Thursday, 27 August 2009

Francis, The Holy Jester - Edinburgh Fringe

Francis, The Holy Jester
Writer/Director: Dario Fo

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Two Stars

This production of Dario Fo’s play about Italy’s famous saint is performed as a one-man show by Mario Pirovano, Fo’s long time friend and collaborator. Translated from the Italian, this was touted as it’s first performance in English, however, I did not expect that it would literally sound like the first time. It did not appear that the text was set, or that Pirovano was in any way safe working in English. The tales, although interesting to start with, were incredibly long and unfocussed – so much so that the show had to stop abruptly when the third of the four stories was finished as it was going to overrun.

Made up of four monologues told from the point of viewpoint of Francis of Asissi, and linked by Pirovano’s explainations of the stories, ‘Francis, The Holy Jester’ is a very mixed bag. The introduction was interesting and informative, explaining that in Italy stories about St Francis were censored for 600 years, with those possessing books about him facing imprisonment or burning at the stake. The first monologue started well, with Francis giving an address to the people of Bolonga. Pirovano adopted a strong physicality, however vocally it felt a bit strained, and the declamatory style of delivery associated with Italian theatre became somewhat repetitive and dogmatic. The second story compounded this, and was extremely long and lacking in clarity – it felt like it could have been split or edited to make it a more manageable piece – but the third was fairly simple,and offered another opportunity for Pirovano to work more physically, which is one of his strengths.

Ultimately this should have been a more enjoyable and engaging piece than it was, and it was hard to keep focussed when the tales, particularly the second, meandered and dragged for such a long period of time. As it did stop so suddenly and without the final story the play did suffer and Pirovano was unable to end the piece decisively, leaving me unsatisfied by the production.

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 Aug (not 18, 25), 15:00 (16:15), prices vary.

Stand by Your Van - Managerie - Edinburgh Fringe

Stand By Your Van by Anna Reynolds
Director: Paul Bourne

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Four Stars

Produced by Menagerie in association with Pleasance and Escalator East to Edinburgh, ‘Stand By Your Van’ is a clever concept and an extremely enjoyable production. Spectacularly staged with a brand new vehicle at the centre of the action, twelve contestants compete against each other to be the last one standing, and therefore win the £25,000 pick-up truck prize. They have to keep a hand on the truck at all times, apart from five minutes each hour and fifteen minutes every six hours when they are permitted a break. There is no leaning, no sitting, no squatting – anyone breaking the rules, taking their hand off of the van or returning late from a break is disqualified.

The contestants are a motley bunch with presenter Phil ‘The Lip’ trying to keep them in line. Initially we seem to have a whole host of stereotypes on our hands, including ‘tart-with-a-heart’ Jane (Katherine Bennett-Fox), Welsh geek Edward (Neil Jones), and God-squad Vera (Danusia Iwaszko). However, as the challenge continues and sleep depravation takes hold we begin to see through each one’s facade and uncover their true character through admissions, conversations, and monologues.

All of the cast give accomplished performances in their respective roles, and the play is well structured to move the characters around to allow different groups and pairings to interact. In truth the play’s premise is just an excuse to trap the characters in close quarters so we can examine their relationships, but this is in fact the very essence of the reality TV style that they are referencing. A different character wins the show each night, so there is a fresh quality to the piece and made me wonder how different the show would have been on another night.

There are both funny and poignant moments from most of the cast, but Sydney Smith’s awkward, jittery Gerald and Gary Mackay’s foulmouthed Scot (Rob) were particularly noteworthy as they endured long into the production and kept upping the stakes. Bennett-Fox and Iwaszko played extremely contrasting characters, but did so with aplomb and subtly introduced their other sides. Darren Strange’s Phil is a brilliantly observed pastiche of all our most hated daytime presenters (with a large amount of Jeremy Kyle in the mix) – obnoxious, career-obsessed, and completely unsympathetic – and held the piece together, ejecting losers, facilitating breaks, and congratulating the eventual winner.

This was a very entertaining, and at times moving piece of theatre which everyone enjoyed and engaged with, with audience members spontaneously shouting support for favourite characters and responding verbally to Phil on each of his appearances. My only slight disappointment was the ending, which seemed to come very abruptly and as if they had run out of time. Perhaps it is not supposed to finish with a revelation, or with a bang, but this finished with a whimper which took away from the fine work the cast had been doing throughout. Definitely a play you will want to experience for yourself.

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 Aug (not 18, 25), 19:40 (21:00), £10.00.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Annie - The Sunderland Empire

Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director/Choreographer: Roger Hannah
Reviewer:Ian Cain

Ask any aficionado of musical theatre to name their favourite orphan and they’ll probably say either Annie or Oliver Twist. The heart-warming, rags-to-riches tale of the red-headed ragamuffin is playing at Sunderland Empire Theatre all this week and ‘Annie’ certainly charmed and delighted the capacity crowd on press night.

The musical is based on the 1920s American cartoon strip, ‘Little Orphan Annie’, and was also immortalised for the silver screen in a blockbusting movie with a stellar cast that included Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters. However, the 1982 film, and a subsequent Disney re-make starring Kathy Bates, Victor Garber and Alan Cumming, have failed to eclipse the enduring popularity of the stage version.

