Behind The Curtain Tour

Behind The Curtain Tour

A back stage tour of The Royal Theatre

 

A behind the scenes tour of an old theatre can be one of two things. It can be a crusty, dull, matter of fact narration with point, talk and move on to the next stop. Or it can be what I experienced on Saturday evening. It can be a mesmerising theatrical event in itself, keeping those lucky enough to be on the tour, enthralled for the entire hour. Our host was Martyn Freeman, a young actor who one hour before the tour started, had been on stage in the matinee performance of The Hook and who one hour after the tour had finished would be back on stage for the evening performance. Quite where Martyn gets his energy from, I don’t know but I wish it could be bottled and sold. I’d buy a case!

After a very brief introduction we are taken out the front of The Royal Theatre and we stand across the road. From that point we are taken back to Monday, the Fifth of May 1884 and the opening night of the theatre and its inaugural performance of Twelfth Night. Then escorted into the circle we are treated to some more scene setting, describing what we would have seen on that first night. Martyn is a natural performer and gives us a show, while still be factual and on track.

I do not wish to make this review a spoiler for anyone intending to take the tour, suffice to say we are taken into every nook and cranny of the theatre both in front and behind the curtain. We were extremely privileged to be on stage with the set from The Hook, especially as this was its final performance before moving on to Liverpool.

Special guest appearances were made by Will Adams and Erica Mynard. As I said, I don’t want this to be a spoiler for anyone intending to take the tour but the addition of their characters really enhanced the whole experience. I must say Erica really added some spirit to the evening!

This tour was one hour of theatrical perfection. With only nine of us on the tour, it was a very intimate experience and we were treated liked, guests, VIPs and friends at the same time. I take my hat off to The Royal and Derngate for organising the behind the curtains especially with such a busy schedule. My special thanks to Martyn for finding and keeping the energy and enthusiasm for making this such a memorable visit. I am now looking for an excuse to do it again!

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KONTAKT

Kontakt

Royal and Derngate Theatre

Performed by

R&D Youth Theatre (and me).

Mostly when I go to the theatre, I have a clue what I am going to see. Not unreasonable really considering I spent money on a ticket. But this visit was different. Not a Scooby Doo what I was about to walk in on and doing it purely based on trust of the Twitter guru of the R&D Youth Theatre group.

So, I arrive at the appointed time, report to the desk, choose my number, get given a mobile phone and told to stand on my numbered square. Never did this for Shakespeare! The phone rings, I am asked my name and given an invitation to come into the theatre.

Nine members of the “audience” troop in, nine school desks and chairs await us. I am greeted by Jakub, who will I am sure, forgive me if I have spelled his name incorrectly. He invites me to sit down. Then it all happens.

But please tell me exactly what happened? I started off by giving a false name. Why? I don’t know. But then after purporting to be someone else, I spill my innermost thoughts and secrets to the young man sat opposite. I am more than three times his age, yet we settled into conversation like old friends.

What followed is really only for those who choose to make Kontakt themselves, and I really hope that this piece of inventive, brave and mesmerising theatre is repeated. If it is, I will be at the front of the queue for tickets. Until that Sunday night, no one has ever seen me bust a move in public before. That night, I strutted my funky stuff to Disco Inferno. I am so pleased no one will ever do a review of that!!

R&D Youth Theatre goes from strength to strength under the guidance and inspiration of its superb directors. To do this performance must have taken a huge amount of trust and that trust was well placed.

I say again, inspired, mesmerising and brave. I loved every second of it.

 

 

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Graduate Showcase 2015

Graduate Showcase 2015

Leicester Square Theatre

Performed by

The University of Northampton

School of The Arts

BA (HONS) Acting

Directed by Simon Cole

 

For the third consecutive year I have been privileged enough to attend the graduate showcase to witness the culmination of three years of hard work and study. Of being forced to do ballet; of learning stage combat; of being the lead in a play one week, then being in the back of the chorus the next. Three years of learning to understand just what acting is all about. Of how to be a professional.

With a wonderful 36 newly matured performers showcasing their incredible talents I won’t begin to try and review even a single one of them. Instead what I really want to say is congratulations and thank you.

Congratulations for being the outstanding performers you have all become. It’s been a joy watching you all mature with every new play or sketch we saw you in. Meeting you, listening and talking to you, we have seen you all blossom and grow and cease to be students but turn into graduate actors. You may not have noticed the changes but we that watch you from afar really have.

