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Review of A Passage to India at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Creating the world of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India for the stage and into a little over two hours running time offers many challenges, not least creating the visual world of India. However, this co-production between Royal & Derngate and simple8 throw away any need for complex sets, and bring the world of India, including some of its wildlife to life via boxes and bamboo canes. The success of this is really quite amazing as perhaps the crowning moment of the elephant brings home the most. Simple8 is an award-winning ensemble group and the way they work together to get their characters travelling through the world of India explains why they have received the awards.

A Passage to India is a 1924 novel telling of Britain's generally unpleasant rule in India and takes as its story an encounter between the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther), Adela (Phoebe Pryce), who is keen to see the real India, and Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). While their meetings seem pleasant, to begin with, e…
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The Play That Goes Wrong at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

It is scary to contemplate that it is almost four years since I first saw Mischief Theatre's The Play That Goes Wrong. It is no secret that on that night I enjoyed it quite a bit (and ended up on stage, but that is another story). I returned the next evening to watch it again and then stalked it down to London later that same year, which over three years later it continues its remarkable West End success story. Since my last encounter with this original, I have seen Chris Bean's ramshackle Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society create chaos on stage and television with Peter Pan Goes Wrong, mess-up Dickens' A Christmas Carol and even gatecrash BBC Radio at Christmas. This fourth encounter with the original The Play That Goes Wrong though, offers the opportunity to see it in the hands of a different cast for the first time. How can pretenders of the original creators shape up in this anarchic disaster of a play?

Actually, as it turns out remarkably well. It is true that it did …

Review of The Flint Street Nativity, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The Flint Street Nativity was presented by the BA Actors as part of a double bill with The Night Before Christmas, and you could hardly imagine such a difference in style. Tim Firth's genuinely, quite endearing play was quite the opposite to the rough and vicious Christmas spirit of the previous show.

Flint Street offers the intriguing situation of adult performers acting as children as they present to their audience (and always watched by the unseen, but a creepy red lighted teacher, Mrs Horrocks), their production of the nativity. It forms quite a delight of totally recognisable characters from your school days if you are able to remember that far back.

Among my favourite performances from this are Gemma Fensham as the total brat Gabriel, never seeming to have an expression other than sucking a lemon, as she breezily switches her best friend back and forth with abandon. She rather stylishly perfected the sulking strutting off routine as well, fabulous! Playing up to his size with…

Review of The Night Before Christmas, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

Following the prim and proper telling of Cinderella performed by the latest batch of third years in front of a theatre of under tens the day before, the next day we were hit with Anthony Neilson's very different The Night Before Christmas. Dispensing of Cinderella's Mutt and Jeff, we found ourselves witnessing e(l)ffing and jeffing as this adult panto was performed by a quartet of students.

This was my first experience of an adult panto, also here described as an anti-panto, with good reason. Between the added swearing, this short and snappy play, barely thirty minutes, attempts to destroy any spirit of Christmas, even going as far as to suggest that the "spirit" is actually a drug peddled by Father Christmas and his army of Elf helpers, cocaine-like spirit in fact, where perhaps even the elves shoot up for the buzz.

As this play opens, we are in a shady, dodgy warehouse, full of potentially illicit goods (which also conveniently provides many of the local constabula…

Review of Cinderella, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

So, this is a bit different, the third year actors (my fifth group of them!) do panto, Cinderella to be precise. Pantomime is my perennial favourite bit of theatre. Oh no, it isn't! However, I have long acknowledged that for an actor, the form is both incredibly important, because if you can entertain kids, you can probably do anything, it also provides a large opening for a regular gig each year as they are so abundant. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the intelligent bods teaching these students have come to the decision to create a little panto action of their own.

This first of three (and the other two are very different beasts, as you will learn from the next reviews) is the ever so traditional one. Formed partly from the work of Looking Glass Theatre and director James Smith, I first saw much of this piece in January 2015, and although I didn't remember a great deal of it after this time, the cheese song managed to flash back to me, perhaps, sadly. So, how do the…

Review of The Rover at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

I have seen very little restoration comedy, and with Playhouse Creatures early this year, very much Restoration period, Masque Theatre has provided much of it this year, with this edition of Aphra Behn's 1677 play The Rover or The Banish'd Cavaliers. Behn was quite a landmark writer, recognised as one of the first women to make a living from writing (and has an extraordinary real-life worth researching). Perhaps having watched The Rover now, you can see why her work might well have been accepted back then. It is suitably bawdy, really extremely rude at times in places, definitely farcical (with disguise situations aplenty that wouldn't fool a blind man with a blindfold on) and perhaps most importantly, makes the woman much of the time the victims in the frequent sexual exploits. It clearly wasn't being anything that a man of the time wouldn't write, and probably means it lay a suitable path for success for Behn as a result.

The Rover itself is tremendous fun, ploug…

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…