Theatre review – What if the plane falls out of the sky?

What if the plane falls out of the skyThree dysfunctional siblings invite us to examine our fears in this raucously comedic tragedy.

Heron (Susie Riddell), Magpie (Adam Fuller), and their little sister Feral Pigeon (Emma Keaveny-Roys) have been left to fend for themselves, and are struggling to keep their inner dread at bay. To face their terrors head-on they’ve devised a multi-step reward programme of badges and affirmations, and some eerily familiar dance moves.

As we took our seats, the siblings asked us for our fears. A curious number of audience members mentioned audience participation. And yes, as you might expect, there was plenty of that to go around. One pair got to try froggy bagging (don’t google that. I just did and cannot unsee what I have seen). For the rest of us the participatory element mainly involved partaking of a complimentary in-flight snack and drink, then doodling the things that scare us.

What if the plane falls out of the sky_inflight refreshments

The play was a tableau of exquisite moments, occasionally switching from humour to pathos in the twinkling of an eye. The afore-mentioned dance routine began lightly enough, but piled in the tension as Heron’s darkest thoughts rose to the surface. Co-director and performer Susie Riddell’s talents shone as she portrayed Heron’s slowly shifting mood through subtly modified dance moves and an increasingly distressed expression. As her brother and sister faltered to a halt, the whole room fell silent.

The emotional peaks and troughs were breathtaking, a roller-coaster equivalent of hitting reset whenever the hilarity or the grief veered to the brink of hysteria.

At one point we were instructed to blow our anxiety into brightly coloured balloons. My friend’s balloon burst four breaths in, releasing a gale of giggles, but the rest of us released ours in a gorgeous moment of synchronised farty rainbow childishness.

What if the plane falls out of the sky

Talking of rainbows, Magpie overcoming his dual qualms about glitter and intimacy was a vision to behold. I’m just hoping the glitter was applied with oil, not glue, as he’s a somewhat furry man and the removal later could be excruciating.

Presented by experimental theatre company Idiot Child as part of Bristol Old Vic‘s Studio Walkabout Season, the show featured too many perfect moments to share them all here. In short, a dizzyingly cathartic show that will imbue you with a sense of joy you hadn’t known you were missing.

In Bristol, What if the plane falls out of the sky? took place at The Loco Klub. The show is also travelling to Shoreditch, Brighton, Birmingham and beyond.

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Theatre reviews – Bristol Old Vic Christmas shows 2017

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

Bristol Old Vic has been undergoing a lot of changes in its 250th anniversary year. A mammoth building and restoration project has put its smaller studio theatre out of action and rendered backstage front of house. And yet, none of this matters – they’ve found ways to keep the smaller productions going by forging relationships with venues throughout the city, and the creativity is as vivid and original as ever.

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Take their festive rendition for under-sevens. Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is a joyfully rambunctious performance staged at The Lantern at Colston Hall. Based on the book by Edward Ardizzone, it’s a Bristol Old Vic and homegrown talent The Wardrobe Ensemble co-production, this is a mariner’s tale of huge imagination, beginning with a small boy in a bathtub playing with his toy ship and fish.

Tim, played with brilliant conviction by Jesse Meadows, is obsessed with the sea and soon finds a way to pursue his nautical dreams. Emily Greenslade, Kerry Lovell and Ben Vardy play an assortment of characters including rowdy sailors, a stern but fearless sea captain, and a multitude of magical sea creatures, all engaging their young audience to marvel at the scenes before them, and get involved as much as possible.

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

By the end of the hour-long show, we all had our sea legs and were qualified sailors. What more could you want at Christmas time?

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic - Zara Ramm and company. Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic – Zara Ramm and company. Photo by Mark Douet

The second show of the season, for ages seven and up, is The Snow Queen, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale and directed by Lee Lyford.

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

 

This enchanting story focuses on two friends, Kai (Steven Roberts) and Gerda (Emily Burnett). When the Snow Queen (voiced by Gwyneth Herbert) charges her goblin army with stealing naughty children so she can feast on their bad moods, Kai and Gerda are soon the only kids left in their village. Then Kai is taken, and it’s up to Gerda to save her friend, and in the process, the whole world from an eternal winter.

