Theatre Reviews

Auditorium - Three's Company

Breaking down the fourth wall...

Oh my goodness! This performance is amazing: it is imaginative, innovative, unique, intelligent and very funny. The whole cast was outstanding, extremely confident and above all made it an evening of fun and much laughter. I honestly can't recommend it highly enough. I shan't describe it - words can't describe it - you shall have to go and see it for yourselves. I must warn you to be prepared, however. Be prepared for tears of laughter and plenty of surprises!

Book your tickets now - quick, before they all go!

Jenny Heyward

Come Wind, Come Weather - Buxton Drama League

Come Wind, Come Weather

Thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking, this short play is set over eight scenes each separated by the music of 'To be a pilgrim' from which the title comes.

The story is about two women, Catherine and Sybil. Catherine is a young female curate (Note: Not a Vicar!), who, although possibly inexperienced, is very enthusiastic. Sybil, however, is an elderly, but forthright, 77 year old.

All the scenes of the play are set in Sybil's cottage.

In the opening scene, the curate is helping the older lady, who has been caught in the rain, into her house. The Rev Catherine is doing her 'good deed' and the independent Sybil definitely doesn't need any help, 'If I had known it was you who was offering me a lift, I would not have got into the car!'

The play's initial thread is the conflict between the two women's belief systems. Catherine is staunchly Christian and Sybil is vehemently atheist and throughout the play the two have theological arguments; "What kind of God is it who sits back while people suffer?" "Should the church participate in politics?" and "Faith versus Rational Thinking."

What makes this play so special, is how it juxtaposes these arguments with the very real lives of these two women.

The play tries not to 'preach' and certainly does not take sides and ultimately comes to no resolution, but what the play does do is to show that relationships and attachments rise above these issues.

There are two reasons why this play works. The first of these reasons, is its humour. In the intimacy of the Pauper's Pit, audiences, at first, are sometimes a little reluctant to express themselves. But don't be afraid to laugh; its there from the start. The honesty and affection between the two women is seen so clearly in how they 'ridicule' each other and in their 'facetiousness'. Maybe it's a Northern thing!

The second reason that this play works is that it is clear that these two women need each other. Right from the opening scene, despite their differences, the two women 'connect', and this attachment, because of their vulnerabilities, develops to become something quite resilient.

I enjoyed the experience and was asked, later, by one member of the audience if we could arrange a discussion group after the next performance so that they could air their thoughts on the theological and social issues raised in the play.

Martin Wood

Commonsense Solutions - Mike Mallett and the Waysiders

caption is required

Common sense, as we all know, is something that is a bit mysterious, and far from common. M-Lane Logistics, however, we able to provide us with insights into the way common sense can be understood and applied in a business environment. Utilising the 'scientific' theories of Rupert Sheldrake (OK, look him up on Wikipedia, and complain to the Fringe if you think those inverted commas are an act of libel) they argued it is possible for product information and marketing to be placed directly into the brains of others. Scary, huh? The concept was interesting, and I had the immediate sense as we were bustled in that I was being invited into some sort of niche occupying the space between management consultancy, neurobiology and Scientology.

I have one simple criticism of this show that I think was at the root of some of the difficulties I had in properly immersing myself in it. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or not. There were jokes, but they often went almost unnoticed as the show carried on. There were things I wanted to laugh at, but I wasn't sure if this because it was clever and satirical or it was just a little bit silly. For example, the numerous references to technical difficulties of one sort or another either were an attempt at humour which didn't quite come off or a genuinely poor attempt to master the projector and sound system. And a minor problem that perhaps could have been improved on was a bit of a sense that the audience were no longer sure what they were supposed to be, and whether they were supposed to be amused by everything or slightly afraid and appalled. Possibly as a result of this, the requested 'idea blasting' sessions were somewhat muted. The overall production quality felt a bit undercooked, so there were things that may have been deliberate and subtle that ended up easy to dismiss as accidents.

I'm not going to pretend I went away with a really clear idea of what the point that was being made was, or if there was one. Ideas were certainly raised and I found myself with many questions: do we have such a thing as 'common sense', and is it derived from some sort of genetic coding that means we actually merely have an illusion of autonomy when we are in fact pre-programmed to certain modes of behaviour? Are the actions businesses and salespersons -marketing, advertising and telepathically implanting thoughts into our heads - supposed to be damned for this greed and seeming immorality, or exonerated because they too are slaves to their subconscious conditioning? What on earth was going on at the end?

So, looking at what's written (which, on balance, I have to admit seems somewhat negative) I find myself asking "why have I written this?" Is it because genetic memory of corporate presentations fills me with disgust? Stimulus/response?

Or was it free will, whatever that is? I'm going to keep thinking about this late into the night, Mike Mallett and the Waysiders have definitely achieved something. But many exciting ideas could perhaps have been capitalised on better. Perhaps they need a taste of M-Lane's own medicine?

Nick Butterley

ContreCoup by Ross Andrews - Second Nature Theatre Company

con'tre'coup'...a concussion or shock produced by a blow or  injury

(a new play by Ross Andrews)

There's something decadent about leaving a theatre at midnight and stepping outside with a warm glow within as a result of a play you've just seen - well as future performance times remain at 10.45pm, you too can indulge yourself in a little bit of naughty midnight pleasure - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Don't let the subject matter of Ross Andrew's new play put you off - a husband left to care for his severely incapacitated wife following a car crash may sound like an evening of bedpans, morose lamentings and dribbling, but it isn't (well there is dribbling then). It's a well cast play with both a heart and humour, an ideal combination, aided nobly by excellent acting and a 'proper' script.

Proceedings open with Malcolm (Richard Sails) making a house call on his Richard (Ian Curley) his son-in-law. "I was just passing" says Malcolm - "We live in a cul-de-sac" Richard replies - the tone is set for their early exchanges.

Richard, a children's writer, has given up his work along with just about everything else and dedicates his life to looking after his wife Sarah who is wheelchair bound following the accident - the severity of her brain contusion renders her impervious to events around her - Richard has accepted her condition and despite still loving her, openly acknowledges that he has lost the person who was his wife. Malcolm is quite the opposite and in total denial about his daughter's sad state, chatting to her and expressing concern about the quality of her life as though she still has an awareness of events - he's also scornful of Richard's attitude. Check that, he's actually scornful of pretty much everything and anybody...typical happy families then!

The established status quo look set to continue, until that is, a catalyst the shapely and leggy form of Penny (Amanda Leigh Owen), a SWF new neighbour who moves into the close. She's certainly not backward at coming forward and her vampish radar immediately targets Richard as someone she'd like to borrow a cup of sugar from...regularly! The quintet is completed by lovely cameo from Katie McArdle, who plays Michelle, a home help nurse; her whimsical musings are always amusing (especially the references to sombreros).

I liked the way the key characters developed - though they were slightly lager than life, it was a case of all being proportionally so. The staging made us feel comfortable voyeurs and the effective use of rear projection added genuine poignancy. Thankfully the drama never played 'the victim' card, so we were able to view Sarah's plight impassively (Hazel Earle's excellent silent portrayal is almost forgotten but essential). The humour worked well too; Malcolm's views on when 'full marital relations' are appropriate are eye-opening lets say and the moment when Malcolm bursts through the door with a pair of binoculars is sublime farce.

For me the scene where Malcolm applied make-up to Sarah was a too long (or introduce the projection earlier) and perhaps Malcolm could have offered glimmers of his real feelings earlier as that would have added more meaning (humanity) to his initial encounters with Richard which were a bit one-dimensional. But these are minor grumblings

I sensed the small audience present thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that the performances over the next 3 days are more heavily populated - there's no excuse not to see it!

Run time: 70 mins (no interval)


Cracked by Brian Marchbank - Northern Gap Theatre Company

'Cracked' (photograph by Mark Titley)

Eddie has been brutally stabbed to death. He was a gangster dealing in drugs, prostitution and stolen laptops.

Arriving at their father's rented flat to listen to the will are his children. Aiden, his son and partner in crime arrives first with his girlfriend. Next to arrive is daughter Karen, also with her girlfriend and then daughter Rachel, from London, where she is studying law and finally the much maligned step-daughter Faye.

The solicitor duly arrives and announces that everything Eddie owns is to be divided in equal parts to the four children, but he appears to have no assets. The solicitor shows them the will together with an attached empty packet of tomato seeds!

The story develops as the four, convinced that their father must have left them something because two days before he was killed, he had promises that if he died he would 'see them all right', try to work out who killed him, where any loot night be hidden and the significance of the packet of tomato seeds.

The play is a very hard hitting and brutal comedy. This dysfunctional family is full of jealousy and hatred and they scream insult after insult at each other. We quickly realise that this is their normal way of communicating with each other.

Although it appears to be a comedy, quite early on in the performance there is a sense of menace and what transpires is both unexpected and frightening!

Martin Wood

Darling Deborah - Altrincham Garrick Society

Darling Deborah - fire and sex in 1666

(a new play by Peter Harrison)

Pauper's Pit, Old Hal Hotel (8.30pm, 9 July 2008) - Remaining Shows: 11th (8.30pm); 19th (3.15pm) & 26th (8.30pm)

This well constructed & staged production about Samuel Pepys' relationship with his wife's maid is worth seeing simply because it allows the audience a glimpse into the Private Life of a very Public Figure. Whilst light hearted in approach, the angst of an unfulfilled marriage is something that still has relevance today - RECOMMENDED

Samuel Pepys as well as keeping 'that' famous diary which covered the period 1660-1669 rose through a fair amount of personal graft to become Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and an MP to boot. His naval reforms and influence were instrumental in the professionalisation of the Royal Navy. His diaries chronicle such historic events as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London and he was on more than nodding terms with the King amongst others. More the surprise then to learn that he wasn't The Master in his own House, that role falling to his wife Beth, whom he married in 1655, she having reached the ripe old age of 14, eight years his junior.

Peter Harrison's script presents Pepys (Hugh Everett) as hen-pecked beyond reasonable suffering, yet we soon learn the cause of his wife's frustrations (played by Victoria Johnson) - namely that she has been forced to dispense with a series of maids on the grounds of dangerous liaisons with her husband.

The play opens brightly with Beth berating her husband for his latest infidelity - for she has turned the tables and kept her own diary - logging the precise hour at which her husband retires to the matrimonial bed and any conjugal relations that occur...the lateness of the former (2am) and the absence of the latter do lend sympathy to her cause. Pepys does offer the condoling excuse that at least he "did not disturb her" at such a late hour - "that is the point" she counters!!!