Two youngsters, Chloe Greig and Lydia Tunstall, are sharing the title role this week, and at last night’s performance it was Lydia who was living ‘the hard knock life’ in the New York Municipal Orphanage with the fearsome Miss Hannigan. Miss Tunstall’s stage presence, acting ability and vocal skills are top-notch and far beyond her years. She brings to the part a feistiness that suits the character perfectly and her performance is not in the least bit ‘stagey.’ Lydia and the rest of the orphans (Annabel Mallin, Sophie Foster, Rebecca Chapman, Katie Smith, Amanda Thursby, Ellie Jackson, Nina Walsh, Emily Thompson and Louise Hepplewhite) are only outdone in the ‘aahhh’ stakes by Danny the Dog as Annie’s faithful four-legged friend, Sandy.

Su Pollard fails to heed the well-known showbiz dictum of not working with children and animals to reprise the role of mean-spirited Miss Agatha Hannigan, the orphanage manager with a penchant for Jack Daniels. This is Miss Pollard’s fourth tour of the production and she has made the role her very own. She follows (or should that be drunkenly staggers?) in the footsteps of actresses including Sheila Hancock, Lesley Joseph, Vicki Michelle and her former ‘Hi-De-Hi’ co-star Ruth Madoc. Su draws on her vast experience as a comedy actress to portray the character as a comedic, and slightly tragic, lonely old lush who is longing for love. Her sensational singing voice is best utilised in her signature song ‘Little Girls’, but is also a highlight in ‘Easy Street’, too. Pollard’s immense stage presence is such that she steals every scene she appears in and is missed in those that she doesn’t. Her scenes with her brother, Rooster (James Gavin), and his girlfriend Lily St Regis (Sophie McEwan) provide many of the best comedy moments of the show.

David McAlister, a performer who never disappoints, is every bit the definitive Oliver Warbucks and his portrayal of the billionaire’s transformation from the hard-nosed businessman to doting ‘Daddy’ is skilfully executed. There is a genuine rapport between him and Lydia Tunstall that is almost tangible. His musical numbers are delivered with a voice that is strong and clear and hits every note with precision and perfection.

Simone Craddock plays Grace Farrell, Oliver Warbucks’ charming and long-suffering secretary. It is obvious to all except Warbucks that she holds a torch that burns brightly for him, and it is only Annie’s presence in the mansion that is the catalyst for their romance to blossom.

The talented ensemble perform Roger Hannah’s choreography with energy and enthusiasm and turn the big numbers into real showstoppers. Add to this a live orchestra, under the supervision of Mark Crossland and John Donovan, superb sets by Alan Miller Bunford and dynamic direction and the result is a production that shines brighter than Annie’s silver locket. At last, ‘Tomorrow’ is here – and so is Annie. Don’t miss it!

‘Annie’ runs at The Sunderland Empire from Tuesday 25 to Saturday 29 August 2009.

The BFG - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

The BFG by Roald Dahl
Adapted by David Wood
Director: Phil Clark
Reviewer: John Roberts

Stepping into the Palace Theatre, and seeing 100's of excited children you cant help but slowly regress into an excited ten year old.

Roald Dahl's delightfully delicious and sometimes dark children's books were a firm childhood favourite. I remember howling at delight at Mathilda and her psychic powers, wishing I could own a chocolate factory like Charlie, and being scared witless at the pure unadulterated evilness of the Grand High Witch, but nothing delighted me more than the adventures of Sophie and her Big Friendly Giant.

This production is using a critically acclaimed adaptation by Children's playwright David Wood, who seems to be a master at staying true to the books originality but also allowing himself some artistic licence, this mainly comes in the framing of the story, rather than being played for 'Real' Wood's adaptation takes its premise from it being Sophie's Birthday Party and unfortunately the entertainer couldn't make it so her family and friends re-enact her favourite story Roald Dahl's The BFG.

This device sets up the show very quickly but also stills a message into the young children present in the audience that is is all make believe and that nothing you see on stage is real, quite apt really as some of the scene's in the brilliant production are atmospherically quite disturbing, helped along by Sean Crowley's beautifully simplistic stage, the centre piece being a huge bright moon, and rather than seeing a big black box of a usual stage we are treated to a bright blue sky with moving clouds. Crowley's set was wonderfully lit by Ceri James' first rate lighting design, bringing a real air of menace and piece to the various settings in the play.

This production uses a group of actor musicians to tell the tale of Orphan girl Sophie (played with a real integrity and warmth by Becky John, one couldn't help raise a smile when she giggled and winced around the set with childish glee. )who gets whisked away one night after being spotted by the BFG (played with great gravitas and grandfatherly charm by Anthony Pedley) as he blows dreams into the children's bedrooms, taken to the land of the Giants, we see that the BFG is one of a kind, and not like all the other nasty looking giants, who plan to storm the world eating all the children up! The use of live music on stage really helps keep the audience captivated as most if not all the cast play more than one instrument. The original music by Paula Gardener is sublime and really helps set up the pace and anticipation of the scenes as they play out.

