21 July 2005
As I approached Venue 21 I wondered what to expect - a world premier of a thought-provoking play by Buxton Drama League - Hmmm? Not Alan Ayckbourn or Terry Pratchett, no cast of thousands, a small intense group of actors examining an important issue -----
On arrival the introductory music was intriguing - heavy cello but evocative of what was to come (in hindsight) I may look up this CD (website in the programme).
The play began with two asylum seekers Agron & Valbona quickly establishing their lead position in the cast.
Robbie Carnegie's portrayal of Agron as an angst ridden academic mesmerised the audience with his use of 'flowery' Shakespearian language - on one occasion asking Jo Merchant if she was from Venice!! Sadly Catford came the reply. His soliloquy about their escape from Albaco left much unsaid but expressed the horror that many asylum seekers go through. Marie Carnegie as his lawyer wife Valbona developed her character carefully beginning as a remote neurotic individual and gradually opening up to Jo her voluntary worker. The flashback for her worked well and the audience listened with rapt attention.
Jo Merchant played by Margaret Gill impresses right from the start as the green, over anxious volunteer floundering as she tries to help Agron and Valbona and exposing wounds in her own psyche along the way.
These three are the 'meaty' roles with a lot to get hold of but Jennie Gill and David Carlisle as the two somewhat idiosyncratic civil servants provide what appears to be light relief, drinking on duty was a little unbelievable but made its point about the sheer drudgery of working in the Home Office - they also appear to inadvertently lead us to the denouement!!
My congratulations to all the cast, Di Gordon the director and Rina Silverman for a beautifully written intense hours entertainment. Or was it? I felt I had travelled on a journey with them but we hadn't reached the end - a follow up next year perhaps?
Buxton Opera House Forecourt
For Festival-goers awaiting entry to the evening's opera (as well as for those who just happen to be passing by), there is a welcome diversion outside the Buxton Opera House.
Local actor Gerard Crawshaw presents The Shakespeare Jukebox, suitably decked out in doublet and hoes, and with an obviously handcrafted 'stage' setting out his wares. There, for the price of 1 pound (all proceeds to charity), he will enact a Shakespearean speech to order. I had wondered how Mr Crawshaw would cope if asked to give a speech from, say, Timon of Athens or Pericles, Prince of Tyre. However, a bill of fare sets out a choice of such favourites as Richard III's 'Now is the Winter of Our Discontent', As You Like It's 'Seven Ages of Man' or Henry V's 'St Crispin's Day'.
These speeches are simply and lucidly delivered by Mr Crawshaw. Particularly enjoyable was his balcony scene, with a member of the audience standing in for Juliet to his Romeo. I would perhaps have liked to have seen a bit of more of such interaction in some of the other pieces, as well as a bit more patter between each request, but these are things which I'm sure will be developed as the run continues.
The Shakespeare Jukebox is an entertaining idea in aid of a good cause, and worth dropping by to see, whether you're sipping your champagne outside the Opera House, drinking a pint outside the Old Clubhouse, or just on your way home from work.
Pauper's Pit, Old Hall Hotel
The title, 'Café Sinatra' conjures up images of bar-room tables, a smoky atmosphere, and a lounge singer crooning songs like 'Fly me to the Moon' or 'Strangers in the Night'.
It doesn't necessarily prepare you for this gripping drama. Instead of the café setting suggested by the title, the audience is looking at a stark office, where a dogged FBI Special Agent interviews figures from the life of Frank Sinatra, ferreting out the truth about Sinatra's darker acts: his treatment of women, his associations with the mob, even, the FBI man maintains, his connections to the death of JFK.
This structure is brilliantly realised in Peter Harrison's play, and brought to life, under David Beddy's direction, by a highly talented ensemble. Patsy Roberts brings Sinatra's formidable mother, Dolly, bootlegger, abortionist to life; his first wife, Nancy, tragically faithful to him, despite his infidelities and re-marriages is conveyed movingly by Dawn Flint, and Caroline Hickey plays a trio of women who crossed Sinatra's path during his life. Alongside them, we have David Reynolds' poignant and witty performance as Peter Lawford, broken by being cut from Sinatra's circle, and Mark Butt as the FBI man, a consistently driving force through the play, determined to uncover the truth about Sinatra.
But at the centre of the play stand two towering performances from Martin Oldfield. As Nick Sevano, he is funny, but pathetically touching, as the man who could have been Sinatra, but failed to be recognised as a singer, failed to gain the respect of the mob, failed to win the love of Nancy - and yet somehow you wonder if he might have been the lucky one. And as mob boss, Sam Giancarna, he gives a simply terrifying performance of quiet menace, eyeballing the audience through his wraparound sunglasses.
Don't be put off if you're a Sinatra fan and don't want to see your hero blackened - despite the dark side of his life that this play so well portrayed, the legend, the songs, the voice, all tower over this performance. It is an excellent evening's theatre.
The Old Hall Pauper's Pit, Sunday 10th July 2005
Macmurders.com, a new play by Leighton Churchill, is just the kind of challenging drama we like to see on the Fringe.
The scene is set as the audience assembles. Two characters face the back wall. A maid sweeps incessantly. She's watchful, alert. As the play begins, it is she who introduces the characters. As the play ends, it is clear she's been in charge all along.
This is on one level a story of a dysfunctional family, on other levels about 21st century life: the obsessive quest for the perfect body, the perfect car, corporate greed, exploitation, international terrorism.
