The Color Purple The Musical based on the novel by Alice Walker.

Based on the 1982 original novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple The Musical was written by Marsha Norman and accompanied by music and lyrics composed by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.

With the depth and strong themes throughout the original novel by Walker, the idea of the subjects transferring to a musical intrigued me. However, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The musical score and strong cast bring this powerful novel into the Musical genre triumphantly.

Celie (Me’Sha Bryan) and Nettie (Aaliyah Zhane) start the story at the tender ages of 14 and 12. Celie has been systematically raped over the years by her father (KM Drew Boateng) and has two babies by him which he removes. Married off to a cruel widowed farm owner the abuse continues for many years.

As the musical develops Celie gains the strength to break free from her marriage and start her life again. Breaking free from a lifetime of physical and mental abuse takes strength and self-belief. This is reflected in the songs in which she begins quiet and timid where at times you struggle to hear some of the lines. However, by the end of the performance, she raises the theatre roof with a powerful performance of “I’m Here” which resulted in rapturous applause.

The stage starts life in the form of the inside of a large barn. On both sides house style, panelled areas move in and out as the scenes change from the local church, store owned by the girl’s stepfather and later into the successful trouser store created by Celie. Projected images showing the forest or corn fields depict the outside landscape surrounding the families. Set designer Alex Lowde’s thought and design techniques bring part of Southern America to the stage.

Director Tinuke Craig has bought the powerful novel to life through the staged musical without removing the hard-hitting topics that are present throughout the book. Dealing with rape, abuse and control is painful to watch yet the techniques used feel empathetic and considered how the victims would have felt. Theatre should be challenging and this production certainly is at times.

The long and bitter fight for Civil Rights spans many decades in America. Within the Theatre programme, there’s a comprehensive timeline starting in 1904 through to 2021 describing key or life-changing events that have taken place in the fight for equality. I think this is an extremely important timeline to have been included.

For more information about this touring musical and future productions at the Mayflower Theatre please use the links below.

Four Stars.

https://www.mayflower.org.uk/

https://stageagent.com/shows/musical/1659/the-color-purple

https://www.mayflower.org.uk/whats-on/color-purple-2022

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland staged version by Wise Owl Theatre Company has been superbly adapted from the original book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll published in 1865, bringing a wonderful family show to the stage. Combining imagination, songs and an invitation to the Mad Hatters Tea Party, just watch out for the hiding mouse.

Alice is inquisitive, bright and always looking for her next adventure through her imagination. Well, let the adventures unfold as she enters the surreal world of Wonderland.

My favourite character in the show has to be the glamorous caterpillar who Alice embarks upon in the garden. The caterpillar is awaiting the transformation into a butterfly while munching through cabbage leaves. The range of sparkly shoes complimenting the multi-coloured pupa costume was stunning. Her Operatic numbers from Madame Butterfly and Carmen were fantastic.

All of the well-known characters feature in the performance. The crazy conversations taking place between the Mad Hatter and The Hare at the famous Mad Hatters Tea Party are fast-paced and somewhat bizarre, yet very funny. The Queen makes a regal appearance threatening to behead nearly everyone around her, making you question why anyone still lives in Wonderland.

The self-contained staging begins in the family home’s attic which is full of family heirlooms, Alice’s haven where she escapes on stormy days like today. Her imagination takes her on many adventures through the items she finds up there. The attic opens up to reveal the world of Wonderland where the surreal adventures begin.

The puppetry used throughout the performance is of an extremely high standard which is no surprise as Matthew Forbes, associate puppetry director at the National Theatre as part of the creative team from War Horse and now in the Lion King, designed the ones being used. We first see the white rabbit bounce through the auditorium on his quest to find the red paint. To the larger life, Cheshire Cat divides into four sections allowing the character to circle Alice confusingly as seen in the original book.

For more information on this play, future productions at the Theatre Royal Winchester and the Wise Owl Theatre company, please use the links below.

Four Stars.

Photos used from The Wise Owl Theatre company‘s Facebook page.

https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/whats-on

https://www.facebook.com/people/Wise-Owl-Theatre-Company/100064728352048/

The Boy who Fell into a Book by Alan Ayckbourn.

James Forth brings The Boy who Fell into a Book to life this October half term at The Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington. One of Alan Ayckbourn’s classic British family play watches Kevin Carter become absorbed into the covers of his favourite characters’ crime stories and join him on the quest to help him escape the furnace and destroy The Green Shark.

Based on a cross between Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) the hapless detective in Walt Disneys Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Raymund Chandler’s fictional detective Philip Marlowe. Complete with the iconic brown mac and a hat. Matt Cranfield is the perfect choice for the role of Detective Rockfist. Complete with an unshaven dishevelled look and sharp enquiring mind.

