Saturday, 27 October 2007

Brief Encounter - WYP

Brief Encounter by Noel Coward
West Yorkshire Playhouse 24th October – 10th November.

Director – Emma Rice.
Reviewed by Gregory Hale and Lucy Cosens

When theatre gets it right, it gets it right! Knee High’s Artistic Director, Emma Rice, has created a show that is an absolute masterpiece, a quintessential theatrical production, combining breathtaking imagery, sharp physicality and prodigious Knee High resourcefulness.

The story follows the brief encounter between Laura (a housewife and mother) and Alec (a married GP) who meet at a railway station café when Alec removes a piece of grit from her eye. After this they arrange to meet every Thursday. The drama then unfurls as Laura deals with this passionate love and attempts to suppress her feelings and remain loyal to her husband.

Right from the start Knee High generated a rapport with the audience which lasted throughout the whole piece, from playing songs whilst the audience entered the auditorium to the constant flirtatious energy that sparkled throughout, especially through the characters Beryl and Stanley.

The stage was beautifully arranged, a resourceful plane upon which all the scenes entwined ergo the whole piece had a seamless beauty, not a staccato stop-start but a bona fide work of art. The set was filled with innovative ideas such as a giant cinema screen (where Laura is emotionally pulled back into her reality), a removable bridge that spans the width of the stage, a built in trampoline and a slag heap for the musicians, to name a few! To maintain the fluidity of the piece the characters sung some songs whilst the set was being changed. The songs were both insightful and amusing and executed by the actors with finesse (particularly Stuart Mcloughlin and Amanda Lawrence).

For all this play deals with intense emotion and pained love, it is injected throughout with light hearted humour. The comical and sexual relationship between Myrtle and Albert (the dominant woman and the cheeky chap) and the youthful light hearted relationship between Beryl and Stanley all helped highlight the intensity of Laura and Alec’s love. Humour was also provided through the quirky adverts during the intermission, the songs and the character traits (Myrtle’s emphasised swaggering bottom, Beryl’s scooter, the musicians dressed as women, flashing derrieres, ostentatious costumes etc).

In typical Knee High fashion the absurd encroaches along the outer periphery of realism. One beautiful moment occurs when Laura and Alec are out for dinner and they order a bottle a champagne, the two’s happiness is reflected through a stunning suspended dance where they float in ecstasy and twirl with jubilation. Another hilarious absurd moment is Beryl’s balloon song and dance!

Emma Rice has skilfully weaved myth into the original text, juxtaposing a Selkie myth with the character Laura. This was beautifully and poignantly portrayed when Laura rips off her jacket, as if peeling away her skin, and through the stark images and sounds of the sea as if Laura is finding a freedom within. In the end she finds true freedom and release when she plays the piano, the sounds of the waves crashing along with the emotionally infused notes tingled even the hardest of spines!

Knee High are one of the mot innovative and fresh theatre companies around, their work moves theatre to the next level. Brief Encounter is a piece of theatre that must be seen for its inspiring imagery, comedic elements, beautiful story, entertainment value, depth and intrigue, which ultimately reaffirms why we have theatre!

Breif Encounter runs at the WYP until 10th November for more information visit

Dr Dolittle - New Wimbledon theatre & Tour

Dr Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

Book, Music & Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse

New Wimbledon Theatre 22nd Oct - 3rd Nov & Tour

Directed by Bob Tomson

Review by Peter Barnett

As soon as the curtain rises the audience are transported to a world similar to Disney. An impressive ensemble lead by Conor Michael-Sheridan as Matthew the Doctor's assistant set the scene of Puddleby-By-The Sea.

A name like Tommy Steele will give the show boosts in sales but anyone wishing to see a show stopping performance from the star of the show will be sorely disappointed. What you pay for is to see,Tommy Steele playing Tommy Steele on stage. He is all smiles and happily enjoys his time on stage, speaking through most of the songs Rex Harrison Style but does not deliver the character of John Dolittle as one would expect. "Dr Do-nothing" as he is called by one character in the show perfectly describes what you get for your moneys worth.

Apart from Steele the rest of the cast are fantastic. We see a vast selection of memorable characters throughout this simple, enjoyable story. From Alfred Blossom and Gertie the Circus owners to the pompous General Bellowes, each character feels as though they are character from a book jumping straight out at you. A special mention must go to Abigail Jaye who plays the part of Emma Fairfax to perfection. Reminiscent to Mary Poppins and Truly Scrumptious, Abigail has a marvellous Soprano voice captivating the audience with whatever style of song she sings.

You get to see an amazing variety of animal puppets throughout the whole show. From a Pushmi-Pullyu ( a two headed Llama) to Elephants and Lions, no-one will be disappointed with what they encounter.

The story of Doctor Dolittle is easy for anyone of any age to understand. It is all about the Doctor raising money and going on his voyage to look for the Great Pink Sea Snail. As silly as it may sound, it is a very good plot. From the circus to the courtroom added with a variety of animals the audience is taken halfway around the world and back again all within one show. Dr Dolittle is a show for all ages but more tailored for a younger audience who will have the time of their lives seeing this mesmerising performance of puppetry and special effects.

