Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A stunning production of Chicago at Curve Leicester. A review.

In 1975 the iconic, dark and edgy, sexy musical Chicago (based on the play 'Chicago' by Maurine Dallas Watkins) was originally named Chicago- a vaudeville revue. The original creative team of John Kander & Fred Ebb (famous for the musical Cabaret and forty years of musical collaboration) produced the piece around the same time that another musical was about to hit the Broadway scene and swamp the Variety headlines and win acres of musical theatre awards – this was the tamer but enormously popular show called - A Chorus Line. It opened five days before Chicago.

At the time Chicago was seen as a success but met with a mixture of varied revues and perhaps seen, retrospectively, as well as before its time, due to the dark nature and perverse humour of its subject and the thrilling choreography and direction by Bob Fosse who dealt in steamy yet stylised minimalist dance movements. It was a style that nobody then was aware of and it was seen as difficult yet fascinating. Chicago the musical was violent and moody and the audience were expected to laugh at people being killed and be sympathetic with the perpetrators whilst, at the same time, imagining they (as an audience) were having a wonderful time at a Broadway show.

Although set in the 1920s it reflected the morality of what was happening in the mid 1970s in the USA and every type of debauchery and scandal that was taking place. For instance, the concept of honouring 'celebrity out of criminality'!? Scandalous! Who'd have thought that would make a popular musical? Why would anyone want to celebrate the morally bad folk getting away with murder? Yet this was done with such an underlining core of fun and sexy dark humour and somehow it worked and people loved it and continue to love it today so much so that it became a soar away success not only on the stage around the world but, also as a film version in 2005.

The new Chicago musical currently playing at Curve is directed by Paul Kerryson, the musical director is Ben Atkinson and the choreography by Drew McOnie and the multiple sets designed by Al Parkinson. Sound design and lighting design are by Ben Harrison and Philip Gladwell.

In musical terms this is a concept musical – not just a story with songs that end a scene followed by another song that ends another scene i.e. a traditional musical. A concept musical has numbers that comment on what is happening in the plot and the combined dance work visually illustrates what the motifs are and doubly demonstrates the character's motivations in a form that is often a pastiche in order to bring the point across in a theatrical way within pertinent musical and theatrical genres like ragtime or vaudeville. The dance beat and rhythms draw out the drama in a way that is enhanced and comprehensible to an audience theatrically. In Chicago there is an unreality and a stylisation in the portrayal of the major characters that lends the story a dramatic feel in these stories of corruption and murder. It sensationalises how a guilty party gets away with shooting her lover another more innocent victim hangs for a crime she didn't commit and celebrates the murderous actions.

The two female leads of Roxie and Thelma are played excellently by Gemma Sutton and Verity Rushworth and each are very strong in their dance and vocals. There is a lot of dark humour associated with each character and the actors bring it out in spades. These are performances that Curve will be proud of for years to come.

Sandra Marvin as Mama Morton practically blows the roof off the theatre with her powerful rendition of 'When You're Good to Mama' and commands the stage with her presence every time she appears on stage.

David Leonard as has a sleazy manipulative authority as the crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and is assured in his vocal numbers such as Razzle Dazzle and All I Care About (is love) and he really comes into his own in the surreal court scene. Matthew Burrow brilliantly inhabits Amos, the pathetic husband of murderess Roxie Hart. Amos believes that he is so insubstantial as a human being that he is practically invisible. Burrow does a great job with a very plausible character interpretation and wins sympathy with his song Mr Cellophane. Most inspired is the choice of Adam Bailey as Mary Sunshine the newspaper reporter who follows the trials of both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and Bailey has a startlingly good singing voice.

The whole twenty strong ensemble work hard to create the grubby vaudevillian sleazy atmosphere of this prohibition era Chicago. The major song and dance numbers are sexily realised through Kerryson's direction and the sizzling hot choreography of Drew McOnie and are thrillingly costumed to the point of cross dressing the dancers. The famous dynamic numbers such as All That Jazz and Cell Block Tango do not disappoint and are counterbalanced with more reflective numbers such as Nowadays. The live band on stage brings a terrific musical energy to the show.

The large stage is often dominated by dozens of hanging lights used to great effect and the set pieces of the County Jail and Speakeasy are strong. Furniture slides into place to create other venues such as the court or Billy Flynn's office or a bedroom. The lighting by designer Philip Gladwell is superb moving the story along and even blitzing the audience with hundreds of flashing camera bulbs as the journalistic frenzy builds as the body count grows.

This show is a hot ticket. If you can't get one just murder a friend who has one!


Runs until Saturday 18th January 2014

This review was originally published by www.thepublicreviews.co.uk on 5th December 2013.

Written by Phil Lowe.

My top shows of my reviewing year are...

These choices are taken from my reviewing around the East Midlands and have been  difficult choices because I have the privilege of seeing some excellent shows both professional and amateur.

Top show of the year. Cooking with Elvis at Derby Theatre directed by Mark Babych.

Best musical. Chicago at Curve. Directed by Paul Kerryson.

Best Panto. Jack and the Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse. Directed by Kenneth Alan-Taylor.

Best drama. The Pitman Painters (touring). directed by Max Roberts.

Best dance work. Balletboyz - the talent. Choreographed by Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant.

Best children's show. A Christmas Carol. Lakeside. Directed by Martin Berry.

A Christmas Carol at Lakeside Arts Centre from Lakeside Marketing on Vimeo.

Best amateur musical. Oklahoma! Nottingham Operatic Society.

Best amateur drama. God of Carnage. Lace Market Theatre. directed by Graeme Jennings.

Well done to all these super shows that made it to the top of my reviewing list. Here's to some great theatre across the East Midlands in 2014. Phil Lowe.

An insight on my year as a theatre reviewer and writer.

Well, this time last year I would never have known what 2013 was about to grant me. With my 'proper' job I went on a course in mid Wales to learn about beef and lamb slaughtering and meat packaging and I got to appear on a national television advert for Tesco as the Tesco butcher in their Love Every Mouthful campaign.

More importantly to me I found an opportunity to work on a new aspect of my writing and from it I began to further develop my second blog about my involvement with the world of professional theatre. This came about through a chance finding of a review website called www.thepublicreviews.com. They were asking for new reviewers and so, as per their remit, I sent in a copy of a review I had done for Piaf at Curve theatre in Leicester which was accepted with some critical suggestions for style improvement and a particular way of writing. I also received an online booklet that gave all reviewers guidance and rules about the way a review should be submitted. The way it works is that every Sunday a listing is sent by email and you send in a 'bid' by email if you want to critique a particular show. If successful you get a notification saying that two tickets will be at the box office to pick up. There is no choice in the night you go and often it can be a press night so there is a chance to mingle and have a chat with the theatre staff with a glass of wine. There is a time pressure to have the review in on time. It is sent by email and must be with Public Reviews by 12pm the next day or you may be taken off their books. Considering I don't get home from the shows until about 11pm I still have to write the review and am often up until 1am until I am satisfied with the result. I do some research prior to going to the show which is important and helps with the writing. Incidentally, there is no wage to do this – it is done out of love for the theatre and writing. The tickets are comps.

I still review plays independently and now I have got my name and good reputation known over the year I get invites from Nottingham Live and Derby Theatre to review a variety of shows. I also use Twitter and Facebook to promote my blog post reviews and those that appear on the Public Review site.

