Tag Archives: Key Theatre Peterborough

Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 24 April

In-Sook Chappell adaptation of the novel Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse is a multi-layered affair. That’s entirely appropriate, for this story of four generations of a Chinese family plays with time.

It begins with Helen (Siu-See Hung), an English-born and -educated lawyer, arriving in Hong Kong, the island her grandmother left just after the Second World War for a new life, sponsored by her home-returning employers. She soon feels she is the proverbial fish out of water.

Trying to make sense of her past and to meld it with her present and an array of possible futures, she is guided through her family’s past by a sort of avatar of her grandmother Lily (Tina Chiang). It’s a story bedevilled by feckless men and the collision of several cultures.

You need at first to concentrate hard in order to immerse yourself in the time-shifted nuances, then the logic – and at times the dreadful inevitability – of the drama sinks in. Food is the unifying factor.

I’m surprised the audience don’t rush onto the stage as the delicious smells from Helen/Lily’s cooker at the opening of the second act pervade the theatre. Those who have lived in poverty or under enemy occupation do tend to fixate on eating.

Jennifer Tang’s direction within Amelia Jane Hankin’s stepped set balances the dramatic levels. Matthew Leonhart plays the two men who think they have power over their wives while Andy Kettu provides contrasted studies of a go-getting young Japanese financier and a brutal Japanese soldier.

Two English women alter the course of Lily’s life – Miss Price and Mrs Woodman. Both are well contrasted by Ruth Gibson. Minhee Yeo and Rina Takasaki complete the cast. Elena Pena’s soundscape reminds us that China is not a silent society.

Four star rating.

Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok continues at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 25 April. It is also at the Key Theatre, Peterborough  between 1 and 2 May and at the Palace Theatre, Watford from 16 to 19 May as part of a national tour which continues until 2 June.

 

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Teechers

reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 6 February

The debate about education has long deep roots; they probably stretch back to the first lessons which passed on wisdom of various kinds from the experienced to their juniors.

John Godber’s 1987 play within a play Teechers is therefore as relevant to 2017 as at any previous time and, regrettably, likely to be so for the future. Adrian McDougall’s production for Blackeyed Theatre is energetic and admirably suited to school-age members of the audience.

Those of us with academics of various sorts in the family have heard this debate many times, and I have seen several previous productions. This one is loud and suitably brash with the three performers bringing clarity to the teenagers and adults they portray.

Scott Jenkins’ choreography is precision-sharp as three tables and chairs all-but take on a life of their own as scene intercuts with scene. Rosalind Seal obviously relishes the part of Mrs Parry, the head of a school in special measures who has taken care to send her children to a much grander establishment.

Then there’s Nicole Black as a collection of pupils with rampant hormones, and at least one teacher also in need of a mate. Between Seal and Black’s gallery of characterisations one understands why their view of the future is so bleak that they want to blot it out with the present.

A drama teacher fresh out of college Jeff Nixon is the lamb thrown to the wolf-packs of Whitehall High School. Jake Adley shows us how his ideals gradually blunt until he eventually accepts the superior post offered by the well-equipped, properly-funded dedicated-staff prospect offered by nearby St  George’s School.

So, what place have the arts in the average school curriculum when the emphasis is weighted towards “core” subjects and a school’s prosperity rests on its examination results in those subjects? If you’re reading this review of a dramatised debate about education, then I’m probably preaching to the converted.

The question remains, how do we convert the non-believers? School parties tends to be on the side of the arts already. Perhaps whole tranches of heads, administrators, school governors and funders at national, regional and local levels could be bussed in to Teechers – and then examined on the play and its messages…

Four star rating.

Teechers is at the Norwich Playhouse also on 7 February and then on national tour until 29 March including the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes (19-20 February, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (26-28 February), the Key Theatre, Peterborough (5 March), the Towngate Theatre, Basildon (8-9 March), the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (12-13 March) and the Broadway Theatre, Letchworth (14 March)

 

 

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Private Lives

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 12 September

Coward’s Private Lives is a deceptively simple play to stage, as director Michael Cabot acknowledges in his programme notes for London Classic Theatre’s new production. His designer Frankie Bradshaw has provided two sets which emphasise this.

The characters are caught in a sort of no-man’s-land, poised between two world wars. Their society is no longer that of the Bright Young Things of the 20s but it still has its own rules and restrictions as well as the dual concept of male and female sexuality.

Amanda is the character who perhaps recognises this most clearly; a double divorce will isolate her in a fashion which neither of her husbands is likely to experience. Sybil is the eternal, cosseted ingénue who only at the end of the play perhaps – and it’s a big perhaps – has a glimmering that standing up for yourself needs to start at the first step into adult society rather than at the church door.

One might say that all this subtext is communicated in spite of some of the actors, not through them. Helen Keeley looks and acts Amanda to the last flick of an eyelash but she speaks Coward’s staccato dialogue with a machine-gun delivery which reduces much of it to the spoken equivalent of one of WS Gilbert’s patter songs – “this particularly rapid unintelligible patter isn’t generally heard …”

Her Elyot is Jack Hardwick, who has the well-tailored measure of his part, as does Kieran Buckeridge’s buttoned-up Victor as he tries to cope first with a wife who’s just not on his wavelength and then with Sybil at her own point of no return.

