Monday, 20 July 2015

Aaron Hubbard's Clap Hands, Hackney Studios (by Lin Hornby)

“Clap Hands” by Aaron Hubbard
Pluck Productions
Hackney Studios

Image Credit: Pluck Productions

Ana and Gogol are siblings who have lived for the last fifteen years, locked in the basement of their mother's home with no access to the outside world; they have only each other, a few books and some records to fill up their whole existence.  The walls are covered with childish drawings in bright, happy colours...and five bar gate tallies chalked up on the bricks to mark the hundreds of days that have passed in their basement prison.

Ana is exuberant, filled with boundless enthusiasm, dancing furiously and jumping on the bed as she sings along at the top of her voice to one of the records by her beloved Cruz Gentle.

A cry of pain outside the door and Gogol rushes in, his hand wrapped in a towel. Mother had burnt it, he says, because the window was open. Gogol is a darker presence.  Where Ana is joyful in her world of music and safety, Gogol is less content. He has a much shorter fuse, snapping Ana's record in half to stop the noise, frustrated with her lack of interest in his pain.

Their relationship is a complicated balance made up of games and arguments and truces, of innocence and possession. Mother is a presence who lives in the house above, controlling but distant.

EJ Martin's Ana is a strong, completely believable mixture of innocence, energy and excitement. She is a child who has no experience of the world outside, just the tiny boundaries of the basement.  She believes the words of Cruz Gentle when he sings that everything is good and that's how the world must be, but like any child she can be fickle and throw a tantrum at any moment.  Philip Honeywell as Gogol creates a very physical performance.  His stance and body language constantly convey his frustration with being trapped, the anger that has been building in him, energy that is threatening to overwhelm him. He also captures Gogol's Machiavellian intelligence; they way he reads the story of Cinderella to Ana, encouraging her to see how cruelly Cinderella's mother treats her, his voice almost seductive, whispering what could happen, and feigning innocence as Ana sees the violent possibilities...  Both actors work incredibly well together, making their strange relationship utterly compelling.

Jeremy Drakes' portrayal absolutely captures Detective Olyphant, the man who is brought in to deal with Ana and Gogol after they have 'done a naughty' to Mother.  He's calm, he's clever, he plays along with their game, he knows about their world... He's a perfect foil to Ana and Gogol's madness.

It is a play of darkness and unexpected comedy.  James Smoker directs it in a way that conveys the claustrophobia of the basement as well as the world that the characters have had to create to survive there. The design, by Simon Wells, is minimal but suits both the production and the space. The costumes, pyjamas in bright friendly colours, evoke childhood and innocence, and work perfectly with the strangeness of the characters. 

Claps Hands' is a surreal and twisted gem of a play, with a heavy dose of gallows humour.

All in all, a strong company, new writing, great performances, an interesting venue – what's not to love?!

Reviewer: Lin Hornby

Reviewed on 18/07/2015

Gipton The Musical - Saturday 18th July 2015

Image Credit: Space2 
(Accessed from

Produced and presented jointly by the people of Gipton and Space2 (a Leeds Community Development Organisation), Gipton The Musical performs just for one night to an enthusiastic audience during the West Yorkshire Playhouse's Open Season.  The demand for tickets outstripped supply resulting in the public also being invited to its dress rehearsal earlier on in the day.

The focal point is its present with one family who lived in the same house for several generations.  George, performed by local Councillor Roger Harington, reminisces how Gipton once was (and still is to an extent); with its tight knit community, the working lives at the Burton factory, bonfires in the street, children playing football outside and other tales Gipton residents shared in cementing the unique identity the estate has.  George is also reminded about his loved ones and people of the estate by Ghost of the Gipton Past, performed by Graham Tempest.  The other family members look beyond the estate only to return to their roots and loved ones.

Those tales are embracingly celebrated with an assortment of passionate local performers and musicians with singing, dancing and playing to Boff Walley's memorable and colourful songs and music, which is accompanied by stunning and effective visuals and props.

