Directed by Dexter Whitehead
A magnificent stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best selling novel is being performed at the award-winning Sutton Arts Theatre. Under the strong direction of Dexter Whitehead, this excellently cast production brings the chilling murder story to life... right in front of your eyes!
The story, set in the late 1930s, takes place in a large house on the remote Soldier Island off the coast of Devon. The guests have received personal invitations from millionaire owners Ulrick and Una Owens. Mysteriously, having accepted the invitations, the guests discover that none of them actually know the Owens. The Owens never arrive (surprise surprise) and the guests become trapped as sole inhabitants of the island when a storm breaks out at sea. A somewhat creepy, framed print of nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’ hangs above the drawing room fireplace and the sinister pattern of deaths that follow thrillingly coincide with the verses in the rhyme, along with the mysterious disappearances of the soldier figurines that were placed upon the mantelpiece before they arrived.
It takes a strong and competent cast to deliver a play of this complexity and the actors really have excelled. The portrayal and attitudes of the personalities are spot-on for the era, as is the diction, interaction and pace of conversation. Put this together with a luxurious set and truly excellent lighting scheme and you have a show that I am sure Christie herself would have thoroughly approved of.
Roger Shepherd and Jenny Gough play the busy house servants, Shepherd maintaining a gentle and willing disposition in opposition to his wife’s more spit-spot and ship-shape manner. Phebe Jackson portrays a perfectly gorgeous and flirtatious Vera Claythorne playing mainly against Robbie Newton as the handsome, chivalrous and self-preserving Captain Phillip Lombard, a former mercenary soldier with sharp wit and survival instinct.
The young, wealthy and reckless Anthony Marston is played energetically by Giles Wharton, portraying Marston’s perfectly wizard sense of humour and later delighting the audience with a most dramatic dying scene that in itself deserves an Oscar. Richard Howell plays William Blore, the South African millionaire Mr Davis who is later revealed as an undercover former policeman. Blore tries in vain to unravel the murder mystery, only to meet with a grizzly end.
Paul Westcott is the retired WW1 hero, General Mackenzie, an all-doom-and-gloom character strong in stature, reminiscent, yet ridden with guilt over a former crime. Theatre stalwart Dorothy Goodwin plays Emily Brent, the religious, respectable and remorseless spinster with a delightful and wicked style of cynicism. Goodwin’s many years of stage experience ensures the character is played whole heartedly with convincing sarcasm, her dramatic bible reading adding to the already chilling atmosphere.
Patrick Richmond-Ward, another of SAT’s stalwarts, is perfectly cast as the sullen Sir Lawrence Wargrave, portraying the retired old judge with his unquestionable air of authority, leading the investigation with a strong sense of justice. The quiet and gentle Dr. Armstrong is played by Mark Nattrass. Armstrong’s medical knowledge draws suspicions amongst the other guests and he is often labelled as a suspect. Nattrass portrays the teetotal character brilliantly and leaves us guessing as the doctor's past crime is revealed.
The cast is supported by Lee Connelly as Fred Narracott and Ian Eaton as Ulick Owen, who make brief yet poignant appearances.
The old saying ‘tis the light that brings it to life’ is celebrated in this play. The changes of lighting throughout the day are brilliantly designed, whether against the balcony sea-view, the evening sunset, the drawing room candlelight or the forked lightning - the lighting design captures and sets each scene. And even rain against the outside windows demonstrates the level of detail the production team has gone to. Great sound design, musical interludes and sfx - a couple of cheeky jump-scares are cleverly weaved into the plot to keep the audiences on their toes.
Those who know the story will undoubtedly enjoy this version - and those who don't will be kept amused throughout and and applaud a jolly good Whodunnit ending.
SAT are known for their beautiful and well constructed set designs, furniture, props and costumes and this production has certainly captured every element of great acting, production technique, continuity and whole entertainment value celebrated by professional companies.
Great entertainment. Well worth a ticket.