Miltos Yerolemou as Flower Witch with Jessica Hayles as Parrot. Photo by Mark Douet

Miltos Yerolemou as Flower Witch with Jessica Hayles as Parrot. Photo by Mark Douet

Along the way she meets an extraordinary array of characters, from the flamboyant Flower Witch (Miltos Yerolemou on spectacular form) to Olive Owl (Joanna Holden) and Marty Magpie (Zara Ramm). There are moments of darkness and fear – the Snow Queen puppet is a giant skeletal being, and when she leant over the stage to sniff the audience to check for children, I was glad to not to be sitting in the front row! These are tempered by lashings of colour, laughter and magic – a cast of talking flowers and a reindeer who does an fabulous Morrissey impression are just a few of the treats on offer.

Steven Roberts (Kai) Dylan Wood (Goblin Apprentice) and Joanna Holden (Boffin Goblin) Photo by Mark Douet

Steven Roberts (Kai) Dylan Wood (Goblin Apprentice) and Joanna Holden (Boffin Goblin). Photo by Mark Douet

In a cast of only ten, including musicians, there was plenty of doubling up, so that most played three or four characters and the final curtain call felt shockingly small. The breadth of talent was wonderful, backed up by a wonderfully nuanced script by Vivienne Franzman that ensured every individual had their own preoccupations wavering in the background, adding layers of interest and believability.

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

The moral at the heart of the tale, about accepting and loving others as they are, was presented lightly enough to be absorbed with ease, without ever detracting from the delight of the performance. Lighting and projection by Richard Howell and Will Duke transformed the set while presenting the illusion of scale, especially humorously in flight scenes when the cast often ran on the spot while projections on the scenery moved around them.

As in any grand theatrical production, the team behind the scenes far outnumbers those on stage, ensuring every moment was full of life, atmosphere and emotion. A hugely enjoyable show with a fantastically strong heart.

The Snow Queen is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 15th January 2017.
 Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is on until 8th January 2017. 
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

Theatre Review – The Rivals

The Rivals at Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark DouetAs part of its 250th anniversary celebrations, Bristol Old Vic is showcasing The Rivals, an 18th century comedy of pretence and frippery all in the name of snaring a spouse.

The play emphasises the vanity of late 1700s, with women sporting bustles and anyone of note wearing towering wigs, where social status is as much about the person your contemporaries believe you to be as who you actually are.

the-rivals_julie-legrand-desmond-barrit-lee-mengo-and-keith-dunphy-photo-by-mark-douet

Julie Legrand, Desmond Barrit, Lee Mengo and Keith Dunphy in The Rivals

Enter Captain Jack Absolute (Rhys Rusbatch, a posh boy passing himself off as a penniless soldier in order to win the affections of the splendidly named (and splendidly performed by Lucy Briggs-Owen) Lydia Languish. One of the running themes of the play is the idea that reading can damage women’s minds, a fancy perpetrated by Lydia’s apparent brainwashing by romance novels into craving a life of poverty.

In addition to her affair with ensign Beverley, Lydia has unknowingly inflamed the desires of Captain Jack’s pal Bob Acres (Lee Mengo), while her maid Lucy (Lily Donovan) is passing love notes between her aunt Mrs Malaprop and Sir Lucius O’Trigger, the latter of whom she has duped into believing he’s receiving them from seventeen-year-old Lydia.

the-rivals_nicholas-bishop-as-faukland-and-jessica-hardwick-at-julia-photo-by-mark-douet

Nicholas Bishop as Faukland and Jessica Hardwick as Julia

Then there’s Faukland (Nicholas Bishop) who is in love with Julia (Jessica Hardwick), a straightforward match complicated by Faukland’s paranoia, which results in him testing his sweetheart’s affections until she is at her wits, and patience, end.

In short, all the ingredients of a delightful farce, set against the charmingly over-the-top opulence and theatricality of the era.

The set, designed by Tom Rogers, aptly conjures up the sense of a doll’s house, with oversized wallpaper prints and vast paintings of 18th century Bath. The impression of art, and artifice, is enhanced by a clever use of frames, from doorways to hollow mirrors – even the chair backs are left empty to provide additional glimpses.

