Review: The Borrowers – Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original review for the Reviews Hub

The Borrowers TFT

Truly T’riffic

With a pitter-patter of petite feet and a-pocketing of confectionery, paper planes, and a crisp packet for a great escape, the Factory Theatre is the magical, mischievous, pocket-sized Clock family’s giant playground this Christmas. With witty, loveably believable writing from Bea Roberts, The Borrowers is a whimsical little wonder to warm all hearts this wintertime.

Under the energetic, gentle direction of Nik Partridge, this playful adaptation of Norton’s novel is as delightfully confident and unapologetically joyful as Jessica Hayles’s tiny courageous teenager, Arietty. With her petrified father Pod (Craig Edwards) and plucky mother Homily (Peta Maurice), brave, acrobatic Arietty and the Clock family are forced to escape from their home – with the heroics of Eddie, the bashful human boy she befriends – when bleach-fanatic Aunty Val and her vacuum move in above the floorboards. It’s a cutesy yet timeless tale of compassion, family, and courage, and its perfectly pitched comic performances, particularly Lucy Tuck’s fantastically fanatical Val, fill its pockets full of mischievous charm.

There’s charm in the magic and mischief too, Continue reading “Review: The Borrowers – Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein – Arnos Vale Cemetery

Original Review for the Reviews Hub

Red Rope Theatre's Frankenstein

Elegiac and gorgeously gothic

Playing God in an Anglican chapel is, like Frankenstein’s Creature, ‘fearless, and therefore powerful’. Amongst the gravestones at Arnos Vale, Red Rope Theatre stitch together and stage their agonised, magnificently imagined Frankenstein’s monster at the cemetery’s Victorian altar in Matt Grinter’s elegiac, gorgeously gothic imagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel.

Thematically and theatrically atmospheric, Arnos Vale and the novel are Victorian artworks framed by the Ancient Greek: in its title, Frankenstein references the mythological figure ‘Prometheus’, whose actions Victor echoes in creating the Creature, and the nineteenth-century cemetery at Arnos Vale was created to echo the classicism of a Greek necropolis. And, with fingers, faces, and figures under foot, it’s frighteningly fertile ground for playing God.

Grinter’s text is poetic, with some elegantly elegiac monologues for the gifted and frugal cast of three, especially in an elegy to the mother of Danann McAleer’s guilt-plagued, grief-stricken Frankenstein, for whom death has invited itself in and will never leave. Though powerful in its poetry and fearless in the actors’ performances, there are moments that lose their power with the pacing, Continue reading “Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein – Arnos Vale Cemetery”

Review: Ellie Dubois’s No Show – Spielman Theatre

Original review for the Reviews Hub

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Thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry

A lot of grit, graft, and grazed knees go into greatness, yet for ‘showgirls’ in the ‘greatest show on earth’ the nightly danger is disguised by grace, discipline, glitz, and offstage doughnuts. Ellie Dubois’s circus celebrates the blood, sweat, and bruises of her acrobatic ensemble and aims to articulate, through biography, the physical and psychological labour of its thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry.

The circus is where artist and athlete intersect: in their striped-and-sequined strips, the freeform structure of the evening features the five female performers striving for perfection in their physical feats, from aerial stunts to striking contorted poses. There’s no flying trapeze or tightrope, twisting and upturning our expectations of circus as effortlessly as the tricks are executed, and though they often don’t feel ‘death-defying’, their dexterity and physicality is still exciting, especially Camille Toyer’s lyrical performance on the Cyr wheel that’s preceded by an explanation of the danger if she were to put a foot or finger wrong. Yet, there’s an assurance, from Kate McWilliam, that she won’t; after all, ‘we’re professionals’.

Even professionals have imperfections, and the physical effort it takes to achieve perfection is as much a part of the performance as the tricks. Continue reading “Review: Ellie Dubois’s No Show – Spielman Theatre”

Review: Beautiful Thing – Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original Review for the Reviews Hub

Beautiful Thing

A blissful, beautiful thing

‘Once I believed that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells, and poetry – but with me and you, it just started quietly, and grew… and it’s getting better.’ Beautiful Thing at the Tobacco Factory Theatres begins with a beautiful chorus of Mama Cass’s ‘It’s Getting Better’ from a community choir, and it’s everything this urban fairytale should be about: affection, optimism, and community.

Written in the nineties, 2018 is its 25th anniversary, and with age it’s grown a warm, nostalgic naivety from the nearly anarchic work it was then. It is ‘getting better’, but the heart-breaking effects of homophobia aren’t, and the Tobacco Factory’s Beautiful Thing is heart-warming, celebratory, bitingly funny, but also a remembrance of just how ground-breaking Jonathan Harvey’s work was just for being about the beauty of two gay teenage boys falling in love with each other.

And maybe it’s the absence of any ‘bury your gays’ symbolism that’s so ubiquitous in LBGTQ+ literature that gives Beautiful Thing its ‘urban fairytale’ subtitle. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing – Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Review: Parlour Games – The Wardrobe Theatre

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Parlour Games

Hysterical history

God Save the (drag) Queen: part drawing-room comedy, part clowning, and part drag, Parlour Games is a most unconservative portrait of the Victorians. With a grande dame, a Deutsche clown prince, and any delusions of grandeur doused with playful cross-dressing, it’s a comic delight with a melodramatic crown.

From Sharp Teeth – and with even sharper wits – the show bites into the beliefs one has about Victoria and Albert and clothes the bare bones in cabaret, biting wit, and an unbelievably bad wig. Playing parlour games while a political revolution rages in England, Victoria and her Prince Consort wait out the people’s anger with their pathetic, piano-playing servant – the wondrously droll and overworked Andy Kelly – as the past, overprotective ghosts, and their courtship appear in a series of raucous vignettes.

