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Showing posts from November, 2017

Review of Blackadder's Christmas Carol by the Duston Players at Duston Community Centre, Northampton

One day I am reviewing the National Theatre touring production of Patrick Marber's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, the next day it's John Myhill's adaption of Elton and Curtis' Blackadder's Christmas Carol performed by an amateur group, the Duston Players. This is my theatre world, a place of contrasts, and also pressures on this poor innocent reviewer. How can I possibly compare and indeed cope? With much cunning, I set about my plan...

The answer is I don't. No one at Duston Players is ever going to be thinking such a thing can be compared, however, while the quality difference is a no-brainer, it doesn't mean that many of those at Duston Players are putting in any less effort to make something as good as can be. You might even argue that with no pay packet at the end of it, their effort is equal if not more. However, that would also be a lie, as the world of acting is a competitive one, and laziness is not an option. I am today full of the intellect…

Review of Hedda Gabler at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I always approach my first encounter with such well-renowned playwrights with a touch of trepidation, be they Pinter, Miller, Williams or B.G.S, I fear that while I feel I need to like them, simply because, I am concerned that I might not. Fortunately, all of those listed, I have got on with and we don't mention the ones that I haven't. So, anyway, here we are, a few years down the line of aggressive theatre-going, and I come to my very first meeting with the work of Henrik Ibsen. Yes, it's true.

This brand new version of Hedda Gabler for the modern age is by Patrick Marber, a playwright I have seriously loved every previous encounter with. Here he and director Ivo van Hove brings the 1890 original bang up to date, with video entry systems and modern dress to Ibsen's words and a collection of other modern tinges.

At the heart of Hedda Gabler is, unsurprising, the title character, a nasty, strong, yet also a childlike character in equal measure. I like my own child ref…

Review of Chatroom by Illusion Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Hot of the heels of bringing Alan Bennett's The History Boys vibrantly back to the stage, director Gary Amos returns with his newly created theatre company, Illusion Production and a very different version of Enda Walsh's Chatroom than many would be familiar with.

Chatroom is as standard, a relatively static play to handle directorially, formed of conversations online from your typical caricatured people that might lurk on them. So, to create some drama into proceedings, Gary Amos has taken the decision to totally destroy the concept of the original play and bring all the characters together in a dead end club. If destroying the whole original premise sounds drastic, perhaps it's because in theory it is, and I did have more than a minor concern about it as I sat in the theatre watching. However, this production gets away with it by the sheer bravado of the scenes it creates because of it's reckless disregard of proper form.

It's a tough play to watch, mixing repul…

Review of Bombshell by Contact Light Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Whether it is an overwhelming success or mostly a failure, I have over the years grown a huge affinity for fresh new work on the stage. The need to regurgitate and rework old pieces continuously may well get easy bums on seats, but at the end of the night, it has no doubt pleased a few but it hasn't really made any future impact on theatre of the future. Presenting a new play and new work, however, who knows what it might have seeded in the years to come?

Therefore as I watched Bombshell, not only a new play, but also the first offering from a new theatre company, I was thrilled that first of all, it leaned much more towards the success line, and also that over half filling the theatre, it had also put quite a few of the bums on seats as well.

Curiously I have recently read Festen by David Eldridge, and while Bombshell goes much its own way, I felt early on, I (and perhaps others in the audience), felt I had a distinct advantage over some of …

Review of This Evil Thing at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

This Evil Thing written and performed by Michael Mears isn't my first encounter with a play about conscientious objectors, however, it absolutely is the most detailed in its explanation of the subject. A clear and absolute labour of love from Michael Mears, and an obviously very personal thing for him, it leaves the audience pretty much in its grip for the whole of its 80 minutes.

Almost uniquely, our performer Michael Mears is in the theatre stalls upon entry, observing the arrival of the audience and indeed exchanging conversation at times. It's fascinating to see a performer not only there, but seemingly so relaxed pre-show and as he bounds on the stage at show start, this little nugget proves intriguing in itself.

Michael Mears is a captivating presence on stage, as previously experienced on the same stage in A Tale Of Two Cities and The Herbal Bed, therefore it comes as little surprise that he has a confident ability to make a one-man show work, and so well. With the use …

Review of Balm in Gilead, University of Northampton BA Acting (Creative Acting) at Maidwell Hall, Northampton

Watching the production of Balm in Gilead sees my entering the fifth year of following the University of Northampton acting students, and what theatre they have provided over the years!

