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RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE: Theatre Review: much ado about a lot in Elizabeth Freestone’s refreshingly funny contemporary take on Shakespeare’s famous battle of wits between the sexes with Beatrice and Benedick’s enjoyable verbal sparring

The image used to promote the show

Much Ado About Nothing. Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

Soldiers, snogging and songs mark Much Ado About Nothing as a youthful and vibrant show at the Factory Theatre in Bristol. A dramatic wartime opening sees Don Jon stripped of his rank and Claudio decorated for bravery helping to explain the motives behind Don Jon’s plan to wreck the wedding of Claudio and Hero.

In Elizabeth Freestone’s blokish production of William Shakespeare’s comedy none of the humour or romance is lost. Set in the here and now in modern dress the play is noted for the speed and clarity of the narrative which can in the wrong hands confuse anyone who does not know the story.

Don Jon played by Georgia Frost brought the villain to life, not as the pantomime baddie but as a complex, confused and opportunist character. Louise Mai Newberry was excellent in several roles including a health and safety office, a job’s worth Dogberry and a strong singer.

For those familiar with the 1993 movie in which Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomson starred as the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice will have wondered how the sunlit lands of Sicily where the story is set could be staged. Jean Chan design opted for minimalism in part due to the play being staged in the round and to keep the stripped down tone of the production which concentrated on the characters and story. There was party bunting and a scattering of cushions, beer barrels and even a mic and amp but lighting from Nic Farman was more important in changing the mood of the scenes.

The 1993 film was set in Italy – Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) 

Dorothy Myer-Bennett with her pre-Raphaelite hair and abundance of confidence as Beatrice was brilliant in dominating her exchanges with Geoffrey Lumb as Benedick who gave his character an enjoyable bumbling feel mixed with exaggerated bravado creating the legendary exchanges which makes the play such a joy.

Zachary Powell as Don Pedro was good value as was Alex Wilson as Borachio and the Friar. Imran Momen had to balance the strangely split personality as genial flirt and enraged husband to be who falls for Don Jon’s plot. Only the archaic Tudor sexual codes of conducts can explain this aspect of the plot but together with Christopher Bianchi as Leonato (Hero’s dad) pulled it off with the help of mobile phone evidence. Bianchi and Alice Barclay as his wife Ursula made a believable couple. With their modern dress they looked like any couple in the organic section of Sainsbury’s or outside their Bedminster home cleaning the Ford Modeo.

In rehearsal – Bethan Mary-James

Gawky nerdy looking Hannah Bristow as Hero made the best of her role upping the awkwardness of her character once she’s singled out as a potential bride – a tricky one as Hero doesn’t get too many lines and can be a slightly insignificant character considering her pivotal place in the plot. Bethan Mary-James as Margaret brought so much to the production, strumming her Ukulele, singing in her soft and soulful voice and giving the drama a continuity as she drifted on and off stage in a variety of guises. Speaking of guises the masked ball scene is almost worth the ticket price alone with its disco beat and flashing lights and as with so much in the production choreography of movement kept the action rolling at high speed. It was at over two and a half hours much ado about a lot.

Harry Mottram

The play runs until Saturday, November 9, 2019 before transferring to Wiltons’ Music Hall in London from November 12, 2019.

For details and tickets visit https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com

The play is a Shakespeare in the Tobacco Factory production. Details at stf-theatre.org.uk

Box office on 0117 9020344.

For more reviews, news and views on theatre and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Some children were so enthused they attempted to join the cast of The Time Seekers in the performance area (as the actors embrace the audience with open arms and bandages)

Gammo (Helena Middleton), Betty (Jesse Meadows) and Alph (Ben Vardy) put in a huge amount of energy

The Time Seekers. Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol. Ages 3-8

Inventive, improvisational and educational. The Wardrobe Theatre Ensemble and the Wardrobe Theatre’s production of The Time Seekers is noisy, necessarily anarchic and chaotic but it is also a well-constructed show that embraces the audience with open arms and indeed bandages.

