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Dec 27th

Ian Kershaw's Adaptation of Cinderella is Totes Reem!

By Kirstie Niland

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

This year’s festive show at The Dukes is sure to have delighted two young girls in particular, as well as the many theatregoers who’ve been enjoying Ian Kershaw’s novel re-working of Cinderella.

For the award-winning writer and actor wrote it for his daughters, aged 13 and 10, transforming “Ella” into a gutsy character who likes climbing trees, just like his own girls.

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And you can’t help but think that the catchy theme tune and moral to his modern day version - Live Life to the Toe Top Full – must be the family motto promoted by both Ian and his wife, Julie Hesmondhalgh, well known for playing the equally gutsy and positive Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street.

Ella’s world is a Northern farm, where she lives with her Dad. She misses her Mum who’s passed away but nothing comes between her little family and their daily chores on the farm. Until her Dad remarries the Essex equivalent of Cinderella’s wicked Stepmother who brings her stroppy daughters Greta and Grizelda to live with them.

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Performed in the round, with the pretty farmyard set populated by animals brought to life with some fantastic puppetry, Ella’s world begins to fall apart when the “ high end” trio arrive with demands of jewels and other “stuff” they want. Taking advantage of her new husband’s kind and gentle nature, the wicked stepmother rides roughshod over him and his beloved Ella, played by the likeable Rachael Garnett.

Amidst a blackmail plot and the arrival of Ella’s Prince Charming, good conquers evil as even the ugly sisters realise the error of their money-grabbing mother’s ways, finally leaving her to begin a sentence as a cleaner at the palace rather than face jail.

The cast of six double up on roles and all perform with enthusiasm and aplomb. However special mention must go to Josie Cerise, whose expressions and dance moves as the posturing little Grizelda are hilarious.

Meanwhile the wannabe Princesses' costumes, from the peach velour Lispy tracksuits to the ballgowns with fascinators, (brilliantly reminiscent of the ones worn by Beatrice and Eugenie at William and Kate's wedding) are genius.

The story is punctuated with lovely songs accompanied by a range of instruments, including a trumpet and ukulele, as tomboy Ella falls for the Prince and rescues her Dad from his greedy wife’s clutches.

Cinderella’s missing shoe is replaced by a pair of patent Doc Martens, and a touching and thought-provoking scene set in the haven of Ella’s late Mum’s tree, whose branches wrap around her and keep her safe, reminds us what real family is all about.

The story is told by a Grandfather to his Grandaughters, as a diversion for the girls who are anxiously awaiting news from Mum and Dad about their poorly pet dog. At first they are put off by the idea that Cinderella is a baby story, before being assured by the appearance of Ella, who says: “this one is a little bit different.”

Which it is, and all the more wonderful for it. What a magical gift Ian Kershaw has given his daughters and lots of other delighted children this Christmas.

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There’s still time to see this enchanting adaptation of Cinderella with its poignant message to take with you into 2015 – Live Life to the Toe Top Full.

Cinderella runs until January 10. To book tickets ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit www.dukes-lancaster.org

Photographs by Darren Andrews
Mar 22nd

The Taming of the Shrew by the RSC at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin
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LUCENTIO. Mistress, what's your opinion of your sister?
BIANCA. That, being mad herselfshe's madly mated.

I have never been a great fan of this particular play because I find the way in which the free-spirited Kate is humiliated and finally broken, as demonstrated in her submission speech, unpleasantly misogynist and sadistic. However, Lucy Bailey’s production is somewhat different: it is bawdy, ribald, fresh, intriguing – and fun!  