Phil Clark's direction is smooth and never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, (if you don't believe me just ask the girl sat directly behind me who was loving every moment.) Clark has some very clever ideas that make this production a magical introduction to the theatre, with glowing dream bottles, and one of the best uses of shadow puppetry I have seen on stage in a very long time, although highly enjoyable this production isn't without its flaws, a slightly underwhelming second act means it juts doesn't pack the same punch as the first half, perhaps this is down to having an interval - even kids can sit quiet and captivated for 75 minutes without needing a break!

Overall this production comes highly recommended, with a fantastic ensemble, wonderful performances from the central characters, delightful music and a sublime set. This is a first class introduction to the theatre for the young, and a wonderful family night out. This is a show that is a first rate hit rather than a first class Whizz-Pop!

The BFG runs at the Palace Theatre until Sat 29th August

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Rebel Cell - SPL, Edinburgh Fringe

The Rebel Cell
Writer: Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Four Stars

From the producers of ‘Into The Hoods’ comes their politically charged play, ‘The Rebel Cell’. In the dystopian England of 2013 the BNP and BBC have merged and free speech is a thing of the past. Dizraeli, the leader of the revolution, has been captured and jailed, being held at Glastonbury which is now a Guantanamo-esque prison camp. Baba Brinkman, formerly Dizraeli’s partner and now a journalist, is granted an exclusive interview as Dizraeli awaits sentencing, and we are then shown through flashbacks what has happened to bring England, and the characters, to this point.

The Rebel Cell began as a series of debates about freedom, and found its roots when the playwrights realised they had strong opposing views on the best ways to effect change – democratic action versus direct activism. This feeling of passionate disagreement is the backbone of the piece, with the two performers putting their different point of view across to the audience and each other, including challenging each other through rap battles.

Dizraeli is an excellent performer, not just as a rapper which I expected, but also as an actor. He has a charisma and intensity that make him extremely watchable and suits the character to a tee. Baba is quite a different character: Canadian rather than a brit, which presents a nice contrast as he is looking at British society from a different angle and as someone who wasn’t raised here. He is more measured than the passionate, impulsive Dizraeli, and believes that Capitalism has its place and protests should be made through the existig political structures. Baba is also a strong actor, and showed his versatility as he plays a variety of quite distinct characters throughout the show.

This is an engaging and irreverent political comedy which doesn’t hold anything back. It is described as ‘a new kind of hip-hop performance’, and in addition to the fact that the entire play is rapped, there is also excellent use made of an on-stage DJ and a variety of multimedia tools. There are TVs strategically placed around the staging area and they are used alternately as an Orwellian form of CCTV, live events coverage, and for filmic flashbacks. The eloquent lyrics and use and subversion of well-known British institutions such as the BBC and Glastonbury, coupled with references to current concerns like the proliferation of Tesco shops, makes this fiercely current. It is also interactive, with the audience being asked for suggestions for how to change the world, which the performers then rap about, adding a freshness to the show. Enjoyable, challenging theatre that keeps you thinking long after you leave.

Underbelly’s Hullabaloo, 7-31 Aug, 17:30 (18:30), prices vary.

No Way Out - Southwark Playhouse

No Way Out by Jean-Paul Sartre
English version by Frank Hauser
Director: Luke Kenaghan
Choreographer:Kele Baker
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Satre’s No Way Out (Huis Clos) discusses the lives and subsequent fates of three people. A Journalist, Socialite and Postal Worker. The play opens on an empty cell-like enclosure with over-turned chairs, three tables, a bronze bust, television monitor and intercom.

The Journalist; Garçan (played by Miguel Oyarzun) is first to arrive and has a stilted and awkward conversation with the disembodied voice of an Orwellian Big Brother style character speaking through the intercom. Next is the Post Office worker Inez (played by Elisa de Grey) who – it becomes clear – has arrived expecting a torturer and a room filled with the accoutrements associated with such a profession, but is confused when confronted with a slightly frightened and solitary Garçan. Finally, the socialite Estelle (played by Alexis Terry) arrives, pushed sharply into the room, hiding her face and screaming at what she expects to see…the faceless ghost of her former lover.

Having collected herself, she begins to deal with the situation as though it is all a big mistake; dismissing the intercom voice, telling him “I will ring for you if I need you”. We eventually discover that all three of the characters are dead; and find themselves thrust together for eternity. It is at this point that they all realize that they are here to torture each other!

It seems that the main questions posed by Satre are a) what form of punishment could one receive after death, having committed horrific crimes during life, b) why are human beings so driven by their sexual urges? and c) do the characters find themselves in hell or purgatory? Unfortunately, as an audience member I would have to suggest the latter!

The sexual themes of the piece are catalyzed by Inez’s sexually aggressive lesbian advances and almost immediate infatuation with Estelle. This seems to force Estelle (who is heterosexual) to run into the arms of Garçan – the only man present. Causing what should be a horrendously awkward situation… Stylistically, this production is neither one thing nor the other.

Luke Kernaghan’s experimentation with the inclusion of Argentinean Tango sounded like a magnificent idea in the programme notes, but often clouded the clarity of an otherwise dramatic moment. Almost all movement of the characters was Tango, there were moments of real movement, but the whole piece feels too choreographed. This would be anticipated for a dance production or even – in some cases – physical theatre, however the movements of the actors fail to be a manifestation of the emotional reactions or thoughts of the characters. Whilst proficiently performed, it consistently detracted from the often horrific confessions of characters.