Over the last ten months (I started in March 2013) I have reviewed over thirty shows mostly in Derby. I began at The Guildhall with Hardgraft Theatre's 'I Love Derby' and Reform Theatre Company's 'Me and Me Dad' and UK Touring Theatre's new translation of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie'.

For Derby Theatre I have reviewed their home grown productions and touring productions including Balletboyz -the talent, The Opinion Makers, Cooking with Elvis, September in the Rain, Go Back for Murder, Kes, Blue Remembered Hills, The Seagull, The Pitmen Painters and Horrible Christmas. For Derby Live I went to their amazing arts festival (Derby Festé ) and witnessed the stunning outdoor event – As The World Tipped.

For Nottingham Playhouse I have reviewed, The Ashes, The Kite Runner, Richard III and Jack and the Beanstalk and I went also to a free event about the writing process of a future production by Amanda Whittington called My Judy Garland Life. There have been very few chances to review at Nottingham's Theatre Royal but Nottingham Live did ask me review Nottingham Operatic Society's Oklahoma!

Recently I returned to Curve in Leicester to review the musical Chicago and even attended Martin Berry's 'A Christmas Carol' at Lakeside before going to work one Friday morning and then working until nine that evening! When I got home at 10pm I wrote their review and put it online. Phew!

There have been talks and shows that I have attended and decided not to do a review. This isn't because I didn't like them but usually to give myself a rest from 'having' to review everything and work full time and write my food blog as well!

I tend not to review at The Lace Market Theatre because I have so many friends there and it is difficult to offer an impartial view on a production when you know practically everyone involved. I do write articles for their monthly magazine -The Boards however and like to promote ex members who have gone on from an amateur status to study drama and theatre design with an aim of working professionally in the arts.

If I were to choose – the best play I have seen over the last ten months I would unreservedly say it was Cooking With Elvis at Derby Theatre.

The old Derby Playhouse (same building) gave me my grounding and enthusiasm for theatre going and acting during the 1970s and 1980s and this led to me joining and performing with Derby Theatre in The Round and Derby Shakespeare Company and eventually coming to Nottingham in the late 1980s to take my degree in the performing arts. I then spent many a happy year performing with The Lace Market Theatre and others and dipped into the world of television through Central Television productions and some film work.

So, thank you fate for steering me on this exciting course of writing about the theatre that I love. Who knows what 2014 will bring!

Do check out my theatre reviews on this blog!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary at Derby Theatre: a review

A theatre packed with excitable small children and some adults is a surprisingly good place to be at 10.15 in the morning. The children have few inhibitions and love to be entertained and to be encouraged to join in and be loud - joyously loud and even louder than that, when prompted! Kids and adults alike love Terry Deary's Horrible Histories and this is a fun festive version live on stage and the audience loved it. What was that? I said "They LOVED IT!!!"

Horrible Christmas at Derby Theatre (in conjunction with Birmingham Stage Company) is a magical and wondrous story featuring time travel, a villainous Santa character, a little boy called Watson and Shirley Holmes the detective. Bad Sidney Claus (Andrew Vincent) hates Christmas and delights in stealing children's presents aided and abetted by a prancing and silly Rudolf the reindeer (Simon Shnashall). Vincent and Shnashall work brilliantly together and Shnashall plays Rudolph just the right side of barmy while Vincent seems to revel in being the - not too scary - baddy.

Mark Newnham, as the boy called Watson, quickly gets the eagerly participating audience on his side as he cheekily undoes some of his Christmas presents too early. His parents catch him out and tell him not to open any more until morning. However all goes wrong as he secretly witnesses Sidney Claus and Rudolf break into the house and steal all his other presents from under the tree. Sidney Claus is determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, not just now but forever, with his evil doings. What to do? Watson's parents would never believe him.

Enter Shirley Holmes time travelling detective with her time travelling tricycle and off they go back in time to visit the Tudor court of Henry the Eighth and his new wife Katherine, the fun cancelling world of Oliver Cromwell, the song and campery of Charles II and to London in 1843 to help Charles Dickens out of his writer's block and create a timeless ghost story about a man called Scrooge. Will Holmes and Watson stop Sidney Claus and Rudolph from ruining hundreds of years of Christmas celebrations and festive joy?

Sarah Pelosi plays Holmes with great panache and energy and much fun is had as the tricycle flies across the back of the stage in hot pursuit of the dastardly Sidney and Rudolf on their own time travelling contraption. The kids in the audience responded with a universal "Wow!" as the time travel effects took place. Actors Luke Foster, Jo Mousely, Christopher Chilton and Elizabeth Rose complete the Horrible Christmas team and play multiple roles with enormous humour and dexterity. There are daft songs, dancing, even dafter actions, a panto style singalong and the whole piece is (as you'd expect from Horrible Histories) lots of fun and full of gruesome historically horrible facts flitting through the lively script like mad elves at Santa's Grotto. Much hilarity is had in the sometimes camp depictions of historical characters and then towards the end there is another really really, no like REALLY "Wow" moment they visit another place and event in Christmas history when.... Come on you don't think I'm telling you that do you? It would spoil the surprise! And what is Christmas without lovely surprises! Another excellent show from Derby Theatre with superb lighting and set
and sound design by Jason Taylor, Jacqueline Trousdale, and Tom Lishman.

Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary runs from Friday 6th December to Saturday 11th January.

Horrible Christmas is directed by Phil Clark.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Promo video for Chicago at Leicester Curve. Plus auditions video.

For those that have read my recent glowing review you might be interested in this short video produced by Curve that shows some of the background to the show and comments from director, Paul Kerryson. Plus I have added a Curve Chicago audition video for your delectation and interest.

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk. Nottingham Playhouse 2013

This year marks two anniversaries for Nottingham Playhouse. Firstly, the 50th anniversary of the 'new' theatre building that opened on 11th December 1963 with a performance of Shakespeare's Coriolanus with a stellar cast including John Neville, Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Crawford. Since 1963 the iconic building has seen many a brilliant season of entertainments and plays new and old including many a world première and the eagerly anticipated annual pantomime.

The second anniversary celebrates the last 30 years that Kenneth Alan Taylor has enchanted Nottingham Playhouse goers with his popular traditional pantomimes. His very first at the Playhouse was Jack and the Beanstalk. Alan Taylor was Artistic Director in 1984 and he launched the pantomime tradition even though at the time it was deemed to be in direct competition to the major pantomime at Nottingham's Theatre Royal. This is a tradition of which he has been the central part in writing, directing and starring in ever since and audiences come back year after year to enjoy his work.

The Panto this year sees some new faces and some eagerly welcomed back to the Playhouse stage. Of course we have Kenneth Alan Taylor as Dame Daisy, surely one of the best dames in the country – hilariously funny with just the right amount of cheek – brilliant in his quick change and ever more outrageous and glamorous costumes and clearly a huge favourite with the Nottingham audience. AlanTaylor says that he loves the ad libbing in Panto and the whole team revel in this without losing the plot. Almost.

What is a pantomime without a principal boy? Rebecca Little returns this year as Jack and bounces around the stage full of beans and enthusiasm and thigh slapping excitement. Little encourages the audience to shout out “I'm all right Jack!”and right from the second Jack appears we are with him on his journey to reluctantly sell the cow to get some money to pay the rent on his mother's cottage. The moments in which Buttercup the cow is taken away to the market are actually very touching.

Jack's love interest is played with verve and vigour by Kelly Edwards who has previously appeared in the chorus of five pantomimes and this year has a main part as Annie. Edwards gives the role great warmth and feeling and the Nottingham audience take to her immediately. Her singing and dancing really light up the glittery stage. In this production Jack also has another friend in Danny played with enormous energy, humour and warmth by the talented Tim Frater. The kids in the audience love him especially in the custard pie scene and for his wonderful dancing skills.