 Bailey concentrates on the personal rather than the political, seeing the play as a difficult love story - the journey of two misfits finding each other: “That’s what draws me to the play: the enjoyment and desire to see two people come together despite all their obstinacy, their pride and hang-ups.” By staging the action on a gigantic bed she sets the tone for her production – the battle of the sexes as a long foreplay that ends in bed. To Bailey the bed is a metaphor for life and a public forum. Even the most intimate scenes are played out in public.     

shrew_2121463b.jpg David Caves and Lisa Dillon

Set in patriarchal 1940s Italy, the action begins with the induction that frames the performance - a Lord (an authoritative Adrian Lukis) and his servants come across the drunken tinker Christopher Sly while hunting. Nick Holder gives a great comic performance as the uncouth, stinking, vomiting, farting beggar who is tricked by the Lord into believing that he really is a Lord who has mysteriously slept for fifteen years. The aristocrat presents his page Bartholomew (a gently humourous Hiran Abeysekera) as Sly’s alleged wife. Together they watch a play performed by a touring company. During the performance Sly keeps on chasing his “wife” across the stage clad only in his underwear and, at times, losing his pants.   

The show begins as Kate (a brilliant performance by Lisa Dillon) is led on stage in a pillory for savagely attacking a man. She looks truly pitiful but, as soon as her victim shows a sign of compassion, Kate kicks him in the groin, then turns on everybody else. Having made her point Kate takes a swig from her flask and smokes a cigarette. Her sister Bianca, played as a sweet, shallow girlie by Elizabeth Cadwallader, is quite the opposite, and Kate resents her for that. After binding and gagging Bianca she shows her ultimate disgust by pouring the contents of the chamber pot over her younger sister's head.
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Suitors are flocking around Bianca. The only trouble is that Baptista Minola, the girls’ father, has decided that Kate needs to find a husband first. A seemingly hopeless endeavour until Petruchio (charismatic David Caves) comes to visit his posh and prissy friend Hortensio (suave Sam Swainsbury). Petruchio – a cross between Adriano Celentano and Jean-Paul Belmondo - finds the prospect of getting his hands on Kate’s dowry very tempting and immediately begins to woo her. Kate reacts to this insolence with extreme aggression, even spitting and peeing in front of Petruchio. Petruchio watches her antics with mild amusement. It seems Kate might have found her match. Meanwhile Bianca’s suitors do not remain idle. Lucentio (Gavin Fowler), sick with love for Bianca, decides to trade places with his servant Tranio so he can pose as a teacher and be close to Bianca while Tranio pretends to be Lucentio and presents himself as Bianca’s suitor to Signor Minola. Hortensio has a similar idea, disguising himself as Bianca’s music teacher. While Lucentio and Hortensio are vying for Bianca’s love, Tranio and the elderly suitor Grumio have a contest of their own - who is the richest man in the land – with Signor Minola selling Bianca to the highest bidder.
 

 

In this production Kate is so manic and clearly headed for doom that the insolently sexy Petruchio might very well be considered her saviour. The taming scenes are still unpleasant to watch but in this case they might be conceived as therapeutic. In the end, Kate’s submission seems to be motivated by love, less so by her understanding of man’s superiority, which makes it more bearable. Kate has found her equal in Petruchio and it is clear that this is not going to be a boring marriage if not necessarily an uncomplicated one.                
By Carolin Kopplin 

 

Until 24 March at Richmond Theatre

 http://www.atgtickets.com/The-Taming-of-the-Shrew-Tickets/45/312/

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

 

 
Jun 2nd

Horrible Histories at the Rose Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

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Horrible Histories at the Rose Theatre
Review by Douglas McFarlane 

I love the Rose Theatre. It’s such a great space. A wide open stage, wide seats which are well-spaced out offering uninterrupted views, and there’s even room for youngsters to sit on the floor near the front.  It’s actually encouraged and it’s a great way to get more people into the theatre and allow them to do their own thing.  I’ve even seen some productions use bean bags for people in the front.  The only downside is that can encourage a bit of loose lips when people see it’s not as formal, like the teenage boys who hadn’t realised the monotone nature of their breaking voices could be widely heard unless they whispered.  I can’t complain really.  I arrived late.  Theatre everywhere starts at 7:30pm.  It’s an unwritten rule.  Often I don’t even check and it has caught me out twice. A West End show that started at 8pm was in my favour, tonight however, Horrible Histories started at 7pm and finished at 8pm, so just when I was starting to get into Horrible Histories, it ended. 

