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Jan 12th

A Judgement in Stone at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

If the opening night audience was anything to go by, Windsor theatregoers are ready to shake off the panto season and embrace the Theatre Royal’s programme for 2017.

A packed auditorium heralded the first of this year’s productions which celebrates the 10th anniversary of The Classic Thriller Theatre Company with a tour of, so far, 29 theatres, which will keep the cast in work until at least September. Some marathon!

That cast includes familiar favourites such as Mark Wynter, a pop star in another life who gets to sing in this play; star of classic films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Entertainer and Alfie, Shirley Anne Field; Andrew Lancel who won the Villain of the Year in the British Soap Awards for his role of Frank Foster in Coronation Street; Deborah Grant, best known for A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Another Bouquet, and Sophie Ward, who has numerous film and TV credits.

A Judgement in Stone is considered to be one of Ruth Rendell’s greatest works, but unlike the queen of crime novelists Agatha Christie she is more concerned with the psychological sources of a murderer’s actions.

So we don’t have a whodunnit here, rather a whydunnit, and how did it come about.

The play alternates between real time and the months leading up to the murder of a wealthy family of four. We know where we are because of Malcolm Rippeth’s atmospheric lighting - warm and homely for when the family is still alive, and cold and stark for the time after the murders when the police are investigating the crime and questioning various suspects. It’s an intricate business. At the flick of a switch the scene changes and, last night, characters sometimes didn’t get on or off stage in time for the next scene. But it was, after all, opening night, and under Roy Marsden’s skilled direction I’m sure the production will be tightened up in no time.

It is beautifully set, in an oak panelled room with large leaded windows looking out onto a garden, so top marks to designer Julie Godfrey who makes the whole thing look so realistic.

There are surprising performances from some of the actors. Sophie Ward plays Eunice Parchman, the housekeeper whose attempts to keep her illiteracy secret lead to the tragic deaths of her employers. As such she is wonderfully withdrawn but with a very dark side, quite the opposite of Eunice’s only friend Joan Smith, the village postmistress. She’s not at all like you’d expect a postmistress or Deborah Grant, for that matter, to be. I love Grant’s performance as a bleached blonde, mini-skirted common ex-prostitute who has found God. Way over the top and hilarious with it, the funniest scene is when she is dancing on the table.

I wouldn’t have expected Shirley Anne Field to be playing an embittered cleaner, either, but that’s showbiz!

Everyone deserves praise: Andrew Lancel is suitably authoritative as DS Vetch, up from London to head the investigation, while Ben Nealon adds a homely touch as the local DS. As master and mistress of the house, Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson are full of bonhomie and pretty smug, and I also like the performances of their children. Although not the biggest parts Joshua Price makes his mark as the moody Giles, as does Jennifer Sims as the friendly, lovable Melinda, while Antony Costa as the wayward gardener may seem just a nice country lad, but he does show his hidden depths.

 

A Judgement in Stone is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until January 21

It then continues to tour:

Jan 23-28: Richmond Theatre

Jan 30-Feb 4: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Feb 13-18: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

Feb 20-25: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Feb 27-Mar 4: Eastbourne Devonshire Park

Mar 6-11: Hall for Cornwall, Truro

Mar 13-18: Buxton Opera House

Mar 27-Apr 1: Northampton Theatre Royal

Apr 4-8: Cardiff New Theatre

Apr 10-15: The Playhouse, Weston-Super-Mare

Apr 18-22: Bromley Churchill Theatre

Apr 24-29: Leeds Grand Theatre

May 2-6: Malvern Festival Theatre

May 8-13: Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

May 15-20: Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells

May 22-27: Crawley The Hawth Theatre

May 30-Jun 3: Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Jun 5-10: Southend Palace Theatre

Jun 12-17 Derby Theatre

Jun 19-24; Glasgow Theatre Royal

Jun 26-Jul 1: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Jul 3-8: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Jul 10-15: Harrogate Theatre

Jul 17-22: Stoke Regent Theatre

Jul 24-29: Milton Keynes Theatre

Jul 31-Aug 5: Newcastle Theatre Royal

Aug 19-23: Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Sept 25-30: Orchard Theatre, Dartford.

