

While Consent hasn’t aged particularly well, the knotty issues at the core of its drama remain as dreadfully topical as ever.

Consent runs at the Crescent Theatre from 8-15 June 2024, presented by The Crescent Theatre Company in the Ron Barber Studio. Tickers are priced from £11. 

For times and links to online ticket sales, click here.

For more from the Crescent Theatre, including full programme details and links to online ticket sales, visit

Lightning Strikes Twice – Ed Quigley talks magic and music ahead of two Brian Lightning shows

Words by Billy Beale / Pics by Conor Wells, Rosie Sco, Ben Dornan

You might have crossed paths with Brian Lightning already.

Whether you’ve seen him in Grand Central Station wearing some ambiguous signage, performing songs and magic at various Birmingham gig venues, or simply a funny video on social media, the chances are that you’re familiar with the disco-era Pierrot and his bold black geometric face paint.

If you’re unlucky you might have had dealings with the dastardly Frankie S. Gasspipe.

On the 10 May ‘The Life of Brian Lightning’ will be a show celebrating the life of this mysterious magical crooner. One week later, on 17 May, ‘The Death of Brian Lightning’ mourns him. Both shows are at Digbeth’s Centrala – with links to more info and ticket sales at the end of this interview.

Life and death… music and magic? Who is Brian Lightning? Billy Beale caught up with the mind behind the character – musician and magician Ed Quigley – in an attempt to ascertain just what it’s all about.

“The idea for Brian came from a frustration with my onstage persona in previous acts and bands,” explains Ed Quigley.

“I was trying to act aloof and cooler than my own music, but it only served to make me anxious. But when I would do a magic show I felt more of a connection. It felt like ‘me’. Blending the two helps me feel more at home in what I’m doing.”

Artists throughout history have used personas to empower themselves and their work. Ed and his characters exist alongside Steve Coogan and Alan Partridge, or David Bowie’s various personas. But the fusion of sleight-of-hand and artful pop is something you’re unlikely to find anywhere except at a Brian Lightning show.

“Brian’s a vessel for me to communicate my ideas. I relate to him quite a lot. After a while it does feel like it’s just ‘me’.

“Frankie Gasspipe is where I can completely separate myself and dive into the character. That’s always good fun and gives me an opportunity to do more of the glam rock things I would do in my previous band Cave Girl.”

Quiqley adds: “We get compared to a lot of genre-defying artists like Alex Cameron or Gorrilaz. I think having the two characters, some songs lean more towards heavier rock and roll for Frankie Gasspipe.

“Brian has got more love songs and ballads. A little bit like Pulp’s more romantic songs.

“You write songs for yourself; you have to like it and if the audience don’t then they don’t. Whereas magic is the other way around. It’s all about what people will think and how they respond. That creates an interesting atmosphere to write in. The songs are still pretty personal, if not to me then to the character.

“I don’t think about how they come across to an audience in the way I do with magic.

“Occasionally we will write a piece of music for a trick. It can help keep the show flowing rather than talking through a trick for four minutes.”

It’s hard to say if the blending of music, magic, and theatre would work as well as it does if the songs were in a different style. The mournful whirrs of an old organ makes Brian and their songs seem like they were frozen in an unremembered corner of the late 1970s and only recently defrosted.

Ed Quigley continues: “It started with the organ I got from a charity shop in Kings Heath, an Electone FE30. It had bass pedals, drum machines.

“I could hear the whole show in its sounds. Because it has the vaudeville, circus-y sort of sound, it inspired me to create a character to fit that sound.”

Unfortunately, that particular organ won’t be attending the upcoming ‘Life’/Death’ duology of shows – held at the Centrala gallery and events venue on 10 and 17 May.

“The old organ has now died,” adds Quigley. “It died at the ‘Divorce’ show at The Sunflower Lounge. I think we’re all just amazed at how long it lasted.

“It went around the country with me for a year, up and down shaky stairs in venues. It was supposed to just grow old and gather dust and die in an old people’s home, not go around the country with a band.”