Dr Dolittle is touring until april 2008 for more information visit

Monday, 22 October 2007

Rough Crossings - Liverpool Playhouse

Rough Crossings by Simon Schama
Adapted by Caryl Phillips

Playhouse 16th – 27th October & Tour
Directed by Rupert Goold

Reviewed by John Garfield-Roberts

One has to sit back and admire how well Rupert Goold is doing, but the question is, is he just this season’s hot property or is he here for the long haul? My answer would be if he isn’t either running the national or the RSC within the next ten years then something has surely gone amiss.

Aside from that praise has Rupert Goold started to spread himself to thin? After watching his latest production and much deliberation with myself, I have come to the conclusion that Goold has done his utmost to make this a good show, but with the script by Caryl Phillips boarding on Degree based history lecture, Goold was never going to be able to produce anther critical production such as his Chichester production of Macbeth.

Rough Crossings tells the heroic story of the resettlement of a group of former slaves in West Africa and of the bruising relationship between Peters and Clarkson, divided by the barriers of race, but united in their ambitions of equality. Moving from the meeting houses of London to the inhospitable terrain of Sierra Leone

Philips’ adaptation is one of many facades not knowing if it wants to be a touching moving story or a fact based lecture-drama, but Goold has done his utmost to make the long and over factual play interesting, but unfortunately it isn’t enough to make this play the “masterpiece” it could have been.

Goold is known for his inventive and creative abilities and Rough Crossings has many but again I can’t help feeling that even those were helped so much by an extremely creative and at times breathtakingly simple set designed by Laura Hopkins.

It would be hard to pick out any actors of substance in the performance I saw, in a small rep theatre such as the Playhouse being able to project throughout the space isn’t a big challenge (I’ve been there and done it!) but to find it hard to hear the actors on stage from 8 rows into the auditorium I find quite frankly unforgivable. The strength of the ensemble performance are the movement and group singing moments especially when sung by powerful singer Dawn Hope these moments really do have a strength and poignancy in what otherwise is a tiresome affair.

Goold could have had a gold mine in this production but my guess is with 5 co-producing theatres involved this could have been a classic case of “too many cooks”… if Goold can get his team back into the proverbial kitchen take out some nasty ingredients and strip away the fat from a play that should be no longer than two hours add a bit more of his creative herbs and spices and I think Rough Crossings could be ok to serve to the paying public again.

Photos by Manuel Harlan top: Wunmi Mosaku and Patrick Robinson. middle: The Company. Bottom:Dawn Hope and Peter De Jersey

Rough Crossings goes to the WYP from the 6th-24th November for more information please visit

Coronation of Poppea - ENO

The Coronation of Poppea by Monteverdi
London Coliseum from
18th October 2007 (7 performances)
Director: Chen Shi-Zheng
Conductor: Lawrence Cummings Reviewed by Mark Valencia

In the primitive operatic landscape of early 17th-Century Italy, Monteverdi was able to write his music dramas untroubled by constraints of form or convention. The operatic rulebook was as yet unwritten so his creativity could prosper unconfined. It is therefore no surprise that the freewheeling character of The Coronation of Poppea lends itself so well to the fluid imagination of Chen Shi-Zheng, a visionary director of Chinese origin who recently scored a bull’s-eye with the same composer’s Orfeo, even though his anaemic Cosi Fan Tutte at a recent Aix Festival revealed limitations in more classical repertoire.

The Coronation of Poppea is the second instalment of Shi-Zheng’s Monteverdi triptych for ENO, with The Return of Ulysses due in a year’s time. The astonishing score drips eroticism from every recorder and chitarrone - and this production has its measure. In a glorious scene that out-Puccinis Puccini, Anna Grevelius’s louche Nerone quivers with ecstasy as Lucano (Nicholas Watts) extols Poppea’s beauty, while the opera’s final love duet is breathtakingly lyrical, especially as shared between the distinctively radiant vocal timbres of Grevelius and Kate Royal, a stunning Poppea both vocally and physically.

Rarely in its recent history has ENO boasted luxury casting of the depth we have here. Diana Montague as Venus and the great bass Robert Lloyd as Seneca are complemented by a uniformly strong cast that includes the counter-tenor Tim Mead, appropriately vulnerable as Ottone, and a fabulously witty turn from Lucy Crowe as his doting Drusilla, sweet of voice but mischievous of purpose. Christopher Gillett overcomes a ludicrous costume to lend his high tenor to a well-rounded Arnalta, and even the smallest minor roles are impeccably sung. Directing from the harpsichord, Lawrence Cummings maintains throughout an ideal balance between singers and period instrumentalists - no mean feat in the wide open spaces of the Coliseum.

Visually, Chen Shi-Zheng offers a feast of ritual surrealism and pastel paradoxes. So mesmerising are the dancers of Indonesia’s Orange Blossom Dance Company that they enrich the music even when their choreography appears to contradict it. But oh, the oddities. Nerone’s wife Ottavia (Doreen Curran) spends the entire evening floating about the stage on a giant air bag - the Flying Dutchman as nesting queen bee, perhaps - in bizarre contrast to a pampered Poppea who is, quite straightforwardly, a preening Hollywood starlet. Are we on the seabed for much of the evening or do the (mercifully brief) appearances of a giant-sized mechanical mollusc hold some darker meaning? Why do Seneca’s servants have their rumpy-pumpy in the very bath that houses their late master’s corpse? And however beautiful the human dragonflies in that breathtaking closing duet, you have to ask: why dragonflies? Ah well: we shrug and move on.

