Friday, 27 April 2018

All About Me Blog Update

This is to let you know that I'll be no longer reviewing shows for this blog.  

I now review regularly for Fairypowered Productions and also The Review Hubs.  I used to review for the North West End but hope to review for them again in the not too distant future.  I'll post some reviews which I've done on behalf of the three reviewing sites on this blog from time to time.

I will still see many shows but if I'm not reviewing I won't be blogging!  Instead I'll share on social media my immediate thoughts of the shows I do get to see!

Thank you for your support always.

Contained, West Yorkshire Playhouse (Originally reviewed for The Reviews Hub in March 2017)

This was originally reviewed for The Reviews Hub in March 2017 and the link can be found here.

Image Credit: Tim Smith

Mind The Gap Studios are known for their true stories from the heart, and this is certainly evident in this unique production of Contained.   The production features nine performers with learning disabilities and the show is in joint collaboration from Alan Lyddiard (Anniversary) and award-winning French Photographer and filmmaker, Denis Darzacq.
The performance begins when each actor, one by one, walks out to introduce themselves and share their compelling stories, invoking a range of emotions from the listeners.  The barriers and stereotyped perceptions the performers have had to face are unbelievable.  It is sad that even today, people can be judged primarily on their disability, casting a shadow on what they, as an individual, are capable of. Jez Colborne, the show’s composer, inspired by Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up, is determined to stand for his rights, no matter what his personal circumstances are. He asserts that one is neither my judge nor my jury and one should focus on ability. 
Many will know Liam Bairstow for his role as Alex Warner in Coronation Street. During the production he shares his somewhat harrowing experiences, and how he eventually overcame them, securing a role on Britain’s longest running soap opera.  There is also Howard, who drums to “forget all things” and his girlfriend, Zara, who experienced discrimination at a mainstream school, labelled as stupid, among other titles.  The performers assure one another that they are all there for each other, the bond between them palpable.

Another actor, Paul, turns to the performance arts to combat stress and anger from his experiences but is grateful for his current foster family, who love him for who he is.   The remaining performers share their stories, including Alison, from Bradford. She has lived through some poignant experiences and is also a talented saxophone player.

On stage, the performers are supported by Charli Ward, the company’s academy director, who works holistically and in unison with the actors.  The show is accessible with visual screenings of texts, kinesthetic use of videos when stories are shared one by one, and a sign language interpreter is also present on stage.

At the end of the production, each performer consolidates their story, and there is a heartfelt and optimistic finale of I am fine, sung collectively.  This emphasises their beliefs in freedom and being themselves, not conforming to existing perceptions.  Significantly, it is about not being figuratively contained and is thought-provoking for all to reconsider disability in general.

Contained is a moving, poignant and powerful production that celebrates ability and artistic successes.  The production is colourfully reflective, giving the viewer an opportunity to learn about the world through the perspective of those with learning disabilities.  This is an unmissable production and one which is incredibly well done, and well received by the audience from beginning to end.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Blood and Ice - Leeds Arts Centre - Wednesday 18th October 2017

Accessed from

Leeds Arts Centre presents Liz Lochhead’s Blood and Ice this week at the Carriageworks Theatre.  Directed by Camilla Asher, the production gives the audience an insight into the life of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and to see how the classic was conceived and developed over 200 years ago.

It is fitting for this production to appear in its 200th year anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.  The mood is set at the beginning as the audience enters into a darkened space and the two act play switches between the different time periods of Mary’s life; with her creation of the "creature" being never far away in her thoughts and silhouettes in the background.   There is an introduction to the characters  who played a big role in the author’s life including Percy Bysshe Shelley (Ben Hopwood), Claire Claremont (Hannah Robbins) and Lord Bryon (Joe Saxton) and how their personalities influenced choices that Mary has to make.  The trio replicates such key scenarios. 

Mary opens up and shares her tragedies including the deaths of her babies and how she and Percy were ostracised from society because of their romantic and political beliefs.  Frankenstein was written at the height of the Romantic era where thoughts, inherited from The Enlightenment, and expressions were intertwined though not necessarily encouraged by society in general particularly the upper class. Frankenstein is considered parallel to Mary’s life and the production certainly explores this and how Mary is prompted to reflect beyond and think deeper than she never has done before.

