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Showing posts from March, 2015

Review of The Secret Adversary at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Poor old Tommy and Tuppence, forever playing third fiddle to the might of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. However maybe 2015 will be their breakthrough year some 93 years from their creation. There is not just this clever and fun play, but a certain David Walliams set to appear before the end of the year as Tommy Beresford to Jessica Raine's Tuppence.

However first we have this gem of a little play to contend with. Adapted by Sarah Punshon (who also directs) and Johann Hari (an interesting history himself, have a Google), from the novel of the same name, it featured at first perhaps nothing you would expect of a play based on an Agatha Christie novel. We had singing, dancing and musical instrument playing from the outset and we may all have thought that we were at a cabaret show. It soon fell somewhat back into type once the usual multi-layered Christie tale (this time involving top secret papers in the hands of a lady survivor of a ship sinking) began to evolve.

It did however re…

Review of School Shorts: Daffodil Scissors & ITTULLKYLLYOOIFFYOODOO at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

Act One of the Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre School Shorts were a great deal less stressful than Act Two with its subject matter (although to be fair one included the subject of bullying, albeit quite lightly). It was also a group of younger children and this dropped the level of seriousness considerable (for the better). So we had a little bit of pausing for lines (they carried scripts, but didn't always want to use them), we had obstinate hats, we had glances to parents and we had fiddling with ties. It was all much more relaxed, and therefore much more enjoyable to watch.

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Daffodil Scissors by Philip Ridley is a fun little story of Daffodil (Jack Brennan) and his problems and indeed woes, mostly at the hands of his highly needy mother (Mia Heslop). Through her bizarre needs, she not only requires Daffodil to wear frankly ridiculous hats, which end in his being bullied, but she also requires to sit and watch "boring, boring, boring" television with her, keeping him…

Review of Into The Breach by Mark Carey at the Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

Long term readers of this blog (I pity you) will be aware that myself and William Shakespeare are not friends, so the opportunity to go to see a play subtitled "One Man's Battle With Shakespeare" seemed very apt. This coupled with the shear horror of an opening in the form of a panto (another pet hate), could have left me fleeing for the doors of the Looking Glass Theatre.

However if I had, I would have deprived myself of seeing a quite brilliant one-man show from Mark Carey. So as I pretended to look like I was enjoying singing that "wishy washy" some such with words written upon some cardboard cutout bloomers, I gritted my teeth and got through it. Amateur dramatic director Simon Trottley Barnes did not however wish to see our lead George Crocker's Widow Twankey thankfully and we were soon away from such shenanigans and onto Shakespeare (whoopee do).

Into The Breach features five main characters (although there are seventeen in total), residents of a slee…

Review of School Shorts: Star Brave, Brian Gravy & Who's Afraid Of The Bogeyman? at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre School Shorts consisted of two acts and to add to my confused mind I watched act two first. However this matters not as each act consists of two completely separate plays. Act two features the plays Stay Brave, Brian Gravy by Carl Grose and Who's Afraid Of The Bogeyman? by Mike Kenny. Both plays are short (no flies on me) and roughly about 25 minutes, also these two in particular featured very tough and heavy subjects.

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Stay Brave, Brian Gravy is the lighter of the two but even so revolves around the potential divorce of Brian's parents and their constant fighting and physical violence. The latter is handled in a lighthearted way complete with comedy sound effects. However this doesn't disguise from the seriousness of the situation of what these young actors are performing. A spin on the divorce nature in the second half of the play adds a neat and thankfully more lighthearted element to proceedings.

At the centre of the piece is a won…

The Eligibility Of Criticism?

On Thursday I wrote my ninetieth post on this blog. Turned out it was a controversial one and has since become a talking point on Twitter. The blog in question was a review of the "rock opera" Jesus Christ Superstar. I say "ROCK OPERA" now, but on Thursday I wrote "musical". It was a mistake I have since learnt to regret. It also shows my ineligibility to write reviews of musicals/rock opera it seems.

A little information for you first. On the evening of Thursday I was sent a tweet in reply to the review link on Twitter that simply read "JCS is not a musical. It's a rock opera". The tweet was from @MTIreland and said no more. I was interested on the difference being so simply highlighted and it turned out in further correspondence that my calling it that was a true definition that I should not have been writing critical reviews of such pieces as I did not have the experience required to do so.

My own reply of "Musical for me was a story t…

Review of Jesus Christ Superstar at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Forgive me father for I am about to sin.

