Review: Circa – Latitude Festival, Henham Park

Circa’s self-titled show should come with a health warning. The feats that these seven Brisbane based artists perform induce a feeling of pain just watching. One can’t help think that the human body shouldn’t be able to endure the things these talented acrobats inflict on themselves.

The seven-strong company takes us on a physical, but also personal, journey. There’s no through narrative as such but there’s a strong feel that we are looking at an examination on what it means to be human, our loves, life and the pain our bodies go through.

A mix of acrobatics, contortion, aerial work and dance, the piece is a constantly shifting visual feast. There’s also though a more subtle edge to the piece, with the company imbibing each section with heartfelt emotion and expression. It’s a punishing performance, necks, limbs and torso put under extreme pressure that would send untrained performers straight into A&E. There’s also grace and beauty though as balance and control create fragile tableaux.

There’s a real mix of circus styles and disciplines but these meld into a beautiful and uplifting whole. It is also clearly an equal opportunities company as a female performer finds herself as the support for a male counterpart balanced on her head. Before any complaints of sexism are raised, she later exacts her revenge balance precariously in red sequined stilettos on the bare chest of a man.

Music, lighting and staging combine with the physical feats on stage to create a wholly engrossing evening. The rapturous response from the capacity festival audience clearly demonstrated the admiration of the skill on show. A fitting showcase for the impressive skills of these Antipodean Acrobats.

Written Originally for The Public Reviews

Review: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit – Latitude Festival, Henham Park

There’s a tricky dilemma in reviewing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. While by its very nature, live theatre differs slightly in each performance, here the uniqueness is a key part of the concept.

Soleimanpour has some ground rules. The actor must not have performed the show before, is asked not to research the play beforehand and, apart from a couple of instructions given to them 48 hours prior to the show, know nothing of the piece until they are handed the script in a sealed envelope at the start of the performance. It becomes something of an adventure for both performer and audience as both are orchestrated remotely by Soleimanpour.

To give much detail of plot would defeat the concept of joint discovery by performer and audience but suffice to say we take an increasingly dark and disturbing journey into conformity, control and culpability.

The ‘poor actor’ for this performance is stand-up comic Marcus Brigstocke, perhaps a suitable choice for a lively festival audience. Brigstocke’s comic credentials certainly come in handy as he weaves the audience into the unfolding drama, his improvisation skills adding somewhat to the planned 70 minute running time.

As the script becomes darker though, so Brigstocke’s delivery becomes more reflective and by the conclusion you feel that what may have initially seemed a comic prospect has delivered a more serious punch.

Solemimanpour’s script is far from perfect, the comic and serious alternation not always sitting comfortably and at times detracting from the message trying to be delivered. It is, however, an important piece that plays with theatrical conventions to deliver a thought provoking piece. There also can’t be any other shows around that invite the audience to email the author mid show!

Written originally for The Public Reviews

News: Bury St Edmunds venues consider single management team

A proposal is being investigated to set up a trust to run the apex and the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds through a single management team.

The trust would retain the unique identity of both venues, but make significant efficiency savings through a single management team, shared box office and marketing.

The results of the review have been the basis of discussion between St Edmundsbury Borough Council, (which owns the new apex venue), and the board of trustees of the Theatre Royal.

The Theatre Royal board agreed the proposal to share management in principle on 9 July. St Edmundsbury’s Cabinet will make consider the proposal at its meeting on 25 July. If approved, work on the detailed business plan will take place over the summer, and form the basis of a final decision, to be made in the autumn.

Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, St Edmundsbury Borough Council Cabinet member for Culture and Sport thinks the move could help create place Bury St Edmunds at the heart of the regions cultural map; “The vision for the apex was to provide a first class venue for residents and to attract visitors to the town. We are very pleased with how it has established itself in its first two years and this two year review argues that the way forward is to position Bury St Edmunds as the premier cultural destination in the region.”

For Brian Stewart, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Theatre Royal the business model for closer working, with the Apex is one that makes sense on several areas: “Bury is extremely fortunate to have a fine historic theatre, and an excellent new music and entertainment venue, and this new partnership will mean an even better arts offer for local residents and visitors, and Bury punching above its weight locally, regionally and nationally. The existing apex and Theatre Royal brands will be maintained, but with closer working and realising efficiency gains we can improve the quality of what we can offer, and invest in better box office services, catering, other facilities, technical, and sales and marketing support.’

Review – Yes, Prime Minister – Trafalgar Studios, London

In among the machinery of government on Whitehall, it seems oddly appropriate that Yes, Prime Minister has now found a new home at the Trafalgar Studios.

