Thursday, 28 May 2015

A fun visit to an Oddsocks' rehearsal in Derby!

Today I was tremendously privileged to attend a rehearsal of 'Much Ado About Nothing'. It wasn't at the RSC. It wasn't at the National Theatre. It wasn't at The Globe nor Regent's Park. It didn't include bowing to Kenneth Branagh, Sir Kenneth Branagh,  or … or … those other noisy ones. It was much much better than that! Much better!  Much much better!! It was with the Oddsocks Theatre Company!!! (Expecting a super loud cheer now).

Their young producer Hope Ward-Brown took me into the hallowed rehearsal space on Green Lane, gave me a coffee and the cast and director welcomed me by name and with broad smiles (I checked my flies) and - bourbon biscuits languorously lathered with organic peanut butter. Yummy! It doesn't get better than that! It really doesn't. Forget your fancy welcoming buffet crudités and your false bonhomie of Londres. This is a real Derby welcome, duck, from a professional theatre company who take life from the fun side and make it even sunnier and funnier.


Throughout the two hours I stayed I listened with great interest as director Andy Barrow steered the cast members through their scenes and took on their suggestions as to how it might work 'Oddsocks style' and concurred with many of the performers' ideas. This is touring Shakespearian comedy brought up to date that will be performed with the emphasis on collaboration and most importantly a liberated sense of fun, musicality, grassy expanses and the occasional cosy indoor theatre.

"I can readeth my lines with mine eyes closed. Thank you. "

This is what the many admirers of Oddsocks enjoy so much when they tour: the honest connection with the original text (albeit cut ever so slightly), the energy of the performers clearly enjoying what they are doing, the inherent professionalism and their abiding love of entertainment.

Often the most entertaining values for an audience are those realised when the cast double or even treble up their roles. In Oddsock's 'Much Ado' and 'Twelfth Night' I learnt that we will have the pleasure of seeing director/actor Andy Barrow as Leonato & Malvolio, the versatile Kevin Kemp as Benedick & Toby Belch, the triple talented Rebecca Little as (drum roll) Beatrice, Maria & Viola, and the beautiful Ukulele proficient Lucy Varney as Hero & Olivia.

There's more folks. The many talented and handsome Gavin Harrison will be Don John/Don Pedro/Orsino and Andrew Aguecheek) and the lovely Peter Hoggart will impress as Claudio/Feste/Sebastian. All will be playing musical instruments in each show!  (Big round of applause for everyone please!)

I for one, and one for all, (different play Phil) will be looking forward to Oddsocks' tour this Summer where the bold, challenging and decidedly interactive company will be No Holds Bard (copyright Phil Lowe 2015)  with 'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'Twelfth Night' Check out the tour schedule HERETH.

Thanks for the invite Oddsocks  I hope that I have done you proud. Phil

Review A Skull in Connemara: Nottingham Playhouse

Make no bones about it - this production of A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh at Nottingham Playhouse is a bloody cracking play. Directed by Fiona Buffini it allows for plenty of slow burning craic in the first half and really steps up the drunken murderous pace in the second. It is also such a wonderful story with more twists and turns than a shattered pelvis bone that this reviewer feels acutely spoiler shy.

The moody set of a lonely cottage interior sitting among the darkening misty coastal hills of rural Ireland is superbly created by award winning designer Madeleine Girling. The house is finely detailed even to the point of having a fire burning in the grate and smoke rising from the chimney above. Girling also takes us to a bleak graveyard where the hero Mick (Ged McKenna) digs up human bones from the graves to make room for more bodies. This is well realised with soil coming up by the spade full and we hear a chilling cracking sound as the flimsy coffins are broken into.

