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Jul 14th

Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, from Jeremy Brett’s tortured portrayal in the eighties and nineties to Benedict Cumberbatch’s tongue-in-cheek more recent interpretation. And as a fan of horror films, my fascination of Jack the Ripper has never waned.

So Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders is the perfect combination for me - and it gets better.

For it was written by Brian Clemens, most famous for creating the hugely popular TV series’ The Avengers. The Persuaders and The Professionals.

Clemens died in January this year at the age of 86, but he lives on, not only in his writing but in his sons Samuel, who plays Sherlock Holmes in this production, and George, who is the technical director. Together they also write, produce and direct films under the title The Clemens Bros.

Dad would be proud. This production is chock full of atmosphere, with special effects which will have you jumping out of your seats. Edward Patrick White’s terrifying original music and David North’s lighting add to the creepiness, though the changing backdrops are not always easy to decipher and Shaung Hu’s graphic animations don’t really work.

There is plenty for ghouls like me: in the first few minutes there’s a grisly murder, followed by the appearance of a clairvoyant, a wonderfully realistic scene in which Ewan Goddard as ‘the stranger’ has an epileptic fit, graphic graphics and insane and sinister characters.

And in true Brian Clemens tradition, it’s a damn good yarn which is not without its comic moments, especially from George Telfer as Dr Watson who resents being in the background and being taken for granted by Holmes.

Based wholly on stature, I would have liked to have seen the tall, slim, bearded Telfer as Sherlock Holmes, while Sam Clemens, though playing the part perfectly well, lacks the aloofness and tortured persona of the Holmes I’m used to seeing.

Not all of the characters are clearly defined. We don’t discover Sir William Gull, played by Andrew Paul (who is currently playing Liz’s ominous boyfriend Dan in Coronation Street - though it looks like not for long as he is now ‘on the road’), is the Queen’s physician until nearing the end of the play, and I didn’t always know which prostitute was which, but Kim Taylforth as a bustling Mrs Hudson certainly made her mark, as did Lara Lemon as clairvoyant Kate Mead, while Michael Kirk is excellent as the mysterious Netley.

All in all, under the direction of Patric Kearns, you will certainly get your money’s worth!


Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 18.

Box office: 01753


It then continues touring:

Jul 21-25: Malvern Theatre

Aug 3-5:  Lyceum Theatre, Crewe

Aug 6-8: Empire Theatre, Inverness

Aug 11-15: Grand Theatre, Swansea

Aug 24-26: Buxton Opera House

Sept 28-Oct 3: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Oct 6-10: Dundee Repertory Theatre

Oct 12-13: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

Oct 15-17: Millennium Forum, Derry

Oct 21-24: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon

Oct 26-27: Hexagon Theatre, Reading

Nov 3-7: Grand Theatre, Blackpool


Jul 2nd

Amy’s View at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood



Sadly, the popular six-week Windsor Repertory Season ends on Saturday - but it’s certainly finishing in style.

David Hare’s controversial play Amy’s View, which opened at the National Theatre in 1997 with Judi Dench, Samantha Bond and Ronald Pickup heading the cast, is no lightweight.

Though, on the surface, it charts the relationship between a mother and daughter over a 16-year period, it is packed full of social comment, so typical of the knighted playwright.

I was totally transported to the house in Pangbourne (not far from Windsor) where the first three acts take place. There is an atmosphere about David Shields’ set which makes it totally authentic - despite the fact that nothing in the room changes over 16 years.

Amy (of the title) is the daughter of famous actress, widow Esme Allen, and the play opens with Esme returning from the theatre to find Amy and her boyfriend, Dominic in the home she shares with her mother-in-law.

What transpires is most extraordinary, for Dominic, a wannabe film producer, has never been to the theatre, describing it as ‘boring’ and art as ‘snobbish’ - not what a theatre audience wants to hear, but it certainly makes them sit up and take notice.

Dominic is opinionated and subject to mood swings, and, to be perfectly honest, James Lawrence lacks the gravitas of such a character; he’s too nice. On the other hand Sarah Kempton, as Amy, is spot on as the totally besotted girlfriend who will do anything to keep Dominic, much to the dismay of her mother, played with great theatricality by Fiz Marcus.