Thank you for allowing Lynne and myself to be part of your last two years. For allowing me to follow you on Twitter and Facebook (other social media sites are available!). For taking the time to read my reviews while understanding that I am not an actor or tutor, just a man who loves theatre. And thank you for inspiring me. Were it not for you and the students who have been down this road before you, I would not be singing each week in a small choir. I wouldn’t be relishing reading and watching Shakespeare, Sophocles or Euripides. Your bravery of putting yourself, body and soul on the stage inspires me to do more. So thank you again.

You are starting on the hardest part of your journey today and I would offer you these few words of advice. Ignore those who say you can’t do something. Just go out and prove them wrong. Grab every opportunity with both hands and your teeth if you have to. Believe in yourself and enjoy what you have become. You are real people and its real people that stand up on stage and appear on our screen. No one was ever born famous! Last but not least, never let the words “if only” come out of your mouth. Work hard, play hard and live life to the full.

Samantha Colden, Dale Endecott, Sarah Kirk, Riley Stephen, Kate Fenwick, Ashlee Sopher, Ben Stacey, Joseph Clift, Jamie Park, Hannah Mitchell, Jenny Styles, Leanne Dallman, Rachel Sherborne, Sam Skinner, Jessica Kay, Julia-Louise Nolan, Samantha Ahweyevu, Sophie Poyntz-Lloyd, Matt Larsson, Catherine Garlick, Ryan Manning, Chloe Emery, Nikki Murray, Rachelle Halsall, Matt Hirst, Antonia Underwood, Zoe Davey, John Shelley, Melissa Mitchell, Michael Whelbourne, Abbie White, Tara Lawrence, Lydia Rose Blagg, Jack Smith, Steve Banks and Sam Billy Behan, this will not be the last west end stage you perform on but for today, take a bow, enjoy the applause, you were all magnificent!

 

My thanks as always to Dr Ross Prior, Dr Sally Cook, Chris Burdett and Simon Cole, for their time, knowledge and generosity of sharing it with us.

 

Onwards and upwards!

 

Jim and Lynne Holden

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The Hook by Arthur Miller

The Hook

Written by Arthur Miller

Adapted for Stage by Ron Hutchinson

Directed by James Dacre

Do you know what makes living in Northampton so great? Let me tell you. Its having a magnificent theatre like The Royal and Derngate that produces powerful, thought provoking pieces of stage art like The Hook as part of their Made in Northampton series. Where else can you boast of seeing a world premier of a play written by a man who is hailed as “An American Titan”, on a stage that is so intimate, you can believe they are playing to you alone?

The Hook, originally written as a screenplay in 1947 tells of the struggle of Marty Ferrara, a Brooklyn longshore man. His struggle to survive and earn an honest living while dealing with the corruption that casts a stink over the entire port.

This was a directorial masterpiece and totally proves the worth of all the hard work and research that James Dacre puts into his productions. Ron Hutchinson has condensed what surely would have been a huge film, had it ever been made, onto the small but perfectly formed stage of The Royal. The set, designed by Patrick Connellan looks so simple, while in fact is highly complex and fits both The Royal stage and the play perfectly. Not a single piece of wasted stage both high and low and indeed, underneath.

All of the above with a great sound track composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge and given life by the sound designer Tom Mills made for a very effective, atmospheric feel to the entire production. Always on time, never too loud and always fitting for the action.

Our hero, if he can be called that is played by Jamie Sives. Not the biggest man you have ever seen but so powerful and believable as an Italian American docker. On stage the majority of the time, he was a pleasure to watch. This truly was an ensemble piece and as well as all the main named actors, it was a delight to see our own community theatre group playing many of the supporting roles.

An outstanding piece of theatre created in the town I am proud to call home. Congratulations to each and every one of the cast and creative team for this true tour de force.

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The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale

By William Shakespeare

Performed by The University Of Northampton School of The Arts BA (HONS) Acting

Second Year

Directed by Jamie Rocha Allan

Shakespeare back to back is like manna from heaven to me and so once again I took my seat in the furnace like Underground Theatre. One of my long standing personal pleasures in when actors are on stage when I come in, so imagine how happy I was when I realised that all 24 members of the cast were on stage enjoying a happy social occasion, drinking and eating and even enjoying a tarantella. The fact that like at most social get-togethers, few of them knew all the steps simply added a lot of fun to the moment. It was to be the last bit of fun we were to have until the very end of the first half. It is strange to me that The Winter’s Tale is considered as one of Shakespeare’s comedies. It is without doubt a tragedy with a couple of comic moments.

