Tag Archives: theatre

Theatre review – Green Forms and Say Something Happened

Green Forms and Say Something Happened – review for Essential Surrey website.

This Alan Bennett double-bill is being performed at the Nomad Theatre in East Horsley until October 28.

Would you like some Marmite on your toast, Mam?’

Remember when our Margaret was late for school, Dad? She made that much of a fuss when we gave her Marmite soldiers for breakfast. She even missed seeing Bert, the Lollipop man, and got into proper trouble with Mrs Swinson.’

If you’re a fan of Alan Bennett, you will love this double-bill of a couple of his rarely seen plays (from 1978 & 1982), currently being performed by Graham Pountney’s Theatre Reviva! community theatre company.

In Green Forms, spinster Doris Rutter and younger married Doreen Bidmead idle their way through a working day in the Precepts and Invoices department of a large national organisation. Processing a single form gets in the way of endless cups of tea, gossiping about people in other branch offices, and re-directing forms to the dreaded Personnel department upstairs.

But the cold wind of change is blowing through their mundane working lives. The computerisation word is whispered in hushed tones. Redundancies have been announced at other branches. And why have they suddenly got a positive avalanche – well, six – Precept forms landing in their in-tray today.

With a bit of unusually energetic detective work, Doreen and Doris realise that Dorothy Binns – the ominous harbinger of change – is coming to work in their cosy office.

Mam Elizabeth and retired Dad Arthur Rhodes are in their 60s, comfortable sitting in their armchairs and with their own company, content reading the newspaper and twitching the curtains to watch the leaves falling from the neighbour’s garden onto their path. Mam is wondering whether she should wash one or two stockings today….

In Say Something Happened, their peace is interrupted one autumnal day by the unexpected arrival of June Potter, a gentle but inexperienced young lass from Social Services.

As I see it, young people have a lot to give old people, and old people have a lot to give young people. You know….caring.’

June has a questionnaire, so that she can make a list of at-risk elderly people for the local Council to keep an eye on. She means well, but is out of her depth with the independent, able-bodied and outwardly perfectly contented couple.

June crumbles as Mam and Dad resist her attempts to pigeon-hole them, and the emptiness of her own life is laid bare as Mam and Dad tell June about their ambitious high-flying daughter – ‘our Margaret’ – whose postcards from around the world adorn the lounge.

But Mam shares a secret with June, and as the deflated young council worker leaves there is a suggestion that the old couple might need to place the patronising HELP sign in their window at some time in the future, after all.

Image courtesy of Melville House Books

Bennett’s genius is his ability to wring meaning and nuance from the minutiae of daily life, and from the cadence of everyday conversations. That outward simplicity and inner depth is beautifully acted by the cast in these two short plays: by Reviva! Founder and Director Graham Pountney as a delivery man in Green Forms and as Dad in Say Something Happened, by Catharine Humphrys as Doris and Mam, and by Louisa Lawrenson as Doreen and June.

And whoever knew that the charming Nomad Theatre was tucked away behind the shops lining East Horsley’s Bishopsmead Parade, camouflaged like Bennett’s perceptive writing?

Theatre review – Harvest

Harvest – review for Essential Surrey website

3 STARS, October 10-14. “If you want to understand how much rural England has changed in the last century, go and see Harvest,” says Andrew Morris

If you want to understand how much rural England has changed in the last century, go and see Harvest, by acclaimed writer Richard Bean. First staged at the Royal Court Theatre in 2005, this sprawling, ambitious play is currently being performed at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, in a production by New Perspectives.

In seven separate scenes the parable spans several generations and 90 years of the Harrison family on their small Yorkshire farm, telling the story of their land in parallel with wider issues and events.

Opening in 1914, this early pronouncement hints at some of the challenges ahead, and at an underlying feud with a neighbouring landowner: “Sometimes I wish Grandad Harrison hadn’t med that wager with the Squire. He’s med a rod for the back of every Harrison following him.

The ever-present William is the glue that binds the farm and the play together. We first see him as a young man, arguing with younger brother Albert about which of them should go to war, and which should stay on the farm with Mam. William has just started courting local lass Maudie and, as their horses are requisitioned for the war effort, hints at his Secret Project idea for the farm.

1934. Albert and Maudie are married, but childless. William is an amputee, sharing his bed with Maudie, and driven by the idea of converting their land into a pig factory. By the 1950s, niece Laura and husband Stefan – a German POW – are managing the successful pig farm, thanks to William’s vision and disciplined system. This is as good as it gets.

