WHAT IF THEY WERE WRONG?

WHAT IF THEY WERE WRONG?

Written and performed by Two Funny

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

As an honest reviewer, I have to state here and now, that I do not care for clowns, clowning, mime or slapstick.

As an astonished reviewer, I have to state that I adored our two clowns, Cynthia Lebbos and Benjamin Williams, I loved their clowning, mime and slapstick! From the first second when Cynthia stepped on stage, I was under her spell and when the totally demented Benjamin joined in, I was hooked.

Cynthia’s character, a diminutive , innocent looking, elfin creature with a teletubbie voice almost lulls us into a false sense of security. The less innocent of us should have realised something was amiss when she produced 50 Shades of Gray from her bottomless bag and declare it as her favourite! As she goes off for bread for her picnic, enter the long, skinny and, as I said before, the totally demented character portrayed by Benjamin. With his hat pulled down over his ears, his squeaky otter toy and his huge bag, he trashes Cynthia’s picnic and lays out his own.

What ensues is a master class in clowning and the use of the audience. From the start we are used to the full, and the direct jokes to us just add to the joy of the performance. Who knew that pointing out the bread was “reduced” could make us shake with laughter? Ridiculous but true.

Everyone will agree the wedding scene was without doubt, one of the funniest things they will have seen throughout Flash 2016. Using not less than five members of the audience, the next 10 minutes were trouser wettingly funny. No description would give a clue as to how the whole thing worked, but work it did and by now, I was aching all over from grinning and laughing so much.

Wedded bliss was not on the cards for our love struck clown couple and it soon became obvious that the female is deadlier than the male. He is sent to the dungeon and we are given weapons and sent down after him. Exit the studio and down to the basement and poor Benjamin is subject to more abuse. However the worm turns and the bloodbath that follows was darkly funny.

It was obvious that a huge amount of work has gone into this production and I can imagine that it has been polished many times over. What resulted was great fun, great theatre and something to be very proud of. As with all stories, there is a message to be gleaned and this was one of anger management and how it can get out of control.

Congratulation to you both, Cynthia and Benjamin, you suit each other very well and I hope you bring this show to wider audiences soon. If you do, please ask the audience to use the toilets before they come in or you ill without doubt, find damp seats when they leave!

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THE SHOW MUST GO ON

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Written and performed by Lead Feather Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

Lead Feather Theatre Company is the brainchild of Penelope May, Jake Rivers and Madeleine Hagerty. Their programme advises us that they devise emotive and thought provoking theatre. What the programme does not tell you is that you are about to be treated to the best script seen in my four years of Flash Festival; the best back and forth between two friends and the most heart warming and heart breaking performance of 2016.

The play centres around Alice (Penelope May), her brother Ed (Jake Rivers) and their crazy friend Sally (Madeleine Hagerty) as they make plans for the rest of their lives. Alice and Sally want to form a band, but perhaps not a thrash metal one! Ed is full of worries but has a girlfriend that he is out to impress. Without any warning, Alice is diagnosed with cancer and everybody’s life changes. We laugh and cry through the lethargy, the hair loss and we all hope we have a friend like Sally who keeps her friends spirits up at the worst of times.

Jake also plays Gareth. Gareth treats us to the blackest humour as he performs his stand up routine, sitting down. This is an audience cringe moment as he tells us several dreadful jokes concerning his wife, and her cancer amongst other things, each getting worse and the audience slowly stops even their nervous and embarrassed laughter.

Wickedly funny is when we have Tracy (Madeleine) waiting for the results of her test. Jake and Penny play two young fairly hopeless doctors who have no clue how to tell her she has cancer and only 6 weeks to live. As you laugh at the brilliant writing and acting, you are thinking how does a doctor cope with telling a patient this kind of news and what sort of training could possibly prepare them for this.

I dare not analyse each and every scene as I don’t believe I could cope with sobbing again as I write so I will skip to our final scene.

Alice is dead and now Ed and the Macmillan nurse (Penny) pack away the belongings and put the flat in mothballs while front of stage we have Sally at her audition belting out her rendition of The Show Must Go On by the late great Freddy Mercury. The audience is once again wracked with sobs and tears are rolling down every cheek, especially mine. Quite simply the most heartbreaking end to any play I have ever seen.

This play deals with difficult subject matter but treats it with respect and dignity at all times. I am now going to wipe my eyes and spell check this! Thank you and congratulations, Penny, Jake and Madeleine.

 

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100, ACRE WOOD

100, ACRE WOOD

Written and performed by NonSens!cal Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

Happy days! Actors on stage when I take my seat. Well that is to say one actor sitting in front of me and three in a bed towards the back of the stage.

100, Acre Wood is a slightly crazy and truly absurd creation which, with much comedy, angst and personal tragedy, gives us an insight into the true troubles of the housemates involved.

Each character had a name but memory does not allow me to use them here. I will instead, refer to them as their A.A. Milne inspired counterparts.

Jared Gregory (Eeyore), sectioned after the death of his soldier father, returns to the house to be greeted by his housemates who have no idea what he has been through or even that his father has died. His one physical memory of his father is his harmonica.

