Theatre Reviews

THE VERY PERRY SHOW - Hint of Lime Productions

Kate Perry delighted her audience in this hour-long monologue performance which saw her take on a variety of characters, from an elderly woman with a Ken Barlow obsession to a rich, hyperactive preteen. There was something for everyone to enjoy among Perry’s witty remarks and light-hearted observations.

A self-professed “collector of people,” Perry had no problems in single-handedly entertaining a large audience. Lines were expertly delivered and her transformation into six different characters was seamless and natural. Perry’s wit never faltered and the overall effect was that of a very polished performance.

Perry’s take on an elderly woman who fondly reminisces about the Troubles in Ireland as she struggles to adapt to a modern world in which she encounters gender fluidity and flat screen televisions was impressive. It was also amusing to see Perry take on the role of children attempting to articulate the behaviour of adults around them, fluctuating between discernment and naivety. However, Perry arguably saves the best till last when she tells us about her experiences with “Simon” as an Amish woman.

There really isn’t anything negative to say about this performance, where many aspects of humanity were covered and not one joke fell flat. In short, if you have even the faintest interest in character comedy, The Very Perry Show is well worth a watch.

Yasmin Robson

SEA WALL by Simon Stephens - Sudden Impulse Theatre Company

Simon Stephens’ short monologue, lasting only 30 minutes, comes to the Underground venue at the Old Club House with Sudden Impulse Theatre Company, Buxton Fringe veterans and favourites. This production can only bolster their reputation (5-stars, FringeGuru).

On a bare stage with the houselights left on, a young man, Alex, played by Jack Brosnan, talks engagingly about his lucky life, his adored and beautiful wife, her mildly eccentric ex-soldier father, their daughter Lucy who has them all in the palm of her hand, and their holidays in father-in-law’s home in the south of France. The tone is relaxed and conversational, sentences casually left unfinished, trains of thought started and abandoned. Topics range from the banal (athlete’s foot cream) to the existential (the existence or otherwise of God).

Alex’s experience of diving beyond the sea wall suddenly points up the way that while the sun and light play at the surface, below there can lurk darkness, nothingness. The tone darkens. As Alex recounts the sudden event that overtakes and ruins his life, the halting sentences become more broken, his gestures remain tiny but become more tense, the silences become painfully longer, the audience even quieter if that were possible. Self-accusing in his misery, he tries to recount the cruel remark he says he made to his father-in-law, but swerves away from it. In the end considering God, he can only say that he thinks we will, eventually, understand.

I went to this performance with innocent mind and ear, in other words knowing nothing about it at all. Writing some hours later, the impact of the play is still sharply with me, and will probably remain so. The conversational tone and the lighted auditorium make the listeners feel close to the speaker, and his devastation conveys itself acutely. It feels almost intrusive to look at such pain, but look we must. The play is expertly written, but it is the actor who brings it vividly before the audience, involving them in his lost happiness and present heartbreak. And all in 30 minutes.

This must surely be a contender for Best Actor in the Fringe awards, and is highly recommended for anyone who might appreciate a short but gripping theatrical half hour. This excellent and stirring production is repeated at the Old Club House on Weds 18th and Thursday 19th July at 4.15pm, and also on Friday 20th at 3.10 pm. The same company’s The Shape of Things is on at the Arts Centre Studio on Friday 20th at 7.30 pm.

Ursula Birkett

KILTER - REC Youth Theatre

KILTER, written and presented by the REC youth theatre senior company, explores the question of whether or not a young woman could have made a difference to the course of the First World War.

The theme is expressed through spokesperson Arabella Slater, a young woman from an upper middle class family. Sam, the son of the family’s cook, Mrs Gantry, has been killed. Mr and Mrs Slater are more concerned about the aphids on their roses than the trauma suffered by Mrs. Gantry. Observation of her family’s lack of concern over the death of a young man propels Arabella into action.

KILTER was devised and written by the Company and their director Phil Coggins. Apart from Arabella, wearing a dress and staying in character, the young cast of seven play a variety of characters. Dressed uniformly in white shirts and dark trousers all played male and female roles very effectively. Edward I’s wonderfully observed Granny Slater brought gentle laughter into this serious play. Well done to the authors for incorporating these appropriate lighter moments into the drama.

The action cleverly shifts between the Slater household, the munitions factory where Arabella works, the front line and places Arabella that visits.

The subject matter is dark. This is reflected well through the costumes, the sparse set in which the family dining table doubles as the back wall of a trench, the lights going down to demark the end of each short scene and the focussed dialogue moving the action along and increasing our understanding of the characters. Scene changes were swift with the cast moving confidently around the stage. The device of announcing the setting of each scene worked well as did the use of mime rather than props, which would slowed have down the action.

The development of the characters was good. The three British soldiers come across a young German. The development of the relationship between them shows compassion and understanding. The young writers were able to transport themselves back 100 years and create a realistic situation. Through the reactions of different characters, they showed understanding of the psychological impact of trench warfare on the different soldiers. Caitlin M as Private Hopper, hit just the right note with her facial reactions to Captain Barker and growing compassion and concern for comrades, and the young German soldier, in the trench.

Individual cast members played a range of characters convincingly. Anna W playing Mable, a cheery factory lass, one moment and Mrs. Arbuthnot, a self-congratulatory lady with political ambitions the next exemplified this.

The play was well-directed and the cast confident with what they were doing. It was evident that a great deal of work and commitment had gone into the creation of this piece of theatre. Well done REC Youth Theatre.

Viv Marriott

THE SHAPE OF THINGS by Neil Labute - Sudden Impulse Theatre Company

Neil Labute’s 2001 play receives an excellent and pacy production here, directed by Sam Bates who also plays one of the two major characters. The dialogue is tight, as we can expect from Labute, and the performances by Bates (Adam) and by Bridie Vowels as Evelyn, especially, are taut, responsive and totally on the ball (not to mention impeccably sustained US accents, manner and body language). Which is not to put down the others in this four-hander.

The story-line? At its simplest, it’s shy boy meets outgoing girl and a move (for him) from role of dominant rule-keeper and controller to the controlled person in alternate environments: another couple come into their orbit, a back-story becomes evident, and one might try to predict the outcome.

The play starts in an art gallery where Adam is the security guard and Evelyn is the visitor set on spoiling/improving a human sculpture: we enjoy their repartee, their edginess, and we respect the questions which develop about life vs art, an artist’s overall responsibility, moral responsibility for the actions we take. After the opening scene, these lie just under the surface until the unexpected twist towards the end of the piece which draws out a host of important questions and at the same time tempts us to reflect on earlier scenes in the show and the pointers we didn’t quite catch.

The play is entertaining, fascinating, realistic in its view of relationships, thought provoking – and has some great lines – but by no means dark and challenging: the production and performances are strong and delightful. Recommended – an hour well spent.

Michael Quine

NATURE KNOWS BEST - TicTac Theatre

A light hearted romp through some topical issues of the day is a pleasant way to spend an hour in our glorious summer afternoons at the Fringe.

Nick Discombe and Jacquie Crago tell three stories from the point of view of animals concerning their environment and interaction with humans. There is a unifying theme concerning reproduction and breeding which would perhaps not make it suitable for young audiences. Young farmers would be probably be Okay.

I was initially concerned that the anthropomorphic representation of sheep and references to cloning and electro-ejaculation was leading to a polemic about vegetarianism but we soon moved on to an amusing area where the ram’s desire was to ‘tup’ all females in the audience, to the chagrin of his ‘partner’. This was followed by a bid for freedom from the farm.

The second section moved to the air with the actors becoming herring gulls. The theme here was their artificial life feeding from a rubbish tip and desire to escape and live a wholesome life at the coast. The turnaround here was that the female was promiscuous with the male becoming jealous and emasculated at his inability to hunt for food in the natural environment.

Finally we go under the sea, the cast becoming Sea Horses. Here we have a third view on fertility as it is the male who gives birth. Yes, really, I looked it up. He receives the eggs through an ‘ovipositor’ into a pouch where they are fertilised and mature for about three weeks before he gives birth to as many as 1500 offspring. Who says you don’t learn anything at the Fringe? The female is broody for more and tries to seduce the male into fertility dances but he is worn out with multiple pregnancies. The story ends when they are in contact with mankind.

It is possible to draw serious moral stories from the three linked scenes but the light touch of the actors means that it can also be taken as a frivolous afternoon’s fun.

Further performances: 16th and 17th July.

Brian Kirman

THE WAR ON TERRY by Hugh Dichmont - Influencing Machine

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and 75% of all UK suicides are male, a sobering statistic. ‘Influencing Machine Production Company’ developed this piece in support of CALM who are dedicated to the prevention of male suicide.

