Tag Archives: theatre

Theatre review – The Two Gentlemen of Verona

I have never read Master Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona,  nor seen it performed. Until last night, when the always excellent Guildford Shakespeare Company brought the comedy to vibrant life, in the beautiful gardens of the University of Law and transported to glitzy Italy in the 1950s.

(images from GSC website)

The Two Gentlemen was Shakespeare’s first published play. It is considered to be weaker than the many classics that followed, but it does introduce common themes that he returns to time and time again – love and friendship; infidelity and betrayal; dominating fathers and recalcitrant children; and a girl dressing as a boy.

The two young Veronese gentlemen are best friends Valentine and Proteus. Proteus falls in love with Julia. Valentine leaves for Milan, where he falls in love with Silvia, the Duke’s daughter. Proteus is told by his father to travel to Milan too, where he falls instantly in love with Silvia.

Poor, weak Proteus is completely undone by the urge to obtain the new object of his desire, whatever the cost. Friendship is put aside, betrayal ensues, but contrasted by steadfast loyalty and – ultimately – forgiveness.

This innovative production, directed by Charlotte Conquest, never flags. Comedy quickly overcomes the play’s darker themes, and GSC co-founder Matt Pinches lets rip with his usual array of comic voices – as a slow, West Country station announcer before the curtain comes up, and then as Launce, Proteus’s servant, played with a Welsh accent as broad that of the Pontypool  front row,

But the undoubted star of this production of The Two Gentlemen is Launce’s canine companion Crab. Played by three separate actors throughout the 16 night run, Tiba had Launce – and the entire audience – eating out of his paw last night.

Another triumph for the exuberant Guildford Shakespeare Company. Like Master Will, they just get better and better.

 

 

Theatre review – Austen’s Artifice

Austen’s Artifice – review for Essential Surrey website.

4 STARS, June 19-20. Andrew Morris enjoys an energetic stroll through the works of Jane Austen in Kate Napier’s superbly executed play about writing a novel

This charming literary stroll through the works of Jane Austen was written by Kate Napier – at the request of Chawton House Library – to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility.

Kate considered a traditional adaptation of the novel, but opted instead for a teasing glimpse into many of Austen’s characters, plucked from both her best known and much loved classic novels, but also from less familiar works.

A loose structure explores the different characteristics of Sense – Elinor Dashwood, prudent with good judgement; and Sensibility – sister Marianne, emotional and spontaneous. Through this artifice we meet other female characters from Jane’s genteel society, illustrating the journey of an Austen heroine through the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of her world.

Susan Fitzgerald – now the eponymous Lady Susan Lesley – tries to dissuade her brother from falling helplessly in love with her new step-daughter, whilst Frederica Vernon also seeks to avoid the oppressive control of her imposing, beautiful mother.

Laura and Sophia follow disparate paths through the 15 letters of epistolary Love and Freindship (sic).

Catherine Morland pops up to receive some guidance from Isabella Thorpe before coming across Henry Tilney, from Northanger Abbey.

And from little known Lesley Castle, a searingly comic novella, Charlotte and Eloisa Lutterell ponder the primary concern, should a bridegroom be fatally wounded on the eve of the wedding….what on earth should one do with the splendid food, to avoid it going to waste?

You get the drift.

This is a whimsical and hugely entertaining dive into the literary genius of Jane Austen, allowing us to dissect the social structure of her time through so many of her well-crafted characters.

What is remarkable about this production of Austen’s Artifice is that the panoply of characters is performed by just two female actors. As Jane (played by a bonneted Cath Humphrys) sits at her writing desk, Claire Ni Ghormain and Charlotte James bring the stories to sweet, vivid life, as effortlessly as the author skewers the social niceties of her period.

And whilst the inevitable focus is on female Sense and Sensibility, the male presence is well represented by malleable-faced and multi-accented James Sygrove.

Mention must also be made of Musical Director Andrew Hopkins. He may have been tucked away behind Jane’s writing desk, but he provided the perfect soundtrack to proceedings.

This was a hugely rewarding immersive theatrical experience, filling the Farnham Council Chamber with literature, love, laughter…and plenty of both Sense and Sensibility.

Artifice is a company of professional writers and actors, whose mission is to perform classical plays in beautiful places, bringing together period text and period locations.”Artifice is part of LynchPin Productions Theatre Company, based in Godalming, and Austen’s Artifice will be performed at various locations throughout the summer.

Theatre review – You Give Me Fever

You Give Me fever – review for Essential Surrey website.

