Northanger Abbey – Derby Theatre

 

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Annabelle Terry as Isabella and Eva Feiller as Catherine Morland

 

 

Two hundred years after its first publication, Jane Austen’s Gothic homage is given a reboot by the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Company under the direction of Karen Simpson using Tim Luscombe’s adaptation. Veteran Simpson has masterminded the revival of The Theatre Royal in Bury boosting crowds with vibrant crowd pleasing productions, amongst them Northanger Abbey. Luscombe’s credentials gained  with his two other Austen adaptations, Persuasion and Mansfield Park, augered well for this one.

Of course 19th Century Goth and 21st Century Goth are somewhat different, then it equalled Eliza Parsons and Francis Lathom, now it equals Evanescence and Sisters of Mercy. Luscombe strips away the peripheral sub plots to concentrate on some fairly familiar themes; the melodrama surrounding the lives of the idle rich juxtaposed with the fantasy excitement of Goth drama, the idealism of marrying for love rather than money, the dangers of living a fantasy, loss of innocence, and the specious illusion of the believable.

A utilitarian, sparse, but effective three arch set, designed by Dawn Allsopp provides a universal backdrop as Bath or Northanger Abbey without too  much stretch of imagination.

The opening neatly establishes the blurred lines between the imaginary and real as our heroine Catherine plays out scenes from Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho – her contemporary reference work for love and passion in the absence of Google and the Cosmopolitan problems page.

 

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Eva Feiler

 

Eva Feiler is superb as Catherine, growing from a foolish, impressionable, gullible and naïve youngster to  a woman who can stand on her own two feet with the help of the suave and gallant  Henry (Harry Livingstone) heir to the eponymous Northanger Abbey. Her earlier attempt to integrate herself with the sophisticated and worldly wise rogues of Regency Bath entertain with a touch of the Eliza Doolittle’s about her performance.

The condensed story, reduced to eight characters, shifts emphasis from light comedy to farce at times, demanding  a high level of acting characterisation, however  the tired “man dressed as a woman gag” for the early dance scene was a bit hammy for my tastes .Joe Parker relishes his bad boy role as John Thorpe. Joseph Tweedale is busy as he doubles as  both Catherine’s brother, James, and Henry’s brother, Frederick.

 

NA

The drop dead gorgeous Emma Ballantine

 

Annabelle Terry flourishes  as the flirtatious, manipulative  Isabella, and has the best dresses of the evening. Jonathan Hansler convinces as  Harry’s father and  owner of Northanger.

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A good adaptation, and a must-see for all Jane Austen fans. The shorter second half works better than the first which wallows just a little too self-indulgently in trivia and ephemera.  After the interval  the script shifts up a  gear, as does the company , and races to a conclusion with the ending an unwelcome interruption to some fine drama. Runs till Wednesday 12th and continues on tour.

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Highbury Theatre , Sutton Coldfield Programme 2017/18

highbury

I was pleased to see the above programme, with dates yet to be set. It is a good combination of some tried and trusted favourites, the offbeat, and obscure, here is a preview:

Hobson’s Choice by Harold Brighouse is a  1916 comedy set in 1880, change is in the air and Hobson, a man who stands for middle-class Victorian values, doesn’t like it one bit when his daughters – who work unwaged for him in the shop and do all the housework – get what he calls “uppity”, It explores  class, aspiration and the distinctions between trade and business. Rarely performed nowadays, it will be interesting to see what HT do with it.

The Trouble With Old Lovers is a contemporary  work by Angela Huth, of “Land Girls” fame. Huth has enjoyed a varied career as a journalist, TV broadcaster and novelist, as well as playwright. She is a traditional  old-fashioned writer who details the lives of ordinary people in small corners of England. She specializes in tragicomedies,  poignant , humorous explorations of the frustrations and disappointments of love. Here she intertwines two marriages, and five lovers, with inevitable consequences.

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti is not a play about West Bromich Albion, instead a frequently performed 1960’s farce by France’s most frequently performed playwright about bedhopping aircrew. A still funny crowd pleaser, its success will depend upon how skilful the Director is in gripping a form and era which can slip into tired pastiche in inexperienced hands.

Lovesong by  fifty year old  Abi Morgan  intertwines a couple in their 20s with the same man and woman a lifetime later first performed in 2011. Their past and present selves collide in a haunting and beautiful tale of togetherness. All relationships have their ups and downs; the optimism of youth becomes the wisdom of experience. Morgan is a hot contemporary dramatist best known for her work on Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”. Little known, but with a fine pedigree.

