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RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – THEATRE REVIEW: Boyd’s pitch perfect production of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard without a cherry tree in sight (but is Owusu’s Lopakhin a prediction of a future Putin oligarch?)

Anton Checkhov’s The Cherry Orchard with Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu

A drowned child, the ever turning world and not a cherry tree in sight. Michael Boyd’s production of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Bristol Old Vic is set on a minimalist turning circular stage but with a surprising mirror of the auditorium that features a full scale recreation of the seating and dress circle positioned on the stage turning the Bristol Old Vic into a theatre in the round.

First staged in 1904 the drama looks back to the past and forward to the unfolding events of the 20th century with an uncanny ability to suggest the themes of change taking place in Russia as it emerged from a semi feudal past. The universal themes of change and the brevity with which Chekov conveys so much has made this play part of the 20th century canon. It is a play that is frequently included on the curriculum for students at school and college to study as part of their English and drama courses because of those themes, the well-defined characters who represent strands in society and its language. All schools and colleges in the region should take their students to see this production due to its adherence to Chekov’s original script and the clarity with which it is presented.

Mrs Lyuba Renevsky was brought to life with a reflective subtlety by Kirsty Bushell who balanced her continuing grief over her drowned son with her insufferable inability to accept change. Chekov’s dialogue is in tune as to how we listen and answer. Any difficult question posed to one of the characters is ignored and deflected and Renevsky is the prime example as she changes the subject if she detects where the conversation is going. Who wants to admit they are a fool? Renevsky is the mistress of denial.

The Cherry Orchard is at the Bristol Old Vic before moving to The Royal Exchange Theatre

The other protagonist is the upwardly mobile Yermolay Lopakhin the business man from humble stock who is enterprising and has none of the baggage of Renevsky and her like. Jude Owusu was a believable and exasperated Lopakhin who desperately tried to convince Renevsky to sell the orchard for profit as holiday lets. Listening to conversations in the interval as to the merits of casting black actors in a turn of the century Russian drama (Owusu is black) I couldn’t help but thinking how theatre had changed for the better and how this was a production for our time. Why is there even a discussion about colour or race when nobody as far as I know in the cast is Russian or attends the Orthodox Church services in Bristol? The idea is nonsense as the discussion should be about the acting and in Lopakhin we have perhaps one of Putin’s 21st century cronies in the making as he boasts of being rich. And although Owusu cuts it as a competitive and ruthless business man, when he describes the auction there’s no hint he may use nerve gas to bump off rival bidders.

Rosy McEwan as the snubbed Varya

There was a surprise before the play began with the sudden appearance on stage of the theatre’s artistic director Tom Morris who explained that due to illness the eccentric character of Charlotta (Anya’s governess) would not be played by Eva Magyar but instead the bearded assistant director Evan Lordan would step in. Initially Morris said Boyd was not sure if Lordan could pull it off since he had a beard and was a man, but after thinking about it agreed. Lordan played it straight despite his beard and (what must have been an inner urge to panto dame it) Lordan got away with it – and since Charlotta was from a circus background – it was just about believable. Charlotta is one of Chekov’s characters who you know will survive the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions as she is pragmatic – a 20th century person who will adapt – unlike poor old Firs.

The old retainer Firs dressed immaculately and played with an elegant frailness by Togo Igawa fusses with a maternal affection for his master over Gayev’s dress sense ringing humour from his sparse lines. Pompous Gayev (Simon Coates) was perfect as he railed against change praising the book case for its long service but failing to do the same for the put upon staff. Another bit part character who was spot on was Jack Monaghan as the clumsy Yepikhodov knocking over a side table and entering with unfeasibly squeaky boots – every inch the idiot – while Yasha (Hayden McLean) was excellent as the good time toy boy leaching off the fading aristo’s money. Verity Blyth as Anya gave a pitch perfect performance balancing naivety with entitlement, empathy with selfishness. And with her sunray pleated skirt and assorted fin de circle outfits (and it must be added Yasha and Lopakhin’s sexy tight fitting tailored suits) it is full marks to the costume department.

Two protagonists who represent two different centuries

Harry Mumblestone as the threatening vagrant represented the just-under-the-radar-underclass that haunted Russia then and now as well as Britain today – as society pretends homelessness doesn’t exist – while at the other extreme flick through the pages of the Financial Times you will find the equivalent of Boris Simeyonov-Pischik (an on form Julius d’Silva) who despite his stupidity survives and prospers in part because of his inherited wealth, luck and connections. Rosy McEwen’s stoic interpretation of Varya was strangely agonising as she is ignored in love by Lopkhin.

The publicity image for the show

Emma Naomi (Dunyasha) had a sensual stage presence but was also an essential support to Anya’s pampered lifestyle and was fittingly brushed off as below the salt by the young aristocrat but somehow conveyed that hurt that could manifest its revenge in the 1917 Revolution a decade later. Enyi Okoronkwo as the eternal student Trofimov was fittingly angry, confused, articulate and a sociably inept visionary who at times appeared to predict the future. Characters like Trofimov can be hard to portray but Enyi pulled it off with his quivering voice and ability to sound genuine. And the inclusion of a child by Boyd in the cast to play the lost seven-year-old son of Ranevsky was in turns enchanting and also haunting in this brilliant co-production by Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Harry Mottram

The play continues to April 7, 2018.