Having dispensed with the latest maid, Beth insists on employing Deborah Willett (Rosi Hunter), a 17 year old of extreme virtue from a good family, such pious traits do not readily appeal to her husband who reluctantly agrees to the appointment as a gesture of appeasement with no great expectation of any late night dictation - until, that is, she gives him a playful wink at their first meeting...

What greatly adds to the play is the deployment of a fourth character (Tony Turner) who is onstage throughout, seated at a desk, in the role of the 1820's transcriber of Pepy's original diary (which was written in a form of shorthand). Throughout the play, as events unfold on stage, he simultaneously appears to be translating the very same diarised events. Initially his contributions are limited to facial gestures and occasional laughter. As the bond between Pepys and Deb (Willett) forms he adds observational commentary re external events; mostly regarding the Gt Fire which serve to lend a sense of historical realism to matters.

Things swiftly come to a head (though not literally as Deb never did bestow the "final favour") - when Beth walks in to discover her husband & maid in flagrante delicto. Despite this signalling the end of their relationship, It is at this point that the play really picks up in both in pace and interest. The latter is in no small way due to the transcriber who ceases to offer observations on the world outside and switches to superbly relaying Pepy's own thoughts on the relationship.

The first part of the play would possibly benefit from both a lessening of the confrontation that characterised some of the scenes between Beth/Pepys and maybe a more playful approach by Deb in her early flirtations with Pepys which seem more dutiful than truly frolicsome - though the actual seduction with Deb perched on Pepy's knee is excellently portrayed. Later scenes which involved more humanity (such as Beth/Deb after the discovery and the dismissal meeting) carried more depth and Deb's blackmailing of the squirming Pepy's, when she holds the whip(!) hand, is great fun. Given that this was in effect a premier, it was always enjoyable, and should become moreso as the run continues.

Despite her lowly position, it is Deb who triumphs as the strongest character in the triangle - as she says disparagingly to her lover "You found me, but could not keep me". In the end we are left with a feeling of sympathy for all three, despite their flaws and a delightful little sense of uncertainty as to whether Darling Deborah & Pepy's were really lifelong soulmates, cruelly denied by fate.

On a personal note, as an occasional visitor to the Garrick over the last few years, it was great to see the Company come to Buxton, a superb production of Lady Windemere's Fan I saw there a while back still lives in the memory - I for one hope they return in years to come.

Run time: 65 mins (no interval)


do the right thing...but not right now - Comfortism

A surreal mixture of mini plays, scenes, and monologues written and performed by Ashley Lloyd Smith. This is performance poetry taken a step further into edgy interactive theatre. With charm and some subtlety our wordsmith takes his audience on a varied journey around his, and perhaps our own, perceptions. One or two of the darker pieces like Blood Road need the lighter company of Four Kinds of Parenting which is a classic in the making, and Some Addictions . . . was worth the entry price on its own. A writer with talent that could rise to starry heights if he can find his niche in the world of Tea Vea.

Jean Ball

Do You Still Throw Spears at Each Other? - Dotted Line Productions

George Telfer as the Duke of Edinburgh

It was with some amazement recently that I realised that I'd never seen a Fringe play starring George Telfer, whose one-man shows based on famous figures (Gielgud, Burton) have become a must-see feature of the Buxton Fringe for some time now. I couldn't have wished for a better show to start with than Do You Still Throw Spears At Each Other?.

In Steve Haythorne's balanced and witty play, Telfer becomes HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, straight of back, scathing of wit, mercurial of temper, loyal, hard-working, occasionally reflective. He treads the line brilliantly between Spitting Image-style impersonation, berating the press ('Bloody reptiles!') and dropping his famous gaffs (sometimes deliberately out of boredom, mischief or a slip of the tongue, and the more human side of the Prince. This is a man whose father was banished from his country, whose mother was committed to an asylum, who had to give up his beloved career in the navy for the woman he loved, who is the only man in the country forbidden by law from having his wife take his name after marriage, and whose attempts to counsel his daughter-in-law after the break-up of his marriage have been met with contempt from the British people.

Telfer's masterful performance captures all of these facets of the man, and many more besides. It is a brilliant display, and one that deserves seeing. The first performance was a sell-out, so book now so that you don't miss out.

Robbie Carnegie

Don Juan by Martin Beard - The REC Theatre Company

don juan

Don Juan is the "likeable rogue" who seduces women and then runs away with their angry fathers chasing after him.

Glen Naden tells a story of Travel, Women, Death and Murder throughout Renaissance Europe.

In this one man show the characterisations and the pacing worked well alongside the story. The emotional impact changing as the story progressed. As a younger man his character was funny and quick witted.

At times the content was humorous, but when he talked about death it was very moving. Glen portrayed very strong emotional feelings towards the memory of his mother, when remising over his mothers murder.

The change in his character when he seeks revenge for his mother's murder becomes more dramatic, dark and sinister; Glen made the character believable and brought it to life.

The Club House is a small venue with a small stage; the lighting was good and helped to create the right atmosphere, Glen used the space well, and in the scene were he acted out the fight, his movement and body language was impressive and dynamic.

Glen's projection was good and the small audience was suited to the content and style of the performance.

This intimate fringe favourite is always a winner, highly entertaining.

Rosie Brockman

Elegy for a Lady by Arthur Miller - Chads Theatre

Elegy For A Lady

Set in a ladies clothing and accessories shop, this playlet has two characters; both of whom speak with American accents and neither of whom are given names. The first is an expensively dressed man who wants to purchase an appropriate gift for his young mistress whom he believes is dying of cancer and the second is the understanding proprietoress of the shop.

The drama begins with the sound of quiet, soulful jazz which is repeated a number of times during the performance to add to the mood and to encourage us to remain focused on what is a complex and enigmatic piece of drama.

The main thread of the dialogue is the man's choice of gift. He has never bought his mistress anything before and he now is struggling to find one which neither focuses on, nor blatantly ignores, her short life expectancy. It is from this thread that the play explores relationships, love, commitment and loss.

After a few minutes of entering the shop the man realises that he is telling the shop owner about his life and feelings; his unfulfilling marriage and about his relationship with his mistress. Quite why he becomes so open is unclear; perhaps it is his need to tell someone or maybe it is the unexpected empathy of the young shop owner.

We learn that the two/three year affair has been based on non-commitment and 'easy happiness' and he is now desperate and frustrated that he is not allowed to share in her suffering; she is not returning his calls and he does not even know where she is now living or if she is in hospital.

The script openly shows us the ambiguity of the shop owner. She seems too quick to understand the feelings of his mistress. She is able to speak for her in her absence, confidently explaining to him his mistress's complications and reasoning. "How on earth does she know these things?" The audience asks. Has she been through a similar experience? Or is there something else going on under the story?

A highly thought provoking performance; where the script dominates and one wonders whether we were seeing the author himself through the words. The play contains so much ambiguity, complexity and unexpected intimacy that the audience is asked to go deeper to find the truth.

Certainly a difficult play to perform, requiring the two actors work very hard; possibly made all the more difficult by having to deliver their lines with accents.

If you come to this performance, you must find a place in the bar afterwards with a few fellow members of the audience and discuss your thoughts!

Martin Wood

Five Go Mad in Buxton, again! - Black Box Theatre Company

Five Go Mad in Buxton Again! is a romp, that's the only word for it. Fast and furious, loud and full of 'bad' jokes, it is Enid Blyton in pantomime meets the Keystone Kops. Derring do and dastardly deeds, secret tunnels, mysterious islands, boffins, spies, Cruella de Ville - all the ingredients of a wizard adventure overflow the stage. And in the middle of it all our heroes - George the boy/girl (Danielle McGuinness), Anne the girl/girl (Samantha Edwards), Julian the manly (John Molloy) and Dick ... well ... Dick (Barry Evans). Timmy is ever present of course. Claire Wilson and Peter Hawkshaw supply the villains (and some of the goodies) and Kevin Thomas as Uncle Quentin completes the set. All of this glorious mayhem is written by Ian Moore whose company this is.

I must confess to being hazy about the plot but I suspect that it matters not. Perhaps if I'd caught the first in the Buxton Chronicles it might be clearer. I think someone is plotting to poison Buxton water and ruin Wimbledon - Robinson's Barley Water maybe? Or is that another plot? If it is I want royalties Ian. I don't suppose I'm going to ruin it for anyone by letting on that it all turns out well in the end.

We audience were a little slow to catch on at the start, perhaps mazed by the anarchic assault, but we got better as we got the hang of it. I think my advice would be to go with a group of unruly friends after thoroughly testing the Fringe Beer down below in the Old Clubhouse. Get in the mood to be as mad as the cast and the plot and you'll have a whale of a time.

Oh, oh! I just noticed it's also billed as suitable for families, which it certainly is, not much smut at all and all of it over very quickly, so belay that about the Fringe Beer me hearties. Just a little light loosener maybe.

Anyway - Ibsen it aint, fun it is so get along there at four o'clock on any afternoon until the 19th.

John Wilson

Fringe Benefits - Moving Talent

Watching this play, you realise the benefits of appearing on the Buxton Festival Fringe over Edinburgh - no oppressive Scottish landladies for a start.

Fringe Benefits, written for Moving Talent by Patrick Gordon and D G Collins, has a clever plot with unexpected twists. We see four actors trying to get their show together against all the odds: terrible digs, inadequate venue, uncertain finances and, worst of all, a leading lady whose acting skills are minimal and whose health is failing. And it appears that this is the perennial situation for this company. The play explores the web of hopes, dependencies and deceits that keeps them together after so many years of failure.

Dominic (played by Paul Harrison) struggles to run the company in partnership with his absent brother. He tries to keep optimistic, smooth ruffled feathers and focus the actors on their performance. But his mounting desperation shows as he pleads on the phone with his brother for money, and as he juggles his complicated relationships with the other (female) actors. Wendy, Imogen and Sandy (played by Katherine Bremner, Lynda Ward and Karen Nicholas) all have their claims on Dominic, Wendy as his wife and as the provider of funds from her rich father, and the other two for reasons that are gradually revealed.

Their aforementioned landlady Mrs Murchieson (played by Dianne Langley) wanders in and out of their accommodation with an air of deep disapproval and impending doom. Nothing escapes her notice, a trait which proves very useful to DI Andy Crawford (played by Peter Bremner) when matters go horribly wrong.

Moving Talent are now established regulars on the Fringe, and it is good to see a local company making this commitment. I have watched and reviewed their productions over the years and think that they are growing in confidence and skill. A little more attention to stage direction, particularly to reduce the amount of coming and going, would help sustain the dramatic tension that the actors build. That said, this is an entertaining piece and worth coming out on a rainy evening in Buxton.

