Theatre Reviews

A CRIMSON MAPLE LEAF - Clickers and Benders Drama Workshop

This evening's poignant theatrical performance was held in the atmospheric Pump Room which lent itself beautifully to the theme. The play tells the story of the human consequences of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 as WW1 raged in the trenches of France and the Spanish flu ploughed through Europe and on to our shores. With the tale based in Buxton and in particular at the Devonshire Hospital, the theatre group introduced us to wounded and traumatised Canadian soldiers who were brought to the relative safety of this town to be nursed by the local women.

While the play drew out the various characters of the town as they interacted with their foreign residents, we as the audience listened to conversations which allowed us to eavesdrop on blossoming love, the emotional and physical scars of war, the struggles of the medical profession and the resentment of some members of the community. At times the factual and hard-hitting dialogue was a hard listen but despite this, the thread of hope which keeps people forging ahead at times of crisis was always there and pulled us through.

This was a very relevant piece of history for our town which the theatre company brought to life for us, particularly as they focused throughout the performance on local landmarks. We were transported back in time and quickly came to care about these carefully crafted characters. A unique and multi-faceted story beautifully told by the company. If local history is for you, then the next performance is on Friday 19th July at 7pm at The Pump Room and comes highly recommended.

Julie Alexander

THE CANTERVILLE GHOST: THE MUSICAL - Magpie Theatre

From the start it is clear that this production is going to move along at pace and provide a lot of laughs - certainly the audience at the performance attended by the reviewer were having a very good time. The themes of the well-known Oscar Wilde story, acceptance and culture clash, redemption, love and forgiveness are artfully delivered which is no mean feat in an hour, and the actors look like they are having a lot of fun along the way. Having live music in the form of the keyboard and cello makes this a very special experience, and the playing was accomplished. There are some very catchy tunes, and each song properly moves the story along or aids the characterization of the singer. The singing is lovely, some very nice moments and fine voices. Commendation to the actor playing the daughter of the family who, whether solo or in combination, provided some of the best musical moments. The parents provided much humour with their arrogance and culture clash, and the maid is hilarious. Sir Simon was properly theatrical and the Duke suitably arrogant.

Only one minor quibble - there were a few times when it was hard to hear what was being said -some of the players have much clearer diction or were more able to rise above the background music than others (this particular venue has very good acoustics so may trip up groups used to working harder to fill a venue with sound). And although all fringe shows are under pressure to end on time, a few lines were missed because the actors were talking over the audience laughs. Slowing down a little would have made this production even better. However, these are minor quibbles in an entertaining and well realized show from what is clearly a very well developed company. If you are looking for an entertaining and fun show, this is a great choice for the whole family.

Julie Eastdown

THE ADVENTURES OF ALEX & THAIS - Lindley & Lloyd Present

What a trouper! The Charles Lloyd (aka Ian) pulled out all the stops after being abandoned by his fellow actors in the run-up to their performance… and showed just what a pro he is.

The show, Alex & Thais, was staged in aid of High Peak Homeless Help and was to have featured a five-strong cast. But at the eleventh hour it had to be transformed into a one-man show – with a little help from work colleague Jess Lindley on sound effects.

Ian, who now works at 'Bradbury’s magical cheese factory,' was previously an actor and stage manager both in the UK and the US. And he put his diverse talents to good use: not only writing the play and performing it, but also acting as narrator, comedian, singer, whistler and even high-kicking dancer!

The radio play - imagine yourself in your 1960s sitting room, listening to Luxy or Caroline on the tranny - is a time travel tale of Alexander the Great and his courtesan Thais, who meet up with a couple of hippies at Solomon’s Temple in Buxton to save the day. It’s certainly different and it’s certainly inspired, featuring local landmarks, culinary delights and even the cheese factory.

Background music gives way to full-blown renditions of hits including Dream ALittle Dream of Me, and Always Look On The Bright Side, while slapstick sound effects range from loud snoring and a thunderstorm to pigeons hitting the window.

It’s a salutary tale with a moral – summing up the 'seven commandments of Buxton': avoid negativity, conceit, greed, hatred, anger and judgement - and embrace love. Marvellous!

Lesley Caddy

O'BRIENS DREAM - Keyhole Theatre Company

O’Brien’s dream is a musical play by Bill Morrison, featuring songs and music by Franke Connor and Alan Crowley. This performance was in memory of Bill and Alan, and put together by director Ann Bates who was Bill’s partner.

The musical play, set in 1847, was about an Irishman, Sean O’Brien, his desire to go to America via Liverpool, and how his intention was thwarted by robbers and prejudice against the Irish. Sean met Mary, a young Liverpudlian, soon after his arrival and they fell in love, but her mother wanted her daughter to marry another man. Although he had prospects, Mary did not love him. Mary’s female employer unexpectedly decided to invest in Sean and Mary’s business, as Sean found prejudice prevented him from raising funds to go to America and he realised he wanted to be with Mary rather than go to America.

