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Jun 10th

September Tide at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 

 

 

Half way through its six-week season, the Windsor Repertory Company is proving very popular.

 

It’s a mixed bag, with plays by Francis Durbridge, David Hare, Noel Coward, and Alan Ayckbourn among them. And this week’s offering is Daphne Du Maurier’s moral tale, September Tide.

 

The play, written and set in 1948, charts the relationship of Stella Martyn, a middle-aged widow, and her new son-in-law, famous artist Evan Davis, who fall in love without telling each other until the tide turns, and a turbulent September storm runs parallel with their emotions.

 

Set in designer David Shields’ authentic Cornish cottage, it is easy to be drawn into this riveting tale. Ellen Verenieks as Stella, although not my idea of a mother of two grown-up children, is caring, sensitive and lonely, and an obvious target for the self-obsessed artist, played by James Lawrence.

 

Her children are monsters. Jimmy (John Askew) on sick leave from the Navy, orders her about, while her daughter – and Evan’s wife – Cherry is selfish and spoilt, and Sarah Dungworth portrays her to a T, even to stomping around like a petulant little girl.

 

James Pellow as family friend Robert Hanson, although looking out for Stella, really is depressing, wonderfully so, while Julie Ross as Mrs Tucket, is everything a housekeeper should be.

 

I was riveted by this production, even though there were some things which weren’t quite right, and which director Max Reynolds may like to address. Having just finished a painting, which looked like oils, Evan props it up against another – surely the paint would have still been wet. And when he burns his painting of Stella he rips off a flimsy piece of paper from the frame, when you’d expect him to be painting on canvas. And why, when Stella had made her attic into Evan’s studio, was he painting in the living room? The men’s clothes didn’t match the period, either.

 

But these are minor points which didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this intriguing play.

 

September Tide is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until June 13 and is part of the Windsor Repertory Season which continues until 4 July.

 

Box Office: 01753 853888

 

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

May 20th

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 Peter Pan Goes Wrong

 

When three graduates from LAMDA got together to form Mischief Theatre and write The Play that Goes Wrong, I knew they were going places.

The Play That Goes Wrong has now been in London’s West End since last September, and is this year’s winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, while their second production, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, is making the rounds of regional theatres including, I am delighted to say, my local theatre in Windsor.

I don’t know where to begin with my praise for this company. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields are comic genii and, under the direction of Adam Meggido, their actors fly (or not) through this uproariously funny play with the precision of brain surgeons and the skill and energy of Olympic athletes.

It’s a tour de force from beginning to end as amdram society Cornley Polytechnic attempts to put on a Christmas Show which, due to a booking error, is being staged in May! This follows previous shows such as Jack and the Bean (funding ran out) and Rumpelstiltskin who, following a disastrous haircut, was imprisoned in a bungalow.

There is so much to commend this production, but to go into detail would spoil the fun of being surprised by the next death defying stunt as things go disastrously wrong. Every member of the cast is brilliant and, together with the ingenious set designed by Simon Scullion, makes what must be a frighteningly difficult  piece look so easy – and so funny I thought I was going to laugh myself sick.

As I said to a doctor this morning: You should send all your patients to see this. It’s the best tonic ever! Roll on Mischief Theatre’s next production.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until May 23.

 

Box office: 01753 853888

 

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

It then continues touring:

May 25-30: Leicester Curve

June 1-6: Dartford Orchard Theatre

June 8-13: Swindon Wyvern Theatre

June 18-21: Leeds Grand Theatre

July 1-4: Newcastle Theatre Royal

July 6-11: Nottingham Theatre Royal

www.mischieftheatre.co.uk

 

May 4th

The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice may have been around for more than 400 years but in today’s current climate, with anti-Semitism apparently on the increase while the liberation of Auschwitz is remembered, it is an uncomfortable play to watch – not least because Shylock the Jew is not a very nice man.

Anti-Semitists would say that, anyway. They would call him greedy, a miser who puts money before his own family - which, in fact, he does in one scene – but isn’t his love of money born out of insecurity, a safety blanket against those Christians who, like Antonio, spit in his face, call him names, and then they expect him to help them.

I’m used to seeing Shylock being portrayed as something akin to Ron Moody’s Fagin, but Jonathan Pryce’s understated performance crackles with emotion; his voice breaking up with fear as well as loathing. And yet Dominic Mafham’s Antonio, although borrowing money from Shylock to give his friend Bassanio an interest-free loan, is no better – doing his good deed for his own ends and, at the end of the play, forcing Shylock to become a Christian in a tortuous scene which almost ripped out my heart.

