Theatre Review: Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark - Karina Jones Jack Ellis 2 (c) Manuel Harlan edit

Karina Jones and Jack Ellis, photograph by Manuel Harlan

Presented by Original Theatre at York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 21st November 2017

Director Alastair Whatley delivers a slick, smart production of this classic thriller, bringing us a well overdue inclusive cast with blind actress Karina Jones at the helm. The performances are tight and the dynamics interesting, with touching progressive arcs. Jack Ellis’s Mike is conflicted, affectionate, and finds where his limits lie. Tim Treloar is truly chilling as Roat, encompassing in turn both the stereotypical rocking madman and a monster whose real horror is in his unpredictability.

David Woodhead’s design translates the tension of proximity throughout this Hitchcockian choreography of perfectly tuned sound and light. Every change is palpable, breathless.

The exposition is rapid-fire, enough to skip the recap for those familiar with this well-known story but perhaps a little too presumptuous for a newborn audience.

What follows is the thrilling experience of the three crooks essentially performing a duplicitous audio drama for the sole benefit of Susy; their initial fastidiousness no less captivating than their inevitable carelessness.

From the moment the tables are turned, the pace and energy snowball right through to the electrifying finale, which is played with finesse. There are moments where the action seems to skip a beat, but the rhythm thrums through all the same. Pervasive is the sense of violation, of unease and exploitation. Any triumph is slightly overshadowed by the blackness of the deeds undone in Susy’s apartment.

Wait Until Dark is playing until Saturday 25th November; tickets available from York Theatre Royal.

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Theatre Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Presented by Out of Joint, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Royal Court Theatre at York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 14th November 2017

Reviving this nineteen-eighties coming-of-age tale surrounding an underage affair is an interesting choice in the wake of the #MeToo campaign. Writer Andrea Dunbar’s “refusal to moralise” on what we currently know as statutory rape makes this a complex theatrical experience.

The production values are slick. The set is an impressive section of flats book-ending a distant view of a town including rolling hills and estates, complete with lights and sky. The music is fitting and evocative, used in interludes to deepen our understanding of each character’s internal situation. The acting is consistently fantastic.

Photo Credit : The Other Richard

James Atherton, Taj Atwal & Gemma Dobson. Photo by Richard Davenport.

James Atherton’s Bob is playfully predatory, carefully testing the waters before developing his advances. Taj Atwal plays Rita as naive and grumpily childlike with brief moments in which she feels comfortable appealing to Sue for serious conversation, making her conclusion all the more lonely and upsetting. Gemma Dobson stands out as Sue, giggly and easygoing with deep undercurrents of awareness and self-care.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Photo by Richard Davenport

We are aptly transported to Rita, Sue and Bob’s small world view. What divides the auditorium is the script.

More and more, we exist in the black and white. Political, personal and international events drive people further apart toward hyperbolic loyalty to one side or another. Dunbar’s observational, semi-autobiographical drama drags us back to the grey area. It is a stark reminder of the complexities that make up any narrative; of duplicitous truth. It spends quiet moments acknowledging lust and romantic ideation as an important feature in a victim’s experience; prominent emotions that are often silenced lest they support the wrong narrative. The women in this play describe the men as inevitable cheaters, while blaming each other for driving the unfortunate events, enhancing the long-accepted rendering that women are in control of their abuse and men are simply predictable, sex-crazed neanderthals guided by them.

Photo by Richard Davenport

The sex that fills the story is in turn played for comedy and for a feeling of longing and connection, just bare enough to drive some audience members from the room while the rest erupt in laughter, uncomfortable in some places and raucous in others. What permeates is a sense of three immature souls desperate for something, clutching at anything, with a tragically foreseeable conclusion and complete lack of just consequence. Young women shoulder the blame, burden and hurt of a careless affair while the abuser seemingly avoids any retribution and loses one family only to replace them with another, giving the impression that the cycle will go on. And of course we know it does.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Photo by Richard Davenport

Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale by York Shakespeare Project

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“A sad tale’s best for winter:”

Director Natalie-Rose Quatermass transports us to two contrasting worlds in this charming, moving tragicomedy. The cold, stark modern business dress of Sicilia stands proud and stiff among winter-lit castle walls, while the other three seasons combine their warmest vibes to set the scene for Bohemia; a tumbling, skipping, rose-peach scene of music, freedom and feasts. A direct address to the audience implicates us in the potent messages of this ever-relevant script.