The action was very convincing. The two ruffian robbers, Billy and Jim, were so believable that I kept my possessions close by when they passed my seat, and during a boxing match, in which Sean took part, I cheered when he defeated his opponent.

The musical elements added much to the story telling, with one of the actors also playing the keyboard. Songs about the lack of work, the robber’s trade, prejudice against the Irish, the love between Mary and Sean and the desire to go to America were excellent in furthering the plot.

The audience enjoyed the performance, both the drama and the songs. St. Mary’s was a welcoming church, providing tea or coffee and biscuits in the interval.

John Hare

ONE MINUTE OF NOISE - BruniSwann Theatre Company

Relationships are complicated. There is the accommodation of each partner to the other, the adaptation to a new way of life, and mostly this works out. ‘One Minute of Noise’, based on actual stories, deals with the situation where one partner has control over the other.

The play begins with the introduction of four women in completely separate but parallel stories and we quickly realise that while becoming entangled with boyfriends each of them has a supportive close female friend . The women are from different cultural backgrounds and we meet them as their relationships with their boyfriends are forming with high hopes and innocent romance: the ‘cutesy phase’. Except for one woman who is forced to marry a partner she dislikes. Eventually as things progress each of them is subject to a power imbalance which eventually leads to abuse with which the friend is unable to help. The abuse takes different forms: psychological, financial, social, and physical.

The women try to assert themselves and claim power over their own bodies. Their rebellions are short lived with tragic consequences.

As a male in the audience I felt uncomfortable, but the purpose of the play was to highlight the scale and nature of the abuse and so we see things how they are. This was supported by statistics at the close with the actors working themselves into righteous anger and a unique finish brought the departing audience into close contact with the actors – some of whom had tears on their faces from the intensity of the finale.

Further performances 13th and 14th July at URC.

Brian Kirman

CARPE DIEM - Shadow Syndicate

This is a thoroughly committed piece of work, angry about what it sees going wrong in much of the world we live in, and determined to give us the strong recommendation to, in the words of the title, Carpe Diem - Seize the Day.

'You have to pay attention to politics,' says one character, 'because if you don’t, then politics will pay attention to you': this is in the context of freedoms being taken away, of deliberate misinformation and lies, of the stresses and cruelty increasingly being meted out by overbearing governments and leaders.

It has a cast of ten who use an excellent, wide-ranging set of theatre skills – from mime to physicality, with inventive & imaginative staging – to work alongside the text as we hear and see represented in front of us, the ‘story’ of what happened to each of six young women as 'the system' overtook them.

This is a company made up of drama students from The Becket School in Nottingham, and apart from creating the narrative of this show, they offer a compelling understanding of stage and performance techniques. That aside, the message they convey is very much of our time and we keep recognising elements of today’s news and events, yesterday’s, and indeed every day’s.

Michael Quine

BREAKING THE CODE BY HUGH WHITEMORE - The Pendleton Codebreakers

The story of Alan Turing is by now well known but his personality less so. The Hollywood version named 'The Imitation Game' made common knowledge of Alan Turing and his contribution to the decoding of the German Enigma machine during the second world war but gave a superficial view of his character. Hugh Whitmore wrote this play after the declassification of many files about Turing’s secret work; ‘Breaking the Code' delves more into the personality of Turing.

An enthusiastic young cast give a good account of the story with many moments of quiet reflection and pause. The characters are believable and convincing.

The play is dialogue led and well presented. For one: James Grundy’s Manchester accent is too believable to be false. The main burden falls on Alex Barker, as Turing. He delivers the full load of dialogue with the hesitancy and sensitivity which we learn was typical of Turing, but when he is asked to explain the mathematics by the Bletchley Park manager (entertainingly played by Thomas Cunliffe) he starts slowly and then goes off into a world of his own; an absorption with detail and concepts difficult for non mathematicians. Alex Barker does a formidable job, not just of relating the theories and ideas but showing the obsession and delight Turing had with this work.

Other members of the cast bring out aspects of Turing’s personality such as his mother (Sara Turing), his first love, played by James Prentice, Brook Debio as a menacing presence and the persecuting policeman Aidan Stott, who draws out Turing’s confession. Pat Green’s love for Turing (played by Indira Rabarijaona) leads to his revelation that he is homosexual.

When we look back at these events from the (largely) tolerant present day it is hard to understand how the ignorance and fear of homosexuality led to the spy scandals of the 1960’s and of course the sad suicide of Alan Turing.

A sensitive and convincing portrayal of a tragic hero in England’s modern times. The cast were given a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

A further performance is on 11th July.

SESSIONS - Working Progress Collective

Working Progress Collective produces new writing from and with working class artists. Their latest show at Buxton Fringe is a two-hander. 17-year-old George Boucher has been convicted of GBH and narrowly escaped being sent to prison. Instead, he is given community service and a youth worker, David. David is calm and kind, but no pushover. He wants George to do well but George will have to put the hards yards in.