I went to the Globe also expecting to see an instant rapport between Pryce and his 25-year-old daughter Phoebe – playing Shylock’s daughter Jessica. Their opening scene together is very moving but, all credit to them, there is a distance between them as you would expect from a father who thinks money before daughter and a daughter who elopes with a Christian to get away from her father’s house. Phoebe has only just graduated from RADA and appeared to be a little overwhelmed at the end of one scene. However, for the most part she proves herself as her father’s daughter and it was lovely to see her so elated when, at the curtain call, the audience got to their feet, clapping and cheering, and she was almost jumping up and down with excitement.

Another uncomfortable aspect of this play is the way Portia is forced to marry the man who opens a casket which contains her picture.

But enough of the dark sides of this ‘comedy’, for under the direction of  Jonathan Munby, it really is, as are all Globe productions, an uproarious, entertaining spectacle, with costumes, music, song and dance second to none.

I especially like Scott Karim and Christopher Logan as Portia’s suitors - the theatricality of the earnest yet arrogant Prince of Morocco and the camp Prince of Arragon who rather reminded me of Barry Manilow!

The laddish antics of Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and his friends also produced spontaneous rounds of applause, while Stefan Adegbola makes the most of his role as Gobbo, roping in members of the audience to help him.

The Merchant of Venice will continue at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre until June 7.

 

Box Office: 020 7401 9919

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Apr 18th

Scarlet at Southwark Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

 

Now famous as Poldark’s tightly corseted and repressed former love Elizabeth, Heida Reed is seen in a completely different light in Sam H Freeman’s first full length play.

The award-winning playwright who was part of the Lyric and Royal Court Young Writers’ programme, has chosen for his subject, Scarlet, a girl who likes sex.

Scarlet

Image courtesy of Southwark Playhouse 

But after a drunken night out a video of her being sexually abused by a gang of boys goes viral and her life and her relationships fall apart.

It’s a thought-provoking play highlighting the White Ribbon Campaign which works towards ending men’s violence against women, so perhaps it’s not so different for Reed who, in Poldark, is abused and betrayed by her husband Francis. However, her dealing of the abuse is completely different.

In sharp contrast to her pent-up portrayal of Elizabeth, Reed is one of four actresses who play the title role, sometimes together, sometimes separately, as well as all the other characters, including men, which came into Scarlet’s life. Their audience first see them, as Scarlet, lounging on a mattress in various stages of undress; at one point Reed is seen to put on tights over her underwear. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Neither does what follows.

Being famous as Reed now is could have been a double-edged sword. No doubt, because of Poldark’s popularity, people will come just to see her – which could have been unfair on her fellow performers. However, they more than hold their own with some highly emotive performances.

Like all tragedies there is a fair amount of humour, mostly from Lucy Kilpatrick’s portrayal of Will, of whom Scarlet says, ‘his face looks a little bit like he might be inbred. And he smells like a farm’. He is the villain of the piece, who uploads the video onto FaceBook when she rejects him and later attacks her in his locked flat. So he’s not nice, but Kilpatrick’s facial expressions are hilarious. In sharp contrast, the scene where, as Scarlet, she shouts and cries outside her boyfriend Dan’s flat, pleading for him to take her back, is heart rending and violent in its intensity; an unleashed, raw piece of acting.

Jade Ogugua, who sometimes plays Scarlet’s boyfriend Dan, has perhaps the most stage presence throughout while Asha Reid, as Scarlet’s northern flatmate Sasha, though looking the most unconventional, comes over as sensible and warm-hearted. On the other hand, Reed plays her characters, especially Dan’s flatmate Amanda, as girly and shallow, again in sharp contrast to Elizabeth’s deep passion.

With so many characters merging into each other it is not always easy to define them; the subject matter is not for the feint-hearted and, despite the White Ribbon Campaign, Scarlet is not blameless. Young girls who get drunk and sleep around be warned!

Scarlet is at Southwark Playhouse until May 9

Box Office: 020 7407 0234

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

 

Apr 13th

Dead of Night at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

They often say that the best things often come in small packages, and The Mill at Sonning certainly comes into that category.

Winner of a Most Welcoming Theatre award, this 215-seater dinner theatre also generates its own electricity and is completely self-funded.

And its latest coup is hard to beat.

