Thursday, 30 October 2008

Hope Springs - Birmingham Young Rep

Hope Springs by Richard Conlon
Director: Tim Ford
Reviewer: Helen Chapman

This performance of ‘Hope Springs’ by Richard Conlon, was staged by the ‘Young REP’ and was cast by an enthusiastic group of young people and some of their parents. Set on an idyllic island, the story follows a group of teenagers who were sent to a ‘correctional facility’ as a last resort for their bad behaviour. Their daily routine slowly unfolds as the play progresses, revealing a torturous life of discipline and obedience. A life in which the teachers dictate their every move, from what they do with their time, to what they eat, to even attempting to control what they think. Their parents originally sent them to this facility under the impression that it would make them into respectable citizens. Events take a drastic turn for the worse when one of the pupils decides to take matters into his own hands. This sparks a rebellion reminiscent of ‘Animal Farm’. Two hapless inspectors happen to travel to the island at just the wrong time, and it is because of these two that the terrible events of the past are revealed.

This being the ‘Young REP’ and performed by mainly younger actors, a range of abilities were present, but on the whole the younger actors out shone their parents! Although a few lines were stumbled, and the attempts at simultaneous monologues were not always pulled off smoothly, the performance was convincing, aswell as entertaining.

The actors never failed to hold the audience’s attention right to the last line, with additional details thrown in to keep us hooked. The best performance of the night went to Jack Woodbridge, who played ‘Sam’ - smallest in stature but biggest in stage presence. His convincing performance effortlessly created empathy for his character - a tear away with a true heart.

The simple yet effective use of lights helped to create a sinister atmosphere, as well as a sombre mood as the characters reflected on their situation. The performance made heavy use of tubular bells as a means of denoting the passing of time as well creating a sense of confinement. Although they were a useful tool, sometimes their use was a little too prominent.

This was an impressive performance by these young actors, who gave it their all and pulled off a superb rendition of ‘Hope Springs’. This play is suitable for anyone who wishes to experience a bit of the old ‘Lord of Flies’ nostalgia together with the whole family!

Animal Farm - West Yorkshire Playhouse

Animal Farm by George Orwell
Adaptor: Peter Hall
Lyrics: Adrian Mitchell
Music: Rochard Peaselee
Director: Nioklai Foster
Reviewer: Ali Noble

Nikolai Foster’s ‘Animal Farm’, currently playing at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse, is, in simple terms, outstanding. It’s quite difficult to describe the set-up without it sounding, well, odd. But attempt we will. The cast of 16 take on the menagerie of Orwell’s Farm - his well-known allegory for Stalinist Russia, and unravel the tale through multiple transformations, oinks, grunts, mud and brass instruments.

The thing is, it works, and more than that, it is transfixing. I arrived at the theatre more than a little dubious as to what I would see played out that evening. As a great fan of the original book, I was loathe to see Orwell’s classic tinkered with or doctored. And having seen some press photos of the play, in which actors sport snouts seemingly fashioned from toilet-role-tubes, my expectations safely erred on the side of caution.

Fortunately, my expectations were more than surpassed. Foster’s cast manage to engross their audience; it somehow becomes very plausible to be watching a room full of adults dressed up as farmyard animals, crawling around in dirt. Their energy, creativity, and the imagination of the choreography is a thrill to behold. In fact, the whole organism of Foster’s production is a living, breathing, baa-ing and neigh-ing creature of the utmost innovativeness. The set and space are used to their full potential. The costumes are filthy and soiled, yet beautiful and fascinating. An array of corsetry, braces, wigs and feathers bring the animals to life, whilst mirroring the 1940’s attire of the period setting of Orwell’s book. Songs and music (played by the amazingly multi-talented cast) make the production an aural as well as visual feast. It’s hard to do it all justice in writing, but the over-all effect is stunning.

Minor gripes include the length of the play - I felt it could have been more effective if slightly more concise; and the somewhat hackneyed device of young-iPod-wielding-narrator, who is a constant presence on stage, wondering in and out of proceedings. But don’t let that put you off. Animal Farm really is a treat to watch, doing justice to the text, whilst exuding creativity, pulled together by a brilliant cast. Go and see it

Photos: Keith Patterson

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Independent Means - Manchester Library Theatre

Independent Means by Stanley Houghton
Director: Chris Honer
Reviewer: John Garfield-Roberts

For the centeneray of Annie Hornimans movement that established the UK's first repertory company in Manchester, Director Chris Honer wanted to find a play that came from the 'Manchester School' of playwrights as a fitting tribute, several days within the British Library archives Honer found a little known play 'Independant Means' by Stanley Houghton.