Suddenly at Home  by Francis Durbridge is a thriller set in the 1960s,  with  a clever plot, plenty of action and a few red herrings thrown in to keep you guessing about the outcome right until the end. Glen Howard, is a philandering, volatile, scheming husband who wants to bump off his wealthy wife and take off with his lover.  Durbridge is a much published playwright who read English at Birmingham University and found fame on the radio, but this is the first of his stage plays.

Beryl was written by Maxine Peake for radio in 2012 and adapted for stage I 2014. Peake is best known as an actress starring as Twinkle in Dinner Ladies and for her political views as a Corbynista. This critically acclaimed play celebrates the life of unsung sporting legend Beryl Burton – the greatest woman on two wheels.

When Beryl Charnock met keen cyclist Charlie Burton she was smitten, not only with Charlie but by the thrill and freedom found on her bike. She would out-work the men in the rhubarb fields, she could out-class the cyclists on the road, and still find time to over-knit young Denise a cycling jumper (it wasn’t meant to come down to her knees!)

With her husband, daughter and cycling club at her side, she became 5 times world pursuit champion, 13 times national pursuit champion, twice road-racing world champion and still made it home in time for dinner. Very fresh on the amateur circuit, this is something of a coup for HT and will be well worth checking out.

Snake in the Grass is an Alan Aykbourn play first performed in 2002. Widely performed on the professional and amateur circuit, it is an all -female three hander about a middle-aged older sister who returns to the family home where her younger sister still lives, shortly after their abusive father’s death. A “ghost” play rather than a farce. The small cast makes it an amateur favourite, the subject matter is demanding to pull off.

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NaPoWriMo April 2017

I shall try hard to write a poem a day, this list of prompts from Jo Bell will surely help:
Day 1   Write to yourself as a sixteen year old. What warnings, what advice would you give? If you have time – write back.
Day 2   ‘January freesia, hot coffee’. Read Elaine Feinstein’s Getting Older. What small, physical things delight you? Write about them. Stick to the physical. See where it goes.
 
Day 3   Thirteen Ways. Everybody knows this poem by Wallace Stevens. Not everyone knows this response by RS Thomas. Choose some physical thing to write about. Write about it, in thirteen ways.
Day 4   Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Write a poem that takes place entirely inside one of these – or a boat, of course.
Day 5   Read Alden Nowlan’s poem Great Things Have Happened. Write about a great historic moment and how it affected – or didn’t affect – your life. Diana’s death in Paris – 9/11 – the assassination of a political leader. Resist the urge for great philosophical pronouncements. Just tell it like it was.
 
Day 6   Write about a friend, or friends. It needn’t be cute or even kind – see this disturbing poem as an example – but on the other hand, it could be a wonderful celebration. Keep it focused on events you have shared.
Day 7   Mechanical disaster. That time your car/ washing machine/ plumbing broke down. What happened? Who fixed it? Was it all bad?
Day 8   Read Roddy Lumsden, The Young. Now think of a group of people you want to address – the old? Hippies? (It will help if you don’t like them). Write a poem addressing them, as Lumsden does.
 
Day 9   Read Mervyn Morris, A Chant Against Death. Write a chant against something dark – death, grief, loneliness – by summoning up the things that defeat it best. It doesn’t have to take this form, but make it strong and affirmative.
 
Day 10   A litany is a poem or prayer in which a single word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of each line. Here’s a classic example, the Litany of Loretto – and three modern examples from Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg andRichard Siken. If stuck, use one of these as your repeated word: Unless, Or, Whatever, If, Finally.
 
Day 11   List twenty intensely physical experiences you have had. Write about one of them. It doesn’t have to be a good one!
 
 
© Jo Bell 2013
 
Day 12   Read this poem by Anne Bradstreet. Now read these poems about Anne Bradstreet by Eavan Boland and John Berryman. Now write a poem addressed to a favourite (or unfavourite) poet of yours. Think of where, how and in what style s/he wrote. Talk to them. Tell them things.
 
Day 13   A valediction is a poem of goodbye – to a lover, a deceased relative, a situation. Read examples here from Ann Ridler, from Billy Collins, and from John Lyons: now write your own.
 
