I Value the arts

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Review: Twelfth Night - Red Rose Chain, Rendlesham Forest

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, and in Red Rose Chain’s delightfully inventive Twelfth Night, the seaside has been brought into the heart of Rendlesham Forest.

In what is now their twelfth annual summer residency in the forest, what else could the company stage but Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece?

The forest clearing has been transformed into a beachside playground, a giant sand pit complete with two beach huts, a washed up fishing boat and a Punch and Judy pavilion. Against this colourful and inventive backdrop, the tale of shipwrecked twins, lovelorn rulers and mischievous servants is played out with a breathless energy. It’s a vibrant, multi-coloured world, reminiscent of the saucy seaside postcard world of artist Donald McGill.

With only a cast of eight, director Joanna Carrick has cleverly doubled characters without losing dramatic drive. Her script adaptation, with David Newborn, also reduces the text to provide an accessible introduction to the piece but without losing the wit and wonder of Shakespeare’s original. There are some ingenious ways around the small size cast – the residents of Illyria portrayed by seagulls while the sea Captain Antonio is portrayed by a scene stealing puppet dog.

Red Rose Chain's Twelfth Night
Inventiveness and humour are the two cornerstones of this production. No attempt is made to conceal the surreal nature of the plot and the piece is played for full comic potential. From the now trademark pre show engagement with their audience, through two and a half hours the company don’t miss a single beat in wringing every drop of humour out of the story. Music, slapstick, visual delights and clowning all make for a side-splitting Twelfth Night.

There are strong performances from the entire company, coping admirably with the challenges of open air performances and the odd battle with passing aircraft. Among a universally strong cast there are stand out performances from Christopher Ashman as the effeminate, blond wigged, panto horse riding Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ashman also doubling as a vain, self centred Duke Orsino), Owen Mogan’s guitar wielding Feste serenading a member of the audience and Fleur Keith’s transformation from grieving daughter and sister to a brazenly lustful Oliver.

Standout performance however of the evening has to be Edward Day’s Malvolio, a delicious creation of flailing limbs and outraged utterances. Malvolio’s downfall is a scene of pure comic delight, his betrayal featuring yellow striped Lycra and a rendition of Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, while his descent into apparent madness in custody transformed into a Punch & Judy show.

Jimmy Grimes’ set and Gemma Rushbrook’s costume designs provide an injection of Technicolor to more than match the outrageous colourful behaviour on stage.

Purists may flinch at the idea of such an overtly over the top production but when one remembers that Shakespeare wrote his plays to provide popular entertainment to the masses, rather than for scholarly debate, it seems wholly appropriate. Give such a fresh and imaginative production, one can only envy those in the audience who are seeing Twelfth Night for the very first time. This is the perfect introduction to Shakespeare and young and old would be hard pressed to find a more delightful staging of Twelfth Night anywhere in the country.

Twelfth Night ends with a song including the line - 'For the rain it raineth every day', lets just keep fingers crossed that Red Rose Chain haven’t tempted fate for their summer in the forest but come rain or shine this is one production that will brighten any theatre goers heart.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Review: Potted Potter - Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Never work with children or animals. Extend that to dragons, house elves and precocious children and you have to admire CBBC’s Dan and Jeff’s (Dan Clarkson and Jefferson Turner) bravery.

As the film franchise of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series draws to a close, the intrepid duo revive their madcap romp through all seven HP novels in just over 70 minutes.

Before Ms Rowling’s lawyers start to worry, this is a tongue firmly in cheek parody of the world of the boy wizard, played with affection but never afraid to mock the source material.

It’s been two years since the duo last performed the piece, and this is only the second show of a short preview tour before the show heads to Edinburgh but it’s lost none of its energy or chemistry.

It takes real skill to parody a well loved work and the duo give a performance of apparent chaos that belies the tightness of performance and timing. Jeff plays the Potter ‘nerd’ an expert on all seven novels while Dan confuses Hogwarts with warthogs and the books with the Lord of the Rings and Narnia. With Jeff donning the trademark Potter glasses and Dan valiantly trying to portray the remaining characters, the duo actually manage to provide a strangely informative summary of the Potter story arc.
Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner in Potted Potter

There are some delightful moments to savour; an audience participatory game of quidditch, a PowerPoint summary of The Prisoner of Azkaban and a full on musical finale featuring a Potter/Voldermort version of the Gloria Gaynor classic I Will Survive and an inspired return of deceased house elf Dobby with a hilarious rendition of Sinatra’s My Way.

Yes, there are some mistakes on the way but the genial duo incorporates these seamlessly into the show resulting in a sense of being included on some big in joke.

Having sold over 450 million copies, the world of Harry Potter has now become a well-established creation. For anyone who has somehow managed to escape the wizardry and don’t fancy ploughing their way through seven novels or eight films, Potted Potter could, surreally, be an ideal introduction to the franchise. Fans of the material or not Potted Potter is a perfect comic creation – simply magic.

Photo: Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner in Potted Potter. Picture by Geraint Lewis

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Interview: James Grieve - Paines Plough: no time to waste

When James Grieve and George Perrin took over as Artistic Directors of touring theatre company Paines Plough in February 2010, it must have been with a certain amount of trepidation. Certainly, the company had a 37-year history as a foremost exponent of new writing that the pair had to live up to and, with such luminaries as Vicky Featherstone (National Theatre of Scotland), Anna Furse (Goldsmiths), and Roxana Silbert (RSC) having held the AD’s post before them, the vacant boots must clearly have seemed daunting and cavernous.

However, Grieve’s pedigree as founder and Artistic Director, and Perrin’s as Co-Artistic Director, of Nabokov Theatre held them in good stead and the tangible result of that is that Paines Plough is one of the few companies that saw its Arts Council funding actually increase after the generally crippling review of earlier this year.

Grieve is ebullient about the changes that he and Perrin have brought to Paines Plough. “When we took over the job we did so with an ambition to continue Paines Plough’s core remit, which is to produce new plays and to tour them, but we wanted to produce even more plays than the company had ever done before, tour them to more places and return to those places more often.

“Our first season was nine productions in 30 towns and cities around the UK. This year we’re aiming for 10 plays in around 40 towns and cities. Next year we’re aiming to do 10 productions again but this time going to 100 places. So it’s more work, so producing more great plays and touring them as widely as we possibly can.”

True to form, Paines Plough took an unusual offering to Latitude, Wasted, a gritty three-hander by performance poet-cum-rap artist Kate Tempest. Indeed, Tempest’s rhythmic metre is obvious throughout the tale of a group of post-Skins 20-somethings who find themselves caught in a cycle of work and hedonism with little respite between. It’s all the more poignant for the constant reference by the three protagonists to their deceased friend, Tony, who has perhaps died at the same time as their childhood.

Grieve is clearly not enamoured with the comparison to the Channel 4 series. “Skins was very much set among a group of middle-class teenagers whose opportunities were there even if they chose not to take them,” he asserts sharply. “Wasted looks at working class people who have to strive even harder to find those opportunities. There’s a lot of great work produced at the moment about a generation of young people who are not sure of their place in the world, whereas their parents’ generation had a clearer path – leave school, go to university, get a job – it seems more complicated now for young people.”

