Cabaret – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre



Once in a while, a show catches you off guard, it surprises you, and delights you. This is such a show. Sumptuously staged, it veers from burlesque, to grotesque, from bright lights, to dark alleyways.

cab bill


“Cabaret” is synonymous with the 1972 film in which Liza Minelli  achieved worldwide superstardom with her portrayal of nightclub turn, Sally Bowles. Its origins  are the eponymous musical, first performed in1966, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and the book by Joe Masteroff. In turn the book is  based upon John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am  Camera”, which was adapted from the short novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood. Subsequent productions have seen changes to the song and character roster.




This is a new Bill Kenwright production, a man who understands theatre better than most. As the United Kingdom plunges into uncertainty and a prorogued Parliament, pre Brexit,  so Kenwright takes us to  1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, and the notorious Kit Kat Klub, played out on a brooding monochrome set, with only stage lights to colour it. It captures the zeitgeist of our times.



Rising star Kara Lily Hayworth , who excelled in the stage production of Cilla ( also a Bill Kenwright show), takes the part of Sally Bowles. Veteran actress  Anita Harris plays  German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider  as she embarks on a doomed relationship with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor, sensitively portrayed by James Patterson, who knows that a bit of fruit is the way to a woman’s heart.



At curtain up it is John Partridge, with the fabulous part of MC, who welcomes and draws us, and Sally Bowles, into his twilight world of darkness and depravity, leering through a camera lens, observer, commentator, and voyeur.  A welcome nod to its “I Am A Camera” origins.



This is the strongest cast of principals  I have seen in a long time. Partridge, taunts, cajoles and narrates, sinister and compelling. Physically imposing, he gives the air of a man that can make you do as he says if you don’t do what he says when he asks nicely. Anita Harris and James Patterson are wonderful playing out the vital narrative thread of a love affair doomed by the far right. Harris sings beautifully, with a rasping, careworn tone to her vocal. Schultz’s  fundamental decency, and his inability to understand the nature of the impending Nazi threat , laden with pathos, impresses enormously.



The production seduces initially with catchy piano, and on -stage house band, until the temperature rises, and the lights go down, leaving us trapped in the cellar club.



Kara Lily Hayworth excels as the naïve, wide eyed ingenue at the start, whose perspective shifts as the story unfolds, culminating in an emotional, plangent, rendition of the title song at the end. Her lover Cliff, played by Charles Hagerty, provides an anchor performance opposite the exotic colour of both her, and MC, as he struggles with his own sexuality in an uncertain world. The strong ensemble  revel in well written characters, and a compelling story.



The movement throughout the show is a joy and testament to the skilful hand of choreographer Javier De Frutos. Bare male torso’s and stocking clad showgirls abound, a flash of breasts and male nudity teases and tantalises. Two set piece scenes stand out, firstly with the MC as part chariot driver, part puppet master, his minions on reins.


Secondly a stunning fight scene in which Hagerty is beaten up by the Nazis, part street mugging, part sadomasochistic extravaganza.



Unlike most musicals, the end is downbeat, but powerful. Hayworth delivers “Cabaret” not as a show stopping, barnstorming finale, as in the film. Instead it is reflective, resigned and rueful. An ironic delivery, restrained, under sung, but all the more powerful for it. Just previously , Partridge had sung “If You Could See Her”, poignant, and with outstanding tone. Indeed throughout, the lyrics, by Fred Ebb stand out as intelligent and clever, a cut above almost all of his peers.

cab prog



A perky, vibrant, chorus line, superbly costumed, engage and strut with vim and verve. This is an excellent revival, capturing the frenetic fragility of our times, luring us into hedonistic escape before we pay, and runs until Saturday  5th ,then continues on nationwide tour into 2020. Wolverhampton is only the second stop on the tour, so there is plenty of opportunity  to catch it either in Wolverhampton, or around the country. Do not miss this. In the words of Sally Bowles:

“What good is sitting, alone in the room?

Come, hear the music play

Life is a cabaret, old chum

Come to the cabaret!” 


Gary Longden

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Too Petty – Flowerpot, Derby


The age of the tribute band is upon us. As the greats from the classic rock era grow old, infirm, or die, the demand for their music remains. No-one goes to a Beethoven concert, then complains that Beethoven wasn’t playing, or conducting, and so with rock, the torch of the original artists’ music is handed from one generation to the next.


With around twenty albums, in various guises, recorded over five decades, there is no shortage of material for Too Petty to delve into. Even more fortunately, Petty was not a flamboyant frontman. A Rolling Stones, Led Zep or Who tribute is pretty much defined by how their Jagger, Plant, or Daltrey looks, beyond that, if you can sing and play convincingly that is enough. A Tom Petty tribute does not have that restriction.


