Tag Archives: Aldeburgh

Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance

reviewed at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge on 16 December

Common Ground’s creative team of Julian Harries and Pat Whymark have a good like in spoof shows, both for their own company and others. This year we are treated to a Sherlock Holmes adventure which I don’t think you’ll find in the official Conan Doyle canon. Five actors share some 18 parts between them.

Dick Mainwaring as Watson is the exception to the quick changes of costume and gender. He and Holmes (Harries) are broke in Baker Street with Mrs Hudson (Emily Bennett)’s Christmas fare receding faster than well-paid sleuthing. It’s fortuitous that Inspector Le’Opard (Joe Leat) comes calling with a problem.

The music which Whymark has composed and her dance routines are as usual well-conceived (she and Alfie Harries) accompany hese. Noteworthy are Bennett’s ballad as Miss Claypole, a department store employee stuck in a deadend job and only staying in it for the pension, the chorus numbers (which have considerable satirical bite) and Watson’s second-act lament.

Theatrical in-jokes as well as political ones flow through the dialogue; this is not really a show for small children. The ins and outs of the plot are sufficiently complex to keep the laughter coming; puppets (juggling with cats, anyone?) supplement the cast. Patrick Neyman  has the chance to switch accents as well as clothes as Mycroft and half of the store’s ownership.

Six other theatres are included in the Christmas tour, and I suspect that the whole thing will have tightened and speeded up once it is run-in. Common Ground, like many other smaller-scale regional companies, has learned that make-do-and-improvise can be a dramatic advantage as well as a drawback. This is a clever show, but somehow not quite clever enough.

Three and a half-star rating.

Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance plays at the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket between 18 an 20 December, at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh from 1 to 3 January, at the Corn Hall, Diss on 5 January, and at the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich between 8 and 13 January. Peformance times and seat availability vary, so check the company’s website: www.commongroundtc.co.uk for details.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Pantomimes & Christmas season shows, Reviews 2017

Communicating Doors

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 5 July

Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors is on one level a farce with sociological bite, as expected from the modern master of that genre. On another, it plays with the notion of time, much as did JB Priestley in dramas such as Time and the Conways, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls.

The action takes place in suite 647 of a London hotel owned by ruthless business-man Reece (James Morley) with his equally ferocious second-in-command Julian (Michael Shaw). We begin in 2037 with the arrival of a dominatrix called Poopay (real name Pheobe) played by Melissa Clements; her attentions are in response to Reece’s last wishes.

It transpires that both Reece’s wives have met untimely ends, first Jessica (Rosanna Miles) and then Ruella (Claire Jeater). In both cases Julian appears to have been the hit-man and he has no compunction about serving Poopay in the same way. Her escape through a door into a cupboard takes her into the same suite but, at different times, in 2017 and 1997.

Mark Sterling’s production keeps up a lively pace with the audience at times hard-pressed to follow at the same speed. Tory Cobb’s set and Miri Birch’s costumes work well in this context, as does the clever use of lighting (including laser shapes to indicate time changes) and shadow-play.

The cast brings commitment and a good understanding of both Ayckbourn’s words and the characters they define. Clements offers a rounded portrait of the girl from a children’s home who grits her teeth and gets on with earning a living. Miles and Jeater differentiate the two wives and the way their personalities develop over 40 years.

Bumbling in and out of the action is hotel security-man Harold, who Bob Dobson makes likeable even as the women manipulate him. Shaw has the lion’s share of the nastiness, and relishes every nuance of it. Morley’s role is in many ways a more difficult one, but his last scene with Pheobe has real heart.

Four star rating.

Communicating Doors runs at the Southwold Arts Centre as the opening production in the Suffolk Summer Theatres season until 15 July with matinées on 8, 13 and 15 July. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 20 and 29 July with matinées on 22 and 29 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Murder By The Book

(reviewed at Suffolk Summer Theatres, Southwold on 19 July)

Writing is a solitary occupation; it can lead to depression and self-denigration. On the other hand, it has been known to develop into megalomania. The thriller by Duncan Greenwood and Robert King has as its central character a successful thriller writer whose lucrative part-time supplement to his earnings comes from writing vitriolic reviews of his competitors’ novels.

His secretary goes along with all this; his even-wealthier actress and somewhat libidinous wife has had enough. Divorce has been mentioned, but this has financial implications. It’s all a neat set-up for role-playing of many sorts, though Phil Clark’s fast-paced production never manages to make the characters anything other than pasteboard puppets.

Leyla Holley plays Imogen, a woman whose histrionics spill over from stage to drawing-room. Costume designer Miri Birch places us firmly in the Mary Quant/Biba era. Amy Christina Murray makes a pert Christine with Joe Leat as the exceptionally nosy next-door neighbour whose “Hurray Henry” façade is not quite what it seems.

Selwyn Piper, the concocter of mysteries at the centre of the drama, is Simon Stanhope with Clive Flint as his publisher John Douglas. They all take it as seriously as this sort of comedy-thriller requires, but – for me at any rate – it never quite jells. Perhaps you should blame the weather.