Towards the rear of the stage, pianist Henry Everett provides suitably tinkly musical accompaniment to the scenes.

It all weaves together the atmosphere of a place and time full of passion, much of it woefully misguided.

The Rivals_Jessica Hardwick as Julia and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia. Photo by Mark Douet

Jessica Hardwick as Julia and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia in The Rivals

Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia is comically adept, bringing modern-day teen melodrama to her character’s lines. At times in her fervour it looked as though her wig might take flight, while her ability to slouch and swoon her way around the set belied the constrictions of her 18th century garments.

Julie Legrand as Mrs Malaprop masterfully delivers lines packed full of misattributed words: at one point she urges her niece to “illiterate’ ensign Beverley from her memory, while at another praising Captain Jack as the “very pineapple of politeness.” In some sentences there are so many false words that the only way to get the gist is through Legrand’s effusive performance: the sentiment is always clear, even if the actual meaning has slipped awry.

the-rivals_rhys-rusbatch-as-jack-absolute-and-julie-legrand-as-mrs-malaprop-photo-mark-douet

Rhys Rusbatch as Jack Absolute and Julie Legrand as Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals

And yet, occasionally her word choices are particularly telling, as when she describes her niece as  “a deliberate simpleton.”

In Dominic Hill’s interpretation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s script, the gender divide becomes a shrewd part of the comedy. While the men thrust and parry their way through the show, the women get on with living, using the men’s underestimation of them as an advantage. Maidservant Lucy is making a fine extra income through sharing carefully selected eavesdropped morsels, while the ever-resilient Julia quietly prepares for every eventuality. Even Mrs Malaprop shows some astuteness when she recognises that Captain Jack’s “good-breeding” has not prevented him insulting her through letters written as ensign Beverley.

This is a play in which the men rampage as rambunctious fools, while regarding their women as air-headed children, while in truth the females steer every twist and turn of the plot. Quite simply, a really entertaining, understatedly forward-thinking historical show.

The Rivals is a Bristol Old Vic, Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Playhouse co-production. It will be at Bristol Old Vic until 1 Oct
 2016. Tickets from £9.50. Find details and book tickets.

All photos are by Mark Douet.

Writer Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director Dominic Hill
Designer Tom Rogers
Lighting Designer Howard Hudson
Composer Dan Jones
Assistant Director Ed Madden

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Theatre review – The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve TannerEvery love affair has the potential for greatness, but only a select few achieve this, and fewer still have the spirit of their passions captured on canvas for all the world to see for eternity.

Many of Marc Chagall’s exuberant paintings featured himself and his first wife, Bella, often with Bella taking flight as though in joy. In Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic’s vivacious production, written by Daniel Jamieson, the couple’s love affair and life is displayed in wondrous technicolour, with lighting, sound, an inventive set, dance and song all playing a role. As director Emma Rice says in the teaser video on the Bristol Old Vic website: “I’m finding the whole piece is like painting a picture. It’s like we’ve got a palette of things and we’re mixing our colours and mixing our ideas, and making a new art form.”

Audrey Brisson in Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve Tanner

Performed with boundless energy by Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson, we witness the pair’s first meeting and follow them through the years that follow, as they explore their love, face some of the darkest times in recent Russian and European history, and eventually make it to the United States.

Music director and composer Ian Ross
 and musician James Gow ensure the stage always feels full, even when populated by a lone actor. The wedding is a particular comic joy, beginning with Bella strolling the stage greeting guests we cannot see and admitting time and again, “Yes, yes he is a Jewish painter,” and enduring the uninvited sympathy of her relatives on one of the happiest days of her life.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

Ian Ross has mined the traditional, classical and “the Rusco Romany element of folk music in Russia” to imbue scenes with atmosphere, while lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth shifts moods with an injection of colour entirely in keeping with Chagall’s paintings. The screen at the back of the stage that captures these colours also serves to show the shadowy figures of anyone standing and dancing behind it, adding another enticing layer to the texture of the show.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

There are countless moments of laugh aloud humour, thanks largely to the physicality of the two actors, but also heart-breakingly tender scenes, as when Chagall is battling depression and Bella does her best to draw him out of it, and later, when Bella is taken ill.

