Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: East is East (touring) Theatre Royal Nottingham July 2015


The first thing that impresses is the amazingly realistic and yet theatrical set for this sterling production of East is East directed by Sam Yates. The brick work on the house walls is super real in texture and depth and the whole space has a very lived in atmosphere redolent of the early 1970s back to back slums of Salford before the slum clearance programmes a decade later. Designer Tom Scutt has done a superb job in realising the whole effect and allowing for creativity within it. With the bombed out side walls looking like they might crumble away any second the whole effect is of survival in difficult surroundings and that duly reflects the whole mood of this funny and moving play. All the coal black doors are designed as outside privy doors and get plenty of usage as the cast make rapid entrances and exits that become almost the percussive heart beat of the play.

The cast of eleven are a ball of collective energy throughout, constantly re-realising the stage space through their positioning and rapid placement of furniture and go from funny to violent to angry and frustrated and intermittently to loving all on the turn of a silver shilling. The changing moods are also enhanced by Richard Howell's elegant lighting design.

Pauline McLynn and Simon Nagra shine as the English wife Ella to Pakistani husband George Khan and the penultimate scene of violence between them is hard to watch. George Khan is a tyrannical father to their seven children one of whom we never see but is hated by the father for having left home to pursue a life out of reach of his 'respect me or else I kill you - you bastard' tirades. He is a man of his generation and background, antiquated in his enforcement of unquestioning total respect for the father and totally blind to the alienation he causes in his family. He idealises his home country and is also fearful of what the uprisings and violence in Pakistan will have on his culture and religion and ultimately his family that he purports to love.

Ayub Khan Din's incredible play works on many levels and throughout the audience is gripped and swept along as they laugh at the many comedic goings on and gasp at the raw reality of the Khan family bickering and making up. The language is fruity, funny, demanding and a true culture shock when the shit finally hits the proverbial fan in the second half. The acting from all the cast is utterly perfect and this reviewer would highly recommend a visit to this exemplary piece of theatre currently playing at Theatre Royal Nottingham.

Originally published by Nottingham Live on Tuesday 28th July 2015

Say Sum Thin 9 review at Nottingham Playhouse


This year's spoken word festival 'Say Sum Thin 9' at Nottingham Playhouse on 25th July must be the best ever. With a total of thirty plus events and workshops happening throughout the day there was plenty to keep any poet, would be playwright, word smith, rapper and even circus skills enthusiast happy for hours.
 
 

The entirety of the Nottingham Playhouse building has been given over to the event run by Nottingham's poetry collective The Mouthy Poets. This year's theme is Carnival and the grand opening starts off with a parade of colourful costumed dancing by Hyson Green's talented Zodiac Allstars Dance Troupe. DJs and musicians supplied the day long musical atmosphere on the theatre atrium.



The interior of the Playhouse is superbly decorated in a glittering display of brightly coloured fabrics and shapes plus masks and fabulous headdresses supplied by City Arts. With a plethora of workshops to attend I chose to observe a very popular workshop run by playwright Nick Wood. Situated on the Playhouse stage, it was an inspiring session culminating with professional actors reading the participants scripts.



The Mouthy Poets had two main shows happening in the event. The smaller afternoon show was delivered in the Neville Studio and showed off some incredibly mature performance poetry talents and allowed opportunities to others to show their skills through open mic. The jam packed evening show brought the day to a fantastic close through locally written poetry that carried the carnival theme in many different and emotionally engaging poems that not only used spoken word but cleverly incorporated a variety of multimedia and dramatics.



Originally published in the EG section of Nottingham Post newspaper. Monday 27th July.


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review. Much Ado About Nothing. Oddsocks at Nottingham Castle


To this reviewer's memory Shakespeare's sunny comedy Much Ado About Nothing set in sun drenched Messina has no references to rain in the text. So no 'the rain it raineth every day' no '… falleth as the gentle rain' no '… thunder, lightening nor in rain' and saddest of all no ' You say that you love the rain but you open your umbrella when it rains. You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines'.

Thus so, it is down to the talented Oddsocks cast to add as many 'rain' and 'wet' jokes on their rain soaked stage as they perform their wacky version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at Nottingham Castle. The best of all must be Hero's (Lucy Varney) parting ad lib as she is jilted at the altar by Claudio (Peter Hoggart). Distraught and confused by Claudio's rebuff and abuse on her wedding day she storms off with her quip of annoyance “And it rained!” hanging in the air.

