Review: Insane Root Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Eastville Park Swimming Pool

For The Reviews Hub

A delightful dip in the Shakespearean pool

If you follow the path through Eastville Park, the course of true love will take you to a derelict, open-air Victorian pool finally waking after a long sleep and filling not with water, but with wonder and delight as the setting for Insane Root’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

From vaults to graveyards, crypts to caves, Insane Root specialise in seeing the potential of unexpected spaces to elucidate Shakespearean and other classic texts: placing their 2017 adaptation of The Tempest in St John on the Wall’s Crypt perfectly captured the elegiac longing of the ageing Prospero, and as the star-cross’d lovers in their open-air production of Romeo and Juliet fell to their tragic fates, so did the cloak of night fall over the players and audience in this very pool. It’s a few years since Insane Root last laid their scene at Eastville Park, and while the pool doesn’t cast a spell as potent or perfectly plotted for Midsummer as it did Romeo and Juliet, it is – with a little sprinkle of Puck’s fairy dust and Edmund McKay’s playful lighting – an opportune Athenian woodland for spirited fairies, lost lovers, and crafty thespians alike.

The foliage around the pool is a natural ‘palace wood’, the drained pool floor a perfect stage, and the steps around the edge a fitting, if solid, place to watch the action unfold. Dressed in the earthy palette of Katy Hoste’s designs, the talented cast of nine actors open with a song from associate Ellie Showering. Their distinctive choral work, which also scores all of Insane Root’s previous adaptations with lyrics skilfully drawn from the text itself, lulls us with soft lilts into the fantasy world of the play and fixes us there with Dan Pollard’s echoing sound design.

The different worlds and interwoven plots are part of the difficulty in adapting this deceptively straight-forward play. The fighting lovers, vengeful fairies, and disastrous group of artisans-turned-actors are grounds for farce, and Hannah Drake’s playful direction does find all the lightness and laughter, but there’s also darkness to explore. Theseus ‘woo’d’ the warrior Hippolyta with his ‘sword’ and founded their nuptials on violence, and that violence is echoed in Egeus’s fury that his ‘fair’ daughter Hermia – a fierce Lily Donovan – will not accept her fate as Demetrius’s wife. The production faintly traces this, as Norma Butikofer’s Hippolyta is strong-willed and weaponed, and, under Kev McCurdy’s fight direction, outwits Wela Mbusi’s stately Theseus with a swipe of her wooden lance, while gender-swapping Esmée Cook’s proud Lysander adds a frightening prejudice to Egeus’s scorn. Dualling the parts of Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania also plays into the deeper layers of the play, with the fairies’ tricks and deceptions a fantastical foil to the suppressed tension of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Although, as Theseus declares in the opening scene, ‘the pale companion is not for our pomp’, and it’s in the fun and frivolity that this production truly awakes. There’s a wonderfully entertaining turn from Euan Shanahan as Puck, playing the sprite with all the swagger of a drunk festivalgoer and introduced with a swig of lager and a loud eructation, and Lizzie Crarer is effervescent as the desperately earnest and devoted Helena, delivering every speech with astounding lucidity. And every scene featuring the Mechanicals, captained by Gareth Warren’s luckless Quince who can scarcely do up the fastenings on his natty cardigan let alone lead his cast of tinkers, tailors, and supposed players, is a delight, particularly the farcical play-within-a-play where Alexander Mushore’s Flute delivers his final lines as the prancing Thisbe so delicately that if this were Juliet saying ‘adieu’ you wouldn’t find a dry eye in the pool. And lastly, though definitely not least, Byron Mondahl’s Bottom exudes all the delusions of grandeur – and occasionally, the vocal pitch – of an operatic soprano, delighting in Titania and the fairies’ adoration without a lick of wit.

So, though the full depths of the play don’t always surface, this playful production, with Insane Root’s unparalleled eye for space and appreciation of Shakespeare’s text, is still a delightful dip in the Shakespearean pool.

Date: 6pm – Saturday 9th July 2022 (24th June-20th August)
Location: Eastville Park Swimming Pool
For: The Reviews Hub
Cast: Norma Butikofer, Esmée Cook, Lizzie Crarer, Lily Donovan, Wela Mbusi, Byron Mondahl, Alexander Mushore, Euan Shanahan & Gareth Warren
Picture: Jack Offord
Link: Insane Root Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Matilda the Musical.jpeg

Mischief, magic, and as much charm as the original tale

‘Just because I find myself in this story, it doesn’t mean that everything is written for me’: ah, the wisdom of children – the whimsical wonder and childlike delight that children can’t wait to outgrow and adults wish for once again is the foundation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s literature. With all of Dahl’s wisdom and a little childlike wonder, Matilda the Musical is Denis Kelly’s delightful adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda, the wisest little worm of all.