A Skull in Connemara is a short play at under two hours.The scripting is super economic, genuinely funny and like McDonagh's other plays and film In Bruges it has a poetic stream of pitch black tragic comedy running through it. There is even a 'gobshite's glossary' in the programme explaining some of the Irish slang and swear words! On a serious note the play touches upon the loneliness, regret and remorse of the main character Mick Dowd who often sits alone in his cottage knocking back a potent Irish spirit made from fermented potatoes called Poteen. Getting drunk is Mick's way of dealing with the death of his wife Oona who was killed in a car crash seven years ago. Rumours about the true cause of her death have been a constant source of malign gossip in the local community. Did Mick's drunk driving kill her or was her death deliberate? It is a grave matter for all. What will they find when they dig up her bones? Is there some devilish Skulduggery going on in Connemara?


Peopled with just four actors McDonagh's play gives plenty of scope for characterisation and given that most of the time the majority of them are fall down wobbly from the Poteen they all do a brilliant job of keeping the drunken scenes real. As Mick Dowd, actor Ged McKenna pulls out all the stops (and bones) with a solid and very believable performance as the duplicitous widower. The only woman in the play is the strangely named Maryjohnny and her cunning and cadging nature is terrifically drawn out with an understated and grubby clothed presentation by actress Paddy Glynn.

Diversely motivated brothers Thomas and Mairtin (Paul Carroll and Rhys Dunlop) complete the foursome. Thomas is the local Garda who dreams of being a great police detective but fails to see the blindingly obvious criminal scenes in front of him. The dim cop is comically realised by Carroll but even his comedy has a devilishly strong vein of secret cruelty – this in a man that is supposed to represent the law abiding side of their community.

On the opposite side of the law there is naughty boy Mairtin - a cunning eejit constantly correcting his potty mouth in front of Granny Maryjohnny. Dunlop brings great energy to Mairtin's quasi likeable character and is brilliantly funny in every one of his entrances – especially the unexpected one. In fact that is what is so delightful about this rarely performed play – the aspects of the unexpected.

A Skull in Connemara abounds with deceptively simple characters and situations that draw you into their world almost as a smugly amused observer. Then just as you are toasting your toes by the lovely warm cottage fire someone throws a proverbial firework into the flames and everything you expected to happen explodes unexpectedly around you! Head to Nottingham Playhouse to see this beauty of a pitch black Irish comedy while you can. Oh and there's a biteen of swearing, so there is now.
Credit for the feel of the show should also be given to lighting designer Ian Scott, sound designer: Adam P MCready and fight director Philip D'Orleans.

Runs at Nottingham Playhouse until 6th June 2015

Review originally written for The Public Reviews website May 27th 2015

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Review of Graduate Showcase (MADD) at The Criterion Theatre London

Graduate Showcase for MADD college Nottingham students at The Criterion Theatre. May 11th 2015.

The Criterion Theatre in London's West End is one of the most beautiful and characterful theatres I have ever seen. Echoing with the energy of its current production of The 39 Steps the empty stage is set for the twenty-five young graduates of Nottingham's MADD (Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama) to showcase their triple threat talents. Industry agents sit in the circle eager to see what special talents await them. Music pulses. The house lights go down and an hour long extravaganza begins.

Directed by Emma Clayton, the showcase is a musically bright mix of ensemble numbers, solos and duets interspersed with short explosive hits of comedy and drama all knitted together with cleverly thought through transitions. The transitions give the showcase a fluid and unified feel and keep the pace going throughout.

The main ensemble numbers Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the finale number 'Transylvania Mania' – Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks) demonstrate the students highly trained professional musical focus and unselfish performances. The energy is strong in both pieces, the vocal clarity pin sharp and the two sections are choreographically tight. With only an hour to prove themselves both ends of the showcase start and finish with colourful fun and pizazz.

Then, during the show, we witness the shorter single sex ensembles both from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein. The seven guys singing 'There is Nothin' Like A Dame' all deliver spot on performances vital in a piece where just one performer with poorer diction can ruin the feel of it. Not so with these guys and they really look like they are having tremendous fun with the song and delivering it professionally.

