Monday, 29 June 2020

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Snow (The Beast Will Rise) - Tramp.


The next in the weekly series of world premiere monologues from the pen of Philip Ridley is called 'Snow', and is performed by Joseph Drake, another actor who was due to perform in the ill-fated production of The Beast From Blue Yonder at Southwark Playhouse just as covid 19 lockdown started.

Again directed by Wiebke Green, this very short piece shows an adult, perhaps businessman, sit and reminisce about a childhood experience. At first it was a scary and unsettling memory, he was being carried by his father outside, and he watched as white stuff fell from the sky. Then he saw his dad was smiling and he started smiling and laughing too. He took hold of some of this white stuff and it melted. And the memory and the smile were gone.

A nice little metaphoric piece, but too short really to have any substance. Again professionally created and sincerely acted.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/6/20

Sunday, 28 June 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: A Midsummer Night's Dream - The Bridge Theatre, London.


It is the hottest day of the year. So, it’s only fitting that this classic, William Shakespeare comedy was broadcast straight into our marginally cooler houses for our entertainment.

This production aimed to spice things up for the 21st Century, but retained the original 16th Century performance condition of having the majority of the audience follow the action on foot – think of it like a 'premium groundlings'. It was immersive theatre for those audience members who weren’t sitting down within the in-the-round space.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, was due to marry Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen. The production opened with a corporate, cold, and controlling kingdom. At the same time, four runaway lovers: Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, and Helena, looked for sanctuary in the forest near Athens. This was a magical forest with sorcerous inhabitants such as fairies who had all come for the Duke’s wedding. Oberon, the King of the fairies, squabbled with his Queen, Titania, and persuaded his mischievous servant Puck to drop magic juice into her eyes as she slept, in an attempt to punish her. The potion caused anyone to fall hopelessly in love with whatever person or creature they happened to first lay eyes on when they awoke. Of course, the potion ended up being administered to the lovers in the forest and they ended up falling in love with the wrong people and so the Shakespearian complex chaos was instigated. In the same neck of the woods, a local theatre group were rehearsing a play for the Duke’s wedding. However, when one of the cast members called Bottom went missing, would the production of “The Most Lamentable Comedy And Most Cruel Death Of Pyramus And Thisbe”, go ahead?

Sadly, I wasn’t keen on Gwendoline Christie’s portrayal of Titania/Hippolyta. In comparison with the rest of the cast, I felt she exaggerated the parts a little too much (even for Shakespeare). Perhaps, trying to be too authoritative for both roles? On the other hand, Oliver Chris’ performance as Theseus/Oberon was appropriately controlling, and threatening at times, especially as Theseus. It was a well-rounded performance as he showed a more gentle and loving side later in the play too. David Moorst’s Puck was cheeky but loveable. Apparently, he learnt how to perform the aerial choreography on silks especially for this production. Moorst performed the routines fluidly and effortlessly, even when he was speaking the text he kept up the stamina. Hammed Animashaun gave a ground-breaking performance as Bottom; he brilliantly had the audience in the palm of his hand. Animashaun made the role his own.

The design of the mystical and liberating forest was in complete contrast to the palace, by Bunny Christie. The significant design decision, of course, was to have the audience right at the heart of the action; both adhering to the immersive style and forming a unique and dynamic experience. However, it’s a lovely concept that they only just about got away with, in practice. The problem was with the stage lifts and set pieces rising and falling for every scene, the actors having to navigate their way through the audience, and with platforms possessing a small surface area to act on, for the most part it felt constricting, fussy, and impractical. The design team got away with it, ultimately, because of the moments of audience participation such as the audience carousel finish. Then, it had a meaningful purpose. Grant Olding’s musical underscoring wasn’t just limited to scene transitions but was played pretty much throughout. It enhanced the action of the plot and emotional extremities during scenes; recapitulating how the course of true love never runs smoothly.

In addition to the production design breaking the mould, director Nicholas Hytner made innovative artistic decisions in other ways. While exploring the common play text themes of magic, dreams, and mischief, the subject of love’s difficulty was looked at through a contemporary lens. It challenged heteronormative society to include the LGBTQ+ community, endorsing the message that love is love. It was not the Fairy Queen but the Fairy King who seduced Bottom in this production. Featuring current pop music such as, “Bonkers” by Dizzee Rascal and “Love On Top” by Beyoncé made the show uplifting and the play, accessible. Casting a wonderfully diverse ensemble meant the audience were hearing Shakespeare being spoken and performed in a new way. Breaking tradition. Very good.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 26/6/20

Friday, 26 June 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: From Here - The Black Box Theatre, Central Florida Community Arts, Orlando. USA.


'From Here' is a new musical written entirely by Donald Rupe in response to a homophobic shooting at a night club in Orlando, Florida exactly four years' ago.