Over the next 50 years, the family struggle against an onslaught of challenges: increasingly onerous legislation, from the UK government and then from Europe; Stefan dies from asbestosis, as a result of the pig sheds he erected; rising feed prices from the company bought by the Squire; the lack of youthful labour in the family.

By the time William celebrates his 100th birthday, the Harrison farming heritage is under threat but his stubborn stoicism and wicked humour remain. It is really in the final scene – set in 2005 – where I thought the writer stretched the parable too far, and failed to bring home the bacon.

Whilst undoubtedly a huge theatrical achievement to educate the audience on English rural history at the same time as entertaining us with richly drawn characters and dark humour, it is a fine line to avoid the sense of delivering a social history lecture.

In this ambitious production, 6 actors play 15 characters across the generations. The stand-out performances are from Tom Edward-Kane as William, convincing as both a stout 19 year-old lad and a dribbling, wheelchair-ridden shotgun-wielding centenarian. And from John Askew as plain-talking, pig-fancying labourer Titch, who arrives in the Punk era and threatens to steal the show: “I love pigs. They’re intelligent, but not too clever. Just enough to mek it interesting but not enough to get yer worried.”

Theatre review – Rotten Perfect

Rotten Perfect – review for Essential Surrey website.

4 STARS. Lynchpin Productions present Rotten Perfect, a witty snapshot of the impassioned backstage lives of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. Andrew Morris reviews…

Henry Irving & Ellen Terry image from Lynchpin Productions’ website

Actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry are as inextricably linked as Hepburn and Tracy, Fred and Ginger, wattle and daub. Together, led by Irving as Actor-Manager and with Terry as Leading Lady, they made London’s Lyceum the foremost classical theatre of the Victorian era. They were married… though not to each other.

But whilst – over 20 years from 1878 – they were performing widely acclaimed versions of Shakespearean classics on stage together, their personal relationship was ambiguous. In Artifice’s Rotten Perfect, this innovative production immerses the audience in the white heat of that relationship and invites you to draw your own conclusions.

Henry is under financial and artistic pressure. He wants the Lyceum to continue performing what he knows is popular with its audience, but Ellen is becoming frustrated by the roles on offer and is keen to embrace exciting new writers like Ibsen and Shaw. Will she stay loyal to Irving, or will she succumb to the siren call of brash newcomer George Bernard Shaw, who is writing a play centred around her?

Claire Parker plays Ellen and has also written this fictionalised story for Lynchpin Productions and Artifice. When Ellen was just 16 she married George Frederic Watts, the eminent artist, who was 46 at the time. So performing Rotten Perfect in Surrey’s very own Watts Gallery adds another layer of authenticity to this engaging production. Artifice’s mission is “to perform classical plays in beautiful places, bringing together period text and period locations.” The gallery’s artwork, sculptures, high ceilings and cavernous spaces are all incorporated effortlessly into the performance, and the knowledge that a famous portrait of the artist’s young wife is hanging nearby makes this a very special theatrical experience indeed.

James Sygrove plays Sedgwick, introducing a deft comic touch to proceedings. A young actor at the Lyceum, initially a nervous understudy to the dominating Irving, he blooms when offered more responsibility, both on and offstage, and especially when stepping into the breach to play Henry V. This new-found confidence also empowers him to make advances to Alice Comyns Carr. Played by Lynchpin co-founder Edie Campbell, Alice is the Lyceum’s costume designer – brilliantly creative, astute, and married… but also inquisitive.

And all the while, George Bernard Shaw sits patiently – amongst the audience – biding his time. Played by Ray Murphy, he sporadically jumps into life and reads – with a gentle Irish lilt – his letters to Ellen, his acerbic wit increasingly aimed against the intransigent Irving.

But it is Will Harrison-Wallace as Henry and Claire Parker as Ellen who dominate the story and the stage. Henry’s vanity and purse take a battering when both a promised knighthood and funding for the Lyceum are in jeopardy, because of his relationship with Ellen. But is he too proud to implore her to stay and help save the theatre?

All the company embrace their unique surroundings perfectly to bring this story to rich, artistic life. Rotten Perfect has also been performed at the Barn Theatre, Smallhythe Place, where Ellen lived, and I would urge you to try and see this wonderful production wherever it might be performed next.

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.

Image result for Ray Cooney Out of Order

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.

Image result for Ray Cooney

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.

Image result for spillikin

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.

Image result for apphia campbell black is the color of my voice

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.

Image result for the shawshank redemption movie