Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Brideshead Revisited, York Theatre Royal - 26th April 2016

It is lovely returning to York Theatre Royal for its first show, world première's production of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  The theatre reopened recently following a 13 month redevelopment.  The work done certainly pays dividends with its well used space and lighting.  The front of house is extended and remodelled with a eclectic mix of past and present.  The audience can sit in and enjoy the redecorated and main audience.  Certainly worth the wait!

Brian Ferguson as Charles Ryer, Shuna Snow, 
Christopher Simpson as Sebastian Flyte 
and Nick Blakeley as Anthony Blanche
Photo Credit: Mark Douet

Brideshead Revisited is produced jointly by York Theatre Royal and English Touring Theatre.  Waugh's classic novel is adapted and re-imagined by Bryony Lavery and directed by Damian Cruden.  It is about Charles Ryder (Brian Ferguson) who returns to Brideshead in 1943 and remembers the memories of the summers there spent as a youth with a privileged but eccentric Flyte family.

The journey Ryder takes and narrates is a discovery of memories and things which the audience can relate to in their life journeys including love, society, family, religion, creativity and death and how travel and war crucially shaped Ryder for who he was and who he is now.  All set round the household and livelihood of Brideshead Castle.

The cast is led by Brian Ferguson and Christopher Simpson (as Sebastian Flyte) and they successfully ride on the journeys with excellent portrayals of the characters involved,

The simple staging is impressive - the visual backdrops create an atmosphere appropriate for the storytelling.  The bright and calm colours (and combined) lighting, courtesy of Richard G Jones, is stunning and with its breathtaking contrast with Sara Perk's dark staging.

Another excellent production at The York Theatre Royal in conjunction with English Touring Theatre.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Two, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds

(Image accessed from

Jim Cartwright's play, Two, offers a realistic insight in a Northern working class town from the eyes of two joint pub owners.  Two actors, Sophia Becic and Neil Knipe, run the show from beginning to end.  They portray the lives of many who visit the pub including the widower, the 'fat bobble-hatted' crisps loving couple who take pleasure in the pub's TV and the confrontation between the 'other' woman and lover.

Atypical to social issues with its problems and the projection of human emotions, the small intimate stage space makes one feel one is an observer in the couple's pub and be part of the working class town's community.  Poetically humourous which is ultimately met with poignancy when a tragic event is shared later in the latter stages of the play - affecting the couple's present and future.

This 90 minute play, presented by Bite My Thumb, is familiarly enjoyable.  Applause is deservedly given to Becic and Knipe for their multiple roles performances and its smooth transitions. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Merry Wives (On behalf of North West End)

Image contributed
(Accessed from

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

Critically acclaimed Northern Broadsides is reputed for classic productions where actors perform in their natural voices. This production, The Merry Wives, in collaboration with The New Vic Theatre is no exception.
Adapted from William Shakespeare’s comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, it is about Sir John Falstaff who pursues two women of considerable wealth, Mistresses Ford and Page. The pursuit leads to hilarious consequences which are unravelled throughout.
This production is no doubt entertaining albeit a slow start at the beginning until the mistresses decide to “entertain him with hope” and carries out the first trick on Falstaff.
The comedic nature of this play brings out to the maximum caricature, farce, irony, sarcasm and light-heartedness. The colourful language, the double meanings, sexual innuendoes and local references, such as the “fat woman from Ilkley” are relayed in a northern localised language which the audience is able to relate to.
It is certainly not a traditional setting but set in the 1920s and the light colours compliments the staging. The wooden trees on the set look out of place and perhaps topiary looking trees could have been naturally and suitably better. Admirable use of the sports equipment such as the tennis rackets and lacrosse sticks for weaponry and “Herne the Hunter” costume Falstaff (Barrie Rutter) wears in the final scene. The costumes the characters wear reminds one of the times of The Great Gatsby era and more so with the music and dancing at the end of the final scene.
Rutter, the director, plays the leading role, Falstaff, and isn’t at all intimidated by the tricks played on him and continues his determination to court both mistresses whose “attractions for my good attractions aside”.
The acting overall by the cast is excellent especially Nicola Sanderson and Beck Hindley as the two mistresses who plot to bring Falstaff down a peg or two. Neither of them are deterred nor flattered from his descriptions of them being “the rule of her husband purse” and “East and West Indies...made to their gold”.
The themes raised even if humorous are love and jealously. There are underlying themes of social class and financial status. This is particularly so when Page (played by Ray North) forbids his daughter, Anne Page (Played by Sarah Eve), to marry Master Fenton (played by Adam Barlow) who squandered his fortune. Not to mention the love chaos and suitors Anne is drawn to.
The Merry Wives, like Shakespeare’s comedies, “ends all well” with a song and dance, excellently performed by the cast and some doubling up as musicians. A light-hearted comedy for an enjoyable evening with plenty of laughter!

The Fruit Trilogy (On behalf of The Reviews Hub)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here.

