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Camden Fringe Review: The Invisible Condition by Last Word Theatre at Etcetera Theatre, London

It is perhaps worth going to the theatre to be educated as much as be entertained, and the Fringe like my home grew Flash Festival seem to have a lean towards plays wishing to make a point. The Invisible Condition from Last Word Theatre is very much one of those, its theme is mental health, and perhaps more specifically the NHS approach to it.

The play itself offers us to a certain extent the two sides of treatment, we have the psychologist (Anna Demetriuo) trying to deal with a problem through observation and discussion, and then we have the psychiatrist (James Pearse) who goes by the solution of throwing tablets at the patient.

While the whole piece is very worthy and putting over a tremendously important subject, The Invisible Problem gets bogged down in too many facts and ends up being more a series of case studies than a piece of theatre. This influx of data leaves it difficult for the audience to ever create much of an emotional connection with the numerous characters that the pe…

Review of Blodeu(w)edd Untold work in progress share at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

At the end of this presentation of a work in progress from local storyteller Jo Blake Cave, I commented to the poetic chap seated to my left about a conversation that I had some time ago about the desired style of delivery of a storyteller. Over the three years or so I have seen a few different ways it has to be said, and I always lean towards the more dynamic, animated style rather than, perhaps, the traditional style (if indeed there is one) of static delivery, where the words do all the work.

It was clear which side my left seated companion came down as in the interesting post-show discussion, he made his point very positively, and well made although perhaps it was clear from the assembled he was in the minority.

However, perhaps this is where you have to be careful about opening up a show in development to a rightfully opinionated public. As this show, is clearly a very personal one, and maybe, just maybe, it's teller must and only must put the show on the way she desires, as…

Camden Fringe Review: Note to Self by Theatreweb at Camden People's Theatre, London

Anyone who has read my reviews for a while will know that I always try to take the best of things from shows more than the worst, I realise that for every show I see, no one sets out to make a bad one, that would just be insane. So Note To Self leaves me therefore in a bit of a quandary as while there were many people lapping it up during the performance, guffawing at every opportunity, it was to be totally honest not very good.
I think it has the feel of being a woman's play, therefore, I suppose I might not be its target audience, however, there was a chance of making this an effective little piece describing as it attempts to the life of a webcam girl balancing work and her normal life. Unfolding rather bizarrely in the room of her sleeping boyfriend (we are encouraged by performer Hanna Winter to be silent on our entry), who is actually either dead in reality or more likely rolled-up sheets as he never plays any part. The charade of our silence it pretty pointless as well as …

Camden Fringe Review: Re: Production by White Slate Theatre at Etcetera Theatre, London

My first ever Fringe experience fell at the more than adequate hands of White Slate Theatre and their witty, carefree and yet actually quite educational Re: Production.

Housed in the lovely little studio space above The Oxford Arms in Camden Town itself, it seemed the perfect way to experience the Fringe for the first time as our two performers welcomed us cheerfully to the venue, either knowing many present or at least appearing to know them at this their first performance this year at the Fringe and willing to challenge those who choose to sit at the back. I never got to use my line, "I followed them" though.

The show is a little about reproduction and IVF, but much more about love and attraction as our two characters, Karen and Tom (first drawn in stick person form) are introduced to us. The playful fun nature of the play continues for a while as we go through the potential meeting opportunities of two possible love matches. Along the way, we are treated to a lovely litt…

Camden Fringe Review: Grab 'Em By The Pussy at Fourth Monkey, London

While the very title of this crazy little show written by Caroline Buckley might suggest a lean toward our current infamous President of the USA and his nefarious deeds, it purely forms the title and except a now even more ironic reference or two to North Korea, it has no influence at all.

What Grab 'Em By The Pussy is actually is at times a rather sweet and at others a gloriously rude relationship (or lack of) comedy musical which sees Maisy (Alice Wolff-Whitehouse) in need of contact and willing to be handled or fondled, well, pretty much anywhere.