That momentous rock opera called Jesus Christ Superstar and written by Lord Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice is perhaps not all its cracked up to be. Well, in my ever so humble opinion anyway. The money it has made and success it has had, obviously dictates otherwise, so I bow to this.

It has its merits, the title song "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a magnificent piece and that coupled with the powerful ending makes the final fifteen minutes wonderful. Much of the rest is what I would go as far as saying is just noise, and this is not because I hate rock music. Much of the time the music overpowers any singing going on and when this is not happening it just feels like a lot of howling. A prime example of the ear is in the beholder perhaps, but this music is not for me. Having said all these disparaging comments, I have to say "Hosanna" is a superb song and my favourite of the show. The one track I took with me from the Derngate as…

Review of Kissing Sid James at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Kissing Sid James by Robert Farquhar is an odd little play. Essentially consisting of a dirty weekend, it is also a greatly sad play, laying many emotions bare. No happy endings and an underlying grimness. It also blows rather hot and cold in the script sense. There are scenes that are tremendously funny, like those in the bedroom in the first half. The "sex" scene in particular gives plenty of moments of hilarity, especially when Eddie (Mark Farey) just won't keep quiet, as his companion Crystal (Juliet O'Connor) desires. Eddie indeed just can't keep his Nobby Stiles in, it would seem.

However for all the good scenes and witty lines in the play, there is also a huge amount of pondering. The second half is particularly at fault. When Crystal threatens to leave, it seems an age before she makes the decision. Also as this is just a two-hander, we have some really odd scenes of the characters talking to someone off stage. They just seem strange, and the only ones tha…

Review of The Mikado performed at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton by the Northampton Gilbert & Sullivan Group

Never having seen a complete production of any Gilbert & Sullivan show before and with mostly my only experience of their music coming from The Two Ronnies, the Northampton Gilbert & Sullivan Group's production was always going to come as a surprise. Opera has also never been on my list and I listened in a certain amount of trepidation to the opening "If You Want To Know Who We Are" and remained unsure to its end despite its impressive quality.

However with the arrival of "A Wand'ring Mistrel" in the form of Nanki-Poo (Tom Rushton), things all of a sudden became clearer and the comedy that I was expecting slowly began to emerge. It built from those opening few moments in my mind of not being sure if this was for me, to nearly three hours later my not wanting it to end.

We are presented at the start with a simple oriental set, stylish and clean which remains unchanged throughout the entire production. Against this backdrop the performers, bedecked in…

Review of Dying For It performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

A man in twenties Russia wants to kill himself. Let's all laugh hysterically, it seems right? Well it does during Moira Buffini adaption of Nikolai Erdman's satirical black comedy, The Suicide. Our protagonist Semyon Semyonovich (a masterful performance by Matt Larsson) has a double barrelled sausage and wants to have an end to it all. Indeed why wouldn't he want to end it? His failure at playing the Tuba because he doesn't have a piano, his most hideous (but, oh so funny) mother-in-law Serafima (a comic mastery performance from Sophie Poyntz Lloyd) always there giving him aggro. Then his wife Masha (a gentle, and very lovely performance from Sarah Kirk) leaves him. He really might as well top himself. If only there was a cause he could die for.

Step forward neighbour Alexander (an effortless performance by Dale Endacott) and his (for a price) revolving door of potential causes for Semyon to die for. So we have through the doors in order Aristarkh (John Shelley providi…

Review of A Clockwork Orange performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Written in 1962 by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange remains even today one of the most controversial stories of all time. Maybe most of this controversy comes from its 1971 film version, which was even withdrawn by its own director Stanley Kubrick, and only became wildly available after his death. Maybe less familiar is the stage version which was adapted by the author himself.

Perhaps due a little to the passage of time, the University Of Northampton's vivid performance felt more powerful than the film. Violence on film has become common place so Malcolm McDowell and his droogs attacks have become less powerful on screen. On stage however, much of that violence is more offered in the mind and to that extent feels more powerful. The clever use of screens in particular removing the more barbaric scenes slightly away from the eye and more into the mind.

Playing Alex is Sam Billy Behan, once again in the lead following his epic performance as Macbeth. He is the same commanding pre…

Review of The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

From all the many highlights I had during my R&D 2014, the University of Northampton's Animal Farm and Love & Information were well up there. The main showcase for all the third year students to strut their considerable skills upon the Royal stage before those Flash Festival dissertations. This year two shows had become three, with my first The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot.

