For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur
Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days

In all honesty I don’t expect to walk a mile from my south London home and find a 5-star show in a local park. But a five-star rating means one of the best examples of a show of its type that the reviewer has ever seen – and that’s precisely what this is. Complete with sparky plot, imaginative promenade staging, a four-piece live band, gentle inclusion of topical issues and a show case for the skills of five fine, immaculately directed actors, it is an outstanding piece of work.

Loosely based (adapted by Jonathan Kaufman, who also directs, and Jane Walker) on Jules Verne’s 1873 novel this version of Around the World in Eighty Days gives us Phineas Fogg (Hjalmar Norden – excellent) taking a bet for £20,000 for his friends at the Reform Club and then setting off on his global circumnavigation with his servant Passepartout. In this show – stroke of genius –  Passpartout is played by the charismatic, Jimand Allotey and reworked as a very French woman in disguise fighting the establishment because she’s an inventor and wants to be recognised.   Once they reach India, of course there’s also a subtext about colonisation and tiger hunting – which is picked up again in California when they encounter the Navajo. It’s neatly done and seamless and feels absolutely right for now.

William Hastings delights in a whole raft of roles including the dim but determined Inspector Fix who thinks Fogg is a bank robber and pursues him. I also enjoyed his utterly ghastly tiger-shooting Cromarty. Lana Eyre plays Miss Lily, a Shanghai woman on the make, among other roles all with aplomb, and Deborah Chatterjee finds real dignity and humour in Rani, the Indian Queen who becomes Fogg’s love interest, as well as captaining a ship in trouble and being a suitably tiresome Hooray Henry at the Reform Club.

It’s a show full of strong staging ideas too. When Fogg and Passepartou cross the channel by balloon there’s a simple box they get into and walk it while the balloon is held aloft over the wall behind them. Similar witty ingenuity gets them across the Indian Ocean on a steamer and from San Francisco to New York by train.

The old bowling green in Mayow Park is a large square grassy space accessed by steps down and with a wide ledge (originally for spectators?)  – effectively an integral stage around its edge. This show is staged in four different parts of the green so that each site represents a place. On two corners are tents which act as “tiring houses” for all those quick changes.  You really couldn’t make better use of the space.

And as if that weren’t enough the four piece band Red, Hot and Blue are there sounding like the Temperance Seven (oh how  I love a farty sousaphone – bravo Marc Easener). They don different hats in different countries and play appropriate music such as “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” for the Channel crossing,  “Nellie the Elephant” for a gorgeous two person pachyderm in India, “The Stars and Stripes” for arrival in the USA and so on. They also provide sound effects such as Big Ben in London or the train in the USA where they also form part of it. And trumpeter, Peter Leonard does a witty little mime appearance as Queen Victoria.

Yes, it’s a very special show. There are four more performances. Get there if you possibly can and take the family with you. It really does work for any age.

  • : admin
  • : 03/08/2021
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so familiar that you might think that there’s not much scope left for originality. You’d be wrong as this interesting and highly competent production shows. Yes, why not have Demetrius and Lysander physically scrapping at the back like schoolboys during Egeus’s tiresome fulminations? Why not set the Rude Mechanicals’ burgomask to a clumpy accelerating version of the clog dance from La Fille Mal Garde with the three couples joining in? Why not put the Mechanicals in identifier placards for Pyramus and Thisbe so that they further subvert their own play? And those are just examples.  Directorial good ideas show up in nearly every scene – possibly because it is, unusually, directed by a quartet rather than by an individual.

The large cast – drawn via open auditions from amateur companies across the London Borough of Bromley – have not worked together before because Bromley Community Arts Theatre is a new venture. But, my goodness, they work smoothly as a team. The lovers’ quarrel in the wood is so slick and funny that it got a spontaneous round of applause in the performance I saw. Sarah Kidney simpers and sneers as Hermia. Alice Foster gets more and more upset and angry. And Robert O’Neill and Daniel Pabla as Lysander and Demetruis respectively have worked up a finely nuanced double act.

I really liked David Evans as Oberon. He has a very musical delivery managing both high and low “notes” with total clarity and audibility. He also conveys all the necessary charismatic gravitas and sinister other worldliness. Like all the cackling and hissing fairies, he wears floaty grey and black robes with lots of black and white makeup.  The rest of the cast are more or less in a fairly spiky form of modern dress with Hippolyta (Alicia Clarke, who plays her rather engagingly as quasi dominatrix with feminist sympathies) sporting a magnificent scarlet dress and gloves for her wedding.  Costumes are subtly colour coded too which is a neat touch. The nobles are in red and turquoise and the mechanicals in brown.

