Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Review (extended) for The Three Penny Opera Nottingham Playhouse

Video (mainly for sound) for those unable to read this review.

A 400 word review was originally commissioned and published by The Big Issue. This is my updated version.

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's musical masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, is the forerunner to many modern musical theatre works and originates from John Gay's musical satire, The Beggars' Opera, written in 1728. Peter Rowe of Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre and Graeae's Jenny Sealey have collaborated to bring an anarchic version of Brecht's theatrical vision to a breadth of regional theatres beginning with Nottingham Playhouse.

Brecht and Weill's original, Die Dreigroschenoper, was conceived in the late 1920's and received great critical acclaim. Despite the chaos of creative uncertainty during its creation and the late entry of the song 'Mack The Knife', it goes on to be performed in theatre spaces throughout the world. As the Weimar Republic came to power, the production exposed the difficulties suffered by the poor and dispossessed. It would be appropriate to say that the paintings and drawings of the artist George Grosz may have great influence in defining the look of the piece in its depiction of cripples and the underworld characters.

The work still has economic and social parallels today and this exciting new, decidedly 'rock and roll' production by Graeae brings the story bang up to date, reflecting current economic problems in the UK through text, vibrant and chilling songs and terrific multi-media projections designed by Mark Haig. Although there is the temptation to find oneself reading all the words along with action the system of live text translation works well and actually enhances the show giving depth to the piece. Likewise, having Jude Mahon on stage by the side of the actors signing rather than at the side of the performing space works well within the piece and her presence is beneficial boarding on vital, rather than merely additional or complementary to the action.

Graeae are a young and vibrant cast enhanced by old hands such as the charismatic Garry Robson playing JJ Peachum the King of the Beggars which harks back to John Gay's Beggars' Opera and in parts it is particularly mock opera as well as pop opera.

This new production design by Neil Murray has a predominantly greasy, underground, neo- expressionist black and grey brick, running blood stained tone and is creatively enhanced with projections and BSL interpretation and captioning. It is set slightly in the future with a new monarch, Charles 111 about to be coroneted. 

Initially, at the beginning of the show, the cast tear down a hanging set of torn and ragged red curtains in the centre of the stage we are introduced to the central character, McHeath, brilliantly played as a louche opportunity seeking and womanising killer by Milton Lopes. The whole cast sing Mack the Knife, a song normally reserved for one female singer. The new lyrics by Jeremy Sams reflect McHeath's misdeeds and are re-interpreted throughout to reflect modern times, events and language. This opens the show fantastically and likewise the powerful ensemble pieces throughout the evening are the electric highlights of this terrific show.

Stand out performances come from Victoria Oruwari as Mrs Peachum, Ci Ci Howells as the wronged daughter Jenny – very powerful vocals and great presence – Will Kenning as an imposing Tiger Brown and Ben Goffe as Jake – terrific tap dancing and comic timing and Sophie Byrne as Dolly, especially strong in the Jealousy duet.

Satire is prevalent throughout the piece with reference to 'happy cripples' always free, always carefree' and within this integrated cast, with some disabled, deaf and blind performers, these references take on a 'voice' of their own and develop an even deeper political and theatrical echo.

The mischievous John Kelly makes a fine and anarchic narrator often deliberately breaking out of character prior to his narrative and engaging the audience between each act with his blunt advice and witty opinions. The audience loved him.

Overall, it is a large cast of actor musicians and all appear to be having great lawless fun telling Brecht and Weill's musical story of corruption exposed and ridiculed and it truly is a show conceived with magnificence and delivered with brilliance.

'Anarchic theatre at its best!' Phil Lowe.

Threepenny Opera is at Nottingham Playhouse until March 8, then New Wolsey Theatre, March 11-22, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, March 27-April 12 and West Yorkshire Playhouse, April 25-May 10. See for full details.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Review: The Last Five Years. Lakeside. Nottingham.

The simple stage setting for New Street Theatre's production of The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown is two identical diluted apartments. Both sections are in black and white with white blinds at the back of a white table and two white chairs. Each apartment has a small pile of packing boxes and sets of half empty shelves that imply a state of impermanence. Stage design is by Georgia De Grey and the atmospheric lighting design by Jen Roxburgh. The piece allows the three musicians on piano, violin and cello to be seen throughout. The Last Five Years at the Djanogly Theatre Lakeside is a very sophisticated and stylish show directed by Martin Berry. It is produced with the support of Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol and Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham.