The use of the intercom telephone receiver seemed utterly superfluous as just moments earlier it was clear that the voice could hear the questions and protestations of the characters without the use of the clearly redundant receiver. During the moments of character reverie, often indecipherably faint images were projected onto the stage right wall, but I am unsure whether they were intended to illustrate the images seen by the character speaking, or were images relating to another narrative sub-plot. The performers all work extremely hard, giving muscular and graceful performances, each dancing with ease and focused intention. Sadly these intentions did not make their way the expositional sections of dialogue.

The production lacks the tension and drama that the script cries out for, leaving me regularly checking my watch, just in case I too had plunged unknowingly into purgatory! Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of a row, and in a medium sized studio space, there really was No Way Out!

No Way Out runs at the Southwark Playhouse until the 12th Sept

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Private Peaceful - Scamp Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Private Peaceful
By Michael Morpurgo
Adaptor/Director: Simon Reade
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: 5 Stars

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s award-winning book, Private Peaceful tells the tale of Thomas Peaceful (Tommo), a teenage boy who ends up as an infantry soldier in the First World War. A one-man show, Finn Hanlon is superb, playing the multitude of characters with a versatility and conviction that takes the breath away.

As he waits for some unknown horror, Tommo checks his watch and counts down the hours whilst recounting the story of his life. This is a conceit taken straight from the book, where the checking of the watch deliniates the chapters, and beautifully divides the scenes into manageable chunks, stopping the audience from losing track, and preventing them from forgetting that something awful is going to happen when six o’clock comes.

Introducing the characters from his childhood, Hanlon employs every ounce of his considerable talent to show us Charlie (his older brother), Molly (his first love), Big Joe (his brain-damaged oldest brother), and a whole host of others. A beautiful picture is painted of perochial country life, which then lies in direct contrast to the horrors of war that are to come. It also establishes the firm bond between Tommo and Charlie; his big brother, best friend and hero.

News of the war finally makes it to Devon, and the young men are encouraged to enlist in the army and do their part for their country. Charlie decides to sign up, and Tommo is right behind him - despite being four years younger than the age required to enlist. The boys pretend to be twins, and the recruiters, not really caring, allow fifteen-year-old Tommo to join up. From this point on the heady days of haymaking, poaching and skinny-dipping are forgotten as the boys are thrust into a war that noone, least of all them, is prepared for.

The simple set of a backdrop and an old-fashioned bed are cleverly used to root the audience in Peaceful’s present, constantly remind the us that we are watching flashbacks. The bed also becomes the trench, with Hanlon folding back the mattress and peering through the wire, and lighting and sound also complimenting the piece.

Aimed at audiences from eight years up, it was heartening to see the younger members of the audience so enthralled and never seeming unsettled. This may seem unsurprising given that the book was written for this age group, but the sad nature of the piece made me wonder how they would cope. I needed have worried, however, as each child was rapt. Private Peaceful is without a doubt the best show I’ve seen this festival: funny, subtle, and extremely moving, with Hanlon giving a performance that can only be described as a tour-de-force.

Udderbelly’s Pasture, 6-31 Aug (not 17), 14:00 (15:15), prices vary.

After Circles - Miscellany Theatre Productions, Edinburgh Fringe

After Circles
Writer: Henry Martin
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: 2 Stars

Often, a play that raises a lot of questions has you leaving the theatre thinking ‘I wish I knew more’. Other times, you leave not really caring what the answers were. After Circles is sadly in the latter category, with a convoluted plotline that jumps between time periods without any real indication of when is when.

Hiding in a hotel, three women wash clothes repeatedly whilst waiting for liberation that will doubtless never come. Ava and Julie work and talk while the Girl sleeps, and their pasts unfold through stilted dialogue and flashbacks. There is a lack of clarity in the opening scene which is due either to the writing, performances, or both. It becomes apparent that it is forbidden for women to write, so Ava’s discovery of a tiny piece of paper and a pen becomes the catalyst for confessions by both women.

We then jump, without warning, to a young couple looking out at the hills. It is unclear if this is the same time or before, as the Girl has only lain on the floor in the first scene, leaving me to wonder if she was doubling characters. She and her boyfriend J.J. speak of their feelings for each other, and hint at the unrest going on in the world at large. There are strange sentence structures and inflections throughout the scene, and James Martinelli’s J.J. is underpowered and lacks any intensity. Conversely Jamila-Jennings Grant (the Girl) is engaging and passionate. J.J. eventually gives the Girl paper and a pen so she can write to him subversively, although he seems to be in their world’s equivalent of the Nazi Youth.

As the story unfolds the relationships between the characters are clarified somewhat, but I had already begun to lose interest as the characters talked around the subjects raised without ever truly resolving anything, meaning the plot development faltered. The speech patterns seemed unnatural, but not enough to be a stylistic choice, and there were parts of the text that felt clumsy. At times the language became poetic, but without a clear narrative was hard to appreciate, and the final scene between the Girl and J.J. dragged, although Grant gave a superb performance.

Despite the interesting concept of women trying to settle on the five words they can put on paper that will galvanise those outside to rescue them, they never complete this task – a lack of resolution that is a continuing theme in the play: nothing is ever resolved. All in all the piece was unsatisfying, and despite moments clearly intended to shock left me unmoved and uninterested.