Also from South Pacific we have the other end of the sexual argument with the eleven female performers oozing sweet femininity offset by gutsy determination with their strong rendition of 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair' . Already we have performances from two musical theatre shows from the past. In an age of theatrical entertainment, there are demands for a varied style mix of shows in the West End and throughout the UK. Where nostalgic classics can prove a real box office draw and become critical hits it is crucial that today's students are versatile enough to be able to audition and perform to suit the period nature of the piece. These Midlands based students have no fear here and can hold their best alongside the London based schools. The standard is extremely high.

Built into the programme there are short scenes from drama based works. Mostly, these are of a comedic nature and actor Benjamin Hart proves that comedy is often best done as a serious business to gain the laughs. He demonstrates his straight faced comedy best alongside the versatile Matthew Brock in Hit and Run created by David Dalton and Chad Schnackel. Holly Wathall and Jessica Gilbert are both hilarious in Sloppy Mouth and totally all out brave in the execution of the physical comedy.

Benjamin Hart
Certain comedy needs to be shown as an heightened form of reality, non-more-so than in the audition based piece 'You Laughing At Me'. In the showcase this is pulled off well by actors Savanna Darnell, Sadie Renée Malo and Frances Alicia. In a theatrical environment with an audience of theatre folk this particular piece goes down a treat especially because it is so well done, including the deliberately bad Laarndan accent.

Out of all the comedy pieces 'Over The Edge', (written by David Dalton and Chad Schnackel) performed with wit and alacrity by Leanne Storey, Harriet Guard and Francis Alicia is beautifully done. The focus on the invisible car about to be 'helped' over the edge of a cliff is so well judged one believes in the car and the comedy responses by the women when they realise the man inside isn't dead are - to die for.

Kennedy Faith
With the one serious piece of drama namely Two by Jim Cartwright actors Joshua -Kyle Cantrill and Kennedy Faith put a dangerous edge to this scary piece about chauvinistic manipulation. At times it is so unbearably cruel that one wants to leap up in protection of the woman. Of course Cartwright's writing is darkly affecting but the bravery and treatment of it by the actors and their director make it really live. Kyle Cantrill and Faith perform this piece with extremely mature and courageous performances.

Joshua Kyle-Cantrill
The modern dance performance Joie De Vie (Natalia Kills/Rihanna) fully demonstrates the commitment and talent to dance by the MADD students that brought such admiration and applause from the audience at the Move It dance expo recently. Dance done as good as this is never easy but these dedicated students make the finished result look effortless. This is due to the natural talents nurtured to a fine point by the professional training they receive at MADD college.

The showcase is littered with quality solo songs all sung to a very professional standard. Amongst these are Sondheim's 'Broadway Baby' sung by Rebecca Telling plus two numbers from Thoroughly Modern Millie –  'Gimmie Gimmie' sung by Holly Wathall and the jazzy 'Only In New York' given a great smoky vocal treatment by Summer Rozenbroek. The Calamity Jane classic 'Secret Love' is a hit for student Jessica Gilbert and Lauren Hart finds the camp humour in 'It's Hard To Tell' – Soho Cinders. She is helped by the funny interpretations of the men completing the feel of the piece.

The duets don't go by unnoticed either particularly when done with such style. Kennedy Faith with Thomas Adam Monk express well the musically challenging style of Jason Robert Brown through his wry comic song 'A Summer In Ohio'. Daniel Fuins and Matthew Brock find the total silliness in 'We Can Do It' from Mel Brooks' The Producers.

Real charisma on stage is that undefinable thing borne of natural talents encouraged and honed, coupled with an innate gift for heartfelt interpretation. In a cast of twenty-five clearly talented students destined to do the MADD college proud in the theatrical arts sector two students for this reviewer stood out. Sadie Marie – Ebbon and Savanna Darnell.

Both of them are excellent in their comedy roles but more especially in their solo songs. Sadie Marie-Ebbon pulls the heart-strings with her touching and polished rendition of Marc Shaiman's 'Fly, Fly Away – Catch Me If You Can'. In her interpretation she brings out much of the song's tender feeling. At times, during her mesmerising presentation I am reminded of a younger Frances Ruffelle. A very confident piece.