The play explores the complex maelstrom of factors that has led George to this point - family, poverty, casual violence, substance abuse. And it becomes apparent that George isn’t the only one with demons. David’s chequered past is also gradually laid bare to us, if not always to George.

The performances from both actors are convincing and engrossing. George stutters his way through his progress and his setbacks and we’re routing for him because we believe in him. In parallel, we learn David’s story and see that you don’t have to be imprisoned by your past. The two men use football as a Lingua France - it helps them to reach each other when they seem to have no other point of commonality. It is wholly fitting that the game plays a significant part in George’s eventual outcome.

Sessions is an intense and ultimately positive piece that examines the vulnerability of young men who have to grow up with disadvantages that should be overwhelming. It is also - indirectly - a plea to reverse the decades-long decline of youth services. People like David can save lives. Where would George have been without him?

Anna Girolami

CONSTELLATIONS BY NICK PAYNE - Harlequin Theatre

Have you ever wondered if a small change or a different decision at some stage in your life would have changed everything? Your job, your partner, your location: everything.

In ‘Constellations’ we see on stage different versions of the same event - and who is to say which is the real one? The play starts as a fairly straight forward boy-meets-girl story but then we are given different nuanced versions of the first interactions between Marianne and Roland, excellently played by Sian Weedon and Adrian Grace. During the couples’ early interactions there are hints about a tragic ending but the non-linear narrative keeps us guessing.

It transpires that the girl is a ‘cosmologist’ with a special interest in ‘multiverses’. This leads to conversations with her bee-keeper boyfriend about destiny and free will. There is a clear comparison of the ordered world of bees, where Drones, Workers and the Queen have defined roles and a short life to human society with no defined role, life span or destiny.

A key moment in the play is when Roland proposes marriage with a speech based on his bees. This is repeated no less than five times each with a different nuanced outcome. There are complex questions which include quantum mechanics, human identity, and fate leading to the statement, 'If every decision I’ve ever made, and never made exists (in the multiverse). Then what’s the point...'.

This challenging and moving drama, by the playwright, Nick Payne gives much food for thought and is one of the highlights of our Fringe so far.

Brian Kirman

THE TEMPLE - Michael Sabbaton

A towering performance from Michael Sabbaton in his revived adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1920 novel.

1917, a German U-boat has sunk and cannot recover. Most of the crew have, variously, suffered nightmares and panic attacks, mutinied, been shot by the captain, with the last one hallucinating, subsequently allowed to escape through the airlock into certain death at great depth. But the memory of him remains, ever present and distressing.

We are left with the captain, reviewing recent events, reflecting his success and pride at becoming a U-boat commander, remembering the recent past (successfully attacking a particular freighter and then killing its escaping crew, then finding one of them looped into his boat’s rail), and haunted by so much more, both reality and imaginings.

It’s a tale about one man, his hallucinations, his reflections on duty, suffering and the death which is for sure coming: there’s no escape for him from this horror. Is it his fate which has brought him to this position? Is it something external which has come to haunt him?

A fascinating and moving story where the claustrophobia drives us forward: the back story is told, the raw emotions overwhelm us, and such a strong performance – on a very contained and indeed claustrophobic acting area, and with an atmospheric soundscape - holds us gripped throughout.

Michael Quine

THE LIFE & RHYMES OF ARCHY & MEHITABEL - Theatre Nation / Sweet Productions

Patrick Kealey uses a variety of props, usually headgear, to portray first Archy, a New York cockroach who has discovered a typewriter and is indulging his poetic soul (he was a free form poet in his former life), and then the characters that inhabit the stories that Archy recounts, from Mehitabel the cat, to Freddy the rat, who sadly meets his end when a fearsome South American tarantula arrives with a shipment of bananas. There is a wonderful scene, recounted second hand from Pete the pigeon, in a pub where Will (Shakespeare) bemoans the fact that he has to produce second-rate popular work instead of writing sonnets.

Archy and Mehitabel were created in 1916 by Don Marquis, a columnist writing for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York. Kealey has adapted the columns to provide a witty series of tales to be recounted in this one-man show. Archy’s observations contain some universal truths which are as relevant today as when they were written a century ago. In fact, even more relevant today when it comes to his final revelation about what the ants are really saying.

Kealey is a masterful performer, and his renditions of the different characters, especially Tom, the old theatre cat, are superb. His delivery of Marquis’ humorous tales kept the audience chuckling appreciatively throughout and make this a performance not to be missed. You have two more opportunities to see Archy and friends in Buxton: 9 July 8.30pm; 10 July 1pm.