Runs to 8 September
Contains smoking on stage
Mischief Theatre have, quite rightly, developed an unenviable reputation for physical comedy in a relatively short space of time. Formed as an Improvisational Comedy Troupe by students at LAMDA 10 years ago, their first scripted play, The Play That Goes Wrong, landed riotously in 2013 and they’ve not looked back since. Quickly followed up by Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Mischief’s pattern of silent movie style slapstick with very inventive (deliberately) collapsing scenery, all brilliantly timed and energetically performed, have thrilled audiences in London, on tour in the UK, and on Broadway.
I first saw Mischief’s 2016 television adaptation of Peter Pan… and loved every second of it; just about the most inventive piece of theatre I’d ever seen. They followed this up with A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, their first piece written not for the stage and, in my opinion, a minor miss-step. Funny, certainly, but it didn’t seem to hold together as well as their other work that had been developed and honed over many years of workshops and performances.
And so to my first sight of Mischief in the flesh, with the opening night of their first UK tour of The Comedy about a Bank Robbery at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. In a departure from their two previous scripted shows Mischief’s writers Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer present a self-contained theatrical farce, rather than the premise of the previous shows being presented by the inept students of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society. This is, I feel, a small mistake, as the style of their writing and performance requires such an exaggerated quality to the presentation that is excused by the deliberately bad Am-Dram style production. Here a couple of the early scenes seem to creak a little under the weight of the extravagant delivery, until the physical comedy takes over and the play really finds it’s feet.
Mark Bell’s inventive production (restaged for the tour by Kirsty Patrick Ward) has a real bravura swagger to it, building up sight gag upon sight gag, so fast in the best scenes that you really are struggling to breath in between all the gasps of laughter. The sight of a pull down bed immediately brings ideas of physical comedy to mind. The breathless energy of the performers moves it onto another level entirely.
The uniformly excellent cast are led by Liam Jeavons and Julia Frith as the bank robbers Mitch and Caprice, who’s antics on the bed are witnessed by the hapless Sam (Sean Carey). His numerous comic efforts to leave the room only end up escalating the situation further. Neil Cooper as Mitch’s dumb accomplice Coomber is a delight, and Damian Lynch’s bank manager Robin Freeboys ( his nephew Roger Freeboys also appears; yes the verbal humour is quite happy to be amusingly lavatorial) is wonderfully pompous and confused. Best of all is Jon Trenchard as 67 year old intern Warren Slax. Poignant as well as funny, Trenchard is also on the receiving end of some serious slapstick beating. He is also involved in the most inventive piece of staging of the evening, a scene where we look down on the office from above. I’ll leave you to try and work out how that is staged! The excellent cast is completed by Ashley Tucker as Sam’s mum Ruth, leading the shows frequent 50s style do-wop numbers with very stylish vocals; Killian Macardle as the well meaning but unfortunate cop Shuck; and George Hannigan as “Everyone Else”, his official programme title. This does not do him justice. The one-man-playing-3-characters-having-a-fight slapstick scene is an utter delight.
The script is sometimes not as funny as it would like to be; one early scene, which very little physical comedy, does drag. But once the Marx Brothers style humour takes over the show really picks up, and Act 2 is nothing short of inspired. The cast perform with such confidence, energy and trust in each other and the material that you cannot help but get taken by them on a very very silly journey of inspired lunacy. The press night audience greeted the show with great warmth, and the 12 year old Junior Reviewer with me stated that it was, without doubt, the best thing she’d ever seen. High praise indeed!!
The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is at Birmingham Rep until 8th September, and then on tour around the UK until June 2019.
As I left The Old Joint Stock into St Paul’s Square, Birmingham, I saw a sizeable section of my fellow audience members from this evening’s performance all climbing rather delicately into a small coach. Judging by the amount of glasses and bottles left behind by these ladies (for this party was entirely female) inside the auditorium of this pub theatre, I think they had decided before they arrived that they were going to have a good time, whatever happened on stage. Judging by the audience response after the climactic dance routine I’m sure however that their enjoyment was not simply down to the amount of alcohol consumed in this beautiful old public house.