Notwithstanding the devilment of such baffling details, Chen Shi-Zheng and his designer, Walt Spangler, have realised Monteverdi’s masterpiece in a humorous and compelling production that consistently honours both the music and the cheerfully immoral tale at its heart. Three hours flew by in an instant; I was captivated throughout.

Photos by Catherine Ashmore and show Top: Katherine Manley (Fortune) / Jane Harrington (Virtue),Middle:Kate Royal (Poppea) / Anna Grevelius (Nerone) Bottom: Orange Blossom Dance Co
For more information on this production please visit

Faustus - Nuffield Theatre & Tour

Faustus by Marlowe adapted by Rupert Goold & Ben Power
Nuffield Theatre Southampton: 18th-20th October & Tour
Direction: Rupert Goold
Directed by: Steve Marmion
Reviewed by David Saunders

The much vaunted Rupert Goold and his Headlong Theatre Company arrived in Southampton on Thursday bringing with them their new adaptation of Marlowe’s story of Doctor Faustus.

The piece has been well received on its tour thus far and has had a run at the Hampstead Theatre in London. The story is told in two contrasting parts. First in Wittenberg, Germany as John Faustus, doctor and scholar, pledges himself to the dark art of necromancy and conjures the devil. Secondly we are in Hoxton, London as Artists Jake and Dinos Chapman are preparing to ‘rectify’ a priceless set of Goya etchings. Both stories deal with the issue of immortality as we move from the world of BritArt to Sixteenth Century Europe and back again. The piece uses an original take on the old story with the Chapman brothers mirroring, in a modern world the deal that Faustus made.

The set, designed by Laura Hopkins follows the current vogue in theatre design for minimalist stark moving sets. We see the dark, black study where Faustus spends his time and then as the set folds itself out we are transported to the white box world of the Chapman’s studio. The interaction of the set and the actors adds to the slick feel of this production.

Our Faustus in this production (played by Michael Colgan) lacked the vocal power to put across this man struggling with a crisis of faith and the drive of his own ego. The performance of Claire Lams as Helena gave a grace to her role as conscience to the work of the Chapman brothers. She shows a quiet rage in this role which speaks the audiences’ point of view on the BritArt provocateurs and their attempt to rectify Goya’s work.

The brothers are brought to life by Rocky Marshall (Jake) and Tam Mutu (Dinos) who show the brothers not just as the punk artisans we know but also imbue them with a real sense of two men almost bored by their celebrity and desperately in need of their next big fix to keep their world ticking along. Marshall in particular offers the older brother a depth and complexity the role deserves. While Tam Mutu gives Dinos a dark geeky persona that makes the brothers need to shock all the more powerful.

We are given a little light relief by the Art Critic Foster ably played by Gus Brown giving a light touch to proceedings and placing the character as a Brian Sewell alike with all the pretentious self indulgent qualities needed for the role to become more than just the jester of the piece.

The devil is in the detail in this piece and it falls to Jason Baughan to offer us a more impish take on Mephistopheles. The actor gives a variety to the role and the opportunity to see the character as more than just a fallen angel but also as the dark side of all the characters stepping in and out of the piece sequences with dry observations and earthy disdain.

Overall this Faustus offers slick production, depth and a fresh look at the legend in our celebrity obsessed world. The direction has a sensitive touch and you can see why the director’s name is being whispered on the South Bank at a certain big playhouse. A sharp darkly witty adaptation told with muscular economy and cut through with a sly stab at the world we all live in and the things that drive us.

For more information on the tour which end in Guildford on the 24th November please visit

Friday, 19 October 2007

Stockholm - WYP & Tour

Stockholm by Bryony Lavery
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 16th -20th October, then on tour.
Directed & Choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett

Reviewed by
Murray Moss

Stockholm Syndrome, which provides the central metaphor for this play, is the name for the strong and intimate relationship that perversely can exist between a victim and an aggressor in hostage situations. Stockholm is also the city that Todd and Kali, the two protagonists of the piece, are going to travel to for a dream holiday, part of Todd's birthday celebrations. So, who is the hostage and who is the aggressor in their relationship? Is Todd held hostage by Kali's unfeasibly fierce 'retro-jealousy' of his past and potentially present lover? Or is she hostage to his potential and possible infidelity? Who is this 'Louise' who has tried to call him on his mobile? Why won't she let him call his mother on his birthday?

Frantic Assembly continue their association with great living writers and Bryony Lavery has written a text that skilfully and economically traces and unravels Todd and Kali's relationship, dissecting their insecurities with an eye and ear as sharp as the row of knives that adorn the back of the kitchen in which most of the play is set. But this is no naturalistic kitchen-sink drama. The sharp and affecting acting is punctuated and driven along with layers of skilfully choreographed dance/movement: the couple show the story of their first dinner together, eating each other with knives and forks; the whole set meal takes place on the top of the electric hob in the kitchen, which serves as the restaurant table, a beautifully inventive and sensual movement section that plays itself out without a drop of wine being spilt. This is a fine example of the ensemble of two's excellent rapport: Georgina Lamb and Samuel James switch from heightened sex to vicious fight via witty and engaging storytelling, talking to the audience one moment, the next playing the unfolding and finely acted drama.