The show is a two hander and is a mainly sung through musical and has some interesting theatrical concepts in so much as the actors, Matthew Ronchetti (Jamie Wellerstein) and Roxanne Douro (Cathy Hiatt) tell and sing their relationship stories about the other person directly to the audience. Very rarely do they sing to each other to communicate feelings. The only time they sing together is at their wedding in the song 'The Next Ten Minutes'. In this they promise to love each other forever but as we see from the sad opening number 'Still Hurting' sung with great passion and poignancy by Roxanne Douro, things haven't been straight forward over the last five years. A very traditional play might have a beginning, middle and an end but in this case we have the fascinating perspective of being shown the story from the end by one person and from the beginning by the other. It works wonderfully well. Often in musical theatre the concentration is on the music and sung elements of a show and the acting as an afterthought. Not in this case – both emotionally complex characters are performed with great authenticity and spot on American accents.

There are fourteen songs, of various styles, in all and both Ronchetti and Douro perform the work beautifully accompanied by the equally talented musicians, Dan Turek (piano and musical director), Rachel Whalley (violin) and Laura Elliott (cello). The on/off relationship of two creatives at the opposite ends of success is very credible and at times raw but it also has a vein of amusing moments running throughout. Two good examples would be 'The Schmuel Song' performed by the character Jamie and cleverly interpreted by Roncetti and the 'Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence', a bitter sweet wry song delivered with energy, pin perfect timing and wit by Douro as Cathy. A fine and thought provoking, sophisticated evening's entertainment.

The writer and composer, Jason Robert Brown has been hailed as one of Broadway's smartest and most sophisticated songwriters since Stephen Sondheim. He has an extra-ordinary back catalogue of shows and The Last Five Years was cited of one of Time Magazine's ten best of 2001 and won Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics.

The Last Five Years runs until 26th February at Lakeside – NottinghamUniversity and is a professional production. Catch it while you can!

Box Office: 0115 8467777

Show starts at 8pm and is appox: 1hr 30mins long.

Age recommendations 14+

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review of Penelope RETOLD at Derby Theatre


This fascinating one woman show is a dramatic exploration of Odysseus' wife Penelope and her life experiences are brought up to date just as in the main house production of The Odyssey. Penelope (Caroline Horton) is left all alone with her young son Telemachus while Odysseus reluctantly goes off to fight in the Trojan wars and returns nineteen years later a practical stranger. The multi-layered piece delves too into modern day experiences of forced separation for military wives. The performance is very much in the moment, compelling and often raises and highlights feelings and issues of hope and frustration through dramatic abstraction.

It is done with great expertise, humour and passion by performer and dramaturg Caroline Horton who returns to Derby Theatre in May 2013 with her Olivier Award nominated show 'You're Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy' set during World War Two.

Penelope Retold is superbly directed by Lucy Doherty with the set designed by Tim Heywood and finds Penelope hidden in a bed hugging and smelling her missing husband's great coat and watching rapid looping repeats of a cheesy film about a dog returning unexpectedly home to huge fuss and love. The whole show is wed to this unkempt bed – a place of comfort and of security and sexual memories and conversely of deep unbridled anger towards her missing husband. In the Odyssey Penelope questions the newly returned Odysseus about the bed that has been fashioned from an olive tree with its roots still in the ground. Horton roots her play and uses the bed surface to flit enigmatically between loving memories of marrying the handsome soldier Odysseus at the tender age of fifteen to sudden desperately frightened flight or fight syndromes. Penelope is not a wholly sympathetic character though despite her outward charm. She can be cruel. Within the story telling we hear tales of her cruelly punishing Odysseus' beloved dog, Argos, by locking it out of the house for whining at his departure and making it live nineteen years on a dung heap until it suddenly dies on seeing his master return.

The work also explores, with some humour coupled with sensitivity, the life of military wives and their support systems and meetings. The audience are fully involved throughout and are spoken to as various ladies at the meeting and at one point an audience member is addressed as though he is the estranged husband. Also there is a very funny weather report based on the shipping report and speaks of Greek gods and stormy seas. This becomes a paradox however as the shipping report broadcast in the British Isles is generally seen as a comforting medium but not in this version.

The temperature of the sea and tides, swimming and drowning are constant metaphors and states within this gripping piece which ends with Penelope dramatically tearing apart the bed and her exposing her tortured soul through an explosive barrage of poetic wordplay before drowning herself in the sea. Penelope RETOLD takes us on a journey deeper into Penelope, the caged and isolated woman, and beyond the end of the main house stage play and importantly, gives a powerful voice to the character of Penelope that was denied by Homer.

This is a gripping and unique piece of theatre and a must see. Five stars!


Box Office: 01332 593939

Phil Lowe

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Odyssey trailer at Derby Theatre. Thinking of booking? Watch this and get excited!

This short video is a promotion from Derby Theatre of Mike Kenny's fantastic and fantastical adaptation of Homer's classic, The Odyssey open for booking until 1st March. As Homer once said, and I quote:

"We are quick to flare up we races of men on the earth.
There is a time for many words and there is also a time for sleep."

I beg you not to sleep too long on your decision to go and see this amazing show that is winning audiences and critical plaudits across the Midlands and beyond. Book through this LINK. There is no joy in 'flaring up' when the show is over!

