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The Book of Will

The Book of Will

And thereby hangs a tale

It is the 1620s and what remains of the acting troupe, the King’s Men, are bemoaning their lot in a tavern near the Globe.  Will Shakespeare is dead, and as they remember the old days they are interrupted by an over the top Hamlet (Tarek Slater) declaiming a corrupted script.  They realise that if they don’t do something, Shakespeare’s work will be forgotten.  It is a fact that Shakespeare’s plays were at one time something that could have been lost to the world. The problem is most of his work only exists in the memories of actors. What is more, they were only ever given their own parts of the script.  Now versions are appearing all over London that are plagiarised and inaccurate.  How to prevent this is an imaginative idea by the playwright, Lauren Gunderson, who would you believe it, happens to be American.

The concept of the play revolves around the manager, John Heminges (Russell Richardson) and the famous Shakespearean actors Henry Condell (Bill Ward) and Richard Burbage (Zach Lee) deciding to track down all the original versions of the plays.  In high-energy performances, they do just that, with the help of some copies kept surreptitiously by a clerk Ralph Crane (Tomi Ogbaro).

The production takes place in the round with a minimalist set, whilst various characters appear including the Dark Lady of the sonnets and a drunken and roistering Ben Johnson (Andrew Whitehead).

Along the way, Richard Burbage dies, he is the one who acts out his famous roles at the drop of a hat.  He still has most of the parts in his memory, reinforcing the need to find the original versions of the plays. Additionally, the wife of John Heminges dies, the tragedy of which nearly derails the task. How the men finally achieve their aim, is an interesting watch.  The cast sit round the table, writing furiously, quoting speeches, arguing and debating. Shakespearian quotes are thrown out with great abandon, actors race around the stage, characters jump up on the table and hurtle in from all directions.  Although, it is useful for the audience to recognise the extracts from plays as they ring out, it is not essential

When the folio is pulled together, nobody wants to print it.  However, a corrupt blind printer is finally persuaded to do so, as long as he’s kept on the straight and narrow via his son Isaac (Callum Sim).

As the actors debate the various plays, they reflect on life, its tragedies and the futility of unreal drama in the theatre.  However, as Henry Condell states, although the situations are unreal, performed by actors, the feeling is real and that is the important thing.  The play is as much about life as it is about Shakespeare

As a finale, when the complete works are gathered, title are called out, Lear, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in rushes Bottom etc., as characters energetically enter and exit as one character, and reappear as another via quick changes.  The whole production is very imaginative, I especially liked the printed scripts of Romeo and Juliet hung out to dry on washing lines.

In typical Shakespearian style the play ends with a dance, only this time it is to Young Hearts Run Free with some funky moves, and not to forget the most famous line from a Winter’s Tale, ‘exit pursued by bear.’

The playwright, Lauren Gunderson, is one of the USA’s most widely performed playwrights, best known for her adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife. The play is witty and factual, in the same way as Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love and one of my favourite TV programmes the comedy The Upstart Crow. The play, directed by Lotte Wakeham is an ensemble piece and one that could just be talking heads, zips along, bringing an event to life, merging fact with fiction.

It is a most enjoyable evening at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch and one not to be missed.


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  • : 27/04/2023
Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure

All photos: Helen Murray

Usually listed –  by people who feel the need to categorise – rather uneasily as a comedy, Measure for Measure is actually a pretty serious play although it descends close to farce in Acts 4 and 5 which is why the compulsive categorisers call it a ‘problem play’.

Blanche McIntyre’s 1970s take on it plays it for laughs. Her cast of eight (there’s some very accomplished doubling) squeeze every possible innuendo and comic reaction from the text which is adeptly cut with the addition of a line here and there or a changed word so make sure the story telling is as clear as it could be.