First performed for 6 days at the Gaiety Theatre on Peter Street in August 1909, according to sources this is the first revival of the play since the first showing in 1909. Set in the fictious town of Salchester we delve right into the heart of the Forsythe family and what happens when the female protagonist Sidney marries Edgar, an unemployable conservative carbon copy of his father John. Sidney is a strong feisty feminist and it is her actions with the suffregettes and John's copious gambling in the stock market that provide the conflict in this production.

Houghtons writing still stands strong 100 years on, and his copious swipes at politicians and government still have just as much impact, what with the current financial situation that is sweeping across the global market. Honer's direction of this production shows why the Library Theatre is still one of the best Rep companies in the country, it is a slick and pacey production that packs plenty of laughs and at times heart stopping tension. Sarah Williamson's set is lavish and serves the purpose well, but it has its problems especially when changing from the Forsythe drawing room to Ritchie's Garage, one couldnt help thinking that there must have been the ability to be more creative in achieving this result, rather than the cumbersome two minute scene change we were afflicted to, but that is a minor niggle in what is a rather splenid production.

Ruth Gibson's portrayal as Sidney is worthy of much praise, packing bite with every line, but as with most shows of the time the most memorable of the characters are often the supporting roles and this is no exception, Sarah Parks underdog maid Jane is sublime, her comic timing is immaculate and for this reviewer the stand out in a strong cast, other noteable performances were given by Olwen May and Richard Albrecht.

Do not let the fact that you may never have heard of this production stop you from buying a ticket, this is one of the strongest regional productions that I have seen in recent times, and I for one am glad that I saw can only thank the person that made this happen and one of the reasons we go to the theatre now, Anne Horniman.
Photographs: Gerry Murray

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Avenue Q 1000th gala performance

Avenue Q - Noel Coward Theatre
Music & Lyrics: Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx
Book: Jeff Whitty
Director: Jason Moore
Reviewer: Liz Vile

When I was asked to review this production I jumped at the chance. Having seen this show before I was very interested to see if the new cast created such an energetic and enthusiastic performance as the cast I originally saw. They did not disappoint. The production was slick, vibrant and well performed throughout confirming why it has easily reached its 1000th performance.

Some people may be wary about watching this production due to worries about some of the more explicit content or that they may feel silly watching hand puppets on stage, but if you are willing to enter the theatre with an open mind and can let your imagination take over you will have a very enjoyable night.

The story centres on the inhabitants of Avenue Q as they live, love, get stuck in dead-end jobs, have sex, get stuck in the closet but ultimately accept themselves and appreciate what they have. Through a range of group and solo songs as well as some very witty dialogue the characters of the puppets and humans on stage are quickly and clearly presented to the audience. Although you can see the cast members manipulating the puppets this does not detract from the action, in fact this enhances it. By seeing the actor's facial expressions and seeing them speak intensifies the emotions of the puppets they are manipulating. At first it does seem strange watching the puppet and the actor on stage together but after no more than 10 minutes it becomes normal and you couldn't imagine the show working any other way.

The costumes of all the characters were very bright and colourful which helped draw your eye away from the puppeteers who were dressed in grey as well as adding to the youthful atmosphere. Special mention goes to one of Christmas Eve's outfits for originality and colour but I won't spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn't seen it yet!

The continual roars of laughter from the audience coupled with the extended applause during the curtain call was confirmation that a brilliant night was had by all, and although some of the material did touch a few sensitive areas and provoked questions it was done in good humour with a great sense of fun.

After the curtain call a special mention was given by two members of the cast about this being the 1000th performance before the rest of the cast came on announced by two large confetti cannons exploding into the audience. An extra special way to finish off an extra special celebration.

