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Showing posts from May, 2015

Review of Lydia By Any Other Name by Weekes Baptiste at the Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

Lydia By Any Other Name is a sweet gentle little play written and directed Weekes Baptiste. Unpretentious and friendly are two words I would describe it as. It suited that it was receiving its, pause for dramatic effect, World Premiere at the quaint little Looking Glass Theatre.

The play tells the story of a bizarre happening reintroducing two former child stars back to one another and the rather coincidental existence of two Lydia's. Combining live action with archive footage of 8mm film recorded over 25 years is an effective but different approach to one I have seen previously.
The play itself had managed to get over its own little drama just a week before with the lead dropping out, therefore parachuting into place at short notice (script in hand) was Georgina Pearson who given the time constraints gave a nice performance as Rosemary Cooper. Able to discard the script for the second act part. We had three Lydia's in the piece, with a bolshy turn from Eleanor Morrison as twe…

The Flash Festival Review 2015 held at the Looking Glass Theatre, Shoe Museum, NN Cafe & NN Contemporary, Northampton

The 2014 Flash Festival had been a wonder of many things including the diversity of ideas in the plays, the standard of the young actors and also the very first discovery of the Looking Glass Theatre. It was therefore a certainty that I would be back for more come 2015 and this time I would see all of the shows, somehow, with a bit of planning.

This year there were a total of sixteen shows featuring thirty-nine student stars. There was also an increased diversity of ideas for the shows with children's shows, storytelling tales and six solo shows. We still had the large groups including two busy ones with five members. There was indeed huge variety.

The event itself organised by Evoke Events was a huge success, although I think it was a heavy learning curve by those involved, everything generally went smoothly. The Looking Glass was always the hub of events complete with balloons, however the other shows at the three locations did feel a little cut-off. The NN Contempory the least …

Review of Café Crescendo - The Late Show by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The Early Show had been quite special, however the Late Show was to offer even more and this time with truly added audience participation and experience. The dust cloths of the haunted cafe had been discarded and delicate white tablecloths, candles and a flower in a vase were in its place. We were at a quality cafe and ready for a bit of cabaret style entertainment.

Jessica (a superb Lauren Moody) is busy cleaning up the cafe when her boyfriend (we shall see about that) Daniel (Ryan McLean) turns up ready to take her to a party. Well not just a party, but also Edinburgh, because special things await him there so Lauren must come too.

In between my making Daniel sound a bit selfish, we also have a tale to be told to Lauren through our wonderful time travelling cafe. Switching through the decades we are treated to 20s, 40s, 60s and 80s ensembles. Each of these has a group leader; Anne (Francesca Chaisson), Rosie (Mia Rista), Rosa (Michaela Blackburn) and Sarah (Amara Browning); and each…

Review of Café Crescendo - The Early Show by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

I officially love leaning on a table while watching a play being performed. That is my conclusion of spending Sunday afternoon watching two youth theatre shows.

It helped of course that the shows in particular were of the most glorious and inventive variety, the first of which was performed by the specific Youth Theatre group (the younger stars in this case) and featured more than a hint of the Scooby Doo about it. Deprived of a dog, we had a band of five led by Shannon "Shamrock" played by Crystal Reilly with more than a hint of nastiness about her. Well a lot of nasty to be honest and her whipping boy mostly was poor old Cameron played with wonderful charm by Alfie Sanders.

This being a musical we were of course treated to a lot of wonderful little numbers, all excellently performed. The best of which had to be the solo ghostly performance of My House. This was the most wonderful of pieces delivered gorgeously by the young star whose name alas eludes me. Just perfect thoug…

Review of Flash Festival: One 'N' Half - Snuff Me at the Looking Glass Theatre

One hundred and twenty eight hours after I sat down to watch the first Flash Festival 2015 performance, I was seated at the Looking Glass Theatre to watch the sixteenth and final one.

Snuff Me from One 'N' Half was extremely anticipated for a number of reasons. including tremendous word of mouth from those that had seen it and from my own opinion that it featured Sam Billy Behan, who had been remarkable in previous appearances in Macbeth and A Clockwork Orange. His performance partner was the equally impressive Ben Stacey, who as Dim in Clockwork was quite brilliant. This play could not fail, indeed I would not allow it!

Of course it didn't. It was a tour de force in the complete sense with scenes of raw emotion, physically stunning moments, truly earthy language and a puppet show. I did absolutely not see that one coming. Those puppets had a vulgar turn of language, but the material they had was tough and emotional stuff.

