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Showing posts from May, 2017

Flash Festival 2017: Being A Man by Lotus Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Being a Man is an exceptionally well performed one man show and possibly one of the very best I have seen at Flash. Performed in the cramped and uncomfortable surroundings of Hazelrigg House's basement it vividly tells the story of those victims of male rape. Still often shunned by many as something that does not exist, through a series of individual stories, Javier Melhado stunningly recreates the trauma of such happenings.

It is perfect in all but one way that this production is in the basement, and lighting issues are the only reason for disappoint as the screen with some powerfully recorded video is slightly washed out. However this is about Javier's live performance though and it is one to savour as he lays everything on the line and either slightly hidden behind a gauze or right within touching distance of the audience, you are dragged totally into the pieces. Clarity of voice, cleanness of performance, and a quite incredible grasp of spatial awareness as he performs hig…

Flash Festival 2017: LiKE ToY SOLDiERS by Chineke Theatre at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

LiKE ToY SOLDiERS starring Kundai Kanyama tells the story of one young girl in Africa and her very different experiences to ours of growing up in that country. This relatively short solo show has great impact over that brief time, telling the everyday issues of a child and her forgetting to do a job for her mother and the wide-eyed panic on the face of that child because of this, then the progression of that same child wielding a gun and doing the bidding of an unseen commander.

This play clearly depicts that in war, everyone suffers and in Africa perhaps, even more, the children as ruthless leaders blatantly target them to continue to fuel their armies.

Kundai gives a confident and clearly defined performance as this child, and over the course of the thirty minutes, we clearly see the lively youngster move from the worry of upsetting her mummy onto the gunning down of people. There is a very distressing scene where Kundai physically acts out a rape perpetrated on her by her captors. I…

Flash Festival 2017: The Time Travel Tour by Just The Guy at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

There are many reasons why I wanted The Time Travel Tour to be so much better than sadly it turned out. As a life-long fan of sci-fi myself, the premise and idea of this show from Just This Guy and its performer Jay Andrews, sounded absolutely perfect. To a certain extent, it still remains that, it's just that the premise currently (but perhaps hopefully not in the future) exceeds the production.

Jay Andrews plays our time travel guide, who takes us back in his time machine, called TARDIS, but for fans, cleverly not standing for what you might expect, to moments of history. Sadly these moments are a little where the show slightly begins to disappoint. With so much in our history to choose from, the selection chosen is quite frankly rather dull, so much so that I have little recognition of them now. Perhaps this for me is like Jay admits in his programme (bonus point for this), that I also find history often dull. However, if this show is to work, you need to make it not dull, leav…

Flash Festival 2017: G.M.H. by Stalagmite Theatre Company at St Peter's Church, Northampton

G.M.H. stands for Genetically Modified Human in Stalagmite Theatre's involving, if a little slowly building the tale of a potential future. We are introduced from the opening to two scavengers who appear to be far from those in the title and are indeed survivors of the pure species. These two are played with a nicely realistic tone by Daniel Ambrose-Jones (Kamari) and Jamal Franklin (Iblis). They happily appear to have a love/hate relationship with each other, yet in this harsh environment also clearly need to respect and need one another to survive.

Thrown into this pairing upon arrival at an underground base (featuring a huge, nicely decorated structure with artwork from former Flash performer Zoe Davey), is a G.M.H. of the title, Atara. She is played by Jessica Bridge with an icily chilling style, cold and obviously calculating but not letting on her true motives perhaps.

The play itself is a curious one and as mentioned is a little slow to build considering its length, however, …

Flash Festival 2017: A Matter Of Race by Zakiya Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

In this two-actor group and their play entitled A Matter of Race, Jessica Bichard and Karr Kennedy play two young girls who are in theirs and our eyes the same. Both find themselves travelling to England, one from Scotland, one from Africa, both finding themselves in the same interview, and both ending up at the same party. However, as each part of the story develops, we learn that life has its variants based on the colour of their skin.
This is the first of a few message plays at this year's Flash and it tells its story with a lyrical and simple style, full of almost poetic prose and sometimes balletic movement. I also really liked the staging, with coloured rectangles gently delineating the two people.
Jessica Bichard is once again superb, and ever since her brilliant turn as Juliet has been on my one to watch list. Her delivery and timing are crisp and clean (and she gets to use that perfect accent), and her work here forms a symbiotic connection with the equally impressive Kar…

Flash Festival 2017: Erased by Afterlight Theatre at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

My second show of the 2017 Flash Festival was Afterlight Theatre's near future based Erased. The year is 2020 and a Priory-esque institution is with the help of a "dot" removing unsavoury memories from its inmates.