Read my review and other Odyssey blogposts on this blog.

Tomorrow I am reviewing the companion piece to The Odyssey - Penelope Retold at Derby Theatre. I look forward to offering the insights of the playwright and performer Caroline Horton on Penelope's life and traumas.

Phil Lowe

Propeller's Comedy of Errors at Theatre Royal Nottingham: a review.

When Shakespeare's shortest surviving play, The Comedy of Errors, was produced and staged in 1594 at Gray's Inn in London for an audience of lawyers to conclude a night of revels, the records of Gray's Inn reported thus: Night was begun and continued to the end, in nothing but confusion and errors; whereupon it was ever afterwards called “The Night of Errors”. The play was then performed in court in 1604 and, in the centuries that followed it has been produced in unaltered and adapted forms ever since. Shakespeare's original source for the plot was from a Latin play by the Roman playwright Plautus and Shakespeare made his version ever more farcical by introducing a second pair of twins into the plot and gave it a happy ending. Historically it is his only play, aside from The Tempest to use the convention of having all of the action happen in the course of one day.

The traditional story is set in Ephesus, a Greek town with a reputation for witchcraft and mis-rule. In the modern day it is in Turkey. Merchants from neighbouring Syracuse are not allowed to conduct business in Ephesus without paying a fine of a thousand marks and vice versa. Should they trade 'illegally' and not be able to pay it the law said that they will be put to death. Solonious, Duke of Ephesus upholds this draconian law. However he becomes more flexible when he hears Aegeon – a merchant of Syracuse – relate his sad story of how he came to Ephesus.

For the play to work, firstly the audiences must be moved by Aegeon's story and believe that his life is at stake. If these circumstances are unconvincing then the story will lose the purpose of the following comic acts. Secondly the whole play relies heavily on all of the actors' comedic abilities. So, after that little bit of history, is this production by the all male Propeller company of The Comedy of Errors funny?

You bet! It is supremely funny!! Propeller take Shakespeare's play and bring hissing and spitting colourfully to life through their madcap interpretation. The play is well known for its farcical nature, clever word play and slapstick humour and this production has already started as you find your seat. The live background music playing is Latin style and the actors banter with the audience. When they reach the stage and the play starts we are transported to a cheap and cheerful Latin style Costa del Ephesus, holiday resort complete with, gaudy lights, graffiti and a barmy mariachi band kitted out in football shirts and sombrero hats.

Through an impassioned speech by Aegeon ( Chris Myles) the audience learns that two sets of twins (two goodly sons, the one so like the other that could not distinguished but by name) are separated on a voyage after a violent storm at sea. All survive but are split up and each is not aware of the other's existence. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio find themselves washed ashore in Ephesus, the home of their twin brothers and the inevitable farce of misunderstandings and mistaken identities grows apace.

Shakespeare's language and complex plotting can sometimes be difficult for a 21st century audience to grasp if one is unfamiliar with the story but Propeller make it an enormously fun journey and the characters are very recognisable even if some of the men are parodies of women and the actions have connected sound effects and are often cartoon like. The verse and prose is perfect and handed with panache by all the cast of eight male actors. There is much hilarious campery for the actors playing the female roles and the work that must have gone into developing and refining even minor characters is incredible and the whole play is bench mark of clear story-telling plus a million laughs. Scarily this reviewer started to actually believe the deceptively aggressive Luciana (Arthur Wilson) was actually female!

The play had a multitude of highlights and some real laugh out loud moments that will stay with you long after the play has finished – actors slide into wheelie bins, a cheesy Spanish policeman serenades a female member of the audience, Pinch, a lunatic Baptist conjurer played with reckless abandon by Darrell Brockis rocks the stage and the courtesan with rabbit ears (Mathew Pearson) is hilarious with his/her deadpan delivery. Plus there is much ridiculous farce with men fancying someone they ought not to and confused arguments over the payment for a tacky gold chain.

This production of The Comedy of Errors has enough energy to light half of the city of Nottingham and the sets of twins Antipholus of Ephesus (Joseph Chance) and Dromio of Ephesus (Mathew McPherson) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Dan Wheeler) and Dromio of Syracuse (Will Featherstone) are the electricity that powers the show. They are nonstop throughout and although they don't really look exactly like each other the power of the theatre demands you suspend belief. A superb show and I for one wouldn't hesitate to see another performance by the unique talents of Propeller. Highly recommended.

Review originally written for Nottingham Live,

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Odyssey at Derby Theatre. Nobody should miss this. It's totally un-mythable!

The Odyssey at Derby Theatre. Nobody should miss this. It's totally un-mythable!

This modern production of Homer's classic tale of a soldier king returning home from war, especially adapted by playwright Mike Kenny for the Derby Theatre stage is a triumph of story-telling, theatre and of mythology mixed with the grim realities of war and their aftermath.