Barbara Wilson

Halfway - Vista Theatre Company


Two people stand leaning on a small climbing frame - a young man (Boy) and a girl (Guardian) - amidst the ambient noise of road traffic and birdsong. Then the young man begins to tell the story of his sexual awakening, of his experiences in a world of cottaging and cruising, of encounters as a 13-year-old with older men in public toilets. His story is initially sordid, but gradually develops a delicacy and poetry of its own, bringing romance to this very personal tale.

As he tells his story, the young woman begins to move, her movements at times echoing, and at others disguising the words Boy tells. They use the wooden structure to give themselves different levels, occasionally trapped together in claustrophobic intimacy, at others free. Occasionally, their movements become enmeshed, and they move together in triumphant style. A beautifully choreographed routine to an acoustic rendition of This Charming Man celebrates a coupling with a young doctor, while later, Boy seems to leave his childhood at home (with Guardian hanging on a coat-hanger in his discarded tracksuit top), as he starts to escape from his home to find himself in weekends in London, vogue-ing to a techno beat.

Writer Phil Minns' performs his monologue wonderfully well, his rendition personal and sympathetic, his voice warm and melodic, while his physical interaction with Sarah Bacon's Guardian takes the show to a whole new level. Clearly the subject matter might not be to all tastes, but the nuanced performances, the poetic writing and the precision of the choreography make Halfway highly recommended.

Robbie Carnegie

Hamlet - 1623 theatre company

Hamlet - 1623 at Poole's Cavern

If you are looking for an intensely atmospheric performance of one of the best known English language plays ever written - this is for you.

It could be argued that much of this is down to the performance space - Poole's Cavern, is as deep, brooding and twisted as our hero, Hamlet's, mind.

But in truth the acting's not bad either and it is strong ensemble performance.

In fact the journey into - and out of - the cavern neatly mirrors the twists and turns of Hamlet's tortured soul, as he discovers the truth behind his father's death.

At the centre of the play - and this production - is an extremely intense portrayal of Hamlet (Jamie Brown), who genuinely seems driven to the edge of sanity, I found myself wondering whether he really had seen that ghost - or was it the figment of an overwrought imagination on the verge of madness?

Hamlet is usually played out in the wide open spaces of Elsinore. 1623 take a very different tack, using the 'cabined, cribbed, confined' spaces of Poole's Cavern to good effect, making this a very personal and 'in yer face' production which it is difficult to escape.

Ophelia's (Amy Scott) descent into madness was almost heartbreaking to see. Aaron Kelly's Horatio does a fine job of shepherding both cast and audience around the Cavern, while Ben Spiller (Polonius and Gravedigger) helps to lighten the otherwise heavy atmosphere.

Special mention too for Maison Foo - who perform the play within the play with minimum fuss but seriously scary and magical. Wonderful.

Hamlet runs until Sunday, but be warned: tickets are strictly limited so make sure you book. And don't forget to take a couple fleeces - preferably with a hood, even on the hottest (or coldest) summer day it's a constant seven degrees celsius and water is constantly dripping form the ceiling - and sensible footwear.

Caitlin Bisknell

Happy Jack by John Godber - library theatre touring company

jack's pit

Happy Jack is one of John Godber's earliest plays - first performed in 1982 when Godber was only 26. It tells - or rather retells - episodes from the lives of his grandparents, Jack and Liz, who died in the 1970s.

Most people will recognise the sort of vignettes portrayed here; fragments of lives that are constantly retold and which become part of a family's own legend.

Jack and Liz are an ordinary, decent working-class family from the mining village of Upton in West Yorkshire. Jack was a collier for 40 years until ill health stopped him from working. Liz, on marriage, ceased being in-service and became a housewife - cleaning the council house from attic to cellar every day. In time the house was bought - but predictably that was a disappointment because the neighbours still cut-down the privet. Their lives were like that; there was only a hope that "It's bound to get better as years go by."

Jack was proud, stubborn; he could be violent. He found it hard to show affection towards Liz or their son. Liz's life was bound by the home, which was like a prison. In later life she became depressed and took pills. The highlight and relief in the year was the family holiday: to Blackpool for 15 years and then later on to Cleethorpes and Whitley Bay.

These are small and honest lives. There is little to look forward to and the pleasures are similarly small and frequently relived. Jack and Liz listen to Mario Lanza records, enact scenes from Gigi, reflect on the things they have never done such as go on a boat. They argue about small domestic things - why has Liz served lamb for supper, why not sirloin? Why can't Jack be more help in keeping the house clean? Why does Jack stand in front of the fire and take all the heat? Routines and rituals - going to the Gaumont every Friday evening whilst courting - are their lives.

In one scene Jack is bathing his grandson - Godber himself presumably. Only then does he escape from the oppression of being a miner, forced into a role that limits what he is. Jack, encouraged by his grandson, tells of how he once left home and became the youngest lion-tamer in the world. Jack's sensitivity is also revealed in the verse he writes - reflecting on the simple things that make a home and the injustices suffered by miners.

Jack (Roger Cook) and Liz (Deborah Kelly) are portrayed unsentimentally, fondly and respectfully. The Library Theatre Touring Company aims "to provide an enjoyable entertaining evening at a very competitive cost". Mission accomplished. Oh, and the Hydro Café does a very decent, strong cup of tea and slice of carrot cake for £2.50.

Keith Savage

I'm Ed Caesar - T-Pot Theatre Company

It's all falling apart, Ed Caesar               photo by Gerard Rogers

(a new play by Nick Brelsford)

At pretty much of the halfway point of this year's Fringe I settled once more as the well populated church hall lights Tideswell! This is a nicely put together production from start to finish and the community environment was a perfect setting, hell I even won the interval raffle! - RECOMMENDED

"I'm Ed Caesar"... "I'm Ed Caesar..."I'm Ed Caesar... by the end of this play that phrase is left echoing in your head...hopefully it's not permanent! The cast of four (regulars for various local dramatic societies) bring us the story of Ed Caesar, a game show host with mostest and a career success to match. But (there's always a but) something doesn't seem right, and by that I don't mean his overbearing agent, Macintyre (Nick Brelsford). Nope, it's just that our Ed (Andy Hearfield-Hodgson - small wonder became Ed Caesar) appears a reluctant convert to showbiz and all it's glitterazzi.

We also discover that Ed (bearing a strong resemblance to Mark Kermode - fine in my book) is in the clutches of his agent, who has the interpersonal skills of a Sweeney extra rather than the slime quotient of Alan B'Stard. Against such a domineering figure, Ed crumbles and goes along with whatever Macintyre says, which is something along the lines of "one for you, two for me". Our third character is Catherine (Angela Butrill), Ed's wife, who he met when she was a contestant on one of his shows, when she was represented by his Macintyre. At that time Ed was handled by his father, whom he left later to join Macintyre's stable - clearly a defining moment of his life. The quartet is completed by Lou (Jennie Gill), who acts a floor manager (of the TV studio, not the church hall) - she's limited to one-liners early on but adds more towards the end.

So, what's to see you may ask - well, Catherine, now unceremoniously dumped by Macintyre's Agency, wants to replace him as Ed's agent as she sees his current exploitative representation for what it is. Macintyre naturally wishes to protect his Goose and so the stage is set for classic showdown between the pair who must battle it out for the soul of Ed Caesar. However, there's no handicapping in favour of the fairer sex as Macintyre resorts to the traditional chosen technique of chivalrous persuasion...blackmail!

Unusually for a 1 hour production, there's an interval, but the director (Laura Gill) has cleverly arranged matters so that the 1st Act ends on a cliff hanger and the pause in proceedings feels like a natural break - whether she also organised for the church bells to be rung during the 15 min interval is questionable, but it made for a unique experience. I'll say no more about the 2nd Act narrative, as it would require 'spoiler alerts'.

The production itself does contain a lot of time-shift, or flashback scenes. This is a dangerous tool. Done well (as in the film Wayne's World), they can be add a lot of value in terms of pacing, so it was great to see them used to such a positive effect here. None more so than in Act 2 when instantaneous morphing between the past to the present was incorporated. Also, for me, the scenes between Ed and Catherine worked best, partly because the mild mannered and almost apologetic Ed was in his natural environment and not under the pressurised glare of the camera or his agent and partly because of the performance of Catherine, who was also very good in her minor roles of Stella (in a brilliant husband/wife game show spoof) and as a seducing potential WAG. The ending whilst not being a traditional bed of roses didn't leave me feeling unsatisfied, especially as the final scene was tinged with shades of the surreal as Ed became a contestant himself.

Before the show I spoke with Laura (director) - and at end the too, when she was joined by Nick (Macintyre/Writer), he's a nice chap...offstage! It was good to hear that Nick trusted young Laura in her directing debut and gave her carte blanche to interpret his writing; equally so to hear Laura say that she wished to change a few things after this premiere performance and expected the cast to sharpen up during the run - awareness in a director is a valuable commodity and should serve her well.

It's rare for me to experience theatre in such a venue, but I thoroughly enjoyed the (homely) experience. For those concerned about their carbon footprint, the play transfers to Buxton (Papers' Pit) on 21-23 July. Oh and as for the raffle prize, I returned it - there's already enough bribery and corruption in the everyday world.

Run time: 60 mins (excluding 15 min interval, the show will perform without an interval in Buxton)


Lady in Bed - The Weird Sisters

Alison Goldie in 'Lady In Bed'

For me it's what drama is all about, it is the reason I go to the theatre and I felt privileged to be there.

This was a laugh out loud, honest and poignant story of a woman's relationships with the opposite sex. It was courageously told, first hand, by the author and actress Alison Goldie. It is for adults only but there was nothing offensive in it. Alison is an outstanding performer combining her acting skills with the expert timing of a good comedian.

The play told of the experiences of Alison herself, from her first kiss through to the near present. Many of the stories were related to us in the form of dialogues between her self and another person. She smoothly played both roles, using different voices, accents, facial expressions and stage positions.

Her caricatures were created so naturally and easily that not only, could I clearly see the personality of the other person, I could also see, as the play progressed, the young Alison grow into womanhood. I felt her joy, confusion and sadness.

As a 47 year old, Alison encounters her 14 year old naïve, younger self. Their conversation very quickly turns to sex and boyfriends and the younger Alison wants to know her future. Will she marry; have children; live in a posh house in Tunbridge Wells? And so the older Alison tells her story and they both make discoveries.

There are many reasons why this play works so well. The first is that these stories are true! Although we were told this in the 'blurb', we knew it in our hearts when we heard the small details within the tales. Even the conversation on top of a Spanish hillside, albeit with a little license.

Normally, it would be difficult for an audience to witness such personal stories, but through the magic of comedy, we were, not only, made comfortable but we also laughed out loud alongside her and privately shared, with remembered experiences from my own life and I will say that many of these anxieties and joys are not exclusively female.

