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Audience decides fate in new theatre piece

Storm is four years old, nearly five, and is about to go to school for the very first time. But which school? Mum wants Storm to come join her in LA; Dad wants her to live with him in Forres; and her Mum’s PA thinks Storm should stay with her in Switzerland. No one has asked Storm what she wants.

Mum, Dad, and Tzeporah will put their cases to a children’s panel – but each of them have a different point of view of events so far. You’ll hear the evidence – and then you decide. A twisty turny story about love, self-love, and selflessness; or is it?

Written by emerging Scottish playwright Claire Wood, prism is the latest online play from cutting edge theatre company Production Lines. Performed online, audiences will act as the panel, hearing the arguments from three different perspectives to decide Storm’s fate. Using the chat and voting function within the online venue, the audience can choose which version of the story they would like to hear at each performance.

Memory is subjective, and the three characters within the play each have their own version of events. prism explores how different perspectives can make us see and feel differently – creating different versions of the same story every night. prism is the second interactive theatre piece from Production Lines, following on from 2021’s roulette, which was named runner up for the Innovate Award from The Scottish Emerging Theatre Awards 2021. roulette was an online dating show in which the audience were given the power to pair the couples together determining the course of the story.

With the closure of physical theatre spaces during the pandemic, Production Lines has explored how online theatre can exploit audience interaction in storytelling, using the tools available within the presentation software to explore how the digital medium can break down the barrier between viewer and performer. prism is the next evolution of that practice, allowing the audience to react and influence the story in real time.

Production Lines will present prism thanks to funding from Creative Scotland’s Digital Pivot 2021, part of the Creative Digital Initiative, which supports creatives in exploring a more digitally based practice. As part of the project, writer and founder Claire Wood has been working with author and independent producer Suzy Glass, exploring the potential of online theatre.

prism will be presented online Wednesday 2 to Saturday 5 February at 8pm. Tickets cost £8, with additional pay-what-you-can options. https://www.citizenticket.co.uk/events/production-lines/prism/ 

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The sheer delight of panto

Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat: Contact Theatre, Manchester

THE acid test of any good pantomime is in whether the performers on stage manage to translate their undoubted energy into a festive treat for the audience.

On that measure alone, the production of Dick Whittington and His Amazing Cat at Manchester’s Contact Theatre, passed with flying colours.

I was offered ear plugs on the way into the theatre, but despite the screams and shouts from a very well behaved audience of children from Moorside Primary School, I declined the offer.

Instead what it did was to open me up to is the sheer delight of pantomime and a wall of junior sound rarely witnessed at a theatre with, in this case, a couple of hundred engaged and excited youngsters making up the audience.

The panto, in collaboration with Eight-Freestyle, had a cast of engaging actors who had the children’s emotions in the palms of their hands, as the near two-hour fun spectacular unfolded.

Telling the tale of how Dick (Marcquelle Ward), managed to make his way from Wythenshawe to London with his kung fu breakdancing companion Scratch (Anton Phung), who provides an energising start to proceedings.

The hisses and boos rise as King Rat (Adam Urey) warns off Fairy Bow Bells (Kate Mitchell), and calmed by pantomime dame Freda (Freda Chattington) who displays a combination of good humour and outright bossiness.

Alice Fitzwarren (Rebecca Crookson) falls for Dick, who in turn is thwarted in his efforts to be with Alice by the loveable, but roguish, Idle Jack (Red Redmond), who plants a valuable necklace owned by Captain Fitzwarren (Steven Jackson) on Dick. As a result Dick is banished, at least temporarily, but all is well in the end ….or is it?

Great performances from the cast with outstanding contributions from King Rat, Dick, Alice and Idle Jack.

There were also top quality performances and acrobatics from the sparkling line-up of dancers from tots to adults.

The production is beautifully choreographed by Michelle Yeomans, Alice Percival, Sean Canning and Ellie Owens.

If you see one panto this Christmas, make sure it’s the one at the Contact Theatre, which is playing until Jan 3.

