Knob jokes, comedy props and sensational singing make Living Spit’s version of Odysseus’ chronically badly navigated return from Troy a joy to experience.
Homer’s Odyssey composed some 3,000 years ago of more than 12,000 lines of poetry is enjoyably reduced down to earthy Anglo Saxon phrases in this send up of the Ancient Greek saga.
The reimagining of the ten year voyage of Odysseus (played by Howard Coggins) returning from the Trojan War to Ithaca and his wife Penelope (an on form Kate Dimbleby) is turned on its head by the director Craig Edwards who with a deft touch begins the story sort of at the end with Odysseus’ unimpressed wife Penelope.
She dismisses the blokey bragging of her husband making it a battle of the sexes as she score points off Odysseus by ridiculing his excuses for being late home. While the drama comes from Odysseus recounting his unlikely adventures with slapstick, song and comedy props.
Kate Dimbleby is fabulous as she first demolishes the preposterous tales but then joins in them bringing the female characters to life and rebalancing The Odyssey for the 21st century. Howard Coggins does don a recognizable Grecian costume complete with leather breast plate and skirt while Sam Mills and Stu McLoughlin use items from a fancy dress shop to suggest their various characters. We get the Cyclops in the cave, the sirens and the evil Circe who turns men into pigs but there’s no archery contest on Odysseus’ return but rather some haunting and poignant singing. There’s much humour in the meeting with his retainer Eumaeus back in Ithaca and set pieces such as the bag of the four winds given to Odysseus by Aeolus involve the audience.
The double act of Coggins and McLoughlin that worked so well in their original two hander in The Six Wives of Henry VIII fuels the play’s comic chemistry while the added ingredient of contrastingly beautiful music only adds to the drama. All four sing so well with Sam Mills on keyboards and various instruments adding depth to what could be a slightly thin piece of theatre if it wasn’t for the musical content. Certainly Kate Dimbleby’s soulful voice gives class and emotion in this highly entertaining production as does the use of mics for sound effects and the voices of the Gods.
Lighting by Sarah Bath crucially punctuates the drama and Katie Sykes’ circular set is not only practical but suggests the cyclical nature of Odysseus’ voyage home in which he appears to have gone round in circles. As Penelope says on his return: “You’ll have to do better than that.” And with her help, he does.
In 1963 the former Cheddar Valley Railway often called The Strawberry Line was closed after almost a century of use. A few years later the line above the town was turned into the bypass ending the traffic jams that had dogged the town for years. To celebrate a pageant was proposed to chart the town’s history in the square soon after. It was a huge success prompting further pageants in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Each time the Square was turned into a vast arena and stage – to portray the long and extraordinary story of the town through drama, spectacle and pageantry. And so we gather once again in August 2020 to maintain this tradition – that in its own way has also become part of the town’s history. The website will carry news, views and features about the pageant and will carry photos of the past productions and updates on the next one on August bank holiday weekend in 2020.
New Old Friends have created a new comedy genre of a hyper fast moving send up of the period whodunit with their improvised style and joke laced script.
The movement and choreography by Gary Sefton is excellent and the quartet of actors’ performances are brilliant in the way they slip seamlessly between a Nile tourist boat full of Agatha Christi type characters. In this spoof we head to Egypt where the detective Artemis Arinae (Kirsty Cox) has a murder to solve on a river boat full of suspects.
To follow the plot of Crimes on the Nile can be all but impossible such is the speed of the narrative but also the amount of explanations given by the protagonist Artemis. Too many words in an accent that’s difficult to catch at times means the main enjoyment of the show is the enjoyable comic acting of Heather Westwell, Feargus Woods Dunlop and Fergus Leathem along with energetic set scenes of choreographed chaos.
Some of the best parts of the drama directed by James Farrell are the set pieces such as Westwell’s three door female shouting match sequence, Woods Dunlop’s song and the opening ‘there’s been a murder’ in the dark scene. If some of Artemis’ explanations and thought processes could be slowed to very fast instead of extremely fast along with the denouement, then the story could be conveyed with more clarity.