It's all at times rather dark and alarming and perhaps this kind of material could never possibly come from the pen of a male now with the female lean on the subject anyway. However, despite its very forcefulness of content, including what is pretty much a rape scene, it disturbs a viewer in how genuinely fun it all is. It leaves you with tinges of discomfort which are quickly somehow forgotten as we glide into some upbeat and cr…

Review of The Railway Children at the Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise that The Railway Children from Looking Glass Theatre was an awfully old fashioned and really rather quaint show. I know that at some point in the dim distant past I saw the original film version (all Jenny Agutter and "Daddy" etc), as I think definitely every one of my age will have seen that. However, the fact that of the audience, staggeringly only three were children suggests a little to me that the audience was either family and friends of the performers, or older people reminiscing over the story they remember from their younger days.

I have to confess that I didn't remember much of the story ahead of seeing it, however, this adaptation from James Smith (who also directs) based on the Edith Nesbit original brings the story and characters to life in a compact seventy-minute version. As has been common from recent years, the cast is formed from recent graduates of University of Northampton BA Actors course, all familiar t…

Review of Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare performed by The Masque Theatre at Abington Park, Northampton

Unless you are one of the gold chain rattling members and higher echelons at the top of The Globe theatre and planning on evicting your innovative artistic director, the good old Bard is currently rife for exploiting in setting, gender and dynamics of theatre, and for me perhaps he should be. It is not as if after 400 odd years there haven't been enough opportunities to see "pure" Shakespeare.

Hence why long before I made my way to see Masque Theatre's production of Antony & Cleopatra this week at Abington Park museum, I was already pretty excited to see it. The very reason is that having had the privilege of seeing female Malcolm's and Richard II's in the last few years via the University of Northampton shows, a nicely split gender balance from this show thanks to innovative casting by director John Myhill was on the cards. Throw in a bit of Mike Oldfield to open proceedings and you are going somewhere to alleviate my occasional pain of watching Shakesp…

Review of The Blue Road by R&D Young Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I have a 100% strike record with the wonderful Youth Theatre group at Royal & Derngate, they have never let me down with a show and sometimes with those of Sweeney Todd and Kontact, have provided me with some of the very optimum theatre points of each year. The Blue Road, their very latest production for me is slightly less successful.

However, it thankfully and perhaps not surprisingly, is nothing to do with the constantly talented bunch of actors that gather in this group. My problem lies in two places, of play selection and the way it is told. The Blue Road chronicles the story of a group of young people on the backend of a not totally described crisis, and this, unfortunately, is where we were more or less just two years ago with the Young Company and their show Immune. I have always been interested in these post apocalyptic stories and often love them, however for the same group to do two so close together feels a shame. They challenge certainly, but I am sure there are many…

Review of Once Upon A Grimm Tale by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company (Early) at Judge's Lodgings, Northampton

Once upon a time, there was a brave theatrical reviewer. He lived in a market town in deepest darkest Englaland, where many great and remarkable things of stage did occur. At the centre of this wondrous world of performing spectacles was a place referred to by many as the Royal Derngatus, a place of people pretending to be other people and telling tales of mystery, intrigue and frolics.

Within the fortressed walls of Royal Derngatus, there were a group of fearless players who entertained local folk for no reward, other than the thrill of seeing the joy in the faces of others. Those group of artists went by the name of Actors Companus, which many pronounced carefully when they did say it out loud. This group of merry men and women did have two forms, an early and a late, and but two days before this adventurous evening of forthcoming storytelling, the late group did perform for a third and final time a most amazing feat of theatre, going by the name of Great Expectations.


Our hero of thi…

Review of Great Expectations by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Market Boy from The Actors Company last year was a remarkable show and is likely to stay with me for a long time, so following it with this year's production was always going to be a tough call and with their production of the epic Dickens classic Great Expectations, they at least didn't lack ambition.

