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Review of Crimes Under The Sun at The Core, Corby

It is safe to say that there have been a lot of Agatha Christie spoofs kicking around over the years, they are ripe material to plunder, and often feeling as if the original author was even sending them up at times as well. So, to discover another one on stage at The Core Theatre in Corby is no surprise.

New Old Fiends' Crimes Under the Sun is a patch above many of them, a speedy, witty and genuinely ingenious take on a Poirot influenced case (no prizes for guessing Evil Under the Sun). As our lead, we have a curiously Belgian detective Artemis Arinae, Poirot in all but name, and more specifically gender (it's the first thing I noticed about her, to steal a joke). The show opens relatively badly, with a rather long introduction from our detective played by Jill Myers. It is the only downside of the evening, as once the stage is full of the quite brilliant collection of characters, this show whips along with an amazing intensity.

The characters created in Crimes Under the Sun …

Flash Festival 2018: Out Of Shot by Periscope Theatre at Castle Hill, Northampton

In April this year, the first woman was convicted following a new domestic violence law introduction, and it couldn't, therefore, have been more timely to have seen this devastating performance from Periscope Theatre. As although at first, preconceptions suggest we are watching a man's abuse of a woman, it quickly transpires that Out Of Shot has tipped the scales in the opposite direction.

What flagged it up for me, and probably for many in the audience, was a burn from an iron. Innocent enough, but enough to bring to my mind that we were to see the less acknowledged side of domestic abuse. From this moment, Out Of Shot began to turn into an extremely intimidating piece of drama, tense and disturbing. At the helm was a tremendous and extremely scary performance from Grace Stewart Hogg as Siena. Hogg was simply incredible spinning the innocence and sweet nature with a heavy suggestion of being the victim in the police interview scenes, and turning that on the head with the priv…

Review of Art at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

As the audience arrives for Art, they are presented high on the stage with the back of a painting. On closer inspection, it has none of the labels or stamps that art buffs like them to have, to form a quality provenance for the future. The back of this artwork is indeed a blank canvas (five feet by four). Turns out, when we finally see the front of it, it is also a blank canvas, but don't let Serge (Nigel Havers) hear you say that.

Yasmina Reza's script (translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton) is razor sharp, a joyous rollercoaster of pace, wit and verbal hostility, showing no signs of ageing after 20 years. This is a sparring match, where words are the punches, with just one moment of physical blows in the swift 80 minutes runtime. It's a tale about friendship, which uses a "white" painting as it's backdrop, and the way friendships can collapse over the most ridiculous reasons.

Not to say, someone spending £200,000 on a white painting is…

Flash Festival 2018: Static by EVE Ensemble at St Peter's Church, Northampton

I was just short of the right age to witness raving first hand in 1990, and my sheltered life would probably have resulted in my missing it anyway. However, perhaps based on Static from the quintuple of lady performers in EVE Ensemble, it was perhaps a lucky escape.

While they are clearly having immense fun in their raving, brilliantly recreated in two scenes in this production, things turn quickly into a mess, as Dani (Kate Morgan-Jones) decides that a bit of dealing will help the bank balance. So recruiting her mates, including the new girl, the posh and very innocent Emma (Ellen Tritton), they set about distributing the merchandise. This sequence includes trying to sell the gear to us the audience in a nicely worked scene, and also with the performers dealing with different replies, one of which included Tritton smoothly dealing with, brilliantly in character, with a specific request from one audience member. Neat work!

Static is a bit like an all-girl Trainspotting, fun and enter…

Review of Les Misérables: School Edition (NMTC Youth Society) at the Cripps Hall Theatre, Northampton

From my four years or so of watching theatre in Northampton, there is one thing beyond the huge professional shows that I see touring, that I always enjoy so much more (despite the occasional dodginess of the quality), and that is youth theatre. For me in my heart, it adds something special, here we have the often maligned young of today, getting out there and doing something truly fulfilling. Here though, with the debut of the newly formed Youth Society, spinning off from the adult Northampton Musical Theatre Company, we have something also which goes beyond enthusiasm of the young to create a really special piece of theatre.

Les Misérables is in the top three of musicals for me, I love its huge numbers, I connect to its story, and it has some extremely strong characters, for me, it just works. Therefore, you could say that I would have an immediate bias towards this show, however, I do feel protective of it as well, so, it needs to be done right. However, I have nothing to worry abo…

Review of The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at Hackleton Village Hall, Hackleton

In pursuit of even more theatre, I ventured out to Hackleton to experience theatre company Group Eight for the first time, and their version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted here by Noah Smith).