Live music and score by Flora Greysteel sets the tone perfectly throughout, adding a layer of richness to Shakespeare’s words that is lacking in so much live theatre today. Ben Prusiner’s delightful set design creates the perfect accompanying visuals; a frigid indoor court for the oppressed Sicilia waiting to out its demons, and the uninhibited comfort of a sunny backyard Bohemia. Keep your eye out for some resourceful bunting. Florence Poskitt’s costume design is also beautifully, subtly complementary to the nuances of the story, with Hermione’s blue velvet night-sky look a particular highlight.

Lovers Florizel (Tom Jennings) and Perdita (Jess Murray) are as heartwarming as Shepherd (Roger Farrington) and Clown (Elizabeth Lockwood) are ridiculous, while Leontes (Paul French) and Polixenes (Nick Jones) form a very sedate, steady pair of grown boyhood friends. French delivers an alarmingly recognisable Leontes; softly-spoken, taut, controlled, with flashes of spitting violence. The cowering anticipation of all around him is tangible. Claire Morley is excellent as always in her clowning conman role of a Britpunk Autolycus, singing and improvising to the audience on an intimate level during the interval, before we see Time’s desperate chorus of a cluttered collective consciousness in turmoil.

In defence of ‘rural latches’

Three characters stood out in this tale of three halves to form a trio of attractive feminist teachers for our modern age. We build from doting wife Hermione (Juliet Waters), who refuses to denounce her love in friendship for a man despite her husband’s palpably violent jealousy, to Camilla (originally Camillo, played by Elizabeth Elsworth) – the committed noblewoman who remains true to her own morals despite her volatile position between a rock and a hard place – to the magnetic Paulina (Maggie Smales),  smashing the patriarchy with elegance and eloquence from her first entrance. Her pleasure on hearing that Hermione’s child is a daughter, alongside Antingonus’s (Tony Froud) devotion to her, is a restorative draft to fill anyone’s cup. And then there is her speech on witchcraft, which… until emoji in reviews are a thing, let me simply suggest here that Smales lights several fires in this scene.

This mature cast delivers the kind of nuance to these characters which elucidates avenues we don’t often explore in Shakespeare’s works, and which makes one excited to age as an actor.

Takeaways:
More men need to listen to women.
You don’t need more than sound for effective representation of daunting stage directions (let’s be honest, Shakespeare was just trolling us with “Exit, pursued by a bear“), and it is right to focus on the emotions, rather than the gimmicks, in this story.
Women who stand up for themselves, and their true allies, stand to lose something substantial.
“It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in’t.”

Catch the show tonight at 7:30pm at John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York. Tickets available on the door or from York Theatre Royal.

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Dangerous Beauty

Theatre Review – Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny at York Theatre Royal

Richard Hurford’s modern spin on the legend of Robin Hood is just what we need right now. From its diverse cast to its feminist hero profferings, this heartwarming production directed by Damian Cruden and Suzann McLean is fun for all the family; even that uncle with the cold, black, anti-panto heart.

Joanna Holden in Robin Hood The Arrow of Destiny. Photo Anthony RoblingJoanna Holden. Photo by Anthony Robling.

From the moment you enter the foyer, your experience of the show is a magical one; enhanced by an aviary soundtrack, brightly coloured flags and a children’s dress-up corner, placing you right in the heart of medieval Sherwood Forest.

Trevor A Toussaint as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood The Arrow of Destiny. Photo Anthony Robling

Trevor A Toussaint. Photo by Anthony Robling.

