Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Superbly funny Oddsocks production of Wind in The Willows

There are times as a reviewer that you see a production that is so alive with invention, humour and surprise that you are very conscious about spoilers. So I hope that I am not giving too much away when I say – expect the unexpected and expect to laugh your socks off at Oddsocks wonderfully inventive touring production of Kenneth Grahame's beloved story of riverbank folk Wind in the Willows. This fantastically funny version is adapted for the stage for Oddsocks by Andy Barrow and produced by Elli Mackenzie. Lucy Ward has been commissioned to provide the original music played live by the five performers.

Elli MacKenzie, Joseph Maudsley, Andrew McGillan, Dom Gee-Burch, and Rosamund Hine make up the small but beautifully versatile ensemble. They work so well together there often seems to be many more actors inhabiting the stage than there actually are. The delight they seem to share in performing the Oddsocks comedic style with each other and the audience is infectious. Wind in the Willows played by this daft and talented ensemble makes 'being silly' into an art form. Even their van parked outside the theatre bears the logo 'driven by laughter'.


All of the actors play different roles as the well loved characters, Elli MacKenzie as the easy going but shy Mole (loved the squeaks of terror in the Wild Wood), Joseph Maudsley delights as a very charming Ratty as well as playing four other parts including the funniest gaoler ever! Andrew McGillan is perfect as Toad, bright green wig, bandy legged and enthusiastically bound for trouble wherever he hops. McGillan's scenes where he steals the car are comedy classics. Dom Gee-Burch brings a gravitas to the play as the sensible Badger and even gently berates an audience member for getting up to go to the loo! Gee-Burch is also wonderfully believable as a horse pulling the caravan. Finally Rosamund Hind has a series of seven quick change roles and even pops up as the little seen Otter character. This is a production where all the players work extremely hard in keeping up the momentum and daftness but seem so laid back about it you relax with them.

Back projections help move each act to a new vista and I am not going to tell you how they row across the stage in a boat called Baby, drive a car down a country lane and crash it and bring a full size steam train into the tiny Guildhall Theatre on Derby's Market Square. If you want to grin all the way home and revel in Oddsocks inventive madness. Get along to the Guildhall this week (until 31st January) but don't go via the Wild Wood! Aaaargh!

Wind in The Willows is touring until February 21st. Next stop The Gaiety Theatre Ayr (Feb 14th) 01292 288235 and then Alnwick Playhouse Northumberland 17th February - 21st February. 01665 510785. Catch it while you can!!!!

Production photos by Hope Ward – Brown.

Oddsocks Facebook Page


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Graeae Theatre Company, Derby Theatre and Dundee Rep Ensemble present Blood Wedding

Graeae Theatre Company, Derby Theatre and Dundee Rep Ensemble present

By Federico Garcia Lorca

In a new version by David Ireland

Directed by Jenny Sealey

This spring, a radical new take on Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, co-produced by Graeae Theatre Company, Derby Theatre and Dundee Rep Ensemble will be touring to Derby Theatre, Beacon ArtsCentre, Greenock, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Liverpool Everyman after opening at Dundee Rep Theatre (4 – 14 March 2015).

Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey MBE directs David Ireland’s modern day re-telling of a classic which is fuelled by searing lust, love and rebellion. When young lovers are overrun with passion and defy their families, the consequences are fatally heartbreaking as a wedding party turns sour and two families are torn apart.

All performances of Blood Wedding include a creative combination of BSL interpretation, captioning and audio description. The cast is made up of Deaf and disabled actors and non-disabled actors.

Graeae’s CEO/Artistic Director Jenny Sealey MBE says “Someone once said to me ‘Lorca did not write Blood Wedding for people like you (Deaf and disabled actors) to be in it’. Graeae, Dundee Rep and Derby Theatre beg to differ and challenge that statement with our adaptation by David Ireland, placing a glorious diversity of people centre stage, all of whom have a right to be there to claim their stake in the narrative.”