Georgina Blair

GRUOCH: THE LADY MACBETH - Burns Unit / Sweet Productions

Gruoch was a Scottish queen in the early 11th century. There’s not a great deal known about her, but the known facts have been created and embroidered into a rich fable of a long search for revenge after the outcome of some of Scotland’s historical fighting and land grabs. People grabs, too.

That tale has been brought into a rich script by David Calcutt, and it evokes all that is great about Scottish myths – with the added benefit (?) that we know the tale was a source for Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, not to mention a whole host of other novels and scripts.

This was written for solo actor Caroline Burns Cooke who, in this performance, powerfully owns the stage, sometimes storming across it in fury, sometimes reflecting quietly to herself on her feelings, her anguish, her turmoil, her determination: sometimes in classic monologue forms, whether calmly or with a degree of anger and violence, but sometimes even addressing members of the audience, at one stage even suggesting that she might be expecting a response – though in what appear to be ad libs she makes it clear that she is not. It’s a lively physical performance and she uses her face, especially, in a very mobile and expressive manner to convey horror, warmth and the wide range of emotions.

It’s a tale of revenge in violent and blood-thirsty times, revenge for a cruel deed which left a young girl without her father, revenge which took many years to achieve, all wrapped up in what we might see as Scottish myth. The atmosphere – whether in Gruoch’s mind or in the physical performance - is well sustained throughout this prop-free performance.

Michael Quine

LITTLE RED - Buxton Opera House Youth Fringe Company

Little Red Riding Hood has always been a cautionary tale for young people. This updated version about online safety and knife crime is no different.

Here we see nearly 30 young people involved in the creation of a compelling piece of theatre. To rehearse and design the tech for a show in a week, for work experience, is no mean feat, but to create a show that has a strong style, fantastic acting and interesting tech is phenomenal.

Scarlett Burnham played a really menacing wolf, her delivery and facial expressions captured the role perfectly. Emma Stafford’s Little Red had the right amount of vulnerability and was never overplayed.

However, this was a true ensemble piece of theatre. The cast fully understood the concept of ensemble work and had the confidence to carry it off vocally and physically, the Ancient Greeks would have been proud! I loved the playground scene when groups played in perfect mime their childhood games and the slow transition where the playground turned on Little Red.

The use of sound effects and visuals were well timed and wholly appropriate. Lighting created atmosphere to bring the piece to life, menacing reds were used, but were never over the top. The simple graffitied set perfectly captured the style of the show.

The script could have had the confidence to stay with the online safety message, there was enough here alone to be brilliant. The addition of the knife seemed a bit laboured, but credit to the group, they really played it with full conviction.

This Youth Fringe Company’s next show that a non-school audience can see is on Friday 12th July, otherwise they are performing in schools and running workshops alongside it! Catch it if you can.

Jayne Fanthorpe Walker

WHEN KURT MET THORA - Plush Tiger Productions

In 1991, grunge pioneers Nirvana appeared on Top of the Pops, notoriously sabotaging their own performance in protest at the show’s convention of asking artists to mime. This affectionate two-hander imagines that while waiting in the Television Centre green room before his performance, lead singer Kurt Cobain encountered British national treasure, Thora Hird, fresh from recording a Praise Be! Christmas special about the Salvation Army.

It is a clever device to throw these two characters together – Cobain introspective, haunted by psychological demons, Thora, garrulous, optimistic, relying on her religious faith. Ant Hopkinson plays Cobain as a product of his damaged childhood, striving for some security. It is a hard role to bring across to an audience as his slightly monotone Washington drawl is a bit too laid back at times, but nonetheless this feels like an authentic portrayal. As Thora, Kellie Gamble captures all of the nuances of the speech patterns of a character so familiar to British audiences of a certain age, tapping into Hird’s bubbly public image but also the more shrewd, worldly side she was to employ so well in her more serious acting roles.

The script by Clara Nel Haddon has clearly been meticulously researched, mining the lives of both of these public figures for incidents and anecdotes that form the heart of their conversation. With two characters so different it would be easy for them to appear as if they’re in two different plays, and it’s a testament to the skill of both writer and performers that it comes together in a satisfying whole. At times I felt the play could have done with a bit more movement (although obviously the setting doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that), but this is an enjoyable dissection of two iconic figures.

Robbie Carnegie

TREASURE ISLAND - Nuworks: theatre made in Australia

As the stage fills with shambling, dreadful pirates, and the first bars of ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest’ reverberate through the venue you know you are in for a treat. And no sooner has this atmospheric opening number finished than some of the ten strong cast accomplish amazingly rapid costume changes and we are introduced to Jim Hawkins and family in the Admiral Benbow Inn.

Treasure Island is a rollicking tale, and Nuworks make the most of it with their strong characters and original soundtrack. Ben Gunn and his search for cheese was a particular delight. It's no understatement to say that if this production was given a live orchestra and a stage it would hold its own in the West End.