How many Civil Servants will end up on a fact-finding mission to the show though is questionable, with Alan Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s stage update of the classic TV series exposing the ineptitude of both politicians and their army of, often unseen, advisors.

Following runs at Chichester, various West End theatres and a successful UK tour, the show now takes up berth in Trafalgar Studios for the summer but in a heavily revised, and sanitised, script from that seen previously.

Prime Minister Jim Hacker is desperate for a good news story to boost his flagging image. A trade deal with a fictional Eastern European state could hold the key and make for a great PR story, the only spanner in the work being a request from the Ambassador that goes beyond the usual room service at Chequers.

In previous showings, there’s been an element of shock by the request for an underage school girl prostitute for the visiting dignitary but writers now seem to have toned this down for a potential summer tourist industry. In the result the piece does seem to have lost its bite.

While the moral dilemma still causes the PM and his advisors plenty to worry about, without that harder edge it seems somewhat flat. It’s a difficult decision, the original subject perhaps not a comfortable subject for a comedy, but here a decision not fully resolved.

Jay and Lynn’s script is however full of the classic themes fans of the original television series will easily recognise, though wisely the team avoid the trap of trying to recreate an exact replica of a TV episode onstage.

With the images of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds still strong in the mind, it would be easy to try and replicate those original performances, but while there’s obvious similarity with the rhythm of the language, the current cast give their own take on the piece.

Robert Daw’s PM is perhaps more of a match for the Civil Service than Eddington’s original. Bumbling and willing to do anything for a good headline, there’s also a darker edge here. Fans of the verbal dexterity of Sir Humphrey won’t be disappointed, Michael Simkins machine gunning convoluted responses without ever answering anything.

There are new additions to the original TV series characters, mainly reflecting the new shape of political life, such as Special Policy Advisor Clair Sutton (Emily Bruni). Perhaps the voice of sanity and reason in this mad political office, there’s a suggestion that the real power has now shifted from the politicians and even the civil servants to these new breed of advisors.

Simon Higlett’s oak panelled Chequers set works well in the Trafalgar studio space and co-author Jonathan Lynn’s direction keeps up the required pace, however this sanitised version of the script does seem now to have robbed the piece of its edge. 24 years on from the original finished broadcasting, Yes, Prime Minister seems to have finally given in to political correctness.

It’s still an amusing evening that pokes fun at our political institutions, and the topical reference keep the piece fresh but perhaps, like Hacker himself, is now somewhat toothless.

Review: The Crash Of The Elysium – Crown Car Park, Ipswich

You know those moments where you hid behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who as a child? Well with The Crash of The Elysium there’s no sofa to hide behind as you’re thrown deep into the midst of a real life adventure.

Like any good adventures there are elements of surprise around every corner and therefore any review needs to tread carefully so as to not upset The Doctor by revealing too much.

It all starts pleasantly enough as we are guided round an exhibition on the 19th Century steamship the SS Elysium. As our guide talks us through the various historical artefacts it all seems a rather genteel way to spend the morning but in true Doctor Who fashion we’re soon rushed off to help battle aliens and save the world.

By the time we’re clad in decontamination suits and protective masks it’s a frantic race against the clock to help the Doctor and save the world.

To reveal more would spoil the enjoyment of future participants but Punchdrunk have created a totally immersive world that manages to encase its participants in a totally believable scenario. Light, darkness and sound combined with Livi Vaughan’s impressive sets takes us deep into the heart of the action. This isn’t a show you can sit down and observe, participation is key to enjoyment, oh and saving the world doesn’t feel too bad either. The sheer scale and detail of the operation is difficult to comprehend until you’re fully immersed and there’s a feeling that a second visit is needed to capture the detail missed first time around.

Tom MacRae’s script includes plenty for both fans and those new to the franchise to enjoy, while Felix Barrett’s direction is suitably fast paced, keeping us on our toes as we run from location to location. There’s also fine work from the cast, perfectly in character throughout, interacting with the participants and keeping the tension at the required level throughout. That interaction means that no two shows are ever the same and that freshness shows in the performances.

Punchdrunk are performing various permutations of the show depending on the age of the audience but here, surrounded by a group of 25 ten year old school children the frights seem scary enough. There’s nearly as much fun to be had watching the reaction of the children and there’s no finer plaudit than an overheard response dismissing a suggestion that the show is only pretend with a firm ‘of course it’s real’.

