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Review of Aladdin at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Pantomimes have mostly held that special place in my heart, alongside William Shakespeare plays of all things, in that as a theatre completist, I tend to tolerate them, rather than always enjoy them. As well as tolerate though, I also appreciate when they have been performed extremely well. They may be very different beasts, but I acknowledge that both have that intense challenge for their performers, especially with panto and dealing with them pesky kids in the audience.

Aladdin though handles nearly everything with so much success that, even this hardy panto-sceptic had to concede to really rather enjoying it. It is true that 90% of the enjoyment for me was coming from one direction, and that was with Kev Orkian's rather incredible performance as Wishee Washee. Rarely have I seen a performer steal every scene, and indeed a show, to such as extent (and this is allowing for the fact that pretty much everyone else in this is also pretty good as well). His timing is exemplary, his i…
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Review of Dracula (or A Pain in the Neck) at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Regular readers of this fair blog will be aware that I am not overly keen on pantomimes, although I always at this time of year end up inexplicably in the vicinity of more than one (and this year I am destined for six I believe!). So, despite Dracula (or A Pain in the Neck), not officially being billed as a panto, that is very much the vibe of this Playhouse Theatre adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic.

A company of actors (well, aristocrats) in the 1920s have assembled to put on a little show, their own version of Dracula (or something like Harker of Whitby meets the Count) for us, the "willing" audience. Our host is Sir Simon Smee (Simon Rye) who will play Jonathan Harker during this little performance.

What follows is for the best part a slightly loose version of the Stoker classic, which does definitely at times get a little complicated in the way it tells the story, not made easier by the playing of characters playing characters explanation. However, this is, beyond i…

Review of Divided at Dostiyo, Northampton

I first saw the work of Divided's writer and performer, Subika Anwar-Khan, back a little over three years ago, during a rehearsed reading of her, then new, play Stateless. While I have never got to see a full production of this, it has gone on to be performed in London and received some really unsurprisingly great reviews. Therefore after such a long time, it was nice to return to see some more of Anwar-Khan's work.

Divided is a very different piece, a one-woman show, performed by Anwar-Khan herself, telling the story of three characters and their links together, one of which has escaped an abusive relationship, and just three years in the UK, still lacking in English skills. This relationship, while born through an arrangement, is very much lived through love in the character of Amina, and Divided depicts the pull and pushes away from someone, that she clearly adores, but yet is cruelly abused by.

The three main characters that we follow through Divided are Amina herself, sup…

Review of The Jungle Book at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The Jungle Book is an age-old classic, made far more famous by Walt Disney than any other original writer going by the name of Rudyard Kipling. Mention the title to many people and they are more likely to say "oobee doo I wanna be like you" than say "oh, yes, the book by Kipling". Therefore to present this classic tale for the stage and dispense with all reference or hint to that ingrained music and create new music of your own is dangerous. However, that is before you witness the brilliant new work of Joe Stilgoe, with lyrics by adaptor Jessica Swale, and you realise very quickly you are in very safe hands. These are catchy, foot-tapping tunes of the killer variety.

However, Jessica Swale's adaptation is far from a procession of nifty tunes, this is a bold, clever and still very relevant production for 2017 of the now 123-year-old novel. Perhaps strong enough to live without those tunes if needed, this is no musical adaptation. Sweeping clever snatches of humo…

Review of Blackadder's Christmas Carol by the Duston Players at Duston Community Centre, Northampton

One day I am reviewing the National Theatre touring production of Patrick Marber's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, the next day it's John Myhill's adaption of Elton and Curtis' Blackadder's Christmas Carol performed by an amateur group, the Duston Players. This is my theatre world, a place of contrasts, and also pressures on this poor innocent reviewer. How can I possibly compare and indeed cope? With much cunning, I set about my plan...

The answer is I don't. No one at Duston Players is ever going to be thinking such a thing can be compared, however, while the quality difference is a no-brainer, it doesn't mean that many of those at Duston Players are putting in any less effort to make something as good as can be. You might even argue that with no pay packet at the end of it, their effort is equal if not more. However, that would also be a lie, as the world of acting is a competitive one, and laziness is not an option. I am today full of the intellect…

Review of Hedda Gabler at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I always approach my first encounter with such well-renowned playwrights with a touch of trepidation, be they Pinter, Miller, Williams or B.G.S, I fear that while I feel I need to like them, simply because, I am concerned that I might not. Fortunately, all of those listed, I have got on with and we don't mention the ones that I haven't. So, anyway, here we are, a few years down the line of aggressive theatre-going, and I come to my very first meeting with the work of Henrik Ibsen. Yes, it's true.

This brand new version of Hedda Gabler for the modern age is by Patrick Marber, a playwright I have seriously loved every previous encounter with. Here he and director Ivo van Hove brings the 1890 original bang up to date, with video entry systems and modern dress to Ibsen's words and a collection of other modern tinges.

At the heart of Hedda Gabler is, unsurprising, the title character, a nasty, strong, yet also a childlike character in equal measure. I like my own child ref…

Review of Chatroom by Illusion Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Hot of the heels of bringing Alan Bennett's The History Boys vibrantly back to the stage, director Gary Amos returns with his newly created theatre company, Illusion Production and a very different version of Enda Walsh's Chatroom than many would be familiar with.

Chatroom is as standard, a relatively static play to handle directorially, formed of conversations online from your typical caricatured people that might lurk on them. So, to create some drama into proceedings, Gary Amos has taken the decision to totally destroy the concept of the original play and bring all the characters together in a dead end club. If destroying the whole original premise sounds drastic, perhaps it's because in theory it is, and I did have more than a minor concern about it as I sat in the theatre watching. However, this production gets away with it by the sheer bravado of the scenes it creates because of it's reckless disregard of proper form.

It's a tough play to watch, mixing repul…