We meet Pooh (Kieran Hansell) happy as the day is long, brushing his teeth with honey and generally doing things with a honey pot, that are best kept private and not disclosed in public!

Always on the move, ever bored, we have Tigger (Elliot Holden). Needs to have fun, fun, fun and cannot understand those that do not share that view of life. Distracted and distracting in equal measure.

Last but definitely not least, we have Piglet (Danni-Louise Ryan). Piglet is without doubt the most loveable of characters but I think A.A. Milne would frown a little as his beloved character demanded that those who leave the place in a mess should be killed! Danni-Louise is allowed the best visual gags of the show and using one of her considerably long legs as a pump action shotgun was genius.

With the help of three human props, played by students from other years of the programme, this show worked really well. Enough comedy and absurdity to keep it light and fun to watch. Some of the action was almost slapstick in nature but choreographed extremely well.

Finally each of our characters is forced to admit their problems and seek help. Pooh for uncontrollable binge eating. Tigger for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and poor Piglet for her OCD. Alongside Eeyore with his clinical depression, we are shown that these are in fact, all mental health issues and should be treated as such with care, kindness and understanding.

This was a play with a social message and it struck home to all of us who have dealt with mental illness either in ourselves or in loved ones.

The tech was great and the pre-recorded narrator was brilliant. Especially as we needed a second one due the perils of email!

There are a couple of things that really must be mentioned to show how professional this group are. First, they played to an audience of just 11 people, including the guys doing tech and the event staff. Second, half way through, we had the diddly diddly music from an Irish Dancing class on the ground floor. Tough conditions for even the most seasoned professional. Congratulations to you all.

 

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THE FINAL CUT

THE FINAL CUT

Written and performed by LaZénna Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

A one woman show, an intimate performance space and for every Western male and female in the audience, a subject to guarantee discomfort.

LaZénna is the brainchild of Elizabeth Adejimi and The Final Cut attempts to give us an insight of the life of a young girl and her transition into womanhood. When I say attempts, it is because the subject, female genital mutilation (FGM) is so far removed from people like me and of my age’s understanding, it takes a while for it to sink in.

Elizabeth begins our journey as the young girl, sweeping the floor and munching on snacks, her mother had prepared for guests. When asked to bring the snacks, her interchange with her mother is really funny and well done.

Elizabeth morphs beautifully from character to character throughout the play, using her body and a slow motion sort of movement as she changes costume. During the play, she becomes two male characters; the first a hunter, haughty and fierce but with a smile for the ladies. The second a drummer, his back towards us.

It is the final scene, played out on the floor, hidden from those other than in the front row, is what sets everyone on edge. I didn’t need to see what was happening as I heard her cries, her pleading, her terror. Then as she lay sobbing, we hear a voice in the background describing what had been done, daring to romanticise it and give it some sort of poetic beauty, but then goes on to describe how she will suffer in so many ways in later life. Finally, our poor girl gets to her feet, tears streaming down her face and exits.

The End. Or was it? This is a play written with a strong social responsibility and if you are not moved and out of breath at the end, then I doubt you understood a single word. Your memory should now have this mutilation imbedded in it and it should not be forgotten. This is happening in the UK and not just in far off lands very few of us will ever travel to.

Thank you Elizabeth, for entertaining me, educating me and leaving me with so much to think about.

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THE HOLD UP

THE HOLD UP

Written and performed by Overflow Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

Another late night in St Peter’s Church and it was wonderful to be greeted by the silent and smiling mime perfectly portrayed by Caroline Avis. Taking my seat it was a relief from the stresses of the night before and I sat back and laughed like a drain as our mime entertained with simple hilarity just using hand written dialogue cards. One even described why the event was called The Hold Up as she was Holding Up the cards! Gentle humour and very suitable for this old man.

With our guard down, the church door crashed open and we suddenly find ourselves being held hostage by five gun wielding terrorists who scream orders at us, threaten us and abuse our poor innocent mime.

Even with an audience of students who we all know will laugh at anything, there was the odd nervous laugh then a fairly stunned silence as we are told to shut up, sit down and stay still. Audience members had guns pointed at their head and none of them managed even a titter. Apart from exposing their faces, this was the most realistic of portrayals of hostage taking I have seen. Had they not exposed their faces I would be reviewing them by size and sex, rather than name!

The leader was Damien (Tom Stone) who smiled malevolently throughout and slowly exposed his God complex as he gave orders. The last time I reviewed Tom, I said I would happily have punched him. Well he has moved up the ranks and this time I would have cheerfully shot him. Thoroughly unpleasant individual expertly portrayed.

Amy Weaver was finally given a leading role as Samantha, AKA Lilly, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t believe Amy stood still for more than a second and paced back and forth throughout. Lilly is a major character and it was so good to see Amy really get into it and I was very impressed.

