Whistle Down the Wind at The Watermill.

The Watermill’s bespoke setting and compact stage wouldn’t be my first choice of venue for a revival production of the musical Whistle Down the Wind based on the book by Mary Hayley Bell, adapted to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Jim Steinman. However, the results were extremely impressive.

The storyline touches upon grief, racism, loneliness, small-town attitudes from 1959 Louisianna and religious practising cults in the form of the Snake Preacher (Elliot Mackenzie).

Swallow (Lydia White) is an older teenager who’s struggling with grief for her recently deceased mother, attempting to reassure and protect her younger siblings while trying to understand her father’s problems. Her faith is the one stable and constant thing in her life and it’s quite easy to see why the “man” she discovers in the family barn soon becomes a victim of mistaken identity.

Robert Tripolinos’ performance as the injured “man” an escaped murderer. Mistaken for Jesus by Swallow and the children he starts quietly with an air of uncertainty about him. Yet, as he becomes comfortable and finds his voice the sinister background stories being discussed by the adults in the village soon become reality. Tripolino’s voice is outstanding and amazed the auditorium when he sang his first number.

Although on the surface the storyline appears far-fetched and improbable. When you look at the events taking place through the eyes of a grieving daughter and the younger cast it’s a befitting story that wild imaginations would create and encourage each other to believe in within their peer groups.

The entire performance is set in and around the backdrop of the barn set in farmland where Swallow and her siblings live. Doubling up as the house of god, the local bar and a railway tunnel. Simon Kenny uses all the space available to its best capacity.

Many of the cast doubled up as the musicians from a range of guitars, piano, clarinets and piccolo. The limited space in the Theatre doesn’t allow room for an orchestra pit as well. Musical director George Francis certainly overcame that challenge.

The smaller scale setting certainly didn’t leave the audience with a smaller scaled production. I am sure the Choreography at times took precision and planning to allow each of the dancers the required space they needed without falling over each other. Director and choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves has developed a memorable production.

For more information on this production which runs until September 10th and future shows coming to The Watermill please check out the link below.

Four Stars.

https://www.watermill.org.uk

Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin.

Tower Theatre in the heart of Stoke Newington is one of the larger Off West End Venues, established in 1932 as the Tavistock Repertory Company. The comfortable auditorium and friendly front-of-house staff make the long journey from central London worthwhile.

Set during the mid-1700s in the lifetime of classical musician Handel. We witness the cruel treatment of illegitimate children and their mothers and how some of the “unsavoury” corrupted upper classes used their position to abuse those they deemed beneath them, who were there at their disposal to increase their wealth.

Boasting a cast of twenty-six each member’s performance was superb. However, Paul Graves in the role of Meshak the deformed disabled son of Otis (Matt Tylianakis) the cruel corrupted child murderer was outstanding. Meshak never falters in searching for his angel and righting the wrongs taking place in front of him. There’s a strong sense of frustration emanating as his speech and social standing leave him unheard by many around him.

Movement director  Nevana Stojkov creates smooth scene changes as the cast move between their scene and doubles up as stage hands. I was especially impressed with the dual-use panels which depicted a stone wall for outside scenery on one side and the luxury wallpapered interior for the stately home scenes.

Director Simona Hughes brings to the stage a darker and cruel part of our history. Maximising the stage capacity available at Stoke Newington to enable the large cast enough room to manoeuvre freely. From the eerily graveyard scenes complete with statues to the stately home ball dance floor. An incredible accomplishment all around.

Coram Boy isn’t a familiar text or production to me. However, it was extremely moving at times and evoked many emotions throughout the two hours and forty-five minutes. Highlighting the appalling behaviour that took place around “unwanted” children during the 1700s, although it’s certainly not reserved for our History books alone and people trafficking continues today.

Disturbingly Jamila Gavin’s novel The Coram Boy is based on a folklore tale where a man used to walk the streets of London offering to take unwanted babies to the hospital founded by Sir Thomas Coram.

This production of Coram Boy is set to move to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall for the week beginning August 28th 2022. For further information about this performance and the story around the text please use the links below.