Most outstanding of all is Chris de Pury as Bottom. He commands the stage and knows exactly how to squeeze every possible laugh out of every word. His soliloquy when he wakes from the dream is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It is notable that he, like almost everyone else in this cast, manages to make the text sound freshly minted and very clear. The audience were laughing not only at stage business and situations but at the text itself and that is an achievement for any company.

The show sits beautifully in the amphitheatre in the park which, I gather, has not been used for a proper play for 20 years. The enormous trees and the lake provide a perfect setting and I’m pleased to learn that there are now plans to use the space again.

Bromley CAT has managed to stage this enjoyable production under extraordinarily difficult circumstances including Covid, restricted rehearsals and having to change venues three weeks before the opening. Warmest congratulations, therefore, to everyone involved and I look forward to seeing more work from this company very soon.

  • : admin
  • : 22/07/2021
The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale

All photos: Tim Morozzo

Back in the ‘Theatre’ at last (of sorts)! I’m lucky enough to be in The Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans, built in 140AD and, being the only outdoor theatre with a stage from its time, makes it not only distinctive but simply breathtaking. I can feel the history all around and before the performance even begins I’m on the edge of my seat excited.

King Leontes of Sicilia has the perfect family but his jealous mind cannot be tamed, convinced his pregnant wife is having an affair with his best friend, his rage sets in motion a string of tragic events. After many years desolate, Leontes is forced to face his past when his daughter returns to him and to a life to she never knew existed.

The production company, OVO, claims to want to make Shakespeare accessible in way that allows the audience to understand every aspect of what is being portrayed. The performance I am watching lives up to this big ask. The Winter’s Tale isn’t one of Shakepeare’s more popular plays. It’s rarely performed; possibly due to its complex journey of storytelling. It’s incredibly dark  in places and then switches to almost the light heartedness of a children’s fairytale. This version with its newly added narration by Adam Nichols, Janet Podd and Sophie Swithinbank is working perfectly at bringing this timeless classic into a modern minded world.

All staging and scenery is creative and effective, each scene changed without distracting the audience even though its being done in full view and containing enough detail to allow us to be transported to different lands. The mood of the scene or character is being generated by the many talents of the musicians, they are creating sound effects similar to a movie score playing during dramatic moments and in all honesty I am in awe. They provide a wide variety of musical genres and it seems effortless. They are clearly brilliant at what they do. One of the musicians, Helena Gullan, also performs a mesmerising vocal of I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston; a stunning rendition.

Everything is executed flawlessly, each scene is exciting and has purpose, it seems to flow perfectly, it’s clear it has been directed by Janet Podd and Adam Nichols with such precision creating a truly wonderful experience for the audience.

When it comes to the cast I can honestly say hand on heart that every single cast member is impressive, not a single weak link to be found, not that I want to find one. The standard of acting, singing and dancing across the board is so high. Add to this excellent comic timing, just the right amount of audience participation and enough vulnerability to bring me to tears more than once and you have a simply astonishing show.



I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen, read or taught Macbeth because I lost count years ago. If they gave badges for notching them up – as for blood donors – I’d be on Platinum by now. This show, I’m happy to report, is a very decent, succinct (95 minutes without interval) account of what is probably Shakespeare’s best known tragedy. It certainly attracted a pleasingly large crowd on a  warm evening at Hever. The sun was setting with scenic theatricality over the real-life castle as Macbeth finally realised his fate when confronted by Macduff at Dunsinane.

With an all-male cast of eight, this is intended to be the play as it might have been seen in Shakespeare’s time so it’s completely free of topical twists and the cast are mostly in shapeless brown clothes apart from Malcolm who wears a long cream coat-like robe and Lady Macbeth who wears a teal velvet dress. The neutral clothes help to facilitate the role doubling. Some of which has to be pretty nifty.

Ronnie Yorke, for instance, gives us a suitably bloody sergeant at the beginning of the play and then reappears a few minutes later as Macbeth.  He’s convincing both in his scenes with Rhys Warrington as Lady Macbeth and in his loneliness as the trap closes in the final minutes. His pivotal “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is nicely judged and moving.  And Warrington’s sleep walking is distressing without being overegged.

I admired the way the play had been cut. Donalbain has gone. Fleance is present but not visible so his lines have gone. And it had never occurred to me that you don’t actually need to see the murder of the Macduff family. After all Macbeth says he’s going to do it and we see Macduff’s reaction to it. The play, I now realise, can work perfectly well without it. And it’s a long time since I’ve seen a Macbeth in which the director (Peter Stickney) observes Shakespeare’s stage direction “exeunt fighting”. In this production Macduff and Macbeth simply disappear and then Macduff comes back with the head – as the playwright intended.