The show centres around the life of Daniel, (Blake Aburn), a 31 year old creative writing teacher who is openly gay, and as he tells his story, speaking directly to the audience, we watch him as he lives his somewhat disconnected and misdirected life, moving from one boyfriend, Michael (Peter Held) to a serious relationship, Ricky (Erick Perafan), and calling his mother (Sarah-Lee Dobbs) every day, despite knowing she won't ever answer. In one of his soliloquies early on we learn that his dad left home and the reason he left was that he knew his son was gay - and his mum has never been able to forgive him for that.

The musical, and story, do take a little too long to get going and find its feet, but once it does, the mixture of drama, pathos, tragedy, romance etc is like a condensed Shakespeare. All the ingredients are there, and the cast cope with them excellently. There is sympathy, empathy and chemistry between the performers, and although the story is somewhat predictable, it is still advisable to have a box of tissues at the ready.

The cathartic moment arrives more than half way through the show, and it is the moment the characters learn of the shooting at Pulse Night Club, and the impact that has on them and their friends and family. It does bring him back together with his mother though, and just as you think the musical is going to end: he has his mother back, he is in love and has a good thing going with his boyfriend (who coincidentally also happens to be employed by his mum!) it doesn't! No, it's too neat, and it needs a little more unravelling first, and so, the musical is extended further and some 40 minutes' later it all starts to work out right again. I like the musical and the concept, but it does feel overlong and has sections in it with very little to do or say, and the narrative becomes entrenched in nothingness. I understand the reasoning behind this I think, and the wanting that the audience feel and emote with the previous happenings before moving on, but this isn't an art-house European film, it's a Fringe Musical, and so I did feel there was a need to keep it flowing more, and certain scenes could easily have been cut altogether.

What the musical does do however is unite a community. It highlights the shooting as a real tragedy which affected not just the gays but the whole community, the whole city, nay, the whole country. They saw that they were not the only ones being targetted, and the city responded with love and kindness and understanding.

Acting on a street map of Orlando and surrounding area, with hearts, I assume depicting the homes of those lost in the shooting (?), and the 6-piece band away on one side of the stage, it was a simple set, and yet, it really didn't need much more; the performances were real and emotive, and although the characters in the musical were not depicting real people, it was based on real events, and that is something we should never froget.

A heart-warming tale (in the end) told with humour and sensitivity, of friendship, love, romance, family and community resolve.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/6/20

DANCE THEATRE REVIEW: LOL (Lots Of Love) - The Place, London.


This 70-minute non-stop dance-theatre piece by Protein Dance Company is an ironic love song to the strange and sometimes scary world of computers and online friendship, chat, dating and romance.  The stage is bare except for three screens at the rear upon which are shown the videos of real people, recruited especially for this show, watching and chatting online.

The show itself is a continual bombarding of vignette after vignette - some related others not so - of young men and women negotiating the technology and etiquette, whilst manipulating the system too. The speech is almost verbatim messenger chat complete with emojis and other online signs and acronyms, whilst the choreography and original music both mirror these feelings and messages perfectly. The movement becomes the keyboard or the speech-pattern of the technology. There is much humour to be found in this piece, and although on the surface it might seem that the work is about the negative side of technological friendship-finding, the energy and impact of the piece taken as whole is much more of a young persons' evocation to and almost deifiction of computer technology.

In a world where the reliance on such technology is not only taken for granted, but is a very large part of most people's daily lives, it is a very clever and direct look at the way we interact with that technology and how our personalities and our raison d'etre has changed because of it. Our language and vocabulary has changed, our interaction with others has changed, and it also highlights the marked difference between who we are online and who we are in reality; offering some insight as to why many people might want to stay in the online world without ever revealing their real selves.

It might be a little bleak and dark at times, but mostly it is fun and joyous, and a celebration of the fact that we have the ability to use such things to our advantage. Just don't get caught up and overwhelmed by it.

Conceived and choreographed by Luca Silvestrini, with additional direction by Don Boyd and Jonathan Bloom, original and pertinent music by Andy Pink, and performed by 6 very multi-talented troupers, it was an illuminating, interesting and highly enjoyable show put together with talent and skill.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/6/20

Thursday, 25 June 2020

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Bare E-ssentials #2 - Encompass Productions


For their 16th evening of new writing, and their second time of slightly altering both their title and concept to make it an online event, London-based company Encompass Productions are passionate about presenting new pieces of theatre in their rawest and most exposed form. The plays they choose are passed by a panel before being given to professional directors and actors to interpret and produce. In each case, especially with the online versions - directed and performed in isolation - costuming, props and set are either extremely minimal or non-existent. As a further point to bear in mind is that these four short plays in this event were performed live and not prerecorded, and so another element of jeopardy was added... but no more or less than if it had been a live theatre performance.

Our host for the evening was Liam Fleming, one of the founding members of the company, and was most personable and enigmatic in his MCing.

The four short pieces of writing were actually quite varied and made a good mix for the evening. Starting with a bizarre and rather off-beat comedy "Every Seven Minutes" which told the story of an operator and a trainee in the 'Every 7 Minutes Room', executing happenings across the globe which will happen , yes, you've guessed it, every 7 minutes! Such things as making double rainbows appear, or people adopting stray dalmations. However, the humour and the theme soon turns quite dark as disasters and killings seem to also be a part of this man's responsibility. Somehow he manages to give himself a heart attack, but will they, between them be able to put a stop to this madness and God-playing?! Written by Ken Preuss and directed by Jonathan Woodhouse, the two jobsworths were Ryan Brannon and Cate Olivia. A great start to the evening.

