KILLED July 17th 1916

KILLED

July 17th 1916

Looking Glass Theatre

Performed at St Peters Church

 

A November night, Remembrance Sunday in fact, a cold church and iron hard seats only add to the discomfort that this production brings.

Let me explain. You need to feel discomfort as you watch this powerful, poignant and topical story unfold in front of you. Killed tells the tale of young Billy Dean (Connor McAvoy) who, like his pals back home is swept up in the mass recruitment of men in World War One. Billy joins up, does his basic training and is shipped off to France to fight on one of the bloodiest and most brutal battle fronts ever imagined. I cannot express my admiration for the sheer brilliance of Connor’s performance as Billy. I admit I have seen Connor in other roles but this performance was head and shoulders above all the others. I felt his fear, I understood his naivety, I felt the love for his wife May Dean (Penelope May) and in the end, I felt his terror as he sat tied in the chair to meet his fate.

Penelope as May Dean is a gem. Her character starts off so happy and proud and she watches the volunteers march off to war, eyes wide and full of pride and passion. Even as she tells Billy it’s time to sign up, her face is still full of pride and wonder and you know she has no idea what is really happening all those hundreds of miles away. When Billy comes back on leave, she is thrilled to see him but the most heart breaking scene is when she is ready to wave Billy off back to war. Her once bright eyes are now filled with tears as she sees the wounded men coming back and the realisation of what her beloved husband is about to face. As I said, Penelope is a gem and perfectly cast in this tough emotional roll. You will weep with her. I did.

Now young Billy Dean, has a mate called Tommy (Stuart Warren) and what a mate to have. Clueless about the harsh realities of war that are about to hit them but with a really rubbish French phrase book (and an even worse French Accent) is more than happy to educate his new friend in the ways of the world. It’s a strange thing that audiences are afraid to laugh in what they know to be a serious drama but you could not help laugh at Tommy. Stuart is the perfect clown and as Tommy we see his talent to make you laugh out loud, but later, as he waits to go over the top, we see his fear, his indecision and alongside Billy, his sheer terror as the whistle blows, the smoke billows and they charge. Stuart carries two other roles in the play and gives his all in both. Once again, perfect casting.

Every regiment needs a fog horn voiced, barrel chested giant of a man as their Regimental Sergeant Major and we have one portrayed by Steve While. His recruitment speech made you want to stand up, to volunteer, to follow him to hell and back. Through the training he is what you would expect; loud, brutal, unforgiving yet fatherly in his own rough fashion. Steve gives a great performance as the RSM and somehow, you even begin to like his character and feel for him as he organises the final moments of young Billy Dean’s life.

Madeleine Hagerty is the final member of the cast and the two roles she portrays are poles apart. As the Patriotic Woman, she fixes you with a stare that dares you to look away as she tells the audience they should be proud to send their young men off to fight this war. You can imagine she has white feathers ready for those that do not sign up and fight. The women she addresses must choose between the fear of losing a loved one or being related to a coward, such is the force of her rhetoric.

Madeleine’s other character is Else, a friend to May and Billy Dean and who works with May in the ammunition factory. When we first meet her, she is suffering from the loss of her husband, shot and killed in France. Later in the ammunition factory she tells May that she has a new man friend and he is a conscientious objector. To her credit May never decries her for this but Elsie becomes more defensive of her new man and vociferous on the wrongs of the war. Madeleine brings both of these character to their full force and swapping from one to the other, is remarkable. I promise you that as you hear her hauntingly beautiful voice singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, shivers will run down your spine. Genius casting and outstanding performance.

 

James Smith has, without doubt, directed one of the most powerful, compelling and uncomfortable pieces of drama you will ever see. Such a minimal set and every action played out within hands reach of the audience just add to the brilliance. The sound effects, lighting and the incredibly evocative music choices just complete an outstanding production.

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OLIVER!

OLIVER!