Divorce… now life and death. Why are the two May shows themed this way? Does it mark the end of an era or a new beginning?

“Kind of both,” tells Quigley. “It’s gonna mark the end of an era for a few songs and ideas and also the beginning of a different musical direction.

“I’ve always loved the idea of staging my own funeral. My mum’s coming in a black veil but said that fake tears were too dark.”

Preparing for the May shows at Centrala, Ed explains how the other acts were carefully chosen to suit the themes.

“For Life, we have Sancho Panza. They blend disco, rock and roll, new wave, no wave, and they put it all into a really great show. Like us, they obviously can’t make up their mind.

“The next band is Astles from Liverpool. Incredibly lovely people. Dan is an exceptional songwriter. I might have to ask them to reign it in so that we still look good.

“The other band on that show is the Ha Ha Hats who I think are an alien band from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. I ran halfway across Birmingham to catch them because I’d gone to the wrong venue.”

But whilst both the upcoming Brian Lightning shows might grip the same narrative thread, the life and death of the titular artist, they each have their own story to tell.

‘The Life of Brian Lightning’ event on 10 May will be 1970s disco and glamour themed, but ‘The Death of Brian Lightning’ will be more of a funeral black themed affair – although we have been assured “it can be sexy”.

Quigley adds: “Firstly for ‘Death,’ we have Skinned. A project made up of Toy and The Horrors, two of my favourite acts growing up and suitably quite dark for the theme of the show. They describe themselves as ‘violent minimalist shoegaze for the discerning death’… need I say more?

“Also on the bill are local legends Dirty Hound. Fronted by Ritchie James who I used to play with in Cave Girl.

“Finally, we have Mash House, who I played with really recently. I’ve known them for years. It’s one hell of a show, a real party.”

If we can take anything from the weird and wonderful world of Brian Lightning, it would be foolish to expect that these upcoming shows will just be straight-ahead gigs. And surely, the magician has all manner of things up his sleeves?

“The bands have all gone in on the themes and there are some surprises for the ‘Death’ show that I won’t spoil,” admits Ed .

“I’m super honoured that they’re all travelling to the shows and that we’ll all celebrate the life and death of the band together.”

Brian Lightening will be presenting two shows in May at Centrala.

‘The Life of Brian Lightning’ takes place 10 May, with ‘The Death of Brian Lightning’ held on 17 May – tickets for both shows are available through Kikimora Records:

For more on Brian Lightning follow them on Instagram at

Or to check out their music on Spotify, click here.

For more on Centrala visit

Here, there, everywhere: La Chimera is a beguiling, dreamy masterpiece

Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of Ad Vitam Distribution

Somewhere, maybe not here but not totally elsewhere, and maybe not in the present though not necessarily in the past either, a man, Arthur (Josh O’Connor) is asleep on a train. Cutting his way across the Tuscan countryside, he dreams, seemingly in 16mm film, of his love Beniamina (Yile Vianello) before being jolted awake.

These are the opening moments of Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, a beguiling and transfixing fairy-tale which takes a dreary, decaying world and unearths beauty and resplendence from underneath the soil. It finds wonder in cracked statues, beauty in dirty fingernails. While it may deal in crumbling ruins and broken relics, that’s only because it pleads with us to savour our lives while we are still living.

Arthur has just been released from prison after serving an unspecified stint for grave robbing, though in his tattered white suit he looks like he’s wandered out of a Fellini film. Returning home to the town of Riparbella, Tuscany, he finds himself in the decaying home of Beniamina’s mother Flora (Isabella Rossellini).

Beniamina is probably dead, and before long Arthur is back in with his raffish gang of tombaroli, professional tomb raiders, who are eager for him to use his talents. They sell on their plunder to a shady broker, Frida (Alba Rohrwacher) who deals with ultra-wealthy buyers.