Enter the comic baddy Slurp performed with gusto by John Elkington, dressed in black and keen to be booed each time he appears. In the second half we meet his master Giant Blunderbore (Daniel Hoffman - Gill) in the giant's kitchen. Hoffman – Gill imbues the role with deep voiced gravitas and looks terrific and as he lumbers around the stage in his glittering suit of armour. Does courageous Jack kill the man eating giant? Well you'll have to go and see to find out. Oh yes you will!

You'd expect a giant's wife to be, well, a giant. But no. Mrs Blunderbore is maybe small in stature but as the second dame Anthony Hoggard is very very big in character! This is Hoggard's sixth panto at the Nottingham Playhouse and he clearly loves it. A bundle of be-frocked energy Hoggard plays up to every aspect of being another fun pantomime dame and the two dames work terrifically together and their joy in doing so is infectious.

The whole story of Jack and his magic beans wouldn't exist without a special person to sell him the magic beans in exchange for the cow in the first place and that special person is the beautiful Enchantress. Hannah Whittingham brings grace and beauty to the role and not a small amount of comedy and personal control as she deals with Dame Daisy's hilarious ad libbing.

Finally the Playhouse have a fantastic professional chorus of young women in Jack and the Beanstalk performing the frequent dancing scenes that involve anything from tap dancing to the marvellous dancing rabbits all to John Morton and his band's lively music.

If you are looking for a terrific, proper traditional pantomime to take the whole family to. then Jack and the Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse has to be it – great fun – fantastic sets by stage designer Tim Meacock – the cast clearly revelling in presenting the show - loads of audience participation and, as Kenneth Alan Taylor said at the stunning finale - a great deal of passionate teamwork from everybody at Nottingham Playhouse!

Running until Saturday 18th January 2014

Nottingham Playhouse box office number is 0115 941 9419


This FIVE STAR review was originally for www.thepublicreviews.co.uk and was published Sunday December 1st 2013

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A fantastic version of 'A Christmas Carol' at Lakeside, Nottingham. A review.

You know how it is when the beautifully packed presents are under the splendidly lit Christmas tree and you can't wait for the buzz and excitement of sharing the fun and joy of the gifts with others? Do you recall as a child how you thrilled to that childlike feeling that makes you want to jump around with joy and happiness at this magical event? Well, as Dickens once wrote "... for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas." Perhaps you think that feeling is all lost and only brought back for an hour by watching Dr Who on the telly. Think again.

Well, never fear because at the Lakeside Theatre at the University of Nottingham a unique production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol by writer Toby Hulse will make your inner Christmas tree shine and your heart glow with the true magic of Christmas! And it's all done by just three actors and a lot of very magical effects on a truly wonderful set with original music composed by Julian Butler.

Two brothers and a sister, James, Andrew and Vicky played to perfection and with great energy by Matthew Bloxham, Alec Fellows- Bennett and Josephine Rattigan, arrive one snowy evening at their Aunt's house. She has kindly lent her beautiful house to them for the Christmas period. (The set design of the home by Helen Fownes Davies is stupendous and I for one wanted to move in immediately.)

Andrew is the grumpy one with no sense of fun and on arrival the other two try to get him to cheer up but he is determined to be a misery at Christmas. Then a fuse blows and all the lights go out and the fun begins. What to do? Tell ghost stories by candlelight? Maybe act out the most popular Christmas story ever - A Christmas Carol? But there are only three of them and Andrew doesn't want to join in. Bah humbug!

Marvel as one actor plays all eight of the Cratchitt family all at once. Grab your seat tight and feel your heart soar as the whole cast fly around the world with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Tremble with fear at the spectacle of Jacob Marley warning Scrooge of his impending doom and laugh your Christmas socks off at the inventive interpretations of the cast as they present Fezziwig in a way you will never have seen on any stage in the world! And there's more, lots and lots more!

This show, directed by Martin Berry is terrific infectious fun, properly magical and really brings home the true spirit of Christmas and is perfect festive family entertainment. So don't be a misery book your seats now and bring a huge smile to your heart.

Suitable for children over 4 years old.


Box Office. 0115 8467777

Runs until 29th December.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Review of The Opinion Makers. Derby Theatre.

The Opinion Makers by Brian Mitchell & Joseph Nixon is playing at Derby Theatre from 13th - 23rd November and I highly recommend you grab your self a ticket or two for this fast paced and very funny musical show!

The Opinion Makers is directed by Daniel Buckroyd (Artistic Director of Mercury Theatre, Colchester), and this is co-production between Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Derby Theatre.

This new musical theatre show pokes satirical fun at the world of market research that was beginning rise dramatically through mass branding and rebranding in the 1960s. The world of advertising can be a truly fickle business. That product which is a hot hit may be freezing cold within a short period of time as brands chase out their competition through means foul and fair. Such a precarious way of making a living is ripe for satire and creators Brian Mitchell & Joseph Nixon have great fun making fun of the incompetent comical characters that people the fictional Fearnby marketing company plus others.

The hilarious cast often double up as another character with Julie Atherton as Mrs Campbell/Peregrine, David Mounfield as Mr Campbell/Donaldson, Daniel Boys as Penhall/Abramowitz, Justin Edwards solely as Mr Fearnsby, Stacey Ghent and Benjamin Stratton as actor/musicians and Mel Giedroyc as Lassiter/Migraine. There is also a super four person band featuring Dave Bernard, Adrian Oxaal, Fraser Patterson and Justin Shaw on drums.

The main action, comedy, song and dance takes place in a down beat London based marketing office in the 1960s but within a blink of an eye we are suddenly in several other venues through the manipulation of some simple but clever set pieces. The show is influenced by the comedy styles of the Carry On films and those typically British and satirical films by the Boulting Brothers.

Mel Giedroyc has some super funny moments as she lusts after her boss Mr Fearnby (Justin Edwards) and Julie Atherton is terrific as the feisty American Mrs Campbell constantly chasing the buck and the men with the bucks. This musical comedy has great ensemble work and all of the cast work well to bring out the fun and energy in this musical tale that pokes fun at the prospect of focus groups, the thought that the USA is bigger and better than the UK, that a computer is fast because it only takes four days to collect and churn out data and the luxury of teletype. So pop along to Derby Theatre and find out whether Doctor Campbell's Lotion is worth re-branding and have great nostalgic 1960s fun night in doing so.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Discussion of My Judy Garland Life at Nottingham Playhouse. A review.

There was an opportunity to attend a free discussion last night (10th November) at Nottingham Playhouse about the forthcoming play 'My Judy Garland life' based on the book by Susie Boyt and I attended, eager to learn more about the play that premiers in January/February 2014. The playwright is Amanda Whittington, a prolific and successful theatre writer from Nottingham.

The event began with an introduction from Nottingham Playhouse's Giles Croft who explained the proceedings and the opportunity to get a copy of Susie Boyt's book signed after the event. The actress Sally Ann Triplett was introduced on stage and sang a belting version of Judy Garland's 'The Trolley Song' from the film Meet Me In St Louis accompanied on the piano by Steve Sanders. Sally Ann will be playing Judy Garland in the new play and has a great talent and pedigree in the theatre and musical theatre.

We then welcomed and heard the author of 'My Judy Garland life', Susie Boyt reading from the book and she was very amusing with her childhood anecdotes. I paraphrase Susie's reading below.

