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Showing posts from May, 2016

The Flash Festival Review 2016 held at the Looking Glass Theatre (Hazelrigg House), St Peter's Church and Castle Hill URC, Northampton

For two previous years the Flash Festival had been a highlight of my theatre year. Full of energy, invention and talent, the University Of Northampton BA Actors students had created many a magic moment. So once again I was back at the brand new locations for 2016 for six days and thirteen shows of entertainment in the company of fellow "independent reviewers" Mudbeast76 and new recruit The Real Chrisparkle.

The first thing that must be said about this years Flash was that of the three I have attended, it was significantly the best organised. Our five event organisers, Vicky Cooper, Aisha Ruth-Francis, Lucy Taylor, Daniel Gardner and James Broomfield were without doubt more organised and enthusiastic than any previous ones, and more importantly they had the stamina for the whole week. This coupled with a much improved schedule over the previous year, a better website design, more busy hub space and the impressive videos that were recorded made this without doubt the best year…

Review of Deckchairs 2 at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I never got to see Deckchairs as it was performed at the Playhouse in 2014 two shows before I discovered the place. Therefore I was coming to this follow-up cold. However this is not a sequel in any case, just another play of four totally unconnected plays, they are two handers set on a seafront or beach of some kind. None of them are thankfully performed on those impossible to put up traditional deckchairs.

The style of the four plays varies, with two serious pieces of drama in the centre, book ended by two outright comedies. It forms an interesting, and not totally successful package. Written by Jean McConnell, these are quintessentially British feeling plays with often broad brushstroke and caricatured characters. The quality of the stories varies with by far the stronger ones after the interval and this is surprisingly replicated to a certain extent by the performances themselves.

The opening play is titled Day Trippers and is a relatively lightweight tale of a trip of two coworke…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: The Anti-Social Network by Barefeet Films at Hazelrigg House (Basement)

George Marlow from Barefleet Films has taken a gamble with his solo Flash production and gone on the path of using other peoples material and speeches far more than any other show. In fact I got the impression that pretty much most of the show is available elsewhere and this is very much highlighted by the final scene that sees George holding in darkness his laptop, a montage of footage featuring much of what we have already heard.

What we do get that you won't get elsewhere, is George's performance of all these pieces. As they have come from various other sources, George is required to become those people, be they performers or more starkly and disturbing a victim of rape.

To wind back to the start, The Anti-Social Network takes as its subject the fact that all these social networks that now millions of us inhabit, actually create a non-social world. We all live on Facebook or Twitter and just stare observing are likes, friends and favourites tally increasing and hardly even …

Review of Flash Festival 2016: X Or Y by Infuse Theatre at Castle Hill URC

There is one thing that you always get from Flash Festival (as well as excellent performances) and that is an education. Whether it is a brand new learning of something, or with X Or Y about transgener, a much greater understanding, you frequently leave the shows much more enlightened.

I follow Paris Lees on Twitter who I have great respect for with her campaigning for transgender rights, therefore I was slightly up with my understanding of the issues surrounding this piece. However Infuse Theatre's work, featuring Annalise Taylor, Rhiana Young, Stephanie Waugh and Grace Aitkin, Kathryn McKerrow, tells something I had never heard, that of the fascinating story of an 1870 court case concerning a certain Stella and Fanny, otherwise known as Ernest Boulton and Fred Park, arrested over transvesticism and a benchmark for the future.

This is our way into a play of almost perfect construction and excellent education merit, as no matter who you are you leave with more knowledge of transg…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: Mortem Artis by Artifex Theatre Group at Hazelrigg House (Basement)

The wonderful Amber Mae was quite an enigma within some of the University shows, portraying often the silent element of proceedings, especially in Orientation where she provided a song for us but little else verbally. However she spoke perhaps like few others with her movement and facial expressions, despite often being silent, she was frequently the centre of the eyeball for the audience, busy flitting around. So for her Flash performance, a solo one was a dream ticket. One to finally get to see her in full swing to do what she chose. It is true that for much of the first few minutes as we sat watching Amber sketch and paint that I thought she was not going to speak again.

We sit in the basement of Hazelrigg House (one of two Flash shows to take place entirely there) and we learn that this is a special confinement location for people to partake in creating art. Something that has been banned in the outside world. They are however not permanently confined, this is a place that they go…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: What If They Were Wrong? by Two Funny at Hazelrigg House (Studios)

Clowns. We hate them or we love them (if you are really weird). I am not particularly enamored really (although I am weird). So a Flash show based around them, what would there be to like? Not a lot I would imagine.

