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

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.

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

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Ballad of Maria Marten by Beth Flintoff.

The Red Barn murder in 1827 took place in Polstead, Suffolk it’s the notorious tale about Maria Marten who was brutally shot dead by her partner William Corder. Whose motives were premeditated and he continued to pretend she was still alive on The Isle of Wight for a year afterward her murder, until her remains were finally discovered under the grain bags in the barn.

The Ballad of Maria Marten by Beth Flintoff tells the harrowing tale of Maria Marten (Elizabeth Crarar) through the eyes of the victim. Martens entrance onto the stage takes the audience by surprise, the lights in the auditorium are still up and her entrance is slow and thoughtful as she looks around the audience with a deathly stare before starting to tell her sad and harrowing tale.

There’s no secret to the fact that she has been shot and brutally murdered from the outset. What we are about to discover as the tale unfolds is who committed this mindless crime and why.

Although there are nine characters within the play including two men. The cast of six accomplishes all the roles between them brilliantly. Susie Barrett bringing Thomas Corder into Martens life along with Peter Matthews played by Bethan Nash. The two male roles just require a small amount of suspending your disbelief.

Crarar offers outstanding performance in her role as Marten. The body language she exhibits in the second Act when she relives the violent and abusive outrages from William Corder is hard-hitting and although she is alone on the stage you can envisage the abuser in front of her carrying out the heinous acts while she recoils in fear.

Set in the early nineteenth century women had very little power, money or status in their own right. Marten was used by two of the three men in her life for her body. Each offering her a taste of another life to get their way and each one failing her badly and leaving her “holding the baby”. Falling pregnant for many years as a single woman left them open to blame and ridicule. With the situation, always their fault and the men involved were never to blame.

Director Hal Chambers and producer Mtthew Linley have bought Flintoff’s book to life and treated Marten with the respect and dignity she had deserved during her life. Bringing love and laughter along the way as she rejoices with her friends at times as they genuinely make the most of their lives.

The Red Barn comes to a dramatic end with impressive lighting effects by Zoe Spurr. The spectacular scene brings closure and a feeling of peace and respect to the memory of Marten by her beloved friends.

Sadly, domestic violence hasn’t become part of our history books. Figures reported by the Independent are estimated that two women a week are killed at the hands of their abuser, the full article is available below. Each of these victims has a story just like Marten that deserves to be heard.

Performing at the Theatre Royal Winchester until 8th October 2021 and touring until Spring 2022.

Five Stars

Photos by Tony Bartholomew.

Kitty Rats written and performed by Luke Bateman and Elliot Williams.

Kitty Rats, written and performed by Luke Bateman and Elliot Williams created in the style of “Bottom” by the late comedy genius Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the early 1990’s.

Flatmates Benjamin and Jed embark on the job of trying to solve the mystery of who’s been in their flat that day and burgled them. However, this becomes lost along the way as they discover that something far more sinister has taken place. The would or would not be detectives then embark on rather unorthodox methods in concealing the incriminating evidence that they have discovered!

The opening scene is completely unexpected and takes you by surprise. That’s all I am willing to divulge. It sets the tone for the rest of the play. If you’re easily offended then this might not be for you.

Bateman and Williams show promising talent in Kitty Rats both as writers and performers who show a brilliant onstage rapport. Comedy of this genre isn’t an easy task to entertain audiences successfully as it can fast become a “messy slapstick” performance, which thankfully this didn’t. Their timings were very in tune with one another and it was clear to see that the actors have a close relationship on and off stage to be able to work together successfully.

Kitty Rats is not without faults. A few areas require some work within its content and needs to be edited quite harshly as some of the scenes were unnecessary and wouldn’t make any difference to the storyline if they were to be removed.

I honestly see a future series within this production and with the right direction, I could see the creators allowing Benjamin and Jed to do a bit more with their lives than they currently are. This particular production could be turned into two episodes as several themes are running through at once which could be developed further.

Director Kevin Davey and producer Joe Delafield certainly had a challenge on their hands at times with Kitty Rats. The fast-paced black comedy looked to be quite complex and swerved slightly off-piste in places.   Although it’s refreshing to see this form of risqué comedy being tried out on the stage. Hopefully, they both had as many laughs along the way as the audience.

