foul pages

29 May

FOUL PAGES *** By Robin Hooper
At the Hope Theatre
Plays involving William Shakespeare are always fascinating. However his heart and his brain have been investigated by so many different writers with so many differing results that it is a joy to see him as a simple working writer collaborating with his friend The Countess of Pembroke (The impressive Clare Bloomer)who is playing host to the players escaping from plague ridden London.
Another advantage here is that the actors are all living in close contact so, like an old fashioned play there is just the one set.
However he has written it in short scenes, and it takes a while to get ones brain into the correct gear, especially as between each little scene there is a whole lot of excruciatingly loud music which I found not only annoying, but in my case actually painful.
The main occupation of Mr Shakespeare (played with dignity by Ian Hallard)is to finish his play in order to win the favour of the new Scottish King James the first. A familiar problem arises when one is writing under orders, the patron insists on undesirable alterations in the casting. The leading role is Rosalind and the leading juvenile of the company is being pushed aside to give room to the Innamorato of the King .
Of course much is made of the casting of plays most especially the use of young men to play the leading ladies and there are many slightly bawdy and very gay jokes during the whole of the performance.
The play begins as a crazy comedy, the main character being a talking dog who is the unnamed and unrecognised narrator of the action. It is a great and unusual part for an actor and it is played with lots of fun and dedication by James King. A terrific role where he doesn’t have to communicate with the actors except to get a lot of cuddles.
Clare Bloomer is an imperious countess and a lot is made of the fact that Will collaborates and takes advice from a woman, so that women had their place even though they were not allowed to perform. Peg, her maid is played by Olivia Onyehara and these are the only two women in the cast but they are strongly registered..
All the young men are absolutely gorgeous and play with great honesty, truth and wit. Lewis Chandler is the blonde beauty originally engaged to play Rosalind and Thomas Bird is his usurper. Greg Baxter plays Ed, the sweet young man who is playing Orlando and is distressed to lose his lovely Rosalind.
Probably the most comical character is that of Tom Vanson who is the highly vain and over-dressed, over-made up and over- jewelled Scottish King – and his over-butch Protector is played by Jack Harding.
All good, crazy – if sometimes confusing – fun. The edge taken off from me – and probably only me – by the horrendous noise, like being at the heart of a thunderstorm. Longed for my earplugs.

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FANATICAL

21 Nov

writers tell us there have been other scifi musicals, but with the possible exemption of ‘Return to the forbidden Planet’ which uses existing songs, they have not been wildly successful. However they have decided on using the fans of a convention rather than take us into outer space with its congregation of Daleks and Cyberpeople. This makes the play a little confusing at first because some of the people are dressed up and others are in Tshirts and they seem to keep changing. This is in fact just the opening of the show and I would have preferred to make it clearer. What these people are simply Fans of a TV programme based on a SciFi comic starring Supergirl IRIS. The organiser of the convention is Trix, played by Suanne Braun a vibrant redhead with a big stage presence and a very melodious mezzo voice. She has secured the services of the famous and wonderful Scott Furnish, the author of the series, is determined that no nasty press people should infilrate the convention and has warned the company to look out for journalists and get them ejected. The fans all wear t shits emblazened with the names of the show except for one of them, a very pretty girl Andra, played by Sophie Powles (known to many for her appearances in Emmerdale) She is an obsessive fan of Iris and tries to act like her and dresses in the same kind of gear. /Craig (Tim Rogers) an undercover press man has infiltrated e convention in spite of the danger of ejection. He is personable and has a pleasant voice and Andra falls in love with him immediately without realising he is the enemy much to the displeasure of her boyfriend Baxter.However, at the end of Act One Scott Furnish appears and suddenly the show picks up. He is played by Stephen Frost who brings anger and passion into the show and Act Two is a different thing altogether. Here the show has a real plot and lots of good songs and interesting stories. It doesn’t seem like the same play as a plot develops which does not any longer rely on the amorous adventures of Andra and Craig. This act, in itself, is worth a rave review and it is such a shame that the first act may have diminished the interest.I believe it is still work in progress and I have faith in the people responsible to know where their strengths are and act accordingly.Terrific applause on getting this far. Will probably turn out to be a real winner.