Tickets are now on sale at all venues.

The play contains scenes of an adult and sexual nature and strong language.

Recommended age 14+. Schools and colleges interested in booking, please contact Gemma Nicol, for further information.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Girls Like That at Derby Theatre. A chat with Hannah Johnstone


Yesterday I caught up with Hannah Johnston  in the busy marketing department of Derby Theatre. Second year theatre arts student Hannah is currently in the midst of learning how to market and sell a play through sterling advice from professionals at one of the East Midlands top regional theatres. As part of her studies at Derby University Theatre Arts department  she is very much involved in a new production of 'Girls Like That' by Evan Placey. She said that so far it has been a brilliant experience but before embarking on the journey of arts marketing she had no idea how much work was involved. Hannah added "The professionals like Heidi McKenzie and Caroline at Derby Theatre are amazing and just when I think I have done my job they come up with even more ideas on how to promote a show!"

Hannah continued by telling me of her experience of being interviewed on BBC Radio Derby the other day.  "It was really interesting but scary for a first timer like me. I seemed to have a constant lump in my throat! Saying that I came away thinking that I had done a reasonable job and the next time I will have some idea of what to expect. Actually, it was exciting!"

Placey's play explores what happens when a fictional sixteen year old girl called Scarlett posts a naked picture of herself online and through modern media means it goes viral. Rumours run wild and everyone in the school pecking order is quick to judge. Scarlett finds out that she has no true friends as the friends she has grown up with become her worst enemies. However, when a picture of a naked boy pings its way through cyberspace the reaction is not the same. The play examines the fragility of friendship and the pressures on the digital generation. In the Derby University Theatre Arts production the cast runs to thirteen and the production is on the main auditorium stage. Booking can be achieved through this link on the Derby Theatre website. On the Friday morning there is a free performance for school parties but hurry as tickets are going very fast. Age guidance 13+

In our very interesting chat Hannah was keen to make people aware that the themes of the play have a deep link into celebrity culture. This was especially true as some years ago when certain female celebs naked photos from previous relationships were hacked it all became a big scandal and perceived as an invasion of privacy by many. Interestingly enough this new interpretation of morality gained ground even though the people affected had chosen to be in the public eye. The concept of the viewer being the 'one in the wrong' not the celeb for taking the photo was different from the interpretations of the past. Hannah said that when she did her research she found information going back to 1984 when Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America. As a younger and unknown woman Vanessa had taken some naked photos of herself that were eventually taken up and published by the Penthouse magazine and Vanessa was forced to relinquish her title. Another Vanessa ( a young starlet for the Disney Corporation) had a similar circumstances and was forced to apologise for her exposure. Hannah thought that the moral journey and people's reactions to female and male photographic exposure had taken a different turn and these themes are explored in Placey's thrilling play 'Girls Like That'.

I asked Hannah to tell me a bit about the playwright Evan Placey. Hannah: " It says on the back of the script that he is British Canadian and the play was originally performed at Birmingham Rep toured and finished its original run at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. It was done recently as well so I have been able to see how that performance was marketed and see how that could help market our production at Derby Theatre. It was done at the Unicorn Theatre in London and I had the social media side of that to look at too. They did a pre-show trailer as we have and I was interested how they used technology to promote the piece that is about 'exploiting' technology in a bad way. In our trailer we wanted to bring out the spite and bitchiness of the girl characters in the play."

We went on to discuss other plays such as Pilot Theatre's Antigone and a brilliantly done production of Spring Awakening produced by Headlong Theatre both of which really showed off how theatre can be enhanced through accentuating the storyline and themes through invention and technology especially to engage a modern young audience.

 'Girls Like That' looks to be an explosive production at Derby Theatre (Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th Feb 2015) and Hannah Johnston's growing skills as a newly confident marketing person and promoter will no doubt be a challenge and time to be proud of. I look forward to reviewing this show on press night

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Thanks for a great 2014. Here's to this year!