James Grieve of Paines Plough
Despite the obvious challenges of sound and weather, James Grieve is a strong advocate of events like Latitude. “They’re massively important,” he says. “The audiences here are incredible; it’s one of the most exciting places anywhere to make work. We had a huge crowd on Friday night of 600 or 700 people, who were all at a music festival and choosing to come and watch theatre when they could have been watching one of the bands. They’re really lively, exciting and vibrant crowds but they’re also audiences with taste and integrity. It’s 12 o’clock on a Friday night at a music festival and they’re all sitting and engaging with theatre.”

So with muddy and wet challenges of Latitude 2011 now firmly behind them, James Grieve is looking to the future. “For the first time, Paines Plough is going to have its own theatre,” he enthuses. This is evidently a subject that inspires. “It’s going to be portable, a 150-seat auditorium – in the round – that will flat pack into the back of a lorry. In the autumn it will pop up at Sheffield Theatres in the Crucible Studio and, along with Sheffield Theatres, we’re co-producing a repertory of three plays with an ensemble of actors running from September to December.

“Then, as of next year, the auditorium will tour all over the country, initially to theatres but then to school halls and village halls, and sports centres.”

Who knows? With James Grieve’s obvious enthusiasm for the festival, it a fair bet that Latitude will also be on the cards.

Paul Couch

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Review: Electra - Latitude Festival

There’s something chilling about sitting alfresco in the Suffolk sunshine on a Sunday morning, being snowed on by (fake snow) and watching a 2000 year old play about family murder and matricide.

Sophocles’ Electra has been given a gripping adaptation by Nick Payne and brought to Latitude by the Gate Theatre. In a festival environment there is often a transient audience as festival goers dip in and out of performances. It’s testament to the power of this tragic masterpiece that, despite the chill and the damp in the air, a large audience sat on the ground gripped throughout.

Unable to forgive her mother for the murder of her father, Electra is a woman torn apart by grief and the desire for revenge. Her family are unable to comprehend her grief and this only fuels her desire for revenge.

On stage throughout, Cath Whitefield delivers a mesmerising performance as Electra, hauntingly chilling in her grief but tempered with inner steel. This is a woman that is utterly believable as she sets out on her bloody path. There’s also strong performances from Madeleine Potter (Clytemnestra), Alex Prices (Orestes) and Natasha Broomfield as Chrysothemis.

Electra by Gate Theatre

Making great use of the forest setting, Holly Waddington’s tile clad stage and an evocative score by Tom Mills, Carrie Cracknell’s production makes this classic Greek text powerfully relevant.

This fresh, contemporary adaptation never devalues the original drama but makes for an utterly gripping, immensely powerful and moving production.

Photo: Cath Whitefield as Electra. Picture by Simon Kane

Monday, 18 July 2011

Review: The Animals and Children Took To The Streets - Latitude Festival

A run-down tenement, swarming with cockroaches, arts clubs, collages and children roaming free. No, not a summary of the Latitude Festival camp sites but 1927’s festival steeling performance of their latest work The Animals and Children took to the streets.

Showing that their thrilling Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea was more than a one off, 1927 return with a sublime mix of music, animation, drama and comedy, cementing their growing reputation of one of our most accomplished and inventive theatre companies.

Reminiscent of those jerky Eastern European animations, mixed with film noir, cabaret and dark comedy, we follow life in Bayou Mansions on Red Herring Street, a life that offers little hope and little chance of escape. Into this run down work walks Agnes Eaves, determined to improve the mansions by use of collage. Agnes’ enthusiasm is the only brightness in this dark land, a land where the Mayor is planning to solve youth crime but handing out drugged gumdrops to sedate the streets children.

Suzanne Andrade’s script is brutally true to life, full of well observed detail brought to vivid life by Paul Barritt’s evocative animations.
1927s The Animals and the Children took to the streets

As with their previous show, 1927 seamlessly combine actors into these animations with pinpoint accuracy. Forget wearing glasses in a cinema, this is the real deal for 3D animation.

Performed with total conviction by Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton and Lillian Henley, this is a master class in how genres can be blended to create a unique and totally engaging piece of total entertainment.

The mayor’s doctored ‘Grannies Gumdrops’ may leave a sour taste in the mouth but 1927s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets will only leave you with the sweet taste of success. As the raptious reception in the Theatre Tent attests, this surely takes the award for outstanding theatre production at this years Latitude Festival. Totally sublime.

The Animals and the Children took the Streets, Trailer from Paul Barritt` on Vimeo.

Review: Jekyll and Hyde(ish) - Latitude Festival

Take three companies renowned for comic theatre, one lively festival audience and a late night slot and you’ve got the ingredients for something rather special.

The Lyric Hammersmith, Spymonkey and Peepolykus join forces to present Joel Horwood’s Jekyll and Hyde(ish), and adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale. Though you’ve not seen anything quite like this adaptation before.

Created especially for Latitude, this irreverent look at the tale sees tongues firmly planted in cheek as the team send up both the story and theatre itself.

Jekyll’s wife is keen to claim her inheritance after her husband walked out into an air-raid but needs a death certificate first. An investigator tries to follow the trail of Jekyll, en-route meeting Jekyll’s dark, scooter riding, alter ego, a manic landlady, his wife and an assortment of other wild and over the top characters.

Jekyll and Hyde(ish)
There’s an anarchic feel to the piece but behind the surface chaos is a tightly drilled structure, while there is a running joke about an actress forgetting her lines, each moves is carefully choreographed to give the impression of mania but within carefully constructed rules. Performances keep just the right side of total anarchy and there are some delightfully observed physical comedy moments.

The Latitude festival gives the rare opportunity to catch a performance twice within a couple of days and its impressive to note the development the piece has already undergone. The second showing is already much tighter, extraneous lines have been cut and the comic quota increased. It’s not perfect yet but given the pedigree of the companies involved and the potential shown here, Jekyll and Hyde(ish) will be a show to watch out for in the future.

Photo: Jekyll and Hyde(ish) by Ryan Morgan

Review: Fatal Light & Dancing Bears - Latitude Festival

Amid the sunshine of the Latitude Festival there’s something darker lurking in the theatre tent, a double bill from Clean Break Theatre Company.

Chloe Moss’ Fatal Light takes a chilling look at the death of a young woman in prison. Played in chronological reverse, we start with a young policewoman struggling to inform the mother that her daughter has died and, as the play progresses, the trail of events that led to this moment slowly unfold.

Lucy Morrison’s production works well in the venue, though there is a feeling that in the short running time we never fully get to deal with all the topics raised.

There are strong performances from Ashley McGuire as Maggie – desperate to find some common ground with daughter Jay. Rebecca Scroggs’ performance as Jay impresses, a believable portrait of a woman who loses control.