Following this was another 2-hander called "Spread" by Robbie Knox. Again this used macabre humour to excellent effect, and told the story of siblings bickering over the inconsequential things after they are left to come up with the wording of the gravestone for their grandma's sister. There is a very nice chemistry / relationship built up between the two but for my money the ending was a little weak. Directed by Rachael Owens and Liam Fleming the two consummate performers were Gabrielle Macpherson and Robert Gallagher.

The penultimate short, "Spud" was the shortest of the three, and had the simplest but also most bizarre premise. Two anthropomorphised foil-wrapped baked potatoes are cooking nicely in the oven. Again a nice premise, but a better punchline with more jeopardy or comedy could have been found.  Written by Robert Wallis, and directed by Rachael Owens, the two baking potatoes were Liz McMullen and Richard Coffey.

The final piece was in my opinion the piece-de-resistance. A beautifully writen and extremely tight script (Keith Gow) for this disturbing but illumiating monologue, "Like A House On Fire", performed with aplomb by Rachel Nott. (director Liam Fleming). It was a scarily real and well-researched insight into the whys and wherefores of a serial pyromaniac.

An interesting and enjoyable 50 minutes' worth of theatre... just about as real and as close as one is able to get under the current situation, and I look forward to being able to watch the next online offering which they have announced as being the 29th July. Tune in then and get your fringe / new writing theatre fix!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/6/20

NEWS: Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre announce An Online Evening With Jonathan Harvey

HOPE MILL THEATRE ANNOUNCE ONLINE EVENING CELEBRATING AWARD-WINNING WRITER OF STAGE AND SCREEN JONATHAN HARVEY ON SATURDAY 18th JULY AT 8PM

PLUS THE LAUNCH OF NEW £5,000 PLAYWRIGHTING PRIZE – ‘THROUGH THE MILL’

Hope Mill Theatre will host an online evening on Saturday 18th July, celebrating the many works of the well-loved writer Jonathan Harvey (Gimme,Gimme,GimmeCoronation Street).

An Evening With Jonathan Harvey will include an interview with Harvey, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Denise Welch and will feature scenes from his past plays including Beautiful Thing, Hushabye Mountain and The Cherry Blossom Tree as well as songs from musicals that Harvey has written the book for including Dusty: The Dusty Springfield Musical and the Pet Shop Boys musical Musik.

The cast performing includes; Katherine Kingsley, Frances Barber, Emma Clarke, Gemma Brodrick, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Joshua Asare, Rose Keegan and Danny Lee Wynter.

The evening will also include guest hosts who have starred and worked alongside Harvey, including Oscar winning actress Olivia Colman, who starred in BBC comedy series Beautiful People, as well as co stars, Meera Syal and Layton Williams. Further guest hosts include, Catherine Tyldesley (Coronation Street), Tameka Empson (Beautiful People/ Beautiful Thing) and Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman (the director of Dusty).

The evening coincides with the launch of the Manchester venue’s first ever prize for playwrighting which includes the opportunity of mentorship with Jonathan Harvey for the chosen finalists.

The prize, which has been named Through the Mill, is open to UK based writers over 16 and as of today is now open for submissions. The winner will receive a cash prize of £5,000 as well as having their play produced by and at Hope Mill Theatre.

For more information on submissions and criteria please visit www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

Tickets, costing £10, are now on sale for An Evening with Jonathan Harvey and can be purchased online through Hope Mill Theatre’s website. Customers will be sent a link to view the concert on July 18th when a ticket has been purchased. Proceeds raised from ticket money and additional donations will go towards the prize fund for the winning writer.

Artistic Director of Hope Mill Theatre, Joseph Houston, said: “We are very excited about our second online offering, celebrating Jonathan Harvey and the many incredible scripts that he has written for both stage and screen. The line-up of stars that we have is credit to his incredible back catalogue of work.”

“It has long been a dream of ours to launch a playwrighting prize at Hope Mill Theatre. Along with the support of Jonathan Harvey, and during our time of closure, we have been able to plan such a prize and we are thrilled to be able to launch it officially.

“So many freelance artists have been affected terribly by the Covid epidemic and this is our way of being able to offer an opportunity to writers to have their work produced and supported by us as well as being able to offer a financial award.”
Jonathan Harvey said: “I have long been a fan of Hope Mill Theatre. They are proof positive that great theatre doesn’t just take place in our capital.
“I am thrilled to be involved in Through The Mill. I got my first break in competitions at Liverpool Playhouse and the Royal Court in London. Getting my plays produced via these competitions was the best education ever, and the prize money helped get me through Uni!
“This is such a good opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what the competition brings, and to work with the finalists.
“I am very flattered the theatre want to do ‘An Evening With’ with me. And delighted to be able to help raise some much needed money in a time of such huge crisis for theatres. We’ve assembled a top notch group of actors to read from my plays and there’ll be various people popping up who I’ve worked with asking me questions. And there’ll be some singing. It’ll be a bit like An Audience with Diana Ross. Without Diana Ross. And with me.”
Twitter: @Hopemilltheatr1
Facebook: Hope Mill Theatre

NEWS: Orchestra Baobab celebrate 50th anniversary.