2014 Highlights: Having the chance to talk to and interview Warwick Davis, Joe McGann, Shobna Gulati, John Godber, Brian Conley, Johnny Pusztai, Howard Brenton and Marcus Romer with Roy Williams. Also having great mates in Rick and Janette Martindale , Cibele Ponces Alvarenga, Lena Maier, Thorsten Feldmann, Carsten Thein, Markus Kűnstler, and Paul Johnson and Fariba from Sardines Magazine. You guys at Sardines have made my year with all the opportunities to write and to be professionally published.
Thanks to the The Public Reviews for all the chances to review theatre and shows across the East Midlands. Your exacting standards make my writing better and my theatrical eye keener. Many thanks.

Especial thanks to all at the Jakobus Theatre for hosting my first professional show ‪#‎greetingsfromthetrenches‬ and all at the Theater Die Käuze for supporting it. Of course it wouldn't have happened with the fun and professional work of my great friend Emma Brown. Hopefully see you in Leiden again this summer honey.

Some new friends have entered my life in 2014 not least the wonderful Kev Castle. Many thanks to Jo McLeish for your great support likewise to Heidi McKenzie and all at Derby Theatre especially to Sarah Brigham to access to your rehearsals and to witness your directing styles.

For all the hundreds of followers and readers of my two blogs and I wish you all a wonderful 2015 and can't wait to see what is around the corner to excite you all through my writing.

Finally thanks to all my colleagues at work who are genuinely interested to see me do well. You know who you are and I appreciate it. xx
Happy New Year all.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Greetings from the Trenches in performance at Jakobus Theatre

For those of you who have been following the progress of my new play 'Greetings from the Trenches' and weren't able to see the two European Premiere shows at Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe I wanted to let you know how it all went.

Emma and I arrived separately in Karlsruhe on Wednesday 3rd December. Emma arrived by train via Cologne and I flew over from Stanstead airport arriving about half past four. We met up at Café Bleu opposite the theatre and Emma's first words were "I am soo glad to see you. I don't think I could have done it on my own!" With this being a two hander it is very unlikely either of could have performed it on our own. During our time there we had a tremendous amount of fun outside of the play as we both have a very silly sense of humour.

On the Wednesday we had an interview with Andreas Juttner of the big regional newspaper the - Badische Neueste Nachrichten and they published a nice big article with picture in the Friday morning edition.

Wednesday evening was spent collecting furniture for the show and working with our German technician Lennart on the few technical light and sound aspects of the show. Luckily his English is very good and he is proficient. Such professionalism is important when there is very little space for error and time for rehearsals.

In the daytime of Thursday Emma and I met up and enjoyed some relaxation at the Karlsruhe Christmas market along with a reasonable amount of mulled wine, flannkuchen and coffees and some very important shopping messing about in Primark.


The early evening found us back at the Jakobus theatre joining Lennart for a technical rehearsal before the actual show. All seemed in order as we worked through the play out of costume and we were both looking forward to the actual performance - only half an hour away! Just about time to get changed, take a breath and get downstairs into the wings.

Jutta Berendes did a welcoming speech to the audience, there was applause, and suddenly we got the chords of the opening music recorded on piano in Leiden Holland and the play began. It was good to play to an actual paying audience amongst which were some familiar faces from the Jakobus theatre and that of our translator Thorsten Feldmann. Later, in the following few days Thorsten explained why there more laughs on Thursday than on Friday. Apparently there was a much bigger audience membership of English speaking people on the first night and they were appreciating all the subtle humour in the text and the relationship between Frank and his daughter Madeleine. Emma's parents had also made the trip from Nottingham to see the show too!

Whilst I enjoyed all of the performance I guess that the piece I wanted to work the most was the end of the play where it is revealed to the audience that the two people on the stage actually died in a car crash before they had even reached the television studio. Given the reaction during the announcement at the very end I would say that it worked very well and I was glad that we decided to end with our backs to the audience holding hands in a cold blue light while the announcement played and a police light flashed on the stage.

