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Showing posts from December, 2015

My Top 15 Theatre Trips Of 2015

So at the end of my second (and first full) year of discovering theatre I feel the need to create my top fifteen experiences of 2015.

I had the pleasure of attending a different theatrical experience on 127 occasions (mostly in Northampton) during the year. These included plays, musicals, storytelling, music, magic, dance and variety nights. So I now present to you in reverse order my top picks of 2015!

At Number 15...

No Way Back by Frantic Assembly at The Core at Corby Cube
Frantic Assembley are masters of physical theatre and this year they went home to Corby and created with local people a physical and emotional package of a show like no other. Created from the performers personal experiences, a piece of stunning quality was the result. I saw the matinee and I stayed to see it again in the evening as it was that good.
At Number 14...

King John by Royal & Derngate Made In Northampton
For myself an acknowledge non-fan to put a Shakespeare play on my list takes some doing. However …

Review of The Snow Queen at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

After spending the Christmas season watching three pantomimes and the magnificent Chrismassy feel of The Lorax in London, I finally managed to make my way to the Royal for their very traditional Christmas play. This year was The Snow Queen; the reverse co-production from Nuffield, Southampton where Merlin had this year headed.

Adapted by Georgia Pritchett from the Hans Christian Anderson tale (the film Frozen to the modern audience), it tells the tale of The Snow Queen losing her baby to a troll. Leaving the only way to regain the babe by getting another child to go through an evil mirror. Kai her first attempt fails as the child must go willingly, however perhaps his childhood friend Gerda might just be what the evil Queen wants, as the child must travel willingly to the Snow Palace, and that she does to rescue her friend.

The setting up of the story comes in the opening few minutes of the play via our Queen (Caroline Head) and a cleverly realised and evil sounding troll. So evil sou…

Review of Sleeping Beauty at the Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

I arrived at St Peter's Church for Looking Glass Theatre's Sleeping Beauty slightly jaded and apprehensive for my third pantomime of the season. However I always love to support this little theatre and this years show had the bonus of having a quartet of those magnificent University of Northampton students that I get great pleasure in also supporting. The four on this occasion were Matt Larsson, Tara Lawrence, Nikki Murray, Ashley Thomas Sopher and they made a quite excellent and youthful quartet and showed surprising skills in the challenging art of pantomime (no doubt very useful to have on the CV).

Tara held the obvious affinity for working with children following her Flash Festival success the children's storytelling show and she has that quietly gentle style that offers no menace. Here she was once again joyful and even as a baddie in the second act remained playful. Ashley was quite a revelation as the dame of the show, playing up the part with glee and doing everyth…

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

With a waft of the fairy godmother's magic wand I found myself by special command at the Royal & Derngate for this years Cinderella. Now much like Shakespeare, pantomimes are not my greatest love and in the case of these why should they be, I am not really in their target audience. However in either supportive of the writers/actors or by the aforementioned command, I found myself at this, the second of three scheduled for the 2015 season.

Cinderella is without doubt the biggest, brightest and most expensive looking pantomime that I have seen. You can literally see the pound notes being thrown at the stage as the audience is treated to a visual feast from props, sets and a spectacular auditorium light show (and snow). It has to be said though that its looks are a lot better than the script and performances are. While they are earnest, there is an edge of disappointment from the performances of many of the stars in the cast, and its not all the blame of the script.

The star bill…

Review of Here We Go at The Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre), London

It must take some doing to make people leave before the end of a forty minute play, however Caryl Churchill's Here We Go managed to achieve this, and it wasn't just one, several left. I wasn't of course one of them as I have made it my decision to never leave under pain of not being able to review. However I could understand why as Churchill's play descends from promise and well written material into no writing and painful viewing.

The play itself is three small parts forming the funeral wake, the afterlife and the end of life period of an unnamed "Old Man" played with actual style by Patrick Godfrey. Not that he gets much opportunity to show his performance skills, as he doesn't appear in the first ten minutes and has no lines for the last twenty. It is as I say all very odd.

The first part is the best and actually entertaining with an impressive cast of seven gathering at the old mans wake and exchanging clever and witty dialogue in a wonderfully swift …

Review of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax at The Old Vic, London

It was obvious I know, but being struck with my ultimate horror on entering The Old Vic of hundreds of children, made me uncomfortable at the outset. Especially as this wasn't a pantomime, could they possibly be controlled? Would there be screams, bawls and cries of "I want to go home!" etc.

There was not, this audience was actually one of the best behaved that I have ever experienced. I heard no grumbles, no sweet wrappers, no mobile phones. All I did hear on a couple of occasions, were a few squeals of absolute joy at what they were seeing. That could easily have been me; but it wasn't; as The Lorax is a thing of absolute wonder, a visual and audio feast like anything you could ever dream of.