The actors give a riveting performance. Orlando Brooke is scarily convincing as the bulimic Betty and, as the boy Sonny, revoltingly adolescent. Johan Buckingham is, as Betty's weak plastic surgeon husband, indecisive and smarmy; as the dentist Dr Cadaver he manages to appear at once somewhat more sensitive and menacing. His Marie matches her adolescent twin in spoilt petulance. In contrast Sophie Brookes plays the pivotal rles of Maureen, Mavis and Madge who are in fact all the same character who observes, controls, stops time and appears to be in contact with an alien, or possible simply foreign, spymaster. Throughout Marie Juliette Beer provides background music, at one point getting carried away and taking over, forcing the action to stop.
As you can imagine the question and answer session at the end was extremely useful!
Apparently the progeny of the Theatre of the Absurd the work actually has a logical structure which informs the actors and the action. It is also very funny though the concentration required to follow the plot leave little time to express laughter. The best strategy is to let it flow and think about it later.
Terrific fun, very well delivered and just the thing for a Fringe!
July 16, 7.30pm and July 17, 2.30pm
As well as being a very satisfying event involving music, wine and delicious French food, Yvette is that rare and exciting thing, a brand new play that works on both a cerebral and emotional level.
Writer Anne Picken takes us back to 1886 and a tiny French village where a fourteen-year-old girl named Yvette (Laura Dawson) finds her lively intelligence constantly thwarted by the demands of her narrow-minded and God-fearing community. It is perhaps inevitable that when a handsome young artist arrives talking about finding paradise and breaking all the rules, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to him.
The first half of the play focuses very much on the dilemma she faces - whether to leave everything she knows to travel overseas with him or whether to please her mother and do her duty before God by marrying a local farmer with excellent prospects. At this point we feel our modern sensibilities urging self-fulfillment and experimentation but, without giving too much away, the second half demands that we re-think our notions of female freedom.
Laura Dawson as the young Yvette is particularly captivating, effortlessly developing from a bubbly teen to an anguished woman in a relationship that is spiraling out of control. It is slightly difficult to equate this Yvette with the older one (Gill Adamson) who remembers her life in flashback, but her role is in any case perhaps more of a narrator and in this the expressive Adamson (also the director) succeeds admirably.
The acting from all the major parts is effective and impassioned with Michael Robinson thrilling the audience with his rousing performance as the young farmer, Pierre, and Tom Vaughan creating a character of many fascinating facets as the alluring artist, Leo. Etruria Café Theatre is a professional company which offers a chance for young people to become involved as well and while their performances are not quite so polished, they add a freshness to the event as a whole.
A particular attraction of the show (apart from the food: mushroom galettes - well, oatcakes - wine, fruits of the forest soaked in more wine...) is the fantastically professional and atmospheric live music masterminded by Barbara Barron with some intriguing percussion from younger members of the troupe.
Well staged with the audience at flower-decorated tables on both sides of the actors, this is, all in all, a Fringe 'experience' in the best possible way and the gratifyingly large audience on Saturday night was gripped throughout.
The Old Clubhouse, July 11-14, 7.30pm
There has been a huge upsurge of interest in the poet Philip Larkin over the last few years with recent tributes including Tom Courtenay's one-man show 'Pretending to be Me' and Susanna White's 2003 BBC2 drama 'Love Again' starring Hugh Bonneville as Larkin.
I see now that Ben Brown's Larkin with Women, written in 1999, was a key inspiration for 'Love Again', focusing as it does on the Hull poet's tangled relationships with three women - his longterm lover, Monica, innocent Catholic girl, Maeve, and his down-to-earth secretary, Betty.
fragile theatre are no strangers to the Fringe with past successes having included Fish in the Sea, A Woman of Uncertain Age and last year's Fringe Award-nominated Huis Clos. Here they are in their element with each actor relishing the wit and sensitivity of Brown's intelligent script. Slick direction comes from John Wood with strains of jazz and extracts from Larkin's funny, thoughtful poetry making even the simple scene changes interesting.
Langley Brown, who returned to acting in 2004 after a break of over a quarter of century, is extremely comfortable in the role of Larkin, a celebrity poet but also a rather unglamorous figure who worked for years as a university librarian. Although there is much to disparage in his treatment of women, we cannot help warming to his avuncular charm and debunking asides about virginity being 'just an undeveloped talent' or marriage being 'a rather morbid idea' like 'a fight to the death'.
Helen Grady as the assured Monica cleverly conveys her love of the man (unwavering despite her knowledge of his infidelity), while Sarah Cheshire as Maeve develops from a fresh-faced head girl figure to an embittered yet still faithful older woman. Sorrel Thomas makes up the triumvirate as Larkin's ultra-sane secretary who surprises the audience by letting down her hair to become a voluptuous sexual partner while remaining his friend and colleague.
The inevitable death scene manages to be both tragic and farcical with the three women finally coming face to face as Larkin lies dying in hospital. Larkin's terror of death has been a motif throughout the play but so too has love, and in extremis, the poet gives into passion rather than cowardice. The 'Don Juan of Hull' finds at last that there is no call for despair. 'I've been lucky. On the whole, people have treated me better than I've treated them'.
The Old Club House - 15th July 2005
This new play written by Frank Bramwell marks a departure for Heart Productions away from the world of Shakespeare into the modern world.
