Theatre Review – Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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Photograph by Anthony Robling

York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 2nd August 2016

 Damian Cruden’s Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles is an original family-oriented devised musical dressed handsomely in an appropriated Victorian circus-theatre aesthetic involving model cityscapes, shadowplay and scrolling captions.

Designer Mark Walters creates a world akin to Tim Burton’s Coraline, in which Mr Henry Dimmell and Mrs Rose Dimmell’s travelling theatre troupe enact the famous moody mystery in a somewhat confused homage to various dramatic styles including early German film. The cast commit to these styles in varying degrees, leaving the audience to imagine a cohesive flow.

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Photograph by Anthony Robling

The pantomime banter and pandering in-jokes of traditional theatre such as the obligatory characters running aimlessly through the audience are tiresome, and are saved only by the charm of the cast. Elexi Walker stands out as the sprightly Miss Hilda Stanley/Dr John Watson, as does Joanna Holden as the charismatic Mrs Rose Dimmell/Mrs Hudson. The Barrymores (Holden and David Leonard) are a particular dark delight. Holmes himself (Leonard) lacks enthusiasm, which is disappointing for the world-loved character.

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Photograph by Anthony Robling

The show is elevated by the original live score by Rob Castell and the company, though even this is held up in a painfully pointless sequence in which cellist Rachel Dawson is hoisted from the stage in an aerial hoop for a short minute before returning to the ground. The applause-begging present here is the show’s most consistent irritation. In designing the show for ‘all ages’, the company has made the old mistake of believing that ‘family-friendly’ means dumbed-down. The harking back to ye olde sensibilities and expectations is at its best jolly, at its worst condescending.

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Photograph by Anthony Robling

This is a show for those who like their theatre full of slapstick and distractions, and don’t mind an underwhelming climax. It could be developed into a rousing musical storytelling cabaret piece if willing to shed its more forced lyrics and find a little more purpose and passion.

The show runs at York Theatre Royal until 27th August 7pm (Tues,Thurs to Sat) 2.30pm (Weds, Thurs to Sat). Tickets are available here.

 

Web Series Review: Tales of Bacon

Photograph by Matt Durrant

Photograph by Matt Durrant

Tales of Bacon is an original medieval comedy web series by Plotting Films, written by Natalie Roe and Max Gee, directed and produced by Natalie Roe. The pilot has now been released online, with series one pending funding.

As the story goes…

The year is 1380: Young noblewoman Elfrida Deverwyck (Gemma Shelton) is on an adventure after running away from home and following the pilgrim trails of medieval Northern England. She is accompanied by rascally Pardoner Thaddeus Bacon, (Adam Elms) much to her annoyance, though he may prove to have his uses…

Expect medieval in-jokes, homages to folk tales, songs, historical figures known and obscure. Python meets Blackadder meets Chaucer meets Maid Marion.

Plotting Films have built an authentic world and hit the high notes of production value on a shoe-string budget, thanks to the expert cinematography of Tony Hipwell, Roe’s measured direction and the delightful performances of the leads. Research aided by York academics and museums has paid off, and they’ve made something worth sitting up for. (I’m sure Thaddeus and Elfrida would agree that standing would be beyond the call of duty, as you can enjoy this series from the comfort of your chambers, or your outhouse, if you’re so inclined.)

This series is charming and feisty from the off, with wonderful performances all-round, big fat tongues in cheeks, and an informed, thoughtful script and production team that will delight feminists everywhere. The setting may be old, but the perspective is refreshingly new. Postpone your premium blockbuster plans and enjoy this satisfying new story for free in your own home.

You can watch the pilot episode online now, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBPsQjflhGs

And when you can’t wait for more, you can fund the completion of the series here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tales-of-bacon-a-medieval-comedy-fundraiser?fse_1=c

Photograph by Matt Durrant, Poster by Laura Gale

Photograph by Matt Durrant, Poster by Laura Gale

Theatre Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre by York Shakespeare Company

21st April 2016, Upstage, York

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York Shakespeare Project go from strength to strength in celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with their 29th play, this truly heart-warming rendition of one of the bard’s lesser (co-written) plays. The digressive text has been abridged to a lean 90 minute run time and a cast of 9. The immersive, welcoming production serves almost as a layman’s summary version; refreshing and not at all heathen.