A slightly longer play than their gloriously funny Twelfth Night production playing as part of their summer season and, in some respects a slightly less zany show, Oddsocks' Much Ado retains much of Shakespeare's clever word play and yet is still as playful and inventive.




As the rain pours down on the wet but undaunted audience there are laughs a plenty and the verbal sparring between Benedick (Kevin Kemp) and Beatrice (Rebecca Little) is done with much wit. Actor Gavin Harrison constantly amuses as he quadruples up in the quick change roles of Don Pedro, Don John, The Sexton and Friar Francis. Peter Hoggart and Lucy Varney as loved up Claudio and Hero go for possibly the longest stage kiss in the history of theatre. Leonato performed by Andy Barrow is in turns hilarious and threatening and shares the same penchant as his Twelfth Night character Malvolio for revealing his under garments and this time his muscular torso as he wrestles with Claudio. Oddsocks style of adding in modern pop songs works particularly well in this version and the songs and music are delivered with panache.

Interval

Oddsocks always introduce their play with an outdoor theatre flourish and introduce each other by their actor alter egos with names only the totally daft pun based English sense humour could make up; Will Barrow, Miles Power, Penny Sillen, Doug Witherspade, Ophelia Rarse and Arthur Petesake.


 

An energetic, downright silly, utterly professional and totally inventive theatre company Oddsocks have a devoted fan base all over the country. That same fan base and newcomers to the Oddsocks scene all have one thing in common – well two things – they don't care about the rain if they are being royally entertained and – they really love it when the actors single them out and nick their cheese!

This rather damp evening the Oddsocks company even applauded the audience for staying to the end and as the final claps disappeared into the night air the rain finally stopped.



#BritpopBard
@Oddsockstweets

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review of Oddsocks Twelfth Night on tour at Nottingham Castle


Twelfth Night or What You Will is Shakespeare's only play with a double title and Oddsock's brilliantly funny touring adaptation coupled with the addition of live pop songs and utter silliness will have you doubling up with laughter and falling off your folding chair on to your picnic hamper!



The main plot is that Shakespeare's characters of Viola and Sebastian are brother and sister twins separated by misfortune at sea and the audience are required to believe that they could be misunderstood for each other. Countess Olivia is grieving over the loss of her brother whom she has sworn to mourn for seven whole years before considering any man as a lover. Viola meanwhile believes that her brother Sebastian has drowned after their ship capsized on the shores of Illyria. The main action of this play resolves this dual loss and a sub plot revolves around the haughty and prudish Malvolio – steward to Olivia. He is tricked in thinking that the woman he serves is secretly in love with him and the play finishes with him being further ridiculed and love eventually conquering all. Malvolio's last words are “I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular and mature comedies and examines human urges including sex, food, drink and revenge and higher longings for justice and love. Well that is the story for the Shakespeare purists; the same purists who are not sat on the grass at Nottingham Castle thoroughly enjoying some great entertainment courtesy of OddsocksTheatre Company.

And now over to the real review...

As part of their nationwide summer tour Oddsocks are performing their completely daft and highly entertaining versions of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing and from the 22nd to 25th July they are holding a merry court in the leafy grounds of Nottingham Castle. Their style is bordering on Panto and the packed grass seating area is full of families complete with their young children utterly enjoying the brilliantly comical nature of Oddsocks' story telling. How often do children in the audience of a Shakespeare play get a chance to pelt Malvolio with wet sponges? Well, they do in this one. The kids couldn't wait to get to on stage!

Such silliness prevails throughout the whole evening, the performers drop in and out of character, ad lib like crazy and even rail at a passing plane mid speech. The comic timing is spot on and all of the group sing and play musical instruments with Brit Pop Bard bravura. And that's not easy to say!

All of the cast double up in various roles with the exception of Lucy Varney as a sparky Olivia. A newcomer to Oddsocks, Varney appears to be having the time of her theatrical life and this infectious nature of fun is evident in all of the Oddsocks cast. Andy Barrow revels in his delightfully comical role as the droll and pompous Malvolio and encourages the audience to suggest an accent for his one line priest character. Peter Hoggart appears occasionally as the lost brother Sebastian and keeps the energy going as a black wigged rocking Lord of Misrule Feste the clown. The cost of the wigs alone in this production must be hair raising!