For a first attempt by Bateman and Williams at writing this style of comedy, they succeded in producing a very funny, cringeworthy dark comedy which left the audience laughing and from my experience feeling slightly awkward at times which I believe the writers were e hoping for.

Three stars, although with some editing four stars are waiting to shine through.

For future venues and ticket information please check out the links below.

A Dog’s Solution written by Dr Who star Richard Kimber Franklin.

When it comes to major global problems can they actually be resolved within an hours performance? Could mans best friend have the answers? Perhaps in “A Dog’s Solution” some of these important questions will finally be answered.

Beyonce introduces herself as she opens the play. Explaining how and why she is now living on the streets. A series of unfortunate events along with her Mum’s lecherous new boyfriend left her with little choice but to leave the extremely overcrowded two-bedroom flat which the family of seven shared.

As the interval comes to an end the meeting of minds come together in the shape of the newly formed “World Government” due to the questions raised come from the audience each show will be slightly different although common world problems are likely to be repeated for example global warming, hunger and overpopulation.

A host of characters appear throughout the performance. Mainly in the guise of members of the public busily walking past on their way to work. All of which stop either to create a diversion or chat on the phone. However, due to being a short play some are left undeveloped and left me wondering what they were doing in the play.

The overall message and ideas to debate and discuss world global problems in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are worthwhile and worthy of debate. Although sadly the message within the hour-long performance gets lost along the way and apart from raising some good ideas, nothing takes place.

With some work and tightening up of the script and possibly fewer characters, there is a great idea waiting to come out inside the play although it’s all rather confusing and the dialogue isn’t always clear as the play stands at the moment.

Three Stars.

Lost Souls by Jayne Woodhouse.

First filmed during lockdown the original series of five short plays were filmed and available on YouTube. There are four short plays featured on the staged version, one of which made its debut. These pieces are firmly based around the “human connection” and how some people react in stressful situations, mind games and situations encountered by some.

Beautifully performed by Madhav Vasantha gave a convincing performance of the drunk and violent Man Ray. Who has found after an accumulation of events with his ex-partner finds himself homeless? Despite being a character that you might not like his love for his dog Bella is heart rendering.

Vasantha’s performance directly broke the fourth wall talking to the audience from the position of living on the street. Right down to begging for change as he made his way onto the stage. One audience member thought he was genuinely asking. Outstanding performance.

Chains directly address the effects of coercive control and the firm grip that a perpetrator will hold over their victim. The fear, urgency desperation in Laura’s (Marie-Claire Wood) voice when she finally realised the time after spending a short length of time out for a drink with her friend.

Her anxious body language and aggressive tone towards her friend struck a chord with me. It was clear that she would be facing arguments and abusive behaviour once she finally got home.

When we spoke afterwards, Jayne explained to me at the end of Chains that she “hopes to open people’s eyes into the trauma caused to somebody in this situation”. As a society, there is still much work to be done to raise awareness. There is a clear trigger warning on the programme.

Woebot the voice-activated “Alexa style” voice activation system called Joy (Carmen Ali) who knows more about Matt’s (Calum Robshaw) loves and life than he appears to. After Jessica and Matt finish their relationship. He is feeling lost and alone. Taking the day off to gather his thoughts and mope. Joy takes charge of his day and he finds out more about his past relationship than he ever suspected. Leaving him feeling slightly disturbed at Joy’s announcement.

Part two saw the debut performance of the new play by Jayne Woodhouse, A Perfect Crime where Jess (Kayleigh Rainton) and Matt (Neil Gardner). As lockdown fever kicks in the couple are at the point of annoying boredom. Matt wants to binge-watch a cop drama and Jess wants to go out for a walk.

As the story unfolds Jess describes how easy it “might” be to perform the perfect murder and get away with it after all there was a local unsolved murder a few years ago which never had any leads.

Performed on stage at Brown Street, The Chapel Nightclub in Salisbury. It is an absolute delight to finally see life returning to venues across the country that have been closed for many months. Stages back in use, the buzz of an audience and performers no longer banished to working online.

Writer Jayne Woodhouse and director Calum Robshaw led the Q&A session afterwards. Expressing how much it meant to the entire team to be back on stage and the difficulties they had faced while performing rehearsals over zoom. One very clear thing is that everyone is thrilled to be back in business.

