A few more theatre and dance memories for you from July to September 2009

  1. The Revengers’ Comedies Parts One and Two – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 11th July 2009

The Royal and Derngate’s 70th birthday celebrations for Alan Ayckbourn continued with his two part comedy The Revengers’ Comedies, performed in the studio Underground theatre by the Community Actors Group. We saw it on the Saturday where Part One was performed at the matinee and Part Two in the evening. An extremely funny play, performed to perfection by the group.



  1. Man of the Moment – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th August 2009

The last of the big three shows in the Ayckbourn celebration season was Man of the Moment, a blisteringly funny and savage play that starred Kim Wall, Matthew Cottle and Malcolm Sinclair, and directed by Ayckbourn himself. It put the finishing touches to a perfect season.



  1. The Winter’s Tale – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 15th August 2009

David Farr’s production of what I always find a difficult Shakespearean comedy starred Greg Hicks as Leontes, Kelly Hunter as Hermione, Darrell D’Silva as Polixenes Samantha Young as Perdita and Tunji Kasim as Florizel. The Courtyard Theatre was a temporary theatre to give the Royal Shakespeare Company a home base whilst the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was being redeveloped. Can’t remember much about the production but I think it was considered a success.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 22nd August 2009

Shakespeare’s lovers’ tragedy was re-imagined as a pair of warring Oxford families in the summer of 1959. Guy Retallack’s inventive production was very effective with fabulous attention to contemporary detail.

  1. Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 23rd August 2009

The Smash-Hit Broadway revue came to London with a bang, and a fantastic cast of Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman. No Broadway/West End musical is beyond ridicule in this wonderfully funny revue. It helps if you know the shows it lampoons, but even if you don’t it’s still hysterical. Absolutely brilliant.

  1. The 39 Steps – Criterion Theatre, London, 31st August 2009

Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the old wartime spy story had already been playing at the Criterion for three years before we finally got to see it. A fantastically funny spoof, performed with incredible gusto by John Hopkins, Stephen Critchlow, Stephen Ventura and Natalie Walter. A very successful production originally performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

  1. BBC Proms No 67 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 5th September 2009

Jac van Steen conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at this Saturday night Prom, with David Pyatt on horn. The programme started with Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen suite, then the London Premiere of John McCabe’s Horn Concerto, Rainforest IV, and then after the interval, Dvorak’s Symphony No 9. A fantastic night of classical music.


  1. Screaming Blue Murder – Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th September 2009

This was our first ever experience of a Screaming Blue Murder show; hosted (almost certainly – I don’t know the line up that night) by Dan Evans, with three fantastic comics and two superb intervals. Once we started going to these shows we couldn’t stop – and we still regularly go twelve years later.

  1. Last Night of the Proms – BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 12th September 2009

As I had done on many previous occasions, I entered the ballot for a couple of tickets to the Last Night of the Proms – and, lo and behold, we were successful! Here’s the programme: Oliver Knussen, Flourish with Fireworks; Purcell (arr. Wood) New Suite; Purcell, Dido and Aeneas closing scene; Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E flat Major; Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Villa-Lobos, Choros No 10 “Rasga o coracao”; Arnold, A Grand Grand Overture; Ketelbey, In a Monastery Garden; Gershwin (arr Forgie) Shall We Dance “They Can’t Take that Away from Me”; Piazzolla (arr Milone) Libertango; BBC Proms Inspire 2009 Young Composers, Fanfares for the Last Night; Handel, Music for the Royal Fireworks excerpts; Arne, Rule Britannia; Parry, Jerusalem; Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March No 1; National Anthem; Auld Lang Syne. Probably a once in a lifetime experience.

  1. Thank You For the Music, A Celebration of the music of Abba – Hyde Park, London, 13th September 2009

We stayed over in London after the Last Night of the Proms and went to Hyde Park on the Sunday to see this celebration of Abba. A huge list of stars gathered to play Abba, with Bjorn and Benny also present for some of the songs. A great night out.