A word of praise to for the decision to use the late medieval French song “L’Homme Armé” and drums at the beginning and occasionally at other points. The energetic rhythm suits the play perfectly. I also admired Morgan Brind’s set which looks like craggy, vertical planks of wood vaguely connoting battlements. Steps behind it means that you have another performance level at the very top as well as several ways on and off at stage level. Ingeniously, part of it is detached to become the table for the banquet scene and other pieces come off to be the branches of Birnam Wood.

There were a lot of children and young people with their families at the performance I saw and that’s very encouraging to see. Moreover, for anyone who hasn’t seem much Shakespeare this “straight” production with its clear story telling would be a good starting point although, for me, it was acceptable without – for the most part – being especially memorable.

The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors

Above: Photo – Pavel Goneski

This is Comedy of Errors as you’ve probably never seen it before: a lot of fun and inching towards musical theatre as we hop from Sinatra to Queen to ABBA to I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside and more. We’re in a Greek karaoke bar in an Ephesus beach resort. Syracuse is a rival resort along the coast. The incongruity is part of the joke.

Despite the darker element of the distressed Egeon (Matthew Parker who also directs) being condemned to death for turning up to search for his lost family, this play is mainly a sit-com about two sets of identical twins separated in infancy and now the victims of a great deal of mistaken identity. Whenever I see this play I’m struck by the challenge of Egeon’s long explanatory speech which actually details the back story for the whole play. Uncut, it runs to 64 lines. Here Parker makes it moving and establishes a lot of pity for Egeon’s plight although he’s then more or less forgotten until the end of the play.

Some of the acting in this production is outstanding. Lewis Jackson as Antipholus of Syracuse (his first professional acting role) delights with his puzzled bravado and frustration as so much apparent nonsense is spoken to him. It’s an impressively strong performance and I look forward to seeing more of this actor’s work very soon.

I also admired Phoebe Marshall as Adriana, the wronged, misunderstood feisty wife and Rosie Edwards as the glad-eyed opportunist, Luciana. And this is a cast of eleven who work slickly and entertainingly together.

It’s a show full of witty touches such as Sam Denia as Dromio of Syracuse muttering “Oh god, there’s two of them” when he sees Luciana. Then Gabriel Fogarty Graveson as Antipholus of Ephesus is arrested and handcuffed with a long chain because of “new government regulations about one metre distance”. And William Donaldson is a very engaging drag queen acting as a quasi narrator and MC in the club.

A lot to like, then. I was, however, uneasy about the music in this production. There are a lot of songs many of which aren’t particularly well sung (although Phoebe Marshall is excellent). If it’s an attempt to sound amateurishly karaoke and a send up then it falls more than a bit flat – literally in some instances. There are, moreover too many songs. In places they feel bolted on and contrived.

Fanny And Stella

Fanny And Stella

Image: Fanny and Stella (Kane Verrall as Frederick William Park aka Fanny) and Jed Berry (Ernest Boulton aka Stella). Photo: Joseph Thomas

This is a show – about two, real life, Nineteenth Century gay cross-dressers – which resonates. They have been acquitted of indecency offences and now, as actors, take their show on the road to tell their story. Cue for some nifty and versatile role playing among the accomplished cast of six. Even today many people will recognise and identify with some of the serious issues it lightheartedly raises.

And the press night I went to was a pretty special occasion because for most of the threatre-starved critics in attendance this was the first live show they’d seen for five months. There was a great sense of joy in the atmosphere even before we were ‘safely’ escorted out to the Eagle’s newly reburbished garden. I for one, was thrilled and charmed, even to be in the same space as performance after such a long deprivation.

Jed Berry as Stella and Kane Verrall as Fanny spark well off each other – each character sometimes troubled but also being shamelessly outrageous. Mark Pearce is good value as Mr Grimes (a role he is reprising from a previous production) gamely becoming whatever character he’s required to. Glenn Chandler’s book and lyrics are spiky fun with lots of double entendres.

Charles Miller’s music is spot on for the 1870s with echoes of Arthur Sullivan and music hall. And it sets off the words which are sung with impeccable clarity by this well directed (Steven Dexter) cast. ‘Sodomy on the Strand’ is a fine, catchy song but maybe not one you’d want your child to pick up and sing at school. This is definitely an adult show. All the musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Clingham, playing keys in a face mask at the back of the playing area. And Nick Winston’s musical staging provides some compelling dance routines complete with smouldering looks and sexy shivers.

Saucy and ribald as it often is, this production of Fanny and Stella also has a quality of innocence about it and the end with its line about surely not having to wait another hundred years for tolerance and acceptance is ruefully moving. Generally though, The campness is delicious and by golly, it was good to be back in a theatre space.

  • : admin
  • : 11/08/2020