From the moment a giant wave crashes on to the stage leaving Odysseus for dead on a beach and the Olympian gods decide to weave a story around the hero, the play begins a rich tapestry of torturous adventures. We encounter mythical monsters and seductive sirens that haunt brave Odysseus and kill off his men one by one. It is in turns, funny, exciting, clever and wickedly inventive but the inner thread that drives the story forward is the soldiers' tale. The true eternal story is one of the struggle of soldiers returning home from war, battle weary, inhabited by the terrible things they have seen and have been compelled to do in battle and how that impacts on their lives as a person back in the civilian world and on others they love. Some of them don't return. So it was in Homer's time and so it is still as relevant today, only today we have a name for it – post traumatic stress syndrome.


Wole Sawyerr imbues his complex character Odysseus with a great depth of feeling moving from a leader of men, the brave war hero full of his own grandness and calling himself a slayer of cities. Gradually as the play unfolds we see him become mentally broken by his experiences. As in all Greek tales there is a catharsis and the man finds a way of re-connecting through humility and attempts to rejoin his wife Penelope on his island of Ithaca after twenty years of absence. Sawyerr commands the stage throughout and garners great sympathy in an emotionally and physically challenging role. This is not selfish acting but selfless creativity that allows the whole ensemble of eight actors to support and tell the tale through and around him to great effect.

There are some extremely funny moments throughout however, especially around the brilliantly conceived scene in the Cyclops cave, all dark, damp and dangerous echoes and thunderous effects. Christopher Price as Polythemus the Cyclops must be the comic hit of the show as he struts around on stilts greedily eating up Odysseus' men. He is at once menacing and very funny and even tender towards his hilarious flock of rams. It is a scene which manages to combine real danger and some very funny touches as Odysseus tells the wounded Cyclops that his name is – Nobody. And Nobody did it!


The wonderful set design by Barney George allows for a large creative space to be utilised and to be endlessly creative upon through the actors own rehearsal Odyssey (terrifically sensitive direction by Sarah Brigham) and the inspired new writing of Mike Kenny. As well as the live music, a violin played by actor, composer and sound designer Ivan Stott and drumming, the piece has elements of often haunting song sung by the ensemble and a palate of superb lighting by Tim Skelly.

As an ensemble of eight the company work terrifically as a team and clearly enjoy the very active story telling with men and women morphing seamlessly from human to monster, from siren to animal. They sing and carouse, they fight and succumb to the whims of fate, of exhaustion by war and the fickle gods determinations. Each actor plays a variety of parts in a show of two decidedly different halves. The story of Odysseus' attempts to return home after ten years away fighting the Trojan wars and the mythology of the Odyssey forms the first half. The second half is how, on arriving back on his island, yet another ten years further on, the troubled and broken soldier king attempts to win back his wife Penelope and son Telemachus and destroy the evil suitors led by the brutal and constantly besieging Eurymachus (Christopher Price).

In this production acting versatility is the name of the game. Emma Beattie comes into her own as she portrays the hardened and determined wife Penelope struggling to control the ungracious suitors with her son Telemachus, (Rich Dolphin). Dolphin's portrayal is played with a finely acted, and very believable inner frustration building into manhood as he joins forces with his father.

Ella Vale particularly impresses as the beguiling enchantress Circe who, with a twist of her hand, turns men into pigs! Vale also portrays the devious plotting palace maid Melantho, and is especially chilling in her final scene under the control of Telemachus – her face is pure terror. Anna Westlake is deeply moving in her seductive singing as the siren and as the old woman Eurekleia who recognises Odysseus and grieves piteously for the slain suitors.

Ivan Stott is the most versatile of all, giving each role a distinct inner and outer life of its own often with great subtlety when he is one of the suitors rejected by Penelope and equally in his portrayal as the kind old Eumaeus. keeper of pigs and loyal to Odysseus' memory. His superb musical score brings a whole new depth to the play.


It is good to see that the Derby Theatre are pro-actively engaging local talent such as Adam Horvath, an ex Derby Shakespeare actor now professionally engaged in this totally un-mythable production of The Odyssey through the Brian Weaver Fellowship.

Production photos copyright Robert Day.

Monday, 17 February 2014

New Street Theatre present The Last Five Years - three nights only!

I've seen this fantastic show and would highly recommend going. It's only on at Lakeside Arts Centre for three nights next week: 24th, 25th and 26th Feb. Phil Lowe

The press called it "Brilliant, brave, innovative and thrilling!"

Tickets can be booked through this LINK.

It is written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and is a modern musical and theatre classic - a story of love made and love lost. It tells the beautiful sweeping story of a five year relationship between two artists: Cathy an aspiring actress and Jamie a successful young author.

Brown's stunning score follows their relationship with songs that will resonate with everyone who's ever experienced a real relationship full of laughs, tears, love and pain. Their story is often painfully familiar and at times surprising, revealing what it is to have love without shame and dare to dream of a life shared with another.