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Shakespeare for Breakfast, 18th August 2019

Shakespeare for BreakfastI thought I’d make our earliest start of the week on the first morning whilst we were still not that tired – and it’s something we’re really looking forward to, Shakespeare for Breakfast, at C Venues – C Viva, at 10:00 on Sunday 18th. Here’s the official description: “The Bardic Breakfasters are back! C’s sensational Shakespearience returns, for its 28th sell-out year, with free coffee and croissants! A pleasing plethora of pentameter, puns and pastry. Perfect for hardened fans of the Bard and blank verse virgins alike. This year they take on the classic Romeo and Juliet. ‘A bouncy and boisterous take on Willie’s work’ (List). ‘Well worth getting out of bed for’ (Independent). ‘No holds Bard (FringeGuru.com). ‘Irreverent humour… clever’ (Stage). ‘Side-splitting… glorious’ (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Full of fun’ (RemoteGoat.com). ‘Sizzling’ (Scottish Daily Express). Free coffee and croissants! Book early.”

This will be the fourth time we will be seeing this fantastic company give us their unique slant on the Big Bard. Last year it was Taming of the Shrew, the year before Macbeth, the year before that A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this year it’s to be Romeo and Juliet. You just know it’s going to be ridiculously funny, as always. And a free croissant. Check back shortly after 11am to see just how funny it was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

What can you say? The regular team pun the hell out of the Bard with their brilliant Montabrews v Cupulets Coffee Shop war. Unmissable as always, the best morning comedy you can get!

Review – Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, 1st May 2018

Romeo and JulietThere’s an argument for believing that Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story of all time; although maybe they’re too young, and in love too briefly, to lay claim to that accolade in full. Of course, today, to be termed a Romeo is more of an insult than a compliment. It implies all show and no commitment; possibly a roving eye and a love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude. True, Shakespeare’s Romeo starts off in love with Rosaline (Juliet’s cousin, so he was always attracted by those damned Capulets) but all it takes is just one glimpse of Juliet, and Rosaline’s toast. Funnily enough, no one ever gets called a Juliet, by comparison.

R&J9Erica Whyman’s new production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre has a few stand-out and inventive aspects. It toys with sex and sexuality to an extent that I’ve not really seen done seriously in a Shakespeare play before. For example, both recent productions of Julius Caesar that we’ve seen over the last year or so have featured a female Cassius, which was interesting inasmuch that it shows that a woman can be just as good a lead conspirator as a man – no real surprise there. But in this production, we go one (or possibly several) steps beyond.

R&J5Escalus, Prince of Verona, is played by a woman, Beth Cordingly. She’s a no-nonsense, strict ruler who has to act decisively to keep the peace between those pesky Montagues and Capulets; but she’s always referred to as a Prince, and it’s a strong, authoritative performance from Ms Cordingly. Mercutio, Romeo’s friend and cousin of Escalus, is also played by a woman, Charlotte Josephine. The character is always referred to as “she”, so she’s definitely female, although they haven’t gone down the line of feminising the name into Mercutia. This Mercutio has all the blokey belligerence you’d normally expect from the role, and I guess you’d see her as something of a tomboy. I wasn’t expecting this characterisation, and at first I confess it irritated me a little, but as I got used to her, I appreciated that she had as much right to be part of the gang as anyone else. It was a challenge to me, and one that caught me out at first – and that’s definitely my bad.

R&J12Benvolio, on the other hand, is still played by a man, Josh Finan, but with a mancrush on Romeo as a big as a rainbow coloured unicorn. Bally Gill’s Romeo comes across as 100% straight, and doesn’t remotely notice how Benvolio has to catch his breath and fan himself after he plants a big excited smacker on Benvolio’s lips. Mr Finan gives an excellent performance as Benvolio and really highlights the difficulties of being gay in a very straight group. These modern interpretations certainly bring the play bang up to date and help our understanding of these characters and the issues they face.

R&J4But a play like Romeo and Juliet is nothing if it doesn’t speak clearly to its audience. No degree of directorial embellishment, no manipulation of the text to support weird clever-clever theories, or re-imagination of the play in another time or place simply because we’ve got some great props can make the slightest bit of difference if the story isn’t told simply, from the heart, and true to the original. I’m so glad to be able to report that this Romeo and Juliet is about as clear as you can get.