One of our gang has been shot and is being treated further down the aisle. Almost invisible for those of us towards the front of the church due to the spot light shining in our faces from the rear, I chose not to turn round to try and look but listened to the interplay between him, Jeff (Patrick Morgan) and the woman treating him, Max (Suzannah Cassels). Even unseen this was played out really well and powerfully until finally, Jeff was dragged to the front of the stage. Suzannah is always a joy to watch but with her character being so serious and threatening, it changed her appearance so much, she was barely recognisable. One scary lady terrorist! Being seated for most of his part, Patrick Morgan was unable to use his formidable build to intimidate but his manner did the job for him. Our final evil doer, was Edward (Stuart Warren). No jovial chap as often seen but a nasty, snarling and most definitely threatening persona had taken over and his stare was not to be returned!

We had a hero of sort in the guise of Richard (Rory Sayers), a police officer who was about to regret ever stepping foot in St Peters Church as he was beaten and abused just for being a copper.

This was violent but intelligent drama. Swearing all through the performance but never used gratuitously, always in the right place and time and spat out with the correct venom. We are given the back story to the group, to Sam/Lilly and this was played out perfectly and fleshed out the terrorist group and even gave us something to ponder when it was all over.

So for the second night running I was thrown out of the church at gunpoint and outside we were met by our mime, sobbing uncontrollably and apologising to us all for what had happened and for not being able to stop it. Only Caroline Avis could have carried this off. Kudos to her.

Ladies and gentlemen of the cast, this was a highlight of the whole of Flash 2016 so far and I thank you for taking me along with you as part of the action. Congratulations!

Forgive me if I have any character names wrong. I was being held at gunpoint!

 

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FOREVER LOOKING UP

FOREVER LOOKING UP

Written and performed by ILLICIT Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

As mankind slowly but surely destroys the planet we live on, our scientists and engineers are working on how we can move the same species of destructive man to Mars and begin settlement there. This is where we join our cast in Forever Looking Up.

This play to me was a confusion. Did I get the premise? Yes I did. I saw the same traits and weaknesses and indeed strengths, found in every section of society here on Earth, being transferred along with the crew of The Mars One mission. We saw our small team attempt to gel as they are thrust together for what for them will be the rest of their lives.

Their interactions are played out before us and as you would expect from a cast like this, it was acted out beautifully. Seeing Charlie Clee as Harvey become more and more uncertain and nervous was a direct opposite to the last role I saw him in. A well played out contrast. Sharni Tapako-Brown as Jessica, many times blasted us with her power when the character demanded it yet we felt her vulnerability at other times. Sophie Guiver as Zoe was needy, demanding and ultimately manipulative. I felt so sorry for her at first, then resented her as I understood her underhand ways. Kaseem X, played by Vandreas Marc is complicated as he not a pleasant character, yet you feel for him when falsely accused by Zoe. Yolanda Lake as Lily, was a revelation for me. Her role seemed to dance between every other character, sometimes complicit and sometimes as a peace maker. I was very impressed.

The choreography was a major part of my confusion. Every movement was done perfectly and beautifully, but I saw no reason or meaning for ninety percent of it. Likewise the sound was a confusion as there many sections of individuals speech that were drowned out by effects that did not seem to do anything for the story.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and writing this more than 48 hours since I saw the play, I later found out that some of the noise was not from the soundtrack but from the church group downstairs having a knees up!

Charlie, Sharni, Sophie, Yolanda and Vandreas, you are all first class actors who I would be happy to watch again and again. Speaking with others after the show, I was the only one who had not loved every second. As with all reviews, this is just one man’s thoughts and view.

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RED INQUISITION

RED INQUISITION

Written and performed by Memoir Theatre Company

Flash Theatre Festival 2016

 

If I can’t get characters on stage when I walk in, or have a chorus, then the next best thing for me is a play within a play.

Greeted with a simple set and 1930s music playing we meet our three young aspiring actors, pleased, or not so pleased in one case, with their new rehearsal space. They discuss what their next production should be and by chance come across a book on the Hollywood McCarthy Un American Committee trials.

Through simple but effective red strobe lighting we are taken to 1946/47 at the height of the trials. Anything else here would just be a spoiler so more about the characters and their portrayal.

Without doubt, Daniel Hadjivarnava, has the most difficult role to portray; that of the writer Arthur Miller. He played the role extremely well given that the man himself had no physical cues or mannerisms to pick up on.

Ciara Goldsberry morphed into Lena Horne, herself tried and found wanting by McCarthy and his committee. We are treated to two songs both expertly sung by Ciara herself, rather than lip synched with a sound track. This was both a brave and a lovely touch. As the much loved and, ultimately blacklisted movie star, Charlie Chaplin, we had Jaryd Headley. His mimicry and physical characterisation as he danced on stage, synched perfectly with the images projected on the rear screen. All this despite Jaryd being almost a foot taller than the diminutive Chaplin who came in at just 5ft 4in tall.

This play used a lot of projection work, showing actual footage from the trials alongside authentic audio from the time. I believe this worked well and it was thoroughly and exhaustively researched to get what was needed.

This was an odd but very interesting subject for a play and in my humble opinion it worked very well. The ending was one of the best I have seen and left the audience with no doubt it was over, yet it was a subtle and a perfect cue for our applause.

A fine, well researched and very well played piece. Congratulations to you all.

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