Dead of Night

The picturesque venue on the banks of the Thames is currently undergoing a £300,000 refurbishment but, while other theatres may go dark, the Mill’s managing director Sally Hughes has made the most of the situation by commissioning an entertainment which has been written especially for the theatre in its current state.

Dead of Night is devised by Hotspur Theatre (founded in 2013 by Tam Williams, son of actor Simon Williams, and currently a star of the Olivier New Musical winner Sunny Afternoon), which specialises in creating site-specific, small-cast productions.

And boy, do they deliver!

To give away the plot would spoil it for any future audiences, but what I can say is that the action starts in the newly installed Waterwheel Bar where the actors have to perform Macbeth because the theatre is… being refurbished.

But after 40 minutes of mayhem and egotistical meltdown, The Scottish Play gives way to a ghost story which slowly comes to life in a promenade production which takes the audiences through the darkened - and some say haunted - theatre.

It’s thrilling stuff. For someone who laughed their way through Ghost Stories in London’s West End, I was shaking in my shoes.

Hotspur Theatre is a company to be reckoned with. Dead of Night was written by Luke Beattie and Nick Malinowski, who both appear in the play, and marks actor Chris Myles’ directorial debut. It’s imaginative, innovative and has lots of laughs to get us into a false sense of security, while there is just the right amount of horror – well, for me, anyway. I was scared, not quite to the point where I had had enough, but almost…

The entire company deserves praise for its spirited (and I don’t mean the ghostly kind!) performances, enhanced by magician Paul Daniels’ help as illusion consultant. I can’t wait to see their next production.

Dead of Night is at The Mill at Sonning until May 2.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning.com

 

Apr 9th

Macbeth at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Macbeth may have been written over 400 years ago but, Tara Arts’ thrilling interpretation, notwithstanding Shakespeare’s sublime prose, could have been written last week.

Set within an extended British-Asian family (some with northern accents and wearing tweed coats over their traditional dress), director Jatinder Verma’s production explores the consequences of relentless ambition, and fanaticism such as that seen in the Taliban and ISIS.

But what is especially topical is the portrayal of the ‘Weird Sisters’ as transgenders. Louis Theroux may have made the headlines by investigating transgender children for his BBC series, but Hijras, or the third gender, have been around for thousands of years and are legally recognised in India where, appropriately for this play, they see themselves as part of the spirit world.

In this production, made in association with Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham, and Black Theatre Live, they are bearded (as they were described in the original text) and brightly dressed in glittering saris, adding even more depth to an already colourful  presentation (especially if you like blood red!). As the witches, Deven Modha, John Afzal and Ralph Birtwell are mischievous rather than evil, but nevertheless intimidating even though their taunts and sinuous dancing raise many a smile.

As Macbeth, RSC actor Robert Mountford commands attention; Shaheen Khan really comes into her own when, as Lady Macbeth, she becomes mad, while Shalini Peiris is gloriously funny as the servant.

Just eight actors portray all the characters, making for a versatile and very capable company, but mention must be made of Rax Timyr, without whom this production would not be so special. Paul Bull’s sound effects and Hassan Mohyeddin’s compositions are stunning, but they are made even more so by Timyr’s musicianship. On stage throughout, his playing of the drums and cymbals, not to mention his beat-boxing (or vocal percussion) is exhilarating and fascinating. He deserves a show of his own!

Claudia Meyer’s set is simple but so effective. As in any Asian production, there are lots of bling, music and dance, a perfect antidote to the deadly deeds which are at the heart of the play. I loved it!

Macbeth continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until April 11.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

It then continues touring:    

April 14-18: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

April 21-25: Derby Theatre

April 28-29: Key Theatre, Peterborough

May 5-9: Harrogate Theatre

www.tara-arts.com

www.queenshall.co.uk

www.blacktheatrelive.co.uk

Mar 17th

Dreamboats and Miniskirts at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Shows such as this are a double-edged sword. While taking you back to your youth you are constantly reminded of the present day just by looking at the person next to you, if you know what I mean. We are all of an age.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts

But what great entertainment these shows deliver. There was no-one dancing in the aisles, as there often is, for the opening night at Windsor, but I could hardly contain myself as I tapped my feet and sang along to all the hits of the early sixties. Oh how I wish I could remember things today as well as the words of the songs I grew up with!

But the songs then really were special and, as in this instance, you really can create a story around them. I must say, I’m not the greatest fan of Dreamboats and Petticoats - I find it too cheesy – but because it is set a little later, I warmed to its sequel, Dreamboats and Miniskirts so much more.