Sally, a singer, and Phil, songwriter/guitarist, arrive early at a famous venue to rehearse for a gig. Phil hopes Sally will help him impress the promoters he has invited with a new inspiring version of the old classic Love Hurts. Sally wants Phil to recapture the spotlight with some new writing of his own. Slowly, they draw out from one another the pain of their failed relationships. Together, they create a new song Crossing the Line, about the difficulty of confronting the fact that a relationship is over. Ultimately, however, they are exploring the perils and possibilities of crossing the line into a new one.
Alan Groucott playing Phil and Maggie Grace playing Sally have obviously put a lot of thought into capturing this moment of revelation for the two characters. And Maggie has a wonderful voice perfect for the song created before our eyes.
For me, however, they (and the writing, directing team behind them) haven't quite captured the entirely natural believable theatre they are aiming for. Maybe some work on the stage directions and script would help: a little less moving of stools and downing of shots; more of the confusions and interruptions of conversation; an earlier revelation of the origin of the fake American accent so that the audience understands its dramatic intent rather than feels the actor is at fault.
A Fringe is a place for trying new work and learning from the experience so I hope the company take this criticism as it was intended and move on to make a good production even better.
The Old Hall Pauper's Pit
Thurs 14th July 2005
Hannah and Hanna written by John Retallack is a moving story representing in a simple way some complicated truths about human nature. Two 16 year-old girls meet in Margate. For Hannah, this is her hometown. She says she hates it but, under the influence of her BNP boyfriend, she still resents the arrival of Kosovan refugees. For Hanna, Margate represents a new start, a place of asylum where she can escape the persecution of her home country. At first, Hannah's prejudice keeps the two girls apart, but her underlying humanity eventually allows her to discover through song the bond she has with Hanna.
The two actors in this production give consummate performances. Rachael McCormick playing Hannah portrays powerfully the English girl's journey from the certainties of her racist attitudes to the pain and confusion evoked by her developing friendship with the Kosovan girl. She discovers for herself what it feels like to need asylum. Nicola Thorp playing Hanna conveys beautifully a demure, deeply scarred girl, determined to move on from her horrendous experiences. She discovers the strength to confront her past.
In Yer Space have a reputation for bringing challenging drama and talented young actors to the Fringe. Their entry this year is certainly no exception.
Further performances to the 17th.
13 July 2005, St John's Church
Here is a 'new' Wind in the Willows, faithful to the spirit of Kenneth Grahame's original, energetically undertaken by four versatile players. The charming songs, written specially for this production, carry the story along, underlining the characters of the animals - making it The Wind in the Willows: the Musical.
Toad is green, even to his vivid socks, and the other animals have headdresses (rather than masks) which make them clearly different from the humans played by the same multi-tasking actors. The costumes are good and the setting simple, car crashes, and the climactic fight with the Wild Wooders, happening off-stage with tremendous sound effects.
Ratty and Mole are charming, and Badger wise, but the star is always Toad, and Michael Brooksbank makes the most of him, boasting, swaggering, wriggling out of every difficulty, despairing and then totally forgetting that despair to chase after the next new thing, always delighted to be his own hero. By a happy combination of the original story, the adaptation and the acting, the animals are 3D, engaging both our interest and our sympathy.
The only pity was that the audience was tiny by current Buxton Fringe standards. The actors are professionals, who maybe haven't had to do their own publicity before? We can hope they'll geet more people in for their next show, for there must be any number of people of all ages out there who'd enjoy this show. The gleeful small be who whispered "He's escaping!" as Toad scampered past in disguise, was experiencing the excitement of the story and the theatre. He thought it was lovely, and so it was.
A lycanthrope is defined as someone suffering from lycanthropy. a form of insanity in which the patient believes himself to be a wolf or a beast of any kind. And there was certainly not much in the way of sanity in this macabre tale.
A collection of unsavoury looking characters are incarcerated in what may be hell and is definitely not heaven but anyway looks pretty unpleasant, They seem to be unable to leave which would be high on the list of options of normal people. One of them is the lycanthrope who, it turns out, has been responsible for the deaths of all the others and rather revels in that while spooky music the sound of dripping water and low level lighting heighten the atmosphere.
The lycanthrope does not, of course, actually turn into a werewolf or indeed anything else. Being insane he only thinks he has transmogrified but nevertheless he has several attempts at biting the necks of young ladies but with no apparent consequence either to the ladies or the lycanthrope.. In the midst of all this a game show erupts with the MC offering the winner an interview with Mr. Satan.
The characters who speak give us some of their history and as well their extensive views on life and death. A lot of this is deliberately provocative and profane. .Finally an attempt is made to kill the lycanthrope but since he is already dead these efforts seemed doomed to fail.
The Fringe programme flags this production as a must see for theologians or fans of spooks and werewolves - which says it all really.
More performances on 12,13. 15 and 16 July at 8.00pm in th Orchestra Pit, Old Hall Hotel.
Venue 21a - The Old Clubhouse Studio
On the day that Radio 4 listeners named Karl Marx as the most significant philosopher it seemed fitting to see what may well be the most subversive play on offer at this year's Fringe.
Commercial Breaks is set in an advertising agency - a parasitic industry if ever there was one (insult intended). Three women workers live lives of deceit and fantasy - both professionally and privately. The play tells the story of how these lies unravel. In work that brings few rewards and with, apparently, arid personal lives the characters look for fulfilment in creating fictions of their own and trying to catch-out their colleagues. Inevitably this creates anxieties, tensions and stress. Capitalism - as represented by the world of advertising - is shown to destroy personal creativity and responsibility. Like I say, the most subversive play in town. [Though this may not be the reading writers Patrick Gordon and Astrid Ayers intended].
