Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Fantasist by Theatre Témoin at Derby Theatre Saturday 15th June. Promotion.

Theatre Témoin present THE FANTASIST  Derby Theatre - STUDIO Sat 15 June  
A stunning exploration of the  glorious heights and murky  depths of bipolar disorder. 
As part of a nationwide tour, from Cornwall to Scotland, the 5 star-rated production of The Fantasist, presented by Theatre Témoin, will show in the Studio at Derby Theatre for one night only on Saturday 15 June.  
“Astonishingly powerful” Fringe Review 

Stunning life-size puppetry, created in collaboration with War Horse’s Robin Guiver, combines with object manipulation, physical theatre and original music in this highly imaginative, surreal and disturbing story of a woman battling bipolar disorder. Informed by medical experts, The Fantasist emerges as part of a wave of puppetry that is growing exponentially since the West End success of War Horse and similar highly visual puppetry shows. Touring the UK as one of the sell-out successes of the Edinburgh Fringe 2012, the unique and hypnotic visual style of this production explores a deeply personal story of mental illness to powerful theatrical effect.  

The Fantasist runs alongside Mental Health Awareness week 2013 (May 13-19). It was developed between 2011 and 2012 from personal experience and medical research with the North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT). The lead performer has been a carer for her mother throughout her adult life, and has direct experience with the extremes of bipolar disorder. The personal story behind this play has helped it become a vehicle for approaching the taboo subject of mental illness in a way that is non- didactic, funny and theatrically exciting.  

In the mind of the fantasist, the real and the fanciful become dangerously blurred. As Louise gazes into the night, her fancy takes form. Objects move, time changes … and a seductive stranger opens up a world of exhilaration and magic. But everything comes at a price… 

Tickets: £9, concessions £6. For more information and to book tickets call the Box Office on 01332 59 39 39 or visit

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Review of The Pitman Painters by Lee Hall. Derby Theatre.

Derby Theatre 28th May -1st June.

This rightfully acclaimed play by Lee Hall is on tour and arrives on the Derby Theatre stage shortly after the very successful production of Hall's other masterpiece 'Cooking with Elvis' and is enjoyed by a packed audience.

The Pitman Painters is based on a true story of a group of coal miners in the 1930s who embark on attending an evening class to study art appreciation. In the original group there were around forty attendees but for the theatrical version of events Hall has condensed the group down to five miners of varying ages and two women plus the art teacher. The play is set in Ashington in the North East but periodically travels down to London as the feted artist miners become well known and their paintings considered Modernist in style. The overhead projections of the art works that are created and critiqued, debated upon and discussed, all with innate intelligence and wit, add another dimension and knowledge bank to the play. The fantastic sound effects by sound designer Martin Hodgson bring the unseen and deafening noises of working men and ponies below ground very much to the core and fore of the piece. It is a play that educates, amuses and moves the audience every second of its vital performance and is acted to an extraordinarily high standard by the whole cast. There is nothing artificial in this artful show only human and artistic truths compellingly told.

The whole cast work as a seamless unit fluidly creating each scene within the body of the towering and stark industrial grey set. The half dozen folding chairs are used very imaginatively creating several new environments and become almost balletic in their shifting formats and percussion. The impressive set design is by former Nottingham Trent University graduate Gary McCann. Director Max  Roberts directs as Artistic Director and founding member of Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne. The direction is exemplary.

 Louis Hilyer playing the art teacher Robert Lyon commands the stage through his energy and the character's artistic fervour and the light and shade of the actor's subtle depiction is very believable. All of the miners characters are very well drawn by writer Lee Hall and the particularly difficult local accent of the Ashington area brilliantly done by every man playing the miners. You feel as though you are an onlooker into their private male community. Nicholas Lumley as George Brown charms as the older man of the group at once strict and abiding by his book of rules and the next giggling like a bairn. Philip Corella as Oliver Kilbourn delivers an inspirational monologue about the nature of creativity and is convincing in his indecision of accepting a stipend to leave the mining the community and paint for a living. Riley Jones (Young lad and artist Ben Nicholson) moves easily between sympathetic to paint splattered but entrapped aesthete and is equally convincing each role.

