Theatre Reviews

9.47am - Connect:4

Connect:4 - Scott Flynn, Nikita Lane, Rici Pidduck and Elizabeth Sale

9:47am is a contemporary piece of drama, evolved from an A-Level project, which focuses upon the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centres that took place on 11 September 2001. Tackling major historical events in art can often prove tricky but, astutely, the piece does not strive towards an explanation of the political significance of the event, nor does it err towards sentimentalism. Rather, Connect:4 explore the horrifying actual reality of the day, re-presenting to the audience the period of time surrounding the attacks by magnifying the personal experiences of individuals who were directly involved. Thus, 9:47am presents an important counter-perspective to the anaesthetized 'reality' many of us received via our televisions at home.

In order to effectively communicate the horror of these individual accounts, Connect:4 endeavour to coax the audience into the performance from the beginning; we are encouraged to experience this production, rather than passively observe. The audience is seated not by theatre attendants, but by air hostesses, and our senses are subsequently bombarded by a soundtrack comprised of authentic recordings of phone calls from victims onboard the hijacked flights, amid crashes and screaming, and by video footage of the attacks playing on the screen behind the actors. The utilization of multimedia resources is effective and at times makes for a chilling and uncomfortable experience, making Pauper's Pit a claustrophobic place to be. Although the production runs for only 30 minutes, 9:47am does not feel brief; with no conventional narrative governing the performance, our awareness of chronological time becomes distorted and this sensation of confusion mirrors the sense of hopeless bewilderment that defines these individual experiences as well as the almost incomprehensible scale of the attacks.

As a piece of theatre, 9:47am doesn't always work; the continuous shifts between time, place, and voice, whilst enabling multiple perspectives of the event, make the piece a little too fractured at times. Scenes are a little too brief to establish any genuine characterisation which somewhat dilutes the experience of watching these individuals live through the cataclysmic events, and as the performance progresses it becomes increasingly symbolic which can, at times, be a little opaque.

However, this ambitious piece of drama presents a laudable counterview of the most important event in recent global history and the student's decision to tackle this colossal subject deserves real credit. 9:47am proves a challenging and provocative production, displaying intelligent awareness of 9/11 as both a specific occurrence and as a symbolic historical entity; if you're looking for a performance that's both unconventional and substantial, this might be it.

Tom McCaldon

A Woman Of Uncertain Age by Maggie Dealey - Fragile Theatre

Helen Grady as Ruth in A Woman of Uncertain Age

Maggie Dealey, explores, with clever insight, the depression and courage of a single, middle aged woman, with a new baby.

The drama begins on a railway platform where Ruth is surrounded by luggage which one person would struggle with. She boards the train and begins to relate the story of her recent life.

This is charming play which tells the sad, but endearing, story of Ruth and how she deals with her loneliness and longings and with her lost luggage and love.

Helen Grady, who plays Ruth, admirably suits the role. She really owned the part. Her small gestures and glances that are so often missing in stage performances were clearly visible and added to the understanding and fun of the play.

The drama is told simply and has surprises as Ruth gradually reveals her story and her fears.

The production makes clever use of voice over, so we can hear what she was thinking and this technique together with spoken conversations, we had the variety to take in and enjoy her story.

Martin Wood

Absolute Pants - GlovesOff Productions

Patricia Hartshorne in Absolute Pants  (credit: Michael Elphick)

Patricia Hartshorne presents herself in front of her audience in the intimacy of the Shrewsbury Room in the Old Hall Hotel (not downstairs, go to hotel reception).

Behind me, sat Michael Elphick, co-writer. He was managing the sound system, some of which contained the music accompaniment to Patricia's songs, which were recorded by Clare Johnson. We were privileged to have Clare in the audience on the premier night of Absolute Pants.

In the literature we are given a list of things that we should expect to see in this performance. So I started to take count them off; to be honest, I was waiting for the fish-nets!

Patricia's focus from the start was to put us at our ease; once she achieved this, she joked and confided in us and we confided in her. I learned that some people are not that embarrassed about revealing to others they are Trekies!

For most of us, this show is a cabaret; fast and funny banter interspersed with song (l really liked the lyrics to the Bankers song and we all know what rhymes with banker); a delightfully light mix of humour and music. But I learned some very interesting things too! I learned about Anna Snell and Vesta Tilly whom I had never heard of before. I was intrigued.

When I say this was light entertainment, it absolutely was and I, with the rest of the audience, laughed, hugely at times, on the theme of men and women and who wears the pants; actually what are pants?

However, for me, there was something more interesting happening; it was an exploration of androgyny. Patricia discussed this, but tantalisingly so. She tells us that there is a period in our lives where we can 'be' absolutely anything but then, disappointingly, when we hit puberty and discover sexual stereotypes we are forced to choose. Until that moment we could have been anything we wanted but maybe we still can.

Patricia explores this idea in a very gentle and simple way and I was intrigued as to how the audience so easily accepted her premises. She got away with it through her humour and song.

Don't take all this seriously, I'm sure Patricia doesn't?

But, at the final count, Patricia 'is' Marlene. Her intrigue and fascination with this woman's life is infectious. Together with the stories she told of women in recent history who took on roles which made their sex ambiguous, this show was fascinating. I enjoyed the humour, even the silly cowboy jokes and sat 'stilled' for the songs, especially the Marlene French song. I was thrown the rose!

A really good evening. Thank You!

Martin Wood

Adventure Time - Three's Company

Comedy Trio (a.k.a. Three's Company) credit: Haz Al-Shaater

Everyone knows that you don't sit in the front rows for a performance of Three's Company, or should I say 'Therese Compagnie'? So when we proceeded to sit in the back rows, the cast urged us towards the front. "You'll enjoy the show more." They said. So we did as we were told and we needn't have worried at all. Well ...

The stage was set as a recording studio in a radio station and we were at a live recording of two episodes of a popular detective radio series 'Adventure Time'. The audience was warmed up and asked to take on the role of a studio audience. We learned to provide, with gusto, the correct level of applause, laughter and cheers, when requested. (Although, we became a little more than that as the performance progressed.)

In a line, on the stage, were four microphones, but only three performers. We were told that each actor was to play multiple characters in the radio drama and that the actress, who was due to play the female roles, would be late. But, since the show was 'live' they could not wait and they would, somehow, survive without her; and they surely did!

The first part of the radio drama (complete with special effects), was set at a party in a stately home and we witness the murder of Lord Barrington Smythe, who collapses and dies while giving an after dinner speech.

The stage setting is a radio station but the drama is a shadowy, moody mix of Marlowe and Cluedo but with the names changed to protect no-one.

Three's Company were on top form!

Martin, Jon and Jazz moved rapidly and pleasurably between the multiple roles of the story. The main characters were distinguished and remembered throughout, apart from one accidental switch of accent (or was it scripted? Let me know if it happens during your performance).

The clearly, hard worked script was delivered at Mach 1 speed and left me breathless but smiling. It was full of innuendo, satire and word play. The humour was also pitched at different levels for a varied audience and don't worry if you miss a gem or two, relax and you'll hear the next one.

This was a hugely entertaining show! There was enough wit to keep you smiling and plenty of 'laugh out loud' moments. There is lots more I want to tell you but it would spoil the surprises.

But, for a while, I was 'live', on Radio Four, as one of the heads of a hundred headed bartender from Venus.

Martin Wood

Animal Farm - Black Box Theatre School

A Spirited Production of Orwell's Classic Tale by a Young Cast Displaying Genuine Potential.