Day 14   A laudation is a poem of self-praise. Read this one from Tomaz Salamun and write your own. British persons in particular will complain that this is too hard. It’s meant to be hard, you slackers. Pull all the stops out, show your wit and celebrate yourself unapologetically!
 
Day 15   Read this poem from Liz Lochhead, A Favourite Place. Think of a favourite place of your own and make notes on it. Write a poem about it. Include one personal name, and one piece of reported speech (something someone said, quoted directly). Focus on one event or occasion. If it takes you somewhere else, like Liz’s poem – so much the better.
 
Day 16  Write about work. It can be yours, someone else’, the job you hated most or what ‘work’ means. Look at Alan Dugan’s Monologue of a Commercial Fisherman: Cornelius Eady’s The Cab Driver Who Ripped Me Off, and Gavin Ewart’s Office Friendships.
 
Day 17   Blessings. Here’s one by me (blushes) and one by Galway Kinnell, the justifiably famous Saint Francis and the Sow. Now – write a blessing…. but hang on, that’s too easy and trite. I want you (on this day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral) to write a blessing for someone you dislike. Make it sincere, not snide or sarcastic. Dig deep and find the best of yourself.
 
Day 18   Read two poems called Shame – one by Joshua Weiner, the other by CK Williams. Now – write about something you are personally ashamed of, whether small or large.
 
Day 19   Read Bodkin by Vona Groarke, which is clearly about a favourite word. Think of a favourite word of your own – either you like its meaning, or simply its sound – and write about it. See where it takes you.
 
Day 20   A springy prompt, with video accompaniments. Watch this best ever poetry video and observe that the poem is not just about daffodils. Watch this and observe that the Edward Thomas poem is not just about Tall Nettles. Watch this and remember that Housman’s poem is not just about cherry trees. Now get outside and walk, or sit, for half an hour. Write about something green, something growing. Your poem may (indeed should) turn out to be about something else.
 
Day 21    Got your Sunday paper? Well then, you can do one of these. Your blackout poem may not be a work of genius but it might spark off a train of thought that leads to another poem.
 
Day 22   To Do Lists. Make a list of the life ambitions you haven’t yet achieved – climb Everest, learn to make the perfect omelette – and write about one of them. Inhabit it as fully as possible. What would it smell, sound like? How would it feel to actually achieve it?
 
Day 23   Read Sharon Olds’ First Sex. Now write about the first time you did something – anything!
 
Day 24   A Museum Visit. Read these three poems –Waka 99 (a waka is a war canoe), In the Museum at Teheran and Beginnings. Now visit a museum. Haven’t got time? Then look at the British Museum, TheWellcome Collection or an oddity like Leila’s Hair Museum. Pick an object and write about it. Try, as ever, to make it about something more than the obvious subject.
 
Day 25 An argument poem. Get mad at someone. Hit the ground running. Open with a strong statement and let rip!
 
Day 26   Write about your parents in a rough sonnet. Six lines on your mum, six on your dad and two on yourself to conclude. If you want to make it a Shakespearean sonnet, it should rhyme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
 
Day 27  Read (and more importantly, listen to) Michael Donaghy’s A Repertoire.  Now make time to listen to your favourite piece of music, or to one with strong associations. Remember where you first heard it, what it means to you, who you were with when you heard it at a concert etc. Write about that – don’t worry if the poem takes you a long way from the music.
 
Day 28   Read Fear by Ciaran Carson, Fear of Happiness by AE Stallings and Things by Fleur Adcock. What are you afraid of – really? Write about it. Be honest. Do not be afraid.
 
Day 29  Proverbs. Read this by Eliza Griswold, and this by Geoff Page, and my own duet with Max Wallis based on an Arabic proverb, here. Now – make a list of sayings or proverbs (or cheat by looking here). Write a poem starting from one of these.
 
Day 30  Write about love. Write it true and deep and plain, and as you are feeling it now – whether fresh, or weathered, or lost, or unspeakably painful. Speak it. Write the best poem you ever wrote. No pressure. But tell your truth. Here are some examples of poems about different kinds or stages of love – Sharon Olds’ True Love, Vikram Seth’s Protocols and Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment.

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1.Advice to Sixteen year Old Self

Tell everyone to vote Remain

Don’t believe Blair on Iraq

Invest in Apple, Google and Dyson

Sell all shares in Kodak and Blockbuster video

Compact discs are not the future

Hold on to vinyl

Select lottery numbers 17 24 26 28 45 04 and 12 on 31/7/17

Back Leicester City to win the Premier League at 5000-1

Visit the Twin Towers New York before 11/7/05 but not on 26/2/93

Rick Astley will make one song go a very long way

Tomorrow is always another day .