This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of Africa’s greatest bands, Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab. Adored both at home in Senegal and across the world, Baobab occupy a special place in the history of African music. Their epic story begins in the heart of Dakar’s Medina in the 1960s and extends across the world and into the 21st century, featuring a brilliant assembly of diverse musical personalities and encompassing a unique blend of Afro-Latin styles, international pop, West African griot music, and an after-dark West African nightclub ambience of lilting, mellifluous rhythms.
 
To celebrate this remarkable milestone, the band has announced the issue of their landmark 2002 reunion album 'Specialist In All Styles' for the first time ever on vinyl, on September 25th. Alongside this comes a previously unseen video from the archive – a performance of ‘Jiin Ma Jiin Ma’ from their 2015 show at Jazz à Vienne Festival in France.
 
WATCH 'JIIN MA JIIN MA'' LIVE AT JAZZ À VIENNE FESTIVAL HERE
 
 
‘Specialist’ was the first album by the full group since 1982’s legendary ‘Pirates Choice’, a holy grail for African music fans. Recorded at London’s Livingston Studios in just ten days and produced by World Circuit’s Nick Gold with Youssou N’Dour, ‘Specialist In All Styles’ is a definitive illustration of Baobab’s Afro-Latin magic, introducing new material and reinventing some of the old tunes that made them famous.
 
The record features Baobab's sublime rhythm section and two of the most distinctive sounds in African music - Barthélemy Attisso’s extraordinary guitar and Issa Cissokho’s atmospheric sax. The band’s five unique lead singers, each with their own contrasting but complementary styles, are joined on the song ‘Hommage à Tonton Ferrer’ by special guests Buena Vista Social Club star Ibrahim Ferrer and Youssou N’Dour.
 
The band owes their start to the entrepreneurial force that was Ibra Kassé, club owner, impresario and founder of the Star Band, whose residency at Dakar’s Club Miami in the late 60s made it a notoriously lively joint. Here, Kassé’s band lit up the night with a music flavoured by rhythms from around the world, all flowing into Dakar – one of the great ports of west Africa – from America, Europe, and Cuba, as well as Senegal’s West African neighbours Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. This eclectic combination of rhythms and styles would all later feed into Baobab’s DNA.
 
By the start of 1970, at the height of the Star Band’s fame, a new fashionable venue, Club Baobab, opened its doors in Dakar’s European district. Well known as a hangout for those with status and power, the club was built around a baobab tree, and to fire up its musical roster, its well-connected owners poached Star Band singers Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis and guitarist Barthelemy Attisso. Bassist Charlie Ndiaye and percussionist Mountaga Koite soon followed, joined by rhythm guitarist Latfi Ben Jelloun, Nigerian clarinet player Peter Udo, and veteran griot singer Laye Mboup.
 
With that, the stage was set for Orchestra Baobab to set the tempo for a new era of modern Senegalese and African music, drawing through the club’s doors a diverse urban crowd ranging from businessmen and politicians to army officers and expats.
 
Combining pop, soul and traditional music from across Senegal and beyond, Orchestra Baobab quickly developed a distinctive raft of styles that reflected the cultural mix and the strong musical personalities of its members. Balla and Rudy hailed from Senegal’s culturally rich Casamance, saxophonist Issa Cissokho from Mali, and Latfi from Morocco. Guitarist Attisso – the lawyer-turned-guitarist whose arpeggio runs would become one of the band’s scintillating trademarks – came from Togo, but what bound these myriad elements as tight as a drum skin was a strong Cuban influence, introduced to Senegal by sailors flowing in and out of the Port of Dakar.
 
Over the next decade, Orchestra Baobab kept evolving with an ever-changing lineup of members and released a number of classic records along the way.
 
However, by the end of 1983 Baobab had unofficially disbanded, and it wasn’t until Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour encouraged the group to reform 15 long years later that Orchestra Baobab rose again at their now-famous London Barbican gig in 2001 and received a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever.
 
As the new century advanced, Baobab’s distinctive heartbeat could be heard once again on 2002’s seductive Specialist In All Styles, and the even more fully realized, 2007’s Made In Dakar.
 