Four Stars

https://www.towertheatre.org.uk/coram-boy/?date=2022-07

Coram Boy at The Minack Theatre

https://www.booktrust.org.uk/book/c/coram-boy/

https://www.coram.org.uk/

Bouncers by John Godber.

Set in the tranquil grounds of Furzey Gardens in Minstead, Blackbox Box present three nights’ performances of Bouncers as part of their “On Tour” production directed by Chris Hawley.

Life was very different back in the 1980s, I had forgotten just how much. Sexism, homophobia, inappropriate sexual behaviour and blatant name-calling were all part of the social culture. Thankfully things have progressed since then although music was a great part of that decade.

The four Bouncers see the world through the eyes of violence, lecherous behaviour and homophobia. What’s astounding watching these four interacting with one another is I recognised the attitudes from my times of going out to pubs and clubs. Notoriously renowned for starting fights, refusing people entry just because they could and generally all round unpleasant if the Bouncers decided they wanted to be.

Meet the cast of Bouncers who dominate much of the evening. Lucky Eric (Kevin Hallett), Les(David McCulloch), Judd (Scarlett Briant) and Ralph (Michael Godwin-Grist). Who not only socially comment on a typical evening out of the time but also gave you an insight into what they got up to after a shift it is certainly an eye-opener.

There’s an insightful part to the performance where the older bouncer Lucky Eric, shares three insightful thoughts about situations he sees taking place that leaves him feeling uncomfortable. One of which takes place between one female and four males. The men are taking advantage of her in full view of the crowded pub. These days it would be classed as sexual assault, back then it was just Christmas fun!

I was extremely impressed by the Goodwin-Grist whose comedic performance, facial expressions and mannerisms reminded me of the late great comedy genius Rik Mayall. Certainly, a contender if anyone wanted to make a film about Mayall’s life in the future. You read it here first.

There is a good mixture of humour, and banter running alongside moments of uncomfortable sexism which is to be expected at times, we are in the 1980s after all, when being gay was still illegal and women were treated more like an object than a mans equal.

Tracks of the era played throughout the production bought back memories of watching Wham Rap by Wham, Girls Just Wanna have fun by Cyndi Lauper Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Top of the Pops and listening to them on Radio 1.

For more information about Blackbox Theatre and its current tour dates please use the links below.

Four Stars.

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Furzey Gardens

The Woman who Amuses Herself by Victor Lodato.

Victor Lotado’s story The Woman Who Amuses Herself is based on true events which took place back in 1911 when Vincenzo Peruggia stole the famous painting  “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre in Paris. Posing as a workman and dressed accordingly the theft in his opinion was effortlessly carried out.

Tice Oakfield’s solo performance breaks through the fourth wall throughout the performance, we are addressed as one of his friends as he explains why he gave the painting a new home and the events which took place following the theft. Lotado is portrayed as a fairly likeable man although quite erratic at times.

Peruggia explains that he spent several years as a painter (in homes). Many of the paints used before 1978 would have been lead-based, which could have explained his behaviour appeared to be based between sanity and insanity, never quite knowing which Lotado you would see next.

Grace Cookery-Gam and David Bromley provide the voices for the two judges at Peruggia’s trial after he had been captured in Italy when he attempted to return the Mona Lisa to her rightful home (in his opinion). This turned out to be the beginning of the popular interest that now surrounds the infamous painting, where many flocked to lay eyes on her to try and understand the mystery surrounding her.

Karl Swinyard’s set design emphasises the mystery and poverty in which Lotado resided. The windows to the right of the stage allow suspension of disbelief that you are sitting in a light-deprived basement bedsit. A perfect setting for the two-year hostage home for the Mona Lisa.

A fascinating and engaging performance by Oakfield, laced with some of the histories around this famous portrait. The eighty-minute performance felt too long at times and the addition of the modern-day school scene was unnecessary and distracted me away from the intriguing life of Lorado which I found fascinating.

For more information on The Woman Who Amuses Herself and future productions coming to the Brockley Jack Theatre please use the links below.

Four Stars

https://brockleyjack.co.uk

https://www.playscripts.com/play/2369

Dracula’s Guest presented by Brother Wolf.