R&J1At least, that’s true after the first fifteen minutes or so. For the first scene we are bombarded with a cacophony of lines from a bunch of people whom we know nothing about and I was instantly lost. To be fair I think this was the Chorus’ speech that begins Act Two of the play; but the alert amongst us realised we were only at Act One. I felt harangued and deliberately confused, and feared the worst for the rest of the night. Warring factions started to form; Montagues and Capulets, no doubt, literally thumbing their nose at each other and then running away like naughty schoolkids. I blame the parents. Romeo’s caught up in this bunch of idiots; a lot of street-fighting, anger, teasing and generally bad behaviour. I thought we’d skipped Romeo and Juliet and gone straight to the gang violence of West Side Story but without the songs.

R&J2However, once it had all settled down, and we’d been introduced to the youthfully ebullient Juliet (Karen Fishwick), her gossipy, fussy and slightly coarse Nurse (Ishia Bennison) and her hands-off, hesitant and generally inadequate mother (Mariam Haque), the production just took on its own life force and thrilled, delighted and horrified its way through the next two and a half hours, never taking a wrong turn. Tom Piper’s design consists of a box. That’s all there is. You can move it around so that it becomes a cave, or Juliet’s balcony, or the Capulet Family Tomb, but, at the end of the day, it’s just a box. And the simplicity of that reflects the simplicity of the story-telling, enabling the audience’s imagination to fill in all the blanks, which is just how I like it.

R&J7But it’s all about R & J, isn’t it? Two incredible, first rate performances that make you laugh and (almost) cry; certainly that remind you of your younger days when you used to make a fool of yourself over someone you fancied, and how you were horrified when your new-found love didn’t go down well with the rest of the family. Bally Gill’s Romeo is the embodiment of that chap that all the girls want to be with and all the guys want to be like; bright, great company, funny and hideously good looking to boot. As he sidles up to the Capulet garden party only to veer away at the last minute through embarrassment you know this is someone you can identify with. Montague or Capulet, he’s our Romeo. We’re completely on his side. And for Shakespeare purists, when it comes to his delivering the classic lines of poetical love, he’s as eloquent and passionate as you could wish.

R&J6And he’s matched by a sensational Juliet in the form of Karen Fishwick; if you think Juliets should be all pure and demure, think again. Ms Fishwick plays her as a spirited wild child, full of adventure, a giggling provocatrice who can’t wait to start living and loving – provided it’s with the man she chooses. When her domineering father sets her up with Paris – to be wed a few days after her cousin Tybalt has been killed (and awkwardly having already married his murderer) – you won’t believe the fit of fury that overtakes Juliet, pounding the cushions with flailing fists, shrieking her refusal to comply. You can see where she gets this hot-headedness from; her father Lord Capulet disciplines her with a substantial roughing-up that takes you by uncomfortable surprise – a very good physical performance there by Michael Hodgson.

R&J3I loved Ishia Bennison’s kind-hearted, meddlesome but very knowing Nurse, who created a good deal of comedy out of her characterisation. Andrew French gave a perfect portrayal of Friar Laurence, just the kind of cleric you would want as your own family priest; understanding, non-judgmental and with a sense of humour – the kind of person you could confide in. Raphael Sowole’s Tybalt is a figure of intimidating power, although no match for Romeo’s fancy footwork with a knife; and I really liked Afolabi Alli as Paris, a refined, polite characterisation but showing just that flash of sleaziness as he relishes the prospect of getting Juliet between the sheets.

R&J11An intelligent yet accessible production of what may be considered the ultimate tragedy, yet retaining a brilliant lightness of touch to reflect the youthful aspirations of its characters. Hugely entertaining, and you leave with a much deeper insight into the characters than you had before. It’s in the Stratford repertoire until 21st September then in the Barbican repertoire from November to January 2019. Highly recommended!

Production photos by Topher McGrillis

Review – Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, Derngate, Northampton, 9th September 2013

Romeo and JulietI didn’t know anything about the Peter Schaufuss Ballet Company when I booked these tickets, but it’s always good to catch some well-performed classical ballet every so often, so we thought we’d give it a go. The company is based in Denmark, and Mr Schaufuss has been Director of London Festival Ballet, Berlin Ballet and the Royal Ballet, Copenhagen. Sir Frederick Ashton’s version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is something of a family piece, with the original Juliet being played by Peter Schaufuss’ mother, Mercutio by his father, and this current production’s Romeo being played by his son. Peter Schaufuss himself is playing the Duke and the Friar in this production. Ashton bequeathed his Romeo and Juliet to Schaufuss when he died in 1988, and one of the company’s raisons d’être is to keep Ashton’s creative spirit alive.