The show takes up the story of Bobby and Laura who, in Dreamboats and Petticoats, win the Youth Club Association’s first national song writing competition.

Bobby is still gauche, and not overly confident, while Laura is streets ahead and becomes a sort of fictional Cilla Black.

We journey with them as their relationships and those of their friends develop, illustrated by songs such as I Only Want To Be With You, A Groovy Kind of Love, If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody, You Really Got A Hold On Me and Baby I’m Yours. In fact, there are 38 songs to get your teeth into and, as always in co-director (with Bill Kenwright) and musical supervisor Keith Strachan’s shows, the musicianship is second to none while the entire company produce a seamless, fast-moving show. I do find the Essex girls’ accents irritating but once those girls start singing it’s a whole different ball game, and I especially liked Louise Olley who, as Sue, really lit up the stage with her bright, vivacious performance. She really looked as if she was having a ball.

Written by heavyweights Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, I love the references to the sixties which are dotted about in the script: Thank Your Lucky Stars, Ready Steady Go!, Wimpy Bars, the Golden Egg, Radio Luxembourg, C&A and New Musical Express. It’s an uplifting trip down memory lane which sent me home with a spring in my step.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 21.

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour will then continue:

March 23-28: New Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl

March 30-April 4: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

April 7-11: The Hawth Theatre, Crawley

April 13-18: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon

April 20-25: Palace Theatre, Manchester

April 27-May 2: Victoria Theatre, Halifax

May 11-16: The Embassy Theatre, Skegness

July 13-18: The Grand Theatre, Leeds

July 21-15: The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

August 10-15: Kings Theatre, Glasgow

www.kenwright.com

 

Mar 11th

The History Boys at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Since it was first staged at the National Theatre in 2004, Alan Bennett’s comedy about a sixth-form’s rite of passage has won more than 30 awards and been voted the nation’s favourite play.

The History Boys

It’s not hard to see why. We have all been teenagers, at school (except for the growing number of home-educated!), so we can all relate to the story and the characters in some way. But Bennett takes it further. His teachers and pupils cover love, sex and death. His teachers don’t seem to adhere to rules and the boys are wittier than a lot of ‘real’ teenagers. And, as it was written by Bennett, the language is sublime, though it does degenerate (as in real life).

It’s not an easy ride. Often it is quite deep, though there are plenty of lighter, almost pantomimic, moments. But Sell A Door Theatre Company’s cast carries it off as well as the actors who starred in the 2006 film – which is quite something as several of the ‘boys’ are making their professional stage debuts. I especially like Hollyoaks’ Steven Roberts’ sensitive performance as Posner, a boy who is struggling with his sexuality and often breaks into song with a thin, reed-like voice which has his audience in stitches.

Because of today’s current climate there are elements which may have been funny in 2004 (though I doubt it) but which I now find uncomfortable – namely English teacher Hector’s ‘fiddling’ with his pupils – especially as he remains popular among both staff and pupils. Nevertheless, I found Richard Hope’s portrayal of the motorbiking lover of language far more likeable (how many victims of abuse have made that mistake?) than that by Richard Griffith in the film version, while Christopher Ettridge as the hypocritical headmaster is far more creepy. Meanwhile, it seems Mark Field has been made to look like Alan Bennett for his part as the supply teacher Irwin, which is unfortunate as he too has his dark side.

The History Boys is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 14.

Box Office: 01753853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour then continues:

March 17-21: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

March 23-28: The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

March 31-April 4: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

April 14-18: The Grand Theatre, Blackpool

April 22-25: Kings Theatre, Portsmouth

April 27-May 2: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

May 5-9: Lyceum Theatre, Crewe

May 12-16: Millenium Forum, Derry

May 19-23: Opera House, Buxton

May 26-30: Northcott Theatre, Exeter

June 1-6: Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

June 8-13: Grand Opera House, York

June 16-20: Darlington Civic Theatre, Darlington

 

Feb 26th

Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop

By Clare Brotherwood

 

The story of Yarico, an Amerindian woman who saved the life of and subsequently fell in love with a British merchant who then sold her into slavery on the island of Barbados, has been around since the 1600s. Since then there have been more than 60 retellings including an opera in 1787, which added fuel to the growing debate on the ethics of slavery.

Now it is being revived – by Jodie Kidd, who is co-producing it with her father John at the London Theatre Workshop above a pub near Fulham Broadway.

