School Shorts Act One

Daffodil Scissors

By Philip Ridley

Directed by Ashley Elbourne

Performed by The Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre: Act One

Poor Daffodil! With a needy mum who has the most outlandish idea of suitable headwear for school, and who cannot bear to be alone, It’s a good job he has developed a thick skin as the bullies at school just add to his woes.

Once again, a true ensemble piece with the majority of actors on the stage at any one time, this play was a delight to watch and see the story unfold. Act One are a slightly younger group than Act Two but this not detrimental to the performance in any form. I was really pleased again with the script in hand approach for these young players as this is not a job, not a punishment, its meant to be a whole hour of fun performing to family, friends and grumpy old reviewers. To that end it was a great success as they acted and looked like they were enjoying the experience as much as we the audience.

If in a future production, any of the hats suggested in the play are to be produced, then put me down for the one made of dead mice and spit. My wife will have the dinosaur teeth and chewing gum creation!

ITTULLKYLLYOOIFFYOODOO

By Christopher William Hill

Directed by Ashley Elbourne

Performed by The Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre: Act One

I am so glad someone pointed out what the title of this play actually said. I didn’t get it even though I had looked at it for ages!

Milo was more than happy to eat his ice cream and curry at the same time and on the same spoon. The play tells of all the reasons why he should now. Of course the main one was that it would kill him. That had to be true as it had been written down. Well scratched into a desk by a less that truthful student!

The play runs us the through the myths and legends of what we can and cannot eat in safety. Being school, there was a generous helping of maggots, snot and the odd bogey. Nice to know it has not changed since my school days. This was a difficult play to perform in so many ways. The lines were short and often incomplete as someone else finished them for you. With people strewn around the lunch room, there was often no eye line to see who was delivering your next cue. The hardest thing without a doubt was having had to concentrate so hard on another play they had finished delivered just 10 minutes beforehand. I was sure there would be mixed up characters but not one.

Well done to the entire Youth Theatre for an hour of great fun and enjoyment.

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Who’s Afraid of The Bogeyman?

Who’s Afraid of The Bogeyman?

By Mike Kenny

Directed by Ashley Elbourne

Performed by The Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre: Act Two

This play is more than a little disturbing and to be played out so well by such a young team of players says so much about how the Youth Theatre director and his team look after, discuss and nurture their charges.

With only two named parts, that of the mother and father and these only denoted by different coloured t-shirts compared to the white of the rest of the cast , this is truly an ensemble piece.

The telling of the tale of the worry of the parents when their daughter does not come home from school, really shows how that worry can soon become fear and finally total terror. When the daughter does come home she is shocked to see the state of her parents and as far as she was concerned she had just changed he route home. She had no clue of the thoughts that had run through their heads, how they had confronted a total stranger and almost accused him of the most terrible of crimes

This was a very mature performance of an incredibly sensitive and distressing subject. If this had been on the BBC, there would have been an announcement after the programme offering help if you were affected by the subject. Congratulations to everyone in the Youth Theatre team for this brave and thought provoking production.

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Stay Brave, Brian Gravy

Stay Brave, Brian Gravy

By Carl Grose

Directed by Ashley Elbourne

Performed by The Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre: Act Two

 

Its Brian Gravy’s birthday and we are invited into his world to see just why this young boy prefers to play alone, with just the company of his imaginary friends. Louis Sheldon as Brian Gravy is a pure delight to watch. Not just his acting talent but to witness his obvious joy in doing it.

The story tells of the parents fighting that drives Brian to his own little world and his friendship with his very odd and other worldly friends. Whether his friends are imaginary is up to you the audience. What is for sure they are a prop for Brian to help him through his difficult world behind his front door.

Brian is eventually saved by a complete stranger named Penny (Natalie Matthews), who gives him a pair of yellow wellys and warns him to keep them on. It later appears that Penny is in the same class as Brian and has lived next door for three years. All missed by Brian as he had made his own safe world to live in.

The play is poignant yet funny and each of the players held his end up extremely well. While the script was held by each of them for the whole performance, it was, by many used as a prop rather than a prompt.

It was an excellent performance and it was nice to be sure that each of them understood the story they had just portrayed and how there are many Brian Gravys out there whose story is still waiting to be told.

Congratulations to you all.

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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

By Stephen Adley Guirgis

Directed by Jamie Rocha Allan

Performed by The University of Northampton BA (Hons) Acting Third Year Students

Inside the front cover of the programme there is a warning by the director.

“This ain’t your grandmothers gospel!”. Well brother you weren’t kidding!