The first observation, and not from a production point, is how neat this adaptation of the story is by Noah Smith. It keeps the mysterious world of Dr Jekyll and his experimental attempts of unlocking his dark side but also fleshes out the world around him. We have two incorporated narrators, Shelly and Stoker (no prizes for guessing where those names came from, and simply Maid and Butler in the original Smith version), who give us locations and inner thoughts as well as scene changing. They are very much the unnamed narrator of the original embodied. Also while we have the standard "Three Musketeers" of Lanyon, Utterson, and Jekyll himself, the character of Enfield is fleshed out far beyond the original, and with his new lady, Helen …

Flash Festival 2018: Something Human by Incubus Theatre at St Peter's Church, Northampton

While Something Human from Incubus Theatre wasn't the best of the shows during the Flash Festival 2018 (but it wasn't anywhere near the worst), it had perhaps the award of the most discussion between myself and companion of the week, fellow blogger The Real Chrisparkle.

Something Human weaves a confusing web of a story, that often offers questions in the head rather than answers. Centred around a mundane office, a cleaner (Lori Heather) cleans, a manager (Jason Pile) manages, and a newly appointed PA (Anya Gallagher) PA's. Wandering into the mix is a mother (Emilia Owen), not mothering at present, as she is seeking her lost daughter.

What slowly then becomes exposed is the possibility that all of these people are criminals, the cleaner cleans up bodies of those she has slaughtered, the manager has interesting bedroom activities, the PA we discover is a paedophile, and could that mother have truly killed her daughter?
I won't pretend that I fully understood the story So…

Review of The Importance Of Being Earnest at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

There is no stopping the sharpness of Oscar Wilde's wit, and The Importance of Being Earnest is probably his best-known play, and while Original Theatre Company's touring version doesn't present it at its best, it is still an entertaining evening at the theatre.

Jack loves Gwendolen, Algernon decides he loves Cecily, Lady Bracknell disapproves, and both Gwendolen and Cecily can only love Earnest, oh and it also includes a handbag. Major confusion and comic situations ensue.

The Importance of Being Earnest in this form is curious, for the most part, it has solid and reliable performances from its cast. Peter Sandys-Clarke cuts a fine figure as Jack Worthing and captures his willing attempt at maintaining dignity impressively as the ridiculous events envelop him. Likewise, Thomas Howes suits the buffoonery of Algernon Moncrieff very well, deftly, and often, casting himself across various pieces of furniture. However, despite this, there remains a lack of that special thing b…

Flash Festival 2018: Drained by Open Eye Theatre at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Back in 2015 when I was attending my second year at the Flash Festival, I had the pleasure of seeing a show called I Forget What I’ve Forgotten, a solo show performed by the superb Catherine Garlick, it was very much based on personal experiences, and it was one of very few Flash shows that I have made time to see a second time. That second time, it became the only Flash that I stood at the end of (to date), and it was the first that emotionally hit me hard.

While I didn't stand at the end of Open Eye Theatre's Drained (I was incredibly close), it left me a spent force of emotion. My fellow blogger and companion of the week The Real Chrisparkle, witnessed my tears, and I was actually perhaps as emotional as I have ever been at the end of any theatre show.

Drained was a slow burner of emotion, which I guess just gently took hold like no other before. Our three characters, Laura (Bryony Ditchburn) and her two brothers, Will (Robert Charles) and Jamie (Jake Wyatt) gather at the wa…

Flash Festival 2018: Beneath It All by Balance Theatre at St Peter's Church, Northampton

There is a brilliant scene relatively early in Beneath It All which perfectly portrays the awkwardness and discomfort of the character of Charlie played by Oliver Franks, with so-called normal life. In a crowded corridor, he shifts uncomfortably out of the way of invisible people, even crashing into one at one point. It's an extremely clever way to quickly build the character and extremely nicely performed.

Beneath It All from Balance Theatre tells us of the early life of three young people and their burgeoning relationships, and hormones, and winding back to the start, we find that Charlie has not had an easy life. The play opens with him in a wheelchair, we learn very little about why he is in this, but that doesn't matter, the thread of troubled times is enough for us to understand the story Beneath It All is telling us.

There are a number of immensely tender scenes in Beneath It All, and they all build up our understanding of these troubled, but very endearing characters. …

Flash Festival 2018: (His) Sheep by Control Theatre at St Peter's Church, Northampton

Set in a church and performed in a church, (His) Sheep from Control Theatre presents the first site-specific performance of Flash this year. The smart and stylish Pastor Stanley (Mo Samuels), sits clutching the good book, and nodding in recognition as we take our seats. Random jazz slowly fades and Pastor Stanley flys into a Billy Graham-like presentation to us, "his sheep", with his line "God is good" destined to be a force throughout the show.