Sometimes the laughter, however, seems inappropriate. This play is at heart about the attempt of political leader to use his power seduce a young girl while at the same time ruthlessly condemning (to death) others who ‘fornicate’.  There’s nothing funny about that. The hypocrisy rings hideously, topically true. And there are some horribly familiar attitudes, “See that she has needful but not lavish means” says Angelo, coldly, of the heavily pregnant Juliet reminding me, on this occasion of many people’s attitudes to cold, wet migrants on beaches.

So, although this production is beautifully staged and the acting outstanding there are still problems in the play which are not addressed.

Hattie Ladbury makes a good unambiguously female Duke. Tall and cadaverous in appearance, intense and unsmiling she manipulates other people like a puppet master although it is, as ever, a puzzle why she puts Angelo in charge thereby putting the welfare of so many people at risk given what she knows of his background.

Georgia Landers’s Isabella is warmly righteous and fluent in her pleas for her brother’s life but she doesn’t quite bring out the unconscious eroticism of her lines and it’s hard to see quite why Angelo suddenly feels he must have her virginity.

In a strong cast Eloise Secker stands out as Pompey, flirting with the audience with insouciant insolence. She gives him a sense of undaunted wisdom which doesn’t always come through. Secker also gives us a wan, wistful Mariana looking like a young Diana, Princess of Wales – all blonde bob and hurt. And at the end she is forcibly married to a man who clearly doesn’t want her. Secker does the troubled mixed feelings well.

There’s a good performance from Gyuri Sarossy as Lucio too, a man too garrulous for his own good. Sarrossy watches, reacts and times his interjections totally convincingly. He also conveys Lucio’s friendship with Claudio and the contrasting coldness to Pompey effectively. It’s a gift of a part and Sarossy really runs with it.

I’m unsure about the comedy of the executioner struggling on with an axe as if we were in The Mikado or producing Raguzine’s head dripping with blood or various other moments contrived to make us laugh. An innocent man’s life is quite seriously at risk (“Be absolute for death”) and we shouldn’t be allowed to forget that.

All in all, though, it’s an entertaining evening but this account of the play but – and maybe that’s the essence of theatre – it asks more questions than it answers. I liked, though, the ending, in which ambiguity, incongruity and indecision is built into the text. Both Ladbury and Landers drive that home with eloquent facial expression.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse setting is exquisite, smaller than some pub theatres, and candle-lit – with the (mostly masked) audience packed in like sardines in an authentically Elizabethan/Jacobean way. They wanted vaccination status at the entrance. Otherwise it was a case of “Covid be damned” just as the first audience would, I suppose, have regarded the plague. I was puzzled by three groups of people separately walking out in the first half, though. Did they not like the play, the production, the crowding or the backless benches?



Image: Peter Mould

Stephen John founded the local company in 2013 with the ambition to perform the entire cannon of William Shakespeare`s prolific output of work. To start a theatre company would have daunted many a man, but not Stephen. He directs, acts and runs the company. At the conclusion of this evening, momentarily his voice appeared to break with emotion as he, in effect, pleaded for the audience to support `live` theatre. This was quite touching and in contrast with the voice he had sustained alone on the stage for two hours (plus an interval). His diction, training and passion for the subject all shone through in the final performance of this production, which came about due to the pandemic. Variations on the title will be presented in the future but not in this complete evening format. The decision to present this one man show avoided many risks in casting and costs. All previous performances have been presented open air at the Half House Farm, Hastings, again risk with the climate but a good option in the current circumstances.

The audience took their seats, viewing the open set, dressed with dummies draped in costumes and topped with colourful masks, Two fine chairs and a coat stand with bowler hats completed the scene. At this venue, an ideal size for this show, good use was made of the available lighting under the direction of Chris Packham (C Packham Events Ltd).

