Zeraffa Giraffa, Little Angel Theatre

5th October 2017

Pros: Excellent storytelling and emotionally engaging for all.

Cons: Some of the technical duties carried out by the actors could have taken place off stage to suspend disbelief further.

With much anticipation we took our pew in the Little Angel Theatre for our first visit to the formerly derelict temperance hall. Transformed in 1961 by a troupe of enthusiastic puppeteers led by John Wright, a visit to this little theatre is like stepping back in time. Its magical atmosphere has clearly not been lost and it is lovingly run.

Equipped with tiered seating for productions, and with staging that is simplistic and economical, it still retains the charm of a village hall. For this production various instruments are dotted around; a hanging cloth screen for projections and a large sailing mast which overlooks three tiny giraffes caught in the spotlight, centrestage.

We had a very excitable young audience. They were talking, laughing and last minute snacking whilst crickets chirped all around us, but the moment the lights dimmed and three warm, smiling and serene actors appeared you could hear a pin drop. Transfixed, the children remained like this throughout, with no fidgeting or fuss.

The play by Sabrina Mahfouz – based on the book by Dianne Hofmeyr – is inspired by the true story of a giraffe and its keeper Atir. Sent as a diplomatic gift from the Great Pasha of Egypt to the King of France in the 1820s, we follow the various stages of the epic trip taken by these two companions. The pair are thrown through terrifying storms and encounter all sorts of nerve jangling creatures – and not to mention locals – before they arrive in France.

As they do eventually disembark in Marseilles they meet another friendly refugee and Atir asks why they’ve been met with such hostility by the locals. She explains that they don’t like someone who is different because they haven’t travelled very far from home themselves. Pretty powerful stuff for a children’s production. With messages like this communicated via a children’s show it’s a real positive inspiration for future generations.

The three performers are brilliant, especially with so many different parts to switch between. They flit between holding aloft a tiny giraffe figure to represent Zeraffa and some masterly manipulation of the beautiful Zeraffa puppet. The script is funny, heart warming, with an original score and gorgeous vocals. This is such a creative production with spellbinding surprises galore for the little ones, not to mention the wonderfully mature themes of difference and friendship.

The history of the transformation of this lovely theatre fills the whole building with a magical atmosphere. The memories of the thousands of children who have experienced its enchantment since the 1960s weighs heavy in every brick and the captivating storytelling continues in 2017. When you emerge from the Little Angel, make sure you take a peek through the open shutter next door for a glimpse of the puppet makers at work!

Writer: Sabrina Mahfouz (Based on the book by Dianne Hofmeyr and illustrated by Jane Ray)
Producers: An Omnibus Theatre and Little Angel Theatre co-production
Booking Until: 4 November 2017
Box Office: 020 7226 1787
Booking Link: https://littleangeltheatre.com/whats-on/september-whats-on/zeraffa-giraffa/

Originally published on

everything-theatre.co.uk

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Just So children’s arts festival 2017

JUST SO FESTIVAL 2017

 

Review written by Simone Green

What are your favourite childhood memories?  I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside, and mine is disappearing for hours with friends to play in the park. It’s a safe bet that a fair few of your most fond recollections were outdoors too. Risk, independence and freedom are a rare commodity for some children but all these were found and much more besides at Just So arts and music festival last weekend. We went back to basics, to the essence of simple music and theatrical themes, and there was a fantastic variety of theatre this year which didn’t disappoint.

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Within the Spellbound Forest, Just So regulars Horse and Bamboo Theatre were back with Theatre for One and a whole new batch of creativity. Performing artists had devised and handmade their own unique pieces of theatre for intimate and beautiful solo shows of less than five minutes. Through headphones and perched on a stool inches from the action, we were whisked away. In ‘Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow’ the hearing aid cleaned my headphones (with all the gory sound effects) before I peered into a huge ear: accompanied by echoing drips, a tiny puppet was manipulated to play a drum solo with cotton buds – brilliantly surreal. Each piece of theatre was so clever, and utter escapism. Children stepped away, blinking themselves back into reality. My daughter loved sticking her head into a lion’s mouth only to see the puppet of a poor, gobbled up old woman shouting “save yourselves!”. Horse and Bamboo’s offerings were all-enveloping theatre at its best – both children and adults were mesmerized.

Out in the Observatory it was time for a journey beyond sight and sound. In Unlimited Theatre’s How I Hacked My Way Into Space, John Spooner is the orange-suited spaceman on a mission to Mars when he accidentally sets up his own space agency. The show is a brilliantly funny, real life tale of one man’s quest to achieve the seemingly impossible and hack his way into space. An entertaining piece which captivated both children and adults: How I Hacked My Way Into Space was a Dave Gorman-esque quest, for small people.