Joe Caffrey and Donald McBride (Harry Wilson and Jimmy Floyd) are like chalk and cheese, the righteous  full on Marxist with a searing intellect and the gentle, dog loving  humourist playing off each other throughout with their own beliefs and  wit. Catherine Dryden brings out the wilful female in the aspirant life model Susan Parks and much laughter is had from the men's reaction to a potentially naked woman in their midst. Suzy Cooper is totally convincing as the art collector and patron Helen Sutherland. She carries the character with great poise and gives her a genuine warmth. Her disappointment at Kilbourn's choice of artistic journey is palpable.

"The Ashington Group", to quote Oliver Kilbourn, " were never a commercial group but preserved our idealism. We thought we were doing something that no-one else could do. We were depicting way of life below and above ground in a mining village that only we know by experiencing it. Life goes on and we paint life." This play explores the nature of art and the individual interpretation of the image through feeling and 'seeing as doing.'  It looks deeply at personal politics and Politics, at inspiration and aspiration and it succeeds. Another great success on the Derby Theatre stage.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

How casting and rehearsals differ in two German amateur theatres to their English counterparts.

How the plays are cast and rehearsed in our twin theatres in Karlsruhe, Germany.

It's always interesting to find out how our friends at the Jakobus theatre and Die Käuze theatre in Germany do things so I thought that I would contact someone from each group and ask how they cast plays, rehearse and perform. I was interested to discover that they certainly do things differently to us. They are usually very impressed that The LaceMarket Theatre have a programme of approximately fifteen plays a year. For a start they have much longer playing periods and quite often both groups revise a play in the same season and do it again if it has been popular. But first of all over to Norbert Wingender from the Die Käuze group.

Norbert: First of all we don't do auditions. People come to us if they are interested in our theatre, and we show them around, have a look at them, and if they want to act they can come to the first meeting of a new play. If we think they could play a certain role we check them at the first rehearsal. At the meeting, the play – or part of it – is read with changing roles so we can see who has a 'feeling' for the part.

Rehearsals are like this: for the Fairy Tale we have the first meeting after the summer holidays when everybody is back again (mid-September). Since usually a few kids are involved we explain what we will play meaning- the story of the play. Marita makes a list of the people who want to participate then we put up a cast. We form a Tuesday and a Thursday group depending on the everyday schedule of the cast members. Because we have two or three people for each part we have rehearsals until the première which is on the last Saturday of November. Just before the première we have two weekend “rehearsal confinements” where everybody is in the theatre and we also eat together – try on costumes … everything. Of course other members have been working hard in designing and creating the set. The Fairy Tale is usually played in the afternoons because of the young children coming to see it.

For the 'evening plays', meaning the adult plays, we choose the cast after the first meeting, then we have rehearsals on appointment. Usually we have one “confinement” there as we only have one person per part.

Thank you Norbert and now over to the Jakobus Theatre in the city centre of Karlsruhe. Here I spoke to Carsten Thein.

Carsten Thein: Normally we start rehearsing for our play about three months before the first show.
Afterwards we play every week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and our shows are played about twenty-five times in all.

The kind of audition depends on the director and the sort of play.Sometimes the director knows exactly which people they want to cast the play, other cases we have the normal audition. There everyone who is interested to participate in the next show has a possibility to convince the director to take him or her for a role in the play.

The time of rehearsals means three or four evenings a week for a time from 6 pm till 10 pm and sometimes on a Saturday and Sunday as well. Normally we have about forty rehearsals before a new play starts. We perform around three new shows a year and sometimes repeat the most popular shows later in the season. Also our theatre can be hired for outside professionals and amateur groups to perform plays and music. Our programme is varied and in the recent past we have performed Die Entdeckung der Currywurst by J.Kaetzler and G Seidel, a comedy and a classical German piece from our region – Der zerbroche Krug. Also we played a popular fantasy called Die Nibelungen by Rudiger Pape and Catharina Fillers. We are about to start a play by Arthur Schnitzler called Reigen and look forward to bringing Boeing Boeing to you in 2014.

Review: We'll Meet Again at Derby Assembly Rooms.

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews on 15th May 2013

Duggie Chapman’s enormously popular touring matinee show, We’ll Meet Again has been going for fifteen years and the performance at Derby Assembly Rooms is part of the farewell tour that continues across the UK until June. It is a packed calendar of dates and if the audiences respond anything like this Derby audience we could well see a “we’ll be back again” tour.