Underbelly, 6-30 Aug (not 17), 12:35am (1:35pm), Prices vary.

Baba Yaga Bony Legs - 3Bugs Frings, Edinburgh Fringe

Baba Yaga Bony Legs
By 3Bugs Fringe Theatre
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: 3 Stars

This play has one of the most interesting concepts I’ve seen, or rather not seen, this festival. Performed entirely in the dark, with the slight exception of moments of torchlight, Baba Yaga Bony Legs is a intelligent and innovative take on the clasic Russian folktale. The audience are led in to the space in twos and threes and seated by torch-bearing ushers. Once everyone is in and the doors are closed we are completely in the dark, and the storytelling begins.

A simple tale of a kindhearted child, a wicked stepmother and a iron-toothed witch, Baba Yaga is generally accepted to be the basis for the similar tale of Hansel and Gretel. However, in this story our heroine has noone to help her when her cruel stepmother demands she go to fetch some thread for her from her sister in the woods. On reaching the cottage, Marie is surprised and frightened to see that the house is on chicken legs and clearly inhabited by a witch. Due to Marie’s own good nature, and a little help from her friends, she escapes and returns home where her stepmother gets her come-uppance and Marie and her father live happily ever after.

As the play relies entirely on the actors’ vocal expertise and a lot of physical contact with the audience, a healthy imagination is a must for this production. At various points we were grabbed, hissed at, and had water and breadcrumbs scattered over us – all integral to the creation of the world of the play. Without our eyes our other senses were assaulted with touches, smells and sounds, by and large to great effect.

Unfortunately, with such a reliance on vocalisation, some of the young actors fell a little short, with articulation an issue and an occasional failure to fully commit to the characters. They were also competing against loud music from the venue next door, so there were times when, through no fault of their own, they were drowned out and important moments were lost. When there were moments involving light, they were often a bit quick as the audience needed to time to adjust their eyes so couldn’t take in the visual moments before they were gone.

There were a couple of cod fringe references, including a ‘mistake’ happening and voices from the dark apologising and saying ‘this shouldn’t happen at the fringe’. I could’ve done without this, as all it did was distract from the story, and there was a very odd Benny Hill chase scene which didn’t entirely gel.

Overall a strong piece of theatre and well performed, although it suffered from a few moments of concept over content. At the end the lights came up, and although the actors want to show the play has ended and take a bow, I did not feel it was the best decision as it jolted me very suddenly out of the world they had so painstakingly created.

SweetHeart, 6-16 Aug, 15:00 (15:45), prices vary.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Angels with Manky Faces - Library Theatre

Angels with Manky Faces
Writer: Andrew Davies
Director: Rob Lees
Reviewer: John Roberts

Mad Theatre Company should be praised at taking a risk with this production, an adaptation of Andrew Davies’ bestselling book ‘Gangs of Manchester’. It’s not every day you walk into a theatre to a completely sold out show, and an atmosphere that is electric. I feel that this is partly to do with the amount of Juvenile performers in the cast, and its regional pull.

Set in the 1890’s amongst the lives of the scuttlers, a group youngsters who fight with knives and create trouble amongst other gangs, Angels with Manky Faces, follows the Bengal Tigers and more importantly follows the life of their leader Jimmy Johnson, played with gusto and lots of energy by Jack Williamson and his mischievous ways in love and fights!,

Director Rob Lee’s uses the convention of sepia toned video projected at the back of a bare black box stage throught the production to help the narrative move in time, the videos created using songs from 80’s and 90’s madchester and featuring a host of celebrity cameo’s including; Terry Christian, Graeme Hawley and John Henshaw are extremely well done, but theatrically they never really connect with the on stage action and really do just feel like a nice use of video to give the cast a bit of a break between scenes. Lee also has trouble in creating a clean clutter free stage when his twenty something cast are on stage, having no other choice but placing cast on chairs in the far corners for up to twenty minutes at a time, it’s the small attention to detail like this that can make a good show, brilliant, he may also want to have a word with several members of the cast who felt the need to lip everybody else’s words throughout the scenes.

Andrew Davies script is very funny throughout and has a nice punchy pace to it, but one feels that it was perhaps slightly too long and this production could have ran at just 40 minutes each half, keeping the impact strong. The use of bringing the scuttlers life to modern day is well done, but one couldn’t help feel that this should be more integral to the plot throughout the piece rather than the over long final scene of the show!

Praise must be given to three cast members who lit up the stage every time they appeared; Katelin Crawford, Lauren Lennon and Alana Thornton who generally put the rest of the cast to shame with the professionalism and excellent comic delivery with which each of them gave with real gusto.Other notable performances were given by Carol Bradley as Biddy Flanagan and James Creer as Little Bastard Seepage.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening at the theatre, but with a contrived script full of far too much bad language, and at times careless direction meant that this production is more akin to the dingy back streets of 1890’s Salford than the bright neon lit streets of modern day Piccadilly Gardens!

Angels with Manky Faces runs at the Library Theatre until Sat 22nd August – Returns only!