Witty, creative and with endless comic props and in-jokes the play fits well with the series of five comedies the theatre company has so far produced. With a small cast and lots of fine details in the props, characterisations and swift changes of direction the style works better in more confined and intimate spaces. On the larger stage of the Tacchi Morris part of the attraction of the drama – its very frenetic and creative nature – is diluted.
In 150 odd pages Peter Brook spells out his thoughts on four types of theatre: the deadly, the holy, the rough and the immediate. He could easily have done it in 50 pages such is the density of his thought process. His essential theme is that theatre should be thought provoking, challenging and creative. A play is a play Brook concludes and more importantly explains that theatre is in the present, in the now. Cinema is experiencing something filmed and acted often years ago. Art works and installations have been created in the past while TV drama nowadays is almost always recorded. On the stage each performance is live and if you watch the same play twice you’ll notice changes of pace and tone.
For years The Empty Space has been required reading for every student of theatre and those with an interest in drama. Brook’s thoughts and views come thick and fast providing considerable material for discussion and yet at times he appears to labour a point and cloud his ideas with too much philosophy. “As you read this book it is already moving out of date,” he writes. The hippy ‘happenings’ of the 1960s no longer take place and a single theatre critic can no longer kill a play dead with a killer review thanks to the internet and its plethora of views on any given subject.
There’s a section close to my heart on the deadly critic who fails to understand the process of drama and has no vision of what theatre should be. Brooks suggests that critics need to embrace the theatrical process to get a better understanding rather than standing at the side lines and firing off volleys of barbs. In the deadly theatre creativity has given way to convention where entertainment triumphs over innovation. The holy theatre is that of reverence to the cannon and tradition while the rough theatre – that of Brecht for instance – brings a fresh and strikingly new force to the art form. And in many ways Brook’s division of theatre into the four sectors can be applied to many art forms. In his concluding chapter on the immediate theatre it is the role of the audience and how an actor reacts to the immediacy of a performance that he discusses. Clocks never go back he writes, and with plays you wipe the slate clean for each performance.
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Peter Brooks is best known by many in the theatre for his production of A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in 1970. There’s a short documentary about it at https://youtu.be/1CkN9k6S3Js although the recording quality is a bit poor.
The Ladykillers: a still taken from ACT’s stage play
When Axbridge Community Theatre staged The Ladykillers in the Town Hall in 2016 a team of talented folk worked behind the scenes to make it happen. This is the story of part of that team – the set designers and builders of Axbridge Community Theatre (ACT). The production was directed by Peter Honeyands and was adapted by Graham Linehan as a stage play in 2011 from the screen play written by William Rose for the 1955 film .
ACT’s next production is Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker directed by John Bailey. It will be staged in the town hall in Axbridge in Somerset on May 2-5, 2018.
Tickets will be on sale online from 23rd March 2018, and from Axbridge Chemists and Post Office from 1st April.
Observed by a lone, mystified Australian aboriginal , the convict ship arrives in Botany Bay in1788, crammed with England’s outcasts. Colony discipline in this vast and alien land is brutal. Three proposed public hangings incite an argument: how best to keep the criminals in line, the noose or a more civilised form of entertainment? The ambitious Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark steps forward with a play. But as the mostly illiterate cast rehearses, and a sense of common purpose begins to take hold, the young officer’s own transformation is as marked and poignant as that of his prisoners. The play is far from grim. Actually it’s mostly funny! “All people tend to become what society says they are! In performance the convicts challenge their definition.”
