Tag Archives: Norwich Playhouse

Sherlock Holmes: The Sign Of Four

reviewed at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 24 September

Blackeyed Theatre has created a niche for itself with its adaptations of classic novels and novella with a twist. The story and characters are largely as the original authors intended, but the staging adds a further psychological dimension.

In this early Sherlock Holmes story Conan Doyle adds a suggestion of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone through its pivot being a theft in the days of the East India Company. As in that story, it is a girl who is the recipient of stolen jewels.

Adapter and director Nick Lane reminds us that Mary Morstan, Dr Watson and Holmes are all young people and none of them is wealthy, whatever their personal background. If you’re conditioned to the standard film and television versions of the canon, that may come as a shock.

There is a cast of six with only Luke Barton’s Holmes and Joseph Derrington’s Watson not doubling parts. Both are good, with Derrington suggesting that Watson’s war service as a doctor may have left mental as well as physical scars. Barton presents as someone whose intellectual needs too easily tip over into indulgence.

Christopher Glover contrasts the Indians of the story with the know-all Inspector Lestrade and there are two good studies of duplicity, one languid and one more lethal, by Ru Hamilton as the Sholto brothers.

Put-upon Mrs Hudson and information-seeking Mary Marston give Stephanie Rutherford opportunities which she seizes upon. Zach Lee makes the most of peg-leg Jonathan Small; the slow motion fight with Holmes works very well.

To keep the action, which includes stretches of telling past stories by one or other of the characters, on the move, set designer Victoria Spearing offers crimson bunched drapes and spiky shapes suggesting both western and oriental obelisks.

Costume changes are simple and effective; Naomi Gibbs’ palette is never garish but her clothes contrast well with the background while indicating character and social status. Claire Childs’ stage-level lighting and Tristan Parkes’ evocative score blend past and present admirably.

Four and a haf-star star rating.

The Sign Of Four is at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 25 September. The tour continues at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds between 4 and 6 October and at the Norwich Playhouse between 8 and 10 October.

 

 

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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

The Birthday Party

(reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 23 February)

People play games, with others as well as with themselves. Playwrights play word games with both their charcters and with us, the audience. The Birthday Party was Pinter’s first full-length play to be staged, in 1959 to bemused, not to say highly critical, audiences.

Now we accept it, if not always easily, on its merits. Michael Cabot’s new touring production fo London Classic Theatre is high on intelligence and keeps up the pace, from those opening and closing inanities exchanged by long-term husband and wife Petey and Meg to the veiled self-revelations of their long-term lodger Stanley and those of the two strangers Goldberg and McCann who muscle into the boarding-house.

Personal revelations come, on the surface, thick and fast but, as always with Pinter, none are to be taken at face value. Jonathan Ashley’s Goldberg, his first name as slithery as his relations with Meg and neighbour Lulu, spins fantasies as complex as those of Stanley himself, the lay-a-bed recluse in flight from who knows what.

Designer Bek Palmer sets the action in a realisticly furnished set on a raised platform surrounded by black tabs. We’re in many different worlds at once – some of which overlap while others collide. Gareth Bennett-Ryan takes full advantage of Stanley diatribes as the pampered surrogate son and lover is changed from a sort of spiky relaxation into the collapsed creature of Goldberg and McCann’s manipulations.

The subtlest performance comes from Cheryl Kennedy as Meg, that archetypical frustrated wife and non-mother. Perhaps she was indeed once the belle of the ball in the tulle swatches of her pre-war party dress and has slunk into slovenly housekeeping purely as a reaction. Ashley makes a dominant (as well as domineering) villain with Declan Rodgers radiating menace as McCann.

The Birthday Party plays at the Norwich Playhouse on 24 February. It can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds 25-27 February, the Key Theatre, Peterborough 1-2 March, the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford 8-9 March, the Harlow Playhouse 25-27 April, the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich 10-14 May and the Alan Arena, St Albans on 9 June as part of the national tour until 18 June.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

What the Ladybird Heard

(reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 24 November)

Julia Donaldson’s children’s stories are now established favourites on the stage as well as in print. Lydia Monks is the illustrator for What the Ladybird Heard and has been involved in Bek Palmer’s designs for the tour which is now in its second year. Graham Hubbard is the director and the catchy, folk idiom tunes are by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw – of the aptly named Jollygoodtunes.

The audience comes into the auditorium to be faced with a toytown farm set – thatched farmhouse, cowshed, various outbuildings and a pond in front of a gate leading to the hilly landscape beyond. Emma Carroll is our storyteller and farmgirl Lily, introducing us to the characters with her Pied Piper-like flute.

Rosamund Hine makes a credible Farmer with Edward Way as farmhand Eddie and Matt Jopling as the slightly dim Raymond. Way and Jopling also play the burglars Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len whose attempt to steal the prize-winning cow is foiled by the ladybird of the title, a bright red spotted light which materialises at various places.

The cow and two cream-loving cats are conventional puppets, though the various farmyard animals are brought to life through an ingenious amalgamation of implements – the sheep is a fleece draped over a wheelbarrow, the horse is a bicycle and rake, the dog is a broom and so on. Very imaginative and I suspect that parents are likely to find domestic objects put to strange uses when the children return home.

What the Ladybird Heard runs at the Norwich Playhouse until 4 December.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015

Dickens Abridged

(reviewed at the Westacre Theatre, West Acre on 18 September)

A spin-off from the original Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) company, is on the road with Adam Long’s take on Charles Dickens. It encompasses in 90 minutes the novelist’s fast literary output as well as his somewhat disjointed life. It’s fair to describe Dickens Abridged as a musical, though Long’s clever use of projections might also quality it as a multi-media experience.

Whatever its artistic category, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp through mid-19th century fiction. With the aid of a guitar apiece, quick costume (and gender) changes and a nice balance of fact with comedic elaboration, the four-strong cast take us from Dickens’ own fraught childhood, through marriage, success, 10-strong fatherhood to his late romance with the actress Ellen Ternan and the physical crumbling partly occasioned by his dramatic recounting of Nancy’s murder from Oliver Twist.

Some of the novels are dismissed in four-line jingles while others are afforded a slightly more extended – if still elliptical – treatment. Great Expectations (you’ve never seen Miss Haversham’s immolation staged quite like this), A Tale of Two Cities with an applauded guillotine scene and a romp through A Christmas Carol which had Cratchit and Scrooge as overcome by laughter (aka corpsing) as the audience.

An apocryphal encounter at Dickens’ graveside between Ternan and the discarded Catherine Dickens née Hogarth works very well to demonstrate that Dickens the writer may be a national treasure but Dickens the man was of more tarnished metal. The projections include photographs and engravings as well as story-boards to fix our attention and remind us of the realities of 19th century London.

Martin Sarreal makes Catherine sympathetic as well as revelling in Agnes Wickfield’s virginal simplicity, such a contrast to Matthew Hendrickson’s lapdog-clutching Dora (Hendrickson is also Miss Haversham). Matt Bateman plays Dickens, as well as some of his creations and Andrew Gallo takes on many of the male fictional characters derived from Dickens’ own story as well as from his fertile imagination.

Dickens Abridged runs at the Westacre Theatre until 20 September. It can also be seen at the Arts Centre, Hatfield University (19 October) and at the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (20 October), Harlow Playhouse (21 October), The Cut, Halesworth (22 October) The Norwich Playhouse (2-3 November), the Hertford Theatre (6 November), the Arts Centre, Hemel Hempstead (24-25 November) and the Maltings, Ely (28 November) as part of a national tour.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015