 

2.Tales From A Pencil Case

White grey, thumbnail large

Poop collector of the moving hand

Moving on

 

Gnarled edges claw at graphite error

Smudging , smearing, never quite

Removing

 

Perfectly weighted, if not shaped

For elastic band tension

Classroom length

 

Bouncing crazily, this way that

In humorous unpredictability

Sniggering

 

Mined by compass point

A ragged face

Pressed paper tight

 

Disfigured, mutilated, discoloured

Bought, borrowed, forgotten

Trouser pocket gem

 

3.4.Birmingham Central Library

1. An Ozymandian conceit

2. Packaged in steel rings

3. Cold birds nest

4. Suicidal platform

5. Finished yet not fully open

6. Sucking the life out of satellites

7. Vain, look at me

8. Uncertain of purpose

9. Pompous and pumped up

10. An over dressed aunt at a jeans and T’s do

11. Where most pass by, awkwardly, mute

12. Seat of knowledge

13. A dot on google maps

 

4.Ferry Journey

Gaping bow doors swallowed  our cars

Entombed us as tinned sardines

Tethered to Ullapool’s herring quay

Umbilical cords sinew taut

 

Hillside cottages perched bade us farewell

Beneath Bhein Ghobblach’s glower

Carried in the belly by swollen tide

To the Blue Men of the Minch

 

Rocking in lazy lullaby beyond ancient loch

Slowly lurching a cradle which rocks

Luring the Blue Men to appear from the brine

To challenge the Captain to burst forth in rhyme

 

Yet they stayed below

Above, a grey horizon, grey sea, grey skies

Grey coastline uncertainly brushed in the distance

Blurred by soft mist and dancing cloud

 

Stornoway clings tightly, crouched

A grey seal pressed flat against the wind

Metal clanks on pier, as Viking hull ground on sand

Borne safely, with thanks.

 

5. 31/8/97

 

It was a bright August Sunday morning.

Going home day. A day when buckets and spades

Windbreaks and sand all tumble reluctantly

Into a car’s boot.

Warm Norfolk afternoons left behind

Washing and unopened post ahead

The drive home an unwelcome chore

Even the driver is tempted to ask

“Are we there yet”

As the car lurches into life

The car radio an essential tool

To dull the sound of backseat children’s squabbles

To deliver four  hours anaesthetic respite

But the speakers spat no melody

No cheery banal relief

Instead ghastly monotone

Tinged with hesitant foreboding

A spun dial delivered no respite

Diana is dead.

 

6.The Grief Vulture

He hovers, waiting to swoop

To glide in with silent feathers

Scenting the almost dead

Needing to inhale death

 

The soon to be corpse

The lifeless cadaver

Hold a special fascination

Drawing him in

 

Maybe he needs to touch death

To rediscover his own life

Or the absoluteness of what is gone

To grieve for all that has passed.

 

Each time he descends, he draws

That bit closer to his own demise

Forensically dissecting

All that lies around

 

His words of comfort are soft

His laments sonorous

His empathy just so

His obsequie – word perfect

 

His arrival is as if Card X111 has been turned

By a skeletal, wizened hand

Hooded harbinger of eternal darkness

Warm words, cold draught.

 

Mother, distant cousin

Ancient war dead,

Modern atrocity victims

All are grazed by his touch

 

Their ebbing presence captured

Shrill keening cries heard

Held fingertip tight

Then slip away -gone

 

As he is gone

Until the next time

 

7.Tentofour

A quiet time to die

Untroubled by birdsong

Traffic or chatter

Just the silence

Of early morning

The hushed promise of incipient

Daylight

 

No occasional car stopped to assuage my grief

Odd joggers slapped by unaware

The newsagent bade me good morning

It wasn’t

 

8.9.The Co-op

We stopped at the shop

And argued about sweets

Too sticky, too sickly, too melty

For tiny ravenous hands

Early morning sun failing to clear

Late night rancour

Behind the tills a squad

Of half eager cashiers

Chewed at the snaking queue

We tumbled into our berth

“What a lovely day it is today

Shame I am working

What time are you finishing

At 4pm

Still time to snatch something from the day

I hopes so

What’s your name

Daniella

Well you enjoy the rest of your day, Daniella

I will, I wish all of our customers were like you

We left

I wished that all cashiers were like Daniella

The children were not allowed the sweets

For failing to eat their lunch

y much, I am sure everyone, like me, would like to see you work now, END.