Travelling Light is an innovative company creating theatre for children and families. This is from The Ugly Duckling staged at The Tobacco Factory. Pic Mark Dawson
Towards the end of 2014, Flossie Waite and her colleagues put together a list of children’s theatre-related Twitter accounts to follow on her website https://childrenstheatrereviews.com/
Last year they updated the list as the numbers have grown. The list includes individuals, venues, companies, festivals and organisations that are creating, supporting, presenting or writing about theatre for young audiences. And it keeps on getting longer as more people take an interest in the creative and long neglected genre. Here is part one of that ever increasing list – fully updated since last year by Harry Mottram:
Producing companies @A1000Cranes A Thousand Cranes was co-founded by artistic directors Kumiko Mendl & Vicky Ireland. The company aim to bring the ‘stories, traditions, art forms and artists of Japan’ to children’s theatre in the UK. @floodsofink When we first encountered Floods of Ink in 2014, it was hard to believe they were an emerging company, as their work was already so accomplished and polished. A few years later, and Floods of Ink are continuing to create high-quality work for young people, whether their audience are under six or teenagers. @CWheelsTheatre Award-winning company Catherine Wheels have toured across the world, including to New York, where Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker described show White as ‘the best 40 minutes of my life’. @feveredsleep Fevered Sleep’s artistic, surreal tweets are always a joy. The company make brave, experimental, challenging new work in performance, installation, film, publication and digital art. @tuttifruttiprod tutti frutti work with acclaimed playwrights like Mike Kenny and Emma Reeves to create new shows with original scripts that are both entertaining and relevant to their young audience. @theatriolo Theatr Iolo want to welcome babies to the theatre at 6 months old, and continue to create work that will engage and excite them for the rest of their life. @oilycart Oily Cart create multi-sensory, immersive and highly interactive productions for very young children (aged 6 months – 6 years), and for young people (aged 3 – 19) with profound and multiple learning disabilities, who have an autism spectrum condition, or who are deafblind.
Oily Cart’s In a Pickle with the RSC brought a Shakespeare play to life
@hullabalootweet Theatre Hullabaloo, based in the North East, make, tour and promote high quality theatre for young people, who they consider the most important audience of all. They also produce the annual TakeOff Festival. @TCLive Theatre Centre have been touring new writing to venues and schools around the country for over 60 years. The company aim to encourage youth activism and empower young leadership through the arts. @20StoriesHigh Our first experience of 20 Stories High was their 2016 co-production with Theatre-Rites, The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective; even now, we can’t stop thinking about it. The Liverpool-based company make theatre with and for young people, producing work that is honest, political and challenging. Facebook: hetfiliaaltheatermakers The multi-layered, entertaining work of Het Filiaal, who are based in the Dutch city of Utrecht. @KOPERGIETERY Kopergietery is actually a children’s arts centre in Gent, though they tour their unpredictable, zany, beautiful work outside of Belgium. We came into contact with them at the 2016 Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. @ZooNationUK Watch a ZooNation production and your face will hurt from smiling. Responsible for the first ever hip hop dance production on the West End, the company often adapt fairytales and children’s books using their own high-energy, humorous, imaginative style. @PetitsTheatre Les Petits Theatre Company is the children’s arm of the acclaimed Les Enfants Terribles. Les Petits adapt children’s books, both new (David Walliams’ The First Hippo on the Moon) and old (Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland).
@Freckle_Prods Jennifer Sutherland, co-founder of the multi-award winning Scamp Theatre, recently launched Freckle Productions. The new company will continue to focus on productions for children, young people and families, but with a broader output of work: as well as stage adaptations, there will be original and emerging tales, ancient stories, and explorations of science and the environment. @tl_theatre Bristol-based Travelling Light Theatre Company have been making highly visual, story-led theatre for young audiences for over 30 years. @birminghamstage Since 1992, the Birmingham Stage Company have produced over 80 productions for adults and children. Most recently, these have included popular adaptations of the Horrible Histories series, of Roald Dahl’s books, and David Walliams’s recent releases. @2_ndhanddance Second Hand Dance keep children central to their creative process, working with young people to develop and play with ideas for their shows. @TurnedOnItsHead Turned On Its Head create interactive theatrical experiences for the very