Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus directed by Patrick Marber.

Menier Chocolate Factory is currently home to the hilarious romp Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett.  Which is now running until 27th February 2022.

The main storyline centres around General Practitioner Arthur Wicksteed (Jasper Britton) and his long-suffering wife Muriel Wicksteed (Catherine Russell). Each of the eleven cast members become linked throughout the performance either by family, work colleagues or associates of work colleagues with the Dr’s and his wife.

The closed black coffin is set in the centre of the stage from the start and apart from being used as a prop, its main purpose for being there reveals itself towards the end. Without any other stage props,  suspending your disbelief during each scene is easily achieved with the rich and wonderful script from the pen of Alan Bennett bringing the farce quickly to life through dated yet still funny humour. If you are familiar with Bennett’s work then you know what to expect.

In my opinion, the star of the show has to be Mrs Swabb the cleaning lady played by Ria Jones. As she oversees the other characters and fills in all the back story dialogue gaps throughout the play. A part once played by Alan Bennett himself. At times it reminded me of Julie Walters character Mrs Overall from the late Victoria Woods comedy sketches Acorn Antiques.

If you close your eyes towards the end when Canon Throbbing (Matthew Cottle) brings Bennett’s voice to the stage in his sermon at the wedding between Dennis Wicksteed (Thomas Josling) and Felicity Rumpers (Katie Bernstein). The likeness was uncanny.

Richard Hudson has an incredible eye for the 1970s costumes worn by the cast. I can remember seeing my family members wearing similar outfits during that era and it bought back a few childhood memories. Especially the large blue hat that was worn by Mrs Wicksteed in her “going out” outfit.

Directing a larger cast in a small-scale Theatre certainly takes a lot of skill and understanding. Patrick Marber manages to successfully direct the entire cast on the smaller stage without it looking overcrowded or disorganised.

It is fair to say that the script is dated and some audience members might find that they could be offended by some of the scenes, attitudes and sexual references. However, in 1973 when Habeas Corpus was first staged it reflected attitudes and behaviour indicative of its time. In true Bennett style, the rich text and exaggerated characters work together as they “take the pith out of reality” and return Habeas Corpus to the stage once more for audiences in 2021. For Bennett fans such as myself, it is a real treat to see his work on stage.

For further details and tickets for this production and future productions at Menier Chocolate Factory please use the link below.

Four Stars.

Photo credit Manuel Harlan.

https://www.menierchocolatefactory.com/Online/default.asp

Aladdin at Theatre Royal Winchester.

Pantomime season returns with the aid of the famous lamp to Winchester Theatre Royal for 2021 as Aladdin by James Barry takes to the stage. Starring Libby Gore as Aladdin, Rosie Coles as Princess Jasmine and the pantomime baddie Abanazar (Ben Tolley).

Ed Thorpe in the role of Aladdin’s brother Wishy Washy engages superbly with the audience throughout the evening. With some of the best one-liners in the pantomime and his cheeky disposition he certainly raised plenty of laughs from the auditorium.

Widow Twanky’s (Julian Eardley) costumes by Beth Rose and Rachel Fox befitted the pantomime dame perfectly. Bright colours, bold patterns and articles of clothing that are put together that really shouldn’t be.

However, the “toilet humour” character names of Sargeant Poo and Pee Pee the Panda felt slightly dated and overemphasising the words in places lost the comedic impact that they were attempting to achieve and would quite often appear to fall flat on the older members of the audience.

John Waterworth Aladdin’s scenic artist created an interesting idea for the scene inside the cave when Aladdin goes in search of the lamp. In many editions of the pantomime, it is richly adorned with gold and gems. Which allowed the step on which the lamp is sat to be at the forefront of the scene.

Sadly I think this year’s production is far better suited to the younger audience members of pantomime goers. As it is likely that Older children are possibly going to find the humour and storytelling element of Aladdin somewhat childish and undeveloped in some areas. For more information and ticket sales please use the link below.

Three Stars.

https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

Jack and the Beanstalk at Kings Theatre Portsmouth.

Christmas Panto season returns with a huge helping of Christmas cheer at the Kings Theatre Portsmouth starring Sean Smith as Jack Trot and Amy Hart as Princess Jill. Portsmouth local celebrity Jack Edwards returns in his popular role as the dame and this year the “fat man in a suit” delights the audience in the role of Jack and Billy’s (James Percy) mother Dame Trot.

All the traditional ingredients for a great seasonal panto can all be found in this year’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Along with the usual local Portsmouth additions from the spooky ghostbusters song, football rivalry gags between Portsmouth and Southampton and local area references that residents sitting in the audience would be able to relate to.

Same Difference star Sean Smith (as seen above) gave a brilliant performance as Jack Trot. His relaxed and happy go lucky appearance on stage only became irked when anyone else attempted to touch his prized “tin of peas”. An all round likeable hero who deserves a happy ending.

