Tag Archives: Ipswich Sir John Mills Theatre

Silence

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester on 17 October

Wars, especially global ones, throw up a lot of wreckage. This includes human wastage, bilateral damage as the bland phrase has it. Small fry entangled in this horror sequence tends to be overlooked.

Nicola Werenowska’s new play Silence, a co-production with Salisbury Playhouse’s Wiltshire Creative  and Liverpool’s Unity Theatre, explores three generations of Polish-origin women and their contrasted ways of dealing with life’s traumas.

Both German and Russian occupations of the country, itself something of a political football since the Middle Ages, caused immense suffering and forcible displacement.

Maria, the grandmother of this story, has largely kept silence about the depths of her personal agonies first in Poland and later in Siberia. Her daughter Ewa has a rocky marriage in Reading and Anna, her daughter, is a typical young woman of the early 21st century.

Director Jo Newman and her designer Baśka Wesolowka balance the complexity of the stories and characters’ revelations with a taut simplicity. Scenery consists of three grey chairs backed by grey screens. Costume changes are kept to a minimum, simply reflecting different times and places.

The three actresses – Tina Gray as Maria, Kate Spiro as Ewa and Maria Louis as Anna – all inhabit their rôles from the heart out; they make these women’s contrasted dilemmas and their equally different ways of coping with them moving as well as credible.

Four star rating.

Silence runs at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester until 20 October. There are matinée or early evening performances on 18, 19 and 20 October. The tour continues until 17 November including the Norwich Arts Centre (23 October) and the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (5 November).

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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

Everything Must Go!

reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 28 September

Eastern Angles have a track-record for shows based on personal recollections. On tour at the moment is Everything Must Go! , which collates the memories of care-home residents – for many of whom shopping was central to women’s lives – into the story of Dot and her grandson Tom.

Jon Tavener makes it into a collage of changing attitudes, in more than one sense. Dot (Rosalind Burt) is losing her short-term memory but is persuaded, with Tom (Joe Leat) as her chauffeur, to revisit the shops in which she has been for so many years an habituée – on both sides of the counter.

Except, of course, that most of them are no longer there. Her father ran an ironmongery, in which she learnt her trade, and expanded the business when an adjacent grocery shop ceased trading. Wartime austerity taught her a different sort of frugality and the benefits of trade-off.

Later, she worked at the Co-op, appreciating the power of the “divi”, and felt marginalised by the self-service concept introduced in the run-up to the supermarkets and superstores where we shop nowadays without giving much thought to their predecessors.

Yes, it’s social history – and not without bite. But it’s also thoroughly enjoyable, with Burt switching easily from prewar schoolgirl to young mother to the frailty of today. Leat offers a portrait gallery of shopmen (and shopping women) as well as suggesting a modern young man’s real affection for his grandmother.

Fiona Rigler has devised a setting which uses green boxes, a curtained arch and shop signs to whisk us from place to place and time to time. Aprons and head-scarves indicate character changes with minimal fuss.

I can’t have been the only audience member who felt a sudden twinge of nostalgia for those old shops where dockets, bills, money and change whizzed overhead to a cashier somewhere in the background. It added a dimension to the shopping experience.

Four and a half-star rating.

Everything Must Go! runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until 29 September with a matinée on 29 September. It then tours to The Undercroft, Peterborough (6 October) and to the Town Hall, Maldon (13 October).

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Guesthouse

reviewed at the Assembly Rooms, Dedham on 16 March

There’s a very interesting play embedded in the current version of Nicola Werenowska’s Guesthouse. It will take some further excavation, and the use of a very sharp scalpel, to disinter it.

East Anglia’s seaside towns are among those in the coastal areas of England affected by holiday-habit changes. Many find themselves unable to compensate economically with alternative employment and development prospects.

The guesthouse of the title is in Clacton. It’s owned by Val (Amanda Bellamy), who ran it in the town’s heyday with her late husband. Now she is recovering from a fall and wants to sell the house.

Her needy daughter Lisa (Clare Humphrey) – who has made quite a mess of her life so far – and Lisa’s daughter Chloe (Eleanor Jackson) – who has been brought up by her grandmother and is equally demanding in a different way – see the logic but aren’t prepared to act on it.

Tony Casement’s production drags out the first act, the one which is most in need of that scalpel, within a simplified domestic setting by Anna Kelsey. Chris Howcraft’s projections take us outside and into the past as well as the present but don’t quite make their intended effect.