This is Moving Talent's second offering at this year's Fringe - a new play, The Return has completed its run. Commercial Breaks was first seen last year. It is a neatly plotted and written and is well-served by the actors Lynda Ward, Dianne Langley and Karen Nicholas who work well as an ensemble. [Whether this is a 'feminine' play in any sense may be worth discussing. No one tries to 'steal' the show, the play is about the virtues of honesty and collaborative industry].
For the characters Abby, Joy and Lissa it is only when they come to see what they have in common, what unites them, that they are able to work together and be honest. Trades Unionism in practice!
So, this second chance may well the last chance to see Commercial Breaks - and, returning to Marx, we should remember "History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
Commercial Breaks can also be seen on Thursday, 14 July.
When three friends meet up for a reunion, the secrets unravel and take us somewhere to territory between Midsomer Murders and Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. We initially see the main characters on stage side by side but, through good direction, they are evidently worlds apart, reading the letters that will bring them fatefully together once more.
There is some warmth at first -the recollection of stories of sunbathing on the beach as friends are reunited but a sense of menace creeps in. Edward is introduced into the conversation and cleverly the character we never quite see somehow dictates the action - his face watches the action unfold.
The story proceeds in the tradition of the murder mystery - why is Lian the only killer in the house and whose blood was on the scones? What exactly happened to young Teddy on the beach?
The play cleverly peppers the action with an array of apparently unrelated conundrums then moves on with good sense of pace to tie everything up. You could almost hear the audience saying 'Ahh! as we began to understand.
Nicola, played by Lynda Ward, carries much of the responsibility for this as she transforms herself by degrees from a taciturn hostess into a steely-eyed, chilling settler of old grievances. Nicola was utterly disturbing and superbly acted. Lian has a tough challenge also in fading before our eyes whist trying to talk though and understand how matters came to pass in this way.
The dialogue itself is well crafted - that knife, used in the kitchen so many years ago is recalled as Lian experiences a poisonous twisting feeling in her stomach. Revenge is sweet. Lian's after-dinner pain is played out against a well-chosen, fairly stark, down- lit set.
The foundation of the play is the triangle. So often there are two actors on stage so the conversation can focus on things about the third person or cover matters out of her hearing. The audience begins to get the picture and sees the traps being set. This is excellent.
There are some nice details in the direction. For example the phone has been cut off (well it had to be really) then rings too late to save the situation. Great stuff.....
There some unanswered questions in this play - how did Meredith get Lian to perform so serious a crime all those years ago and why do Nicola and Meredith own half of the Golconda estate each? Meredith has already manipulated several rich men but who can call the shots from now on - Nicola or Meredith? Whose parent made the fortune that would enable them to buy a place and name it after an Indian hill fort?
The audience really were left wanting more and they brought the cast out for an extra accolade. We were very engaged and would quite willingly have stayed to get these questions answered.
I hope Mr Gordon and Ms Ayres look again at this piece of work as it does have the scope for a longer and equally first class thriller.
The small auditorium was full for the opening night and the only criticism was that we were packed in as if the seats had been borrowed from a low cost airline.
Old Hall, Pauper's Pit
So there's an Englishman, an Irishman and an American, locked in a room in the Lebanon ...
No, it's not a joke. It's the premise of Frank McGuinness' brilliantly crafted play, clearly inspired by the real-life stories of the Beirut hostages, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan. Edward, an Irish journalist, and Adam, an American doctor, have been kidnapped and chained to a wall. They are joined by an English academic, Michael, and the play follows their enforced relationship - sometimes supportive, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes imaginative.
The cast - Michael McKrell as Michael, Simon Norbury as Adam and James Scales as Edward - were consistently excellent, their portrayals nuanced and delicate. The intelligent script plays with the archetypes of their nationalities: the Irishman is poetic and volatile; the Englishman prissy and intellectual, but it is a testament to the quality of both the quality of the writing and the performances that it never descends into stereotypes.
Such is the sheer pace and intricacy of the dialogue, you are required to concentrate throughout. This is not a show that can wash over you: if you are willing to give the three wonderful performers time to let their characters impress upon you (as you should!) then the rewards are high. It takes a little while to adjust to the breathless energy of James Scales' character of Edward, nevertheless, this performance alone must be a highlight for the Fringe this year.
With its subject matter, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me could have become depressing or dismal. In reality, however, it is a moving, sometimes very funny, and more than anything else, exceptionally true evocation of the human spirit in times of crisis. In the current times of the War on Terror and the recent events in London, it also has an extra punch, with the prisoners confusion at their predicament - 'Do these children holding us have a reason for hating us?' - particularly resonant.
On a point of clarification, the play is longer than advertised (just over 2 hours) so Fringe-goers will need to factor that into their plans when deciding what to see. Starting at 10.15 on the first night, it made Someone Who'll Watch Over Me a late night, but one to be highly recommended.
Robbie Carnegie and Jason Stevens
Buxton Community School
In Dark Journey, Michael Burnham presents a compelling portrait of John Clare, arguably the finest nature poet England has produced. Using Clare's 90 mile walk to freedom from an Epping lunatic asylum to his home in Northamptonshire as the central theme of the show, Burnham gives a virtuoso performance, that leaves the audience breathless.