So it wasn’t a great experience as a result. 

On the positive note, the bits I did see, were well thought out and engaging and the cast of three did well to entertain youngsters whilst sneaking a bit of history into their brains.  Even I learned something.  On the night they constantly mentioned Boudicca (boo-dic-a), and I thought why are they saying that, it should be Boadicea (bo-add-I-see-ah). It was what I was taught in school so perhaps there was a difference from Scotland to England ?  I checked with my wife. "Boadicea", she said.  I asked my teenage children, "Boudica", they said but they thought it was two c's.  A quick check of Wikipedia and it appears there’s many different names and spellings over the years.  In Welsh it’s Buddug,  So we were all right. Whew !  

I also liked the whole explanation and work through of the Roman Emperors and I instantly became interested in learning more about the Romans again. 

So an enjoyable way to teach history, a nice evening out with the family, and if you arrived on time, a bit of fun theatre along the way to entertain you.  

This show was a one hour special of "Ruthless Romans" but you can see Horrible Histories "Barmy Britain" on tour in Southend, Birmingham, Bradford, Cardiff, Northampton, Guildford and many more around the country.

Find out more here. 
http://www.barmybritain.com/tour/

Sep 25th

Imogen at Shakespeare's Globe

By Clare Brotherwood

EastEnders family The Carters have been out in force at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Actors Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright, who play publicans Mick and Linda Carter in the BBC soap, were there to support Maddy Hill, who played their on-screen daughter Nancy.

Maddy’s credits, apart from EastEnders, only amount to a handful of parts, but two of them are Shakespearian, and now there’s a third - Imogen, the title role in a ‘renamed and reclaimed’ production of Cymbeline.

Part of the Globe’s artistic director Emma Rice’s first season, Imogen couldn’t be better for attracting new, young audiences to Shakespeare.

Gang warfare, it seems, is nothing new, and director Matthew Dunster has brought this play literally kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Imogen is bang up to date with a cast clad in tracksuits, trainers and baseball caps, rapping and street dancing its way through a bloody tale of murder, revenge - and, of course, love.

Designer Jon Bausor’s set is stark and dark, the only dressings, butchers’ curtains! And there’s plenty of butchery, I can tell you! Oh, and occasional drugs and can of lager.

Fights between Imogen’s black-clad Britons and the Romans, dressed in white, who are harbouring Imogen’s banished husband Posthumus, are both balletic and realistic, with the added attraction of sometimes taking place in midair! The energetic young actors take everything in their stride. To the pounding beats of sound designer George Dennis’s atmospheric music, their performances are invigorating, and aggressive, especially Ira Mandela Siobhan’s powerful Posthumus, with added gravitas from Jonathan McGuinness as Cymbeline, king of the Britons, and Martin Marquez as Belarius, who for the last 20 years has been bringing up the king’s sons as his own.

I don’t know whether it’s politically correct to single out William Grint, one of those sons, but he and the rest of the cast should be applauded for making William’s deafness part of the action and giving this play extra depth and some humanity. I doubt many briefs include sign language!

The play is, however, Imogen’s story - of how she marries against the wishes of her father, the king, who punishes her by banishing her husband. How her husband believes her to be unfaithful and sends someone to kill her while she, dressed as a youth, searches the land to be at his side, on the way being poisoned and waking up beside an headless corpse. Always fiesty but with a soft side, as Imogen Maddy Hill shines, appearing streetwise and yet with that vulnerability which made her so popular in EastEnders. She’d certainly give The Mitchells a run for their money!