BREXIT

18 Nov

“best comedy of the year”
AT THE KINGS HEAD

It is 2020. The Rt Hon Adam Masters is a happy bunny. He has just been elected Prime Minister after all the chaos and confusion in the Tory Party and he has been chosen because he seems to be the only one that is not particularly interested in anything and least likely to make a fuss. He is full of confidence, thinks that PMQ is a lot of fun. He has just promised to create a more United Kingdom than ever before. Everyone agrees with his plan for Brexit…What was it again?

However he has a Campaign Manager Paul Connell who is less enthusiastic, much more practical who doubts whether Adam will last longer than Andrew Bonar Law who served for two hundred and eleven days. However he believes his job is over as Campaign Manager, but Adam wants him to remain as chief of staff. (The previous PM having taken everybody away with her)

Paul reminds him that there are still two people are missing from the Cabinet. The secretaries of Trade and Brexit which will go to the two warring factions within the Party. Two people needing jobs. Simon Cavendish who hates anything to do with trade and Diana Purdy who loathes Brexit. So inevitably Simon gets Trade and Diana gets Brexit. Adam reckons that if they fight each other all the time, they will not fight him. Meanwhile Adam is also holding talks with Helena Brim in Belgium who is offering deals to get back into Europe – at a price!.

It is a completely believable terrifying and yet hilarious situation. Well known truths, scandalous doings, spiteful digs at the Press and the BBC. The kind of things we are all used to and reminding us of the bitter comedy of our lives.

It is as if the authors had been actually looking into the future when they wrote this a couple of years ago because many of the stories illustrated here have become the true state of affairs.

Brexit has been put off again. The PM doesn’t seem to mind the situation and will go on hanging on as it doesn’t interfere with his own general happiness.

Tom Salinsky who is the co writer has directed and cast his characters quite brilliantly. Playing the PM is Timothy Bentinck whose voice is well known from his stint at the Archers. He manages to produce exactly the same dithery naivete and confusion as the great Paul Eddington in Yes Prime Minister.

The only voice of reason in the entire disaster is Paul played by Mike McShane.The warring factions Diana and Simon are Pippa Evans and Hal Cruttenden and Helena of Belgium is the very glamorous and sophisticated Jo Caulfield.

It is a simple setting on the tiny stage which serves well as a Parliamentary office. Just a couple of chairs either side of a large desk. Lighting by Nicholas Holdridge, music and sound by Jamie Robertson, concentrate the focus on the splendid cast..

The characters and the plot are so easily recognised. Lawyer Robert Khan is a councillor so has a good few ideas on how the bitchery axes are hidden and wielded in the world of Politics.

Wonderfully funny – probably the best comedy of the year.
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13 Nov

BRASS
Book Music and Lyrics by Benjamin Till
Additional Lyrics by Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker.
At the Union Theatre

“Brass” was commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre in 2014 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Great War. Playwright and composer Benjamin Till had been nursing a lifelong obsession with the subject of World War One so he was the obvious person to write the musical play about it..
And now it is appropriate that Sasha Regan should chose to direct this play in 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of that conflict.
There has been such a huge amount of publicity on the media about this anniversary so it cannot possibly have escaped anyone’s notice .However this is a real and very sincere reminder to us and in addition, gives humour, songs and realism to the characters involved in the events of the time.
It was a habit of the recruiting officers to employ groups of young men – fellow workers or football teams etc to keep each other company during training to be soldiers. These groups were called the Pals, and it was a stroke of genius to make this set of Pals members of a brass band.
These boys are members of a West Yorkshire Brass band who all enlist together – even though some of them were under the age to join up and were so keen to be heroes that they lied about their ages and despite pleading letters from their families to own up and come back home, those children went out bravely to fight with their companions.
But the story is not just about the men, women were also recruited to work in the munitions and takeover the jobs that the boys had left behind. Not only that, but also women took up the instruments and played while the boys were playing a different kind of notes in the trenches, the mud and fleas of the Somme..
Till has invented an interesting group of characters some rousing lusty soldier songs and some wistful ones of separated lovers, pregnant wives without their men, as well as the horrifying drama of young men in the trenches.
There are some good voices and lovely harmonies arranged by the musical director Henry Brennan who slaves away at the piano. The choreography is extremely well thought out, making full use of the long tables which serve as furniture and background to all the scenes..
The stories are many and must be kept secret in order to avoid spoiling. But it is a worth -while piece of theatre. I found it a little long but there are so many stories to tell. Maybe a few cuts would be in order.
Nevertheless it shadows the feelings of the country at this time, Moving, thoughtful and laced with humour

JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN

13 Nov

JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN ****
By Henrik Ibsen
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Bran Hands has done a really great job on this rather difficult play about a Bank Manager whose life has been destroyed by involving his clients in bad investments which resulted in him spending five years in prison. .He now lives in the top room of his house not wanting to spend time with Gunhild his cold hearted wife who is so deeply ashamed of the disgrace he has brought upon his name. Eight years he has spent on his own with occasional visits from a young girl Frida (Verity Stansall) who is studying the piano with him and her father, his great friend Vilhelm Foldall
Gunhild says that when he dies, she is going to build a memorial in his name and cover it and surround it with thick trees and quickly g rowing foliage so that his name can be obscured for ever. In the meantime she is busy teaching her son Erkhart to hate his father and to do something spectacularly successful to “restore the pride in the family name”’It seems unlikely as he spends most of his time at the house of a ‘playgirl’ Mrs Wilton played by Zara Banks.
Gunhild resents her unmarried sister, Ella Rentheim played by Judi Bowker. Ella has saved the family by her ownership of the Rentheim residence and keeping the family together while John Gabriel is incarcerated. She cares about the Borkmans, lavishing affection on Erkhart .
This is one of Ibsen’s later plays and though it is mostly written in his usual realistic style with his concern with realism as opposed to the romantic images of his earlier contemporaries, however, there is an unexpected hint of melodrama towards the end as Harry Meacher concludes his exceptional performance as the name character, a man who is eventually destroyed by his delusions.. The rest of it is a forest of words and they serve to build up the characters until we begin to feel related to their problems and their differences. A much needed humorous touch is provided by the scene between Meacher and Bryan Hands as Vilhelm A brilliantly timed duologue between actors who are comfortably accustomed to working together.
Another close relationship is that of Meacher and his wife Judi Bowker who plays Ella Rentheim , the ex-lover of John Gabriel who deserted her on his rise to power. Ella is full of love while the opposite is true of her sister. Gunhild played with a chip of ice in her heart by Kathryn Worth.
The direction is by Harry Meacher himself and Bryan Hands designs the setting. Their company Handplay productions are responsible for this presentation.
Ibsen’s plays are always wordy but riveting and this is no exception. Very much enjoyed.

JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN

13 Nov

jOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN ****
By Henrik Ibsen
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Bran Hands has done a really great job on this rather difficult play about a Bank Manager whose life has been destroyed by involving his clients in bad investments which resulted in him spending five years in prison. .He now lives in the top room of his house not wanting to spend time with Gunhild his cold hearted wife who is so deeply ashamed of the disgrace he has brought upon his name. Eight years he has spent on his own with occasional visits from a young girl Frida (Verity Stansall) who is studying the piano with him and her father, his great friend Vilhelm Foldall
Gunhild says that when he dies, she is going to build a memorial in his name and cover it and surround it with thick trees and quickly g rowing foliage so that his name can be obscured for ever. In the meantime she is busy teaching her son Erkhart to hate his father and to do something spectacularly successful to “restore the pride in the family name”’It seems unlikely as he spends most of his time at the house of a ‘playgirl’ Mrs Wilton played by Zara Banks.
Gunhild resents her unmarried sister, Ella Rentheim played by Judi Bowker. Ella has saved the family by her ownership of the Rentheim residence and keeping the family together while John Gabriel is incarcerated. She cares about the Borkmans, lavishing affection on Erkhart .
This is one of Ibsen’s later plays and though it is mostly written in his usual realistic style with his concern with realism as opposed to the romantic images of his earlier contemporaries, however, there is an unexpected hint of melodrama towards the end as Harry Meacher concludes his exceptional performance as the name character, a man who is eventually destroyed by his delusions.. The rest of it is a forest of words and they serve to build up the characters until we begin to feel related to their problems and their differences. A much needed humorous touch is provided by the scene between Meacher and Bryan Hands as Vilhelm A brilliantly timed duologue between actors who are comfortably accustomed to working together.
Another close relationship is that of Meacher and his wife Judi Bowker who plays Ella Rentheim , the ex-lover of John Gabriel who deserted her on his rise to power. Ella is full of love while the opposite is true of her sister. Gunhild played with a chip of ice in her heart by Kathryn Worth.
The direction is by Harry Meacher himself and Bryan Hands designs the setting. Their company Handplay productions are responsible for this presentation.
Ibsen’s plays are always wordy but riveting and this is no exception. Very much enjoyed.V