At lunch-time on Saturday I was lucky enough to witness a spirited performance of George Orwell's classic dystopian tale, Animal Farm, by a fine young cast of actors from the Black Box Theatre School in Merseyside.

Despite the cast's youth, their performance displayed the requisite maturity to ensure that Orwell's serious message regarding the corruption of political ideals was clearly communicated amid the entertainment, as the animals come to realise that, ultimately, profit rules. The production proved fun to watch and the characters were well-developed, whilst the shrewd introduction of a Greek chorus into Peter Hall's adaptation, who took up the narration of Orwell's novel between scenes, meant that the performance remained dynamic throughout.

Stage props were used creatively and economically, and included what I'm quite certain was the type of roller-cage I was once employed to push around Tesco on Saturday afternoons, which assumed at different times in the performance the guises of horse-cart, windmill and, rather gruesomely, execution chamber. The particularly indulgent execution scenes, which seemed to be carried out quite gleefully by the young actors, and the debate scenes in the barn, in which, with the whole cast of animals present, there was a great clamouring of voices, really added to the performance's atmosphere.

Special mention is reserved for Steph Green, whose menacing performance as the tyrannical Napoleon suggested genuine talent, and for Tom Martin, who played Napoleon's spin-doctor, Squealer, with sinister poise; although, it must be noted that the entire cast displayed potential, performing with a genuine passion for acting that really was refreshing to witness.

Unfortunately, if you missed both performances yesterday then you've missed your chance to see this production of Animal Farm, as its fleeting two-show run at the Fringe has now ended; however, I sincerely hope that we'll be seeing some of these young faces again in the not-too-distant future.


Anorak of Fire by Stephen Dinsdale - Planet Rabbit Productions Ltd

Anorak of Fire  (photo Helen Butler)

Buxton United Reform Church

You know from the title what you might be expecting and this production doesn't let you down. From Pramhood to almost losing his virginity, Gus introduces us to the secretive world of the Trainspotter.

None of the brashness of that other Trainspotting work, this is a far gentler tale of lost souls, lost to the joys of 'spotting'. Less a hobby and more a way of life, G. J. Gascoigne reveals his life story and the influence that 'spotting' has had on the many and varied facets of what it is, to be human.

We learn about life on Crewe station, the correct dress code, personal rivalries and even the Filth make their mark! There are some astonishing facts about 'spotting'; did you know for example that marriage is failing, birth rate is falling and 'spotting' is increasing! Fact! (apparently).

And then there is Jim O'Rourke. A legend. And it is his anorak that is the title of this piece.

All of this is delivered faultlessly by Chris Leach, who makes the character of Gus completely believable. This is a gentle comedy in the style many have come to love. The audience too seemed to love it, with chortles and laughs from those around me evidence of their enjoyment.

If you like a stroll through the psyche of the obsessed, unconcerned and honest then this is for you.

Ian Heath

Art - Bath University Student Theatre

Art by Yasmina Resa

Art is a very successful play. Like other works by Yasmina Reza it has played and won many awards around the globe. It is a three-hander divided into sections, mostly of dialogues between pairs interspersed with formal monologue expositions directed to the audience, and with one long explosive confrontation between all three.

The play is about a painting... well actually it's about friendship... or rather it is about the selfishness of friendships, the reasons people have for forming them and maintaining them, the things that people use friendships for, the power plays and their inverse. The play examines jealousy, blame, projection, transference; all the games people play in relationships. But it doesn't ignore the aesthetic argument at the root of the rift between the three friends and we also get to examine classicism/modernism (mercifully we are spared post-modernism, something the French are pretty keen on as a rule), value and so on.

The centrepiece of the play's philosophy, rather improbably introduced via the deus ex machina of Yvan's therapist, is a long quote along the lines of

"If you are what you are because you are what you are and I am what I am because I am what I am then you are what you are and I am what I am but if you are what you are because I am what I am.....

You get the drift.

This is a very ambitious play for students who are not theatre students to take on. There is little but words. The play is almost a performed essay, the words a torrent of meaning. And yet the words give so little to the actors, they must bring everything to the words. A heavy task for the most accomplished actor. Bath compound their difficulties by changing the gender of two of the protagonists, so Serge becomes Celine and Marc Marianne. What were the sexual politics, I wonder, that led Yvan, the conciliator, the follower, to remain male? Much of the dialogue is decidedly male and this adds an interesting perspective for the audience who can muse on gender and language and behaviour when women speak it.

With scarcely any action, the words are all and for the full meanings of the play, its humour and pathos, to reach the audience intensive rehearsal, fine direction and exquisite timing and perfect diction are essential. Bath don't quite make it but full marks to them for trying and for bringing another thought provoking play to the Fringe.

John Wilson

Bane - Whitebone Productions


Underground Venues Paupers Pit

16 and 17 July, 9.15pm

I won't spoil the whole of the beginning, but from the moment a machine gun sprays the word "Bane" into the screen (sorry, stage) in front of you, you know exactly what you're seeing. Action-hero parody on stage.

Bane is a man who gets things done. Generally, this involves punching them, blowing them up, or shooting them in the face. He rampages through a cast of villains and extras, most of whom expire not long after meeting him. All of this is achieved not with a multi-million pound budget, cast of thousands and CGI special effects, but a single actor on stage providing all his own sound effects. This may sounds very difficult to pull off. It is. But Joe Bone (writer and sole actor) does it admirably, with huge energy and a versatile performance.

The show claims to be inspired by, and parodying, the traditions of Film Noir. This is certainly true in part, but it also owes a lot to action movies - Die Hard, Austin Powers and Naked Gun spring to mind immediately. Characters and caricatures are immediately familiar: hard-man gun-toting enforcers, hunchbacked mad scientists, insane villains plotting revenge, one-dimensional secretaries. Clichés galore, as you'd expect. Some of the jokes are predictable as well, but equally some were very obviously telegrammed and never materialised ("I suspect there's a pun in there I'm not privy to...") and there's also a decent amount of self-deprecating humour.

It's described as a one man show, and although Joe Bone does the lion's share of the work, there is a very welcome addition to the atmosphere provided by Ben Roe's guitar playing. The quality of the music is high, and helps maintain a variety of moods throughout the performance. It's superbly done - understated enough to not seem like showing-off, and energetic and powerful enough to really make an impact.

This really is a very good show. It's ambitious and brave, and done with real skill and commitment; confident without being full of itself. A few minor tweaks could turn it from an ambitious show to a genuinely outstanding one. Shortening it by 15 minutes or so would help maintain the pace and could allow the humour and drama to be more focused. One or two of the accents could be a bit more convincing, which would help to distinguish between the characters. But perhaps the main thing was that Bane himself left me slightly nonplussed. Sure, he's as hard as nails and can chuck out a couple of amusing quips, but I wanted to find some reason to either love him, despise him, or be very afraid of him indeed. There's certainly more than enough ability to carry a more developed character, and perhaps see a few more consequences to Bane's actions.

Watch out for Bane II next year!

Nick Butterley

Best Man Speech - Flat Earth Theatre

Best Man Speech

The Barrel Room is transformed to The Maple Vale Country Club and the audience to the guests at Miranda and Addy's wedding reception. Bailey, Addy's oldest mate, gets up to begin the best man's speech. Not only have they been friends since school days, it's clear that Addy is now Bailey's boss. Surely this is Bailey's chance to show his loyalty and gratitude? As guests, we expect a few funny, off-colour revelations that'll make us squirm a little. We don't expect a spell-binding and increasingly dark tale of betrayal and loss. For Bailey is a ticking time bomb, and his fuse has finally been lit.