I was certain very early that the audience would be in for a great evening out, as this is a production packed with performances right out of the top drawer. The vocals throughout the show were universally excellent and David Yazbek’s funky and colourful score was confidently delivered, whether it be the powerhouse ladies in It’s a woman’s world or Jeanette’s Showbiz Number; or the beautifully poignant men with Breeze off the river and You walk with me. The balance with the band in the attic, lead by MD Jack Hopkins was excellent, and we never felt overpowered in the small venue. But what struck me most in this production, however, was the quality of the acting. The immediacy and intimacy affords afforded by the size of the venue lent the dramatic scenes in Terrence McNally’s book a power I’d not seen in previous productions.
Pam Lukowski has always felt a bit superfluous when I’ve seen the show previously, particularly as she has relatively little to do in the big musical numbers. Here, played strongly by Auriol Hatcher she was right in the centre of the drama, a catalyst pushing her ex-husband Jerry to desperate ends. Alex Wadham holds the show together in the central role with energy and sensitivity and the scenes between the couple and also Jerry and his son Nathan (played by James Blake-Butler on press night) were beautifully played.
Oliver Britten and Sam Carlyle were perfectly matched as overweight, depressed Dave and his supportive wife Georgie. The closeness of their relationship was palpable in the second You rule my world. The show’s other couple Harold and Vicki (Jenefer Tripp and Rhys Owen) also formed a well-balanced partnership, both in their opening Latin number and the more poignant later scenes. The burgeoning friendship of Jack Ballard’s Ethan and Duncan Burt’s Malcolm was likewise beautifully judged and entirely believable. Kirstie Cartwright and Aaron Mwale have the always unenviable task of aging up but both do it with confidence, with both their numbers being joyous highlights of the show. Brad Walwyn was also excellent as the camp stripper who sets the show in motion (as well as supporting the company in a variety of cameos).
Credit to director Adam Lacey and the cast for getting pacing of the show so well. The big numbers were all delivered with confidence and energy, but the delicate scenes were never overshadowed. Quite the opposite in fact; they were the beating heart of this production and gave the show a real depth I’d not appreciated before.
And so to the Finale of the production and I don’t think I’ve seen a dance routine performed with more sheer enjoyment and fun for a long time. Choreographer Pippa Lacey has whipped the men into shape (of sorts!) and produced a finale that is both amateurish in style but professional in delivery. Let’s just say it doesn’t disappoint and left the audience on their feet, and justifiably so. Old Joint Stock has another triumph on it’s hands.
The show runs at until 1st September.
Chronicling the true story of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, Side Show is the latest musical treat from the Old Joint Stock. Set under a circus tent, their wonderful studio space was yet again transformed for this utterly captivating performance. The audience was invited to ‘come look at the freaks’ and riding on ‘The Greatest Showman’ phenomenon, Side Show felt like an even more timely choice. With book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music from Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger, the soundtrack to this show is nothing short of goosebump inducing.
In traditional, immersive style, the Old Joint Stock placed the audience at the heart of their performance. Acting as spectators, eavesdroppers and more, we were sat amongst the ‘freaks’. With suspended Edison bulbs, the attractions were eerily lit around the space and they all superbly came to life in the hands of this extremely talented cast.
There were strong performances from Alanna Boden (Fortune Teller), Jessica Birtwistle (Venus De Milo), Joash Musundi (Dog Boy/Ray) and Maisie-Kate Robertson (Geek), led by the unnervingly creepy ringmaster Simon Peacock (Sir). It’s difficult to not list everyone in this review, because this show was, ultimately, an ensemble piece. However there were some standout performances.
Amongst the attractions, Vicky Addis as the Bearded Lady and Lizzie Robins as Three Legged Girl were completely enthralling. Whilst, a particularly special mention must go to Tattooed Girl (and Choreographer) Sarah Haines, who was the most stunning dancer. Bea Coleman was strikingly beautiful as Half Man / Half Woman, you couldn’t help but get drawn into Coleman’s performance. Bea’s raw emotion in Say Goodbye To The Sideshow really held with me long after leaving the theatre.