It looks good and it sounds good. The set and lighting and the sonic interventions, musically and otherwise are well judged and make an impact without being too intrusive or too flash. But the show is not perfect: I could criticise the writing and say that Kali needs to let us in on just a little more of her backstory; the direction could allow Todd to be a slightly more ambiguous character so that it remains even more unclear whether or not he really is having an affair; there is a danger that the end is too clunky. But there are some brilliant theatrical moments: Kali nearly drowns in a most unexpected way; Todd is gripped and levitated by fear; and the bed scene…

This is exciting and visceral theatre. It reminded me of Anthony Neilson's Stitching at the Traverse a few years ago in its energetic, truthful and committed performances by all concerned, writer, director(s) and actors. High Praise.

Photos by Manuel Harlan and show Samuel James (Todd), Georgina Lamb (Kali)

Stockholm is on tour throught the coming months for more info visit

Underground - Contact Thatre

Underground by Matthew David Scott, J.C Marshell & Company
Contact Theatre 17-18th October, 1st-2nd November
Reviewed By Mal Wallace

Underground marks a significant first for Yorkshire based theatre company Slung Low. This is the first production they have taken into a theatre having previously created theatrical works for more unusual spaces. The intimate Contact Theatre would appear to be the ideal venue to world premiere this new work.

Written by Matthew David Scott, J C Marshall the plot concerns Johnny who, when caught up in a disaster on the London Tube, is catapulted into an alternative reality where he faces the daunting prospect of facing the evil Baron of Baron’s Court who rules over the underworld in order to escape back to his own reality. Incompetently assisted by Bokkie the South African rat and Gergo the Hungarian rat Johnny meets a vast array of characters, original, fictional and historical that both guide and hinder him on his quest. The premise sounds promising but sadly, the production fails to live up to expectations.

Whilst the plot development is somewhat baffling and some of the jokes, notably those about Lepers are incongruous, the script is, overall, fairly well written but its potential is never realised. Chief amongst the hindrances is the cast of four who all present extremely restrained and at times amateurish performances failing to make the most of the both the comedic and dramatic opportunities open to them. Dominic Gately as Johnny looks and sounds thoroughly bored from start to finish. Jojo Hawkins and Alys Torrance as the two rats share no chemistry whatsoever so what should have been an amusing comedy double act falls totally flat due in part to no sense of comic timing from either performer and horribly odd accents resulting in some extremely poor diction. Tom Dalton Bidwell plays the largest array of characters but, other than a change of costume, fails to differentiate between these characters displaying extremely limited acting ability. None of the four actors commanded the stage and the energy levels are appallingly low.

This however may be the fault of director Alan Lane who allows the production to move at a snails pace. Generally, though, Mr Lane makes good use of the space successfully utilising Naomi Parker’s highly effective set. Particularly striking is the revolving tunnel entrance which is further employed as a screen for Parminder Kaur’s amusing animations and Ben Eaton’s remarkably effective video projections. Unfortunately the opening scene was obscured from view by the use of an unreasonable amount of smoke which filled the auditorium in a rather unpleasant manner.

Regardless of characters such as Eliza Doolittle, Alfred Hitchcock and Robin Hood amongst others popping up, some effective use of puppetry and to an certain extent a well written script I couldn’t help feeling that somewhere deep within this dull production was a fantastic madcap piece of theatre desperate to be let loose to thrill.

Photos by Keith Patterson

Underground is next shown at the Alhambra Theatre Bradford for more information please visit

South Pacific - New Wimbledon & Tour

South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein
New Wimbledon Theatre: 16th - 20th Oct & Tour

Directed By: Julian Woolford

Musical Direction: Gareth Williams

Choreography: Chris Hocking

Reviewed by: Zahid Fayyaz

Halfway through their regional tour, this new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein production comes to Wimbledon. Set on a south Pacific Island during World War 2, this is the story of a nurse, Nellie Forbush, and her relationship with ‘mysterious’ French plantation owner, Emile De Beque. As with most musicals, the path of true love does not go smoothly, with various external and internal factors getting in their way. There are of course various other supporting characters and subplots, though it wouldn’t be surprising that it’s mainly based on love and trying to get ‘some’. Add a few songs in-between and dodgy dialogue, and that’s the play!

In terms of quality, this is not one of the best musicals around at the moment. The songs are pretty good, although it’s nothing particularly memorable or humable. The acting generally static, though the accents are particularly bad in some cases. David willets Frenchman sounds like he comes from Transylvania, and the less said about Bloody Marys sub ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ Vietnamese attempts the better. Helen Blackman’s nurse Nellie is a good lead actress, whilst Christopher Howell’s Luther Billis makes the best out of Luther Billis’s clichéd shtick as a navy con artist with a heart oof gold. And the cast did the best to rise above the technical problems and collapsing sets. Generally though, it was just a barely average play with a whole load of predictable plot and emotional twists.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Union Street - Oldham Coliseum

Union Street by Ian Kershaw
Oldham Coliseum: 11th-27th October
Directed by Kevin Shaw
Reviewed by Mal Wallace

The Oldham Coliseum has a reputation for encouraging and promoting new works by up and coming writers in quality productions. Union Street substantiates this reputation with aplomb. The play, written by award winning writer Ian Kershaw, has been specially created for the Coliseum and in part serves as a good natured homage to the rivalry that exists between Oldham and her neighbouring towns with many jestful references and fun poked particularly at Bolton throughout the evening.

