Tag Archives: Jimmy’s Farm

Much Ado About Nothing

reviewed at  the Theatre in the Forest, Wherstead on 3 August

Outdoor theatre attracts mixed-age audiences. That can prove problematic when the show in question is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies. The Red Rose Chain has made a specialisation of small-cast visually updated versions; Joanna Carrick’s new production is the latest.

With two global conflict anniversaries hovering in all our backgrounds, this one (like Colchester’s 2016 production) has a Second World War setting. Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick are all fighter pilots. Leonata is a Woman’s Auxiliary Force officer.

Her daughter Hero is a nurse and her niece Beatrice is a land-girl. Of course, the men of the town’s constabulary and all Dad’s Army clones. The set by Carrick, Jack Heydon, David Newborn and Rob Young shows a camouflaged tunnel entrance, a watch-tower and a Red Cross station. Kathryn Thorogood’s costumes allow for all the required quick changes.

All six actors play two parts. Fizz Waller doubles a mercurial Beatrice with a show-stealing Dogberry. Ricky Oakley’s urbane Benedick reverses into the uncouth Conrade. Haydon’s pliable Claudio becomes an over-the-top Margaret, given to strip-tease.

Oliver Cudbill is an ecclesiastical Don Pedro and pedantic constable Verges. Captive Don John, who sets one of the play’s plot themes running, is a combat-crippled eyesore; a good contrast in characterisations with authoritarian Leonata for Claire Lloyd. Joanna Sawyer gives as much spark as possible to the abused Hero.

“I didn’t write the words” mutters Oakley’s Benedick at one point. No, Shakespeare did – but certainly not all of them in Carrick’s staging. The slapstick, music and jitterbugging both ornament and distract from the drama. But what else can you expect when even the forest birds join in on cue?

Four star rating.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead until 26 August. There are matinées on 4 and 11 August.

 

 

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Plays, Reviews 2018

The Tempest

(reviewed at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead on 29 July)

“Ramshackle” and “shenanigans” are two words mentioned in the programme for Joanna Carrick’s production of The Tempest, this summer’s Shakespeare from the Red Rose Chain at the Theatre in the Forest.

They are apt, for the cast of five appear much more at home with the rough’n’tumble of the jester and the butler than with the poetry and multi-levels of treachery, betrayal and redemption which underpin the story of Prospero, his usurping brother and the equally disfunctional royal family of Naples.

So Edward Day – who plays Prospero and Sebastien, the Milanese dukes – comes to life as clown-masked and wigged Trinculo; Prospero’s great speeches somehow seem to take second place. Rachael McCormick doubles Miranda (a typically stroppy teenager) and the pedantic but honourable councillor Gonzalo. Lawrence Russell is a boyish Ferdinand, the crown-ambitious Antonio and a literally knockabout Stephano.

This is a play, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the spirit and the mortal worlds meld. Kirsty Thorpe’s Caliban not only provides some of the production’s most intelligent speaking but makes Alonso’s grief at the apparent loss of both his daughter (to marriage) and his son (presumed drowned) credible. Jack Parker is an Ariel with an underpinning of Puck as he seeks to earn his freedom.

Carrick’s production makes much use of water, quite a lot of which finds its way among the audience; if you prefer to remain dry, don’t book for the foremost block of seats stage right. David Newborn and Carrick have created a set in sea shades peopled with oil drums and overhung by an enormous sail.

Costumes for the shipwrecked contingent run variations on hot orange; island dwellers sport greens and more sea-blue. Laura Norman’s soundscape has live additions from the farm donkeys, beautifully on cue at “The isle is full of noises”. McCormick is also the choreographer.

The Tempest continues at the Theatre in the Forest until 28 August with matinées on 6, 13, 20 and 27 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead on 28 July)

As most of the action of Shakespeare’s comedy takes place in a forest, this would seem to be a logical choice for the Red Rose Chain’s third woodland production. The setting, framed by mature trees which incorporate perfectly in to human and fairy adventures, is indeed an effective one – especially when darkness allows stage lighting to play its part.