Snuff Me explores the trauma that members of the m…

Review of Flash Festival: eLLite Theatre - Stay at the Looking Glass Theatre

Stay from Leanne Dallman and Lydia Rose Blagg opens with a vast whoosh of activity that on the face of it looks chaotic and disorganised. However no number of strategically placed cards such as the opening few minutes used could ever be disorganised. This has obviously been planned to perfection as one incorrectly picked up card could be most embarrassing. It is an opening of such high energy second only to The Zugzwangs that leaves the audience tired never mind the performers.

This play is all about people who are hybristophiliacs. No me neither. Like I say Flash has offered much education through its shows. A hybristophiliac as I now know is in the most basic sense a woman turned on by violence perpetrated by another. The way Stay explores this is through woman and their emotional connection and sometimes even marriage to men on death row, via the unusually amusing Conjugal Connections website. This is depicted in fifties style pre-recorded adverts with glorious voice overs.

Through…

Review of Flash Festival: Theoria Theatre - Just A Second at the Looking Glass Theatre

Just A Second from Theoria Theatre has my award for the most beautiful play of the week. Tenderly performed, wonderfully written and just quite enchanting.

Our two performers Antonia Underwood and Jessica Kay compliment each well with Jessica the almost constantly abrasive one while Antonia despite being a touch grumpy, the gentle one. This is for me Antonia's show, not to discredit Jessica, but that solid performance of Dor, 'The Time Keeper' of Mitch Alborn's novel, of which this is based, is so wonderfully complete that I cannot ignore it. There was also for me that wonderful softening of the voice and manner in the flashback scenes which you felt were still definitely the same character, but also of a distant much happier time. Antonia and Jessica however work wonderfully together as a pair of actors, complimenting each others performances excellently. They are an almost perfect partnership of opposites in this production.

The set is simple but as delightful as the…

Review of Flash Festival: Headcase Theatre Company - Under The Hat at the Looking Glass Theatre

I had already felt I knew quite a bit about Under The Hat by Headcase. They had via Twitter been the most active in teasing about their mysterious play in the lead up to performance. It was all about what was under the hat and it wasn't a rabbit. I don't think I still know what was under the hat after watching the show. I do however know that a hat is not a mug.

Based on case studies from 'The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat' by Oliver Sacks, Under The Hat explores the effects of different neurological disorders. They do this in an extremely clever and entertaining way, perhaps teaching the audience more through a lighthearted way than laying the subject matter on thickly. We therefore see a character who has no perception of things to their left who misses that moment of love from another character because of it. We have a character who is unable to stand upright and his doctors have to catch him from an endless spiral. Then there is Jimmy who is unable to live pas…

Review of Flash Festival: Duality Theatre Company - It's Starting To Grow On Us! at the NN Cafe

The ultimate in relaxed festival atmosphere was achieved leading up to the start of Duality Theatre's performance with the two performers mingling effortless with the audience in the bijou NN Cafe.

Sarah Kirk and Samantha Colden are our performers for a storytelling performance the like of which I haven't seen previously. This is a relaxed, lackadaisical show with a frequently bickering duo which belies the tough subject matter they are to tell. This is all about the unmentionable big C and its effect on not only the sufferer but the family and friends whom surround.

During the forty minute show and despite Sarah irritatingly (for Samantha) strumming her ukulele and Samantha being challenged with accents and donning false eyebrows, some real tough material is mined. There is heavy and very detailed material in this script, certainly well researched with lots of technical terms you could only guess at the meaning of.

However despite all the heavy subject, it is always kept on t…

Review of Flash Festival: Black Females Theatre - Black Hearts Black Truths at the NN Contemporary

Black Hearts Black Truths starring Melissa Madden is not the best Flash play I have seen this week. However it perhaps takes its subject matter and burrows deeper than any other. It also totally educates in its brief period something that personally was unknown.

It was never an issue to me growing up about people being different. While the understanding of racism existed, it never occurred to me that there was the prospect of being too black as a further form of this. This was an education and enlightening in the extreme.

While watching the only thing that came to me was how Michael Jackson's appearance changed over the years and whether this was in the same mindset as this. However because of this play it stirs things in the mind to find and learn more. That is the credit of such a show, to challenge the brain, to learn things you may never have experienced before.

Melissa through her play creates substantial real people, some likable, some repulsive, all clearly defined. The fin…

Review of Flash Festival: Allure Theatre Company - The Elephant In The Room at the Looking Glass Theatre

The poor old elephant in the room, that little object sitting upon a "small" box had to endure such activity around him. Did he tumble where all chaos surround him, did he heck!