5 STARS, May 23-27. “What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack Lynch has written”, says Andrew Morris

Was the huge success of Mamma Mia! responsible for the deluge of so-called “Jukebox Musicals” invading our theatres over the last 20 years, do you think? We Will Rock You, Our House, Jersey Boys, Thriller… the list of musicals with contrived plots woven loosely around artists’ songbooks goes on and on.

I guess it’s all about the Money, Money, Money, so how refreshing to see a more thought-provoking, entertaining and intellectually challenging work from that over-extended genre, performed on a much more intimate stage.

Head down to The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford to see You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret”, an innovative production from LynchPin for the Guildford Fringe. I bet you didn’t know that the tragic heroine of Greek mythology loved the jazz and blues classics, did you? Or that she mixed a mean Aegean Fizz cocktail?

Sultry siren Pippa Winslow is Phaedra (“Fey”), luring us into her tangled mythological web of Greek gods, bull-headed Minotaurs and doomed love affairs as she mixes drinks and sings us jazzy standards. Mad About The Boy, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, One For My Baby, Crazy…. Fey seduces her enthralled cabaret audience in perfect harmony with the sad narrative of her life story.

Thwarting her sister Ariadne in pursuit of Theseus, falling in love with Hippolytus – son of Theseus by another woman – Fey warns us from the outset that her story will not have a happy ending. But along the way, thanks to brilliantly synchronised song choices and some crazy cocktails, the mythological minx serves up a whole lot of fun.

Pippa delivers a seductive performance as Fey in this one-woman show, equally adept at singing, acting and mixology. No wonder Theseus and Hippolytus fell for her significant charms.

Also on stage throughout is James Shannon, a jazz guitarist recently graduated from Guildford’s very own ACM, and whose moody finger-style arrangements breathe even more life into Fey’s songs. Watch out for James’s brief – but perfectly pitched – acting cameo….

You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret” – is written and directed by Jack Lynch, co-founder of LynchPin Productions Theatre Company. What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack has written.

And thank you to the Guildford Fringe for another 5* piece of stimulating and entertaining theatre.

Theatre review – Out of Order

Out of Order – review for Essential Surrey website

4 STARS. Ray Cooney’s Out of Order proves that farce handled properly can still make for a brilliant evening’s entertainment at the theatre, says Andrew Morris. Showing March 10-11.

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Ray Cooney has been associated with the theatre for a scarcely believable 70 years, initially as an actor but then also as a director and producer of his own trademark farces. Out of Order was first performed at the Theatre of Comedy in the 1980s. This revival will tour the country for 30 weeks. We were privileged to see it at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, on just the second day of its long run.

Farce relies on structure, confusion, mistaken identity, a little bit of potential tragedy, and perfect timing. And often adultery. And, on this occasion, a sash window.

Out of Order takes place in Suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel, a stone’s throw from the Houses Of Parliament. Which is just as well, because suave Junior Minister Richard Willey (played by local actor Andrew Hall) is about to sleep with attractive young Jane Worthington (Susie Amy) – Jeremy Corbyn’s secretary – when he should be supporting Theresa May and his own Tory party in a crucial vote.

But their adulterous passion is thwarted by the unfortunate discovery of a dead body, wedged in the sash window behind the curtains of Suite 648. What would any self-serving, quick-thinking, philandering politician do in this awkward position? Well, obviously not report anything to the hotel management or to the police. What would Mr. Willey’s wife say, after all? Or the Prime Minister?

No, the only practical solution is to call your broad-shouldered and naive Principal Private Secretary. George Pidgen (Shaun Williamson) is soon caught up in his Minister’s increasingly tangled web of deceit. The momentum of the farce increases from scene to scene, as the quick-thinking politician creates ever more imaginative lies to save his own devious skin. Nothing like real life, clearly.

The Minister’s wife Pamela (Sue Holderness) arrives unexpectedly. As does Jane’s dim husband Ronnie (Jules Brown), suspecting his wife of having an affair and looking for his missing private detective to prove it. And then Nurse Gladys Foster (Elizabeth Elvin), carer for George’s elderly mother, after hearing that the previously shy civil servant appears to have got married that day, without telling them.

All the while, the hotel manager (Arthur Bostrom) casts a superior eye over the sordid shenanigans, and the sharper-than-he-seems room service waiter (James Holmes) cleans up on tips for facilitating the mayhem.

It’s easy to be sniffy about farce, and whilst it may not match Shakespeare for dramatic depth, this production of Out of Order clearly delighted the packed Guildford audience. The updated political references were a nice touch, and the entire cast launched themselves into the chaos of the plot with the energy of a back-bencher making his maiden speech.