In the second half of the double bill, Sam Holcroft’s Dancing Bears we get to meet a group of teenagers who one can’t help feel are also on the slippery slope towards prison. Aarron dreams of becoming a footballer, for him it’s more than just a game, more of a religion. In the materialistic world, however, the appeal of a new football shirt seems a more appealing prospect than the thought of a steady income.
Dancing Bears by Clean Break Theatre Company

His friends face equally troubled outlooks, this is a world where love is mistaken for lust, where violence is confused with power and envy and fear are never far from the surface.

Teresa Walker’s direction keeps the pace fast and frantic and there are strong performances from Emmanuella Cole as Aaron and Demi Oyediran as a chilling Razor Kay.

Together the double bill shows that alongside all the fun of the festival there is the opportunity for theatre to examine contemporary issues in an accessible and thought provoking manner.

Review: Latitude Festival Day 4

Time seems to become irrelevant on a festival site, days merge into one and it takes a bit of effort to remember what the day is. Day 4 of Latitude must mean it is Sunday and the last chance to experience the delights of the 2011 programme.

It all starts so well, blue skies, light wind and, in contrast to Saturday, dry!

So far this weekend we’ve had sunburn, mud, rain and wind so it seems oddly apt to begin the day at the Outdoor Theatre to find yourself getting snowed on. Gentle flakes of (fake) snow blowing off the trees following the Winters Ball the previous night make for a surreal way to start a Sunday morning.

The Gate Theatre’s staging of Sophocles’ tragic play Electra seems an odd choice for a Sunday morning, with its themes of family violence, murder and madness, but Nick Payne’s adaption makes for compulsive viewing. In a festival where audiences come and go, it’s testament to the gripping performances that first thing on a Sunday morning sees a couple of hundred people sitting transfixed on the damp ground in the open air watching a 2000-year-old play.

Company of Angels also presented a take on the classics in the open air theatre. In an attempt to make Shakespeare accessible for younger audiences; I, Peaseblossom looks at the Bard’s work through one of A Midsummer Nights Dream minor characters. Anything that encourages younger audiences into theatre should be applauded but sadly this production looks unlikely to convert many youngsters to the joys of the Bard. A good Shakespearian production will engage audiences of all ages but this production seems to dumb down the work to such a level that it loses all charm and story.

In the Comedy arena, Mark Watson brought his bitingly accurate observations on life to a capacity crowd while over in the Literary tent there’s enough debate to make anyone eschew the Sunday supplements’.

After yesterday’s ‘rain stops play’ at the Waterfront stage, Sadler’s Wells had more success in dodging the shows and presented an eclectic range of work to a capacity and enthusiastic audiences on both sides of the lake. ZooNation thrilled with extracts of their new show Some Like It Hip Hop. Tommi Kitti changed the musical mood from Hip Hop to Blues with a stunning performance of A Trip. Originally conceived as a solo piece, it has been reworked as a duet and is a premier for Latitude. For many the highlight of the Sadler’s Wells programme is the appearance of the Fela Company. The hit musical is about to transfer to Sadler’s Wells following a smash hit sell out at the National Theatre and despite the dampness in the air the sounds of Afrobeat drew a massive crowd to the Waterfront.

Musically, as throughout the festival, it’s an eclectic mix. OMD, appearing in the Word Arena, drew a capacity crowd and, as the strains of choral music wafted over the park, a large crowd was drawn to the Obelisk Arena for a breathtaking performance from Scala and Kolacny Brothers – a fusion of rock, pop and choral work.

After all the excitement and choice over the weekend it was down to Suede to close the festival and despite the changeable weather over the weekend festival goers were determined to go out with a bang rather than a damp fizzle.

So Latitude is now in its sixth year and has now firmly established itself on the festival map. Overall impressions this year? There’s a great atmosphere at the festival and the mix of music, art, theatre, comedy, poetry and literature again attracts a wide audience. Despite the weather, festival goers were determined to enjoy themselves and enjoy themselves they did. Is there room for improvement? Sure. Infrastructure is always going to be a problem in the rural setting of Henham Park; problems with toilets and water supplies continued and, given the weekend’s torrential downpours, the car parks soon turned into a quagmire that surprisingly seemed to catch staff by surprise. Advising departing guests that car parks are not their responsibility isn’t the best way of leaving positive memories of the festival.

Despite these minor niggles it’s clear that in traditional British Blitz spirit it will take more than rain to dampen the spirits of Latitude and it continues to live up to its promise to be ‘more than a music festival’.

If you haven’t ever been to a festival, Latitude could be the perfect taster for you. 2011 was once again a sell-out, though, so for 2012 you’d better get in quick!

Review: Latitude Festival Day 3

The metrological merry go round continues, Thursday mud, Friday sunshine – Saturday? Must be back to rain, and rain it did.

There must be some unwritten correlation between festivals and mud. Glastonbury seems to be in a permanent mud bath and, for day 3 of Latitude 2011, it seemed Henham Park was aping its bigger West Country cousin.

It takes more than rain though to dampen the spirit of the Latitude festival goers and, true to form, as soon as the arena gates opened at 10am, crowds flooded in from the campsites, determined to enjoy the day’s feast of activities.
Latitude Festival Mud

An early showing at the Cabaret arena saw the anarchic world of Peenut and Ribbon, two hooligans who would struggle to find a brain cell between them. Slingshot Theatre’s Zanniskinheads and the quest for the Holy balls is a surreal mix of mask work, slapstick, and multi linguistics. While performed with conviction it is hard to warm to the piece or to really engage in the madcap plot.

In the Theatre Tent, Theatre Uncut presents the second round of their response to the arts funding cuts. In a strong showing, David Grieg’s offering particularly resonates, a duet performed by one actor with the audience playing the second.

In the long history of the James Bond novels and films, the Guildford Travelodge has yet to feature but, given Government spending cuts, it may only be a time. Whippet Productions showing of Jonathan Brittain’s Spy In Room 502 sees three couples in the hotel all tenuously linked with espionage. It’s a well-written, well-acted piece that tips a nod to the Bond franchise while providing enough dramatic drive of its own.

The Theatre tent also has a second showing of the Lyric Hammersmith, Spymonkey and Peeplokyus collaboration of Joel Horwood’s Jeckyll and Hyde(ish), It is not often that you get the opportunity to view a work twice within a couple of days and its clear the company have been working hard since Thursday’s first showing to refine and tighten this hilarious adaptation.

Jekyll and Hyde(ish)

Rounding off the day’s theatre offering was 1927s The Animals and Children Took To The Street. A totally sublime mix of animation, music, comedy and drama this turns out to be the highlight of the theatrical weekend. In a run-down tenement life is bleak, children run riot, racism is prevalent and the only glimmer of hope is to scrimp and save for an exorbitantly priced rail ticket to freedom. Performed with absolute conviction and pin point precision, this is a show of infinite detail and a dark humour. As the standing ovation for a delighted and enthusiastic audience attests, 1927 once again show that they are one of our most talented and inventive theatre companies.

