Potted Panto review

Potted Panto, Garrick Theatre – Review

Pros:It’s funny, clever and there’s something for everyone. Your children will be uncontrollably giddy upon exit.

Cons: Jaw ache from laughing (and your children will be uncontrollably giddy upon exit).

Summary

Unmissable!

It’s Christmas! Embrace the panto dame in you and enjoy!

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It’s safe to say that my seven-year-old and I are now thoroughly in the festive spirit after enjoying this frantic and funny, 80-minute performance, celebrating the beloved art of pantomime.  Potted Panto is back for the Yuletide season and no tradition, innuendo (safely floating over the heads of the little ones), or dressing up opportunity is missed.CBBC’s Dan Clarkson and Jefferson Turner are the Olivier nominated duo who created what can only be described as a comic marathon, which romps and races its way through seven of the greatest pantomimes, including: Aladdin, Dick Whittington, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Dan, the scheming and misbehaving sidekick, is determined to send this series of abridgements into uncharted waters by obstinately shoehorning the Queen’s speech and anything else Christmas related into the script.  The non-stop, madcap capers play out on a simple set and it’s a testament to Dan and Jeff’s faultless slapstick comedy and slick performances that the complicated sequences are so successful.

The reaction is loud and full of belly laughs, and there’s a special section which requires participation from the whole audience which my daughter absolutely loved.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to a pantomime where the audience was so free of inhibitions.  The show is clever and witty, and its unpredictable formula will delight and surprise children (who always enjoy the daft and unexpected).

The resplendent yet cosy Garrick Theatre is the perfect setting for this comforting annual tradition and the flawless chemistry between these two talented performers spreads the seasonal joy throughout the auditorium.

You can expect all of your favourite pantomime characters, group singing, showers of sweets and many more surprises, all to a Christmas excess.

A giddy and daft Christmas cracker. Where is 2016? It’s (almost) BEHIND YOU! Time to shake off last year and embrace the festivities. Merry Christmas!

Writers: Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Richard Hurst
Director: Richard Hurst
Box office: 0330 333 4811
Booking link:http://www.garricktheatre.org/potted-panto/
Booking until: 15 January 2017

 

First published on Everything Theatre

Straight to the Heart, Above the Arts

Straight to the Heart, Above the Arts – Review

Pros: Some genuinely heart-felt and moving moments.

Cons: The space could have been used more creatively.

Summary

Good

A collection of moving and comic stories for a theatrical lunch-time escape.

If you mention the word ‘monologue’ to a drama school graduate like myself, I get chills and am transported back to our showcase at the Drill Hall. It was a first for me to watch one that wasn’t an audition piece, but instead a collection as three short plays called Straight to the Heart. The Above the Arts theatre, with the fabulous Mad Hatters’ cafe within, is a compact studio space. It was sparsely dressed with three chairs and some hastily arranged black backdrop, but I still had high hopes for fabulous performances and intriguing stories in this lunchtime production.

What follows are three short plays that delve into the private lives and thoughts of some troubled souls caught in moral dilemmas, heart breaking scenarios and courageous struggles. And all this in just over an hour! Pulse, a trilogy of father-centric, alternating monologues, is occasionally difficult to follow, although the switching back and forth certainly gives the piece some pace. There’s a daughter whose father is struggling with his diagnosis, the life story of a gay man who wishes his dad could be everything he was not and finally, a father who becomes obsessed in his mission to empower his son. There are some solid performances, especially Alistair Brown’s comic timing and the devastating, steely stare of Daniel Simpson.

In One to the Head, One to the Heart, Simpson plays an embittered American husband who dreams of a large family, but struggles with the pressure and financial burden of caring for his disabled child. Simpson’s stony gaze and eerie stillness are engrossing. Nadia Shash convincingly plays his likeable wife and a loving mother who is desperate to show her inner strength. In the last play, The Truth Tellers, the humorous monologues switch between two unlucky-in-love loners, chasing fate and trying to show their true selves. Written by Ken Jaworowski, an American author and staff editor for the New York Times, there’s some beautiful, comic and certainly moving tales to be found in Straight to the Heart – a great escape for an alternative lunch hour.

First published on Everything Theatre 2016

Kenny Morgan, Arcola Theatre

Kenny Morgan, Arcola Theatre – Review

Pros: Outstanding performances from the whole cast. A glorious script which is simultaneously heartbreaking and witty.