Ten years on, and Baobab’s lineup has continued to evolve, with some sad departures and some exciting new additions over the past decade. Guitar player Barthemely Attisso moved back to Lomé to continue his career in law, and Ndiouga Dieng and Issa Cissokho sadly passed away in November 2016 and March 2019 respectively. Now, alongside Baobab stalwarts including founding members Balla Sidibé, bassist Charlie Ndiaye and percussionist Mountaga Koité, there’s new rhythm guitarist Yahya Fall (a veteran of the Dakar music scene) and Beninese lead guitarist Rene Sowatche (the most prominent of the many young West African musicians flocking to Dakar for its burgeoning live scene). The horn section now features Benin-born Wilfred Zinzou - a player new to Baobab, but not to Dakar – Senegal’s sole trombonist has long played with Cheikh Lô, and has been a music scene fixture for many years. Amongst the vocalists is Ndiouga Dieng’s son Alpha, who continues the griot tradition in spectacular form.
 
Under the great Balla Sidibé’s leadership, their critically acclaimed 2017 LP Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng revisited old territories and broke new ground for these beloved West African veterans, and since its release, they have continued to tour worldwide, bringing their rich and much-loved sound to new and longtime fans alike.
 
Celebrating 50 years as one of Africa’s greatest bands – one whose popularity has taken them around the world – is an achievement few can equal, and while special Anniversary shows have been put on hold as a result of the global Coronavirus outbreak, plans remain in place to celebrate the band and their story through filmed performances and interviews, remixes and playlists, to help the prestigious Orchestra’s global legion of fans celebrate their half-century milestone.
 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

NEWS: Poole's Lighthouse creates bedtime story writing competition.

Time for bedtime story writing competition at Lighthouse 

With hundreds of viewers tuning in to its weekly Sunday evening Bedtime Story video on Facebook Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, is launching its first bedtime story writing competition. 
The competition is part of the ‘It’s All About You!’ #Lockdown-themed creative engagement programme at Lighthouse and is open to writers of all ages. 
Not only do we think bedtime stories can be the best part of the day for lots of children, but also for grown-ups,” says Lighthouse Creative Engagement lead Libby Battaglia. 
“We’ve had such a great response to our Sunday evening bedtime stories created by Dorset theatre maker Michele O’Brien, but research tells us that fewer and fewer children are going to bed with a bedtime story, so we thought we’d do something about it!” 
The best of the competition entries will be performed by Black Cherry Theatre Company, Associate Artists at Lighthouse and made into a video to be posted online. 
“We are inviting children and their parents or guardians to write a bedtime story together,” adds Libby. “To help with this we will be inviting story tellers online to share some top tips and, of course, our Sunday evening bedtime stories will also continue for even more inspiration. 
Stories should be no more than 2500 words and previously unpublished. To enter, simply read the entry rules at www.lighthousepoole.co.ukgive your story a title and submit it with your name, phone number, email address and social media handles to learning@lighthousepoole.co.ukClosing date is Tuesday 21 July and winners will be notified by 31 July. 

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Incidents In Isolation: An Incident In Oxygen


'Incidents In Isolation' is an intiative from the Questors Theatre, London, as they present online monologues recorded in isolation available on YouTube. The one that I watched was titled, "Incident In Oxygen" and was written and directed by Ella Dorman-Gajic and performed by Matthew Saldanha.

It is the first night after the end of lockdown and he goes out on the town with his mates. They do a pub crawl before ending up in Oxygen, the local hot-spot night club. He becomes separated from his mates and at the same time he catches the eye of a young lady who is forward enough to come up to him and chat him up. She's feisty and eager, and just as things were seemingly going well, she deliberately pours her full drink down the front of this trousers as a joke, making it look like he'd been unable to get to the toilet in time! He was the laughing stock and so in shame had no alternative than to return home early.

The cathartic 'punchline' of this story happens long before the end of the monologue, and as such the last part of the play seems both irrelevant and unecessary. It has lost impact now, not that the story was anything out of the ordinary to begin with. It was just a nice tale, nothing special. The kind of tale you'd chat to your bestie about, but nothing to be proud of. Very plain and oridcnary subject matter, with little to sustain the interest. However it was acted sympathetically and with realism by Saldanha.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/6/20

RADIO PLAY REVIEW: Placeprint Plays I + II: River, Of Course and Off The Motorway


In a complete series of 10 plays, all available on podcasts, the wonderful David Rudkin has spent a considerable amount of time and energy travelling the length and breadth of our wonderful isle to find 10 places which have perhaps been forgotten or overlooked by the history books, all of which have secret, special and up until now, untold stories to tell. A 'placeprint' I have been reliably informed, is something that we can see in the here and now that has come to us from the past. These ten, remote, harsh locations will speak of the legends of those places.

I have only listened to the first two of these plays so far. I first became aware of David Rudkin as a playwright some 30 + years' ago, and have been a fan of his writing ever since; and so when I heard about these radio pieces, I knew I just had to listen.

The first is titled, 'River, Of Course'. This is a monologue, and is spoken by a young man, perhaps a ghost or a spirit, who stands on the banks of the river at a place which used to be a sacred river crossing. That is, until the conquering Romans came along and made a ford there. He feels guilty that he has betrayed his tribe and given the Romans the information they wanted. He looks out now across our 21st century landscape and sees how much it has changed since his day. In the 20 minutes' running time of this monologue we very cleverly get to understand, piece by piece, why the famous town is thus-called, and the importance and history behind its name, which all stems from this legend of the river crossing 2000 years' ago. In the spririt of the play, then I won't divulge the name of the famous place, except than to say it is in Warwickshire and is, quite obviously, on the banks of a river.

Performed with clarity and understanding by Richard Lynch, and directed by Jack McNamara, this was an interesting "Time-Team"-esque start to the series, and certainly made me want to listen to more. With perfectly crafted sound / music by Adam McCready making it all the more enjoyable.

The second play remained in Warwickshire; 'Off The Motorway', and tells s strange ghost story from the perspective of the building itself. There's a small church upon a hill, barely noticable but there nevertheless just to the side of the M40. Here it is the church itself that speaks, as well as a ghostly presence which enters half-way through in the form of the church's vicar wearing the clothes of a Templar Knight.

This story is a little more convoluted and yet all the more fascinating because of it. We are drawn in completely and taken on a tale of not just the history of the church, but a secret legend which may or may not be true about the Arc Of The Covenant. Intermingling historical fact with legend and hearsay, as well as managing to convey a sense of loss or longing within the narrative is quite an achievement.

Again directed by Jack McNamara with sound effects by Adam McCready, this was performed by Josie Lawrence (the Church), and Toby Jones (the ghost rector).

I look forward to being able to sit down with a cup of tea in hand to spend more time with Rudkin and his next 8 Placeprints very soon.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 23/6/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Puzzle - (The Beast Will Rise) - online world premiere.


Tramp, in association with The Southwark Playhouse have been uploading a weekly world premiere monologue since the start of the UK lockdown, and each week one member of the cast that would / should have been performing in the Philip Ridley world premiere play at The Playhouse have instead been given their own mini world premiere to perform online. We had to wait a little longer this last week for the latest instalment, a 4-minute 'Puzzle' performed by Eleanor Fanyinka, and was it worth the wait? Of course it was!

Again we are located in the kind of weird world that Ridley can write so well... a world that seems somehow similar to our own, but a world where unknown danger, tragedy and fear lurk around every corner. A world that is perhaps one of our imminent future, or one imagined from our present and past; but it is always an uncomfortable and unnerving world. This state of isolation and fear - captured in all of the monologues so far - excellently mirrors our own, current situation. but is full credit to the peformers for being able to bring their worlds so clearly and realistically to the fore in such a short space of time and on such an unforgiving medium

In this monologue, Puzzle, it is a young lady whose nerves are shot to pieces. She has just paid a visit to the post office - a place where a long list of names is displayed; those killed by the bombings. She speaks of people who have taken long journeys to try and escape, she speaks of her 8 year old nephew whom she hopes to soon see again, but in the meantime has bought a puzzle for him. However, she is afraid to go back outside, and yet she will have to go back to the post office to send him the puzzle....

This monologue, perhaps more so than any of the others so far, makes us think of our own current coronavirus situation more lucidly. Fanyinka says that it is important that her nephew should think of her as he is putting the puzzle together; a clear need for us to think of each other and stay connected more than ever.

It's dark and bleak, and just a little "off the wall". Pure Ridley. And once again frightening brilliant.

Reviewer - Mattehw Dougall
on - 23/6/20

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Doing Shakespeare - The Northern Comedy Theatre Company online



We’ve learnt one thing from this pandemic. The 21st century equivalent of The Globe Theatre turned out to be Zoom, where quite literally anyone from anywhere in the world could have watched this performance. Everyone had the best seat in the house. No more complaints from the groundlings.

The Northern Comedy Theatre Company played The Felching Players; the actors played various actors playing numerous characters from a smorgasbord of William Shakespeare plays, in a virtual comedy play written, not by Shakespeare, but by David Spicer. Get it? Basically, all the world’s a computer screen. The performers have their exits and their entrances: logging in and logging off.
The thespians strut and fret their hour (well 45 minutes) upon a web-conferencing platform, and are heard no more. A tale told by tremendous idiots, full of digital sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The Felching Players were supposed to come together to presenteth their online digital Shakespeare festival to the world. Where did it all go wrong? Tragically, each actor had learnt a different script but they carried on like the professionals they were attempting to be, creating a piece of discombobulating but trailblazing piece of performance art.

Bravo to the whole ensemble for doing a brilliantly bad job at butchering Shakespeare. The exaggerated performances and enlarged gestures were both typically stylistic and for this production, comedic. The backstage bickering was boisterously funny and the relationships between the cast members were well established. Good comedy timing was shown from everyone too. Considering this was not a traditional live theatre experience, they made the whole thing amusing and run like clockwork.

Though this be madness, there is method in it. It wasn’t all fatuous, Spicer asked, what do people want in theatre? Why do we perform shows? What is great acting? Which Shakespeare play is the best? It was about the trials and tribulations of running a theatre company and on the other side of the coin, the jubilant community spirit experienced by all. This wasn’t just a play performed on Zoom, the production used Zoom creatively. I liked the running gags but my favorite joke: The Fetching Players’ woeful production - based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel about the First World War and with an animal as the lead – called, “War Cow”. Let’s moove on apace.