Six books feature throughout the performance from the initial Detective story, Chess for Beginners to Grimm Fairy Tales by Grimms Brothers. Rumplestiltskin also makes a guest appearance while he is on his quest to steal the Queen’s baby. Before we are introduced to Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf.

I especially liked the vast range of costumes designed by Lynda Twidale. From the aptly designed pyjamas depicting Detective Rockfist Slim worn by Kevin, Little Red Riding Hood’s stunning red cape to the amazing chess piece costumes. The White Queen looked especially regal upon entering the stage before she trumps and banishes the Knight and Bishop from the chess board.

Director John Chapman has worked at Tower Theatre in various roles since 2012. He has been associated with Alan Ayckbourn’s work for many years and can safely add this latest production to his list of successfully directed plays.

One piece of advice before going to see The Boy Who Fell into a Book is to arrive in the auditorium about fifteen minutes early as there’s something to watch before the play begins.

For more information on this play and future productions at Tower Theatre please use the links below.

Four Stars.

https://www.towertheatre.org.uk/contact-us/

Poltergeist by Philip Ridley.

The powerful writing is matched by Joseph Potter’s outstanding performance as the unfulfilled prodigy artist Sasha in Poltergeist. Offering a challenging and exhausting role for Potter who delivers the dialogue with precision and an abundance of energy. Ranging between strong outbursts of rage, and screaming to lucid clarity. All of these are driven by a deep-rooted sense of loss.

Sasha had his hopes and dreams of becoming a successful artist through his acts stemming from the grief of losing his Mum while staying in a farm outhouse on the grounds of his sister in laws parents’ property. After completing the commissioned artwork he sets fire to it in a fit of rage and grief.

Popping copious amounts of co-codamol and a deep. sense of self-loathing has spread into every essence of his life. It doesn’t matter how much he consumes the pain remains ever-present.

The catalyst for today’s episode of self-loathing has been created after being invited to his oldest niece’s birthday party. The lack of interest in anything to do with them is compensated by his partner Che, whose relationship with the family helps keep the contact intact.

Poltergeist normally refers to paranormal activity or spirits. However, Sasha becomes possessed while he is in his brother’s house becoming a living and breathing Poltergeist. Moving photos, emptying the bathroom cabinet and leaving nail scissors abandoned at the top of the stairs.

The exceptional one-man performance brings a host of family and friends to life throughout the play. Each of the partygoers is distinguished through mannerisms and accents. From his pregnant sister-in-law Niamh who gushes with over-the-top necessities which grated on me and becomes sickly at times. Alongside his brother Flynn who is desperately trying to make sure everything runs smoothly. Is it driven by guilt or simply playing the good host it’s left for the audience to decide as we never know her or any of the other family members’ side of the story?

Watching the deep concentration and beguiling physical performance by Potter, You can feel the power as he is overcome and completely possessed by the Poltergeist spirit of his character, Sasha. I defy anyone to leave the Theatre, without feeling mentally exhausted.

Potter’s performance leaves me in no doubt that we are going to see a lot more of him in the future. These “gem” productions and performances are what keep the Off West End Theatres alive and drawing in the audiences.

For more information on this play and future productions at the Arcola Theatre please use the links below.

Five Stars.

Home

That’s Not My Name by Sammy Trotman.

That’s Not My Name written and performed by Sammy Trotman. The sixty-minute performance is based on her experience of being dragged through the mental health system for various conditions and addictions. Although as a self-professed attention seeker it isn’t clear at times where the real Trotman and the actor Trotman begin and end.

Trotman explains “anything can be justified by a label” after spending time in a very expensive psychiatric hospital she learned that the staff only ever referred to the patients by room number which in itself is unlikely to help their self-esteem.

Is the labelling of mental health conditions in danger of creating a condition for the patient that they aren’t aware of? Trotman suggests that there is a risk to sufferers that this could be the case and it creates more problems! Without being a mental health specialist I wouldn’t feel confident commenting either way.

The entire performance switches between chaotic, disjointed and moments of calm reflection. Schizophrenia at one time was mentioned by a Doctor, it is, therefore, reasonable to see both people during the show. Reflecting the drastic swings of mental illness Trotman has been diagnosed with and suffered from since the age of three.

Trotman has a likeable honesty surrounding her throughout the performance. Although there’s never any suggestion that she is looking for sympathy. The show reflects the delicate complexity surrounding mental health and at the same delivers an insight into the outside world.

For more information on “That’s Not My Name” and future productions please visit the website below.

Four Stars

https://breadandrosespub.co.uk

The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne.