The journey begins with a barrage of madness. We are presented with Clare's two alter egos - Lord Byron and the prize-fighter Jack Randall. (Like Clare himself, you will need all your wits about you at this point.) Lucidity follows however when the poet recalls the two loves of his life and describes how he went AWOL to reconnect with them, spending three penniless days and two nights in the cold, sleeping with his head pointing north. The escape becomes a metaphor for Clare's journey through life, and a metaphor for our own lives too.
Michael Burnham's performance is spellbinding. He inhabits so completely Clare's complex persona. The language - much of it Clare's own words - is effortlessly convincing. We are presented not just with a life story but also with life's "sighs and wishes".
My wish for the production is that it goes on playing to full houses for the rest of the week. My only two (slight) sighs are that it deserves a more intimate venue and that it didn't give me quite enough of Clare's poetry. So here he is, singing like a nightingale:
'Chew-chew chew-chew' and higher still
'Cheer-cheer cheer-cheer' more loud and shrill
'Cheer-up cheer-up cheer-up' - and dropt
Low 'Tweet tweet jug jug jug' and stopt
One moment just to drink the sound
Her music made and then a round
Of stranger witching notes was heard
As if it was a stranger bird
'Wew-wew ew-wew chur-chur chur-chur
'Woo-it woo-it' - could this be her
'Tee-rew tee-rew tee-rew tee-rew
'Chew-rit chew-rit' - and ever new
'Will-will will-will grig-grig grig-grig'.
Words don't get more evocative than that.
John Clare was known as the "Peasant Poet". A down to earth son of Northamptonshire soil, he was a man who preferred describing a sheep shearing in June to wandering "lonely as a cloud". His first volume of poetry was enthusiastically received by the literati, though he never saw the money, and patrons followed. Unhappily they preferred 'ownership' to support and much of his early work has had to be restored from their editorial interference. His observation on the funeral of Byron - "It is better to be loved by the poor and humble for an undisguised honesty than to be honoured by the gentry for a practised hypocrisy" tells us what he thought of their patronage.
His native village of Helpstone was Clare's Eden and Mary, the 'wife' he never married, his Eve. But Mary was lost to him and he married Patty whom he had made pregnant and eventually he lost Helpstone too as his patrons provided him with a smallholding in Northborough. This move, lamented in "The Flitting" and so much other writing, proved his final undoing. Able, as he says, to be miserably happy or happily miserable anywhere Clare finally admitted himself to an asylum in Essex. Here he came to believe he was imprisoned for bigamy and continued to write letters to Mary (who had been dead some years) often conflating her with Patty whom he also loved in his way. He also came to believe he was Lord Byron, among other people, writing further cantos to Childe Harold and Don Juan.
This monologue, written and performed by Michael Burnham, is the story of Clare's escape and the ninety mile journey on foot to his home. Much of the tale is told in Clare's own words from his diary "Journey out of Essex" but great skill is used to let the journey tell the tale of Clare's life, often bringing in pieces from his other writings. Clare's character as an honest and humble true poet fond of beer and women and his confusion and delusion, is before us from the start. The audience come to love Clare as his portrayer clearly does.
Sadly Clare comes home but finds "no Mary" and here we leave the tale. Within a year Clare was back in an asylum, this time in Northampton, where he and his poetry were cared for lovingly by the steward, W. F. Knight, and there he died in 1864.
No doubt many of the audience already knew Clare but after this excellent portrayal they \knew him better. Let us hope that many more come to know him. There are further performances to the end of the Fringe in the Community School Drama Studio.
An exhaustive biography by Jonathan Bate has recently been published by Picador and there are good anthologies available, often edited by Eric Robinson.
7 Boats, 7 Islands, 7 Voyages, 1 Old Narrator, and loads of Puppets.
The story starts off in Babylon, which we now know as Iraq, where Sinbad sets off on his first voyage which ends in disaster after landing on a monstrous whale!!
The next voyage doesn't go too well either after he stumbles across an egg. After this he sets sail again but then meets pirates, which are scared off when the audience is prompted to join in.
If you are called Ali watch out for ogres.
The next 2 boats are destroyed and you are greeted by cannibals who are going to eat you (good drumming in this bit as well). On this island there are beautifully crafted scenes as well as a sparkling palace.
Next we had a projector problem just to add to the story. After harbouring safely twice FINALLY, the show comes to a great end and just to add to it we were shown 2 of the puppets after the performance.
Beautiful scenery, cereal box-made shadow puppets - overall very good!!!!
I would recommend that this be watched by children younger than I am.
Reviewed by Eddie Bisknell (Age 12)
The programme poses the question Whatever happened to Mrs Lear? An intriguing thought for endless speculation But what this play also focussed-on was Lear's succession - a matter of supreme importance in Shakespeare's time. With no son, could the kingdom be left to a daughter notwithstanding the recent precedent of two English queens regnant. Without a queen Lear has no option but to do just that.
The three daughters are introduced to us by the Fool , a peach of a part grippingly played by Verity May Henry, How she could tell such dreadful jokes and get away with it was a miracle! Additional historical detail was supplied by the girl's Nanny calmly played by Abigail Andjel. We are led through the circumstances of the princesses birth their brief relationship with the now absent mother and their strange connections with the King himself. In spite of his slow decline into madness Lear's carnal desires seem to have been undiminished
The three princesses, as might be expected, have very different characters and these were admirably conveyed by Aisling Caffrey as a charming Cordelia the king's favourite, Rebecca Wright as a the uncertain Regan and Lucy Egerton an assured eldest sister Goneril realising that she might soon be queen.. All three ponder the future until resolution comes, as we know from Shakespeare, by way of the marriages of Goneril and Regan with no provision for Cordelia.