Sadie Marie Ebbon
With another song by Marc Shaiman – this time from the popular musical Hairspray - Savanna Darnell brings all of her character's smoky soul filled glamour to the stage with 'I Know Where I've Been'. Darnell is most certainly one to watch and judging from the audience's whooping and cheering reaction today they could have watched her and listened to her sing all night.

Savanna Darnell
In this sparkling and packed showcase of twenty-nine pieces featuring twenty-five young talents this reviewer can only applaud the work that has gone into its presentation at one of London's most historic theatres. It is impossible to mention everyone for everything in a short review but given the excellent professional standards experienced today many of the students could graduate and achieve lengthy careers in the arts.

Praise should also be given to Principal Frances Clayton and all the supremely dedicated staff/tutors at MADD for showing that there is great young talent to be nurtured in the Midlands.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Review: Jesús Fernández (Cádiz) at Lakeside Nottingham. Flamenco

Inspired by his home city of Cádiz - a place of over three thousand years of history - flamenco star Jesús Fernández whips up a dance storm of mesmerising complexity at Lakeside Theatre on the Nottingham University campus. In four distinct dance sequences he takes us on a nostalgic and personal view of his home town through the styles of flamenco particular to the region around Cádiz.

Fernández is a hypnotic performer with a mix of the intensity of duende burning in his soul and he shows us his attractive and cheeky masculine persona through his passionate dance. At times as his spins on the spot perspiration spins out from his soaked neck and face. There is much of drama in his dance and indeed he employs various props to aid in his interpretations like in the video clip above. The sold out show at Lakeside demonstrates the following he enjoys and the capacity audience are appreciative with applause and our admiration is palpable in its silent attention. The opportunity to witness the show is given through Flamenco Edition'15 under the artistic direction of Ana Garcia.

Choreographer and dancer Jesús Fernández is joined on stage tonight by vocally astounding Francisco Trinidad performing the vocals or Cante. At times he makes it feels like we are actually in Cádiz such is the vocal attention to detail and control of his powerful voice. Anabel Moreno accompanies the dance well with her defined art of Palmas or rhythmic percussive clapping. Israel Mera adds to the dance tempo on percussion sometimes creating a mood resonant of the sea with delicate brushing of his hands against a wooden block.

Jesús  Núñez conjures up all that is best in the Spanish guitar playing with his solo instrumentals and in his accompaniment.

Through the varied lighting effects achieved (often isolated circles or rectangular blocks of light) by lighting designer Susana Romero we can imagine the old town and narrow streets of Cádiz in this flamenco show of the same name. Even the creative use of a large fishing net at the rear of the stage reminds us of Cádiz as a very old fishing port.

Jesús  Fernández's Cádiz is an exemplary dance based show and the Lakeside Arts audience are privileged to witness this young dancer at the height of his art of flamenco. Viva Cádiz!

Link to DanceXchange for further details.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Review: Chicken Dust at Curve Leicester.

Ben Weatherill's Chicken Dust is the 2015 winner of the Curve Leicester's Playwriting Competition and was originally shown as a staged reading at the Finborough Theatre in a festival for Finborough playwrights. The ninety minute play at Curve marks the full length début of Weatherill's East Midlands based drama. It is a highlight in Curve's excellent Inside Out Festival of new theatre work. If this showing is a good indicator of creative talent then Weatherhill has a fine future in dramatic writing.


Chicken Dust is tightly directed by Chelsea Walker and the new work is helped by exemplary casting. In this very close up studio based environment, complete with a grubby formidable cage like set, (designer Cecilia Carey) the acting ranges from very subtle to accurate and often moving demonstrations of emotions. The short scenes are punctuated with a variety of sound effects created by sound designer Ella Wahlström. These are acoustic variants on a mix of panicky chicken sounds underscored with an industrial roar. Occasionally we hear lorries going by. All combined they create an atmosphere of itchy claustrophobia in which the human story of workers at the chicken farm dramatically unfolds.