In a refreshingly feminist take, both communities dwelling in Sherwood Forest are matriarchal (whether they realise it or not), being lead by Maid Marian (the talented Siobhan Athwal) and ‘Little John’ (seasoned comedic pro Joanna Holden). The majority of the core-cast goodies are people of colour; Friar Tuck being played by the vibrant Trevor A Toussaint. The tongue-in-cheek humour is well-placed and well-delivered. The subversion of expectations accompanied by a mixture of lounge funk and rap in Rob Castell’s adorable score make this a Hamilton for all ages. Indisputably love-to-hate-able baddies the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne are played by John Elkington and Ed Thorpe (also the Musical Director) respectively.

John Elkington & Ed Thorpe in Robin Hood The Arrow of Destiny. Photo Anthony Robling

John Elkington and Ed Thorpe. Photo by Anthony Robling.

Marian is The Woman Behind The Man, or rather the woman behind the legend of Robin Hood (charming stage newbie Neil Reynolds). The show makes no bones about the fact that she is motivated and competent, while Robin is lazy and inept, and right down to Robin’s moment of surprise at an impromptu, matter-of-fact outing of several merry men as Actually Girls Too, it celebrates capable women without making a fuss about it.

Joanna Holden Neil Reynolds & Siobhan Athwal in Robin Hood The Arrow of Destiny. Photo Anthony Robling

Joanna Holden, Neil Reynolds and Siobhan Athwal. Photo by Anthony Robling.

Although it avoids undermining its own message in the comedy, unlike so many modern family tales afraid of picking a political side, it does do this somewhat in the third act, introducing a hitherto unheard-of (and uncharacteristically dark) threat in order to turn Marian’s heroism into fragility, bound by her maidenhood and in need of rescuing. Granted; the message is, “It takes a village”, rather than that all women need a knight in shining tights, but it feels like more negotiation of its own feminism than is necessary.

Siobhan Athwal as Marian in Robin Hood The Arrow of Destiny. Photo Anthony Robling

Siobhan Athwal. Photo by Anthony Robling.

Possibly the most rousing sentiment is Marian’s “I know I’m not enough” – an obstacle that all who strive come up against. She is the hero every little girl and boy needs, and maybe they can in turn give her a lesson in taking credit where it’s due. There is a note in the programme about the passing on of a legend, and the various re-tellings we encounter in each generation, and this show makes its joyful mark in the evolution of Robin Hood.

Performances run until 2nd September, 7pm (Tuesday & Thursday – Saturday), 2.30pm (Wednesday – Saturday), tickets available from www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Theatre Review – Rent The Musical

Jonathan Larson‘s hit musical, presented by Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd
York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 18th April 2017

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

Rent is an imperfect musical about imperfect people, produced originally in 1996 and countless times since (and before – it’s a modern adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème.) It’s easy to see why we keep coming back to this tale comprised of author Jonathan Larson’s heart and soul. A landmark turn in musical theatre, Larson’s unusual, rocking score captures the lives of the marginalised citizens of mid-90’s East Village.

Dancer Mimi (Philippa Stefani), drag queen Angel (Layton Williams) and boyfriend Tom Collins (Ryan O’Gorman), performance artist Maureen (Christina Modestou), and singer-songwriter Roger (Ross Hunter) are among the strugglers and stragglers. Aspiring film-maker Mark (Billy Cullum) frames the piece as a disposable white male narrator; his own troubles unrousing but his lines painfully relevant:

How do you document real life
When real life’s getting more like fiction each day?”

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

Despite the obvious incredible talent of the cast, the atmosphere and chemistry fall slightly short. There is something missing in the room; only occasional moments hitting the mark and sending home the sentiment that should be firing a crowd in any decade. Lee Proud’s choreography is in turns over-ambitious and bafflingly meaningless and dull. The use of gritty industrial scaffold set from Theatr Clwyd mostly as a backdrop is a missed opportunity, and the music levels vary from too loud to be intelligible, to too quiet to have any impact. The love matches aren’t quite convincing either, though this is not the fault of the cast; the script simply doesn’t allow the breathing room to relax into their spark.