However in the hands of Two Funny formed of Cynthia Lebbos and Benjamin Williams, they are really very appealing. It helps that this is more silly behaviour than strange noses and big feet. This is a sort of Mr Bean situation, but with a modern edge. Indeed Benjamin reminded me a great deal of Rowan Atkinson during the show, full of the awkward social problems, bizarre pulling of faces and tremendous physical ability, literally bouncing off the walls at times.

Both characters are magnificently cute and endearing as their burgeoning romance over reduced bread and cheese slices develops. It helps also that this is the most interactive of all the shows as nearly everyone in the audience gets involved at some point, if only to have their hair stroked or a peg put on it (their …

Review of Flash Festival 2016: The Hold Up by Overflow Theatre Company at St Peter's Church

The wonderful Caroline Avis welcomes us at the door of St Peters Church. She is in full mime mode, enthusiastic and eager to please. She beckons each of us to our seats. Once we are all happily seated the show The Hold Up begins. This is silent entertainment as Caroline holds up (get it?) cards telling us among other things to switch off our mobile phones. This is going to be a fun night.

However all of a sudden with no warning (unless you have read the pre-show publicity), a group of five armed men and women burst through the church doors. This immediately becomes a different kind of hold up. I imagine now someone who has come to this show without knowledge of it and their reactions, as it is all very real. A moment of real dramatic impact.

Our terrorist captors are Tom Stone (the leader), Suzannah Cassels, Stuart Warren, Amy Weaver and the injured Patrick Morgan, who lays prostrate in the church aisles. Early on we are told that we are safe as long as we stay seated and keep eyes fr…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: The Show Must Go On by Lead Feather Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House (Studios)

Much like Sell-By-Date in 2014 took death in it's many guises and made a dark comedy with wonderfully dramatic moments, The Show Must Go On takes cancer and creates a piece much like that Flash classic.

Devised by Penelope May, Jake Rivers and Madeleine Hagerty, who between them are Lead Feather Theatre Company, this is without doubt the most emotionally dramatic play of the week. It centres around Alice (Penelope) and an illness that we eventually learn is cancer. Around her are her brother Ed (Jake) and her friend Sally (Madeleine). The piece is handled with a deft and adult style throughout much of the play as Alice's condition worsens.

There is also a tremendously strong subplot as well with a husband and his cancer affected wife. The husband played by Jake delivers a particularly brilliant and challenging stand-up rountine (shades of Sell-By-Date once again) that builds from guilt laughter from the audience to eventually silence as the tone of the jokes deftly changes. It…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: The Final Cut by LaZénna Theatre at Hazelrigg House (Studios)

The Final Cut by Elizabeth Adejimi (LaZénna Theatre) stood out early in the announcements of shows for this years Flash as the one that initially felt was going to be the hardest to view. Knowing enough about the subject matter of Female Genital Mutilation+ and understanding the absolute barbaric nature of the practice did make it sound that it might be a traumatic viewing. I probably felt that it was a subject that I felt I could do little about and really wasn't sure I wanted to sit through a forty minute exploration of it.

I was wrong though, as while this does become really difficult to experience at the important ending of the play, Elizabeth creates a living world to tell the story first in a vivid and entertaining way. Told through a variety of characters it appeals at first, before it finally appalls.

The main character of the young lady is magical and inspired, the large eyed innocent girl, staring up at her seniors, fond of stealing a snack or two and exchanging comical …

Review of Flash Festival 2016: Forever Looking Up by Illicit Theatre at Castle Hill URC

For the first ten minutes of Forever Looking Up from Illicit Theatre, I have to admit I wasn't really enjoying it. It was admittedly bold and clever to have us enter in near darkness and the truly superb set did create a wonderful atmosphere. However much of the early part of the story of these fives journey to Mars One to colonise was attempted to be told through physical theatre. Now anyone who has read my reviews in the past will know absolutely that I love it, these are the moments in theatre where the hairs on my neck truly stand up. For me though, a lot of the early part of this in Forever Looking Up feels unnecessary and added simply because they can do it (and this group sure can). I would never have suggested that it be gone altogether though, just toned down a bit.