  • The Cherry Orchard is at The Royal Exchange Theatre from April 19 to May 19, 2018.

For more details visit https://bristololdvic.org.uk


For more about the stage design by Tom Piper of the show visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwKw5H6kQLQ 

For more theatre reviews from Harry visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales keeps a full house engrossed (but did the monkey over shadow Tiddler?)

Tiddler and other Terrific Tales. Photo Credit Robin Savage (11)

Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales. Bristol Old Vic. Age 3+

There was an atmosphere of babbling tiny voices (coupled with the calming tones of parents trying to dampen down a growing sense of excitement) as the audience awaited the arrival of the cast of Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales.

The Bristol Old Vic’s main house was near to capacity as Maryam Grace, Alex Tosh and Anna Larkin entered wearing brimmed hats, colourful jackets and carrying an assortment of props. With two step ladders joined by a plank, various boxes and a table the cast brought to life Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales. Using a mixture of song, simple dialogue, mime, choreographed movement and physical theatre the trio told the story of Tiddler the fish who was always late the Monkey who had lost his mummy, The Smartest Giant in Town and A Squash and a Squeeze. For those expecting the stories to centre on Tiddler there may have been disappointment as it was the monkey whose story was most predominant but perhaps that is a small point in a show that had so much content and action.

The Freckle production of Scamp Theatre’s drama was driven by musical director Brian Hargreaves and Georgia Green with Chris Pirie as puppetry and associate director. His use of everyday objects such as gloves and dusters must have kept costs down but also worked as a joke which the audience were in on from the first appearance of the monkey portrayed by some rope.

There was some fidgeting in the ranks of the pre-school audience although this seemed to more to do with the fascination of the tip up seats. And there’s a story in itself as pre-school and primary school children find the experience of a visit to the theatre in the seating, the steps, the toilets and watching other children almost as important as the drama.

Inventive, funny and at times purely silly the stories engaged the audience in a setting that could have been too large for this small scale production but with microphones to help projection and huge energy the hour long show kept the concentration of hundreds of tiddlers (and their parents).

Harry Mottram

The show continues until February 18th before a tour of numerous theatres in the UK before ending in June at Bury St Edmunds at the Theatre Royal.

For more details: www.bristololdvic.org.uk while for dates and venues visit http://freckleproductions.co.uk/shows/tiddler-and-other-terrific-tales/tour-dates

For more Children’s Theatre visit https://childrenstheatrereviews.com and http://www.harrymottram.co.uk

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Niall Ashdown as Ole Shuteye and the Emperor sparkles in Bristol Old Vic’s Little Match Girl with its messages of homelessness and rejection – but what a depressing ending

2018 01 Little Match Girl BOV Niall Ashdown Photo by Steve Tanner_preview.jpg_tmp

The Little Match Girl and and other Happier Tales. The Old Vic, Bristol
In the original Hans Christian Anderson story the Little Match Girl dies and goes to heaven. In Emma Rice’s dark retelling we just get the death and a lot of soul searching. Not the uplifting ending to a Christmas season family drama. If only it could have ended with either paradise or The Emperor’s New Clothes – which was a joy to behold.

2018 01 Little Match Girl BOV Katy-Owen-Niall-Ashdown-and-Guy-Hughes-by-Steve-Tanner
The Bristol Old Vic Theatre’s The Snow Queen 12 months ago hit the mark with the darkness of the story coupled with a happy ending, plus great songs, excellent storytelling and extremely funny set pieces. In contrast this production seemed more aimed at adults who appreciated the overall theme of homelessness and alienation in a set that took its style from run down backstreets where violence lurked. Children in the audience appeared slightly traumatised at the end although in places their laughter and appreciation of aspects of the drama were clear.

2018 01 Little Match Girl BOV puppet
Fortunately much of the content of four stories are dominated by the ring master come emcee Ole Shuteye played with an irresistible effervescence by Niall Ashdown who doubled up as the Emperor in one of the production’s stand out scenes as he strips off his cloak. And the drama was rich in movement, song, dance and physical theatre with the story of Thumbelina climaxing with a terrific fight between Karl Queensborough as Toad and Katy Owen as the tiny girl trying to escape to freedom. Edie Edmundson controlled the exquisite Little Match Girl puppet somehow triumphing over cramp as she was on her knees from much of the evening. Using puppets is fine but at times for smaller children in the upper gallery or dress circle they are hard to see.

