Tuesday, October 21, 2014



Forbidden Broadway has made its way into London's West End! For eleven weeks only, the funniest musical in town lands at the Vaudeville theatre and prepares to unleash its wicked humour on anyone and any show in its sights!

This is a welcome chance to see the West End and Broadway's biggest shows, brightest stars and notorious flops panned, poked, lampooned and lambasted by a dazzling cast of comic chameleons, all set to the tunes of your favourite showstoppers and all under one roof!

This sensational success comes direct from a sold-out run at the award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory, and stars Christina Bianco, Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis.

Monday, October 20, 2014


The Phoenix Theatre Company in Christchurch Hall

Mary Redman was at the opening night:

Inishmaan Island is off the far west coast of Ireland whose nearest due west neighbour is America. This impoverished part of the country was known during the 1930s as one of the most backward areas where tiny villages relied on fishing and keeping a few animals to survive. Education was lacking and gossip thrived amongst both women and men.
This is the setting for Martin McDonagh's “Comedy Drama” which was chosen by Phoenix for their latest production with Sarah Wilson as director.
This wasn't an easy play to stage with its difficult demands on the cast's acting abilities and their voice projection.
The atmosphere livened up a bit, however, with the arrival of Syd Smith's Johnnypateenmike with his “news” of events further afield. Gemma Anthony's Helen, a sparky young lady not given to tolerance, proved to be the most strikingly lively cast member whose words were easily audible to the hall.
The hero of the piece Billy, a young man with physical impairments who had been teased all his life as “Cripple”, was thoughtfully played by Liam O'Connor. In addition to his existing problems he receives the news that he also has a fatal form of tuberculosis (and no treatment where he lives).
Really the play came to full life whenever the adult male cast were down on the beach and so much nearer to the audience. We could hear every word from Geoff Hadley as BabbyBobby preparing his boat to go to sea. Another bright spark was Clare Woodward's Mammy O'Dougal with her drinking and eccentric ways. There was also enjoyable use of old film of the fishing industry of the time.
Chris Saxton's design incorporated a tiny shop and its living accommodation plus the really clever use of a rowing dinghy and pebbles on the auditorium floor. This led to one of the major difficulties of the production. Sarah had chosen to block the back wall of the stage with a long shop counter. This meant that a useful acting area was obstructed, many of the cast were upstaged and the cast's voices were too weak to travel the sheer distance in the long hall. The counter could have easily been on one side and further downstage.
Pace would have been helped if some of the cast had been surer on their words, as we heard the Prompt fairly frequently.
And when amateur groups are deciding what to perform they really do need to take into account their knowledge of the background to the play. If a troupe from Inishmaan had tried to put on a play about Essex Girls the result would more than likely have been much the same as this production. To have heard every word would have been great.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014



New Adventures and Re-Bourne at Sadler's Wells


Golding's cautionary tale has been staged before [ and filmed twice ]. Now it's an inspired dance piece from Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and Re:Bourne.
Adapted, with typically creative perversity by Bourne and his co-director Scott Ambler, it retains characters and events from the novel, and successfully captures its spirit, despite giving the island the elbow and stranding these lost boys on the cavernous stage of a deserted playhouse.
As we take our seats, the excited buzz is echoed through the open scene dock; it builds in a crescendo of whistles and rioting before the choirboys, smartly regimented, come marching in.
The fixtures and fittings are imaginatively pressed into service – costume rails, wicker skips, fire buckets. The conch is a [Shell] oil drum, Piggy is crushed by a massive lamp dropped from the flies. The boys forage for crisps and icecreams.
Bare feet, bullying, tribalism mark the breakdown of civilization. We see violent subjugation, a showdown, and a tsunami of rubbish thrown down onto the stage before the UN blue beret rides to the rescue. The teddy bear, who's survived it all, is abandoned with the last vestige of innocence as the boys troop off the way they came in, leaving Ralph [Sam Archer] to ponder the catastrophic events played out on the jungle stage.
Much of the dancing is visceral and strongly rhythmic. Simon, the dreamer, beautifully danced by Layton Williams, has a wonderful solo with cello accompaniment [Robin Mason, presumably the only live musician against the pulsing back track – the score, by Terry Davies, moving from choral to wild clamour]. He's joined by Ralph and Piggy [Sam Plant] in a tender pas-de-trois.
The death of Simon – washed out to sea like Piggy in the book – is superbly done, and the Beast [ a zombie corpse ? a passing vagrant ? ] is genuinely terrifying, not least when he is brought to life by the tiny witness. Jack, the feral baddie set against Ralph's reasonableness, is a physically expressive Danny Reubens.
The Wells is just one stop on a national tour, recruiting 22 boys at each port of call. A dream opportunity for them, and for the audience an amazing realization of an iconic story.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Reform Theatre Company and Harrogate Theatre at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

Unpredictable audiences and clever tweaks manage to keep this 30-something show fresh and enjoyable.
The idea is simple – four middle-aged men in black tie [the Bouncers of the title] cast a weary eye over the night-life, and, at the drop of a hat, and without any pretence at disguise, assume the persona of clubber, lad, hairdresser, drunk and toff. It's a tour de force of physical theatre and social comment, and this simple formula has kept the show in the public eye ever since Godber relaunched it for Hull Truck in 1983.
Reform, directed by Keith Hukin, have brought it to the Civic before, six years ago. The audience then was rowdier; this time out the big, philosophical speeches by Lucky Eric [David Walker] are received in pin-drop silence. But the youngsters packing the stalls laugh long and loud at the coarsely bawdy bits [blue movie, urinal line-up], performed with relish and consummate skill; Kivan Dene's turns, including a repulsive DJ, are especially fine.
Simply staged [beer kegs and white handbags the only props] and brilliantly lit, the ensemble work is relaxed but precise, the production carefully paced. The enthusiastic audience will feel they've had a good night out, with food for thought served up alongside the basket meals.