The story may be a familiar one in today’s world where drugs and street crime are sadly all too common, but there are lighter moments: Joshua Lacey causes a laugh every time he struts onto the stage as Cymbeline’s loutish, football shirt-wearing stepson, and the appearance of an illuminated greenhouse apparently growing marijuana, also causes amusement.

 

Imogen is at Shakespeare’s Globe until October 16

www.shakespearesglobe.com/imogen

Nov 14th

Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail

By James Senor

Reviewed 11th November 2015

Serail 1

image Clive Barda

The Abduction from the Seraglio follows the story of two forsaken lovers. Belmonte is in love with Konstanze but she is enslaved to Pasha Salim. Pasha Salim wishes to marry Konstanze but not forcefully and so waits for her to respond to his affections. However, Belmonte plans to free Konstanze With the help of his past servant Pedrillo, who is also enslaved to Pasha. He devises a plan to free both Konstanze and her close friend Blonde. Blonde and Pedrillo are also in love, which is used as a comparative to the love of Belmonte and Konstanze throughout the play. There are only two significant people in the way of their escape, Osmin and Pasha Salim. Osmin is a servant of the Pasha and detests Pedrillo with a vengeance. Pasha is a Spanish ‘Renegade’, convert, who has prospered in Turkey and owns the household they are held in. 

The opera takes the form of a Singspiel; a German light opera, typically with spoken language. It is famous for being one of Mozart’s first full operas. The work premiered in 1782 and was a huge success both critically and financially.

In Glyndebourne’s production the set effectively captures the essence of its Eastern setting with meticulous attention to detail, the use of colour from the sandstone walls to the wooden screens is perfectly balanced. Designer Vicki Mortimer also makes very creative use of space with the numerous scenes she brought to life. Each scene change felt smooth, coherent and relevant.

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image Clive Barda

There is a fantastic array of colour in the costumes; each piece equally important and going so far as to tell a story of the supernumeraries;  quite a task here considering the large cast of this production. 

Singing and acting was strong with amazing vocal dexterity by Ana Maria Labin playing Konstanze (Soprano) who wowed the audience with her performance of the demanding Ach, ich Liebte. Ben Bliss and James Kryshak made excellent work of Belmonte and Pedrillo (both Tenors). But theere was an outstanding performance from Clive Bayley and Franck Saurel for Osmin and Pasha.

Bayley really brought Osmin out as a loathsome and ugly character one which is not just a doltish oaf but a cruel bully with real intention. This injected a real element of frustration into the opera as he appeared to ruin the plans of Belmonte every time, provoking comical boos from the crowd at the end.

Franck Saurel has limited freedom with his spoken role however his acting skills shone. His role is, in some regards, the most important one being pivotal to the plot’s continuity. Letting Belmonte, Pedrillo, Konstanze and Blonde go in the end for dignity and honour is a drastic change. And for such a change the actor needs to tactfully present those virtues while subduing and masking them with anger and frustration. This, he has achieved. 

Ultimately an excellent opera to go see - exciting, emotional and highly dramatic.  

Glyndebourne plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 14th November then continuing on tour.

http://www.glyndebourne.com/tickets-and-whats-on/our-seasons/tour-2015/

Milton Keynes Box office 0844 871 7652

Jun 11th

The Ghost Train at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Shrieks of laughter as well as horror heralded the opening of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s first ever Classic Thriller Season.

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Produced in association with TABS Productions and the Theatre Royal Nottingham, chilling tales from the pens of such writers as Francis Durbridge (creator of the Paul Temple detective series) and Brian Clemens (creator of The Avengers and The Professionals), will be showing over the next five weeks.

The season starts with the comedy thriller The Ghost Train, written in 1923 by Arnold Ridley, best known as Private Godfrey in the TV series Dad’s Army.

Set in 1925 - the year it was first performed - it concerns a group of stranded passengers who are holed up in a haunted railway station overnight.

David Gilbrook’s chilling sound effects together with Alex Marshall’s atmospheric lighting and Geoff Gilder’s station waiting room all help to set the scene for a good night of all-round entertainment, with ghostly goings on working well with the comedy to relieve the tension.