The play was an hour long and I would not have wanted to shorten it in anyway at all. I felt that there was so much more to tell. Alison, give us more but with an interval.

After the play, I told a male friend that I wished I could have watched the play as a woman. My friend replied that during the play he felt that he experienced what it was to be a woman.

Martin Wood

Mercy by Lin Coghlan - Northern Gap Theatre Company

'Mercy' (photograph by Natasha Avouris)

In almost complete darkness there are three groups of people, separate and unaware of each other, are standing on the stage. They take it in turns to describe their present situation. There is a blackout and a thunderstorm raging, and as each speaks, torches are used to highlight their faces.

The first is Terry, an army cadet and his girlfriend, Jean whom he has just helped abscond from a children's home. They are lost. The second is the solitary Rory, a social worker who is also lost and drunk and trying to find his way home from the pub. The third group comprises of teenager Mac, his brother Cookie and Deccy their mate. They have just been robbed.

Very quickly all three groups realise that something quite catastrophic is happening. They can see waves of water in the distance heading their way; an upturned car with a woman inside with a strut from a fence driven through her, but she is still alive. Terry is convinced that they are being attacked by terrorists and when a white substance falls from the sky and sticks to their clothes and faces, it looks likes he might be right.

Still, isolated and unaware of each other, these groups try to find shelter. They are lost and confused by what is happening around them.

Against the background of an unexplained and growing catastrophe, the play focuses on the lives of the individuals. In their isolation and fear of the unknown they each tell stories from their childhood, their parents and family. Although proud of some of their tales, most of them tell of their pain, anger and sadness.

The stage setting was simple at first but later included a boat and a barn roof, erected by the actors themselves. To help maintain the plot and to keep the audience informed of events happening outside the stage space, the players often acted as narrators.

The relatively confined space of the stage in the Old Clubhouse did not limit the performance. Affective use of lighting enhanced the initial isolation of the groups.

This was such and interesting play. It described everyday people put into a frightening and unknown situation who reached into their past for security.

I would particularly recommend Robert Shaw who played Cookie, the younger brother with learning difficulties; a convincing and enjoyable performance. Thank you.

Martin Wood

My Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley - Nice Venues YPT Co

My Mother said

This play is moving, poignant and beautifully written; the four actresses in this performance certainly did it justice. They were fantastically strong, displaying a range of talents as they tackled characters that span the generations. Each performer managed to take on roles in various time periods and moved skilfully between eras and ages. They portrayed the infinite complexity of relationships between mothers and daughters; the love, the secrets, the miscommunication and, at times, the hatred. This performance was emotionally engaging throughout and invited the audience into a world of intense relationships to which we can all relate. I would highly recommend it.

Jenny Heyward

No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre - Bath University Student Theatre

No Exit

Sartre's No Exit is a powerful play and this production by Bath University Student Theatre is an outstanding interpretation of it.

Three people, a man, Joseph Garcin, and two women, Inez and Estelle, are admitted to hell by a valet. They all expect to be tortured but at first recognise no torturers. Gradually, however, they realise that they haven't been put together by chance. They have been carefully chosen to torment one another, to probe one another's sins and weaknesses - forever. The choreography of the torment in this production - under the direction of Joshua Pink - is superb. The audience never loses awareness that this is an eternal triangle, shifting in its configuration but impossible to break.

The acting is also excellent. Helene Marino sets the scene with her unblinking sardonic portrayal of the valet. John Morgan conveys the anguish and self-doubt of Joseph Garcin who would have preferred to endure physical torture as a way of redeeming his cowardly behaviour, but is instead made to face up to his brutality. Yvonne Pauley plays the bitter honesty of Inez powerfully, and shows clearly how she understands not only her own weaknesses but those of the others, and can use this understanding in a manipulative way. Lisa Wu is perfect as Estelle, girlie, fragile, flirtatious, vain - and vicious.

Hell may, as Sartre says, be other people. For me, heaven is a Fringe full of performances as wonderful as this one.

Barbara Wilson

One Big Blow - RLT

One Big Blow Poster

(by John Burrows)

This is a unique production in terms of staging, the snapshot of social history it provides and the roots of the play itself. Written nearly a quarter of a century ago, it's primarily a comic drama which still retains relevance and surprised me with its humour, or more specifically the amount of surreal tongue-in-cheek wit. But this play is as much about what you take away with you afterwards as to what you see onstage - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Written and first produced for The 7:84 theatre company in 1980 when it toured for two years, the play concerns the lives of 6 miners in a coal village who also form the colliery brass band. If the storyline seems familiar, it is, having been largely replicated in the 1996 film Brassed Off, but here the seam runs much deeper. Granted there's a direct comparison in that the band provides a means of escape and extended camaraderie in both versions, but the play also provides a damming insight into the actual conditions that the miners endured. Yet it achieves this without ever preaching or demanding your sympathy - its dispassionate portrayal simply hopes you gain a respectful understanding of how things were.

Early on, we find out that Wally, one of the instrumental(!) members of the band, is ill, diagnosed with pneumoconiosis or black lung, a result of the gradual build up of coal dust in his lungs over the 40 years he has spent at the pit face. No longer able to play his cornet, the band seeks to recruit a replacement, despite being wracked with feelings of disloyalty towards Wally. All this takes place against a backdrop of a strike for improved working conditions - the play seeming to be almost prophetic in the way it hinted at the confrontational events that actually followed during the miner's strikes of 1984/85.

If all this is suggests a gloomy tone, rest assured, this isn't the case - there's an undercurrent of warm humour interspersed with numerous audience asides and satirical commentary by the cast themselves on proceedings as they unfold. The second act in particular had me looking at my viewing partner on many occasions - surreal humour from a bunch of miners, surely not?!? The minibus scene when the group travel to Blackpool for the brass band contest is reason enough to see this...the line when Geordie tells his colleague "to f**k off and change his character" is equally priceless (the cast of 6 play two characters each). The songs are filled with memorable lines ("scraping all that muck off/The NCB can f**k off). The 2 brass band renditions feature no actual instruments, the cast impersonate all the sounds!

Ok, I'll admit I'm struggling a bit with this now, nothing to do with the play as seen, more a case of the resulting thoughts. I didn't expect the script to mention "The SPG" (Special Patrol Group) - as someone who marched in the Anti Nazi League rallies of the late 1970's - it triggered a lot of memories. I was also reminded of the graphic TV images of the aforementioned strikes, unforgettable to those who witnessed those broadcasts - seeing this puts into context the stand the miner's took - here was a group of men who despite working in appalling conditions (which killed many) were still willing and proud to do that job, for many it was the only life they knew - when that right was taken away (rightly or wrongly), they lost far more than a wage slip, though the financial suffering was acute and impacted heavily upon their families too- I vaguely recall nightly interviews with the wives who told of the hardship. There were food parcels I think, charity really did begin at home at this time, it's hard to imagine today.

The director (Peter Wright) sat in the audience at the final performance of One Big Blow's original run in 1982 at Granada TV where it was recorded live. 25 years later his revival has enjoyed deserved success since it premiered last year. After Buxton the play transfers to famous King's Head Theatre in London for one night in August - miners in Islington? You'd better believe it! This is the third show Peter has brought to this years Fringe, I've enjoyed them all, he's a man of the theatre and I hope he returns.

The excellent programme notes contain an obituary by Michael Billington of John McGrath (1935 -2002), who was responsible for setting up The 7:84 Theatre Company in 1971 - Billington credits McGrath as unrivalled (in the last 30 years) in advancing the cause of popular theatre. Strangely I had seen Michael Billington that very same morning giving a great talk at The Opera House. Speaking to Peter on the night, he had word that Michael Billington hoped to attend The London show.

For me, it all rounded off a day which had started and ended with perfect theatrical symmetry.

Run time: 130 mins (inc 15m interval)


Our Country's Good/Desdemona - Imagine Theatre

I walked into the theatre with no expectations, sat back in my seat and relaxed. But pretty soon I was sitting forward listening to every word and watching every movement.

There were times when there was so much happening, so many characters on view and offered so many moods that I felt I was sitting at the Savoy with a multi tier of delicious cakes and told that I could eat them all!

Brilliant! The shame is that they not are performing it again!

Imagine Theatre presented two plays. The first was a 30 minute abridged version of 'Desdemona' written in 1979 by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel. The second play was called 'Our Country's Good', an award winning play written in 1988 by Timberlake Wertenbaker based on a novel by Thomas Keneally.


This play is subtitled 'A Play about a Handkerchief' and it opens in a laundry room, 'below stairs', where two women are franticly searching for the said handkerchief. The two women are; Desdemona, the lady of the house, wife of Othello (yes! Shakespeare's Othello!) and her servant Emilia, wife of Iago.

The third character of the play is Desdemona's friend Bianca. She and Desdemona are 'new' and free women of the world and once a week they earn money as prostitutes, and do they love it!

This is not the loyal and innocent Desdemona described by Shakespeare. Maybe Othello was right to be suspicious of his wife but ironically not with Casio (Bianca's boyfriend), which is where the handkerchief comes in.

The three girls, Sophie Macbeth (the posh Desdemona), Laura Foulkes (the cockney tart Bianca) and Emily Poulter (Emilia the Irish servant) worked so well together. Their lines were delivered rapidly and with accents, but the way the three of them interacted was great. They gave us a clear understanding both of characters and of the story.

The dialogue was extremely funny in places and sometimes bawdy and together with the hilarious antics (including the invisible handkerchief trick!) gave me and the audience such good fun. Thank you.

Our Country's Good

After a brief interval of cakes, wine and orange juice we were welcomed back into the theatre to the sound of a didgeridoo and the sea. The draped linen on the back wall of the set had now become the clouds in an Australian sky.

The opening scene was a picture of a group of desperate people expressing the loss of their homes; a hunger which begins not in the stomach but in the mind; of deep regret for the actions which had bought them to his 'hell'. Behind me I could hear someone being flogged!

These people were English convicts, coming to the end of a 9 month sea voyage, being transported to a penal colony in Australia in 1877.

The Governor General of the colony, together with some of his advisors was determined to create something civilised from this colony, despite the strong objections from the military. They decided, democratically, to let the convicts, under their direction, stage a play. It was through the production of this play, that the dynamics of the colony begin to emerge and change.

The story, its characters and their relationships were complex and what I saw was a cast who understood this and working hard together allowed all the characters to coexist.

Some scenes were very personal. Harry Brewer's torment created a backdrop to the whole play. Everything we saw after that had to be seen in the light of it. We knew the horror of the colony.