Fairy Pea Pod (Marlene Little Hill)  gospel choir days shone through and bought a fantastic touch to her role during her solo numbers. Commanding the stage with ease as she helped restore calm to the pantomime.

The storyline followed the traditional root where Jack is tricked into selling his cow for some magic beans. Beans grow and he climbs up to defeat the giant. The Beanstalk growing on stage worked well, just suspend your disbelief slightly though to let the pantomime magic take over.

Wardrobe manager Ronnie Parr’s choice of costumes for Dame Trot gave the audience an array of garish attire befitting of a fantastic pantomime dame complete with some very large hairpieces which you can see by the production photographs supporting this article.

If you are looking for a great night out with the family, friends or just to treat yourself then a visit to the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth comes highly recommended. Please use the link below for further information.

Four Stars

Photo credit Sheila Burnett

Home

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

Based in 1950’s Mississippi, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the destructive story by Tennessee Williams predominantly set between married couple Maggie (Sienna Kelly) and Brick (Oliver Johnstone) while attending his father’s (Peter Forbes) 65th birthday party. However, all is not as it appears between the rest of the couples.

The five child actors open the play by screaming in a high pitched shrill that made me wince. This set the scene for how the boys act throughout the play and let you empathise with some of the other adults who are irritated by them throughout the performance and find their presence becomes unbearable.

Maggie’s passionate plea to husband Brick to love her again or at least sleep with her is an extremely long dialogue. Kelly’s performance is outstanding and for an actor to hold the stage and captivate the audience in a word-perfect scene was incredibly moving. A talented actor to watch out for with a very promising future.

Surrounded by the family and taunted by the five “no necks”, the nickname Maggie has given Brick’s nephews. Privacy for anyone there is limited despite them being located on a twenty-eight thousand-kilometre farm and the high toxic energy floods throughout the stage and bursts through the dialogue with family frustrations and deep-rooted emotional injustices are aired for all to see.

The fantastic production photographs seen in the review by Marc Brenner are a just small sample of the dramatic effects created by lighting designer Joshua Gadsby, bringing the entire stage to life alongside the cast.

We learned afterwards at the Q&A session that director Anthony Almeida auditioned everyone separately and wouldn’t disclose who the partners would be to any of the cast. Almeida knew who he wanted to act alongside each partner. From watching tonight’s performance he made some excellent choices. The chemistry between Maggie and Brick was exhaustingly powerful to watch.

The companies tour ends at the Mast in Southampton. They are performing for two more nights. Please check out the links below for booking details and information about the Theatre company.

Four Stars

Photo credit Marc Brenner

https://www.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/what-s-on/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-2021/

https://visitsouthampton.co.uk/events/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-by-tennessee-williams

https://ticketing.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/overview/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-2021?theme=

https://ett.org.uk/our-work/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof/

Birdwatching by Anarchy Productions.

Watching live-streamed performances are never the same as attending in person. Due to a trapped sciatic nerve that wasn’t possible this weekend and I agreed to review Birdwatching in this format instead. Running as part of the London Horror Festival and debuting at The Space.

Birdwatching by Anarchy Productions begins in the middle of a secluded forest as the crew Harris (Alfie Noble), Amy (Karen Barredo) and Pete (Arno van Zelst) are settling up ready to film a horror story. Similarities to The Blair Witch Project are inevitable as would all performances in this style will be linked to the iconic forest horror.

Suspending your disbelief to imagine that the stage became a frozen forest landscape was helped by the actors frequently referring to the cold and rubbing their arms. Along with their evening discussions over the electric fire not working and all rushing to get into their sleeping bags to warm up.

Insanity and irrational fears take over as the cold bites harder into the core of the three actors/filmmakers. Watching the cast of three going through emotional tidal waves and their moods unravel as they face their fears inside the dark forest and their deepest fears.

There are times during the performance where it felt that it became disjointed. Whether that was deliberate or my interpretation wasn’t clear. A few more stage props or the use of a filmed projection still of a forest would have enhanced the visual side of the performance. There’s much scope to develop Birdwatching into a tighter and slicker production that would have the audience gripped.

For more information about Birdwatching or Anarchy Productions use the links below.

Three Stars

https://space.org.uk/event/birdwatching/

https://anarchydivision.co.uk/

The Mill at Sonning presents Top Hat.

The enchanting setting of The Mill at Sonning offers Theatre goers a delicious package consisting of dinner and a theatre show all in one ticket. The hot buffet-style main dishes are all self-service and clearly labelled to cater for every diner requirement. If you have any allergies or requests I would suggest contacting the venue first.

Top Hat is currently performing there offering a touch of 1920s glamour and toe-tapping musical entertainment. The dancing is superb and accompanied by a fantastic musical score.