Charles de Bromhead gives an engaging performance as Bailey. He's charming and slightly nervous as he begins, ostensibly following his notes, revealing that he's been using 'how to' guidance on best man speeches and acknowledging when it's going wrong. There are a few early hints at the bitterness that is to follow, but he pulls the mood back As he goes on, however, revealing more and more about Addy's relationship with a girl they both know from the past, the charm becomes sardonic and any pretence of wedding celebration is abandoned.

By the end, we feel Bailey's anger and despair, and understand his need for revenge. Addy's chance of a happy marriage is totally destroyed, and as wedding guests we can only be grateful we haven't been caught in the explosion.

Barbara Wilson

Brokenville by Philip Ridley - Imagine Theatre Company

Friday 24 July, 7:30pm, Buxton Community School Drama Studio

The third installment in Philip Ridley's trilogy of children's plays, Brokenville was originally staged with Kosovan Albanian refugees, and explores the redemptive power of theatre and story-telling. It takes place against a post-apocalyptic landscape reduced to rubble. A group of survivors emerge, drawn by the sound of a child's music box. Having lost everything - their homes, their memories, even their names - they huddle round a fire and begin telling each other stories.

Brokenville consists of stories - well-told, touching, thought-provoking fable like stories that unfold on stage. The characters develop as their stories are told. Satchel (Emily Poulter) overcomes fear of a bully, taking control of her story. Tattoo (Rob Hamilton), the hard man, learns that he needs love in his life to survive. An old woman, played by Sophie Macbeth, is rejuvenated by the love of the handsome young prince. They learn that the most powerful weapon in the world is love and that together they can overcome fear. There are disturbing bits along the way, and some tricky moments for such a young cast to handle so maturely.


The cast as a whole work together well, and their creatively minimalist set is perfect for the piece. Dan Large as Quiff plays a parody of youthful beauty, flaunting his hair and six-pack. The old woman, obviously relished her tough-as-old-boots persona, and Marcus Crabb displayed a good stage presence as the child. Lucy Jones as Glitter visibly grew on stage and Natalie Bell as Bruise carried off a part much older than her years with confidence.

This potentially difficult piece was well delivered and entertaining, and the plastic school seats were surprisingly comfortable.

Jean Ball

Butter Side Up by Maggie Dealey - Fragile Theatre

(credit: Adrienne Brown)

A thoroughly enjoyable, witty but sensitive drama. A simple story of real people who despite their initial caricature appearance are characters for whom I ultimately felt affection and could relate to. The audience laughed out loud, whispered 'Oh No's and winced in sympathy with the characters throughout the performance.

The entire drama takes place in the breakfast room of a small hotel. The set opens with Sally, the owner, struggling with a hangover, willing herself to prepare for her guests breakfasts.

There is her son, Sam, in late teens, who is currently at loggerheads with her.

There is the lovely, huggable, Charlie, the local market gardener who supplies Sally with her fruit and vegetables.

Then there are the guests; grouchy spinster, Mrs Hartley (like in the Jam) and Nem, a young and gregarious foreign girl. She is the main catalyst which initiates the challenging events which will have affected everyone at the hotel before the day is over.

The use of a static set, the breakfast room, rather than becoming monotonous, actually became warm and comfortable as the performance progressed and added to the growing familiarity of, and affection for, the characters. Simple and effective direction made good use of the space, and made the room interesting and used.

I was particularly impressed by Nem's (Bryony Harding) performance. She had a natural presence which, I felt, helped a great deal to develop the endearing atmosphere on stage and the reality of the drama. Wonderful accent!

Written by Maggie Dealey, the script was well balanced and its humour was pitched just right within the plot. The banter and rapport between different pairs of actors was terrific, whether it was frivolous flirting, angry reposts or nervous revelation. The carefully crafted sentences for Nem's spoken English were authentic and entertaining.

Thoroughly Enjoyable!

Martin Wood

Can't Stand Up For Falling Down - 1000 Twangling Instruments in association with LIPA

If anybody asks...

Pauper's Pit 20 July (3.45pm) - Remaining Shows: 21 & 24 July (9.30pm), 25 July (5pm)


Essentially a triple headed collection of monologues featuring three woman who share a common male link - this piece distills the multi faceted essence of performance into the solo note of spoken word. Such a reduction places great onus on the three performers who occupy the same space throughout to create any emotional resonance entirely from their own words.

Uniformly powerful and well expressed delivery ensures success in so far as the audience relates to their respective plights - for this is far from Happy Families fayre - and fully understand their frustrations and sense of imprisonment as victims of either male bullying or abusive and controlling behaviour. Despite sympathising with their situations there is no feeling of actual sympathy towards them as individual victims - that they represent a cause rather than a person is maybe down to the limitations of the script or possibly the staging - some fluidity or variation portraying past events would've helped, though they do relate past encounters by each assuming multi roles - occasionally achieving real drama, an example being the initial pursuit in the 'First Kiss'.

In need of pruning, it's a solid piece built on well acted foundations which lends a feeling of self-worthiness after viewing, yet our emotions remain untouched - perhaps a tour of Vulcan beckons.


Clothes To Fall Apart In - The Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company

Jaacq Hugo as The Very Good Family. (credit: Natasha Vassiliou)

The drama is set at the wake of woman from a wealthy family and we, the audience, are friends of the deceased who have come to pay our respects. The woman's sister and brother talk, individually, with us and tell us stories of their sister's life, of her childhood, her relationship with their grandmother and of more recent events. They talk, with affection, about their sister's quaint ways and endearing obsessions.

After each of their eulogies, we hear from the woman herself through her own home made videos where she begin to gives us more insight into her life and passions.

This is the story of the lives of affected, wealthy individuals who hide behind superstition and façade and who are unable to engage with aspects of real life; content to live inside the trappings of beautiful clothes and parties at the Hilton. However, the death of their sister challenges their superficiality and ultimately gives them the opportunity to see things for what they really are.

This is the company's first professional outing and is a very clever drama. It is not a story for those who like to join up all the dots. The writer leaves you with a number of questions which are hanging in the air when you leave the theatre and you may consider returning to watch it a second time. A discussion with fellow audience members after the show may help and if you hang around a little, actor and writer will probably join you.

I did feel that the video clips, especially the first, would have worked better if they had been shorter in duration and action at the very front of stage was not visible from the back rows.

Jaacq Hugo played all the roles in the drama, brother, sister and the laid to rest woman herself, and he was wonderful, particularly in the opening monologue, as the woman's sister, he was exceptional. The script itself was subtle and highly amusing and was made more so by Hugo's timing and delivery with affected accent, body language and lip gloss. It was a beautiful caricature which firmly planted the drama's façade into centre stage and tempted us to become complicit in it.

A commendable and enjoyable performance!

Martin Wood

Eighteen Stupid Reasons Why I Love You Lots And Lots - Cheap Seats

Eighteen Stupid Reasons Why I Love You Lots And Lots

The Pauper's Pit, Old Hall Hotel

This is a tricky one. On the programme it says that for the benefit of future audiences I should not reveal any plot information. So, how to review the show?

Well, on the Fringe website it states:

"This is all about you. All of it. All this... stuff. Bits and pieces.' Will's girlfriend has left him. Using his new-found grasp of time travel, he attempts to make his memories of a romantic past a constant present."

So there we have it. Will tries to ensure a romantic life for himself using time travel.