However when the story is allowed to evolve a little more relaxed in movement, this play for me becomes something really very special. It helps that this cast features a few of the best from the year group. We…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: 100, Acre Wood by NonSens!cal Theatre at Castle Hill URC

A. A. Milne is mentioned in the publicity for NonSens!cal Theatre's 100, Acre Wood, however those looking for a little Winnie-the-Pooh style fun would be suitably shocked by the behavior of this band of four characters and their flat antics. I am oddly not familiar with Milne sufficiently to take the individual traits of the characters, however the play distinguishes them superbly enough in any case.

We have from the outset the apparent outsider, Eddie (Jared Gregory). Sitting alone on a chair, constantly twitchy, who we later learn has been sectioned following the death of his father. His one reminder of him, his harmonica. The others writhe and share an uncomfortable bed upon our arrival into the theatre. We have Rachel (Danni-Louise Ryan), sufferer of the most horrendous OCD, which in this very untidy flat is constantly under attack. There's William (Kieran Hansell), a sufferer of an obsession with food, whose constant companion (and lover?) a squeeze bottle of honey. Final…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: Red Inquisition by Memoir Theatre at Castle Hill URC

Red Inquisition from Memoir Theatre evolves from a theatre groups creation of a play based on the 1947 Hollywood blacklist and McCarthyism

So that I can get it out the way early on and take this review in a more upbeat direction that Red Inquisition deserves, I am going to get a real bugbear done first. There was a huge negative for me from this production and one that I ended up getting negative vibes from. For me there was far too much video and audio footage in this production. Much of it was while excellently researched, surplus to requirements. The were a couple of occasions especially where we saw material repeated on screen that had already been performed. The show did not need this and for me theatre is not about watching a screen in any case, its about seeing performances.

This however does need to be taken as a positive as what I am simply saying is that I wanted more acting from the trio of Daniel Hadjivarnava, Ciara Goldsberry and Jaryd Headley as they work excellently wel…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: The End by Phone Box Theatre at St Peter's Chuch

"Welcome to the apocalypse" is a rather encouraging tagline for The End from Phone Box Theatre. Following a successful, yet failed cancer drug introduction in 2017, this is indeed the apocalypse. While curing cancer, cell corruption has caused the dreaded Z to appear.
It is perhaps telling that The End is the only Flash this year (that I aware of anyway) to setup a Facebook event. As like no other I have yet seen this week, this is more of that E word than any other.

Long before you have entered the venue of St Peter's Church this play, and I use the word loosely, has already begun. One by one the audience is ushered into the church by the tactical vested Roach (Daniel Gray). Rough and vicious in demeanor, you know that it is wise not to mess with him. Your destination briefly is an encounter with Scruff (Connor McAvoy), who does a check for bites and shines a torch in your eyes and mouth to make sure you are not one of them. After the exam you are sent to your seat, oc…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: Him by Just Bear Theatre Company at St Peter's Church

Just Bear Theatre Companies Him tells the story a chance meeting between Happy and Issac

The above I got from the description of the show online. After seeing the show, I have to admit that I am still a little confused as to the main subject matter. What is clear having seen Him is that this is more of a standard play than you tend to expect from Flash. There are less juxtapositions between stimulating serious and comic content, there is little choreography movement and physical theatre, there is little tech. This is a play simply telling a story and perhaps therefore fails in what you generally expect from a Flash production. What is does, is well performed, what is says though is far less clear.

It gets off to a very bad start though as Happy (Jack Alexander Newhouse) is exchanging conversation with Her (non third year actor Jemma Bentley). Jack does the most heinous thing in a theatre production in an acoustically challenging church and performs much of the opening dialogue with hi…

Review of Flash Festival 2016: Altered by Faux Pas Theatre at Castle Hill URC

Altered from Faux Pas Theatre takes memory as its theme and the possibility that you could be tricked and coerced into a false memory. Its case study comes from the true story of Beth Rutherford and her battle with what she remembers of her past is actually true.

Altered is classic Flash fodder, take a very serious subject, treat with care and delicacy in exploration scenes of quietness. Then all of a sudden throw in some classic and over the top buffoonery. I have seen it done before in Flash many times and for most of the time Faux Pas' quintuple of ladies hit the nail on the head with the balance.

