Street Theatre Reviews

MISS LILLIAN VIOLET BOWDINE ENTERTAINS - Discover Buxton Tours

I was very pleased to join Miss Lily on a beautiful sunny afternoon in Buxton to hear more about the town’s theatrical history.

Facts and figures about past and present theatres in Buxton were interspersed with gossipy anecdotes, arched eyebrows and knowing looks which delighted her audience. In true Discover Buxton style, this tour contained historical facts related as if they were current events by a contemporary character.

The fictional Miss Lily, played in frothy breathless style by actress Jill Neves, was due on stage later that day in the Opera House’s first ever performance in 1903. A tale of illicit kisses entitled ‘Mrs Willoughby’s Kiss’ which appears to have been quite racy for Edwardian Britain. We are told that the star Florence St John, walked through the Opera House ‘stately as a battleship’, and that it was ‘a good thing’ that the entrance and stairways were ‘so commodious’. These little stories wickedly told from behind a cupped hand give us much more insight into the past than dry facts alone could ever do.

There was much hilarity when the opera house dressing rooms were praised as being fitted with ‘every modern convenience’. Possibly the case when the Opera House was built but definitely not the case now.

The tour started outside the Opera House where we learnt about the building’s origins and were told patrons (men) had to make a dash for The Old Clubhouse (formerly a Gentleman’s Club) before the show to order drinks. The Opera House didn’t serve drinks until 1928.

We then strolled through the Pavillion Gardens hearing more gossipy anecdotes and finished in the foyer where Miss Lily suffered an untimely conniption, saw into the future and predicted visits by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Anna Pavlova, Lillian Bayliss and Ken Dodd.

This was a highly entertaining and informative way to spend 45 minutes especially on a gloriously sunny day in Buxton.

Moira Kean

THE SHAKESPEARE JUKEBOX - Buxton Drama League

This is the nineteenth Fringe to be graced by Buxton Drama League’s Shakespeare Jukebox, and the formula will be familiar to regulars, even if the actors have changed over the years. Here we have high energy, fast-paced scenes from the Bard, delivered in a street theatre style on the Pavilion Gardens promenade. Enjoy a drink (the Buxton Brewery Bar will probably be open) or take a rest from walking the dog; you can participate and keep the 45-minute show barrelling along by choosing a scene from the menu board and making a donation to Buxton Samaritans. The players (five of them at this performance) will don appropriate costume and launch into your choice.

The Players’ energy seemed undiminished by the weather (just as well, the challenge yesterday was wind) and can easily encompass about two thirds of their ‘playlist’ in the short span of the show, which will vary in content according to the audience’s choice. We were treated to Macbeth’s Witches, two scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and soliloquies from Hamlet and Twelfth Night, to mention just a few. There are lots of opportunities for audience participation (don’t worry, no-one is embarrassed in this show), and the style is relaxed and responsive, but Jukebox isn’t The Art of Coarse Acting or ‘The Play that Goes Wrong.’ Comedy is relished, and drama is allowed its weight.

Scenes which bring the whole company on stage were, I thought, particularly enjoyable: the Rude Mechanicals and the sea storm from The Tempest were great set pieces. But individual players held the audience (last night including three generations by the end of the show) perfectly with solo speeches, and we had some entertaining double-acts, too. No-one turns a hair as, inevitably, opera-goers walk behind the action, a child pauses for a moment in their family group to gaze, or a dog barks at a stage lion!

Shakespeare Jukebox is first-rate street theatre; a cultural gem, and a thoroughly enjoyable way of supporting a good cause. Catch it at 6.15pm on July 7th, 14th, 19th and 20th.

Simon White

SEX AND SENSIBILITY - Discover Buxton Tours

The premise of this tour was intriguing - Anne Lister in Buxton?? I was aware of Anne, although not having watched 'Gentleman Jack', I didn't know too much about her.

We joined Anne at The Crescent where she was staying with her Aunt (also named Anne) who was here for health reasons. A striking, confident and rakishly dressed figure, Anne took us on a short walk around the Buxton that she knew, describing how and where she spends her days and imparting nuggets of new information - there were lots of murmurs from our group 'well, I didn't know that'....

The tour concluded on the Slopes enjoying the beautiful panorama of The Crescent and surrounding buildings as Anne continued to describe the landscape of the Buxton she knew. It was at this point that we started to learn more about Anne as a person, lonely and brave and very much out of step with convention - modern problems are nothing new! It was pleasing to hear that Aunt Anne was a trusted and supportive confidante.

There were lovely touches on this tour, Anne urged us to mind the speeding 'carriages' as we crossed a busy road and there were enough hints at Anne's personal life (her schooldays, the famous diaries and strong female 'friendships') to whet the appetite for more research.

Anne's tour was warmly received by a knowledgeable group, I heard suggestions that the tour could have been paced a little more slowly, stopping to impart the information rather than talking as we walked as sometimes traffic was noisy or the group got stretched out.

Actress Corrine Coward deserves much credit. She made Anne a captivating figure, perfectly juxtaposing her strengths and vulnerabilities.

This was a lovely way to spend 40 minutes on a summer's evening, a very good addition to Discover Buxton's excellent range of tours, another informative and entertaing gem.

Janet Payne

OLD HAUNTS BY TOM CRAWSHAW & ALICE DE CENT - Buxton Our Street

What a great idea it is to learn about Buxton’s history with the aid of an informative and entertaining walking tour accessed via your smartphone. You can do this in your own time and at your own pace. The idea is that the journey begins outside the Pump Room and continues down Spring Gardens – the main shopping street - where you learn the stories behind various buildings and about previous incarnations of the current shopping landscape.

There are lively performances from Michael Grady-Hall and Suzanne McGrail who play brother and sister Matt and Claire, earnest historian and exuberant defender of ghosts respectively. The audio trail is constantly interrupted by pop up ghosts who address you directly and I do admit to ‘looking up’ when instructed to!

The historical facts from Matt were as you’d expect but were interspersed with comical musings from Claire, mixing their shared history with the town’s. There was much to reflect on about the transient nature of high streets and their offerings. Indeed, one of the shops mentioned on the trail has already bitten the dust (Track and Trail) and is currently occupied by the Underground at the Springs venue.

There appeared to be a few teething problems as I negotiated the trail and I had to retrace my steps a few times, but hopefully these will be ironed out and this innovative offering will be enjoyed by many more Fringe visitors.

Moira Kean