Gothic horror stories have intrigued and entertained audiences for many years. In 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published and since that time thousands of versions and interpretations of this famous work have followed. Dracula’s Guest is a two-act performance where Dracula ( James Hyland) tries persuading his “guest” Renfield (Ashton Spear) to become one with him.

Hyland, commands and dominates the stage from the beginning. His powerful beguiling voice has you jumping in your seats on many occasions. The cleverly scripted narcissistic manipulated mind games that he uses against his guest/victim Renfield at times leave you questioning what the truth is. Very much in keeping with how narcissistic people behave.

The strong physical performance between Hyland and Spear was breathtaking at times. Every punch, throw and strangulation appeared authentic. The powerful performance by the two actors demonstrates a crucial sense of mutual trust and respect between them. One wrong move could have seen either one of them seriously injured.

Dracula”s iconic cape and fangs have been exchanged for a smart mourning suit. Giving Dracula’s character a softer aesthetic impression. Contrasted against Renfield who we first see when entering the Theatre, rocking on the chair in a tatty white shirt which at one time would have been smart. The image of a worn-down emprisoned shell of a man who is sitting awaiting his inevitable doom is set out before us.

Staged around a long table with a severed pig’s head placed in the centre of it. As the play develops the audience learns that it’s riddled with maggots and is rotting. When Renfield finally relents and takes a bite my stomach turned, a word of warning just takes a deep breath for what takes place next!

Sitting in the front row there was a genuine feeling of unease when Hyland came too close. It’s extremely unlikely he would have broken the fourth wall and spoken to the audience directly but the energy and tension levels were running high from his performance as Dracula that anything would have been possible.

Adapted and directed by Hyland as well it is evident throughout the performance that he understands every twist and turn that is taken. Directing himself in some of those scenes cannot have been easy and demonstrate a strong sense of self-awareness.

Unfortunately, tonight was their last performance at The White Bear Theatre. I hope it will be transferred to another Theatre for future audiences to experience. Although I believe that this production would make also transfer across to become an excellent radio play using the same two actors.

For more information about Brother Wolf’s and The White Bear’s previous and upcoming work please use the links provided below.

Five Stars.

http://www.brotherwolf.org.uk/

https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/whatson/DRACULA’S-GUEST

Macbeth by Blue Apple Theatre Company.

Macbeth aka The Scottish Play has been performed and reproduced over and over again since 1006. However, in true Blue Apple Theatre style, their version has taken an insightful nontraditional format. Blending the surreal and absurd to create an extremely thought-provoking and engaging production.

Sam Dace delivers a strong performance in the role of the highly esteemed Professor Stratford Williams, whose speciality is Shakespeare. While travelling to an awards event he is involved in a life-threatening car accident, ending up in the ICU department of the hospital instead of the awards event.

Tom Hatchett in the role of Banquo alongside Macduff (James Benfield) deliver strong portrayals of these two well know characters. Their costumes by Polly Perry added a finishing touch of the refinery to their roles.

Delivering a performance where you drift between subconsciousness and real-time is a challenge for any cast. Yet these actors take it all in their stride and made it look effortless.

I was extremely impressed with the fully subtitled performance by Django Pinter. By chance it was my daughter’s first time seeing Blue Apple on stage, she’s been partially deaf since birth and struggles at times to hear in Theatres. She has said “it was nice to be able to completely follow what was being said” and for once felt included as part of the audience. This is the way forward for future performances.

Dervla Kirwan added a special guest voice performance as the Professor’s ex-wife, adding another dimension to his personal life and explains from her perspective why his marriage and family life had irretrievably fallen apart.

As with all Blue Apple Theatre performances prompts can be heard from the wings by Director Richard Conlon. These never cause a major problem and you watch as the cast member is concentrating while working through their lines and rejoins the script without any “drama” or panic. The entire cast are amazing professionals through and through. The support and kindness that the actor’s display is heart warming. It is one of the many reasons I actively support them all.