Following a high energy physical routine, all bouncing action and repeated movements, we are introduced to the trio of patients, they are a young girl played by Helena Fenton, the dull, matter of fact one played by Joseph Callaghan, and the self-assured one by Luke Mortimore. Of these three patients, Lukes is by far the most interesting, cocky and verbally bold, with a badge of honour of attendance on his arm. He is so much more than the other characters that it can be tricky to relate or enjoy the others despite confident performances from the pair.

Before this introduction, an opening corporate video has already introduced us to the set-up of this establishment and it allows a nicely comical creation to be born by Helena Fenton. She creates some good laughs…

Review of Sand In The Sandwiches at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The opportunity to see a colossus of acting take on the role of one of the most well regarded of British poets and writers is one that comes along rarely, and as Sand in the Sandwiches proves, you would be unwise to miss it.

Written by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Gareth Armstrong, Sand in the Sandwiches sees Edward Fox ease us with precision and control through the life and work of John Betjeman. It is described in the advertising as "a celebration", and it is at all times just that. This is not a showy play, it is one of the most delicate moments added to further delicate moments of poem, anecdote and life moments.


On Fontini Dimou's simple but stunningly gorgeous set, three chairs, one table and two simply decorated gauze backdrops, Fox moves from one nicely judged scene to another. Howard Harrison's lighting casts the most slowly unfolding pastel of colours (mostly autumnal in feeling) across the stage, as one little scene shifts into the other.

Some perhaps wou…

Review of The Twelfth Player at Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

As a lifelong non-fan of football, The Twelfth Player, a walking tour of a football stadium (Northampton Town's Sixfields) is a hard sell. However, this collaboration of the quartet of Fermynwoods Contemporary, Royal & Derngate, Northampton Town Football and Seven Sisters Group easily appeals to non-fans with its lighthearted nature and clever use of technology.

At the start of the tour, you are issued with an iPod and a pair of comfortable Sennheiser headphones and handed a short card of instructions. For anyone wary of their ability to follow instructions, or if you are a man and never read them, do not fear, they should be read, are simple and clear and easy to follow. You then await your allotted time and then in groups of up to four you are taken by your "captain" to the kick-off spot. On my tour, I was accompanied by one other and a maximum of four is clearly a sensible number, however as this is very much a solo type experience finding yourself on your own wou…

Review of Running Wild by Michael Morpurgo at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

There is a well-regarded theory that if you treat children like adults when it comes to storytelling, you gain not only their respect but also their attention to a greater degree. That means that Running Wild, adapted by Samuel Adamson from Michael Morpurgo's 2009 novel should get the utmost attention. This is a truly uncompromising, and an occassionally harrowing tale of disaster and environmental destruction, one which cuts no corners in telling how cruel life can be at times.

Running Wild tells the story of Lily (Robert in the original book), who has recently lost her father to the Iraq war, and her adventures in Indonesia following her grandmother's decision to send her there with her mother as a treat to help her with her grief. There she meets beach elephant Oona, a very special animal that changes her life forever.

Set to the backdrop of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Running Wild is a true visual masterpiece, opening with a picture frame set of detritus from disaster, all…

Flash Festival 2017: A Sinner Kissed An Angel by Merge Theatre at St Peter's Church, Northampton

Mentioning the name Ruth Ellis to people of a certain age even after over sixty years brings about a strong emotional reaction with some, and even for those not of a certain age, many people know well the name and her story of being the final woman hung in Britain.

This nicely researched play from Merge Theatre (opening my fourth year at Flash) tells at times vividly that story, from the early days of her meetings with her future husband George Ellis (played by Jennifer Etherington), via her success at 'The Little Club' and onto her destructive meeting with David Blakely.
Centre in the play is an extremely solid performance from Olivia Sarah Jane Noyce as Ruth Ellis, portraying the confident and freewilled person with style, whose confidence remains to her final days in Holloway.
Jenny Watson is also excellent as her sister Muriel, the quiet opposite of Ruth and she is superbly emotional in her narration scenes moving the story forward. Connor McCreedy is a coldly played David…

Review of Titus Andronicus performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Delapre Abbey, Northampton

While I found the production excellent, I had found the sheer existence of a history play in Richard II the day before a bind to watch, even in its shortened form. However, Titus Andronicus was to be very different in every way. I hadn't seen Titus before, however, I knew enough to know that it was a bit of a bloodbath and a strange little play. As it turned out this production not only was superb but also it is possible my favourite Shakespeare play to date.