Now, apart from the plot, I can tell you that the two protagonists Will and Jessica are ably played by Simon Longman and Caitlin Joseph respectively. They are both very good in their roles and obviously enjoy the play and working with each other. Its one of those chemistry things I think. There is energy and vitality in the production which is essential to the story being told (but I can't tell you that . . .). There is also a strong adult content, but this is consistent and in keeping with the main themes of the play. If this were a film I suspect Roman Polanski could be its director.

This is a valuable addition to the Fringe this year, and it should do well for the company - congratulations on a excellent show.

Ian Heath

Faustus - Non Stop Cabaret Theatre Company


Some shows are easy. Easy to watch. Easy to review.

Faustus isn't one of them.

Set to a remorseless electronic soundscape, Non Stop Cabaret's production tears the guts out of Christopher Marlowe's play and blends them down into an searingly vivid hour and a quarter.

Taking the story of the scholar who desires knowledge and experience at any price, Faustus, like the medieval mystery plays that presumably inspired Marlowe himself, treats us to a series of arrestingly hellish visions that might have come from the more fevered dreams of Ken Russell. The Paupers Pit is transformed into an S & M dungeon in which books are eaten, grotesque masks are worn, beatings and strangulation are handed out, food is thrown and water splashed (front row beware!), and bump 'n' grind sexuality is to the fore.

It is all impossibly intense. The four-strong cast (Martin Bliss, Charlotte Gregory, Christine Hood and Melissa Hurlbutt) give physical performances of total commitment and, I imagine, not a little discomfort.

There is much to admire in Faustus, even if not much to like ('liking' is perhaps too bland a sensation for a production that is by turns shocking, revolting, sexy and thought-provoking). But in a world where souls are routinely sold for fame and fortune, Faustus provides a salutary lesson on the costs of such a transaction.

Robbie Carnegie

George - Don't Do That! by Joyce Grenfell - Planet Rabbit Productions Ltd

George - Don't Do That  (photo C. Butler)

United Reformed Church 15th & 22nd July

Joyce Grenfell's six monologues about the trials and tribulations of a nursery class teacher were published in 1977 - but must have been written in the mid 1960s. No matter they sound, for the most part, pretty contemporary.

OK you don't get many Sidneys, Peggys or Nevilles in your average class, nor is the class hamster likely to be called Harold Wilson (or Gordon Brown or David Cameron come to that). OK, today's nursery teacher and nursery nurses will probably be armed with a clipboard as they carry out dozens of observations and assessments. OK, few early years professionals come from the same southern, English finishing school as Joyce Grenfell and so don't have the cut-glass accent. But apart from that remarkably little has changed.

The business of organising children for collective productions (The Nativity Play here); trying to release the creative in children through improvised dancing to music (Flowers - "don't forget to breathe Peggy"); famously monitoring children's chosen activity - "each little individual - each one expressing his little personality" (Free Activity Period); trying to develop a story with a group of children - in this case about "an ordinary businessman bunny rabbit" but sadly concluding "I don't think love is enough with children" (Story Time); trying to get the class to sing (Sing Song Time) only to waste minutes because some poor child - Sidney here - mishears 'flute' as 'fruit' and is naturally puzzled; Going Home Time allows for further reflections on the hapless Sidney ("We don't think he's very talented but we think it is important to encourage his self-expression - we don't know where it might lead").

Oh the joys. Here Joyce is played admirably by Gayle Dennis. Gayle doesn't strain too hard to get the accent exactly Joyce - but she's 'posh' enough. Certainly her posture and body language seem spot-on - she looks right through you and she bends, just slightly, with clasped hands - exhorting us to behave and to succeed. She seems suitably exhausted by the end of the week with the dear children ("You're not hurt Dolores - you're just surprised"). The praise and encouragement, which was evident in the earlier monologues, is replaced by a desperate pleading at the end.

The full house loved this show. I think you will too.

Keith Savage

Gielgud - A Knight in the Theatre - George Telfer

George Telfer as John Gielgud

Until last year, I hadn't got to see any of George Telfer's one-man shows at the Fringe, but was pleased to catch his masterful Duke of Edinburgh in Do You Still Throw Spears At Each Other. So I was even more excited by the opportunity for newbies such as myself to see a revival of his earlier Fringe success, this time as that master of 20th Century British theatre, John Gielgud.

Telfer condenses Gielgud's life into just over an hour, in a virtuoso display. Set in a kind of heavenly waiting room at Bradford Station, Gielgud reminisces his way through his life, a life of enormous artistic success, but crippling self-doubt, and great friends and great loss, of a homosexuality embraced in theatrical circles, but leading to disgrace in the wider world. It's a fascinating, meticulously researched piece, full of amusing anecdote and gossipy name-dropping and poignant introspection.

Waiting in the capacity crowd in the Underground Venues bar, I heard someone say - 'Who are these people going to see?' To which the answer comes back: 'That impressionist, the one who does John Gielgud.' George Telfer is not an impressionist - he doesn't simply do an imitation of a famous figure. He is an actor, who completely inhabits his subject, physically, vocally and mentally.

I think I perhaps would have avoided having Gielgud imitate his fellow actors (Richardson, Guinness et al), since it is in those moments when one can perhaps see Telfer behind the Gielgud mask, but that in no way spoils this excellent performance. If you've never seen one of Telfer's performances, go and see this one - you won't be disappointed.

Robbie Carnegie

Grimm's - Con Ghiaccio Theatre Company

Ernesto Pietrantonio

Underground Venues - 16th & 17th July 6:15pm, 18th July 3:30pm

It has been nearly 200 years since the Brothers Grimm first published a collection of fairy tales, and over that time we have become used to being presented with sanitised and sweetened versions. Con Ghiaccio, a new company of recent Theatre graduates from Middlesex University, return to the originals for an adaptation where the sinister is always lurking.

Grimm's is a wonderful combination of physical theatre and great story-telling, performed with enormous relish by an eight-strong cast, and complemented by a simple but very effective lighting scheme. The actors emerge with painted faces and unfussy costumes, having the ghostly and yet animated appearance of mischievous sprites come out to play.

The story of Clever Hans recurs through the show, the chorus telling of the increasingly inept Hans and his failure to get the girl - or anything else. In Bearskin, the excellent Tristan Law makes a pact with the devil in which he has to wear a bearskin and forego washing, praying or cutting his nails for seven years to win untold wealth. Failure and he will forfeit his soul. Of course he wins and gains a wife, but in a dark twist the devil will not be disappointed.

Other familiar tales include Little Red Cap, played coquettishly by Lynsey Little, and Hansel and Gretel, with the versatile Minyahil Kifle-Giorgis and the engaging Siobhan McGrath. But it is iniquitous to mention individuals because the joy of this performance is in the wonderful ensemble playing. There is terrific interaction in the cast as the lines fizz and the actors move seamlessly from supporting roles to the foreground and back. The director, David Frias-Robles, deserves great praise for the way this multifaceted show comes together.

Although the dark side of the fairy tales is to the fore, the company's obvious enjoyment found its match in an audience that included all ages from the very young upwards. As we are all so familiar with the tales of the Brothers Grimm from our youth, this exciting new adaptation really does have something for everyone.

Steve Walker

Leatherface - Verano Theatre Company


Helmut Krausser's German original made a big noise when it surfaced in 1994 and it has had a number of performances in English translation. In this guise it seems not to be so audible and we can't be sure whether it is the translation or the times that have reduced its impact.