Cons: It’s hard to find any but if you were of a nervous disposition, you may find parts of the play upsetting.

Summary

Unmissable!

A tense and heart-wrenching play about forbidden and unrequited love.

 I’m still recovering. What an utterly breathtaking and heart wrenching night at the characterful Arcola Theatre. I already know that this piece of theatre will stay with me for a long time. It is the revival of Mike Poulton’s Kenny Morgan, following its sold out and critically acclaimed debut at the same venue in May.

It’s London, 1949, and in a world where being gay is a crime punishable by imprisonment, we meet Morgan. Once a successful upcoming actor and winner of awards from the BFI, he now finds himself in a dowdy boarding house in Camden Town which he shares with the younger, confident and more flamboyant budding actor Alec Lennox. Their apartment is shabby and dank, with mould creeping across the ceiling. The constantly smoky and heady atmosphere reeks of desperation, making this a truly and totally immersive experience. Sometimes the tight seating within the sizable auditorium borders on feeling claustrophobic, but this is also due to the tension and the gripping nature of the story. The man next to me joked that was worried about the close proximity, because hadn’t learned his lines!

Aptly, it feels like the set has been erected in the backstage of a theatre, for this behind-closed-doors play also charts the story of Morgan’s secret relationship with the awarded and lauded playwright of the 1940s and 50s, Terence Rattigan. The glamorous Rattigan could not risk his secret homosexual persona to be exposed, and the turmoil this creates for his younger lover is devastating. It was this forbidden life on which Rattigan based the more publicly acceptable heterosexual relationship in his play The Deep Blue Sea. The dashing Paul Keating, who plays Morgan, pours his heart and soul onto the stage, descending into fits of desperation and frustration as he loses any vestige of dignity and self worth. His adoration for Lennox, to whom he is basically invisible, finds him near possessed. Keating gives the most amazing performance, rarely giving the audience one second to catch its breath. The whole cast are outstanding though, especially Simon Dutton as the rich and charismatic Rattigan and George Irving as the plain speaking Mr Ritter.

This is not just a play about homosexuality, however: it has universal themes of unrequited and forbidden love. There are some acerbic one liners which often had the audience guffawing, but in moments of tension, I was on the verge of an intervention! My hand was clutched to my chest for most of the play, but at the same time it was wholly and altogether fantastic experience. A tense, heart-stopping and unmissable production.

First published on Everything Theatre.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Tristan Bates Theatre – Review

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Tristan Bates Theatre – Review

Pros: Compelling performances by the two lead actors of a funny and exciting script.

Cons: Sometimes the direction is a little overcomplicated, which is distracting.

A classic play with humour and moral intrigue. Some knock out performances from a talented young cast in a modern and surprising production.

TheTristan Bates Theatre was new to me and it’s an intimate and friendly venue to see a play (which I hadn’t seen before either). I was aware, however, of the theme and of the controversy that’s attached to this provocative Jacobean classic, so I was excited to watch the storytelling unfold.

Through swirling dry ice we were offered goblets of wine on a silver platter as we entered the rather snug auditorium. The smoke, the humidity and the intimate space made for a heady mix already as we entered the dark, traverse stage set up. The whole cast were positioned around a long central table and my heart sank a little as we took our seats. The first piece of action felt like a Duran Duran video, with each character wearing light-rimmed Ray-Ban sunglasses and engaging in a short and intense dance sequence. It kind of worked, but there was a sense of over-modernisation.

After this opening sequence, we went straight into the drama. ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore follows the fate of two star-crossed lovers with a sinful twist: their love is forbidden as they are brother and sister. Much is made of the impact of the content of the play, as it’s stated in the programme that the production’s social media campaign was curtailed due to its ‘offensive nature’. I was expecting to be really shocked, but instead found that, because of the way the lovers’ frustration and passion is portrayed, the play spoke to me in a far broader sense about how certain relationships are perceived and frowned upon. I loved this clever, modernised take on the original text;. it’s clever and subtle, but the message is clear.

Prince Plockey as Giovanni is the driving force of this whole production, and that’s not just because of his pivotal role. His presence as an actor is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed his heart-wrenching performance. Lucy Walker-Evans is enthralling as a sometimes delicate and confused but frequently gutsy Annabella. There’s more than one suitor for Annabella though, and bringing great humour to the play is Luke Dunford as Bergetto. Dunford is a talented comic performer who successfully had me seething with incredulity at Bergetto, a tactless bumbler who, after wooing Annabella with insults, brags that he has won her over.