The War on Terry tackles this subject through the eyes of a suicide victim’s younger brother. Terry has to come to terms with the fact that today is his birthday and he is now older than his older brother. This was a one man show where Steve Conlin played the part of Terry with believable warmth & real humanity. His performance grew in confidence as the piece progressed.

The set with its monochrome theme could be said to show that mental health issues are not just black and white but a massive grey area that no one has the definitive answer to. The lamp made for a strong directional lighting source. However, the box was too small for a bed and this made for an awkward start, sitting more upright could help alleviate this problem.

Hugh Dichmont, the playwright, has created a piece where the central concept is interesting however; I was unsure what the play was trying to say about suicide. I thought in supporting the work of CALM there would have been a clearer dramatic intention for the audience. I struggled with the older brother being so successful and pressured by his parents. It did feel like a bit of an over simplified cliché him being the tortured creative type, whilst the younger brother was totally ignored. However, this was only Terry’s side of the story and maybe other characters would tell a different tale.

Overall a well-acted, well-intentioned piece.

Jayne Marling

RULA LENSKA: FROM DZIKOW TO WILLESDEN GREEN - Sarah Lawrie Presents

It could hardly be simpler really. A woman sits in a chair, picks up a folder and reads aloud for 60 minutes. At the end people are in tears. How did that happen?

Well in part it is because Rula Lenska is a highly skilled actor and, seemingly without trying too much, she imbues words with emotional significance. It is also the case that she is not just an actor. She is telling the story of her own mother as she herself told it. Rula’s tears at the end are not stage tears. Few of us come from aristocratic backgrounds or are called Count or Countess - but most of have experienced separation from, and loss of, family members.

Rula’s mother was born around 1921 and had a very privileged early life. The family home was a castle; the family had a crest and a large staff. It took some time for her to realise the extent of that privilege and the gap between her life and that of the people that worked for the family. By the end of the summer of 1939, and over the next six years, the life of the family - and the lives of millions throughout Europe - would be changed for ever.

The experience of Nazi occupation and the camps has been recounted many, many times. For some there is a feeling that those experiences should be left behind, that families need to move on. For others the scale and purpose of the crimes committed means that forgetting can never be an option. Rula, reading her mother’s words, showed how real this dilemma can be at a personal level. Individuals may want to let go but collectively acts of remembrance are important.

No matter how many accounts we hear of the atrocities committed by the Nazis we should always be moved and disturbed. Rula’s mother was one of the fortunate survivors of the camps: not only did she survive she went on the live a good life in a new country. She saw survival as her duty in the face of an enemy bent on destroying her.

Rula’s reading was accompanied by some family pictures and some music and other soundtrack. The visuals were helpful in fleshing out the images: the aural elements may have distracted as much as helped. Rula Lenska said she hoped to return to Buxton. Buxton surely hopes that she returns soon.

Keith Savage

VICKI AND PAT IN FUERTEVENTURA - Duck Decanter Productions

A chance encounter between two women on the sun loungers of an all-inclusive resort in Fuerteventura whose husbands are supposedly on the same scuba diving course leads to a brief but heart-warming friendship in this hour-long comedy performance which touches on themes such as childhood and loss.

The actors make impressive use of a small stage, and the overall effect was that of a thoroughly polished performance. Lines were expertly delivered to create maximum comic effect, such as Pat’s insistence that it was actually a “gateau” rather than a “cake” she had spilled all over Vicki, and the debate between the two over whether a holiday was a good enough excuse to stop exercising. However, the running gag about Vicki’s mindfulness app was perhaps when the comedy was at its most effective. The advertising references embedded in this joke were particularly well received by the audience as a universal experience in the digital age. The more contemporary jokes therefore provided a pleasant contrast to the nineties and noughties pop culture references Vicki and Pat in Fuerteventura is littered with.

Drama and tensions begin to emerge as Vicki and Pat spend more time in one another’s company, particularly when the past is mentioned, but this is offset by the continually upbeat tone, which ensures that comedy is always at the fore of Vicki and Pat in Fuerteventura. While this is by no means ground-breaking comedy, the pair’s squabbles were amusing, and the attention of the audience was held throughout because Vicki and Pat in Fuerteventura was a consistently entertaining performance.

Overall, despite the somewhat cliched setup, Vicki and Pat in Fuerteventura was an enjoyable, engaging hour and well worth a watch.

Yasmin Robson

EXTREMISM - Shadow Syndicate

Shadow Syndicate, for this performance, is a group of ten young people aged 15 to 18 and their play is taken from a series of ten works (Connections) published each year by the National Theatre for young people to perform. The cast selected this particular play themselves. It is set in a classroom and students are throwing around their views on the recent reporting to ‘PREVENT’, a counter-terrorism initiative, of fellow student Jamal by their teacher. There are parallel story lines; the relationship of the students to each other and their reaction to Jamal’s plight.

The talent of the cast, combined with that of the director Ian Lund, has resulted in a remarkably powerful, unfalteringly credible and thoroughly engaging performance. They succeeded in making the scenario so real that it felt almost intrusive to be watching this portrayal and glimpse of realities and dilemmas facing teenagers at school in Britain today. There was occasionally that palpable silence that you get in a theatre when you know that everyone is on the edge of their seats.

Key roles were played out confidently and assuredly by Irene E (Rachel), Isobel M (Melina) and Alissia D (Suhayla); their parts being well-complemented by the actors playing Chris, Jordan, and Darren, and other support parts. Conrad S, playing Evan, made a great job of playing the straight-faced lad who didn’t quite get it and was more comfortable with a bag of Starburst than the intrigues of social media. His occasional pithy observations, delivered dead-pan, were a welcome distraction from the seriousness of the main story-line.

The interplay of parts represented by Melina, Rachel, Suhayla, Chris, Jordan and Darren was tense, pacy, realistically raw and never missed a beat – an excellent achievement for such young actors. As said at the beginning of this, it seemed as if one was watching the real thing; at times frighteningly so. The attack on Suhayla was carried out without over-acting, making it even more credible and disturbing and Sam’s calmly-spoken closing line was a killer punch at the end of this fine performance.

Jim Marriott

GATED COMMUNITY - Handheld Arts

Fascinating use of what they call ‘filmic shadow puppetry’ gives an excellent reason for this company’s name. Some projections from off-stage, but for the most part overhead projector (remember them?) images with delightful hand-held stick 'puppets’ creating the projected images (remember Lotte Reiniger?) which animate the tales. The OHP is on the floor and part of the fun is just watching how the small stick-puppets are manoeuvred But don't think it's a puppet show – it’s not. It's about the tales themselves, and the shadow images which illustrate them. Mostly black and white, but with occasional startling colour - well you can't have black blood!

Blood? Yes indeed. These are tales, in part cautionary tales, in part with twists similar to Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, but all with some kind of amusing-horrible end. 8 short tales make up this 45 minute show which is rooted in strange happenings in a new, gated, housing development built after the demolition of previous-century houses and their histories.

We have the shadow-images noted above, and two performers (Sara-Jane Wingrove and Sara Saddington-Adams) who work the shadows (with considerable skill) and narrate as appropriate, with text not-quite in rhyming couplets but with the kind of rhyming patterns which make you wonder what the rhyme will be when it comes.

It’s not a new show - in fact it dates from three years ago, and this outing clearly shows how successful it has been for Handheld Arts which has some Arts Council funding and describes itself as a contemporary theatre collective: it’s one of a series of shows on the road or in development.

A charming entertaining piece of theatre which very successfully carried the audience along with it: maybe no belly laughs, but lots of chuckles of amusement and recognition.

Michael Quine

OUR DAY OUT by Willy Russell - REC Youth Theatre Company

The REC Youth Theatre’s was a delight from start to finish. This young company, 10 – 14 year olds, performed with a liveliness, professionalism and assurance that belied their youth.

The play was first written as a TV play in 1977 and developed into a musical in 1983. It recounts what happens when Mrs Kay, an idealistic teacher from a deprived Liverpool school, takes her ‘progress class’ children who have trouble reading and writing on a day out to Conwy Castle. It was a perfect choice for this company. Some dialogue has been updated, such as a pupil telling a teacher, “Hey that’s abuse that is!”, but the overall themes are still relevant: lack of opportunity; the roller-coaster emotions of adolescents; the growing awareness of the children that they will not break out of their disadvantaged community. The cast handles these themes with sensitivity and maturity, skilfully moving the mood from laughter to poignancy.