Uniquely written by the people of Gipton and Walley and performed excellently by many who are making their debuts. Again Space2 comes up with a triumphant show for the community and its people.  The successful reception ensures this unique community in East Leeds is celebrated with pride to its maximum!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Another 'ME-WOW' afternoon by the sea!

CATS in Blackpool

On one summer's day I travelled to Blackpool to see CATS at the Winter Gardens Opera House.  Before seeing the matinee we had a wander along the town's sea front taking in the sunshine, sea and it's air!  CATS is playing in the seaside town this summer following the seasonal and successful run at the London Palladium.

Since London there has been some considerable changes to the cast including Jane McDonald (I've seen her in Romeo and Juliet, a French musical, as the Nurse in 2002!) as Grizabella and Adam Linstead as Old Deuteronomy (He appeared as Grantaire in one of Les Miserables recent casts).  Sitting on the front row you get the full interaction you expect from the show with the 'cats' roaming in the audience.  

Enjoyed again the Rum Tum Tugger's rapping, which Jack Butterworth performs so well, and it fits so well into the 21st Century production of CATS and of course the character is certainly loved by the female felines on stage!  I was incredibly impressed by Jane McDonald's Grizabella and Adam Linstead's Old Deuteronomy.  On the whole the cast is impressive and performs one of my favourite musicals to the highest of standards.

Another 'ME-WOW' afternoon by the sea and again on a sunny summer's day till my departure for home when it started to rain! A CATS fan is re-born and will continue to be re-born on a future visit to the musical!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

In Fog and Falling Snow! - National Railway Museum, 30th June 2015

George Costigan as George Hudson (r) and Ian Giles as George Stephenson (l)
Photo credit: Anthony Robling

The National Railway Museum comes alive with this exciting production, jointly produced by York Theatre Royal, National Railway Museum and Pilot.  Co-writers Mike Kenny and Bridget Foreman analyses the rise and fall of George Hudson (who was known as the 'Railway King' and politician) and the life around his era in the 19th Century.

The first act takes place in and among the museum's Great and Exhibition Hall.  Everyone assembles to await the arrival of George Stephenson (Ian Giles) and George Hudson (George Costigan) on a 'Rocket' replica.  Hudson shares Stephenson's vision following their rendez-vous in Whitby to expand and link the country's railway lines.  The audience is then divided into groups and are transported to different exhibitions where one receives different stories about people livelihoods, performed by a cast around 200, around the railway and their prominence during Hudson's dominion.

Community Volunteers including Andrew Isherwood as Mr Walters
Photo credit: James Drury

The untold story is told by many; they share with the audience how easy it was to buy a piece of potential fortune, amidst risk,  through purchasing shares in the railway, volume of migrant workers, often in notorious conditions, fulfilling Hudson's vision including the East Coast railway line from Newcastle to London, and life in general of people across all classes.  The rivalry among the different railway companies didn't go unnoticed particularly with the introduction of the Railway Clearing House and significantly Hudson's dodgy financial dealings.  Parallel to stories one hears today!

The production continues with the second act at The Signal Box Theatre, York Theatre Royal's temporary residency during the theatre's redevelopment.  The story continues with Hudson's downfall and its impact on the railways and the people involved.  The action takes place centre stage with a railway line running through which gives a vivid feeling of being part of the action.

Paul Osborne as Albert Jenkins and Ensemble Cast 
Photo credit: Anthony Robling

Co-directed by Damian Cruden, Juliet Forster and Kate Posner; this production is certainly one big 'extraordinary theatrical event' involving a impressive number of 487 volunteers! The logistics must have been a challenge but the creative team and cast rises to it beautifully and delivers and co-ordinates to the highest of high standards.

The Umbrella Scene
Photo Credit: John Saunders

The dedication and the commitment of everyone specially the volunteers is very much admired. Similar to the past community productions such York Mystery Plays and Blood + Chocolate (produced in conjunction with Pilot and Slung Low), In Fog and Falling Snow is produced on a massive scale which ignites the enthusiasm and community spirit York is known for in promoting its unique social history.

This production is unmissable! 5+ Stars!