Monday, 15 December 2014

Greetings from the Trenches in performance at Jakobus Theatre

For those of you who have been following the progress of my new play 'Greetings from the Trenches' and weren't able to see the two European Premiere shows at Jakobus Theatre in Karlsruhe I wanted to let you know how it all went.

Emma and I arrived separately in Karlsruhe on Wednesday 3rd December. Emma arrived by train via Cologne and I flew over from Stanstead airport arriving about half past four. We met up at Café Bleu opposite the theatre and Emma's first words were "I am soo glad to see you. I don't think I could have done it on my own!" With this being a two hander it is very unlikely either of could have performed it on our own. During our time there we had a tremendous amount of fun outside of the play as we both have a very silly sense of humour.

On the Wednesday we had an interview with Andreas Juttner of the big regional newspaper the - Badische Neueste Nachrichten and they published a nice big article with picture in the Friday morning edition.

Wednesday evening was spent collecting furniture for the show and working with our German technician Lennart on the few technical light and sound aspects of the show. Luckily his English is very good and he is proficient. Such professionalism is important when there is very little space for error and time for rehearsals.

In the daytime of Thursday Emma and I met up and enjoyed some relaxation at the Karlsruhe Christmas market along with a reasonable amount of mulled wine, flannkuchen and coffees and some very important shopping messing about in Primark.


The early evening found us back at the Jakobus theatre joining Lennart for a technical rehearsal before the actual show. All seemed in order as we worked through the play out of costume and we were both looking forward to the actual performance - only half an hour away! Just about time to get changed, take a breath and get downstairs into the wings.

Jutta Berendes did a welcoming speech to the audience, there was applause, and suddenly we got the chords of the opening music recorded on piano in Leiden Holland and the play began. It was good to play to an actual paying audience amongst which were some familiar faces from the Jakobus theatre and that of our translator Thorsten Feldmann. Later, in the following few days Thorsten explained why there more laughs on Thursday than on Friday. Apparently there was a much bigger audience membership of English speaking people on the first night and they were appreciating all the subtle humour in the text and the relationship between Frank and his daughter Madeleine. Emma's parents had also made the trip from Nottingham to see the show too!

Whilst I enjoyed all of the performance I guess that the piece I wanted to work the most was the end of the play where it is revealed to the audience that the two people on the stage actually died in a car crash before they had even reached the television studio. Given the reaction during the announcement at the very end I would say that it worked very well and I was glad that we decided to end with our backs to the audience holding hands in a cold blue light while the announcement played and a police light flashed on the stage.

The second night's audience was a quieter audience in terms of any laughter but very attentive at the same time and a nice big group from Theater Die Käuze came to watch as well as my friend Birgitta who had travelled all the way from Friedrichshafen to see the show with her friend Jutta. We hadn't seen each other for fourteen years to it was great to chat before the show in Café Bleu and catch up.

Overall, it was great to know that all the ideas, text, poems, German translations, songs and rehearsals had paid off and my first professional show was an artistic success. Hopefully we can repeat that success in Nottingham next year. Thank you to everyone who made the Karlsruhe shows a success and big thanks to my co-star Emma Brown for her enthusiasms, talent and relaxed approach and to Thorsten for all the translating work. Thanks too to all of the great people at the Jakobus Theatre, especially Carsten Thein and Markus Kunstler, for all your support along the way and during the weekend! Especial thanks to my hosts Gerd and Herrlich for giving a bed, a lovely breakfast, some beers and a chance to pay with and pat Fricker the friendly Alsatian!

Emma had to return to Leiden early on the Saturday morning and I remained in Karlsruhe until Monday morning. It was nice to be able to have a chance to relax after our performances and I spent some time with my friends Lena and Sacha and with my former hosts - the Corneli family.

See you soon Karlsruhe and Café Bleu!

Nottingham Playhouse: Review Sleeping Beauty.

Originally published by The Public Reviews on December 2nd
Given five stars.
In thirty-one years of Nottingham Playhouse presenting the annual pantomime this is only the second time that Sleeping Beauty has been performed. What a fabulous production! It sparkles with light and energy and humour and like the best Panto's should – it sends you home with a huge grin on your face and feeling the child-like magic of Christmas through and through.

Last year writer and director Kenneth Alan Taylor played his last role as pantomime dame to great applause and this time round he brings us an honest story of Sleeping Beauty that is like stepping into a wonderfully alive and exuberant story book. The set designs by Tim Meacock for the Palace, the wonky cottage in the woods (complete with singing wildlife), Maleficent's Lair, the Princess's Bedchamber and for the Grand Finale are knock out gorgeous. All these are enhanced by terrific lighting effects by lighting designer Jason Taylor. Musical director John Morton and his live band bring alive the show with show stopping numbers and the musical romance of the piece.