(His) Sheep is an unusual piece of theatre, the story often challenging to follow, and if indeed you follow it, it has a habit of wrong-footing you with another curious swerve. At the opening, while the Pastor is preaching, a homeless guy, Kevin (Terell Oswald) lurks in a corner, laying amongst an assortment of his precious belongings, his life in a bag. He begs us for a few pieces of coinage to survive on. He also seeks the help of Stanley, who is known for being one to really help the homeless, or does he?

Later, Kevin'…

Flash Festival 2018: Eight Pounds Sixty by TaBoo Productions at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Eight Pounds Sixty from TaBoo Productions is over almost before you get the chance to settle. At 20 minutes roughly, it is the shortest Flash that I have ever seen, however, during that time, it makes a tremendous impact, and perhaps more would have been too much to take.

Solo performer Naomi Ell presents two people, both, it turns out, with a common health link, mental illness. As is sadly often the case, both first present as being well hidden by the individual.

The first Annie, in her twenties, is full of success, her own flat and a job that she mostly appears to like, but has pleasure in relaying the quirks of her colleagues as she clears up her "floordrobe". It quickly becomes clear that there are issues there, she is seeing a counsellor, and although she presents to us the fact that she likes doing so, we all know deep down, seeing a counsellor isn't really a leisure pursuit. She is taking drugs to help her problem and has to mine through a ridiculous NHS system, w…

Flash Festival 2018: Deciding What To Do With Dad by Blue Shift Theatre at Castle Hill, Northampton

Let's all laugh hysterically at dementia! That is the winning principle behind Blue Shift Theatre's Deciding What To Do With Dad, with black comedy of the highest order, they create one of the best Flash shows I have seen. However, before you think we are talking cruel humour, this is far from it, it is understanding very clearly of the situation, and is far from nasty in its writing.

It can be expressive certainly, we get plenty of poo references, and it isn't a play you would take granny to. In fact, it starts rather wonderfully, breaking the fourth wall and a reading of a disclaimer, that is in itself, more offensive than many plays. The playing to the audience is truly brilliant in this and creates much humour as a result, and the cast is clearly both in their element and comfortable in this.

Jac Burbidge, Jake Statham and Hal Gallagher play three brothers, one sensible and rational, one who has been a wandering, and one a clown, literally. They are an immense trio, a…

Flash Festival 2018: Lay Me Bare by Athena Theatre at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

Following the sexual abuse led Screw You, my second Flash of the week was Athena Theatre's domestic abuse-themed Lay Me Bare. They were clearly not going to break us in gently this year at Flash. However, if there is one thing that Flash does brilliantly, it's tough subjects. The students in the group are clearly passionate about the themes they choose, and nearly always, this translates into a quality, if often tough, watch.

Lay Me Bare depicts the very different characters of Monica Brown (Xara Chisano), Fola Balogun (Maddy Ogedengbe) and Elsie Smith (Farrah Dark), all who though share one despair in their lives, they are victims of domestic violence from their partners. We first meet them all, nursing black eyes, and in a stark opening sequence, they all attempt to hide the visual appearance of this with make-up.

It's a powerful opening, and what follows is a tough exploration of these three peoples lives, one a partner to a guy who uses the prison door like a revolving…

Flash Festival 2018: Screw You by Sonder Ensemble at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

So, I return once again for the annual Flash Festival, the moment where the graduating BA Actors get their moment to show in their dissertation piece, what they have learnt over their three years at the University of Northampton.

Opening my fifth year of shows was Sonder Ensemble's topical offering, and interestingly titled, Screw You, This group of three performers created a snappy (just 25 minutes) piece influenced by Harvey Weinstein and the fallout from those revelations. Delving into a mixture of stories based upon real cases (some more obvious, about who they refer, than others) to create a brief piece exploring what has been one of the biggest stories of the last year.

The three performers in this show are Ceara Coveney, Gemma Leigh and Katie Lawson, and the first two already have already proven themselves to be extremely talented from past shows, and here they perhaps show themselves at their best. Lawson though had lurked a little more in the background in the main ensem…

Review of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

It is hard to imagine what crossed the minds of the producers of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em when they decided to recreate a TV sitcom, that hadn't been seen as a series for 40 years, as a stage show. Although the world of entertainment is so full of remake and reboot at the moment, that perhaps everything is doomed to return at some point. However, perhaps few will be quite as successful, and certainly deserve to be, as this remake of something that was so of its time and so much in everyone's memory as being made by one performer, a certain Sir Michael Crawford.

This gem of a stage show though, while never being 100% perfect (it is very sluggish for a while in the opening of the second act and I am not a fan of a play with mics), brings that sitcom to the stage with a style and panache that the frankly (pun intended) ridiculous material of the original almost doesn't deserve. This is Frank Spencer for the 21st Century, the stage might be dressed like that 70's sitcom, …