A precocious child prodigy flipping through Dickens and Dostoevsky at five years old, Matilda is desperate to grow up and escape from a family – coiffed and vociferous in fantastic performances from Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill – that prefer the sedative effects of television to the fanciful dance of their daughter’s fairy tales. Escaping to the autocratic tutelage of Crunchem Hall, Matilda is taught the toughest class of all: even teachers, like Carly Thoms’s ‘pathetic’ and empathetic Miss Honey, can’t escape from ‘fighting the creatures that you have fight each night’, even if they’re all grown up, and particularly if that creature is the terrifying Trunchball. Continue reading “Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic

Original Review for Broadway World UK

Gecko's Institute

Physical theatre full of aching truth and tactility

Theatre is physical: isolated from its spectacle and pageantry, theatre’s principal narrative tools are physical figures in a physical space. The effect that a space can produce in its  occupants is the focus of physical theatre aces Gecko Theatre’s Institute, a work that perfectly illustrates with grace, poignancy, and fragility the effect of a severely institutional space on its defenceless occupants.

Artistic Director, deviser, and dancer Amit Lahav envisions an industrial dystopia that crystallises as set designer Rhys Jarman’s greyed and glowering citadel of desks and towering drawers. Alight with Chris Swain’s versatile lighting and singing with Dave Price’s lyrical original score and the electric dissonance of Nathan Johnson’s sound design, it’s a transcendent stage for a set of devised, genre-defying vignettes.

Though the nature of the institute – for sanctuary or incarceration, as a vision of an austere future or a vestige of an afflicted past – is strategically vague, and the narrative structurally nonlinear, the physical and psychological effects that institutionalisation elicits are evocative and visceral. With flashing lights and electronic strikes echoing through the space and inflicting the strict structure and invasive feel of the Institute on the spectator and occupant alike, it’s physical theatre that forces itself to be felt. Continue reading “Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Kinky Boots UK Tour Bristol

As tough, worthy, and well-tailored as a pair of Price and Sons’ shoes 

‘Trust your feet in Price and Son, our work is tried and true: practical, pragmatical, steadfast, and steady, too’: so echoes the omnipresent theme of Price and Sons shoe factory, yet this musical is as far from practical and pragmatic as the magnificent shoes it manufactures. With music and lyrics from legendary musician Cyndi Lauper and adapted by Harvey Fierstein from the 2005 film, Kinky Boots is a musical with leather, lace, legacy, and hopes as high as its heels.

Charlie Price’s father leaves him with some very large, old-fashioned shoes, and the underperforming, ‘practical, pragmatic, and steadfast’ factory – intimidatingly industrial in David Rockwell’s well-worn, multi-levelled set – to fill. As Lola, a stylish, deliciously witty drag queen, struts into this dated, industrial, dogmatic world, she sets it alight with sequins and dancing, yet is as unsteady as Price and Sons’ outmoded men’s shoes are steady in stilettos not designed for feet of her width or weight. Seeing an opportunity to serve an ‘underserved niche’ in the footwear industry, it’s in a pair of sturdy, outlandishly stylish shoes that an unexpected friendship develops between straitlaced, lost Charlie and extroverted yet equally adrift Lola.

Yet, the soul of the show isn’t in its shoes. Continue reading “Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour”

Review: Princess and the Hustler – Bristol Old Vic

Original Review for Broadway World UK

BOV The Princess and the Hustler

Black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny

Beauty pageants and bus boycotts seldom belong on the same page, but in Chinonyerem Odimba’s joyously playful and beautifully played Princess and the Hustler, they’re brought together by Princess James, a flamboyant young girl who is black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny. Odimba’s play, also black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny, focuses on an oft-forgotten and unforgivable time in Bristol’s past, the Bus Boycott of 1963, and is part of theatre collective Eclipse’s ground-breaking programming of Black British narratives.

As the sister to Junior, a nascent photographer engaged in the fight for civil rights, with her no-nonsense mother Mavis only just earning enough to finance her family and her estranged father knocking on the front door with a new daughter in tow, Princess’s narrative is overflowing with new-fangled influences. Yet, it centres on Princess’s natural hair as much as her city’s history, Continue reading “Review: Princess and the Hustler – Bristol Old Vic”