In Act 2, Dominic has his own series on TV, a medium Esme disapproves of, but by Act 3 she is starring in a hospital series having lost all her money through investments made by her ‘companion’ Frank, a mild-mannered neighbour, played quietly and empathetically by James Pellow.

As Esme’s mother-in-law, the youthful Pearl Marsland does a grand job of playing an old woman, first as a sprightly, eccentric grandmother, then as someone who has dementia. But in the third act all she does is sit in a wheelchair with her back to the audience (maybe it isn’t Pearl!) muttering occasionally, and when the household goes to bed she is left there!

The final act is a revelation, on various levels, and director Stuart Burrows really ups the ante as Esme enjoys a comeback in the theatre. Until then, although theatrical, Fiz Marcus has been a bit one dimensional but her closing performance leaves the audience emotional and exhausted. Just why, you’ll have to see the play to find out.

Although only joining the play in the last act, Toby Cole certainly makes his mark with an energetic portrayal of an admiring fellow actor - and helps to make the final scene as spectacular as it is.


Amy’s View is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 4

Box Office: 01753 853888

Jun 26th

The Seagull at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood




The Seagull begins as Peter Sorin’s guests assemble for an avant-garde open air play written by Konstantin Trepliov, Sorin’s nephew and son of the famous but fading actress Irina Arkadina.


On the night I was there the timing was perfect. As the eager and enthusiastic Konstantin announces that the play has to begin at sunset, the sun sank behind the trees surrounding Regent’s Park’s open air stage; not the only perfect thing about this production.


As with all four of Anton Chekov’s great plays, The Seagull takes place on a country estate, so where better to stage it than in the middle of a park, especially with designer Jon Bausor’s imaginative set complete with lawn, shrubbery and pool.


Add to that a huge mirror suspended above the stage, from which rain cascades in torrents towards the end of the play, and Christopher Shutt’s terrifyingly dramatic soundscape, and this is an impressive production even before there is any mention of the excellent cast.


Regent’s Park commissioned award-winning playwright Torben Betts to write this new version to mark the play’s 120th anniversary and it certainly brings Chekov kicking and screaming into the 21st century.


The elegance of that era is still very much in evidence, thanks to the beautiful, in-house costumes, but phrases like ‘decadent claptrap’, ‘bloody tedious’ and other contemporary words I cannot mention in print, certainly brings the dialogue up-to-date, while the romantic jealousies, self-doubting and ruthless pursuit of happiness, which are at the core of the play, are so much part of modern day living.


While the cast includes such celebrated actors as Janie Dee, Ian Redford and Danny Webb, this is very much an ensemble piece and everyone should be congratulated, not least the hard-working servants, played by Belgian choreographer, movement artist and performer Tara O’Arquian, and Tom Greaves, whose parts require them, among other things, to garden, dust from the top of a ladder and, most impressively, swim naked in the pool!


The play is set on Peter Sorin’s estate and, as the ailing landowner, Ian Redford has tremendous gravitas.


Sabrina Bartlett, recently seen as Karen Daniel in BBC’s Poldark, as Nina, his young neighbour, is bewitching and refreshingly childlike, full of enthusiasm and energy, while in stark contrast, Lisa Diveney (Julia Masterson in Call the Midwife) as Masha, the estate manager’s daughter, does a magnificent job of playing a vodka swilling, snuff snorting (or is it cocaine?) feisty consumptive, and cruel wife to the pathetic teacher Simon Medviedenko - described as having ‘all the charisma of a stuffed corpse’ - played with great empathy by Colin Hoult.


Masha is not the only cruel character. Janie Dee is a real diva as ageing actress Irina Arkadina, loving the attention as she swans across the stage with her posturing young lover, writer Boris Trigorin (Alex Robertson), while hurling insults at her sensitive son, played with youthful exuberance by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s great-great-great-grandson, award-winning actor Matthew Tennyson. But the scene between mother and son after his attempted suicide is most moving and shows another, little revealed, side to Irina’s character and gives extra depth to the play, though the descent into a screaming match between the two runs the gamut of emotions.


Director Matthew Dunster’s powerful production is bursting with crossed lovers, raw emotions and tormented souls ending in an extraordinary final scene – a must see!


The Seagull continues at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until July 11.


Box Office: 0844 826 4242


Online Bookings:


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


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


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


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

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.


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


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


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

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

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

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