On stage, visually, Too Petty appear to overtly challenge the originals’ image. The lead singer and drummer look as though they should be in a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute, the bass player is a dead ringer for Trevor Bolder from the Spiders From Mars, the keyboard player a Frank Zappa / Rick Wakeman hybrid. So they better be able to play and sing, right? They can.


I have been a fan of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from the first album, and saw him play for the first time at Knebworth in 78, followed up by the Damn The Torpedoes tour in 1980, and then again in London in 87. They broke in the UK in 76, just as the Punk tidal wave was sweeping all before it.


I had first became aware of him with the release of the first album, in November 1976, the eponymous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which is a traditional rock album. It contained diverse, well written, well- constructed, well played songs. In “American Girl” he had also written a song which would be their signature for an entire career. In Britain the highly influential Fluff Freeman radio show backed it for rock fans – they took to it immediately.


In retrospect the response to Punk from the record company was risible. For the second “You’re Gonna Get it” Album, released in May 78, the band wore biker jackets and shades on the cover and released the punk length, spiky, guitar driven “I Need to Know” as the single. The album was not as strong as the first, rushed to capitalise on the success of the first album, with only “Listen to Her Heart” enduring. But it worked. The trompe de l’oeil was pulled off. The single, and album, were a success, and was accepted by the all- powerful British music critics, they stayed the right side of the music press. The residual rock crowd were impressed, the young punk crowd were not alienated.


I saw them for the first time on June 24th 1978 at Knebworth supporting Genesis in front of a 100,000 fans. In retrospect it was an ostensibly monumental task for such a relatively young band, in practice it was easy. This was no fledgling band of wannabees washed up on the shore by the first wave of punk, instead a group of seasoned stage performers and practiced musicians. It was the biggest test of their careers to date- but one which they took in their stride.


Tom Petty at Knebworth

With only two albums behind them, the forty- five minute slot suited them down to the ground. They just played their strongest songs, stretched out “Breakdown” ,and Tom, in his top hat tried to look overwhelmed by the universal mid- afternoon acclaim at the end of the set. Their “stadium” credentials instantly established.

I next saw them on March 7th, 1980 on the “Damn the Torpedoes” tour. Despite management/ contractual wrangles, they had produced their strongest album yet, and the 3.487 capacity Hammersmith Odeon, with its 192ft wide stage, was perfect for them. The place was packed with their fans who knew all the songs, the capacity was big enough to produce a vibrant atmosphere, yet small enough to bottle it. They were sensational, opening with a swaggering, searing “Shadow of a Doubt” , and the mid set quintet of “Refugee/ Listen to her heart/ American Girl/ Breakdown and Too Much Ain’t enough” reaching heights that few artists can match.

So how did Too Petty shape up?

As soon as the chiming introduction to “Listen to her Hear” kicked off the show I knew that everything was going to be just fine. The sound was spot on, the vocals clear and faithful, the harmonies, exact. Too Petty played for just over two hours, but could have played for ten hours, and still missed out some fan favourites. Live, Tom Petty was in his element ,and continued touring regularly, although insufficiently visiting the UK, until his death. He frequently reworked his songs giving Too Petty useful latitude to reimagine some songs, most notably on “The Waiting”. So while being neither a lookalikes band, or musical reproduction perfectionists, they managed to crucially capture the spirit of the music, which is what the fans want.


The surprise of the night for me was, “Yer So Bad”. On record it is routine. Live, Too Petty injected it with vim and vitality to make it one of the highlights of the night, the other being a whiplash version of “I Need to Know”. Songs were picked from throughout the band’s career, and Tom’s solo, albums. There was not a single duff choice there. I had forgotten what a good song, “Anything That’s Rock n Roll” is. My only minor gripe being that a terrific “Running Down A Dream” which segued into “Refugee” might have worked better with “Refugee” first.


What struck me was not only the musical dexterity of the band, but that they played with a smile on their faces. Afterwards they were generous with their time chatting to myself, and other members of the audience. It was instantly apparent that they are fans at heart too. It is a rock n roll show, and a venue like the Flowerpot in Derby is ideal, tight, a bit squashed, and with loads of atmosphere.


I would have loved to have heard “ Too Much Ain’t Enough”, “Woman in Love”, Crawling Back to You” and “It’s Good to be King” included, but could not fault any of the songs that were played.


There is always next time.


Catch them if you can, as soon as you can, with Cyprus Rocks, at which they are appearing 2nd Oct – 9thOct 2019 as good a place as any.