The second night's audience was a quieter audience in terms of any laughter but very attentive at the same time and a nice big group from Theater Die Käuze came to watch as well as my friend Birgitta who had travelled all the way from Friedrichshafen to see the show with her friend Jutta. We hadn't seen each other for fourteen years to it was great to chat before the show in Café Bleu and catch up.

Overall, it was great to know that all the ideas, text, poems, German translations, songs and rehearsals had paid off and my first professional show was an artistic success. Hopefully we can repeat that success in Nottingham next year. Thank you to everyone who made the Karlsruhe shows a success and big thanks to my co-star Emma Brown for her enthusiasms, talent and relaxed approach and to Thorsten for all the translating work. Thanks too to all of the great people at the Jakobus Theatre, especially Carsten Thein and Markus Kunstler, for all your support along the way and during the weekend! Especial thanks to my hosts Gerd and Herrlich for giving a bed, a lovely breakfast, some beers and a chance to pay with and pat Fricker the friendly Alsatian!

Emma had to return to Leiden early on the Saturday morning and I remained in Karlsruhe until Monday morning. It was nice to be able to have a chance to relax after our performances and I spent some time with my friends Lena and Sacha and with my former hosts - the Corneli family.

See you soon Karlsruhe and Café Bleu!

Nottingham Playhouse: Review Sleeping Beauty.

Originally published by The Public Reviews on December 2nd
Given five stars.
In thirty-one years of Nottingham Playhouse presenting the annual pantomime this is only the second time that Sleeping Beauty has been performed. What a fabulous production! It sparkles with light and energy and humour and like the best Panto's should – it sends you home with a huge grin on your face and feeling the child-like magic of Christmas through and through.

Last year writer and director Kenneth Alan Taylor played his last role as pantomime dame to great applause and this time round he brings us an honest story of Sleeping Beauty that is like stepping into a wonderfully alive and exuberant story book. The set designs by Tim Meacock for the Palace, the wonky cottage in the woods (complete with singing wildlife), Maleficent's Lair, the Princess's Bedchamber and for the Grand Finale are knock out gorgeous. All these are enhanced by terrific lighting effects by lighting designer Jason Taylor. Musical director John Morton and his live band bring alive the show with show stopping numbers and the musical romance of the piece.

This year's dame Nurse Tilly Trot is played with gusto by Playhouse panto favourite John Elkington. Elkington has several changes of outrageous costumes and he engages immediately with the audience with his character's 'common touch'. The kids in the audience go crazy when he gets hypnotised by the evil fairy Maleficent and carries out the command to take a spinning wheel into the bedchamber of the princess Rosalind with the result of her being put to sleep for a hundred years. If a thousand children shouting “Nooooo!!!!” at the very tops of their voices would change this dastardly action and consequence then their collective cries should have worked a treat but no, the story must go on!

All but one of the main cast are Playhouse returnees with whom families in Nottinghamshire look forward to seeing each trip to the theatre and they never disappoint. This year the new guy is Jonny Fines playing the part of Prince Alexander – an interesting diversion from the pantomime norm where the Prince is played by an attractive and charming thigh slapping young woman. I really like Fines in this role – his natural good looks, great singing voice and athletic moves make him very sympathetic and the romantic scenes between himself and Princess Rosalind (Kelly Edwards) are very touching and believable as fairy-tale characters falling almost instantly in love.

Kelly Edwards' Princess Rosalind doesn't appear until a little later into the show, because at the beginning she is just a baby, but when she does she is immediately lovable in a bright, energetic, independent modern young Princess way. Edwards' enthusiastic performance certainly helps the show go with a zing. Her athletic song and dance routine with the fantastic Tim Frater as her friend Jerry the Jester is one of the highlights of the show. How they got those wildlife creatures in the bushes to sing and dance along too is a joyous mystery and a great part of the surprise and charm of Nottingham Playhouse's terrific pantomimes.