The acting, singing, dancing and production were of a very high standard for this age group and it is difficult to pick out any one actor. The three girls who found everything, ”Boring!” were very funny and worked well together. Miles B, playing three roles, displayed a talent for mime and comic timing. Molly O, playing Amy, Isaac P as Mr Briggs and Isabelle N as Carly showed they were as talented singers as they were actors. Some of the most enjoyable scenes were between the very believable Ryan, played by Cyrus W and the ultimate teenager with attitude, Carly; so true to life. Elyse M, one of the youngest members of cast, played Mrs Kay, the teacher with real authority.

The dance numbers were well choreographed and particularly the fair scene in which the cast created three different rides through movement. Scene changes were slick, very good use was made of space and the enjoyment of the cast shone through the whole show. This show is worthy of a place in the Fringe, not as an entry by children but in its own right as a superb piece of theatre. Credit must also go to the adults who have enabled these youngsters to achieve so highly - director Fiona Paul, musical director Clare O’Neill and their team.

The REC youth theatre has been running for more than 20 years. In the present climate of our children being subjected to so much testing at school it was heart-warming to see a group of children, and adults who show commitment to an extra-curricular activity that provides enjoyment as well as many life skills.

New members are always welcome. Google REC Youth Theatre to find out more.

Viv Marriott

THE HOST - XYZ Theatre Company

‘The Host’ by XYZ Theatre Company is a performance unlike any other that I have witnessed. Filled with fragmented narratives, suggestions, repetition and allusions, what is being presented in this one-man show relies heavily on audience involvement and abandons traditional theatre expectations.

The beauty of this drive for involvement, as the director so aptly put it, is that it makes the viewers ‘co-creators’. ‘The Host’ is a piece of experimental theatre that can distress you, empower you, surprise or bewilder you – in a sense, the story lies in your hands. Concepts are introduced, questioned, and given new perceptive opportunities. Sound is also used interestingly and with great atmospheric effect, often creating a sense of tension and unease.

With this said, ‘The Host’s’ ability to ignite interpretation really shone through at the end of the performance. A piece of experimental theatre such as this provokes a discussion, and I was relieved to see that the company had left time at the end for an informal chat about the performance. What we found from this ‘Q & A’ was that everyone had taken something different from the show.

Whilst I did find ‘The Host’ challenging and at times too disjointed to enjoy fully, this is exactly the sort of risk that comes when trying something new. If you want a neatly tied up ending or a narrative that is completely immersive, then this is not for you. However, if you want to be challenged, to test your imaginative abilities and witness a new, daring kind of theatre, then do come along and experience this unique journey with an open mind!

Sarah Gunton

CROSSING THE LINE TRILOGY - Joanna Lavelle

A set of three monologues superbly delivered by Joanna Lavelle all with a common theme, sexual abuse. But it is not the obvious victim that is focussed on here, it is the other victims that are given the chance to have their voices heard and define the impact that this heinous crime can have on ordinary lives.

First, we meet Diana who tells us of the knock on the door that changed her life. Diana is composed recounting how, when the police came, her husband was wearing a ridiculous dressing gown and surrendered his laptop in an instant. She berates her own reactions to the incident exclaiming that she then put the kettle on in an attempt at some sort of normality. Her anguish emerges as she reflects on the subsequent interview at the police station; how she was questioned and her bewilderment and disbelief of what he had done. She tells of their life together, reflecting and questioning how it had changed and trying to find clues to this and how he crossed the line. Her suffering and concern for the children is all too obvious as the story continues to a dramatic conclusion.

In the second monologue, Lavelle portrays the detective who arrested Diana’s husband. She describes working in the ‘dirty squad’ indicating that before the internet, the crimes seemed ‘simpler’, yet depended on ‘he says/she says’ and followed this with a spell in the drugs squad. It was interesting how she compared drugs and sexual abuse as addictive crimes. Back to OLSCI, she was involved in Operation Umbrella which identified 27,000 names and IP addresses involved in child pornography – which is how she came to arrest Diana’s husband. It was at this point that her disgust at the crime emerges, using such phrases as ‘pit of filth’ and ‘dirty hands’ and you can feel her loathing and hate for the offender. But there is also glimpse of the impact on her life as there is a harrowing account of some of the images she must view. Yet through all this, she feels pity for Diana, her children and surprisingly her husband.

As the detective points out, most abuse takes place by people who are known to the victim and in the third monologue Lavelle again gives an excellent performance as a mother, quite normal, quite ordinary, whose loves her daughter, Leanne enormously and describes her as her sunshine. Leanne was abused by her swimming coach. Again, we are faced with the normality of a little girl, enjoying swimming and being spotted by a friendly swimming coach who encourages her to take further lessons and enter competitions. Her mother reflects on small changes to her daughter and tortures herself for dismissing them. Then her horror as she must watch Leanne, looking small and childlike, clutching a teddy and being interviewed by the police, revealing the kind of things that no mother wants to hear.

It is undeniable that throughout this incredibly powerful set of monologues, there is an enormous amount of anger at the offenders by all the victims, but it is the guilt that each one reveals which is the most shocking. That it was somehow their fault, their responsibility that this crime occurred. Lavelle’s acting is exceptional, and her portrayal of each character is flawless and convincing. The monologues are emotional and harrowing but also thought-provoking and contain a positive message of awareness to such issues.

There is a group discussion after each performance exploring the audience’s thoughts and observations of the content of the performance. Also showing on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th July at 2.30. The author Michael Sheath will be joining this after the performance on Saturday afternoon.

Sandra J Cooper

GUY: A NEW MUSICAL - leoe&hyde

The Marriage of Kim K was one of the big successes on the Fringe circuit in 2017 and announced the collaborative talent that is leoe&hyde. Many of us have been looking forward to seeing how they would follow that up. Guy is the result and it looks like another hit.

For my part I enjoyed Guy much more than Kim K (mostly because I have zero interest in KK and her world but also because the new piece seems to me to be more interested in being about people and less concerned about being a clever construction).

The story behind Guy is a simple one and has been largely shared in promoting the show. Guy (Brendan Matthews) is gay; he is also overweight, has low self esteem and doubts that he can meet anyone who would want to love him.

His friends, especially Dom (Adam Braidley) and Tyler (Steve Banks), seem much more confident, more attractive and in better shape physically and mentally. Guy spends a lot of time on Grindr meeting other guys but is nervous about actually seeing anyone for fear of rejection.

Eventually he meets the outrageously handsome Aziz (Seann Miley Moore) who is an obstetrician and who is looking for someone who is interesting and not some sort of narcissist. Guy could be that someone.

The story is told via electronic music and songs that sound modernish but clearly fit the musical tradition. The score and book are witty and sharp and are never dull. The singing, movement and action also have pace, energy and humour. In short there is a tremendous amount in Guy to admire and enjoy and much of it puts a smile on your face. It could be out of relief that dating, emojis and Grindr are not things that need bother us but I prefer to think that it is because the characters are people who you are concerned about and who you want to see happy.

There is a plot twist about three quarters of the way through involving Tyler that I found unconvincing but it in no way diminished my enjoyment. Guy will be hard to catch now - but there is a performance in Manchester on the evening of Friday 13th July.

Keith Savage

MARIA CALLAS by Alma Bond - Moving On Theatre

Maria Callas enjoyed a brief and controversial career. Though perhaps ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong word. It is far from certain that she was ever really happy or contented in her personal or professional life. Alma Bond’s short play covers most of the major points of her life to highlight the reasons behind her misery and unhappiness.

To begin with her mother did not want another daughter. The fact that Maria was a girl meant that she was a source of disappointment. But it became evident early on that she had the gift of a special voice and she was sent from her US home to Greece for an intensive musical education. She worked very hard but said in later life that she was denied a childhood. She made her professional debut in Greece while still in her teens. By her early 20s she had made her debuts in Chicago and Verona.

Her voice and artistry, her capacity to inhabit a role, were not in doubt. Nor was there any doubt that she was significantly overweight and she went from around 15 stones to less than 9 stones in her early 30s. She turned from being ‘monstrously fat’ to ‘beautiful’. But this rapid weight loss cost her in terms of strength and this had an impact on her voice. Within 10 years her career was essentially over.

At the same time her personal life was in turmoil as she began an affair with Aristotle Onassis - he was nearly 18 years older than Maria but was the love of her life. When he left her for Jackie Kennedy that was a bitter blow.

The life of Maria Callas is the stuff of tragic opera and the incorporation of a handful of familiar arias lends the play such a quality. Laurene Hope gives us a sympathetic account of Maria - whilst recognising her weaknesses - and has a fine voice. Martin Ottewill is Onassis and Francis Kenny is Maria’s father and, later, her husband.

In a brief epilogue Laurene explains that she was drawn to the role of Callas in part because of her own mental health issues a few back. Her experience of a therapeutic community - rather than the use of drugs and anti-depressants - helped her recover and continue to work creatively. The work of Moving On Theatre is to raise awareness of this route to good mental health.