Photo Credit: Alice the Camera
(Accessed from

Eve Ensler’s The Fruit Trilogy consists of three plays, AvocadoCoconut and Pomegranate and is receiving its world premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in conjunction with the Southbank Centre.  This follows on from the successful run of Avocado last year which formed part of the theatre’s Play Pie & Pint series.
Each play, amid different settings, explores honestly the widespread exploitation of women’s bodies and their struggle to claim them as their own.
The trilogy opens with Pomegranate, where two women who work in a brothel and are on “sale”.  They share a contrast of opinions between the impossible possibility and hope and the realistic reality of being figuratively dead.  Lily Arnold’s clever staging illustrates how both a typical day is seen and emotions being expressed by Amelia Donkor and Carla Harrison-Hodge as Items one and two placed on a shelf.  This poignantly indicates that their bodies are owned by others but themselves.
Next follows the one woman play, Avocado; Harrison-Hodge performs intensely and dramatically as the young woman in this condensed revival and echoes emotionally how trapped she is.  The “container” symbolises the existence of being a victim of forced slavery and prostitution.  Numerous innuendoes and metaphoric references to objects and scents, imply that she doesn’t have any control over her life whatsoever.   Peter Rice’s dramatic soundscapes accompany the woman’s narration and the stage is dark which reflects metaphorically the young woman’s plight.  There is some lighting on stage, albeit very restricted.  Lizzie Powell’s lighting cleverly interprets the young woman’s escape and her yearning to be free.
Finally, Coconut intimately explores, from a mystical experience in the bathroom, how a woman is finally connected to something she never owned.  Suspense, atmospheric soundscapes and candles intimately build up the woman’s experience; Donkor, playing the woman, begins by “opening a portal” to her foot where she applies coconut oil and shares her body experiences literally and figuratively.  She recalls how her body was a commodity to others and now wants to feel her own flesh from “dancing in the fire” and being the “messenger of own deliverance” from softness, moisture to light.
This trilogy certainly raises awareness and gives voices to many women who are enslaved through forced servitude, human trafficking and prostitution.  This 70 minute well presented condensed play certainly gives a lot of food (fruit) for thought, and how sad that these issues are at the forefront of the headlines which today affect many ordinary women.

'Our Cousin Flo'

Image credit: William and Jenny Copeland.
(Accessed from

Many associate Florence Nightingale with reforming nursing and Public Health.  This story however is about Florence, her family and her privileged life as a young woman in Victorian High Society.  Despite this she looks for a way out from the predicted role (and for all women) she expects to fill.

Letters, recently discovered, between Florence and her cousin, Marianne Nicholson, are the basis for the source to be adapted on stage.  Florence and Marianne spent a lot of time together with family.  Leeds' Lotherton Hall has a connection with Gwendolen, Marianne's youngest daughter and Florence's goddaughter. Gwendolen married Frederick Richard Trench G Gascoigne of Lotherton Hall.

The audience is transported back in time when Marianne, played by Harriet Seedhouse, narrates chronologically the events leading to Florence's divine vision to help others.  Her determination to carry out this leads to consequences which then were different to the expectations in society at the time.

Jane McNulty beautifully transfers the text from the letters for creating 'Our Cousin Flo' and is aided by visuals to illustrate the life Florence lived and her vision with some of the cast as spirits.

St Mary's Youth Theatre performs this production well under the direction of David Sheridan.  The creative team, courtesy of Steve Limb, Dave Rossendale and Steve Idle, compliments in unison 'Our Cousin Flo'. Lotherton Hall continues to celebrate the connection with talks and tours.  There is another opportunity to see this production again, open air in its grounds, during June.

Pre-show Feature: Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre

Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre
Image credit: Northern Ballet

World Première of Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre is highly anticipated and certainly a hot ticket this season - tickets are sold out for its run at Doncaster's CAST.  This will be a welcoming addition to the Northern Ballet's exciting repertoire including Wuthering Heights and 20 years ago or so The Brontës (under Northern Ballet Theatre).

Coinciding with the celebration of Charlotte Brontë who was born 200 years ago this year. Her actual birthday, 21st April, has been celebrated with academic and cultural activities taking place across Yorkshire and beyond.

Jane Eyre is certainly more about the novel.  The well known novel is enjoyed by many worldwide and was written advance of its era.  Cathy Marston (A Tales of Two Cities) choreographs this production with Philip Feeney who compiles a score of original and existing compositions.  Mario Testino, a reputed set and costume designer, will create the sets and costumes and this will be complimented by lighting by Alastair West, an experienced designer.

Northern Ballet Jane Eyre's rehearsal starring 
Hannah Bateman and Javier Torres
Photo credit:  Justin Slee

Marston's inspiration, drawn from the novel, is keen to interpret the character of Jane Eyre and the men that entered into her life.  Also hopefully to how Charlotte Brontë would like to see her immortalised during her time and beyond.

There will be an opportunity, no doubt, to explore existing and emerging themes which some are well known and others not so.  From the 19th May, the audience will be offered in glimpsing into the actual life of Charlotte Brontë as well as enjoying Jane Eyre.

As mentioned at the beginning, tickets are sold out in Doncaster but tickets are still available, at the time of this review, at other venues accessed here.

Dawn Smallwood
22nd April 2016

Friday, 15 April 2016

Brooklyn, Square Chapel for the Arts, Halifax - Friday 15th April 2016

Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan(Image accessed from

Arts and Biscuits is part of the Films at Square Chapel programme.  As well as tea and coffee, Irish biscuits were available, courtesy by of a member of staff at Square Chapel. What is refreshing about watching films there; no commercial trailers and films start at the times stated.

Brooklyn, written by Nick Hornby and based on Colm Tobin's novel, is directed by John Crowley.  This award winning film, released in 2015, stars Saoirse Ronan as Ellis Lacey who is given an opportunity to pursue a better life in the United States.  She, like many Irish immigrants, is destined for Brooklyn.

The film follows Ellis' journey in adapting to life in the US amid homesickness and uncertainty.  She falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen) who has Italian origin.  The story explores and tradition, immigration and migration, loneliness and love, tragedy and hope. All these themes are intertwined with the warmth and wit the Irish is well known for.

Ellis, forgets what the town was really like until a past encounter reminded her and quickly prompts her future when she emigrated in the beginning and when she appears to settle in the town on her return to Ireland.

A wonderful film with great acting by Ronan, Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. Certainly worth another viewing!

Dawn Smallwood
15th April 2016