Adapted for the stage by David Greig from Dr. Seuss's surprisingly serious tale, it tells a rather observant and modern tale of the perils of deforestation. At the time groundbreaking, it has over forty years later lost none of its relevance; very much a sorrowful taint on…

Review of An Evil Gathering Of Infidels performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Isham Dark (Avenue Campus), Northampton

Last month I was present for Orientation, very possibly the best ever University of Northampton BA Actors performance I have seen. Therefore the second groups ingeniously titled An Evil Gathering Of Infidels had much to live up to. Now lets get it straight from the outset, for me this wasn't quite as good as Orientation. However it was up there with the best of them and was perhaps such a different beast of a show that it is probably unfair in any case doing the comparison.

First of all it is very much less character driven, as although there are several strong and defined characters in the play, actually only ten of the twenty-one performers even have character names. Those other eleven either have single unnamed roles or move between a number or groups of characters, and sometimes rather magnificently portraying doors (holding doorknobs in their outstretched arms).
Lead character (for the first half at least) is Charlie Clee (last seen pursued by a bear) as Daniil Kharms, a writer…

Review of Sinbad The Sailor by the Duston Players at Duston Community Centre, Northampton

I am not the biggest fan of pantomimes, however at a request I by chance found myself at Duston Community Centre (a venue I have not been to before) to watch Duston Players (a group I have not seen before) performing Sinbad The Sailor (someone I have not met before).

It was absolutely a great community based amateur production, suitably cheap (even written into the script) with just a great cast of all ages having fun. Through this I managed to avoid the need to worry about much of the pantomime antics going on and in Johnathan Freeth's script there was absolutely every panto requirement inserted (add innuendo here). For my benefit, the tale of Sinbad being transposed into the eighties was perfect as this is very much my era, especially with music. Therefore I got everything from The Final Countdown through to Girls Just Want To Have fun and all the comically named shipmates names (harking back to stars of yesteryear) in between.

Our hero Sinbad was played with relish by James Bur…

Review of I Have Been Here Before at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I had my very first experience with J. B. Priestley in September this year with the smart and stylish BBC production of An Inspector Calls. Therefore I was greatly looking forward to seeing the Playhouse Theatre's production of Priestley's play I Have Been Here Before. There is a surprising similarity with An Inspector Calls mysterious Inspector and this plays Dr Gortler, both arrive unexpected and have a dramatic effect on every other single member of the audience.

Playing Gortler is Graham Follett, with the same solid German accent he confidently had in The Dame Of Sark. I commented in my review of that, how much of a star he was with the controlled but very softly delivered nature of his lines. In this he was once again the same, pulling the strings of all the other characters via Priestley's fascinating script, but delicately.

Follett's portrayal actually sets the pattern for everyone in this production as it all feels one of the more naturalistic plays I have seen…

Review of Feast Of Fools Storytelling #8 - Open Mic at the NN Cafe, Northampton

The eighth Feast Of Fools storytelling event was an Open Mic night and for me since the very beginning these have always been the most entertaining. The guest nights have always been of huge quality, watching true masters of their art in action. However for me, variety is that spice and that is where my love of the Open Mic comes. There is always something truly different ten minutes away.

This Open Mic night was without any shadow of a doubt the best and most packed to the gills with talent with both professional and those wonderful, but not quite professional tellers in action. During the evening ten performers took to the stage and each brought something unique to the evening.

Our resident host Richard York began the evening with some torturing of an innocent animal to make sound (yes my favourite bag piping, lovely!) and he launched us into the evening with a tale involving a cat licking poo off itself and us in the audience singing in Christmas with a variety of farmyard animals.…

Review of The Lion In Winter performed by The Masque Theatre at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

Leading up to Christmas there is perhaps no better thing to do than see a play about a family getting together at Christmas and ending up arguing, fighting, threatening each other with knives, offering to marry off their lover to their son, imprisoning their three sons in a dungeon and preparing for a war with a French guy. Yes, that sounds like every bodies average Christmas doesn't it!

The family in question in James Goldman's 1966 play The Lion In Winter is Henry II's, featuring his three sons and his sort of wife Queen Eleanor. Throw into the mix Henry's lover Princess Alais and King Philip of France and you have events and family maneuverings that even Eastenders would't go near.

Thankfully for this time of year, Goldman's play is a high comedy take on this dysfunctional family, often extremely and indeed surprisingly funny. There is also with the political wranglings and language used, much in common with that fantastic series Yes Minister including a mag…

Review of Steeleye Span at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

This Sunday I rather fortuitously found myself at the performance of folk rock band Steeleye Span. Folk is a genre that don't know a great deal about and indeed have rarely listened to. It did however have a huge prominence in one of my favourite films The Wicker Man and provided a wonderful atmosphere to that film like perhaps no other style could. Therefore I was ready to be fully educated with my first full evening of folk.

The line-up on the night consisted of original member Maddy Prior on vocals (and briefly ukulele), Rick Kemp and Spud Sinclair on guitar, Julian Littman on guitar and keys, Liam Genockey on drums and Jessie May Smart on violin. Together they combined to create a quite spectacular evening of music, all but one track completely new to me.

I found from the evening a quite surprising variety of tunes, varying from ballads, pastoral and very strong rock tunes with riffs in action. The only track of the evening I was familiar with was of course All Around My Hat. …