The presentation is at once mobile and adaptable to many different venues which has been a hallmark of the company. It is indeed a brave man who takes to the stage alone and presents himself. In some performers this might well be an ego trip and not without risk if the material or performance was below par, it would fairly quickly pall and maybe falter. It is no easy undertaking to engage with an audience and then ‘hold’ them for an evening, that this succeeds is a mark of the quality of the presentation. Shining through is the high level of acquired knowledge, research and with the real ability to communicate his absolute passion, well expressed with a great & clear voice, impeccable diction, mixed with odd moments of somewhat ‘quirky’ humour. Stephen has selected speeches to perform and uses items of costumes to assist in this. We learned of the enduring influence of the language of plays and sonnets over the centuries. Also explanation of the genres to which our modern tendency to categorise pieces of work and the idea was put forward that the plays were relevant to the times in which the author lived. Attempting to play many different characters is difficult when the speeches are being heard outside of the plays themselves, the inherent danger is to exaggerate the characteristics for the sake of difference. However, as this is not a performance of the play and is as much a lecture, a showcase for the company`s commitment and an advertisement to secure future engagements, it is accompanied by a well produced new brochure, issued to audience members. Time marches on and it was under a new guise Stephen took to the stage, gone are the flowing locks and instead a shaved head and moustache, it made donning hats easier. Stephen clearly has a very bright future and will build on what he has achieved so far, plans are in progress for a full programme for 2022. Stephen is an educator, actor, director, impresario, producer and with numerous references to books on the author, it can only be time before he emerges as a published author. There are also plans to move on to other playwrights. This may well be a wise move as no matter how much one loves a particular author or part of the arts, there is too much that might be missed & absorbed and related back to the original playwright. if a too narrow focus was locked forever. I did feel that just occasionally, even momentarily in odd moments the actor might have been helped with the right director just suggesting ideas. I almost immediately have rejected this notion as if you tried to change this one man “Shakespeare obsessive” as he describes himself, something may well be lost. In his boots, smock and loose ‘trousers’, as he left the stage , I imagined him strolling out into the night air and onwards with a cart to an ale house and bed of hay and as the sun rose… this strolling player tramping down lanes and the next night regaling a new audience with his tales and knowledge, for as the lights shine and it is time to emote, the sap will rise and the blood will course as the passion emerges.

Since last night and reflecting on what we saw, I keep thinking how effective this would be as a Radio 4 programme in maybe four segments. Good luck for the 2022 & beyond.

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  • : 19/11/2021
A Merchant of Venice

A Merchant of Venice

All photos: Guy Bell –

This felt like a somewhat important occasion as the audience contained several well-known figures. It was full and in touching distance of the cast. The set was spare with an open, square space and benches on all four sides, netting covering the main entrance on one side and a generally dark feel to the stage. Corner floodlights initially lit the cast and somewhat overwhelmed the audience.

John McAndrew, as Antonio, set the tone of the evening as he stood with little expression or emotion to deliver his opening, “In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” His style of delivery remained throughout the play. One can only assume that this was deliberate.

His partner for the opening was Mary Chater, who played Solania. She was the only character beyond the five major protagonists in the original play and she was used by the director, Bill Alexander, to provide continuity to the severely reduced plot. This worked well as did the use of devices such as calling to someone off stage (Jessica) or making a phone call (Tubal). Other missing characters were referred to (Lorenzo) or were completely absent (Launcelot).  All of this editing and positioning of the play worked well.

The key early scene is when Bassanio, played by Alexander Knox, describes to Antonio his love for a woman called Portia. Alexander establishes the character of Bassanio in this section and maintains it well throughout the play. He makes excellent use of the stage space and makes connection with all parts of the audience.

In this latter regard, Lena Robin as Portia makes even more of a connection with the audience by both looking directly at people and by parading her phone and the pictures of her many potential suitors. This early rapport with the audience is not really built on as her remaining are a little flat.

The big entrance of the play is that of Shylock, played by Peter Tate. He stands opposite Bassanio as he fails to respond to entreaties to take the bond. This is a big scene for Shylock with the famous speech where he notes, “You spit on me on Wednesday last” and yet, “I’ll lend you thus much moneys.” Throughout the remainder of the play Tate maintains Shylock’s hurt, unfair stance. The audience is left feeling uneasy towards him and, despite a short additional moment added by the director where Shylock contemplates suicide, there is no resolution.