We enter The Gower Pub; a wholesome, earthy eighteenth-century seaside ale house full of merry regulars who come together to stage a play within a play, embracing each other and the audience with the utmost feeling of inclusion and nurturing. Watching the show feels rather like making a new group of friends and taking part in an improvisation workshop with them. Musical Director John Robin Morgan has arranged a rousing playlist of a capella sea shanties performed as punctuation between chapters by the cast and crew, all in period costume and milling about the encroached traverse stage with supportive smiles.

The play is truly moving, and hinges on the tight family trio of Pericles, (Andrew Isherwood), Thaisa (Claire Morley) and Marina (Emily Thane). Isherwood is gentle, genuine and natural, elevating an ambling character to a heartfelt hero, whose later despair is utterly palpable. Morley is in turn charmingly coy and vulnerable as a young Thaisa, and later lurching and threatening as the Bawd. The meet-cute between Isherwood and Morley is on a par with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. Rory Oliver and Jimmy Johnson stand out in charismatic, tender performances, each in multiple roles, and George Stagnell gives a solid performance as the wise Helicanus.

Thane is the sweetheart of the production. Her measured, graceful performance of the straight-woman whose appearance, following the loss of her mother, marks the turn of a light-hearted adventure story into a darker, more painful tale, is what really makes the show soar. While the ensemble have perfect comedic synchronicity, Thane carries the most transcendent lines and notes beautifully, not to mention multiple convincing fight scenes. The reunion of Marina and Pericles is desperately sincere, the audience sharing their acutely hopeful anticipation. If it was professional to cry and review, I’d have been sobbing. This is a beguiling show, well worth seeing.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is showing at Upstage Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York at 7:30pm nightly and at 2:30pm on Saturday until 23rd April. Tickets are available at: https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/pericles_prince_of_tyre.php#.VvMVzOKLTIU

Theatre Review: The Mai by York Settlement Community Players

The Mai

Written by Marina Carr, presented by York Settlement Community Players
41 Monkgate, York Wed 17th March 2016

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Cast from left to right: Beth Sharrock, Baryl Nairn, Damian Fynes, Sophie Buckley, Vivienne Clare, Elizabeth Elsworth, Jessica Murray. Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

Marina Carr’s 1979-set middle-Irish play ambles through a year in the family dynamics between four generations of women, exploring the hope and disappointment of romance, the comfort and frustrations of sisterhood, the question of women’s freedom of identity within their relationships.

The play is shouldered by eight actors, all of which are excellent – a tight-knit ensemble each with their own distinct characters.

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Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

Gentle cello music plays as a wistful Millie (Beth Sharrock) enters a homely cottage lounge as if to examine ancestor’s relics in a dusty attic, setting the precedent for the evening. Millie – Mai’s daughter – frames vignettes from Mai’s life with poetic narration while remaining an observer for the most part. Sharrock’s delivery is lulling and entreating, charmingly reminiscent of Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie.

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Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

Beryl Nairn’s Mai emanates maternal warmth and youthful vitality. She is a woman seeking an extraordinary life, full of potential and buzz. Her liveliness is particularly poignant against Damian Fynes’s bitter apathy as her husband Robert. The pair, along with the rest of the cast, are wholly convincing in their relationships, demonstrating painfully recognisable bonds that both move and mollify.

“D’ya think I’m Paradise material?”

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Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

Sophie Buckley and Elizabeth Elsworth give notable performances as Aunt Julie and Grandma Fraochlán respectively, the latter of which forms a cannily cheeky cornerstone of this ‘house of mad, proud women’, though that is not to understate the acute tenderness with which each character’s individual concerns are felt. Jessica Murray’s Beck is an open-armed, infectiously loving singleton with low self-esteem, Helen Sant’s Connie is exactly the sister you need in a crisis though she has unexplored dreams of her own, and Vivienne Clare’s Agnes is heartrendingly delicate despite her and Julie’s misguided protective natures.