Blowing Whistles - The Leicester Square Theatre

Blowing Whistles by Matthew Todd
Leicester Square Theatre

Director: Pete Nettell
Reviewer: David Saunders

The comedy written by Matthew Todd has at its heart the relationship of Nigel and Jamie a thirty something gay couple who decide to celebrate their tenth anniversary by sharing their bed with internet date Mark. The events of the evening are used as a catalyst for all three characters to begin to analyze their own places in a world where romance and true love appear to be dead.

The set designed by David McHenry is a simple elegant modern take on the clean white living space. The design serves the piece well offering the performers a base to work from and a clear indication of the types of characters we are dealing with.

The performances within the piece are focused and committed this three hander has at its core the relationship between Jamie played by Paul Keating and Nigel played by Stuart Laing. Both actors allow the tender moments between the two men to come through with honesty and gentle mannered performances. The work of Stuart Laing as the life loving Nigel plays the two sides of the character with skill offering both comedy and real intensity in what is a difficult balancing act. Paul Keating as Jaime is the conscience of the piece it is a shame that only at the end of the piece does the writing allow him an opportunity to really give the audience the full range of his abilities. Finally the work of Daniel Finn must be praised in what could have been a flat one dimensional character id given depth and colour to allow the audience to see what it is really like for a younger person in today’s gay community, something that has been so badly represented by the Skins and other so called ‘youth reality’ television programming.

The direction from Pete Nettell allows the action to move swiftly from one set up to the next and at times the quick fire delivery really makes the piece fizz. The clever use of a small intimate stage allows the audience into the world of the three men this in turn offers the opportunity for even those unfamiliar with the lifestyle of gay men to identify those moments we all experience with our loved ones in a relationship.

This piece slides from heavyweight emotional content to light hearted knockabout comedy instantly which in itself is both the strength and weakness of the piece. The writing from ATTITUDE editor Matthew Todd suggests a well observed comedic voice but it is due to the uncertainty of the writing that some of the heavier moments do not quite ring true. The performances are excellent throughout but some of the words on the page are difficult to get access to the human relationships as they develop or implode. While Todd is a writer who clearly shows promise, this work feels like only the beginning of what could be an interesting new theatrical voice.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Privates on Parade - Birmingham Rep

Privates on Parade
Book & Lyrics: Peter Nichols
Music: Denis King
Director: Ian Brown
Reviewer: Helen Chapman
Privates on Parade is inspired by writer, Peter Nichols’, own real life experiences in which he escaped guard duties to become part of the combined service entertainment unit, and the characters are influenced on real-life people and places. This play tells a tale of well brought up, posh and intelligent, Sergeant Steven Flowers, played by David Ricardo-Pearce, who sets out from school to join the army in South East Asia. He finds himself in an army ‘song and dance’ entertainment unit, where the soldiers are involved in dressing up in drag to lift soldiers’ spirits and somehow stop the communists. The wide range of personalities and characters that come into Steve’s path, differ very much from those of his friends and family back home in quiet Surrey, and provide an array of comical moments for the audience. Through a series of events Steve finds himself promoted up the ranks, with new responsibilities.

This and the colourful array of characters provide entertainment and many comedy moments for all. The character Terri Dennis, the acting Captain, provided an exceptional performance, and without doubt provided the most laughs. His very eccentric character and homosexual nature created an environment very unfamiliar and unknown to Sergeant Steven Flowers. There are many serious themes explored by this play, from death to sexuality and unplanned pregnancy, but it cleverly still emerges as a comedy. The idea of romance is explored through Steve’s involvement with the only girl on the unit, despite being attached to a girl back home, and thus follow some complicated consequences.

The musical ability of the cast is evident as entertaining and well rehearsed singing and dancing numbers combine with talented and varied acting styles. The play benefits from a somewhat unremarkable stage set, the simplicity of which adds to the performance as full focus remains on the characters and their dialogue. This play although with slightly bizarre moments, provides an enjoyable experience and appreciation and marvel of the talent of acting and musical gifting of all the actors, although perhaps not a show for the kids!

Photo: Keith Pattison

The Venetian Twins - Bolton Octagon

The Venetian Twins by Carlo Goldoni
Bolton Octagon Theatre
Translator: Ranjit Bolt
Director: Paul Hunter
Reviewer: John Garfield-Roberts

This is the second show in current Artistic Director Mark Babych's final season and the last show for Director Paul Hunter as Associate Director, but what a fantastic send off Hunter has given himself with The Venetian Twins. Goldini's classic text from the 1700's has been given a modern and very northern translation by Manchester based playwright Ranjit Bolt. Telling the story of Identical Twins Zanetto & Tonino a typical farce of mistaken Identity as they plan to marry their prospective wives Rosaura and Beatrice.