Patison Harrigan was excellent as Jake, with a velvety toned voice singing gorgeously through The Devil You Know, whilst the pairing of Buddy and Terry was sheer perfection. Bradley Walwyn and Richard Haines took on the roles with aplomb, both illustrating their talent as actors and singers - Very Well Connected was a certain highlight.
However, you can’t have Side Show, without Daisy and Violet…and my god did OJSMTC get this casting right. Elle Knowles (Violet) and Cassie Aurora (Daisy) were the shining stars of this production. They brought the characters to absolute believable life, there was no question in those two hours that we were watching Violet and Daisy Hilton. Elle Knowles was sublime, her sweetness, naivety and unassuming nature, juxtaposed her sister’s more outgoing and flirty nature and Cassie Aurora captured this perfectly. It was a masterclass performance from the duo and their breathtaking duet of Who Will Love Me As I Am sent tingles down the spine.
There is no doubt that Karl Steele (Director) and Nick Allen (Musical Director) have put an incredible amount of time, effort and work into making this show what it was. And, more importantly, it’s a show with such a powerful and relevant message. The Old Joint Stock have done it again and this superlative production is another one that will be remembered long after it has left the theatre.
Norton Canes High School Theatre
The Spotlight production team are staging Grease this week and the iconic film by Jacobs and Casey, featuring well-loved characters Danny Zuco and Sandra D, needs little introduction. This adaptation cleverly captures the main story lines from the movie and transfers as a brilliant, fast-paced, high energy stage musical. And the young performers from Spotlight Youth Productions have most certainly done it justice.
Directed by Charlotte Cowley and Michele Windsor, and with a most competent off-stage band conducted by Brian Hirst, the show was performed with total confidence and an awful lot of cool by the young performers who never dipped in energy and spirit - sporting wigs, layered costumes and leather jackets, all adding to the heat of the moment, which was commendable considering the current climate!
Set in the American 1950s the colourful show set was built for quick transition utilising single set pieces which left the dancers a good performance space. A nice touch was the screen and projected images that enhanced the location of the scenes and the physical scene changes in blackout were executed deftly.
Strong performances by principals and ensemble. It was lovely to see so many gorgeous, happy faces - little ones with cheeky smiles and self-assured older students with just the right amount of attitude. Some excellent characterisations - Tara Hill as Rizzo did a sterling job, retaining the Channing sultry demeanour throughout the show. Handsome Matt Windsor’s (Danny) vocal was excellent and competently accompanied by the very pretty Imogen Poole (Sandy), both well cast leads who played against each other with delightful chemistry. The good-lookin’ T Birds - Ben Walker (Kenickie) Ben Carr (Roger), William Heath (Doody), Callum Steed (Sonny), Sam Rushworth (Billy) and Kieran Banner (Bobby) entertained us with their lighthearted, school-boy angst, camaraderie, songs and slick dance routines. Pink Ladies Charlotte Ham (Frenchy), Kande Eden (Marty), Tash Pearce (Jan), Kimberley Beckett (Mary Lou), Jess Cavill (Barbara Ann) and Rebecca Cartwright (Peggy Sue) made a fabulous all-singing-all-dancing gaggle of hyper teens with dreams of boys, hair-do’s, cheeky cigarette trials, jealous moments and true friendships.
Robyn Ennis as the delightful Miss Lynch controlled the class as best she could and Rebecca Cartwright played a very pretty Teen Angel. Kieran Banner doubled up as the formidable Vince Fontaine who had the ladies swooning, Sam Rushworth owned the mic as Johnny Casino and Megan Rogers treated us to some sassy dance moves as Cha Cha DiGregorio.
Absolutely loved Lewis Kent’s portrayal of the bumbling Eugene. Great stage presence and a truly winning smile. Notable performances include the very comical Tash Pearce who competently immersed herself in her character and William Heath who I felt really connected with the audience and had a unique and very likeable upbeat confidence which I'm sure would transfer into any musical theatre production.