It’s very much a period piece, with old-fashioned manners and a stilted way of talking, rather like in Brief Encounter, though that was to come 20 years later. The language is rather quaint, with nothing stronger than ‘duce’ and ‘beastly’ - amusing in themselves - while the actors throw themselves into their roles with more than a touch of melodrama.

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Andrew Ryan and Susan Earnshaw with Edward Parris. Pic: Mike Swift

My favourite character is Teddie Deacon, a flamboyant and rather idiotic figure played with verve and enthusiasm by Andrew Ryan. Susan Earnshaw also steals a scene or two as the elderly Miss Bourne, especially when she over-indulges on the brandy; Angie Smith adds to the hysteria as the neurotic Julia Price, while Adrian Lloyd-James really makes the most of his part as the station master.

The theme continues on June 16 with The Shadow of the Ghost, co-written by Arnold Ridley’s son Nicholas, which takes place on the set of a production of The Ghost Train in a theatre somewhere in the south west of England.

I can’t wait to see it!

Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal Windsor is not only offering special price tickets but also ghost tours. I’ve been on one and, believe me, that theatre is haunted!

The Ghost Train is part of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s Classic Thriller Season and runs until June 14. It will be followed by:

The Shadow of the Ghost from June 16-21

Fatal Encounter from June 23-28

Murder Weapon from June 30-July 5

The Gentle Hook from July 7-12

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk
Jan 28th

A View From The Bridge, The Octagon Theatre, Bolton

By Kirstie Niland
By the time we reach the climax of A View From the Bridge we are all emotionally exhausted.

When I say “we” I mean all of us in the audience joining Eddie Carbone and his family as we sit, helpless, unable to stop him from hurtling headlong into the tragedy that tears them apart.

Colin Connor as Eddie Carbone and Barbara Drennan as Beatrice_ Ian Tilton.jpg

This is the sheer brilliance of Arthur Miller’s writing and David Thacker’s direction. Before you know it you are wrapped up in the intimacy of a close-knit family's little front room in Brooklyn. First experiencing the loving warmth of their togetherness, and then the increasing heat of Eddie’s simmering emotions and eventual eruption.

If only Eddie’s head hadn't turned away from his loyal wife...if only his niece Catherine wasn't so naive about her effect on him...if only Beatrice had been able to get through to them...

So many “if onlys” and all of them so painfully predictable that the resulting pathos is almost too gut-wrenching to bear.

Colin Connor, recently so powerful in his dual actor/narrator role in Early One Morning, performs with such explosive anguish you pity him, even though his possessive love makes him the author of his own disaster.

Colin Connor as Eddie Carbone _ Ian Tilton.jpg

Barbara Drennan portrays his level-headed wife Beatrice with such wisdom and perception you never see her steadfast support as foolish. She is well aware of the mounting tension and its cause but chooses to conquer jealousy with loyalty and love, and tries to keep her family on track.

In her bid to find a solution and ride the storm, this strong and fair woman brings tears to your eyes when she fails to succeed. If only.

Natasha Davidson (Catherine) and Tristan Brooke (Rudolpho) convey their confusion and obstinance in the face of Eddie's opposition to their love perfectly, as they remain oblivious to the unstoppable chain of events their love will set in motion.

Natasha Davidson as Catherine and Tristan Brooke as Rodolpho _Ian Tilton.jpg

Although the two couples central to the story are most prominent, the supporting cast, including the brooding David Nabil Stuart as Rudolpho's brother Marco, are equally excellent. As are the students playing the onlookers, whose mere presence in the round condemns Eddie. You can actually feel the weight of their judgement as he allows his raging emotions to eclipse the kindness which allowed him to provide a haven for Beatrice’s illegal immigrant cousins in the first place.

Without giving the plot away further, suffice to say this is one magnificent performance that may leave you drained but definitely not disappointed.