Loosely based on the shooting of Werner Bloy by Munich police the play introduces us to a male character, possibly a writer or a pretend poet, who identifies with the leather masked hero of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In his fantasy he is interrupted by the untimely return of the female character (neither is named). He makes childish attempts to conceal his antics but is discovered. His character now swings between infantile, manic, threatening, wheedling, controlling and submissive. I think the author's thesis is that He is an innocent perhaps even an idealist and if the script gave the actor something to work on along these lines the thesis might develop. The female character is simply a foil to the male character on whom the work focuses but even as such she fails to generate explanations by her behaviour. Her character too oscillates - between loving, hating, assertive, submissive, complicit, challenging. Again, there are signs she is an alcoholic but the writing does not sustain this. The audience wants to understand these people but the actors and director are handicapped by the text.

Krausser felt the shooting of Werner Bloy was unnecessary but the facts of the case would seem not to support this. Here we, the audience, can see what the police can't see but the end when it comes has been obvious to the viewer for a long time. The programme pretty well spells it out too so there is little dramatic tension. Why could He and She not see it? Is it innocence, a lack of intelligence, autism, mental illness? We cannot tell. The lightweight grapeshot of the writing has peppered so many targets but misses this one.

Verano are clearly an accomplished company, Jim Townsend and Sarah Brand are good actors but, I'm sorry, this is a thoroughly bad play and it does them a disservice.

John Wilson

Love and Other Magic Tricks - standnotamazed

Kevin Clifford

When first reading about this performance, I was intrigued. I had no idea what to expect, but I thought I'd take a look, and I'm extremely glad I did.

Cleverly interwoven with stylised dance and magic that left the audience in amusement and/or amazement (on the way out of the Pauper's Pit, many people could be heard contemplating how on earth many of the tricks were done), Love And Other Magic Tricks, a plot concerning the ups and downs of a newly formed relationship, was totally absorbing to watch. There are many points in this piece that I would love to share in more detail, but I don't want to spoil the surprise - you're probably best seeing it for yourself!

Both actors (who I wish I could name, as they deserve much praise) were captivating. They worked seamlessly together, from the witty banter to the audience, as well as to each other (at one point through text messages to each other across the stage, interestingly with cigarette packets as mobile phones), to the visually dynamic choreography of their dance and magic, which they made seem effortless.

Without wanting to reveal too much of the plot or tricks used, Standnotamazed have produced an extremely well written and performed piece that I would very much recommend. I have a feeling the audience would agree too - it took quite a while for them to stop applauding!

Sophia Leggett

Othello - Bath University Student Theatre

Othello by William Shakespeare

An Engaging and Imaginative Production of Shakespeare's Great Tragedy.

Bath University Student Theatre's production of Othello is a condensed but assured performance of the seminal tragedy, distinguished by an engaging interpretation of William Shakespeare's play.

Although the performance, which lasts only an hour, can seem brief at times, the direction of the plot is well-maintained throughout and BUST's bold decisions in their manipulation of the original script and the set ensure that the production proves inventive and fresh.

Whereas Othello is the titular character of the play, it is the scheming Iago who takes centre-stage in this production and Jon Greenwell's accomplished performance as the latter, ensnaring the other characters in his webs of duplicitous words, counters the absence of the eloquent rhetoric of Othello's grander speeches.

Greenwood's delivery of Iago's soliloquies drips with delightful treachery, whilst Joshua Pink's portrayal of an Othello rendered comatose by jealousy foregrounds the tragic impotence of heroism in the face of Iago's poisonous deceit. Indeed, communication is highlighted as a significant theme in this production, it enables Iago to execute his misdeeds whilst condemning the other characters to their tragic ends, and Pink's performance as Othello is particularly creative in conveying the demise of a character who surrenders to mute rage.

Although there is little room for genuine romance - a bedridden Othello is plagued by feverish visions of adultery whilst Iago reliably proves enjoyably crude - capable performances from this small cast prove entertaining viewing. Ultimately, BUST's imaginative interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy remains stimulating and the play's themes of trust, jealousy and racism ensure that Othello remains as relevant as ever.

Tom McCaldon

Play On Words - Three's Company

7, 10 & 11 across: Pun (4,2,5)

In the predictably futile pursuance of an impartial and balanced review, I attempted to shut myself off from the expectant anticipation that surrounded this production, refusing to acknowledge the glowing reviews of previous performances or get carried away hoping for something special. As a result, I deplorably approached this wonderful noirish comedy expecting a jolly exhibition of clever, if somewhat light, wordplay. And light there is, provided with gusto by Jonnie, the hapless in-performance light and sound engineer (last night played by Yaz Al-Shaater - although the cast impressively plan to switch roles every night). And, of course, there's abundant wordplay too. Yes - even the title is a play on words, in that this is a play, on words, called Play on Words, in which the characters frequently... well, you can sense where this is heading.

But the production isn't merely concerned with concocting puns and double entendres (although it does this often and most pleasingly); it's about the relationship between words and truth, words and understanding, and, ultimately, about loss. The onstage action concerns a cast of three; two friends, Fred, an amateur director, and Eddie, an equally amateur actor, and also Jen, the girl who happens upon this duo. Through a series of flashbacks, fragments of their recent shared history are assembled with the objective of uncovering the fate of the now-missing Jen. And, of course with this being Three's Company, these aren't merely regular, run-of-the-mill flashbacks. They focus upon a play that the trio have in production, and how the intertwining relationships of the group evolve during this period. So, that's the actors playing characters playing themselves in flashbacks in which they're acting...

Undeniably, the script is complex and the witticisms knowingly clever, but this never feels like a joke that the audience isn't it on - it's just that by the time the lyrical water has levelled and you think you're up to speed, Three's Company have scampered on. Play On Words is undoubtedly an ambitious production; occasionally lines were stumbled over (though it must be difficult when learning all three parts) and the piece at times lacked a little fluidity seeming unsure of where it was headed. Yet, thankfully, this is not a case of an amateur group who mean well but ultimately overstretch themselves - this is genuinely talented writing. The acting, too, is of a similarly high level - Michael Grady-Hall and Tom Crawshaw were hugely entertaining in the lead roles last night and Meriel Rosenkranz supported with equal assurance as Jen. And even the set is the best I've seen at this year's Fringe. But, following the messages of last night's production, I'm now ever-so-slightly apprehensive about the value of mere words - which renders this review faintly pointless. So, put simply, if you've not seen Three's Company's Play On Words before, it's undoubtedly unmissable. If you have seen it before, well, you don't need me to tell you then...


Prosper and Queue by Andrew Beswick - Red End Salutations

HHC is a public organisation

(a new play by Andrew Beswick)


Prosper & Queue recounts the tale of famed fictional artist Andrew Beswick through an audience set amongst an exhibition of his most celebrated pieces - an opportunity to meet the man and his art then, or rather Arthur Keegan-Bole who stars in this spoof.

The piece is divided into six individually announced sections - once comfortably seated, Beswick dispenses both accumulated wisdom and storybook snippets from his life and times.

Unfortunately both script and style of delivery limit the appeal of this ambitious production. The writing's all aglow with intelligence and clever worldly construction but ends up little more than a 1,001 unconnected observations.

Even when there's a hint of narrative, the over whimsical tone is frustratingly riddled with pauses and reflection - think Ronnie Corbett on Slo-Play. Pacing aside, Beswick needs to get closer to his audience than the almost backstage position he manages in part One when we feel like unaddressed observers - we do need to see the whites of his eyes to bask in his eccentricity

The assembled art comprise 8 pieces, include a striking 7ft Spaceman, sculpted from foam and a football - all are thoughtfully (and amusingly) listed in the free program. They do lend a real sense to the piece and more should have been made of them.