Hopefully Lost Souls will be taken on a tour at some point in the future, where others can also enjoy these short plays. With four in one night, it’s excellent value for money too.

For more information on Lost Souls and other work by the company please use the link below.

Four Stars.

Photo credits John Bruce.

September in the Rain by John Godber.

September In The Rain by John Godber Production Photos A Wiltshire Creative Production in the Main house Ian Kelsey and Nicola Sloane ©The Other Richard

Salisbury Playhouse reopens its doors with September in the Rain by John Godber. Liz (Nicola Sloane) and Jack Munroe (Ian Kelsey) fondly reflect with love and humour their holiday memoirs spanning thirty years of annual visits in September to the seaside town Blackpool. The couple looks back on the good and bad times they have had together as a family as well as on their own.

Jack is a man of few words much of the time and shares snippets of his bleak working life in the mines. The lack of conversation leaves Liz frustrated with him at times and they frequently break out into squabbling. One of her main upsets are bought about by his lack of public affection and she certainly knows the right buttons to push to make him jealous and allow her to know he still cares.

September In The Rain by John Godber Production Photos A Wiltshire Creative Production in the Main house Ian Kelsey and Nicola Sloane ©The Other Richard

Kelsey and Sloane’s on stage relationship is a reflection of the off-stage chemistry I saw when I interviewed the couple during their rehearsals. An intimate two-handed show such as this requires two actors who have a close working rapport such as these two do to bring the layered text to life believably on stage.

Sloanes performance in one of the couple’s memories in which she takes on the role of their daughter Pamela in a holiday talent competition is superb. From the thumb sucking, nervous child poses, to the innocent younger voice alongside her mannerisms and behaviour give an incredibly plausible portrayal of their daughter.

September In The Rain by John Godber Production Photos A Wiltshire Creative Production in the Main house Ian Kelsey and Nicola Sloane ©The Other Richard

The set built by Tim Reed and Daniel Gent provides a nostalgic setting for the couple’s trip down “holiday memory road” complete with a run-down looking bench, which doubles as a bed and two sets of stone steps familiar to seaside towns. Their attention to detail is realistic and outstanding. Which has been completed by set painters Rod Holt and Sally Holt.

Director and Salisbury Playhouse Artistic Director Gareth Machin certainly has chosen the perfect play for reopening the Playhouse in September. A superb and moving start to their long-awaited opening season.

On occasions like these, I am reminded as to why I enjoy going to live Theatre. Their performances are absorbing and I felt a slight pang of sadness when the play ended. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their holiday stories. It reminded me of being a child and shown old family holiday photographs by grandparents as they reminisce over days gone by.

September In The Rain by John Godber Production Photos A Wiltshire Creative Production in the Main house Ian Kelsey and Nicola Sloane ©The Other Richard

For tickets and more information about September in the Rain please use the link below. It’s playing from 16th September until the 9th October 2021.

Four Stars.

Photo credit- The Other Richard.

Interview with Ian Kelsey and Nicola Sloane about their upcoming performances in “September in the Rain”.

Salisbury Playhouse reopens its doors on September 16th with the funny and heart-warming John Godber play. Which has been Especially chosen by the Theatres artistic director Gareth Machin smaller cast will help reduce the chances of covid cases.

The two-hander play follows the thirty-year marriage between Liz and Jack Munroe. The couple spend a week every year in September visiting Blackpool where they have disastrous holidays year after year. The play by John Godber has been chosen specifically for the Theatres relaunch after the long closure where we saw Covid-19 bring live Theatre to a complete halt.

During their rehearsal lunchtime break I was fortunate enough to catch up Nicola Sloane and Ian Kelsey to find out what they have been up to during the pandemic and their thoughts on their upcoming roles as Liz and Jack Munroe.

After months in lockdown, I asked both actors if they managed to get any work during that time?

Nicola explained about working in Leeds, where she had self-isolated for two weeks before starting the recording. To then spend most of her stay in Leeds confined to a hotel room. “You couldn’t order any food” and “the only thing available for breakfast had been a bacon roll without butter just a very basic service. Very simple to try and stay secure”.