Nuworks are a community theatre group, based in Cheltenham, Australia. They regularly tour overseas, and we’re very pleased they made it to Buxton Fringe this year. Sadly this was the only chance to see Treasure Island at this year’s Fringe, but you can listen to the soundtrack on Nuworks Theatre website.

Georgina Blair

THE REMARKABLE DELIVERANCES OF ALICE THORNTON - Debbie Cannon

On the eve of her husband’s funeral, Alice Thornton has to face the possibility of a scandal that may destroy her reputation. She pleads, cajoles and sometimes hectors God to deliver her once more as he has done so many times before.

Alice Thornton (1626 – 1707) is a rare woman in her era to have left an autobiographical account of her life. The manuscripts have only recently been fully rediscovered and as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Alice Thornton’s Books Project, Debbie Cannon created this play.

Cannon will be remembered in Buxton for the very popular Green Knight, though Alice Thornton is perhaps a less sympathetic character than her previous creation. Alice is proud of how often God has 'delivered' her from death, so many times I lost count, but smallpox, a head injury and a surfeit of lobster amongst them. This surfeit of deliverances has created a pious self-righteous woman, less popular with family and neighbours than with God, and Royalist Alice is aware that that they point out how God didn’t spare Charles I and gossip that perhaps she is none too sad to lose her husband.

Cannon captures the contradictions in Alice superbly, from piously appealing to God, to her self-justifying defences against the rumours swirling around her, and to grief at the loss of her children, 6 of whom failed to reach adulthood. She is an engaging performer making eye contact with the audience when defending herself, but looking above us when appealing to God. Full use is made of the simple set and props, resorting to Alice’s quill and books to back up her protestations of truth, while a bustle becomes a swing, a dog and a child.

At times, Alice can whine a little too much and it is a relief when Cannon switches to the character of her tormentor, Ann Danby. Performed through Alice’s eyes as her insinuating and voluptuous nemesis, that quill is something other than an instrument of truth, and gives an insight to her character that Alice doesn’t know she is revealing.

It’s a show that can be performed anywhere with no need for light or sound design, the focus is entirely on Cannon as she brings this complex, and all too human, woman to life.

Stephen Walker

THE SNOW DRAGON BY LIZZIE NUNNERY - REC Youth Theatre Company

Lizzie Nunnery’s play The Snow Dragons tells the story of a group of young people who have taken to the woods to live out stories from Norse mythology. However, when civil war breaks their world apart, can their imaginary tales of gods and monsters prepare them for real-life Ragnarok?

The play was created for the National Theatre Connections Festival in 2017, providing exactly the kind of theatre that suits a group like the REC Youth Theatre, with a wide range of roles to suit different skills and abilities, and the juxtaposition of a fantastical scenario with the everyday stresses of teenage life.

Braving the elements (specifically rain and midges), the youthful cast took to Gadley Woods for a site-specific performance of this play. The location gave it a reality – as the audience entered the performance area, the cast were already busy playing theatre games, so that the divide between real life and the world of the play was cleverly blurred.

The site however, also provided its challenges, as the sound of the rain on the leaves was a constant issue and, with many of the cast less skilled at projecting their voices than others, audibility was a definite issue and it was often hard to follow the thread of the story. That said, the performances were always truthful and naturalistic, and clearly spoke to the actors taking part.

As is often the case with youth productions, the actors alternate roles between different performances, so I won’t single out individuals in what is essentially an ensemble cast. The Snow Dragons will also be performed indoors at the Community School Drama Studio on 15 and 19 July if you’d prefer to experience it in the warm and dry.

Robbie Carnegie

MIDDLE BY DAVID ELDRIDGE - Madam Renards

This David Eldridge play dates from 2022 when it was first presented at the National Theatre. Set in 2016, it could just as well be set now – apart from references to some music of the time. It’s the second of what is to be a trilogy about life in a marriage – how it starts, 'Beginning'; the stresses, doubts and (maybe) re-thinking in the next stage 'Middle'; and then – well we have yet to see 'End'.

Here we have a towering production from Madam Renards theatre company. The play opens at 5.30am as wife Maggie comes down to the kitchen, restless in her mind, unable to sleep: followed by her husband of some 15 years. Her initial timid quietly-spoken 'I don’t think I love you any more' is the start of a fascinating and developing exchange of frustrations, resentments, misunderstandings and yet warmth.

This was the first performance (and the only one here at the Fringe) before, they hope, a tour to be arranged. Nicky Beards as Maggie the wife was a joy to watch and hear: by turns timid, nervous, doubtful, quiet, and then determined, strong and yet supportive of the husband she has determined to leave. Steve Cowley gave us the impatient 'won’t listen' or maybe 'won’t hear' braggadocio of an East London lad before tempting us through the piece to think that maybe he now understands and is a changed character. Both of the characters in their own ways upwardly mobile and presented to us thoroughly convincingly, exchanging memories of their years together, the pressures they had faced - and still do, and so much more.