Seed by Pif Paf was a real highlight for my daughter and was a big hit with the young audience. It follows one man’s quest to grow a tree from the last remaining acorn (with killer slugs and inflatable fun thrown in); he watches, frustrated, from his ramshackle trailer as he desperately hopes for growth and prays for rain. Across the Village Green and back to the Observatory was a mimed piece with musical accompaniment set on a trampoline. Anyday: Max Calaf Seve brings us Max who lives with his whole life suspended on this bouncy abode with only his pet bird for company. As he sets off on an adventure, we follow the pair and their amazing trampolining skills and trickery which wowed the crowd.

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There were also plenty of promenade shows throughout the weekend too, such as The Hurly Burly, a mobile sound structure, and Dizzy O’Dare’s Baba Yaga’s House which enthralled the little ones with wicked humour inspired by Slavic fairy tales.

The Fabularium also returned to their woodland clearing with The Tales of Animalia. We loved ‘Cautionary Tales’ brought to the festival by this talented bunch of mechanicals. The glorious coppice is a fitting set in the beautiful Rode Hall Estate in Cheshire. With the forest floor as the stalls, there were beautiful vocals and folk tales of lessons learned – we especially loved Tybalt the Cat.

In the steep woodland theatre we saw the hilarious James Campbell with The Funny Thing About…, a stand up comedy show for kids. Campbell is a genuinely funny chap who had all ages in fits of laughter (mostly at the adults expense); great jokes without the rude words!

It was such a treat to see Bootworks Theatre at the festival this year. The company who brought us the wonderful and challenging The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad were a huge hit with The Jukeboxes, a simple lip sync battle executed to absolute perfection. The show was absolutely hilarious and performed with such talent, and at a running time of just five minutes or so, we watched this over and over!

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Away from structure, rules and etiquette, theatre in the festival setting was refreshing and the audience freer in their reactions. As the age range was broad, there did seem to be some restrictions on subject matter, but plenty of room for aspirational, inspirational themes as well as those close to nature, and stories to move us and encourage us to reflect.

There’s just so much to do at this festival – beyond the wonderful theatre there was campfire singing, marshmallow toasting, pillow fights, a grand music stage, outdoor cinema, real life interactive arcade games, lantern parades, glorious maypole dancing, the tribal tournament and much more! We’ve come away from hours in the fresh air feeling nourished, more mindful and with a different energy.

Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2018 (17 – 19 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 25 August at midday at www.justsofestival.org.uk 

Originally published on childrenstheatrereviews.com

Running Wild

RUNNING WILD

Reviewed by Simone Green


Presented by the Children’s Touring Partnership
Reviewed at Hackney Empire
Touring nationally until 10th June 

For ages 6+

My seven year old’s new-found passion for anything Michael Morpurgo took us this week to the grand and magnificent Hackney Empire. There in the heart of the ornate splendour that is Hackney Empire’s auditorium was its complete antithesis: the Running Wild set. While waiting for the highly-anticipated show to start (it played to rave reviews at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last summer), we played I-spy with the appallingly devastated wreckage that creates a picture frame around the stage. There’s displaced personal effects, broken furniture and a variety of lost and damaged debris, immediately creating a feeling of loss and unease.

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When heartbreaking circumstances take Lilly and her mum on a soul-searching trip to Indonesia, they set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Lilly starts to smile again as she discovers a new friend in Oona the elephant, taking daily rides on her back down the beach. Then the tsunami hits. Based on a true story, the play follows this strong and spirited girl on her endeavour to survive the bleakest of experiences. The beautiful Oona, who listens with her eyes, isn’t the only animal she encounters, but they are not all as friendly. And then there’s the humans…

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The puppetry designers and directors Fin Caldwell and Toby Olie have created unbelievably life-like creatures, and as a result the affinity played out on stage between animals and humans is incredibly affecting. Oona especially is truly breathtaking (like Lilly, my daughter also fell in love with her) and coupled with the most masterly manipulation by the puppeteers that I think I’ll ever see.  India Brown, who played the protagonist for our performance, gave a moving portrayal – she was gutsy, determined and gave so much heart to Lilly. The whole cast are very strong and the use of multiple roles is cleverly directed. The scenes with the hunters are fairly tense but it is important to show the barbaric exponents of this particular animal cruelty.