Gammo (Helena Middleton), Betty (Jesse Meadows) and Alph (Ben Vardy) put a huge amount of energy into taking the audience on a journey through time to recover four Chrono-Clock pieces which will save the planet from total destruction. We meet a poo-asaurus (a new type of dinosaur suggested by a member of the audience), an eccentric Egyptian pyramid, a grumpy robot and Betty in a futuristic guise. All of this is possible with a time machine that needs food to fire it up, sound effects and some neat lighting along with a movable four sided set on wheels to give a semblance of a backdrop to the quirky scenes designed by Nicola Holter.

Directed by Helena Middleton and aided by Matthew Whittle, the show races along at near galactic pace with infectious movement and songs that sweep up the audience into a frenzy of excitement. Jack Drewry’s musical direction added an extra dimension along with repetitive movement picked up by the audience every time The Time Seekers shifted time zones.

Simple household items were made use of for props such as green socks to represent the humid vegetation of the dinosaur world while the cast used their (and the audience’s) imagination to tell the story of the hunt through time. Some younger children were overwhelmed by the frenetic energy and the constant bombardment of information although they seemed engaged, while more confident and older children of seven and eight were often so over excited they wanted to join the cast in the performance area.

With colour coordinated outfits and with the tone of enthusiastic geography teachers there was an undeniable CBeebies feel to the style. The narrative was clear but with few quieter or reflective moments or even character development the production is more of a show than a play.

Harry Mottram

For more about the ensemble see https://www.thewardrobeensemble.com/ and for the theatre visit http://thewardrobetheatre.com

The show runs to April 8, 2018 but returns to the theatre from 29 May – 4 June 2017

For more children’s theatre visit www.harrymottram.co.uk and also  https://childrenstheatrereviews.com  

And follow Flossie Waite’s review site at @ctheatrereviews

Follow Harry on FaceBook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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

www.royalexchange.co.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

 

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – THEATRE REVIEW: Back to the future in the soiree from hell with the new middle classes of England in 1977

Love to hate you baby: Beverly and Laurence in Abigail's Party

Love to hate you baby: Beverly and Laurence in Abigail’s Party

Abigail’s Party. Alma Theatre, Bristol

Set in the 1970s Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party is still a play about us. Fashions transform and house prices rise, but people don’t change that much. It is the reason why the tragic comedy about the soiree from hell that gripped the nation in 1977 continues to make us feel uncomfortable with its unpicking of social norms in its uncompromising exposure of how we behave.

Socially things haven’t changed much since Beverly threw open her front door to her neighbours for an evening of nibbles and talk of property prices. Set in aspic are lower middle class Tony and Angela, middle class Sue and aspiring middle class Beverly and Laurence.

The hero of the social occasion featuring non-stop G&T top ups and cheese and pineapple on sticks is Angela played with perfect awkwardness by Jennifer Jope complete with a cringingly submissive compliance to her bullying husband Tony. For NHS nurse Angela takes charge first when Sue is sick and then when host Laurence (Adam Elms) takes ill, banishing social norms and asserting her authority in the drunken emergency. Her ex-professional footballer Tony was played with moody masculinity by Ryan Gilks who had an alarmingly convincing sexual chemistry with Beverly (Anna Friend) but sees his authority reduced as the crisis grows. Diane Lukins as the excruciatingly polite Sue was at once bullied, manipulated and insulted by Beverly, but in reality was breaking all of Beverly’s unwritten social rules. She was a single divorced mum who allows her rebellious teenage daughter Abigail to have an unsupervised party and even more shockingly: to have a pink streak in her hair. Well it was 1977.

Anna Friend as Beverly in Abigail's Party

Anna Friend as Beverly in Abigail’s Party

So much of what we discuss today is there in this period piece of four decades ago: the power relationships between men and women, what is life really about, materialism and consumerism, the social status and salaries associated with different jobs, and the social does and don’ts of You and Non You. The role of women has changed to some extent since the play was first staged. Now Sue wouldn’t be thought of as so unusual as a divorced mother and Angela would most likely have demanded to be allowed to learn to drive. And quite possibly Beverly would have had a job – and vaped rather than smoked – but Laurence’s social pretentions would likely to be unchanged. It is certainly a play that leads to considerable discussion afterwards because as I have mentioned – it’s about us.