The atmosphere of the production is charged with passion and collusion, backstabbing and sheer desperation. Each character’s agenda of either sexual desires or financial gain is exciting to see play out, although frequently tragedy ensues. Sometimes the constant presence of the cast on stage works well, and adds to the intrigue and the claustrophobia brought on by the interfering, self-serving family members and hangers on surrounding these breathless lovers. The audience following a very important note being passed between the characters to its intended recipient, for example, is fascinating. However, the repetition of the choreographed groups moving around the outskirts is, at times, too distracting from the actual scenes. Nevertheless, this feisty cast gives a stand out performance of a play that’s deserving of its thought-provoking reputation.

Original Author: John Ford
Directed and Adapted By: Ricky Dukes
Producer: Lazarus Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 3841 6611
Booking Link: https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/tis-pity-shes-a-whore
Booking Until: 10 September 2016

First published on Everything Theatre 2016

Simone Green
Simone is a trained actress and has worked in the theatre and television. She has also run drama workshops for children. She now teaches in a primary school in East London and enjoys trips to the theatre with her six year old daughter. She is a regular reviewer of children’s theatre. She loves comedy, Radio 4 and cake. She doesn’t get out much after dark and loves the chance to see as much fabulous theatre as she can.

WHY THE WHALES CAME

WHY THE WHALES CAME

Review written by Simone Green
Wizard Presents in association with Watford Palace Theatre
Reviewed at artsdepot
Touring nationally until 20th November; at Ovalhouse 22nd-31st December
For ages 7+

My daughter is almost seven, the perfect age to start thinking about and discussing the powerful themes explored in Why the Whales Came, a startlingly timeless and surprisingly fitting adaptation for a 2016 tour. Her post-show questions began conversations about the play’s war-time setting and the paranoia rife in the island resident left behind. The community’s anxiety is intertwined with a fear of difference and otherness, and in particular of someone new living alongside them – this is a story about a small society which has lost its wider world perspective.

The play is set in 1914, and part of the pre-show action is an audience game of battleships led by fantastic storyteller Danyah Miller. We were still celebrating that our destroyer and submarine remained afloat when the lights went down and Miller was back on-stage ready for the one-woman show. With the rush of the sea and squawk of seagulls around us, we were transported to an island off the coast of Cornwall to meet friends Daniel and Gracie. As members of a small community, they’ve become scared of a mysterious figure the islanders call ‘The Birdman’ and are forbidden to communicate with him. ‘The Birdman’ lives over on a tiny island and his peculiarities have made the adults superstitious and suspicious, even believing they will be cursed if they touch him. Whilst convinced this is true, the 10-year-old children are also – of course – very intrigued. The thrilling mystery begins to unravel when their boat is caught in a terrifying storm and the two become beached on his shoreline.

The whole performance takes place on one magical set which is transformed by surprising doors, hatches and secret compartments into a bed, a jetty, a bath, a boat; at one stage a perfect miniature set is revealed with the use of a small camera and projections. This whole tiny play-within-a-play is manipulated by Danyah’s mesmerising storytelling skills; in fact, throughout the production, she uses the set like a gymnast, delivering a commanding performance that draws and reveals the characters and plot like a work of art.

This is the second Michael Morpurgo adaptation produced by Miller’s Olivier Award-nominated theatre company Wizard Presents; the first was the hugely successful I Believe in Unicorns. So it’s no surprise that this is a vivid, enchanting and beautiful gem of a production with a heartfelt message, delivered in an imaginative and thought-provoking way.

JUST SO FESTIVAL 2016

JUST SO FESTIVAL 2016

Review written by Simone Green

What an adventure! Our first camping trip last weekend was to the Just So Festival of theatre, arts and music for families. Despite a fair few downpours at the Rode Hall Estate in Cheshire, the spirits of hundreds of excited families could not be dampened. The theatrical escapism was present from the outset, before we had even seen a show; tribes were chosen (owls rule!), the most fanciful costumes and face painting were exhibited and the anticipation was palpable. With wellingtons on and with wristbands aloft we ventured through the famous suitcase archway.

