The Recruiting Officer: Captain Brazen and Captain Plume about to cross swords

Rapscallion Magazine Theatre Review: From the first performance of a play in Australia to Laurence Olivier in  the NT’s ‘63 production, George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer still packs them in – even in a field in Somerset

Theatre Review: The Recruiting Officer. School Fields, Badgworth, Somerset

Convicts in Australia regained their self-esteem by acting in George Farquhar’s play about sex, Shrewsbury and soldiers, when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, as The Recruiting Officer is a window into the cynical and nakedly humorous motives of men and women in search of love, status and money.

First produced in 1706 the Restoration Comedy is the story of officers using the recruitment of new soldiers as a chance for womanising and corruption. And the women they are after are just as wily as the uniformed protagonists. The drama hinges on misunderstandings, cross-dressing and cynical attempts to get rich through marriage with true love triumphing in the end.

Rose with her basket of chicken in The Recruiting Officer

Rain and Shine’s production mixes high comedy with Anthony Young enjoying himself as Melinda’s comically opportunist maid and the wonderfully foppish Rob Keeves as Captain Brazen with authentic power dressing costumes and military accessories.

With just seven in the cast director Jonathan Legg made good use of the entrances and exits, and 18th century outfits and wigs to define the stock characters. Emily Morozow was excellent value as the rich heiress Melinda and was equally committed to playing the haughty wench Rose, managing to inject a spicy venom into her character’s lines and body language.

Left: Anthony Young as an unlikely maid

Ian Alldis as the towering NCO Sergeant Kite barked his orders with military grade decibels while the versatile John Cooper-Evans played three roles as Thomas Appletree, Mr Worthy and Valentine Steward, defining each part with clarity.

Pippa Meekings had the most fun as the heroine Sylvia Balance who is enthralled with the handsome Captain Plume played by the dashingly good-looking Ashley Shiers by donning a moustache and breeches and returning as Jack Wilful. A handsome couple indeed.

Recruiting under way

Written more than a century after Shakespeare’s heyday The Recruiting Officer has remained a popular comedy despite the two-dimensional characters and complex plotting. It’s core theme of seeking a better life through hitching up with someone of a higher status due to their wealth and good looks is as universal as the competing contestants in ITV’s Love Island or Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle.

Pippa Meekings as Sylvia

The public’s appetite for handsome men in uniform, glamorous women, class, romantic rivalry and love triangles remains as strong today in Badgworth’s School Gardens as it did in the National Theatre’s 1963 production with Laurence Olivier as Brazen and in Botany Bay in 1787 when the transported convicts re-discovered their humanity in performing theatre.

Harry Mottram

The play is on tour until September in outdoor venues across England this summer. For a full list, tickets and information visit


Betrayal runs at the Bath Theatre Royal until October 31, 2020

Pinter’s Betrayal is a neatly constructed drama of tangled relationships (all based on his affair with Joan Bakewell) and is boozy and blokish – and is a welcome return of live theatre in Bath

Blokish and boozy, Harold Pinter’s 1978 story of tangled relationships seems at once dated and yet convincing in the selfishness of Jerry and Emma.

Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s the ménage à trois features Jerry’s affair with Emma, who is married to his best friend Robert. Famously played out in reverse chronology meaning the play begins at the end and ends at the beginning, Jonathan Church’s production remains faithful to the period setting of Ercol furniture and plastic settees.

Nancy Carroll as Emma

Nancy Carroll as Emma with her sweep of blonde hair and 1970s wedge heels was the believably beautiful lover of two men at the same time. Despite the snogging and declarations of love, in retrospect, neither Jerry (Edward Bennett) or Robert (Joseph Millson) seemed up to the sexual chemistry required to adore Emma. Not because of their acting but because of the misogynistic tone and out of date sexism that jars with a contemporary audience. In short it was hard to see the attraction – other than their power and privilege in the wealthy literati London scene of Pinter’s world.