Susie Boyt: I was a very sensitive little girl. I was the kind of child that if someone left a bit of mustard on the edge of the plate I'd really feel for that bit of mustard and do you know when you go to the supermarket and there's a little pile of items that people decide they don't want at the last moment. Well my heart used to go out to them and even now I try to buy one of them if I could possibly justify it in any way. I wasn't quite as bad though as the woman I saw on television once who used to cry every time she put the rubbish out because she was never going to see it again. Though I wasn't a million miles away. And it didn't help that my family had just returned from its biggest adventure just before I was born. When my Mum's Mum died she left her some money and my Mum brought a share in a rusty cargo ship and took her four small children round the world. And they had incredible adventures. They got stranded in Trinidad and had to sell limes and when they were in Denmark the crew mutinied and they had to eat my mother's face cream.

Everyone was always talking about their experience on the ship and it was nothing to do with me at all and people were always saying to me “You have got to toughen up. You've got to grow an extra layer of skin. You can't go round having all these feelings all the time or you're not going to have a happy life.” Which is quite a severe thing to say to a five year old. And yet one day my Mum took me to the cinema to see The Wizard of Oz. It was the first film I saw and when I heard Judy singing Over The Rainbow I thought, finally here is someone whose feelings seem to run as high as my own and she's not embarrassed about it. She's not ashamed of it, she's not hiding it. There was an instant smash of recognition between us. It felt to me that there couldn't possibly be better news than what she was communicating to me.

I had a record of The Wizard of Oz – not just the songs but the whole screenplay and I used to listen to it in my bedroom on my own and recite the film and so I'd be sitting in my room saying “That dog's a menace to community. I'm taking him to the sheriff to be destroyed!”. The more I listened to Judy Garland the more I felt that we cared about so many of the same things. Chiefly, the idea that the most important thing in life was making other people happy and I still believe that one of the best ways to improve the environment is to be 50% kinder to all friends and strangers and then just sit back and watch the world improve. And although I didn't understand Judy Garland's sorrows I saw that she had them and that they weighed heavily on her small frame and that she was a bigger person because of them. Like thousands of others before me I felt that just by listening to her I could somehow help. Even as a child I could see that Judy's courage was contagious. She must have been the most conscientious and and unreliable person that ever lived and I was conscientious and reliable. Chubby and intense – keen to stay a child for as long as possible, forever if I could manage it. I felt that the grown up world inhabited by my parents and my much older siblings was more dangerous than I could bear.”

Susie continued with a story about emulating Judy's dance routines by taking tap and dancing classes three days a week tutored by a Miss Audrey She worked hard and practised for hours using the mantelpiece in her bedroom as a barre. She said that she learnt a song called 'Friendship' which had the line 'if you ever lose your teeth when you're out to dine, borrow mine' and loved the idea that someday there might be somebody she might want to lend her teeth to! Her love of Judy Garland grew and after the death of her father Susie said that, although saddened, her outlook became positive and life, a little more possible and her strength of feeling that some saw as an affliction, Judy seemed to think could be the making of her. She went on to say:

“What does it say about this extraordinary performer that I felt so powerfully linked to her all my life? What does it say about me? But whatever strange alchemy has been at work between us the facts are these: I was there at her greatest triumphs and her greatest moments of despair and she has been at mine.”

There followed a short film clip of Judy Garland singing and washing up for a show. The lines called out for the listener to “Look for the silver lining and try to find the sunny side of life”.

In 1981 a fellow school friend of Susie Boyt got an expressive poem published in a school magazine and she confessed to the Nottingham Playhouse audience that she didn't know it was possible to have such thoughts and that she longed (inspired by Judy) for a life on the stage and all the alleged glamour of backstage life as portrayed in the MGM musicals. Then she read amusingly and in detail of how she readjusted her theatrical ambitions and went from downgrading herself from star to leggy chorus girl. Failing that the understudy job would do and maybe she could 'accidentally' cripple the star and rush out on to the stage in her place to great acclaim. Or maybe being the dresser or make up lady would be a possible career 'warmly soothing and smoothing – a sort of faithful human iron'. The stage door guardian and the box office lady both got considered as options and spoken about with wit and insight by Susie Boyt and then she slid down the ranks to ice cream seller clad in a maroon polyester tabard hankering for sequins. He maths teacher at school asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she that she shyly whispered that she'd like to be star of musical comedy to 'go on stage'. The maths teacher cruelly replied “Well, you'll have to shift an awful lot of weight before that's a possibility!”. Susie went on to say that later in life a friend was compiling an anthology of regrets. Susie told her that she always wanted to be a star of stage and screen. Her friend replied “That won't do as a regret because for something to qualify as a regret it has to be within the realms of possibility!”

The evening continued with an audio recording of Judy Garland being comical and diverting in an interview. Judy spoke about being in Paris with a chic friend who she felt made her look very un-chic and it was suggested she got her hair done by a French hairdresser who went to town and piled her hair up on top of her head in extravagant bunches. Predictably the tall hair started to collapse as she started to sing.

Susie Boyt retired – with great applause- from the Playhouse stage and Giles Croft invited Kath Rogers (director of the play My Judy Garland Life) and adapter/playwright Amanda Whittington on to the stage to talk about the process of the play making from the directorial and the writing angles. I was particularly interested in the play making part of the discussion – the process and the inspiration. This is because I want to further my writing for the stage and it is always good to learn from those who have success in the business.

The discussion considered the phenomenon that was Judy Garland and what stardom and fame does to you and what it is all about and that there is no better person to have as an example of that. Giles said that he telephoned Amanda Whittington and asked her if she was interested in writing a play about Judy Garland. Amanda replied that it took about a tenth of a second to exclaim a very keen “yes!”. There was an explanation from Amanda that she realised that there was a play in Judy Garland because of her very difficult life but she felt that the dark side of her experiences was a 'known' and very well reported. She went on to say that when you listen to the records you get all the heartfelt joy and the love and the life and the celebration and during her play writing research she wanted to find a different way in. She read Susie Boyt's book and was knocked out by it because it is so original and so different and because Susie is such an authority and fan there were such a plethora of left of centre stories about Judy Garland to exploit. I use the term exploit in a positive sense. Also there is the central relationship between Susie and Judy and Amanda could see great potential in that as a work for the stage.

Giles Croft then spoke to Kath Rogers and we discovered that Giles first met her when she was an actress at a theatre he ran before Nottingham Playhouse. Kath described her transition for actress to director and spoke of how a lot of actresses find at a certain age that work falls off a bit and how she had always been 'that annoying actor' who thinks they know better and wants to direct the play in their own interpretation. Now she is a director herself she says that she realises how 'appallingly annoying' it is. She continued saying that she works with students a lot and she always tells them “Let the director direct her version of the play and you can do yours another time.” Kath's first chance to direct came from Nottingham born, Jonathan Church, at Salisbury and she found that she really loved the responsibility of directing and that one is creating something with amazing talents.

Kath met Amanda Whittington through Amanda's play – the Will's Girls – which was adapted for a Bristol audience at The Tobacco Factory. Amanda explained that the play began with the title Players' Angels and she adapted for it Wills so that it was relevant to the Bristol audience. The play showed in the actual factory and was a big success. Lots of people who didn't normally go to the theatre came to see it because of the historical aspect and generations of their families had worked at the factory. Kath and Amanda went on to talk about other projects they had worked on including Radio Four and Tipping the Velvet which was an adaptation of the novel by Sarah Waters. A play about slavery followed and then Kath commissioned Amanda to write a play called The  Dug Out. I was very impressed with the creative output from Amanda and would love to aspire to be the same. In relation to the play 'My Judy Garland Life' Kath Rogers said, when asked, that she isn't a huge fan of Judy Garland but is of Liza Minelli and realises that in lots of ways they are quite similar.