Gary Longden


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Hair – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Hair tour

Hair – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

H1 ensembel

Passers- by on Wolverhampton Broad Street may have mistaken the billboards for “Hair” as an immediate tribute to our new Prime Minister’s legendary tousled locks. They would have been disappointed. Instead this is a 50th Anniversary tour of a show which premiered in 1967.



It is a production which had a contemporaneous reputation as a trail blazer, shocker, and as the first rock musical. The story is taken from a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot. set

A lavish set oozes 60’s culture, a live band sits in assorted tepees, hides and dens, slogans abound, providing the platform for this tale of the “tribe”, hippies of the “Age of Aquarius”, draft dodging in New York City. Claude (Paul Wilkins) Berger ( Jake Quickenden), and their roommate Sheila (Daisy Wood Davies) and their friends, a performing cast of fourteen, lay bare their struggle with American conservatism and the youth culture explosion burgeoning all around them.

H3 daisy

Daisy Wood Davies as Sheila

I was a child living in America during this period, hippies were regarded as communists, subversives and perverts whose aim it was to subvert decent America. It is difficult, half a century later to comprehend the generation gap, and the ideological schism which prevailed. The show opens with the cast lighting spliffs, shocking at the time, now it is commonplace on Wolverhampton High Street. Masturbatory jokes which will have shocked originally have now been popularised, and improved upon, in “Avenue Q” and more. The onstage nudity at the end of Act One is tempered by internet pornography, music videos and even television in the modern age. The Hair of 2019 has much to compete with, but can lay claim to be the progenitor of much of what has followed.

H2 touch ens
The cast throw themselves into the production with enthusiasm and vim, the clothes a wonderful trip down memory lane as the cast embark upon a trip of an entirely different nature. Forays into the audience have their comic value exploited to the maximum, not least by Tom Bales as Margaret Mead. A song is never more than a few minutes away, there are forty of them, the live band faithfully recreating the sixties sound with some excellent solo songs being taken by the cast.


It is also easy to forget that modern pop was barely a decade old when this show was written, the edge that the music itself represented then, has now been dulled by its incorporation into the mainstream.


My only reservation was the arrangements of the chorus singing. Fourteen voices are a lot, a decent choir. The songs never lacked volume, or gusto, but did lack nuance, particularly on the opening “Aquarius”. It is a song made for harmonies. The 5th Dimension who made the song famous numbered only five, but their arrangement was stunning. Those harmonies and parts were largely absent here, instead it was blasted out, and at a pace a little slower than it should have been.


Paul Wilkins, is the dominant performance of the show, and convincingly portrays the moral conundrums of the time, his solo vocals on “I Got Life” and “Where Do I Go” are terrific. The script has been updated to allow references to Trump and Afghanistan, drawing the narrative into the 20th century, and the themes explored still resonate today, although hippy culture looks more quirky and quaint now, than revolutionary.

h4 en

This is a fine revival of a period piece which will be nostalgic for those in their seventies, and a useful historical reference point for younger people wishing to track modern musical theatre history. It also boasts one of the best programmes I have ever seen, for once, it is well worth the money. Hair runs until 27th July, and continues on tour to Cologne and Glasgow.

Gary Longden

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How Steep is Steep?



steep 1

Laser dots
Ten metres apart
Were the start

Of when it happened
Baldwin Street Dunedin
Was flattened

By the Men of Harlech
Whose angle was more acute
On the Welsh route
At Forde Pen Llech

Thirty five degrees is high
Reaching to the sky

But thirty seven
Takes you to heaven

Resulting in being unfurled
As the steepest street in the world

Gary Longden

steep 2

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I have flown on many occasions. The thrill now dulled by the snaking airport queues for check in, passport checks, security checks, and boarding checks, before being herded into seats so rigid and short of legroom, that there must be some sort of EU regulation that bans them.


Mid-flight, at 30,000 ft, somewhere over Croatia the call came over the intercom – “if there is a doctor on board could they make themselves known to a flight attendant”. A woman who looked too portly to be a doctor pressed the buzzer. She was duly ushered to the back. Everyone desperately tried to look, without looking, necks swivelled with a speed normally associated with Barn Owls, a low hum of conversation “Have they died?”, “Will we be diverted?”. After a while the doctor returned to her seat. It was unclear whether the patient had passed away, and her work was done, ( do they jettison bodies, a sort of burial at sea?) or whether the patient had responded magnificently to the medics’ ministrations. Still, I had witnessed the call.



It reminded me of the story of a similar call that had been made on a flight to Florida from Heathrow when a man suffered a suspected heart attack. Twenty two seat buzzers sounded. A party of British Cardiologists was attending a Cardiology Convention in Miami. The patient lived.