The Schoolhouse production at Bristol’s Alma Tavern Theatre was directed by Anna Friend and co-directed by Holly Newton who clearly had enjoyed taking the cast back to the flock wall paper and shag pile carpet era when it was OK to smoke indoors. It is a highly enjoyable and faithful production as Friend has allowed each character to have a new lease of life. Leigh’s dialogue flows so naturally that he must have attended quite a few soirees in order to take notes while the play’s construction with is shocking black humour of a climax still surprises – but is also so appropriate in bringing the evening to a perfect close.

Harry Mottram

The cast and crew of the show

The cast and crew of the show

It is interesting to note the drama began through improvisation before it was staged with great success at the Hampstead Theatre is April 1977. Then a version was made for television for BBC Scotland in the series A Play For Today and was broadcast in November of that year. It featured Alison Steadman as Beverly, Tim Stern as Laurence, Janine Duvitski as Angela, John Salthouse as Tony and Thelma Whiteley as Sue. Thelma Whiteley’s role was played by Harriet Reynolds when it was screened on TV.

For more details visit:

http://www.almatavernandtheatre.co.uk/theatre/what-s-on

http://schoolhouseproductions.co.uk/

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Travelling Light and the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s Ugly Duckling in Bristol is like a beautiful swan’s feather – perfectly constructed

Duckie bursts into the world in Travelling Light's The Ugly Ducklin. Mark Dawson Photography

Duckie bursts into the world in Travelling Light and the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

The Ugly Duckling. At The Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Flowing from one scene to another the narrative structure of Sally Cookson’s The Ugly Duckling directed by Craig Edwards is like a discarded swan’s feather: sleek, smooth and beautifully constructed.

Ugly Duckling Production_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_0261

Brrr! The cast appear in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

Emily May Smith as Duckie bursts out of her shell into a world in which she doesn’t fit, save for the undying love of Mother Duck played with waddling wonderfulness by the be-hatted and non celeripedean Heather Williams who sings: “You are beautiful, I’ll tell you again and again.” Then there are her brothers and sisters as well as various farm animals who insult, ignore and reject Duckie as a member of the pond side community. Bullied and confused she sets out on a journey of self-discovery. Hans Christian Anderson’s 19th century story of social exclusion and of being an individual in a regulated world connects with us all in that universal feeling of wishing to be included. Duckie is confused when she is shunned by her peers and cries: “I don’t belong here.” In the hands of Travelling Light the moral fable reminds us all to be ourselves, that everyone is of value and will eventually have the confidence if nurtured to leave the bosom of our mother’s downy love and take flight into the world.

The versatile Heidi Niemi in Travelling Light's The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

The versatile Heidi Niemi in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

The audience that included lots of pre school and infant school children were engrossed in the 45 minute epic. Their eyes followed every agony of Duckie as she is lost in the spooky reeds of the marshes, the frosts of winter or the deceiving world of an old woman’s graocracy. Brian Hargreaves’ music coupled with the singing of the ensemble cast that included the delightfully versatile Heidi Niemi was simple yet complex with Michelle Gaskell’s slick choreography and easy to follow and understand words in the bitter-sweet coming of age tale. So much energy, so much movement and so much humour. And I’ve not even mentioned the delightful underwater scene or the flight of swans with their white umbrellas: all perfectly brilliant.

Emily May Smith as Duckie sets out to discover herself in Travelling Light's The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

Emily May Smith as Duckie sets out to discover herself in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

Add to that Matt Graham’s lighting and Jason Barnes’ sound and the whole show came into sharp focus in the theatre in the round setting of the Tobacco Factory. An outstanding production using the minimum of props and the minimum of costumes, but the maximum of acting, movement and song at its aquatic and feathered best.