For tickets go to: https://contactmcr.com/shows/eight-freestyle-dick-whittington-and-his-amazing-cat/

Peter Devine

The sharp edge of Spinach

Spinach: Edge Theatre, Manchester


THE Janine Waters sung-through production of Spinach at Manchester’s Edge Theatre, was a delight from start to finish.

With music and lyrics by Simon Waters, it ticked all of the theatrical boxes bar none, with its rapid fire dialogue, humour and acting, in a theatre space which readily lends itself to this energy bursting production.

I guess there may be those of us who after a night on the tiles, managed to wake up in some ‘stranger’s’ bed, but this production takes on a much more bizarre twist, where two total strangers awake to find they are tied up back to back in a dank, dark cellar, with absolutely no memory of how they finished up there.

Tom (Joe Parker) warns Kate (Charlotte Linighan), against offering homeless people a bed for the night at her London home. He being from Manchester; has no idea why he might or might not be in the capital’s Camden Town. And more importantly, they try to work out who might have spiked their drinks!

As the musical lines are spilled out from each of the captives, it also becomes clear that the answers may be closer to home than they at first came to believe.

Darren (Craig Whittaker), Tom’s work colleague and friend, but it’s all up for grabs, as the stream of information becomes more accurate but more sinister.

The comedy value lies mainly with Maureen (Rachel McGuinness), another of Tom’s work colleagues, who keeps the audience in stitches to the very end.

One of the delights in Spinach is the manner in which the musical element (Lawrence Woof, piano and Bess Shooter, sax) moves hand in glove with the unfolding drama on stage.

You may be shocked by the outcome, but you will have to keep your seat until the very end to find out why.

At the Edge Theatre, Chorlton-cum-Hardy till Dec 18.

Peter Devine

A fantasy of delights

Tom’s Midnight Garden: Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

The most wonderful thing about great theatre is how quickly it enables the suspension of disbelief. And that’s entirely true about this delightful production of Tom’s Midnight Garden, a beautiful adaptation by David Wood of the classic children’s story by Philippa Pearce.

The heart of the story is fantastical, of course, a time-travelling adventure shared by two lonely children who do eventually meet when reality snatches back the narrative. And all good actors persuade you to suspend disbelief, forget who they really are, and accept their on-stage personas.

Instantly, in this case, where we have mature adults playing children*, and none more brilliantly than Tom himself, played by Tyler Dobbs who is, in turn, both a petulant and and an exuberant schoolboy. And how HIS story resonates these days, the loneliness and boredom experienced by one who has to isolate in quarantine, measles the enemy in this case.

It is unimaginable to a new generation of children, forced to stay in your room with just a handful of “girlie” books selected by the well-meaning Aunt Gwen (Jo Mousley) – no TV, no tablet, and only the imagination to play with. So he ventures out at night when the clock strikes 13 into a garden that does not exist in the daytime, and meets unloved and unwanted orphan Hatty (the enchanting Rose Basista), shunned by her older cousins, despised by the aunt forced to foster her.

Vicariously enjoying his brother’s adventures relayed by letter and postcard (remember those, ye WhatsApp generation?) is measles-stricken Peter (Kemi Clarke) who also plays cousin Hubert. And there are multiple roles for the rest of the cast: Meriel Scholfield, Jack Humphrey, Kieran Hamilton-Amos, and Toby Gaffney who brings the light relief of humour to the character of Uncle Alan.

We loved the creativity of set and staging that’s become the hallmark of artistic director Liz Stevenson’s shows here, the domestic choreography, and some gorgeous puppetry: birds, a dog and some rampant geese all make cameo appearances.

This was always one of the more mature of children’s stories; the tale itself is perplexing and alarming in parts, and there’s enough even in the opening scene to frighten the very young and sensitive. But in this audience, predominantly a long way beyond childhood themselves, there was only immense appreciation of this utterly joyous escape from reality. Thank heaven for theatre, thank heaven for this gem of a theatre.

