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South East
posted/updated: 23 Oct 2016 -
Hugh Whitemore
society/company: Lighted Fools Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 21 Oct 2016
venue: The Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
reviewer/s: Nigel Dams (Sardines review)

From the moment I walked in and saw the wonderful set that delicious pre-theatre buzz increased a couple of points. Anyone who pays this much attention to set detail, I thought, will put on a good show. And I wasn't disappointed. It was excellent.

Stevie is the story of Stevie Smith, a 'part time poet' told in narrative style by the poet herself, with observations and dialogue from two other players. All three were first-class illustrations of why England has such a glittering reputation for amateur theatre.

The lead, Karen Brooks was wonderful, with an irresistible mix of dotty humour, poignant reflections and burning anger. Stevie herself was apparently known for a wide and skilful range of vocal technique, and Karen put that across in breathtaking style. She delivered the beautiful words perfectly. I will remember "the terrible syllable - 'now'" till the end of my days.

Powerful though she was, she in no way overpowered her co-stars, Marie Thurbon and David Hemsley-Brown, who both were understated but riveting. Marie as the Aunt was the perfect no-nonsense war-era northern lass, slightly bewildered by the way society is changing, and finally losing the plot as she aged, with a fine but subtle pathos. David was superb, as always, switching from dispassionate observer to frustrated lover to amused interviewer with easy grace and skill.

The supporting crew were first-rate as well. What I took to be a very well-painted backdrop was revealed by an artful trick of the lighting to be real foliage as night faded and the full light of day shone on its leaves. The sound cues were spot-on, the choice of music too, and all aspects of the design and production revealed that this is a company with real love of theatre in all its forms.

When Stevie's end drew near, and I found myself actually getting choked up and blinking back the tears, I was reminded afresh that one needn't trek to London and spend a hundred pounds to get excellent theatre, it's available just around the corner, in the best of the ancient English tradition.

Full marks to director Richard Parish and all the crew - it was a fabulous evening and I'll definitely keep an eye open for anything Lighted Fools do in the future.

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