Ian’s experience had been far stricter when he had worked in Dublin. The “covid police” were out in force making sure people were two metres apart, gelling your hands all the time he explained and strict curfews were upheld. The whole experience was “strange” and “it wasn’t very nice as it wasn’t the friendly experience being on the jolly film set that it usually is”

How are you finding the new way of working in Theatre?

As Ian explains Salisbury “are writing their rules as they go” strictly taking temperatures, asking people to wear their masks and keeping two metres part. Both Nicola and Ian feel very safe working in Salisbury and have extremely high praise for all the staff work there. As they both agreed “its great to be back on stage”.

Have you worked together before?

The natural relaxed relationship I saw between the couple led me to ask if they had worked together before, as they certainly appeared to be old acquaintances. However, laughing and joking they explained that until they had gone for dinner the first night, they arrived for rehearsals they had never met before. Nicola had heard of Ian before and was keen to work with him. She jokingly tells me that he had probably never heard of her before. Even if that was the case he has now.

What drew you both to agree to perform in this play?

Ian laughed and said “the pay check” straight away. I am sure there’s some truth in that answer too. However, Nicola laughs at him and says “No, it’s the opportunity to perform this fantastic two-hander. The script is funny, touching and a real joy to be performing”. Ian explained that he has always fancied performing a John Godber play and he tells me that when his agent offered him this opportunity after halfway through reading the script he was sold and agreed.

If the couple I met off stage are as entertaining and funny on-stage Theatre goers are in for an incredibly funny and entertaining performance. I look forward to reviewing September in the Rain on press night, Friday 17th September.

If you live in the Salisbury area and feel confident to return to live Theatre, then a trip to see the couple in September in the Rain sounds like a great way play to watch. If the rapport between these two lovely actors is as good on stage as I witnessed off stage audiences are in for a fantastic play. The comedy throughout this play will hopefully raise the spirits of the returning audiences as much as it has for Nicola and Ian.

The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson.

THE MEMORY OF WATER by Shelagh Stephenson ; Production ; Directed by Alice Hamilton ; Designer: Anna Reid ; Lighting Design: Johanna Town ; Composer & Sound: Harry Blake ; Voice & Dialect: Stephen Kemble ; Casting: Briony Barnett ; Assistant Director: Aysha Kala ; Cast: Lucy Black, Adam James, Kulvinder Ghir, Lizzy McInnerny, Carolina Main & Laura Rogers ; Hampstead Theatre ; London, UK ; 4th September 2021 ; Credit & copyright: Helen Murray

The Memory of Water begins as three sisters, Teresa (lucy Black), Mary (Laura Rogers) and Catherine (Carolina Main) get together in preparation for their Mother, Vi’s (Lizzy McInnerny) funeral. Set in her old bedroom throughout the performance I felt it kept the focus centred around the reason they are all there and gave the play an intimate setting.

Credit Helen Murray.

Torn apart by years of secrets, tantrums and uncomfortable silences each of them has different recollections of the shared memories from their childhood. Right down to the death of the family cat. As with many siblings bickering where each one believes that the other was treated better or favoured.

Alzheimer’s tears families apart as the patient lose sections of their memories in stages. Slowly taking away the person they were one memory at a time. Writer Shelagh Stephenson allows the sufferer a voice during the play. Combining Vi’s fading memory with the three daughters differing childhood memories. Which meant we get an insight into all sides of the family members stories.

Mike (Adam James) gives a brilliant performance in the role of the married man who has been seeing Mary for five years. The intimate scenes between the pair came across as natural and heartfelt. The death of Vi brings up emotions and conversations that have been buried for too long and finally need to be addressed by the couple to move on.

Credit Helen Murray

The conversations which take place between Vi and Mary open up an insight into how their Mother had felt about her three daughter’s. As a mother of two daughters, I recognised the feelings of being closed out of their lives at times and not being included in their conversations.

The exceptional quality of actors in The Memory of Water allows Director Alice Hamilton to bring this sad and heartfelt family death to life as everyone affected by it deals with their grief differently, as the three siblings demonstrate. There are some slightly surreal moments at times, comedy, anger, tears and laughter but surely that’s all part of being a family. Warts and all parts which writer, Stephenson has managed to capture with an air of compassion.

Playing from 9th September to 16th October 2021. Use the links below for further details and how to buy tickets.

Four Stars.