Bouncers, the 80s hit show that spawned Shakers, Stags and Hens and many lesser tributes, is a classic now, up there with Macbeth and Neville's Island on the GCSE syllabus. So the stalls are packed with the “Children of England”, amused at being frisked by the “door staff”, bemused at this warts-and-all version of an “80s Urban Night”.
It's a different world, and not only because, despite the cheeky name-checks, it's set somewhere north of Watford. The bus ride into town, the basket meals, the barber's shop with its Vinnie Jones cut, the girls with their white handbags, even the video shop and the blue movie, all now extinct. The bouncers themselves seem like dinosaurs, their gorilla arms brushing the ground, innocent of multi-cultural Britain and diversity training.
The quartet from Reform do a brilliant job – the trademark physical theatre is text-book stuff [let's hope the students were taking notes] and they move in a moment from the coarsest comedy to the deepest introspection.
All human life is, inevitably, here.” And all magicked up by these versatile middle-aged men: the boys – lad culture avant la lettre – and the girls with their ritual preparations for a Friday night chez Mr Cinders. Pre-loading not yet invented, they check their make-up and their breath before catching “the bus at the end of our street” and queuing to get past the seen-it-all-before, turn-a-blind-eye bouncers.
Excellent, and impressively energetic, ensemble work throughout, with a few stand-out turns: the demon barber [Lee Bainbridge], pathetic little birthday girl Rosie [director Keith Hukin], and the creepy DJ [Kivan Dene], now undoubtedly awaiting Yewtree trial on historic charges …
David Walker plays Lucky “The King is Dead” Eric, by far the most interesting of the bouncers, with his Brechtian soliloquies beautifully done, as he casts a jaundiced eye over the exploitation, the loss of innocence - “the firedoors tell their secret stories” - and, Lonesome Tonight, weeps to see his ex-wife at the over-25s disco.
Undeniably popular with the kids, the sequence in the gents, and the Swedish Postman porn, seem excessive [and both feature the same offensive weapon], the Michael Jackson moment merely self-indulgent.
That apart, Reform's Bouncers remains the yardstick touring production, a screamingly funny satire, tinged with tragedy. At the end, the lads queue, unfulfilled, for a taxi home, and the bouncers are left to wonder why, staring out over the city lights and envying the everyday, ordinary lives behind the towerblock windows.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre

At first glance, a typical look at Macbeth our contemporary. Naked political ambition, red berets and body armour.
But Daniel Buckroyd's accessible production, his sixth since he took the helm at the Mercury, has unique strengths.
The staging is uncluttered but eloquent. Juliet Shillingford's design has a gloomy blasted heath as its backdrop – could be the devastation of the Somme – and inclined planes for the action. The palace is simple banners, with double-headed eagle, the castles fly in, only the heavy steel door is substantial. The lower level is tellingly used to separate actors from the story – Duncan's heirs, or the cut-throats. Blood is often the only colour in a dark, monochrome world.
The soliloquies, key to the complex characters of the tragedy, are always expressively staged: time slows behind him as Macbeth speaks of his black and deep desires, he slips out of the party he's giving for Duncan [a piano plays gentle jazz]; the dagger is a sound, merely, very much “of the mind”.
Buckroyd sees this as a story of children and childlessness, too, and a small child [variously The Boy, Fleance and Macduff's son] is a powerful presence from the very start – playing with his toy tank, exchanging his wooden sword, momentarily, for a real one, appearing as one of the apparitions, a cardboard crown “upon his baby-brow”. The weird sisters, too, are central: they sing hauntingly at the opening, and their voices are always otherworldly. The soundscape and the music [John Chambers] use techno drums for battle, melody for the witches, and some chilling effects – the scream of an owl, the cry of women.
Stuart Laing is a man-of-the-people Macbeth, never at ease, switching from battledress to dress uniform to casual shiny blue suit. A compelling performance, restless, troubled. His Lady M [Esther Hall], by contrast, is a study in stillness and steely determination. Until her maternal instincts kick in – she appears to warn a woman who rushes off to rescue Fleance and send him away. After the supper, she is left sobbing at the table, and appears again only as a broken reed, her candle held like a dagger before her in a mad echo of her former strength.
A fine company of actors bring credibility to the familiar story, and clarity to Shakespeare's text [no “imperfect speakers” here] – James Marlowe an excellent Malcolm, Nicholas Bailey a human Macduff, Moray Treadwell an avuncular Duncan.
Banquo [Simon Ludders] springs up through a trap to appear at the centre of the last supper table – effective with sound and light, but not without comic effect, and titters from the audience second time around. But for the most part the action is powerfully staged: the death of Macduff's boy, the atrocities of war, “something wicked” as Macbeth enters, even the poor porter [Christopher Price]. The ending is swift – the “leafy screens” are camouflage capes, Macbeth takes off his body armour and is despatched offstage.

Not sure what the children in the audience made of it - “Emily went to sleep”, one mum confessed - but this is an energetic, engaging Macbeth, the classic tragedy clearly and passionately told.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews