Review – Loveplay, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 29th May 2021

LoveplayThe third play performed by the University of Northampton final year actors is Loveplay by Moira Buffini, described as two thousand years, ten scenes, thirty-two characters, one location and one essential question – what is love? – all packed into ninety minutes of hard-hitting comedy drama. Directed by Tobias Deacon, the production also credits Esther Bartholomew and Daniel Hubery as Assistant Directors, both of whom gave excellent performances in their final year plays at Northampton University back in 2018/19.

Elle DudleyI’m not sure the play really asks the question what is love – more like an exposé of sex throughout the centuries. It starts from the slightly odd viewpoint of sticking to that one location, which enables the later stages of the play to be affected by ghosts of the past – which comes across as a bit hokey, to be honest. Nevertheless, it’s a very good play – very funny, occasionally shocking, often thought-provoking and always entertaining.

Didi StockerAnd the final year students do a cracking job of presenting us this show. The range of playlets and characters gives them the opportunity to play at least three roles each, and they seize them with terrific enthusiasm. It’s a clear and crisp presentation, impeccably and faultlessly performed, and full of amazing performances. From the start, Elle Dudley delights with her hilarious portrayal of the early sex worker Dorcas, rejecting the affronted Didi Stocker’s Marcus’ Roman coin as payment for sharing her virtue. Beautifully performed and very funny. She’s also extremely funny as the upright Miss Tilley being taken from underneath on the lap of the master of the household whilst attempting to impress him with her verses.

Katiris CooperElsewhere, I loved the Age of Enlightenment scene between Katiris Cooper’s Roxanne and Oliver Lawrence’s Man, where she wants to inspect his body from a scientific perspective – her ever-so-slightly naughty curiosity was brilliantly conveyed in contrast with his passive acceptance of what an educated woman might want to discover. Mr Lawrence, though, excelled in the Age of Empire scene as the decadent artist De Vere, manipulating his straight-laced friend into a compromising position – all in the cause of art of course. Ms Cooper also came back as one half of the Age of Innocence scene in another extremely funny performance as the sexual cynic Lynne, dismissing her lover – and life in general – as totally useless. Here she was accompanied by Harry Delacey in a fine performance as the sex-weary Gwyn; he had also stood out as the hilariously stagey Llewellyn in the Renaissance scene, which probably offered the most laugh-out-loud moments of the whole show.

Oliver LawrenceOther performances that I particularly enjoyed included Marina Mikeilla as the petulant and posing dating hostess Anita, Rebecca Alice as the nun-with-a-secret Hilda, Georgia Siân Clarke as the assertive actress Helen, Kai Beavers’ outwitted Rev Buttermere, and Matthew Keeroy’s hard-to-please rapist Eric (yes, that’s the scene that made everyone feel uncomfortable).

Harry DelaceyBrisk, funny, punchy and with superb performances throughout, this was probably the big hit of the three student plays this year. Congratulations to all on a terrific show!

P. S. The Martin Lawrence Awards are presented every year to the best actress and actor. Mrs Chrisparkle and I went into a judgely huddle and agreed to whom we would award our own Best Actress and Actor of the year. I’ve also chosen runners-up (because I can). My Silver Medals go to Robyn Isabelle Edwards (The Wolves) and Jimmy Ericson (Road); and our Top Dogs are Katiris Cooper (Loveplay) and Oliver Lawrence (Loveplay). Tremendous actors all – but so are many of the rest of these gifted casts. Well done to all!

Review – Road, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 28th May 2021

RoadThe second of the three shows to be performed by the final year acting students at the University of Northampton this year is Road, Jim Cartwright’s highly praised 1986 play about the lives of people on one road in an unnamed town during the Thatcher years. Directed by Séan Aydon, we’re led by our narrator Scullery, who introduces us to various houses and locations in the road to meet the locals, observe their lives, share their laughter and their tears. I’d never seen this play before so I was particularly looking forward to seeing whether it merits its reputation and if it has stayed relevant today.

Jimmy EricsonThis is very hard to assess because I’m afraid the play did absolutely nothing for me on a personal level. We get little snippets of people’s lives but hardly any insight into anyone’s progression, so there’s no sense of development and the play feels very static. Those characters that we do meet more than once, at the end of one long hard night, haven’t really gone anywhere. Scullery is the same optimistic cheeky soul at the end of the evening as at the beginning. Old Jerry is still padding around in his slippers, dreaming of his lost love. The girls who have gone out early evening to get wrecked have successfully got wrecked at the end of the night – no surprise there. Eddie and Brink go to the pub and come back with Carol and Linda, although their evening ends on a surreal note – as does the play.

Liz MillwardThe one time that the play does soar is when it goes out of time-synch and shows us what Scullery portentously calls The Story of Joey – a likeable lad who has locked himself away, descending into depression, refusing to eat, or come out of his room, and his friend Clare who joins him and stays because she loves him. It feels genuinely tragic; and when, fourteen days of self-starvation later, they come to take their bodies away you get an enormous sense of wasted life. The scene was also enhanced by having what was probably the best two performances in the play, with Jimmy Ericson as the frustrated and furious Joey, and Liz Millward as the sad and supportive Clare.

Miclaire NkoyThe play also feels very uneven because there are several very short scenes and a couple of inordinately long ones.  In the final, very long, scene, Eddie and Brink attempt to get the girls very drunk, which then turns into three minutes of character silence – nothingness really – whilst they dance, at first inanely then later recklessly, to a record on the turntable – and that whole experience seems to turn them all into amateur philosophers. I’m afraid it felt disappointingly pretentious. As some of the other residents of the road come out to gaze affectionately at the young people and the lights go down, we were wondering what significant thing it was that everyone else understood but we missed.

Elliot Andrew-MurrayTrue, there were some more good performances there, with Liz Millward again as Linda, Miclaire Nkoy excellent as Carol, Shane McCormack as Eddie and, with a very subtly threatening performance, Elliot Andrew-Murray as Brink. Mr Andrew-Murray also turned in a very confident and strongly performed vignette earlier as the meditating Skin-Lad. Other performances I enjoyed came from Elliot Innes as the rather wacky Professor and the aggressive Barry, Dana Sergejevo in a number of roles, but best as the rather plastered lady trying to seduce the drunk soldier (another very good performance by Jimmy Ericson) and Ida Sade as the combative Brenda.

Elliot InnesIt’s a tough play to keep the energy levels up, because some scenes feel very slight in comparison with others. There were a few times when it sagged, and it occasionally annoyed me by what I felt was a shallowness; we only scratched the surface of these people’s lives and often what we saw made us more confused about who they were rather than enlightened us. Nevertheless, the cast made a good job of conveying the seedier and more depressing aspects of 1980s life, and I only wish I could have seen them perform something that would have allowed their talents a greater opportunity to shine through!

Review – The Wolves, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 27th May 2021

The WolvesIt’s a wonderful feeling to be able to see the great performances by the final year actors at the University of Northampton again; one of the many treats which we’ve all missed out on due to the wretched COVID. This year they have three productions for us, each with two performances, all performed on the mighty stage in the Derngate auditorium.

And the first is The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s play that was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set somewhere in the United States, nine teenage girls play for The Wolves soccer team, each of them only identified by the number or position in which they play. We see their fitness warm-ups, stretching exercises, team talks, private anxieties, public dramas, jealousies, fights and all the angsts that you would imagine nine teenage girls would share between themselves. As the season – and the drama – progresses, ambition turns to fury which turns into tragedy, and in the final scene the girls are left to pick up the pieces despite an awful event which leaves them stunned. Nevertheless, they play on; and although this is a relatively short play – 75 minutes – all human life is there, and it’s not only a great slice of life experience, but a perfect choice to showcase the cast’s excellent talents.

Nadine HamiltonDirector Nadia Papachronopoulou has created a superb ensemble team who interact with each other seamlessly. The exercise routines are choreographed precisely and performed with immaculate timing – it’s incredibly entertaining to watch the players move from exercise to exercise as if it were second nature, never having to reference what element of their routine comes next. The overlapping dialogues, where two or even three conversations might take place between the players all at the same time, are delivered with equal accuracy and clarity. Kicking footballs on stage is a potential nightmare – one false move and you could take out the front row – but the football passing is done with great control and accuracy yet still gives the impression of “proper playing” – so that’s a terrific achievement. And the individual cast members bring out all the humour and sadness from their characters’ personalities – to the extent that it doesn’t matter that (for the most part) we don’t know their names.

Ali PatersonI can’t name everyone in the cast, but some performances really stand out. Nadine Hamilton is brilliant as the sassy striker #7, totally self-assured, delivering her wisecracks and derisory asides with terrific comic timing; and her performance builds to a savage but highly credible argument followed by a beautifully emotional climax. Ali Paterson also gives a strong performance as the team captain #25, conveying superbly how difficult it is to tread that fine line between being one of the girls but also the boss.

Robyn Isabelle Edwards I really enjoyed the performance of Robyn Isabelle Edwards as new girl #46, taking us on her character’s journey from being the outsider who won’t be let into the team huddles, to being the insider who gains the respect of the others by her sporting ability. There’s an excellent scene where she rounds on the rest of the team for taking the mickey out of where she lives; not only does it show how the use of mocking language can be hurtful, it also strongly depicts how fragile mental health can be. The audience is on her side from the start, and you really will her on to succeed despite the cruelty of the others.

Andrea Muresanu There’s a hugely enjoyable performance from Andrea Muresanu as the questioning and analytical #11, dourly refusing to accept factual inaccuracies, and delivering her nuggets of observation with a beautiful feel for the throwaway line. I loved Shaye Thompson’s characterisation of #8, enthusiastically channelling a Legally Blonde-like omigodyouguys attitude, and Kristina Luksha is both funny and emotional as the perpetually throwing up goalie #00. But everyone puts in a terrific performance and it’s a testament to the enjoyment of the show that those 75 minutes absolutely fly by. Great work from the whole team – they definitely deserve to win the league!

Review – Othello, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 25th May 2021

OthelloFresh from a successful week with their production of Animal Farm, the National Youth Theatre are back at the Royal and Derngate with Othello, abridged by Dfiza Benson, and directed by Miranda Cromwell. When I originally read about the production, I expected it to be closer to a serving suggestion than anything approximating the original Othello. But well over 99% of the text is pure Will; and, anyway, Shakespeare is big and strong and tough enough to lend his work to all manner of adaptations and no number of radical reworkings is ever going to eliminate the Bard’s original plays. More about the language later…

We’re in the Club Cyprus, Manchester. It’s 1991 – thirty years ago. The joint is jumpin’ and the ravers are ravin’. Othello has just got married to Desdemona and they are now wife and wife, much to the fury of Brabantio. Iago, bouncer at the club, is the evil link that binds the story together, manipulating everyone to his own advantage, all of his villainy stemming from that one vital belief: “I hate the Moor.” It’s fascinating to see how this production, incidentally, with its gender-blind casting, strongly brings out the original themes of racism, but there’s not a whiff of homophobia. Brabantio is not remotely concerned that his daughter Desdemona has married a woman; it’s her colour that’s the issue.

The NYT cast and creative team have thrown everything at this production to make it a spectacle of light, colour, sound and movement that assaults the eyes and ears and gives the audience much to enjoy and appreciate. The commitment and creativity that has given rise to this 21st century Othello is to be applauded. And there are some superb performances. From the start, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers stands out as a truly noble and dignified Othello, crystal clear in her oratory, superbly at ease with taking centre stage with this enviable role. Her stage presence shines bright and she is very, very watchable. And she is matched by a fantastically confident performance from Connor Crawford as Iago who delivers an unusually frantic and jumpy reading of the role, but which makes absolute sense. This is a Iago who knows he is chancing his arm all the way through, desperate to achieve his goals, but with none of the laid-back, quietly superior attitude of some Iagos. This one has to work hard to engineer what he wants, and it works extremely well.

Ishmel Bridgeman gives us an amusingly cocky and vain Cassio, pretending to be streetwise but still a lightweight, wet-behind-the-ears kind of guy, so that he quickly finds life inside the Club Cyprus a dangerous environment. Julia Kass is excellent as Emilia, already knowing she is being duped by her husband when she gives him Desdemona’s scarf (there are no handkerchiefs in 1990s Manchester). And I really liked Jack Humphrey’s Brabantio, all powerless bluster and fury, seeing his paternal influence disappear in front of his eyes as old age inevitably gives way to youth. He almost makes you sympathise with his character despite his racism, which shows just how subtle a performance it is.

I firmly adhere to a belief I’ve held for decades now, which is that I would prefer to see a bold and brave attempt to do something new, even if it fails, than a lazy or complacent success. And that’s exactly how I feel about this production because, as a whole, it doesn’t fully work. There are two big innovations with the structure of this show. One is making Othello a woman, married to another woman, and that works extremely well. The other is the introduction of a Chorus, everyman characters whose voices emerge from the recesses of the dance floor whispering their words of suspicion and jealousy to Othello. At first, I thought it was a clever notion, representing all those unidentifiable thoughts that come into everyone’s head when you have a doubt about something. But the Chorus’ whisperings and warnings, endlessly repeated, soon took away the subtlety and nuance of Iago’s persuasions and influence. No wonder Othello fell foul of jealousy; it was delivered all around him like a sledgehammer. So, personally, that didn’t work for me.

The club/disco setting also begins to pall as the play progresses. Whilst there’s no doubt about the ensemble’s commitment to keeping that rave movement going, rather than enhancing our understanding of the story and the characters’ motivations, it becomes a distraction. It takes away from our understanding – and it certainly takes away the audibility of some of the more important scenes in the latter end of the play. As a result, the whole evening, which starts off very pacey and on-the-nose, begins to get a little drawn-out; and at 105 minutes with no interval, it feels surprisingly long.

Dfiza Benson’s new text takes much of Shakespeare’s original, replaces the Iago/Cassio drinking scene with the disco – which is clever, removes Iago’s last line (a shame, because his final silence is one of the most intriguing things about the play), and adds about twenty instances of the F word. Gentle reader, I am no prude. And it made me laugh that f**k was the first word uttered (much better than the original Tush!) But it didn’t always sit well for me. Othello always expresses him/herself with nobility and dignity, and imagination. Would Othello, who elegantly says Keep up your bright swords for the dew will rust ‘em, turn to Desdemona and storm off with a Well F**k You? It’s Othello’s language that raises the character out of the commonplace. By bringing her language down to the level of the others, it diminishes this stature. If the aim of the production is to establish Othello as a powerful, queer, black woman (quoting the online programme), I feel this use of language doesn’t help.

I also couldn’t understand why the play was set in 1991. Othello and Desdemona are proudly married – not just living together but the full legal ceremony  – but equal marriage wasn’t introduced in the UK until 2013. In 1991, the country was still in the grip of the dreaded Clause 28 and LGBT rights were being eroded. Surely it would have made more sense for it to be set in the here and now – pandemic notwithstanding?

For me, although the show is a plucky failure, that’s actually a much better thing than it seems at first sight. It takes one of the great theatrical classics and transports it into our lifetime with our cultural references and shows how we still have to learn the age-old lessons about racism, jealousy and man’s (in this case woman’s) folly. It’s also performed with huge confidence and style by a very talented company. Maybe it’s not for purists, but then maybe purists shouldn’t be such snowflakes (to use the pejorative term of the era). Quentin Letts would hate it, so that can only be a good thing.

Rehearsal photographs by Helen Murray

3-stars

Three-sy does it!

Theatre and dance memories? Yessir! September 2006 to January 2007

  1. Waiting for Godot – Oxford Playhouse, 22nd September 2006

Peter Hall’s production of Beckett’s great play toured the country under the auspices of the Theatre Royal Bath, and I decided it was high time that Mrs Chrisparkle saw a performance of it – especially with the excellent cast that included James Laurenson, Alan Dobie and Terence Rigby. Oh dear. We didn’t like it at all. Incredibly dull, sadly.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 30th September 2006

This was the classic Kenneth MacMillan choreography to Prokofiev’s fantastic score, danced by the BRB to great, stately effect. Juliet was danced by Carol-Anne Miller, and Romeo by Dominic Antonucci. Every bit as beautiful as you would expect.

  1. Restoration – Headlong Theatre Company at the Oxford Playhouse, 6th October 2006

Headlong’s production of Edward Bond’s Restoration brought out all its comedy, directed by Rupert Goold. An excellent show, that transformed a play that otherwise looks rather dull on the page.

 

 

 

  1. The Three Musketeers – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Milton Keynes Theatre, 25th October 2006

Northern Ballet’s Three Musketeers was full of swish and swash, a great spectacular entertainment, choreographed by David Nixon. Danced to the music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, it was enormous fun.

  1. The Nutcracker – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome, 25th November 2006

We took our very young niece (aged 5) to see The Nutcracker – start ‘em young, we thought. We told her that she had to be quiet during the show and if she had any questions to save them up for the interval. Bless her, when the lights went down for the show to start, and the two ladies behind her didn’t stop talking, she turned around to them and gave them a very loud SSSSHHH!!! much to everyone’s amusement. It was a charming and thoroughly entertaining show, with Georgian dancer Maia Makhateli as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Viktoria Walton as Clara.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 28th November 2006

For Mrs C’s big birthday I surprised her by not telling her that her brother and sister-in-law were flying over for it from Sydney. The evening they arrived, we all had tickets to see Richard Alston, but such was the excitement of the visit that we got there late and couldn’t get a programme. Still, I can tell from the flyer that the dances of the evening were Red Run, Volumina and The Devil in the Detail. No idea of who the dancers were though!

  1. Me and My Girl – Milton Keynes Theatre, 29th November 2006

We took my brother and sister-in-law to see this show and we were to meet my inlaws there as well, so they got a big surprise when they saw their oldest son at the theatre! I kept so many surprises that year! It was a good revival of Me and My Girl, a touring production from the Theatre Royal Plymouth, starring Richard Frame as Bill and Faye Tozer of Steps as Sally. Trevor Bannister was Sir John, Fascinating Aida’s Dillie Keane was the Duchess and Sylvester McCoy was The Family Solicitor, Parchester.

  1. Rock ‘n’ Roll – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th December 2006

For a London treat for our overseas guests, we took them to see the latest Tom Stoppard play, Rock ‘n’ Roll, as my brother-in-law had very much enjoyed the Stoppard plays he had seen in the past. It starred Dominic West and David Calder, and was a retrospective look at what part Rock n Roll might have played in the drive towards freedom and democracy in the old Czechoslovakia. Pretty good, if I remember right.

  1. Cinderella – Festival Theatre Malvern, 27th December 2006

A family trip for ten of us, of all ages and generations, to see a family panto; and quite an odd beast it was too. Whilst it had all the usual fun you would expect, Liza Goddard’s Fairy Godmother was a little too posh for us and Tony Scannell bizarrely played Baron Hardup as an impersonation of Leslie Phillips all the way through – for absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Saving grace – and he was really excellent – was Dave Benson Phillips as Buttons, whose signature tune “Buttons, Buttons, B-U-T-T-O-N-S” we still sing whenever anyone mentions, er, buttons.

  1. Avenue Q – Noel Coward Theatre, London, 2nd January 2007

A last trip to London before our overseas visitors flew home, we all went to see Avenue Q and were blown away by its hilarity. One of the best shows of the modern era, its use of puppetry and saucy lyrics and characters has become a benchmark for all other shows. Our excellent cast included Julie Atherton as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, Jon Robyns (yes Hamilton’s King George and Les Mis’s Valjean) as Princeton/Rod, and a  young Giles Terera (Hamilton’s Aaron Burr) as Gary. And which of us has never been wrong-footed by a Bad Idea Bear?

Review – Animal Farm, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 17th May 2021

Animal FarmYou don’t know how good it feels, gentle reader, simply to be able to type the words “Review – “ followed by the name of a show again after fourteen months away from a theatre. The last play I saw last year was in the Royal Theatre, and the first play this year is in the very same space – seems almost poetic.

Before talking about this new production of Animal Farm, a few words about how the Royal and Derngate are welcoming us back safely in this new COVID world of ours. Timed entry to the theatre, one-way systems, mask on whenever you’re inside (unless you’re eating or drinking – we didn’t), the shortest of intervals – just enough time to nip to the loo which was well marshalled for extra safety, bars closed (you can pre-order drinks), no programmes on sale (there’s a downloadable programme on the theatre website) additional ventilation and the all-important social distancing.

I confess, when I first saw what seats were available for this performance – and bearing in mind the seats are sold within pre-determined bubble groupings – we thought we’d opt for super safety and actually bought a bubble of three seats when there are only two of us. Selfish perhaps, but for us safety measures means baby steps at first, and it just felt safer to have an additional empty space around us. All in all the theatre did a great job in making it a safe and secure occasion. Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I was completely relaxed. It’s hard to unlearn the lessons of fourteen months.

I had thought hard in advance whether social distancing would affect the atmosphere for the show. And, fascinatingly, it doesn’t. You’re not so remote that you don’t have other audience members in your peripheral vision, and of course you hear their laughter, and any oohs and ahhs. So if you thought that social distancing would take the heart out of a play – it really doesn’t.

Animal FarmBut, as someone significant once said, The Play’s The Thing. Animal Farm is, of course, George Orwell’s allegory of the rise and further rise of Soviet communism told by the metaphor of animals who take over the running of their own farm and chase their drunken, cruel and wasteful farm-owner away. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, full of pathos, tragedy, wit, humour and the inevitability of disastrous failure. So how does this new adaptation by Tatty Hennessy, directed by Ed Stambollouian, bring the pages of this 1945 novel alive onto the stage, to be performed by members of the National Youth Theatre, under its new arrangement with the Royal and Derngate?

Answer – incredibly well. As the play progressed, the parallels with life today in the UK become horrifyingly clear. Squealer, the master of propaganda, is the ultimate spin doctor who makes you disbelieve the truth even when you have seen it for yourself. Clover is the kindly follower who wants to believe in the cause and is sadly gullible to every lie that the state reiterates. Boxer is the (literal) workhorse who works every hour of the day to the detriment of his own health – and then when he falls ill is sent straight to the knacker’s yard. Snowball is the scapegoat on whom the state can heap all the blame for their own deficiencies. Napoleon is the Machiavellian trickster who’s in the right place at the right time, a media-friendly figurehead with huge self-confidence, an opulent lifestyle, and no real ideas of his own. At the end, even Clover realises that they’re all in on the game, each one with their trotters in the trough, champagning it with the enemy; but it’s far too late to do anything about it. A story of the Russian Revolution and subsequent rise of Stalinism? Yes, but with so many similarities to the last thirty years of the UK as well.

Ed Stambollouian’s lively production is full of colour, noise, movement and song; sometimes harsh to the ears with the stomping and shouting, but this is no drawing room comedy. Out of necessity, Tatty Hennessy’s adaptation plays with some of Orwell’s characters – the book has a large cast of creatures that has to be shrunk down to fit a cast of sixteen – and the order of events is occasionally moved around. But the adaptation, though occasionally wordy, tells the story clearly and with no holds barred. The scene, for instance, where four of the animals are summarily executed hits you with its cleverly suggested brutality, and stays in your head a long time.

The cast put their heart and soul into the show and form a tremendous ensemble who work together superbly and generously. Jack Matthew has terrific stage presence and in his performance as Napoleon, we clearly see his character’s double standards and ambiguity towards both the truth and the society that looks up to him. Will Atiomo’s Boxer is the pinnacle of dignity and honesty; I don’t know how he does it, but he subtly contorts his face in a way that really suggests a noble horse’s head – it’s a wonderful achievement. Adeola Yemitan is also superb as Clover, her slow kindness and supportiveness radiating in every scene; whenever she questions the original policies that were agreed at the first meeting and doesn’t realise they’ve been manipulated by the Party, you can see, through her pained eyes, her thought processes slowly drifting into acceptance and the realisation that she must have been wrong. (She wasn’t).

There’s an excellent and agile performance by Ben Wilson as Snowball, bringing huge energy to the movement and dance sequences, and eclipsing Napoleon with his oratory skills. Matilda Rae’s Squealer is delightfully slippery and manipulative – her occasional firm and ruthless killer lines are brilliantly delivered. I thought Ishmel Bridgeman was brilliant as Blue the dog; starting off as a playful and impudent pup, but by the time he’s been “trained” by Napoleon, he’s turned into a savage Rottweiler who carries out his master’s orders with clinical malice. Will Stewart was also excellent as the vain Molly, desperate to cling on to her ribbons and rosettes because that’s the only identity she has.

James Eden-Hutchinson’s Milo was a favourite with the audience, breaking the fourth wall with his reflections on what’s happening so far – and also entertaining us with his music-hall style advice for how we should behave during the interval! I also really liked Connor Crawford’s grotesque caricature of both farmers, dominating the other animals with his physique and suggestions of violence. But all the performers give excellent performances; a technical thing that’s often overlooked, all the actors had terrific clarity of diction which is always appreciated by a theatregoer who’s getting older!

In the programme notes, Tatty Hennessy writes that she hopes the play makes you angry. It did. But our anger is not only directed to the Napoleons and Squealers of this world, but also to the Clovers and the Boxers for making it so damned easy for history to repeat itself.

Despite the slight unease about being back in a theatre, it was just such a thrill to be back in the Royal, witnessing the magic that only live performance can create. So, thank you – to the cast for their performance, to the creative team for organising it, to the theatre staff for making us safe and welcome, to our fellow audience members for simply being there and witnessing the return. And let’s hope for another return – to some kind of normality. With the rise of the Indian variant, it’s too early to know; but at least last night we could celebrate the here and now, and that was a wonderful thing to share.

P. S. If I have a suggestion for how it could feel even more secure in the theatre, I was expecting a more orderly and structured plan for everyone leaving the theatre at the end. Having carefully avoided each other with one-way systems and toilet marshalling, it was a bit of a free-for-all with the complete breakdown of social distancing. Next time I think we’ll deliberately wait for everyone else to leave first.

Rehearsal photographs by Ali Wright

4-starsFour they’re jolly good fellows

 

Some more theatre and dance memories you ask? OK! March to September 2006

  1. Trainspotting – Oxford Playhouse, 10th March 2006

A brand new production of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, which was on a national tour. The cast featured Ruaraidh Murray as Tommy. It received very good notices, if I remember rightly.

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Peacock Theatre, London, 1st and 8th April 2006

The Trocks hit the Peacock theatre for a two week run, featuring two programmes; we saw both – starting with Programme 2! That consisted of Les Sylphides, a mystery Pas de Deux, Go for Barocco, The Dying Swan and Raymonda’s Wedding. The following week, Programme 1 showed Swan Lake Act 2, the Pas de Deux, Le Grand Pas de Quatre, The Dying Swan and Paquita. Favourite performers Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva), Robert Carter (Olga Supphozova) and Raffaele Morra (Lariska Dumbchenko) were all present. Fantastic as always.

  1. Titus Andronicus – Wildcard Theatre Company at the Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford Playhouse, 12th April 2006

The Burton Taylor Rooms are a tiny theatre at the back and upstairs at the Oxford Playhouse, that go in and out of favour as a venue; and at the time it was very much in. I can’t remember too much about this production of Titus Andronicus, except that it was full of guts and gore (but that’s like most productions of Titus Andronicus!) At the time Wildcard were the resident touring company of the Wycombe Swan – but I don’t think they are any more. A very small cast covered a multitude of roles, including Andy Wisher as Titus, and Charlotte McKinney as Lavinia.

  1. Nymph Errant – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Bayliss Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 16th April 2006

I’d heard about Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals but never got around to booking to see one – that is, until I heard they were doing Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant, which has songs I was brought up on as a kid, so it was a no-brainer that we had to see it – and it was a truly delightful experience, and one we kept going back to again and again. A large and talented cast sat in a semi-circle and performed a relatively unknown musical, and it worked a treat. Nymph Errant featured Thelma Ruby, Issy van Randwyck, Gay Soper, Stewart Permitt, Matt Zimmerman and James Vaughan. Loved it.

  1. The Taming of the Shrew – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 15th July 2006

Next, we saw Jerry Springer the Opera again, at the Milton Keynes Theatre, great fun again and disappointingly few protests! After that, having enjoyed our two trips to the OSC the previous year so much, this year we did three! First was their production of The Taming of the Shrew, notable for the fact they used the Christopher Sly framework in full – which worked very well; fairly slapstick in its approach but very good.

  1. Strangers on a Train – Milton Keynes Theatre, 2nd August 2006

Craig Warner’s stage adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s thriller novel embarked on a UK tour, with a cast featuring Alex Ferns, Anita Harris and Colin Baker. Classy and well done, but it lacked a little oomph somewhere along the line.

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 12th August 2006

Proving that they don’t just do Shakespeare, the OSC’s Importance of Being Earnest was a complete delight, with John Brenner in particular a magnificent Lady Bracknell. One of their best productions.

  1. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I and II – Chichester Festival Theatre, 19th August 2006

An old favourite, having recorded the TV presentation of the RSC’s landmark production over twenty years earlier, it was fantastic that Chichester brought back David Edgar’s magnificent 8 hour production of Nicholas Nickleby; we saw both halves of it on a glorious sunny day. One of the twentieth century’s most significant dramatic creations, it had lost none of its vigour, humour, savagery, and sheer drama. Daniel Weyman played Nicholas, Hannah Yelland Kate, Leigh Lawson Ralph, and David Dawson was particularly fantastic as Smike. What theatres are made for.

  1. The Overwhelming – Out of Joint and the National Theatre co-production at the Oxford Playhouse, 8th September 2006

Passing over a return visit to see the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth (but this time at the amazing venue of the hall at Hampton Court Palace), our next show was J T Rogers’ play The Overwhelming. The programme was the play text; I quote: “seizing the opportunity to research a book, Jack Exley uproots his family from Illinois to Rwanda in early 1994. Alarmingly out of depth, Jack begins a fervent search for his dear and missing friend while his wife and teenage son find trouble of their own. As Jack involves himself in the local politics, he discovers a pattern of brutality and beliefs that jeopardizes the lives of everyone around him. A gripping story of a country on the brink of genocide.” A very strong play, given a great production, and an amazing cast featuring Lucian Msamati, the wonderful Tanya Moodie and the great Jude Akuwudike.