The entertainment is pure “hits from the blitz” nostalgia, a heart-warming mélange of comedy, music and song. The largely elderly audience lapped up every second, claiming the upbeat show as their own, enthusiastically singing along when at all possible with the artiste. It truly is an afternoon of patriotic music and fun with all of the seasoned cast and band performing with gusto.

A special mention must be made of the two piece band comprising keyboard (Martyn St James) and percussion (Phil Jeffrey). The sterling work of these two musicians really enhances the show throughout the whole two and a bit hours. As well as providing live backing music for the artistes they also provide comic sound effects and comic beats during the frequent elements of comedy. Both well-seasoned professional musicians, they clearly show their own enjoyment in working variety shows.

The five artistes that make up the wonderfully varied entertainment in this revue style cavalcade are all top notch professionals and despite the heavy schedule of their rigorous touring programme they come across as fresh and enthusiastic as if it were day one. Adam Daye is the main comic turn, turning out quality impression after quality impression and demonstrating consummate comedy skills in the various skits and comedy routines. His relaxed approach and easy confidence has the audience eating out of this hand and laughing out loud at his wit.

Marilyn Hill Smith is the only female in the show and she charms the audience throughout with her singing that goes from soft melodies, Vera Lynn songs, soaring romance from Ivor Novello to a well-received special request number from The Sound Of Music. She certainly climbs every vocal mountain and gets to the patriotic, flag-waving top, with style.

Andy Eastwood wows the audience with his brilliant ukelele playing firstly as George Formby and later playing a stunning version of the William Tell Overture. Like many a seasoned performer he makes it all look effortless but there is years of practice behind his talent.

Mervyn Francis entertains and sparkles throughout and is particularly strong on the Al Jolson Sings section. Jamie Steen pays tribute to the late Max Bygraves and has the audience singing along enthusiastically to his medley of forties favourites.

The whole We’ll Meet Again afternoon’s entertainment is a fast paced whirlwind of first class performances and this elderly Derby audience joined in with heart-warming enthusiasm. This is a show guaranteed to uplift any age and make you feel proud to be sharing the best of British spirit.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Kindertransport - teaching the German script

In the Autumn of 2009 I had the privilege of being asked to teach a young teenager German language skills and German pronunciation for a studio production of Diane Samuels harrowing play, Kindertransport. Kaiti Soultana who played Eva Schlesinger (the German Jewish escapee) had no knowledge of German and felt she had no confidence in learning foreign languages but seemed up for a challenge.

Over a three month rehearsal period we worked together on the not unsubstantial, German language aspects of the script. We worked on the emotional context of the German/English dialogue and the phrasing and emphasis on particular words to make dramatic sense. I also did her an audio tape of me reading all the parts to help her on the text and acting. She put a tremendous amount of work into the challenging role and it all paid off with her winning praise from the critics and especial praise from a senior German language tutor from Nottingham University. All this from a girl who thought she would struggle with the foreign language.

Here are some images I took of the show at the Lace Market Theatre. The play was a cast of six and directed by Maggie Andrew and the co-director and set designer was David Supper.

Cast list:
Eva   Kaiti Soultana
Helga   Monika Johnson
Evelyn   Maeve Doggett
Faith   Rebecca Tarry
Lil   Penny Kimmins
The Man   Phil Pearson

Costumes by The Lace Market Theatre

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Review for Miss Julie: Derby Guildhall

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews website

Developed as part of the August Strindberg 2012 celebration (the centenary of Strindberg’s death in 1912), UK Touring Theatre is currently on tour presenting a new English translation of Miss Julie. The English translation is from an ensemble re-working of the original Swedish text and developed further through improvisations with the actors.

Strindberg’s original play was banned in the UK for fifty years when first written and shocked critics across Europe with its frank portrayal of sexuality and inter-class relationships in 19th century society. Miss Julie is nowadays widely regarded as Strindberg’s masterpiece. Its vivid depiction of a divided class system and of destructive sexual politics has received worldwide critical acclaim.