Highlights are Stefani’s sexy, emotional and empowered Out Tonight, Modestou‘s masterfully observed Over The Moon and Santa Fe, performed with knowing compassion by O’Gorman, Cullum, and the impressive Williams, whom you fall hopelessly in love with at first sight. Thanks both to his sublime voice and Williams’ colourful performance, O’Gorman’s reprise of I’ll Cover You is simply beautiful.

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

As always, full-scale high-end musical theatre about the marginalised presented to paying middle-class audiences raises the question of who this is speaking to, and what its message really is.

Catch the show and decide for yourself, tonight and tomorrow at York Theatre Royal. Tickets are available online or on 01904 623568.

The Review That Got Me Fired

I’ve been writing reviews for a few years now, mostly for an online local arts journal, but before that, I covered a few shows for a print publication. I considered myself very lucky and honoured to be a part of the team, and took my contributions very seriously. One day, though, I stopped receiving invites, and the following review was the last I ever submitted. It was never printed, and I never knew why. Indeed, I never even heard from the publication again. I’ve been back and forth over it since then. Is it just not good enough? Did they have a special relationship with the performers I was unaware of and didn’t honour articulately enough? Did the draft I submitted contain hidden Satanic messages? I still don’t know, but having revisited the review again, I’d like to share my appreciation for the show, which I did really enjoy, here.

Music Review: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
Grand Opera House, York, Wed 17th June 2015

From American Blues to Russian folk to British pop, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have got it covered in their touring anniversary show, 30 Plucking Years.

Formed in 1985 “as a bit of fun”, the charm and energy of this eight-piece ensemble after thirty years of international touring is impressive to say the least, in an industry where most artists perish after around five years. It’s fair to say that the speculation on the Orchestra being a big part of the inspiration behind the current worldwide trend for turning every tune into a tiny, twangy cover is justified. Of course, the instruments may be small but the sound is anything but.

Willingly misleading segues and nonsensical, self-aware banter fill the gaps in a pleasing array of covers across genres including Kiss by Prince, Life On Mars by David Bowie and the inevitable Get Lucky by Daft Punk; all with their own individual twist. Each of the six men and two women take their turn in the spotlight with effortless prowess, hosting tracks suited to their various voices and tastes. The band allow the audience to let their guard down in the second half with some low-key numbers before a punchy, funky finale.

The group are fleeing to Germany – one of their “this song is very popular in…” inspirational travel destinations – for one gig before returning to the UK to continue their tour on the 27th June.

I believe this particular tour is over now, but you can read more about The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and their upcoming gig dates all over the world here.

Foodie Review: The Pig & Pastry

I was recently inspired by my friend Martha at Tulips, Teashops and Tales to try out a foodie blog for a change. If you’re into food and based near York (or London), she’s your gal.

This weekend I was helping a friend clean out her very first house what she now owns and after a few hours of getting intimate with parts of second-hand white goods that one never wishes to make the acquaintance of, we decided it was Tea and Cake time.

We ambled into a nearby old favourite, The Pig & Pastry on Bishopthorpe Road, York. Bishy Rd is known for its inclusive, bohemian, independent vibe, and the P&P might just be the keystone of that community. It’s a forever-bustling family-run hub of yummy mummies and bookish types, (books conveniently provided in the nooks and crannies) and it’s the kind of place you sit down with strangers, whether it’s full or not (it mostly is). Children and babies (and, I think, dogs) are welcome.

The menu comprises fresh, locally-sourced, homemade recipes spanning indulgent all-day breakfast treats like waffle-bacon-maple volcanoes, Benedict Cumberland, cheesy-chutney sarnies, quiches, salads and more – the lunch specials change regularly just to keep you on your toes.

I restrained myself with great difficulty from the waffles this time, with the thought of returning to heavy duty cleaning with a belly full of said waffles (you kind of owe them an immediate nap of appreciation.) I opted for the roasted squash and sweet potato soup, served with spongy bread and what was possibly crème fraîche, certainly delicious. My friend went for a sourdough cheese and chutney sandwich and we shared a large, warm, wobbly slice of custard tart for afters.

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The P&P always delivery first-class food and service at affordable prices. It’s an absolute haven and I hope it never changes.