*I once saw, here at Keswick, a very large man with a beard playing the part of the ship’s boy Roger in Swallows and Amazons. Within minutes, both his size and the beard were irrelevant.

Tom’s Midnight Garden runs until Jan 15. For details, tickets, and dates for socially-distanced performances: www.theatrebythelake.com/event/toms-live/

What makes us human

Jacaranda/ Pentabus Theatre Company/Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

On a lonely hillside at midnight, an armed gamekeeper encounters a grief-stricken woman mourning the loss of her premature baby. She’s armed with a packet of sleeping pills, having walked out on her husband; he has a shotgun. They are utterly polar opposites, all the more so because she is black, brought up in Zimbabwe, with an uncanny affiliation to nature. He admits to beating his teenage son whom he derides for being unmanly, for wanting to bake rather than shoot.

They come together in the aid of an injured curlew and her (mostly) dead chicks, attacked by a fox. And in this intense, beguiling, compelling short play, writer Lorna French examines what it that makes us human: fear, compassion, sorrow, empathy, the ability to apologise.

Mara Allen as Olivia and Stuart Laing as Matty are the entire focus of this new production from Pentabus, touring the country and playing in Keswick until the end of this week. Pentabus tour new plays about the contemporary rural world to new audiences in village halls, fields, festivals and theatres, telling stories with local relevance, that nevertheless have national and international impact.

Photo: Andrew Billington

They believe that every person living in an isolated rural community has a right to exceptional theatre. Based in a Victorian school in rural Shropshire, from where all of their work to date has been made, they tours village halls and theatres locally and nationally, and after Keswick will be taking Jacaranda across into Yorkshire and County Durham.

Their output has been prodigious; over four and a half decades they have produced 172 new plays, reached over half a million audience members, won a prestigious South Bank Show award for a show about racism, a Fringe First for a play about climate change and were the first to live stream from a village hall.

Under the direction of Elle While, Jacaranda is quietly startling, from the strangeness of the set and the imaginative use of props, to the convincing brilliance of the two actors: your heart will ache as Olivia cradles a blanket that’s draped to look like a swaddled baby. But through the performances of Allen and Laing you’ll be transported inside this production, sucked into the heart of its intense narrative.

Tickets available until Saturday (Nov 13):

https://www.theatrebythelake.com/event/jacaranda/

https://pentabus.co.uk/

The perfect card game for musical theatre fans

There’s a Musical Theatre Card Game which is set to become a must-have gift for Broadway and West End lovers this Christmas.

The Musical Theatre Card Game is a new game where players battle it out to collect all the legendary stage shows, as they use their theatrical knowledge and competitive prowess to outwit their friends.

The game features 52 vibrantly illustrated cards with quotes and statistics for a range of popular shows from throughout the history of musicals, with classics such as Les Misérables and Cabaret to modern hits like Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton.

The Musical Theatre Card Game project started as an idea to while away the empty evenings when theatres were forced to go dark following the coronavirus pandemic.
From its handmade DIY roots, the game was refined, developed and has now been professionally produced for all to enjoy.

“Without shows to attend, along with many fans I spent much of lockdown trying to find other ways to get my musical theatre fix,” said designer Shaun. “The Musical Theatre Card Game was a firm favourite with friends and I’m ecstatic that fellow theatre nerds can now play in their own homes.”

With its beautifully rich design and vibrant presentational box, the game is designed to make the perfect gift for musical theatre lovers. It has already started to be featured in a range of Christmas 2021 gift guides.

The game can be played with between two and six players and is recommended for ages four and up. Available from Amazon, Etsy and directly from stageinsider.co.uk. The Musical Theatre Card Game can be ordered in the UK, USA and rest of the world. It was released this week. Use discount code: EARLY20 on stageinsider.co.uk before 30th November to get 20% off (T&Cs apply).