young, with their productions encouraging and offering opportunities for children and adults to engage and play together. @wrongsemble Wrongsemble pride themselves on creating shows accessible to everyone, ‘from the young of passport to the young of heart’. @Papertaleshows Papertale is the spoken word theatre company led by Rosemary Harris. Papertale’s lyrical productions confront important topics, from gender identity to asylum-seeking. @reallybptheatre Really Big Pants Theatre Company pull each performance (and pair of big pants) out of their huge travelling trunk. Often tied to educational themes, their productions aim to complement the primary school curriculum. @_oldsaw Old Saw create productions from their base in Northwest Iceland. Recent shows have been for very young children, like Meadow aimed at ages 3-6, and Duvet Day, for babies and toddlers aged 0-18 months. @frozentheatre Frozen Light Theatre Company was created by two friends who met at university and went on to develop their own form of multi-sensory theatre for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. @bigwintheatre Key to Big Window Theatre’s ethos is creating work that is accessible to all, culturally, financially and geographically. They also collaborate with local practitioners, venues and companies in order to promote and develop theatre within the East Midlands. @PiedPiperLive Another long-standing company is Pied Piper Theatre, who have been producing plays for young audiences since 1984. While originally much of Pied Piper’s work was new writing by Artistic Director Tina Williams, the company also tour new adaptations, like the Janet and Allan Ahlberg classic Burglar Bill. @TravelledC Travelled Companions create original shows for young audiences; they perfectly pitch their engaging productions to meet children at their level. @filskittheatre Filskit, a trio of theatremakers, have been using multimedia technology (in particular, projectors) to create high-quality children’s theatre since 2009. @TheatreLovett Irish company Theatre Lovett create imaginative, fun, surprising and daring productions for young audiences. @thewidders Widdershins Theatre tell fairytales, folk tales and myths from around the world using puppetry and quirky props.
Running Wild by Air Theatre with Ava Potter as Lilly with Oona. Photo Johan Persson.
@TheatreAlibi Theatre Alibi draw on a variety of art forms to tell their stories, with recent productions including puppetry, animation, film, photography and music. @GomitoTheatre Gomito Theatre is a collaboration between an ever-changing collection of artists. With each performance, the company aim to bring an all-age audience of story-lovers together. @pinsandneedles0 Pins and Needles Productions have gained praise for their stellar adaptations of Raymond Briggs’ work – in their review of The Bear, The Guardian said ‘move over War Horse, this polar puppet is magic’. @Bamboozlenews Bamboozle Theatre create multi-sensory theatrical experiences for young people with moderate to profound learning difficulties, and young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties. @HorseandBamboo Horse + Bamboo is a puppet and mask company that have been creating theatre for almost 40 years. As well as touring their work, the company host a programme of productions, workshops, an annual puppet festival and more at The Boo, their venue in Lancashire. @ATTtweet Action Transport Theatre put children at the heart of their creative process; each of their productions is a result of this collaboration. @wriggledance Wriggle Dance Theatre create interactive dance performances for young children and their families. Community outreach and engagement accompanies every production, to reach and introduce new audiences to. @StarcatchersUK Starcatchers is Scotland’s National Arts and Early Years organization, specializing in theatre and creative experiences and activity for children aged 0-5. @hellolittleblue Little Blue Monster have taken over from Blunderbus. East Midlands company that create shows based on popular children’s books, like Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found, and their own original stories @LongNosePuppets In just over a decade, Long Nose Puppets have created four puppet shows for children that have been performed in all sorts of places, from the National Gallery to Downing Street. @ReplayTheatreCo Based in Northern Ireland but touring internationally, Replay Theatre Company create theatre for young people under the age of 19. In 2015 they created the world’s first ever BabyDay, offering over 80 events across venues in Belfast @scamptheatre Scamp Theatre produce adaptations of hugely successful children’s literature; most recently, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler has seen Scamp bring The Scarecrows’ Wedding and Stick Man to the stage. @KazzumArts Kazzum create ‘playful theatre in unusual places’, whether that’s a festival, a shopping centre or a car park. @TheatreRites Theatre-Rites have been creating experimental theatre for children since 1995. With their ‘object-led’ theatre, Theatre-Rites have produced site responsive pieces as well as toured shows nationally and internationally.