For my epilogue, I shall state this production was most agreeable and had me chuckling frequently. The young cast have a bright future ahead of them. For their next performance, they might ask: to do or not to do Shakespeare, that is the question? Whatever the philosophical answer to this existential question, I’ll be sure to look out for their next spectacle.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 22/6/20

Monday, 22 June 2020

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Black Women Dating White Men - Talking Back Theatre


As part of Hollywood Fringe - this year a virtual festival! - Talking Back Theatre have produced a piece of online theatre which is contemporary, relevant, and indeed is something that everyone needs to watch.

After extensive research and personal experience, Somebody Jones, an American living in London, has written a play which tackles the muddy waters of interacial relationships, in a very down-to-earth and accessible way. The play, adapted as a Zoom chat by director Khadifa Wong, shows us snippets of various conversations from an online suppport group for black women who have had, or presently have white boyfriends or husbands. Jones is from California, and as such her dialogue works much better when the characters are American, as most of the 5-strong cast are. It feels much more natural and flows easier. The speech is captured exactly as we speak, complete with erms and "likes", with fragmented conversations broken up and interrupted by another's thoughts. It's almost like being in the chatroom with them.

However, I am a mid-fifties, white, middle-class man who has never had anything more than a platonic friendship with a black person. And as one of the characters says, (paraphrased) "I can sympathise but I cannot empathise. It is a privilege for me that I am not aware of their issues."  After watching this play though I have learned more, and although the issues raised do not resonate with me, I am able to understand that these issues shouldn't even be issues in the first place!

There is much humour and bonhomie - as well as vino - flowing through these half-conversations; but what this play does is raises awareness that these issues are not things which are talked about once and put on an 'agenda' for the next meeting and a resolution / agreement made and we move on; but instead these are issues which are so deep-rooted within the black community that these twenty-somethings - ie people who have never known the hardships, prejudice and treatment that their ancestors had to endure - are STILL enduring and having to endure prejudice, mistrust and even hatred on a daily basis. A section of the play deals with how the black girl on her own is treated differently by society than if she is with her white partner. I found that most illuminating. It shouldn't be like this.

The play is a timely wake-up call as the #BlackLivesMatter campaign has grown in strength and momentum recently over the death of George Floyd, and as theatre has the power to challenge and to inform, it also has the power to change, and change is necessary.

The play also works as a Zoom chat excellently. Our current situation vis-a-vis coronavirus has meant that the only medium available to us at the moment is computer-based, and as such this is a piece of work that can and should be seen by people all over the world, not just those who are regular theatre-goers - usually the white middle-aged middle-classes!

Merryl Ansah, Christelle Belinga, Arianne Carless, Clara Emanuel, and Risha Silvera all need equal credit for bringing these conversations and important issues to light in such an un-theatrical way. Acting to a small white dot on the top of a computer miles away from your fellow actors is not an easy ask for anyone, but it came acreoss as extremely natural, and it held my attention for the full 40 minute running time.

Change begins with conversation - and yes those conversations will be awkward ones, but necessary. And so lets have those conversations!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/6/20

CHILDREN'S THEATRE REVIEW: Don't Worry Little Crab - Folded Feather Company, online.


Folded Feather in association with Little Angel Theatre have created a wee gem of a production for very young children, and is available to wacth online on the company's YouTube channel.

The story is taken from the book of the same name by Chris Haughton, and tells the story of a little crab and a big crab who live in a rock pool, and one day make the journey over the rock to the sea. The waves are high and the little crab is afraid, but once he finds himself in the sea and meets so many new and amazing friends, and has so many new adventures, they don't go back 'home' to the rockpool afterall.

The set, created from old odds and ends found in your home, was most creative and actually excellently thought through and presented. The rock pool, with cellophane marking the water line was ingenious; the large rock looked very real, the waves good, and the underwater scene clever. This was all aided by some lovely sound effects and nice background music (Matt Wand).

The whole was created and performed by Kim Smart and Oliver Smart.

A very short, sweet, enagaging story.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/6/20

NEWS: Not Going Out sitcom star reads to Poole's Care Home residents

Care home residents are Not Going Out when sitcom star Abigail is on 

Residents at a Broadstone care home were happy to stay in and see actress Abigail Cruttenden, best known as Anna in the sitcom Not Going Out, read a play via the Zoom video calling service. 
  
The residents at Burwood Nursing Home in Dunyeats Road saw Abigail, who also played Stephen Hawking’s mother in the feature film The Theory of Everythingread Quicksand, a ten-minute play about a 12-year-old girl who walks out of school. 
  
Playwright Chloe Moss adapted her work so that the story about a troubled 12-year-old girl who walks out of school and meets an old lady and her dog and discovers her life might not be so difficult after all, was set in Poole. 