As has been common in my crash course theatre year, I knew absolutely nothing of Judas and not being a religious person, I was also wary of whether it would be for me. That was my unknowing form thinking this was all going to be serious. However written by Stephen Adly Guirgis this was not serious business most of the time, in fact it was actually incredibly funny stuff. Occasionally deliberately offensive (especially in the language department), it tells the story of an imagined court case of Judas Iscariot and the calling of a rather interesting collection of witnesses to the stand.

As of The Odyssey, …

Review of NMPAT A Wind Band Spectacular at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Following last weeks undignified emotional breakdown during the NMPAT An Orchestra Spectacular. I returned with trepidation to the scene of the crime for the Wind Band version. Knowing what to expect calmed the nerves somewhat, so it generally made less of an impact on me the second time. Perhaps also was the selection of music on offer, where last week the selection was almost a fantasy collection for me. This time around not a single tune performed during the show was familiar to me. They were however all very good and performed exceptionally by the three band. The exceptional pieces for me were the slave underground inspired They Shall Run Free by Brant Karrick and Ghost Train by Eric Whitacre. The latter genuinely sounding like a train journey with added musical melodies.

There was however during the first part no hint of the emotion that had waylaid me the week before. However this was not to be the case early into the second half, when I was presented with the experience of my f…

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year.

Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device.

Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston) and…

Review of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

With the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and all the other camps of the Second World War barely a month ago. The tale of a young boy meeting and befriending a young Jewish boy being held in one such camp is as relevant as could be. Not that this tale should never not be relevant, because as it the play confirms itself, it should always be held up as a warning to prevent such a terrible event happening again.

The play adapted by Angus Jackson from the book by John Boyne and is presented as a "fable", and this is perhaps the only clumsy element of the production. Little is served by purporting it as this and the second ending to wrap up the "fable" feels an unnecessary element, whereas the more powerful ending would have had greater impact on the departing audience. The structure is very episodic, even including titles for these episodes projected upon the large ominous wall at the back of the stage. This structure is not a bad thing however as it keep…

Review of NMPAT Orchestra Spectacular at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

On my first Theatreversary I attended the Royal & Derngate for the Northamptonshire Music And Performing Arts Trusts (NMPAT) performance of An Orchestra Spectacular. It was my first encounter with a live orchestra of such a size, and its safe to say it was quite devastating on me as a night.

The evening was formed of three different orchestras, from the youth beginners (still quite brilliant), to the so called "training orchestra" and then finally after the interval the full "youth orchestra". The difference was noticeable between the three, but none were very short of excellent.

Many of the pieces were familiar to me and would very much be high on my choice of selections if I were to make a list of classical music. There were also too superb diversions from classical type with a medley of John Williams' (music god) Empire Strikes Back and video game theme from The Bounty Hunter. Our host of the evening assured us that computer game music is where much of t…

Review of Open Mic Story Night at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

CRICK!
CRACK!
CRICK!
CRACK!

However enough about my back problems. If you are sitting comfortably (well one of us needs to be), then I shall begin.

On a fair and splendid evening in the month of Februarius, the hero of our story took a trip to the theatre in a beautiful pea green coat.
His destination did hold many tales so bold, from storytellers both young and old.
Beneath the Derngate there lays a space they call the underground.

This is no Piccalilli or Paddington silly, there are no trains here to behold.
On this day the space was filled with tables and chairs that lay quite scattered around.
Little tea lights glittered upon each table while a waitress wandered around.

The Open Mic Story Night was an opportunity for keen individuals to get up in front of the mic (there was no mic!) and have a go at storytelling. My first experience of storytelling as an art form had come just a month earlier with Fairytales For Grown Ups and it has been a fascinating experience. On this night we had fi…

One Year On: The Small Minded 2014-2015 Retrospective

On the first of March 2014 I attended a play at the Royal & Derngate for the first time in twenty-one years (Sylvester McCoy starring in the The Invisible Man). It was a tremendous neglect on my part that my hometown's theatre had been ignored for so long. During that time my theatre visits had consisted of sporadic (but expensive) trips to London. A Tale Of Two Cities on Saturday 1st March totally changed that. Well not totally maybe, perhaps the wonder of A Body Of An American on Thursday 6th made a bigger impact. However show by show the momentum built until I found myself coming quite often. Well very often in fact. It also had a spin-off effect, so just as I had found R&D, I found other worlds within my town.
I found University students performing at the Holy Sepulchre. I found the amateur Masque Theatre performing at the same venue. I found the Errol Flynn showing plays from London. I found the Looking Glass Theatre via the University shows for the Flash Theatre fes…