Saturday, December 10, 2016

How Did We Get to This Point - Alphabetti Theatre - Review

How did we get to this point / Wrong Place, Wrong Time 
Alphabetti Theatre 
Wednesday 7th December 2016

Alphabetti Theatre’s story is amazing and I got to hear it through different voices. If you don’t know their history, it starts in 2011 and is still going strong!!
I don’t want to spoil it for you but Ali Pritchard’s story of how he created a space for artists and the public alike is astounding, from starting out at The Dog and Parrot to a basement in Newcastle via The Edinburgh Fringe. .
The play is directed by Ben Dickenson and includes stories about homelessness and problems that come from that; the struggles that people face in those environments. Some of these I have personally experienced.
Now Ali hasn’t experienced Homelessness himself but has experience in helping people who have found themselves in that situation (one of them I know quite well). Ali has been working with the charity Crisis who’s details I will put below.
The Actors were awesome Rosie Fox, Dean Logan and Rosie Stancliffe played many different roles and all played the role of Ali at various points in the play.
The show also had Animations by Ben Walden which helped the public understand what was going on as well as Music by Haythem Mohamed which was a fantastic addition to the show and gave it another dimension, Technical Manager was Adam Goodwin who didn’t put a foot wrong.
The play left me with many questions and not many answers. I'll give you my final thoughts later after I have spoken about the second play which was a response to How Did we get to this Point. Wrong Place, Wrong Time Performed was by the brilliant Paula Penman (who reminded me of my sister in law - please don’t kill me) and written and directed by Steve Byron.
It tells the story of a girl born at what people could say was the wrong time, wrong place. Born into a family with an abusive mother and with brothers who don't give a damn, it follows her story as her life spirals out of control.
Both plays were fantastic and a joy to watch but as I mentioned before they left a lot of questions for me and the main one was why in the 21st century do we still have homeless people and why haven’t realised that we can change the world just by being nice to each other and being the change that the world needs - that together we can end the problems in the UK and even the world if we try.
This show is on till Saturday and I definitely think this is not to be missed.
Reuben Hiles

Edit: For me it was like being blasted in the face with a hand grenade! Wrong Time, Wrong Place really made me sit up and take notice. An incredible play. - Michael

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How to be a Man - Review - Alphabetti Theatre
How to be a Man
Alphabetti Theatre
2nd Dec 2016

We enter the theatre to the strains of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Walk Like a Man". The falsetto exhortations of a father to his son always struck me as a little ironic as a child (yes, I was a child who got irony) but it is the perfect theme tune for Jon Coleman's exploration of manliness. Jon himself enters the stage clad only in a pair a grey underpants. He begins with an explanation and an apology - he is white, privileged and manly - proud of, and comfortable with, his masculinity and yet, he is not. He is not really sure whether his idea of being a man is correct. The show, he says, will not explain how to be a man. It will not answer the important question. It will explore the ideas of manliness and masculinity, with help from his friends Leo and Manfred (two mannequins) and A Guide to the Art of Manliness (a real book).  Jon chooses clothes from a rack and shrugs himself into a red, sparkly dress. Skin-tight, it shows off his assets, though perhaps not quite his manliness. Or does it?

Why should a man have to wear a suit and tie? Can he not be just as manly in a frock? And this is the crux of the show. Through various stories, scenarios and arguments with Leo and Manfred, Jon illustrates the accepted preconceptions of being a man. From the friendly competitive wrestling to forge friendships, to the inability to express feelings and emotions and the disappointment of learning that your father is not the infallible man you thought him to be, via the correct way to execute a man-hug, and bonding over whiskey and shortbread Jon Coleman raises the question of what it is to be a man. He looks at the traditional roles and the dilemma of the modern man.

This is funny, irreverent, surprising, thought provoking and a little confusing. Leo and Manfred are essentially Jon's conscience - they act like a pair of Jiminy Cricketts, questioning his motives, offering alternate points of view, and generally disagreeing with him. He argues, and fights with them. The confusion comes because they both have pretty much the same voice, so it wasn't always obvious which one was speaking (and yes, I know, I said they are mannequins but they areas much part of the action as Jon himself). Jon mixes conversations, with Leo and Manfred, with the audience, alongside recounting stories and enacting scenes. It is a fast paced presentation - there's a lot to get through in an hour including several costume changes and an exercise regime. Jon's style is open and engaging and he has a good rapport with the audience.

I left the theatre to the sound of Four Non Blondes singing "What's Up?",  feeling good but with a lot to think about. Possibly not least the reason men have such a hard time knowing what their role is these days is because none of us know how we are meant to be; nothing is clear cut, everything is a contradiction and we will almost certainly say or do the wrong thing to someone at some point in our day, week, month, year, life...
In an ideal world a man could walk down the street in a dress and heels, if he wanted.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Lady in the Van - People's Theatre - Review

The Lady in the Van
People's Theatre
16th Nov 2016

Alan Bennett's Yorkshire humour is typically dour, his writing superb. In The Lady in the Van he observes and retells an episode from his life with a self deprecating modesty, and some (self confessed) fabrication. He did indeed invite an old lady to live on his drive in her van. He expected her to be there for a couple of months, she stayed for fifteen years.