Hunters direction of this play is superb this production flows with sheer speed and pace and at times found myself having to hold back the laughter so I could breathe. Hunter with his designer Michael Vale given the cast a perfect platform to clown around, with the theatre stripped down to its black walls and galleries, and a wooden thrust with mini trampettes surrounding provided the cast with an interesting way of coming and going without the joke ever wearing thin. An even more inspired choice was using the upper gallery as a Foley Studio using the actors to provide many sound effects for several of the scenes fights and sequences bringing many laughs throughout the evening. Although many choices went down well it is with regret that looking at the audience to the sides of the thrust didn't seem to be enjoying this production as much as those in the central section, mainly due to not being able to see quite a lot of the action due to poor blocking of certain key segments of the play.

The strength of any farce lies in the casts ability to be a true ensemble and this is a cast that works hard from beginning to end, supporting each other throughout and even laughing at the jokes which seem as fresh to the company as when they first saw them in rehearsals by watching in the clearly vi sable 'wings.' This production has some of the strongest performances I have seen in a long time, Joanna Holden as Rosaura's maid Columbina provides a strikingly stunning performance very much akin to Julie Walters classic comedy character Mrs Overall, but it is the sheer dexterity and fitness and comic prowess of Nick Haverson as Zanetto/Tonino that is the cream on top of the cake, never on stage apart from Lee Evans have I seen a man giving so much physically to a performance, I felt tired watching him.

Its a pity that the theatre wasn't full for this production, but hopefully word of mouth will spread and the Octagon will see the audience attend that this show clearly deserves.

Photos: Ian Tilton

Aida - English National Opera

Aida by Verdi
English National Opera
Director: Jo Davies
Conductor: Gerard Korsten
Reviewer: Jeffrey Mayhew

In many ways a logical starting point for a considered review by a member of the public is whether, putting aside personal taste and minor caveats, the production in question is to be recommended – whether it is worth the money and effort to go and see. In the case of ENO’s Aida there is no doubt that it is. If you like your opera grand, in a certain way, and can run with the slight unease with the content that changing times and fashions bring then you are in for a good night out. There is absolutely no doubt at all that this production makes for fabulous radio. Rarely have I heard such a brilliant matched set of singers – it takes the stamina of the vicar in the village hall to painstakingly note the contribution of each and every performer. Nevertheless (and despite our indulgence being craved for coughs and colds – clearly the British cold is losing its virulence!) Claire Rutter has to be celebrated as a ravishing Aida with a beautiful voice used with subtlety and intelligence. John Hudson as Radames was sung with power and assurance giving a highly satisfying pairing. There are many joys still to come, though. Matthew Best as the high priest, Ramfis, was truly superb – an “old fashioned” singer with tones reminiscent of Kipnes. His Hans Sachs will be worth a trip to see. Jane Dutton combined power with grace and subtlety as Amneris and Iain Paterson displayed a warm, flexible bass-baritone as Amonasro, Aida’s father. The run also marks Gwynne Howell’s 40th Anniversary with ENO though his Pharaoh showed no signs of wear and tear – another vocal treat. Add in superb chorus work and ravishing sounds from the pit (Gérard Korsten) and it can easily be seen why the whole thing makes for a highly satisfying musical experience.

It all worked pretty well on stage too. Lots of colour, a very clever elephant substitute, wonderful dancers and breathtaking tumblers. It did seem, however, that some of the design elements were better on paper than when realised – especially the costumes, which whilst s
triking and sort of Egyptian, sometimes seemed not to do the people inside them much in the way of favours. The setting, too, was not always helpful in what is, after all, very much a three or four hander with occasional casts of hundreds. The apologia in the programme intellectually addresses the issues of colonialism, post-colonialism, the concept of “exotic” and worthily so on and so forth but ironically the stage picture did not seem to follow these reflections through. Particularly bizarre was the treatment of the Ethiopians who looked liked something to be “manfully” resisted by someone from a 1920s Boy’s Own Annual – perhaps an irony? I hope so. There were times, then, when the still, small voice asked what it was all really about – and there is still enough in the story (family and country loyalty, love and betrayal) to make it meaningful – and what we were all really there for. But then the lights change, the set moves, the singers sing and the band plays and it’s all lovely.