Monday, 17 August 2009

By Order Of Ignorance - Sell A Door Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

By Order of Ignorance
Writer/Director: Robert Gilbert
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Five Stars

Written and directed by Robert Gilbert, ‘By Order Of Ignorance’ is an exceptional piece of theatre. Direct and honest, the play is set in the modern day, a time where political awareness is being eroded by a relentless reality TV shows.

The first of two short prologues introduces the character of Jeff: a sexually confused and socially aware reality TV presenter, played by John Edon. The second shows US soldier Davey (Carl Vorwerk) discussing his having just taken part in a brutal homophobic attack. Neither character is particularly sympathetic, and during these vignettes a mysterious third character crouches at the front of the stage huddled over a laptop.

The play begins on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and brings the polarised characters together when they both stumble upon a brain-damaged Bristolian terrorist called Mo (David Hutchinson). Davey and Jeff try reasoning, begging and even threatening Mo, but he is hell-bent on blowing himself up and taking the two of them with him. During this hostage situation each of the characters reveals more about their background and dissatisfaction with their lives, neatly highlighting social and political issues without losing the dramatic tension. The simple set and staging is effective, using multimedia in the form of TVs placed either side of the stage to highlight the importance and influence of the media on the nation’s political consciousness

Throughout the piece all three actors give impassioned, commanding, and dedicated performances. Hutchinson is outstanding as the indoctrinated insurgent; his portrayal sympathetic and
multifaceted as Mo struggles to understand and cope with a world that is ‘too big’ for him. Meanwhile Edon gives a stand out performance as Jeff, a man shown to be every inch the armchair socialist – passionate about politics but failing to tackle even the conflicts in his own life. Vorwerk has great intensity and handles his problematic character with skill – Davey is after all the least likeable character, but genuinely has the strength of his own conviction and is ultimately the most honest.

Gilbert’s bold, challenging script raises some uncomfortable questions about modern society, refusing to shy away from addressing the bigotry that still exists and the assumptions we make about others based on race and sexuality. It also addresses issues around mental health and the manipulation of vulnerable people, in this case to a sinister end. Ultimately it encourages both the characters and audience to question their ideas of blame, guilt, and personal accountability.

Spaces @ Royal College of Surgeons, 11-15 Aug, 11:45 (13:15), £7:00 (£6:00).

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Woyzeck - Splendid Productions, Edinburgh Fringe

Woyzeck by Büchner
Director: Mal Smith
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Five Stars

Splendid Productions have acheived the impossible – they’ve made Woyzeck fun! This innovative production takes Büchner’s classic text and put a new spin on it, throwing out the notion that a play should be shown in chronological order, and instead presenting the 24 acts in different styles and order, even repeating one (Scene 18) three times, to great effect.

As the audience enters, the white-faced performers chat to them, asking for show recommendations, bantering, and generally setting them at ease. A variety of instruments are being played, and many more sit at the sides, with only a metal frame with cloth for a set, and an easle stage right to display the titles and numbers of each scene. The three-strong cast of Scott Smith (Woyzeck), Kerry Frampton (Marie) and Mal Smith (Drum Major) are confident and welcoming, and you know you are in for a treat.

Based on true events, the play tells the story of Woyzeck: an impoverished soldier who agrees to be amateur barber to his captain and a ginea-pig for medical experiements in order to support his girlfriend (Marie) and their child. Overwraught and paranoid, Woyzeck begins to hear voices, and when he learns Marie has betrayed him through an affair with the Drum Major, murders her.

With a strong mix of comedy, mime, and music, Splendid Productions’ excellent actors disect the story, beginning with the murder then working their way through the causes for it. Multifaceted, hilarious moments such as the song in ‘Scene 12 - Stab the Bitch Dead’, which the audience joins in with, take a more sinister turn as Woyzeck responds: “Alright, I will”, leaving us to realise we represent the voices in his head and have just set him on his murderous mission.

The mime elements of the show are particularly strong, and beautifully understated. There is comic gold in ‘Scene 14 – A Fight’, when the Drum Major completes Woyzeck’s total humiliation by beating him up. It is presented through mime, movement and sound, with each punch, kick and groan orchestrated – simply superb slapstick!

In addition to the comedy and amazing physicality of the performance, at the core is really good acting. Woyzeck is presented as a sympathetic sort of killer; a man who thinks far too much, and is overwhelmed by the world. Marie, worn down by his morbid philosophising, is drawn to the confident, pompous Drum Major, a man who can offer her an escape from her dreary existance. Woyzeck’s heartfelt sorrow in ‘Scene 8: No She Wouldn’t, Yes She Did’ is palpable, and Marie’s emotive line “I would rather a knife in my body than your hand on mine” both crushes him further and foreshadows her death.

All in all this is an exceptional show - bold, accessible and entertaining. Mal Smith, in the dual role of Director and Actor, is a pleasure to watch; and both Scott Smith and Kerry Frampton showcase their obvious talent and passion. I await the company’s next production of Faustus with baited breath.

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-16 Aug, 2:00pm (3:00pm), prices vary.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Disney's Beauty & The Beast - Liverpool Empire

Disney’s Beauty & The Beast
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book: Linda Woolverton
Director/Choreography: Alison Pollard
Reviewer: Stephanie Rowe

Disney’s Beauty & The Beast, re-established Disney as the true kings of animated movies, with its digitalised backgrounds, catchy tunes (which won an Oscar) and a host of extraordinary was no wonder that Disney’s theatrical arm transferred the film into a stage musical.