The story, set in a struggling pub and local garden, is told part in the present and part through flashback covering the previous twenty years and centres around Jo, a middle aged woman who strives for more but never seems to achieve. During the time span Jo feels increasingly frustrated and let down by the men in her life and very nearly settles for less than she desires until, in true dramatic style, fate lends a hand and upon learning the truth about an incident from twenty years ago Jo reassess her relationships and is able to look to a brighter future.

Two predominant themes are explored throughout the play. Love is one, and it is clear that Jo certainly has love in one form or another for each of the men in her life. The second major theme centres on the struggle for the people of Oldham to accept the growing ethnic community. During act 1 references to multiculturalism appear to be a laboured attempt to incorporate a political agenda but later on in act 2 the theme proves integral to the resolution of the plot and is handled sensitively by the writer.

Gemma Wardle as Jo confidently leads the cast and rises to the challenge of displaying a huge range of emotions and a stunning singing voice. Her men are also well played in particular Kyl Messios as Sam who, as the one true love of Jo’s life, successfully makes the transition from protagonist to antagonist and back again with skill and depth of character. Paul Loughran as seemingly loveable Jim plays the part with great empathy which juxtaposes nicely with Phil Rowson’s ignorant and bigoted Ste, although credit must go to Phil Rowson for one of his early scenes where her provides the biggest laughs of the evening as he awkwardly tries to woo the young teenage Jo. Special mention to the young people of Oldham Theatre Workshop who provide a chorus of very professional standards and relish showing off the outrageous fashions of the 1980’s.

Director Kevin Shaw keeps the play zipping along at a nice pace and this is helped by musical director Howard Gray’s sensitively timed musical interludes and songs which on the whole serve to enhance the performance. The set by Alison Heffernan is very effective and is complimented beautifully by Thomas Weir’s excellent lighting design the marriage of which is in perfect keeping with the presence of the play.

Photos show: Top - Paul Loughran (Jim) Middle - Gemma Wardle (Jo) & Cast, Bottom - Gemma Wardle (Jo) & Phil Rowson (Ste)

Union Street continues until 27th October visit www. for more information

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Typhoon Live - Oval House Theatre

Getting Married by Yi Kang-baek, Dogs by Elangovan
Oval House Theatre: Tue 9 -13th Oct
directed by Philippe Cherbonnier/Kwong Loke
Reviewed by Francesca Elliott

The Oval House Theatre is home this week to Yellow Earth’s ‘Typhoon Live’ tour, a double-bill of East Asian comedies performed in English for the first time.

The two plays, both 45 minutes long, are performed by the same pair of actors and are about as different from each other as you can get. The first, ‘Getting Married’ is a ‘surreal South Korean fable’ about a young con man trying to trick a woman into marrying him.

The main protagonist is an amazingly camp Jamie Zubairi, who manages to borrow a large mansion and servant for an hour in order to woo a blind date. He says he is waiting for a woman, but his mincing round the stage implies otherwise. There is some interaction with the audience as he waits, and we warm to his character as he exchanges friendly banter about cigarettes and clothes.

Getting married is effectively a one man show, despite the presence of Liz Sutherland who plays his prospective wife, and Andy Cheung, who plays the silent menacing servant lurking in the background. It was a pleasant enough hour.

‘Dogs’ on the other hand, was far more exciting. A bickering couple driving home in the rain are trying to get back to their dog Singar. Liz Sutherland is great as the foul mouthed spoilt wife who detests her husband and is obsessed with her dog. Jamie Zubairi is also good as her downtrodden spouse (not in any way camp), who resents her dog on epic levels, mostly resulting from such lines as “Singar licks me better then you do.” The constant fighting gets slightly wearing, and I’m surprised that Sutherland wasn’t thrown screaming from the car, which is what I would have done had I been trapped in a confined space with her. ‘Dogs’ is quite an intense, dark play, yet highly entertaining and would be worth seeing on its own, but the lighter ‘Getting Married’, does provide a welcome contrast.

Emergence See - Riverside Studios

Emergence See by Daniel Beaty
Riverside Studios 11th Oct - 2nd Nov
Reviewed by Tom Ryan

As we mark both the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade and October’s annual Black History Month, it would be hard to find a more fitting time for Daniel Beaty’s new play Emergence-See! to make its London debut at the Riverside Studios.

But timely as it may be, would this one-man exploration of what it means to be free make for an enjoyable evening at the theatre? The answer is a resounding yes, as I was transfixed for the near-90 minute duration of the play, as Beaty morphs into over 40 diverse characters in modern day New York linked by the sudden appearance of a slave ship on the Hudson River next to the Statue of Liberty.