On approaching the adaptation Amanda explained that in adapting a book for the stage a lot of the decision is what you leave out and it can be a bit of a wrestling match because there is such a wealth of material and a lot of it is narrative. You have to tease the play out of the original and make it theatrical – bringing it into the moment rather than story-telling and try to avoid a lot of narration. What was interesting was the relationship of Susie and Judy, both complex young women, although at different times, growing up, both with commonalities and dramatic urges. Although Judy was there for Susie in impressing her development as a girl and woman, Susie wasn't there for Judy of course but, as Amanda explained – in the play she is. The play dramatizes the emotional and spiritual truths of the characters through a collaging of interaction. Plus there is the musical element of live singing from the actress Sally Ann Triplett who plays Judy. We heard that the writing has gone through countless draughts and Amanda explained about a time when she and Kath met up and they chopped up the text into sections and moved them around the kitchen table to look at the scenes in a new light and perhaps new order, sometimes cutting scenes in half to see what happens. There had also been workshops with two actresses to develop the writing of the play. Kath explained that the new play is nothing like anything Amanda has written before. “A very distinctive piece of work” echoed Giles Croft. Amanda said that 'the more unreal the scenario got the real and truthful it became and a very strange kind of alchemy that happened. As soon as you freed yourself from naturalism the more believable it became.' Susie Boyt, in admiring this stage adaptation of her work said that it was - like a dream collage.

Another new pay by Amanda Whittington will be playing in the Nottingham Playhouse Neville studio at the same time as My Judy Garland Life. This is a very different show and is called Amateur Girl, a gritty drama about a young woman who turns to the world of filming amateur porn films as a way of getting extra income and her getting drawn into that seedy and dangerous world. This started life as a fifteen minute play written for BBC Woman's Hour and developed into a larger one woman show. The character Julie was originally played on the radio by Kath Rogers.

There followed a discussion about the nature of good and bad fans and how this is central to the book and one assumes, the new play. Actress Sally Ann Triplett told of her childhood where she used to sit and wait for the Judy Garland MGM films to appear on the telly because there was no video facility to watch them at random times and that was the thing she loved. She also loved Betty Davis and Al Jolson was her hero even to the point of her doing impressions of him at school with white bits of paper round her eyes and mouth and got detention for it. Later in life she played Jolson's wife in a musical about the entertainer. Sally Ann illuminated the fact that Garland too meant a lot to her and that it wasn't her (Garland) but her energy that she admired and feels that she herself has a similar kind of performing energy to draw on. It was all about how Garland felt. It had to be 100% or not at all.

It was a very joyous discussion and we continued with a question and answer session. Questions ranged from “Aren't you a bit young for admiring an old timer like Judy Garland?” to one aimed at Susie asking “Why do you need another author to adapt your book into a stage play when you could do it yourself?” The answer to that was an embellished version of 'no, because it is a very different discipline and mind set writing a play to an autobiography or novel and it would be very hard for the original author to make choices in editing and making the work a theatre piece'. The first question was also answered and explained by Sally Ann Triplett as the love of Judy Garland and similar artists from the period they lived and performed in was a beloved legacy of the family all enjoying the films at the cinema and the telly. Also the actress feels sympathy for Judy Garland in her weakest moments as she was controlled by the movie bosses and felt dis-empowered and turned to alcohol and drugs to cope and this still continues with people this day. On a positive note Judy Garland as the entertainer still is very present in our culture today with children and adults still loving the famous film, The Wizard of Oz and others.

My own question (gentleman in grey sweater) was around the writing process as I was intrigued to hear about this dissecting of the script and laying it out on the table and asked if the working process had been used before. Amanda explained that she had never used that process before and always thought that it might be a particularly useful creative thing to do but it never seemed relevant to other things that she had done. She spoke of Bowie and how he famously used to write his lyrics like that and reconstruct the feel and text by tossing it all up in the air. Amanda felt it work because for this particular piece, it is not a linear journey, it doesn't start at a beginning, have a middle and an end. It goes backwards and forwards in time so the structure and where we place certain events didn't have to be chronological and it just felt right to get he Pritt Stick and the scissors and chop away at it and physically try and make this thing sit together properly. Kath interjected saying that there were certain bits of Susie's book that we wanted to 'get in' could be set in different places theatrically. She continued by saying that anecdotes and scenarios drawn from the book helped form the narrative and that by reconstructing the story in this way helped them find out the emotional core of what the play was about.

Amanda explained that writing is mainly a solitary process but there are times when you work alongside a director or someone involved in a literary capacity and it can be brilliant to have two heads looking at the work and talking it through, figuring it all out. That to her as a playwright is very valuable that right from the early days of the process that is someone else is involved to give another viewpoint in the story and aid with the mechanics of script development.

Susie Boyt said that when she was writing the original book that she wanted those transitions between Judy and herself to have a flavour and the reader to have no idea about what was coming next. Giles Croft said that he first came across the book whilst driving to work and listening to the radio and it worked wonderfully and playfully on the imagination and that is why he thinks it would work equally wonderfully as a play.

Sally Ann Triplett sang us out with a great rendition of The Man That Got Away.

The event ended with an appeal from Giles Croft to the audience members to consider the effects that the local proposed County Council cuts to the Playhouse grant funding might have and for us to make our feelings known through various forums including the County Council website.

Susie Boyt was available to sign copies of her book after the event and I for one can't wait to see (and possibly review) Amanda Whittington's new play in January/February 2014

The play runs from Friday 31st January to Saturday 15th February 2014

Nottingham Playhouse Box Office is 0115 9419419


Sally Ann Triplett's own website can be viewed here.

Playwright Amanda Whittington's website can be viewed here.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: Nottingham Operatic Society. Oklahoma! 2013.

For Nottingham Live.
Oklahoma! by Rogers and Hammerstein is considered one of the major American musicals to change the style and fortunes of American musical theatre from the mid 1940s to what we enjoy today. Oklahoma! is presently seventy years old and still as popular as ever.

With this youthful production by Nottingham Operatic Society, directed by musical stalwart, Steve Williams, it seems that regardless of your age there is plenty to enjoy. Even before the show starts we are presented with a huge map of the USA painted on the gauze. As we scan the various states it comes across just how massive a land mass it is and makes you consider how different the world might have been in the America of the characters in Oklahoma!.

For those that are already familiar with the show there is the expectation of ranch hand Curly singing the most famous song of all – 'Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' – and it is sung with great warmth and assurance by handsome new member, Junior Harding. Harding makes Curly instantly likeable and like most of the characters in this show, someone we care about . As the story begins we want to know if he is going to get together with the girl of his dreams. The girl in question is the pretty but aloof Laurey, played and sung to perfection by Nottingham Operatic Society newcomer Lauren Gill performing her début with the Society.

Others of note are Alison Hope as the warm hearted and concerned Aunt Eller, Simon Theobold sympathetic and humorous as the hopeless pedlar Ali Akim and Grace Gallagher utterly lovable as flirtations and gullible Ado Annie. Gallagher's rendition of 'I Cain't Say No!' is one of the highlights of the show. It is a very strong ensemble that work well during the top notch choral singing and display great humour throughout but, the strongest performance came thundering out of the 'villain' Judd played with superb conviction and depth by Meng Khaw. His whole performance from his first deep grunt to his end said 'trouble' and his singing of the song 'Lonely Room' was chilling.