With revolution reigning overseas and Chartists threatening the English throne, Continue reading “Review: Parlour Games – The Wardrobe Theatre”

Review: A Haunted Existence – The Island

Original review: The Reviews Hub

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Haunting and humorous: an experimental examination of the history of homosexuality

‘You may find this morally wrong. I don’t’: the irreverent, fearlessly truthful, revolutionary reaction of Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, a teenager arrested in Taunton in the fifties after approaching a plain-clothes police officer while travelling on a train. His crime? Existing as a homosexual, and what a haunted existence it was. 

A Haunted Existence is writer and performer Tom Marshman’s response to this South West story, the arrests, imprisonment, and inhuman treatment that followed, and the haunting effect the history of homosexuality still has on its future. Hosted at The Island, an old police station with some insightful installations to explore in the empty cells, A Haunted Existence is a lecture-come-floorshow with a little séance at play, too. The performance focuses heavily on the collective past of homosexuality, with Marshman echoing the harrowing experiences of these men with repeated phrases like ‘they were in it together, they were in it alone’, and ‘I imagine…’

And Marshman’s imagination is magnetic. Continue reading “Review: A Haunted Existence – The Island”

Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Hefty, hearty & gorgeously green

An offbeat fairytale about being a believer in happily-ever-afters for the beautiful and ogreish alike, Shrek the Musical is a hefty, hearty, gorgeously green show that lets its Freak Flag fly but its originality fall victim to fart gags and the far-greater film.

The original film won an Oscar and a legion of fans for its animation and imagination, but originality is what’s lost in the musical: though full of animated characters and moments of imagination – with magical transformations, Josh Prince’s rat-tapping choreography, and impressive puppetry – David Lindsay-Abaire’s book is indebted to the film for its laughs and adapts its famous lines and filmic beats verbatim. Whilst as bold and bright as the film, it feels less than fresh, and with lots of allusions to other musicals, some of them also from movies – from Les Misérables to The Lion King, Gypsy to Dreamgirls – forced in without rhyme or remark, the musical emphasises, albeit affectionately, the flaws and imitations of its book.

The musical – and Jeanine Tesori’s music – is at its greatest and most unforgettable with its most familiar fairytale characters, Continue reading “Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Wardrobe Ensemble's South Western

All the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western

Welcome to the Wild Wild South West: from gunslinging to cider, saloons to cancelled services, lone wanderers to line-dancing, giddy-up as the Wardrobe Ensemble drag us through a Western revenge voyage from Bristol through the best of the West. With all their charm, cheek, and wry wit, the Bristol-based Ensemble’s South Western is ambitious and offbeat, with all the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western.

Mae’s father was killed at the Cornish cliffs, and she’s off to avenge him: the camera tells us so, as it cuts to a close up of the vein on her temple and pans to her clenched fists. At least, it would, if this were a Western, Ben Vardy’s visiting Wyoming film professor tells us at the play’s opening. South Western works like the wildest lecture, with the professor calling the shots – ‘cut to close up’ – until the pivotal shootout: from there, it’s up to Helen Middleton’s determined, short-tempered Mae, and her imagination, to direct – and deconstruct – the showdown with crash mats and chroma-key.

Framed by this deconstruction of the Western filmic form, South Western wittily deconstructs theatrical form too, Continue reading “Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western”

Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter

Original review: The Reviews Hub

In the Light Everything is Brighter

Monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative

Something is lurking in the dark: your deepest fear, your demons, your darkest moments… what frightens you the most? Is it monsters? Or is it the monotony of your early twenties? Wilderbeast’s monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative In the Light Everything is Brighter illuminates the nightmare of monotony in witty montages and monstrous images and boldly enlightens and engages with the anxieties of a new generation.

Elliot is 22. Work is dull, mates are moving away, and motivation – even to load the dishwasher with the mountain of mugs he leaves in his room – is low. Life is, literally, a drag, and Wilderbeast use it to grating effect in moments of the performance that play out in real time, as when Oscar Adams’s wonderfully weary Elliot and workmate Liz eat sandwiches in silence for five minutes: it’s wearisome and it’s weird, but it works. With real time grinding against monstrous stylism from monster and movement director Toby Pritchard and absurdist breakdowns in supermarkets, it’s muddled but brilliantly disturbing.

Formed through Bristol Old Vic’s programme for young theatre makers, Wilderbeast are a collaborative and versatile collective. Continue reading “Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter”

Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Insane Root's Romeo and Juliet

Joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous

Shakespeare, ‘star-cross’d lovers’, ancestral strife, and… an open-air swimming pool? Insane Root Theatre’s ‘fair Verona’ is Eastville Park Swimming Pool, an empty, open-air pool just east of the city, and it’s the surprisingly perfect place to lay our scene. Rich as it is in imagery, romance, and rivalry, Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet is joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous, with its greatness cleverly tucked away at the edge of a green and covered by the gates of Verona.

An old amphitheatric Victorian lido, the pool is drained and derelict, thick with undergrowth, and growing ever darker in the dusk: these are organic grounds for a tragedy, but the true ground for tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is the jarring generic change that comes with Mercutio as a casualty in Act III and transforms a coarse, oftentimes juvenile comedy into the tragic ‘two hour traffic’ augured in the prologue. With canonic characterisation as a tragedy, it’s often challenging to pitch the comedic tone, but as Insane Root tease out the originality of classic plays by performing them in original, often unexpected, places, the pool is perfectly pitched to accommodate tradition and creation, comedy and tragedy, and to grow them together organically. Continue reading “Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet”