Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Review. Jeykll and Hyde, Theatre Royal Nottingham

Nottingham Theatre Royal's annual Colin McKintyre Classic Thriller Season which comprises of four thrillers played, as in rep, over four weeks is a very much anticipated part of the Nottingham theatre calendar. This year they present Jekyll and Hyde, Night must Fall, Suddenly at Home and Stage Struck and all the plays are performed by the TABS Production cast over the month of August.

Their season begins with Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde adapted for the stage and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Brigg's adaptation stays true to the original, although edited for theatrical brevity, it keeps, within the story-telling, to a lesser degree of locations.

For this reviewer the confused set design by Geoff Gilder is too much at visual odds with the Victorian melodramatic story. Only the central door of Dr Jekyll's house is in period leaving the rest of the stage to be dressed in incongruous criss-cross wire flats that, except for being draped in swathes of red cloth, would have suited West Side Story best.

The atmospheric lighting by Michael Donoghue helps to create various moods effectively and the music, composed, selected and arranged by Nicholas Briggs equally so - albeit with a little over reliance on the drama being punctuated repeatedly with short blasts of 'revelation' music.

On the whole, the gothic story of Jeykll and Hyde, is well acted by the TABS cast and the style keeps within the boundaries of what a modern audience would respond to in the form of melodramatic theatre. In fact the 2015 Nottingham Theatre Royal audience are not so far removed from their Victorian ancestors with the seriousness in which they take the moral story-telling. No tittering in the third row here, no even as Andrew Fettes occasionally hams it up beautifully as the evil Mr Edward Hyde.

There are some believable solid performances throughout especially from Susan Earnshaw as the concerned house keeper, Mrs Poole. Earnshaw brings a motherly sincerity to her part that a man in the role of the novella's original Mr Poole the butler wouldn't have. The choice to have a Mrs Poole also redresses the balance of the sexes in a very male populated play.

Anna Mitcham shows her versatility throughout this piece, one minute being killed off and the next popping up again in the mixed roles of servant girl Maisy, the dubiously moral Paterson, and the maid to Dr Lanyon.

Andrew Ryan is quietly compelling as, Mr Gabriel Utterson, lawyer and friend to Dr Jeykll and quite unrecognisable from his previous appearances at this theatre as pantomime dame! Robert Laughlin is perfect as a large bearded Dr Henry Jekyll and shows just right amount of concern over his mental and physical state as the tortured doctor. In a scene that could have been risible he refrains from being unintentionally comical as he twists and turns in agony in the transformation scene.

A character that could be allowed to employ a little humour into the proceedings is the canny Scotland Yard police inspector – Inspector Newcomen – given an highly enjoyable and slightly sarcastic performance here by David Gilbrook. From his programme résumé Gilbrook seems to have been cast as a police inspector on many theatrical occasions. His wry performance is one of the highlights of the show.

One wouldn't truthfully call this production of Jekyll and Hyde particularly scary or even overly thrilling. However, on the plus side the action moves quickly from location to location and the acting standards overall are good and the gothic story entertains. For the rest of the season we have the thrillers from the pens of Emlyn Williams, Frances Durbridge and Simon Gray to look forward to. Jekyll and Hyde runs until 8th August.

Review originally published on August 4th by The Public Reviews

Friday, 31 July 2015

Review. Richard III Curve Leicester

In the Leicester Curve studio space an eager audience enters and seats itself for the annual community theatre event. This year it is Shakespeare's Richard III directed by professional director Nikolai Foster, an apt choice given the recent internment of the actual King Richard's bones in Leicester cathedral. This community theatre play is comprised of non- professional actors of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and sexes and their production of Richard III is better than a handful of professional versions this reviewer has seen over the recent years.
The playing space is traverse and most of the action takes place on a raised area of faux black marble. Even before the play has begun the parameter surrounding the playing space is encrusted with the thick grey dust and debris of war. The set design is created by Matthew Wright with lighting and sound by James Whiteside and Thomas Preston respectively.