The story concerns the extremes of the chicken farm which is being forced to raise more and more chickens for public consumption and the spiralling costs involved leading the farmer into increasing debts. The other costs considered in the drama are those of the human workers and their stress levels as they try to eke an existence on poor pay and even poorer health and safety conditions. In a moment of almost shocking disassociation one character even says of the chickens “You have to remember, they are not really animals.”

The six strong cast give to Chicken Dust a deeply truthful sense of reality. They portray well the rough camaraderie of the workers often returning from collecting and ramming live chickens into cages to be sent to slaughter. We also witness some dark humour from the corporate end of the business in Alexander Gatehouse's portrayal of Oscar. Gatehouse excels as the ever smiling representative of PlusFood Poultry, sometimes comically so and other times chillingly as he assists in a dismissal of a farm worker.

The single woman in the piece is Val (Paddy Navin) who we discover is an ex farmer and ex con now doing the only job she can get as a worker at the chicken farm. Navin brings out all of Val's self protecting nature, her coarse expressions with the men and her gentler side in a superbly believable performance. Christopher Hancock as new worker Tim is a likeable character who wants to do well and is taking some time out from University to earn some money and help his father. Hancock is especially convincing towards the end as he fears his life is in serious danger from his unexpected actions against the farm.

Mark Conway steals the show as Razvan the young Romanian worker who is happy to slave away on a basic wage of £6.50 per hour so he can send money home and dream of going on holiday to Ibiza. His accent is spot on and he very effectively demonstrates a tremendously dark vein of gritty humour in the man. This is especially so in the scene as he and Tim return from working a shift, their overalls covered in chicken excrement, blood and feathers stuck to their boots and Razvan laughs at Tim for feeling bilious. A great deal of thought and authenticity has gone into the costuming by costume designer Sarah Mercadé

The two older men in the play, Russ the stressed and debt ridden farmer (Paul Easom) and Freddie the blunt and embittered long serving worker (Roger Alborough) are a delight to encounter on the stage. Both actors are utterly believable in conveying the inner turmoil of their characters each faced with unexpected and unwanted life changing decisions. This too stems from the strength and honesty of Weatherill the playwright's incisive writing and no more so than the poignant scene where Russ and Freddie meet at Freddie's home. The awkwardness of two men who have gone from being friends to being very distant is superbly realised by Easom and Alborough.

Chicken Dust is altogether, a glorious, thought provoking play with very realistic performances and one that definitely deserves to be seen. This reviewer was wondering if the ninety minutes without an interval would drag. Not a bit of it. It was totally engaging and sped by faster than a chicken escaping the coop!

This review was originally published by The Public Reviews on May 3rd  2015

Photo credit: Richard Lakos.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Review: Ventoux at Curve Leicester by 2Magpies Theatre

Author Roland Barthes made a claim that the French mountain of Ventoux is a god of evil, to which sacrifices must be made. In Ventoux the one act play by Nottingham based 2Magpies Theatre they certainly make some exciting and sweaty sacrifices in the name of art. Indeed, they take pedalling theatre to a whole new meaning of brilliance and return triumphant from the mountain at the end of the play. The performance is a true tour de force.
Ventoux is a devised live performance by 2Magpies Theatre who are being mentored by New Perspectives, Curve and IdeasTap. The piece is part of the Inside Out Festival of new writing at Curve Leicester. The performance examines the rivalry of Tour De France gods Lance Armstrong (USA) and 1998 Tour champion Marco 'Il Parati' Pantini, the first, in total denial but facing major disgrace for using performance enhancing drugs in the sport of cycling and the second, now revered, eventually losing his life.

Ventoux is directed by Matt Wilks with actors Tom Barnes as Pantani and Andy Routledge as Armstrong. As the audience members arrive into the small space of studio two we witness the two characters dressed in Lycra limbering up and behaving in a repetitious and almost ritualistic manner. Two racing bikes are on stage with the back wheels off the ground supported by stands. At each end of the space are two big screens one facing the other. There is no talking in this prelude except Barnes as Pantani raising a wine bottle in the air and periodically saying “Simpson” or “Tom”. This turns out to be in honour of sports cyclist Tom Simpson who lost his life during the 1967 Tour.