There is a key section of the play where much of what Shakespeare wrote is edited out. This seems to work, and we are left with the knowledge that Bassanio will marry Portia and that Antonio is in deep trouble as his ships have foundered and Shylock is on his case after Shylock discovers that his daughter has eloped and taken his jewels. Shylock declares, “I will have the heart of him” in reference to Antonio – all said very effectively on the phone to Tubal.

All the action in the first act of the play (as presented in two acts lasting one hour and, forty minutes respectively) takes place in the open empty space of the theatre. The key court scene in the second act is set on six metal framed chairs. They face forwards and the actors sit squarely or twist and turn as their speeches require. As an ex-director of this play, I know how tricky it is set this scene and this works effectively.

In many respects this is Portia’s scene, but the director has set her in a minor placing at the back of rows of chairs. Her big speech. “The quality of mercy is not strained…” is delivered well and perhaps the minor placing works as the star of this scene as presented is Shylock. It certainly works when Shylock sharpens the knife on the sole of his shoe. That said, in the original, Antonio’s plight as the knife is raised above his breast is a piece of drama that we are not given.

The very odd moment in this whole play is when Shylock is shown alone muttering the words of a hymn and taking poison out of his pocket. As far as I could see this is the only section of the play that is not Shakespeare. It feels to me as though the director, whom I assume was the author of this version of the play (in the programme – “my version of the play”) has felt the need to assure us that we know he is the author/ editor.

It might seem surprising reading this that the standout character of this performance is Alex Wilson as Gratiano. Whilst his role had little influence on the plot, every time he was on stage the whole performance raised a gear. He was animated and clearly responding to everything that was happening. This was especially true in the court scene. He was beyond dismayed that Antonio was going to die and when it became clear that the victim was going to be Shylock, he went into overdrive, No wonder Shylock felt the need to top himself!

The final act of the play was essentially as Shakespeare intended with Portia catching Bassanio in an impossible trap as he cannot show the ring. The performance of both Lean and Alexander is well captured in these final moments.

A slight anti-climax is Antonio finding himself alone at the end of the play with no Jessica to withhold her cross from. One has had few clues throughout the play as to what is going on in his head – so we are left slightly adrift at this ending.

All in all, the play works in this amended version and is well supported through the work of Ryan Day on lighting and Sarah Sayeed on sound. The early problem with being blinded by the light is replaced by excellent use of light and sound in this highly charged format. The costumes are fine for the men, but the ladies seem not to be quite in modern dress leaving the audience slightly off balance.

As noted at the beginning, this performance seemed to be a mecca for famous people. From the various reactions of the audience to key points in the play and the enthusiastic applause at the end, requiring an unscripted re-entry of the cast for an unlit bow, it seemed to work.

Ophelia Thinks Harder

Ophelia Thinks Harder

Jean Betts is well known as an actor, director and playwright in New Zealand but less so in the UK. And that’s a pity because her Ophelia Thinks Harder is the most grown up, clever – and very thoughtful – play I’ve seen in a long time. Full marks to Sedos for staging it with such aplomb – and under such difficult circumstances. It was all set to go in March 2020 and we all know what happened then. Now it is reborn as the opening show in Sedos’s post-pandemic season.

We’re in Hamlet – obviously. Ophelia (Natalie Harding-Moore) is mourning her mother and thinking hard about a lot of things such as how women should be defined. The play is for her a journey of discovery as we work, more or less, through the plot of Hamlet with lots of spin, quirks and re-roling as the characters we thought we knew all morph into something else along with other characters such as the ghost of Joan of Arc (Freya Thomas – good), three old women who are actually Macbeth’s witches and various maids. There’s Horatio (Rhydian Harris), kind, reasonable and sympathetic to Ophelia in more ways than one. Polonius (David Pearson) is hideously self interested and repugnant. Danielle Capretti’s Queen, who operates the King as a glove puppet is slimy and as unmotherly as she could be.