You can sympathise with Val, who has done her best to swim with her personal tides of change. Bellamy delivers her soliloquies to engage the audience with the character’s history.

Lisa is a different matter. She’s not quite done with the past, as Humphrey makes clear, but has no stamina for the present, let along the future. Jackson’s Chloe is a spiky sort of young woman; she’s a possible survivor albeit a damaged one.

Touring any play to the variety of venues lined by for this spring Eastern Angles production presents its own set of problems. Audiences in one place may not – unless they find the characters and situations particularly engrossing –really enter into the playwright’s vision.

In its present form Guesthouse seems both a dramatised documentary and a family saga. The two strands may yet come properly together, but the scalpel needs to come into play before they knit together as they should.

Three and a half-star rating.

Guesthouse tours until 26 May. Venues include Southwold Arts Centre (22 March), the Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft (23 March), Rattlesden Pavilion (24 March), West Cliff Theatre, Clacton (27 March), St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth (6 April), Haverhill Arts Centre (10 April), Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford (17 April), Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh (20 April), Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (23-28 April), the Little Theatre, Sheringham (2 May), Diss Corn Hall (3 May), The Place, Bedford (9 May), Woodbridge Community Hall (16-17 May), The Undercroft, Peterborough (24 May) and The Cut, Halesworth (25 May).

 

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The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane

reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 8 December

Be warned! Eastern Angles’ seasonal offering changes name when it reaches Peterborough’s Key Theatre for the final week of its three-venue run. There it becomes The Ladykillers of Orton Brambles – both are areas which  actually exist in their respective cities.

But one never expects everyday logic in on of these variations on a popular literary or dramatic themes. Harry Long’s script is (very loosely) based on the Ealing Films comedy – and of course there has recently been a very successful stage version at the nearby New Wolsey Theatre. Our band of robbers, newly sprung from gaol, here masquerade as thespians rather than musicians to hilarious effect.

Dominic Conway has provided some catchy tunes for the cast of five to sing and play. Designer Sean Turner makes a small acting-area with the audience on two sides and the necessity for a bewildering number of costume changes seem as natural as Laura Keefe’s production allows.

The gang is masterminded by Todd Heppenstall as Left Eye with Emma Barclay’s Cow Crusher as his right-hand person. Barclay also doubles as Binkie Blaine, a landlady whose crush (to put it politely) on Michal Ball provides a running joke throughout.

Also involved is slow-witted Scar Feet (Daniel Copeland) and thwarted dancer Smithy; Alex Prescot’s interpretation of the menservants in the production of The Importance of Being Earnest and Keshini Misha’s Method-soaked Kim are ponted reminders of performers who drive their directors  to drink.

We also meet the policemen whose boring desk-duty is scarcely enlivend by Binkie’s regular reporting on conspiracies; she’s an up-to-date old lady, for her suspecisions are well nurtured by Facebook and Twitter.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Ladykillers of Humble Doucy Lane/of Orton Brambles runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipwich until 6 January. It transfers to the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge between 9 and 20 January and (with the alternative title) to the Key Theatre Studio from 23 to 27 January. Performnce dates and times vary. Check the Eastern Angles website:www.easternagnles.co.uk for details and seat availability.

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

Stoat Hall

(reviewed at the SirJohn Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 9 December)

Eastern Angles’ Christmas show is a Pat Whymark and Julian Harries confection, which means that it’s literate, tuneful and lethally clever – at times a little too much so for its own good. There’s a lot of cod as well as real Shakespeare and a whole series of riffs to do with Richard III and Henry VIII, not to mention tranches of East Anglian as well as national history, legend, might-have-beens and architecture.

That all means that I thoroughly enjoyed Stoat Hall, but perhaps partly because it tweaked some of my own interests. There’s an extremely hard-working cast of five, switching stage gender as adroitly as role, costume and set accessories. At the centre of the imbroglio is poor Sir Roger (Richard Mainwaring) who has the misfortune to have close blood ties to both the last Plantagent and the second Tudor kings.

Not to mention a crone of a grand-mother Agnes (Violet Patton-Ryder), a wilful wife and a daughter who takes after her (Geri Allen in both roles), a love-sick jester Perch (Matt Jopling) and a sinister in-house alchemist John Dee (Patrick Neyman, who also plays the second, stroppily butch daughter Hedwig). When Henry arrives on a wife-hunting mission, things start going even more wrong.