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve TannerSome of their darkest moments are barely touched upon however, such as their arrest and escape during World War II, when the Jewish population of their hometown, Vitebsk, has already been eradicated. At times, details like these are mentioned by a character, almost in passing, but with so much beauty and interest present on stage, the emphasis is on enjoyment – dwelling too much on the bleakness would create an entirely different play. As Audrey Brisson says: “You don’t get to see the whole thing, but you get this beautiful arch through the story.”

I fell for the art of Chagall when I visited the Marc Chagall/Dario Fo exhibition in Brescia last year, and now feel I have fallen in love all over again. Emma Rice and her team have more than done his extraordinary talent justice and brought to exquisite life one of the artworld’s greatest duos.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11 June 2016. Find details and buy tickets here.

All images by Steve Tanner.

Writer Daniel Jamieson
Director 
Emma Rice Assistant Director Matt Harrison
Composer and Music Director 
Ian Ross Musician James Gow
Designer Sophia Clist Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designer Simon Baker
Choreographer Etta Murfitt
Marc Chagall Marc Antolin Bella Chagall Audrey Brisson

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Theatre review – Dark Land Light House

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore3The scene opens on a tall metal structure and a single figure apparently fixing things. As the audience files in and takes its seats, he carries on – we are irrelevant. All that matters is keeping the lighthouse working and preventing ships from being drawn into the dark land below.

The man is Parcival (Derek Frood) and he has been here alone for ten years. Then Teller (Jessica Macdonald) arrives and takes the helm.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore

This is a story about loneliness in its biggest sense – the human race has dispersed throughout the universe and Teller is very much afraid that we truly are alone. However, as she is about to discover, there is one far more frightening possibility – that we are not alone.

Using footage, haunting lighting, sound and music by North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack, and even smell (courtesy of the dry ice), the play is a mastery of suspense and wonder. Jessica Macdonald is compelling as the woman left to keep the lighthouse working, with only a sentient computer, Hypatia (voiced by Laura Dannequin of Hardy Animal) for company.

Hypatia is a source of much of the wry comedy in the piece, trying out turns of phrase that seem out of place, but have been harvested from each of the preceding lighthouse keepers. There are times, however, when she also adds a thread of horror, not least when she takes too long answer, and then answers: “Sorry, I was reading a book.” Then fumbles and says, no, that’s not right. She was looking at something and now it’s gone.

There’s something deeply chilling about a machine revealing its frailties, particularly when that machine is the only thing standing between you and death.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore2

The dark land itself holds its own menacing presence – threatening, unknown and inexplicably enticing. Parcival calls it a siren. Teller gazes into the audience as she stares at the dark land so we get the full power of her awe face-on.

Jessica MacDonald is superb – she has us enthralled throughout, drawn in by her passion, her humour, and, towards the end, her raw distress. Derek Frood’s rough-edged Parcival is the perfect balance – the moment when they crouch together muttering about the end of the universe isn’t all easy to follow, but the depth of emotion rings true.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore4

We believe in these characters and care about Teller’s fate. More than that, though, you may find yourself considering the stars above you, and wondering what you could overcome and what you would give up for the thrill of travelling among them.

Eerie, thought-provoking, moving, exquisite – Dark Land Light House is a reminder of all that theatre can achieve, when done well and with a dauntless imagination.

Dark Land Light House is on at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 30th April 2016. To book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/darkland.html. Presented by Sleepdogs, it’s produced by MAYK and is a Jerwood Charitable Foundation & Bristol Old Vic Ferment Commission.

Creative Team
Writer Timothy X Atack
Director Tanuja Amarasuriya
Original Music and Sound North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack
Production Design Rosanna Vize
Lighting Design Ben Pacey
Projection and Video Design Rod Maclachlan
All photography Paul Blakemore

Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic Christmas plays

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter cr Jack Offord2

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Fairies, woodland creatures and wise women rampage through Bristol old Vic’s Christmas plays this year, shedding irreverent joy as they go.