This year's dame Nurse Tilly Trot is played with gusto by Playhouse panto favourite John Elkington. Elkington has several changes of outrageous costumes and he engages immediately with the audience with his character's 'common touch'. The kids in the audience go crazy when he gets hypnotised by the evil fairy Maleficent and carries out the command to take a spinning wheel into the bedchamber of the princess Rosalind with the result of her being put to sleep for a hundred years. If a thousand children shouting “Nooooo!!!!” at the very tops of their voices would change this dastardly action and consequence then their collective cries should have worked a treat but no, the story must go on!

All but one of the main cast are Playhouse returnees with whom families in Nottinghamshire look forward to seeing each trip to the theatre and they never disappoint. This year the new guy is Jonny Fines playing the part of Prince Alexander – an interesting diversion from the pantomime norm where the Prince is played by an attractive and charming thigh slapping young woman. I really like Fines in this role – his natural good looks, great singing voice and athletic moves make him very sympathetic and the romantic scenes between himself and Princess Rosalind (Kelly Edwards) are very touching and believable as fairy-tale characters falling almost instantly in love.

Kelly Edwards' Princess Rosalind doesn't appear until a little later into the show, because at the beginning she is just a baby, but when she does she is immediately lovable in a bright, energetic, independent modern young Princess way. Edwards' enthusiastic performance certainly helps the show go with a zing. Her athletic song and dance routine with the fantastic Tim Frater as her friend Jerry the Jester is one of the highlights of the show. How they got those wildlife creatures in the bushes to sing and dance along too is a joyous mystery and a great part of the surprise and charm of Nottingham Playhouse's terrific pantomimes.

This year Rebecca Little (formerly principal boy) steps into the wacky shoes of the Queen Gertrude and shows her skills at building a fun older character and she works brilliantly in comic partnership with her stage husband, the expressive and irrepressible Anthony Hoggard as King Hubert. Little retains her rehearsal role as dance captain and together with choreographer and assistant director Adele Parry they bring the dance action superbly to the stage. This is not only with the main cast but with the two expressive and talented teams of young female dancers.

As the two main fairy's we have the good fairy, Fairy Wisheart, played again by Francesca Ellis and the evil fairy Maleficent played by Hannah Whittingham. Ellis is delightfully graceful in the role and as she waves her star topped wand around to good effect I find myself smiling as a little girl in the audience turns to her mum and whispers with a genuinely innocent and child-like enquiry “Is that a real wand mummy?” The mum answered a very believable “yes” with no sense of irony attached. That is the magic of panto in a single wand wave!

Good always triumphs over evil in fairy tales and in panto land and the audience revels in booing and hissing the evil deeds and words of Hannah Whittingham's bad fairy Maleficent all bedecked in a rather sexy black outfit and headpiece of black horns. The superb attention to detail is in all the costumes in this production and is the work of the Playhouse's highly inventive and skilled costume department. It is nice to see Whittingham playing a baddie role again this year. Previously the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime audiences would have seen her playing the title role in Aladdin, Prince Charming in Cinderella, Millie in Robin Hood and The Enchantress in last year's Jack and The Beanstalk.

As the giant snowflakes glitter at the end of this year's thoroughly entertaining Nottingham Playhouse pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, I for one will be going home to bed and will remember this fantastic and truly spectacular panto for a hundred years!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Derby Theatre: A Sprited Christmas Carol. Review

“A Spirited Production!”

If there is a ghost of a chance of getting a ticket or two to take yourself or the family to see Derby Theatre's terrific production of Dicken's classic tale of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Neil Duffield and directed by Sarah Brigham, then do so. Missing this show would almost be like missing Christmas and time is ticking by.

A Christmas Carol is set on a fantastic set design (Neil Irish) depicting the industrial North, all chimney stacks and smoke centred by a massive clock face that references time passing and a local hint at Smith's clock works. The crystal clear sound design is created once again by Ivan Stott. The set has a revolve that allows characters to come and go in a frozen state that breaks into animation. It is like watching a picture book come to life. In fact the whole show is a fantastical display of invention slickly done and using the whole ensemble.

The ensemble is made up of professional performers and groups of young local children and teens who all morph into the well known characters and more. This includes live music and some beautifully sung Christmas songs and carols. At times the vocals are truly enchanting.

As the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge we have Jim Barclay in fine form as the old curmudgeon who gradually sees the error of his miserly ways. Although hard bitten and miserable at the outset Barclay still manages to infuse some humour into his part and comes into his comic own during the various party scenes. The end part where he arrives at the house of his nephew Fred and assembled guests is genuinely touching. Fred is played by local actor Adam Horvarth with great sincerity and warmth.

In an ensemble work the whole team is the 'star' of the show and this is certainly the case in Derby Theatre's production except maybe one extra shiny personality. I can almost hear Christopher Price begging me not to write this but his brilliant portrayals of Marley, Old Fezziwig, The Ghost of Christmas Present and Old Joe were outstanding. Plus he is in the ensemble and plays various musical instruments.

The professional cast made up of Jim Barclay, Daniel David, Adam Horvarth, Yana Penrose, Christopher Price, Kate Robson – Stuart, Eseme Sears and Daniel Willis all contrive to make Derby Theatre's A Christmas Carol a superb show worth singing out loud about!

Runs until Sunday 4th January 2015