Murder by the Book runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 30 July and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 2 and 6 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

So Here We Are

(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

There’s a lot to look at as well as to hear in Steven Atkinson’s production of So Here We Are, a new play by Luke Norris. As it starts, we meet four young amateur footballers, mainly perched on top of dockside containers, as they begin to take in that their friend Frankie (whose funeral they have just attended) is truly dead. They drink lager and josh each other, but still find it hard to accept what has happened.

Mourning is a strange phenomenon anyway. They are eventually joined by Frankie’s partner Kirsty clutching black balloons for them to launch as a tribute and an element of closure. But can that ever be achieved, especially by the young whose first brush with mortality this is?

Then we are in flashback mode. Lily Arnold’s container set opens to display disco lights and we meet Frankie himself (Daniel Kendrick) who has grasped the trappings of football success rather too early. His exchanges with Kirsty foreshadow what we know will happen, but are punctuated by his friends’ well-meaning interventions as well as by Isobel Waller-Bridge’s ear-blistering score and sound.

Sound is something of a problem throughout, in fact; for much of the first half it’s as though we were on a seawall with a rough tide rampaging over a pebble beach. Ciáron Owens, Dorian Jerome Simpson, Mark Weinmann and Sam Melvin all convey the inarticulate nature of young male bonding, even when you have to guess at what they’re saying between the expletives.

So Here We Are runs in repertoire at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 20 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015


(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

We are told by director Caitlin McLeod that this new play by E V Crowe, about a woman stressed to the point of mental fragility, takes place on the fault line between theatre and reality. That’s a perfectly legitimate concept, when it works. For me it definitely did not.

There’s a lot of wordless standing around for Alison O”Donnell as Brenda in the Parish Church Hall at the beginning of the play. Silence and lengthy pauses can be excellent drama when initiated by a master; here they seem merely irritating. I wanted to care what was going to happen to this sad young woman, but couldn’t manage it.

Brenda is joined by Robert (Jack Tarlton), who one presumes he’s her husband. He wants to help her, basically by forcing her to acknowledge that she is indeed a person called Brenda through the use of a microphone. Is this in fact cruelty for its own sake, an element of revenge or truly an attempt at therapy?

Designer James Turner makes a great play of a bank of electronic amplification and a snake’s nest of microphone leads, uncoiling and writhing across the floor like so many vipers. Snake venom, of course, has medicinal uses as well as lethal properties; we are left uncertain whether Brenda’s need to be outside is an escape attempt or merely a provocation to Robert.

Brenda runs in repertoire in the Aldeburgh Parish Hall until 19 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015


(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

The second première in this year’s HighTide Festival is a two-hander for three characters by Al Smith. The audience is ranged either side of a long raised platform which designer Tom Piper has floored in pristine white, echoes by the two chairs and kitchen unit which are the only other furnishings.

Nick Sidi is Him, a father and divorced husband obsessed by girls’ virginal mid-teen status. He met his former wife when she was a schoolgirl; now his daughter is the same age. He worries about her to a point which we feel as the play progresses is beyond reason or logic.

He is concerned that her friend Carly is leading her astray, that she wears make-up and scent, that she buys shoes and a mobile phone to suit her own taste rather than his. Above all, that her mother is setting her the wrong example with her new partner Gary and above all that she now has an older boyfriend Adam.

His obsession is such that he follows her when she and Carly go away for the weekend, only of course they separate and she and Adam spend Valentine’s Day together in Harrogate, ending up in a double bed in a guest-house. When he confronts his wife (both women are played by Sarah Ridgeway) he seeks to transform her into an unhealthy mix of her own teenage self and her daughter.

It is a mark of director Richard Twyman’s skill as well as of Smith’s writing that we are never completely repelled by the male character’s dangerous obsession, a perverse Lolita complex as Him at one point admits. Nick Sidi takes us inside this ultimately sad man’s soul and lays it bare as on an operating table.

That table is where Ridgeway as the wife and mother spends her working life. As a surgeon, she knows that you cannot force time to stand still, much less run backwards. It’s a beautifully rounded performance, matched by her deceptively simple characterisation of the daughter, who is learning about life’s duplicity in a fashion as skewed as her father’s obsessions.

Harrogate runs in repertoire at the Pumphouse, Aldeburgh until 20 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015


(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

This new play by Anders Lustgarten is a searing indictment of two contemporary evils, one national and the other international. It is a piece for two voices, one that of Stefano, a Sicilian fisherman whose work has degenerated from catching fish to feed people to pulling the bodies of dead migrants from the Mediterranean – that sea around whose shores western civilisation first took root.

The other character is Denise, who works for a pay-day loan company collecting overdue repayments. In its way, it is equally soul-destroying, but she has an invalid mother to support (much as the DWP would like to declare her fit for work, and thus save paying disability benefits). Anyway, her employers reckon that a woman has a better chance of success in collecting money than a man.

Because the writing is strong and committed, I kept on feeling – in spite of Steven Atkinson’s production and the excellent performances by Steven Elder (Stefano) and Louise Mai Newberry (Denise) – that this would work much better on radio without the visual distractions furnished by a theatre-in-the-round production.

At the end, both characters are offered a glimpse of hope – Stefano through finding alive the wife of a distraught migrant, Denise through the kindness of a Portuguese woman client. But Lustgarten makes us aware that these are mere firefly glimmers in an increasingly dark world. We are never far from decay, even on the seashore.

Lampedusa continues in repertoire at the HighTide Dome until 19 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015