Minimalist staging with just a decorated box for each daughter and the nurse to sit on was very effective -the poor fool had to sit on the ground beside a small wheelbarrow of props. Overall a powerful drama presented with strong confidence and as a result most compelling.
More performances on 12 July at 4.00pm and 10.00pm in the Paupers Pit
Venue: The Pauper's Pit. Old Hall Hotel
Date: 9 July 2005
A snippet of a prologue, from 'The Seagull' followed by four short plays; unconnected (although talk of bed bugs in two of them may leave you sympathetically itching), but with a running theme of relationships - from the bigamist, would-be-adulterer in 'Voynitsky Junction', argumentative proposals in 'The Proposal' and 'The Bear' and the hen-pecked husband in 'Smoking Can Seriously Damage Your Health'
The first half was the stronger. 'Voynitsky Junction' - apparently never completed as a play before - was nicely played with the actors establishing the characters and the setting quickly. A bigamist on his way to a court hearing shares a waiting room with a young woman and her ageing husband. There's a twist at the end, which I imagine most of the audience saw coming, but that did not diminish their enjoyment.
A set, costume and accent change clearly marked the transition to a different play and new characters. 'The Proposal' was my favourite section of the evening. As a play it allows the actors to really throw themselves into their parts, which they did with great gusto. A farmer calls in on his neighbours to ask for the daughter's hand in marriage, but arguments over land ownership and dogs get in the way. This piece requires the dialogue to snap back and forwards and the actors kept up the necessary pace.
The second half opened with a monologue from Mike Brown, playing a down-trodden husband. It was nicely done, but I missed the interaction with the rest of the cast set up in the first half.
In 'The Bear' a widow, determined as a point of principle to stay faithful to her dead (unfaithful) husband is challenged by the Lord Flashheart-esque man come to collect the debt owed by her husband. 'The Bear' took a little while to get going, and never quite managed to reach the pace or heights of 'The Proposal'
The house was full, and the audience clearly enjoyed the evening. The three actors, Catherine Pugh, Richard Hazlewood and Mike Brown gave accomplished performances, using costume and accents to separate out the characters. Nods to the music hall with the change of title boards to remind the audience what they were watching (although these were out of eye-line for some) and the Crazy Gang exits.
Old Club House
For those whose only experience of Dracula has been through his various cinematic incarnations, it is easy to forget that he has his routes in the theatre. His creator, Bram Stoker, was a theatrical agent, and supposedly partly based the character of the imperious Count on the legendary actor-manager, Henry Irving. As well as playing the part successfully on film, Bela Lugosi also toured for decades in the role, even keeping his own coffins for whenever they might be required.
So, Dracula is as linked to the theatre as it is to the media of book or film. However, considering the psycho-sexual subtext of Stoker's text, it is a bold choice to be performed by school-age actors, as is the case in this production. It calls on extremes of experience and emotion which, perhaps, it is asking a lot for younger performers to convey. Valerie Goodwin's adaptation certainly doesn't down-play these aspects of the text, stretching the actors considerably.
It was courageous to cast a female Dracula - it would seem to be such a quintessentially masculine role. However, Kirsty Moore is does remarkably well in the role, with her long hair and strong profile, she has a powerfully androgynous presence and an understated danger. The casting is similarly imaginative when it comes to Ethne Grey-Still, in the two (male) roles of Van Helsing and Renfield. While she worked hard to carry this off, the changes of costume and character, I feel, put a strain on what would otherwise have been well imagined characterisations - perhaps it would have been fairer to cast her as one or the other, rather than both. Georgia Collins rose to the challenge of Lucy, throwing herself into her gradual descent into vampirism with aplomb.
In a small venue like the Club House, they are perhaps hindered by a standing set - for a Fringe show, this has quite a large cast, and the set did result occasionally in restrictions of movement. However, I found the device of the veiled, wraith-like figures, a sort of living scenery in themselves, effective. When they emerged as the Brides of Dracula it was as if they had appeared from the walls. I feel that a simple black box, with these phantom-like figures, and Douglas Dare's evocative music, would have served the production just as well in setting the scene without physical flats which had to be moved around.
In general, the actors are to be commended for their hard work and enthusiasm. Their characterisation and, in particular, accents were well sustained, although more work could be done on clarity of diction. However, it is to be applauded that TASTE Productions have attempted to push the envelope beyond what might usually be performed by a youth cast.
Old Club House
In the world of musical theatre, the sub-genre of the sci fi/ rock 'n' roll musical is a fruitful one. The Rocky Horror Show and Return to the Forbidden Planet both trod this path to great success. In their entry into this medium, TASTE Productions bring a tale of small-town America sometime in the mid-20th Century - are the parents of the town being taken over by alien invaders, or is it just a case of generational misunderstanding?
The story is punctuated by well-known musical numbers, some sung by the cast, some backing tracks for the energetic dance routines. These were well chosen for the most part - songs such as the B-52s' 'Planet Claire' and 'Love Shack', Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's 'Monster Mash' and Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder's 'Together in Electric Dreams' setting the tone for a camp and kitsch theatrical experience.
