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Showing posts from June, 2017

Review of Go Down Swinging - A Rehearsed Reading at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

I found myself picked out and targeted on Twitter as to whether I would be available and like to see this very first reading of new play Go Down Swinging. Happily, as it turns out it was my free night as this was a truly excellent night, with both an impressive new play and an equally great post-show discussion (almost an hour!). I remained silent as is my tradition at the discussion, I am a writer, not a talker and like to sleep on thoughts as well about shows before putting fingers to keyboard.

Go Down Swinging is a loose telling of the true story of Venezuelan world champion boxer Edwin Valero, a man of both successes but one troubled in life outside the ring resulting in it being very short. This play transfers the setting to the UK and Valero has become boxer Karl Johnson (played in this reading by writer Dan McGarry).

This at its heart is a play about domestic violence, although it's neat trick is that throughout it remains very ambiguous in this, leaving the audience (or ind…

The Flash Festival Review 2017 (including course honours) held at the Looking Glass Theatre (Hazelrigg House), St Peter's Church and Salvation Army Hall, Northampton

For my fourth year running I was back for the University of Northampton's BA Actors Flash Festival, a place to see the graduate actors do their stuff in their end of course dissertation performances. This year sadly for the first time fellow Flash buddy Mudbeast76 was unable to join the journey, however, our 2016 new recruit The Real Chrisparkle was back with a vengeance and this year covering all fifteen shows. These fifteen shows would also allow me to hit sixty separate Flash shows, pretty much all of them very much loved.


The venues this year were mostly similar to 2016 with St Peter's Chuch being used one again (with enhanced staging area) and one in the altar space. Hazelrigg House once again offered three different standard rooms for performance and two spaces in the glorious cellar used again for a couple of performances. Finally there was one new venue, for one performance, the brilliant and also excellently well used Salvation Army Hall.

However with no further ado, …

Flash Festival 2017: Dispensible by March Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Dispensible from March Theatre Company concluded my packed five-day charge through this year's Flash Festival and if I was at all jaded by the sheer amount, this fifteenth one-man show would have revitalised me back to life with its intensity.

Ruark Gould presents us with three soldiers through time, like Dickens' ghosts, the past, the present and yet to come. Via this sharp neatly performed show we see that no matter when the traumas of warfare are the same. Sure the future is imaginary, but it is believable in every way, and to quote a game franchise, it's true that "war never changes".

This was the only Flash this year in the vault space of Hazelrigg House with its compact 10-15 seating space, and perhaps it truly is perfect for this play. Allowing us to experience the claustrophobic nature of encampments and dugouts like those the character lives through. We are absolutely in the environment of this play and with its clever use of lighting and indeed absolute…

Flash Festival 2017: Click Here by Stern Mystics Theatre Company at St Peter's Church, Northampton

The dark web has perhaps never been as relevant as it currently is with the recent shocking events where it is no doubt often being used for this kind of activity. Stern Mystics takes the dark web and offers a fascinating collection of stories and characters to teach me more during this show about the dark web than I possibly wanted to know. You leave this show both wanting to go and see this vast place, over 90% of the internet in existence and also absolutely never wanting to go anywhere near it.

A Parkinsons' sufferer, a layabout with plans against his sister's partner and a neo-Nazi blogger are the three characters we follow during this play. The viewer and myself often unsure at first how each character is going to find themselves on the path to the dark web. The blogger is perhaps the most obvious, while I admit I did take some time to work out the Parkinsons timeline, as for the layabout. I genuinely didn't see that coming until much near the end. I blame that on my…

Flash Festival 2017: Exposure by Imagine That Theatre Company at St Peter's Church, Northampton

The Play That Goes Wrong is undoubtedly one of my favourite plays (I have seen it three times so far as well), and Imagine That's Exposure is a clear homage to that very show (and indeed all its own influences through time). A group of five actors are about to perform a live television performance of The Picture of Dorian Grau, and they are absolutely planning on it going tremendously smoothly.

It doesn't of course and for the best part, this little production does much of its buffoonery very well. There's more than a few issues and fluff, and at times it feels a little too wacky for its own good, however, this is slapstick and it is not meant to be clever.