Taking the brunt of the action and songs is Rebecca Little as Viola and Maria and Viola's male alter ego Cesario. Little is no stranger to Nottingham audiences as she has been in the Nottingham Playhouse annual panto for the last sixteen years as well as reprising her roles with Oddsocks. Her pedigree shows in abundance as she delightfully sings and clowns her way throughout the show.

Gavin Harrison as Duke Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek is charmingly bonkers (a dual requirement of performing with Oddsocks methinks) in both roles but particularly funny in his drunken scenes with show stopper Kevin Kemp as the perpetually playfully paralytic (not easy to say either) heavy metal loving Sir Toby Belch. Kemp's performance has to be several of the highlights of Oddsocks' Twelfth Night.

Well, say 'What You Will' Twelfth Night by Oddsocks is one of the funniest evenings this reviewer has ever spent watching theatre outdoors. I will definitely be returning on Friday for their Much Ado About Nothing!


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Passionate about Poetry. Interview with Deborah 'Debris' Stevenson.


In order to learn more about the upcoming Spoken Word Festival at Nottingham Playhouse writer Phil Lowe arranged to meet up with Deborah 'Debris' Stevenson, founder of The Mouthy Poets, to talk about their upcoming extravaganza – Say Sum Thin 9. This is a whole day of performance, music, creative workshops and live poetry at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 25th July 2015. The spoken word festival begins at 12 noon and finishes at 10pm and Deborah was as passionate as ever to expound upon the events and the organisation behind them. This is the first time such a large event has been organised through Nottingham's The Mouthy Poets. Deborah elaborated.
 
 
 

“Every Summer we put on a big Mouthy Poets show that generally takes up a large amount of the Playhouse. We have an afternoon show plus an evening show. So, in an infrastructural sense, yes we have had similar shows. However, in our previous Say Sum Thin shows we have had one head-liner and the event programming has only been for three or four hours. The difference with this year is that it is a full on festival. Rather than having one head-liner we have a hundred plus artists including dancers, rappers, Sheep Soup theatre company, Nonsuch Theatre, Zodiac All Stars, a dance group of fifty plus young people, Harry Baker and many others. It is packed with international and local artists all happening in one space and every single space is non stop programming from 12pm to 7pm. Then we have this massive evening show in the main auditorium which is packed full of artists including Mouthy Poets plus a separate Mouthy Poets matinee. It's bigger and better and certainly more of a festival than we have ever put on before. How can I put it? Similar - times a hundred, basically!”



There is no denying the passion behind the event. Deborah further explained that Nottingham's Mouthy Poets meet every Friday. As a collective of fifty people and through their management team, interns and the young people in the company, together they organise and programme the event. This also empowers the young poets into making real life decisions and promotes their motivation within the poetry collective. Deborah picked up with how it was all germinated this year.

“I guess really, communally, the seeds were started in January this year when I started booking artists but the intensive community organising aspect has probably been ongoing since April. I'm crazy happy with everything so far! The programming is really exciting. The standards of the two separate Mouthy shows is really inspiring and thrilling. I think because the ambition of the programming is so high our young poets are rising to the challenge.



As part of the programme we have got a poets vs. rappers battle with a local organisation called Clash Money and we've got a play writing workshop with internationally known children's playwright Nick Wood put on by Nottingham Playhouse. In that workshop people will be making a play during the day and then there will be a rehearsed reading in the afternoon of those fresh new plays. To mix up the creativity we are going to have a foraging room which will have loads of fresh plants and up-cycled jewellery and other products. Flex Records have a 'paint something' workshop and then City Arts are showing a 'flexibition'. The whole space is being dressed by City Arts with all their carnival art. Additionally, we are making giant poetry games during the day and teaching book binding too. It is so massive that the young Mouthy Poets have felt like they need to step up to that and so, not to ruin anything too much, we have UV lights with poetry being done in the pitch black with illuminated elements. Personally I am stepping into a whole new genre by doing a grime rap track through my own music.”

The Say Sum Thin 9 event sounded like huge commitment and Deborah continued with her passionate explanation, concluding...

