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Aug 23rd

Sophie at The Lion and Unicorn (Camden Fringe)

By Cameron Lowe

‘Incomprehensible to most …unbreakable to two

 

 

 

 “Sophie’s love saves me in so many ways..."

 

Sophie opens to the Peter, Paul and Mary song Puff The Magic Dragon’, the lyrics to which tell the story of an ageless dragon and his playmate, Jackie Paper, a little boy. Jackie grows up but in the process loses interest in his imaginary, creative playtime, and in so doing leaves Puff behind. "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" is thought to mean that it was only "little Jackie Paper" who grew up, holding a great significance in the play overall.

 

In the set-up we see Julia Pagett, sister to Sophie sifting through a collection of photographs, among which she finds a scrunched up piece of paper, a memory-trigger; ‘but what can it represent?,’ we ask ourselves.

 

It definitely appears to stir something deep inside of her, till she averts her focus back to what she is doing but it isn’t too long before she has to expel the fiery ball of fury she has allowed to build up, at which point too the music rapidly slows down, till it comes to a complete standstill; comparable, you could say with a wind-up toy, that is void of all momentum.

 

The intro, sans dialogue, for a good few minutes is used as a valuable dramatic device, to help a necessary level of tension to mount, whereupon the music possibly resembles the slowing down of someone’s heartbeat, or blood pressure.

 

The play seems to hold two principal themes, the first being identical twins, which always brings with it a curiosity, and yet most people cannot admit as to why.

 

‘She’s in everything I do.” 

 

I guess, perhaps, it is because the world we live in expects a difference among individuals, in their appearance and behaviour. Therefore, when two individuals are a tight match, our perceptions of how the world is made up is challenged immediately.  And these likenesses then set off a variety of reactions – both negative and positive, needless to say we continue to be drawn in. Why, some people retain an element of jealousy toward twins, in regards to how close their social interaction can be.

Pagett takes ahold of her emotions once again after a splendidly truthful outburst, she then draws reference to the bike on stage, just one in a few props. A symbol one might say of Sophie’s euphoric liberation.

A second theme is introduced, the unpredictability of depression, and the importance of its power never being underestimated, at which point we witness a definite change in mood as the play becomes considerably darker: and to sum up the writings of Rich Larson:

‘… depression and cynicism. ..go hand-in-hand, along with ..anxiety. ..the three ..eat hope ..quickly ..’ leaving behind despair. ‘despair is exhausting ..we keep it to ourselves to (not) be a burden’

 Until it becomes too much. It doesn’t matter who you are, depression can cause you to feel isolated, and at worse it can result in you dying without anyone by your side.

Yet society has us believe that passive thoughts are transitory and so less dangerous than those which are active.

It can be unclear as to when we should intervene but severe symptoms of depression can be unpredictable. It, therefore, is better to be seen to overact than to not act at all.

What might be deemed as a passive thought should be acknowledged as it can be a sign of a darkness looming up ahead.

Sophie is an eloquently written, passionately performed piece, which successfully brings out the idea that despite even the kinship between twins, every one of us is an individual, and we, as individuals, drive the passive and active thoughts inside our heads.

 

Let the rawness of Sophie break the stigma surrounding mental health.

 

Sophie will continue to run as part of The Camden Fringe Festival until Sun 27 August 2017.

*A donation box will be available after the performance to raise money for MIND in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest. Or donations can be made online at http://www.justgiving.com/sophie-play

 

Sophie

 

A new play

written and performed by Julia Pagett

directed by Keir Mills

lion and unicorn                                                                                

link to The Camden Fringe Festival 2017:http://www.camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=1058

 

Review writer © Tremayne Miller

Aug 18th

LIVE AT ZEDEL: A SPOONFUL OF SHERMAN

By Elaine Pinkus

17794-spoonful.jpg

 

Appropriately shown as ‘the songbook of your childhood’ this charming 90 minute cabaret led us through the interesting family history of the talented Sherman musicians, Al and sons Robert and Richard. Featuring Helena Blackman and Daniel Boys, accompanied by talented pianist Christopher Hamilton and presented by Robert J Sherman, third generation songwriter of the Sherman ‘dynasty’. We sat back with our drinks and prepared to enjoy an evening of nostalgia in the intimate space of The Crazy Coqs at London's Zedel.