Directed by Martin Berry and designed by Georgia de Grey.

Open Auditions for Oh What a Lovely War. Nottingham.

New Street Theatre Company.

We are scouring the county once again to find the most exciting upcoming musical theatre talent.  We are wondering if you or those you know may be among them...
Open auditions are taking place at Lakeside Arts Centre Nottingham to find the cast for our brand new production of Oh What a Lovely War.  The auditions are on Saturday 8th and Saturday 15th March from 12noon - 5pm and are open to everyone over the age of 14.

Please use contact details at the bottom of this page for auditions.

The production is an ideal opportunity for people who are thinking about a career in the performing arts to gain experience of rehearsing with a professional theatre director, designer and musical director and performing at Lakeside with the full support of Lakeside's experienced technical team.

 This is Lakeside and New Street Theatre's fourth musical theatre collaboration. Previous productions include the brilliant, Into The Woods and Little Shop of Horrors a 'fantastic ensemble piece of tremendous discipline and breath-taking quality' and last year's record breaking critical success, Sweeney Todd. Our aim is to create an exciting piece of original theatre and, in doing so, help those involved to develop their confidence, skills, experience and contacts. Young people involved in these two productions have gone on to win places on some of the most prestigious courses including RADA, GSA, Mountview, East15, Rose Bruford, Bristol Old Vic and London School of Musical Theatre. Also this training has lead them to work at theatres including Hull Truck, Nottingham Playhouse and more.

Oh What a Lovely War will be directed by Martin Berry. Martin is currently working on Richard the Third at the Landor in London and on his brand new professional production of The Last Five Years. More locally Martin directed Mod Crop the Musical at Nottingham Theatre Royal and A Christmas Carol and Lysistrata at Lakeside and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. His West End credits include Bill Kenwright's JosephAnd The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Blood Brothers and Phyllida Lloyd's The Handmaid's Tale with the English National Opera.

More information about the auditions and what to prepare is available on Facebook here
or do feel free to contact us at Anyone interested in an audition should contact us at to book an audition time.
NB: We are also looking to take on two interns who are interested in learning about stage management.
We really look forward to hearing from you and if there is anyone you think we should be looking out for please let us know. SPREAD THE WORD. Even if you are unable to audition do let others know about this unique opportunity.

Best regards,



Sunday, 16 February 2014

Café Manouche - a gypsy jazz/swing style band to watch out for.

Café Manouche are based in London/Stamford, but travel all over UK. Café Manouche are a young Gypsy jazz & swing band formed by three brothers, perfect for that special event...

Playing music from the 1920s to the 50s, including Parisian waltzes, hot swing and touches of Latin and bossa nova, played in the distinctive style of gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt.

Café Manouche's music is perfect for many occasions and suits most venues; Weddings, private parties, garden parties, festivals, vintage themed events, swing dance events, afternoon tea, Sunday lunchtimes, late night bars, cafés, hotels, casinos and many more...

The band have played many private parties and weddings and are perfect for any time of day!
Cafe Manouche can tailor their music sets to just one genre but specialise in being diverse in their range of styles.

What some of their clients have said:

Cafe Manouche are a young and up and coming band who played here at Le Que this year. Every Gypsy/swing band in the world aspires to play here and these guys 'stormed' it at their premier performance. We are so impressed with them, that we've booked several gigs & other projects for next year. They are must 'see' for their individual technical abilities, and they are just great, easy guys to work with. They won't disappoint!
- Le Quecumbar

Cafe Manouche played our garden party in the summer and provided a fantastic atmosphere for our guests. We were not familiar with Gypsy Jazz music before but now we are hooked! Highly recommended.
- Anna Stevens

Please get in touch for more information about their music.

The band is a quintet in full, with melodic Accordion/piano, two swinging fiery guitars, hot double bass and sultry vintage style female vocals...

The band can also be hired as;
* guitar duo
* trio
* quartet
(with or without vocals)

Please enquire for prices

Members of the band have previously played;
• Union Chapel,
• Port Elliot festival,
• Green note cafe, London,
• Secret Garden pub, London,
• Hootanany, London,
• Southwell folk festival,
• The Nottingham Contemporary,
• Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
• and many more venues and festivals.

This up and coming young band are quickly making a name for themselves across the Midlands and London, catch them if you can playing the more interesting venues!'

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Penelope Retold at Derby Theatre

Penelope RETOLD, performing in Derby Theatre Studio from February 20 until March 1st, is the perfect accompaniment piece to The Odyssey, as it looks at the story from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. The RETOLD programme is a series of brand new one-woman plays commissioned by Derby Theatre, from some of the most exciting female voices in contemporary theatre today. Penelope RETOLD will be created by theatre maker and performer, Caroline Horton.