In many of the scenes the stage was full of people and yet we could see each of the characters individually. Even those characters whose role occasionally demanded more attention than the others (I'm sure we will be seeing more of Dan Large, maybe in a TV sit-com in five years) were very much part of the team.

In this performance, they successfully portrayed both hilarity and horror and through their unity as a cast in the both this play and the play within the play were able to show us the resulting grace of the human spirit and integrity.

Thank you. It was a privilege to be there. Is it not possible that you could arrange another performance before the end of the week?

Martin Wood

An alternative review by a BCS student.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Jon Jory - Act One Drama Studio

This is a daring, dashing and ambitious - even steamy - production by this young Sheffield based theatre company in its first venture away from home.

Performed in the Octagon the company made good and imaginative use of both the stage and the large central area, with the audience seated cabaret style around the outer rim.

This was particularly well used in the ball / assembly scenes where the room really came into its own and the cast used it to it's full giving us three or four different dances through the course of the play, neatly drawing the scene.

Austen's story is told both through dialogue and by members of the cast stepping out of character to become narrators. This worked well and ensured that none of Austen's beautiful, timeless words and humour were lost in this translation to stage, although the acoustics and vast open space the Octagon did not always help.

Some fine central performances - Mrs Bennet (Hannah Baird) stole the show for me, loud, excitable and completely dotty! However, some of the characterisation could have been sharper. Austen is not as genteel as she is sometimes made out to be, and I would have welcomed a little more viciousness from Miss Bingley (Clara Hatton Beattie) and a bit more down-to-earthness from Lizzie (Ellie Cawthorne).

Darcy (Niall Crossley) was haughty, distant and aloof, Bingley (Sam Bostock) engaging; Lydia Bennet (Georgina Norton) convincing in her silliness and naivety. Mr Collins (Ben Miller) suitably pompous and wordy.

Having the actors performing front of house duties beforehand, and reminding us to turn off any modern devices - they didn't exist in the nineteenth century! - were nice touches too.

The large audience certainly enjoyed the show, and it was good to see so many young people there.

You can catch Pride & Prejudice again tonight (Thursday). With only 18 roles, this 38-strong company is using two casts for its Buxton shows so Thursday sees a slightly different cast, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to showcase their talents.

Caitlin Bisknell

Pub Lecture No.1 - Courtship: Desire to Divorce - A Theatre Company

a Theatre Co. - Pub Lecture No.1 - Courtship: Desire to Divorce

Pub Lecture No 1 is fun. It tickles a sweet spot on your funny bone. Our guide, The 'Professor', takes us through a world tour of some of the sexual mores of several continents and a few small islands. Not content with this there are a few examples from closer to home. The lecture guides us through some of the tricky stuff we have all had to tackle, some we haven't and some we might wish we could!

The lecturer is ably supported by his technicians, who illustrate the themes being discussed. Look out in particular for Matthew Ninebob's challenges and the Yakamoto's use of a marriage broker.

The show is presented with I suspect some glee on the part of the actors, and contains some well observed human foibles. The 'technicians' play their parts with relish (no pun intended, honest!), and the 'Professor' is entirely believable. It is of course true as he observes, that marriage can only end in one of two ways.

The themes of the show may not be to everyone's taste but you are warned beforehand. But for those who like their comedy a little risqué side this is for you.

Ian Heath

Saturday Boy - RuthEBlue Theatre

Saturday Boy By Ruth E. Cockburn

(a new play by Ruth E Cockburn)

Short and sweet - this little gem most certainly is! 'Every girl loves a rat' old cliché maybe...but now it's time to set the record straight! The play shows how a nerdy 26yo good guy tries to get even in his search for the girl of his dreams...forget Supermodels, he's out to capture Superwoman - quite literally! - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This is a familiar tale, told with genuine humour a plenty. Gordon (a gimp as oppose to a moron), a bright twenty something still lives at home with his domineering mother who keeps him on quite a tight leash let's say. He's had zero success with the fairer sex to date, which after a few minutes spent in his company is not wholly unsurprising. Having dabbled with Facebook et al, he's abandoned the cyber route to romance and now pins his hopes on Saturday night encounters of the heart (or even flesh) at the local meet/meat markets (take yr pick). Then late one Saturday night he's sees a chivalrous opportunity to come to the rescue of pretty Sarah and it's infatuation at first sight...well maybe it is after he removes her blindfold and unties her!

The script is fresh, spiky and realistic and allows Gordon (Daniel Wallace) to openly reflect his frustrations at how those with infinitely less to offer succeed in the dating game, whereas he flounders. What I really liked though was the 'eccentric' side of his character - there was a twitchiness at times, the boundary between understandable desperation and accepted behaviour was deliciously blurred in his cerebral cortex and at one stage he reminded me of the curator of The House of Wax as he, um...waxed lyrically (of course) to the captive Sarah about the 'good life' he would be able to offer her, one. At other times there was a hint of Norman Bates as his references to his mother really did create the impression of her presence in the room next door. Despite all this, he still had our sympathies - a great performance.

Sarah (Ruth E Cockburn) is the perfect foil to this - offering raspish rebuttals to his advances and suggestions, yet in the end she mellows, though whether it's enough to lead them up the Sainsbury's aisle together is something you'll have to discover for yourself.

The recorded phone conversations work well as does the use of a bottle of bleach (no product endorsements here!) In the end I could happily have sat through another scene, but the maxim of 'quality over quantity' certainly applies here.

The show was first performed at The Manchester's Frog and Bucket Comedy Club some while ago and is now heading off up to Edinburgh shortly for a 7-date run in August, I'm sure it'll go down well up there too.

Run time: 40 mins


Tape - Northern Outlet Theatre Company


About a year ago, a work colleague handed me a copy of a DVD. 'Take a look at this,' he said, 'I reckon it would make a good fringe play.' It was a film starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard - just a three-hander, directed by Richard Linklater - and it was called Tape.

Well, my colleague was right. Tape does make a good fringe play, as Northern Outlet Theatre Company prove admirably in this gripping production.

Vince is a volunteer fire-fighter-cum-drug-dealer dwelling on the turns his life has taken and continually looking back to the more certain days of high school. His boyhood friend Jon is an independent film maker of worthy, socially conscious films, looking to make his break into the big time. They meet at a film festival in Lancing, Michigan, where Vince insists on revisiting what he sees as the source of their strained relationship.

Thus, the scene is set for a David Mamet-esque dissection of male friendship, as the charismatic but troubled Vince badgers the complacent Jon for stealing his high school girlfriend, Amy. As the play progresses, this pivotal moment in their lives is revealed as possibly being something altogether darker and the slacker Vince starts to take the upper hand. The arrival of Amy on the scene is the final piece of the jigsaw in this riveting drama.

Stephen Belber's script is full of the requisite twists and turns as each character vies for control of the situation - occasionally it covers the same ground more than once and the three final codas slightly dilute what has gone before, but these are small faults in a drama that is consistently entertaining.

Undoubtedly this is a play which stands or falls on the credibility of its actors, and all three bring committed performances that more than do the play justice. Ryan Cerenko captures the slightly smug nature of Jon's success and also the rationalisations he has used to justify his past. Marie-Louise Cookson likewise brings enormous focus to the role of Amy, her guarded reactions to these two men from her past helping in the misdirection that masks the revelations that follow. Unquestionably, though, it is Ric Ward as Vince who is the intense, sweaty heart of this play - an obsessive loner scratching at the scabs of his past.

Tape is on at 1.30pm in the Paupers Pit so take a long lunch break and don't miss its remaining performances.

Robbie Carnegie

The Freedom Room - Brickwall Theatre Company

The Freedom Room - 2008

Anarchy may be defined as "A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty." The definition certainly seems to fit this production, in which the concept of freedom plays a central role.

At the start of the performance, the character of Joe is fed up with normal life and the rules and regulations that go with it. His marriage to the long suffering Trish is slowly dying, and his boy-mad sister Beverly seems at first only to get in the way.

These opening scenes are very effective in establishing character, with Andrew Sykes giving a particularly notable performance as Joe in the monologue about the smoking ban. The speech itself raises some interesting, if somewhat stereotypical, ideas about anarchy- how long will people go on accepting the rules unquestionably?- and introduces Joe's lounge as his 'freedom room', where he can smoke inside, drink whenever he likes, and basically do as he pleases. The typical view of anarchy presented at this point- "absolute liberty"-also gives a good foundation for less obvious angles to the issue later in the piece.

As the performance continues, the pub Joe has opened in his front room (in answer to his wife's pleas for him to get a job) gives him an excuse never to leave the freedom room, possibly proving the name to be slightly ironic, and showing that the concept of anarchy as "absolute liberty" has been defeated. This sense is sustained throughout the remainder of the production, and is highlighted in the contrasting scene towards the end that shows Trish's possible teaching career.

The fact that this scene is not part of the linear storyline is conveyed very well, with an abrupt change to much brighter lighting, and a marked difference in Trish's demeanour. However, it was slightly unclear whether this scene was intended to be a flashback to an earlier point of Joe and Trish's lives, or one of Joe's delusions about the viability of the pub. For example, Joe's line "I'm working now" is slightly ambiguous, and could make sense in both contexts.

However, the production as a whole was very enjoyable, and the entertainment factor was upped by moments of audience participation that fitted well into the piece. The performance also invited the audience to consider the issues covered, and was very successful at portraying the subtexts behind Joe's "freedom".

Robyn Leigh

The Knowledge of Beauty - Get a Real Job Promotions

The Knowledge of Beauty - promo picture, by Daniel Ackerley

How important is attractiveness? This is the question posed in Paul Richard's new comedy, and the opening scene sets the tone perfectly with two bimbos bemoaning the difficulty of doing PR work for a singer/songwriter who is unspeakably pale and ugly. 'Shallow' does not do justice to them. We are also presented with a stinking, ugly, but likeable chap who hallucinates about punching Bruce Forsyth and his almost sane girlfriend, who borders on being as shallow as the other but comes good in the end. Oh, and there is an ugly girl thrown in as well, but she's obviously a nice person.

This is not a show, like some I've seen this year, which demands a lot from its audience: it is pleasant, honest fun. Nothing especially unexpected happens, the dramatic occurrences are implied rather than staged (the champagne cork incident would have been lovely to see - I'd developed a real disliking of Jenny by that point) and the characters are caricatures without being too extreme. The writing is dry and witty; gently amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, so the overall effect is perhaps a very light farce rather than true comedy.

I felt some of the acting, although competent, didn't meet the full potential of the script, and a couple of the lines would have been much funnier if the timing had been a bit tighter. Combined with one or two slips over the lines, this suggested that perhaps a bit more rehearsal (or stronger directing) would produce a more dynamic show that will really grab its audience's attention.