When the play begins both the actors playing the American and Italian speak in their normal English voices. For the first few seconds this seems a little surprising but actually the decision to speak this way gives a better focus on the storytellers' words and loses nothing in the theatrical impact.

The play makes inventive use of some clever staging, projection, heart racing live action and film footage of the increasingly steep road up the capricious mountain. Initially we hear from each actor about their characters' childhoods and their eventual desire to become winners in the world of professional cycling. We also learn of their individuals struggles to achieve their sporting glory. The story is about the cost of great human passions as well as pedals and pumps.

During the whole performance there are constant changes in the dynamic with the bikes being ridden and manually relocated around the floor space. At times the visual aspects become very symbolic with Pantani frantically attaching small brown envelopes containing drug reports on the spokes of Armstrong's bike. At times the action becomes punishingly surreal as both performers begin to cycle barefoot towards the end of the piece.

Last portion of Ventoux
One of two major themes in the play is Armstrong's return to cycling after surviving testicular cancer and Routledge demonstrates well Armstrong's unwavering passion for his LiveStrong Foundation charity throughout. There are some wry knowing smiles from the audience as he also publicly claims to be drug free and protests the ridiculous notion that he should abuse his own clean body with performance enhancing drugs especially after his cancer survival.

The major story that we hear of is that, in the year 2000 Tour De France, leaders Armstrong and Pantani were well in front of the others on the Ventoux during the mountain stage. After three kilometres with Armstrong leading Pantani attacked late to win the stage. Armstrong didn't answer his attack, content that in thinking that he'd distanced his closest rivals and made winning his second Tour a little more certain. This and the following information is conveyed to the audience through an intriguing mix of text and visuals making the whole performance very accessible and intriguing even if you have little interest in the world of cycling. It is the human story that counts.

Thousand's of onlookers had expected Armstrong to impose himself given the historical significance of the mountain. The fact that Armstrong didn't sprint deeply offended the hot headed Italian Pantani who thought that by Armstrong giving him the stage he had failed to show proper respect to himself as a former tour winner. He never forgave Armstrong and went out of his way to make things difficult for Armstrong and his team mates over the following days at the stage towards Courcheval. This turned out to be Pantani's final win as a professional. Pantani's story is brought vividly to life by actor Tom Barnes through abstraction and direct conversations with the audience. Historically, on the 14th February 2004 Pantani died alone in a hotel as a result of a cerebral oedema and heart failure. An inquest revealed acute cocaine poisoning. He had five times the recommended levels of cocaine in his body.

Through Barnes and Routledge's fantastic story telling skills and the particular style of 2Magpies Theatre we are constantly engaged in this story of cycling rivalry. There is much stamina involved in performing such a masculine adrenalin soaked piece as Ventoux and the acting fully demonstrates the passions of the sports stars and their very human qualities and failures. Original audio commentary from the actual gruelling race up the mountain road of Ventoux is combined with the live cycling and screened visuals make this an unusual but none-the-less vibrant piece of new theatre writing and performance.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review: Beautiful Thing at Nottingham Playhouse

It is easy to forget that sometimes in an audience member's life it is the first time they have viewed a play despite it being around for a couple of decades and despite said play having a worldwide cult following. It is easy to be ignorant of why the play is such a draw to audiences whether gay or straight. On a first time viewing of Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing at Nottingham Playhouse, a play centred around an awkward blossoming and loving relationship between two young male teenagers, this reviewer finds himself initially confused at its success. Dramatically interesting yes, amusing certainly, brave even, but what is the big deal?