 

9.First Trip out

He snuggled softly

Under my coat

As he had wriggled

In his Mother’s womb,

Safe from autumnal chill

Held tight to my chest

His eyes closed

In contented  reverie

I inhaled his heady scent

Offered in exchange

For close protection

Unbreakable bond.

 

10.Wall Mirror

11.

I hate you

For what you

Reveal

About

Myself

 

I swear that

The image

Is distorted

By sloping mount

Failing light

 

That somewhere

Between us

Something

Is

Lost

You stand

Uncompromising

I crouch

In your blazing

Glare

 

No matter

How polished

The surface

How bright

The sheen

Distortion

Always lingers

Smeared fingers

Leave an

Unmistakeable

Residue

 

11.Homage

 

Comely hips

I love you

Stolen glance

Uncertain smile

Your gasp

As your tongue

Glides across your lips

Drawing me

Hair carelessly splayed

Soft pillow

Hard reply

Your desire

In strange disposition

Imperfect polish curls

You growl

A smeared painted war cry

From the soul

 

 

 

 

 

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Ladies in Lavender – Grange Players, Walsall

ladiesinlav

*****

 

Although a successful film release at the cinema in 2004, the stage adaptation is recent (2012) . This has the disadvantage that it is unfamiliar, but  the advantage that it provides a pretty blank canvas for a Director.

The plot is simple enough. Set in isolated  Cornwall a storm disrupts the home shared by two elderly sisters and their housekeeper. As the storm abates, a mysterious young man is found washed up on the beach.  They take him in to convalesce, his musical talent emerges, and a love story unfolds until he moves on. Fairly inconsequential stuff. But in the hands of Grange Players, and Director Rosemary Manjunath, the sparsely placed dots are gloriously connected, and the empty spaces filled, by a raft of fine character performances.

In coastal Cornwall, a crisis is when a decision has to be made as to whether biscuits may be taken mid-week, drama centres around whether a Vaughan Williams movement was played a little fast, and conflict resolution is effected by an extra sugar in a cup of tea. Character development is vital, and Manjunath has been skilled, and fortunate, in her choice of cast.

The stage adaptation and script is by Shaun McKenna. Good dialogue is always a premium commodity in the theatre, McKenna is a skilled practitioner. On stage he has written for Lord of the Rings and adapted work by Terry Pratchet and Henry James, on the radio his work includes Home Front, and Le Carre, and Winston Graham adaptations. It shows. Easy on the ear, amusing, entertaining and engaging, the laconic, languid soundscape is never allowed to drag, the character pieces never outstay their welcome.

 

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Photo: Alastair Barnsley

 

Set just before the outbreak of World War Two, the sceptre of Hitler, and distrust of foreigners in general, and Germans in particular, strikes a chord in post Brexit Britain that McKenna could not have anticipated, giving the script an unexpected, and not unwelcome, edge in parts.

Mary Whitehouse (Ursula) and Sandra Haynes (Janet) star as the hospitable sisters, neither of whom have been lucky in love. They bicker, and fuss, and circle their patient with sincere but awkward, enthusiasm. I recall as a teenager my octogenarian grandmother being hospitalised after a fall. A frail, slip of a woman, I was incredulous when she remarked to me that although on the outside she knew she was a decrepit wreck, on the inside she still felt as she did when she was eighteen years old. It is that sense of youth which McKenna taps into with the sisters, as he does with the elderly Dr Mead, superbly played by Paul Viles.

David Smith gives an assured performance as the shipwrecked Andrea Marowski, childlike as he recovers and learns English, before leaving to seek his fortune with equally mysterious Olga Danilov, confidently played by Leah Solmaz. Mary Whitehouse opposite Smith, and Paul Viles opposite Solmaz produce touching vignettes of cross-generational love and attraction which cannot be. Lightening the tone, Jill Simkin’s housekeeper Dorcas is a delight, always on hand to bring everyone down to earth, bake a cake, or make a cup of tea, and  with a very creditable West Country accent. The crystal- clear diction from all of the cast was much appreciated too.