There’s a varied and diverse range of theatre productions at this festival played out in some very special settings. The Tales of Animalia was a collection of short plays performed by The Fabularium and for all ages. Deep in the forest where the stalls were tree stumps, this talented troupe were a firm favourite with my daughter. Through storytelling, song and intricate puppetry we enjoyed the tale of the mischievous ‘Reynard the Fox’ and delighted in the classic story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. Fantastic energy and stunning headpieces brought these creatures to life in their own habitat. Over in the Spellbound Forest were a curious collection of experiences entitled Theatre For One by Horse and Bamboo Theatre. Through headphones and puppetry my daughter was thoroughly amused by the life of a hamburger in a proscenium arch mock-microwave stage! Through my audio aids, I escaped for four minutes into ‘Ancestry Poem’ by Julia Darling, designed for older children. This piece of shadow-style mini-theatre – in which silhouetted images were hand-spooled to tell the life-story of a woman’s body- was extremely sweet and thoughtful.

Back out in the main festival green, nine lucky children at a time were privy to The Peepshow presented by The Raree Man. Through the teacup-sized peepholes of an ornately decorated 18th-century style pull-along cart, was the most amazing and extraordinary miniature theatre complete with stage and trap door. Like a nonet of curious BFG’s, the children were transfixed by the most glorious puppet show of Jack and the Beanstalk, manipulated through a door at the side of the cart. The detail and love that had been poured into this piece was reflected back in the faces of the children and was a joy to watch.

A gale began to blow when the fantastic Les Enfants Terribles took to the grassy stage on Saturday morning to the delight of a bustling audience. Their latest show was The Fantastic Flying Exploratory Laboratory: an exciting and extraordinary hot air balloon flying machine was suspended before us, the vessel at the centre of their quest to find the all-important elixir of life! This all-singing, all-dancing and genuinely funny show was unsurprisingly a real highlight.

My favourite performance was hosted by Kilter Theatre for children aged 10+. It was set in a caravan which had been transformed into Mobile Sorting Office 451 for The Last Post Play, and exclusive for only eighteen audience members per show. A place for undeliverables, lost post and lost people, Verity the post-mistress and a redundant post-master try to find what they have both been searching for. The intimate setting and outstanding performances were incredibly special. Our six-year old enjoyed it too and was encouraged after our rapturous applause to join the Friends for Pens real life penpal agency. She was enthralled. A very special theatre show.

Other highlights of the festival were Sponge from Turned On Its Head, premiering at the festival and perfect for babies and young children, and also CLIFFHANGER by Bash Street Theatre, a real life silent movie! We also enjoyed Long, Broad and Sharpsight from Sharklegs Theatre, a funny, bold and physical show for ages 7-11.

When you combine theatre, camping, dressing up for the animal tribe and the vast array of exciting activities, what could once only be imagined is played out in reality. I love how Just So support such diverse creativity. A wonderful family arts festival with so much to indulge in.

Theatre review: The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad

Review by Simone Green
A Bootworks Theatre production
Reviewed at Stratford Circus
Touring Spring/ Summer 2016
For ages 5+

The tagline for Bootworks Theatre’s devised production gets straight to the point: “A show about bereavement for young people.” It’s part marketing slogan, part trigger warning for protective parents (as a mother, I had my concerns). In a society that’s still not comfortable with children’s theatre exploring darker or more serious themes, it also makes clear that death will be confronted head-on (as Suzanne Osten from Lung Ha Theatre Company said, “There are no taboos, only adults’ ambiguous ways of trying to deal with things.”) As it turns out, The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad deals with death in the most precious, thought-provoking way for an audience of totally immersed children aged 5+ and their equally enthralled adults.

Frank has lost his mum. He can’t find her anywhere. Embarking on a town-wide search, the story follows his innocent and charming quest to be reunited with her. Frank isn’t alone – he meets some delightful characters along the way who tell him their stories of things lost and found, and the young audience are given a central role too. They play detective to try and help Frank and his new friends; the opportunity to interact is relished by children who become utterly absorbed in their task.

The story is masterfully told by a gentle, funny and engaging cast from within ‘The Lose-O-Porium’ – a place where all the lost things live, and a safe space for Frank to explore his loss and consider where to search next. Doors, windows, cupboards and even a miniature drawbridge are magically and intricately used for characters to burst through and regale the fortunes of their misplaced treasures, though all the while Frank’s mum is still nowhere to be found.

The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad is a brave piece of theatre that deals with the truth of grief with tenderness and care. Any worries I had about the content of the play were unfounded, it simply confirmed for me how important, beautiful and powerful children’s theatre can be. I was of course interested to gauge my daughter’s reaction to the content: she loved the show but was determined to find out in greater detail what exactly had happened to Frank’s mum. And as for me, I was reminded to keep alive the memories of things I have lost.