The Company and this production tell the story of a great artist simply and movingly.

Further performances 12 & 13 July

Keith Savage

IN FOR A QUID - Rotunda Theatre

With "In For A Quid" the Rotunda is showcasing three pieces of new writing. These are all works in progress but very interesting ones. All three are connected in different ways by cross-cultural themes.

In "Clarissa" written by Lekha Desai Morrison, Jasmine (Reynah Rita Oppal) is a British Asian with a white British fiance. She gets a surprise visit from her future mother in law Clarissa (Louise Thomas) who wants to discuss the upcoming wedding. The two women misunderstand each other's motives from the start but as the play proceeds they discover that they have more in common than they realised. This is a warm drama in the style of Alan Ayckbourn and is well played by the two actresses. It could be expanded into a full length production possibly bringing together the two extended families with all sorts of comic possibilities.

"Khon" is a one man play written by the performer Michael Phong-Lee. Khon is a Vietnamese word that means clever in a devious way. The play opens with the main character in prison. He tells the story of his life living within a Vietnamese family in England and how he has struggled to live in a mixed culture where Khon is admired by his Vietnamese heritage but does not fit into his English life. The tension in the play is created because you don't know why he is prison until the very end and you are listening closely to discover what has happened to him and why. The play worked well and Phong-Lee gave a good performance. The script would benefit from some editing to remove some repetitive parts.

"Taylor Swift's Dog" by Samuel Daram is probably the most ambitious play of the three. It is a satire on the publishing industry. The story alternates between two places. The first is the teenage bedroom of an Asian Muslim girl (played again by Oppal) who idolises JK Rowling and wants to become an author. The second is a publishing office where increasingly ridiculous publishing projects are discussed by two executives (played by Thomas and Michelle Yim). In the end it is the teenage girl who holds a mirror up to the publishing madness although the publishing executive is unrepentant. The play is a great idea containing some many good things but it probably needs the most work. The dialog between the executives could be edited to remove some unnecessary exchanges and focus on the best jokes.

This is a good event for people who like innovative plays and hopefully one of more of these will see the light of day as a fully realised production.

Alex Watts

GARRY STARR PERFORMS EVERYTHING - Damien Warren-Smith

Garry Starr is a vainglorious wannabe RSC actor. He makes the proclamation that ‘Theatre is dying and I am here to save it!’ His premise to reconnect his audience with the theatre genres of the past and challenge them with some of the more modern type, a European stripping back to basics of the classics, was inspired!

Damien Warren-Smith is a talented performer who gently, yet expertly engages and fully involves his audience. His audience were equally mesmerised and horrified by the unforgettably flexible and intimately personal ballet performance. He was trained by the great Gaullier and his sheer skill and exuberance in clowning and mischief shone throughout.

I cannot recommend this performance highly enough! His next show is Wednesday at 4.15 Underground at The Clubhouse...treat yourself!

JayneMarling

THE LADDER - Helen Rutter & Rob Rouse

You’re not having a good day if on the anniversary of your mother’s death you find yourself stuck up a ladder arguing with your husband. Helen Rutter takes this as the starting point for her poignant and enjoyable comedy.

Many successful comedies fit a style based on self-recognition and couples in the audience were giving each other knowing looks and nudging each other – ‘just like you!’. Serious issues about her husband’s domestic support come to the surface; which is how she ended up decorating the room by herself and getting stuck on the ladder.

The tensions between the couple come and go with the changing moods of the wife (Helen) and Rob Rouse as the husband , who is a perfect foil , often bewildered by the difference between what his wife says and what she means. This theme is established early in the play when he realises he has done something wrong but can’t work our why – and she’s not saying.

There is some very funny physical comedy – notably where Helen needs to pee –but the play balances light slapstick with some sentimentality about Helen’s relationship with her mother and children.

The play comes to a resolution leaving the couple to reflect on how their relationship has been changed by this experience. The dialogue and humour are natural, unforced and convincing. The audience loved it.

Further performances: 15th and 19th July.

Brian Kirman

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO POPULISM - NoLogoProductions

We have, at the beginning, an ambitious but plainly out of her depth MP, who is prepared to completely reverse her previous stance out of expediency; a scheming, unprincipled figure pulling her strings in the background; if I add the fact that one of the other politicians appears to have a rubber duck as a toy, does that ring any disturbing bells?

It will therefore come to no surprise to you that this is a play about populism and what happens when it goes unchecked, in the words of the programme notes. It was a thoroughly entertaining play, brilliantly executed and cleverly written.

The scene opens with the hollow, vacuously vain and slightly dim politician on the rise Antonia Morgan, played in uncomfortable looking shoes by Isabel Palmstierna. The residents of Little Middleton are up in arms about proposals that will spell the end of their village. Following the announcement of plans to create Middleton Garden City, they have launched the Save Little Middleton campaign, and hope that it will preserve their historic community and keep it out of the hands of property developers and speculators. But she was one of the people in favour of the proposals. As she fusses and clucks around her daily business she is held in check by the suave urbane spin-doctor Jeremy Taylor, played all too convincingly by Will Underwood. There then enters the more nuanced character of the rough and ready Brian, played by Chris Townsend, accompanied by Colleen (Beag Horn). But are things really as they seem?

Before long, although not before Antonia has performed a complete ideological volte-face, the tables are turned in another way. It is the coarse-tongued but astute Brian who has the upper hand, apparently, and the slitheringly slimy Jeremy is quick to side with him. Everything is turned on its head and the following events and outcome are not what you might expect.

All of the actors are excellent in this smartly-paced show. It is expertly conceived, written and executed by a team who plainly have an eye for the socio-political zeitgeist, such as it is. Echoes of the present resonate throughout – references to sex pests, contempt for experts, the invitation to build a wall, no U-turns…This is all delivered with wry humour and witty lines, with the odd cringeworthy pun about views and being committed. In the end everything descends into chaos in the manner of a Tom Sharpe farce, although the brutal nature of the ending may surprise you. Furthermore, Brian’s graphic turns of phrase may surprise your children at times.

NoLogoproductions are based in Scotland and will take their show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. They are here at the Arts Centre on the 11th, 18th and 20th at 9 pm and I highly recommend them to you – my theatre-going companion said it was the best show he has seen at the Fringe so far.

Ian Hamilton

BETWEEN US - Alex Keen & Rachel E Thorn

The warning was clear from the start, as the announcement is made: ‘we don’t know what is going to happen!’ If this isn’t your thing, then look away now!

If, on the other hand, you like improvisation, then this is an imaginatively conceived and very well-executed show, and well worth an hour of your time.

Between Us tells the story of a modern couple’s relationship, offering a unique look into the love, laughter and sadness which that involves. What is truly different about the show is that it is based 100% on audience suggestions. Alex and Rachel are to be the eponymous players, based on what the audience want: on this occasion, two would-be Rachels in the small audience opt for a hat-maker and someone in the Welsh Assembly cabinet (obviously); the two aspiring Alex’s, meanwhile, have as their quirks that they want to design video games and love all things Chinese.

It is the first of Alex’s which makes the cut, and Alex and Rachel enact the tale of a geekish young IT expert and a bookshop worker. It begins brightly enough, and the two sympathetic players presently fall in love. Thereafter, however, the atmosphere darkens. The tribulations of life as a couple begin to take their toll – she has work worries as her bookshop is about to close, he does because his online gambling work is rather less than ethical, but well-paid – and we experience their various ups and downs. By the time they have made it to Inverness, this is no longer the idyll that it initially looked like being. Instead, Rachel feels trapped, Alex isolated, and Scotland is made to look unwelcoming!

The two actors are always thoroughly engaging, miming without any props, but the piece was not exactly what I expected. I thought perhaps they would base it around all of the audience suggestions, although possibly that was just me being intrigued by the notion of a Welsh milliner. There were light-hearted moments and some witty lines and arresting thoughts – how does a contemplation of resource management lead to the game of Twister? Why is gambling like skydiving? Nonetheless, full belly-laughs are few and far between. Still, the show is only as funny as the audience suggestions, and tomorrow night it will be a different story based on different ideas.

Rachel and Alex are based in Sheffield and have presented their show to the Brighton Fringe, amongst others and play N16 in Tottenham Hale in September. They continue in Buxton on the 11th (8:30pm) and 16th (7pm) July and I recommend them to you – with two people, one relationship, and no script, who knows what can happen?