Alex Eales’ rotating set allowed for swift changes from bedroom to pub, from restaurant to living room with an economy of movement and maximum of period detail. Coupled with Joshua Carr’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’ sound and music the production was a joy to behold in its style and setting.

The play features a great deal of snogging – without a mask in sight!

Whether the actors wanted to get to the Garrick’s Head next door as quickly as possible for some real drinks rather than the pretend booze they knocked back on stage is hard to tell. As Pinter’s famous theatrical pauses between conversations were generally shorter than usual meaning the production knocked five minutes off the running time.

A masked up audience – only about a third of the normal capacity – appreciated the play with lengthy applause at the final curtain – the first in the Theatre Royal Bath’s Welcome Back Season. For theatre goers denied for so long live performances due to Covid-19 rules it was just so good to be back.

The Theatre Royal Bath production runs until October 31.

Harry Mottram

Four Stars

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Mother and daughter. Christine Fang Thaisa and Maev Lowe as Simonida. Pic: Craig Fuller.

RAPSCALION MAGAZINE Theatre Review: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s streamed performance of Shakespeare’s rarely staged play Pericles, is highly impressive and performed in Covid-19 safe conditions in a very 2020 production

Tyre escaped the devastation of the explosion at the docks in Lebanon’s capital Beirut resulting death, destruction and upheaval in the East Mediterranean country.

The play begins and ends with symbolic candles. . Pic: Craig Fuller.

But the events in the jointly penned play by Shakespeare and possibly George Wilkins are no less dramatic since they involve incest, death, shipwrecks, brothels and famine. Running at over two hours the drama is aimed at the purists and those with an interest in Jacobean theatre and how it interpreted the Classical World. And it’s a showcase for the students at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Pericles is a story of incest, sexual slavery and redemption. . Pic: Craig Fuller.

Slashing much of the original script this new production written by Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power, and directed by Aaron Parsons puts pace into a complex story of Pericles and his journeys. Briefly the adventurer goes on the run from the sadistic Antiochus after he twigs the king is sleeping with his daughter. He flees to another city where he marries the daughter of the ruler, before further twists in the convoluted plot in the story sees him eventually (spoiler alert) reunited with his wife and daughter.

The play was filmed at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol. . Pic: Craig Fuller.

A filmed play is a very different audience experience as the atmosphere created by live theatre evaporates in the lens of the video camera. Without the techniques of cinema in which each sequence can be filmed many times and from different angles the drama inevitably suffers. However the creative team led by Dave Taylor along with Tim Newton plus camera operators Richard Maxwell, Maya Barker and Elkie McCrimmon, did their best to keep the attention of the viewer using a variety of shots from tracking to close ups and to wider angles to reveal the action. An art form in itself the film blended (together with the work of sound editor Ollie Wareham) together seamlessly at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol to create a production that students of the play will find invaluable.

Pericles is one Shakespeare’s romance plays. . Pic: Craig Fuller.

It’s a classical production with one very 2020 innovation. I had the inclusion in the team behind the show of a Covid officer in Hebe Perry who must have influenced the design as there were several hand washing and mask wearing moments. With social distancing in both rehearsals and performance, inevitably there is a feeling of distancing in the production with the usual intimacy between actors missing. Considering all the burdens placed on live theatre by the Covid-19 regulations it is something of a minor miracle that the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Pericles has been staged at all.

Presented in effectively a black box there are few props or changes of scenery. It allows the viewer to concentrate on the actors and the classical and colourful costumes (Sophia Chan and Summer York) which help to define their characters.

Pic: Craig Fuller.

The titular character Pericles is played by two actors with the role split between a tousled hair Lewis McDonald in part one and a stern looking Kamil Borowski in part two as the older Pericles with both giving passion and voice to the wronged protagonist. Pericles is put through the mixer and both actors gave full voice to his emotions in this romance told in part by John Gower (Jason Keller). Pericles’ love interest Thaisa is played by a seductive Christine Fang and his lost daughter Marina by an on form Alexandra Nedved.