1927s The Animals and Children took to the street

Of course there is much more than theatre going on and one of the joys of the festival is the ability to wander between stages and sample a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment. For some the weather caused problems. Emma Gladstone, producer at Latitude for Sadler’s Wells, reluctantly had to cancel her scheduled performances for the day on the open air Waterfront stage, despite the valiant attempts by the stage management team. It’s a familiar issue for Emma;

“I’ve often watched performances with my heart in my mouth; a couple of years ago we performed a 15 minute piece that eventually took over three hours to complete do to numerous rain breaks.”

Emma is keeping her fingers crossed for an improved forecast for her Sunday performances.

The rain has seen the covered stages doing a brisk business. An appeareance in the Comedy tent by Never Mind The Buzzcocks saw a capacity crowd spilling out into the dampness while the Poetry and Literary tents also saw equally canvas stretching capacity.

The weather was never going to dampen the spirits on the music stages but as the rain clouds clear the mood lightened and festival fans showed that a little dampness wasn’t going to stop them partying the weekend away.

Musically for many the highlight of the day was the headline appearance by Paolo Nutini. Nutini has a stong connection with Latitude, having made an early appearance at the 2006 edition of the festival. In a set that didn’t disappoint Nutini spanned the musical genres with a performance that gripped the large crowd.

Latitude has always prided itself on its local links and the nuturing of new talent and giving Nutini a run for his money as most eagerly anticipated act of the day, Framlingham lad Ed Sheeran wowed the audience with a set that demonstrates why, for many, he is being tipped as a future headliner.

Ed Sheeran

So the rain came and went the mud got churned but there was never a chance that Latitude day 3 was going to be a washout.

All eyes now on the forecast for the final day – wellies and waterproofs or shorts and suncream?

Photos: Jekyll and Hyde(ish) and Ed Sheeran (c) Ryan Mason

Interview: A musical without a safety net- Latitude Festival

As the rain falls at Latitude an actress in pink wellies is waiting for her fellow cast members to arrive at the Cabaret arena. It is less than three hours to showtime but for Sarah-Louise Young and the rest of the Showstopper team they aren’t quite sure what shape that show will take.

It’s not a sign of lack of preparation, far from it as this is a honed troupe of musical theatre performers, but the concept for Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, is the team create a brand new musical each night based on suggestions from the audience. Considering that your average stage musicals has weeks of rehearsals and numerous rewrites en-route to opening night it’s an impressive, if scary prospect.

For Sarah-Louise Showstoppers is an ideal show for a festival audience.
“There is so much choice for Latitude audiences that you can become blasĂ©. We offer an interactive show that’s fresh for each audience and, without our audience, the show wouldn’t exist. This is my second year with Showstopper! at Latitude and we always have a great festival.”
Given that there is no script and the audience can, and frequently do, suggest anything for the subject matter, how on earth do you rehearse a show like this?

“The best analogy I can think of is to liken it to a football team. We spend a lot of time building on team work, passing and getting to know how we all think and react.”
The football analogy strikes a chord with Duncan Walsh-Atkins, musical director for the show.

“We spend a lot of time looking at different musical styles, what makes a Cole Porter song a Cole Porter song for example, and then spend a lot of time training in those different styles.”
For Sarah-Louise the story is equally as important as the music;

“We spend a lot of time looking at story structure and what makes a good structure. Even if you don’t know much about the suggested subject you can use a strong structure to turn the piece into your own interpretation of the story.”
With the audience free to suggest any subject it is actually the mundane rather than the bizarre suggestions that scare the company more.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

“Bizarre is good” explains Duncan. “One suggestion we had was entitled ‘In Ken’s Brain’ a look into the mind of Ken Cambell, the famous theatre director and improviser. Even if you know nothing about the subject, you can create your own world. Some of our historical pieces have been far more exciting than the actual historical accuracy!” For some reason, perhaps connected to festival life, popular suggestions apparently include portaloos and cheese.

So what will the Latitude audience come up with for tonight’s improvised musical? Who knows, but for Sarah-Louise, Duncan and the rest of the Showstopper! cast, that’s the appeal of the show – the unexpected, the unplanned, and the thrill of creating something new each performance.

As Sarah-Louise explains “You never fully master it but each show adds a new dimension to the performance.”

Picture: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. Photo by Gabrielle Motola

Interview: Sadler's Wells brave the elements at Latitude Festival

While festival-goers may be worried about the mud, for artists performing at the Latitude Festival 2011, the fluctuating weather gives a whole new set of concerns.

For Sadler's Wells, performing a number of pieces on the open-air Waterfront Stage, the climate conditions take on a more pressing need. Emma Gladstone, producer and programmer for Sadler's Wells has just had to take the difficult decision to cancel the days scheduled performances.
Sadler's Wells logo

Rain for most of the day has left the Waterfront Stage too wet for dancers to safely perform but, as Emma explains it’s more that just a wet stage to consider.

“One of the difficulties is the ability for the dancers to be able to warm up for the performance, the dressing room is in a wooden cabin up the hill and, in this cool weather, it is difficult for the performers to remain warm.”
As we speak, a team of stage managers are frantically mopping the stage as the skies clear and the rain stops in an attempt for the rest of the day’s dance programme to take place. But, as Emma explains, even with their best efforts, it is often a risky affair to perform in the open air.

“I’ve often watched performances with my heart in my mouth; a couple of years ago we performed a 15 minute piece that eventually took over three hours to complete do to numerous rain breaks.”
For Emma the Waterfront Stage and Latitude in general is a vital showcase for Sadler's Wells.

Latitude Festival Waterfront Stage
“Despite the challenges of the vagaries of the weather, I love making art outside of theatres; the location of the Waterfront Stage here at Latitude has an ideal aesthetic setting and the fact that people walk past and stop to watch dance is a great way to showcase our work.”
Emma is keen that the programme of work from Sadler's Wells gives festival goers a taste of the spectrum of work the company offers.

“By having a range of artists appear at Latitude shows the range of work Sadler's Wells produces. Some people still think of us a ballet company but Latitude gives us the opportunity to showcase the range of work we do.”
As we talk the rain continues to drizzle but stage managers are frantically mopping the stage in a hope to save English National Ballet’s performance later in the day. For Emma thought thoughts are already turning to Sunday and the next round of work she is offering Latitude. With the forecast looking more positive than first thought it’s a slightly more optimistic prospect but you can never tell with the British weather. Emma is already juggling the schedule in her mind to try and ensure she gets the best out of their slot on the Waterfront stage, with ZooNation, Tommi Kitti and the cast of the award winning musical Fela due on stage.
Tommi Kitti

Weather issues are Latitude are nothing new for Emma.

“This is our fourth year at Latitude and I tend to lose on average about one show per festival.”
However surprising it may seem on a damp day in Henham Park, it is not always rain that causes problems.

“Last year it was actually too hot and one of my dancers had to stop dancing as they burnt their feet on the stage!”

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Review: Latitude Festival Day 2

This is more like it. After yesterday’s early rain, the summer returns with blue skies and soaring temperatures at Latitude. While yesterday was all about wellies and mud, today it is suntan lotion and avoiding sunburn. Welcome to the vagaries of the great British summer.

There’s a chill in the air however for the day’s opening events at the theatre tent. Clean Break Theatre Company’s double bill looks at the darker side of humanity.