The whole thing needs more bite, to cut-loose - the surreal flashes feel forced and too considered. The underlying idea here along with the collective art are a worthy cause that require more focus to avoid a rambling piece that bypasses the audience. In the final church scene Beswick does for once break free showing real passion and achieves the best audience connection of the show - praise be to the directorial powers of the Lord.

Runs: 45min


Road by Jim Cartwright - Sketch Theatre Company


Buxton Community School, Thursday 16 July

ROAD takes us back to the dark Thatcherite days of 1987 - a good two years before most of this company were born - and one heady night out in a Lancastrian town, full of misery and mirth as people seek desperately to escape the recession.

Part promenade, part ensemble and part soliloquy, it is in effect a series of mini soap operas with the audience granted a brief glimpse of life on the Road. There are also some pointed resonances with Britain today, not least in the tale of the young soldier home on leave, just swap Northern Ireland (1987) for Afghanistan (2009).

Our guide - or narrator - for the evening is down and out, rum soaked Scullery (Daniel Waters) who keeps the action moving along throughout and binds the individual stories together, in what is a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

We get to meet the dotty old woman who is slowly losing her marbles; the disillusioned - and ultimately selfish - idealist who is looking for something better; an abused wife too frightened to leave and wondering where it all went wrong; a father wondering where it all went wrong and the snarling, sneering Skinlad (Alistair Brown).

And, of course, there are tales of good time girls out for a bit of fun on Saturday night, and the lads who would be only too happy to oblige - some of whom actually turn out to be not quite what the girls were expecting.

With a cast of just ten performing 32 parts there was a lot of doubling and trebling (and more) of parts, giving all cast members the chance to show the full range of their acting talents. Some of the strongest and most acutely observed performances came from Robert Hamilton who was able to turn from the silent soldier to the angry neighbour with hardly a pause for breath.

This is a powerful production from Buxton Community School's BTEC drama group, who not only perform but also direct the piece. It is a big test of both acting and directing skills, which the company pulls off to great effect.

The first night did run on a little longer than the scheduled 9pm finish and the programme warns of strong language - and watch out for the unusual interval!

Caitlin Bisknell

Standby on Stage Please by Claire Butler - Planet Rabbit Productions Ltd

Standby On Stage Please (photo C. Butler)

United Reformed Church 14th & 15th July

A thoroughly enjoyable hour spent with the totally self obsessed Suzi Monroe and the ever patient and professional Stage Manager, Kate.

Suzi appeared in a popular sit com several years ago and has since kept her profile high by appearing in various 'celebrity' TV shows. It becomes clear that she is extremely high maintenance and has very little acting ability, which is probably why she has had very few acting roles in the interim and she tries to persuade us that the two months holiday she will be taking after the exhausting schedule of 'panto' is to recover and 'consider her options'.

Kate is the Stage Manager, ensuring the crew and cast are where they should be when they should be - especially the 'professional' high profile leading lady. Kate's patience seems never ending as Suzi is unable to learn her lines and clings to her script like a security blanket and insists on the words being taped all over the set and props. She is demanding and clearly believes she is the 'star'. Her attention seeking antics see her trying to get Kate to undertake a series of minor and unimportant tasks and does not have any appreciation of the role of Stage Manager, or the demands and etiquette required for stage work. Her nerves and lack of ability and talent means that she witters constantly and any mishaps are always someone else's fault - props in the wrong place, lights being moved.

Only occasionally does Kate point out that it might be Suzi at fault. When talking to various crew members on the 'cans' we get an insight into Kate's real thoughts on the 'high price of fame'. That Kate is able to concentrate on cueing in scenery, set and light changes, not to mention cast calls displays her professionalism, which unsettles Suzi even more. There is some very funny dialogue and when Suzi takes her mobile on stage, refusing to leave it with Kate in case it rings - well!

Having been in, and connected to, many amateur productions I recognised the characters immediately. Wonderfully played by Emily Trebicki as Suzi and Fiona Organ as Kate they are obviously based on people the author Clare Butler has met en route. Emily and Fiona's timing and facial expressions conveyed much - but 'much' was obviously missed by Suzi as she presents a gift to Kate at the end of the run declaring that there had been a special bond between them, Kate is fabulous and she hopes they will work together again.

The simple staging works perfectly - there isn't much room in the wings!!

It is a shame there weren't more in the audience for the premiere of this funny but true to life depiction of activities side of stage.

Well done Claire, I hope the audiences pick up and that this is the first of many.

Linda McAlindon

Stolen Voices - Neyire Ashworth

Neyire Ashworth in Stolen Voices

'Cloth Cap and Clarinet'

This is a personal drama of the life of a woman told through the portrayal of characters in her life; her mother, father and the woman herself. It uses music and form as an integrated part of the plot and personality of the story.

Although she was born in Surrey and her father from the north of England, the story is dominated by the Turkish culture of her mother Selma and right from the outset we are introduced to, and beautifully immersed into, the sounds (and tastes) of the Turkish culture, its language, music and traditions.

We are moved from Selma's early life in Istanbul, to England where she marries and gives birth to daughter, Neyire. But as the story progresses we begin to suspect that Selma may not be who she professes to be.

This drama is about betrayal and the search for truth. Neyire grows up accepting the simple things around her and then, later, tries to piece together what was fact. Finally, she is left with a choice to either accept things as they are or to resolve the mystery.

The audience was given two interpreters / narrators.

The first is Mermet, with his black cloth cap. "Perspective is All" he tells us. And it is perspective that he tries to give us. As narrator he gives us an objective background to Selma.

Our second interpreter, is the charismatic character of the Clarinet. At the outset, it very quickly gave us a sense of Turkey but then throughout the play it gave expression to the emotions and moods of the characters. "It is a beautiful mechanical device" says her father, "designed to be an extension of the fingers" and so also, an extension to their feelings. It also provided interludes which gave us a strong sense of place on a minimalistic stage.

In the same way that Mermet gave us perspective, the Clarinet represented honesty.

We are told that Neyire is an Ottoman name which means 'Source of Light' and I note that when she takes up the Clarinet as a child, her first task is to learn how to piece it all together.

Neyire Ashworth is a wonderful performer, her transition between the many characters was fluid and refreshing. The move from the angry and insecure daughter to the confident mother was precise with no residue. Although a little nervous at the start, she quickly owned the space and flowed as a natural actress. A truly commendable performance!

The use made of the clarinet and its character was very special.

Lastly, a message to the author, "Don't make that call"

Martin Wood

The Cutting - Freerange Theatre Company

The Cutting

Judith, a young woman accused of murder, stands silent, motionless, looking at the dreary view from a prison window - incarcerated in her own head and by the authorities. Alex Dodd, a psychiatrist specialising in mutes, reluctantly is brought in to make her speak again and to get to the bottom of the crime of which she is accused. He tries ever more desperately to fill the silence with which Judith surrounds herself - he cannot bear the void, whereas she can happily live in it. When, finally she speaks, however, the floodgates are opened.

The Cutting, written in the mid-90s by former Doctor Who companion Maureen O'Brien, is a remarkable play. At its centre is a meditation on words versus silence. When Judith finally speaks, every word is measured - she is devoid of ambiguity, unable to understand metaphor or allusion. Like Eliza Doolittle to Henry Higgins, when Judith emerges from Alex's shadow, it is she that proves the master of speech. She does not simply speak to fill silence, she speaks because what she says must be uttered and every word has meaning and importance.