And all this uses Shakespeare’s language woven in and out of modern English and asides. The Shakespeare goes way beyond Hamlet. There are witty borrowings from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet. Macbeth, the sonnets and probably lots more I missed as the dialogue sailed past. The script is as good as anything by Stoppard.  It’s fiercely feminist with a lot of profoundly shocking things said by male characters. So much so that Sedos have placed a warning notice near the auditorium entrance.

It is, then, a challengingly ambitious play for a non-professional company but this is Sedos directed by Matt Bentley and it comes off very successfully. It makes, for example, excellent use of the Bridwell’s big performing space fading back into the shadows where clothes rails stand. Harding-Moore’s Ophelia begins as a rather wooden heroine. Two and a half hours later she’s bouncing with new-found confidence as, disguised as Osric, she joins the Players (who have, by the way, a lot of fun with sending up theatre. actors and the industry) and sets off for a new life. Harding-Moore is a fine actor in a huge role who really makes you think about the plight of women at all points in history.

And I’ve left Josh Beckman as Hamlet until last because he is outstanding – snarling, posturing, dominating. Even the curl of his fingers is expressive. His (sort of) closet scene with Capretti is a tour de force. He is an actor who changes the dynamic on stage the moment he appears.

Definitely one to catch if you can. Or if you can’t then at least read the play.

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

We’re very clearly in Italy – with espresso coffee cups, red wine street noise, a swimming pool and some very stylish clothes. And to signal that it’s the 1930s we start with soldiers marching under an Italian Fascist flag. But it’s not a gimmicky production. The textual cuts are just enough to keep it fast paced and almost every actor speaks the lines with clarity and conviction so that the story telling is as clear as I’ve ever seen it.

The Merchant of Venice is a widely misunderstood play which many people dismiss as racist. In fact it is a play about racism and therefore arrestingly topical. Moreover, it’s always a treat to come back to in my view because it’s one of the best structured of all Shakespeare’s plays.

There is a much to like in Tower Theatre Company’s take on it. Nisha Emich’s Portia is reminiscent of Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary in Downton abbey, darting from bitchiness to warmth and from total command in the trial scene to her return to Belmont and union with the man she fancies. It’s a very plausible performance.

Ian Recordon resists all temptation to present Shylock as a stereotypical villainous Jew. Instead we get a reasonable, be-suited old man trying to make a living in a city which loathes him and his kind. One feels faintly surprised at his sense of humour in coming up with the bond idea in the first place. It is only after the appalling desertion of scheming thieving Jessica (Cymbre Barnes – gently good) that the worm turns and he becomes vindictive  for which no reasonable person could blame him.

I liked Nick Hall’s take on Antonio too – a world weary Merchant and “tainted wether of the flock”. Yes, he’s probably a gay man in love with Bassanio but director David Taylor and his cast don’t stress that especially. We feel his pain strongly at the end as the three couples smooch-dance into the dawn and he is left alone.

Other noteworthy performances include Rahul Singh, a natural comedian I suspect, who coaxes every possible laugh out of Launcelot Gobbo. Dale Robertson – looking very much like Freddie Fox – brings an appropriately untrustworthy dimension to Bassanio and Alison du Cane and Fiona Costello are good value as Solania and Salania enjoying Shylock’s predicament and sharing their gossipy tabloidesque headlines with each other and the audience.

Peter Foster’s set is neat too: based on two rows of moveable boxes which look vaguely like weathered marble and can be pushed round the stage to suggest almost anything. And what a good idea to turn the caskets into a mechanical musical device so that they teeter forward each born by a black clad figure.

I enjoyed this show for 139 minutes categorising it in my mind as a very decent, watchable show of its type – and therefore three star. It was the final 15 seconds which won it the fourth star. I won’t spoil it here but it hit me right between the eyes and gave me something to reflect on all the way home.

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  • : 02/09/2021
Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

All small touring companies excel in versatility but Illyria really take multi-roleing to a new level. In this show five actors present a play which is blessed (cursed?) with one of Shakespeare’s most complicated plots – darting on and off stage in different costumes at impressive speed. And most of the time it works although knowing the play is an advantage – not shared, I think, by every audience member at the performance I saw.