  1. The Hollow – The Agatha Christie Theatre Company at the Milton Keynes Theatre, 20th September 2006

Passing over a visit to the BBC Proms in the Park for the Last Night of the Proms in Hyde Park, with Lionel Richie topping the bill (excellent), our next play was Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, presented by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company in their first ever appearance. This was Christie’s own original play version of her notable book. It starred Kate O’Mara, Tony Britton and Emmerdale’s Frazer Hines. I enjoyed it, as I like Christie. Mrs Chrisparkle, however, hated it and made me promise never to take her to an Agatha Christie Theatre Company production ever again! So I haven’t!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – USA – New York City, March 2008 and July 2015

Getting near the end of the alphabet now, and U is for the United States of America – and here are some pictorial memories of a couple of trips to New York City; in March 2008 and July 2015. So, what do you think of, when you think of New York City? Maybe this:

A gift from the people of France back in the 1880s. It stands on Liberty Island

And thousands of people visit it every day! When we visited New York the first time, we had to attend a business meeting in the Empire States Building – that was a treat. Here’s a view of the ESB from The Top of the Rock.

The Top of the Rock is the observation platform at the top of the Rockefeller Center – and it’s a great place to start your visit of New York because the views at the top are absolutely sensational – and in one crisp moment you can take in all the city.

There’s that Lady again:

From there we decided to check out Central Park – a very desirable area of the city.

Including the skating rink

Here’s the Dakota Building – where John Lennon lived.

We also had a touristy trip around the park in a horse drawn carriage. Our driver was called John – and our horse was called Rocky.

We had a quick trip around the Museum of Modern Art, where we had some soup

And left our shopping.

We were there for a week, so we had a chance to see some different districts. Here’s Chinatown:

And Greenwich Village:

The Flat Iron Building:

And the Chrysler Building – New York must have the best known skyscrapers in the world.

We saw some shows, on both trips, which gives you a chance to see Broadway and Times Square, both by day and night

Only A Chorus Line fans will get this reference:

This was Ground Zero in 2008:

We were also there at Easter time – and they have an Easter Parade, just like in the movies. This lady was very proud of her Easter bonnet.

I really liked the mixture of old and new architecture

But new will always overwhelm old in the end!

But you best get the feel of New York on the streets – as in all cities. Fascinating sights, quirky things, and stuff you’d never see in the UK – like puppies in a pet shop window!

A must have for your accessories collection:

Plus the ubiquitous taxis:

And school buses!

Happy memories – I hope we can go back sometime soon.

 

I know! How about some more theatre and dance memories? November 2005 to February 2006

  1. Mark Morris Dance Group – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 16th November 2005

Billed as their 25th Anniversary UK tour, the Mark Morris Dance Group swung into High Wycombe with their usual blaze of glory, and an enjoyable programme that started with Somebody’s Coming to See Me Tonight, set to songs by Stephen Foster; then All Fours, with music by Bela Bartok; followed by Candleflowerdance, set to Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, and finally Grand Duo with music by Lou Harrison. As always, all the dances were choreographed by Mark Morris – who, sadly, wasn’t one of the dancers this time. Hugely entertaining.

  1. Glorious – Duchess Theatre, London, 19th November 2005

Peter Quilter’s wonderful comedy about the singing sensation Florence Foster Jenkins – a legend in her own lunchtime – given a terrific central performance by Maureen Lipman as the soprano in extremis, with excellent support from William Oxborrow and Barrie Ingham. Very funny; but its real strength is in how it manages to tell her story without being unkind. A great show.

  1. Nabucco – Latvian National Opera at the Opera House, Riga, Latvia, 10th December 2005

We went to Riga for a long weekend and there took in a typically ex-Soviet evening at the Opera –  Verdi’s Nabucco (or Nabuko as it is in Latvian) performed by the Latvian National Opera. A very elegant, if snowy, experience! They did a grand job.

  1. Heroes – Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 28th December 2005

Gerald Sibleyras’ superb one-act comedy was given a feisty translation by Tom Stoppard and a terrific set of performances from a triumvirate of acting legends – Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott. Set in a French military hospital in 1959, this one act play delves into the men’s pasts to reveal their true characters – and it was beautifully done throughout.

  1. Scrooge – London Palladium, 31st December 2005

For a New Year’s Eve treat we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle out to see Scrooge – primarily because she was a huge Tommy Steele fan; this was to be her final visit to her much loved London Palladium. The show itself was pretty enjoyable – if I say it was a very lively, colourful and undemanding entertainment, you’ll get my drift. Mr Steele – aged approx. 69 then was still a very nimble figure on the stage! Fun to see Hi de Hi‘s Barry Howard as Jacob Marley, and favourite performer of the future, Alex Gaumond in some minor roles.

  1. Aladdin – Old Vic, London, 8th January 2006