This year’s Pulse Festival curated by China Plate made a fascinating start with two one-person shows. Kieran Hodgson’s Maestro takes a wry look at a would-be composer (idol is Mahler, bête noire Rachmaninoff), his social and bi-sexual feelings and fumblings and the whole frustrating business of transforming from child to adult through teenage.
In theory, we should itch to give him a good shaking and tell him to take a grip of reality. In practice, we’ve all built sun-drenched sand castles out of wisful yearnings, tentative romances and might-have-been career fantasies – only to see them washed away by the rising tide of life as it is. Callum, Lucy, Ed, Cécile and Anthony as they float in and out of Kieran’s life (so far) are brought to our notice as though they peopled the stage with him.
All the Things I Lied About by Kate Bonna as altogether more acerbic. As she points out, we live in a post-truth world (though I suspect that it was ever so) where lies are the fuel for everyday intercourse in person or through electronic transmission. It’s another autobiographical show which begins with politics, Brexit and Trump and segues into her parents’ marriage, its breakdown and her gradual realisation of the truth.
Fake news is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Perhaps we asociate it in particular with politicians, but it also can be purely personal. As Bonna demonstrates how multifaceted truth can be – with the aid of audience participation and some interesting lighting effects – her wariness about total emotional commitment is laid bare before us.
Both shows were British Sign Language interpreted. The anonymous interpreter at one side of the stage deserves a festival award in her own right. Not only did she echo evry word of Bonna, she also managed to keep up with Hodgson’s ad-libs – and did it all with an air of actual enjoyment. Top marks.
The Pulse 2017 Festival continues in Ipswich until 10 June at the New Wolsey Theatre, the New Wolsey Studio, the High Street Exhibition Gallery and DanceEast’s Jerwood Dancehouse.
There have been several stage adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden over the past few years, but the latest from East Anglian touring company Spinning Wheel Theatre proves that imagination on stage and its reciprocation in the audience can be just as effective as large casts and elaborate settings.
The audience is confronted by Becca Gibbs’ fragmented set, nicely suggesting both indoors and outside, a type of topy-turvy world – which is exactly what Mary Lennox finds herself in when her parents die in India and she is shipped home to an unwilling guardian, Mr Craven. Spikier than a cactus as first, Mary learns to curb her imperious attitude to those she considers mere menials – but it’s a slow process.
Four very skilled actors make up director Amy Wyllie’s cast, led by Niamh McGowan as Mary and Samual Norris as Colin, the apparently crippled and bedridden Craven heir. Alice Osmanski takes on uptight houskeeper Mrs Medlock and ebullient maid Martha as well as the old gardener Weatherstaff. Joe Leat plays Dickon, Martha’s brother who has a special affinity with wildlife, Mr Craven and his doctor brother.
A succession of puppets also play their parts, from oriental shadow-play to represent the scenes in India to a chirruping red bird and a hungrey fox. “On your imginary forces work” suggests Chorus at the beginning of King Henry V, and that’s precisely what this production does. It was a pity that the acoustics of the John Peel Centre blurred so much of the authentically-accented dialogue.
Four star rating.
The Secret Garden is on tour across East Anglia until 18 June, including the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 31 May, the Corn Hall, Diss (2 June), Southwold Arts Centre (3 June), the Fisher Theatre, Bungay (June 4) and the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich on 17 June.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich on 10 December)
When children are a little too young to enjoy a full-length pantomime and might even, if this is a first encounter with live theatre, find the whole ambiance just a bit scary – what’s the alternative? There’s usually not a great deal, but the Stuff and Nonsense/Niki McCreeton version of the tale of the three little pigs and how they outwit a very hungry wolf will certainly go a considerable way to filling the gap.
The setting uses autumnal colour for the not-quite realistic trees and bushes which suggest the forest where the action happens. Katie Underhay and Peter Morton are the performers, switching so easily from onstage characterisations (Morton has great fun as the red-spectaclrd wolf) to puppet manipulation; this means that the young audience accepts the change-overs as perfectly natural.
Audience participation – hiding from the wolf and chanting the familiar repetitative rhymes with appropriate actions – fits in smoothly. This is an imagination-stretching show and I suspect that it may set the next generation of young theatre-goers in the right direction.
3 Little Pigs runs at the New Wolsey Studio Theatre, Ipswich until 3 January. Check the theatre website (wolseytheatre.co.uk or aloadofstuffandnonsense.co.uk) for performance times.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich on 9 December 2015)
This show for very young children is based on the book by Julia Donaldson illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Adaptation and direction are by Peter Glanville with puppet and set design by Lyndie Wright. It’s a presentation by the Little Angel Theatre and Polka Theatre – both well-known for the excellence of their productions for a juvenile audience.
The presenters are Jane Crawshaw and Samantha Sutherland, both of whom know when to let the puppets tell the story and when to step forward to let the audience into a secret. The Rosie puppet is almost blank-faced, so those familiar with the book can place their own interpretations on our heroine.
As in all good stories, likeable Rosie has a very horrid brother, all macho aggressiveness and much given to destroying anything which his sister might enjoy. Their mother tries to keep the peace (all parents will recognise the tantrums), as Rosie’s family of cut-out paper dolls (Wright has designed several sizes of these) have their adventures.
These involve trying to evade the jaws first of a toy dinosaur, then of an oven-glove crocodile and finally of a tiger. A very hungry tiger which just happens to resemble Rosie’s slippers. There is also a flower garden (cue brother’s lethal scissors) with birds and a ladybird in residence.
It makes a good introduction to the theatre for its intended audience and has enough clever design elements to keep the adults interested. Donaldson is probably the country’s uncrowned queen of fiction for this age group but Rosie’s story glides off the page and onto the stage effortlessly.
The Paper Dolls is at the New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich until 2 January.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Studio on 6 June)
Pulse 2015 ended with an exceptionally moving family story, a true one. Bread & Circuses’s Nick Philippou directs Danny Braverman’s Wot? No Fish!! with the subtlety the story demands. Braverman has the audience eating out of his hand from the very beginning as we are offered that traditional (and delicious) Jewish delicacy, fish balls. Their significance becomes apparent later.
Braverman’s great-uncle Ab Solomons drew sketches each week on the pay packet he handed to his wife Celie. They were themselves of refugee families, escaping from the late 19th century lash of pogroms which disfigured Tsarist Russia and the new German empire alike. The marriage produced two children, both boys, and both children refused to conform to the norm.
One worked in an art gallery in the West End, far from Whitechapel, Dalston or Golders Green, let alone Hampstead Garden Suburb.The other was what we would nowadays classify as autistic. In the 1920s and ’30s, such a difficult youth as Larry approaching full manhood would be sent to a lunatic asylum, which is what happened. His parents made an awkward visit each week, usually bringing food (hence the title when, on one occasion, the goodie-basket failed to reveal any fish balls and their accompanying sauce).
We see these remarkable sketches and caricatures on a screen, as Braverman recounts the family history and humanises the people they represent with selected photographs. There is a special poignancy about the later sketches showing the ageing couple performing the Friday night rituals alone, without either of their sons or even a neighbour to join them. As painless history lessons go, this is at the top of my list.
Pulse 2015 ended on 6 June.