Responses to this extraordinary event range from the naturally stunned to those black Americans too busy dealing with their own metaphorical slave ships in their day-to-day lives. At no point did I feel I was being preached at, with a wide range of opinions presented by a wide array of characters, all performed beautifully by Beaty, ranging from a small boy to a septuagenarian grandmother, via a TV host and a transsexual street worker. But at the same time the story focuses on one family, two brothers and their Shakespearean scholar father who, having responded years earlier to his wife’s ghetto murder by renouncing his black history, finds himself drawn to the ship.

Beaty moves easily between pathos and some very funny moments, without ever feeling contrived. In addition to his acting and writing his poetry skills and impressive singing voice are also on show here. But it’s no ego trip – it is a testament to his charisma that alone on a sparse stage he holds the attention of the audience throughout. Entertaining and informative, fresh from successful runs off-Broadway and at the Edinburgh Festival, Emergence-See! is well worth seeing.

Emeregnce See runs at The Riverside Studios until 2nd November for more information visit

Runaway Diamonds - WYP

Runaway Diamonds by Joe Williams
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 10 - 13th October,
Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Halifax 19th October
Directed by Gale McIntyre
Devised by David Hamilton, Gail McIntyre & Joe Williams
Choreographed by David Hamilton
Reviewed by Murray Moss

'Nothing worthwhile is gained without struggle' - the words of Frederick Douglass, the son of a slave mother who went on to become a leader of the abolitionist movement and hold high rank in the US government. His is the central story of this hybrid performance piece, which combines dance, movement and the spoken word to create an engaging, educational and entertaining seventy minutes of theatre.

Originally made and performed in 2005, this is a new version re-presented to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery. Gail McIntyre directs with a light touch, the simple staging on a bare stage with a few symbolic props allowing the performers the freedom to unfold the story with considerable expertise; it is a delight to watch two such skilled performers tell the story of Douglass' flight from slavery to freedom, to abolitionist leader and inspirational speaker, charting his journey from America to Leeds and Halifax. In what is now West Yorkshire, he fired the imagination of young people, empowering them to join the abolitionist movement and to continue their action to educate the cotton mill owners to the inhuman source of their wealth.

Both Gee Goodison and David Hamilton are consummate performers, combining grace, athleticism and humour in their movement with spoken narrative and dramatic text. When they move together an evocative visual language is created, their different but complementary dance and movement styles embodying the narrative and allowing the emotional tenor of the story to emerge through interestingly choreographed set pieces and other seemingly improvised sections. The less successful moments of the performance happen when there is too much spoken prosaic narrative that occasionally sits rather heavily upon their poetic movement, squashing the energy out of the performance. In places a sparser and more poetic text would in this reviewer's opinion have served the piece more fittingly.

But the performers' energy and grace is never in doubt and they unfold Douglass' story to a soundtrack that evokes the oppressive cotton fields of the Americas but also utilises the liberating rhythms of reggae. Commemoration, Education and celebration all in one performance.

Photos by Photographer is Simon Warner. Top: Gee Goodison, Middle: Gee Goodison & David Hamilton, Bottom: David Hamilton

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Flight Path - Birmingham REP

Flight Path by David Watson
Birmingham Rep: 9th-13th October & Touring
Directed by: Naomi Jones
Reviewed by: Helen Champan

David Watson’s latest play, Flight Path tells the tale of two brothers bound by an understated love and loyalty, amidst a family characterised by tension and anger.

The strength of this Out of Joint co-production with The Bush, lies in the presentation of an increasingly common modern day family unit: unorthodox yet rife with passion. A raw and honest delivery from Cary Crankson as the talented yet frustrated 18 year old Jonathan, sets a high standard of performance which the rest of the small cast duly match directed by Naomi Jones.

Set in modern day London, the play begins with the meeting of Jonathan and his estranged father, as the latter seeks to rebuild their relationship having previously left Jonathan, his mother and his older brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, to care for each other. Jonathan, feeling the pressure of college, strained relationships and responsibility for his brother, seeks refuge in his down-and-out friend and soon finds himself caught up in petty crime and drugs.

Despite his rebellion and reluctancy to admit it, there remains a strong bond between Jonathan and his brother (a stunning performance from Scott Swadkins), and his relationship with girlfriend Lauren draws out his patient and loving nature and he begins to turn his life around, showing the necessity of human relationship and the power it has to transform lives.

Talented young writer Watson, deals with aspects of teenage life, family complexities and human disability with sincerity and depth yet with an air of light heartedness. The chemistry between Jonathan and Lauren as their relationship develops from awkward nervousness to eventual genuine honesty, frequently had the audience laughing, as did the appropriate use of strong language. The despair at his brother’s frustrating yet innocent habits is no less then endearing.

The raw and stark nature of the play was reflected and reinforced by the use of a simple stage set up (designed by Polly Sullivan,) successfully used to create several scenes whilst maintaining the intimate atmosphere so effective in engaging the audience.

Flight Path comes highly recommended to anyone looking for a play combining real life struggles and the power of love and loyalty.