To read more about Caroline Horton – theatre maker and performer -

Congratulations as Derby Theatre receives grant to support Learning Theatre model

Derby Theatre is delighted to have been awarded a total of £150,000 over  three years from 2014 by Paul Hamlyn Foundation as core support  towards their Learning Theatre Pilot Programme.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK, making grants to organisations which aim to  maximise opportunities for individuals to experience a full quality of life,  both now and in the future. For arts organisations like Derby Theatre, the  foundation’s aim will help us to increase access to and enjoyment of  the arts in the Midlands.

Derby Theatre’s Learning Theatre model, in association with the University  of Derby, is a nationally unique way for a professional producing theatre to  integrate creative learning through every element of its work.  It provides  value, enjoyment and benefit to many individuals and groups who engage  with the theatre, whether they are audience members, artists, students,  schools or participants on another level.

Régis Cochefert (Head of Arts at Paul Hamlyn Foundation) said:  “We’re pleased to be supporting the Learning Theatre Pilot programme,  which we hope will put learning right at the heart of Derby Theatre’s practice. We believe participation in the arts can be transformational for individuals  and communities so we look forward to seeing this work benefiting the  people of Derby.”

Sarah Brigham (Artistic Director, Derby Theatre) said: “As Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director I am delighted that the Trustees of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation have awarded core funding for the innovative approach we have to theatre here in Derby. This support over 3 years from one of the most respected foundations in the UK is a very welcome validation of our plans and our commitment to local audiences, participants and artists. We are garnering a lot of attention for our Learning Theatre vision and how it forms an integral part of the cultural life in the city, and also how it benefits the industry nationally, and this support will really help us to achieve our unique ambitions.”

With news on the Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant, work can now forge further ahead on the Theatre’s Learning strand, including working with emerging artists, supporting children and young people on their first steps towards creativity, providing support for graduate companies, engaging the creative abilities of regional communities and working alongside Theatre Arts and other students. The grant will also provide opportunities to build on and enhance existing learning opportunities including workshops, open rehearsals, conferences, talks, training and mentoring, work experience programmes, shadowing and on-the- job training. 

Paul Hamlyn Foundation is one of the larger independent grant-making foundations in the UK who make grants to organisations which aim to maximise opportunities for individuals to experience a full quality of life, both now and in the future. Paul Hamlyn Foundation operates through three programmes in the UK – Arts, Education and Learning and Social Justice. For more information visit:

About Derby Theatre’s Learning Theatre Pilot Programme

Since 2012, Derby Theatre’s aim has been to launch, develop and monitor the success of a Learning Theatre Pilot Programme with the following objectives: secure Derby Theatre as a public cultural asset for Derby and the East Midlands and bring high quality professional theatre artists and companies to present and produce work in Derby. Also, to become a national exemplar for education and training in theatre and provide the University of Derby with a distinctive proposition for students looking to study arts-related subjects, engage the creative ability of regional communities, embrace and nurture existing and emerging talent in the region and to ensure the financial viability, via all these strands. 

Derby Theatre has a long and rich history of delivery high quality drama, theatre and performance to audiences. Previously Derby Playhouse, Derby Theatre, which sits in the heart of the city, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Derby. The Theatre is rooted in the local community but international in its outlook. We produce and present high quality performances working with the best local, regional and national talent.  

In 2012, the theatre was awarded strategic funding by Arts Council England to develop a new model for regional theatre in the 21st century. From 2013, under the new artistic directorship of Sarah Brigham, who works alongside General Manager, Gary Johnson, we are transforming from a traditional producing house to an organisation of training, mentorship and artistic excellence; we will be an exemplar, a new way of looking at the role and responsibility of theatre to its community. Our focus will ensure that each part of our process will be open to public learning opportunities. It will build the organisation’s ability to take artistic risks by bringing creative and audiences along on a creative path via the co-production of narratives.

A brilliant stage production of Tom's Midnight Garden at Derby Theatre in March. Book now.

Birmingham Stage Company TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN 
Derby Theatre Tue 11 – Sat 15 March A classic of children’s literature  comes to Derby Theatre next month 

Philippa Pearce’s masterpiece Tom’s Midnight Garden, adapted for the stage  by the multi-award winning playwright, David Wood will run at Derby Theatre for one week only from Tue 11 until Sat 15 March. 

Birmingham Stage Company, producers of James and The Giant Peach,  George’s Marvellous Medicine and Horrible Histories, including the world  premiere of Horrible Christmas at Derby Theatre last year, now bring this enchanting production to Derby which has been described by Time Out as “One of the best children’s stories ever written”. 

Tom has always been told it’s impossible to travel back in time, but when the grandfather clock in the hallway chimes thirteen times, Tom is transported to a secret garden from the past.  Here he meets Hatty and together these two new friends enjoy fantastic adventures in a magical wonderland. But with each new journey through time, strange things begin to happen – and Tom must solve the mystery of the midnight garden!