Photos by Alastair Muir

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

La Clique - London Hippodrome

La Clique
London Hippodrome

Conceived by Brett Hayback & David Bates

Reviewed by John Garfield-Roberts

Originally created in 2004 for the Edinburgh festival and performed in the world famous Spiegletent (one of the last Flemish mirror tents in existence.) La Clique is a constant changing
line up of some of the worlds best international circus and burlesque performers that you will ever see.

Taking up residency at the London Hippodrome La Clique has brought back Variety to one of London's original variety hot spots, and the design team for this production have gone to work in every aspect of the evening - even entering the foyer your senses are taken on a sensual journey with dimmed lighting, swaths of luxurious dark black and red material and beautifully looking and scented orchids and roses adorn and tantalise and tease your nose.

The performance flows smoothly between acts and most of the action takes place in the small centre stage or Podium with the audience completely in the round. This is a production like no other and its refreshing to see something so different and aimed at an adult audience...something the West End has been missing for quite sometime.

As you would expect with a Variety show, some acts are going to be better than others this is true to form with La Clique from the amazing Water Bath Ariel Acrobatics of and i quote from two ladies sat next to me 'The most beautiful man alive on earth.' (David O'Mer) to the sensational Cabaret Decadanse in which their act using environmentally friendly puppets are combined with themselves and highly energetic choreography that put this duo into a whole new league.

The female contingents form only a small segment of La Clique and bring just the right amount tease for the gents to enjoy and there partners not to feel uncomfortable, even Ursula Martinez's famous hanky routine left the audience in hysterics - combining the fine art of burlesque stripping magic and pure facial comedy to create an act your unlikely to see again in any theatre soon.

Unfortunately the weakest link to this fantastic performance is Mario Queen of the Circus, his leather clad Freddie mercury juggling tribute act, left me feeling cold and embarrassed and just wanting his act to end as soon as possible...if your going to juggle 3 clubs or four balls its important that you are flawless but it seemed that this part of the act wasn't what his focus was on it seemed that he would rather juggle a multitude of four letter words perfectly through his mouth than juggle with his hands.

The stars of this production are The English Gentlemen (even though they are Australian!) who combine sheer physical acrobatics with excellent Physical Theatre performing tricks that you could only wish you could do, but for these two gents you wouldn't be able to tell the strain they are putting their bodies through as its the character that appears to be the number one focus. I'm never going to be able to look at a tennis racket again in the same light after Captain Frodo's ingeniously comic contortionist act. This is an act that with leave you wincing in pain and laughing hysterically and absolutely amazed at what he can do!

La Clique is one of the best shows in town and really does prove that Burlesque and Cirucs isn't dead but is alive and well in the heart of London's West End.

Partenope - English National Opera

Partenope by Handel
English National Opera

Directed by Christoper Alden

Reviewed by Kimberly Knudse

From the very beginning of the performance, as a photographer appears on stage and takes a picture of the audience, we are aware that we are in for something far removed from Handel’s original comic opera from 1730. In the programme notes we are told that the inspiration for the production comes from the Surrealists and their views of love and desire and how ‘the forces of feeling overturn the artificiality of relationships’ putting desire at the centre.

Director Christopher Alden has taken this tale of love and all its complications far from the composer’s original setting in the mists of Greek mythology and transplanted it to Paris in the 1920s.
The setting is a salon where parties, card games and cocktails are the norm, at the centre of it all is Partenope, very obviously the queen of this social circle.

As Partenope, Rosemary Joshua presents us with a character who clearly revels in the attention she receives from Arsace. With a grace and style to her movement as befits the 1920s setting, and with a wonderfully strong and clear voice she makes it abundantly clear why men would fall for her, much like the siren the character was originally based on.
Christine Rice is outstanding as Arsace, clearly still in love with his former betrothed Rosmira but also in love with Partenope. She is instantly believable in the role and copes marvelously with the demands of Handel’s score. Partenope’s rival in battle Emilio, sung by John Mark Ainsley, is presented as a Man Ray like photographer who flits between the characters revealing their inner selves through photography. As in the Handel original, he is the catalyst for all of the action. Iestyn Davies as the weak willed, but ultimately successful in love Armindo, brings a richness of voice to the role in a very assured performance. Patricia Bardon as Rosmira/Eurimene seemed to enjoy the challenges that come with the female/male role and sang with a richness and clarity which shone through.