Ian Hamilton

STRIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN - Capricious Rose Productions & Blue Masque Theatre

This very funny comedy caper is set in a small northern town where the Council is creating trouble for everyone. Tracy Gabbitas and Jennifer Banks may be the only two actors in this production, but I actually lost count of the characters they portrayed! (The flyer says 10!) With lightning changes of wigs and costumes, you are thrown from one scene to another – and it is important to keep up – as the characters and big personalities of each are introduced, starting off in the Cheap and Cheerful supermarket, where there are some naughty goings on in the oral aisle!

The council leader has big ideas to change the town by putting a beach at the centre of the town. But this means knocking down houses and cutting council services and oh what havoc they are causing. Even the dog wardens have been reduced! Interspersed with speed dating, panic attacks, wedding plans and sex tapes, the story heads at break neck speed onto riots and blackmail. Will the Campaigner Revolutionist Anarchist Party save the day?

This lively comedy is a very enjoyable Fringe show with some clever direction from Rhonwen McCormack. So many character changes is exhausting so be prepared but they were skilfully done and the essence of mayhem ensued. (I believe the show usually has an interval to allow you to take a breather and reboot but there were some technical problems which prevented this.)

Further showings: 11th and 19th July 2.30; 22nd July 1.00

Sandra J Cooper

A CURSE OF SAINTS by Polis Loizou - The Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company

A Curse of Saints transports the audience back more that a hundred years to the hard and superstitious world of Greek peasants. It is a ghost story fuelled by irrational fears, uncertainty and tradition. The writer and performer Polis Loizou plays an unnamed shepherd who tends a dying adolescent boy in an olive grove and receives the gratitude of the boy's father but fear and loathing from the boy's mother who believes that the shepherd is the source of the evil eye.

The shepherd expounds his theories about how the boy came to be dying in a field. He connects the boys death with other magical and horrifying episodes including gypsy revenge, faceless ghosts rising like zombies and two headed lambs. He is troubled by the arrival of an Englishman with blue eyes and a machine that can make a image of him. A feeling of impending doom is building up which climaxes as the shepherd meets his inevitable fate.

Although this play is set in Cyprus rather than Crete, it reminded me of the atmosphere and sometimes brutal events portrayed in in Zorba the Greek. The feelings of fear and uncertainty in the play are possibly a reflection of the change and turmoil of the the period as centuries of Ottoman rule was being supplanted by another imperial power, the British.

Polis Loizou has written a gripping and original ghost story based on folk history. His words conjure very graphic supernatural images. I strongly recommend this show if you like that sort of thing.

Alex Watts

OLD BONES by Jen McGregor - Little and Large Theatre

Old Bones is passionately performed by Daniel Hird and is a must-see at the Fringe this year. It is the story of gambler James Napier - brother of the famous Scottish mathematician John Napier - who found himself bored one day and decided to summon the devil and challenge the devil himself at a game of chance - a choice that inevitably had some unfortunate consequences.

This rapidly-paced play easily surpassed my expectations and provided more dramatic and comedic moments than any of us in the audience were expecting thanks to the stunning acting talents of Daniel Hird, who effortlessly captures the character of the gambler.

I found this one-man play to be extremely riveting and enjoyable and I would highly recommend it to everybody. There are only two more performances: July 11th and 15th, both at the wonderful Green Man Gallery.

Benjamin Cusco

PHANTASMAGORICAL - Sylvia Sceptre

This show is true immersion into the shadowy world of Victorian gothic spiritualism with magical Spirit Guide, the impish and engaging Miss Sylvia Sceptre.

Wonderfully evocative storytelling prepares believer and sceptic alike for thrills and spine-tingling chills with dazzling magic, mind-reading and psychic demonstration.

Audience members don’t need to "commune with the spirits" to enjoy expertly performed magic and misdirection from a character created by one of the few female Magic Circle Members.

Trick or treat? Scene or séance? Magic or misdirection? Gift or curse? You decide. But whatever you do, challenge yourself to sit with the shadows in the company of Miss Sceptre before she heads to Edinburgh’s ghostly streets.

David Carlisle

JUST LIKE A WOMAN - Breathe Out Theatre

Set in a factory, with the stage littered with boxes of varying sizes, the play introduces us to Ellie, Tig and Liz who have obviously known each other a long time. They have been organising, checking and assembling the boxes for even longer but why? And what is in the boxes? Do they want to know? Ellie starts to ponder on this and can’t remember whether she actually knows or not but dares to voice her thoughts… with repercussions.

The trailer for this play gives the impression that it is probably a humorous depiction of three female factory workers, their lives, ups and downs but it is so much deeper than that. Much deeper and quite intriguing. Yes, we hear accounts of Tom and his snoring and whether Harry is coming home from London and there are times that Ellie appears to be losing her mind. But in amongst that there are also stories of young women in Nepal and Africa, observations on the role of women, expectations about their looks and an account of some appalling interview questions and some pretty dreadful jokes made.

It is a surreal comedy and you can empathise with the characters; their different personalities and attitudes are skilfully portrayed, and the acting is excellent. Katherine Godfrey, Emma Romy-Jones and Kathryn Sinclair should all be commended for this.

I love this sort of play, unpredictable, amusing, thought-provoking with lots of different levels. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where it was going and wasn’t over sure of the message as it raises feminism but is not a ‘votes for women' mantra. It questions what men do but also what life would be without them! The ending raises more questions (no spoilers!) and leaves you asking some more.

Written by Rob Johnston, this play is definitely worth a visit and is showing again on Tuesday 10th July, 1pm; Wednesday 11th July, 1pm; Friday 13th July, 1pm; Monday 16th July, 4pm. Members of the audience (both male and female) enjoyed the play and agreed about the first-rate acting, recommending it. I look forward to seeing much more from this writer and hope that all the cast will be returning to the Buxton Fringe in the future.

Sandra J Cooper

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER - Grist to the Mill Productions Ltd

“Pray you’ll never know the hell where youth and laughter go.”

The Unknown Soldier is a moving, thought-provoking and brutally honest depiction of wartime. Taking place in a tent, this one-man show provides a very intimate setting – the audience can really feel the heartfelt address of the soldier, and as a result, emotions were high throughout the performance.

This portrayal of The Great War is truly layered – we are shown the psychological burdens, the grief, the sorrow and the loss – but also the blossoming friendships and the simple beauty of laughter between soldiers. The First World War is examined far beyond the obvious trauma; questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ are asked and the political view of a hero is contrasted against the harsh reality of human sacrifice.

To quote directly from the performance: “If you don’t have a laugh, you end up going stark raving mad!” For me, this is what stood out from the performance – Ross Ericson is poetic in his portrayal, the narrative is captivating, but most of all the interjections of a soldier’s unique humour does not feel out of place. Instead, the humour illuminates the overall message and gives this bittersweet tale a very personal touch.

I’d like to end this review by once again praising Ross Ericson for how well he embodies the character; it is not an easy task to take the audience on such an emotional journey in just one hour with no supporting actors and very few props – yet he does so eloquently.

Viewing this production is an effective tribute to mark the end of the Centenary. I highly recommend.

Sarah Gunton

WOMAN ON FIRE - Certain Curtain Theatre

This one-woman performance about the suffragette Edith Rigby is stunner. It is involving and stirring by many turns, taking us through excited enthusiasm, elation, excitement, disbelief, outrage, anger, pain, despair, and other emotions besides. Claire Moore commands the stage, and our emotions, single-handedly for 75 minutes: by the end, if she is not wrung out, we certainly were.

The Suffrage movement, to quote the programme notes, ‘was not only about the right to vote – it was also about the right of women to be recognised as ‘human’’, adult and capable. Edith Rigby was a real person, who lived in Preston, and who came to accept that The Cause had to take precedence over her family. She was an active member of the Suffragettes, who took direct and often violent action, as opposed to the Suffragists, who hoped to achieve the desired end of votes for women by non-violent means. She suffered, as many did, violence during public demonstrations, repeated imprisonment, humiliation, and painful forced feeding when on hunger strike. Edith Rigby is not a well known member of the Suffrage movement, but she was very much of their number, and deserves to be recognised as such.

The author of this play heard of her some years ago, and felt that this was the year for this subject, the 100th anniversary of the granting of the vote to some, though not all, women. Telling the story in this compact way suited this small and enterprising theatre company, which tours its original productions on challenging topics to venues small and large. The play is an extended version of one they took to the Edinburgh Festival .

The performance in Burbage Institute seemed entirely appropriate, village halls and small public meetings being the way the movement began, and relatively timeless. The staging is minimal, but of that time, banners, a soapbox (of course), an outdoor seat and tea tray (suitable china cup etc), Mrs Rigby dressed in the Suffrage colours of green, lilac, white. She is beautiful, well dressed and well-spoken, seemingly the kind of person whose first instinct would be towards the conventional, but driven by what she sees and experiences to adopt extreme actions, and to suffer their extreme consequences. Claire Moore conveys all this with complete conviction and skill, filling the stage with presence and feeling, and evidently moving the audience profoundly.