Highlights included some beautiful Classic Greek inspired dancing with a terrific sequence from the men in Pentapolis all choreographed by Jonathan Howell and also when Pericles accompanies the singing of Kat Reeves.

Superb costumes mark this production. . Pic: Craig Fuller.

Maev Lowe as Simonida, the good Queen of Pentapolis, is commanding in her exchanges with Pericles giving an air of executive power and matronly protectiveness to her daughter Thaisa.

The fishers who help Pericles are enjoyably played in a rustic way by James Austin and Kirsten Helen while Devante Lawrence as Lysimachus, Laura Bernas as Calliope, Lynn Favin as Leonine and Siobhan Galpin as Dionyza complete an impressive cast of overseas students studying for a Masters in Fine Arts in acting at the school.

Harry Mottram

The play is on YouTube from September 22, 2020, for approximately two weeks.

The play can be viewed online at

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John Hopkins as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Theatre Review: From monochrome to full colour and from ‘Bah Humbug’ to ‘Merry Christmas’, Bristol Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol combines music, movement and humour in a refreshingly creative take on Charles Dickens’ story of redemption

It’s a dark and dangerous world in Lee Lyford’s steam punk inspired musical version of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. A world where children die from preventable diseases, families go hungry and Scrooge’s deaf clerk Bob Cratchit (an animated Stephen Collins) could be summarily dismissed for signing the words ‘Happy Christmas.’

In a full-on spectacular show laced with a witty and humour laden script by Tom Morris the Grade I listed theatre with its proscenium arch stage, decorative columns and boxes is the perfect setting for a production that revels in a murky and mysterious 19th century London.

Gwyneth Herbert as Ghost of Christmas Present
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

The protagonist Scrooge played by John Hopkins dressed as a smart Victorian businessman has the best lines and gets the most laughs with his comic timing and a voice that can open a petty cash box at fifty paces. He is on exceptional form as he sweeps us along in his redemptive journey as the spirits of Christmas bring terrifying visions of his past, present and future lives.

John Hopkins and Shane David-Joseph in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Beginning in monochrome and ending in bright and vivid colours the drama’s designs by Tom Rogers are one of the highlights. With its backdrop of scaffolding mixed with period doors and windows, a removable Gothic stairway and an ornate four poster bed, it creates a visual feast of at turns Victoriana and modernist urban chic. Anna Watson’s lighting injects power, mood and contrast as the action moves from Scrooge’s bedside to snow swirling streets, and poignant moments with life-sized child puppets to large scale ensemble scenes where action and music are to the fore.

Harry Bird, Mofetoluwa Akande in A Chrismas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Gwyneth Herbert as the Spirit of Christmas Present gets the party started with a fabulous operatic voice and stylish red suit and horned white wig, together with musicians Christophe Capewell and Harry Bird in black and white carnival-esque style outfits. Marley played by Ewan Black in a Beetlejuice inspired costume seemed quite possessed in his committed and slightly manic performance while Shane David-Joseph as kindly happy Freddie added boyish good humour, Christmas cheer and short trousers in contrast to Ebenezer’s dissing of festive fun. But Freddie is also the link back to Scrooge’s beloved sister Little Fan (Rebecca Hayes) who died too young causing him to turned him in on himself and reject the outside world.

Rebecca Hayes as Little Fan in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Some of the best moments are the deathbed scenes, the scenes in bed, in chairs and on stepladders – along with some real shocks like when Scrooge vanishes in a puff of dry ice and a swirling black cloak and when Marley’s face appears on the door knocker. Stagecraft at its best.

Should there have been more female actors – possibly – as although George Readshaw’s Sue Cratchit and Steve Collin’s Mrs Fezziwig were enjoyable there seemed a lack of gender balance. And were there some slightly over long sequences in places – perhaps. While is the show a bit too spooky for very young children – well it depends on the child I guess.