Performed by Royal and Derngate Youth Theatre and Young Company

Directed by Christopher Elmer-Gorry

 

A Saturday matinee performance and The Royal Theatre was packed. This sadly is a rarity but word must have got round that this performance of Oliver! was going to be something special.

This will be a very short review as there is nothing to say except how absolutely wonderful the whole thing was. I could just write a whole list of superlatives and still not have summed it up. From the opening curtain and the overture from the orchestra to the last bars played as the curtain fell, we were treated to a performance that was worthy of the West End and I would have been happy to pay West End prices for. My only regret is I was able to see it just once with the Waifs cast but I have been assured the Strays were their equal in every way.

Every production has some lead roles and these need mentioning. Lauren Moody as Nancy was a total superstar. Stage presence and that voice will take this young lady wherever she chooses to go if she chooses the stage for a profession. She was quite remarkable and the star of the show for me.

Luke Nunn must have been melting under that wig and beard, but his Fagin was a joy. His interplay with the violinist Maisie Smith during Reviewing The Situation was great fun and he was word perfect during some really fast and tricky lyrics.

Our Dodger was Owen Howard and what a performance. He looked and played the part really well and was perfectly cast in the role. Even his cockney accent was pretty good and had nothing about Dick Van Dyke about it.

Curtis Sloan as Oliver was everything that Oliver should be. Diminutive, high pitched and remarkably innocent. To play this part it takes a very brave actor and Curtis owned the part.

This entire production was a total joy to watch. There was no doubt that the whole ensemble were having a great time on stage and the audience were enjoying it just as much. The elderly gentleman two seats to my right decided that he enjoyed it so much, he joined it with the singing! It’s ok, you were better and louder than him!

Kudos to the orchestra as they made a great sound and it was worthy of a much bigger ensemble than those few wedged into the pit.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the first class production and thank you on behalf of everyone in the audience for the hard work you have put into this over the previous weeks and months. Even the dog was a star!

 

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THE EVENTS TEAM

THE EVENTS TEAM

Part of the BA Events Management Degree Course

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

I would like to say right at the very start of this review, that this year’s events team has set the bar incredibly high for those lucky enough to follow in their footsteps. I will break down my review as follows:

Ticketing. Despite a behind the scenes hiccup, the tickets were on sale in time and in an easy to buy way. The team was only constrained by the website they are forced to use. It is basic and does the job, but I think they could have done more if allowed a better site.

The Hub: Choosing Hazelrigg House as the hub was the right choice. Better than this, the hub was always manned and we were welcomed like old friends every time we walked in. The hub was always buzzing and everyone in the room was part of the buzz, unlike other years where it was always a small click away from the rest.

The performance spaces: This is where the events team are really head and shoulders above previous years. Rain or shine, one or more of the team was at the event venue before we, the audience arrived to queue for admission. From the first show on Monday to the last one on Saturday evening, the team was there and every ticket was scanned, every queue was controlled and every door shut on time with no latecomers allowed. This really helps the performers and the tech teams so much and they, I am sure are grateful for the events team’s diligence.

Social media: Both Twitter and Facebook were well used and constantly updated with information all through the event and before. Some great videos were shot by the team and put on line for us to view. The one that showed the venues was a great idea as I for one, had never been to any of them before.

The team itself: This was without doubt the most well matched, well balanced and happy team we have ever had. They never lost any drive or passion no matter what silly hours they were all working. They were always happy and welcoming and it was real; not an effect wiped on in the morning and washed off at night. Having two gentlemen in the line up was a surprise to me and they added to the energy of the team.

To sum up, Vicky Cooper, Aisha Ruth-Francis, Lucy Taylor, Daniel Gardner and James Broomfield were together, the best events team I have seen in four Flash Festivals. There have always been some outstanding individuals in previous years, but this team is streets ahead.

So, that thank you all for making Lynne and I so welcome, for treating us like friends and for always offering me a chair. Towards the end of the week I really needed one!

The very best of luck to you all in the future.