Dancing Bears, a look at life, and love, or more accurately the confusion of lust and love takes a bleak look at inner city life. For young Aaron football should be treated as a dance, and his passion and skill is potentially his way to a new life, though he sees the opportunity of a role on the team more as potential for a new shirt rather than a boost in income.

It’s a powerful piece, full of gritty reality. The cast perform with conviction and while not always an easy piece to watch it is a compelling look at the challenges facing our inner cities.

Immersive theatre requiring audience participation is always a risky option for theatre companies, you hope and pray for an engaged audience but its always a gamble – will the audience participate or with the infamous British reserve sit their in silence? non zero one’s The Time Out pushes this concept to the limit. Staged for just 12 audience members at a time, a group of strangers enter a locker room to be told that in nine minutes 39 seconds they will be taking part in a water polo match. Can you rely on the other 11 people around you and how do you build team morale form a bunch of strangers in such a short time-scale? Ok, so it takes slightly longer than nine minutes but, by the end of the piece, the team have gelled into a pumped-up team ready to tackle anything. Through clever use of motivational talks, audio and team bonding exercises, you and your fellow team mates are encouraged to share your skills and failures, learn more about their hopes and fears and ultimately get ready to take on any opposition.

It’s not often you find yourself in theatre donning a swimming cap, taking part in a series of tasks with strangers and by the end running out of the venue to take part in a spontaneous game of polo (albeit on land not water!). Perhaps the lively nature of festival audiences make this more likely but The Time Out is so engaging it is hard to resist. The audience participation handled so subtly that one never feels pressured or embarrassed. This is an early preview performance ahead of a run in Edinburgh but it already seems an accomplished work. Any show that manages to convincingly make its participants forget they are sitting in a tent in the middle of a Suffolk park, not an actual locker room deserves credit and The Time Out is delivered with such conviction and charm that it instantly wins audiences over. This is one show that you can’t help coming out of feeling uplifted and motivated. A dozen strangers enter and come out as a working team – if the show ever runs out of theatres to perform in there is surely a market here for corporate team building.

As the day turns into evening a change of genre and Irish songstress Camille O’Sullivan takes to the stage with her unique brand of rock meets cabaret, the ultimate performer has the capacity audience eating out of her hand, a microphone problem leads to an unplanned acoustic set and a spontaneous audience sing-along. At the end of her hour set, the audience were up on their feet and clamouring for more.

Returning to the theatre tent for the second show of the festival, Theatre503’s Carrot looks at a complex interwoven set of relationships. At his engagement party a slip of the tongue from the groom to be sets off a domino effect that leaves no friend unscathed. Ben Okrent’s play examines the traits that make up our characters and how one seemingly innocent comment can have a major impact. Nadia Latif’s direction is fast paced but at times the exuberance results in some of the dramatic potential being sidelined.

Continuing the party atmosphere, Paines Plough present performance poet Kate Tempest’s new play, Wasted. Tempest’s poetic background is evident in the strong rhythmic cadences of the script. Special commissioned for a festival audience we get to see three friends who have a night on the town to escape their mundane lives. Staged again with intense energy, including an onstage appearance of real life festival goers, it’s the perfect mix of party, music, theatre and festival going.

Review: Latitude Festival Day 1

So the traditional British Summer plays it usual card and, as thousands of festival goers head to Suffolk, the skies darkened and the Heavens opened. So began the sixth Latitude Festival in Henham Park.

The ‘Aussie Earl’ described it as light British rain but, whatever the terminology, it was clear that the de rigour footwear of choice this year was going to be the wellie-boot.

But, despite early arrivals facing a bit of mud, the rain soon eased, then stopped and tents could be erected in the dry.

It’s always fascinating to watch the variety of camping styles, the extremes of engineering marvels of canvas against the basic pop up one-man tents.

There was a brisk trade in airbeds, waterproofs and the ubiquitous wellie on the trade stands but, as soon as the arena gates opened, the fans stopped worrying about the state of the weather and began to explore site.

One of the appeals of Latitude is that it is, as the advertising proudly proclaims, more than just a music festival. True to its aims, the main events staged on opening night looked at a variety of art forms before the main music events start on Friday.

Opening proceedings in the Theatre Tent, Theatre 503 staged their specially-commissioned show for the festival, Playlist. It’s an intriguing concept: a series of playwrights have been commissioned to write a series of short plays based on songs performed by artists appearing on the musical stages over the weekend. It is always a challenge to create a self contained piece that runs around five minutes and some of the offerings work better than others. There is a touching short about a teenager desperate to loose his virginity – but with a twist and a well-conceived piece about a charity ‘chugger’ who finds the tables turned. It would be good to see some of the pieces developed into a longer format but, as it stands, Playlist turns out to be a great sample for the multitude of music festival goers can expect over the weekend.

One striking addition to Henham Park this year is the four storey, concrete-clad Electric Hotel. Many festival-goers wondered if this was a permanent structure but it is in fact a triumph of design, erected especially for the festival. Audience members don headphones to listen to a specially created soundscape as they voyeuristically watch a dance drama unfold through the hotel windows. Behind the hotel rooms there’s a secret world of intrigue and desire, guests come and go and there’s dark passions behind the closed doors. After a couple of technical hitches with the sound system, it turns out to be well worth the wait. Dancers perform split-second timing to the evocative score, and the impressive set slowly reveals its secrets.

Rounding off the day’s theatre line up, The Lyric Hammersmith, in association with Spymonkey and Peepolykus join forces to stage Joel Horwood’s Jekyll and Hyde(ish). Starting at 12.45am it’s a perfect late night end to the first day of festival frolics. Surreal, fast-paced and with tongue firmly in cheek, the team has great fun with the classic tale. This is unlike any production of Jekyll and Hyde you’ve ever seen before, however. Lusty heroines, thwarted police inspectors and a maniac on a scooter make for a fast paced and energetic production. Written especially for Latitude, there are still a few rough edges that need polishing and, at times, it is unclear how much of the frenetic comedy is improvised and how much scripted. With some more development time however this promises to be a first class production.

As the evening progressed, the sky cleared and a beautiful Suffolk sunset bathed the arenas in a reddish glow.

As the saying goes, red sky at night, shepherds delight so let’s hope that day two of Latitude sees glorious sunshine.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Review: The Time Out - Latitude Festival

Immersive theatre requiring audience participation is always a risky option for theatre companies, you hope and pray for an engaged audience but its always a gamble – will the audience participate or with the infamous British reserve kick in and see them sit there in silence?

non zero one’s The Time Out pushes this concept to the limit. Staged for just 12 audience members at a time, a group of strangers enters a locker room to be told that in nine minutes 39 seconds they will be taking part in a water polo match. Can you rely on the other 11 people around you and how do you build team morale form a bunch of strangers in such a short time-scale?

Ok so it takes slightly longer than nine minutes but by the end of the piece the team have gelled into a pumped-up team ready to tackle anything. Through clever use of motivational talks, audio and team bonding exercises you and your fellow team mates are encouraged to share your skills and failures, learn more about their hopes and fears and ultimately get ready to take on any opposition.