 

Illustrating the tales of the 70 year musical journey, related by Robert J, were those magical numbers that remind us so much of our childhood. Not only the rock and roll period of 'You're Sixteen' but fast forward to the Disney collaboration. Tapping our toes, slurping our drinks and occasionally singing along, we were treated to the wonderful tunes of 'Chim Chim Cheree', 'A Spoonful of Sugar'. 'I Wanna Be Like You' (ooh beeee doooo), 'Ugly Bug Ball'. 'Let's Get Together' and so many more. Blackman and Boys appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, which transmitted to the audience whose smiles were testimony to their enjoyment. After all, who amongst us has not sung gleefully 'Winnie the Pooh' and 'The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers'! This was our escape from modern reality to childhood innocence.

 

Following its previously sold out critically-acclaimed London runs, A Spoonful of Sherman is now playing at the Live at Zedel programme in London’s Crazy Coqs bar (once part of the famously Art Deco Piccadilly Regents Palace Hotel). This is a pleasant way to spend a short while after a day at work. And in the final moments, as we all sang along to  ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’  we could only thank the Shermans for their wonderful scores, wish Robert J luck with his new score of ‘Bumblescratch’ and hope that the dynasty continues to be  ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’!

 

Booking Details

 

Playing until Sunday 20 August 2017

To book tickets: https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/a-spoonful-of-sherman  and  T 020 7734 4888 

Standard seats: £25

Show with Dinner: £45

 

 

Aug 16th

KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE at the Southwark Playhouse

By Elaine Pinkus

KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE by Eiko Kadono, adapted for the stage by Jessica Sian.

Inspired by her daughter’s drawings of a girl witch, Eiko Kadono’s tale of  Kiki’s Delivery Service took flight. It is a story which reminds us of the importance of loyalty and emotional bonds to family and friends which is so often forgotten in this hi-tech 21st century world. Modern life is so fast paced that we forget the importance of commitment and of human values.

Age 13, the young and impetuous Kiki is keen to make her debut on the stage of witchcraft. Heeding the advice of her parents and taking with her close companion Jiji the cat, the petulant teenager takes flight, sporting her bright red bow and her more sombre black witch’s dress. During her travels she experiences many adventures and learns the importance of friendship and loyalty. After all, even though her delivery service soon becomes a thriving business, Kiki insists costs are paid in kindness – a lesson that may need to be re-introduced to our modern age of bottom line profit and harsh social media.

Kiki in her witch outfit.jpg

Jennifer Leong (Kiki)- photograph Helen Murray

Having played to full audiences at Christmas 2016, this production has returned to the Southwark Playhouse for a few weeks only and with a new cast. The matinee performance I attended was almost full with a mix of adults, young children and teenage drama students. At 90 minutes with no interval, this was a big ask of the youngsters but they sat transfixed and cheered loudly at the end.

But for me, alas, there was no magic. I found the production rather too frantic, with characters running to and fro and almost hysterically shouting at points. Nevertheless, I could not help but appreciate the considered minimalist staging (Simon Bejer) of pastel coloured cubes that were moved to form different tableaux. These, with the clever use of lighting (Elliot Griggs) and the mixed sound effects (Max Pappenheim), a setting was created that  encouraged imagination. Rather refreshing when compared to the computer generated productions that we seem to expect now. Nor could I fail to appreciate the fantastic choreographed movements of flight that were directed by Robin Guiver. 