 

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HIM

HIM

Written and performed by Just Bear Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

When you see the play contains a character called Happy, something inside you hopes to see Doc, Sneezy and the rest of the gang. If you get a chance to see HIM, dismiss this from your mind because you are about to enter a world, far darker, far more thought provoking and powerful that Uncle Walt ever dreamed up.

Set in the spartan, yet kind of cosy interior of a church with a storm raging outside, we find Happy, with his soon to be proved ethereal girlfriend only known as Her. We hear a hammering on the church door and after hiding her and a short verbal standoff, we meet Isaac. From this point everything changes for Happy and the play examines these changes in depth.

As the play moves on it soon becomes clear that Happy’s girlfriend is nothing more than a well dressed mannequin but neither of them are ready to admit this.

The play is all about the question of living alone, being content on one’s own and not seeking the fellowship of other human company. Indeed, the question “are you Grizzly enough” was posed on the early Twitter feed for this show and this is really pertinent to the play I saw last night. Do you need the company of others? If you shun society, does your mind eventually create illusions that allow you to live alone yet share your thoughts with others. This is what has happened to Happy and now he is forced to share with Isaac.

There are some very funny sections in this play and each were well received and understood by the audience. Other times, the discomfort of the audience while watching what was happening produced nervous laughter. Again, the perfect reaction.

Jack Alexander Newhouse and Neizan Fernandez Birchwood as Happy and Isaac respectively, have an abundance of talent between them and in this production they complement each other perfectly. Jack has perhaps the most soulful face and eyes I have seen on stage. His loneliness is evident with each look, yet his is also protective of Her and their isolation. Like most Grizzlies, he does not share well with others. Neizan is very physical and the size difference between him and Jack works well and adds to Jack feeling threatened by Isaac’s presence in his life. This play is finely crafted, well rehearsed and extremely watchable. The moment when Happy finally admits that his girlfriend is not real makes your chest tighten with emotion and as the two men realise they need each others company and leave is simply the most perfect end to this play.

This play is a great showcase for Jack and Neizan and gives great display of their acting and writing talents. Congratulations to you both. A highlight of my week.

A special mention for Jemma Bentley who played Her. On stage only briefly but with a smile that would brighten the darkest day!

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X OR Y

X or Y

Written and performed by Infuse Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

So, here I am, 61 years old, never even thought about whether I was a man or not, I am now faced with 5 young ladies telling me what I need to know about body dysmorphia and the struggles of transgender people, and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little discomfort at the thought. But this is Flash festival 2016 and I am here to be educated so on with the show!

Infuse Theatre Company is an amalgamation of the talents of Annalise Taylor, Rhiana Young, Stephanie Waugh, Grace Aitken and Kathryn McKerrow. And talent there is in abundance as we are treated to some hilarious characters, who with crazy hats and costumes describe the struggles of a pair of gentlemen in the 19th Century and their wish to be live and be treated as women. Funny yet poignant, as we hear of their trial and from the doctor (in the loosest sense) who carries out their examination. His lascivious discussion with the judge is funny and disgusting in equal measure. Annalise must have a back ache from her portrayal of the judge and Stephanie as the doctor had to be seen to be believed.

For me, the most eye opening parts of this show, were the individual stories from both male and female points of view and the struggles of being born into the wrong body. Being forced to choose between being what they knew to be their true selves and their families. The acting talents of each of our company were put to the test with these parts and they did themselves proud. They gave us a glimpse, a small insight into the difficulty these people were put through. I had no idea of the brutality they are subject to and cannot comprehend their families disowning them.

As well as educating the audience, there was more than enough fun and humour to make this a joy to watch. The 5 ladies work extraordinarily well together and their tremendous talents, both individual and as a group are bought to the fore in this production. Of all of the shows I have seen this one without doubt has some of the most complicated choreography, including brilliant chair moves, costume changes and all carried out faultlessly.

Once again, a show with a social responsibility message and this is definitely to be welcomed. There was nothing in this show that I would change and I would love to watch it again. As for the tiny technical glitch, who gives a monkeys as this performance was so good, there could have been seagulls loose and it still would not have detracted from the talent on show.