The show continues on Sunday 8th July with afternoon and evening performances, and is well worth a visit, especially recommended to those who like to have their thoughts provoked!

Ursula Birkett

ANTIGONE NA H'ÉIREANN - Aulos Productions

With previous successes at the Buxton Fringe, Aulos Productions has now spun a startling web of drama with Antigone na h’Éireann. It is a haunting production set in Belfast, played out in the shadows of family loyalty, identity and loss,

The sense of honour drives this powerful play which honestly confronts the lasting impact of sectarian violence on families through the generations. James Beagon’s writing successfully draws upon the Greek tragedy, ‘Antigone’ by Sophocles as a dramatic frame for us to witness the four siblings who live in the lingering shadow of their father’s death.

With echoes of the playful lyricism of ‘Derry Girls’ (Channel Four), the witty wordplay creates a real comedic dynamic between the siblings and the audience certainly responded to it. The early scenes in the play were particularly engaging in this sense and younger sister, Izzy (Emer Conway), was consistent as a flame of hope about other possibilities, in contrast to her older sister, Annie.

Annie (Jenny Quinn) is our modern Antigone. Driven by her father’s past, she seeks out what she believes will bring atonement but it results in a tragic spiral of violence. Jenny Quinn consistently holds the stage with absolute intensity. Her monologues are particularly compelling; she successfully articulates to the audience her inner conflicts about faith and her duty to family which drive her destructive actions.

The characters of Izzy and Erin (Serena Doran) addressed the issues of finding love in an extremely natural way when entrapped in a world where community overpowers the individual. Serena Doran lit up in the stage in her role as Erin, the outsider to the siblings, who has her own inner conflicts, much like Annie. The scene where Colm (Les Fulton) invites his young son Eamonn (Thomas Mugglestone) to a political meeting was particularly tender between the two actors; this is a play where missing fathers haunt everyone and I would have loved to have seen this relationship explored more.

The cast performance was completely believable throughout, especially the impressive range of accents. The innovative use of masks in the production is dramatically commanding, creating an immediate visual impact. This device allowed the play to maintain a consistent energy ensuring that as an audience, we were always engaged.

Beagon’s writing allows fragments of hope to glimmer throughout the production about other possibilities . A refreshing, powerful production; this is a must see.

Catherine Kiernan-Jackson

ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE - The Melting Shop

On Behalf Of The People demonstrates what is best about theatre. It is a family drama and a slice of social history told in way that keeps you on the edge of your seat and packs a strong emotional punch.

It is 1945 and Tom (Danny Mellor) is back from World War II. Tom comes from a Yorkshire mining stock and his ageing father George (Ray Ashcroft) is an miner and a committed union man. In the first act Tom is delighted to be back with his family but is rejected by George who blames him for encouraging his brother to enlist and get killed on the beaches of Normandy. George also questions Tom's commitment to the union. Tom's mother Connie (Kate Wood) has to suffer the pain caused by the rift between her husband and son and become the peacemaker bringing them back together again. Tom's childhood sweetheart Liz (Lizzie Frain) is overjoyed that Tom is home again but also clashes with George over the way that the union treated her father. The second act tells the story of how these four characters move on in the decade after the war with the nationalisation of the Coal mines and the problems and opportunities that came with that for the everyday lives of the mine workers. It also tells the story of how a lifetime in the mines took it's toll on George's health.

The play has a well written script by Ray Castleton. It made me think that this is the play that Arthur Miller would have written if he had decided to write a play about Yorkshire miners. The script is pared down to the essential moments and moves the story forward at a rapid pace.

However it is the overall production and the acting that blew me away. The thing that I love about theatre at it's best is the way that it can use movement and space to tell a story in a way that is not only beautiful to watch but has more of an impact on the brain and heart of the audience than is possible with TV and film. Credit must go to the director (Charlie Kenber) for guiding and shaping this production but also to the cast for the way that they carry it off. Their performances are as good as I have seen anywhere.

The play is repeated at 7.30pm on Sunday 8th and Monday 9th July at the Bath Road Church Centre near the market place and after that it goes to the Manchester Fringe. You should get over to see it if you can. It may be the best theatrical production on the Fringe. In fact it may be the best piece of theatre that you see all year. It is a touring production and future dates are on the website the.meltingshop.co.uk. You can buy tickets at the Opera House but you can also turn up at the door and they will fit you in.

Alex Watts

THE O.S. MAP FAN CLUB - Helen Wood

People fall into three categories. Those who can't read maps, those who can read maps and those for whom maps are a source of comfort, order and an indication that all is right with the world. Helen Wood definitely falls into the last category.

Helen takes us on a ramble through all aspects of Ordinance Survey maps which , after all, are the finest maps on the planet. In fact Helen provides photographic proof from her family photo album that no other country in the world has maps as splendid as these.

Helen is an engaging and charming guide into the world of OS maps reminiscent of Victoria Wood with a backpack and good strong shoes. She covers an huge amount of ground in this show but, like a good walk leader, you never feel rushed and even have time for a break and a sweetie. Some of the topics covered include the history and marketing of OS maps (of course); how to make your own OS map t-shirt; whether linear walks and horse flies have a negative effect on marital bliss; creative writing about OS maps and the use of map related innuendo; which path will take you to the Poldark family home; and stories about two Prince Charles's and discovering how one of them has extracted exorbitant amounts of money from the British public.

If you like the idea of an hour of gentle humour where you will learn all sorts of random facts as well as laughing a lot then this is the show for you. Helen hands out "O.S. Map Fan Club" badges at the end of the show and I, for one, will wear mine with pride.

Alex Watts

MURDER, MARGARET AND ME - Allestree Theatre

The play "Murder Margaret and Me" is a true story that is structured as a murder mystery with the real Agatha Christie as the sleuth and Margaret Rutherford the person with a secret.

The play starts just as Rutherford is cast as Miss Marple for the first time and initially the plot focuses on the show business tensions between two successful women with big personalities, reputations and , dare I say it, egos. While neither is the actresses are physically similar to the main characters Samantha Drake captures Rutherford's demeanour and mannerisms well and Lorraine Hooper is very believable as a tenacious and somewhat ruthless Christie. The plot and necessary exposition is moved forward by a third actress , Kate Brennan, playing a variety of roles including an secretary, a dresser, a gossip and the narrator.

As Christie gets to know Rutherford she senses that the latter is hiding something. She is determined to find out what it is and cultivates a friendship with the reluctant Rutherford in order get to the bottom of it.

Because this is a murder mystery, I have to be very careful to avoid spoilers. You will be able to find plenty of background online or read the information boards of press cuttings available after seeing the show.

If you like Agatha Christie or murder mysteries or show business dramas or just a good story then I recommend catching this performance which is on twice a day on 7th, 20th and 21st July.

Alex Watts

ROMEO & JULIET - Spoonfed Theatre Company

Spoonfed is the name that the Buxton Community School sixth form group give themselves. They have been, of course, anything but spoonfed and this production - all their own work for a recent examination - is the result of a tremendous amount of rehearsal and consideration fitted in alongside other studies.

This is a straightforward production - no gimmicks - though the dress is contemporary to underline the timelessness of the tragedy. It is crucial to have a lead couple that is credible. Minni Hibbert is a suitably naive and fragile Juliet and we are readily persuaded that she is not yet 14. Tyler Spencer is a confident Romeo - decisive when he needs to be and troubled by the whirlwind of events that he has little control over.

The set piece scenes - the balcony, the fights and the deaths - are well-managed and the emotional range is convincing. Szymon Kozlowski is an angry Capulet, his rage barely contained. Ji Yuan Yang is a strutting, cocky Tybalt. Eleanor Maddison as the nurse provides us with a welcome emotional relief - just about the only character comfortable in her own skin in a world of conflict and turmoil.

Good support is provided by the rest of the cast, some taking on two or even three roles: Nina Jurewicz, Ashley Bainbridge, Sarah Bentley, Isabel Nadin, Jenson Schofield, Matthew Bowers and Mollie Bell. Nina Jurewicz directs with purpose and the lighting and sound team - Ellie Craufurd-Stuart, Makenzie Jones and Helen Usal are unobtrusive (which is a compliment!)

Congratulations to all involved in delivering a persuasive telling of this familiar tragedy.