Reviewed by Harry Mottram

A Travelling Light and Tobacco Factory Theatre co-production 

Playing at The Tobacco Factory Theatre until January 14th, 2018

Age 2+

Emily May Smith as Duckie in Travelling Light's The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

Emily May Smith as Duckie in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

For more Children’s Theatre visit https://childrenstheatrereviews.com and http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?page_id=510

For tickets and information for The Ugly Duckling visit https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/

Ugly Duckling Production_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_0325

Waddling wonder Heather Williams as Mother Duck in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography

 

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: REVIEW: A battle of wills as Isabella battles with the Beast over dinner every Tuesday at 8pm

Beauty - or rather Belle - is played Sara Lessore in this production

Beauty – or rather Isabella – is played by Sara Lessore in this production

An assertive and independent minded Beauty and a boorish but ultimately comedic Beast make this version of the French fairy tale into an enjoyable battle of wills.

Alex Byrne’s production of the fairy tale with its roots in ancient European folk mythology takes much of its plot from the early versions of the story by 18th century French writers who gathered up orally related sagas and wrote them down for publication. We have the financially ruined rich merchant with his daughters, the Beast who extracts a promise of a bride from the merchant, the red rose, and Beauty’s conversion of the Beast to a Prince through true love. And it all begins with the Prince being transformed into the Beast by an ugly Italian witch for failing to allow her in his house. An Italian witch? Well the story was written down by a French citizen.

An ensemble cast of six played all the roles adding hugely to the flow of the drama by playing musical instruments throughout, either in character or as an impromptu orchestra. Staged in the round with only minimal props and scenery the cast are at once story tellers and characters in this fast moving, very funny and creative production. Kasia Zaremba-Byrne’s movement direction was critical in utilising the space with the audience on four sides, but it also worked seamlessly with the casts’ many entrances and exits – sometimes in a wheel barrow.

In Sara Lessore we had a very assertive Beauty known as Isabella who didn’t take any nonsense from her two snooty sisters Anastasia (Elliot Davis) and Latrice (Samantha Sutherland) and was an antidote to the sometimes sugary image of heroines in fairy tales. The sisters’ choreographed bitchiness, name calling and mocking Isabella as ‘a creep’ created constant laughter as both actors revelled in being the spoilt brats.

Ben Tolley’s father figure was forever in the shadow of his long dead wife, apologising for everything, never being able to do enough for Latrice and Anastasia but always shifting the burden of family responsibility onto Isabella because she can take it. His was the straightest of straight roles in a play full of larger than life characters and as such Tolley did well as the much put upon ‘daddy’ – as Anastasi and Latrice patronisingly called him.

The beast played by Martin Bonger came into his own when he laid the table after the interval. His idea of courtship was to have dinner with his imprisoned Beauty every Tuesday at 8pm. Using the table as his stage he morphed Tuesday after Tuesday from an uncouth bully into a lovable wanting-to-please-puppy of a Beast as he finally charmed Isabella in some knockabout theatre ending with the themes that true love conquers all and transformation is always possible in the most intractable of characters.

One of the strengths of the production was the script which on Byrne’s admission in the programme notes is a stripped back version based on the French fairy tale. That sharpness helped the story race along with much unspoken text performed through movement, gesture and music. Like many fairy stories Beauty and the Beast is likely to be a collective folk memory that could be traced back to man’s origins when belief systems mixed humans and wild animals to create mythological creatures.

With an atmosphere that had overtones of a lost European world of wild beasts, dark forests and forbidding fortresses created by Trui Malten’s moody lighting and the ensemble’s music, this is a play that kept the children in the audience entranced and adults chuckling throughout. Creative family theatre can be a difficult one to get right with its delicate balance of being accessible to children and yet not patronising to adults and vice versa but this collaboration between Tobacco Factory Theatres, New International Encounter and Cambridge Junction achieves the right mix.

Harry Mottram

The play continues to January 14, 2018.

5 stars

For more details and tickets visit https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/

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

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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