The staging is simple but the draped backdrop is effective with images of Henry Fuseli, a Romantic painter, which reminds the audience of its era.  The lighting and soundscapes compliments the moods portrayed through the play.

This is an enjoyable production and the cast thoroughly put their awe and energy into a story that is just a relevant today as much as it was 200 years ago; particularly with the themes such as gender and woman’s role in society.  Blood and Ice figuratively sums up Mary’s life and her creation from the tragedies including death to the strong character she develops from experiencing delusion, disappointment and loneliness.

Reviewed by Dawn Smallwood
19th October 2017

Friday, 3 February 2017

Black Eyed Theatre's Frankenstein - 2nd February 2017, Harrogate Theatre

Blackeyed Theatre is currently presenting Frankenstein which is touring round the country. This world première production is adapted by John Ginman and based on Mary Shelley's Classic Gothic Thriller.  The story centres on Vincent Frankenstein, whose passions are to find the secrets to nature and its philosophies which is combined with his soul searching initiatives.  Then one dark day in November his creation would give him the adventure and experience he wouldn't have imagined at all.

(Accessed from

Shelley's literacy works are celebrated with an exploration of science fiction, gothic, spiritualism and figments of one's imagination...themes typical of the Romanticism Era.  The production is staged darkly with dimmed lighting and the wide range of live percussion/music is used for its soundscapes and musical accompaniment.  The creature is excellently portrayed with its puppetry, he comes alive during the story, and his action changes Frankenstein and the other characters' lives forever.

A moving, soul searching, senses stirring, dark production and the company interprets realistically the classic without any compromise.  This is an enjoyable two hour production performed by a five person cast and created imaginatively under the direction of  Eliot Giuralarocca.   

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Far from the Madding Crowd, Square Chapel Centre for the Arts - Friday 18th October 2016

(Accessed from

The Players of Hotbuckle Productions, a Shropshire based theatre company, presents Far from the Madding Crowd.  Adapted by Adrian Preater, the four member cast performs Thomas Hardy's classic intimately on stage.  The cast - Preater, Virginia Lee, Lauren Orrock and Matthew Rothwell play the multiple characters and tripling up as narrators and live musicians.

Written in 1874, the classic is set in rural South West England and explores the relationship between Bathsheba Everdene (Lee) and her suitors, Gabriel Oak (Rothwell), Mr Boldwood (Preater) and Sergeant Troy (Rothwell).  The themes, the characters face, are love, disappointment, honour, betrayal, tragedy and crucially the roles women plays in society, amid the tough reality of life in a farming community.  

The performance ran smoothly with seamless transitions between scenes with change of characters, costumes and props and this aided with excellent light and soundscapes.  An enjoyable performance, which offers an insight to the life the author lived and the diverse and complex circumstances human beings experience.  Far from the Madding Crowd so far has been touring primarily in Northern Ireland and England.

Dawn Smallwood 
Reviewed on 18th November 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

French Without Tears, Harrogate Theatre - 27th September 2016

English Touring Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre present Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears at Harrogate Theatre for just one week.  Rattigan wrote the play in 1936 and has been revived three times; 43 years ago at London's Young Vic and twice by English Touring Theatre including this production.

English Touring Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre's
French Without Tears
(Image contributed)

The comedy is about a group of young men who spend the summer at a French school to intensely prepare for their Diplomatic exams; the preparation doesn't go to plan as their focus is interrupted by the presence of Diana Lake (Florence Roberts), a beautiful though flirtatious visitor.

The men are seemingly in love with Diana; Kit (Joe Eyre), Bill (Tim Delap) and Alan (Ziggy Heath) and their feelings for her dominate them. Diane's return of love to each of the men is uncommitted and takes in her the stride the love they all have her.  To make things more complicated Jack (Jacqueline) (Beatriz Romilly) is in love with Kit.