Abandoned shoes and boots litter the area and denote the grisly remains of the victims of warfare. A long heavy chain handing from the ceiling ends with a hook and on the hook hangs a knee length leather coat. In the air electricity crackles almost as if human flies are frying in an invisible fly catcher. The coming danger is palpable.

Richard III needs a very compelling Richard to carry the piece. It is huge challenge for any actor in a monster of a play of containing 3718 lines and Mark Peachey's plain speaking Richard nails it from his first 'Now...' His performance is subtle stage craft personified, full of guile and smiling charm, his personality greased with cunning and malevolent intent, theatrical but never bordering on the camp. This is a manly Richard for a modern age, despotic, determined, hypnotic and we get to see his crippled back!

Luke Oliver makes an almost brotherly companion to Richard as a conniving Buckingham and their scenes together are some of the most compelling of the play.

The entire cast is embodied by a total of thirty-one actors and through Nikolai Foster's directorial guidance their passion for this work shines through and their commitment to the energy and tone of the play is exemplary. The scenes of brutal violence are done with precision and sound effects of gun shots coupled with clever lighting make the human dispatches so much more effective than relying on a prop gun that might not fire and thus ruin the scene.

The women in the cast all show strong characters in defiance of Richard of Gloucester and Laila Lee is electric in the wooing scene. Catriona McDonald as Queen Margaret is interestingly positioned in the parameters of the stage as she initially bridles against Richard's parading swagger and comes into her own powerful self once she moves centre stage. Another subtle performance comes from Becca Cooper as the hired killer Tyrell and vodka swilling mock priest. A fascinating character change was bringing in Emma Dent as Bishop of Ely with a small line change of 'Lady Bishop'. As this version of the play was set in contemporary Russia with appropriate costuming one wonders whether Russia does indeed have lady bishops. Mistress Shaw was also absent from this production and her staying in bed makes for a tighter scene and keeps the drama intact.

The men and boys in the cast demonstrate strong character portrayals, all of them very diverse, human and believable. Three stand out portrayals come from William Hayes as a sympathetic Duke of Clarence and Dale Goulding as the wheelchair bound ailing but still powerful King Edward IV. Edward Spence shows us a brutal humour as the hired killer William Catesby, loyal to Richard.

In this ultimately professional community production the play retains its social and political relevance warning of democracy being eroded and freedom of speech being prevented. As Nikolai Foster says in his programme notes 'this production uses little more resources than Shakespeare's players would have had available to them, trusting the text and the actors to release the significance of the story for a new generation.' Given the huge final curtain applause from the Leicester Curve studio audience this cast and team have done their job stunningly and Leicestershire should be rightly proud of such superb local talent. Runs until 9th August 2015

Originally published July 30th for The Public Reviews

Photos credit Pamela Raith


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: East is East (touring) Theatre Royal Nottingham July 2015

The first thing that impresses is the amazingly realistic and yet theatrical set for this sterling production of East is East directed by Sam Yates. The brick work on the house walls is super real in texture and depth and the whole space has a very lived in atmosphere redolent of the early 1970s back to back slums of Salford before the slum clearance programmes a decade later. Designer Tom Scutt has done a superb job in realising the whole effect and allowing for creativity within it. With the bombed out side walls looking like they might crumble away any second the whole effect is of survival in difficult surroundings and that duly reflects the whole mood of this funny and moving play. All the coal black doors are designed as outside privy doors and get plenty of usage as the cast make rapid entrances and exits that become almost the percussive heart beat of the play.


The cast of eleven are a ball of collective energy throughout, constantly re-realising the stage space through their positioning and rapid placement of furniture and go from funny to violent to angry and frustrated and intermittently to loving all on the turn of a silver shilling. The changing moods are also enhanced by Richard Howell's elegant lighting design.

Pauline McLynn and Simon Nagra shine as the English wife Ella to Pakistani husband George Khan and the penultimate scene of violence between them is hard to watch. George Khan is a tyrannical father to their seven children one of whom we never see but is hated by the father for having left home to pursue a life out of reach of his 'respect me or else I kill you - you bastard' tirades. He is a man of his generation and background, antiquated in his enforcement of unquestioning total respect for the father and totally blind to the alienation he causes in his family. He idealises his home country and is also fearful of what the uprisings and violence in Pakistan will have on his culture and religion and ultimately his family that he purports to love.