The music is suitably 16th century pastiche; the cast provide the instrumental accompaniments. Designer Richard Evans works his own particular magic with a very small acting area, ornamented by a whole series of pop-up and pop-out puppets. Not to mention an interesting variation on an autopsy. Don’t worry, no animals (two- or four-legged) were hurt during the procedure.

Stoat Hall runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until 7 January. It then plays at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge between 10 and 21 January and at the Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough from 24 to 28 January. Check the theatre’s website (easternangles.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

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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Holy Mackerel!

(reviewed at Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 19 December 2016)

You expect something different from Eastern Angles’ Christmas shows – and this year’s offering certainly lives up to that expectation. The script is by Harry Long and produced in partnership with the West Country-based Shanty Theatre Company. The story (yes, there is one, and it’s based on fact) concerns what happened in 1896 when East Anglian fishing-boats muscled in on the mackerel shoals around Newlyn.

At that period, most of the Newlyn fishermen were staunch Methodists, not putting to sea between Saturday sunset and Monday dawn. The East Anglians (nicknamed “Yorkies” in Cornwall) had no such scruples and cornered the weekend market by loading their catches onto the early Monday morning train to Billingsgate market in London.

Unsurprisingly, rioting ensued which involved over 1,000 Cornish men. Long’s script homes in on just a few main characters, neatly defined for the audience by wearing their names (or those of their boats) on skirts or tarpaulins. Mags (Louise Callaghan) is our heroine, an attractive committed Methodist who falls for not-too-bright Norman (Long) who, among other educational deficiencies, has no idea of what Methodism might be.

No story to do with the sea would be complete without a thorough-going villain. Christian Edwards plays Brassy, all country-gentleman tweeds and shooting-stick; he is the owner of the boats attempting to muscle in on the Cornish mackerel harvest. Mabel Clements and David Copeland complete the cast which – Tim Bell’s production is in the full Eastern Angles tradition of 17 parts (not to mention songs, dances and instrumental accompaniments) being shared among a minimum quantity of players.

Verity Quinn has designed some interesting sets and costumes. Stu McLoughlin is the composer with Barnaby Southgate as musical director. Penny Griffin’s lighting adds to the atmosphere. It may be slightly offbeat even for an Eastern Angles Christmas show but this collaboration with a like-minded theatre company suggests that the seeds of similar productions may already be germinating.

Holy Mackerel! is at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge until 23 January and at the Key Theatre, Peterborough between 26 and 30 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Parkway Dreams

(reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 2 September)

Inspiration for a musical can come from some odd places, but Eastern Angles’ artistic director Ivan Cutting is probably correct when he suspects that Parkway Dreams is the first to take town planning as a theme. Newly revised and about to launch itself on a national tour, this is an altogether tauter show than in its previous incarnation.

The story revolves around the evolution of Peterborough, when the then Ministry of Town and Country Planning – seeking to solve the post-war housing crisis – latched upon the ideas of garden city movement pioneer Ebenezar Howard (unlike most theorists, Howard’s vision had actually translated into reality, in the shape of Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities).

Selected for one of these overspill schemes was the ancient cathedral city of Peterborough, known to the Romans and housing the tomb of Catherine of Aragon. We follow the dispute and Council wranglings as consultant planner drew up his draft plans and gradually won support. Robert Jackson makes him a sympathetic visionary, not the easiest type of character to pull off.

A fictional human story is introduced with Jack (Matt Ray Brown) and his wife Mary (Polly Naylor). They’ve been bambed out of their London home, jobs for de-mobbed ex-servicemen are thin on the ground and they both want a better future for their son Peter. Not that new-build Peterborough is all sweetness and light, for all its grassy spaces, educational opportunities and leisure facilities. Factories, even new ones, do close and have to lay-off staff.

“The Peterborough Effect” goes the slogan and turns into the best musical number in Simon Egerton’s score. The fast-moving script is by Kenneth Emson, based on eye-witness testimony treated by him and Cutting with just the right lightness of touch. Documentary theatre this may be, but it manages to wear that pedigree with carefree aplomb. Charlie Cridlan is the designer with Robert Hazle (who has a nice sideline in politicians of various hues) is the musical director.

Parkway Dreams
runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until 7 October. The tour takes in Harlow Playhouse Studio (15-16 October), Braintree Arts Theatre (17 October), Hemel Hempstead Arts Centre (20 October), the Tameside Theatre, Thurrock (21 October), the Luton Hat Factory (22 October), the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester (23-24 October) and the Weston Auditorium, Hatfield (26 October).

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

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