An unexpected appearance by Mr Cooney himself, bounding onto the stage to help out when the curtains in Suite 648 collapsed in sympathy with the sash window, was a real bonus. The French have given this famous farceur the honour of calling him Le Feydeau Anglais. A much deserved accolade. Carry on farceing for many more years please, Ray.

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Theatre review – Spillikin

Can there be a more rewarding artistic medium than live theatre?

I love a good movie. Occasionally there’s something interesting and thought-provoking on TV….Damilola last night was certainly an emotionally engaging experience. And of course reading a good book is one of life’s  greatest pleasures.

But watching live theatre – particularly in a small, intimate venue – engages the senses more completely, perhaps, than anything else.  And seeing Spillikin tonight at The Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor certainly left no emotional stone unturned.

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Sally has Alzheimer’s. Her husband Raymond, a genius and academic, is away at a co-co-co-co-conference. A colleague of Raymond’s has just installed a robot with Sally, to keep her company.

Of course it’s soon clear that Raymond is dead. But his love for Sally ran so deep that he has programmed the robot with his own memories, to ensure Sally is not alone as she spirals further into confusion and isolation.

As Sally gets to know and engage with the robot – now Raymond – the story of their real life is movingly played out by two younger actors alongside them on stage.

This emotionally charged drama, written by Jon Welch and produced by the innovative Pipeline Theatre company, raises so many questions about love, loss, betrayal, memory, dementia, caring – and Artificial Intelligence! – that a Q&A session after the play, with the writer and the cast, barely begins to blow away any clouds.

But that’s the beauty of theatre. Interpret it as you will. Which is likely to be different from everyone else.

Huge thanks to friends Jonny & Laura Lees for letting us see Spillikin with them. And to Will Jackson, the robot maker, as well as the writer, cast and crew. A brilliant and thought-provoking experience.

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Theatre review – Black is the Color of My Voice

I worship books. I love movies. I like music. But is there anything better than live theatre? And when it’s a wholly original piece, brilliantly performed, in a quaint seaside theatre and seen on your 19th wedding anniversary, with your wife, family and good friends, the whole experience takes some artistic beating.

Apphia Campbell wrote and performs Black is the Color of My Voice. For 75 mesmerising minutes, she stands alone on the small stage of the Marine Theatre in charming Lyme Regis, and she is Nina Simone.

In a virtuoso one-woman performance, she locks herself away in a dingy bedroom in an effort to battle her demons, and to reach peace with her dead father. Along the way, she plucks props out of a battered suitcase on the floor, and we gain insights into her troubled life.

Donning a hat, hopping up onto the spindle-leg table, crouching and adopting an exaggerated negro drawl, she becomes her bible-bashing mother.

An old frock reminds her of dancing with her beloved Daddy. Faded love letters are from her first – and lost – love. And those same letters introduce us to her jealous, violent, controlling fiancé Arthur.

But what persists through a damaged life is her music. At the age of just three, she has already assimilated how to play the piano. The proud family raise money to send her to college, and she is on track to become the country’s first black concert pianist.

And then she finds her voice. That smoky, bluesy, jazzy voice. The Devil’s voice, as her disappointed mother calls it.

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But it gives her money, fame, and the ability to stand up and be heard in the long, bitter, violent fight for racial freedom in the entrenched racist southern states of the US.

Apphia Campbell is not only a gifted actor, she also has a damned fine voice. For the iconic songs, interlaced with key episodes in her troubled life, Nina Simone is on stage in Lyme Regis.

I Put a Spell on You; To Be Young, Gifted and Black; Mississippi Goddam; See line Woman and others are beautifully reproduced, with just a distant gramophone player occasionally accompanying the singular voice.

And Feeling Good brings down the curtain on a scintillating theatrical performance, leaving you humming those haunting rhythms as you head out into the Dorset night.

Apphia first performed Black is the Color of My Voice in Shanghai, in 2013. She’s bringing it to the UK now, on a short tour, until early November. Catch it if you possibly can, for a life-enhancing piece of live theatre.

 

 

 

Theatre review – The Shawshank Redemption

The 1994 Oscar winning movie The Shawshank Redemption is regularly right at the top of many favourite film of all time lists.

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Based on a novella by Stephen King, it tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker incarcerated in the infamous Shawshank penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover.

Andy initially remains aloof inside the brutal prison, but slowly forms an unlikely friendship with fixer Ellis “Red” Redding. He continually professes his innocence of the double murder, but over the years inside The Shank he uses his wit and intelligence to make life as bearable as possible.