Stage Insider: https://stageinsider.co.uk/shop/musical-theatre-card-game/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Musical-Theatre-Card-Game-Broadway/dp/B09H6YB19M/
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/1111352647/the-musical-theatre-card-game-musical

About Stage Insider
Launched in 2020, Stage Insider began life as a project to help keep the joy of musicals alive as theatres went dark and many lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Through innovative gifts, Stage Insider brings unique designs and independent creations to life, aiming to nurture the passion of the musical theatre community.

Not OUR play, but yours…

The creators of award-winning comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest? have launched their latest experiment, set to offer an entirely new style of audience interaction.

Say It Again, Sorry? present Not Our Play, which begins offstage with a chance for the public to anonymously write a script, which will be performed live – no matter what is written.

While freedom of speech is in the forefront of public discourse, Not Our Play poses the question, if anything can be offered a platform, what will present itself?

Also appealing to writers, poets, theatre-makers and trolls, Not Our Play offers the chance for anybody to stretch their creative muscles, overcome writer’s block and become inspired with others’ work to collectively build something new. It is a chance to empower audiences to unleash their own creativity and say what needs to be said. It is a chance to play, to experiment, to make mistakes and to do it together, out loud.

Not Our Play is produced by award-winning interactive theatre company, Say It Again, Sorry?, co-directed by SIAS? Artistic Director, Simon Paris, and Sergio Maggiolo, a Latinx multi-disciplinary theatre-maker who specialises in non-fictional-theatre and comedy. SIAS? have partnered with Rosemary Branch Theatre in London to debut this project.

Dates: Sunday 21st (17.00 & 19.00), Friday 26th November (19.00 & 21.00)

Venue: Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, London, N1 3DT

Box Office: https://www.rosemarybranchtheatre.co.uk/show/not-our-play

Ticket Price: £12 (£10 concessions)

Marathon running takes to the stage

Proud that you have run a marathon? How about 10? How about 100? A talk by Nick Butter at the Waterside Theatre in Sale was primarily about running a marathon in every country in the world, plus a few more just in case a new country was formed following his challenge. He completed 196 in 674 days. It’s exhausting just to listen; lucky we’re in a theatre to hear this sitting down.

The first half of his talk concentrated on his round-the-world runs and his experiences with the Marathon des Sables, where, in spite of breaking his ankle, he finished and where he met Kevin, a fellow competitor, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was Kevin who inspired him to undertake his worldwide challenge. Sometimes reality is more dramatic that drama itself.

Nick presented a massively interesting and inspiring talk with some incredible tales of both heart-warming moments and terrifying events surrounding his runs. He told of encounters with drug smugglers, thieves, thugs, wild animals as well as friendly foreigners, a heart-breaking encounter in a hospital, and smiley children to name a few. 

Nick Butter

After a mid-session break, Nick continued his talk with some of his other exploits. Not content with his multi-country marathons, earlier this year he also ran round the coast of Britain in 128 days completing 200 marathons in the process. His plans include a run from the north of New Zealand to the south, a staggering 1000 marathons in 1000 days.

Following his 196 country challenge, he told of setting up a charity called The 196 Foundation. This provides a single project per year voted on by the Foundation’s subscribers who can only donate £1.96 per month (no more nor less).

His talk included plenty of pictures and some video clips and a Q & A session that completed a wonderfully inspiring evening. If you get a chance to see one of his evenings, we recommend that you grab it with both hands.

Waterside is a thriving and vibrant arts venue in the heart of Sale in Trafford, Greater Manchester, which features a range of fascinating shows, talks, music and much more.  Comprising a theatre, art galleries, studios and workspaces, Waterside is an important regional hub for both performance and visual art.

https://watersidearts.org/

https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/nick-butter

Catapult to success

The Kids Are Alright: Catapult Theatre

It’s been a tough couple of years for creatives, and perhaps even more so for performers graduating into a global pandemic. Cue Catapult Theatre London, made up of 2019 MA Musical Theatre graduates from Mountview, who decided to keep themselves busy during this time by creating a series of videos to showcase and keep alive their musical theatre talents virtually.