A nostalgic, elegiac feel results, and is all enveloping, warm , soft and comforting, just like Ursula’s bedside storytelling of the prescient “ Little Mermaid”. The dulcet tones of the shipping forecast, the simple pleasures of listening to the radio, a good sandwich, somehow these seem to be all you need for a few hours.

Manjunath’s vision for this production has been satisfyingly realised with the help of a fine company. A sold- out house offered  well-deserved rousing applause at the final curtain, with excellent word of mouth ensuring that only a handful of tickets are available for the remaining shows to Saturday 25th March.

 

 

 

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A Streetcar Named Desire – Sutton Arts Theatre

****

streetcar poster

 

This multiple prize winning drama from Tennessee Williams rightly remains a favourite with audiences and theatrical companies alike. It is also hugely challenging. Its reputation guarantees a good house, but the roster of actors who have taken parts, including Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh ( directed by Sir Lawrence Olivier), Alec Baldwin , Jessica Lange, and more recently Gillian Anderson, sets an acting standard of the highest order.

Seventy years old this year, its visceral nature and smouldering sexual tension scandalised a contemporary theatre going public and was too much for the film censors in 1951 who insisted on numerous cuts. The compact , bijou, Sutton Arts theatre physically is an ideal cockpit for the claustrophobic drama that unfolds. I should make it clear that this review is not under the Behind the Arras banner, and is not a paid for “puff piece”, just my own call.

Bringing the production to stage had generated a drama of its own as original Director Claire Armstrong Mills dramatically withdrew from the role, leaving Debbie Loweth to bring the show to stage amidst a whirl of intrigue which probably deserves its own play. Claire had previously directed Emily Armstrong  and Debbie Loweth in “Steaming”, a production which trumped the professional production which had recently toured, and in which Emily had shone. It was a shame that  Claire’s vision of the show was not to be tested.

I was expectant to discover how this production would shape up. The film was seductive and intense. Benedict Andrews’ magnificent stage revival a few years ago , which I was privileged to see, had Gillian Anderson as a bird of prey, smouldering, in a contemporary setting. Loweth opts for the original period, taking no chances with audience expectation.

Upon entering, the audience is greeted by an open stage set, a dry ice induced heat haze, and players already on stage. There are no closed walls, everything is open, any secrets must out. Set designer Mark Nattrass should feel immensely proud of the space he created, even if his set building team were numerous enough to rebuild the entire theatre, let alone a stage set.

Stanley Kowalski’s role is pivotal to the success of the show, and in Robbie Newton we had a man, and a physique, up to the task. Gore Vidal memorably claimed that Kowalski was the first erotic male role written in an American drama. Newton’s Kowalski is brutish, basic, and primeval, his guttural drawl oozing menace and threat in a fine characterisation.

Phebe Jackson is outstanding as Kowalski’s wife Stella. An emotional foil to sister Blanche, and physical foil to husband Stanley, she convincingly portrays the paradox of the beaten wife who still loves her man, without sentimentality or melodrama.

Dexter Whitehead offers a thoughtful and nuanced dimension to Stanley’s poker buddy Mitch, a beacon of decency amongst the brawling, mewling poker players. Originally the play was to be called “Poker Night”, only to be pulled by the agent who thought the name too closely resembled the Western genre, even though its association of bluff and deception is perfectly apposite.

However any production of “Streetcar” hinges on the role of Blanche Dubois, taken by Emily Armstrong. Emily tears into the role with energy, commitment and swagger in an emotionally draining interpretation ( she looked shattered at the curtain call). My friend and colleague, Critic Roger Clarke, called it a “dream performance”.

streetcar photo

 

I had a few quibbles. The first act came at a frantic pace. The deep south American accent is a slow, languid drawl, Emily’s  quicker, staccato , North Eastern seaboard delivery meant that some great lines became rushed, or lost. Early on, Stan takes off his shirt in a display which should be one of tense, drawn out eroticism. It was rushed. When Blanche asks him to zip up her dress, and he ham-fistedly obliges it should be a case study in feminine seduction versus male force. It was rushed. When Blanche toys with a young door collector,  we need to believe she could do it, it is what caused her to lose job at school. It was rushed. In short, on occasion, desire was in shorter supply than I would have liked. I was surprised that the coquettish grand entrance through the audience was not reprised by a similar exit at the end . But that is what makes this play so demanding, the unwritten acting demands are as great as those of the words themselves.