The Cutting is a hugely demanding play for its two actors. Alex obviously dominates the first half - it is, to all intents and purposes, a monologue. In his Fringe award-winning performance in Oleanna in 2006, Hugo Chandor proved himself a master of the pregnant pause, as well as of high-minded speechifying, both skills he admirably demonstrates here. It is, however, an intensely selfless performance, since as the play progresses Alex is there to act as a platform for the blossoming of Judith. At first, Linzi Matthews as Judith seems to have a thankless task, standing stock still for the best part of half an hour. But gradually I found I couldn't take my eyes off her. Yes, it is Alex who is speaking, but it is Judith who holds your attention. She never just stands there. There is always tension in her body, nuances in her eyes, her breathing. It is a fascinating performance. And when she speaks, she blows the audience away. The huge range of expression she has kept bottled up comes out, but once again, not in a random, vague manner. Every movement is precise, her diction is impeccable and every word utterly clear.

I would heartily recommend anyone to see The Cutting - to see a great piece of writing by Maureen O'Brien, sensitively directed by Peter Wright. To see Hugo Chandor's solid, supportive performance as Alex. But, most of all, to see Linzi Matthews' towering portrayal of Judith - a performance that will continue to resonate with me for a long time.

Robbie Carnegie

The Merry Wives of Henry VIII - Distraction Theatre Company

The 'merry' wives of Henry VIII

One of several reasons to come and see this highly recommended show is to experience the new space which is the brainchild of Martin Beard, venue manager for Nice Venues. The marquee nestled snugly at the edge of Grin Low woods' car park combines the impression of being outdoors with the effect of an indoor space, complemented by the impressive set and without the need to duck and dive every time the British summer shows its less appealing face.

The play's title seems to make an allusion to Windsor, but as soon as we meet Rebecca Gadsby as a stubborn, snorting, jewel-obsessed Iberian it becomes apparent that these wives are merry as they are being played for laughs. For a cast of three to play 6 wives, plus the court hangers-on, plus the great king himself, is impressive and of course this play would be incomplete without an executioner! But Rebecca Gadsby (mainly the first Catherine, Jane and the equine Anne of Cleves) Katherine Glenn (the other Anne, the other Katherines) and Marcus Howden (Henry, his executioner, and, technically, the messenger) impart distinct flavours to each of their roles and it was most interesting to see both the pompous Cromwell and Cranmer played by two different actors. Anne Boleyn is scheming, all 6 fingers of her - 'I'm not used to playing by the rules' - and rather ironically is obsessed with all around her losing their heads. Jane dances a lot, goes into labour, and provides her husband with 'both good and bad news'. Anne of Cleves is not the oil-painting her husband had envisaged and one feels that the days of this charming but rather simple wife are numbered. The flirtatious Katherine Parr causes her actress to have the misfortune of being beheaded twice although as Katherine Parr she survives accusations of treason.

We see the monogamy-hating Henry, at times almost a bemused onlooker watching the antics of his wives - move from rampant young buck to an old gout-ridden rather pathetic figure who cares more about his wife's skill as a nurse than anything else.

There are many ingenious comic twits in this tale, some great one-liners ('I'll never marry again!'; 'I'd die for you!'; 'at least I won't get headaches anymore!') and a few cringe-worthy puns (like-lick!; say more?). One very effective ploy was the use of the background of modern, instantly recognisable music to introduce the various characters at different points. There are too many instances to mention the theme tunes for each wife, but the ladies all appear again at the end to the accompaniment of 'Never can say goodbye', and the strains of Barry White can be heard as Henry the love-machine preens himself.

Distraction have been writing, directing and performing their own original material for some four years, although this play was painstakingly researched and contained, for example, Jane Seymour's authentic execution speech. Almost the entire script is based on historical fact, the helpful programme notes inform us, although the comic elements are presumably their own. Distraction also specialise in outdoor venues, and on tonight's evidence will continue to be very successful, if slightly wet from time to time.

Ian Hamilton

The Tempest - Black Box Theatre Company

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Interesting and innovative adaptation of what is known as one of Shakespeare's last plays.

The tale concerns Prospero, who is banished along with his daughter by his own brother. The play begins with Prospero (a sorcerer - played by Richard Sails) causing a storm in order to 'shipwreck' his enemies on the 'island' he has been banished on. While many companies perform this within the literal sense of a storm at sea with the boat crashing onto the shore, Black Box has innovatively re-set their piece in a futuristic setting with a space-ship crashing through an asteroid field (presented through use of clever computer animations) onto a planet. An overall Star Trek-esque feel is created (make-up, wigs, costumes and all!).

Throughout the play, Prospero (who amusingly commented on the action to the audience during the play in a profound manner) uses his powers to punish and forgive his enemies, as well as 'hook-up' his daughter with the son of the 'captain' of the spaceship. He achieves this with the help of a spirit Ariel, who's representation by the actress Rebecca Charnley certainly deserves praise, with the character's childlike enthusiasm through her movement and use of song most definitely bringing the performance to life.

Alongside the plotlines of revenge, forgiveness and romance, runs yet another, concerning a comedy trio that definitely deserves a mention. The characterisation of Caliban (played by Ellie Trevitt) in particular was fantastic, performed with such zest at some points that it made me wonder if the actress could be heard several stories above where we were sat! Trinculo and Stefano (two drunken servants who trick Caliban and played by Jenny Collins and Mike Lockley respectively) were also hilarious, and especially diverse in comparison to the romantic characters the pair also played - they were effective to the extent that it took this reviewer to the end of the play to figure out that the actors were multi-rolling!

While at some points the plot was not completely clear (which is to be expected in a one hour adaptation of a two and a half hour play), Black Box's adaptation was successful and performed very well - especially with the simplistic use of sets, which were moved effectively by the actors during performance to suit their needs, especially for Ariel to clamber over and dance around!

Overall, a very enjoyable evening!

Sophia Leggett

The Unknown Land - Cotton Grass Theatre

artwork: Stephen Hepworth

URC Hall, Tideswell - 17th & 18th July 7:30pm

In the 1840s the Arctic was still undiscovered and a challenge to explorers, who were "the talk of the age, heroes of the time". Buxton writer Caroline Small has written of the men who risked everything to brave that frontier.

Samuel Straw seeks adventure by joining a ship bound for the Arctic, and we join him cold and fearful in that "unknown and unknowable" land, as he tells us his story in flashback. It is a skilful performance from David Frederickson playing the role of Samuel from boy to man and also everyone he encounters. I found him particularly touching as the enraptured newly-wed quoting the Song of Solomon in praise of his wife.

At its core this is a story about faith, Samuel is a devout man, part of the reason for his being accepted on the voyage is that he will set a good example and bring religion to the men. We discover the tragedies he has suffered in his own life, and how he has maintained his belief. But can he sustain that faith in the harshness of Arctic winter? In the face of his nemesis, a charismatic and godless old tar, and the alternative mythologies of the Eskimos, who despite the conditions "survive yet know not God".

The play is a collaboration between Cotton Grass and the Ashbourne folk-singer Keith Kendrick, who is on stage throughout, playing the concertina and lending his resonant voice to songs which can catch and enhance the mood. But although the musical pieces are very good, I felt they sometimes interrupted the narrative flow and the production could have allowed more room for the pressure on Samuel to build.

The Unknown Land is an ambitious and thought-provoking play. If you know Tideswell, you'll know the record of quality plays at the URC Hall, to which this is a worthy addition. And if you fancy the trip down, you can be sure of a warm welcome.