 

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Jan 12th

The Kite Runner at Wyndham's Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood

Films and plays based on books are usually a disappointment. So I didn’t hold much hope for Khaled Hosseini’s best seller’s transference to the stage.

But here is a production which is true to the book. And how they manage to transfer an enraptured audience to the Afghanistan of childhood friends Amir and Hassan with a minimal set and a dozen actors is down to the genius of adapter Matthew Spangler and director Giles Croft.

It’s a simple format: Amir, now married and living in San Francisco, looks back on his life from his childhood days in a relatively peaceful Kabul when kite flying was a competitive sport. It begins with him narrating his story, but it’s not long before Ben Turner, as Amir, becomes more than a mere narrator. Taking on the cloak of the child he once was, the former Casualty nurse transports us back in time, becoming that child in mannerisms, speech and attitude.

It’s an extraordinary performance, for not only does Turner become child, adolescent and adult, he also runs the gamut of emotions from childish wonder and fear to adult love, to guilt and despair as he carries with him a secret which fractured his friendship with his constant companion, his servant, and kite runner, Hassan.

Hassan is totally loyal to Amir and defends him whenever he needs him, never wavering, and Andrei Costin’s portrayal is most moving. I also like Emilio Doorgasingh’s emotional Baba and Nicholas Karimi certainly struts his stuff as the bullying Assef.

Alongside Amir’s story is that of Afghanistan, from the communist coup in 1978, the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the rise of the Taliban. Together, Hosseini and Spangler make the situation real and personal, giving the play an extra dimension, while Hanif Khan adds an extra treat, playing the tabla beautifully at the side of the stage. And it’s not without its humour. Christopher Biggins’ loud laughter from the first night auditorium truly endorsed that!

 

The Kite Runner is at Wyndham’s Theatre until March 11.

Box office: 0844 482 5120

www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Jan 11th

Veteran's Day at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead) and Sergeant Butts (Craig Pinder)

All they ever cared about was each other and the hell they'd been through.

Originally produced in Denver and Los Angeles, Veterans Day by political playwright Donald Freed was last seen in the UK at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, in 1990, with Jack Lemmon, Michael Gambon and Robert Flemyng. The London critics loved Jack Lemmon but hated the play, which might be one reason why there hasn't been a revival as yet. Marooned Productions in association with the Finborough now provides the opportunity to see this play after almost thirty years.

Three American war veterans meet at a Veterans Administration Hospital just before a remembrance ceremony where two of them are going to be decorated by the commander-in-chief himself: Private Leslie R. Holloway (Roger Braban), veteran of the First World War, in a wheelchair and in an almost catatonic state; John MacCormick Butts (Craig Pinder), a Sergeant in the Second World War; and Colonel Walter Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead), the most highly decorated soldier of the Vietnam War with the looks and demeanour of an All-American hero.

The enervatingly chatty John Butts, who makes his living as a used-car salesman, contrasts nicely with the quiet authority of Colonel Kercelik, a teacher at West Point. Private Holloway's presence, though almost entirely silent, adds to the anti-war message of this play. As the evening progresses, the characters begin to talk about their experiences and it becomes clear that all three of them have been badly damaged by their experience although the ever jolly John Butts states: "In terms of fun, nothing ever comes even close to the war." Employed in an administrative function, Butts was mainly responsible for providing the big brass with a fresh supply of young girls. He returned from the war with a defective digestive system and a grudge against the Japanese who, after losing the war, now seemed to win the peace with their car industry. Private Holloway is forever trapped in a world of his own "where the dead murder the living". The calm Colonel Kercelik, a picture book soldier, turns out to be a sociopath who intends to assassinate the President as a representative of all the commanders-in-chief who have sent soldiers into the hell of war, leaving many of them dead, mutilated or badly traumatised - either by the deeds of others or their own crimes. 