Photos: Top - Cary Crankson & Jason Maza, Middle: Scott Swadkins & Mossie Smith Bottom: Cary Crankson & Jason Maza

Flight Path is on tour throughout october and begining of november for more information visit:

Friday, 5 October 2007

Brief Encounter - Birmingham Rep

Brief Encounter by Noel Coward
Birmingham Rep - 29th Sep - 20th Oct
Director - Emma Rice
Reviewed by Jennie Philpott

Award winning director, Emma Rice, has masterfully adapted this production from the screenplay ‘Brief Encounter’, and the stage play ‘Still Life’ both by Noel Coward and bought it to Birmingham’s famous REP theatre.

This play portrays both the stark simplicity and deep complexity of love. This tale of two star crossed lovers, each leading their own separate lives, is set off against two further relationships, one, simple and frivolous, the other purely sexual. Set in 1930’s England, the story follows the brief yet intense, growing relationship between two respected members of society and their struggle for love against the constraints of their families. Their relationship develops in a quaint station café, the place of their first encounter, and where the story continues to unfold. This is juxtaposed with the other, more superficial romances - one of which involves a dippy café worker, Beryl (wonderfully performed by Amanda Lawrence) and her playful admirer (Stuart McLoughilin, whose singing throughout was outstanding).

Right from the start, the stage was bought to life as a classic 1930s cinema, using innovative projection and lighting techniques, that set the tone for the rest of the play. Comic characters created an air of enjoyment and successfully involved the audience right from the off. Although this play was essentially one of heart wrenching love, it contained various comic moments, many of which relied heavily on the original use of props - including an outrageous balloon dance!

The set was relatively simple but effective and was well used by all characters. It including a slag heap, that was set aside for the duration of the play, that the musicians performed on. This effectively bought the musicians to life as their very own characters within the story. The music was a large part of this production, using songs to portray deep feelings and ones of superficiality alike.

One of the highlights of the play was when Alec (performed by Tristan Sturrock) and Laura (Naomi Frederick) had their deepest feelings of love displayed for all to see, through their physical flight above the stage, whilst showered with shards of falling silver. This knee-high production comes highly recommended as you are likely to see your own feelings in one, or all, of the relationships portraying the different stages of love!

Photos by Manuel Harlon, Top: Naomi Frederick (laura) & Tristan Sturrock (Alec) Middle: Amanda Lawrence (Beryl) & Tamzin Griffen (Myrtle)

Brief Encounter runs at the REP until 20th October then goes to the WYP for more information visit

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Chatroom & Citizenship - WYP & Tour

Chatroom & Citizenship by Edna Walsh/Mark Ravenhill
West Yorkshire Playhouse 2nd-6th October, then on Tour
Directed by: Anna Mackmin
Music by: Paddy Cunneen
Reviewed by Linda Taylor

I am not sure if I am the right reviewer for these plays as both were first performed as part of The National Theatre Connections in 2005 and are targeted at a young audience in their late teens or early twenties. I don’t fit into that category and I am only reassured by the fact the writers and director of the shows don’t fit in to that category either. So, do Chatroom & Citizenship speak to their intended audience? Judging from the whoops and cheers at the curtain call they certainly do.

Both plays aim to target specific emotional concerns of mid to late teen-agers. Chatroom deals with the power dynamics and the possibilities of abuse contained in virtual, on line relationships, while Citizenship is concerned with sexual identity and responsibility. Both plays strike to the heart of their subject matter and the quick fire wit and dialogue of the writing is matched confidently by Anna Mackmin’s fast paced directorial style. Both plays tell their stories through social spaces which lie outside of ‘adult’ control, and it is in these spaces, in school corridors and in on line chat rooms, that social masks are dropped and insecurities exposed. Mackmin deals expertly with the story of Jim, a character in Chatroom with suicidal tendencies. Most of Chatroom is directed with the characters sat in blinding white light speaking out to a dark auditorium to suggest they are chatting on line. A striking intimacy is achieved when this convention is dropped, the blinding spotlights dim and Jim speaks directly to the audience about how he feels. The eloquence of this moment is due to a well-judged balance of scenographic effect and a remarkable performance by Steven Webb as Jim, whose performance sensitively locates Jim’s bravery and vulnerability without ever veering towards sentimentality. Webb’s is indeed the standout performance of Chatroom and balances the slightly caricatured performances that open the show.

Chatroom and Citizenship represent teenagers from different class backgrounds. The audience leap from a world dominated by a young articulate middle class in Chatroom to a world dominated by the white British underclass in Citizenship. It is difficult now to use the word working class as Ravenhill himself indicates in his Guardian column of October 1st. In Citizenship language is hijacked from black culture and stranger still, characters appear to be imitating Ali G who is himself a white man imitating a black man. Many of the same actors are in both plays and move dextrously from the use of queens English in Chatroom to the slang of Citizenship, from the physical reserve of Chatroom to a world where communication is largely expressed through gesture, humour and overt sexuality. It is the companionship of the two plays, the fact that we see these two worlds which sit side by side in a kind of apartied in our culture, placed side by side to be judged one against the other on the same evening at the theatre, which makes Chatroom & Citizenship a fascinating evening for anyone interested in contemporary culture and a must for the intended audience.