I had heard rave reviews of this show before the doors opened so it already had a lot of hype to live up to. As I took my seat, my ears were assaulted with very loud pounding rap music and unbeknown to me this would be very apt for what was to follow.

As this was such a huge piece, I am not going to write a traditional review of the play but a part by part review of each actor and their role. What I don’t promise to do is to remember what order they each came in so forgive me if it does not tally with actual on stage entrances.

Anchoring the show with her opening monologue was the divine Lydia Rose-Blagg as Henrietta, the mother of Judas. Having seen Lydia anchor Odyssey and her performance in Richard III I knew we were in safe hands and she lead us perfectly into what was to come. While being cross examined her need for honesty was struggling against the need to protect her son. Lydia comes across as strong and powerful while still being fragile as the mother of the man who betrayed Jesus. I am fast convinced there is nothing will stand in Lydia’s way that she cannot handle.

Michael Whelbourne as Judas. On stage and sitting so still as we took our seats, Michael looked just right for this role. Throughout the play, either in his catatonic state or in flashback sequences, his characterisation was well observed. Without the humorous lines that so many other were given, he showed a strong, troubled and tormented soul in equal measure. his was a very difficult part to play and played very well by Michael.

Melissa Madden as Gloria. Now that’s what I call an angel! She rocked the audience with her self assured strut across the stage and set the more humorous tone that was to follow. As Sister Glenda he timing was impeccable in her repeat section and as the soldier she put a verb “street” accent to the part.

Matt Hirst as Judge Littlefield. Trying to maintain order in his own courtroom, Matt was allowed little space for physical movement but excelled in the role by mannerisms, hand gestures and voice alone. Not impressed by a writ signed by God but more than a little scared of his brush with Satan later in the play. A very different part from Banquo where I first saw him but still as impressive.

Catherine Garlick as the bailiff and Saint Peter. As the bailiff Catherine was so funny without saying more than a few words. Just her face when Satan strolled in was hilarious and her expressions throughout were worth seeing. I swear no one else could have got so many laughs just by holding their short up!  Please someone give Catherine a leading role she can really show off her talent. Her one woman show for Flash Festival should do this.

Zoe Davey as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham. Small in stature, Zoe was a giant in the part of the defence council for Judas. She is abused by the judge, mocked by the prosecuting council (who I will come to next) and ridiculed by Satan, Zoe has to deliver every emotion know to man. In particular her final scene with Satan is difficult to watch as she remains focussed while being personally deconstructed in public. Strong stuff and Zoe does it to perfection.

Ashlee Sopher as Yusef Akbar Wahid Al-Nassar Gamel El-Fayoumy. Ashley was handed the funniest role in the entire play and thus he had to work hard to deliver such a great performance. So many incredible lines to deliver and all dished out at some speed and in that accent. A couple of times there needed to be a pause for us the poor audience to finish laughing before the next barb was unleashed. A sycophantic boot licker and Mother Teresa worshiper El-Fayoumy is a brilliant character and masterly portrayed by Ashlee.

Antonia Underwood as Mother Teresa. The very least that can be said about Antonia’s portrayal of Mother Teresa is that it added an extra 20 minutes to the running time. How on earth can someone walk that slowly on and off stage. The audience loved it and laughed to the end of each journey. Seated where I was I could see that Antonia carried this on right the way off stage and not just until she was out of sight to the stalls. Sitting in the witness box wearing her bright green Beats by Dr Dre headphones she was an enigmatic delight. Fawned over by El-Fayoumy, she was the perfect saintly women we knew. Truly if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing. Nice one Antonia!

Chloe Emery as Simon the Zealot. Chloe’s piece was one of the shorter roles but she gave us a display of more than a little arrogance as the Zealot. Happy to answer questions but very unhappy to be questioned about the extent of their belief. Chloe’s posture as arrogant as the Zealot’s personality and Chloe looked the part.

Abigail Benson-Ross as Caiaphus The Elder. Caiaphus is a morally complex character and Abbie keeps her on track. Under examination by El-Fayoumy, she is happy to describe what she did and why she did it. Under cross examination by Fabiana, it was a very different affair. How Abbie managed never to look Fabiana in the eye I don’t know. It’s so difficult to do and it really showed some of the more complexity of the role.

Jack Smith as Sigmund Freud. Jack is a natural comic and he was allowed to put some of his comedic skills into this role. Not a big part for Jack but so perfectly observed and delivered and a perfect foil for El-Fayoumy.