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Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

“It’s not fair they should teach us desperation so young… Or if they do, they should never mention hope.”

The Mai is not without its tragedies, however small. Each heartache and frustration is a waking pinch for those with dysfunctional family histories. Men are bemoaned but absent except for Robert, himself a reluctant ‘visitor’ in the house. Women are let down, trapped, abandoned, left wondering why. The heaviest sadness comes from each generation of women being neglected by their mothers, who are all distracted by an endless, unrewarding search for love – a family pattern still playing out for Millie and her own son.

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Photograph by Michael J. Oakes

Mai’s cat-like, rebellious attempts to win back her husband’s attention when it is too late are hilariously, heartbreakingly relatable. Angry knicker removal and a calming round of the Connemara Cradle Song are highlight moments of female camaraderie and defiance in the face of life’s rejections.

These are interspersed with narration that wades out further than it should, perhaps, into an unprecedented thread about the beautiful and ominous legend of Owl Lake. We are also asked to invest our imagination in the sympathy of characters that we never meet, along with learned accents and confusing age disparities, though some edge is thankfully minimised by Natalie Heijm’s subtle make up work.

Carr’s script is a soothing, sombre work in observational drama from a simpler time, embracing digressive conversation and the feeling of time spent with relatives during the holidays; people of varying beliefs and priorities making the most of being stuck together. It is a play that steeps and simmers. It has the tone of a more adult bedtime audiobook of The Illustrated Mum. It could benefit from some cuts and focus, but the poetry and humanity are worth your time. You may leave wanting to call your mum, your sister, your daughter, your aunt.

The play is showing at 41 Monkgate, York, until 19th March 2016. Tickets are £12/10 available from York Theatre Royal box office on 01904 623568 / https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/the_mai.php#.VovNQk_26Sp

You might like this if you liked: Ballykissangel, Monarch of the Glen, Match Point, Very Annie-Mary, Cider With Rosie, How To Make An American Quilt, Fried Green Tomatoes, books by Jacqueline Wilson

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#99

The girl’s past tutors
watch her on television
not seeing a sell out to music
but enjoying that she still
performs, magnetic,
disciplined, captivating
they are on her side

Theatre Review: Crossed Swords by York Footlights Theatre and Baron Productions

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Sun 12th July, 41 Monkgate, York

In to sea shanties and a pub sign for the Crossed Swords Inn, barmaids and punters enjoying a tranquil scene and inviting the audience into their world. A large white sail hangs at the back of the stage to host an effective, consistent use of filmed inserts. A small bar, a chest, a table and chairs are manoeuvred smoothly between scenes to create a number of different locations.

Olivia Jayne Newton writes, co-directs and stars in this heart-warming musical pirate romp. Newton’s feisty, rash Anne Bonny collides with co-director and co-star Daniel Wilmot’s refined, effeminate Captain Jack Rackham and the couple share a short-lived but tender unity in their hunt for the ultimate treasure – freedom. With the intention of “exhibiting history”, Newton explores themes of destiny, choice, gender identity and acceptance in a timely, charming fashion.

This is not your typical pirate tale, but is dipped with a healthy dose of drinking, singing, adventuring, sword-fighting and banter.

Live music is provided throughout by a multi-skilled cast on a variety of instruments from cajon to violin to harp, crafting an authentic historical atmosphere and accompanying the score made up of traditional folk classics. Chiffonnette-style barmaids (Chloe Anderson and BethanyAnne Louise) proffer handy interludes of narration including a development of their own personal stories, which makes for a nice touch.

One highlight is a drinking scene between Captain Barnet (Lee Gemmell) and Governor Woodes Rogers (John R Morgan), handled with perfect comic timing.

The secondary love story between Mary Read (Natalie-Claire Brimicombe) and Sam Kendrick (Richard Thirlwall) is the one that steals our hearts. Brimicombe’s gentle, serene, compassionate delivery of Read is absolutely delightful, and her version of When I Was A Fair Maid is wonderful. Thirlwall’s Kendrick is a loveable, loyal shipmate whose talent for falling over is second to none.