The best part of this show, and one which The Play That Goes Wrong does perfectly as well, is the opening gambit of audience interaction. During the buildup to both shows, things are amiss, in one the set is falling apart and needs help (cue audience member), in this one two of the actors can't find one another and …

Confessions Of A Rookie Director - Episode One

Leading up to my directorial debut later this year with the play Theatrical Knights by Keith Lipscombe at The Playhouse Theatre Northampton, I shall be guest blogging on local theatre website On Stage Northants.

Episode one, where I lay the ground and wonder what I have done is now online at http://www.onstagenorthants.co.uk/confessions-rookie-director-episode-1/


Review of Death Of A Salesman at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

This production cannot help but arrive at Northampton on its tour with a tinge of sadness following the loss of original lead actor Tim Pigott-Smith, however, this production continues strongly on in his honour with Nicholas Woodeson taking on the iconic role of Willy Loman.

He arrives, dishevelled from the auditorium stalls, suitcases in hand, at the opening of Arthur Miller's classic play. a world-weary salesman perhaps at the end of his life? His youngest son Biff (George Taylor) has returned home, possibly feeling both a complete failure and maybe approaching at 34 an early mid-life crisis. At the centre of this is the stability of Willy's wife, Linda (Tricia Kelly) and the roguish womanising older brother of Biff, Happy (Ben Deery), very much happy to declare for appearances that he is "getting married" at many an opportunity.

Woodeson presents Willy in a nervy twitchy style, often just gently simmering with annoyance and despair making the outbursts of rage so …

Flash Festival 2017: The Powers That Be by Tangled Spines Theatre Company at St Peter's Church, Northampton

Perhaps of all the Flash Festival shows this year, Tangled Spines' The Powers That Be was the one that I was most looking forward to seeing. I had read Luke Rhinehart's intriguing novel The Dice Man (on which this is based) some years ago and while the main plot had long departed my mind, the truly fascinating premise that permeates the story is genuinely very clever. Our protagonist lives life by the throw of a die where his every action is decided by the number that the dice scattered at his feet portray.

A quick google of The Dice Man offers a rather bizarre fact that for some reason this story and idea hasn't been developed to any great degree over the years with just one minor mini-series and a couple of plays taking on the idea, therefore Tangled Spines are very much onto something and their nippy and clever performance brings to life the story to fascinating effect and doesn't hold back on the controversy and power of the original novel either.

After a quite bri…

Flash Festival 2017: Broken by Out Of Mind Theatre Company at the Salvation Army Hall, Northampton

Even with a few shows to go in the Flash week this year, I felt that with Broken, I had seen the best that the festival was going to offer. Looking back now, it was and perhaps it is, combined together with performance, visual style, tech, and intriguing storytelling, one of the very best Flash shows I have seen.
I have seen the split personality line before at Flash, however not quite like this case, multiple ones and so many different layers to the same person. Our character is Billy Milligan, accused of crimes that he has no knowledge of. As we follow the play we learn that he is suffering from this mental illness of 24 different personalities, one of which is the perpetrator of the crimes. We are introduced to just a few of these in this performance, we have the six-year-old child (Victoria Rowlands), a constantly dour sulking woman (Rachel Brown), an American (Liam Faik) and an aggressive confident young lady (Becky Fowler). Then there is Ben Hampton who is cleverly both the culp…

Flash Festival 2017: A Guide To Perfection by Sample Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Sample Theatre's Flash shows bravery straight away when you enter the performance room as they have broken many of the conventions of a piece of theatre. Set up with several tables banquet style, we sit around them. There are broken sight lines in abundance and occasionally you can't even see the performer at all. On paper, this is a disaster of a piece of staging, however, its relaxed style actually is beneficial to the show as you duck back and forth observing each of the three performers, like an observer at a restaurant or other social event. The room is also cleverly given a long mirror on either side that when you don't catch your unexpected reflection, offers an alternative take to view the performers.