Embrace your inner child, peer out from behind the sofa and spend an hour in the world of Doctor Who. Where else could you get the opportunity to save the world before lunchtime – just whatever you do, don’t blink!
Photo: Mike Kwasniak Originally written for The Public Reviews

News: Rufus Hound joins Guvnor

The Theatre Royal Norwich today have announced that Rufus Hound will star in the award-winning production of One Man, Two Guvnors when it visits Norwich from December 4-8 following in the footsteps of James Corden, who recently won a Tony Award for playing the same role.

Rufus is one of the best-known and well-loved comics on the UK circuit appearing on seven series of comedy gossip panel game Celebrity Juice, the BBC sitcom Hounded, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and will soon be seen on the new ITV comedy show Mad Mad World.He also makes regular appearances on radio shows and is currently making his professional stage debut in Utopia at the Soho Theatre.

Rufus will play Frances Henshall who is fired from his skiffle band and becomes minder to East End hood Roscoe Crabbe.When he then takes a second job with a fleeing murderer, it leads to a string of misadventures as friends, relatives and members of the Brighton criminal fraternity end up posing as each other.One Man Two Guvnors is globally renowned for being a fantastic production and has picked up a number of awards.

As well as James Corden’s Tony, the National Theatre production has also won the Evening Standard and Critics Circle Awards for Best New Play.And it boasts a strong creative team. The production has been adapted from Carlo Goldoni’s classic Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters by Richard Bean, whose previous work includes England People Very Nice for the National Theatre, The Heretic and the award-winning Harvest for the Royal Court Theatre, and The Big Fellah for Out of Joint at the Lyric Hammersmith and on tour.And it is being directed by the highly-respected National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner, whose previous work includes Henry V, The History Boys, and Phèdre.

John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “Rufus Hound is going to bring a whole new dimension to the role of Frances Henshall and will help to make One Man Two Guvnors a must-see in our winter programme.”

News: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory The Musical announces Palladium run

Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Neal Street Productions and Kevin McCormick today announced that their production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will open at the London Palladium in June 2013 after a preview period.

The new stage musical will be directed by Sam Mendes, with a book by David Greig and new songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Set and costume design will be by Mark Thompson with choreography by Peter Darling. Other members of the creative team include: Doug Besterman (orchestrations); Nicholas Skilbeck (Music Director); Paul Pyant (Lighting Designer); Paul Arditti (Sound Designer) and Jon Driscoll (Video and Projection Designer).

The mysterious Willy Wonka is opening his Chocolate Factory for just one day, and for Charlie Bucket it promises to be a mouth-watering chance to feast his eyes on sweets beyond his wildest imagination. Academy Award®-winning film and theatre director Sam Mendes will bring Roald Dahl’s much-loved classic to life in this world premiere stage production.

Tickets will go on sale to the public in October 2012.

Further information is available from the website:

News: Latitude Festival gears up for seventh edition

With just four weeks to go before thousands of festival goers descend on Henham Park for the 7th Latitude festival, organisers are hoping that the sun shining down on site as they launch the final line up is a good omen.

For Melvin Benn, founder and creator of Latitude, the seventh anniversary of Latitude already has a good omen. “In a year of anniversaries, especially the Queen’s 60th Anniversary, the seventh anniversary gift is usually a piece of wool, and how appropriate for our special coloured sheep that wool is the anniversary gift for seven years.”

While Benn doubts he will be around for Latitude’s 60th anniversary, the seventh edition looks stronger than ever, with fresh acts announced today to join the existing line up.

Joining an already strong line-up of pianists that includes Lang Lang, who recently wowed crowds at the Diamond Jubilee Concert, Benn announced that the Grammy-nominated Canadian star Chilly Gonzales will be appearing in the Film And Music Arena. The same arena will also see the return of two Latitude favourites, Mark Lamarr with his God’s Jukebox, including Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson returning to Latitude after her appearance on the Obelisk stage in 2011.

Van Dyke Parks may be familiar to most as the man behind the lyrics of The Beach Boy’s masterpiece Smile, but as his first three solo albums are about to be reissued, Parks’ will be joining force with the Britten Sinfonia for a full orchestral career retrospective.

Of course, Latitude has always sold itself as ‘more than a musical festival’, and there is plenty on offer for all the family.

Adding to the already strong arts and theatre line up, Sadler’s Wells return to Latitude to present extracts from their new British Bollywood musical Wah! Wah! Girls, a collaboration with acclaimed Kneehigh and Theatre Royal Stratford East. For fans of new comedy, The Chortle Student Comedy Awards will be showcasing some of the countries brightest new comic talent.