Jack Butterworth as Jerry Travers and co-star Billie-Kay as Dale Tremont dance their way through the confusion of mistaken identity as to whether they will or won’t get together. The pair certainly compliment each other on stage and work beautifully in their roles.

Tiffany Graves in the role of Madge Hardwick gave an outstanding performance. Graves striking features added a depth of charm to her character. The conversations that took place before we met her between her husband Horace Hardwick (Paul Kemble) and Travers were far less complimentary at times.

Musical Director and supervisor Chris Poon created a pitch-perfect performance and he appeared at the end of the show to take a well-deserved bow and rapturous applause.

Costume designer Natalie Titchener and set designer Jason Denver bought a touch of the 1920s into the 2021 Christmas production for The Mill. Set details right down to the art deco light fittings place Top Hat in that era. All of the outfits worn by the cast created by Titchener are stunning especially the luxurious pink tuxedos with matching “Top Hats”.

Director Johnathan O’Boyle Bought together with the entire stage and auditorium in this production. I especially liked the use of the whole theatre space and using the stairs between the seats made the performance feel more submissive.

The storyline is easy to follow and would benefit from some slight editing. The ending is fairly inevitable and for a well-known show, there are no spoiler alerts. However, it was well-received and is a fantastic evening out.

Running from 16th October 2021 to 8th January 2022 please use the link below for further information.

Four Stars.

Photo credits Andreas Lambis Photography.

Home


It was named  Most Welcoming Theatre by the Theatre Managers Association for 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Chop Me Up or Let Me Go by Leslie Ann Albiston.

Leslie Ann Albiston latest play Chop Me Up or Let Me Go is a dark comedy with a twist. Where a kidnap takes place in which we see Astrid (Ciara Murphy) an accomplished scientist kidnap Tom (Alastair Coughlan) a high profile actor with the world at his feet and an ego to match.

Astrid bursts onto the stage holding a gun in Tom’s direction and telling him to, well not telling him anything at first. The hostage situation initially appears volatile and unstable. You are expecting the worse to happen. Yet as the dialogue progresses there’s no obvious reason why she has taken him to her parent’s house or what her exact intentions are. This adds to the suspense throughout as you know what you are expecting to hear yet will it arrive!

Coughlan’s role as the self-obsessed “needy” actor has disturbing elements of truth about it. From his obsessive healthy diet, need to be adored and fixation on his public popularity. All of these things we see reported in the news or press about many A list actors. He certainly gives a convincing performance.

The brains behind the kidnapping plays her cards very close to her chest at all times. Murphy’s “geeky nerd” persona leaves you wondering what on earth Tom could have that she could need or want. Completely in control of her hostage and her place on the stage. Very strong performance and a pleasure to watch.

With a strong cast of two, who have an excellent working relationship and a high level of trust to be able to perform some of the physical scenes was the strong foundation for the play.

The black comedy lasts just under an hour. As the play comes to an end the truth about why she has kidnapped him is revealed and explained. With an interesting twist in the final scenes, we are left wondering if there’s a level of unpleasant reality added in as well. Only time will tell.

Performing at The Hen and Chickens between 19th-23rd October. Please use the link below for more details.

Four Stars.

http://www.henandchickens.com/

Use the link below to follow their plans on their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/AlbistonLine/posts

The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes.

Salisbury Playhouse’s second production since reopening is the world premiere of the one-man production The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes. Set around and on a dining table with two chairs one placed at either end. Ian McDiarmid delivers the production in two sections Vigilance followed by Silence. These are just two stories chosen out of the possible eleven. Taken from the best selling novel The Lemon Table.

We meet the unhappy, disgruntled concertgoer during Vigilance. Annoyed by every movement, noise, cough or irritation of a mobile phone ringing during the performance. After years of sitting in dark auditoriums, he has heard pretty much every annoying distraction there is and his patience has been completely severed.

Returning home he bemoans to partner, Andrew whom by the response he received has lost his patience listening to him as well. Although we discover listening to his complaints isn’t the only thing he has lost patience with.

There’s a certain amount of empathy towards the character as there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to listen to or watch a performance and someone is completely oblivious that their behaviour is causing a disruption. Please do turn off your phones.

Silence, the second part explained through the eyes of a composer, longing for silence to help clear his mind. It’s during this performance the meaning behind The Lemon Table is explained and you become to understand its importance.

McDiarmid delivers both stories with strong compassion and the incredible ability to step inside the characters becoming at one with each of them. A skill I greatly admire. Monologue based performances are one of my favourite genres and since studying Talking Heads by Alan Bennett for my A levels it has become my chosen private listening therapy.

The precision and heartfelt performance flowed throughout the evening. Leaving me wanting to hear more about their lives as both tales came to an end. Sharing segments of a character’s world leaves many unanswered questions. Where Art is reflecting the world around us, as we join others during parts of theirs and our life journey and rarely staying to the end.