Nick Butterley

The Lover by Harold Pinter - Bath University Student Theatre

'The Lover' by Harold Pinter

The Pauper's Pit provides an atmospheric setting for Bath University Student Theatre's production of Harold Pinter's 'The Lover'. The play centres upon a married couple, Richard and Sarah, seemingly happily despite the fact that, as both openly admit, Sarah is having an affair with another man, while her husband is at work, and Richard regularly sees a whore. However, the façade of marital happiness and perfection is gradually eroded away as the play progresses, and Richard becomes ever more uncomfortable with his situation, and his relationship with Sarah, leading to the play's final confrontation and baffling revelation.

The bare setting of the stage, and minimal technical effects allow the action to focus entirely upon the two actors and the dialogue; the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Pauper's Pit add to the discomfort of the audience-we feel like we are almost prying into the character's lives and living room.

The complexity layers of reality and appearance throughout the play are skilfully handled by having the same actor play Richard and the lover; another layer of complexity being added by playing his lines as a voiceover, perhaps suggesting that he is a figment of Sarah's imagination. Truth, however, breaks through into this imaginary sphere, as the lover himself questions his position and the destructive effect of the affair on both of their lives, beginning the slow erosion of the seemingly perfect world that Sarah has created for herself, a world which is ultimately destroyed in the final scene when Richard finally confronts her. Again, the blurring of truth and lies is skilfully handled by the use of the voiceover at the end of the play, again connecting Richard to the lover, and to Sarah's seemingly imaginary world.

Joshua Pink puts in an excellent performance as Richard and the lover, his suppressed bitterness and pain at his wife's actions apparent through his appearance of civility and indifference. The emotional strain that Sarah's betrayal has put him under is never far from the surface, until it finally explodes in a furious outburst in the final scene of the play. Gemma Bealing likewise gives a fine performance, her incomprehension and irritation at her husband and her lover's objections to her affair providing an effectively jarring contrast with Pink's increasing insecurity and anger , although I would have liked to have seen rather more emotional depth at the end of the play between her and Pink,

However, for me, the ending lacked an emotional punch that I feel should have been there. Also, despite the minimalist style of the setting, and the fact that this was on a student budget, the costumes, for instance, Richard's ill-fitting suit, did let the production down a little, in conveying the seemingly perfect middle-class world that the characters inhabit. These criticisms aside, however, this is a well-executed and complex play that keeps the audience guessing throughout, and for fans of Pinter, or simply for those who enjoy a play with a good twist, this is certainly recommended.


The Maids - Non Stop Cabaret Theatre Company

Andrew Travis & Tom Phillips in The Maids

(by Jean Genet - an uncredited translation)

A brilliantly staged version of a peach of a play - excellently performed and blessed with a translation that has many memorable moments as it careers wildly along its dark& fitful journey with more twists than your average bendy balloon sausage dog, never allowing you to settle. Part way Solange, one of the 3 characters, cries "we're raving" - you'd better believe it! - UNMISSABLE

In the opening scene, a maid is seen berated by her mistress (Madame) for the mere sin of wearing her black gloves outside the kitchen. Further humiliation follows as the maid, who spits on a pair of her Madame's shoes, has her nose, rubbed, literally, into the very same footwear as she is forced to the floor...yet all is not as it seems as the maid continues to speak and act out of turn...almost inviting ridicule upon herself. Whilst we accept what we see, there is a sense that all is not as it appears, yet it's difficult to pin-point exactly what. We do feel pity for the maid and despise her mistress, yet are not wholly comfortable with our allegiances...and with justifiable reason as events unfold!

The narrative, in essence, is simple. Two sisters are employed as maids and their ill treatment by their Mistress leads them to fantasise acts of retribution (including sadomasochism) which they act out. The play is a question of the boundary between truth and reality, its appeal lying in the blurring of that boundary, due predominantly to the polar emotions the characters display to each other - it really is a love/hate relationship between all concerned, sometimes literally in the very same sentence ("I hate your scented bosom"). Even worse, it becomes clear that each character is needy of the others, irrespective of how they are treated. To cap it off, all possess a self loathing, which eats away - it's self fuelled though, to show kindness, would remove it, but then with no self-loathing left, they would perhaps not be able to tolerate their own harsh circumstances.

Having read some reviews of other productions, I did fear that the play may take an intellectual slant and delve deep to explore the root causes of the characters behaviour and the social implications - thankfully it didn't! The translation simply allows each character the freedom to speak and behave as they wish - "I wanted to make up for the grief of my poverty with the splendour of my crime" cries one of the maids; in another scene a maid talks to two chairs who she believes represent her mistress and the latter's lover - she then addresses her sister, who take the form of a garment - it all works superbly - trust me.

The cast of three, Tom Phillips, Andrew Travis & James Swift act out matters brilliantly and with equal effect, despite Madame's onstage time being much less than the others. Are they still playing a role game or are they behaving for real - it's a question we ask regularly. Genet insisted, when he wrote the play in 1947, that all parts be played by men but the reviews of recent major productions I read ignored his wish by employing total or partial female casts. Having seen this all-male cast at work, I doubt if the play would have had the same effect if woman had been used in any of the parts.

The play enjoyed a highly successful London run and The Company are to be congratulated for wheeling the show up to The Shires and allowing us to see what keeps the masses entertained down there. In his notes, the director (Simon N W Winterman) mentions that the more he and the company dug away at the play, the more layers of deception became apparent. It is to his credit that long after the play ends, we are still left peeling away those same layers ourselves - which is one of the hallmarks of sexy theatre!

Run time: 75 mins (no interval)


The Opposite of Claustrophobic; Now Breathe Out - Breathe Out Theatre

The Opposite of Claustrophobic

(2 new plays by Rob Johnston)

In these dark days of Credit Crunching et al, here's a bargain - 2 plays for the price of one, both well worth your attention. Well acted nu writing that admirably straddles the divide between humour and pain and still retains a heart - RECOMMENDED

Now here's a surreal start to the evening, even before the curtain's been raised (well lights lowered then) - sitting in the Activity Room above Buxton Pool, where I normally attend my weekly aerobics/toning classes- and wondering why I'm not wearing shorts and being subjected to 64 pyramidic forward lunges; a usual case of plenty of pain and precious little gain. But hey, they've blacked out the windows that normally afford a view of the pool, rigged up some heavy duty lighting and arranged the seating in the thrust - and yes, it works! The room all of a sudden feels like an intimate bit of studio space.

These pair of plays by Rob Johnston are new writing...there's a lot about at this year's Fringe, which I find a good thing. The problem though, with a lot of virgin material, even in professional productions, is that it assumes that by simply by dealing with taboo-ish subjects, its job is done - and a lot is positively regarded simply on those grounds, ignoring the actual realism and sheer enjoyment factor of the script itself. This is not the case here...both plays feature dialogue that is fresh, feisty, funny, authentic and spoken as it would be.

The first play, 'Now Breathe Out', features 2 doctors (Kim Chappel & Simon Cove), who unfortunately have bad news for a young couple, Mark & Susan (Adam Urey & Emma Temple-Heald)...either/or both maybe dying! There's much more in terms of narrative of course, but the staging and acting are all very good. There is real chemistry between the couple, partly due to actors themselves and partly because of the script which is never less than genuinely funny with occasional sorties into the hallowed land of the surreal. At times their conversations reminded me of a Creature Comforts ad. As mentioned, all 4 members of the cast performed well, but Adam Urey is worth a specific mention, even it is simply on the grounds of his workload which saw him do a fair chunk of the play as a monologue, let alone the quality his performance which brought an air of calm acceptance to proceedings, nicely spiked with a dash of the sardonic.

Play #2 is 'The Opposite of Claustrophobic', and involves a burglary, an axe and some, um...cereal - a case of Robbery, Assault and Bran Flakes, quite literally! The piece involves two actors; the burglar (Simon Cove again) & the victim (Elizabeth Poole) who, put simply, encounter one another. The entire piece seemed to resonate with a nervous energy which helped things along nicely (not entirely down to first night nerves methinx!). There are touching scenes (not literally!) and funny moments - the themes are instantly recognisable - especially when the victim explains her plight - her excellent portrayal creates an empathy with her.

Both plays lurched between humour and tragedy without any fault lines and would be enjoyed for many reasons by most audiences...hopefully this will be the case. In terms of which of the 2 plays I preferred, I can't, in all honesty, place a Rizzla (King Size of course) between them - if we're talking Bran Flakes, I'd say both were "tasty, tasty, very, very..."

Run time: 90 mins (inc 15m interval)


The Opposite of Waiting - L Turner

The Opposite of Waiting

(a new play by Lisa Turner)

This is very much a work in progress, performed as a solo piece by its writer, Lisa Turner, who through the spoken word, movement & song, sets out to portray what it's like to experience a feeling of entrapment...isolation...curtailed freedom...confined space...

This production strips away all effects and presents a woman enclosed within a defined area, delineated by masking tape applied to the performance area. At the very beginning she announces "this space is eight paces by eight" simultaneously walking round the perimeter in measured steps to prove the point.

The permutations as to what's being represented are endless. There's emphasised movement and she sings as well...well a bit more than that Lisa's been part of large Operatic productions in the past and is classically trained. And it's her music which both sustains her and in the end provides salvation, or helps her obtain it. There's much more that can be written in terms of the symbolism, but that would be a highly personal (and unnecessary!) interpretation, given the nature of the piece

As to the production as a whole, personally (and again it's subjective view) I would have liked a stronger narrative at the beginning, or at least something that sets a tone or mood to the piece. The spoken parts were the most effective, though others who are familiar with the songs may have preferred those. I didn't always make a connection with some of the physical parts, possibly because they had no context to take place in.

If you do see it, please do go and chat to Lisa afterwards, she's genuinely more than happy to take on board any feedback - she doesn't bite (especially in religious surroundings!). It would be interesting to see how the show evolves before it plays in a more finalised format in her hometown of Cardiff in October.

Captain's Log: supplementary -

Ok, whilst I'd skimped out of providing my own interpretation of events as I'd viewed the show with a buddy who I asked on the spur to provide her own thoughts on what she'd seen...and she obliged, so here they!

The "human" enacts the limitations of existence within the box (life) and emotions such as happiness, sense of certainty, doubt, desire are the tools with which the woman reveals her states of confidence and then questioning and seeking reassurance. And as the one woman performance could find no-one to interact with, rely on etc the audience was brought in closer to share the rawest of emotions. It was through a song- "woman in waiting" the changes in mood are reflected initially as a bright and confident future is imagined: later the present proves disappointing - provoking anger and then finally acceptance reintroduces "happiness", confidence is restored, the boundaries (tape) can be stepped over. The song is repeated throughout the performance many times - changing the future into the present and so on. Suggesting other moods - songs such as 16th C "Drink to me only with thine Eyes" by Ben Johnson were accompanied by showing desires and flirtatious dancing and thoughts: and Shanander was sung to move the emotions from despair through to determination, survival and strengthening of purpose.