The remaining cast member ENO young singer James Gower in the role of Ormonte showed promise and should soon be stepping up to some meatier roles.
Amanda Holden’s translation may offend some with its modern approach but it certainly provided much laughter and made the action easy to follow. The orchestra, skillfully conducted by Christian Curnyn, and featuring some wonderful period instruments such as the theorbo, kept the pace lively and entertaining throughout, doing justice to Handel’s score.

The cast were warmly applauded at the end of the performance, however there were some boos when the production team joined them on stage. Perhaps the purists in the audience did not take to the setting of Act 2 with a toilet as the centerpiece? However the overall effect was wonderful and made for a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The White Devil - Menier Chocolate Factory

The White Devil by John Webster
Menier Chocolate Factory
Directed by Jonathan Munby
Reviewed by John Garfield-Roberts

There seems to be a revival of Jacobean theatre at the moment, with productions of Revenger's Tragedy being performed up and down the country but it is the Meniers new production of Webster's lesser performed production The
White Devil that really caught my attention.

Written in 1612 and loosely based on the murder of Vittoria in Padua just 30 years ealrlier. Websters production focus's on the adulterous affair of Bracciano (Darrell D'Silva) and Vittoria (Claire Price)during a time when Italy was corrupt and nobody seemed to be who they really were, and individuals were left to fight against the corrupt nature of the Church and State.

Performed in traverse in the Meniers studio Philip Witcomb's excellent and beautifully detailed hallway set, brought the audience into the middle of this violent and bloody play and with Munbys excellent direction the play flows as easily as the blood pouring from many of the blood packs used in this gory production. The death scene of Isabella (Claire Cox)and the other haunting visions were stronger and more theatrical than any similar effects that the big commercial west end productions could throw money at. Although an excellent production the second half lacked
the pace, and detail of direction that the sublime first half gave us, the actors were tired and in the performance I saw, cast were tripping over lines and even at times themselves.

Putting the bad points aside there were some excellent performances, D'Silva's performance as the Duke Bracciano was strong and at time incredibly fierce and his manic laughter will be sure to haunt for weeks to come, but two performances really stand out the first is Claire Price as V
ittoria who nails a splendid and reasoned performance of Vittoria which makes the other female performers appear less experienced and their characters rather one dimensional. The second is Aidan McArdles often comic yet devious Flamineo who brings so much energy to the stage that you just cannot take your eyes away from him, a real show stealing performance worthy of any Theatrical accolade or award.

This is a bold move by the Menier to move away from what it has become known for and this risk is well worth it! A complete surprise and one I would highly recommend.

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Friday, 10 October 2008

Proper Clever - Liverpool Playhouse

Proper Clever by Frank Cotteral-Boyce
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
Directed by Serdar Bilis

Review by Stephanie Rowe

This play set partially in cyberspace and is obviously aimed at the younger generation we often call teenagers, and it is with Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s humour and ability at being able to write a script in the language of today’s youth and set it around the my-space users of today that makes this a highly amusing play.

Cottrell-Boyce is better known for his books and films like Millions and 24 hour party people, so it is with baited breath I found myself strangely looking forward to his first ever theatre script. He manages to make you feel every emotion the teenagers are feeling and even makes cyberspace appear less frightening to the older generation.

Proper Clever tells of a group of teenagers who think they know everything there is to know about everything and it is with the arrival of Becky (later called Bex) that they discover life is not as simple as they first thought it would be and that you have to work at the many things life throws at you.

Becky is a confused young lady who wants to be one of the in gang, Patrick has had a spiritual experience while in Pwllheli and Matthew is in touch with his feminine side. Riley is the very grown up teenager with an elder boyfriend who treats her like a princess, Claire is the wisest teenager, who tries to make the others see the error of their ways with Rachel being the typical fish out of water.