Anne Cater is Miss Shepherd, the lady of the title. She looks every inch the part in her grubby mac and ludicrous hats and she plays the part to perfection. Turning on a sixpence from the irrascible, opinionated, immoveable enigma to the suddenly vulnerable, lost old lady and back again. She is a thorn in the side of Mr Bennett - an unwanted responsibility, yet one that he cannot shirk. Alan Bennett is played by two actors - the part calls for him to intereact with himself. As the timid and insecure Bennett (Sean Burnside) deals with his life, he talks to himself - his alter ego (Ian Willis) expresses the bold opinions that Alan is afraid to voice - the things he might think but is too polite, or too afraid, to say.

Miss Shepherd is a troubled lady, as Bennett is a troubled man. They each have their demons to deal with, as the play progresses snippets of Miss Shepherd's life are revealed, and we learn of the tragic events that have led to her current lifestyle and her fragile mental state. Bennett we see struggling with his own lack of confidence, and his troubled relationship with his mother.

The humour is undeniable - the situation only an englishman, and possibly only a yorkshireman could have written - but it is also a poignant commentry on society and religion, that a life so full of talent and intelligence could be so tragically changed.

Under the direction of Clive Hilton the People's Theatre have once again produced a great show. Great acting by an accomplished cast, a wonderful set (how did they get that van on stage?). I think Mr Bennett would approve.

The Lady in the Van runs till 19th Nov. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sticking - Alphabetti Theatre - Review

Alphabetti Theatre
10th Nov 2016

Matt Miller's Sticking is a tale told in music - 12 songs, six people, one term at university. The songs are a hook to hang his experience on. They punctuate the story alongside aposite snippets from his history lectures.

His story takes us from the car journey with his dad, the arrival and claiming of his student room to the end of term. We meet his friends - new people who are firm friends after just 24 hours and we live through those days and weeks of trying to fit in. The uncertainty of being in a place where no-one knows you and realising you can be whoever you want to be, but not knowing quite who that is. He invents and reinvents himself to try to fit into this new world; caught like the sticking point on a vinyl.

He tries everything that is new, some of it he likes, some of it he's not sure about but he tries it any way. One thing that he does like is a girl. She makes his insides bubble. We all know that feeling. And we know the song that goes with it. We also know the song for crossing a line, going too far. Not being able to go back.

This is the story of the start of self discovery - half way through there is the pivot point - when he realises that he wants to be more than he is, more than a person trying to fit in, and that he can be more but that this is not the way for him, he has to get past the sticking point. By the end, he is beginning to know himself, but his journey is just beginning.

This is an emtional, joyful and intense performance. Performed in the small space at Alphabetti, with minimal staging, and bold lighting. It is intimate. Matt talks to the audience, moving forward to be just a foot or two away from the front row, making eye contact with members of the audience. We were in the front row - the intensity of his stare is un-nerving! He is full of energy and emotion, you can feel it pent up and simmering beneath the surface, then bursting out in excitement and anger and confusion.

Twelve songs. Six people (well seven people). One term. Lots of firsts. Some lasts.
We all have a history and we all have songs that evoke the memories and remind us of our journey.
It is a joy to listen and watch as Matt explores this short but pivotal piece of his history.

The last show is on Saturday, followed by an after show party - you're invited to suggest a tune for the playlist .

This is a pay what you feel performance but reserve your seat in advance because it is a small venue and you wouldn't want to miss out!
Book tickets here.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Waiting for Godot - People's Theatre - Review

Waiting for Godot
People's Theatre 

1st Nov 2016

The stage is set - the now familiar scene - a dusty road, a rock, a tree. Apparently lifeless. Enter a character, shabby, who sits and tries to remove his boot. He cannot. Enter another character, equally shabby. They greet each other. Vladimir (Steve Robertson) examines his hat and talks while Estragon (Gordon Russell) continues to try to remove his boot, appealing to his friend for help. Vladimir seems oblivious to his friend's predicament. Once aware he berates him for not airing his feet daily. The two men bicker. Estragon wants to leave, but Vladimir says they cannot because they are waiting for Godot. They aren't sure if they are in the right place - by the tree, but is the tree a tree or is it merely a bush, or a shrub? Perhaps they are in the wrong place. Perhaps they should wait by a different tree? There are no other trees. They contemplate hanging themselves.

Godot is a play about waiting, waiting for people to come, waiting for something to happen, waiting for time to pass, and about filling the time while we wait. Life is futile, and time is filled with inconsequential things, absurd things. Things that make no sense, and yet make every sense.
The friends wait for Godot, and while they wait they amuse themselves with stories and jokes that they have clearly told before. Their day drags on, until the monotony is broken by the arrival of a stranger, Pozzo (Kevin Gibson) and his slave, Lucky (Roger Liddle). The slave is exhausted but Pozzo shows him no mercy, ordering him about relentlessly. He is being taken to market to be sold, for he was once a good slave who worked hard and entertained his master, but now he is useless, lazy, no good. The four talk and argue and tell tales, Lucky dances and thinks for their entertainment, and eventually Pozzo and Lucky leave. Shortly after a boy (Lewis Gammer) arrives and tells Vladimir that Godot will not come today but surely he will come tomorrow and they must wait for him... And so the futility continues into another day.