Olivia Beardsley’s pastel, marcel-waved portrait of this secondary female role has its strengths as well as its sillinesses. Rachael Holmes-Brown plays the maid Louise, making her into less of a caricature than some I have seen lately. But it would all be so much better if three acts hadn’t been crammed into two hours, including the interval, and the dialogue allowed to breathe.

 

Four star rating.

Private Lives is at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 16 September with matinées on 13 and 16 September as part of a national tour to 25 November including Harlow Playhouse (19-21 October, the Alban Arena, St Albans (24-25 October), the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford (26-28 October) and the Key Theatre, Peterborough (13-15 November).

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Strictly Murder
reviewed in Basildon on 10 May

It’s April 1939. We’re in a farmhouse deep in Provence. Hitler’s rantings and British peace-or-war ditherings can surely have no impact on the lives of English artist and part-time grape-harvester Peter Meredith or his girl-friend Suzy. Josef, who has strayed into their lives as a derelict from the previous conflict and who dosses down in their outbuildings, may have a different reaction.

This 2008 thriller by the late Brain Clemens ratchets up the suspense quite cleverly. Peter (Gary Turner) has no good reason to give Suzy (Lara Lemon) why they don’t marry. As the radio keeps them abreast of what’s happening so rapidly in the wider world, Peter’s suddenly condenses with the arrival of Ross (Brian Capron), a former detective (or is he?), whose cheery manner hides what could turn out to be a lethal purpose.

Clemens’ son Samuel is the director and knows how to paper over cracks in plausibility. He’s aided by Alex Marker’s excellent set and David North’s lighting which reminds us that this farmhouse is dependent on a somewhat tempremental generator. The performances are all good, with Andrew Fettes’ Josef both pathetic and menacing as the war clouds gather and people have to decide where their loyalties lie.

The second act introduces us to Ross’ identical-twin brother – they are well characterised and subtly differentiated by Capron, who rather walks off with the acting laurels. Corinne Wicks is Miriam Miller, another person who is not what she originally appears to be. Suzy, pregnant with Peter’s child, also holds attention as portrayed by Lemon.

Turner has in many ways the most difficult role; it is hard to warm to Peter even before aspects of his past spill out. But it all holds together with conviction during the performance. And that, after all, is the essence of drama.

Three and a half-star rating.

Strictly Murder can be seen at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 23 and 24 May, the Gordon Craig Theatre between 5 and 7 June, the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 8 and 10 June, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 16 and 17 June, the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 10 and 11 July and the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 10 and 11 September.

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Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Corn Exchange, King’s Lynn on 5 October)

The Russian State Ballet & Opera Theatre of Astrakhan has brought an intriguing production of Swan Lake to Britain for its autumn tour (3 October to 3 December); late winter tour dates are yet to be announced. Artistic director Konstantin Uralsky sets the story in the early 19th century, reminiscent of the “peace” social scenes of War and Peace. The first act costumes are attractive and the dancers equally so with neat footwork and elegant arms.

In this version Prince Siegried (Danil Sokolov)’s tutor is Von Rothbart (Maksim Melnikov), a black-clothed mentor gliding through the palace with a disquieting aura of menace. The swans are his private preserve, a secret magical theatre to which he inveigles the brooding, restless Siegfried – though you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the programme notes. It’s much less of a mime and more of a dancing role than in other versions and well executed.

Benno is danced by Vslovod Tabachuk, whose jumps and turns provide some of the evening’s most exciting moments. Sokolov is somewhat upstaged (and out-performed) by his Mercutio-like friend throughout. The dainty pas de quatre performed as entertinment for the Queen (Anna Nikonova) is danced by Karina Manopova, Victoria Chuvyleva, Arthur Almukhametov and Bulat Gareev; the boys are less assured in their footwork, jumps and landlings than the girls.

When we reach the first lakesid scene, the corps de ballet provide the right mixture of technique and lyricism. Unfortuntaely Anastasia Turchina’s Odette is short on visual expression and personality; she dances with assured, well-finished arabesques and pointe work and Sokolov partners her throughout sympathetically. But still that vital spark and suggestion of instant, total passion proves elusive.

For Act Three we are in the middle of a costume ball with early Renaissance headdresses for the women and houppelande gowns for the male courtiers. Enter Odile (Maria Stetc) with her sidway glances and clever use of her arms to all-but mimic Odette’s own movements. She pulls off the firework fouettés and jétés so that it’s no wonder this malleable young prince is instantly besotted.

Eather than the usual ghostly apparition at a window as Odette recognises how she has been betrayed, there follows a well thought-out pas de quatre for Odette and Odile, Siegfried and Von Rothbart in which each pair shadows the other’s steps. For the final scene, the backcloth shows a sythe of a moon, stabbing down into the water which will finally envelop the lovers and their nemesis. Again, the corps de ballet shine as the real stars of the production.

Swan Lake (with several alternative casts) can also be seen at the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 9 October, the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 14 October, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 19 October, the Harlow Playhouse on 20 Octobe and the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 8 November.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

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