Theatre review: The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie

THE MARVELLOUS IMAGINARY MENAGERIE

29th March 2016

Review by Simone Green

Presented by Les Enfants Terribles
Reviewed at Greenwich Theatre as part of the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival
Touring nationally until April 10th 2016
For ages 4+

With school out for the Easter holidays, my daughter and I headed off to a very sunny and beautiful Greenwich to see Les Enfants Terribles’ production of The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie. The show kicked off the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival with aplomb. Sitting in the vibrant cave-like cafe bar, my six year old worryingly declared that the poster for the show looked scary. As we entered the expansive auditorium I tried to reassure her, but she was already distracted by the intriguing set. A Victorian travelling side show had set up camp on the stage and there was a buzz of excitement as the lights went down. An extraordinary troupe of characters introduced themselves and what ensued was mythical, magical mayhem. The lucky audience – surprisingly composed of far more adults than most children’s theatre shows – were utterly enthralled.

Dr Longitude and his eccentric clan flamboyantly regale us with tales of their worldwide endeavours to procure exotic species for their spectacular carnival menagerie. A series of all singing, all dancing and all captivating vignettes follow, reminiscent of the curious little Kinetoscope films of the Victorian era and with the same piano accompaniment. The show is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and genuinely funny for all, including a very amusing Grange Hill reference for the over-40s. The performances were immaculate, high energy and hilarious, especially Popo, my daughter’s favourite character. The physical comedy is masterfully done and there’s not a crevice of the genius set that’s unused. We loved the beautiful puppets of the mysterious discovered creatures – it just felt like anything could happen.

Les Enfants Terribles are known for their innovation and visual ingenuity. It was the first show by this company we’d seen and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Roald Dahl is a big influence on their work, and the heart and attention to detail in all areas was a pleasure to behold. You could tell the talented cast enjoyed every minute too. I loved this show because it was anything but everyday or based in reality, but it reminded me of how we have fun at home with our daughter. It totally encapsulates the daft, joyous fun of uninhibited play.

Theatre review: The Cat In The Hat

THE CAT IN THE HAT

Review by Simone Green
Paul Taylor Mills presents The Cat in the Hat
Reviewed at artsdepot
At artsdepot 13th – 17th February 2016; national tour
For ages 3+

It was a rainy, grey old afternoon in North Finchley when I took my six year old daughter for what hoped to be a mad-cap adventure with The Cat in the Hat. We’ve seen many shows at the artsdepot and we love it there: it’s bright, modern and there’s always something we’re dying to see. This vibrant, cartoonish production was very true to the original book in both set deign and narrative, although it was edited from the original text. It was just what we needed for our escape.

Sally and her brother sit expectantly at the window. They are utterly bored on an afternoon empty of inspiration when a cheeky feline visitor arrives for a very curious play date. Once the first paw steps through their door, the wacky mayhem never ceases. This Cat’s a clown, a conjuror and a comedian, and all the children around us were enthralled by his tricks and capers. Though there’s little light and shade, and not many moments of tension and suspense, this was no problem at all for the 3 – 5 year olds around us – not an uninterested fidgeter in sight! I felt like we’d opened our book at home and dived straight in. The excellent use of slow motion miming at the point of the most utterly chaotic moments was awesome, witty, and frankly you just wanted to join in!

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 09.48.16

The cast were a very strong team but when the Things were unleashed to hoick the pandemonium up a few notches further, they stole the show for me and for my daughter too. Her highlight was when the Things left the stage and frolicked in the aisles with blown up beach balls, which were volleyed across the audience. There’s some fantastic, intricate manipulation of a fishy puppet in a goldfish bowl which attempts to prick the conscience of the children “No! No! Make that cat go away! Tell that cat in the hat you do not want to play”.  But there was just no stopping this freight train of merriment.

When this hair raising riot of a play date starts to pack up for the day – as Mother’s on her way home – the two naughty toddler’s are sent back from whence they came and the tidy up begins. There is panic as they think they are done and the visitors are gone when a stray ball of evidence rolls across the stage. Then suddenly…is that Mother at the door?

So we found ourselves quite windswept, back on the high street in north London. Like the siblings, we feel like we’ve been in a whirlwind. What adventure will be next for us? ‘Oh The Places You Will Go……’