Unlike Richard II the day earlier, there is a little more traditional casting and in the lead we had Alexander Forester Coles, who brings about a commanding and controlling portrayal in the first half and deftly developing the performance after the interval into a tremendously well timed and batty character as revenge and certain madness of his character unfold.

Alexandra Pienaru as Tamora gives a wickedly minxy portrayal of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, exuding all the allure and hostile intent of the character and she truly l…

Review of Richard II performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Delapre Abbey, Northampton

Long term sufferers of my reviews will have easily picked up the fact that the great Bard, Mr Shakespeare is not really my bag. Usually suffering his slings and arrows often to just continue to support the various groups that I now follow. Richard II represents also the most problematic of his works for me, the history plays. However I am always optimistic, and more especially with the University interpretations as they always do something different, whether bringing his stories into a different timeline, as they did with Romeo & Juliet's 90s council estate last year, or some innovative casting decisions, Catherine Garlick for instance as Malcolm in Macbeth three years ago. This time they take the later style and in a much bolder move, casting vast swathes of ladies in the men's roles (possibly a necessity though having seen the gender balance this year).

They didn't have to give us a female Richard though, but perhaps it was the crowning glory in this production thoug…

Review of The Grapes of Wrath at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The Made in Northampton plays are where my tumble into the local theatre world began on 1st March 2014 with a performance of A Tale of Two Cities. Since then I have seen all of the productions in the range (a few more than once), mounting now to a little over twenty. They have ranged from the superb, the excellent and the just really good. Sadly this production of John Steinbeck's classic Depression novel The Grapes of Wrath is none of these things.

Telling the story of the Joad families travels across the Depression laden US from the forcing from their home and a trek to California for work, it offers much sadly to our own predicaments that we still face. Therefore it is ripe for a revisit upon the stage, however, sadly this recreation from director Abbey Wright offers little chance for their tale to be told to us in a coherent way.

Reviewing this production is a tremendous challenge of wondering where to begin, there is just simply so much wrong with it, that I can only assume t…

Review of Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Steel Magnolias is perhaps most known for the star-studded 1989 movie rather than this neat and emotional play with comedic undertones. The play by Robert Harling actually came first, by two years, and tells the story of six women, family and friends and their meetings at Truvy's beauty parlour. As time goes on we witness the evolution of this collection of oddball, but not overly caricatured people and the emotional traumas that happen in their lives.

On paper, this play is very chick lit but the film itself is fascinatingly described by one reviewer on IMDB as "A 'Chick Flick' Men Can Enjoy, Too!" They are quite correct as although this conversational piece is at times very hairdresser or ladies chatting over the garden wall like, there is a heart to this story that makes it appealing to both genders.

It helps of course that there is a wonderfully assembled cast, all seemingly completely comfortable with their roles. Di Wyman as proprietor Truvy maintains a lov…

Review of The Addams Family at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

It is twenty years since The Addams Family last graced the cinema screens and over fifty since the TV series finished, yet it was as if it was inbred into the entire audience as seconds into this musical they were all either clapping or finger clicking to the famous "click click" of the theme tune. The matinee audience was as contrasting as you could imagine, with the typical retired members and vast numbers of children of all ages in several school groups, however, whatever age all were entranced as this captivating musical took to the stage.
The first thing that is very apparent from this touring production of the 2010 Broadway musical is how gorgeous it looks. A stunning and innovative set from Diego Pitarch and beautifully dressed, this is no cheap budget touring production.

After the overture, the musical credentials are set high early with the lively When You're An Addams performed brilliantly by the whole company, and it is a benchmark for a glorious collection an…

Review of National Theatre Connections 2017 (16 Shows) at Royal & Derngate (Royal & Underground), Northampton

Alongside the University of Northampton BA Actors Flash Festival, the Connections festival at Royal & Derngate is now my joint favourite week of theatre each year. This is my fourth year at the festival and each time I have tried my very best (and succeeded) in seeing more and more of those on offer (four in 2014, ten in 2015 and twelve last year). This year I cracked sixteen shows, including the most interesting, a chance to see two of the plays by three different groups.

I was able to see nine of this year's ten plays (a single nagging one, Musical Differences by Robin French was missing from the R&D line-up), and most I either enjoyed or finally understood their merits or reasons for inclusion. The writing of sixteen reviews is a little bit of an daunting prospect, however, I will do my best to review each of the plays and those I saw more than once, and pick around the comparisons.

Extremism by Anders Lustgarten
Performed by Bedford College
Extremism was performed twice …