The cast of six worked well together, with some taking on many different roles.  Well done to Thomas Gilbey’s Jiji and Stevie Raine (Okino), who injected many moments of gleeful humour into Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Kiki and JiJi.jpg

Thomas Gilbey and Jiji - photograph Helen Murray

Venue

Southwark Playhouse

77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD

 

Nearest Tube: Borough / Elephant and Castle

Performances

KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE

Thursday 10 August – Sunday 3 September 2017

Tuesday to Sunday at 3pm and 7.30pm
No performances on Mondays

Box Office Online    www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk 

24 HOURS/NO BOOKING FEES

By Telephone    020 7407 0234    NO BOOKING FEES

Ticket Prices

Previews from 10 – 13 August - all tickets £12
From 15 August: £20, £16 (conc.)

Family ticket: £64

Concessions

 

Students, Under 16’s, Unwaged, Registered disabled, Over 65’s

 

Aug 16th

Dreamboats and Petticoats

By Kate Braxton

Dreamboats and Petticoats at Theatre Royal Windsor

by Kate Braxton

Some shows could keep returning to Theatre Royal Windsor like a ferris wheel carriage, because they are rounded, neatly engineered crowd-pleasers - and this is one of those safe, heart-warming experiences. 

As the name suggests, Dreamboats and Petticoats is a feel-good showcase for rock ‘n’ roll, which we experience through the activities of St Mungo’s Youth Club. Set in 1961, ‘somewhere in Essex’, the spotlight is given to the daily lives, loves and acne of a group of music-loving youngsters as the storyline develops around a song-writing competition. 

Bobby dreams of fame, Fenders and fantasises about the slightly more mature ‘Runaround Sue’. ‘Sweet 16’ Laura is the bespectacled younger sister of Ray, who can write a good tune and wants to be ‘Bobby’s Girl’. Ray goes with Donna, who runs around with Sue, who shakes her stuff at Norman, The Great Pretender, who can’t see past his own quiff. Together, they twist and shake their way through developing relationships, and begin to discover what really makes their hearts sing through a terrific musical celebration of over 40 hit numbers from the 50’s and 60’s. Dreamboats and Petticoats is a show of hope and promise.

This talented cast of actor-musicians, many of whom double up in acting roles and band duties deliver the full show live from the stage. They are superbly tightly rehearsed and the production really doesn’t hang around at any point. 

Alister Higgins plays the love-struck, star-struck, spotified Bobby as if he identifies with ease. His voice comes into its own in the dreamy, love songs, although it would have been nice to see a bit more expression in his overall performance. In a permanent daze in his wake, Elizabeth Carter’s Laura is a joy to watch. She has a beautiful voice and from behind her piano, specs or insightful throwaway line, her performance commands the stage whenever she’s on it.

Both Laura Dartan as Sue and Gracie Jones as Donna are both hugely watchable and terrific vocalists. Their sounds are so well-matched, there are times when they almost make one instrument of their voices.

Norman is almost like the baddie at the panto, and Alister Hill is very comfortable at being funny, while musically, his handling of falsetto is standout. David Luke gives us a thoroughly likeable and less assuming, Ray, whilst the highly experienced Jimmy Johnson’s casting in the lynchpin narrational role of Older Bobby is inspired. At times I could’ve sworn Carry On’s Peter Butterworth was in the house.

Especial credit for the ulti-multi-task must go to the beautiful Chloe Edwards Wood and Lauren Chinery for taking on the lively choreographed steps while steadily holding their tenor and alto/baritone sax lines, but also Mike Lloyd for bringing Mike Lloyd to Frank/Slugger/Compere/Trombone. Lovely bit of talent.

To deliver this quantity of material in a couple of hours is great theatre creation. A bit of ‘Poetry in Motion’, the show is nostalgic for the oldies, educational and insightful for the younger crowd. So come on everybody, do you wanna dance? If so, that’s good timin’.