Allure Theatre's production from the wonderful trio of Hannah Mitchell, Julia-Louise Nolan and Jack Smith particular elephant is obsessions, be they of the stalking variety, pop fandom or OCD. Or OCD, pop fandom and stalking to put them in alphabetical order. For the best part they told the trials of these obsessions in a comedic lighthearted way, with more than an element of clowning. So we had obsessive kissing departures from Hannah and Julia-Louise, we had stalking of his cake prey from Jack (the cake is a lie) and we had a loving relationship between Hannah and Jack, well Hannah anyway.

Our set consisted of a large number of boxes, small, medium and large which were used in numerous ways throughout the busy, very quick scene changing show and also offered us the hysterical moment of Jack try…

Review of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer performed by The Masque Theatre at The Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

Something like twenty-two years ago I studied Amadeus by Peter Shaffer along with the same playwright's Equus and The Royal Hunt Of The Sun for English Literature. I never saw a live production of it then or since (or any of them), just the film. Therefore when I heard that the Masque Theatre were performing it I knew I had to see it (even allowing for the fact that I had the small matter of sixteen Flash shows the same week). I won't pretend that I remember much about it from back then and I won't necessarily say I remember liking it much. At the time I was just grateful it wasn't Shakespeare which we were doing most of the time (some things never change).

What we have almost with Amadeus is a one man show and that one man is not the title character. Antonio Salieri played by John Myhill is the star of the show, and remembering him for his scene stealing turn as Benedick in some Shakespeare I saw last year, he once again didn't disappoint. For an amateur show, the…

Review of Flash Festival: Stand Out Theatre - The Presenter at the Looking Glass Theatre

Ryan Manning's solo performance Flash innocently titled The Presenter is no light hearted show featuring a Titchmarsh/Schofield-esque host and any granny unexpectedly turning up would soon be spitting her false teeth out as the play turns the air bluer than her hair.

What it is however is a dazzlingly believable play about one man, Kieran, and his battle with an insane alter ego, Aaron. This whole performance was made the more amazing and encompassing by the fact that it is presented in the area off the main room at the Looking Glass. A single row of chairs around the four sides makes it a totally intimate experience where every member of the audience is in that single shattered room strewn with clothes, drink bottles and when we take our seats the whacked out body of The Presenter.

We are slowly and completely brought into this world through the strains of the complete version of Marilyn Manson's Tainted Love. Its a bold move to play the entire tune with nothing happening, an…

Review of Flash Festival: Sidetrack Theatre - The Zugzwangs at the Looking Glass Theatre

Sidetrack Theatre's neat trick of not really having a show of more than five minutes had the impressive effect of negating any technical faults that might occur. I remain oblivious now as to how much was meant to go wrong, however it was all dealt with flair that everything other than the set collapsing could be permitted.

The Zugzwang's opening is spectacular, funny and exhausting. It also provided me with an alien body in my hot chocolate that this time wasn't a marshmallow. Balloon, party poppers, great tubes of confetti and an exhilarating physical sequence lasted: time check - five minutes tops. The chap on the front row and his watch required and demanded more despite Samantha Ahweyevu's pleas otherwise. So a team huddle later we have a show, sort of. The pretence remains throughout that this is being made up on the fly, but this is of course all a fib. You have to rehearse well for things to go this wrong.

A Zugzwang apparently is a situation where a move or cho…

Review of Flash Festival: Blockhead Theatre Company - The Secrets Of Man at the Looking Glass Theatre

Blockhead's production easily became the most talked about following my viewing of it. Mostly it has to be said not for a good reason. It is also the first Flash I am reviewing after first reading Mr Mudbeast's take on it (here).

Four blokes in a room together is probably a dangerous thing and for the best part The Secrets Of Man showcased the danger with a slightly broken show which concentrated mostly on puerile humour and little (no) light and shade. Discussions after highlighted the lack of emotional impact in any scenes which would have taken us away from the mens clowning antics of the show. Having said all this it went down like a bomb with the massed ranks of the student audience. Although I suspect that that is not the target audience of a dissertation, but I am no tutor. I am merely a keen theatre goer.