The main purpose of the play/movement was to challenge the use of computerisation in the theatre. Bringing the performance neat and free from practically any props or stage was a raw experience and leaves each member of the audience the chances to draw an individual interpretation however, so stark a vision and so conceptual an approach may not hold the attention of those who want more filled in for them. It was a brave attempt to pare theatre down to the bone but can create a lot of 'vagueness' - the opposite of clarity.

Anon (as she wishes to be known) - thanks Sue!

Run time: 40 mins


The Other Side of Midnight - Feeling Foolish Productions

The Other Side of Midnight

(a new play by the cast)

In terms of visual eye candy, this production was a treat, I doubt if there will be many better at this years Fringe. The play itself has the briefest of base narratives and allows the audience to form their own views as to events onstage which are well performed - RECOMMENDED

From the moment the audience enter the room, there's a sense of impending darkness, as swirls of dry ice rise and 5 figures straight out The Carnival of Lost Souls, eerily come into view..."I would like to welcome you to my world" a voice says...for a spilt second our mental pendulum swings between Poe & Hammer, but then settles at...Ken Russell - his 1986 film 'Gothic' comes to mind!

The five in question, are The Gondolier, The Old Lady, Miss Hunter, Miss Shark and The Painter, a ghostly quartet of woman joined by a solitary male presence. All are superbly made-up and costumed, physical movement is excellent and there's a full size backdrop too!

All five are due to attend a ball, held to bid farewell to the City of Venice, which is sinking and will disappear that very night; they must each come to terms with the knowledge that come midnight, they face death. Before the ball we learn a little about the individuals and more importantly about the unsavoury deals some are prepared to strike in order to save their souls.

The Gondolier acts a our host, Miss Shark is Miss Hunter's mother, Miss Hunter and The Painter are in love, Miss Shark disapproves of Miss Hunter's intended liaison, The Shark is prepared to trade her daughter to

The Gondolier for an eternal life, The Gondolier seems to have designs on Miss Hunter (I think). As for The Old Woman Lady...

The action is fast and vibrant, most scenes are short and usually feature two characters engaging, the others remain motionless onstage. Personally I would have preferred a slightly stronger sense of the narrative, possibly achieved by characters speaking face-face (from memory a lot of script is spoken to the audience) - whilst I always had a flavour of proceedings, I'm sure I missed out of some of the finer nuansances. The cast weren't helped by the venue which could quite easily gain an additional income stream as an echo chamber.

I think everyone will have their own favourite characters - for me it was The Painter and Miss Hunter...and The Old Lady, simply for her movement and facial expressions - those eyes!

All in all this was a highly stylised production into which a lot of effort has been put, and would appeal if you've ever enjoyed a Ken Russell or David Lynch film. I'd see it if you can, simply because, well one day we'll all be dead...

Run time: 40 mins

Cast - Hannah Lambert (The Gondolier); Helen Falcon; (The Old Lady); Suzanne Houghton (Miss Hunter); Claire Marie- Latham, who also directs (Miss Shark); Phillip Beamon (The Painter)


The Tragedy of Richard III - Black Box Theatre Company

The eight actors of the last of Shakespeare's history plays were not daunted by the very small audience on its opening night at the Pauper's Pit. In fact, the characterisations of the many roles were often very special and showed the human face inside the script.

We were introduced very quickly to the fascist, Machiavellian Richard, followed by the sorrowful, easily led Lady Anne and then the mad, cursing, prophetess, Queen Margaret.

Using a minimalist set enclosed on three sides by a wire cage, a table and stage blocks (which were re-arranged in the dark, by the players, between acts), the performers unravelled the horrific story of the amoral, Richard, Duke of Gloucester and his ruthless plans to become King of England.

Apart from Richard himself, all the actors in the company play multiple roles and remain on stage at all times, standing silently behind the caged area, visible, but 'off-stage'.

The company adopted a modern idiom through which to present the play; Lord Hastings is played by a female (the dialogue modified accordingly); we were pre-warned that the performance would contain a gunshot!; Richard wears a black suit, shirt and tie; Clarence is garrotted rather than drowned in a barrel of wine and photographs were taken of the murdered victims as proof of death. This worked very well indeed and, for me, rejuvenated the play from its traditional view.

One aspect of this which did jar a little was the 'modern' element in the coronation ceremony (You'll know what I mean when you go to see the play). Although it was interesting the way Richard 'turned down the sound'!

Another innovative aspect of the performance was the company's interpretation of the script. It was often appropriate and occasionally very clever. Richard's opening soliloquy, which would normally have been delivered on an empty stage, was performed with other characters present, acting as an audience. Their cheers and applause to each phrase gave the speech an immediate clarity which would not have been achieved otherwise, to an unprepared audience. Cleverly, though, Richard's asides, at the end of this speech, which were meant for the audience alone, were 'whispered' under dark lighting. Very effective!

As I have said, most of the main characters were presented as real and understood people (not often the case in performances of Shakespeare's plays). My favourites were Richard's two henchmen, Tyrell and Ratcliffe! Thugs dressed in brown shirts and military peaked caps, they sloped furtively on and off the stage. Very convincingly played by two females!

Finally, Peter Hawkshaw gave a brilliant portrayal of Richard. His authority on stage, enhanced by his crutches and the effective use he made of them is memorable. On a number of occasions we could see into his dark eyes and knew that there was no mercy there!

Martin Wood

Threads by David Lane - Ugly Sister Productions

Ugly Sisters logo

(a new play by David Lane)

A play which deals with the aftermath of a relationship break-up and examines loss, lies and love. There's an element of fantasy too which really does give new meaning to the phrase "empty feelings", but this is no gentle rom-com. Ultimately the script asks too much of you without earning that right, but it's very well acted and there are moments of high octane drama to sustain you through this belated attempt at reconciliation - RECOMMENDED

There's a bright opening to this as Charlie (Dean Lyle) answers the doorbell of his Brighton flat and lays eyes on Vic (Esther Jane Bragg) his one time fiancée who, until now, has shunned all his contact requests during the 6 years since they split up. Unlike Vic who has built a new life, Charlie has struggled to move on, still feeling the pain of the break-up and resentful of its abruptness. Vic has only agreed to meet Charlie after receiving a mysterious SOS from him - within a few minutes we realise she definitely no longer holds any candles for him as sparks (of the unromantic kind) fly. There's a marked contrast between the relaxed (at least on the surface) nature of Charlie and the uptight persona portrayed by Vic which hints of past fears experienced.

Initially we learn more about the circumstances surrounding their split and snippets about their present lives - it's humorous and spiky, but little more than verbal jousting. Vic certainly hasn't travelled down from London to reminisce about old times over a cup of tea - especially as Charlie's offering of Twinings fails to meet her required intake of antioxidants; she's an aficionado of green tea, with Soya milk of course! Despite her best efforts to unearth the facts, Charlie's 'condition' remains a mystery and we do share her growing frustration with his inability to articulate the situation. Eventually she's had enough and tries to say more would reveal too much, but let's just say there are shades of The Amityville Horror, nice shades that is! That said, the endings a bit more along the lines of 'Misery'.

There's an appealingly edgy tone to this, fuelled by Charlie's occasional mood swings as well as certain slightly over dramatic scenes - and the cast are more than good enough to carry it all off with conviction. We do sympathise with both of them to varying degrees, but never warm to either. The script seeks to dissect in search of the truth but shuns sentiment, which for me reduced the effect of the fantasy element. Events unravel at the right pace and I particularly liked the scene where Charlie's lost memory of a past act is restored. Part way, there's a flicker of a suggested fairytale ending, but Hans Christian Anderson plays second fiddle to The Brothers Grimm, quite literally...

In the end, this well staged play is enjoyable as whole and worth seeing for the performances of the two characters, but ultimately, like Charlie, it lacked a true heart beat.


Trojan Women - Eyewitness Theatre

Trojan Woman

(a new adaptation by Peter McGarry)

"Huddled beneath the scorched wreckage of once noble Troy, three captive princesses share the same destiny - to become the slaves and whores to their Greek conquerors." This new version of Euripides' classic uses the backdrop of the Trojan War to portray mankind's cruelty to fellow man. The writing is accessible, relevant and the production provides a clear insight into the minds of the 3 captives who at times do create scenes of high quality drama - RECOMMENDED

Peter McGarry's new version dispenses with one of Euripides' original Trojan woman, namely Hecuba (Queen of Troy and wife of the slain King Priam). Hecuba's 2 sons (Paris and Hector) are both dead too, and her absence means the motherly loss of her children is not shown. Instead it is their sibling sister, Cassandra and Andromache (Hector's now widowed wife) who are left to lament their deaths. The trio is completed by Helen, wife of Melaneus, loathed by the other two, for her pivotal role in being the cause of the 10 year war and hence responsible for their own sufferings.

We gradually learn of the fates that await the three Princesses. Andromache's (Laura Danielle-Sharp) lot is to be the concubine of Achilles' son Neoptolemus. Cassandra (Nell Corrin) is slated to become the conquering general Agamemnon's concubine - particularly chastening as she has pledged herself to a life of chastity. Helen (Carly Tarett), though not one of the Trojan women as such, awaits with trepidation, her regal husband's (King Menelaus - brother of Agamemnon) arrival to take her back to Greece with him where she fears a death sentence awaits her for her adultery with Paris, who carried her off to Troy and precipitated the war.

The 3 woman are well characterised as being starkly different. Andromache displays an air of nobility and duty, typical of say our current Monarch. To her, whatever the fates have decreed is to be accepted both with dignity and honour and little emotion if at all - she expects this of the others too. She speaks of her sadness at the blood spilt during the 10 years, but refrains from passion. It is only when we realise the fate of her son that she powerfully exposes some true emotions, to great effect (aided greatly by the story unfolding in a non linear style) - the cracks within her are suddenly exposed.

By contrast Helen appears less worthy, aloof and vain, interested in only her own fate and impervious to the personal attacks upon her by the other two, who cannot understand her reasons for becoming involved with Paris. Her explanation that it was in a "pool of Aphrodite's mist" merely attract further scorn: "mark the slut, her loins still moist with desire" they cry!.

