Thursday, 19 October 2017

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

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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

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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.

Anniversary, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds - 15th September 2016 (Originally reviewed for North West End)

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

It is a pleasure to be at this unique production of Anniversary, currently playing in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre. This contemporary production offers an opportunity for a group of 11 older performers, some who had begun performing as far back as the 60s, to share their life experiences on stage through a kaleidoscope of story-telling, poetry, movement, dance and music.

Image credit: Anthony Robling

A Performance Ensemble and West Yorkshire Playhouse created and developed Anniversary and last year the production was commissioned through The Baring Foundation Late Style programme.   Anniversary is unique as there is a particular emphasis on celebrating the present instead of living in the past or in the future.
The performance begins when performers announce key anniversary dates which later on in the show will link to significant events that have happened in their lives. The performers share honesty “an anchor” at different stages during the show and reiterate how such events shape and strengthen who they have become today.
Optimism is shared by some of performers such as Namron and Villmore about making wishes, dreaming dreams and never knowing what the future holds. Alex shares his experiences and pleas for not to take my “sunshine away” during the company’s adaptation of Johnny Cash’s “You are my sunshine”.
A moving moment is certainly is the heartfelt singing of “Seasons of Love”, from the musical RENT, by the company and a sign language choir. It sums up the stories that are shared on stage and how, for some performers, the anniversaries are continuing such as the Phoenix Dance Company, which Villmore jointly founded in 1981, and the company is currently celebrating its 35thanniversary. There is also Connie whose “two year plan” on her arrival from Madeira to England in the 1960s is still ongoing.
The finale is unique with balloons filling the stage and the question being asked how balloons associate with one’s life whether it is a happy or a poignant occasion.   Anniversary concludes with a creative and reflective dance finale by the company and receives a heartfelt standing ovation from the audience.
West Yorkshire Playhouse certainly lives up to its reputation for being the “home of incredible stories” and this performance is an evening of such. The theatre takes pride in their creative arts programme, Heydays, for the over 55s. This is a very heartfelt and moving production where each and everyone in The Company have a role to play from its creation to choreography.

Blackthorn, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds - 14th September 2016 (Reviewed on behalf of North West End)

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

Blackthorn was developed through Furnace, a festival which celebrates new theatre from creation to production. Written by Charley Miles, it is about two children, the only ones born for a generation, who grow up, fall in love and part ways. Miles hails from North Yorkshire whereBlackthorn is set and the lighting and soundscapes, courtesy of Laura Sprake and Heather Fenoughty, reflects the idyllic village life and the surrounding nature.

Image credit: Anthony Robling

The two person play chronologically explores the changes that occur in both the characters’ lives; HER (Charlotte Bate) leaves the village and HIM (Harry Egan) stays and yet the bond they have between them still exists though strained with the impact of changes. The story focuses on the relationship with a place as much as a person and how it feels to leave or to be left.
The play also touches on childhood, adolescence, tragedy, love, relationships, loyalty, traditions and modernity and the audience is reminded how changes can have positive and negative effects. Miles writes beautifully the lives of HER and HIM and their affected journeys and links to the author’s upbringing.  
Excellent acting from both Bate and Egan who successfully portray both characters from childhood to later on in life when HER returns to the “special place” she calls her birthplace and struggles to come to terms how HIM eventually sees it.   Blackthorn is thoroughly directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin and she is supported by a talented creative team. West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Barber Studio is intimately suitable for Blackthorn to be performed. The play is approximately 90 minutes without an interval – it is felt however it could have benefited with one for pacing the delicately packed story.
It is encouraging to see local playwrights and their plays being supported by the Furnace Festival and West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new writer development programme.