@garlic_theatre Garlic Theatre create imaginative, sometimes surreal, highly visual puppet theatre for young audiences and their families. @ripstoptheatre Created by theatremaker Zannie Fraser, Ripstop Theatre initially produced shadow theatre for young audiences, though their work has since developed to include other forms of puppetry and storytelling, always expertly designed. @WizardPresents Wizard Presents’s hugely successful adaptations of Michael Morpurgo’s books Why The Whales Came and I Believe In Unicorns have been seen by tens of thousands of children all over the country. @fishngame Fish And Game, the Glasgow-based performance company, create shows ‘straddling theatre, live art and visual art’. Over the past few years, their polar bear-inspired shows have toured both nationally and internationally. @TellTaleHeart Tell Tale Hearts devises and tours accessible participatory theatre for children that combines installation, puppetry, performance, music and projection.
For more theatre companies and children’s theatre visit
Sian takes a bow at the end of the show with applause from the cast for her performance as Hester
The Deep Blue Sea. Axbridge Town Hall
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Hester Collyer has to choose between her stuffy wealthy husband Sir William Collyer or her washed up drunken charmer and one time fighter pilot and lover Freddie Page for whom the world stopped at the height of the Battle of Britain.
Terence Rattigan’s marital crisis drama set in 1950s London is a surprise. Not the emotionally constipationally afflicted story of stiff upper lip middle class suburbia but the eternal battles of uneven relationships in which the protagonist in the partnerships desires change.
As protagonists go Sian Tutill as the manipulative, confused and depressed Hester gave one of the best demonstrations of character acting you will see outside of professional theatre. Totally convincing from the moment she attempts to gas herself to the climactic final scene as she wrestles with the trauma that her love affair with Freddie may be over. Tutill convinces as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown – using her body, face, voice and hands – she gives a magnetic performance. Anguished and agonised with Rattigan’s articulate dialogue this is a very 21st century study of how we feel in a relationship that’s going nowhere and not the period piece it can be.
Chris Jarman as Freddie and Tony Wilson as his chummy ex RAF mate Jackie Jackson appeared to have missed the privations of 1950s’ rationing and perhaps were little too senior in years to have been so recently discharged from flying Spitfires but as voices they sounded right. In fact this would work well as a radio play as there is little action apart from the odd door slamming and clinking of whisky glasses. Despite Tutill’s dominating stage persona Jarman held his own in their powerful one to one scenes. His final pitiful emotional self flagellatorypronouncement that: “It’s written in great bloody letters of fire over our heads – ‘you and I are death to each other’” thus potentially spelling the end of the affair was delivered with feeling and to many will chime as an accurate take on relationships that have gone past their sell by date.
Maggie Stanley made a robust and believable landlady as Mrs Elton and Phil Saunders gave a strong performance as Hester’s dry old stick of a legal bigwig husband. Then there was the very odd couple in Ann and Philip Welch played by Nigel Newton (great suit) and Diane Lukins (great hair). Well, odd in the sense as to who would want these two studies in embarrassment as neighbours? Both were wonderfully awkward and suitably stiff from the moment they offered to help out at a suicide attempt and went on to say all the wrong things – bless them. As symbols of how out of touch 1950s Britain was to the issue of mental health, marital problems or expressing true feelings they couldn’t have been better.
And praise too for David Parkin as the helpful Mr Miller, bookie and sometime unofficial doctor whose Germanic accent didn’t slip and whose charm began to melt the brittle exterior of the slightly unhinged Hester. Here was a character of his time – could he have been a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany trying to make a living as a Bookie’s clerk? A nice touch from Rattigan – today he’d be more likely be a Kurd or a Syrian. He’s there as the antidote to a society obsessed with social norms – ahead of his time.
These inflections, minor characters and themes come from a playwright who in his own time could not fully be himself as he was gay. The Deep Blue Sea written in 1952 has been interpreted as a coded drama of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ but in truth it feels more like a story about grown-ups for grown-ups without gimmicks or twists of plot. A play anyone in a relationship will immediately understand.
Directed by John Bailey and produced by John Kendall this Axbridge Community Theatre version of Rattigan’s play is an excellent piece of work by the director and his cast marking a further development of the company.
It’s a long and emotional without any theatrics, and yet as the arguments unravel we see more than a glimpse of our own relationships articulated by a cast keen to highlight the dialogue that hasn’t aged and continues to give.
The play runs to Saturday, November 25th, 2017, at Axbridge Town Hall.