The setting was a simple but effective affair with two walls that were used to occasionally offer props from hidden drawers within the set, and a clever use of projection on the walls to take us into cyber space, lighting appeared to be basic but this is i guess due to the projections, Costumes were simple school uniforms. The rest of the clothing was done cleverly with coats and basic clothing items.

The use of the screens when they were chatting to each other on my-space was rather annoying as you had to strain your neck to see if you were in the stalls and I certainly came out holding mine.

This is definatly a play for the younger patrons of the theatre going generation and although enjoyable isn't a play that I would want another download of.

Photo - Robert Daysmall

Absent Friends - Watford Palace Theatre

Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourne
Watford Palace Theatre
Directed by Brigid Larmour
Review by Kevin O'Brien

Absent Friends examines the relationships and problems of a circle of friends, consisting of three couples and a bereaved fiancé. The entire play is set in real time in the lounge of one of the couple’s houses. Not an immediate recipe for laughs, then... however, this is an Alan Ayckbourn play. Written in 1974, hard on the heels of The Norman Conquests trilogy, Absent Friends represented a serious change of gear for Ayckbourn, treading far darker terrain than his previous output. However, the hallmarks of Ayckbourn's work remain. Based on a knowing commentary on the English suburban middle class, the play cleverly combines comedy with a tragic undertow, building to a traumatic conclusion.

Diana, trapped in an unhappy marriage to Paul, has arranged a tea party for Colin, whose fiancé has recently drowned. Of the rest of the group, only Marge (whose husband is permanently in absentia) is supportive. Paul and the remaining couple, Evelyn and John begrudgingly go along with the arrangement.

While the party is ostensibly for Colin’s benefit & support, the period awaiting his arrival (most of the first Act) exposes the unhappiness within the three couples. When Colin does arrive, it's quickly apparent he is the most content and well-balanced of the group. Explaining how happy he was with the deceased Carol, and how he remains so with her presence and a photo album of memories, other characters’ issues are thrown into ever sharper relief. Colin's attempts to hold a mirror up to the others to show them how happy they ‘should’ be acts as a catalyst for all the pain and anger to pour out. He eventually leaves the house in a state of social meltdown, with the main victim of the situation being Diana, who breaks down uncontrollably, realising her life has become a charade - her youthful dream of joining the Canadian Mounted Police unfulfilled, replaced with an uncaring, unfaithful husband, and two sons who have been despatched to boarding school.

While there are virtually no overt references to the 1970’s in the script, the sets and costumes are a perfect reconstruction of 1974, further accentuating the contrast between the flamboyant decor, clothes and aspirational lifestyles with chaotic relationships within the group.

The six-strong cast are all incredibly good. Abigail Thaw’s Diana is one of the best performances I can remember seeing at Watford, and in one of the best productions. It’s an intelligent play, and while it demands full concentration, it’s also terrifically easy to enjoy. Everything is approached with just the right touch. The slightly farcical pieces are played with real style and verve to create a fine balance with the sad aspects of the characters' lives, and the audience showed its appreciation all through the evening.

Incredibly, this is the first production of Absent Friends in the South since its first run at the Garrick in 1975. An inspired choice by Watford Palace - highly recommended.

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

ERICS - Liverpool Everyman

Erics by Mark Davies Markham
Liverpool Everyman Theatre
Review by Sarah O’Toole

Markham is no stranger from turning the 70’s and 80’s music eras into a musical production having previously turned the life story of Boy George into the Musical Taboo, but with this new turn by the Liverpool born writer he focus’ on his own battle with cancer and the story of Liverpool’s famous and iconic punk club Erics.

This is very much a show for the local crowd and I couldn’t see this production being as successful with a wider audience as its predecessor (Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi) but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not as good! This show sizzles with recognisable characters from the late 70’s and 80’s punk era of which many of the characteristics had the audience in stitches especially Oliver Jacksons performance as Julian Cope (Tear Drop.) and the narrative flows at just the right pace, its often the case that shows like this can be overly sentimental, but it’s the light hearted humour that keeps this show on the right track. Soutra Gilmour delights the crowd with an audience encompassing set that puts you right in the heart of the action and one that still makes the Everyman one of the most intimate and unique spaces within the industry.

Musical Director Laura Bangay also Lead Keys deserves recognition as the live music was most defiantly the highlight of the evening but I feel as previously stated that if you were not from the area or familiar with the era then this musical may just pass you by.

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