There are quite a few brilliant individual scenes of entertainment, with my favourite the hypnosis one as we switch with perfect timing between the character of Beth (Sophie Rose-Darby) and her taped off council room and the three other actors completing and adding words to sentences in increasingly comic ways. Often including singing in these parts also highlights some very good use …

Review of Romeo And Juliet performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Isham Dark (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The one thing about the University of Northampton BA Actors and their Shakespeare productions is that you always get something different. Therefore I have learnt to fully expect a transposed version of shows and this version of the classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet brings us into the nineties, rife with shell suits and a soundtrack including Fat Boy Slim. Each end of the theatre space has a wall strewn with graffiti, "I f**ked Lady M" being one particular boast. Above one end, a bit of scaffold and a basketball net lies in wait as a sort of balcony. I wonder what that might be used for? We also have gym benches which will be used in many inventive ways during the show. The scene is very much set for family war and love to play out on.

I haven't seen Romeo and Juliet before, however I knew it didn't end well and I knew of that aforementioned balcony scene. However much like the previous days The Comedy of Errors, I got it, I really did. Whether it is the wonderful pres…

Review of The Comedy Of Errors performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Isham Dark (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The performance of The Comedy Of Errors by the current second year actors heralded my first viewing of my fourth batch of students. With two groups seen into the big bad world over the last couple of years and next weeks Flash Festival saying a fond farewell to the group I have followed the longest (25 months!), I needed new blood to tide me through the next year.

As a first encounter with the first half of this group, it looks as if the quality is continuing into the next generation. The eighteen in this production of Shakespeare's comedy appear to show no lack of skill, even minor roles although often relatively brief were lively and realistically performed.

I knew nothing of this particular play upon arrival and garnered just a little quick knowledge that is was about lost twins and mistaken identities from the programme. Oddly this was enough and for a first encounter with a play by the bard, this was for me the most easily accessible one I have seen. I actually knew what was h…

Review of Macbeth Gone Mental at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I have followed Tap the Table on both Twitter and Facebook for a couple of years, however Macbeth Gone Mental is actually the first time I have seen one of their productions. Three of the cast members were also new to me, however Ashlee Sopher; who as well as other roles plays lead Macbeth; I did happen to see in his final year of the BA Actors University of Northampton course, with the final time being the Flash Festival.

I mention Flash here for two reasons, one its on again next week, please go if you can. However the more relevant reason here, is that I felt Macbeth Gone Mental very much plays out like an extended and enhanced Flash production. Many of these shows take difficult subject matters and create not only an entertaining, but also a thoughtful stimulating piece of drama.

This is Macbeth with a bizarre edge, a piece that follows the story very well despite featuring little of the bards prose, but adds many genuinely weird moments. However the title has a double meaning as …

Review of The Massive Tragedy Of Madame Bovary! at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The set of Madame Bovary tells you very little of what is to come when you enter the theatre, a stark black backdrop with possible panel slightly which may or may not reveal things. There are however interesting things lurking in the area of the stage that offer tantalising ideas. As it turns out, this vast black backdrop is perhaps one of the best idea to come from this production. The set itself is a giant blackboard and chalk becomes a reoccurring factor in moving the story between locations and creating clever ideas.

Created by theatre company Peepolykus, formed of cast members John Nicholson and Javier Marzan, this production brings high and farcical comedy to the tragic Gustave Flaubert novel. No mean feat, and for the best part it works very well. It has at its centre four exceptional members of cast, with as well as Nicholson and Marzan, Emma Fielding and Jonathan Holmes completing the four performers who will create all of the characters in this play.

It opens rather weirdly w…

Review of Heartbeat at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

During its eighteen year run on the cosy Sunday evening slot, the ITV series Heartbeat clocked up 372 episodes of low octane action. I myself witnessed a few of the early episodes as it was on in the house back then and most of what I remember was the drama was pleasant and the crime as mostly low key. This show was all about soft gentle character driven entertainment.

Transferring it to the stage, like any television series with such an obviously huge fan base, has its dangers. However writer and one of only two original series actors in the play, David Lonsdale has for the best part successfully recreated the series on the stage. It is clear at times that it feels more written for the television medium than a live theatre performance, however this fits with the material better than trying to resurrect it as something it clearly is not. This is a theatre experience for that television audience of old to enjoy. Changing it would likely alienate them. Lonsdale has also been surprisingl…