The Time Out by non zero one
Its not often you find yourself in theatre donning a swimming cap, taking part in a series of tasks with strangers and by the end running out of the venue to take part in a spontaneous game of polo (albeit on land not water!).

Perhaps the lively nature of festival audiences make this more likely but The Time Out is so engaging it is hard to resist. The audience participation handled so subtly that one never feels pressured or embarrassed. This is an early preview performance ahead of a run in Edinburgh but it already seems an accomplished work.

Any show that manages to convincingly make its participants forget they are sitting in a tent in the middle of a Suffolk park, not an actual locker room deserves credit and The Time Out is delivered with such conviction and charm that it instantly wins audiences over. This is one show that you can’t help coming out of feeling uplifted and motivated. A dozen strangers enter and come out as a working team – if the show ever runs out of theatres to perform in there is surely a market here for corporate team building.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Preview: Theatre company makes a break for Latitude Festival

Its not just festival goers who are packing up their camping equipment ahead of this weekend’s Latitude Festival at Henham Park. Theatre companies are cramming in those vital last minute rehearsals to ensure everything is ‘all right on the night’.

For many companies, it is their first visit to Latitude and something to look forward to in a mix of excitement and slight trepidation.

One such newcomer is Clean Break Theatre Company, who are performing not one, but two plays at the Festival this year. Lucy Morrison, who is directing one of the plays to time out of last minute rehearsals to explain the appeal of performing at Latitude: “Often in theatre, especially with new writing, you can feel you are performing to an already committed audience. With a festival audience, who may be there for the music or comedy, there’s the chance to grab them and give them something new.”

Lucy also thinks the style of performance is important. “Festival theatre goers tend to prefer informal theatre, they get up late, grab a coffee and find a slice of theatre is a good way to engage the brain and start the day.”
Clean Break Theatre Company

There are, of course, challenges in performing in the festival environment but the challenges facing Clean Break are perhaps different from those you’d expect. “Our main challenge is the staging, these plays have been performed at the Soho Theatre but, at Latitude, the stage is huge in comparison. Although we’ve been rehearsing for the festival, we only get half an hour set up and rehearsal time on the day so decisions need to be quickly made.”

“Luckily we are not a very prop or set heavy company though, originally, my play did have characters entering via a trap door and so we’ve had to adapt that and use the new space, but it is an opportunity to break down the fourth wall and engage with the audience.”

For Lucy it will be a busy time at Latitude; not only is she directing one of the Clean Break plays, she will also be revisiting her contribution to the Theatre Uncut season of plays, performed originally earlier this year at the Southwark Playhouse. Theatre Uncut saw a series of playwrights commissioned to create a number of short plays in response to funding cuts in the arts. Lucy will be directing Lucy Kirkwood’s contribution to the series and, for Latitude, the author herself will be appearing.

Morrison hopes the piece will both stimulate thought but also entertain;

“This isn’t about banging audience’s over the head; it is political theatre but with a light touch. I hope it encourages people into fielding questions and not just taking the situation.”

Clean Break will be performing Dancing Bears and Fatal Light on Friday and Sunday in the Theatre Arena

Theatre Uncut will be staging their series of plays across Friday and Saturday in the Theatre Arena

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Preview: Latitude Festival - Henham Park

Well this is the week. Across the land tents are being dug out of lofts, a desperate hunt for tent pegs and a frantic search for instructions on how to put the tent up. For newcomers, it’s a tread through the veritable minefield of camping stores for a new tent. One man, two man, tepee, dome, pop-up tent- the choice is bewildering.

It can only mean one thing, festival season is well and truly upon us, and here in East Anglia the next festival on an ever increasing festival calendar is the sixth year of the Latitude Festival at Henham Park near Halesworth.

It’s more than just a music festival shouts the advertising and it certainly is. While the likes of Glastonbury, the V Festival and Reading dabble in a multi-disciplinary line up, at their heart they are still mainly platforms for music. Latitude is, and has always been, proud to be different. Alongside some of the biggest names in music you’ll see comedians, poets, dancers, theatre, and a variety of other art forms. This eclectic mix is reflected by an equally eclectic audience in one of the most family-friendly audiences on the festival circuit. Security scares may have cast a shadow over last year’s event but that doesn’t seem to have deterred the fans, with the festival expected to once again sell-out before the gates open.

Founder and creator of the Latitude Festival Melvin Benn reflects on the success of the festival:
“I am extremely proud of what has been achieved over the past five glorious years of Latitude. Latitude truly is ‘more than just a music festival’ and this year’s programme across the full spectrum of arts and music is utterly exceptional.”

Organisers are not content to rest on their laurels, however.
“We’ve been listening to our loyal fans and this year, for our sixth edition, we are making some changes to the site which will further enhance everyone’s enjoyment of their favourite festival weekend.” says Benn.

The festival goers themselves are a key element to the success of Latitude, and a major contributor to the local economy. Once the campsites open on Thursday afternoon, until the last stragglers depart on Monday around 35,000 festival goers will have passed through the gates, smaller than the mega Glastonbury, yes, but that’s part of the appeal of Latitude.

With 15 separate arenas, as well as a range of mobile, ad-hoc performance spaces, it is impossible to cover everything that the festival offers but for the determined festival-goer the line up offers plenty of temptation.

For Jon Dunn, curator of the music arena’s its difficult to choose a personal highlight:
“Where do I start? The National, Paolo Nutinin, Suede, Paloma Faith, Foals, Deerhunter… I could list the bill but you know that. I’m very excited about this year’s Latitude, I feel it will bring more highlights than ever before.”
Alongside established headline acts, Latitude has a strong tradition of nurturing up and coming talent. One of this year’s main acts, Paolo Nutini, opened the inaugural Latitude Festival back in 2006 as name to watch and returns to headline this year’s festival.

Local talent is well represented in the park; Framlingham-based singer songwriter Ed Sheeran is riding high on chart success at the moment but has been a fan of Latitude since its inception, while Kieren Dickens from Ipswich will be brining his unique rap style to the Lake Stage.

Unlike any other festival, Latitude brings together the whole arts spectrum in one place, offering audiences the chance to dip into art forms they may not normally consider.

Programming such a wide area is a challenge but one that Arts programmer Tania Harrison relishes:
“Each year it’s a challenge to bring new and interesting performances to Latitude but I’m especially excited about this year’s line up. There will be brilliant and innovative theatre performances all across the site an arenas and some may be quite unexpected and different from what we have ever done at Latitude before.”
Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis has this week cast doubt on the future of Glastonbury and other major music festivals, citing economic difficulties and changing expectations. Here at Latitude organisers seem more confident, signing a new 15-year lease on the Henham Park estate, taking the event up until its 21st birthday.

Given its past history of innovation it will be fascinating to see how the festival develops by then.