Ayub Khan Din's incredible play works on many levels and throughout the audience is gripped and swept along as they laugh at the many comedic goings on and gasp at the raw reality of the Khan family bickering and making up. The language is fruity, funny, demanding and a true culture shock when the shit finally hits the proverbial fan in the second half. The acting from all the cast is utterly perfect and this reviewer would highly recommend a visit to this exemplary piece of theatre currently playing at Theatre Royal Nottingham.

Originally published by Nottingham Live on Tuesday 28th July 2015

Say Sum Thin 9 review at Nottingham Playhouse

This year's spoken word festival 'Say Sum Thin 9' at Nottingham Playhouse on 25th July must be the best ever. With a total of thirty plus events and workshops happening throughout the day there was plenty to keep any poet, would be playwright, word smith, rapper and even circus skills enthusiast happy for hours.

The entirety of the Nottingham Playhouse building has been given over to the event run by Nottingham's poetry collective The Mouthy Poets. This year's theme is Carnival and the grand opening starts off with a parade of colourful costumed dancing by Hyson Green's talented Zodiac Allstars Dance Troupe. DJs and musicians supplied the day long musical atmosphere on the theatre atrium.

The interior of the Playhouse is superbly decorated in a glittering display of brightly coloured fabrics and shapes plus masks and fabulous headdresses supplied by City Arts. With a plethora of workshops to attend I chose to observe a very popular workshop run by playwright Nick Wood. Situated on the Playhouse stage, it was an inspiring session culminating with professional actors reading the participants scripts.

The Mouthy Poets had two main shows happening in the event. The smaller afternoon show was delivered in the Neville Studio and showed off some incredibly mature performance poetry talents and allowed opportunities to others to show their skills through open mic. The jam packed evening show brought the day to a fantastic close through locally written poetry that carried the carnival theme in many different and emotionally engaging poems that not only used spoken word but cleverly incorporated a variety of multimedia and dramatics.

Originally published in the EG section of Nottingham Post newspaper. Monday 27th July.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review. Much Ado About Nothing. Oddsocks at Nottingham Castle

To this reviewer's memory Shakespeare's sunny comedy Much Ado About Nothing set in sun drenched Messina has no references to rain in the text. So no 'the rain it raineth every day' no '… falleth as the gentle rain' no '… thunder, lightening nor in rain' and saddest of all no ' You say that you love the rain but you open your umbrella when it rains. You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines'.

Thus so, it is down to the talented Oddsocks cast to add as many 'rain' and 'wet' jokes on their rain soaked stage as they perform their wacky version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at Nottingham Castle. The best of all must be Hero's (Lucy Varney) parting ad lib as she is jilted at the altar by Claudio (Peter Hoggart). Distraught and confused by Claudio's rebuff and abuse on her wedding day she storms off with her quip of annoyance “And it rained!” hanging in the air.

A slightly longer play than their gloriously funny Twelfth Night production playing as part of their summer season and, in some respects a slightly less zany show, Oddsocks' Much Ado retains much of Shakespeare's clever word play and yet is still as playful and inventive.

As the rain pours down on the wet but undaunted audience there are laughs a plenty and the verbal sparring between Benedick (Kevin Kemp) and Beatrice (Rebecca Little) is done with much wit. Actor Gavin Harrison constantly amuses as he quadruples up in the quick change roles of Don Pedro, Don John, The Sexton and Friar Francis. Peter Hoggart and Lucy Varney as loved up Claudio and Hero go for possibly the longest stage kiss in the history of theatre. Leonato performed by Andy Barrow is in turns hilarious and threatening and shares the same penchant as his Twelfth Night character Malvolio for revealing his under garments and this time his muscular torso as he wrestles with Claudio. Oddsocks style of adding in modern pop songs works particularly well in this version and the songs and music are delivered with panache.