Photos by Johan Persson: Top Pic - Chatroom and shows Simone James (Laura), Jade Williams (Eva), George Rainsford (William). Bottom Pic - Citezenship and shows Michelle Tate (Amy), Ashley Rolfe (Tom), Simone James (Alicia), Jaimi Barbakoff (Chantal)

Chatroom & Citezenship is on tour throughout the country for further information visit

Nicholas Nickleby - New Wimbledon & Tour

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens adapted by David Edgar
New Wimbledon Theatre - until the 8th October, then Touring
Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks,
Music by: Stephen Oliver
Reviewed by Francesca Elliott

Performed in two parts over two nights, Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Nicholas Nickleby is the latest version of David Edgar’s award-winning adaptation to reach London.

I probably have to stress again at this point that, THE PLAY IS OVER TWO NIGHTS! This appeared to have come as a surprise to the few people who showed up for the second half only, who seemed to be wondering where the other half of the play went. Although this initially might seem a bit inconvenient or expensive, if you’re a fan of Dickens or just of good theatre in general then it’s definitely worth it.

Set in 1830s England, the story follows the life of Nicholas Nickleby and his sister Kate as they move to London after the death of their father.

Betrayed by their uncle, the pair are separated after Nicholas is sent to Yorkshire to work as a teacher under the strict management of the sadistic Squeers family. Meanwhile Kate is left behind trying to fend off the unwanted attentions of a group of vile young lords.

The play’s large ensemble cast narrate the story as we go along, their colourful, larger then life characters provide a welcome contrast to the muted colours of a bleak Victorian backdrop.

There are strong performances from all the cast, but it’s the hideous team Squeers (Seven Alvey, Pip Donaghy, Veonica Roberts and Zoe Waites) who steal the show, acting as a catalyst for a lot of the comedy of the play, as well as the pathos, as we sympathise with the boys over the cruel treatment inflicted on them.

The majority of the play’s characters are performed as caricatures of themselves; over the top heroes and villains who can be placed into either camp goodie or baddie.
The possible exception to this is with Ralph Nickleby (Leigh Lawson), the cold, money hungry uncle. Always austere and unforgiving, the audience however is treated to an occasional glimpse of a lonely and wretched man, and it is these rare moments of a more complex characterisation that stops the play from descending into farce.

I was a little disappointed with Daniel Weyman’s, Nicholas, who proved to be slightly too effeminate for my tastes, reminding me more of an Etonian sixth former throwing a strop in his tailcoats then a Victorian gentleman.

The ending of the second half also appeared to be a little rushed; characters who seemed to meet in one scene were engaged by the next, although I can understand any reluctance to add on scenes at this stage as by now most of the audience had clocked up a good six hours viewing time.

However on the whole these were two very enjoyable evenings, which I would recommend to any lover of theatre, although for illiterate heathens like my friend you’ll probably find that there ‘aren’t enough songs’.

Nicholas Nickleby is on tour until the 5th December when it takes up home for the christmas period at the Gielgud Theatre, London for more info visit

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Magic Flute - ENO at The Coliseum

The Magic Flute by Mozart
ENO at The Coliseum: 1st October – 17th October
Original Direction: Nicholas Hytner
Revival Direction: Ian Rutherford
Conductor: Martin Andre
Reviewed by: John Garfield-Roberts

This is allegedly the twelfth and final time this production will be revived, but a revival nearly once every 18 months, one has to stand back and cast some doubts over that claim and go with a wait and see mentality. For myself only 7 years old when Hytner’s production first took place on stage at the Coliseum, I was glad that 19 years later, and only just finding my way with Opera I had a chance to see this enchanted production.

Hytner’s production is strong, and with simple but effective staging it really embellishes the strong magical and fairytale like themes that run throughout this enjoyable and accessible opera.

Rutherford has been able to bring to this revival a great pace and lightness to an opera (the bears for example) which can be at times very moralistic and religiously heavy. This production brings a talented cast together, especially the strong and very comic Roderick Williams who plays his Papageno with a real flourish of comedy and panache – played as a Yorkshire man one might feel that this may be a slight dig by ‘intelligent’ southerners about how they view us northern counterparts. The Three Ladies, two of which are members of the ENO young singers company, sang beautifully, harmonising together like a well oiled machine.

Credit must also be given to Jacob Moriarty, Ben Meyer and Thomas Pinker (3 boys), these young professionals gave a performance that was sympathetic to the role, but also had a power to their voices, a strong clarity and diction, and a level of performance that outweighed that of some of their older more experienced cast members.

What shocked me about this performance is that this opera is quite book heavy, and I would of expected an all round ability when it came to the performances, what shocked me to the core was how dreadful some of the acting ability of this cast was, never have I encountered such a bland and drab leading lady as that of Sarah-Jane Davies’ Pamina, she may have a voice like an angel but her acting ability doesn’t even come close.

All in all this production hits all the right notes, amazing staging, amazing voices, that one might think after the last two shakey productions at the ENO (Kismet & Carmen), that maybe The Magic Flute deserves more scheduled performances than the seven it is receiving.

Photos by Robert Workman and show Top – Roderick Williams (Papageno) Bottom – Antonia Sotgui, Madeline Shaw, Mairead Buicke (Three Ladies) Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)
frontpage hit counter