This production follows the traditional route and sets the one act play in the claustrophobic kitchen of the Count’s Swedish manor house. It is Midsummer’s Eve 1888. The unseen servants are enjoying a party in the barn outside. The aristocratic Miss Julie’s (Felicity Rhys) behaviour is being criticised in the kitchen and talk is of how she appears to be attracted to the socially ambitious Jean (Adam Redmayne), her father’s valet. Jean deflects his fiancée’s irritation at this news by making a joke of the situation. Miss Julie is perceived as creating a degree of scandal by dancing and flirting with the male servants and for behaving strangely and erotically with her own recently departed fiancé. Over the Midsummer evening a fair amount of alcohol is consumed and seemingly harmless flirtations between valet and the privileged Miss Julie soon plummet into an intoxicated and furious power struggle between the socially uneven lovers. To add to the problems Jean’s housekeeper fiancée Kristin (Sioned Jones) is pulled into the battle zone and the play explores the themes of psychological manipulation, lust and lies.

The subtle lighting design (Crin Claxton) and specially composed atmospheric dance music (Annelie Nederberg) add much to build the tension in this production directed by Denis Noonan.

Rhys and Redmayne as the two leads keep the play moving along at a varied and fast pace with some quality acting but, somehow slightly lack that real earthy, erotically charged nature that leads the characters to behave in the extreme way they do in the story. That is not to say that their character portrayals lacked interest or lust, far from it, and Rhys comes into her own in the power charged manic explosion and desperate emotional vocal mix blending anger and pleading that tips Miss Julie over the edge.

Both actors deal well with the complex nature of the play text that slides from naturalistic to dream-like from scene to scene and Jones as the grounded fiancée, Kristin, is very convincing in her role as the sober moral compass. Redmayne conveys well the convoluted character of Jean as a man with his eye on the main chance but is brought down to earth when his dreams of running away with Miss Julie are smashed by the concerns of having no finance to back themselves with and grave doubts over the longevity of the torrid relationship and a real terror of the Count returning home.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Review for Cooking with Elvis. Derby Theatre

This review first appeared on The Public Reviews on May 1st 2013

Cooking With Elvis is a dark comedy by Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters. This excellent production is the Derby Theatre’s first in house professionally produced show and what a zinger it is!

Lee Hall’s brilliant writing in Cooking with Elvis has everything you would expect from an alternative comedy; ribald humour, stark reality, moments of deep discomfort, pathos and instants where the audience keel over with laughter. He writes about the complexities of human behaviour with inordinate skill and in a way that challenges the audience to think or re-think familiar situations and sometimes to shock.

The highly functional and impressive set designed by Hayley Grindle is a cross section of the family home so the audience can see what is happening in different rooms at the same time with uproarious results. The play starts on a dramatic note as the powerful music of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' sets the scene and Jill the daughter (Laura Elsworthy) bursts in declaring it is scene one.

Laura Elsworthy’s character Jill is the most sympathetic of the show. A talented young actress, Elsworthy brings out all the angst that is hormonal teenage life and a surprisingly caring nature as she is left to look after her wheelchair bound Dad’s daily needs. In her own frantic needs to please she seduces her mother’s lover – the gullible Stuart – into having under age sex with her. Jill often appears vulnerable but her character turns out to be much more gutsy than she first appears.

Full figured Polly Lister sparkles as sexually frustrated Mam and the actress copes admirably with the bawdy action and lusty humour but quickly turns the comedy to pathos in a tear jerking scene where she expresses her love for her paraplegic husband. One minute she comes across as a dominatrix and next a lonely sobbing mess.

Stuart, wonderfully played by Adam Barlow is the next in a string of younger lovers Mam brings home to drink and have her way with. Barlow’s portrayal is that of a charming geek who is taken up with his job at the bakery and scared of Mam’s full on nature. As he settles into living with Mam he tries to take every advantage of his new position in the family unit even though his personality is often weak and confused, with a scant regard for the outcome of his actions. Another strong performance in a very strong cast of really developed and very human performances. A credit to the fine actors and Mark Babych’s directorial style.

Finally, it seems that Elvis has not really left the building at all and as this play at Derby Theatre proves, the audience would welcome back Jack Lord as Dad any time. Lord is just fantastic as the crippled patriarch. He is terrifically moving as the unfortunate paraplegic but he becomes energised and “All Shook Up” as the story turns fantastical and the former Elvis impersonator becomes the King again. Thus the audience are provided with a glimpse into Dad’s mind with hilarious results. Clearly an Elvis fan, Lord performs the half dozen Elvis songs with real spirit and authenticity. His powerful number at the finale has the audience going wild and the cast got a standing ovation from a capacity audience.