Steve Walker

Tomb To Womb - 2 Boards & A Passion

Tomb To Womb

This is what it says on the tin; a journey backwards through a woman's life. It is a poignant tale meeting the disappointments and regrets of an ordinary life on its way


We meet Margaret in her old people's home with her "secondary school dropouts paid peanuts to mop up old people's..." gossiping over and around her as they work. Margaret still has a strong sense of self and pride and would rather be dead than here.

From here music appropriate to the time and Margaret's age take us back through Margaret's life even to the womb. We see through her retirement party where she gets spectacularly drunk and insults her boss, through a childless marriage to a faithless husband and on backwards to her awkward seriousness through the stages of childhood. Margaret is one of those not in the "in crowd", a subject of mockery, pranks, bullying even. Was the lesbian approach an opportunity missed? We don't know and nor does Margaret. None of these are new themes but they are delicately examined as we learn how Margaret came to be.

The finale is a fast forward through Margaret's life right to the end. Neatly choreographed it is an exciting and original ending.

Many scene changes occur rapidly in blackout as the three actors change superficial clothing to signify the changes in Margaret's age. Given that the music also helps us with these transitions (and very cleverly) I do wonder if quicker changes using scarves, hats, jackets and throws, the sort of notifiers that can literally be thrown on, rather than shifts that have to be wriggled into, might help with the pacing. Just a thought. Well done '2 Boards and & Passion'.

John Wilson

Two Bennetts: A Double Bill - Stage Three Theatre Company

Humurous, Poignant, and Thoroughly Recommended.

Two Bennetts: A Double Bill, the latest Fringe offering by the Stage 3 Theatre Company, opened last night in excellent form to a very appreciative full-house at Grove Hotel. The production comprised two one-act comedies acted by an outstanding cast of two, Mike Brown and Ann Sturmey. Impressively, the first play, A Private Word, had been adapted for stage by Brown himself from a short story outlined by Edwardian journalist Edwin Bennett, whilst the second piece was a splendid performance of Alan Bennett's A Visit From Miss Prothero. The two plays proved well-chosen companion pieces and counterpoints; both performances centred upon awkward social visits and combined genuine humour, often inspired by the minutiae of everyday Northern lower-middle class life, with poignant contemplation of individual lives.

A Private Word, in which a widow is visited at home by her daughter's employer who means to discuss, apparently, a matter of seriousness, is the lighter of the two performances in tone and the direction of the plot alters pleasingly as the play develops into a humorous romance. In A Visit From Miss Prothero Brown's retiree, Arthur Dodsworth, is, somewhat unwillingly, visited at his home by Miss Prothero, who gushes with redundant gossip from the workplace that he has recently left behind until rocking Arthur with excruciatingly-timed news of far more weighty developments. Whilst Bennett's script is reliably amusing throughout, the humour is underpinned by a more sombre reflection on the lasting impression made by one person's life and the inevitable passing of time.

Both pieces were engaging, amusing and far more substantial then one might expect one-act comedies to be, and the excellent acting, which generated a compelling sense of atmosphere and character throughout, and the cosy venue ensured a highly enjoyable evening; Two Bennetts is thoroughly recommended viewing.


Weekend Breaks by John Godber - library theatre touring company

'happy families'????

The staging for this play is simple - two chairs and a wheel chair; a set of three lights; a little music and the 3 actors. The writer, John Godber, relies on his words and the audience to conjure up the rest of the scenery much as the author of a novel does - this performance achieved this.

Martin, a divorced (well not quite) father of two girls who is contemplating a move from University Lecturer to stand up comic, has invited his parents to spend the weekend in the Lake District with him. Partly to assuage his guilt at not going to the Costa del Sol with them and partly to observe them as material for his new career.

As the narrative unfolds we learn that Len a retired miner from Doncaster, and Joan a woman of infinite ability to find fault in everything - and extreme pleasure when she is proved right 'see, told you, it's raining. Always rains in the Lake District', feel that Martin married 'out of his class'. They are disappointed that he didn't bring the girls with him and that he didn't accompany them to Spain. They don't like the South ('the only good thing to come out the south is the train to Doncaster"); they don't like eating out - they'll make do! And they certainly don't eat after 7 pm - it gives Dad wind!

Martin is not terribly sympathetic to the insecurities and bickering of his parents. He is scathing about their attitudes and life style and proposes a 60+ exam - answer a couple of questions and be able to reverse a caravan into a drive way or..... Indeed such is his frustration at their complaining, negative outlook he concludes that his only escape is kill them.

Unfortunately this is pre-empted by Joan having a heart attack. Joan's incapacity leads to probably the first proper conversation Martin has had with his father ever, during which revelations, Martin comes to realise that Len and Joan are real people - people who laugh, properly. Not like his parents in-law, who he has long held in admiration but who, he now realises he has never heard truly let go and laugh, the rib aching laughs that his parents used to indulge in.

This play explores very effectively and with humour the awkwardness of some families. The older generation dictated to by their up bringing and hard life, the younger dictated to by pshyco-babble and the touchy feely world we are supposed to inhabit and the need to rise above their beginnings. The world where most of us leave it too late to say how much we appreciate and acknowledge the generation before us, but come to some form of harmonious acceptance of each other foibles.

Michael Brooksbank's portrayal of Martin is very sympathetic and believable. Debbie Kelly as Joan did make me want to shake her and just once be nice about some thing - other than that she had been right in that it did always rain in the Lake District. I found Roger Cook's accent as Len a little clipped and not always easy to understand, but his confession that the hug from his son was 'all right, but not something you would want to do every day' was very touching.

Overall, a very commendable performance, both funny and poignant, which I enjoyed very much. Recommended.

Linda McAlinden

Why Me? - Shot in the Dark Theatre Company

Underground Venues - 18th, 19th, & 25th July at 9:30pm

In this funny and philosophical exploration of a man's life an existential crisis begins when, while being processed in preparation for entry into his adult life, the man begins to ask the big questions; who is he and how did he get here, what is this life about and surely there is something more to it?

The room he finds himself in is filled with pseudo-scientific equipment, diagrams of the human condition on the wall, and two factotums frustrated that someone from their human production line just won't get on with his life. Niven Ganner is stern and uncompromising with his white coat and clipboard; doesn't the man know how lucky he is to have this life? Matt Rothwell as his assistant is hyperactive and curious, triggering yet more confusion and playing with the uncertainty.

The man eventually tries this life, but it's "awful" out there, as he crosses Tom Barry in a range of guises as the embodiment of the external world, and particularly unnerving as the smarmy bank manager. He returns with more questions, but as they pile up he can get neither answers nor peace from them, and he realises he can never go back to unthinking acceptance.

The writing by Ben Moores, who also plays the man, is comic and mesmeric in the quick-witted interplay and the rhyming stream of consciousness monologues. Ideas appear and succeed each other with such rapidity they swirl around bringing the man more confusion than insight. There are so many ideas and metaphors crammed into this play, some border on cliché, but then again, don't our own thoughts? Some are memorable - the watch that ticks louder and faster, for time is everything to the watch and it hates to see it wasted.

During the show the diagrams that initially stuck to the walls started to lose their adhesion and fall to the floor, somehow it was an apt metaphor for the thoughts that wouldn't stick, that slipped away. It may be baffling, but it is enjoyably so, as the delighted puzzlement in the bar afterwards attested. I think this may be a show I'll still be mulling over long after the Fringe has moved on - just make sure you don't lock me in there.

Steve Walker