Tara Lawrence as Saint Mathew, Loretta and Matthias of Galilee. For these three roles, Tara needs half a page to herself but suffice to say that she delivered on all three. I particularly liked the part of Loretta complete with her drip stand. Tara really suits the southern American accent used throughout.  She fitted in nicely as Matthias of Galilee and was one of the few who never sat in the witness box.

Hannah Mitchell as Saint Thomas. Hanna gives a delightful performance as the doubting and self deprecating Thomas. Sat on the edge of the raised rear platform she delivers a monologue that describes all her doubts and fears and how close she was to betraying Jesus herself. A nice portrayal by Hannah.

Samantha Colden at Pontius Pilate. Samantha was more than a little scary as Pilate. So cold, so harsh, so unrepentant and unbending in her belief that what she did was right. This was a cool calculated performance and added a lot to the whole. I am sure Samantha was happy to sort her hair out when the play was over!

Rochelle Halsall as Mary Magdalene. A difficult role for Rochelle as Mary is a much maligned character . Denying her relationship as the lover of Jesus and as the wife of Jesus, the ex whore explains herself in a monologue. Rochelle maintains Mary’s somewhat bruised dignity throughout.

Samantha Ahweyevu as Saint Monica. Samantha crops up several times and each time is slightly more foul mouthed that he last! Portraying a Saint in a gangsta style is curious to say the least but Samantha carries it off with aplomb. Her friends assure me she is not like that in real life and for that I heave a sigh of relief.  Well done Samantha.

Steve Banks as Satan. WOW! So where do I start? Under examination for the first time we see what may be called the public face of Satan. Smooth, calm, sophisticated and totally unflappable. He answers his questions with sincerity mixed with sarcasm but assuredly answers them. In the flash back sequence where he is in a bar with Judas we begin to see another side of him. The evil slips out even if just fleetingly. We see the real Satan when required to be called back to the witness box. Put simply he flips! Steve’s smooth portrayal suddenly erupts in fury and the audience, the jurors and the members of the court are left in no doubt of Satan’s true self. As Satan tries to verbally destroy Fabiana, he is met with her steely determination to make him tell the truth for once. This role was a true revelation as I had never seen Steve in such a huge powerful role before. When calm he conned us into almost liking him. When angry, Steve gave the performance of his life and I doubt I will ever forget it. Outstanding young man.

Oliver Mort as Jesus. A tiny but important role for Oliver. Tiny in time on stage but so important as he tries to persuade Judas that he is still his friend and forgives him his betrayal. Oliver portrays Jesus as we have come to expect and I am glad the writer did not try and change that. Touching at the end as he washed the feet of his betrayer.

Last but definitely not least, Jamie Dawson-Park as Butch Honeywell. The character of Butch Honeywell appears vey early on in the performance and is tiny. By the time we see Jesus, I am convinced that the director has lost his head and only given Jamie a pathetic two or three lines now lost in time. As I am expecting the lights to go down and the curtain to fall, onto the stage walks Jamie and proceeds to deliver a truly fabulous monologue to a catatonic Judas. It was riveting to watch and heavenly to hear. At last someone has given this big man a chance to prove he can act. Jamie, my hat comes off to you and I was thrilled by your performance.

Well that’s that then. Everyone listed, everyone mentioned. With almost 1700 words written in praise I may be allowed to mention that at the beginning and at the start of the second half that the music did not go down fast enough and the first few words were lost to us.

Put simply, this was a great piece of theatre, flawlessly acted and I would sit through it all again tomorrow if I had the chance!

Thank you one and all.

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DYING FOR IT

Dying For It

By Moira Buffini

Directed by Cressida Brown

Performed by The University of Northampton BA (Hons) Acting Third Year Students

I have to say it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch a “satirical black comedy” set in Stalinist Russia. I am not a lover of satire, nor black comedies and of course no one can enjoy very much about Stalin or Russia during his reign. Ladies and gentlemen of the cast, you changed my mind. I loved this production and found it hilarious despite is gloomy setting and the real life inhumanities that were happening back in the Rodina.

The opening scene with Semyon Semyononvich Podsekalnikov (Matt Larsson) in bed with his wife Masha (Sarah Kirk)  when Semyon sits bolt upright and wakes his wife with a demand for black pudding started the whole show perfectly. So funny and so ridiculous and so much lime me!

Semyon, an unemployed man wallowing in self pity and feeling crucified for his misfortune is a great vessel for Matt Larsson. This is the first lead role that I have seen this young man in and I was not disappointed. He has fine stage presence and his timing and mannerisms were spot on. On stage for the whole play except when in hiding under his bed or off trying to commit suicide, Matt was an example of having learned his craft the Northampton university way.