This enchanting story follows Belle the heroine from her small provincial town in france where she lives in her own idyllic dream world, until one fateful night she finds herself at the Beast’s castle where she encounters a feast of characters including Mrs Potts and her lovable sun Chip the Teacup, Lumiere the Candle and Cogsworth the Carriage Clock, who have all been transformed into furniture after a witches curse is placed upon the prince and his home for his ignorance to the poor and needy, only true love can break the spell and transform all the characters back to normal, but things are never as easy as that and thrown into the Mix is Gaston the Village hero who tries his utmost to woo the beautiful Belle.

This production is a rare thing on the theatre scene at the moment with no star names carrying the production, what we do get is a fun filled evening that doesn’t fail to be awe-inspiring. The Beast played by Shaun Dalton and Belle played by the beautiful Ashley Oliver had a electrifying charisma on stage when they were together, the antics of Lumiere and Cogsworth ( Phil Barley and Ashley Knight) gave a fabulous performance, while Gaston and his side kick Lefou ( Ben Harlow and Eddie Dredge) had the theatre in stitches with their frolics.

The magnificent set designed by Charles Camm brings the fairytale land vividly to life, with atmospheric lighting designed by David Howe and special effects by Glen Beckley and Gareth Owen only add to this captivating evening.
Director Alison Pollard has brought a real sense of magic and energy to this production, making sure that the show stays true to the film but also has its own special sprinkling of originality and flair, It is clear from the cast that this is a production that they all enjoy performing, for each member of the cast gave their all throughout.

This is one of the most enjoyable nights at the theatre I have had in a long while, it was great to see the little girls all dressed in their Belle costumes singing along and some even danced in the aisles, a terrific family night out which will leave the kids talking about it for days afterwards.

Beauty & The Beast runs at the Liverpool Empire until Sat 22nd August

Burn - Second Skin, Edinburgh Fringe

Burn by Andy McQuade
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: 1 Star

‘Burn’, written by Andy McQuade, is based on Sartre’s ‘No Exit’, and sets the three characters on a deserted island surrounded by lava and piranhas. They awake to this discovery, and immediately begin a pseudo-philosophical discussion about the reasons they are stranded there, their sins, and possible ideas for redemption.

This all sounds good, but the fact that the script is mediocre at best and the actors largely incomprehensible makes this an extremely long 50 mins. Both Iaione Perez (Helena) and Nika Khitrova (Tatiana) have strong accents which add to the difficulty, but the main issue is where the inflections and emphases are placed. By contrast McQuade’s Cliff is tragically easy to understand, meaning the audience gets the full thrust of his meretricious text.

Cliff is a smug financier who feels nothing is his fault and everyone’s problems are their own. Helena is a ‘self-made woman’, an intellectual and a lesbian with genuine skeletons in her closet. Tatiana is almost her exact opposite, both physically and emotionally, a Russian beauty who uses her sexuality as a weapon and has the most shocking secret of all. Not exactly the people you would want to be trapped with for eternity (or for the duration of this show), but they attempt to make the best of it, prompting a predictable love triangle.

With no intensity or intension in the one-dimensional performances, it was hard to take seriously the grave crimes the three characters revealed they had committed, and even harder to care. The actors consistently drop both the energy and the end of their lines, so the tension never builds. Tension crept into the audience, however, when the inevitable happened – a lesbian kiss, followed by Cliff getting a hand-job through his trousers. It was not a discomfort born out of shock or distaste however, merely that it was so crudely done and crow-barred in that we cringed in our seats and many in the audience laughed. This also showed that Second Skin, a company born out of the ashes of Act Provocateur International (for which all three were principal actors), is merely continuing their tradition of so-called ‘In Yer Face’ theatre, where practically every show had gratuitous nudity, sex or both - rarely with any justification.

Ultimately, the show ended and then began again, portraying purgatory as some sort of infernal Groundhog Day. The characters had unburdened themselves one by one, then had a brief moment of realisation that the only thing worse than being together was being alone, all performed with an insincerity that was overwhelming. Like the script, the production was so unbelievably pompous and self-indulgent that the performers looked genuinely surprised at the audience’s level of discomfort – the first authentic emotion of the evening.

Despite all this there are comic moments, although I don’t know if they are entirely intentional. Helena’s line “This is all a bit lacking – I thought it would be a little more creative” got an ironic chuckle, but McQuade’s “You do not ask for the money back” brought the house down, illiciting raucus laughter from an audience clearly pondering the chance of getting a refund.

Underbelly, 6-30 Aug (not 19), 18:10 (19:00), Prices vary

The Bone House - Village Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

The Bone House
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Four Stars

Edward Crowley is on the trail of a serial killer - the elusive Midnight Cowboy. A killer so elusive, in fact, that the police have not admitted he exists. But Crowley knows he does, and through this lecture-based piece of theatre introduces the audience to his theory, evidence, and witness. Full of visual aids, audience participation, and a lot of red-herrings, ‘The Bone House’ unsettles the audience and plunges them into the dark world of both the killer and his obsessive hunter, leaving us to wonder where ones obsession ends and the other begins...