Full coverage of Latitude's theatre, arts and literature will appear here from Thursday and throughout the festival and on twitter @glenpearce1

Article published on Ipswich 24, EastAnglia24 and LiveMusic24

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Review: Singin' In The Rain - Chichester Festival Theatre

It never rains but it pours, and at Chichester Festival Theatre, there’s no shortage of precipitation in their exuberant staging of Singin’ In The Rain. Given that arrival in Chichester was marked by torrential downpours it seems an apt choice.
The 1952 original MGM musical has become an iconic piece of cinematic history and the stage adaptation never steps too far away from that well trod path.

The arrival of talkies in Hollywood causes chaos among film studios, some can adapt and others are doomed to failure in this brave new world. Among the potential casualties is silent screen legend Lina Lamont, whose nasal New York tones render her obsolete in the new films. Her co-star Don Lockwood fares better, while up and coming starlet Kathy is posed on the verge of stardom.

It’s all typical backstage drama, seen in countless showbiz biopics and, 60 years on from the film, it now seems somewhat dated. The script, while containing some comic gems, overall seems clunky and, while the set pieces are staged with skill and flair, the overall effect fails to grip attention thoroughly.

The set pieces themselves are indeed stunning, hilarious black-and-white film sequences mixed with impressive staging – a biplane complete with dancing wing walkers one of many visually stunning pieces of theatre. It is of course the title number that people wait for expectantly and it doesn’t disappoint. All too often in theatre, onstage rain is little more than a slight trickle, but here designer Simon Higlett has let the floodgates open, with a monsoon-like downpour to equal the torrents raining down outside the theatre. Come the interval, the stage is flooded and you could easily stage a classic Esther Williams synchronised swimming routine, let alone a tap number. Audiences in the front rows can certainly attest to the wetness of the show!
Adam Cooper in Singin' In The Rain at Chichester Festival Theatre

While the script may be showing its age, performances do redeem the evening. Stepping into the (wet) tap shoes of Gene Kelly, Adam Cooper delivers a performance of immense charm. As one would expect his dancing is first class but he shows that he is also a fine actor and singer. Scarlett Strallen and Katherine Kingsley as the two love interests delight and Daniel Crossley steals the show with a performance of split second comic timing.

Given its dance pedigree, though, perhaps it’s not surprising that the true success of the evening is Andrew Wright’s breathtaking choreography. Making full use of the stage and auditorium, there are enough nods to the original while adding a whole new dimension to the show.

Singin’ In The Rain is far from a total washout, however; the script is now something of a damp squib and despite the strong performances and breathtaking musical numbers, one can’t feel the overall impact is one of a light shower rather than the full-on storm it tries to be.

Photo: Adam Cooper in Singin' In The Rain

Monday, 4 July 2011

Review: Little Black Bastard, The Noel Tovey Story - Sir John Mills Theatre

Childhood is supposed to be the happiest times of our lives. These formative years also shape the person we become in later life. Given the hardship and abuse suffered by Noel Tovey as a young child, it is surprising he’s here at all to tell his remarkable life story at the age of 77. That he has carved out an international career as a successful dancer, actor and choreographer is testament to the strength of personality Tovey possesses.

Growing up poor, Aboriginal and gay in 1940s Australia, Noel was always going to face an uphill battle. Add in years of sexual abuse from his uncle, adopted father and officials, sleeping rough, turning to prostitution at 13, and it is easy to understand why the young lad considered suicide in a prison cell at the age of 17.

Born illegitimately into a poverty-stricken household in Melbourne, Noel never knew his father, and began a trail of being passed between various relatives and institutions. At the age of four, he began to be abused by his uncle, a cycle of abuse that continued through various so-called carers throughout his childhood. At the age of six he was fostered into the care of a farmer who regularly raped him on trains to Sydney. At the age of 13 he was working as a rentboy on the streets of Melbourne and, at 17, he was imprisoned for ‘the abominable crime of buggery’. It was in the depths of despair in this prison cell that Tovey made a life-changing decision and jettisoned his destructive childhood in favour of hope.

It would be hard to write such a moving and tragic tale of childhood but, what makes Tovey’s rendition so emotionally charged is that it is his true story. The oration is so personal, so heartfelt, that it is often nearly too painful to watch .While there is a sense of understandable anger at the institutionalised neglect and racism by the State and a clear contempt for his abusers, there is no sense of self pity here. Tovey tempers his anger with the childhood naivety he felt at the time. The harrowing testimony of his abuse is still obviously an understandably painful process for Tovey but his performance never shies away from the horror and hurt.
Noel Tovey in The Noel Tovey Story

Staged against a simple backdrop of pictures from his life, Tovey’s mesmerising performance holds attention through and, by the end, it feels like we have spend one hour forty minutes in the company of a long lost friend.

Performed as part of the Border Crossing Origins Festival, and appearing at Eastern Angles Sir John Mills Theatre, this is a rare treat.

Noel Tovey has certainly had a remarkable life and, while his harrowing account may be painful to watch, one can only applaud the man who overcame such adversity and has the courage to stand up now to try and ensure such horrors are no longer hidden behind bureaucratic red tape. A truly remarkable performance from a truly remarkable man.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Interval Awards - The first half of 2011

In her recent blog post Lorannah proposed an idea for the Inaugural Interval Awards.

The idea is inspired. Come December we all frantically try to recall the multitude of productions seen over the previous twelve months and come up with our definitive ‘best of’ lists.

There’s a problem though – as Lorannah says
“By the time I get to December, I'm struggling to remember what happened in January, I've forgotten the sets that blew me away, the ensembles that astounded and the plays that left me weeping (for I am fickle and have a poor memory).”

Lorannah has proposed a solution for us absent minded bloggers, critics and theatre goers…

“…at this mid-way point it would be nice to have a mini-awards ceremony, to take note of what we've seen and loved and to leave a reminder for those important December decisions. And I thought it would be amazing if other people wanted to get involved to.”

Several twitter theatre goers have signed up for the idea and are busy consulting their programmes to construct their nominations.. and I'll add them here as they come online

Opinions will surely differ, people will have seen different productions and what someone loved, others may hate. What the combined lists will do however is celebrate the sheer variety of theatre in the country and hopefully provoke some discussion.

So here goes, for what it’s worth here are my votes for the first six months of 2011.


Best Musical Production
The Kissing Dance – Jermyn St Theatre. Howard Goodall’s chamber musical performed with wit and panache on this tiny stage.

Runners Up and honourable mentions
  • Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Gielgud Theatre
  • Company – Southwark Playhouse
  • The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee – Donmar Warehouse
Best Drama Production Winner:

Doctor Faustus – Shakespeare’s Globe. Marlow’s play may have its faults but this production thrills.

Runners Up
  • Lidless – Trafalgar Studios.
  • Great Expectations – Watford Palace/ English Touring Theatre
  • Fallen In Love – Red Rose Chain
Best Comedy Production Winner:

One Man, Two Guvnors – National Theatre. Farce and skiffle prove to be an inspired combination in Nick Hytner's manic production.