Typically striking is director Rohrwacher’s use of form: she employs three types of film here, to beautiful effect. The bulk of the film is shot on grainy Super 16mm, Arthur’s dreams are in boxy 16mm, and the remarkable sequences of graverobbing are captured in comparatively crisp 35mm.

These latter sequences, which are legitimately astonishing, fill the screen, as if Arthur’s only true happiness is found underneath the ground amongst relics of the dead. He is neither dead nor alive, an Orpheus in the underworld, out of time with the world around him (the film is ostensibly set in the 1980s, but Rohrwacher plays the setting fast and loose).

O’Connor, who rose to fame playing Prince Charles in The Crown, brings a fleet-footed thuggishness to his role, never a villain but never quite a hero. And his command of Italian is admirable, tantalisingly suggesting the character’s ambiguous origins.

But Arthur is surrounded by a ragtag group of outcasts and weirdos, and Rohrwacher’s ensemble gamely rise to the challenges she sets them. Mélodie (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) is a photographer, though in Rohrwacher’s hands her habit of breaking the fourth wall is totally normal. And as the matriarchal Flora, Rossellini gently depicts a mother unmoored by the loss of her daughter.

Viewers unaccustomed to Rohrwacher’s style may have to withstand with a certain degree of narrative drift – the director is more than content to let us hang out with these tombaroli until the discovery of a beautiful sculpture halfway through kicks off the story proper – but the film is so beautifully told, and packed with sequences that frequently took the breath away, I was dreading its ending.

La Chimera leads us warmly into the past, into a world which is not quite our own but adjacent to it, so that when you emerge the whole planet seems alive with possibility.

In the film’s most moving sequence, Arthur stares into the eyes of a woman’s ageless face rendered in marble: “You’re not made for human eyes”, our tramp protagonist laments. It’s very kind of Rohrwacher to let us watch regardless.

La Chimera – official trailer

La Chimera releases in UK cinemas on 10 May. For Birmingham screenings follow the below links:

The Electric Cinema:
Mockingbird Cinema:

For more on La Chimera visit:

“Surprising, subversive, and refreshingly wholesome”, Alasdair Beckett-King kicks off his Nevermore UK tour at The Old Rep in Birmingham

Words by Emily Doyle / Pics by Edward Moore

On Wednesday 27 March, Alasdair Beckett-King kicked off his twenty-seven date UK tour at The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham.

Beckett-King is a self-styled renaissance man. Audiences are most likely to recognise the waifish stand-up from his appearances on BBC’s Mock the Week – and with his shock of bright red curls, audiences ARE likely to recognise him.

However, his profile reaches beyon panel show appearances; he’s also got a strong following for his YouTube skits, he co-hosts podcast Loremen with fellow comic James Shakeshaft, and his second children’s book Montgomery Bonbon: Death at the Lighthouse was published in October.

Plus, his animation and video game development work sees him credited on a number of indie releases, including the critically acclaimed point-and-click adventure, ‘The Excavation of Hobbs Barrow’. But he’s not here to talk about any of that tonight; instead, he’s going to spend the majority of his show Nevermore explaining why he hates the North Sea.

As an “up-and-coming” comic, Beckett-King doesn’t have the budget for a touring support act, so he fills that role himself. He arrives on stage, little wooden attaché case in hand, and the room warms to him seemingly instantly.

He is verbose yet personable, and his quips about trying to nail down his demographic to the promoter (“I’m popular with men with beards, women in video game t-shirts, and non-binary dungeon masters”) clearly resonates with the crowd.

After some meandering observations and a story about the perils of off-the-beaten-track vegan eateries (which Beckett-King emphatically tells the crowd is NOT about beloved local haunt, Cherry Reds) he leaves for a short break before beginning the show in earnest.

Nevermore is a circuitous and multilayered ramble through Beckett-King’s childhood in the North East of England. It’s a good old fashioned stand up set, full of call backs, and rule-of-three punchlines, punctuated with his trademark AV elements (“that animation took two days! It doesn’t get a laugh but it’s staying in the show, because it took two days!”).