It’s a strange piece anyway. The Beatrice and Benedick story is arguably a subplot. Yet, in many ways it’s far more interesting and nuanced than the main patriarchal narrative about Hero and Claudio.

David Sayers is outstanding as Benedick. He grimaces, squirms, banters, joshes and has a delightful repertoire of puzzled, alarmed and anguished faces. Master of comic timing, he coaxes a laugh out of lines I’ve barely noticed before. And, among other roles, he also gives us a delightfully slimy, cowardly Borachio wriggling around trying to save his own skin.

His scenes with Nicola Foxfield’s Beatrice are nicely nuanced and she finds all the right feistiness spliced with a hint of vulnerability. And of course the whole point – made very clear in this production – is that the two of them are drawn to each other from the outset which is why they love to spar with, and goad, each other. It’s yet another of Shakespeare’s very perceptive creations. Foxfield also does a mannish Claudio – devastated when he realises how he has wronged Hero – and a very enjoyable Verges complete with broad Brummie accent.

I liked Rachel O’Hare’s very feminine Hero and her absurd self-important, goose-stepping Dogberry. Chris Laishley is suitably paternal as Leonato and dastardly as Don John while Chris Wills does well as Don Pedro and Friar Francis among other roles.

Alan Munden’s set – which has to be portable, obviously – provides a small raised platform backed by an upper level reached by steps on both sides as well as out of sight at the back. This neatly allows entries and exits on three levels.  A simple tent providing a “tiring house” behind wherein all those high speed costume changes take place, visibly if you’re seated to the side which makes the whole thing seem more inclusive.

One clever touch in this production (veteran director Oliver Gray who founded this company 30 years ago knows what he’s doing) is the use of a few seconds of stage business to allow a costume change and re-entry. Nicola Foxfield as Verges momentarily struggles to drag a heavy anvil off stage, for example. Or we see Sayers as Benedick thinking and pulling faces briefly alone on stage before the next bit of action follows seamlessly.

Tonbridge Castle is ideal for outdoor theatre. Its central circular grassy area is effectively an auditorium and the building behind makes a good backdrop although you can hear sirens and traffic from the nearby high street and the good acoustic is a mixed blessing. It means you can hear the actors very clearly but also that if members of the public are elsewhere in the space and chattering you can hear that too.

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  • : 28/08/2021
A Bard in the Hand

A Bard in the Hand

Main image: 3 Citizens – Dianne Aspinall, Ellis Russell, Isobel Russel,  Mistress Quickly – Libby Pike, Kit Marlowe – Jason Harris, The Earl of Oxford – Simon Lynch,  2 Citizens – Martie Cain and Angela Burton,  Ferdinand Romeo – Mitch Hammer

Reviewed by: Glenys Lloyd Williams

The centre of Bembridge was buzzing with boos and hisses. But it’s not Christmas I hear you cry! It’s not even winter! It would be, though, for the eager audiences who filled the village hall last week to see Maureen Sullivan’s new panto entitled A Bard in the Hand.

Evidently time travel is possible in Shakespeare-land because Will himself (sporting a very high forehead) starts the show with “Is this the winter of our discontent?”  The prose morphs into panto banter, and we discover his discontent is because he has writer’s block. Will confides in his chum and superspy extraordinaire, Kit Marlowe, smoothly and 007ly depicted by Jason Harris – so elegant in black and gold and in total command of all his weapons. He suggests Will might get inspiration by listening to local some chatter of the Citizens of London, energetically played, danced and sung by Martie Cain, Dianne Aspinall, Angela Burton, Debbie Gills, Ellis Russell and Isobel Russell. Even ‘Thriller’ and ‘Fame’ got in there!