It was brilliant to be able to do a play reading in these strange times and it had a surprisingly live feel, as I could hear the audience responding to the play in the moment,” said Abigail, who has also appeared in Benidorm, Citizen Khan, Sharpe and the film adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ novel Charlotte Gray. “I was so happy to be asked to be involved in such an exciting project.” 

The home connected with the Come To Where I Am caller service from celebrated new writing theatre company Paines Plough though the creative engagement team at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts. 

“It was a fantastic reading of a really thought-provoking piece,” said Chris Tapner, Home Coordinator at Burwood. “After the call our gathering evolved into a post-show discussion and a lot of themes and thoughts were expressed. Everyone agreed that Abigail’s reading was very entertaining and expressive. They particularly enjoyed her crisp diction.” 
  
The Come To Where I Am caller service is a spin-off series of Paines Plough’s existing App-based audio play library in response to the coronavirus pandemic and has seen a number of actors including David Bradley, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Lisa Hammond read newly commissioned works to isolated audiences with no access to digital and on-demand culture.   
  
The company builds local ties on its national tours including an annual collaboration with Lighthouse in the Roundabout festival of new writing. 

NEWS: China Plate repurpose to support community and NHS

China Plate repurposes to support
NHS Workers and young people

Responding to the needs of healthcare workers and aspiring young producers in the Midlands, independent production studio China Plate and Warwick Arts Centre are working together on digital projects designed to serve their communities. Both projects are supported by Coventry City of Culture 2021.

On 17 June, working with Coventry University and writer and director Nick Walker, China Plate will pilot a new programme designed to offer support to NHS and care workers at this incredibly challenging time. Responding to the need for a safe space for expression for some of those working in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company will deliver an online workshop for healthcare workers to reflect and explore their experiences through creativity. The workshop will provide a space for participants to express themselves, reimagining how forum theatre can work remotely, and contributing to research around healthcare worker narratives and whether arts-based approaches can improve wellbeing. Afterwards, Nick Walker will shape material gathered from the workshop in an audio recording to be exhibited as part of a digital exhibition for Coventry 2021 and used by academics at Coventry University to develop further resources to help healthcare workers reflect and recover. 

Later in the month, Young Producers’ Reclaimed Fest is a digital festival taking place between 26-28 June which has been programmed by, with and for 16-21 year-olds. It came about when China Plate’s Young Producers were unable to stage a planned Youth Takeover of Warwick Arts Centre and decided instead to take the festival online. The group of 15 young people who had been learning about producing put out a call for video submissions from young artists around the UK and will present their selection of dance, poetry and theatre online via YouTube Premiere. Young Producers is a free training opportunity for Coventry-based 16-21 year-olds that offers insight into what it takes to put on arts events from planning to delivery. For further details of the programme and to find out where to watch, visit https://bit.ly/YPReclaimed

Speaking about the projects, Ed Collier and Paul Warwick said “During this difficult time it’s been really important for us to think what our role as theatre producers can be both in repurposing our work to help the response to the Covid Crisis and also continuing our work to support the development of young artists and producers. These two projects are the first of a number of initiatives and digital events we will be launching across the summer.”

One of the Young Producers, Taybah said “The reason why putting on this festival is important to me is simply to take back what COVID-19 has taken from artists and also to allow audiences to celebrate the variety of arts present in the arts industry.”

Established in 2006, China Plate is one of the UK’s most prolific and respected independent producers of contemporary theatre, producing work that engages 35,000 audience members annually. The company’s central mission is to ‘challenge the way performance is made, who it’s made by and who gets to experience it.’ China Plate has worked with some of the UK’s most talented artists, including Caroline Horton, Inspector Sands, David Edgar, Chris Thorpe, Rachel Chavkin, Rachel Bagshaw, Urielle Klein-Mekongo and Contender Charlie. They are Resident Producers at Warwick Arts Centre, partners in the Rural Touring Dance Initiative (RTDI) founded to bring contemporary dance to rural venues around the UK, partners in the ACE Ambition for Excellence funded Musical Theatre Development Consortium led by Royal and Derngate Theatres, Northampton and Derby Theatre’s Performing Arts Producing Hub.
@YourOldChina | www.chinaplatetheatre.com

The workshop is part of the ‘Coventry Creates’ initiative funded by Coventry and Warwick Universities for Coventry City of Culture 2021. Young Producers is supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust, ESF Community Fund, Arts Council England, Arts Connect and Baron Davenport’s Charity.

Notes to editors
Lead artist, Nick Walker is a Coventry-based writer, producer, and director. He was co-founder of theatre company, Talking Birds whose work has been presented across the UK, Europe, and the USA. He has worked with some of the country’s leading new work theatre companies including Stan’s Cafe, Insomniac, Action Hero and Theatre Absolute. His plays and short stories are regularly featured on BBC Radio 4, including 3 series of The First King of Mars (starring Peter Capaldi), and 6 series of Annika Stranded with Nicola Walker.
 Nick has a great deal of experience in writing plays and stories that are based on conversations/workshops with people around their real-life experiences. His writing has successfully fictionalised these experiences and made them relevant to a wider audience without losing their essence and truthfulness.