Oddsocks always introduce their play with an outdoor theatre flourish and introduce each other by their actor alter egos with names only the totally daft pun based English sense humour could make up; Will Barrow, Miles Power, Penny Sillen, Doug Witherspade, Ophelia Rarse and Arthur Petesake.


An energetic, downright silly, utterly professional and totally inventive theatre company Oddsocks have a devoted fan base all over the country. That same fan base and newcomers to the Oddsocks scene all have one thing in common – well two things – they don't care about the rain if they are being royally entertained and – they really love it when the actors single them out and nick their cheese!

This rather damp evening the Oddsocks company even applauded the audience for staying to the end and as the final claps disappeared into the night air the rain finally stopped.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review of Oddsocks Twelfth Night on tour at Nottingham Castle

Twelfth Night or What You Will is Shakespeare's only play with a double title and Oddsock's brilliantly funny touring adaptation coupled with the addition of live pop songs and utter silliness will have you doubling up with laughter and falling off your folding chair on to your picnic hamper!

The main plot is that Shakespeare's characters of Viola and Sebastian are brother and sister twins separated by misfortune at sea and the audience are required to believe that they could be misunderstood for each other. Countess Olivia is grieving over the loss of her brother whom she has sworn to mourn for seven whole years before considering any man as a lover. Viola meanwhile believes that her brother Sebastian has drowned after their ship capsized on the shores of Illyria. The main action of this play resolves this dual loss and a sub plot revolves around the haughty and prudish Malvolio – steward to Olivia. He is tricked in thinking that the woman he serves is secretly in love with him and the play finishes with him being further ridiculed and love eventually conquering all. Malvolio's last words are “I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular and mature comedies and examines human urges including sex, food, drink and revenge and higher longings for justice and love. Well that is the story for the Shakespeare purists; the same purists who are not sat on the grass at Nottingham Castle thoroughly enjoying some great entertainment courtesy of OddsocksTheatre Company.

And now over to the real review...

As part of their nationwide summer tour Oddsocks are performing their completely daft and highly entertaining versions of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing and from the 22nd to 25th July they are holding a merry court in the leafy grounds of Nottingham Castle. Their style is bordering on Panto and the packed grass seating area is full of families complete with their young children utterly enjoying the brilliantly comical nature of Oddsocks' story telling. How often do children in the audience of a Shakespeare play get a chance to pelt Malvolio with wet sponges? Well, they do in this one. The kids couldn't wait to get to on stage!

Such silliness prevails throughout the whole evening, the performers drop in and out of character, ad lib like crazy and even rail at a passing plane mid speech. The comic timing is spot on and all of the group sing and play musical instruments with Brit Pop Bard bravura. And that's not easy to say!

All of the cast double up in various roles with the exception of Lucy Varney as a sparky Olivia. A newcomer to Oddsocks, Varney appears to be having the time of her theatrical life and this infectious nature of fun is evident in all of the Oddsocks cast. Andy Barrow revels in his delightfully comical role as the droll and pompous Malvolio and encourages the audience to suggest an accent for his one line priest character. Peter Hoggart appears occasionally as the lost brother Sebastian and keeps the energy going as a black wigged rocking Lord of Misrule Feste the clown. The cost of the wigs alone in this production must be hair raising!

Taking the brunt of the action and songs is Rebecca Little as Viola and Maria and Viola's male alter ego Cesario. Little is no stranger to Nottingham audiences as she has been in the Nottingham Playhouse annual panto for the last sixteen years as well as reprising her roles with Oddsocks. Her pedigree shows in abundance as she delightfully sings and clowns her way throughout the show.

Gavin Harrison as Duke Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek is charmingly bonkers (a dual requirement of performing with Oddsocks methinks) in both roles but particularly funny in his drunken scenes with show stopper Kevin Kemp as the perpetually playfully paralytic (not easy to say either) heavy metal loving Sir Toby Belch. Kemp's performance has to be several of the highlights of Oddsocks' Twelfth Night.

Well, say 'What You Will' Twelfth Night by Oddsocks is one of the funniest evenings this reviewer has ever spent watching theatre outdoors. I will definitely be returning on Friday for their Much Ado About Nothing!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Passionate about Poetry. Interview with Deborah 'Debris' Stevenson.