Beautifully measured and paced uncluttered performances from both, directed by Heather Davies who used the props and the space, width especially, of the venue to allow movement which sometimes spoke louder than words. This was a fine confident and persuasive production which well deserves a future life.

Michael Quine

RETHINKING GOOD INTENTIONS - Nancy Edwards

This online performance by Canadian writer and former nurse Nancy Edwards takes us to the Sierra Leone of 1980. Nancy spent 5 years based at Serabu Hospital living on the compound itself. Her new home is far removed, physically, culturally and socially from her native Canada, and Nancy is so unsure of her place in this primitive world of village chiefs, rainforests, abundant wildlife and witch hunters that she cannot even relay observations and experiences to her own parents when she first arrives.

A change of her original role upon arrival at the hospital reduces Nancy's confidence in herself whilst her Canadian boldness of speech then leads her into a cultural faux pas with a highly regarded village chief. And so begins Nancy's journey in learning how to live and work successfully alongside her colleagues and patients in a country where life is so uncertain that parents give their children names which mean "let this one live".

Interspersed with photographs to provide scene breaks and with accompanying music from the region which was recorded by Nancy herself, she takes us with ease and authenticity to the villages where she worked. Here, the Granny midwives and (often) despairing mothers of an impoverished country where infant mortality is high and medical help is extremely basic and very limited provide the backdrop.

This is a story about people of different cultures experiencing the rocky road of life together and whilst seeming to be far removed from each other, as the ending of this piece of theatre shows, unexpected connections from the past can come to greet us.

In an hour, Nancy paints for her audience a colourful canvas of her reflections upon her 5 years of living in Sierra Leone with clarity and emotion whilst keeping our interest and our desire to hear more. A praiseworthy and thought-provoking production.

Nancy's next live performance online is on the 20th July from 5pm to 6pm where a Q&A session will also be offered.

Julie Alexander

A MID-COURSE CORRECTION - FRINGE PREVIEW, NEW MILLS - On The Spot Theatre Company

This two-hander starts with something that will be very familiar to many watching: the essay crisis. Student Alise (Casey Brayndick) begs her tutor (Emma Friend) to let her have another go at her essay, submitted in haste. The harassed tutor hasn’t had time to read it yet, but when she does, she realises why Alise wants it back. Instead of referring Alise to the academic misconduct process, her tutor decides to explore the topics of the essay with her by travelling back in time (a wise dramatic choice) and we are plunged into late nineteenth century Louisiana, and a shopping trip that takes a surprising turn.

This clever play is based around a short story by American author Kate Chopin, which appeared in Vogue Magazine on September 16, 1897. Alise and her tutor explore the events in the story, delving into the space Chopin left in her narrative to interpret the characters’ motivations. Although written more than a century ago, how women are able to realise their own dreams and fulfil their own needs is still very relevant, and this play tackles an important subject in a light-hearted, very watchable way.

On The Spot Theatre Company are based in Chicago, and this is their first physical visit to Buxton Fringe. It is wonderful to have them here in person, and to be introduced to the world of Kate Chopin. You can see them at the United Reformed Church, Buxton 6, 7 Jul 7.30pm; 8 Jul 2.30pm, and if you want to be fully prepared for the tutorial, read the short story ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings’ first (see www.katechopin.org).

Georgina Blair

A SLIGHT ACHE BY HAROLD PINTER - Ava Hunt Theatre

The play gives us a blank canvas in the form of a mute matchseller onto which both main characters, Flora and Edward, project a persona from their own lives and each tries to dominate him. This leads to an intriguing surprise ending.

The Nobel prize winning Harold Pinter is the ‘Marmite’ playwright of the English stage. His style is not for all tastes but the sparse plot of ‘A Slight Ache’ is leavened by the excellent acting of Maggie Ford and Lewis Hancock who dead-pan the humorous opportunities in the play. It is after all billed as a ‘tragicomedy’.

The plot centres around the growing estrangement of a long-married couple who superficially have a perfect prosperous middle class life together. The tensions between them are sometimes trivial – the clanking of cutlery, the exaggerated drama of hunting a wasp - but because of their closeness and familiarity small issues become serious and threatening as the husband, Edward, tries to dominate. This is a similar theme to Edward Albee’s 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf' but where Albee has high drama and explosive temper Pinter has pauses and meaningful silences. The play is somewhere between psychological warfare and a comedy of manners.

The strain in Edward and Flora’s relationship is neatly brought out by the catalyst of an outsider who becomes entrapped in their confrontations. This part, 'The Matchseller’, is played silently but expressively by David Frederickson. A street matchseller would have been a dated concept even in the late 1950’s when the play was written but the fact that he sells nothing throughout the play means that we can project our own motives onto him. Edward is suspicious and just a little afraid, Flora associates him with a dark episode from her past. As Arthur Miller once said when asked what Willy Loman was selling (in Death of a Salesman) he answered, 'He is selling himself'.