Congratulations to MDs Chris Allen and Ian Windsor, the team of choreographers and the set building, costume, prop and technical volunteers. A revisit of mic levels for lead vocalists against backing vocalists might be something to address but in all a good sound design and lighting scheme.
I really enjoyed every moment - the elements that made the movie so successful have been focused upon and the team’s vision really worked resulting in a great night’s entertainment. An established and talented group with a lot of love and friendship that is clearly apparent in their performances. It certainly was a Summer Night to remember!
Suitable for everyone.
Runs to 15 July with a Saturday matinee
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors. I don’t think Union Theatre could have thought of a more musical theatre-y name if they tried (apart from their last musical theatre concert; The Sound of My Fair Sweeney and I on the Roof). So it is pretty clear what we are in for and it is exactly what Union Theatre delivers - a joyous celebration of musical theatre, and, in particular, this show that celebrates the classics that have swept the award categories such as the Tonys, Oliviers, Oscars, Grammys and even Pulitzers.
Director Victoria Ellery-Jones has done a splendid job in presenting this revue with delightful familiar show tunes and even songs that aren’t heard as much, played by the talented musical director and pianist John Gough, along with Matthew Firkins on percussion. These musicians are so wonderful that they bring the same effect as a 20-piece West End orchestra that gets to the stripped-back core of the songs. Not to mention of course the wonderful harmonies coming from the company whizzing through over 25 songs, it is hard for me to simply list a favourite performance as a great song would follow another great song and then another for the rest of the evening. Luckily they are a glorious mixture of both ensemble pieces, solo or small group songs which give us the wide and beautiful range of musical theatre heaven.
It is also worth noting how glorious this show is as it sits in the St James Church. Though relatively intimate, its architecture is extravagant and epic that it almost feels like we are watching some high-budget scenery at the Palladium or the Hippodrome (and looks even more spectacular thanks to the colourful lighting by Gordon Justham). I couldn’t help but feel that there seems to be a natural link between hearing these musical theatre songs and being in this spiritual environment. I’m not one to discuss the debate this link between religion and theatre as theologians have done in the past, but what I realised is the common denominator about going to church or to see a musical is the sense of community and oneness. In my opinion, the human power of music and joyful song is far greater than religion, and that is what Union Theatre brings in this lovely night of musical theatre classics.
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors runs at the St James Church, Shirley until Saturday 14th July.
There is something rather exhilarating about discovering new theatre for the first time, especially when you have the chance to be in the audience for the opening night of a brand new piece, performed by a young, modern company. That feeling of not knowing what to expect, not to mention whether you or your fellow-audience members will enjoy what you are about to experience together can set the scene for a thrilling evening. So, it is a shame that more often than not the audience numbers are a little on the low side and made up mainly of family and friends of the company.
This was very much the case for the Brew Makers Theatre Company’s opening night for The Egg Rumour at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, though admittedly a new musical-play about fertility timing and corporate egg freezing may not immediately appeal to everyone. Yet, anyone who did not see the performance missed an entertaining hour that was both comic, emotional and thought-provoking – a play that particularly resonates in the current #metoo and equal pay debate climate.
The story centres around Iva, a young woman in her 20’s who is offered a rare promotion in her corporate job, but on the understanding that she undergo treatment to freeze her eggs and delay any plans of motherhood for the imminent future. You might be forgiven for thinking this is some futuristic utopian world conjured in the minds of the author (Ellamae Cieslik, who also plays the role of Iva) but no! In recent years the ‘incentive’ of egg freezing has become a growing trend – particularly in the USA – for women who wish to have control over both career and family life. Whether ultimately they have that control is the question at the heart of Iva’s story.
The ensemble company of 6 performers take on all of the roles between them and never leave the stage, moving seamlessly from featured office-workers to medical staff to all-seeing Greek chorus. The performances are fresh, crisp and confident, with the whole company blending extremely well together. A particular highlight was the opening movement sequence which was in progress as the audience took their seats and when the company sang together, even the first night hitch of the music tracks not playing could not detract from the great sound and obvious talent within the group.