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Private Holloway (Roger Braban) and Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead)

This is the part where the drama stops working. After making valid points about the horrors of war and the appalling treatment of the veterans, the play takes a sharp turn into implausibility and becomes an absurd melodrama. After Kercelik informs Butts of his plans to assassinate the President including the catatonic soldier as a preposterous element, Butts does not even try to prevent the assassination attempt although Kercelik does not have a weapon or pose a threat - except to the President. The confrontation between Butts and Kercelik is rather one-sided and the outcome seems clear from the start because Butts is so weakly written that he is not a suitable antagonist for the deranged but strong and persuasive Kercelik who bombards Butts with conspiracy theories.

Hannah Boland Moore's production benefits from an outstanding cast who are sadly let down by a dramaturgically faulty play. Military marches and popular war songs throughout the 20th century, forcefully played on the piano by Craig Pinder, add to the authenticity of the production which is skilfully designed by Liam Bunster - a canvas splattered with blood and dirt covering the back wall and a sundry of props on the floor, including a defective gumball machine.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 24th January 2016

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844-847 1652

Running time: 85 minutes without an interval

Photographs by Scott Rylander.

Jan 9th

Rumours of Fleetwood Mac @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

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The last time I saw Rumours of Fleetwood Mac was in January 2012 and 5 years on, I’m happy to say that the concert is still as brilliant as ever.  Close your eyes and you would believe you’re listening to the original artists.  The vocals are extraordinary with the band reproducing hit after hit in their latest ‘Hit to Blues Tour’, which began in October 2016, encompassing nearly five decades of this legendary band’s music.

With over 600 major concert events behind them to date the British Rock Anthology Tribute Concert ''Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac'' has now performed to over 600,000 MAC fans across the world. 'Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac' is now recognised globally as the ''Ultimate Fleetwood Mac Concert Experience'' and is endorsed by founder 'Fleetwood Mac' member Mick Fleetwood. 

From the exultant heights of such classic hits as ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘You Make Loving Fun’, and ‘Seven Wonders’, to the cathartic relationship autopsies contained on the bestselling Rumours album, ‘Hits to Blues’. Like previous Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac concert performances, the show guarantees to offer its audiences a rich and emotive musical experience, blowing away the cobwebs and rekindling those precious personal memories in a way that only the best music can. 
  
True to the band’s roots, ‘Hits to Blues’ features a comprehensive profile of the work of legendary British bluesman, and Fleetwood Mac founder, Peter Green. With faithful renditions of early Mac masterpieces such as ‘Albatross’, ‘Oh Well’, and the plaintive ‘Man of the World’, the show promises to bring the full depth and power of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac back to life. 
  
From the outset, the Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac musicians and performers have always striven to combine their deep personal love and reverence for the music of Fleetwood Mac with the excitement and spontaneity of live performance. Immersed in this music as they are, they know that these are songs which simply refuse to be played without passion and intensity. 
  
It is now half a century since Fleetwood Mac first emerged onto the world stage. Over the intervening five decades it is fair to say that both the band and the world have been through some considerable changes. Throughout it all, however, the music of Fleetwood Mac has retained its place in the hearts and souls of hundreds of millions of fans the world over. Join Rumours of Fleetwood Mac this Autumn and experience the very best of Fleetwood Mac, from ‘Hits to Blues’.

Further establishing Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac as the world’s premier Fleetwood Mac concert experience, RFM Concerts welcomes original Fleetwood Mac guitarist, RICK VITO back to the RFM tour. Catch Rick on the following tour dates...

Fri 19 Feb - Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Sat 20 Feb - Northampton Derngate, Tue 23 Feb - Glasgow Pavilion, Wed 24 Feb - Aberdeen Music Hall, Fri 26 Feb - Inverness Eden Court, Sat 27 Feb - Dundee Caird Hall, Sun 28 Feb - Edinburgh Queens Hall, Mon 29 Feb - Gateshead Sage.