Please use the link below to find out more about these incredible actors and the work that Blue Apple undertake throughout the year. At the moment they are advertising for regular monthly donors, if this is something you might be interested in doing they would really appreciate the support.

https://blueappletheatre.com/stories

https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/whats-on/blue-apple-macbeth

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Apple_Theatre

Moment of Grace by Bren Gosling

Moment of Grace brings to stage a poignant part of documented history when the country watched on as Diana Princess of Wales opened the AIDS ward unit in London’s Middlesex Hospital. Diana began breaking down the myth that HIV could be passed on through touch or hugging.

Patients were “infectious, not contagious”. Stigma and urban myths shrouded the infected patients. Anyone so much as connected to them lived in fear of being alienated and cast out as “they must have caught it”. Nurse Jude (Narisha Lawson) explains the fear of ridicule compassionately which she faced on a daily basis as a 24-year-old nurse.

I was moved throughout the 55 minute performance by all three cast members. Understanding how they all lived through the same events yet their experiences were worlds apart. Andrew (James Taylor-Thomas) explains from the perspective of an hiv patient living on the ward how he hid his illness from the world and condemned himself to the inevitable, death.

Donnie (Richard Costello) is mourning the loss of his son and best friend. His conflicting opinions on gay men are subtle. He should hate them for not being ” a man’s man” of his generation and they deserve to be ill. Although I wanted to dislike him for his outward opinions there’s a  softer side to his character that I felt wanted to accept everyone for who they are.

Director Su Gilroy captures the cruelty of the 1980s stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV patients. Although we don’t see Diana Princess of Wales the mention of her presence is all we need to see how deeply she touched the lives of so many. Using three stools and a uniformed cast alone, the rich and moving script by Bren Gosling was all that the cast required to bring this extremely important story to life.

Stories like a Moment of Grace are archived in our memories as part of history. Yet these harsh periods in our not-so-distant past need to be talked about and bought to the screens and stages to raise awareness of how hideously a large section of society was unjustly treated.

Please use the link below to find out more about a Moment of Grace, book tickets and for information about future productions coming up at The Hope and Anchor pub theatre.

Five Stars

Moment of Grace

Links below to The Terence Higgins Trust and other organisations that support and help those effected by HIV.

https://www.tht.org.uk/

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The Throne by John Goldsmith.

Finding yourself stuck in a portaloo toilet with Her Majesty the Queen would be nerve-wracking enough for anyone, add a bomb into the equation and an anti-royalist and The Throne has all the ingredients for an explosive performance.

Anti-Royalist Derek Jones PhD (Charlie Condou) is dissatisfied with his life, job and the rules on the “information and action sheet” that he is expected to have read up on before the Jubilee royal visit is extracting the very soul of his existence.

Mary Roscoe’s wonderful performance as Her Majesty the Queen focuses on the calm and collected image that is often portrayed to the outside world. Offering a small insight into the private life of her Majesty through the words of John Goldsmith (playwright). Some of which is possibly verbatim although it’s unlikely to ever be confirmed by her Majesty. Could we actually discover the mystery of what is kept in her handbag?

At times it felt that the play lacked the chaotic atmosphere you might have expected with an imminent threat of a bomb which could explode at any given moment. I would have possibly expected to see heightened nerves or stronger concerns from both parties that things could explode at any time, yet neither displayed any of these convincingly. Most of the play is “just two people” having a really interesting conversation while locked inside the toilet awaiting rescue.

There are some extremely comedic lines added throughout the play and “digs” toward certain members of the Royal family which are particularly funny knowing what we do about certain events that have taken place since the 2002 Golden Jubilee.

Suspending your disbelief is an imperative requirement throughout the performance from the lack of security surrounding the Queen’s visit and tightened security checks that would have taken place long before she arrived.

Please use the link below for more information on The Throne, tickets and what’s on at Charing Cross Theatre.

Three Stars.

Photo credits Tristram Kenton.

https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/the-throne

LGBTQ+ New Comedian of the Year.

Clapham Grand was a fabulous venue for a Tuesday evening event in which nine comedians competed to find the new LGBTQ+ Comedian of the year 2022. Almost at capacity, we settled down to a fantastic evening of laughter and amusement.

Award-winning podcast presenter James Barr was our host for the evening. Introducing us to each of the nine acts, liaising with the judges and delivering some of his comedy throughout the evening.