This year Rebecca Little (formerly principal boy) steps into the wacky shoes of the Queen Gertrude and shows her skills at building a fun older character and she works brilliantly in comic partnership with her stage husband, the expressive and irrepressible Anthony Hoggard as King Hubert. Little retains her rehearsal role as dance captain and together with choreographer and assistant director Adele Parry they bring the dance action superbly to the stage. This is not only with the main cast but with the two expressive and talented teams of young female dancers.

As the two main fairy's we have the good fairy, Fairy Wisheart, played again by Francesca Ellis and the evil fairy Maleficent played by Hannah Whittingham. Ellis is delightfully graceful in the role and as she waves her star topped wand around to good effect I find myself smiling as a little girl in the audience turns to her mum and whispers with a genuinely innocent and child-like enquiry “Is that a real wand mummy?” The mum answered a very believable “yes” with no sense of irony attached. That is the magic of panto in a single wand wave!

Good always triumphs over evil in fairy tales and in panto land and the audience revels in booing and hissing the evil deeds and words of Hannah Whittingham's bad fairy Maleficent all bedecked in a rather sexy black outfit and headpiece of black horns. The superb attention to detail is in all the costumes in this production and is the work of the Playhouse's highly inventive and skilled costume department. It is nice to see Whittingham playing a baddie role again this year. Previously the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime audiences would have seen her playing the title role in Aladdin, Prince Charming in Cinderella, Millie in Robin Hood and The Enchantress in last year's Jack and The Beanstalk.

As the giant snowflakes glitter at the end of this year's thoroughly entertaining Nottingham Playhouse pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, I for one will be going home to bed and will remember this fantastic and truly spectacular panto for a hundred years!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Derby Theatre: A Sprited Christmas Carol. Review

“A Spirited Production!”

If there is a ghost of a chance of getting a ticket or two to take yourself or the family to see Derby Theatre's terrific production of Dicken's classic tale of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Neil Duffield and directed by Sarah Brigham, then do so. Missing this show would almost be like missing Christmas and time is ticking by.

A Christmas Carol is set on a fantastic set design (Neil Irish) depicting the industrial North, all chimney stacks and smoke centred by a massive clock face that references time passing and a local hint at Smith's clock works. The crystal clear sound design is created once again by Ivan Stott. The set has a revolve that allows characters to come and go in a frozen state that breaks into animation. It is like watching a picture book come to life. In fact the whole show is a fantastical display of invention slickly done and using the whole ensemble.

The ensemble is made up of professional performers and groups of young local children and teens who all morph into the well known characters and more. This includes live music and some beautifully sung Christmas songs and carols. At times the vocals are truly enchanting.

As the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge we have Jim Barclay in fine form as the old curmudgeon who gradually sees the error of his miserly ways. Although hard bitten and miserable at the outset Barclay still manages to infuse some humour into his part and comes into his comic own during the various party scenes. The end part where he arrives at the house of his nephew Fred and assembled guests is genuinely touching. Fred is played by local actor Adam Horvarth with great sincerity and warmth.

In an ensemble work the whole team is the 'star' of the show and this is certainly the case in Derby Theatre's production except maybe one extra shiny personality. I can almost hear Christopher Price begging me not to write this but his brilliant portrayals of Marley, Old Fezziwig, The Ghost of Christmas Present and Old Joe were outstanding. Plus he is in the ensemble and plays various musical instruments.

The professional cast made up of Jim Barclay, Daniel David, Adam Horvarth, Yana Penrose, Christopher Price, Kate Robson – Stuart, Eseme Sears and Daniel Willis all contrive to make Derby Theatre's A Christmas Carol a superb show worth singing out loud about!

Runs until Sunday 4th January 2015