Mofetoluwa Akande was an emotionally charged and beautiful Belle (Scrooge’s lost love) and Rebecca Hayes was wonderfully energetic and expressive with all of her dressing room full of characters.

With children drawn onto the stage as Tiny Tim to melt your heart and the use of sign language as another break through moment for Scrooge as he changes from a penny-pincher to lovable uncle there are many enjoyably surprising moments.

Ewan Black as Marley in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Mood, movement and choreography wove the whole production seamlessly together combined with Gwynesth Herbert’s songs and musical arrangements that gave it an atmosphere that was only punctuated by the final curtain. A fabulous updated revival of the 2018 production of the adaption, about the power of love and the importance of redemption, in a refreshingly original take on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

Harry Mottram

The Bristol Old Vic in at Christmas production. Runs to Sunday, January 12, 2020.

For tickets visit or phone the box office on 0117 9877877.

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Jodie Davey as Snow White

Theatre Review: A very different Snow White at the Tobacco Factory as she wears a poncho and meets seven mathematically challenged vegan woodland people (rather than dwarfs) – but her step-mother is definitely delightfully evil

Theatre Review: Snow White, Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol

Step into the alternative world of director Alex Byrne’s Snow White, where vegan woodland folk can’t count up to seven and mirrors sing the truth to you about your fading looks. A place where there are no dwarfs or glass coffins and the dark Bavarian forest is represented by a few sticks designed by Stefanie Mueller and enhanced by Trui Malten’s lighting.

Creative, distinctive and politically correct this version of the tale has no obvious links to the imagery in popular culture of the Disney version of the folk story popularised by the Brothers Grimm. Instead we have an unreconstructed Tobacco Factory Theatre take on the story of jealousy, rivalry and female hierarchy told in an agreeably stripped down 21st century way.

The woodland folk in the production

Those hoping for a pantomime version or a glossy movie style play may be disappointed. Is it too dark or grown up for very young children to take in: perhaps. However the children watching the drama unfold looked transfixed by the protagonist Snow White’s struggle to survive in the forest as she escapes from her delightfully wicked step-mother brought stylishly to life by designer and actor Stefanie Mueller.

The strength of the production lies in its wit and humour, and the ensemble nature of the musicians who transform into the various characters as the story develops. Musical arrangements and composition are inspired and uplifting due to the work of Elliot Davis and Joey Hickman with all the musicians switching musical instruments with deft choreography.

Stefanie Mueller as the wicked step-mother consults the magic and musical mirror

In writer Mike Tweddle and Rina Vergano’s production the anti-hero Snow White (Jodie Davey) rejects the stereotypical version of her titular goodie-goodie domestic slave who whistles while she works. Instead we have someone who doesn’t agree with killing animals for fur and loves vegetables. Is she a bit wet – possibly – but she is a good person – as is her friend the mentally tortured hunter (Abayomi Oniyide) who struggles to obey his order to kill her.

In his notes the director speaks of boundaries, social responsibility and of each generation taking ownership of their world. So rather than just a simple story of good vs evil and female rivalry there are messages about the environment and the ethics of lifestyle. Worthy yes, a bit clunky maybe – but then this isn’t a show filled with stardust and high tech special effects. Humour and music are to the fore which enthralled the audience who gave the cast a standing ovation for the two hour long show.

Snow White is tormented by her step-mother

Joey Hickman, Alex Murdoch and Richard De Winter completed the ensemble cast giving a fresh and amusing take on the magic mirror and those vegan woodland folk who can’t count to seven. It’s a highly entertaining and musical production which connects with the audience and also makes you think.

Harry Mottram

Snow White is a Tobacco Factory Theatres, New International Encounter and Cambridge Junction co-Production.

It runs to January 19, 2020.

For details visit: or call 0117 902 0344

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