Aha, the Baddie? The Earl of Oxford is after Will’s plays so that he will be remembered forever; portrayed in dastardly fashion by Simon Lynch. Strangely, he felt over-booed, so we booed some more!  He curries favour with Nettie the tire-maker (‘wig’ in Elizabethan parlance – hence our word, ‘attire’) who is Will’s landlady.  Dame Barnet, is exuberantly played by Amanda Gregory in a blue hooped dress, orange tire and doll-like make up. Mistress Quickly from next door (fabulously characterised by Libby Pike), often pops in, all in green, to entice (any) man with her tarts and opportunely placed Belgian buns.

Ben Jonson, (Karl Whitmore) with sidekick, Barnet, (John Hammond) had to get to the pub to think up a name for his ground-breaking book of words and their meanings, which he hopes will be in every home.

There were lots of Ba(r)d jokes and quotes from various plays completely out of context and entwined in one big ball of laughter and mishap. For example, Ferdinand Romeo (Mitch Hammer) is really Hamlet and falls for Miranda Barnet (Ella Gregory) and her teddy bear.  Yes – “exits pursued by a bear” is squeezed in there too, along with “a horse, a horse…”, “is that a dagger I see before me…”, “to pay or not to pay that is the question..” “Alas, poor Yorick” and “the quality of myrrh-tea is not strained..”   The Earl was carted off by Batman and Robin!?  Will’s wife (Jane Robert) even turns up, complete with brummie accent.

All the actors were amazing, throwing their energy into every step and word.  The costumes created by Andrew Wilson-Jenner were totally fabulous. Andrew also expertly took the role of Will himself with a wily mixture of patter, perplexity, pathos and panic. The band added depth to the songs and punchlines.  Well done to those behind the scenes and front of house.  All volunteers of course.

Watch out for the sequel.  Could it be ‘a Summer’s Tale’ in the depth of winter?

Next BLTC production in November is ‘NUNSENSE’.

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  • : 13/08/2021
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.

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  • : 22/07/2021
Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost

All photos: lhphotoshots

Whenever I see Love’s Labour’s Lost I’m struck by what a good play it is, in so many ways – so many interesting roles – and I wonder why it has never garnered the popularity of, say, Twelfth Night. It’s a pretty appropriate choice for now too since, as the opening song points out in this production, the starting point is four men choosing to self-isolate.

The King of Navarre and three courtiers vow to eschew the company of women and to live as self denying ascetics for a three year study period. Of course this doesn’t last long once a French princess turns up with three attractive ladies. Then there are subplots involving the lower born Costard and Jaquenetta and a ludicrously flamboyant Spaniard, named Don Amardo. To achieve all this with just four actors as Open Bar does is a rather stunning piece of imaginative versatility, which includes some witty homespun puppets.

It is also striking that the textual cuts are quite light so that the show runs well over  2 hours 30 minutes. That means that each member of this talented quartet has to work very hard but the energy levels are such that they make of each of them having to speak  as many lines as Hamlet seem effortless.

Each actor does a whole range of voices and the doubling is often fast and furious as well as gender-blind. Stuart Turner adeptly switches from earnest King to deliciously camp Boyet to the ridiculous Moth. Grace Kelly Miller gives us a warm princess, a hilariously pedantic Holfernes and has a field day as Don Amardo. I really liked the gently subtlety of Charlotte Worthing’s Costard alongside her deep-voiced Longaville and her determined Rosaline.

And as for Adam Courting as Berowne, he makes him plausible and charismatic although my judgement of any actor playing this role is impaired by very fond memories of seeing David Tennant do it with the RSC in 2008. Courting’s Sir Nathaniel is fun and, like all this cast, he is very good at flirting with the audience and making remarks which pretend to be out of role and off-the-cuff. Thus we get references to masks and Matt Hancock as well as nice injections of modern English and a commentary on the play as a running gag. David Knight’s jolly songs at the beginning of each half and at the end are part of this.

This engaging show is produced by Fullers and tours its pub gardens – hence the company name: Open Bar. It’s an enlightened idea which both brings people into pubs to buy food and drink while also providing work for actors and theatre creatives. I approve heartily of such an initiative given the challenges currently faced in the hospitality and performing arts industries.