Having been critical so far, I must say that there were many parts I enjoyed. The birth scene was excellently done (although I suspect difficult for many not in the f…

Review of Flash Festival: Benson Theatre Company - Even Geniuses Struggle at the Looking Glass Theatre

The noticeable difference with this years Flash over last year is the large increase in solo shows. Even Geniuses Struggle was my sixth show, and it was the fourth solo (there are more to come). There are obvious advantages and disadvantages of this, you clearly miss the interaction of other players which brings energy to proceedings. However with a solo you can concentrate absolute on your interest or skills with no interference. Therefore already I had seen a storytelling style, a children's entertainment interest and a heavily personal experience angle.

Abigail Benson brings her interest in music, and more importantly her prolific skill on the violin to the show. Not that she overplays the skill however, we only hear her play properly the once during her piece. This is predominantly an acting performance telling the sad tale of a musicians battle with onset Multiple Sclerosis and its true to say that Abigail takes us through the complete gamut of emotions, from the highs of fir…

Review of Flash Festival: Whiplash Theatre Company - Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? at the Looking Glass Theatre

Following the tough subject nature of I Forget What I've Forgotten, the perfect antidote came with Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? from Whiplash Theatre Company. It also highlighted at the end of the first day the huge contrast and therefore delight in the different pieces. From storytelling to children's entertainment, from technologies impact to tough health issues, I proceeded to high humour and a little pathos with this one. I love the fact that an hour after the tenderness of one show I witness two grown men running around a stage pretending to be apes. Only at Flash maybe?

Our introduction to the show comes in the form of Ashlee Sopher attempting to wear away a pub bar. For five minutes as we await the start of the show as people take their seats, a glass is polished, but mostly the bar is polished. This is presented with perfect showmanship and heralds the delights that are to come. The aforementioned apes are played by Dale Endacott and John Shelley and complete the male …

Review of Flash Festival: Garlick Clove Theatre Company - I Forget What I’ve Forgotten at the Looking Glass Theatre

For my first three shows I had generally been presented by fun and frivolity, my fouth was however to be a much tougher watch. It was however a most brilliant one. The best solo Flash I have seen so far, and up there at the very top with the best of them.

The rather wonderful Catherine Garlick was our solo star. Having not quite been given the chance to shine at the very top with her University shows so far, the glimmers of the potential were there in Macbeth were she was a devastatingly powerful Malcolm despite her slight frame. It was for me excellent news when I heard she was to do a solo show as this was her moment. Its safe to say she truly seized that moment as in I Forget What I've Forgotten by her theatre company Garlick Clove she gave one of the best student performances I have seen.

The first thing I will say here is that if you are to see the show, and it's without question I tell you to do so, please stop reading now. There are spoilers ahead that you must not see.

Review of Flash Festival: Little Bird Theatre Company - The Paper Bag Princess at Northampton Shoe Museum

It was back to the basement of the Northampton Shoe Museum for my third Flash and another storytelling performance, with added bubbles and paper bags. This was a slightly tougher deal to review as it is predominantly a childrens show and in the absence of any children at the performance I saw, it was difficult to tell how it would play out to them. Therefore for the duration of the show, us responsible adults (and quite a lot of students) regressed to our childhood and happily had paper butterflies on string wafting round our ears and shredded paper as a blizzard of snow.

Our performer was Tara Lawrence, who is quite frankly the most perfect person to present a children's show. Softly spoken and playful in style, the choice to do such a show is now rather obvious in the extreme. We all happily were transported into the wonderful world of paper bags, dragons (called Kevin) and Prince Ronald, and our lead character Lizzie's trek to rescue him.

The tale based on a book by Robert …

Review of Flash Festival: Pinch Theatre Company - Dystopia at the Looking Glass Theatre

Dystopia from Pinch Theatre presents a funny, sad and disturbingly realistic tale of modern life and its reliance on technology and more importantly social media. Throughout this busy piece all the suspect areas of the online world are generally attacked. We have a humourous argument between Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We also have the sad tale of a woman effectively addicted to online dating and most importantly the one of choice Tinder.

It is all very realistic and believable, and generally attacking of the online world. A place I have actually always defended myself simply because to take the old adage, you cannot blame the tools, just the idiots that use them. There is some lovely hope offered though with the developing tale of the lady (touchingly played by Rachel Sherborn) who is only brave enough to communicate via online and the final delightful payoff.

However the opposite payoff comes with, who in my notes for the review I simply called "Sinister Skinner". In …

Review of Flash Festival: Styles Theatre Company - The Little Prince at Northampton Shoe Museum

So the Flash Festival had begun for 2015 and this year there were to be sixteen shows across the six days and I was to see them all (and *gulp* try to review them all).

