Tag Archives: Common Ground Theatre Company

The Mariner

reviewed at the Headgate Theatre, Colchester on 12 October

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is probably as much remembered by the general public today for his troubled life and opium addiction as for his verse and association with Wordsworth’s circle.

Of his poetry, the most likely to be known is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a chilling timeless sea-farers’ tale cast in a deliberately antique format. Pat Whymark’s new play, into which she weaves her own and Emily Bennett’s music, sets The Rime into a biographical narrative.

Richard Lounds makes Coleridge into a slightly cherubic, perpetually juvenile figure, forever wanting more from life and relationships than is feasible. He is understandable, even when being irritating. Eloise Kay, who has an excellent singing voice, plays his long-suffering wife Sarah.

From the beginning of their marriage, Coleridge seems to have seen their partnership as one in which he made all the rules. Sarah was supposed to rear their children, keep house without a regular income, act as his inspiration – and follow him up to the Lakes as a full member of Wordsworth’s coterie.

The opposite sort of woman is personified by Bennett’s Mrs Bainbridge, Coleridge’s non-nonsense London landlady and Wordsworth’s devoted, free-spirited sister Dorothy. Coleridge’s equally-addicted friend Thomas De Quincey, himself engaged in a love-hate relationship with Wordsworth’s circle, is sharply personified by Anthony Pinnick.

Whymark presents this chronicle in a series of exchanges between Coleridge, Mrs Bainbridge, Sarah, De Quincey, the Wordsworth siblings and finally with the doctors who offer to manage his addiction.

The thread upon which this string of faceted beads is strung is The Rime itself. Julian Harries’ recitation is glossed by Coleridge’s own prose annotations; between them they make the familiar, often parodied poem as chilling as its author intended.

Four star rating.

The Mariner is at the Headgate Theatre, Colchester on 13 October with a matinée performance. The tour continues until 11 November and includes the Jubilee Centre, Mildenhall (15 October), the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket (17-18 October), Zinc Arts, Chipping Ongar (19 October), Southwold Arts Centre (24 October), the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh (25 October), the Corn Hall, Diss (26 October), the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge (2 November), the Cut Arts Centre, Halesworth (6 November) and the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (7-9 November).

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Plays, Reviews 2018

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

The Old Curiosity Shop

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 27 October

Common Ground’s autumn production now launched on its East Anglian tour is an adaptation of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. A cast of five, all of whom sing and play musical instruments, take us through the story of Little Nell and her grandfather as they flee London and the nefarious designs of Daniel Quilp.

The adaptation is by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark (who has also composed the music which is such a major part of the production. The effect is, I would imagine, close to that produced by one of the small-scale touring companies which plied the various East Anglian circuits in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is in some measure a ballad opera, in the style of The Beggar’s Opera or Black-Eyed Susan. Two numbers stand out – “The fair orphan maid” in the first half and “The turning of the tide” towards the end of the second act. All the cast take several roles, including drag versions of Kit Nubbles’ mother, the sadistic Miss Brass and the waxworks proprietor Mrs Jarley.

The one woman in the cast is Eloise Kay, who takes on Nell (her age updated from the original “not quite fourteen”), the downtrodden Mrs Quilp and the Brass household drudge eventually nicknamed “the marchioness”. Quilp and the mysterious Single Gentleman makes an interesting doubling, as does pliable lawyer Mr Brass and Nell’s devoted but gambling-addicted grandfather.

Harries, Joe Leat, Tristan Teller and Ivan Wilkinson there for play all the male and the afore-mentioned female ones in a production in which Whymark  takes Dickens’ story seriously as well as briskly while allowing space for character development. Notably these include Kit and Dick Swiveller. The Punch and Judy show is a delight – that’s the way to do it!

Four star rating.

The Od Curiosity Shop tours East Anglia until 25 November, including the Corn Hall, Diss (28 October), the Jubilee Centre, Mildenhall (30 October), the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket (2 November), The Cut, Halesworth (3 November), the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge (4 November), the John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (6 and 7 November), the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (between 9 and 11 November, with a matinée on 11 November), the Headgate Theatre, Colchester (13 November), the Wingfield Barns (22 November) and the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh (24 November).