Sarah Kirk as his long suffering wife kept the only sane  identity in the entire production. In my opinion Sarah is yet to be cast in a role that befits her talents. I am hoping these will be fully realised in the upcoming Flash Festival.

Comedy discovery of the year was the Sophie Poyntz Lloyd as Serafima, Semyon’s mother in law. Never has a woman been so thrilled to find her missing son in law’s pants. Throughout she prays for his deliverance so that she alone can inflict insult and injury upon him for causing her daughter distress. Sophie was outstanding and should be proud she made me laugh so much I almost choked!

Jenny Styles and  Dale Endacott as illicit lovers Alexander and Margarita bring even more body to the piece. As the whole piece is set in just one space, they are there almost constantly and each brings much talent to the piece. Seeing Jenny in Killed in the Looking Glass Theatre production, it was a contrast to see to see her so full of life in this role. Those red shoes would have had Moira Shearer dancing for a lifetime! Dale’s performance was strong and well timed and bought much of the play together.

We go on to meet a whole group of people who encourage Semyon to go right ahead and commit suicide as long as he dies in their cause.  Die for the party! Die for the church! Die for the beggars! and my favourite Die for the meat!

John Shelley as Aristarkh, Nikki Murray as Kleopatra and Riley Stephen as Victoria each come to beg, cajole and try and force our pathetic hero to die in their cause. John as the grimly sincere man who likens his lot to that of Semyon is funny while being slightly menacing. Nikki as the “do it for love” Kleopatra brings a demented need for love and physical contact to the mix. Riley as Victoria gives us a full on self satisfied persona to either love or hate as she writes her poetry about the beauty of self sacrifice.

Dipping in and out is Yegor the postman and neighbour portrayed by Joseph Clift. So proud of his job and his uniform and of course, he cannot help but remind us that he won an award for speed and diligence. Yegor gets some great lines and Joseph brings him to life beautifully.

Now remembering we are set in Mother Russia, it was incredible to see Ryan Manning as a fire and brimstone Scottish preacher named Yelpidi. I don’t know if this was Ryan’s own creation but he carried it off with aplomb and bought much hilarity to the show.

This production did something that so few others do and that was to use the entire theatre. With exits and entrances off and on the front of the stage and down the aisles and even pieces from right next to me in the circle. This is a great idea and I can assure you the audience loves it as it brings them right into the action.

A special mention to Abbie White as the violinist. It wouldn’t be Russia if there was no violinist in the background.

This show was a joy to watch. So much lighter that it promised to be but with a grim reminder of the need of the down trodden masses for a hero.

Thank you and congratulations to you all.

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A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess

Directed by Simon Cole

Performed by The University of Northampton BA (Hons) Acting Third Year Students

I recently watched Loves Labours Lost and before the show, the director advised us not to dissect the language but to just listen and let it wash over us. Well I would advise you to do exactly the same should you be lucky enough to see this superb performance. Try and dig into every nuance and you will surely end up with a sore Gulliver! The language use is a conglomeration of pure Shakespeare mixed with the made up languages of Professor Stanley Unwin and that of Lewis Carol in Alice Through the Looking Glass. We end up with a mixed Anglo Russian patois they call Nadsat. The opening set is simple with two people sitting at a desk, the man typing, the woman knitting. Our main protagonist, appears from inside the table rising up through the surface and this is when we meet Alex played by Sam Billy Behan. Alex is to be our hero, our anti hero and our narrator. We meet Alex’s Droogs, Dim (Ben Stacey), Pete (Joshua Thomas) and Georgie (Kate Fenwick). This foursome works so well together playing off each other while initially following Alex slavishly. Before I go further, I have to repeat what I said when I first wrote about Sam when I saw him in Macbeth. This young man simply rules the stage. He is never a scene grabber but I get the feeling that with his stage presence, the rest of the players raise their game as well. Ben Stacey is a revelation. Who knew the big man, the heroic Macduff in Macbeth had such a talent for comedy. His timing was impeccable and as always used his size and physicality to the full. The scene where they take the books from the diminutive Julia Nolan was hilarious. Talking of Julia, she was perfectly cast as Bronsky. In all her scenes as a doctor or a policeman she displayed her talent for both drama and comedy beautifully. Like Ben Stacey, she used her size to her advantage just in the opposite way. The home invasion scene was graphic to say the least. Bad enough that we watch Sam Skinner as F Alexander, the man at the typewriter writing A Clockwork Orange get kicked unconscious. Then through a backlit screen we witness the gang rape of his wife played by Jessica Kaye. With the beautiful Flower Duet from Lakme playing in the background the scene is both balletic and brutal and truly disturbing. Jessica’s portrayal of the paroxysm’s of her agony through the screen and when she crawls out to her husband were both perfect and horrific. Stating with Jessica a while longer it was a relief to see her alongside Leanne Dallman as two delightful and very cut and funny cats. Their scene when they had been left all the money then shown on the back projection screen was a lovely light moment in the show. I apologise this review is jumping around but it’s difficult to write about one thing and then not add another. I will get better at it one day. Here is where I must talk about not so much the portrayed violence, often performed to Ode to Joy, but the fantastic stage combat skills of all the company. Male and female alike, knew how to throw a punch or a kick and also to take one. A particular mention here for Joshua Thomas who as Pete, took more than his fair share. In the prison scene it was interesting to see the use of the yellow Star of David for Dim as a Jewish prisoner. Very reminiscent of the Nazi love of the symbol to label the people they hated so much. The treatment scene was a real ensemble piece where everyone was on stage. The use of the music from Swan Lake was an interesting choice as the scene was set out. Strapped to his wheelchair the rictus grin on Alex’s face as he watched his own horrors on a screen in front of him and the almost spastic jerking of his body truly portrayed his agony. One ensemble piece that must not be left out was the scene when Alex goes to his bed. The entire cast formed a single body for him to climb on, first a stage and then for him to fall back on and be carried finally to his bed. A physical entity in itself the group displayed both power and great of one another. I have a feeling I could write for another hour and still not have mentioned everything that stuck out in what I am prepared to call a masterpiece of theatre. I was mesmerised by the brutal violence, the physicality of the piece, the choice of the music throughout and the sheer professionalism of the entire cast and crew. In my eyes and ears, not a single missed cue, not a mumbled line, not a pause in the wrong place. This was Northampton University acting at its very best. To each and every member of the cast, if you have not been mentioned by name forgive me, but trust me that there was not a single member who did not hold up his or her end and contribute to this finely crafted piece of theatre. The final words go to Alex. “That’s what it’s going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale. You have been everywhere with your little droog Alex, suffering with him, and you have viddied some of the most grahzny bratchnies old Bog ever made, all on to your old droog Alex. And all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like groweth up, oh yes. But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning young earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that call.”

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HACKTIVISTS

Hackitivists

By Ben Ockrent

Directed by Ashley Elbourne

Performed by The Royal & Derngate Youth Company.

Walk into the Underground and be greeted by an interesting set. Simple in design and incredibly complex when looked at closely. Computer equipment fills every space, posters cover the walls and three desks fill the floor. Sudden darkness and the first of some beautifully choreographed introduction/interlude pieces performed by players in blackout costumes holding two small bright torches in their hands. In particular the throwing of the beams of light to each other. Just the simple act of switching the torch on and off at the exact moment ensure the effect was performed to perfection.

Lights up and we find ourselves locked in a portacabin where the action will take place from now on. Our group of school children, each raised on the use of laptops and tablets, learning code and writing it now formed together as a group. Once the geeks, now the cool kids at least in their own minds they find themselves locked in. Tempers flare and accusations fly as the swipe car system fails and they are almost at the point of giving in and doing the unthinkable and asking the teachers for assistance in getting out. Their coolness and independence is restored when the door opens and more members of the group walk in.

With a new addition to the group, our once harmless band of hackers is pushed into making decisions that will lead them to the darker side of the practice. What follows is the struggle between what they can do, what they should do and what they think they should do.

Never in any play I have seen, have Iron Man, Stelios and Icarus been mentioned in the same sentence. Just another perfectly delivered line from this lovely group.

As an ensemble piece this was a delight to watch. Well timed and not a line out of place. The use of strong language we were warned about before we came in was perfect and not over used and always in the perfect place. “That’s the card system bollocksed!” is my particular favourite. I wrote earlier about the choreography and with the amount of players in such a confined space the movement of the group, shifting from space to space, seat to seat, the choreography of these movements was perfection.

This is a sharply executed and witty performance which was a total pleasure to watch.

Safia, Emma-Ann, Jasmine, Agatha, Isobel, Sam, Sammy, Brian, Ellie, Julia, Tabitha, Francesca, Rebecca, Joshua, Louise, Ryan and Tom, you should all be very pleased and proud of your performance. Put simply, I loved it!

This review is dedicated to the weak bladder of the pygmy goat without which the entire petting zoo may have been burned to the ground.

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