Rattigan writes ahead of his time and certainly pinpoints the young men's masculinity and its appeared arrogance but beneath reveals their insecurity and vulnerability particularly experiencing women and romance.  Their attitude and preconceptions, indoctrinated by the expectations and culture at the time, toward women is unsurprising and states "an ideal woman with masculine virtues and feminine fiestas" and unable judge women with "standards of our own".

Men at the time weren't encouraged to express their feelings and display their emotions openly.  The "stiff upper lip" and "be tough" attitude at that time and men were conscripted to serve in the military during the First World War (and subsequently the Second World War) would have influenced this.  Expressions and displays would have been frowned up and/or censored by those in power in the name of political favour, particularly in Continental Europe, and patriotism. This comedy challenges their invincibility and masculinity and makes clear that men are just as fragile as to woman and this is shown with all of them being involved with Diana.

The cast work really well together and in unison - they are overseen by David Whitworth's Monsieur Maingot who keeps on reminding the group to speak only in French.  There is a continuous dialogue flow taking in account the plot.  There are unexpected twists and occurrences from all the characters' friendships, loyalties and long term secular goals are being severely tested - particularly at a time when they shared that "they may live up to their ideals but not to others".  Paul Miller directs the play and ensures the audience appreciate what the young men then faced.

Audience members who have a good command of French can appreciate the play's wit, irony and colloquialism.  Certainly hilarious throughout with the young men's misunderstandings of the French language and innuendoes attached.

Simon Daw's staging certainly has a continental feel with French writing on the stage's back drops.  It blends well with the story and its moods and Mark Doubleday's lighting compliments the staging.  A comedy which will give an audience to ponder as much as being farcically entertained.

Dawn Smallwood

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Company, CarriagworksTheatre, Leeds - 20th September 2016 (Reviewed on behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

LIDOS (Leeds Insurance Dramatic and Operatic Society) presents an amateur production ofCompany at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds. Sondheim’s award winning musical, based on George Furth’s book, premiered on Broadway in 1970. The musical focuses on Bobby (James Sidgwick), a 35 year old single man, who is unable to commit to a relationship. He associates with his best friends who are five married/engaged couples and has on and off relationships with three girlfriends; April (Mariah Young), Marta (Sophie Ketteringham) and Kathy (Gemma Buck).

Company doesn’t follow any particular storyline but instead it focuses on the characters themselves, none chronologically, after the celebration of Bobby’s 35th Birthday. It is set around the dates of his girlfriends and conversations over dinner and drinks with his married/engaged friends. The common themes, Company is one of the first musicals ever to deal with this, are around adult ones and the reality of relationships.It opens with a catchy musical number Company with reprises throughout.   Robert spends time with couples whose actions clearly see that marriage isn’t really what it is cracked up to be along with being in any relationship. Thoughts and feelings expressed in Joanne’s (Janine Walker) sarcastic and The Little Things You Do Together and the mocking The Ladies Who Lunch; Harry (Chris Hall), David (Andy Ashley) and Larry’s (Leon Waksberg) Sorry-Grateful and Amy’s (Claire Sidgwick) decision not to tie the knot in Getting Married Today. Each couple’s relationship doesn’t appear problem free when Bobby witnesses his friends and the various issues and challenges the couples face.
Bobby certainly is valued as a friend with the company’s What Would We Do Without You? at the beginning of the second act even if the couples do not give up their wish to see him married. In conclusion he however bravely comes to terms that being in a relationship with its challenges is worth it for meeting someone who is Being Alive. The live musical numbers are played beautifully by the pianist, Beth Blundell, and the singing and music are directed by Lucy Eyre.
Company is wholeheartedly and energetically performed by this company. The acting, singing and choreographed movements, directed Kimberley Lyon, are performed smoothly in the Upstairs at the Carriageworks studio’s intimate staging space.   The staging is interesting with photographs, framed on the walls and hung from the ceiling, and summarises Bobby’s relationships with the five couples and his casual girlfriends. This is an excellent performance by LIDOS including the cast and its production team.