2018 01 Little Match Girl BOV Elizabeth-Westcott-Photo-by-Steve-Tanner
Over the river at the Tobacco Factory, Beauty and the Beast with considerably less investment hit the right balance of wonder and storytelling, the darker side of fairy tales, but also humour and hope. It’s as if Rice simply tried to cram too much in emphasising the darker side without anything fluffy and accessible for the youngest in the audience.
At times the overall drama seemed confusing with a number of themes including those of war, rejection, stranger danger, domestic violence and homelessness leaving the audience with a mixture of feelings by the end. A pity as there’s so much to enjoy with a first class cast – from the choreography to the musicians, and from the lighting and sound to the costumes inspired by Edwardian vaudeville.
The play continues to January 14th, 2018.
For more details: www.bristololdvic.org.uk
Harry Mottram
Age 8+
For more Children’s Theatre visit https://childrenstheatrereviews.com and http://www.harrymottram.co.uk
Pictures by Steve Tanner

2018 01 Little Match Girl BOV Karl Queensborough, Elizabeth Westcott, Kezrena James - by Steve Tanner_preview.jpg_tmp


CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE: REVIEW – Kylie Minogue to the rescue in Kid Carpet’s quest for snow

Snow Globe - Photo by Paul Blakemore

Snow Globe – Photo by Paul Blakemore

Reviewed by Harry Mottram
A Bristol Old Vic at Christmas production by Kid Carpet
Playing at the Lantern Room in Colston Hall until 7th January 2018
For ages 3-7

More children’s entertainer than actor or pop star – not my opinion – that’s the thoughts apparently of the Intelligent Fridge in Kid Carpet’s Snow Glow.

The show for children aged three to six and their carers is lively, noisy and immense fun for most of its 50 minute duration with some memorable moments of organised chaos. Audience members become so intoxicated with excitement that several tried to get on the stage and had to be held back by their parents and teachers.

Kid Carpet wants it to snow and has borrowed the Snow Globe from Gary Barlow for the show. Accompanied by Susie who appears as several characters, and with help from the Intelligent Fridge the Kid entertains with a series of random songs, jokes and sketches. At its best the show had the audience on their feet doing a Mexican Wave or dancing to the music. But without a true narrative there were places when the frenetic pace flagged and needed a story thread to maintain interest.

Staged on a blue and white set with just the fridge and a fir tree for props and with the audience on three sides the production relies on Kid’s charisma to carry it through to its snowy ending. And by and large it does. Susie appears as a cleaning lady, a footballer, a weather forecaster and even an arctic explorer which helped to expand the show into some quirky and eccentric moments of madness. But a madness that children understand and can identify with.

Kid Carpet’s programme notes chart his route into children’s theatre via punk rock and DIY low budget rock. His whole body language is straight from that world but his personality if one hundred percent children’s and entertainer – as the Intelligent Fridge reminds him.

With a near capacity audience packed into the Lantern Room at the Colston Hall.

The Bristol Old Vic production continues to January 7.

Harry Mottram

For more details and to book tickets visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/snow-globe.html

For more Children’s Theatre visit https://childrenstheatrereviews.com/

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE: PREVIEW: A travelling troupe of Edwardian actors present the Bristol Old Vic’s The Little Match Girl this Christmas

2017 12 the-little-matchgirl-bristol-old-vic-carousel BOV

The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina and the Emperor’s New Clothes and presented through the framing device of an Edwardian travelling troupe of actors. Puppetry and the Little Match Girl herself bring the stories of Hans Christian Anderson to life in the Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas family production directed by Emma Rice.

It’s a cop-production with Shakespeare’s Globe in London where it has already played in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse earlier this year pleasing the critics with its “anarchic irreverence, rhyming couplets, a strong belief in the transformative power of storytelling; jaunty, sometimes heartbreaking music, and beguiling magic” according to Lyn Gardner.

The show runs from 30 November to 14 January 2018. For info and tickets: www.bristololdvic.org.uk

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE: PREVIEW: Bristol Old Vic moves to the Colston Hall’s Lantern Room for a globe full of snow

The man himself in rehearsals for Snow Globe - it's Kid Carpet

The man himself in rehearsals for Snow Globe – it’s Kid Carpet

Feeling low? Feeling a bit grotty? Ed Patrick AKA Kid Carpet promises to make you feel much better with his show Snow Globe. The Bristol Old Vic’s show for children aged 3-7 and their families moves across the city to the elegant Lantern Room in the Colston Hall. It’s really a ball room but last year’s show there used the high ceilings and vast space to affect.

Kid Carpet is desperate for a white Christmas and so hires Gary Barlow’s Snow Globe we are told. The Snow Globe “is a whole new, weird world and his Christmas plans are diverted by a gang of ridiculous characters, power ballads, silly dancing and a cheeky talking refrigerator.”

It sounds whacky, it sounds fun and above all it contains the white stuff we all want for Christmas.

The show runs from 1 Dec-7 Jan.

For tickets and info visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/snow-globe.html

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE: December’s issue is now online – read it here

Children’s Theatre Magazine’s December 2016 issue is now online below. It can also be viewed at http://content.yudu.com/Library/A41o3l/ChildrensTheatreMaga/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%2Ffree.yudu.com%2Fpublish%2Ffinish_now%2F3607103

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