BIDDIE ABOVE THE ARTS

13 Nov

BIDDLECOMBE’S BACK

James Biddlecombe in Cabaret

Above the Arts Theatre

The master of Eclectic cabaret who delights us with Traditional Music Hall numbers, all forms of Jazz, Opera, Sophisticated Review, and Modern Broadway Show tunes.

On stage there are some people who seem to grow in stature and Biddie is one of them, managing to project a kind of sequin majesty like some Medieval monarch. But despite all the glamour, Biddie is your friend, he still has the chumminess of one who loves, respects and recognises his audience.

He makes the audience feel safe and relaxed to be with him as he is one of the very few singers whose versatile voice is always perfectly in tune and clear as a bell, every lyric delivered with exquisite precision and his characters are presented dead straight but played with consummate empathy.

The show at Above the Arts was stunning. Much of the content had lyrics by Biddie himself and the music composed or arranged by his musical director Chris Marshall. Despite the venue’s simple upright piano Chris handled it with style and made it sing. He also exuded personality and affection for his audience . Here is a pair of artists who obviously enjoy working together. Their enjoyment in their hard work really pays off. and it is almost as if they are reading each others minds.

Some of the numbers in this production were Cole Porter’s ‘Tale of the Oyster’, ‘Me and the Elephant’ When He sees me’ from Sara Bareilles new Broadway musical ‘Waitress’. Biddie sings this number totally straight and yet the whole feeling and passion of the lyrics comes through – an extraordinary performance.

He begins by bemoaning the fact that ‘I’ve never Been in “Cats”’ Explores the possibilities of Solitary love, Tells us he is tired of being pure and not chased in the Eartha Kitt standard ‘I wanna Be Evil’ in which he uses traces of his basso profundo voice. ‘The Broadband Bossa Nova’ by Biddlecombe and Marshall. ‘Maureen’ a new number suggested by ‘Joleen’ by B and M.

My number one favourite is by John Forster and it is a witty song about a disastrous holiday in ‘Cancun’

Old standards which the audience request and enjoy joining in are ‘The old Bazaar in Cairo’ ‘The Rich Maharajah of Magador’ and ‘Only a Glass of champagne’

Sadly very few of these will be in their next show as they will be working on their huge back catalogue and some new material to keep their production fresh.

Their next one is ‘Baubles, Bangles and Biddie’ at the Pheasantry, Kings Road, Chelsea on December 13th.

Warning, they get booked up very quickly.

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THE LESSON by Eugene Ionesco translated by Donald Watson at the Hope Theatre The Hope theatre is host to the most wonderfully ridiculous play by Eugene Ionesco the master of the absurd comedy and violent idiocy. This is a beautifully organised piece of Theatre in this tiny theatre room. The set is a raised platform of black and white tiles with just a table and two chairs. Roger Alborough, a face well known to TV audiences and to theatregoers alike plays The Professor. A man who knows everything and who cannot understand why The Pupil cannot work out what is known by subtraction and yet can by a simple act of memory give the answer to the most complicated arithmetical problems involving Milliions, billions and trillions of numbers He embarks on Philology although warned by his maid that it is dangerous. This character is wonderfully interpreted by Joan Porter and one doesn’t realise at the very beginning of the play when she is cleaning the room to make it fit for the student’s lesson what her function is within Ionisco’s fevered brain. The student is played by Sheetal Kapoor and she gives a perfectly timed performance in her scenes with Alborough. Their timing of the scenes is something that any playwright would die for. Some of the audience become hysterical with laughter, The production is incredibly funny and yet full of violence and horror at the same time.. The lighting by Chris McDonnell and the sound by Simon Arrowsmith help to make this a stunning professional production directed by a man who has been in love with the play ever since he first discovered it at University. Matthew Parker has given us his own flash of brilliance..

30 Sep