The Inbetweener’s Arena, a section of the festival especially for teenagers returns this year after its successful launch in 2011. Run by Norwich based Culture Works East, the area is key to developing future festivals as Elli Chapman, Artistic Director explains; “It’s important we start to nurture audiences of tomorrow and in The Inbetweeners Arena we work with young festival goers between 13 and 17, giving them a chance to go this is our festival and getting a sense of what they want in the future. “

With so much going on in the arena, it’s perhaps like asking a parent to pick their favourite child but for Chapman there’s one area of the schedule that stands out.

“It would be our fashion wonderland, which has all the things that young people need to make their own fashion collections, from industry professionals who can give them the skills to mobile screen printing. We’ve even got a t-shirt design completion where young people can design a Latitude t-shirt and get it printed up on the final day. You never know it could even end up on the Latitude merchandise website.”

Local input has always been an important aspect for Latitude organisers and alongside companies such as Culture Works East, local artists are also contributing to the line-up.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of local boy Ed Sheeran, who played Latitude last year will be Bury St Edmunds group The Soft and Ipswich-based Benjamin Bloom. Latitude has often been the starting point of many musical careers so it’s an important stage for up and coming bands. While many fans will be flocking to see headline acts Bon Iver, elbow and Paul Weller, there is always strong support for local acts across the festival.

Alongside the big musical acts, names already announced such as Jack Dee, Tim Minchin and The National Theatre ensure the festival continues to offer something for everyone. While other festivals have come and gone, Latitude has now firmly established itself on the festival calendar becoming, in Benn’s words “The most important cultural festival weekend in the UK”.

The seventh Latitude Festival runs in Henham Park from 12-15th July. The full line-up and details can be found at

Originally written for Ipswich 24 Magazine

Update: The Royal Court River rumbles on

Yesterday I blogged about The Royal Court’s decision not to offer members of their ‘Friends’ scheme priority booking for Jez Butterworth’s The River.

Rev Stan also shared her thoughts on the subject and both of us contacted The Royal Court voicing our concerns.

Today Kevin West, Sales Manager for The Royal Court, has provided a long and detailed reply to my concerns, including the previous lack of notice for new shows going on sale, The River ticketing policy and the withdrawal of advance booking for £10 tickets for their Upstairs space.

As someone who lives and works outside of London I also expressed concern that the move to day seating sales disadvantaged those of us who couldn’t drop everything at a moments notice.

Mr West’s full response is posted at the end of this blog but it’s interesting to note that The Royal Court doesn’t see any problem for those out of London.

“We appreciate that booking this way will make it difficult to plan ahead, or for those outside London to book and plan journeys. Yet performances for The River are on Mon-Sat, with matinees, so there are weekend perfs to allow for those working out of London, and the release of tickets online as well as by counter should make it possible for people to book whether they are in London or not.”

It was always going to be a tough decision for The Royal Court to make and as suggested by Honour Bayes on her WhatsOnStage Blog, there was always the possibility that tickets would go solely to corporate sponsors but whatever the motives it still seems like The Royal Court haven’t really handled the PR fallout of their policy well.

The full response from The Royal Court can be found below:

Dear Glen,

Thanks for your email yesterday, and apologies for taking a while to get back to you. It’s been a busy 24 hours and I wanted to give you a full reply to each of the points you raised.

It is true that we announce and go onsale later than some other venues – the National and the RSC are the obvious examples of companies who give long advance notice to their members. Yet our policy is always to give Friends as much notice as possible within the confines of our onsale process (which is generally to announce and go onsale simultaneously). For the West End season that you mention (Posh/Jumpy) we gave 2 days of priority booking and sent out the Friends notification at the same time as the press release; and indeed no performance sold out before general sale opened, so there should have been no impact on the availability of tickets. We have tried to listen to Friends feedback on previous season onsales, which is why an extra 24 hours has been added between announcement and booking this time – plus an email on Friday giving advance notice of the arrival of the email.