This is definitely a piece which will grow and shift as the company itself develops. There are some moments where the flow of the story begins to wane, but this is mainly because the whole performance rattles along at such a fast pace, some of the references get missed by the audience and it takes a while to catch up with what has changed. Indeed, there were a couple of moments early on that the audience went to applaud but were not given time before the action continued, which subsequently left us unsure whether to react and made us a very quiet (and probably unnerving) group of observers throughout! A slight relaxing of the pace overall would ensure that the dialogue has more clarity and that the audience have time to appreciate individual segments without losing any of the energy and exuberance that carries this production along.
Provocative, funny, some great harmonies and a story line that left you questioning your own thoughts – what more could you ask for from live theatre?
The Brew Makers return for another performance at The Old Joint Stock on Monday 9 July before touring to other venues across the country. Why not treat yourself to something new?
Something wonderfully wicked this way comes.... to Stafford Castle!
An outstanding, big-budget production of Macbeth awaits you at Stafford Castle, and this is as much an experience as it is a performance. The production team have indeed created something rather special, very human and very real. With the magnificent backdrop of Stafford Castle and its green, undulating grounds this outdoor play starts in daylight and ends in darkness. Set in a large, filmesque, 4-level set the actors have an excellent performing space and Shakespeare's words jump off the page from the very first second to the incredible end. No expense is spared - a rich array of luxurious furniture, peacock feathers, candles, fire, falconry and special effects are used to create unforgettable pictures, to draw in the audience and enhance the visual further. One can read this play, see a theatre production, a film maybe... but to produce something as wonderful as this a director and creative team must surely have lived and breathed the story - they have taken each and every line of Shakespeare's tragedy very seriously and have carefully crafted it onto the stage with first-class expertise. With music, soundscape, sumptuous costumes, a first-class lighting scheme, sound design and well choreographed fight scenes, the actors and producers truly deserved the standing ovation granted them.
Superb leading performances by Bil Stuart (Macbeth) and Rosie Hilal (Lady Macbeth). The very strong cast of professionals performed with equal passion, excellent diction, expression and pure emotion. The weird sisters were perfectly portrayed (Mairi Hawthorn, Nicola Jo Cully, Sian Mannifield) all supported by clever musical interludes, original compositions by David Hewson and the playing of live on-stage instruments including lutes and bagpipes. With exciting chants, singing, magic and sorcery you will be enchanted by pure brilliance.
Congratulations to Clare Penton and her talented team. Magnificent.
Runs to 14 July
Suitable for everyone
New York comes to Sutton Arts Theatre with the stage version of the much loved 80's musical film Fame.
Showing the lives of several students at a performance arts school over the course of 3 years.
Uplifting and fast paced, this show is staying true to the lyrics of the song Fame; "they'll make you forget the rest".
The talented cast all provide high-quality performances and created some real WOW moments.
The music is likely to appeal to most and the cast gave some stunning singing performances too. Highlights include their performances of Hard Work, These Are My Children and Fame.
Carmen Diaz, played by Phebe Jackson, gave a strong performance throughout and really shone in the big finale at the end.
Strong vocal performances also came from Sarah Riches (as Serena Katz) and Colette Forsyth (as Miss Esther Sherman).
The dancing is all well-choreographed and Tyrone Jackson, play by Kyle Henderson, led the way by showcasing his dancing talent.
Laugh out loud comedic performances also came from the character Jose “Joe” Vegas, played by Robbie Newton.
Fame has everything you could want for in an entertaining musical show. It's easy to watch, fun and fast paced with the occasional more poignant moment.
They left the audience on a high from their outstanding performance of the shows big hit Fame.
The costumes were perfect for helping to set the scene and create the feel of the show. Clever use has also been made of the compact stage with the use of a changeable movable set. Those behind the scenes have clearly been working hard to bring the show together.