A View From The Bridge is at the Octagon until Saturday 14 February 2015. Tickets are from £26.50 - £10 on 01204 520661, or at www.octagonbolton.co.uk.

Nov 2nd

NT Live, Timon of Athens. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.

By Pete Benson

This is a review of two halves. Tonight’s screening of The National Theatre’s production of ‘Timon of Athens’ is my first experience of watching live theatre through a video feed in a theatre remote from the actual performance.
I will confess that I entered into this venture with some doubts. Film is film and theatre is live, breathing human beings in front of my eyes.
The experience was somewhat of a curate’s egg. Although the cameras allow us to get a closer than normal look at the action on the stage, what we see is also being selected for us. For example, during a speech the camera might cut away to a reaction shot of an actor who is not the focus of the scene. The close scrutiny by the camera is also not kind to stage combat or some stage makeup. I was surprised by the camera’s movement as it tracked and panned with the action, I was expecting fixed camera positions. I was least comfortable when an actor was delivering a soliloquy. Although I knew they were talking to me they were not looking at me. In live theatre they may not be looking directly at me but I am a part of and in the context of the audience and I appreciate the actor is addressing us all. This however is no longer the impression in a remote feed situation.
This all said I appreciate the reasons for this type of broadcast theatre. Most importantly it allows some of us to see performances we may not get the chance to see for whatever reasons. It is also interesting to observe actors so close up and despite my gripes the whole affair is quite a technical achievement.

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As for the production itself it certainly did not disappoint. It was a fabulous interpretation of, ‘Timon of Athens’, or indeed, ‘Timon of the City of London’.
‘I am wealthy in my friends.’

The production nails its colours up firmly right from the outset as a gaggle of wealthy bankers stride through a community of protester’s tents reminiscent of the Occupy London demonstrations. That the play is set in Athens just makes it more economically resonant right now. The camera reveals the currency to be Euros not a detail the live audience would be aware of.
Just like this review this is a play of two halves. The first half is mostly plot as we observe the rapid, fall from grace of the overly generous Timon as he can no longer feed the avarice of his wealthy friends causing them to turn on him. The second half is about Timon’s psychology, his suffering and misery and his new cynical, vengeful qualities. The setting made me feel like I was inside his chaotic mind.

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The whole play drips with irony, beautifully played with masterful performances from all in the company with one particularly pleasing duologue from Simon Russell Beale as Timon and Hilton McRae as Apemantius, whose opinions of Timon’s friends have proven prophetic to such a degree that Timon has now come to realise those opinions himself.

‘Thou dost affect my manners.’

The play leaves us with a closing image of the lead protestor, Alcibiades, taking a seat of power in the Athenian senate with the suggestion that nothing will change.
And finally, do we applaud the screen? Most of us don’t. It is a strange experience sitting in an audience watching a curtain call but not actively sharing.
I had a good night at the ‘theatre’ but I wished I’d seen the production in the theatre, if you know what I mean. Do go and try this National Theatre Live experience if you haven’t already and see what you think. At minimum you will see world class theatre.

1st November 2012 Pete Benson


Waterside Theatre
“Box Office: 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline: 0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx (bkg fee)



Future live showings.

NT Live: The Magistrate with the talented John Lithgow,
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Thu 17 Jan 2013

For other venues near you go to http://microsites.nationaltheatre.org.uk/?lid=71514&bid=747


Feb 4th

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland by Ridiculusmus at the Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin
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Jon Haines (Patient) and David Woods (Psychologist) --
Photo by Richard Davenport

My experience of you is invisible to you.

Ridiculusmus return to Battersea Arts Centre with a new show about mental illness entailing two interconnected stories that are simultaneously performed in the same theatre space. The audience is divided and seated on both sides of the stage, separated by net-curtained windows. As we witness one performance, the other is only audible. During the interval the audience switches sides and the action is replayed.