A handful of gleeful non-sequiturs keep the audience on their toes, but more than anything it’s refreshingly wholesome – very few comedians can deliver a more-or-less family-friendly stand up set that still feels fresh, surprising, and subversive.

Beckett-King is a charming on-stage presence, and it’s a joy to follow him into his whimsical world.

Alasdair Becket-King is touring Nevermore across the UK until 24 May. For full tour details and links to online tick sales visit

For more on Alasdair Beckett-King visit:

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Inglourious Basterds: Lying Lips’ adaptation of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is play of freewheeling intensity

Words by Jimmy Dougan /  Production images supplied by Lying Lips Theatre Company – pic of The  Crescent Theatre from Google Maps

Sometimes you have to look at the past to look at the present – and the best way to do this is to make the past feel like the present, which is something director Nathalie Bazán has done with this new production of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore for Lying Lips Theatre Company.

Adapting Ford’s play, first performed in the 1600’s, Bazán has taken inspiration from the films of Quentin Tarantino, who has more in common with the Jacobean playwright than you’d think: the characters are sometimes deviant, mostly psychopathic, and often die in spectacularly gruesome ways. And both – as this production proves – wrote wonderful parts for women.

It’s an approach which confuses as much as it enlightens; the world surrounding the play is ill-defined, the violence never quite as orgiastic as it promises to be. But it’s full of visceral performances from a fiercely committed cast, who posture and flex before us like deranged supermodels. And when Bazán takes the brakes off it has a freewheeling intensity which drags us to the core of this deeply disturbing drama.

The genius of Ford’s play is that it doesn’t pass judgement on the incestuous love at its heart and trusts the audience to form their own opinions: siblings Giovanni (Chris Cook) and Annabella (Mia Athena Joyce) are unmistakably in love.

Bazán follows suit and directs their early scenes warmly, whilst Cook and Joyce play the strange awkwardness of their predicament beautifully. Cook presents Giovanni as a man so fuelled with longing that he’d warp the teachings of the Church to prove his point, whereas Joyce delivers Annabella as a headstrong young woman simply following her heart. It’s them against the world.

Wonderful too is the subplot concerning the wounded Hippolita (Nikita Sharma), who let her husband die so she could elope with Soranzo (Ross Gilby) only for him to – you guessed it – ditch her to pursue Annabella.

Where other productions treat Hippolita as a comic schemer, Sharma imbues her with a sense of genuine pride, making her more a wounded lioness. And while some in the cast have a tendency to rush their lines, Sharma slows the tempo down so that we hang off her every word. When her character spars with Soranzo (Ross Gilby) sparks genuinely fly.

Gibly plays Soranzo as the sort of coked-up sleaze you’d see roaming Broad Street on a Saturday night, at one point wanking furiously to an image of Annabella. And the sharp contrast adds weight to the narrative; Giovanni might be her brother, but at least he sees her as a person.

Where the production falters is in its commitment to realism, which grounds the performance in reality but neuters the strangeness of Ford’s text. Where, exactly, are we supposed to be?

Tarantino is a master at placing his characters in richly rendered period settings: here we see a brief video-backdrop of what looks like Tokyo’s Shibuya neighbourhood, but the costumes make no attempt to evoke any time or place. And while the violence in Tarantino’s films post-Inglourious Basterds has grown increasingly hysterical, pornographic even, here the violence feels too restrained.

But when I think about this production, I don’t think about the fake knives or blood packs or pretend cocaine snorting. I think about the performances. Rare in fringe-theatre is an ensemble so attuned with each other. They speak the text quickly – no easy feat – which lends the latter half of the evening a relentless intensity.

Bazán manages to make their characters feel like real people, with ambitions and desires and lusts. It has a dreadful, all-encompassing misery. Hell is real, and Bazan puts us in it. Next time, she should let herself take all the credit.

For more on Nathalie Bazán and Lying Lips Theatre Company visit

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