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Plays, Reviews 2017

The Unhappy Medium

(reviewed at the Stutton Community Centre on 4 June)

The year is 1926, with the General Strike at its zenith. The memories of the world war which ended a mere eight years previously are still very much alive; some even festering. The desire to know certainties about deceased loved ones – including their after-life – is rampant. Fine pickings for spiritualists and mediums, at any rate in theory.

Many of these believed, as did their clients, that they did have special powers and insight. Many also were charlatans, mere performers. It is with one such that we are confronted in Common Ground’s latest tour. The Unhappy Medium is a three-hander, both in the acting and the creation. The script is by Pat Whymark (who also directs), Julian Harries and Patrick Marlowe.

Central to the story is Montague Faulke (Harries), the by-blow of a landed aristocrat who desperately wants the family’s recognition; some of its wealth would also be welcome. His colleague and, we learn, his lover as well as general fixe and dogsbody is an East End Jew of socialist tendencies, Aubrey Solomon (Marlowe). An appointment is booked by a journalist posing as a genuine seeker for contact with the spirit world.

But Morton McLean (Dick Mainwaring), hounded by an editor greedy for front-page headline, is himself a split personality with more on his mind than exposing deceptions and protecting the vulnerable. it’s a farcical comedy in which we are never quite sure whether the role-playing is more sincere than the characters are prepared to admit. Even to themselves.

All three performers go at it with gusto. Harries turns in an over-the-top portrait of a man out of his time and place. Mainwaring is extremely funny as mcLean, especially when his research requires him to do woman’s clothing and attach himself to a cumbersome recording machine. It is Marlowe though who walks away with the show, giving us the eternal cheeky-chappy Cockney as well as the man of principles shouldering an enormous chip.

The Unhappy Medium tours community and arts centres in East Anglia until 9 July, including the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket (16 June), The Cut, Halesworth (25 June) and the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (7-9 July).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo

(reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 21 August)

Common Ground Theatre Company has found a rich seam to mine in 19th and early 20th century adventure novels. its take on The Prisoner of Zenda is now followed by The Count of Monte Cristo. By the end of Act One I was convinced that this was going to be simply Part One of a two-part sequence of adaptations – but I was wrong.

After the interval the rest of the novel rushes by in true picaresque fashion; it’s worth remembering that Dumas’ historical stories were designed for an adult readership and contain considerable contemporary political comment, not to say satire. Pat Whymark’s adaptation frames the whole thing with a meeting of an undergraduate Dumas appreciation club (cue running joke about mustard). She also directs and has provided yet another of her tuneful scores as well.

The five-strong cast works very hard portraying a vast number of different characters with multiple wig and jacket changes, not to say gender shifts. Lorna Garside and Alice Mottram share the major women’s roles (and several of the masculine ones as well). Charles Davies, Joseph Lear and Nicholas Underwood are the three male actors.

The Count of Monte Cristo tours East Anglia until 3 October and is Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate between 24 and 27 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Stranded

(reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 11 July)

Pat Whymark’s new one-act play for the Common Ground Theatre Company she runs with Julian Harries is a fairly raw slice of modern life gift-wrapped in salsa. The story concerns two young women fumbling their way out of teenage into an adult world unlikely to teach them moral maturity. Would it be worthwhile, anyway?

Kath is homeless, living rough on the outer London streets. Delia is heading fast in that direction. It becomes clear that Kath (comfortable middle-class background, albeit through adoption not birth) has chosen this lifestyle. Delia’s mother has died, and she’s in pursuit of the father who abandoned them when she was seven years old.

That father might be Len, compulsive gambler, wheeler-dealer, dodgy benefits claimant – you name it, he’s tried that wheeze a couple of times. In the course of an hour, we find ourselves caught up in their drama as Lorna Garside (Kath), Delia (Alice Mottram) and Harries draw us into their disfunctional worlds of survival-for-the-moment.

Both girls give performances which cleverly balance abrasive vulnerability with humour – even if that’s sometimes of the graveyard variety. Harries steps in and out of Len’s wide-boy carapace to add bite to the flamboyance. Len may think he’s the top dog. Any woman can see that he’s no such thing.

Stranded can also be seen at the Thatcher’s Arms, Mount Bures on 14 July, the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 15 July and St Mary’s church hall, Walton on 17 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015