Tag Archives: Peter Barrow

The Boy in the Lighthouse

reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 24 October

Lighthouses are beacons of safety. They are positioned to warn of submerged hazards and the tumultuous seas which crash over them. Refuges – but perhaps in some ways they are also prisons.

This year’s Hostry Festival organisers, the PBSK Partnership in association with the University of East Anglia and Booja Booja, have commissioned an immersive piece of movement theatre from Total Ensemble Theatre Company and Rebecca Chapman.

With the audience on all four sides of the acting area, sounds, lighting and storm-seas colours for the simple costumes focus our concentration on the drama. The title character, played by Hugh Darrah,  is a solitary teenager, who cannot remember a time when the lighthouse was not his restricting shelter.

On the disused pier which abuts it a solitary semi-automaton fortune-teller (Aamer Raza) also seeks identity answers. As does an old mariner (Peter Barrow) nursing the remains of his pet crow (Lexi Watson-Samuels). But the sea is cruel, and its currents do not always follow human intentions.

The boy’s quest leads him to hot, war-torn countries where answers need to be pieced out of fragments. The fortune-teller also will gain the knowledge – and the peace – which he craves. It is very suitable that the myths of the sea and the distant lands to which it leads are here drawn from many cultures.

Four star rating

The Boy in the Lighthouse runs at the Hostry, Norwich Cathedral until 27 October.

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Filed under Ballet and dance, Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018

The Eagle Has Two Heads

reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 25 October

This rare Cocteau revival uses the classic Ronald Duncan translation, first heard in London in 1948, four years after the play’s Paris première. Duncan was a literate playwright, poet and librettist, whether translating, adapting or creating afresh; perhaps he is due for a revival.

Stash Kirkbride has staged it in an arena format, which is admirably suited to a drama (here a melodrama in both senses of the word with Ivan McCready’s cello accompaniment) which is basically a sequence of gladiatorial confrontations. The stage is furnished only with tables and chairs.

Cocteau’s use of characteristics from two well-known monarchs of the previous century whose lives created their own fantasies, rendered some of these concrete and met untimely ends – the Empress Elisabeth of Austria and King Ludwig of Bavaria , both scions of the Wittelsbach dynasty – adds its own veiled dimension to the story.

The first act has as its centrepiece the Queen (Tracey Catchpole)’s lengthy tirade (in the proper French sense of the term) justifying her abrogation of responsibility in favour of building castles after the assassination of her husband to her own would-be killer.

He’s a young, anarchist poet, Stanislas (Adam Edwards), whose pen nane is Azrael, the Muslim angel of death. Edwards has a chance to make his own tirade in the second act, and takes it.  Another confrontation is between Lucy Monaghan as Edith de Berg, the Queen’s lady (and government spy) and Christopher Neal’s Duke of Willenstein, the royal equerry.

But the evening is dominated by Catchpole, who displays the right sort of inbred arrogance which in part gives the character such interest. One can believe that she was devoted, in her own fashion, to her husband and that his assassination triggered her strange combination of building mania and veiled seclusion.

Her two meetings with Peter Barrow’s Chief of Police, a slightly cuddlier version of Sardou’s Scarpia but just as dangerous in his ruthless attempts to command the kingdom as he thinks both proper and necessary have the necessary bite, just as her relationship with Stanislaus emphasises how both of them (to paraphrase) are in love with needless death.

Tawa Groombridge makes the Queen’s servant Toni, who communicates with her mistress by sign language and is barely tolerated by her more aristocratic superiors , into a silent symbol of a place and time which has outlived itself. Amanda Greenaway’s costumes for the Queen are eye-catching in colour and material, but I feel a trim riding-habit would have suited the third act better than breeches and hacking jacket.

Part of the irony is that the first production of Cocteau’s play took place in 1944, when Paris was liberated from the dual tentacles of the Nazi occupation and the Vichy régime. But Cocteau always did spin his own, uniquely personal weave of fantasy laced with irony.

Four star rating.

The Eagles Has Two Heads runs at The Hostry, Norwich Cathdral until 29 October.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

King Lear in New York

(reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 25 October)

Performance can be a cruel goddess, demanding sacrifices of a high order. That’s the premise beyond Melvyn Bragg’s play, which he has compressed from its original two-act format into something altogether tauter for Stash Kirkbride’s production.

A famous actor, renowned for both stage and screen performances, is in New York to attempt what to the mature actor is the equivilent of Hamlet for a younger one. It is, however, in a multi-times-off-Broadway theatre with a cast not completely familiar with Shakespeare or his stylistic demands.

We are in the brother’s flat, not 24 hours before the first public performance. Robert (Louis Hilyer) has stage-fright (something which attacks seasoned actos more often than their doting public imagines). Alec (Peter Barrow) has to keep his brother from the bottle while coping with the demands of Jackie, a brash and bitchy television presenter (Rebecca Chapman).

Then there’s Louis’ estranged second wife Bett (Rebecca Aldred), who is also his agent. Not o mention Juliet (Nina Taylor), his daughter with a wagon-load of chips on her shoulder and a gang of drug-dealers uncomfortably close to her back. As Louis comes diasterously “off the wagon”, the likely drama of the first night is subsumed in the domestic ones.