You won’t leave humming any tunes but the play gives much food for thought. And, a bit like the ‘Mousetrap’ don’t tell anyone the ending.

Further performances on 12th and 18th July.

Brian Kirman

DEAR ELIZA - Barbara Diesel & Helen Parry

A nervous, slightly jittery young woman welcomes us to the project she has developed, prompted to speak by an off-stage voice. She starts to read us letters from a shoebox in front of her, all addressed to ‘Dear Eliza’ from someone called Maeve. As the young woman starts to open up, she tells us the story of her relationship with her best friend at university, of the great times they shared, and then of how that friendship was torn apart by mental illness and tragedy.

Dear Eliza is an intimate and involving examination of intense female friendship, and also of the pressures put on young people and the guilt of those left behind by trauma. Writer and performer Barbara Diesel gives a fascinating, raw performance. At one point she claims that conversations around mental health are boring, but it is a testament to Diesel’s performance that at no point in this play is that true. She presents a character at once damaged and also warm, someone that you could really imagine would be your best friend.

The play is built around the idea that we should speak to each other, that we should express our feelings and share with our friends before it is too late. Dear Eliza is unquestionably a conversation-starter, allowing the central character to release the pain that is within her and maybe, just maybe, face a more optimistic future.

Robbie Carnegie

LIFE'S LITTLE VICTOMS - Page2Stage Creatives

As this engaging production is about back-stories...

The cast and director formed a ‘young’ theatre company after ‘maturely’ graduating last year as actors from Staffs Uni. Local man Steven Powell, who wrote the play and acts the part of Tom, is older than I am. I am 63. Karina Essery, who plays Vicky in this married couples' drama, would probably shoot me in the face in Buxton’s Sainsbury’s if I revealed her age!

Back story two, is the plot itself – it’s based on incredibly engaging true stories and lived experiences and is packed with one-liners. Innuendos trip off the tongue as we ‘All go on a Summer Holiday’, re-discover ‘Chanson D’Amour’ and listen to ‘Sexual Healing’ to the echo of a vibrator on a table - great direction by Kelly Marie Singleton on this.

Because you missed it, and to give you a flavour of this one-off show, here are some of my favourite lines:

‘OCD’= An Overly Cosmetic Dependent (Man)

‘The train arrived early in the station' (Says Vicky to Tom disappointedly)

'I’ve been married 26 f****ing years and now she wants to talk to me'

This is stand-up and stand-out theatre, with the actors actually stepping into the audience. It was a pleasure to see them perform.

They are off to Edinburgh to live in a tent for a month during another less important festival but have promised to re-perform Life’s Little VicToms again in Buxton later in the year and are designing/writing a new production for next year. Don’t miss it.

Kevin McQuaid

WITHOUT MALICE OR ILL WILL - Hand On The Tap

This powerful and passionate piece of theatre is written and performed by the actor Ray Castleton in the character of Retired PC Geoffrey Marsh .

Recounting his story to his audience (a committee who have invited him to speak) Geoff Marsh quickly transports us back in time to the halcyon days of mining apprenticeships with the National Coal Board before the dawning of an era where the traditional male manual jobs of the North of England have haemorrhaged away leaving communities abandoned and men forced to rethink how they can earn their living.

The title of the play is taken from the words included in the Police Officer's Oath but the tale which Geoff relates, shows us how these words do not just apply to his career with the police service. Exchanging his miner's lamp for a policeman's uniform after 10 years in the pits, it is 1974 and this new career path is seen by Geoff as one which will allow him to serve his community and his family well, whilst keeping a family tradition alive.

Unforeseen by Geoff but prophesised by his father, however, the political landscape of 1984 brings him into conflict with members of his community, his beliefs and eventually his conscience. Geoff soon realises that a policeman's lot is not as easily removed as is his uniform.

Using colourful and strong language at times and vivid descriptions of the events witnessed during the miners strike of 1984/85 this production addresses a highly emotive subject and cannot fail to move the members of the audience .Ray Castleton's portrayal of Geoff Marsh is excellent and comes highly recommended.

Julie Alexander

THE SHOEMAKER OF HAVANA - Nuworks: theatre made in Australia

The Shoemaker of Havana takes us on a journey through the modern history of Cuba from just before the socialist revolution against the Batista regime up to the present day. The story is told with the help of original songs, but it would be incorrect to describe this as a musical. The songs are used to emphasize the notable events; sometimes adding personal emotion to the political points.

The principals, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, were strongly played with the loyal shoemaker giving a down to earth (a servant of the revolution) account of how he met them and even made shoes for Fidel. And so the shoemaker, humorously interrupted by his wife, talks us through world events: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the blockade and missile crisis, the CIA dirty tricks to kill Castro, the liaison with the USSR and how its collapse impoverished Cuba, the visit by Obama and the canceling of the rapprochement by Trump.