If the barometer of a show is people grinning from ear to ear and saying they would definitely come back for another helping of Cooking With Elvis then this show at Derby Theatre is a winner.

Review of The Kite Runner at Nottingham Playhouse

This review first appeared on The Public Reviews on 30th April 2013

From the internationally best selling novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini comes the play version by American writer, Matthew Spangler. This is the much anticipated European stage première at Nottingham Playhouse and is a Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production directed by Giles Croft and given a stunning design by Barney George.

Khaled Hosseini himself calls the work an “intimate-epic” meaning that the narrative is often deeply personal and other times reflects on a sweeping adventure and ethical parable. The original story germinated from a newspaper report quoting that the Taliban had “banned the sport of kite flying in Afghanistan”. Hosseini, who enjoyed this sport himself in 1960s Kabul, was then inspired to write a short story which evolved into the novel. This story of Amir and his dual betrayals towards his childhood friend Hassan; the damaging consequences, the additional turmoil of destructive historical events in Afghanistan, takes us on a vast emotional roller-coaster journey spanning thirty years. This is also a compellingly complex story of the Afghan immigrant experience in America. Its themes are as much about a country’s struggles to live with violence and oppression as they are the freeing natures of true love and redemption. The heart breaking and painfully honest tale is told through narrative and reflective form through the main character Amir.

Amir is a deeply flawed character. As a child growing up in 1970s Kabul, he is in turns deceitful, dreamy, sensitive, capable of lying and betrayal. He has a budding ambition to be a writer and yet he constantly feels anguished and desperate to be loved by his successful but distant father. Given these traits he is not aloof to his shortcomings and failings. As he grows older and flees to the USA with his father, Amir’s story becomes one of guilt and remorse and a deeply felt wish to redeem himself. From an unexpected phone call the adult Amir seeks, “.. a way to be good again.” He must return to a Afghanistan under Taliban rule and save a life under life threatening circumstances or live with the guilt of his actions forever.

The Nottingham Playhouse production is a triumph of theatrical story telling as heartbreaking and moving as the novel itself with hope at its ever-shifting core. Matthew Spangler’s well executed storytelling ensures that we are gripped from beginning to end.

The production is blessed with a cast of ten actors and the Playhouse Ensemble supernumeraries as well as Hanif Khan the musician who creates tempo and atmosphere playing Jonathan Girling’s excellent compositions. The nine year old Amir and Hassan are played by adults BenTurner and Farshid Rokey. The challenge for Turner is that he has to play Amir as a child, a teen, a man at eighteen, twenty four and also narrate the piece as a thirty eight year old. And he does it superbly in a subtle and convincing performance that totally has the audience eating out of his hand. Afghanistan born Rokey as Hassan is immensely likeable and perfectly captures the character’s loyal, sweet and trusting nature. He is very believable as the tragic orphan, Sohrab, in the latter part of the play. Hassan’s father Ali (Ezra Khan) is a wonderfully understated performance straight out of a story book. The strong authoritative characters of General Taheri (Antony Bunsee) and Baba (Emilio Doorgasingh) command the stage whenever they are present and Doorgasingh’s portrayal of Baba as a man dying with cancer is heartbreaking. Nicholas Karami as Aseef the socio-path and later Taliban leader is disturbing to the core.

In the gentler roles Nicolas Kahn as Rahim Khan exudes a quiet confidence and a sympathetic note as the family friend who encourages Amir’s writing. Lisa Zahra adds a welcome female note in a practically all male cast as Amir’s future wife Soraya and is particularly convincing in a very short scene as Mrs Nguyen the Vietnamese shop owner.

The stage set is a simple ochre coloured cobbled street curved like a shallow bowl with a backdrop of large truncated fence panels. The episodic nature of the play is enhanced and demonstrated through wonderful projections and a massive story teller’s carpet graces the stage throughout. Packing boxes are imaginatively utilised to create differing levels and particular scenes such as the Swap Meet market and a car journey. The lighting design by Charles Balfour was exemplary.

All in all, a totally wonderful theatrical experience that has the audience giving a well-deserved standing ovation.

Runs Until 18th May