The Solid Life of Sugar Water production photos , taken on 15th October 2022 at The Orange Theatre, Richmond, London

The Solid Life of Sugar Water is an exceptionally strong Seventy-five-minute performance from two highly emotive passionate actors. Alice (Katie Erich) and Phil (Adam Fenton) met in the Post Office queue and started talking. While there Phil has an untimely accident with his oversized “exploding” box of risque items he is sending to his brother.

The Solid Life of Sugar Water production photos , taken on 15th October 2022 at The Orange Theatre, Richmond, London

Jack Thorne’s writing has bought to the stage the devastating reality faced by some pregnant woman who experiences the rare condition of an antepartum haemorrhage. Through the superb performance by Erich the horrors of giving birth to a dead child and rendered helpless as she cannot hear the surgeon or lipread as he is too close. Fear, anger and excruciating pain become the audience’s reality as you are drawn into her harrowing enactment.

Thorne’s writing delves deep into the depths of the heartbreak and agony that this condition subjects the bereaved families to. Adapting the play to bring a fresh and dynamic approach using two extremely talented disabled actors.

There is a visible strong working relationship between the two actors. From the moment they begin their performances they respectfully finish each other’s sentences, and affectionately touch one another when reflecting on their first meeting and the sensitive glances across the stage. Naturally falling into the role of a couple dealing with daily life, an openly discussed sex life and the joint trauma of losing a child during the eighth month of pregnancy.

The Solid Life of Sugar Water production photos, taken on 15th October 2022 at The Orange Theatre, Richmond, London

Director Indiana Lown-Collins uses Alice’s deafness to create a powerful scene after the loss of the baby. She removed her hearing aid and angrily uses sign language to express her feelings of being abandoned by Phil in her darkest hour. When she desperately needs to feel loved and wanted he is knowingly distanced from her. Removing Alice away from the stage and leaving Phil in darkness on the bed for the first time throughout the performance, the couple is grieving separately whereas before they were united on everything.

For further information about this performance and future plays at the Orange Tree Theatre please use the link below.

Four Stars

Photo credit Ellie Kurttz

https://orangetreetheatre.co.uk

https://www.rcog.org.uk/guidance/browse-all-guidance/green-top-guidelines/antepartum-haemorrhage-green-top-guideline-no-63/

https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/antepartum-hemorrhage-bleeding-in-late-pregnancy

Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse by Skitzoid Productions.

Understanding Domestic Violence takes time, patience and empathy. Victims escaping the clutches are often hard-wired into the chaos, torture and control of the narcissistic abuser which takes every ounce of strength to escape and start the healing process.

Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse takes you on a musical sporadic and at times disjointed journey through the eyes of the abuser and victims caught up in the devastating cycles of Domestic Abuse. Ranging from “loving” partners to parent/child relationships.

Art often imitates life experiences and tackles uncomfortable situations. Samuel (Jonny Brace) University drop out who is a running a company without any customers or revenue coming in. The highlight of his day is a visit from the DPD horseman delivery driver T-Base (Daniel Nyari).

I particularly liked the idea when Stats (Katie Penfold) becomes part of a VR game of Space Invaders. Instead of tackling alien spaceships attempting to take over the world. Her fellow work colleagues become her life space invaders zapping away at her self-esteem (Lifebar) until she finally has nothing left to exit the level and succumbs to being controlled by what appears to be her abusive alcoholic Father.

Raising awareness about domestic abuse through different relationships and showing that age, sexuality and gender don’t prevent you from becoming a victim is important. Although with so many themes being delivered at once it can become hard to follow at times and slightly confusing, this is possibly deliberate to show how much DA distorts the victim’s perspective of reality and questions everything they say or do.

There’s a host of original toe tapping musical numbers accompanying this performance written by the director and writer Dave Bain. Some of these appear to have been influenced by the 80’s pop music era along with the straight multi-coloured strobe lighting effects.

I was intrigued to find out more about Aesha’s “stay at home cactus” mentioned by Samuel at the beginning of the musical, sadly it is never bought up in the conversations again.

An intriguing attempt to combine DA and musical theatre. Although at just over 120 minutes at times it felt strained and would benefit from the performance time being reduced. The cast of four work very well together and have a strong rapport.

For more information on this production, Skitzoid Productions or any of the themes mentioned in the article please visit the links below.

Three Stars.

https://sodahq.uk/

https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

https://www.skitzoidproductions.com/about

Domestic abuse

The Coral by Georg Kaiser.

How can such a small item of jewellery create so much chaos and disruption? The blood coloured coral brooch appears to lead the wearer to become obsessed with power and wealth. The Coral makes its first staged performance in one hundred years. The storyline is still relevant in our society and strained family relationships are probably more relatable.

Sacrificing his two daughter’s relationship The Millionaire (Stuart Laing) foolishly believes that encasing them with riches and luxuries will prevent them from the pollution of the outside world and keep them close to him.