There was a pause during the first half due to technical reasons but nothing was lost in this life-affirming recognition of the bonds that bind humans and animals. It’s a deeply moving, heart-warming tale that makes you want to run wild and live for the moment!

Originally published on childrenstheatrereviews.com

Eat the Poor

Eat the Poor, Orange Tree Theatre – Review

Pros: Clever, funny wordplay and amazing musicianship.

Cons: The second half was a little too earnest at times.

Summary

Excellent

A show that’s full of sublimely witty wordplay and dynamic energy.

User Rating: 4.9 1 votes)

Hold on tight for a raucous ride and prepare for jaw ache as self proclaimed lefty comics Jonny and the Baptists – also known as Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gerbers – embark on a 50 date tour of this epic, satirical extravaganza. Presenting a show that’s part stand-up, part musical, this genuinely warm and seriously funny duo make their astounding wordplay look so effortless that it’s just awe inspiring. Their easy going, confident performance is made all the better by their close friendship, and they navigate the theatre-in-the-round stage like they’re performing a perfectly rehearsed routine on Strictly. The Orange Tree is an intimate theatre, not unlike an Victorian operating theatre, and their intense command of the space is incredible.The political motivation for the show hits hard at the obvious targets. There’s a fabulous attempt to define Farage as a noun, while Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and Brexit are the focus of their songs. This may sound too preachy for some, but I feel that with their wit, wide-eyed shock and incredulity at political events of the past year, Jonny and Paddy get the balance right and would be able to entertain audiences of all political persuasions.

The first half is an absolute joy. With audience in fits of belly laughter, the pair had us in the palm of their hands. As we’re about to go to interval, we’re warned by Jonny that it’s been said before that the second half, the musical itself, can drag in places. Okay, it did now and again, but their transparent attitude towards this was fantastic. The way they pre-empted any negative feedback of their show was so funny and refreshing. I admire their tenacity, as I’m sure that they have no intention to change a thing! The narrative kicks in for the second half, as they consider a future in which the band part company and Jonny’s career sky rockets. He’s hob-nobbing with Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Jerry Hall, while Paddy’s luck runs out. The pair worked with the homeless charity Crisis last year, and their experiences inspired Paddy’s storyline as his fortunes decline and he becomes one of the invisible poor. The piece turns more serious with some beautiful lyrics and heart-warming moments, as the equality gap widens and betrayal deepens. It does open the debate as to whether the comically presented statistics and hard-hitting subjects we guffawed at in the first half had a more far-reaching impact than the serious, earnest slant of the second.

I loved Jonny and the Baptists’ passion for raising awareness of inequality. Their flawless musicianship and soaring harmonies coupled with their fearless wit and energy makes for a raging, joyous night at the theatre.

Written and Directed By: Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gerbers
Producer: Will Young for Supporting Wall
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run at the Orange Tree Theatre. The next shows in London will be at the Soho Theatre in May 2017.

First published on everything-theatre.co.uk

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

Review by Simone Green


Box Tale Soup production
Reviewed at Lyric Hammersmith
Touring nationally until 18th Dec 2016
For ages 4+

The studio at the Lyric was packed to the gills for half-term and noisily buzzing with excitement as the audience prepared to head down the rabbit hole. Bursting from a huge central trunk was the main body of the set: a pop-up, fold-out storybook with intricate flaps and folds, containing masks and interactive props. An intriguing row of puppets were poised for action at the back of the stage, resplendent in beautiful costumes. The buffet of props and puppets continued around the playing space and were masterfully manipulated by the two-strong cast.

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Noel Byrne and Antonia Christopher are very slick and clearly accomplished performers. There’s a moving moment when Christopher, who plays Alice, meets the puppet version of Alice, who gently touches her face to somehow reassure her. Byrne and Christopher swap puppets between them in very smooth sequences – the disappearance and reappearance of the Cheshire Cat was a firm favourite, and at one point Byrne was Tweedle Dum and Dee simultaneously. However, while the entertaining embodiment of all our favourite Wonderland characters was an impressive feat for just two actors, it was sometimes a touch confusing even for us adults.

The production was very faithful to the voice of the book, so though it felt authentic it sometimes grew a little wordy for an audience aged 4+. Dan Melrose’s music subtly introduced new characters and story progression, and the original soundtrack provided a beautiful, magical atmosphere. The production feels very home-made in a heartfelt, comforting way. A modest, skilled and poignant exploration down the famous burrow.

First published on childrenstheatrereviews.com

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!

User Rating: Be the first one !

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.