Congratulations to you all. This was a well devised, thought provoking piece and you all work together like you have never been apart.

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MORTEM ARTIS

MORTEM ARTIS

Written and performed by Artifex Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

Do you read, write, paint, perform or enjoy watching others and enjoy their work? Can you imagine these pleasures being taken away from you? Can you imagine that our world has decreed that all of the creative processes, perpetrated by the right hand side of the brain are to be kept hidden, under control, under lock and key? Can you imagine that even if you are out with friends, you are unable to even discuss these subject for fear of incarceration? In Mortem Artis, this is the world that we are plunged into in the confined cell like space of the basement.

The creator of Mortem Artis, Amber Mae, is the girl subject to all of these things and the play is the story of her fight to stand against the new corporation for her right to enjoy the art that is in her and that needs to be expressed for her soul to flourish.

It is obvious to anyone with eyes to see that this was not a play to be simply performed, but something that is deep with Amber Mae’s very being. Her eyes sparkle and her face lights up as she sits on the floor and draws or paints. No, this in not just a play for her dissertation but a heartfelt portrayal of her worries and fears for the future of the arts in this country of ours. The sparkle and the lights are soon extinguished by the removal of all of her books, her paints and finally the closure of the pirate radio station that sustained her for one hour ever night. Even her colourful clothes are exchanged for gray ones, almost a prison garb and all of this “for her own comfort”.

Amber is extraordinary as an actress and we delighted in her joy, as she danced like no one was watching, sung like no one was listening. Moments later we cared for her so much as she was locked up, her individuality stripped from her, forced to choose between her art and permanent removal from society.

Mortem Artis is a well written, intelligent and insightful work and it was only right that its author and owner, Amber was allowed to express her feelings through her considerable acting talents. Having seen her in two other roles Amber has always had great presence but this play has elevated her in my estimation and is a great showcase for her. I hope she finds a way to bring this to a wider audience in the future.

A quick word regarding the tech associated with the show. Faultless, perfectly thought out, well rehearsed and executed.

 

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THE ANTI-SOCIAL NETWORK

THE ANTI-SOCIAL NETWORK

Written, adapted and performed by George Marlow

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

In the confined underground space that is The Basement, we find our smiling, welcoming, unnamed host, played by George Marlow sitting at his computer. The soundtrack is Normal Everyday Guy by Jon Lajoie. This track was unknown to me but I later realised it really did set the scene very well for what was about to come.

In this performance George, on the most part uses other peoples works but speaks the words himself. Not only does he speak them himself but he truly delivers the message behind all of them and this is George’s artistry coming through. Each piece has been very carefully chosen to fit in with the message being delivered and each piece is delivered in exactly the right sequence. Looking back on it with 24hrs since the performance itself, it worked so well because it had been do deeply researched.

Our protagonist, has a Brooklyn accent but in between what could be regarded as soliloquies, George comes back in an English accent to give us some of his own thoughts, written by him and in some cases really funny. I will never yawn in front of a deaf person ever again! In other cases poignant and always thought provoking.

The rap that George delivers is quite incredible. Kudos to the guy that wrote it but bravo to the way it was delivered. Word perfect, ridiculously complicated, so fast and with feeling. Like all other works used in this play, it fitted in place and fitted the theme perfectly.

The message was how much the social networks are making us so anti-social and it was delightful, as George made us, the audience connect with him, and each other. This without a single smart phone or tablet, he bought us all together. He shared his food with us, he danced with some of us and he included us throughout. He shared his worries, his thoughts and he shared his soul with us.

George has devised an educational, thought provoking piece of social theatre that leaves the audience questioning their addiction to the “Like” button or the “Retweet” tab in their lives. He delivered it in such a passionate and open way that you could not help but agree with him and identify with the words spoken with such feeling.

I really enjoyed this experience and have no doubt that George and Barefeet Films are going to go from strength to strength. A great way to finish off three years hard work and study. Congratulations.

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