The entire cast seem to be having a ball and that - as they might say in Oklahoma – this is mighty comforting for the appreciative audience. We can sit back and relax. The performances are certainly augmented by some fabulous set pieces, from Aunt Eller's veranda to Judd's solid and sordid barn and to the more surreal dream sequence that takes us from corn field to bordello.

It is a large cast and they populate the stage well with their authentic cowboy and ladies period fashions. The choreographed numbers directed by Denis Palin are exceptionally good and feel natural to the piece, not tagged on and each performer comes across as an individual character.

For a wonderful, nostalgic night out at the theatre jump on your 'Surrey With A Fringe On Top' and trot down to see Oklahoma at Nottingham's Theatre Royal playing 6th to 9th November.

Phil Lowe

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Review: Balletboyz – the Talent. Derby Theatre. November 5th 2013

Co-produced by Sadlers Wells – Balletboyz-the Talent (ten very impressive professional male ballet dancers) electrified the Derby Theatre stage with two challenging ballet works. The fine attention to detail to every single body position, move and extension, the juxtapositions, the incredible balancing acts of male body against male body – still – gliding or in flight – held the mainly youthful audience in rapture. Once the lights went down and we were presented with a short film and the first dance sequence nary a sweet wrapper rustled across the auditorium. Such was the respect and admiration for this company.

Each of the two dance pieces is announced by a short film about the Balletboyz company's inner workings and rehearsals plus the two choreographers ideas and inspirations. The first work is called Serpent with music by Max Richter. It is choreographed by Liam Scarlett.The supine dancers create the abstract world of gliding and linked/unlinked serpents with utter fluidity, visual poetry, coiling and striking rivals through the medium of ballet. Throughout the dance and Richter's music amplified water drops punctuate the movement and the lighting by Michael Hulls works well with the near bare dancers. The over all effect is stunningly beautiful.


The second ballet work, Fallen, choreographed by Russell Maliphant is a completely different artistic animal. This piece is densely industrial in feel. The music by Armand Amar rises and falls to a dull beat and the dancers, clothed in quasi fatigues spiral from without a scrum and the bodies pulse and dive and spin like elastic crouching dervishes in green pools of light. The dancing becomes more and more animated and is impressive (perhaps an understatement) as bodies begin to fly across the stage as if light as feathers. Then the Balletboyz use balance to an extraordinary degree throughout manner of acute body angling and brave falls and catches. This is certainly a brave dance company and are acclaimed throughout the world for their depiction of forms old and new in ballet.


The Derby Theatre audience rose as one and gave the guys a well deserved standing ovation. Catch them if you can! 'Real men wear tights' as their t-shirts say.

Phil Lowe


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Stage Writing Development Project for all writers

A Stage Writing Development Project for all writers
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is inviting emerging and established writers throughout England to take part in Playwrights’ Progress, an inspiring new script development project, FREE to the chosen participants with all expenses paid. This is a major promotion run in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech &... Drama (RCSSD) and Leicester Square Theatre.
The project (open to Guild and non-Guild applicants) aims to give writers the opportunity to progress their career paths. Four will be chosen to attend a three day, intensive workshop to develop their exciting new scripts in progress. The best work from the workshops will be showcased by actors of the highest calibre, at Leicester Square Theatre to an audience of invited literary managers, directors and producers.

Funded by the Arts Council England and The Writers’ Foundation (UK), with substantial support from the RCSSD and Leicester Square Theatre, this project has been set up by the Guild to promote writing through education and training. The scheme is open to all writers, at any stage of their careers, to enable them to work on their unperformed plays with professional actors, directors and dramaturges of the highest calibre.

To apply, candidates should:
Submit one hard copy plus an electronic copy of a draft of an unpublished, unperformed dramatic piece. Initially this needs to be the first act only (drawn from a full-length script of maximum running time of 2 hours 30 minutes). The text should include a cast list, essential production notes plus a resume/ scenario of the whole piece. A shortlist of contenders will then be drawn up and these will be asked to submit their full scripts for the final selection.

• Submit a brief biography of your experience and career to date, which must include at least one production for public performance or equivalent publication.

• Include a letter of application, of no more than 500 words, setting out your reasons for wanting to develop this piece, its potential as a drama and your aspirations for it. And why this experience would be valuable in terms of your personal development as a writer. This letter should also include all your contact details plus a stamped, addressed envelope if you wish your script to be returned.
The initial read-through workshops will take place in London in the week beginning 3rd March 2014, followed by the three day workshops held from 1 - 4 April. The public showcasing at Leicester Square Theatre will take place in the week beginning 4th May.
All applications and hard copies should be sent to the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 40 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4RX, FAO Richard Pinner by the 11th December 2013. Electronic copies should be sent to admin@writersguild.org.uk
Owing to the considerable task of selection, it will not be possible to offer a critique or respond to those candidates who have not been selected. But if you have any questions or need more information about this project then please do not hesitate in contacting Richard Pinner.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Review: September in the Rain at Derby Theatre. (on tour)

It is a great sign of comedy when the performers get laughs before they have even spoken a word and so it is at the very start of Godber's play about a pair of married pensioners looking back to the 1950s and reflecting on a succession of holidays at the same B&B year after year in Blackpool. As the actors John Thomson playing husband Jack and Claire Sweeney as his wife Liz shuffle across the stage set of a sea front at Blackpool the Derby Theatre audience are already giggling away.

The laughter grows and grows through the play as Thomson and Sweeney become their characters younger selves and chat with the audience about how they feel about the happy experiences and marital frustrations they go through at Mavis's B&B on Woodfield Road in Blackpool and en route to their holiday destination. Both Sweeney and Thomson are very adept at mimicry and throughout the play they temporarily become other comic personae like the landlady Mavis, a bad tempered haulage trucker and most hilarious of all – the sewer man. Thomson's telling of the story of the people gathered around a sewer drain to watch a large piece of excrement float by is classic comedy and comic timing. Both performances are very strong and likeable.

John Godbers characters, Jack and Liz are based on his parents and he says that he assumed that they went back to the same place every year for 50 years because they were attracted to the West End shows that played there, the appearance of variety acts and TV stars in end of pier shows, the beautiful sands, the famous tower and ballroom and the circus. Apparently not – they went to Blackpool after going to Scarborough in the first year of their marriage and his father discovered that the east coast air gave him asthma, something that Blackpool didn't seem to do. As Godber says “The randomness of life continually leaves me agog!”

The terrific writing and the playing of the characters has a real human warmth which the Derby audience fully appreciated as Liz and Jack were constantly bickering with each other and teasing one another as couples often do. Sweeney with her underplayed Liverpool accent and Thomson with his no-nonsense Yorkshire accent and mannerisms create characters that are like chalk and cheese and for all their faults and stubbornness you can't fail to love them. Their relationship is very believable and each character have their flaws so soon the comedy becomes a drama as the heavens open and they part company whilst rowing. You genuinely wanted to rush back after the interval to discover what happens next. There is a third character in this theatre piece and that is the character of Blackpool depicted here with a wonderfully realistic set complete with sand on the steps, strings of gaudy lights and the famous Blackpool tower in the misty background. You almost expected a seagull to fly across the stage.