Hopefully, this will be the start of The Lemon Table monologues where the other nine will be produced and performed in the future. Directors Micheal Grandage and Titas Halder have set a high precedent for anyone who would take on the task to direct the next ones.

Playing at the Salisbury Playhouse until 23rd October 2021. Please use the link below for further details.

Five Stars.

Photo credits Marc Brenner

https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/whats-on/main-house/the-lemon-table/

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted for the stage by Tilted Wig Productions. Based on the American Gothic novel of the same name by Washington Irving which was first published in 1819. The company have taken the original novel and adapted it for their brand new staged version.

Ichabod Crane (Sam Jackson) arrives at Sleepy Hollow by horse-drawn cart. The stagecoach driver tries to persuade him not to stay there as rumours are rife about the deathly headless horseman who rumoured to haunt the glen with catastrophic consequences to those who have encountered him. Undeterred Crane arrives and attempts to settle into the peculiar world of Sleepy Hollow.

Coronation Street star Wendi Peters in the role of Widow Mariette Papenfuss delivers a sinister performance world away from Cilla Battersby. At first, welcoming Crane into her home under the guise of “wanting to look after him” her true intentions unfold with sinister consequences.

Rose Quentin gives an outstanding performance in the role of Katrina Van Tassel, the new Sleepy Hollow resident Cranes love interest. Her sweet and kind persona is one to watch as Katrina’s true colours slowly develop and Crane learns the truth.

Creative producer and co-founder of Tilted Wig Katherine Senior and Matthew Parish (Producer) have bought to stage an atmospheric, dark and supernatural adaptation of Sleepy Hollow. Especially the recreation of the lifesize headless horseman who canters onto the stage. A superb credit to the nineteenth-century gothic novel.

Proud Member of the magic circle, Filipe J Carvalho combines his knowledge from the world of magic and his vast array of theatre skills to create the haunting atmosphere and special effects to bring the story to life and is continuing to make audiences jump. As the family next to me did on several occasions.

Tilted Wigs Sleepy Hollow adaptation comes highly recommended. With a strong cast and an incredible stage and effects, the true horror of this gothic novel is one not to be missed. Check out the links below for further information on the company and this production.

Five Stars.

https://www.tiltedwigproductions.com/

https://ticketing.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/sleepy-hollow-2021/43331?z=0

https://britishtheatre.com/the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow-uk-tour/

The Play that Goes Wrong at Kings Theatre Portsmouth.

Since the play began in 2012 on the stage in the Off West End venue The Old Red Lion, The Play that Goes Wrong has gone from strength to strength and spent nine years in the West End and is currently back out on tour.

Set in the 1920s. Charles Haversham (Jonathan Harris) has been murdered in Haversham Manor on the evening of his engagement party to Florence Colleymoore (Sandra Wilkinson). However, just how dead is he! I’ve never actually seen a dead body snake across the stage before or help with the props off stage.

Trevor (Gabriel Paul) is in charge of the sound and lighting. Throw in a misplaced spotlight, music errors (Duran Duran) instead of stage music and a few extra chimes at midnight all add fantastic comedy value to the play. When he steps in as the understudy for Sandra clearly out of his depth and things onset unravel at speed.

Inspector Carter (Chris Bean) has the hazardous job of trying to work out who the murderer was whilst avoiding the trip hazards and falling scenery. Bean not only acts in the play but is responsible for costume design, box office manager, voice coach and director to name but a few of his job titles.

The play breaks through the fourth wall throughout the performance. Addressing the audience directly, encouraging laughs and applause when a member of the cast gets what appears to be unexpected laughter from the auditorium. The direct interaction enhances the comedy and enjoyment of the show.

Watching a set fall to pieces as you try to follow the storyline is not a normal Theatre experience. Although it is one I would highly recommend. Suspending your disbelief is required throughout the play

I cannot pick just one or two cast members in an outstanding role as the entire cast are superb. Each one acting badly and bumbling as their roles would require them to. Any actor that can purposely act badly deserves credit as it takes far more skill to “pull off” that part in a smooth and funny performance.

As the set falls around the cast towards the end the “good old carry on regardless ” attitude is in full swing as the cast stand firm delivering their lines. I admire the precision and timing of the cast and the crew. The risk assessment and health and safety plan would be high risk and I would not have wanted that job.

Highly recommended and a great Theatre night out after many months of darkness on our stages a good laugh and some crazy entertainment are exactly what we need. Check out the links below for further information and performance details.

Five Stars

The Play That Goes Wrong

https://www.mischiefcomedy.com/theplaythatgoeswrong-uk-tour/uk-tour/tour-dates

http://theplaythatgoeswrong.com/

The Play That Goes Wrong