One pratfall of the production is this relationship’s outdated reaction to gender-confusion played for comedy, though this is received well by the audience; possibly saved by the innocent charm of the actors. Henry Smythe’s (Samuel Valentine) running misguided ‘compliments’ are another little red flag to feminism; sadly, his comeuppance isn’t at the hand of a ‘complimented’ woman, although this is perhaps balanced by the more riling James Bonny’s (James Tyler) demise at the hand of Mary Read.

While these romances are abruptly introduced and dissolved, sisterhood between the female leads prevails in a rare bond of courage, trust and personal integrity. This culminates in Bonny’s acute sense of loss when Mary dies next to her in prison while they are both pregnant and awaiting retrial, preceded by a moving full-cast rendition of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.

Newton’s script comprises a complementary blend of modern and historical language, making for an accessible story in which you are rooting for the protagonists all the way, especially when you realise that half the cast are actors who have heroically stepped into the roles somewhere down the line in rehearsals, the latest joining one week before opening night.

Find out more about York Footlights Theatre here.

Theatre Review: Richard II by Bronzehead Theatre

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Richard II by William Shakespeare, produced by Bronzehead Theatre
Wed 8th July 2015, Stained Glass Centre, St. Martin-cum-Gregory, York

Director Tom Straszewski pays apt homage to the garden of England so worshipped in this underperformed historical play by decking out a fully committed site-sensitive performance with vines, flowers, ladders and live turf lining the aisle of his actors’ traverse stage.

The concept really sings, not only providing the cast with a rich, live environment to interact with but also immersing the audience in the nostalgic musk of British camping holidays (it was a wet night on Wednesday), evoking an apropos sense of longing for a happier past; the days before Richard’s realm began to rot.

Live music is provided by one-woman-band Stephanie Hill, and at one point a capella by the entire cast, augmenting the driving motivations behind various powerful moments in the action. Lighting is also effectively, and sparingly, deployed: Richard’s lamp-lit musing in the darkness of his cell is incredibly intimate and commanding, and Bolingbroke’s closing speech, perched above green spotlights, is equally affecting.

Mark Burghagen plays a cream-suited Richard, sharp-eyed and feline, while Amy Millns is a pumped-up, righteous Bolingbroke. They are accompanied by a multi-roling ensemble: Geraldine Bell (Duchess of York/Salisbury/Bushy/Hotspur), Mick Liversidge (John of Gaunt/Green/Northumberland), Richard Easterbrook (Duke of York/Mowbray) and Elizabeth Cook (Aumerle/Willoughby).

Burghagen’s performance is truly delectable. Poetic speeches are elucidated with humanity, making this unusual hero entirely relatable. He is captivated, and thus captivating, in every moment.

The exposed nature of the production feeds the essence of humanity that runs ripe through its veins. The cast tread tenderly through their live set, forming a tight-knit collective to execute stunts and fights right under the audience’s noses. Though there is a tendency to drop into caricature to differentiate between roles, poignant and stirring speeches are delivered by both Liversidge and Easterbrook, and one cannot help but will on every character toward their disparate destinies.

This is a measured, thoughtful, inspiring take on a story that one could be forgiven for forgetting is an old one. It is fresh, alive and exciting.

Having now completed their York run, Bronzehead are now touring to:

Wednesday 15th July, 7.30pm
Richmond Friary Gardens
Tickets: £12, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)
http://www.wegottickets.com/bronzeheadtheatre

Thursday 16th July, 7.30pm
Helmsley Walled Garden
Tickets: £12, £8 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA), available via Helmsley Arts Centre
http://www.helmsleyarts.co.uk/whats-on/richard-ll

Friday 17th July, 7.30pm
The Tudor Garden, Poppleton Tithe Barn
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Saturday 18th July, 7pm
Pontefract Castle
Advance tickets: £10 adults, £5 children, £25 family (2 adults and 2 children)
On the gate: £12.50 adults, £6 children, £30 family
http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/residents/events-and-culture/castles/castle-events

Sunday 19th July, 7pm
Harrogate Valley Gardens
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)
http://www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/whatson.aspx