The key to this kind of show is for the cast to throw themselves into it, and that was certainly true of the youthful performers here. They understood the arch nature of the story and conveyed it with an exuberance which was infectious. The central 'Scooby Gang' were all very likeable, particularly Sean Clothier's skilfully impersonated Elvis-clone, Alvin, Emily Smith's sensible Waldo (clearly inspired by Buffy's Willow) and Molly Crosby's attractive and flirtatious Gilly. Ziggy Gray was full of bubbly energy as Zelma and displayed an impressive singing voice, of which I would have liked to have heard more. Also of note amongst the supporting players was Florence Jones, a tiny dynamo of energy and a promising physical comedienne.
I would have liked to have seen the show build to a rather more obviously punchy finale. Perhaps if the final number had been sung, rather than simply danced to, it would have sent the audience off with a bit more of a zing at the end of an enjoyably silly show.
Club House Studio.
In a word: Brilliant. I am not usually a fan of the one man show but what amazed me here was that I literally felt like there were countless different characters on the stage. Glenn Naden plays the suave, flirtatious, revengeful Don Juan, recounting his life story of sexual awakenings. If you're easily offended by innuendo and sometimes relatively explicit content, then this show is not for you, however I would recommend this show to most people because it is really hilarious.
Naden acts out the different characters he meets, bringing to live his fantastic story. He often portrays the characters with English regional dialects which gives you the impression that the play is in Spanish and that your brain is almost translating it. The set is very basic and the location cosy, but Naden uses physical theatre to capture the audience. I know Spain very well and would never have believed a small room in Buxton could portray the same flavour and atmosphere until this play.
The only thing I knew about this play when I entered the room was that Naden had won best actor at Leek Festival. I was immediately shown why he was so acclaimed. He manages his lines beautifully, never confusing a character or an accent. There is a passion in the play that seeps out into the audience, Don Juan has such a reputation with women that you wonder if any actor could ever live up to it. From the smiles of the women around me in the packed out audience, I would say Glenn Naden certainly achieves the exquisite charm.
A brilliant piece of theatre that is wonderfully funny and also a little heartbreaking.
15th July 6.30 pm
If you have never seen a Shakespeare play performed in the open air then this is an ideal opportunity to experience the Bard's words in a unique natural setting. 'Romeo and Juliet', predominantly set on the streets of 'fair Verona', is perfectly suited to al fresco and holds a resonance with the street violence of today.
The cleverly directed balcony scene allowed for Juliet's words to be carried by the wind, calling to Romeo's eager ears in a production that used the youth of its cast to advantage. The acoustics were aided by the tiered set design, enabling the actors to maintain the intimacy needed to convey the required voice dynamics.
The nurse displayed the ability to find the humour in her lines and transform into the character of an 'ancient' lady. The friendly banter between the 'Montague Trio' showed a relaxed understanding of the complex Shakespearean speech rhythms. The importance of the part of Mercutio was emphasised by the actor's excellent use of the stage and dramatic movements, adding an edge of humour to the pathos of the play, and a good contrast to the mellow nature of Romeo.
The portrayal of Juliet as a 'bud of love' was gentle, with a vital edge, which worked well, alluring and in control. The second half demanded a range of emotion delivered by Juliet and the nurse, who had the power to carry these dark scenes of poison and impending death.
The use of modern costume emphasised the youth of the cast, individualised jeans injected personality to each role, the apothecary dressed as a seedy drug dealer was comic relief to the fast paced action of the final scenes. The energy in other roles, such as the strutting, fiery Lady Capulet and the loyal, passionate Tybalt made the production visually exciting, without the help of electronic gadgetry, just as Shakespeare intended.
Bess is heralded into the twenty first century by the theme from Dr. Who, and after noisily knocking back the contents of a bottle of booze emerges from a white coffin, in her underwear, to demand the attention of the audience, her inferiors, immediately.
As advertised Bess is bawdy, belligerent, boisterous, bloody-minded, and I would add- bitchy, and better-looking than her publicity photo would have us believe. Her posture and raised chin assure us that she is a lady, if not by birth, by ambition. She moves dynamically, and gracefully. Her delivery is intelligent, and her voice clear. Her facial expressions indicate her thought processes and her moods change like quicksilver. She is humorous. Her eyes sparkle and flash, and her eye-contact with the audience is fearless and challenging.
Bess tells of her drive, her four husbands, her desire for wealth and a dynasty, and her successful avoidance of attention during times of religious upheaval. She recounts a series of entertaining tales, aided by Digby, her gap-toothed retainer who produces the appropriate visual-on-a-stick prop. Digby is a peasant presence when required, adding humour with the sly sidelong glance of the under-dog.
A one person show may be structured around the character portrayed or around the actor. Here I felt the actress had lots more in her repertoire that as Bess she could have shared with us. It would be interesting to know how or by whom the piece was devised/written.
The dialogue is witty, but I was uneasy with it to begin with, as there is a bit too much emphasis on the dialect, which to my ear shunted around the Midlands, but then so, according to Bess, did she! However, some splendid old expressions fitted in seamlessly.
The mainly down-stage playing works well in this auditorium, with its low ceiling and raked seats. Bess's little jigs around the coffin compensated for the lack of strong diagonal movement.
The incidental music was neatly conceived, and 'Non, je regrette rien' was a clever coda!
One male audience member punctuated the performance with a laugh, on average, every minute and a half. There were lots of quiet chortles. As people left the auditorium many were smiling. Our audience with Bess had been delightful.
The Pauper's Pit
21st July 2005
This is an interesting juxtaposition of two late 19th century works: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, and Anton Chekhov's The Proposal.