 

Dreamboats and Petticoats runs at Theatre Royal Windsor from

Mon 14th Aug - Sat 19th Aug

  • Show Times
  • Mon - Sat 8pm, Thu 2.30pm, Sat 4.45pm
  • Ticket prices
  • £16 - £32

For info: www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Box Office: 01753 853 888

 

Aug 15th

MAGIC CIRCLE at the Wimbledon Studios

By Douglas McFarlane

MAGIC CIRCLE

 

It’s always intriguing when you walk into an auditorium to take your seat, and there’s activity on the stage. Usually it’s someone sweeping, playing music or walking purposefully in full costume to set the scene. In the case of MAGIC CiRCLE at the Wimbledon Studios, a small fringe like venue run by the Ambassadors Theatre Group, there’s a guy in a circle sitting cross legged and finishing the arrangement of items and chalking symbols around him. He continues carefully and quietly for the duration of the 20 or so audience members to slowly trickle in and take their seats. It worked so well, that I realised we had a good production here with good patience and focus from the actor.

 

There’s a change in the lights, the audience quieten down and the actor on stage delivers his first line clearly and succinctly, with a tone of voice that immediately tells me he’s experienced with great projection. He sets the scene on why he’s there, a kind of evil hunter and in the blink of an eye, another actor enters. He’s the Detective from the CID who is here to solve a murder and is keen to understand why this man is here.

 

What takes place in the next hour, deserves much praise. When a play is a two hander, the ability to keep the audience gripped is in their hands. With some of the best acting I’ve seen on stage since I saw James McAvoy in the West End, this performance takes on another dimension.  The tight intelligent dialogue between these two characters is rattled off to perfection. They moved beyond just delivering lines, to having a conversation, one without hesitation, with clear conviction and tonal range that fits the emotions and frustrations that are building up.

 

Actor James Hyland also produced the play and it feels like a showcase for him, one that highlights his talents.  That’s not to say that Michael Shon in the role of the Professor is any less talented, but Hyland has most of the dialogue and is able to take a journey through a variety of different states seamlessly and effortlessly.  A truly epic performance and one that I was delighted to have seen.

 

MAGIC CIRCLE is touring a few locations this year, but you can find out more about the production company at http://www.brotherwolf.org.uk/

 


SEP 16 @ 7.30pm

BARTON UPON HUMBER - ROPERY HALL

Maltkiln Road, Barton upon Humber, North Lincolnshire, DN18 5JT

01652 660 380 www.roperyhall.co.uk

 

NOV 1 @ 7.30pm

STAFFORD - GATEHOUSE THEATRE

Eastgate Street, Stafford, ST16 2LT

01785 254 653 www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk

 

 

 

Douglas McFarlane is London based editor of UK Theatre Network

Aug 9th

Bugsy Malone at Theatre Royal, Windsor

By Kate Braxton

Bugsy Malone at Theatre Royal Windsor 

by Kate Braxton 

Let’s cut to the cardboard car chase, this community production of Bugsy Malone at Theatre Royal, Windsor is an absolute delight. If anyone has dared to make you feel small this week, get down amongst young friends for this slapstick musical comedy, ‘cos this is where the fun’s at. 

Theatre Director, Robert Miles set the scene on opening night, as it was the first show since the theatre has been fully re-decorated, sponsored by fine paint and paper suppliers, Farrow & Ball. Nothing 34 young cast members with an arsenal of splurge guns couldn’t christen.

Most people know Bugsy Malone as the 1976 Alan Parker film, starring 13 year-old Jodi Foster as Talullah. I had forgotten just what a great score it is, and how much enjoyment a very simple story can bring to the stage.

Set on the streets of New York in the 1920s, Dandy Dan's hoodlums are terrorising the district with their splurge arms. His rival, Fat Sam Stacetto runs the Grand Slam Speakeasy and his gang are still using old-fashioned pies. Fat Sam engages the help of Bugsy Malone, a smooth city slicker, because most of his gang have been splurged.

 

Bugsy, who has promised to take his love interest and singer, Blousey Brown, to Hollywood, has to break his date with her. Meanwhile Bugsy and Leroy Smith - a guy with an awesome punch - witness a secret delivery of guns at Dock 17. A bundle of shenanigans culminates in a final splurge-down and the love split is resolved.  