Often during this first half, I felt that I was no longer watching a work by The Bard but rather a tragedy by Sophocles. Again, for me, manna from heaven. Due to the size and complexities of the cast, I will highlight only a few of the characters that stood out.

Our lead is Leontes, King of Sicilia played by Jaryd Headley. Leontes is totally consumed with jealousy as he imagines his wife Hermione (Sophie-Rose Darby) is consorting with Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Rory Sayers).

Jaryd changes physically and facially as he is consumed by jealousy and rage and gives a powerful and enthralling performance from beginning to end. When on the ground, head down between his knees I could still understand everything he said and feel his emotion without seeing his face. What a lead.

Sophie-Rose as the heavily pregnant Hermione as she tries to dance, but would rather sit and even then uncomfortably, due to her condition is a revelation. Her speech at her trial is gut wrenching and memorizing. Looking at the very brief notes I wrote on the night it said “Oh dear God, that was awesome!”. I haven’t changed my mind. It was a mature masterpiece and I am so pleased I witnessed it from the front row.

Rory as Polixenes who had not had any hanky-panky with Hermione, was strongly acted. If I may offer a word of advice, please speak a little slower Rory. Shakespeare’s words are like fine wine and need to be sipped and not gulped down. I really loved you as the tourist in your Hawaiian shirt!

Next a husband and wife team that were hardly ever together. Namely Paulina (Stephanie Waugh) and Antigonus (Charlie Clee). The role of Paulina is a tough one and acted perfectly by Stephanie. She stood and roared at the King and gave him a right royal telling off. A strong role, strongly portrayed. This was a very memorable performance.  Antigonus, is a loyal Lord to the King but is brave enough to say his piece and stand his ground. Charlie rocked this role and his speech as he was leaving the baby in the crib was perfectly delivered and heartfelt. Who knew seconds later that poor Charlie was about to be body slammed by a rather cocky and angry bear. I was pleased to see Charlie got a few good shots in but following Will’s most famous stage direction, he did exit and was pursued by said bear and met his fate. Great work Charlie and kudos to the bear. Speaking of this Ursine kick boxer, it was kind of Shakespeare in his stage direction never to dictate what species of bear had to do the pursuing. Thus is was so much funnier for it to be a panda. Nice touch by the director.

Like a proper Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, we have a chorus and this is in the shape of Time (Elizabeth Zion) who appears alone at the start of the second half to talk us through the 16 years. This is a serene performance by Elizabeth, who dressed head to toe in black lace has an ethereal feel to her.

Our second half is a much more light hearted affair and we have some fun performances to watch as we travel to Bohemia.

My final special mention goes to Annalise Taylor as Perdita, the daughter of Hermione. When she finally meets her mother, both of them on their knees hugging, tears were flowing in the audience (yes even me), and again I felt very privileged to have witnessed this so up close and personally from the front row.

To all cast members who did not get a mention by name please have no doubt that you played your part in this superb production. Were I a professional reviewer and time was unlimited, I would happily name each and every one of you for you made the whole. This was a mature, superbly acted performance of a great work. I was very glad to have been there to see it.

One final word about the audience. For unknown reasons we had audience members that found it necessary to talk all the way through the performance and I heard a phone go off on vibrate three times during the second half. A little more respect for the actors please everybody. It showed their professionalism that they did not react to any of these distractions.

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The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Merry Wives of Windsor

By William Shakespeare

Performed by The University Of Northampton School of The Arts BA (HONS) Acting

Second Year

Directed by Emily Jenkins

So it’s another afternoon of Shakespeare for me today and that suites me just fine. Written in 1601, and first performed in about 1660, I was expected women in long dresses, men in doublet and hose, the whole 9 Elizabethan 9 yards.

Surprise! I was met with three amazing women dressed like Rosie The Riveter in 1940 style dress rocking out Summertime followed by The Lady is a Tramp and I get a kick out of you! I had no idea that I was being entertained by Nim, Bardolph and Pistol, Sir John Falstaff’s followers. What a truly astonishing start to a play by Shakespeare. He would have approved I am sure.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a total romp from beginning to end and tells the tale of how Sir John Falstaff (my lookalike) is made to look a complete fool by the two wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, he is attempting to woo. At this point I would like to point out that the word woo, should be used more often. Try saying it. It sounds great. Anyway, at the end, Sir John is shown up for the buffoon he really is but amazingly, he is forgiven and even taken into the homes of the men he tried to cuckold. Perhaps this is not so surprising as The Bard managed to weave this very fat penniless knight into not less than three of his magnificent plays.