Yet when the Older daughter (Joanne Marie Mason) takes a job on a cargo ship in the engine room and their Younger Daughter (Esme Scarborough) decides to become a nurse he is driven further into a demonic trance as his control over their lives is taken away.

The intense start of The Coral creates the foundations between The Millionaire and his doppelganger creation (Adam Woolley). With both actors wearing Red hoods created equality between the characters and they entwine and seperate. Even his close Personal Assistant (Ariell Zilkha) unable to tell the pair apart.

I thought Woolley’s performance throughout the play was outstanding in each of his four roles. The Coral is his professional debut and from this performance, I feel he has a strong career ahead of him. Certainly and actor to watch in the future.

Director and adaptation Emily Louizou uses Finborough’s limited space very well. This particular Theatre leaves no space for errors. However, the view of one of the main scenes is obstructed though by taking place on the floor on the left-hand side of the stage. This would be better off being more towards the centre although with the desk already in that place it would require some readjustment. Sadly due to the limited view, it dilutes the dramatic impact it should provoke.

The storyline is dark and sinister and this was bought to the stage on many occasions by the demonic look portrayed through Laing’s eyes which is powerful and chilling. At times it felt that he was looking straight through into my core.

Disappointingly, I felt I should have left the Theatre feeling more moved and uncomfortable than I did. Reducing some of the dialogue during the darker scenes would add depth to the power of the storyline entwined within the script.

For more information about The Coral now playing at The Finborough please use the links below.

Three Stars.

Photo Credit Marshall Stay.

The Coral

Lillies on the Land by the Lions part.

Lillies of the Land is a frank and extremely well-researched play on the work carried out by the land girls during the war. Performed by two deaf and two hearing actors.

The war effort by the Land Ladies during World War 1 and 2 isn’t given the representation in the media they truly deserved. Without them, farms would have struggled and many people in the United Kingdom would have starved.

Phillipa Russell and Zoë McWhinney are both deaf actors. Russell combined sign language and speech. Whereas McWhinney used BSL throughout the play. Alongside Sarah Craig and Charmaine Wombwell, the two main verbal narrators combine some sign language into the narrative.

The storytelling explains the hard work and exploitation some of the land girls faced. Subjected to physical abuse, underpaid, if paid at all and harsh living conditions. The sense of duty kept them going. Yet I do wonder if they must have been exhausted and felt like giving up at times.

I had the added advantage of my guest this evening being deaf, which allowed her to understand everything that was going on during the performance and feel included. She mentioned that there aren’t words in BSL for everything and that McWhinney did an almost five-star performance in signing almost word perfect and being creative with some of the interpretations. Personally, my level of understanding is almost non-existent so I was intrigued to hear it from her perspective.

British Sign Language is starting to be used more often in mainstage Theatre which opens up the stage for deaf audience members, which is fantastic. The cast of four would have worked hard to be aware of each other’s body language and movements to follow each other’s next direction as verbal cues would not have always been possible. Each cast member appeared to follow each other with ease bringing an incredible achievement to the stage. A fitting tribute to all those land girls during the Wars.

For more information on this production and its current tour please use the links below.

Four Stars

https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/whats-on/lilies-land

http://www.apollotheatrecompany.com/lilies-on-the-land

Ballooniana! by Alexander Knott.

Balloons have been featured for many years at birthday parties, weddings and events taking place across the world. Dedicating a play to three sections of history where travel using rockets, wings and balloons all feature is educational and entertaining. Please don’t be put off by the slightly sinister poster.

Freya Sharp and Zöe Grain entertain the audience upon arrival with traditional french style pierrot mime performance, interacting with the members coming in to take their seats while the duo “clown around”. The pair are joined later in the production by the very talented musician James Demaine.

In 1783 french brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier create the first hot air balloon. Their story is intriguing and based predominantly fact. They asked the King to sponsor their venture, who after some persuading agreed. I never knew that the King of France had ordered three animals to be the first to travel in their new invention as their lives were unimportant! Safe to say they all survived.

Writer and director Alexander Knott bring to the stage a cleverly scripted insight into “man’s” obsession with the sky, flying and what can be found above the clouds. From the early beginnings of Icarus to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, where he explains to the president that all he could see was black.

Looking back to when my daughter was 17 her only request was for two helium balloons of one and seven, the joy on her face when I presented them to her.

There’s a poignancy at the moment with the world on the brink of a third World War that this fascinating historical “carnival of creativity” should end by being played out by the 1984 Cold War protest hit by Nena “99 Red Balloons”.

Selected as part of the New Wimbledon Theatre’s season of new writing please use the links below for more information on this production and future work.

Four Stars

https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/ballooniana/studio-at-new-wimbledon-theatre/

BALLOONIANA!