The music is also delivered through a live orchestra working hard, out of sight, during the show.
A great evening of theatre. Remember my name, Fame!
Fame is on at the Sutton Arts Theatre till 30th June
The audience at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, were treated to a uniquely unusual evening out last night as Oddsocks presented the timeless Shakespeare classic 'The Tempest'.
Those of us who were familiar with the musical sci-fi take on the play 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' were not too surprised to see the cast dressed as members of the Star Ship Enterprise, but it is fair to say that Oddsocks definitely put their own stamp on what is reputed to be The Bard's last play. The music was there, as was the sci-fi, but it was most definitely an inceptive version which still used the original Shakespearean text whilst having all the other elements too.
It was a little startling to have settled into one's seat expecting the opening lines of this well known play, only to be greeted with the cast performing the musical classic 'The Final Countdown'! It certainly made the audience sit up, and reiterated the fact that this was indeed going to be an original interpretation.
Just six cast members played all the characters and in the main this worked in terms of the speed with which they swapped characters and costumes. The futuristic set, which remained static throughout, aided this process, and was designed most cleverly to allow the cast (particularly Ariel) to move up and down, in and out, and to perform the music on stage.
The play is set on a remote island, which is inhabited not only by the Duke of Milan, also the sorcerer Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, who landed there accidentally after being exiled, but also by some other interesting characters in the form of Caliban, a half human, half monster character, a drunken butler Stephano and a court jester Trinuclo. The Queen of Naples, Alonsa, her son Ferdinand, her brother Sebastian and Prospero's brother Antonio, who seized his Dukedom, are shipwrecked on the same island. They are separated on purpose by the faithful spirit Ariel,who serves Prospero, and Alonsa believes her son is dead. He in turn meets Miranda and they fall in love.
The play dips in and out of all the usual Shakespearean plot and sub plot lines of love, betrayal, people in disguise, master and servant relationships, and good triumphing over evil in the end.
Andy Barrow was a convincing Prospero (and also Scottie!) and had the air of authority required for a character who has been cast out by his villainous brother, lands on a planet named Babel and then is restored to his throne of Milan at the end of the play. This evil brother, Antonio, was played by Gavin Harrison and he conveyed the necessary level of nastiness required; his portrayal had an air of the Alan Rickman role as The Sheriff of Nottingham. Alice Merivale was an endearing Miranda and also doubled as Ariel with Amy Roberts and Matt Penson, which allowed for clever costume changes and movement around the set for this faithful and devoted spirit. Miranda's love interest, Ferdinand, was played by Matt Penson, and he fulfilled the role beautifully, with a nice balance of self assurance and humble attentive lover. Dominic Dee Burch shone as the cunning Caliban and also doubled up as Sebastian, Queen Alonsa of Naples' scheming brother, and Gavin Harrison doubled up as Trinculo, who was portrayed as a Droid reminiscent of CP30 from Star Wars. He had mastered the mannerisms of this latter character perfectly, which added some pleasant humour to this part of the play. Amy Roberts' interpretation of Queen Alonsa of Naples was original and delivered with conviction, and she also doubled up as Stephanie (who was portrayed as a Geordie 'lush') and also as Ariel.
The small setting made for an intimate evening and the cast interacted constantly with the audience during the performance. There was a substantial amount of ad-libbing away from the Shakespearean text and many musical numbers (including 'I Get Knocked Down' and 'Rule The World') and sometimes these two elements detracted from the text and interrupted the flow of the story lines and the production in general. They did, on occasion, seem to bring a halt to the plot line, and maybe for the casual observer, or for someone unfamiliar with the story of The Tempest, this could make following the story difficult. Due to the size of the space, the continual breaking away from the text to ad-lib in contemporary language, the audience participation and the musical numbers made for a slightly overwhelming experience which sat a little oddly at times with Shakespeare.
However nobody could deny the casts' energy and enthusiasm and the production was received with eagerness by the majority of the audience.
The Tempest runs from Tuesday 19th – Thursday 21st June 2018 at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
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