Extremely well thought out, staged and acted, ‘The Bone House’ is unlike any other play you will see this festival. Interspersed with psychological tests, film clips and sound, this is a true multimedia experience which will have you alternately laughing and shrieking. Chris Fassbender is both engaging and unnerving as Crowley, a man you feel is teetering on the brink of either a stroke of genius or a complete breakdown - he seems so wrapped up in his obsession with serial killers that you fear for his sanity, a feeling that deepens as the play unfolds.

His witless assistant, Jacob, assists Crowley as he addresses our society’s unhealthy interest in the killers, and ignorance of the victims. Gabrielle, a witness to Midnight Cowboy’s crimes, is put in a trance and recounts the horrific events of Halloween 1998. Tracey Power is breathtaking as the traumatised Gabby, seeming to genuinely experience the horror we can only imagine, and infecting the room with a sense of dread that is a major key change in the piece. After her revelation, Crowley behaviour becomes frenetic and he goes on to reconstruct the Cowboy’s last murder is a disturbingly realistic manner. Midnight Cowboy always kills in front of an audience...wait a minute - we are an audience...

It is impossible to say more about the play without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that it is an engaging, enigmatic, and entertaining show that will stay with you -particularly in the dark! And just remember, a serial killer could be someone you know.

Underbelly, 11-15 Aug, 11:45 (13:15), £7:00 (£6:00)

Tempest in a Teacup - Side by Side Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Tempest in a Teacup
Director: Sue Wallin
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

Fringe Rating: Five Stars

During the Edinburgh Festival you are always looking for the hidden gems, the shows you don’t plan to see that turn out to be truly wonderful - this is one of those shows.

Using Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ as a basis, Side By Side Theatre Company have taken the text and interpreted it through mime, dance and dialogue to capture and communicate the essence of the play. The performers, who all have learning disabilities, are consumate professionals and you would struggle to find a more committed cast and crew amongst the thousands in Edinburgh this month. Susan Rachel Wallin, their Artistic Director, formed the company 12 years ago, and the group have purposely stayed away from the ‘issues’ theatre that is expected of them, choosing instead to harness their abilities rather than their challenges to produce fun, award-winning theatre.

In this version of the tale Prospero is a disgraced MP, sent into exile by his brother Antonio, Prime Minister Alona, and her sister Sabrina. With the help of Ariel, a being made up of light captured from a standard lamp, the sorcerer plots his revenge against his brother and his cohorts for unseating him 12 years earlier, and stranding him and his daughter Miranda on a magical island. Summoning a tempest by brewing his magic in a giant teacup of the kitchen table, Prospero shipwrecks the MPs on the island. Ferdinand (Alona’s son) is separated from the main group and eventually meets and falls in love with Miranda – meanwhile Prospero’s servant, Caliban, befriends the drunken Trinculo and Stephano, and they search the house whilst drinking copious amounts of wine and cider. On another part of the island, Sabrina goads Antonio to usurp Alona’s power as he did Prospero’s. All the characters are finally brought together, and seeing his daughter in love Prospero is moved to forgive Alona and the others, and arranges for them all to leave the island and return home. Caliban goes with them, and Ariel is freed.

Having begun with a monochrome set, various colours, costumes and props are introduced to the space during the piece, bringing with them a sense of the extraordinary and supernatural that is at the heart of the play. The flashback to Prospero and Miranda’s exile is cleverly told through use of simple film and narration (a film shot by one of the cast members) and later there are projections on the screen. The choreography of the ensemble numbers is simple and effective, and the solo dances devised by the cast members. The confidence and concentration shown by this multi-talented cast was overwhelming at times, and there was many a misty eye in the audience by the end.

Although a company piece, there are also some stand out individual performances. Theresa Byrne’s Ariel, shining head to toe in sparkly fabric and mask - the very embodiment of light - is also light on her feet, moving gracefully to plead and play with Prospero, then menacing the strangers with a monstrous mask as the harpy. David Atkins is confident and expressive as the love-struck Ferdinand, and the scenes between him and Sarah Field’s Miranda were both funny and tender.

The drunken adventures of Stephano and Trinculo are hilarious, and offer beautiful counterpoint to the political machinations of Antonio and Sabrina, and Prospero and Ariel’s magical mischief . Stephano (Paul Taylor) has great comic timing and confidence in spades, while Toby Shaw’s Trinculo is acted with aplomb.

But most of all, Mark Slater’s Prospero is a triumph. The character with the most lines of text of any in Shakespeare’s cannon is presented here without any words at all, using only mime, movement and magic to effect and entrance the audience. Equally he shines as Antonio, Prospero’s devious brother, adding versatility to his many strengths.

The real heart of the piece, and the company itself, is the strength of the ensemble. The storm, the robots tempting the MPs with food, ‘The Prospero Magic Show’ and the finale involve the whole cast who work together as one unit, where necessary guiding each other, and always with the same sense of fun that made them choose this play. The production is superb regardless of that fact that the cast are disabled, but the fact that they are and have overcome their challenges to perform it makes experiencing it even more special - a truly outstanding production.

Augustine’s, 41 George IV Bridge, 11-15 Aug, 11:45 (13:15), £7:00 (£6:00) - More info click here
frontpage hit counter