This intriguing tale has now been transported to the stage. I can’t compare to the movie or to the original book, but it stands alone as a thrilling, life-affirming piece of live entertainment.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Paul Nicholls plays the wily banker, Jack Ellis the devious Warden Stammas and Ben Onwukwe, as Red, is a convincing double for Oscar nominated Morgan Freeman.

With stealthy set changes and a little imagination, we’re on the inside of the penitentiary with the cast, moving seamlessly from the canteen to Andy’s cell – adorned by a Rita Hayworth poster – into the exercise yard and back into the new library, a reward for Andy’s money-laundering efforts for Warden Stammas.

The cast of just eleven men punches well above its collective weight, thanks to a clever soundtrack and theatrical trickery .

We come to despise prison bullies and rapists Bogs and Rooster, pity institutionalised librarian Brooksie and laugh with the other long-term inmates.

In just two hours, we live with them all through almost 20 years of lies, violence, fear, friendship and – ultimately – redemption.

I might yet see the much lauded film one day, but it’s hard to imagine it could be a better experience than seeing this stage adaptation, on a wet September night in Windsor.

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Theatre review – Abi Roberts: Anglichanka

Abi Roberts is a total original, a weird and whacky fusion of energy, language, comedy and song.

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Her new show Anglichanka (Russian for English woman) is loosely scripted around her life in Russia – training to be an opera singer – in the 1990s, and her recent return as the first British stand-up comedian to perform there, in Russian and English.

Surreal, or what.

Throw in some graphic imagery of her wild time at Swansea University, her controlling Hyacinth Bucket doppelganger of a mother, a mastery of the Russian language, gentle abuse of President Putin, some audience participation, a lot of ad-libbing and a cracking bit of opera singing, wearing a Russian soldier’s hat (don’t ask), and you begin to get a feel for Abi’s unique brand of comedy.

Grab a bottle of vodka, open your mind and she will transport you to a 10th floor apartment in a Moscow apartment block with a mad family and a dog straddling the toilet, in the frozen depths of a Russian winter.

Thanks to the Guildford Fringe Festival and the Back Room at the Star Inn for providing the perfect venue.

Edinburgh…..are you ready for Ms Roberts?

Theatre review – The Comedy of Errors

It’s hard to believe that the same man who wrote the farcical, slapstick The Comedy of Errors also wrote Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello.

 

“Errors” is one of Master Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and it’s also his shortest.

The knock-about tale tells of two sets of identical twins, their father Egeon – a Syracuse merchant on the cusp of being executed for entering Ephesus – and Emilia, Egeon’s long-lost wife, now Abbess at Ephesus.

One set of twins are called Antipholus, the other – the Antipholean bondmen – are both Dromio.

Separated from his wife and one pair of twins during a tempest at sea, Egeon is trying to track them all down. What follows is an exhausting helter-skelter ride, with mistaken identity, wordplay and slapstick comedy providing a farcical theatrical experience of Feydeau and Brian Rix proportions.

The ever brilliant Guildford Shakespeare Company pull it all off in their usual exuberant style, the mobility of the open-air set – at both Guildford Castle Keep and around the Castle grounds by the bandstand – adding to the air of fluid confusion.

The loose ends are all neatly tied up with a bow on top, before Will gets his head down for some serious tragedy.

 

Theatre review – Sideways

There was a dramatic surge in sales of Pinot Noir wine, after the 2004 movie Sideways became a surprise hit.

Writer Rex Pickett has adapted his script for the stage, and after success in La Jolla it has now made its way across the pond to the St. James Theatre in London.

Miles is a wine bore. And he’s depressed. He’s a failed husband and a failing writer. He loves Pinot Noir. He hates Merlot.

He and his buddy Jack are hitting some California wineries for a week before Jack’s wedding, but they have very different agendas. Miles is searching for some answers at the bottom of an expensive wine bottle. Jack – a second-rate actor and ageing lothario – just wants to get laid before his nuptials.

Opportunity knocks in the form of Terra – a winery host – for Jack, Pinot Noir – and waitress Maya – for Miles.

After a languid first sip or two, the performance really hit its stride mid-way through the first half. By the time the bottle is emptied, the audience is gurgling with laughter as Miles and Jack have to face the music.

Sideways is a touching, funny and poignant story of love, friendship and grapes. The English cast admirably ape the American characters and voices, but Paul Giamatti as Miles and Thomas Haden Church as Jack in the original movie are hard acts to follow.

A few cautionary words. There is a lot of swearing. And some full-frontal nudity. And get some Pinot Noir down the off-licence before it sells out.