Beautiful Thing is set in the early 1990s and had its world première at the Bush Theatre in July 1993. The play won rave reviews from critics and audiences alike and went on to tour the following year with a short run at the Donmar Warehouse. In 1994 it made its West End début at the Duke of York's Theatre and shortly after the run work began on a screen adaptation. In 1996 Film4 Productions released the film to more acclaim and the story reached a much wider audience than all theatres combined. Beautiful Thing has gone on to be a worldwide success entertaining and enlightening audiences in Germany, Holland, The USA and Australia. It must have something going for it then, surely.
Charlie Brooks and Sam Jackson as Sandra and Jamie
This initial confusion of mine is not inferring that it is not a good play. It most certainly is and is very well written and performed with a huge amount of honesty and energy by the small cast of five. It is the second time director Nikoli Foster has directed this play set on a landing outside three homes on a rough Thamesmead council estate in South East London and the direction is acutely observed.

Any personal confusion about why the blossoming gay relationship between the teenage boys Jamie (Sam Jackson) and Ste (Thomas Law) should be such a big deal stems from my own ignorance regarding the fact that in the 1990s this relationship would have been illegal. Even more shocking to discover is the fact that the play was produced only one year after homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in Great Britain. I was genuinely shocked to learn that homosexuality was considered a mental illness. I know that people can be prejudiced but that is a whole new level of intolerance.

Now I start to understand how such a piece of theatre could be life changing and continue to inform and offer hope to the often marginalised gay, bisexual and trans members of society. My confusion is lessened even more by my further reading (excellent and invaluable programme notes by Ruth Hunt CEO of Stonewall) that states that despite some recently historical changes in the law regarding lesbian and gay relationships there is still a long way to go to total non discrimination. Bullying and violence towards these members of society still continues whilst bigotry and ignorance prevails and even the simple sight of two men holding hands in the street can provoke strong reactions in some in 2015. How must it have been in the 1990s of the story of Beautiful Thing? In some it would have offered a confirmation that their love and sexuality was being shown in a positive light. In others a chance to walk out as Mr and Mrs Disgusted at the interval and never return. Thankfully, the majority stayed put.

Gerard McCarthy and Charlie Brooks as Tony and Sandra

So, do I now consider Jonathan Harvey's play differently after my first time viewing and have a deeper understanding of the issues it addresses? Yes. I feel it is a poignant play that grows on you and helps one consider the plights and lives and loves of others that should have an equality of good fortune the same as everyone and the same socio-political rights.

The production currently at Nottingham Playhouse enthrals and moves in its drama, wickedly amuses in the comedy element and is occasionally shocking in its moments relating to causal domestic violence.

Thomas Law and Sam Jackson as Ste and Jamie

The whole cast are exceptionally strong in their character portrayals. Charlie Brooks amuses with her brash humour and is tender with her feelings towards son Jamie even when he comes out as being gay. Sam Jackson is perfect as the sensitive young man Jamie, vulnerable but brave in initiating a homosexual relationship with his friend and schoolboy neighbour Ste.

Thomas Law is heart breaking as Ste the sixteen year old; beaten but not down; in denial of his sexuality and finally hopeful in his desperate need for love and acceptance. Gerard McCarthy is wonderfully alive and enigmatic as Sandra's hippy artist lover Tony. Vanessa Babirye is frighteningly realistic in her drugged up depiction as Mama Cass reborn and totally convincing generally in the complex role as the mixed up neighbour Leah. There are still references in the play to 1990s television personalities and jokes about them are thoroughly enjoyed by the Nottingham Playhouse audience.

The Brutalism inspired set design (Colin Richmond both set and costume design) allows for fast changes and creative interpretation of the piece and adds considerably to the atmosphere of the piece. Ben Cracknell's (lighting design) and George Dennis's (sound) enhance the whole experience.

Vanessa Babirye as Leah

There is a lot of fun and food for thought in Beautiful Thing, a play that doesn't posture as a gay play but provides hope and enlightenment for those who need its nourishment. Beautifully done.

Review originally published by The Public Reviews on 29th April 2015

Photo Credit Anton Belmonte.

Beautiful Thing plays at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 9th May. See this LINK for booking.