I attended the press launch last week, and it was pure pleasure – what better way to spend a drizzly December day than in a theatre crammed with light, cascading streamers and baubles (kudos to the decorator), a gigantic fragrant Christmas tree and even a small bed to take selfies on?

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Night Autumn Turned To Winter Photo by Jack Offord

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Night Autumn Turned To Winter Pic cr Jack Offord

The first treat of the afternoon was The Night That Autumn Turned to Christmas, a visual and musical feast. While aimed primarily at tiny tots, like all the best children’s fiction, it included plenty of humour for grown folks too, thanks to the talents of the three multi-tasking performers, Clare Beresford, on the double base Miriam Gould on the violin, and Dominic Conway playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford as opera-singing rabbits photo by Jack Offord

The show is a collaboration between the celebrated Little Bulb Theatre, Farnham Maltings and Bristol Old Vic, and is crammed with moments to treasure, regardless of age.  Want opera-singing rabbits? They’ve got those. A moral conundrum between a fly, a frog and a spider? It’s in there. A Scottish owl quoting poetry by Robert Burns? Absolutely (and this one was a particular pleasure). There’s also a smattering of audience participation as we aid the woodland wardens (who happen to be fairies, though not of your usual fey and Disney-fied variety) in helping the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, but just enough to keep the smaller audience members entranced.

As clever lighting shifts the timescale from day to night, one final treat may be in store – a glimpse of the winter unicorn. Give yourself up to the magic of the spectacle and you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine as it finally trots into view…

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

And then onto Sleeping Beauty, a slightly weightier affair suitable for ages seven and up, directed by the much-lauded Sally Cookson. The scene opens on Prince Percy weeping bucket-loads of tears, and ended, as all the best tales too, with the beginning of a new adventure.

In this version, more than gender is changed. The fairy godmothers, or good fairies, have morphed into wise women – often caught chatting via the clunky telephones they keep in their equally enormous handbags.

The prince’s first birthday is approaching, and a party is planned, the invitations dispersed. Naturally, the invite to wise-women-gone-bad Sylvia (Stu Goodwin on dazzling form) goes unwritten and unsent, with familiar results. The prince is doomed to prick his finger before his 16th birthday.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa - Photo by Steve Tanner

Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa – Photo by Steve Tanner

In fact, the prince’s sleep lasts only to the interval thanks to passerby Deilen, with the whole second half drawing inspiration from a Welsh folktale and taken up with Deilen’s quest to find ‘the leaves that hang but do not grow’. Before she can achieve her aim, wicked Sylvia saunters back into the mix, resulting in the floods of tears we witnessed at the beginning and giving Deilen one more task to perform.

Kezrena James as Deilen is an independent, strong-minded, believable heroine who serves as a strong antidote to the usual female fare of fairytales and pantomimes alike, while David Emmings’ Prince Percy is kind-hearted and just gutsy enough not to be irredeemably annoying.

Sleeping Beauty Bristol Old Vic David Emmings as Percy and Kezrena James as Deilen photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Percy and Kezrena James as Deilen Photo by Steve Tanner

But, (along with the musicians Brian Hargreaves, Ruth Hammond and Pat Moran who deserve a special mention for sweeping the action along) it’s the wise women who steal the show – hats, handbags, oversized feet, wings and all. They’re a delight joy to watch – old biddies doing their best for the young prince they’re determined to see find a happy ending.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic -  Wise Woment Photo by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty’s Wise Woment Photo by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until the 17 January 2016.
The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter is on until 10 January 2016.
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

Midsummer in March

Saskia Portway as TitaniaAs a pre-birthday treat my hubla took me to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bristol Old Vic. It’s truly my favourite Shakespeare play, in part because of the many ingenious and creative ways theatre directors have interpreted it – the magical madness seems to allow their imaginations free rein!

Last night’s performance was comical, beautiful, grotesque, eerie and wonderful – using puppets (thanks to Handspring Puppet Company) and planks to great effect.

As a special cherry on top for me, actress Saskia Portway was playing Titania (pictured left in Simon Annand’s photo. Saskia once played one of my own characters, in a monologue written of Show of Strength‘s theatre in shops. She’s a fabulous actress, so to see her as the fairy queen and Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons!) was a real treat.