First published in 1958, Tom’s Midnight Garden is an acclaimed and timeless children’s classic that won the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature in 1959. For the Carnegie’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2007, it was voted second most popular Medal-winning work ever by a public ballot. It repeatedly features in critic’s top ten of the best ever children’s books and is fondly remembered by many adults as well as being rediscovered afresh by each new generation of children. Critic, John Rowe Townsend, said "If I were asked to name a single masterpiece of English children's literature since the Second World War ... it would be this, an outstandingly beautiful and absorbing book." 

"If you want real theatre try the Birmingham Stage Company’s marvellous retelling of a favourite story"  The Times 

Tom’s Midnight Garden features ghostly illusions, spellbinding music and an extraordinary cast that will take you on a very special journey through time itself - a truly memorable theatrical experience to enthral children (ages 4+) and adults alike!

Tickets: £15.50, under 16s £12. For more information and to book tickets call the Box Office on 01332 593939 or online at

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A thrilling glimpse in the tech rehearsal for The Odyssey at Derby Theatre

Once again I found myself connected to Derby Theatre's stunning production of Mike Kenny's adaptation of Homer's classic story - The Odyssey. This time my visit was to the theatre itself.

Technical rehearsals are as the words imply - mainly for the technical crew - and are necessary to create the full production. In such rehearsals the development of setting up the scenes are very exacting and need a great deal of attention from each person involved - including the director (Sarah Brigham) and the stage manager and all connected with the audio/visual sides and much more besides. To an outsider they can seem a drawn out affair but each element needs to be very organised and secure to ensure a safe and competent production if not a superior one. The director's role is to envisage and accomplish a unified vision of the play collected from the original script and a working hands on creative process with the actors and creative team and in some cases (like The Odyssey) with the writer/playwright working through drafts of the play's evolution to the finished product.

On my arrival I was very impressed with the multifunctional set with a huge and manoeuvrable circular dais. All is military and camouflage with webbing hanging from the rigging framing the picture. Sails were raised and fell and a Greek style door appeared to offer a scene change.  The costumes worn by the actors in the opening scenes are also army style.

The hardest part of writing this is not to reveal the amazing scene which will have the audience jumping out of their seats at the very start of the play. Whilst I was present a lot of work was put into making sure that this worked perfectly and the sight lines were spot on and no actors could be seen.

I was starting to get used to this world of 'cans', markers and pre-sets and set ups and exclamations of "heads up - lines coming in on auditorium left and auditorium right." All the time I was there there was a continuous quiet industry of plotting lighting and sound effects and requisite levels and a relaxed authority from Sarah Brigham the director.

Just before the break I got to see the scene where the Gods start to play out Odysseus's story and this calls for some pyrotechnics. There was a run through of the practicalities of live flame on the stage and the extinguishing of it with sand as part of the action.

Before the rehearsal began I got the chance to chat with Wole who plays Odysseus and Emma who plays various parts including Penelope his wife. My interview with Wole and Emma earlier in the rehearsal process can be read HERE. Plus I enjoyed a fun chat with Christopher Price who I had previously seen playing the role of Peter in the touring production of Dennis Potter's play Blue Remembered Hills. Christopher impressed me as the cruel and bullying Peter last June and is the mythical Cyclops and a variety of other ensemble roles in Derby Theatre production of  The Odyssey. All the cast seemed a dedicated, theatrically established and very friendly, versatile group of actors.

My photos aren't the best in this  blogpost due to low light conditions and the limitations of my camera's lens that doesn't have the capacity to open up the iris to let in more light but I hope they give a flavour of what looks to be a wonderful production and I for one cannot wait until press night on the 17th of Feb! It will be spectacular and surprisingly emotional in the second half as Odysseus struggles to return to his homeland in mind and body and he has the final and most difficult challenge of his 'journey' in defeating the evil suitors who are determined to take away his wife and his hard won kingdom.

For an insight into the rehearsals of The Odyssey at Derby Theatre check out my previous blogpost
at this LINK.

Want to hear what the actors themselves think about the production and their roles? Well you can through AUDIO BOO. Click and enjoy!

The Odyssey starts 14th Feb until 1st March 2014 and looks to be long remembered classic for Derby Theatre.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

An exciting Odyssey at Derby Theatre - in rehearsal.

Booking at

Opens Friday 14th February until Saturday 1st March.

Rehearsal images and video by Derby Theatre.

The talented cast.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Review: My Judy Garland Life. Nottingham Playhouse.