Under the baton of musical director, Tim Hammond, the Windsor band keep the tempo moving for the young actors and actresses, many of whom have never performed on such a prestigious stage. Despite a few mis-timed cues between actors and technical, the cast is hard-working and a joy to watch.

Astonishingly, there isn’t a precocious BGT wannabe in sight. Most of the principals hold their American accents admirably, especially given they’re quite an international bunch. Australian-born Owen Barkla has a cute, Mark Lester-ish charm that puts him rightly in the role of Bugsy. Chloe Stammage’s performance as his sweetheart, Blousey, is controlled and mature. She has a natural style on stage, and a very promising singing voice.

One of my favourite moments in this show is Dizzy, the janitor’s wistful solo, ‘Tomorrow never comes’. It is a difficult song to sing, and Dilsher Bagri (who is Head Chorister in his school choir) hits the spot here, providing a solid, steady performance of the faithful, overlooked talent.

 

Confident performance of the production goes to the accomplished Mackenzie Foxtrot. A seasoned young actor, with an astonishingly consistent accent, his unique characterization of Fat Sam packs quite a punch when wrapped up with his natural comic timing. 

Originally from Ghana, Araba Blankson is wonderful as Tallulah. She makes the part her own, she is captivating and sassy, and holds the audience controllingly in her gaze as she takes centre stage for her big number. 

And for sheer inspired casting, and some watch-this-one factor, is the noticeable Lisbon-born Guilherme Barbosa as Leroy/Snake Eyes. He’s funny, he gets on with it, he has presence.

As a resident of the Royal Borough myself, I am proud that Bill Kenright’s theatre delivers this terrific learning programme and the kids look like they’re having the time of their lives. Big credit goes to director, Carole Todd and Camilla Rowland for her natty choreography. If anything, the finale could be shaped a little more tightly to sew up this joyful production, but there really should be a lot of happy punters in Windsor this week.

Bugsy Malone is running from Tuesday 8th - Sunday 13th August 2017.

For Tickets, call Box Office: 01753 853 888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

 

Jun 29th

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

By Trevor Gent

Celebrating 10 years of the Iris theatre at St Pauls Church Covent Garden. My first visit to this unusual venue for theatre certainly was an interesting one and did not disappoint.

Most of the play is staged in the open air (so come prepared for the elements) and the audience follows the cast as they go from scene to scene. You really feel engaged as you are so close up to the action. The use of eerie sounds added to the atmosphere and the witches depicted as strange insect like creatures was a first for me too.

Macbeth 1

In this new production directed by Daniel Winder, you experience the greatest psychological horror story ever told. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a terrifying journey into the mind of a murderer. Inspired by the psychosexual imagery of Hieronymus Bosch, this production weaves its way around the grounds of St Paul’s Church; reflecting the play’s journey into the twisted mental landscape of Macbeth as he rises to be king.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, superbly played by David Hywel Baynes and Mogali Masuku maintain interest and the other characters certainly play their role admirably too. Shakespeare may not be for everyone but this venue certainly seemed to fit well with the style of the piece. Especially the very atmospheric section in the church itself at the end of the first act.

Macbeth 1

Be warned though this venue has no toilets but they are available in the Covent Garden Piazza not far away. There is also some noise pollution as it is so close to Covent Garden and mostly in the open air but this did not distract from my enjoyment of the performance.

Macbeth plays at the Iris from 21st June until 29th July.

Click here for detail and to buy tickets http://iristheatre.com/event/macbeth/

Reviewed by Trevor Gent

 

Jun 25th

The Kite Runner, Playhouse Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

Kite Runner

 

I'd seen the film, and a colleague reviewing for another site had read the book. Both of us sat at opposite ends in the front row of the lovely Playhouse Theatre handy for Embankment Station.