Full tour dates can be found on their website www.rumoursoffleetwoodmac.com

The songs are a mix of instantly recognisable rock, pop and blues tunes, appealling to all ages and it was good to see lots of people in their 20s & 30s in the audience. The only thing I’d like them to change would be to introduce the band a bit earlier, and get the audience up on their feet for ‘Big Love’ and ‘The Chain’.  We were all itching to dance at this point and felt a bit stuck in our seats, so having a few more songs to join in with towards the end of the concert would have been perfect.  The original Fleetwood Mac are still touring and should be releasing a new album later this year, so I can see that with over 50 years of material to reproduce, Rumours of Fleetwood Mac will continue to tour for many years to come!

 

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

7.1.17

 

@yvonnedelahaye

Jan 6th

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Apollo (Tom Purbeck) and two sartyrs (James Rigby and Dannie Pye)

You need no consolations of high art,
Your human pain's cancelled by your horse / goat part.

Poet and playwright Tony Harrison's 1990 verse play is partially based on Ichneutae (The Trackers), a satyr play by Sophocles, which was found in fragments at the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. It is also a dramatised account of the discovery of the papyrus fragments of Sophocles' play by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt.

Originally written for one performance only in the ancient stadium of Delphi in 1988 with a cast including Jack Shepherd, Barrie Rutter and Juliet Stevenson, and subsequently presented at the National Theatre in 1990, the play now sees its first London production in nearly 30 years at the Finborough Theatre.

Oxyrynchus, Egypt, 1907. Oxford dons Grenfell (Tom Purbeck) and Hunt (Richard Glaves) are searching for Sophocles's lost masterpiece in a pile of rubbish but all they can find are petitions. Fellaheen workers help put all the papyri in boxes to ship them to Oxford before the natives use the historically valuable papyri as compost or burn them instead of studying them. At long last the two archaeologists find a fragment of a Sophoclean satyr play.

Grenfell is so dedicated to finding the rest of the manuscript that he becomes possessed by the Greek god Apollo who, after having been buried for 2000 years, demands that the missing text be found. Hunt has also changed into Silenus, leader of the satyrs. As the audience is asked to chant verses from the fragment along with the satyrs, we are taken back to Mount Cyllene, in the 5th century BC and into Sophocles' missing satyr play.

Apollo's herd has been stolen and he expects the satyrs to find them, promising them gold and their freedom. When the satyrs find the herd along with a lyre, built by Hermes, they want to keep the beautiful musical instrument along with the gold but Apollo refuses and retreats into a "clogless, desatyrized zone" to enjoy music and poetry, which is not meant for satyrs.

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Silenus (Richard Glaves)

Jimmy Walters' intriguing production benefits from Phil Lindley's set design featuring Greek columns and placards with Greek writing, boxes and papyri scattered across the stage. Tom Purbeck and Richard Glaves convince as the dedicated archaeologists and excel as the arrogant god Apollo and Silenus, the leader of the satyrs - dressed in furry trousers with prominent phalluses. Peta Cornish as the delicate nymph Kyllene is not amused by the noisy stomping satyrs who indulge in drinking, sex and coarse jokes but helps them nonetheless to find the lost herd. The intimacy of the staging draws the audience into the performance even before the chant-along to revive the lost satyr play.

Tony Harrison's multi-layered drama that creates an arc from the satyr play to contemporary London criticizes the exclusion of the lower classes from the fine arts. Just like the satyrs, who turn into modern day hooligans in the course of the play, they are scorned and deemed too ignorant to understand high tragedy, poetry or serious music. The story of the satyr Marsyas, who challenged Apollo in a musical competition and was cruelly punished serves as a warning that improvement is not desired by the rulers.

An extraordinary and unusual play that should not be missed. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 28th January 2017

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

Running time: 80 minutes

Photographs by Samuel Taylor.