But if you think this is just a whim of the former supermodel and TV presenter, you are mistaken. Jodie was brought up in Barbados where the story was re-enacted at her mother Wendy’s arts festival, and she thinks it is of great historical significance, reminding us of the value of freedom, and needs to be heard again, not only on stage but in schools and cultural institutions both here and in the Caribbean.

The 10-year labour of love couldn’t have got off to a better start. A standing ovation ended the press night of the world premiere in which the appropriately named Liberty Buckland, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, is making her professional debut in the title role.

It was hard to imagine how as many as 10 actors at one time could even move on so small a stage but from the first sound of crickets and the crashing of waves, we were transported to a faraway place. And within just a couple of minutes the actors had already established their characters, making the stage not a crowded but a busy, bustling place.

The bamboo hanging from the ceiling and the shiny black walls and floor, which conjured up a dense, sweaty place, added to the atmosphere, as did the basic sackcloth costumes of the characters.

But this is a musical, and almost tribal, hypnotic drums and percussion sit easily beside catchy tunes and haunting ballads under the able direction and orchestration of Zara Nunn.

The show opens with Yarico reading Shakespeare to her fellow villagers. It’s the only English she knows so when English merchant Thomas Inkle is washed ashore, some of the show’s many humorous lines are delivered as she tries to make him understand her while nursing him and saving him from execution.

Yarico is a big part to play, especially when it is your stage debut. She has to be naïve, vulnerable, in love, desperate, angry – and give birth – while singing, but Buckland takes it all in her stride with a performance which takes her to our hearts.

While Alex Spinney does not show so much expression (I expect the stiff upper lip applied in those days too) until the final, heart-rending scene, his voice says it all, and it’s not hard to believe that he has sung alongside Pavarotti at the Royal Opera House.

The rest of the cast also do a sterling job. Melanie Marshall’s experience with the National Theatre and in the West End and New York shows in her strong portrayal of Ma Cuffe, and I particularly liked Tori Allen-Martin’s expressive performance as Yarico’s fun-loving, loyal friend Nono; Jean-Luke Worrell is hilarious as her slightly camp lover Cicero, and West End performer Keisha Amponsa Banson  as the wide-eyed Jessica shows she can do nasty as well as shy and vulnerable as in the lovely scene with Michael Mahoney as Frank when he is teaching her to dance.

Charlotte E Hamblin as Lady Worthy is wonderfully cold and haughty. However, Suzanne Ahmet’s versatility and comic performance really stands out for me. One minute a Cockney landlady, another a South African, then a tough northern overseer, her talent knows no bounds.

Under the direction of Emily Gray, this musical has it all. It’s a powerful and epic story of forbidden love, betrayal and redemption which will have you in tears – of sadness and laughter. And it may well prove that Jodie Kidd has a future as a theatre producer!

Yarico is at the London Theatre Workshop until March 14

Box Office: 01202 045659

www.londontheatreworkshop.co.uk

 

Feb 24th

Three Men in a Boat at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 

Even though I have seen a few other productions of Three Men in a Boat, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one which is so off the wall.

Produced by The Original Theatre Company and the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, director Craig Gilbert’s first full length play bows more to Monty Python than the Victorian solicitors’ clerk’s account of his holiday on the Thames in an open skiff with his friends Harris and George. They’ve even got a ‘funny walk’ in it, while fox terrier Montmorency (who was, incidentally, fictional) reminds me more of the dead parrot sketch.

But looking through my own copy of the book, I have to admit that they do pretty much stick with the original dialogue – until you come to the music hall song and dance routines, the accompanying pianist and the fact that this show is set in a pub!

J is giving a talk about his journey in said pub as the village hall has been destroyed (no going half measures here). His audience is the theatre audience and as he attempts to tell his tale his two friends get up to all sorts of jolly japes.

It’s almost silly schoolboy humour, but the timing is spot on, with the three actors, David Partridge as J (looking uncannily like John Cleese), Michael Rouse as George and Tom Hackney as Harris, in an almost choreographed piece with some very impressive quick changes.

Anna Westlake as Nelly the pianist (and accordionist) fits in easily as their accompanist and adds much to the show with well thought-out tunes and some little cheeky asides.

Three Men in a Boat is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Feb 28.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

It then continues touring:

Mar 3-7: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Mar 23-25: Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Mar 26-27: Venue Cymru, Llandudno

www.originaltheatre.com