The trouble is that Joanna Carrick’s production only really takes off towards the end, when the mechanicals’ proffered burgomasque turns into a brilliantly lit, burlesque of dance devised by Rachel McCormick as a kaleidoscope of styles, from ballet and Irish through to chorus-line slickness. It’s long time to wait, though.

We are all used to a certain amount of double-casting; usually this takes the form of Theseus and Hippolyta also playing their other-world avatars Oberon and Titania. Carrick goes one better by triple-casting almost all her eight actors. There’s an amusing logic to both the by-the-book Egeus and the maverick (not to say anarchic) Puck being played by Adam Wilson and the two men who both think their talents are not sufficiently appreciated – Demetrius and Bottom – by Daniel Booroff. Both give excellent performances.

Robeet Dowdeswell radiates authority as Theseus, a man comfortably aware of his natural right to command and Oberon, the fairy kingdom ruler who gets his own way in the end. Kirsty Thorpe gives warrior queen Hippolyta a slight foreign accent and then is pleasantly feminine as the distinctly hippy Titania. I grew weary of Eleanor Cotton-Soares monotonous shouting as Hermia, though Joanna Brown’s beanpole Helena has her moments – and seizes them wholeheartedly.

The court characters are dressed by Carrick and David Newborn in black and white, while the mechanicals, as well as providing what you might call the town band, are straight out of Dad’s Army in khaki greatcoats. Once we’re in Fairyland, that turns out to be flower-power territory, all caftans and funny stockings; Puck emerges from a petal-painted beat-up Reliant Robin to take the audience by storm.

For the play scene, we are treated to bathing costumes in bright scarlet, some outlandish props and an unfortunate apparent inability to see that the comedy comes mainly from its bunch of inept actors taking themselves absolutely seriously. As I said, Act Five is a long time to wait for a play to take fire. This one proves to be something of a damp squib, and that’s a pity.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Theatre in the Forest until 30 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Plays

Different Buttons
(reviewed at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich on 12 March)

The Red Rose Chain may not be a theatre company whose name immediately springs to your mind. Yet it’s well-established in Ipswich for its community work as well as for its professional productions. it has also run a highly successful sequence of outdoor theatre productions called the Theatre in the Forest which has now found a home, along with the rare breeds, at Jimmy (Doherty)’s Farm near Wherstead.

Based at the elegant Gippeswyk Hall, the Red Rose Chain has just opened its adjacent modern Avenue Theatre, a flexible performance space which accommodates some 100 spectators. Joanna Carricks’ Different Buttons is a piece for five actors inspired by the former St Clement’s Hospital (aka lunatic asylum) which opened in 1870 and closed in 2011. Carricks’ research has been aided by Gordon Morris who worked at St Clement’s for over 40 years.

In the play we meet characters from different periods of the asylum’s 140-year history, people whose afflictions are common to all eras, though their diagnosis and treatment have changed unrecognisably over that period. There are caring staff and violent as well as sad patients.

The wife of one businessman of the 1870s is hospitalised as insane, though we might nowadays conclude that she was suffering from post-natal depression. Sons and daughters who had just become too difficult to handle in a cramped environment or were behaving in a fashion likely to embarrass their families (such as an unmarried girl’s pregancy) were also consigned to an asylum, also as a matter of routine.

Ruth (Lucy Telleck) is a modern patient; given a self-assessment form, she completes it with increasing annoyance. Bobby (Daniel Abbott) lives in a regressive world of his own, with no real understanding from the father who visits so reluctantly. Herbert (David Newborn) lashes out at anyone who won’t pander to his delusions.

Though Nora (Rachael McCormick) has come to accept that she’s likely to be in the asylum for life, she manages to rebel just a little (the buttons of the title are the ones she deliberately mis-matches when repairing other inmates’ clothing, just as she uses white cotton for all visible seams). Pompous Zacharia is played by Tom McCarron , who also takes on doctors who try to help their patients and one of those sufferers.

The action flows across a central acting area with chairs at one end and a bed at the other. It makes for an interesting piece of documentary theatre, probably more effective for not being site-specific as I understand the first version had been. Stepping back is one of those theatrical paradoxes – it brings people closer, and therefore more sympathetic, to the action.

Different Buttons runs at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich until 28 March.

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Filed under Reviews 2015