This year’s finalists included; Dick Denham, Ben Pollard, Lachlan Werner, Umby Winters, Alison Zrada, Dee Allum, Dane Buckley, Victoria Olsina, and Dan Tiernan. Where it was left to the audience to vote for their favourites of the night and decide who won.

London-based, Argentinian-born LGBT comedian Victoria Olsina wowed the audience to take the converted winners title. Olsina’s biography explains “Victoria is the lesbian daughter of an Argentinian loanshark who came to the UK to steal jobs and steal women”. Closely followed by two runners-up Dick Denham and Lachlan Werner.



 

The four guests on the judging panel comprised Zoe Lyons, Vinegar Strokes, Stephen Bailey and Sikisa.  After each act, the four cast their critical eye over the comedian’s performance and each of them was given honest and positive feedback.

Comedy acts ranged from some stand-up acts to singing comedy and runner-up ventriloquist, Lachlan Werner is one to watch out for as long as Brew the Witch agrees and lets him speak.

Chris Smith started Comedy Bloomers in 2017, a year after finishing comedy school. Smith recognised that the LGBTQ+ comedy scene was severely underrepresented in both the LGBTQ+ scene and mainstream comedy and set about changing this. Recognising upcoming comedians with this fairly new award (started in 2019) is an important step forward to getting these very funny comedians firmly onto the stage with the recognition they deserve.

Overall it was an entertaining, colourful and funny evening. I would like to see Lachlan Werner in the future and watch more than a bitesize performance with Brew and perhaps a few more. For further information about the evening runners-up and Victoria Olsina and Comedy Bloomers please use the links below.

https://victoriaolsinacomedy.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/LachlanWerner/

https://dickdenham.uk/blog/

https://www.comedybloomers.com/

Faulty Towers Dining Experience

The President Hotel located in Russell Square is currently the home to The Faulty Towers Dining Experience. Situated a few minutes walks away from Russell Square tube station it’s conveniently located for a West End night out.

For fans of the BBC television comedy Fawlty Towers, the immersive experience is a must. Three of the main characters’ charm, entertainment and at times spook us as their antics are all in keeping with the popular comedy series.

The script encompasses many of the lines and quotes from the original series. Where we see Manwell telling diners that “he comes from Barcelona” Basil’s fateful betting slip debarked and Cybil pis are permanently disappointed with her husband’s lack of professionalism. Even Manwell’s friend the rat makes an appearance. Let’s just hope the hotel inspector doesn’t arrive.

It is fair to say from watching this evening’s cast that close attention to the mannerisms and voices of the original cast have been studied at length to perfect. From the hyena-style shrill of Cybil’s laugh, Manwell’s literal take on instructions for example “roll on a plate” where he forward rolls over the side plate to his fast shuffle walk through the restaurant and Basil’s exaggerated walk and blunt disposition towards all the dining guests take centre stage. Suspending your disbelief is easy as you become completely absorbed into the chaos and feel you were truly experiencing a visit to the iconic hotel.

Although the performance has been brilliantly scripted when interacting with the audience their ability to improvise on their feet without stopping the flow of the evening was suitably impressive. At times you could see the cast were desperately holding in their laughter while delivering some excellent comedic one-liners and unlike the original Basil Fawlty, the actor taking on the role remains professional throughout.

Over the watchful eye of one of the hotel managers, the evening’s food service ran smoothly. Despite the chaos created by Basil. Sat at tables laid out for ten dinner guests. Service began with a delicious broccoli-based vegetable soup, followed by half a chicken, roast potatoes and a delicious medley of ratatouille-style vegetables, I cannot tell anyone what the dessert was as after one mouthful I decided it wasn’t to my taste and left it.

It was a fantastic night out and many of the evening’s dinner guests were celebrating birthdays and special occasions. Although be warned if you disclose this information to the cast you will become part of the action for a few moments. For more information on the dining experience or the hotel please use the links below.

Five Stars

http://www.faultytowersdining.com/london

https://www.torquaysuitetheatre.com/

https://www.imperialhotels.co.uk/hotels/president-hotel