“We are all working to a maximum capacity at the moment. We all keep laughing and we all keep pushing towards excellence. I must say that working with new art forms cross pollinating creatively between poets, musicians, dancers, rappers and others is so stimulating and challenging in a good way. It has really energised us all and as we don't have much money everyone that is getting involved is doing so for artistic reasons. Those creatives involved are excited to make a painting live with poetry and children; they are excited to make a play live with fifty people and then share it; they are excited about all the live creativity that they can offer on the day and beyond. I think the people of Nottingham will be excited too and we welcome everyone and their families on the day. What we are getting out of it is the sharing and engaging the public with our spoken word art or art in alternative forms and enjoying that interaction as artists with the public themselves. Our Mouthy Poets ambition is to fill that main auditorium with people enjoying the huge variety of creative work being shown at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 25th.”


 New programme information hot off the press! Click on timetable below for clearer image.




Thursday, 16 July 2015

Review: The Wiz. Lakeside Nottingham University.


The latest offering from New Street Theatre currently playing at the Lakeside Theatre in the grounds of Nottingham University is The Wiz and is directed by Martin Berry. Berry is a talented and passionate professional director who likes to shake things up a little theatrically and this time he brings his magic touch to bear by bringing the American story to Nottingham with a little touch of Kansas thrown in for Dorothy's sake.

The storyline is as light as one of Mary Berry's cakes but just as colourful and full of exciting ingredients with added sparkles. The musical mood is Mowtown and the dance styles mainly Northern Soul. Costumed in some fab 1970's costumes that look right in detail, not just a parody parade, the main all singing all dancing ensemble light up the stage each time they appear.


Choreographer Rebekah Roberts does a sterling job in keeping the dance styles authentic to the time. There is so much talent and youthful energy in the company overall and even the pet Toto gets up to dance in the finale. Toto is a minor miracle on four legs, undeniably cute and has moves to die for!

Young Lennon Bradley is one of the stars of this piece as the cowardly lion. His mature performance is full of confidence, energy and the right amount of cheeky lad that endears the audience to his glowingly obvious talent. It is a joy to witness Bradley display such contained and often unconstrained humour and in the next moment be truly pathetic in the best sense of the word. This boy is one to watch out for. He has hidden inside him a mighty roar.


Charlotte Louise Brailsford excels as the lead character Dorothy. She has a compelling persona, is a terrific dancer and has a beautifully clear voice demonstrating a strong talent for clarity in the lyrics. This isn't always the case even with established singers but for this reviewers ears and enjoyment - hearing the actual words of the song sung with sentiment - works so much better than just producing the sounds and notes of the song.



Sian Elise Langley has a wonderfully dry sense of humour as the shy scarecrow desperate to get a brain and clearly revels in her considerate love and talent for dance. Her scarecrow with an afro is very lovable particularly when her character mentally transforms towards the end of the show. This is another performance in The Wiz that sparkles with energy and enthusiasm.




Professional singer and musician Ritchie Stainsby is totally charming as the scooter riding tinman in search of a heart. Stainsby has oodles of heart and soul already and his performance is a perfectly balanced blend of laid back comedy, pathos and accentuated through his mellow singing styles and guitar work. This a performance where every entrance warms the very ventricles and gets the audience's hearts pumping.



The Wiz himself is brought to life in a solid manly performance by Mark Coffrey Bainbridge an actor/singer that has proved his theatrical versatility in such previous roles as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Emmet in Legally Blonde – the musical and even the scary voice of man eating plant Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors. In this version of The Wiz that has all of the performers speaking and singing in their own Nottingham accents it is unusual that the Wiz character speaks with an American accent in his early scenes. There is a very good reason for this which becomes clear as the story unfolds.



Well, a story based on The Wizard of Oz wouldn't be much good without some powerful witches and they don't get much better than New Street Theatre's brassy and altogether badass Evillene (Alleisha Furlange – Royal) who, with a naughty glint in her eyes and a threatening thwack of her ruler, dominates the stage the second she appears and belts out the song No Bad News.

On the side of good and hope we have Becki Scollick as Addaperle. Scollick not only displays a gift for understated comedy as Addaperle but also makes two of the many songs in The Wiz her own with her interpretations of He's The Wiz and Believe In Yourself. Toto must be very proud.