A mother who suffers from the first stages of psychosis is talking to her two sons about dinner and other day-to-day matters whilst a patient is having a therapeutic conversation with his psychologist in a mental institution. Occasionally the patient walks through the door over to the other side and becomes the sane elder son of the schizophrenic mother before he returns into the surgery to talk about his life as a famous writer of fiction. The psychologist seems to hear voices in his head. The boundaries between sane and insane are not clear which makes one wonder whether there is something like sanity at all.

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Photo by Richard Davenport

Obviously, the narrative involving the mother and her two sons happened before the patient was institutionalised - he is the eldest son and his younger brother was still alive. His brother's death might have triggered the patient's schizophrenia. When he returns to the room - his former home - he remembers events that occurred some time ago. The psychologist is going through a rather nasty divorce but who is his wife?

Watching this production poses rather a challenge. The fact that there are two performances being staged at the same time although one of them can only be heard, not seen, makes it hard to follow the action and can be quite confusing. The dialogue becomes blurry at times and one strains to understand what is going on. But I assume this is intentional. This is not a production to lean back and relax, one has to work out one's own conclusions.

Yet there is a lot of humour in the show, too. The patient who suffers from delusion of grandeur sees himself as a famous fiction writer and winner of the Nobel Prize and claims that he has written most of the important literature using the names of actually existing acclaimed writers as his noms de plume. The mother has interesting ideas about the birthplace of Dracula. And in between we get to see some accomplished Finnish folk dancing.

David Woods and Jon Haines, the artistic directors of Ridiculusmus, play the psychologist and his patient/the elder son. Richard Talbot and Patrizia Paolini convince as the younger son and the mother.

Obviously there is a therapy in Finland that involves the whole community, not only the psychologist and the patient, which has proved quite successful in cases of schizophrenia. Ridiculusmus embedded this idea in their challenging production which questions that there is something called normality.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 14th February 2015
Battersea Arts Centre
Lavender Hill
London
SW11 5TN
https://www.bac.org.uk/

Running Time: 90 mins

Please note that the audience will be split in two during this performance.  If members of your group are booking separately but would like to sit together, please contact our Box Office on 020 7223 2223 to arrange.

More info about Ridiculusmus:
http://www.ridiculusmus.com/
Nov 7th

Blood Brothers

By Steve Burbridge

 

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Blood Brothers – Darlington Civic Theatre

It would be no exaggeration, on my part, to claim that I have now lost count of how many times I have seen Blood Brothers. Since first being introduced to the production at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End (which, incidentally, closes this weekend) in the mid-nineties, starring Siobhan McCarthy, I have seen the role of Mrs Johnstone performed by three of the Nolan sisters (Bernie, Linda and Maureen), Lyn Paul, Helen Hobson, Marti Webb and Niki Evans.

Such is the emotional impact of this fantastic piece of theatre that it has now established itself as a part of the cultural fabric of Britain, uniting theatre-goers from all walks of life in their enjoyment and admiration of this moving and compelling tale of twin brothers who, having been separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the social spectrum, only to meet again with tragic consequences.

The play centres around Mrs Johnstone, the single mother who struggles to cope with her seven unruly kids and the news that she is expecting twins. With ‘the welfare’ already looking over her shoulder, she desperately tries to hold things together but learns that ‘living on the never-never’ only makes things worse. Through a heady mix of religion, superstition and desperation, Mrs Johnstone is persuaded into giving one of her new-born sons to her infertile middle-class employer, Mrs Lyons and, in doing so, a chain of events is set in motion that will, inevitably, culminate in the heart-rending denouement, played out to the hauntingly beautiful and emotionally-charged Tell Me It’s Not True.

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Having starred in the West End and several touring productions of Blood Brothers, Niki Evans reprises the lead role of Mrs Johnstone. She looks perfect for the part and is vocally impressive, too. Her clear, strong voice is powerful without being harsh and travels throughout the auditorium, raising hairs on the backs of necks as it goes. She can convey any emotion with a look or a gesture and her Liverpudlian accent is faultless.