I have to be honest, things for me didn't start well. The first few minutes of this adaptation by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod is a busy and convoluted sequence moving the opening part of the story in an unclear and often irritating way. For those present not aware of the original story, I wouldn't envy them trying to keep up with what is going on. However much of the trouble of this opening sequence is quickly corrected as scenes become more defined and controlled and the story is allowed to develop at a slower pace.

Perhaps also in the early part, it doesn't help either that the gender-swapped Magwitch played by Salli Bersham is a little too full on with the o…

Review of Hansel & Gretel by Warts & All at Delapré Abbey, Northampton

For those unfamiliar with Kneehigh Theatre (from where this show originally comes), the best way of explaining them is that they do traditional things, differently. This performance by Warts and All Theatre of their adaptation of the classic tale of Hansel & Gretel tells you much of what you need to know early on as a (human) rabbit is pinned down upon a table and skinned (half their costume removed). It is just one of an evening of wacky and quite brilliant moments as this production sours mostly for the sky of brilliance.

Handed to a cast of young performers, the result is often disturbingly professional. Sure it is still rough around the edges at times, but perhaps this helps the material. It doesn't actually matter if there is sparring from the cast with the audience, knowing looks and playfulness. It doesn't matter if one of the cast nearly knocks the cymbal of the musicians flying, perhaps it would have been even better if they had, this is anachic fun at its very b…

Review of Alice At Wonderland from Open Stage Performing Arts at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I always try my very best to be positive about community shows as they form a perfect bridging gap between the very beginners and those of the professional world. Among these vast numbers (and in this show, there were roughly 170 performers in this epic), some on the stage you always feel sure has enough talent to take them to some success in the future.

So if all that hints that I didn't find Alice At Wonderland the greatest success ever, you would be quite right. However, fortunately, most of the blame doesn't lie with the performers, most are the fault of the script. While the premise of setting Alice in Wonderland during a festival called Wonderland (explaining the At of the title) is excellent, it drags the whole premise over an incredible and excruciating three-hour-plus production. Now, community shows are often long, it is to be expected as teacher and pupils alike need to have their turn on the stage, however creating one of such length doesn't really help anyone…

Review of Fame Jr. by R&D Youth Theatre/Young Company at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

Despite very much being one of the in things when I was growing up in the eighties and definitely seeing on occasion, Fame wasn't really for me. However via theatre of the last four years, I have learnt to love musicals of various kinds more, and the R&D youth company and its companion young company via Sweeney Todd, Honk!, Cafe Crescendo and Oliver! have helped that development.

For 2017 they presented two versions of the same play, the junior version of Fame, it runs for just a compact hour, and while they were dialogue wise the same, directorially and performing was very different. It offered in two days a great opportunity to see the same thing, differently. Even during the opening it was clear that the different nuances were going to be fascinating to look out for, the opening scene sees the students preparing to discover if they have made P.A., and in the young company version the cast clutch their notes and pray to them, while the youth version sees them hidden in their…

Review of The Reluctant Dragon by Munchkins & Monsters Theatre Company at Rugby Theatre, Rugby

I first saw a show from Munchkins & Monsters during the 2016 local Northampton Umbrella Fair and their lively tale, Back In Time For Breakfast managed to keep an audience enthralled for an hour in a tent on a swelteringly hot August day, so with that achievement under the belt, it was clear they were doing something very right. As it turned out, the day that I saw this, their show entitled The Reluctant Dragon, the temperature wasn't a great deal cooler, but the lack of the tent meant we didn't get quite cook, even if the performers clearly did during this occasionally very energetic show.

The scene for the performance is set with a simple and clear staging of sheets with cartoon landscape, and puppets and cardboard towers hinting of what is to come. After the piping in of medieval music as we take our seats, our performers of Dale Forder, Hannah Conway and Laura Richardson take to the stage with all the suitable enthusiasm to try to keep an audience of children captivated…