The superb live band under the musical director Katherine Tye bring musical dynamism to this terrific show at Lakeside and the whole ensemble and the creative work that has gone into its creation and performance make it a definite one to go see. It has heart, it has courage in its adaptation and it is a no brainer for a good fun night at the theatre. Now just you Ease On Down That Road to Lakeside Theatre Nottingham.

For performance dates and times click your silver heels three times and then click this LINK.

Photo credits copyright Mark James.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Irritating habits of theatre audience members. To tweet or not to tweet?


To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

As a writer, avid promoter of theatre and reviewer I find the use of Twitter to be of enormous value in spreading the news of a successful production minutes after the show. Equally it can be utilised as a means of drawing attention to my considered review or blog post. Imagine a scenario where tweeting from your mobile was allowed during the actual show. All those little screens lit up in the dark whilst the play was actually being performed. Ay there's the rub!

Some while back now I was invited to be a Tweet Seater in my capacity as a reviewer at Nottingham Playhouse. I don't have a modern mobile phone so I took along my tablet for internet access. Even as the days before the press night loomed I started to have reservations about sitting at the back of the auditorium tweeting my views live once it dawned on me what was involved. On the night I was seated with two other reviewers in special seats tucked away from the main body of the audience. I began to feel increasingly nervous about audience reactions to my screen lighting up in the darkened theatre. A tablet screen is much larger than a mobile screen.

As luck would have it I couldn't get access to the internet and so the proverbial glow worm of my screen remained in the dark. The two other reviewers were able to silently tweet away however. I started to consider how I felt in my capacity of reviewer where I normally give my full attention to the story unfolding on the stage. This notion that tweeting micro reviews as the play happened live felt decidedly wrong. I felt very distracted and disengaged with the play even though wasn't actually able to tweet. I believe the opposite is supposed to happen and that one's appreciation is heightened. I'm not sure I buy into that one.

At the interval two old lady members of the audience made their way across the back wall seating and pointedly asked the 'seat tweeters' what they were doing having their mobiles on during the play. The young women politely answered that they had been asked by the Playhouse to try out this new approach to theatrical promotion. The old ladies were not happy and proposed to complain to the management.

In October 2014 Daily Telegraph journalist Rupert Christiansen wrote a highly critical piece about 'tweet seating' a phenomenon that appears to have come from the USA. It was instigated to help flagging audience sales for plays that were not star led or big popular musicals. He considered the tweeters as sad souls who can't spend a second away from their smart phones for a nano-second and who want to send their Twitter followers a blow by blow account of the progress of the show. Further, he considered this as another 'concession to barbarity' and further evidence of a catastrophic decline in the etiquette of audience behaviour.

The reality of disengaged and disruptive behaviour at the theatre isn't a new phenomenon. There have been records of disruption in theatres through the ages, including actual fights taking place between audience members. However, for the last fifteen years, on top of people talking during the show and rustling their crackling bloody sweet papers, the mobile phone has added to the frustrations of genuine theatre lovers who go to be entertained and escape. Kev Castle, a fellow reviewer in Nottingham recently reported his disgust at five mobiles going off in the course of an hour during a new studio based one man show. One male member of the audience even answered their phone mid performance and loudly exclaimed “ I'm at some play. It'll be over soon. I'll call you back!” Imagine tweeting a mid show tweet about that! You would feel equally complicit and equally rude.

Even as far back as 2009 The Guardian's Ruth Jamieson was asking if we should be tweeting during a performance. She had the opinion that is was OK as long as there are no spoilers. My opinion is that whilst there may be eleven characters trying to tell a story on the stage should you be trying to distil theatrical intent into a Twitter led one hundred and forty character opinion? The use of mobile phones in the auditorium isn't just a young generational thing either. I have seen little rectangular beacons light up from all ages as people check their latest emails and such. Where is the respect for the play and the performers?

Apparently, by encouraging guests to discreetly tweet during live performances the venue can gain valuable exposure and marketing and by this token they claim to be able to bring in new younger audiences. Does this not then alienate, more appreciative, traditionally engaged audiences? Is it just sad gimmick that will eventually run its course? Could there be a certain cache in being chosen to be in a tweet seat during any performance? Opinions on a tweet please @PhilLowe7 #tweetseatopinion

Originally published in Sardines Magazine Issue 26 under the title 'Distracting tweets and Rustling sweets.'