While the whole play is a true ensemble piece, I would like to review some of the main characters. They are not in any order, neither in importance or appearance.

Sir John Falstaff (Stuart Warren). Stuart is obviously a big lad but there is an awful lot of padding to give him the girth of the fat rogue. Quite how he didn’t die of heat exhaustion in the furnace of The Underground I don’t know. Stuart gave Falstaff a real physical workout throughout the performance and kept it going right up to the end. Great acting and I will never forget the look on his face when being beguiled by Mistress Quickly as she pulled him to her bosom.

Talking of Mistress Quickly, Suzannah Cassels, gave an outstanding performance of true naughtiness as she brings messages from the wives and she radiates a mischievousness as she assists in the intrigue. I first saw Suzannah in the Flash Festival of 2014 when she was a first year playing a supporting role as Ruth in Hard Knock Theatre Company’s production of Tell Me and she was pretty amazing them. So nice to see her in a proper part now.

Neizan Fernandez as a totally over the top French Doctor Caius. Please don’t ever give this man a rapier ever again. He nearly kills half our cast at one point as he waves it round. Great!

Merry wife time. Sharni Tapako-Brown as Mistress Page was a picture of elegance. Refined but with a wicked laugh at poor Falstaff’s discomfort, she was a delight to watch. Her dancing was outstanding too. I have to say her looks were perfect for the clothing and hairstyle of the period. (1940s not 1600’s). Her opposite number was Mistress Ford played by Emma Smyth. Again, Emma suited her part perfectly and her interaction with Sharni when being mean to the fat knight made for great laughs. So cruel making him hide in a tiny basket!

Our two husbands, Jake Rivers as Ford and Vandreas Richards at Page pulsate with class. Jake as Ford’s alter ego Brook is both ridiculous and hilarious in his blond wig. A real highlight.

Ann Page (Amy Weaver) and Fenton (Jordan Gray) make a lovely couple. Amy so elegant and Jordan so dashing in his RAF uniform.

Sir Hugh Evans (Kieran Hansell) is as Welsh as a big bag of Welsh things. Mocked by others he is a great part for Kieran to get his teeth into.

We have two fools in this play and one is the totally over the top Slender played by Benjamin Williams. Such a fey character who amazes us as the end with a double somersault over two people! The other is Jared Gregory as Robin. Without doubt the fewest lines in the entire play but some of the biggest laughs with his mannerisms and looks aside and to the audience.

A word or two now for our music makers and entertainers. Grace Aitken as Nim is without doubt the most demented portrayal of the lieutenant I have ever seen. Quick to draw a knife and even quicker to speed up the music as she beats on a mug while singing My Metronome. Demented but delightful. Caroline Avis as Pistol is fabulous on the keyboard and a total scene stealer during the rendition of je ne regrette rien with her pure French pronunciation! Bardolph (Madeleine Hagerty) is a great singer and was the perfect opening for the play. Our other singer is Sophie Guiver as Host who performs a great unaccompanied solo of Moondance. Not only do these young ladies sing and play but their acting was impeccable too.

Shakespeare wrote many small parts in his plays but he never, ever wrote them for minor players. Each of them is as important as that of Falstaff himself and without them the whole fails miserably. Having watched the University actors for the last three years, It has been from these small roles, that theatre giants have risen. Lucy Kitson as Simple is a great example. When on stage it was impossible to take your eyes off her. Obsequious and deferring and much put upon, she has great comic timing also. Amber Mae as Shallow and Cynthia Lebbos as Rugby, get into their parts with passion and both are well observed and played throughout. I now look forward to seeing Lucy, Amber and Cynthia grow and be given major parts in future performances and prove me right.

A mention now for Emily Jenkins. Lord above knows where you came up with the idea of this show but I am glad you did. It was obvious that the company was fully involved and that’s what makes a show for me. Total involvement in the process from beginning to end by the entire cast and crew. To have musical interludes for scene changes and that finish, well I can safely say they is the best end to any play I have ever seen. Thank you.

This was the complete package everyone. Second year is almost over. Now the pressure really starts and the third  and final year is in sight. You rock!

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