We hadn't realised each other were there until the break. A few weeks earlier we had met on the set of a commercial we were both cast in, and realised through talking that we both lived in the same home town of Teddington. After watching it we were both enthused and motivated to write great reviews as we discussed it in detail going back over the bridge to Waterloo station with fantastic views towards the House Of Parliament and the London Eye.

It's a great night at the theatre and highly recommended from two reviewers.

What's it about ? 

It's a father-son story, to a background of war, touching on bullying and immigration. But most of all it's about friendship. With parallels to Blood Brothers, it tells the story with narration, of two young friends growing up in a household in Afghanistan. Each of them are from different social and religious backgrounds. They both have a love of the sport of kite running and their skill and passion brings them closer together.

Kite Runner's strength is it's story telling. The author had clearly close understanding of the subject and grew up in a similar environment so there has always been some speculation as to it's auto-biographical nature.

This production is brilliant. All carefully considered and thoughtful use of sounds, lights and shadows to represent the story and make it a visual delight from a simple set. A cast that interacts wonderfully with the narration and a beautiful and delicate flow throughout the play showcases the amazing talents of the production and technical team. From the amazing hypnotic sound of the timbala player, to the cast playing notes on some sort of mortar and pestle, to the shadows lighting the background telling part of the story or showing an active crowded backdrop.

There's some great talent in all the cast, many of them having to double up with different characters and actors but each delivering great nuances and visible emotions drawing you into their pain. Especially from the front row. 

There's no doubt the star of the show is David Ahmad. He has a lot of work to do being onstage for the entire play, narrating the story in one tone of voice, then switching to either young or older versions, and displaying a wide range of emotions wonderfully. He does in a subtle way. No big dramatic stage presence or vocal projection was needed. It was almost film acting on stage, where the more subtle your move or facial expression, the better the performance. 

I hope Kite Runner will win some well deserved acclaim and keep running and running. It teaches us a lot about today's modern world. It challenges our relationships with our loved ones as well as strangers. It makes us think about religion, war and the impact they have on real people around the world. Kite Runner manages to be happy, sad and funny and thought-provoking. What more do you want from a West End play.  

Get booking if you want to see it in London because it moves to Glasgow in September and then Brighton.

 

Find tickets on ATG's site.

 

Review by Douglas McFarlane

May 8th

Voices from Chernobyl at the Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Karina Knapinska

 These people had already seen what for everyone else is still unknown. I felt like I was recording the future. (Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl)

I still remember the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in April, 1986. We were still in the middle of the cold war with Russia so very little information was shared. I lived in Munich at that time and we were warned by our government to avoid fresh milk for several weeks, venison and mushrooms - anything from the forest - for several years. And Bavaria is quite a distance from Ukraine. People in Ukraine were not warned. They continued eating fruit, vegetables, and dairy from their villages because the produce looked fine. After all radiation is invisible.

In the early to mid-1990s, Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich collected hundreds of stories from people living in villages near Chernobyl when the catastrophe happened - the wives of the firefighters who sacrificed themselves to save others, scientists, government officials, and ordinary people whose lives were changed forever. 

Director Germán D’Jesús adapted Keith Gessen's translation of Svetlana Alexievich's book for the stage and his 60-minute play, produced by Ténéré Arte, is currently running at the Jack Studio Theatre.

April 26, 1986. People in the towns near Chernobyl are going about their daily business when an explosion destroys a reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Station. The government quickly tries to cover up the catastrophe whilst firefighters and workers are dying of radiation poisoning because they are spending far more than the allotted time in the radioactive environment, working without any protection. More than 600,000 fire-fighters and emergency workers are called in from all over the Soviet Union to put out the fire. Tourists arrive to look at the spectacle and the locals continue eating their contaminated produce whilst government officials do nothing to discourage them. When severely deformed babies are born, some with missing organs, others with missing or additional limbs, the extent of the catastrophe starts to sink in.

Oleg Sidorchik

The play, featuring a dedicated cast of six actors, lends a voice to the victims of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Whilst the government was more concerned about protecting the state from the enemies of socialism than about the safety of its own people, many perished before they were finally evacuated from the contaminated areas, and the radioactive cloud moved on to bring contamination and death to other parts of eastern Europe, particularly Belarus, where Svetlana Alexievich was born.