The near to capacity audience lapped up every emotional minute whether they were laughing at Jack trying to erect the deckchairs (superb comic timing by Thomson) or sympathising with Liz as Jack storms off after a particularly vicious and unexpected argument and I suspect that many of them left the theatre with a cathartic and nostalgic feeling of a shared experience and an umbrella up and ready for the – all too real - October rain.

Originally posted on The Public Review website.

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Christmas Carol script by Phil Lowe now available as an ebook for £3.99


On the back of my most popular blogpost by far on the actor/writer site I have now published a script of A Christmas Carol through Blurb. The ebook downloadable version is £3.99. See link above.

There have been over 1660 hits on this blogpost about the Christmas Carol production. http://philloweactor.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/christmas-carol-adaptation-for-stage.html

On the whole I found Blurb a good site to work with in self publishing although their are a few annoying spacing errors and one typo in the body of my script. However it is good to have the theatre piece published for sharing. The details are in the back of the book for contacting  re royalties and performance rights. I am contactable at phillming@aol.com.

Phil Lowe

                            Roger Newman as Scrooge in the Lace Market Theatre production.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Review: God of Carnage at The Lace Market Theatre. Nottingham

Director Graeme Jennings has made a terrific job of bringing to life this one act play by Yasmina Reza (English translation from the original French by Christopher Hampton) at Nottingham's premier amateur theatre - The Lace Market Theatre.

God of Carnage is about the breakdown of two supposedly sophisticated and successful couples after they meet to politely discuss the potential solution of their young sons fighting and the resultant missing teeth of the young son of the Hunts - in whose modern and stylish house we meet the protagonists and remain in their company for the duration of the play.

The set design is of a very modern apartment based on a black and white hop scotch pattern and it serves the play perfectly with the designer, Emma Pegg, creatively following through on Reza's staging notes of ' a living room, no realism, nothing superfluous. With some colour highlights this is a monochromatic world that according to the excellent programme notes "alludes to the barely concealed conflict between the characters." Deliberately, only the two artfully arranged vases of flowers and the red carpet and cushions bring any bright colour to the set.

Easy going Michael Hunt (Hugh Jenkins) tries to reason things out with Alan and Annette Raleigh and attempts to form a friendship with Alan through recognition that all boys fight and that it is part of the growing up process. Alan Raleigh superficially goes along with this man talk but is constantly at the beck and call of his mobile phone. Fraser Wanless plays the arrogant Alan to perfection. This is no one dimensional character portrayal however. Wanless subtly switches his role from mood to mood whether he is speaking his business demands down the mobile phone or temporarily comforting his wife Annette (Emma Nash) after she has been dramatically sick on stage. He controls and commands the stage with Alan's persona and is the master of wry humour.

Photo by Mark James.

This is a demanding four hander and the performances are very professional especially from the actresses Sarah Taylor and Emma Nash playing the wives. The women go through a vast array of emotion throughout the play and Taylor and Nash bring out very truthful performances through their body language and barely controlled emotions that go from socially polite to sudden outrage and lack of control.

Hugh Jenkins plays the most sympathetic character in Michael Hunt, a man who just wants to keep the peace yet finds himself getting out of control with a toxic mix of problems including his mother constantly calling up for health advice and his weird decision to set the family hamster free to fend for itself in the wild. He valiantly tries to cope with all this, alongside the trauma caused by his son being attacked and injured by another boy. Jenkins plays the sympathy card well with this well rounded character, always at the ready with the hair drier to fix every disaster.

                                                              Photo by Mark James

On the surface the play could be perceived as a serious polemic on the breakdown of social morals caused through lack of compassion, uncivil and  selfish behaviour, stress and exacerbated by too much rum and it does have this in the background but the evening's entertainment was that of laughter as the characters descended into ridiculous childish behaviour. There are some fantastically funny situations and lines and the actors worked them to perfection. This is another 'must see' at the Lace Market Theatre.

The performances run until the 19th October.

Tickets can be booked online or by ringing the box office. Lace Market Theatre link.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

God of Carnage next week at the Lace Market Theatre - Nottingham

I am really looking forward to going to the Lace Market Theatre next week to see their production of God of Carnage - a high energy comedy about parents behaving badly and directed by the talented Graeme Jennings.

Yazmina Reza's multi-award winning play is a hilarious and savagely funny comedy of modern manners. The translation from the original French is by Christopher Hampton.
Plot: When a playground fight between two boys results in one of them losing his teeth, both sets of parents decide to meet and resolve the matter. But as tensions rise the gloves are soon off and the God of Carnage reigns supreme as they descend to the level of wilful children themselves.

Tickets are available through this link.

Production dates: 14th -19th October plus matinee on Saturday 19th.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Review: Go Back For Murder. Derby Theatre.

Playing at Derby Theatre this week the - Agatha Christie Theatre Company - presents a brand new production of Christie's classic murder mystery, Go Back For Murder.(touring)

The plot revolves around Carla Le Marchant (Sophie Ward) who has returned from Canada to investigate the death of her imprisoned mother, Caroline. The death has taken place in prison, twenty years after Caroline's conviction of killing her husband and Carla's father - Amyas Crate (Gary Mavers). Carla's late mother, Caroline, has left her daughter an intriguing legacy - a letter professing her innocence. This we learn by voice over in the very first minutes of the play.

This is a fast paced 'whodunnit' that will delight fans of murder mystery stage adaptations and Agatha Christie and given the interval chat about who the murderer could be the audience clearly revelled in the plot and action on stage.

The plot unfolds, illuminates and deceives and the play begins with a determined Carla Le Marchant anxiously trying to uncover the truth behind her father’s murder by poisoning with the help of Justin Fogg (Ben Nealon) who is the son of her mother’s original defence lawyer. Christie controversially left Hercule Poirot  out of this one.

In the first act events take place at several locations in London, the arrangement of which is very well done by quickly executed scene changes and dramatic lighting. Gradually, we attain insights into the individual characters that were at the scene of the murder some twenty years previously at Alderbury House. The acting throughout was good and some deliberately hammy. Lysette Anthony was deliciously over the top as the older Lady Elsa Greer.

With the help of Justin, Carla manages to entice all the suspects back to the house where we witness a reconstruction of events that took place leading up to the 1948 murder in the second act. Stories unfold, twists and turns in the tale are abundant and there are more red herrings than in a kipper factory.

The staging design is simple and the lighting effects work especially well and gave a clarity to the plot that could have got confusing initially. The 1960s jazzy soundtrack helps create an atmosphere of time.

Could the murder have been committed by either of the brothers Philip and Meredith Blake (Robert Duncan and Antony Edridge) who had both been secretly in love with Caroline? Or maybe it was the dead man’s feisty opportunist mistress Lady Elsa Greer (Lysette Anthony) Of course no Agatha Christie play would be complete without an old fashioned governess, in this case a tea drinking Miss Williams admirably played by (Liza Goddard) and adding a little high spirited youth to the cast as the elder daughter of Caroline we have Angela Warren (Georgia Neville) in her professional debut. Each of these likely suspects, try to convince of their innocence with their own plausible version of events on the fateful day.

'Go Back For Murder' directed by Joe Harmston, is Agatha Christie at her best, a delicious play from her late years, well performed by a top notch cast and - as you'd expect - keeps us guessing until the very end. All could be guilty of the murder, but only one of 'em did it!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Derby Theatre recieves Lottery funding to enhance experience for deaf and hard of hearing patrons

Press release.