The Kids Are Alright comprises five acts of musical theatre songs, across a range of styles and genres, which were mostly filmed from home during lockdown. But far from being a static and stilted showcase of songs performed straight to camera, Catapult Theatre up the stakes with creative costuming, choreography and camera work, as well as telling some really lovely stories visually. With members scattered across the UK and indeed the world (contributions pour in from Norway, The Philippines and even a cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean) the editing and direction in each instance gives a sense of connection and love that spans far deeper than a screen.

And while each chapter gives a glimpse into the group’s skills and creativity, it’s the rock medley in Act V where they really let rip. A super slick arrangement of 10 rock bangers from Hannah Cound and Ralph Warman form the perfect base for director Carys Wynn to show exactly how much can be done with just a camera, some sensational performers, and various locations around Peckham, where most of the action is filmed. It’s an 11-minute romp through every power-ballad pastiche that we know and love, sprinkled with star talent and soaring vocals.

While there are a few moments throughout the series where perhaps the choreo or sound mixing aren’t 100% in sync, on the whole these can be overlooked given the meticulous detail elsewhere, from camera angles and harmonies to costume and make-up, but most importantly the heart and love that comes through from every face.

Entitled The Kids Are Alright – it’s evident that despite everything going on in the world, the ‘Kids’ have very much got this more than right – in curating, directing, arranging, choreographing, filming, editing, promoting, designing and sharing a truly joyful series of videos. So if you want a classy and contemporary musical theatre fix from the comfort of your own home, let Catapult Theatre London literally  catapult you to that magical place.  

Steve Griffin

Link to watch online concert:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUx4CBhh1uso-Yt2JGmr3Yg/videos

Link to our Instagram (for concert and member biographies!):

https://www.instagram.com/catapultldn/?hl=en-gb

Nostalgia galore as Keswick doors re-open

Home, I’m darling: Keswick Theatre by the Lake

Home, indeed, and we are so very happy to be back in the theatre that the cast could just stand on stage and read from the London telephone directory and get a standing ovation.

But Keswick is back with a bang, not a whimper, and Laura Wade’s acerbic comedy is a great choice for re-opening, all the more pertinent within the context of a nation determined to drag its citizens back to the “good old days”. Nostalgia, we learn here, is a false friend.

Ah yes, we remember it well: the voluminous frocks, the Dansette record-player, the decanters and cocktail shakers, the hostess trolley and the Bakelite TV. Ah, but do we also remember the cold houses of pre-central-heating times, the obsessive need to iron everything, and most of all the massive gender imbalance in domestic management, and in life generally?

Judy (Sandy Foster) , losing her busy job in financial management, falls for the dream of the good old days and a retro lifestyle. Johnny (Tom Kanji), the apparently perfect husband, is happy to play along with the game that soon turns into a nightmare as his wife – along with the 1950s domestic cleaning routine – finds a throwback dependence on men, a narrowing of her horizons, and all the gains of feminism over the decades cast away.

Supported by Vicky Binns as Fran, Sam Jenkins -Shaw as Marcus, and Sophie Mercell as Alex, the cast conjure dangerous memories of a perfect past life seen through the eyes of a 21st century couple. One of the most powerful speeches is a brilliant monologue by Judy’s mother (Susan Twist) which is a diatribe about the realities of the fifties: the prejudices, the attitudes, the absence of equality, fairness and… decent bread.

There’s also an uncomfortable and revelatory scene between Judy and her friend’s husband which is even more disturbing now than when the lines were written just three years ago, about sexual harrasment and boundaries.

There’s so much here to admire, from the truisms about life to the staging and costumes. It’s fascinating to see the main auditorium transformed into a theatre-in-the-round for the first time in 15 years; and wonderful to see the exquisitely choreographed scene changes.

Home, I’m Darling played to sell-out houses on its National Theatre/Theatr Clwyd premiere in 2018; this regional premiere is a co-production from a new partnership formed between Theatre by the Lake, Stephen Joseph Theatre, and Bolton’s Octagon Theatre. It runs here in Keswick until October 30.

https://www.theatrebythelake.com/event/home-im-darling/