Luke SchaufussI did, however, find it slightly bewildering to enter the auditorium to discover this huge portrait of Peter Schaufuss on the stage, effectively hiding the set (such as it is) until curtain up. It reminded me of the ubiquitous pictures of President Assad that we saw everywhere in Syria a few years ago, subtly (or not) emphasising his dominating presence. I’m not saying Mr Schaufuss is a tyrant, I’m just saying that your average ballet-goer in Northampton would be more interested in the dancers playing the lead roles rather than the company Director. Once the picture was raised aloft from the stage, it all felt less portentous and intimidating.

Stefan WiseThe party behind us were shocked – vociferously and extendedly – that there wasn’t an orchestra and that Prokofiev’s stirring score would simply be recorded music churned out through speakers. That wasn’t an issue for us – welcome to the world of small-scale touring ballet. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t a programme though. The set consists of a plain backdrop and a few steps linking an upper platform to the stage, which provides for two separate dancing areas and four entrance/exit zones. Plenty of space for dancing, which I always think is A Good Thing. No expense spared on the costumes, however, which were elegant, refined and thoroughly beautiful. The lighting was also very evocative and rich, which helped to create mood on the otherwise featureless set. However, a lack of both programme and set can sometimes make a ballet a little hard to follow. If you didn’t know the story beforehand I think you would struggle to make sense of some of the first scenes.

Yoko TakahashiWe were very impressed with Luke Schaufuss as Romeo. He certainly looks the part and cuts a very dashing figure swirling his grey silky cape in a justifiably attention-seeking opening solo. His dancing throughout is excellent and he has a great stage presence. He is very well matched by his two mates, the imposing Stefan Wise as a jokey Mercutio, and Ricardo Pereira as a pally Benvolio; and the three of them dance some superb scenes together. We also thought Jordi Arnau Rubio as Tybalt was brilliant, and his swordfighting scenes with Mercutio were more dramatic and believable than many a stagey danced fight. Thaddaeus Low gave a very good performance as the spurned Paris, with a couple of very adroit solos. I reckon both of these young dancers could be Names To Watch In The Future. There was a very enjoyable performance from Yoko Takahashi as Livia, very energetic but accurate in her dancing, and Josef Vesely and Katherine Watson were a fairly terrifying Lord and Lady Capulet. I tend to watch ballet closely because I really appreciate the technical expertise of the dancing and I must say I was very impressed with the standard of ballet throughout.

Ryoko YagyuBut the absolute star of the performance was Ryoko Yagyu as Juliet. She had something of a shaky start when a slippery stage upended her during her first dance – although she was straight back on her feet and completed the rest of the dance perfectly. At the end of the scene she ran off into the wings in that delicate ethereal way that ballerinas have of almost disappearing into thin air, but misjudged the tiny gap available and crashed headlong into (I think) a bank of lights that created a horrendous clatter and clashing of metal offstage. That must have hurt! I half expected to see her return with her arm in a sling and wearing Pudsey’s eye patch. To be fair, she wasn’t the only cast member to come-a-cropper as they exited the stage – I guess on the first night that aspect of the performance was a little under-rehearsed.

R&JNevertheless she did a superb performance, with incredible pointe work, extraordinarily extended legs and a great feeling for the character. She looks really young, which emphasised the tragedy of the story and I have to say I found the end rather moving; Mrs Chrisparkle found it more dramatic instead, but at least both of us enjoyed it in our own way. You do wonder though, why on earth Juliet thought it was a good idea to take the sleeping draught; and why Romeo arrives equipped with a handy bottle of poison, ready to take his own life at a moment’s notice. Maybe it was the Elizabethan equivalent of an iPhone. He probably never went anywhere without it.

I didn’t have huge expectations of this production to be honest, but we were both very pleasantly surprised. If you enjoy your classical ballet and are happy to see it with minimal staging I’d definitely recommend this production. It’s sharing with Swan Lake this week at Northampton and then from 16th to 21st September it’s in Belfast. Well worth the trip.