Tag Archives: Mercury Theatre Studio Colchester

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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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

The Events reviewed in Colchester on 6 June

A programme note describes David Greig, the author of this variation on one of those far-too-frequent random attacks on innocent people with which the 21st century has been too liberally endowed, as a shape-shifter. I saw The Events at the Holt Festival in 2013, closer in time to the Norwegian atrocity of 2011 which Greig has taken as his starting point.

Crucial to this Actors Touring Company co-production directed by Dan Sherer is the participation of a choir. John Browne’s score has just the right blend of church and popular rhythmn and melody for the 12 members of the Colchester Community Choir who sit either side of the stage area or intervene from behind the audience.

Designer James Cotterill presents us with a grey set which resembles the interior of some half-demolished chapel where creepers from outside have worked their way through the cracks and where exposure to the elements has powered everything with sand-dust.

The choir wears grey, choir master and accompanist Scott Gray wears grey, The Boy (we learn he’s called Gary) wears black. Only Anna O’Grady as Claire, the pastor who has lost her faith and now can only grope her way back to it as though blinded by the apparently senseless massacre she has witnessed, adds a touch of colour with her red tunic and dark-blue leggings.

She gives us a fine portrait of a woman who means well, tries to act for the best on the behalf of everybody but feels that she is drifting on a dangerous tide whose undercurrents she can’t really comprehend.

Joh Collins is magnificent as the young man who shot so many young people apparently for no better reason than that they weren’t of “our type, faith or colour”, the universal mantra of those for whom any difference constitutes a threat.

Shape-shifting of the mind – and soul – is what happens to both the protagonists of this drama which is somewhat in the style of classic Greek theatre; it doesn’t make an easy evening, though this studio space concentrates it properly. It is, however, well worth seeing.

Four star rating.

The Events continues in the Studio of the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 17 June with matinées on 8, 10, 15 and 17 June.

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

Bully Boy

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester on 9 November)

We live in a conflicted world and time – though there’s nothing new or unusual about that. What perhaps is new is that we are being made aware of the mental as well as physical toll which combat levies on its participants. Not to mention on their friends and families and on (often innocent) bystanders.

Sandi Toksvig’s play Bully Boy confronts us with two soldiers. Oscar (Andrew French) is a wheelchair-confined major, investigating Eddie (Josh Collins) on behalf of the military police. A complaint has been made by Afghan villagers; it appears that a young boy was deliberately thrown into a well.

Close friends and comrades died as the effect of an improvised explosive device; Eddie is the sole surviver of the group, the Bully Boys. Bully, of course, has two distinct meanings – a jolly, dashing fellow is one. The other denotes someone who preys on weaker people. It is up to Oscar to establish just which one is significant in this context.

Dan Shearer’s production in the refurbished Mercury Studio Theatre has the audience steeply banked overlooking a wide but shallow acting area. Designer James Cotterill frames the action with dun-coloured fencing; both actors wear sand-camouflage combat gear. Rebecca Applin’s eerie music and Steve Mayo’s atmospheric soundscape drift across the action.

Of the two performers, it is Collins as the sparky, perky Eddie who has perhaps the easier task. he makes it apparent from the start that this is a façade, a mask which has become second nature; what is behind it is too raw for exposure. The British “stiff upper lip” propensity can conceal irremediable damage.

French plays a more complicated character; war hero (from the Falklands campaign), seeker after truth or a man in retreat from himself and his own past? He shows us someone for whom a desk-job and a wheelchair are no true compensation for what he has forfeited. In his own way, he too is engaged in a fight to survive.

Bully Boy runs at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester until 21 November.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015