Loweth cleverly presents  the characters in such a way that it is difficult for the audience to take sides. Blanche mixes attitude and front, with deception and despair. Stanley mixes thuggery and insight in equal measure. Mitch is self -effacing, but a bit of a dupe.  Stella tries to help everyone but herself.  All the main characters deceive, yet all offer truth at various times.

Sutton Arts succeed in presenting  a credible interpretation of this most demanding of shows, bringing alive writing which still shines after all these years. “ A Street Car Named Desire” runs til Saturday 18th march. Hop on board.

Gary Longden

 

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Anita and Me – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

anita-and-me

****

There were two home fixtures in Wolverhampton on Tuesday night. The first was at Molineux, where Wolverhampton Wanderers were at home. The second was at the Grand, where Meera Syal’s play was opening for the first night of its 2017 tour.

Set in the fictional Tollington, based just outside of Wolverhampton, an unusually, and welcome, ethnically diverse audience turned out to support a production that tells the tale of a young Sikh, Punjabi girl, Meena,  and her family, growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970’s.Black Country accents were going to be under unusually intense scrutiny.

Syal’s story has flourished as a book, film and stage show. Its ingredients are nostalgia, xenophobia and humour, racism and song, family, growing up and love. Although the reality of the problems faced by the immigrant community are never dodged, this is no didactic polemic, instead a joyful celebration of the human spirit.

The outdoor set, depicting terraced houses tightly packed, crouches around the stage as a community has to deal with economic uncertainty, a new transport link, and a school closure, all depressingly familiar forty years later. Seventies references abound, not least with the ubiquitous chopper bicycle, and Jackie, the magazine for teenage girls, which sold over half a million copies a week, with its rabidly read ” Cathy and Clare” problems page, essential reading for dealing with  life’s  challenges for young girls.

Set and costume designer Bob Bailey has done a wonderful job in creating the stage and vibrantly coloured costume , as have Ann Yee and Sara Green in bringing the movement and dance alive. Inevitably  Coronation Street and Loose Women star, Shobna Gulati, attracts the most interest as Daljit, Meena’s mother, but it is Rina Fatania as grandmother Namima who grabs the limelight with her larger than life characterisation and comedy.

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The mini -skirted Laura Anamayo shines as the eponymous Anita, unlikely and sometimes unsuitable friend to Meena (Aasiya Shah), her boyfriend Sam ( Sam Lowbridge) brings a realistic dark edge to proceedings with his anti-immigrant views and behaviour. Inevitably a stage adaptation of a book has to precis and simplify , Tanika Gupta is up to the task. the show will not disappoint those familiar with the book and film. Anita is rough, her backstory an explanation for, but not an excuse for, her actions. The violence meted out by her and her boyfriend is mirrored by the violence her mother is experiencing at home. Gupta has quite a lot to cram in.

Director Roxana Silbert has skilfully balanced  competing themes to produce a feel good show which transcends age, gender and race. The impromptu song and dance numbers always entertain, and are sometimes unexpected. Yet the fact that the show is neither a  full blown musical, nor straight play, is part of its charm. An enthusiastic audience offered a rousing reception at the final curtain, something I suspect will become routine as this show, which runs till Sat 18th , continues its tour to Cheltenham, Blackpool, Nottingham, Bradford and Edinburgh.

Gary Longden

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Monstersaurus – Derby Theatre

****

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A stage adaptation of this hugely popular story , written by Claire Freedman, can only be judged by the reaction of the children in the audience. They loved it.

Featuring Monty, his Mum, and invented monsters, the performance culminates with the appearance of  the large but not too scary, Monstersaurus himself. A simple set, bright monsters, and easy to follow story,  work well for youngsters  around 3 to 5 years old. Audience members are invited to contribute ingredients into Monty’s monster making machine, and there are song and dance routines to entertain, engage; and delight. When a toaster walks, the children roared with delight, as they did at a rogue robot, and sausages.

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The Big Wooden Horse Theatre Company had previously produced the successful Aliens Love Underpants, they certainly know how to keep young children entertained. At fifty minutes, with no interval, every child’s attention was held, the performance did not outstay its welcome.

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Pantomime is the traditional introduction for children to theatre, this show is complimentary to that experience with its audience participation sections, silly songs, and dances, to have even mums and dads, grans and grand dads dancing in the aisles in an almost sold out main auditorium.

Monstersaurus, finishes on Tuesday 14th February and continues on tour nationwide.

 

 

 

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