Derby Theatre receives funding to  enhance performances for deaf  and hard of hearing patrons
Derby Theatre is delighted to have received funding from both the national Big Lottery fund and locally-based Derbyshire Community Foundation to  improve deaf access at the venue.  
The joint funding, in the region of £10,000, has funded the installation of a brand new  digital system in the theatre, top quality headsets and induction loop aerials. The new equipment will enable and enhance a visit to the theatre for deaf and hard of hearing patrons, ensuring Derby Theatre is even more accessible to a wider audience. 
The brand new digital system and equipment will replace, and improve on, the existing infrared facility for patrons when seeing performances at Derby Theatre. The new Digital RF headsets are of the highest quality and offer crystal clear sound from every seat in the auditorium. For audience members with their own earphones, they can simply plug them into a discreet body pack where sound is then amplified through the new digital system. Patrons who prefer to use the T switch on their own hearing aid, there are induction loop aerials also available, which are worn loosely and comfortably around the neck.  The assisted listening sets work on digital RF frequencies, the same clear, sharp sound as a digital radio, so no longer will interference be received when another audience member walks in front those wearing them or those using the service turn away from the stage 
Debra Chantrill (Customer Services Manager, Derby Theatre) said:  “We are thrilled to have acquired these sought after grants from both organisations and I would like to say a big thank you on behalf of the theatre and our audience members. I know it will make a huge difference to many, especially those who may re-discover their enjoyment of theatre, simply through being able to hear the performance more clearly again through the equipment we have been able to acquire. Our aim is always to make theatregoing as accessible to, and as enjoyable for, as many people as possible and we are confident that the new system and equipment will do just that, for existing and potential new visitors to the theatre who may require this service.”   
As part of the application process, Derby Theatre consulted with a number of people involved in locally-based CamTAD, an organisation who campaign for tackling acquired deafness, to ask for their support, advice and feedback on the proposed application. CamTAD members said that a new system, which would help people with hearing difficulties to hear performances more clearly, would enable them to regain their confidence in visiting the theatre again. Speaking of non-reliable hearing systems in general, one lady said that she felt a part of her life was missing, by not being able to enjoy theatre as much as she would like to and that she hoped we were successful in our bid so that she could see performances secure in the knowledge that she will be able to comprehend the action once more.    
Headsets, body packs and loop aerials can be acquired from Box Office free of charge on arrival at the theatre and, in most cases, do not need to be booked in advance.  
For anyone wishing to test the new equipment, before doing so on a performance night/day, please call Debra Chantrill on 01332 593946 who will be more than happy to arrange this with you. Or simply call into Box Office and ask for Debra. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

As the world tipped - a fantastic opener the the Derby Festé

I have chosen this short video from the Facebook page of Wired Aerial Theatre to give a flavour of this truly fantastic outdoor bungee assisted performance art extravaganza. I saw it  performed in Derby last night as the opening act in Derby's amazing Live Arts festival that continues over the weekend. A capacity audience stood aghast as the actor/dancers reacted through stunning movement on the 12mm square stage tipping from a level position to an upright position. You need a real head for heights to perform in this one! Stunning concept, application, visuals and movement to a dramatic and moving soundtrack.

'The piece is about how governments fail to come to grips with climate change and the world slides, literally towards catastrophe. Conceived as a real life disaster movie in the sky, this production delivers one breath-taking image after another.'  Festé  brochure.

The festival continues over this weekend with music on the Music Stage in the Old Market Square with artists such as Hudson Super Fix, Jamie Joseph Band, Riptide and Alex Blood & The Diggers. At various venues throughout the city visitors will be delighted and entertained by Bread and Butter Theatre, Upswing Theatre - Red Shoes (circus), the hilarious and talented Maison Foo - Tea Tent, street performers Reckless Invention - Turbo and Dai and Wrong Size - The Dragons (inspired by the Gaudi sculptures of Barcelona). The 2 Men - wardens will be let loose on the streets of Derby amusing people by enforcing ridiculous laws around the city such as breathing too loudly or wearing a loud shirt in a built up area!

Derby Independent Theatre Network will be presenting their A Very British Exhibition around the historic Derby areas such as St Peter's Quarter and the beautiful Cathedral Quarter.

On Saturday evening there will be a Bollywood Party with Charity Shop DJ and Surtal Arts all kicked off by Flame Oz - high energy entertainment with a choreographed fire dance.

                                                       Still from White Wings (Holland)

And that's not all! The festival also includes C12- Trolleys - a stunning dance piece involving supermarket trolleys, Dutch theatre company - Close Act - are performing their fantastical White Wings show with amazing costumed characters seeming to float over the heads of the shoppers! A packed weekend at Derby  Festé which certainly deserves to be supported.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: Kes at Derby Theatre.

Kes at Derby Theatre.

This production is adapted by playwright Lawrence Till from Barry Hines' novel – A Kestrel For A Knave and runs from Friday 13th September to Saturday 5th October.
The story of Kes concerns a 1960s Yorkshire schoolboy called Billy Casper who is bullied, neglected and misunderstood and, in the Derby Theatre production directed by Sara Brigham, Billy is played with great energy, passion and emotional subtlety by Sam Jackson. Billy is bullied by his older brother Jud (Jimmy Fairhurst) and emotionally ignored by his feckless Mother. As the story evolves we discover that Billy has been teaching himself falconry and devoting himself to his found kestrel wherein he finds a personal peace, an unbridled excitement and a purpose in life. The kestrel training is a challenge to the young man, a hard won reality and also infers a deep desire for personal freedom and an attempt to find himself in amongst the cruelties he encounters at school and in his family life. On the positive side Billy's character is transformed when he speaks to the school class and to the audience about his love of the wild kestrel he has named Kes and he is solely supported by an English language teacher, a Mr Farthing, performed with great compassion and conviction by John Elkington.

Jackson is especially strong in the heart breaking scene where he confronts and fights his useless Mother and nasty brother Jud and later on when he breaks into an abandoned cinema and pours out his feelings to his absent father who he imagines up on screen. The emotional truths and the teenage frustrations are brilliantly handled and conveyed on stage.
In amongst the darker elements of the play are lots of laughs during the school scenes – Paul Clarkson is perfect as the controlling 1960s headmaster and Andrew Westfield is hilarious as the menacing but rather thick PE teacher, Mr Sugden. The laughs work on two levels: the genuinely funny plot and actions/reactions and also on a nostalgic level for those in the audience old enough to have been a school child themselves in the 1960s. The local children playing the school kids are terrific and thoroughly believable in their parts and they work very intuitively in the choreographed ensemble movement although each retaining an individual personality within the group. The professional actors playing two of the schoolboy speaking roles (Thomas Pickles as Tibbut and John Holt -Roberts as the bully MacDowell) are excellent. If a production of One Flew Over A Cuckoo's Nest ever came up Pickles would be a perfect casting as Billy Bibbit.

Samantha Seager as Billy's estranged Mum – Mrs Casper – is extremely exasperating in her selfish reluctance to offer Billy love and support in his moments of deepest need and plays the unsympathetic role with great conviction. Nova Skipp is utterly brilliant in her very different roles as the teacher Miss Fenton, Mrs MacDowell, Librarian and Miss Rose. As far as the audience are concerned each character she plays could well have been a different actress performing.

The whole piece is a terrific example of ensemble playing and the very moving Derby Theatre production is to be thoroughly recommended. The simple setting and use of panoramic back projections coupled with a dynamic musical score by composer and sound designer Ivan Stott really enhance this play and the whole package makes for a wonderful night at the theatre.

Phil Lowe.