My first one of the week was The Little Prince by (Jenny) Styles Theatre Company. This was a show I had had a little preview of earlier in the year as a work in progress at a R&D Open Mic Night (here). It tells the tale of a little Prince (you don't say) and his adventures across a collection of random planets. Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jenny translated the tale into a storytelling style. This is quite a departure from any Flash I have seen previously, but after the general trauma of many subjects in 2014, a blessed relief for the lighthearted nature of it.

Having seen a few storytellers this year, I have to say that Jenny presents one of the most acted ones I have seen. The tale is full of dynamic movement, and gesturing of hands and a box of many talents to vividly transport us across spa…

Review of Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh at the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes

By some distance my favourite play never seen performed live before is Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. It also very possibly might be "my favourite play" altogether. It is to me a perfectly judged and written piece which sublimely creates five vivid characters who generally hate each other (even those married to one another) and liberally tosses them into a melting pot of hostility, class struggle and sadness. Across its path we get simmering rivalries, high comedy and also at one point cleverly removing the males of the piece to have a perfectly placed woman's chitchat. It is to me, just perfect.

This opinion of course comes from just one version of the show, the 1977 (a good year) BBC TV production of the original Hampstead play, which included a career defining performance from Alison Steadman as Beverly and all but one of the original theatre productions cast. They all make the roles their own and indeed working with Mike Leigh at the time, they very much created …

Review of Anything Goes at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

There was a time twelve months or so ago that musicals for me were few and far between, now I seem to be watching loads of them. Therefore it was of course inevitable that I would find myself at the Royal & Derngate for Stage Entertainment/Sheffield Theatres new touring version of Anything Goes. My only previous encounter with Cole Porter was when I watched a 2001 version of Kiss Me Kate on Sky Arts a few months ago. It was great fun and therefore a live Porter show held high anticipation.

I was not to be disappointed as this was an incredibly dynamic and "big" performance. Probably the most lavish I have seen outside London maybe. Spotless performances and simply huge numbers, with dance routines that filled every inch of the Derngate stage. Particularly the show stopping "Anything Goes" to close the first half. From my three rows from stage seat, I almost felt as if I was on the SS America, such were the set-pieces so large.

The story itself is, I am growing …

Review of A Slice Of Variety by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The productions from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company are rarely released gems of fun amounting to a single, maybe two if you are lucky, productions a year. A Slice Of Variety this weekend at the Royal was not a full show production, but an absolute smorgasbord of delights. Predominantly performances of songs from the shows, there was also a bit of dancing, some magic and a couple of genial hosts.

Opening the show was a rousing and impressive performance of "Flash Bang Wallop" from Half A Sixpence featuring the full company. It was indeed a curtain raiser for the wonderful two and a half hours of entertainment to come. We were then soon introduced to our first host of the evening (and my favourite) NMTC president Cliff Billing. I enjoyed his appearances more than our later host BBC Northampton's Willy Gilder as his condescending, deadpan delivery had a wonderful charm. Where Mr Gilder was the more professional, I enjoyed the element of randomness and danger from M…

Review of Feast Of Fools Storytelling #2 at the NN Cafe, Northampton

After the packed out venue for the first FOF event a month ago, it was disappointing to have more than a few empty seats for the second one. The likelihood that there were less present was no doubt due to "no name" storyteller performing at the event with this being the local open mic month. However much like seeing the understudy instead of the X-Factor "star" this was no pale imitation. Those that did attend were in for a treat of an evening and the only fools were those that were not there.

Opening the event once again was co-organiser and our regular host Richard York. With a little tune from Mr York we were off again for an evening of tales and a little sprinkling of music and some madness. Richard York himself after introductions told us a couple of mini tales of local flavour including an encounter with the devil at Ecton. These were a couple of lovely little tales to wet the appetite for the evening to come.

Our second teller was Theresa Kelleher and she pr…

Review of National Theatre Connections - Day Three at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Day three for me was actually day four for the shows at Royal & Derngate, but shockingly I was unable to attend on that true third day. However my own third day contained a trio of performances from the good to the very good, to the excellent. Not in that order this time.

*
"Remote" by Stef Smith and performed by the Mark Rutherford School was an interesting play that for me took a little time to get going. For the first fifteen minutes or so, I really wasn't entirely sure where the play was going. It had however been very interesting seeing the sight of one of the cast climbing over the seats of the Royal! It was a daring idea that partly worked as a depiction of the character of Antler climbing up a tree. Where she stopped at the back of the theatre was where she stayed and delivered her lines throughout the whole performance.
The story itself consisted of a random collection of characters all weaving slowly into a story of protest, love and protection of friends. …