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The skilful and understated performance delivered by Evans is in stark contrast to that of her ‘leading man’.  Marti Pellow is billed as the ‘star’ of the show, which is something I disagree with, in principle, anyway. To me, Blood Brothers is the story of Mrs Johnstone – something which is supported by the lyric ‘and did you never hear of the mother so cruel, there’s a stone in place of her heart? Then bring her on and come judge for yourselves how she came to play this part’ – and the actress who plays her should be credited as the ‘star’.

 That said, Blood Brothers has often utilised ‘stunt casting’ as a way of appealing to audiences who may not ordinarily consider going to the theatre. Indeed, it is claimed that Willy Russell had specifically written the part of Mrs Johnstone for “a pop star who could sing wonderfully” and history demonstrates that this theory has been tried and tested many times, with successful, high-profile recording artistes such as Barbara Dickson, Kiki Dee, Petula Clark, Helen Reddy, Carole King, Lyn Paul, the Nolan’s, Mel C and Natasha Hamilton donning the crossover pinny and care-worn smile to play her.

Similarly, the Narrator has been played by big ‘names’ including Carl Wayne, David Soul, John Conteh and even Willy Russell himself. So, perhaps, it is entirely understandable why former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow would be cast in the role. After all, he has proven himself to be a competent musical theatre performer (having played leading roles in Chicago, The Witches of Eastwick and Jekyll & Hyde) who, by his own admission, prefers the darker roles. However, it appears that he has totally misinterpreted the part.
 
Marti Pellow as the Narrator in Blood Brothers 2 - credit Keith Pattison.jpg

Whereas other Narrators I have seen (including Craig Price, Robbie Scotcher, Keith Burns, Scott Anson and Mike Dyer) opt to perform the role as a sinister, spectral figure who skulks around the shadows of the stage, pondering the consequences of each and every decision Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons make, reminding them both that ‘the Devil’s got your number’, Pellow is far less subtle. He thrusts himself into the foreground, pulling focus relentlessly, and adopts the persona of some kind of psychotic, stalking menace, adding a number of profanities in places where there have previously been none. Instead of personifying the moral consciences of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons, he attempts to be the Devil made manifest. And his Liverpudlian accent was, at best, variable.

The absence of Sean Jones, as Mickey, left a void that fell to James Templeton to fill. Jones (who is currently part of the ‘dream-team’ ultimate cast, assembled to ensure the West End production ends in a blaze of glory) has, over a number of years, honed and developed his performance to a degree that he is now the quintessential Mickey to many of the shows aficionados. James Templeton is to be commended for his valiant effort and the odd fluffed line can easily be overlooked, yet his characterisation never quite exuded the emotional gravitas which Jones consistently delivers by the bucket load.

Still, the return of Daniel Taylor (who has recently been indisposed due to illness) was a very welcome one. Much like Sean Jones as Mickey, Taylor has made the role of bad-boy Sammy very much his own. Tracy Spencer, as Mrs Lyons, also perfectly depicts the manipulative, barren and selfish woman who puts her own wants and desires above everybody else’s – whatever the cost. The solid supporting cast includes Tim Churchill as Mr Lyons, Olivia Sloyan as Linda and Tori Hargreaves as Donna Marie.

Such is the sheer strength and popularity of Blood Brothers as a piece of theatre that it can withstand a minor distraction or two. It is a production that goes from strength to strength, its appeal growing over the years rather than diminishing; a powerful play that it can be watched time and time again without ever losing any of its emotional impact or social relevance.

Wherever it is performed, Blood Brothers receives a standing ovation from an approving audience and press night was no exception. This production is heart-warming, tear-jerking, uplifting, devastating and, above all else, brilliant!

Steve Burbridge.

Blood Brothers runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 10 November, 2012, before continuing to tour.