In her acclaimed memoir, My Judy Garland Life, author Susie Boyt, says of hero worship: 'Hero worship, when properly entered into has a great deal of poetry to it. It inspires and motivates, renews and revives. It encourages introspection, investigation of desire, personal moral inventory and all manner of fruitful examinations... To be in the habit of fixing another with your highest personal regard over time increases your capacity to love. Hero worship can aid relaxation. With your hero you can be amused, complacent, compassionate, idle, quiet and solitary. It can also auger self improvements for through the text of a life that is shared you can investigate past behaviours (your own and your idol's) and prepare and facilitate behavioural strategies to come. You can interpret and redesign to your heart's content and experience your own rough workings while discovering what the fair copy of yourself will entail... Hero worship can be an emotional Olympics, a way of testing one's lowest and highest drives.' All of the above can be said of a great night at the theatre.

The performance by Sally Ann Triplett of Judy Garland throughout her lifetime starting as a tom boyish girl entertainer dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to battle scarred and emotionally scarred adult entertainer is nothing short of remarkable – in fact her fruitful examinations of portraying such a difficult performer as well as a short and humorous stint as her daughter Liza Minelli are indeed a nightly emotional Olympics with her winning the very well deserved applause and proverbial gold medal every time.

Faye Elvin playing the author Susie Boyt imbues the part with an elegant charm and curiosity, warmth and wit that could be straight out of the book itself. Sometimes you would think you were watching Susie and Judy themselves both on stage instead of the roles being acted out and we find ourselves doubly sharing in the book's strange alchemy.

The actor/musicians, Debroy Brown, William Oxborrow, and musical director Stefan Bednarczyk perform a variety of roles, musical accompaniment and narration throughout and are most effecting in a scene in a London cab drivers shack where an inebriated Judy Garland has sheltered with them at three in the morning.

The playwright, Amanda Whittington, has brilliantly adapted this mainly narrative driven book of fiercely intelligent and often humorous reflections of a complex life of Judy Garland fan worship. Whittington said, of the job of adapting it for the stage, that it was a often a wrestling match of what you leave in and leave out. This, she said, is because there is such of wealth of material in the original. You have to tease the play out of the original and make it theatrical, bringing it into the moment, rather than story-telling and avoid a lot of narration. What is interesting is 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, but in the play she is.

The play is a fantastical and musical, imagined encounter, between a star and a fan. It enables us to imagine Susie and Judy accompanying each other through life and isn't a naturalistic story but the truths lie in the emotional content and it is a universal story about hopes and dreams and love and loss. From the MGM beginning to the glittery finishing number 'That's Entertainment; and entertainment-wise this is one hell of a show. This brand new musical drama is certainly another triumph for Nottingham Playhouse.

Runs until 15th February.

This was originally published for on Feb 4th 2014

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: Amateur Girl at Nottingham Playhouse. Neville Studio.

Amateur Girl by Amanda Whittington is based on real life stories of women who choose to or who are manipulated into getting themselves involved in the amateur porn fantasy business to subsidise a life on a low wage. It is billed as a hard hitting, poignant yet wryly amusing play and the nationwide tour begins at Nottingham Playhouse Neville Studio and compliments another play by Amanda Whittington – My Judy Garland Life – playing in the main auditorium. Amateur Girl is presented by Fifth Word and Nottingham Playhouse and is suitable for those over sixteen.

Whittington's play began life as a fifteen minute radio drama for Woman's Hour and was then developed for a one woman show with Hull Truck in 2009. In this production actor Lucy Speed plays Julie, the auxiliary nurse who is persuaded by her already married boyfriend Gary to take a few sexy photos for a top shelf magazine to try and make a bit of extra money and to introduce some 'fun' into her life. All does not go as well as she thinks it will and one sexual act leads to another until the slippery road of sexual exploitation gets decidedly dangerous.

This is a brilliantly written drama about a young nurse caring for the elderly and living in a flat in the Victoria Centre known in Nottingham as the Vicky Centre. The play isn't solely about amateur porn, it's about who she is as a woman, her emotions, her vulnerability and how she gets to a particular point in her life and how she moves on and reflects back. The writing is fabulous and the play is a contemporary comment on someone struggling to live on a minimum wage and it questions whether the character Julie is a coerced victim of her decisions. The content is dark, yet also funny and it has a great perspective and played with a natural warmth and verve by the talented Lucy Speed who runs the gamut of emotions from cheeky fun loving nurse to a victim of virtual gang rape. Speed's performance is very compelling and extraordinarily naturalistic amongst the theatrical setting and has great depth of character and totally believable.

The set design is by Eleanor Field and is an angled room on marginally tilted levels with a row of buried toys under the floor boards perhaps alluding to a loss of innocence or a wish for a more innocent life. The sound design by Adam P McCready is particularly effective in introducing other characters and voices into this seventy minute one woman show. The voices are provided by Tanya Myers as Matron and Darren Daly as Gary. The piece is superbly directed by Kate Chapman. An atmospheric lighting design by Alexandra Stafford creates time shifts and mood to terrific effect.

Playing at Nottingham Playhouse Neville Studio until February 8th then touring nationwide.

This review was originally published by on Feb 5th 2014