Kirkbridge keeps the tension high, with Hilyer giving a finely controlled portrait of a man terrified by his own vulnerabilities – which include professional as well as personal ones. All three wmen are also good – Chapman with all claws on full display, Taylor offering a study in teenage confusions which rings very true and Aldred combining the hard-headed business realism with supressed desires and affections.

The setting by Matt Reeve allows for action withn the flat to take place on a platform backed by a photographic panorama and scenes otside it to be on the audience’s own level, ths drawing us into the action. Projections indicate each change of location. The still centre of all this is Barrow; Alec is a man who knows very well that he always has been in his brother’s shadow.

King Lear in New York runs at the Hostry, Norwich Cathdral until 29 October.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Mahler’s Conversion

(reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 28 October)

Ronald Harwood’s 2001 play about the composer Gustav Mahler and his ambition to be the director of the Vienna State Opera (then the Vienna Court Opera – Die Oper am Ring) was not a success in the West End, in spite of having Antony Sher in the title role.

It focusses primarily on that ambition – which led to him being baptised into the Roman Catholic Church when it became painfully obvious that no Jew not prepared to deny his cultural and religious heritage would ever even be considered for the post, much less appointed to it. That is followed by the disintegration of his relationships with old friends, his mistress and his wife.

Probably the episodic nature of the script always will tell against Mahler’s Conversion ever being a run-of-the-mill commercial success. But it’s an ideal festival piece, especially for one which nestles next to Norwich Cathedral. Director Chris Bealey has staged it in the round with back-wall projections indicating the various locations and easily arranged white boxes painted with Secession-style black outlines.

Christopher Neal gives a bravura performance as Mahler, his whole being an endless turmoil of musical ideas, sexual and social impatience and, underlying it all, a desire – a need – to belong (and be seen to belong) in both this world and the next. There’s a fine exchange with the priest Fr Swider (Peter Barrow) in which the conscientious catechist is knocked back by Mahler’s desire to be baptised before receiving instruction.

The women in Mahler’s life are distilled into cross-dressing journalist Natalie Bauder Lechner (Ginny Porteous), soprano mistress Anna von Mildenburg (Rebecca Aldred) and eventually unfaithful wife Alma Schindler (Nina Taylor). His most constant, and least self-serving friend is Siegfried Lipiner (David Green). But they are all a little like minor stars in a wider galaxy. That even applies to David Newham’s Sigmund Freud in his encounter with Mahler abroad.

Mahler’s Conversion runs at the Hostry Festival, Norwich until 31 October.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

The 2015 Norfolk Arts Awards

In its fifth year, the Norfolk Arts Awards attracts both sponsorship and public interest, demonstrated by over 6,500 votes being cast in the three categories of the Eastern Daily Press People’s Choice Awards. The gala presentation event at the Maddermarket Theatre on 19 September marks the start of this year’s Hostry Festival (19 to 31 October), the fruitful brainchild of Peter Barrow and Stash Kirkbride, which is based around Norwich Cathedral.

For each award, three individuals or organisations are short-listed and have their chance to explain their operations through a short film. This year the Theatre Award goes to Sewell Barn Theatre, a new community arts venue on the northern outskirts of the city. The runners-up are the RSC production of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, which had visited the Theatre Royal last autumn and the Cromer Pier shows at the Pavilion Theatre, a seaside tradition going back to the beginning of the 20th century.

The Dr Frank Bates Musical Theatre and Dance Award, commemorating a long-serving cathedral organist, goes to the Norwich Arts Centre which was a category winner in 2014 and also picks up the People’s Choice Award for smaller scale venues, organisations and projects in competition with Frozen Light Theatre and the Diss Corn Hall. Break Charity’s GoGo project (dragons were the 2015 theme) is the winner, with the Norfolk & Norwich Festival and the Norwich Theatre Royal the runners-up. GoGoDragons also scoops the Lifetime Contribution to the Arts Award.

Individual artists receiving due recognition are Matt Reeve, one of the GoGoDragons designers, in the Eastern Daily Press People’s Choice, Grace Leeder who wins the Peter Barrow bursary to facilitate her ambition to attend drama college and Caroline Flack for her work outside as well as within the county; she wins the new Norfolk Icon Award. Brewery Adnams, which sponsor and supports festivals and theatre in Suffolk and Norfolk wins the Business and the Arts Award; the 20-year old Norwich Print Fair gains the Hy Kurzner Arts Entrepreneur Award.

The Music Award goes to the Norwich Philharmonic Society and the Broadcast and Press Award to BBC Voices, a media workshop and production unit based in the city’s BBC studios. The Fashion and Costume Design is won by theatre designer and costume designer Kirsteen Wythe for, among other work, that for the Theatre Royal and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The Visual Arts Award goes to Toni Lawon and Sweet Arts with its projects for vulnerable women.

Education and community work is also recognised with Marcus Patteson of Sistema in competition with The Garage in Norwich, run by Darren Grace, and the two Access to Music centres catering for over 300 young people under the aegis of Ian Johnson. Mascot Media – husband and wife team of Alan and Marion Marshall – wins the Jarrold New Writing Award with the multi-artist The Artful Hare. Norwich City Council’s Team Norwich and Rebecca Chapman’s Total Ensemble theatre company win the Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Norfolk Awards.

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Filed under Reviews 2015