In order to learn more about the upcoming Spoken Word Festival at Nottingham Playhouse writer Phil Lowe arranged to meet up with Deborah 'Debris' Stevenson, founder of The Mouthy Poets, to talk about their upcoming extravaganza – Say Sum Thin 9. This is a whole day of performance, music, creative workshops and live poetry at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 25th July 2015. The spoken word festival begins at 12 noon and finishes at 10pm and Deborah was as passionate as ever to expound upon the events and the organisation behind them. This is the first time such a large event has been organised through Nottingham's The Mouthy Poets. Deborah elaborated.

“Every Summer we put on a big Mouthy Poets show that generally takes up a large amount of the Playhouse. We have an afternoon show plus an evening show. So, in an infrastructural sense, yes we have had similar shows. However, in our previous Say Sum Thin shows we have had one head-liner and the event programming has only been for three or four hours. The difference with this year is that it is a full on festival. Rather than having one head-liner we have a hundred plus artists including dancers, rappers, Sheep Soup theatre company, Nonsuch Theatre, Zodiac All Stars, a dance group of fifty plus young people, Harry Baker and many others. It is packed with international and local artists all happening in one space and every single space is non stop programming from 12pm to 7pm. Then we have this massive evening show in the main auditorium which is packed full of artists including Mouthy Poets plus a separate Mouthy Poets matinee. It's bigger and better and certainly more of a festival than we have ever put on before. How can I put it? Similar - times a hundred, basically!”

There is no denying the passion behind the event. Deborah further explained that Nottingham's Mouthy Poets meet every Friday. As a collective of fifty people and through their management team, interns and the young people in the company, together they organise and programme the event. This also empowers the young poets into making real life decisions and promotes their motivation within the poetry collective. Deborah picked up with how it was all germinated this year.

“I guess really, communally, the seeds were started in January this year when I started booking artists but the intensive community organising aspect has probably been ongoing since April. I'm crazy happy with everything so far! The programming is really exciting. The standards of the two separate Mouthy shows is really inspiring and thrilling. I think because the ambition of the programming is so high our young poets are rising to the challenge.

As part of the programme we have got a poets vs. rappers battle with a local organisation called Clash Money and we've got a play writing workshop with internationally known children's playwright Nick Wood put on by Nottingham Playhouse. In that workshop people will be making a play during the day and then there will be a rehearsed reading in the afternoon of those fresh new plays. To mix up the creativity we are going to have a foraging room which will have loads of fresh plants and up-cycled jewellery and other products. Flex Records have a 'paint something' workshop and then City Arts are showing a 'flexibition'. The whole space is being dressed by City Arts with all their carnival art. Additionally, we are making giant poetry games during the day and teaching book binding too. It is so massive that the young Mouthy Poets have felt like they need to step up to that and so, not to ruin anything too much, we have UV lights with poetry being done in the pitch black with illuminated elements. Personally I am stepping into a whole new genre by doing a grime rap track through my own music.”

The Say Sum Thin 9 event sounded like huge commitment and Deborah continued with her passionate explanation, concluding...

“We are all working to a maximum capacity at the moment. We all keep laughing and we all keep pushing towards excellence. I must say that working with new art forms cross pollinating creatively between poets, musicians, dancers, rappers and others is so stimulating and challenging in a good way. It has really energised us all and as we don't have much money everyone that is getting involved is doing so for artistic reasons. Those creatives involved are excited to make a painting live with poetry and children; they are excited to make a play live with fifty people and then share it; they are excited about all the live creativity that they can offer on the day and beyond. I think the people of Nottingham will be excited too and we welcome everyone and their families on the day. What we are getting out of it is the sharing and engaging the public with our spoken word art or art in alternative forms and enjoying that interaction as artists with the public themselves. Our Mouthy Poets ambition is to fill that main auditorium with people enjoying the huge variety of creative work being shown at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 25th.”

 New programme information hot off the press! Click on timetable below for clearer image.