The three performers are Samuel Littlewood, April Lissimore and Florence Waite and create fun and interesting characters. Florence was my favourite, often in the corner in hopeful control of her lighting/sound deck in this neat format of a play before a play. She is t…

Flash Festival 2017: Push & Shove by Crisis Point Theatre at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Despite being a long term blogger, the alternative vlogging has mostly passed me by and I have rarely sat and watched many and certainly am not an avid subscriber of one, however the social revolution of them has not passed me by as I am very aware that many people make an awful lot of money nowadays as vlogging stars. In this Flash show Olly Manning plays one such vlogger and in Push & Shove, he has something very special for his subscribers.

To be perfectly frank, that something special is really quite simple to guess. I realised very early the contents of the ominous box that Olly's character Jared Howell presents to his audience at the start of the vlog, and it is clear very early on who is going to be on the end of the said contents as Jared goes through his pretty bleak piece to camera. However guessing does not change the impact of this cleverly put together play.

At the basis of this Flash is another issue play, this time mental illness, one which thankfully is gaining…

Review of Cloud at Sharnbrook Mill Theatre, Sharnbrook

I have been fortunate to have attended a few world premieres of plays and musicals, however, perhaps none have made quite the visual impact that this new musical Cloud does when you enter the theatre. The stage of the Sharnbrook (itself I have to say an impressive venue on this my first visit) has been transformed into a brilliantly rendered cave system, with a rich red toned stonelike world and flora scattered about. It is a feast for the eyes and the perfect backdrop for this intriguing new musical to play out upon.

We are on Cloud, a human colony planet created in the Earth year 2306 AD following the humans near destruction of their home planet. As the tribes battle to survive in this hostile environment, leaders go head to head, love battles to prevail where it shouldn't and a mysterious new visitor Hannah (Leisa Cooke) arrives and sets new events in motion.

Cloud is a veritable labour of love of writers Kaye Vincent and Kaye Tompkins and has been in gestation for seventeen yea…

Flash Festival 2017: Can't Stop Theatre at St Peter's Church, Northampton

Upon entering the church to see Ben Sullivan's one man Flash show about alcoholism, you are presented with a neat little stage setting of a chess board with cans and bottles representing the pieces. It is a genuinely clever idea and lays the grounding for this extremely well performed and balanced play.

During the piece, Ben plays three characters affected in some way by alcohol. We have the first, a son of alcoholism, a disturbing and emotionally charged monologue portraying well the damage that drinks cause to the family. Then we move onto an occasionally comical posh guy and his checkered past with the devil's water. Finally, we have an Irish chap, a would-be quitter whose world is collapsing as a result of his failure.

Each of the characters is tremendously well created without descending into stereotypes and the three are expertly ordered as well, with the calmly relaxed delivery of the first moving into the much more physical of the second and finishing on clearly the sad…

Review of Iconic The Show at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Settling down to write this review and knowing what it is to contain makes it clear to me that the majority of those at Royal & Derngate last night are not going to agree with me. Howeever, I went to Iconic The Show based on good reviews so I think the record needs setting the other way a little to protect the few.

Iconic The Show is an evening "celebrating the most iconic movie tracks of all time", and it tries to do this it really does, but sometimes try as you might, Iconic ends up being the result.

The first enormous showbreaking problem is how just one technical decision can pretty much destroy a production. For whatever reason, Iconic's sound engineers choose to drive the volume of the show up beyond sensible levels. So you have a vastly uncomfortable volume, which while I am sure many people loved, is clearly destroying the sound quality with the distortion is creates. The singers themselves are I am pretty sure excellent and the quieter numbers appear to sugges…

Review of Summer Holiday by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Cripps Hall Theatre, Northampton

It is safe to say that I love the Northampton Musical Theatre Company, while there are many other amateur groups in the town, they for me hold the mantle of being the most professional. Much of this is because of the absolute belief needed to make their shows work at all, these productions don't just require acting like most of the other groups, this little group has to throw singing and dancing as well into the mix for its performers. Perhaps because of this and the fact that performers of this ilk are not finite, it can't always work and areas have to be cut where you can't get a whole cast that can do the full gamut. However, this is where the amateurs own neat trick comes to the forefront, over professional actors sometimes, enthusiasm. The very real reason these people do these things is not through monetary gain, it's because they first and foremost want to, and that always shows on stage, as it does through this latest production, Summer Holiday.

I had a bit of …