Like many notable historical works there is a narrator, a ‘tragic hero’, who is able to put the events into perspective while relating a ‘normal person’s’ experience of how the events affect them personally. We conclude with his disillusionment following the death of Raoul Castro and his decision to leave Cuba.

Many Fringe productions are one-person shows but Nuworks brought us a lively cast of ten, supported by an audio visual screen as a backdrop. The acoustics of St Mary’s church help during the high drama episodes but rely on the discrete microphones carried by performers.

The Australian theatre company, Nuworks, has included Buxton fringe in their busy UK tour; and most welcome they are.

There is just one more performance on 7th July but the same company offer a version of Treasure Island which on this form will be well worth attending.

Brian Kirman

HǾLÌDÅŸ - David Hoskin

HǾLÌDÅŸ is a one man show, David Hoskin is that one man, a man who plays many characters through a broad range of physical skills in a funny and interesting piece of theatre.

This is a show told through mime, but it is much broader than the traditional image of mime. Think more in the ilk of Mr Bean, a clowning style that incorporates vocal sound and minimal speech to enhance a tale. Hoskin involves the audience in the travel across the world showing them a variety of characters along the way.

As an audience you must pay close attention to what is happening, it is an entertaining watch, but not one you can let wash over you. This is a show that demands and deserves your full attention especially during the montage sequences.

Having studied theatre at Ecole Philippe Gaulier (the same place as Garry Starr, past Buxton Fringe performer) there is a is clear joy of physical exploration involving the whole body. His facial expressions are a triumph!

Saying this was a one man show is unfair on the sound and lighting technician as they are used with precision and skill to bring the tale up to its full potential.

This is essentially a tale about a very quiet civil servant who goes on holiday, leaves his cat behind and has a serious of magnificent adventures.

Jayne Fanthorpe Walker

FLUFF - Teepee Productions

Occasionally there’s a play – and a performance – that takes you out of your surroundings and into the world of its central character so effectively you don’t want to leave it. Fluff is such a play.

In a fractured, non-linear narrative, we meet Fluff, an engaging young woman who relates the story of her life. But Fluff is an unreliable narrator, for reasons that become more and more apparent as the story progresses. Born with unusually fuzzy hair (hence her nickname), Fluff is the apple of her father’s eye, and the subject of her strong-willed mother’s constant criticism. She tells us the story of her parents’ meeting, her own issues with bullying at school, a first flowering of teenage love and her disastrous teaching career. But it is clear from all these fragments, and also the moments when her descriptions falter and confusion takes her over, that something is very wrong indeed.

This is an exceptional performance by Tayla Kenyon. Fluff comes across as a sweet, engaging character, but at the same time exceptionally brittle and fragile. It is a performance of great subtlety and lightly played emotion, bringing the audience with her through her, at times, traumatic life story, but never overplaying these moments.

Fluff is a play that aims at a lot of targets and it is to its credit that it hits them. Its subject matter is something that could have been sensationalized but, developed with Alzheimer’s Society, Herts Musical Memories and Trauma Breakthrough, it has a delicacy and authenticity that is to be commended. Written by Kenyon and James Piercy, and directed by Danäe Cambrook, the play is at once powerful but also detailed and gently conveyed, with a fascinating soundscape that compliments the nuances of the central performance. The scene, for example, in which Fluff talks about caring for her ailing father (conveyed simply by a dressing gown and slippers) is simply conveyed but utterly heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

Robbie Carnegie

SHAKESPEARE ON THE SPOT - Stephen Longstaffe

Beguiling, fascinating, sharp, witty – check, all those. Intelligent – check. Intellectual – well yes, just as much as you want it to be. It’s a pity that the Event Description uses the word ‘clown’ on top of ‘improvisor’ since that suggests this might be more of a full-blown comedy show than it is.

What we get is a one-person show – hang on there: it’s not really a SHOW. Longstaffe is (used to be?) a university lecturer. He’s the lecturer or even teacher I’d love to have had: he walked on stage and just started talking to us. He knows his stuff (of course) and loves it too and gives us valuable insights.

He gives us just a few of the famous and less famous Shakespeare monologues, explains them and their contexts to us, then invites us to replace key ideas/facts/things with others so that he can re-work the originals. We offered potholes, badgers and so much more and it’s plain that Longstaffe really is working from new basics for each show. The re-worked material keeps the thrust of the original, but moderates it with much more than simple embroidery so that we chuckle and even laugh with warm recognition of what he’s done.

That alone is delightful: but (for this audience member) what was also fascinating was his careful, slow-paced presentation of the original. Hamlet’s 'Alas, poor Yorick', for instance, was presented with more anguish, doubt, self-doubt than I’ve ever heard on stage – and with pauses for thought and reflection it took quite a bit longer than others do. Throughout, there are new insights galore, and time to reflect.

Michael Quine