This is such a good production - Steve Robertson and Gordon Russell are the archetypal duo, bouncing lines off one another - best friends, bickering one moment and joking the next, constantly at odds with but clearly affectionately attached to each other like a macabre Laurel and Hardy. In comparison to the bizarre Pozzo and Lucky however, they seem almost sensible. Kevin Gibson plays the rather pompous, boastful Pozzo with ease, swinging from Forced gentility to hysterical grief, to abject cruelty in the blink of an eye, while Liddle's still, silent slave is unnerving - until or perhaps especially when he dances his strange avant-garde dance.

The interaction between these characters is both hysterically funny and immeasurably sad. They are destined to repeat the same actions as their lives crumble away, senses are lost, memories are lost, and yet at the end, their friendship endures.
Bleak? Yes. But not without hope if you know where to look for it.

A stunning set, beautifully and dramatically lit.
Waiting for Godot runs until Sat 5th Nov.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Machine Gunners - Review - Royalty Theatre

The Machine Gunners  
Royalty Theatre
25th October 2016

This was promising to be an interesting show with a young cast, but as it turns out it was more interesting than anticipated. Unfortunately due to an accident just before the first night show the young lead Aidan Evans was unable to play his role and a stand in had to be found at the last minute. So we began the show with an apology from the Chairman as assistant director Peter Kelly would be taking the part of Chas McGill and would reading from the script at times. It also had to be said Peter Kelly is considerably older than the character of Chas McGill. However in true theatrical "the show must go on" style, the cast took up their places and the play began.

The play is a children's wartime adventure. The original story written by Robert Westall to entertain his own son, is full of wit and humour, the dialogue feels authentic - the kids talk and act like kids. It is great to hear a play in the north east dialect.
The story slips between narration by Chas and action and it moves smoothly from one to the other. Overall it has a Blytonesque feel to it - reminiscent of the Famous Five or Secret Seven - kids being kids but taking on roles more suited to adults, planning to save the day and be seen as heroes.

The stage was set with elements of each scene - a bomb damaged street, woodland, and the inside of Chas's home. Props and scenery were moved with ease by cast members to create each scene, a screen of trees brought forward for the woods, a table and chairs brought on stage for the inside of the house. Lighting was used to good effect, darkening for the scenes in the wood, then bright for the narration and the scenes in town. Sound effects combined with the lighting recreated the droning aeroplanes, explosions and gunfire. The tech was very well done.

As it turns out the chairman's apology was barely needed and any concerns the audience might have felt were quickly dispelled. It's a tall order to step into a role at short notice, and a taller one still for an adult to be asked to play a child. But, Peter Kelly not only stepped up he did so with style! Right from the start he was convincing as the character, capturing the cheekiness and ingenuousness of the boy. He got through the lengthy opening speeches without resorting to the script, and his assurance must have been hugely reassuring to the rest of the young cast - some of whom were on stage at this theatre for the first time. They did themselves and the theatre proud. If I had choose a man of the play - apart from Peter Kelly who was undoubtedly the hero of the hour - I would go with Lee Wilkins who gave a impassioned performance as the tough but vulnerable Glaswegian orphan, Clogger.

This is a great family drama, full of humour, some sadness, lots of adventure and it is a credit to the cast and team to have produced such a good show under difficult circumstances.

Tickets are just £8 and will be money well spent for two hours of entertainment and the play runs until Saturday 29th October.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Machine Gunners - Royalty Theatre - Preview

The Machine Gunners
Royalty Theatre
24th-29th October 2016

Picture courtesy of Royalty Theatre
Next week the Royalty Theatre in Sunderland presents Ali Taylor's stage adaptation of Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners. Set on Tyneside in World War II it tells the tale of  Chas McGill. Chas has the second best collection of war souvenirs in Garmouth, but when he stumbles across a crashed German bomber with its machine gun still intact he knows he can have the best collection. He and his gang hatch a plan to take possession of the gun. However when a German pilot is shot down events take a dangerous turn.

The original story was written by Westall for his son and is a classic boys adventure. The casting therefore gives younger actors the opportunity to take on the major roles. The lead role is taken by Aidan Evans, a member of the Royalty's Youth Theatre.  He will be acting alongside newcomers Lee Wilkins, Luke Harrison, and Emma Griffiths, as well more established members of the theatre including Matt Macnamee, Richard Delroy, Kirsty Downham and Scott Henderson. More information about the cast is available on the theatre's facebook page. The director is Anna Snell.

The Machine Gunners is a great family drama set right here in the north east, and should prove a good choice for half term entertainment. It runs from Monday 24th to Saturday 29th and tickets are available online from TicketSource or from the box office from 6.45pm before the show. Curtain up is at 7.30pm.