The actors speak both English and Russian, which lends authenticity to the production. The cast all play a variety of roles but they still manage to create empathy for their characters. A newlywed young woman talks about how she could not even hold the hand of her dying husband because he was contaminated. A scientist describes the complete disorganization and disinformation after the explosion. And a worker talks about cleaning up the contaminated debris after the fire was put out, without a care for his own safety.

An unflinching and unsentimental account of one of the worst nuclear disasters.       

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 13th May 2017

Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes

In English and Russian (all Russian parts are accompanied by surtitles)

Photo credit Jack Studio Theatre.

May 7th

Brimstone and Treacle at the Hope Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Martin (Fergus Leathem) praying for Pattie (Olivia Beardsley)

All I want is the England I used to know. The England I remember.

Originally written as a BBC Play for Today in 1976, Brimstone and Treacle was initially banned due to its disturbing content. The play had its stage premiere at the Sheffield Crucible one year later. Matthew Parker, who just won an Offie Award as Best Artistic Director, now presents the 40th anniversary production of Dennis Potter's darkly comic and divisive play about prejudice and fear in English homes at the Hope Theatre.

1977. A suburb in North London. Mr Bates (Paul Clayton) complains about the bland sandwiches that his wife (Stephanie Bettie) serves him as his dinner after he has worked very hard all day. But Mrs Bates has a good excuse - she is the full-time carer of their disabled daughter Pattie (Olivia Beardsley) who suffered severe brain injuries in a traffic accident two years ago. Mr Bates sees in his daughter little more than a breathing cabbage but Mrs Bates remains hopeful that Pattie is still present somewhere deep inside her damaged brain. Mrs Bates is at the end of her tether as she hasn't been able to leave the house in two years. Mr Bates refuses to employ a carer because it is too expense, nor will he allow any visitors because Pattie is an embarrassment to him.

All of a sudden, Martin (Fergus Leathem) arrives on their doorstep, claiming that he loved Pattie and had proposed to her before she had her accident. When Martin offers to lend a hand with the care of his beloved, Mrs Bates embraces the idea, but Mr Bates remains skeptical - and rightfully so as there is something rather strange about Martin. Yet Martin manages to win him over by sharing Mr Bates' xenophobic ideas and "England first" ideology. 

 

Mr Bates (Paul Clayton)

Although Dennis Potter's play was written in the mid-1970s, it is still very relevant today. Paul Clayton's Mr Bates is a patriarch who considers his home his castle. He does not like the changes that he has experienced over the past couple of decades and wants back "his England" - the way it was when he was a child, which means getting rid of a large part of the current population. When Martin describes the unavoidable consequences of such an action, Mr Bates is appalled and denies that he would ever support such crimes - although he is a devout member of the Nationalist Party. Stephanie Beattie portrays Mrs Bates as a docile housewife who always tries to be pleasant for her husband's sake but is now so desperate to get out of the house that she doesn't mind leaving a complete stranger alone with her helpless daughter. Fergus Leathem playing Martin with a mix of smarmy charm and sardonic humour, delivers a clumsy one-note rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" to sway Mrs Bates' doubts. She trustingly dashes off to have her hair done, whilst Martin sexually abuses Pattie. Olivia Beardsley is outstanding as the severely disabled girl.  

Rachael Ryan's exquisite set features a stuffy living room with wallpaper with a rather unappealing floral design, suffocating any liberating thought. The sound design by Philip Matejtschuk ranges from Mantovani's violins to the wrath of God, adding to the eerieness of the story. 

Matthew Parker's production brings out the absurdity and dark humour of Dennis Potter's play. One finds oneself laughing before one chokes on one's laughter because this is really no laughing matter, or is it?

An outstanding rediscovery that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 20th May 2017

Hope Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval

Photo credit: lhphotoshots.jpg