I hadn't heard of Perkins Gilman, but now gather that she is a leading figure in the development of American female novelists. The Yellow Wallpaper is a novella, dramatised and given an English rather than American location for this Fringe production by Pete Meakin. It arose out of the author's experience of depression, and more crucially out of the ineffectual damaging treatment she was subjected to.
Julia is brought to a country mansion for a rest-cure by her physician husband John. She is increasingly confined to one room, a former nursery on the top floor. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that others have been incarcerated there. In the absence of other stimulation, Julia develops a fascination for the yellow wallpaper. She perceives a woman trapped behind its complex pattern and becomes obsessed with freeing her. Fiona Shelton gives a child-like mischievous portrayal of Julia. She draws us into her plight and we watch fascinated as she escapes into madness. Vaughan Saxby playing John is little seen on stage but, having established his character's unfeeling arrogance, is a constant presence nevertheless.
The production of Chekhov's The Proposal is a complete contrast in style. Playing in masks in cross-gender roles, the actors go straight for high farce and give very funny performances. Chekhov's story is about a proposal of marriage but his subject is petty pride, and his suitors soon descend to futile pantomime ('yes it is'/'no it isn't') argument over land and dogs. The object of the visit is soon forgotten. Chekhov takes a rather lofty patronising look at the manners of the peasant farmer class like so many before him but the result is hilarious.
The audience loved it and you will too.
Pauper's Pit, Old Hall Hotel
Having never visited this venue before, the size was quite a shock but perfect for the intimacy of this play. If you're the type who sits at the back rustling sweets this play is not for you, the audience is in the thick of the action and the story needs your attention because the multiple characters are reasonably complex. There were some first night jitters and technical difficulties but the actors worked very well in the space.
If you're a Freud virgin, like myself, this play provides a wonderful snapshot into Freud's interesting relationship with his patients and the kind of "diseases" that developed his teachings. There is a lot of sexual reference and innuendo so I wouldn't advice you to bring children but any young adult (say 14 and over) would enjoy the unravelling story of sexual confusion.
This play portrays a difficult family situation and a girl who can't quite understand where she places herself in the midst of it. Three very talented and very different young women portray Dora, which means it is easy to see the different strands of her personality. Sarah Holden engages the audience beautifully as Dora recounting her story of being involved in "something nasty" by the lake. Jenny Blackwood and Catherine Marsh brilliantly compliment each other as the Dora's of the past, perfectly coordinating some very difficult speeches. Due to the intimate staging the brightness of Jenny's blue eyes and the sultriness of Catherine's draw the audience in further to this ever-evolving plot.
The three gentleman of the play (two parts played by women) interestingly play off each other with Graham Marriott's disturbing and slightly comic portrayal of Freud's connection to this young girl. Mr Kay played by Lucy Collings is suitably sleazy without going over the top and Cynthia Edwards is equally creepy as the wonderfully pompous father of Dora. Kathryn Higginbottom provides effortless elegance as the beautiful Mrs Kay.
If you're feeling slightly voyeuristic, and compelled by the lure of someone else's problems, then this a fantastic way to learn a spot of psychology and experience what Derby University's best young talent has to offer.
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most perfectly constructed plays and with good reason, one of the most popular in the theatre. And many of us also recall the film version in which Edith Evans acted everyone else out of sight and almost fixed for ever the character of Lady Bracknell. It is inevitable therefore that we make comparisons with the film characters or with productions seen before.
Wild shows and Feasts gave us a production in the charmingly decorated bandstand in the Pavilion Gardens, looking particularly beautiful in the warm summer evening, with characters quite different to any this reviewer had seen before. We had a Lady Bracknell who at first acquaintance seemed not much more than a well mannered and polite if rather aristocratic old lady but on learning of the dubious origins of Jack Worthing with fine controlled acting gradually became a terrifying and steely hearted monster; a Gwendolen whose mercurial temperament switched with incredible rapidity from pleasure to anger with her all-important diary concealed in her outrageous headdress and an athletic Reverend Cannon Chasuble mysteriously armed with a fencing foil. But the result was an evening of pure pleasure enhanced even more with interval drinks served by Lane the butler.
This is without doubt one of the most delightful drama productions to have arrived on the Fringe. Find time if you can to see it!
A one man Hamlet is a brave and intelligent thing to try.
The incorporeal characters are ambiguous - do they exist invisible to us or are they the creations of Hamlet's mental torment? And it is this torment that is so forcefully embodied by this rendition of the play. The focus is entirely on Hamlet. We see events through his eyes, we learn of them as he does. The audience is not privy to the events that happen "off-stage". We know what Hamlet knows and learn as he does of the developing tragedy. There is a stronger sense of his madness than will ever be possible in the complete play.
But this is a complete play; faithful to Shakespeare and intensified by the immediacy of the audience's relation to Hamlet. The bravery lies in one man being all with no support or reaction from the rest of the cast. The actor must more truly become Hamlet than in any conventional production. Your reviewer's thoughts strayed to the possibilities of a One Man Macbeth or Lear? A complement to "Lear's Daughters" perhaps, also on the Fringe this year.
The work was created by Andrew Cowie in 1990 and has seen many Fringes including Edinburgh and Adelaide where it won a Festival Fringe First. Will, an Australian himself, has performed it in Berlin recently and honours Buxton with a fine performance. For those familiar with the play this work will ask new questions and bring new insights. It is a play to provoke thought which is one of the things a Fringe is for!