It is left to Cassandra, who has been driven partially mad due to a curse by which she can see the future but will never be believed when she warns others, to add the emotional spark to proceedings - which she does very well indeed. Her manic eyes, unpredictable movements and wimpering laugh really do suggest derangement. This is further fuelled by the fact that she can forsee her own death at the hands of Agamemnon's wife after she is taken back with him - the others do not believe her, as is her affliction. The audience of course do...Her description of her near rape by soldiers and her fear of the sexual acts she will undertake with Agamemnon are highlights (as is her ridiculing of Helen's breasts!).

The latter part of the play would benefit from some more of Androchame & Helen's layers being revealed to allow the exchanges to become more human and possibly create a sense of sisterhood - there were flashes of this in the early stages, the joint mocking of Agamemnon being a case in point. Also, for me, the regional accents of the guards detracted from the effect of their words.

This is a vibrant play and well worth seeing. Eyewitness Theatre are taking this production to Canada, including a slot at the Canadian International Theatre Festival (which they won in 1995 & 1998). It's great that they chose to premiere at Buxton (well 2nd performance then!)...the play will undoubtedly improve too and I wish them every success in Edmonton and Winnipeg

Run time: 65 mins (no interval)


Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare - The Young REC Theatre Company

Cast rehearsal photo

A Shakespearean comedy, revolving around misunderstandings and deliberate trickery, this performance was filled with enthusiasm, which made it all the more enjoyable. The young actors proved their skills in their successful mastery of Shakespearean language and their ability to adopt roles which seem so unfamiliar now. A range of talents sparkled through this performance, with the actors playing Olivia, Malvolio and Feste proving themselves particularly strong.

The presentation was exciting and accompanied with individuality as these young people drew on an impressive range of artistic abilities; most notably the music. This included the use of instrument and song throughout (listen out for the excellent musical finish!)

Jenny Heyward

Two by Jim Cartwright - Crewe Lyceum Theatre Group

A funny, sad series of vignettes revealing a range of characters and relationships, many of which we will all be familiar with; the lonely widower who still hurries home to her presence, the incurable flirt with his catalogue of chat up lines, the put upon girlfriend who knows she should but doesn't walk away, the carer in need of respite, the bully and his victim, the other woman, the man eater, the mismatched couple who use their regret as a weapon against each other, the landlord and landlady who's gregarious busy façade covers their grief over their young son killed in a car accident. All these characters and their stories are quite well created and some of them are well performed, but the 1980s script and the minimalist set and props reveal the mixed skills and experience of the cast. There are some good moments, and some excellent lines, but some are not delivered with the natural emotion needed to make them believable. The stories include poignancy and humour that the cast at this first performance are not yet giving life to. This piece and this company have real potential, but it is still a bit raw. It would be interesting to see it again when they have rehearsed and performed it for six more months, fleshed it out and made it their own.

Jean Ball

Waiting for Wolves - In a Tent Theatre Company


(a new play, presumably by the cast)

Sometimes it's important to remind ourselves why it is we go to the theatre. For me, it's the chance to enjoy some involving character interaction, many moment of humours, a half decent narrative and on a really good day, a decent dollop of the dramatic - in a nutshell, something that provides a nugget of entertainment. Unfortunately, from where I sat, I struggled to see the light of this particular day

Don't get me wrong, I'm may be a philistine by nature but I don't need to be spoon-fed either, I'm happy to delve and pick away at the outer layers of any production, but when theatre becomes unduly dutiful, it's not for me.

Cheryl Mayer, Danni Taylor and Kate Shenton are each poised on a chair when one enters, and remain so until the play starts. They take turns to speak, defining what 'waiting' means, recount their dreams and make references to 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" through huffing and puffing. One then tells of her encounter with the most "wonderful man" she has ever met and how she fell pregnant by him...aged 13. There then follows job interviews for a position at an art gallery and a bar routine, where the girls complain about wine being spilt on them and a later aerobics class whereby we learn of their craving for chocolate and loathing of even being there.

But for me, there was no empathy with the characters. The fact that all dialogue was spoken to the audience (with the actresses facing forward) didn't help as they totally failed to engage; nor did the style of acting, or feigned overacting rather - best described as from The School of Plan B From Outer Space -adopted by all the pairs carrying out the interviews for example - at other times they seemed so edgy and neurotic that one wanted to tell them simply to give up on the decaff. As for the constant need to rearrange a pile of onstage books with such regularity...

There's clearly been commitment, thought and hard work put into this by a talented company who do have a message; I just wish that it wasn't so obscure and that their chosen vehicle had allowed them to show us that talent.

After the show, I managed to ask the first three people exiting whether they had enjoyed the play; 1 said yes, 1 said no and one said yes, paused and then added that it was a thoughtful piece. The views of a group of four whom I spoke to after that ranged from the indifferent to negative...that's about 1/3 of the audience, so I guess it's down to you to make up your own mind!

Run time: 65 mins (no interval)


What do you think? There's a discussion board topic with an alternative review by John Wilson

Whacker Murphy's Bad Buzz - Back of The Hand Theatre

Whacker Murphy

(a new play by Ed Mullane)

A one man comedy play which beautifully portrays the Dublin based world of Whacker Murphy whose charming naivety far outshines any of his rougher edges. Dealing in the main with a botched attempt to a fence off a local mobster's merchandise, we're also privy to delightful insights into his everyday world. Excellently performed by Edwin Mullane, whose bad buzz translates into a very good one for the audience - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The enjoyment here's not in the basic narrative (though that's well constructed) but rather in the detail which is refreshingly devoid of the usual laddish speak content. The numerous references, observations and quips are razor sharp, very funny and add layers to the performance. In the end I gave up recording them...'Max Power Tramps' (my favourite)...'long division Spaz'...'king size battered sausages'...'footballers' dogs' (my favourite - again!)...'monkey nuts n mandarins'...'Schumacher's Ferrari'...the list is endless.

But what you hear is only half the story as this piece achieves a near perfect balance between both the spoken and the physical performance. The latter has twin benefits, the obvious being as an outlet for Whacker's inner passion which is always bubbling just below the surface and occasionally explodes out as in the chip shop encounter or a recreation of a certain Man U goal (offside though I felt). The other gain is more subtle (and greater for me) - achieved through the quality of his physical/facial movement and voice. It results in real added poignancy to certain scenes, such as in his descriptions of Maria (a barmaid) and his encounter with an old lady, which show Whacker to be a caring and romantic type, albeit with values slightly askew.

The benefit of direction are evident with Tom Hickey at the helm - having spoken to Ed I know how much he values the input that's been provided. After the show ends you're left with a genuinely warm memory of Whacker, which I feel will remain long after he's moved to Poland and settled down with Maria!

There's two more chances to catch up with Whacker on 25 & 26 July, before he attempts to alienate 50% of his Edinburgh audience with his Bhoys shirt. Oh and one thing Whacker, if it's a really bad buzz you're after, try starting the show with a bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra!


When You're Smiling - GlovesOff Productions

When You're Smiling

Nice venues welcomed this well rehearsed black comedy, When You're Smiling, to the Buxton Fringe. The show focused on two friends, Alec and Dave, paying their respects to a deceased friend, Joe Buckley, one of "nature's gentlemen".

After persuading the monotonous undertaker, Mr Crossley, into allowing them to see their friend, Dave and Alec set about reminiscing about Joe, well supplied with sausage butties and a bottle of whisky.

Their recollections had the large audience tittering until Joe's wife entered the fray, clearly showing a lack of remorse to her dead husband. She ruefully accused Joe of having dalliances with Alec and Dave's wives and fiddling the books at their club. In short, she believed Joe got what was coming to him.

Alec and Dave were shocked at such accusations bestowed upon their old pal, the leader of 'The Three Musketeers'. However, further pondering leads to a realisation that Joe's wife's allegations may be true.

What followed was a humorous interlude between the show's two main characters, akin to that of Chuckle Brothers Paul and Barry Elliot, well known for their misdemeanours on BBC children's television.

Overall, this simple yet efficient performance ran smoothly with all four characters appropriately cast.

The audience were treated to a pair of northern working-class men spending their lunch time in a funeral parlour. Its sheer originality made for a pleasing and entertaining performance.

Luke Smith, Buxton Community School

Womb Man - RJ Arts

Womb Man

(a new play by Ricky Payne)

"A blistering, twisted and hilarious examination of humankind...Quite simply one of the boldest, bloodiest and most brilliant theatrical collisions you're likely to see." Not my words I add, but those that appear in the programme description of the show - well it's rare that an actual production lives up to it's own advance self publicity hype, but here it's a case in point. Brilliantly scripted and an electrifying performance - UNMISSABLE

To attempt to put into words what Ricky Payne subjects us to for an hour is futile, so I won't attempt the impossible. In terms of trying to put it into context, I would draw a crude parallel with the film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure whereby those two characters encounters' with various historic figures are replicated. Socrates is common to both the film and this show, but Napoleon, Genghis Khan et al are replaced by Malcolm X and Jesus Christ who each represent the philosophical, political and religious aspects of Mankind's make-up - but if this conjures up images of a late night Darcus Howe chaired debate, fear not, Waiting for Godot this ain't (though throwing him in the mix would've been interesting, I think he may actually have turned up).

The show opens with a bang as an ape-like version of early man bounds (literally) onto the stage - one almost expects Charlton Heston to appear in pursuit - it's an opening that's as explosive as anything I've seen! There follows an hour of multi character tête-à-tête and physical theatre which will stretch you in many different ways - not least with the continual onslaught of what you hear, it's relentless, intelligent and wildly humorous. The physical angle is equally breathtaking with its intensity - you really do fear for Ricky Payne's long term well-being.

There's a natural ending two-thirds of the way through, but rather than crash-land and leave us in a state of gleeful shock, we're brought back to earth in a more controlled (?) fashion in the company of a female cabin crew...I won't reveal their identities, but let's just say they're not Caledonian Girls.

The language is almost poetic at times and the script addresses many dilemmas but is never far from short-circuiting itself with irreverence. It's nicely non-pc and the language at times is blunt, but always in context as a genuine expression of the base desires of man and woman, it's impossible to take offence.

This really does leave your head in a tail spin as you struggle to gain a total comprehension of what's gone before - there's a feeling of temporarily being out of focus, but that's just a pleasant side effect. There's so much crammed into this that when I checked the time, I could barely believe it only ran for an hour. It's pretty much unlike anything I've seen before from a solo performer in terms of the combination of physical, spoken and humour and Tony Hirst (Director) must be credited for extracting such a no holds barred small step for performance theatre, one giant leap for comic genius.

It plays for 2 more days (Thurs 24 & Fri 25) before it departs for a full run at Edinburgh and in my view is a strong contender for both best new writing and best actor at this year's Fringe - miss it at your peril.