We are still offering £10 Mondays in the JTD but due to capacity levels it’s just not possible to serve the demand of Friends for JTU £10 Monday tickets. The availability of JTU £10 Monday tickets has come and gone from Friends benefits depending on demand, the length of runs and the other range of benefits offered: it was not available for much of the period between 2000-2007 and has only recently been withdrawn again, starting with Goodbye to All That, Vera Vera Vera and Ten Billion earlier this year, for which there was such limited availability that we considered it fairer to offer all tickets on the day. Tickets in the JTU are still £20 and £15 concessions – a very reasonable rate compared to other subsidised and WE venues – and priority booking is offered to Friends for all these dates.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that if we put The River on sale in advance to Friends it is very unlikely that you would have been able to get a ticket today. Demand would have been so high that tickets would have sold out to a lucky few in minutes and it would have been complete luck on whose server got them to the front of the queue – not a fair system. There aren’t even enough tickets to have allocated each Friend and Supporter one ticket each. We disappointed many of our Friends when the £10 Monday tickets for JTU shows went onsale last summer, and again disappointed many people when we extended the capacity of Constellations and all tickets sold out within seconds. Advance booking under such demand is incredibly frustrating for people, as it’s not possible to see where tickets have gone and how many have been sold. Our change of tack to offer queueable day seats for Constellations, and Pay What You Like nights for GTAT and VVV, were warmly received and made the process of acquiring tickets to sold out performances much easier for the audience, so we have chosen to adopt a similar policy for this show – strictly on a one-off basis, given the nature of Jez Butterworth’s profile after Jerusalem. Ideally we would have liked to have sold some tickets in advance as well as some on the door, but the small number of tickets available would have made it barely worthwhile, and provoked more frustration.

We appreciate that booking this way will make it difficult to plan ahead, or for those outside London to book and plan journeys. Yet performances for The River are on Mon-Sat, with matinees, so there are weekend perfs to allow for those working out of London, and the release of tickets online as well as by counter should make it possible for people to book whether they are in London or not. We looked in-depth into many, many options – lottery systems, limited tickets, online queues, etc – and it was a joint departmental decision, and from Artistic Director, Dominic Cooke, that this was the fairest way to give access to see the show.

We do really value our Friends and supporters. As you know we are a subsidised venue working under very tight resources, and we’ve worked really hard to make the Friends scheme into a success. We know that most of our Friends are loyal and enjoy supporting our work, and enjoy benefitting from the more efficient priority booking and multi-buy discounts that we have tailored over the last 2 years specifically for this group. The Friends scheme is not just benefits led – it is also about supporting the work we do and the development of the writers of the future – so we’re sad that you are considering leaving the scheme as you are a very valued member of the audience.

With such a limited capacity for The River it was impossible to please all audience members, but I am truly sorry that we have upset you with our decision.

Best wishes,

Kevin West
Sales Manager

Feature: Royal Court Sells Friends Down The River

In tough economic times for the arts, membership schemes provide much needed support. Not only do venues benefit from the income such schemes bring but it engenders a sense of brand loyalty from customers in a highly competitive market.

As loyal supporters of your venue you want to keep members on side but it looks like The Royal Court has scored something of an own goal with its announcement of their new season.

A frequent complaint from Royal Court members in the past was that the new season announcement was frequently made only 30 minutes before tickets went on sale, leaving little time to consult diaries and plan your season’s theatre going.

There was therefore something of a collective sigh of relief when the season was announced the day before tickets went on sale. As emails landed in inboxes it looked a bumper season, with new plays by Jez Butterworth, Caryl Churchill , Martin Crimp, E.V.Crowe, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Lucy Kirkwood.

It is only when scanning further down the email that the good news fades. Under the entry for The River, Jez Butterworth the following is printed in bold text;

“Due to anticipated demand we regret that there are no Friends, Stage-Taker or Ice-Breaker tickets available in advance for this production.. ….. “

The mail goes on to explain that there are ‘simply not enough tickets’ for friends and supporters to book tickets.

Instead the theatre will be selling the show on a day ticket basis, releasing that day’s seats at 9am daily.
That’s all very well for those with time to either queue or battle the IT to try and obtain tickets each day but what about those who live outside London or whose work schedule precludes them for dropping everything at 9am each day?

Dissatisfaction soon began to be voiced on Twitter and The Royal Court responded….
“We hope this way is fairer – meaning anyone can see the show (not just high level supporters). It’s an intimate 3-hander & JTU best suits the play artistically. It’s a v small capacity & if sold in advance there wouldn’t even be enough tix for members to buy 2 each. We wanted everyone to have a fair chance of seeing Jez’s new play.Day seats available online and in-person.”

Fairer yes if you can drop everything at a moment’s notice but judging by the twitter reaction today it’s not a policy that will win The Royal Court many fans.

Did anyone in The Royal Court’s development team seek any feedback before implementing this change of policy?

Membership isn’t cheap but while no scheme can ever guarantee availability for popular shows, there seems to be a complete disregard for loyal customers here.

I for one have today emailed The Royal Court to explain why I won’t be renewing my membership when it expires later this year, transferring my support to organisations who listen to their supporters. I have yet to receive a reply….

RevStan has also eloquently shared her views on the subject here

UPDATE: I’ve now had a reply from The Royal Court – details here