Runners Up
  • April In Paris – Hull Truck.
  • Vernon God Little – Young Vic
  • One Man Star Wars Trilogy – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Best Fringe Production Winner:

You’re Not Like Other Girls Chrissy – Pulse Fringe Festival. One woman show looking at lost love in wartime Paris

Runners Up
  • Incoming – HighTide Festival
  • Cabaret Whore – Pulse Fringe Festival
  • Dusk Rings A Bell – HighTide Festival

Best Shakespeare Production Winner:

Comedy of Errors – Propeller. Ingenious and accessible version that mixes comedy and music to stunning effect.

Runners Up
  • King Lear – Donmar Warehouse
  • Much Ado About Nothing - Wyndhams
  • Cardenio – RSC Swan

Best Male Performance
Joseph Drake – Vernon God Little. An impressive stage debut that holds the production together.

Runners Up
  • Arthur Darvill – Doctor Faustus.
  • Derek Jacobi – King Lear
  • Jack Shalloo – The Kissing Dance

Best Female Performance
Nichola McAuliffe – The Lady In The Van. A performance of intricate detail that arguably surpasses Maggie Smith’s original.

Runners Up
  • Sheridan Smith – Flare Path
  • Sarah Lancashire – Betty Blue Eyes
  • Penny Layden - Lidless

Best Direction
Danny Boyle – Frankenstein. Ok the script may have had faults but Danny Boyle’s return to theatre proves to be theatrical highlight of the year.

Runners Up
  • Greg Doran – Cardenio
  • Rufus Norris – London Road
  • Matthew Dunster – Doctor Faustus

Best Stage Design
Lez Brotherton – Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Every theatrical device in the book utilised in a spectacular production

Runners Up
  • Niki Turner - Cardenio
  • Lizzie Clachan – Wastwater
  • Colin Richmond – Great Expectations

Best Lighting Design
Bruno Poet – Frankenstein. An almost sculptural lighting plot that added real atmosphere.

Runners Up
  • Tim Mitchell – Cardenio
  • Neil Austin – The Cherry Orchard
  • Mark Henderson – Emperor and Galilean
******************************************************************Best Theatre

The Young Vic. Inventive programming, accessible pricing, great atmosphere and great staff.

Runners Up
  • The National Theatre
  • The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
  • Shakespeare’s Globe

Best Front of House
The Young Vic. Really helpful box office staff – always cheerful and willing to help.

Runners Up:
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • The National Theatre
  • Hampstead Theatre

Best Website
Shakespeare's Globe - packed with useful information and background information

Runners Up
  • The National Theatre
  • The RSC
  • The Young Vic

Best Social Media
Shakespeare’s Globe – who truly understand Social Media is about engagement and discussion not just promotion

Runners Up
  • The Young Vic
  • New Wolsey Theatre
  • Paines Plough

Best Programme
National Theatre – good background info and well produced

Runners Up
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • RSC
  • Menier Chocolate Factory

Best Food
The RSC Rooftop Restaurant – great food, great views, great service and if you book the pre theatre menu great prices (even better with member discount)

Runners Up
  • National Theatre – Circle CafĂ© £10 meal deal
  • The Young Vic
  • Hampstead Theatre

Review: Road Show - Menier Chocolate Factory

To paraphrase the Michael Crawford show, Some Brothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. For a show that is already on its fourth title, I’m not suggesting Road Show changes its name again but it certainly sums up life for Addison Mizner.

Stephen Sondheim’s latest show has had a lengthy gestation period. Various versions have appeared since 1999 but the show now makes its European debut in a radically revised version first staged by John Doyle on Broadway in 2008.

Based on the real life story of the American architect Addison Mizner, the man largely responsible for the boom development of Palm Beach in Florida in the 1920s, this is the ultimate rags to riches and back again tale. Addison has dreams to explore the world and become rich but his wilder brother, Wilson, is a chancer who runs a series of scams that thwart Addison’s plans and ultimately leads to his downfall.

It’s very much the tale of the American Dream gone sour and, ultimately, how money can’t buy happiness. Alongside this financial nightmare though there is always hope in love.

Initially, Addison desperately craves love from his parents, though they seem to prefer the more flamboyant Wilson to his quieter, younger sibling. After missing out on his family’s love, Addison ultimately finds love in Hollis, a rich playboy who bankrolls his initial design projects. It is ultimately a relationship doomed to fail, however, as bad penny Wilson is drawn back to his brother’s success and ultimately drives the two apart. It is only on his deathbed (a scene that bookends the show) that Addison realises the love that he has lost in pursuit of his dream.

Sondheim uses his trademark mix of darkness and humour to create a beautifully drawn look at hopes, dreams and lost love. While there are moments that will bring tears to the eye, there are also moments of sheer exuberant joy in perhaps one of his most accessible scores.

Doyle has adapted his Broadway staging, transforming the Menier Chocolate Factory auditorium into traverse staging and the simple staging works well, focussing on the human drama. This traverse approach also allows for a cinematic fluidity to the scenes, with the entire company onstage throughout the 95, interval free minutes to carry out scene changes and populate the scenes.

As with any of his scores, Road Show is an incredibly complex mix of overlapping melodies, multiple rhythms and multi-layered lyrics, but there’s not one single missed note or beat from a uniformly excellent company.

Jon Roberts and Michael Jibson in Road Show
Leading the company as Addison, Michael Jibson gives an incredible performance of vulnerability, artistic frustration and repressed sexuality, tempered with an inner drive and determination. It’s a mesmerising performance that commands attention. There are also equally impressive performances from David Bedella as the smooth-talking Wilson (a particular highlight the wonderfully over the top That Was a Year – a full-on Broadway spectacle retrospective of his scams), Gillian Bevan and Glyn Kerslake as the Mizner parents and Jon Roberts as Addison’s lover, Hollis. Jibson and Roberts’ touching love duet The Best Thing That Ever Happened bringing a tear to many in the audience.

The entire ensemble, however, provide outstanding performances, with not a duff note, step out of place, or missed beat in the entire show. Catherine Jayes leads a small but powerful orchestra that delivers Sondheim’s lush score with flare, perfectly balanced with the cast in the tiny Menier auditorium thanks to Gareth Owen’s clear sound design.

Doyle has also designed the production, utilising a simple mix of packing cases, crates, drawers and desks to provide a multi-levelled set and a simple revolving bed to focus attention centre stage when needed, with Jane Cox’s evocative lighting adding texture and shade to a mainly empty stage.

There were doubts that UK audiences would be able to relate to the American subject matter in Road Show; however, the sheer humanity of the piece packs such an emotional punch that it transcends national boundaries.

For those who claim that Stephen Sondheim concentrates on lyrical excellence at the price of musical strength, Road Show provides proof that the octogenarian composer’s work is the very pinnacle of musical theatre excellence.

Road Show is the perfect marriage of music, story, lyrics, performance and staging and, if there is only one show you hit the road for this year, make it this one.

The stage and audience are festooned with $100 bills by the end of the show and I, for one, would be more than happy to pay that to see this show again.

Usual caveat applies – this review is of a preview performance on Saturday 2 July. Press Night is Wednesday 6 July.

Photo: Jon Roberts and Michael Jibson in Road Show. Picture by Catherine Ashmore