Further performance 7 July, 7pm

Keith Savage

THE HAUNTING OF BLAINE MANOR by Joe O’Byrne - Tales From Paradise Heights

If you’re a fan of classic ghost stories, this is definitely the show for you. The creepy house that no one wants to stay in – check. The strange group of protagonists drawn together on a stormy night – check. That however, is where the expected formula ends and the surprises start. The intimate staging and the clever use of the audience as a fourth aspect drew us in to the action from the outset.

The six strong cast play their parts with gusto, particularly the sinister butler, Grady, (Joe O’Byrne) who incidentally is the show’s author and director.

The plotline has been deftly constructed to ensure that just when you’ve formed a theory of your own you are knocked off kilter as you’re sent in another direction. There are some serious scares which drew genuine gasps from the audience. These are helped in part, by the excellent sound and lighting effects which ratchet up the sense of menace, throughout.

Part way through this play, one of the characters observes that there is a joy in being scared and they are not wrong! If you’re looking for a spine-tingling evening and a twist that you won’t see coming then I would definitely recommend.

April Irwin

LOVE LETTERS FROM BLACKPOOL - Ruth E Cockburn

Writer and Performer Ruth E Cockburn has concocted a funny, heart warming and delicious gem of a show about that strongest and most compelling of human emotions – love. Structured around a series of letters from a lovelorn Ernie in the 1950s she slips seamlessly through song, poetry, anecdote and real-life recordings on the musings of her characters and interviewees all centred around the place Ruth says made her who she is…Blackpool. The bitter - sweet songs are as saucy and immediate as a McGill postcard with lyrics so barbed they could draw blood. Likewise the poems, fabulously well - paced, tender and tough in equal measure and delivered with steel and a smile. Ruth has a real eye for the frailties and strengths of human nature and the show is littered with telling insights and a confessional style honesty that will make you wince and laugh at the same time. There are visual delights too (the mystery facts) and the hour passes far too soon, in turns managing to be brittle, tough, whimsical and hilarious.

This is a must – see show.

David Hanson

TEECHERS by John Godber - Crewe Lyceum Young Company

1980's catchy pop music was used to hook the audience in for John Godber’s classic play of teaching and learning in a challenging school. This piece was ably presented by Crewe Lyceum Young Company (a group that welcomes 17-25 year olds). The script tells the timeless story of the shiny new drama teacher arriving and making his mark in a less than perfect secondary school. This play is well observed. Even though it is set in the 1980s some of what this play has to say about the education system still rings true today.

Josh Jones as Salty excelled in his various roles, each clearly defined and brimming full of energy and character. Oliver Sergeant as Hobby made an excellent Mrs Parry with his use of voice being particularly convincing! Ciara Hicks-Evans played Gail with all the attitude and self-belief of a confident 16 year old girl with the ability to transform into the hard nut Oggy Moxon. I have to mention that the spring onion eating section went above and beyond the call of duty…very funny. An extra actor in the form of Nicole Colley was added to competently play Miss Witham and Doug the Caretaker. The cast swiftly transformed into a multitude of characters with a quick addition of a scarf or jacket and change of voice.

The piece ran smoothly with minimal set and props. It was a strong piece of theatre from this youth group with confident performances. Well done to all involved.

Jayne Marling

GREEN KNIGHT - Debbie Cannon

You need to know just two things about Green Knight: it is storytelling at its very best; and there are four more chances to see and hear Debbie Cannon weave her spell. Take one!

The story of Camelot and the Round Table is claimed by the South West of England. The less familiar Sir Gawain and the Green Knight almost certainly has its roots in the area where Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire meet. Some pinpoint Lud’s Church in the Roaches as the Green Knight’s home. To some degree, then, Debbie Cannon was bringing this tale home.

If you are unfamiliar with this bit of the Arthurian legend no worry: the story is told in contemporary language and what a rich and enthralling story it is!

Armed with just a sheet, a brass tray, a painted tambourine, a bowl of apples and a spoon Debbie Cannon tells of how the mighty Green Knight entered Camelot and laid down a dreadful challenge which it fell to lowly Sir Gawain to take up on behalf of his King. Debbie has a beautiful voice and is expressive and direct in her delivery engaging the audience as individuals.

As Christmas approaches Sir Gawain travels to meet the challenge. He stays with a Lord and Lady and is entertained. Her ladyship is more willing to entertain than Sir Gawain is happy to accept. His knightly virtues are tested!

He then goes off to meet the Green Knight and reluctantly submits to his fate. I urge you to join him.

Further performances 7, 8, 9 & 11 July

Keith Savage

THE ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES - Tobacco Tea Theatre Company

Sherlock Holmes is bored and a bored Holmes means torture for those closest to him, he needs a case and he needs one quickly! Watson needs to pay his rent, so he also needs a case to write about and needs one quickly. What can be done?

The Accidental Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by the Bristol based Tobacco Tea Theatre Company made for an entertaining hour of spoof detecting. Director Christopher Cutting had obviously worked hard to combine the technical and physical aspects of the piece. The soundtrack at the start was a source of excitement for the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock fans in the audience and the twists and turns came thick and fast, like any good Holmes story. All accompanied by the miniature orchestra pit from where sound effects were created by the cast.

Nods were made in the script to the BBC’s Sherlock with skip codes and a jacket with a bomb in. However, this piece was firmly set in the past as Queen Victoria was an element within the plot.

The three actors played a variety of characters between them, all clearly defined by physicality and items of costume. Watson was the stand out actor who had a fantastic sense of comic timing and excellent facial expressions that conveyed each character perfectly.

This was a light-hearted show played by an enthusiastic cast.

Jayne Marling

AN AUDIENCE WITH SIR JOHN FALSTAFF - inamoment

John Falstaff is one of the great characters from Shakespeare in every sense of the word. As we know Falstaff likes a good time, a pint of Sack and most of all an Audience. This play is an opportunity to spend some time in his company and to be a 21st century audience for this charming, incorrigible and ultimately vain and selfish man.

The play is set in the Boars Head Inn in Eastcheap and although this is a one man show there are really three characters on stage. The two invisible characters are Shakespeare himself who is derided and insulted for his unflattering portrayal of the main character and Prince Hal for demonstrating his disloyalty by growing up and abandoning him. During the performance it is occasionally difficult to follow exactly who Falstaff is addressing. Shakespeare, Hal or the Audience.

Michael Harris is a very believable Falstaff as he performs some of the more famous speeches as well as impromptu ranting against the bard himself, Prince Hal and the unfairness of life including broken promises that he would reappear in Henry V. I especially enjoyed the recreation of Shakespearean language and the inventive insults in the style of the bard.

Alex Watts

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK - High Peak Community Arts

The stage was set in front of the glorious backdrop of the Pavilion Gardens bandstand in Buxton. A relaxed crowd, aged between 5 and 95 (not forgetting a particularly well-behaved West Highland terrier), sat on a range of folding chairs and picnic blankets in the sunshine as they munched on their picnics and quaffed prosecco. They were all waiting for the Cumbrian-based Three Inch Fools’ performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This was a performance of the play like no other I have ever seen. The five actors — Alex Wingfield, Claire Parry, Daniel Bellus, Josh Maddison and Rose Reade — relished in the challenge of acting out the myriad of roles in this comic tale of lovers, potions, mischief and the poor mechanical who is turned into a donkey. The whole audience (including the dog) were enchanted by the activities on stage as the troupe enhanced their production with songs, ambient sounds and original music played on a selection of instruments including a violin, guitar, drums, cymbal, clarinet, banjo and even a dulcimer. Clever choreography and stage direction added to the experience, from the magical swaying movement of the fairies as they sang Titania to sleep, to Duke Theseus joining the audience to watch the mechanicals perform their play.

The fact that the audience could follow the story, despite there being only five actors, is testament to their skill as performers. With the addition of a jacket, a crown, a scarf or a jockstrap (I kid you not!) their personality changed instantly and you knew which character they were playing. They even toyed with this approach, with the different actors playing the same part at different times and even two actors battling to play the same part at the same time – much to the enjoyment of the audience.

It is impossible to single out an actor for their performance as they were all excellent, be it the smouldering self-preening Demetrius by Wingfield, the comic facial expressions of Parry as Bottom, the high-pitched stunted performance by Maddison as one of the mechanicals in the final play, the angry ‘little but fierce’ Reade as Hermia or the flouncing Helen-a (you’ll have to watch it to see what I mean) played by Bellus. Having said that, when one of the other actors played the same part, they all brought something additional to the role. The comic timing, facial expressions and interactions between the performers showed what a strong group they are.

An enjoyable evening was had by all, there was much belly-laughing from the audience as these talented actors brought Shakespeare to life in an inventive way.

