Tag Archives: tobacco factory theatres

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – REVIEW: Violent, noisy and shocking – why older school children should see the Tobacco Factory’s production of Macbeth in Bristol (and witness how power and ambition can go horribly wrong)

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Dinner party from hell: Lady Macbeth was played by Katy Stephens. Photos all by Mark Dawson

Macbeth. Tobacco Factory, Bristol. Age: 10+

The noise, the violence and the flickering lighting: the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s production of Macbeth is not for the faint hearted. Which is why school children and students should see Shakespeare’s tragedy stripped back to its core emotions in a visceral and violent production.

However there are a couple of problems which hamper its success: the gravel and the sound. The performance area is covered in a thick layer of dark gravel which works as a base for the battle, murder and outdoor scenes but hampers anything indoors. It soaks up the sound, dampens the acoustics and gets everywhere. And if you are Lady Macbeth in her six inch heels it’s a potential hazard. The sound effects and sound scape music are often too loud and out of touch with the words as happens in the Porter’s ‘who’s-that-knocking’ scene when her words are eclipsed by the irritating high decibel banging.

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The Macbeths entertain

Those points aside director Adele Thomas’ production is filled with action as the drama races along at pace interspersed with some of Shakespeare’s most famous poetry and speeches. Katy Stephens as Lady Macbeth was wonderfully unhinged and was clearly the driving force in the relationship although the chemistry with a slightly stiff Macbeth (Jonathan McGuiness) was uneven at times despite her passion. Banquo (Aaron Anthony) was suitably heroic while Joseph Tweedale as Macduff had the right amount of honour and confusion as he wrestles with the unsettling conflicts sown by the actions of the Macbeths.

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Action: Jonathan McGuinness and Aaron Anthony

Having children cast within the play accentuates the horror of the murder of Macduff’s son and wife (Maggie Bain) as well as the brutality of Banquo’s death as young Fleance escapes. Praise be for the young actors: Lila Howe, Polly Leach, Benjamin Pleat and Thea Underwood. Praise also for the fight scenes and in particular the battle between Macbeth and his nemesis Macduff choreographed by Kevin McCurdy. And more praise for the way the witches are portrayed with use of Gaelic, ghostly white gowns and the strange glowing white cube which crystalized their predictions and the final destruction of Macbeth himself.

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The Macbeths mix passion, violence and blood lust into a heady mixture of wild behaviour which all goes wrong

A blisteringly brutal, viscerally violent and refreshingly modernist production that should be seen by all students of English, drama and psychology – and indeed anyone interested in the state of the human mind.

Harry Mottram

The play continues until April 7, 2018.

For more details visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com

For more theatre suitable from children visit Children’s Theatre Magazine published online at www.harrymottram.co.uk and at Flossie’s website in London at https://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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.

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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/

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


CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – PREVIEW: A universal story of a misfit duckling on a journey of self discovery by Travelling Light at the Tobacco Factory this festive season

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Originally published by Hans Christian Anderson in 1843 the story of the Ugly Duckling is considered to be the work of the Danish author known for collecting and writing folk and fairy stories. It is a universal coming of age story which tells of how an odd looking duckling is teased and bullied for looking different but eventually emerges as a swan. In this Travelling Light production originally directed by Sally Cookson the story features the theatre company’s trademark joyful and moving style of storytelling, with live music from Benji Bower. The director for this production is Craig Edwards.

The show runs from Sun 10 – Fri 15 December 10.30am, and Fri 15 December 2.30pm – Sun 14 January 2018. There’s a relaxed performance on Tue 02 January 1.30pm. Running Time approx. 45mins. Age Recommendation 2+ and their families. For tickets visit tobaccofactorytheatres.com; Tobacco Factory Theatres, Raleigh Road, Southville, Bristol BS3 1TF.

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 Ancient folk tale of a beautiful daughter and a mysterious beast in a dark forest set for Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre

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

Beauty – or rather Belle – is played by Sara Lessore in this production at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol

Although film versions may cloud the imaginations of audiences for the Tobacco Factory’s Christmas season production of Beauty and the Beast the original story is likely to have evolved several thousand years ago. One theory is that its original theme may be a collective folk memory of our encounters with Neanderthals as we populated Europe after the last Ice Age. How true that is up for debate but like most fairy stories its roots lie in the dark forests of an ancient world. Then wild animals were to be feared, hunted and revered – often being given human characteristics.

The universal story became crystallised when it was incorporated and retold in France in the 18th century in a collection of stories penned by Gabrielle-Suzanne Bardot de Villeneuve after which several versions were published by various authors. Each time the story was embellished by the new writer it was in order to satisfy the growing expectations of potential readers with an eye on sales. Themes include animalistic fantasies associated with ancient folk stories, arranged marriages, sibling jealousy, the desire for wealth and luxury, of not judging people on their looks and of goodness eventually triumphing over evil. These remain at the core of the story but the back story to Beauty’s life as a child in a large family, whether or not she has a suitor before meeting the Beast, and also how the Beast is actually portrayed, vary throughout the numerous TV and film version.

A red rose is the one ingredient that has remained constant within the narrative – a gift of dramatists and designers of posters and programmes. Beauty lives with her impoverished family after their father’s business collapses. He meets the wealthy Beast and makes a promise that his daughter will marry him in order to restore the family fortunes. Beauty’s only wish is not for luxuries but for a red rose as they don’t grow where she lives. Following her visit to the Beast’s house she secretly wishes to return home despite the Beast’s hospitality and romantic overtures. She returns home with a magic mirror and ring. The mirror allows her to see the Beast is dying of heart ache so she returns to the Beast but discovers he is in fact a handsome prince who has been turned into a monster by a magic spell. OK – that’s some of the content of the story – there are several variations so it will be interesting to see this one. The publicity image shows the actor playing Beauty along with a forest and red rose – so those are featured – and it should be said the actor is of course beautiful.

Last year’s dark retelling of Cinderella by the theatre was criticised by this magazine for being aimed too much at adults and being too scary for small children so it will be interesting to see if this play reaches out to five years olds. Directed by Alex Byrne with musical direction by Elliot Davis the cast features Martin Bonger as the Beast and Sara Lessore as Beauty – or rather Belle – the name given to the protagonist in most versions. The Tobacco Factory Theatre has teamed up with New International Encounter and Cambridge Junction for this “mischievous and music-filled co-production.”

It runs from Thursday, 30 November 2017 to Sunday 14 January 2018.

Harry Mottram

Age: 5+

To book tickets or for more information visit https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/beauty-and-the-beast/

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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