Balm in Gilead is no less intriguing than anything that has gone before, written in 1965 by Lanford Wilson, you might think this would be a dated item for the young students to be performing, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Set in a cafe (transposed to England from its original American setting), it sees the lives of addicts, homeless and sex workers converge into a mixture of good but mostly bad moments.
My first time in the Maidwell Hall saw an encounter with a brilliantly realised community full of the world of the cafe and the surrounding homes, cardboard boxes and dishevelled beds. As we enter the characters of this world begin living alongside us, addressing us, begging us for money, pushing shopping trolleys around offering off the cuff exchanges with the audience and confronti…

Review of Hi-De-Hi at The Deco, Northampton

I was a fan of Hi-De-Hi in the eighties and in actual fact a fan of many of those very much of their time comedies. Hi-De-Hi was a bright and breezy and overly familiar show having ended up at many a holiday in the Maplins equivalent of Butlins, albeit not the fifties setting, but with very little changed in the decades anyway. However, we have moved on a bit since these eighties days, so does Croft and Perry's comedy still cut the mustard now?

The answer is yes and no, a lot of the humour is still fun and there are many a chuckle moments, the characters also are still bold and fun enough to provide some great entertainment. However, with these characters lie the first problem with an acting group doing a show like this. Anyone familiar with the show and its nine series run will have the characters so indelibly marked in their head and this offers no freedom for a performer to make that character their own, they are just setting out to copy someone. Yes, a challenge, and where it…

Review of Rita, Sue + Bob Too at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The world of retro and rekindling long past successes and eras is blossoming like no other, however as it builds to exponential levels, I sometimes wonder when we will all find that we are just exhausted from too much of yesteryear? I write this following a day of two theatre trips doing similar things, the first of this a reimagining of a classic eighties play and later film Rita, Sue + Bob Too (more on the other in a future blog).

This is industrial northern matter from writer Andrea Dunbar, full of the grime of Thatcher England, and filled, really filled, with gritty workforce language, Add to this the gyrating backside of Bob (James Atherton) on top of two underage schoolgirls, and this play is clearly not the sort of thing to take granny to see. I have to confess from the outset that this show really didn't work for me, it didn't help that at 80 minutes with no interval, you do feel a little short-changed. However Education, Education, Education was pretty much the same …

Review of Blood Brothers at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

A theatre in the east midlands, a thousand people stand applauding and cheering towards a stage where fourteen people stand. There on the stage, they bow, and bow, an inordinate number of times. They depart after a time and the lights come up over the capacity audience.

So did you hear the story of the Blood Brothers show, how people flocked and came to see them play?
Did you never hear about how we came to be, standing applauding the brightly lit stage this November day?
Come judge for yourselves how this night did come to be.

Blood Brothers was a significant show for me back in 2014, being the first musical that I saw live. Hiding up in the upper circle of the Derngate back then, not really sure what to expect, it was it turned out perhaps the perfect show to graduate me from play to musical that I could choose as Willy Russell's gritty and solid story is as confident as a straight play that perhaps any musical is. So strong is the story of the Johnstone's twins, that it liv…

Review of Murder On The Dancefloor at St. Albans The Martyr Church, Northampton

When you see the expanse of theatre that I do, sweeping from the cream of the West End, TV and film, onto fledgeling students, to youth theatre, amateur theatre, huge touring shows, it is quite a challenge to get the balance right in a review.
Most especially when going to a show such as Murder on the Dancefloor by St. Albans Charity Players. This is community, am-dram of the highest order, it is no frills, often loosely performed, but also occasionally unexpectedly very impressive as well. However what is key with this is that you look beyond any flashes of fluctuating quality and step back and see the importance that shows like this have to that community.
Murder on the Dancefloor takes dance show Strictly Come Dancing as its background and shakes an interactive murder mystery stick at it. It is always truly silly, as one of the character names, Crane Breville-Hardwood suggests. It is filled with the most garish of typical dance scene dresses, all overdressed, over made up and blind…