This performance was the 30th in their 2018 UK tour, with 41 still to do. The Three Inch Fools are traveling all over the country on this fourth year on the road, and this year will be performing either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Hamlet. The Fools have played Shakespeare at a wide variety of settings on their tours, from castles to cathedrals, historic homes to seaside piers. If they are coming to a town or village anywhere near you I urge you to catch a show by this innovative and talented group.

Sian-Elin Flint-Freel

CORDELIA/FOOL - inamoment

How do you like your Shakespeare? Straight? Classical? Experimental?

Well, ’Cordelia/Fool’ is none of these. It is an interpretation of aspects of King Lear by a modern actor who having accepted to play the two eponymous parts (‘wordy Shakespearean nonsense’ is his first opinion) slowly and grudgingly begins to see sense in the play and relevance to his relationship with his own daughter.

His assessment of Cordelia is refreshing – ‘Stupid teenage girl’. Why didn’t she just go along with it and flatter the old king to get her share of his kingdom?’.

We soon cut to the actor’s relationship with his own daughter whom – we later learn – he threw out from his own house. He hopes desperately for her to attend this performance but expects her to apologise first. It is interesting to see how the parallel with the play deepens.

The Fool is more troublesome. Played as a Tom-Baker-Dr-Who the actor’s motivation is to take care of Lear and bring him to wellbeing. He is also to make him laugh. We therefore get the Fool’s jokes (Writer, W Shakespeare) and the play’s songs, hey nonny nonny. It’s not quite clear how the Fool’s verbal abuse of the king – quoted from the play – fits with this.

I won’t spoil the ending but the actor, and maybe the audience, is given a lot to reflect on and ends up wiser.

The production is stylishly interesting with sound and other effects which fit in unobtrusively and Alex Nikitas is faultless in all three roles.

An interesting and thoughtful afternoon.

Further performances: 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th July all at 1pm.

Brian Kirman

DIARY OF AN EXPAT - Paper Smokers

Diary of an Expat presented by Paper Smokers, performed by Cecilia Gragnani with Steve Wickenden as the voice of London. Written by Cecilia Gragnani, Jvan Sica and Loredana de Michelis.

Paper Smokers is a collective of story tellers founded in Italy by Cecilia Gragnani and Sara Urban. They later expanded into London to develop their work in both countries. The collective’s work includes theatre, music, installations, visual arts and film. They strongly believe in international collaboration and the coming together of artists from differing backgrounds as ‘precious tools’ to interpret today’s world. In this production Cecilia shows the use of these precious tools in bringing to life the hopes joys and disappointments of the freedom to experience life in another European country.

Cecilia, as the expat, takes us through her story and convincingly draws us into the excitement and wonder of living in a city unlike her own. Her love of everything British, she tells the audience, began as a school girl in Italy learning English. Arriving in London, she works through the sometimes challenging integration to eventual acceptance in the country she had always wanted to experience. A performance full of irony and wit with a dramatic twist in tempo towards the end that hammers home how soon a country’s welcome can turn to rejection and a person from expat to foreigner.

This performance is for anyone who wants to understand, from the personal perspective, life in a country where the attitude to expats has become volatile.

Sadly Paper Smokers have commitments elsewhere and won’t be offering a second performance in the Fringe this year.

Sandy Newholm

EGLANTYNE - Anne Chamberlain

Anne Chamberlain packs a lot into her play about Eglantyne Jebb the founder of Save the Children and the influence behind the UN declaration on the rights of the child. She paints a vivid picture of this inspiring woman who changed the world but who also suffered from depression and had a tragic personal life.

It is an ambitious play that takes you through the events in her adult life and makes you realise the scale of the turmoil and change during the first quarter of the twentieth century as women abandoned gentility and drawing rooms and became activists. While her sister and her friends focused on politics and women's suffrage, Eglantyne activism was more internationally focused as she campaigned and succeeded in providing aid for children starving in Germany and Austria post-1918 and during the Russian famine following the Russian revolution.

There are many voices in the play. Anne's performance switches between third person narration, through inner thoughts and reflections from Eglantine and Anna herself as well as first person declarations addressing the audience from Eglantyne, other characters and even the government. It can be difficult at times to work out who is speaking but you soon catch up.

The play leaves you to make up your own mind about the reasons for Eglantyne's often unhappy personal life but it is through these personal details that Anna brings Eglantyne to life as a fully rounded character and makes you care about her.

Alex Watts

JANET - Helenandjohn

Janet is a puppet show using kitchen equipment as the puppets. Janet is a lump of bread dough and this play tells her story from conception through the rights of passage of childhood and teenage years into adulthood. This may sound bonkers, and it is, but it is also brilliant and very funny.

The play has a cast of characters all played by kitchen equipment. Helen Ainsworth brings these to life and you really believe that a bag of flour is a hysterical french mother, an upside down teapot is a posh English femme fatale and a rolling pin is a hunky teenage boy. Most of all you believe that a lump of dough is an adolescent girl.

Because the play is so lighthearted it is easy to overlook the talent of the performer. However Helen Ainsworth's physical comedy and comic timing in this performance is absolutely superb and her puppetry very creative.

The play was a giggle and a joy from start to finish. I am still chuckling remembering it the next day.

Alex Watts

DREAMSCAPE - Leaning House

Based on a true story, Dreamscape tells the tale of Greg, put into an induced coma and locked inside his own brain. A few years ago, the real-life Greg was put into a coma and writer/director Miriam Higgins has adapted the blog he wrote describing events as he saw them.

The action starts with 3 actors, Krage Brown, Jenny Johns and Danny Steele, who are all Greg, and they narrate events by turn in a quick-fire delivery, a sort of verbal relay race. They tell Greg’s story but it is unclear (as indeed it must have been to the real Greg) what is real and unreal; the fine line between dreams and reality is well and truly blurred. The actors also perform brief cameos of the people Greg encounters (or thinks he does) on his journey: the doctors, the evil nurse, the bossy landlady, the blonde lady, the gentle chubby man, circle-face and, to add to the surreal effect, a host of Doctor Who’s, a plague of zombies and Roger Moore. The versatile actors change roles seamlessly and in doing so adopt a variety of accents and attitudes. Greg’s odyssey is trying to get back to Southampton, whether by train or a lift with his parents, but his occasional lucidity is interrupted by surreal dreamlike visitations.

This cleverly written and ambitious play will have you pondering about the nature of reality and the dividing line between it and fantasy. Miriam Higgins makes a bold attempt to portray Greg’s vivid dreams and his often frustrated attempts to get a handle on reality; it is an intriguing insight into what is going on inside someone else’s head. Such a play is by its very nature confusing at times, and you will occasionally wonder what is going on – one moment we are firmly rooted in the real world, perusing train timetables from Waterloo, or indeed contemplating real ale and/or Top Gear, the next we are witnessing an attack by zombies. And who or what is the Facility? The potentially dark theme is, however, dealt with in a good-humoured way by the three engaging actors, such as in the afore-mentioned zombie interlude with the repeated screams of horror. Some of the descriptive writing is vivid, too – Greg has totally changed my attitude towards strawberry yoghurt!

The set and props are sparse, consisting of little more than a flip-chart, a few scarves and that scarf; the actors are dressed in blue pyjamas and white wellies (with something unusual inside them, but I won’t go there). Muted sound effects contribute to the atmosphere, and there is a modicum of audience participation. By its nature such a play is a bit static at times, but there is some interesting movement as the players imitate the trials of commuters on a train, for example.

Leaning House are an Oxford-based company and have just performed this play in their home town. It is being performed here on the 8th and 9th July, and they deserve a bigger audience.

Ian Hamilton

TELLING LIVES by Eric Northey - Buxton Drama League

Eric Northey, writer and producer of this drama about the real lives and events in Prestwich Asylum during the First World War, wants his audience to leave the theatre ‘thinking and discontented’ as well as having had a good night out. His extensive research into the Prestwich archives has yielded a rich source of material for a story that is, at times, moving and traumatic. The stunning interior of the Pump Room venue lends itself well to the feeling that you are, in fact, inside a sort of sanatorium; clinical, bright and laid bare. Telling Lives leads us through the varied lives of some of the patients at Prestwich and of its principal medical practitioner, Dr Perceval – a decent man hell-bent on improving the lives of his wards but constantly thwarted and frustrated until he is faced with the timeless question of how we can care effectively and humanely with people suffering from mental health issues.

Eric Northey has created what he calls a ‘hybrid play’ to tell this important story, using music, poetry, performance and song and it’s a beguiling mix. There are larger issues and themes here too and although a stronger narrative thread might well have given this piece more dramatic glue, it is still a convincing piece of theatre. The ensemble cast are compelling, both in song and drama, and you will leave having had that good night out with the resonance of what you have experienced haunting you long after the Pump Room disappears from view.

David Hanson