Serendipity works in strange ways.


It was an ordinary evening in an ordinary French rural town, a dormitory for Paris. McDonalds was doing a brisk trade to hungry children, and resigned parents. What followed was straight out of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” when Pumpkin and Hunny- Bunny decide to hold it up.

best pf raid
Two young men entered the restaurant, one firing a sawn off shotgun into the ceiling as a warning, the other brandishing a handgun. “This is a robbery, no-one move and no-one gets hurt” ( the equivalent in French obviously) rings out as the robbers approach the terrified staff behind the tills.


The diners gasp, cower, whimper in terror. Apart from nine young men, casually dressed, all wearing jackets, all sporting neat close hair cuts. They don’t speak. They communicate by flashing eyes, barely noticeable body language, which says “ Stay calm, do nothing, the risk to the public is too great”. Will this be a straightforward till robbery? Will the customers be robbed? Will hostages be held? Or is there a more sinister terrorism motive? In seconds, the tills are looted, the robbers whoop triumphantly and flee the building, the doors flapping behind them.


Cue nine men standing up, reaching inside their jackets for holstered Glock pistols running to, and beyond, the doors in pursuit, closing on their prey with every bound. “Armed Police halt or we shoot” they bark. Both  robbers look over their shoulder in shock. One collapses to the ground in abject surrender, immediately pounced upon by two of the officers, the other fires towards the officers. Three shots are returned, all find their target, who slumps wounded and is immediately disarmed and restrained. Job done.


The nine members of the French Elite Anti- Terrorism unit, who were returning to their barracks after a hostage rescue training day, and had stopped for a burger, waited for the local Gendarmerie to arrive to tidy up.

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Sutton Arts Preview 2019/20 Season


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Sutton Arts have announced their 2019/20, 75th anniversary, programme. Invariably they produce a thought provoking combination of hidden gems, much loved standards, and the quirky.They have excelled once again. Here is a preview of the treats in store.

Absolute Hell

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Sutton Arts have not bothered to save their best for last, but instead laid down a marker by producing it first.

This is a brilliant choice by a relatively forgotten talent, Rodney Ackland, who died in 1991. He was a part Jewish, English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.
Ackland worked with Alfred Hitchcock, first as an actor, then as a screenwriter, collaborating with him on London fog-bound thriller Number Seventeen .

Originally entitled “ The Pink Room”, premiered in 1952, it failed first time round. Rewritten, and retitled , it enjoyed considerable success due to its salacious content. A large cast is provided for, black marketeers, bohemians, gays, artists down on their luck and kept socialites. Character acting opportunities abound. There is even a tyrannical theatre critic – I may well audition. The fabric of the Club is falling to bits – the set team can take a night off.



Will the director opt for the Weimar feel of Cabaret, or the intellectually foppish world of Freud and Bacon? The Club “La Vie En Rose” is loosely based on Muriel Belcher’s Colony Rooms. Will the producer resist Edith Piafs’s rendition of the eponymous standard? Grace Jones’s perhaps? Go on – I dare you!

The script is verbose, misogynistic and crude – and with a running time of about three hours, including a fifteen minute interval and a five minute pause, lengthy. The audience will need stamina as well as a soft cushion. It is also quite static. But at its best it is a heady feast of post-war Soho decadence in bomb-blasted London. A place where members drink into the morning , of lost souls, and bruised lovers. Its content and language , was condemned as ‘a libel on the British people’ when first performed in 1952. Sixty -eight years later how will it look?

Towards the end of the play a guest at club in waves a gun above his head. “You’ll never escape!” he yells. Let’s hope the audience do not feel the same for this opus.

The play begins in the last days of World War II. London has endured the Blitz, and rationing continues to contract the menu at La Vie en Rose. Around club owner Christine Foskett’s club, artists mix with servicemen, black market dealers and prostitutes, one of whom silently circumnavigates the stage. Boho in Soho. Christine’s American lover has recently abandoned her, and she finds solace in failed writer Hugh Marriner.

Sutton Arts took on a huge risk last season with “Jerusalem” – and triumphed. The challenge in “Absolute Hell” is that Ackland asks us to care for people who do not care for each other. I saw the National Theatre production last year. It divided opinion savagely. Will the producer make the production sleazy enough? Will the running time be cut? Will the cast be big enough ( and interesting enough) to counterbalance an essentially slow play?

The theatre has taken a chance with this, go and see it, and love it or hate it.


I first saw this as a play in the West End in the early 70’s, it was one of the first stage shows my parents ever took me to. I was enthralled, as I was by the 1972 film starring Michael Caine. It has subsequently been remade for cinema twice.



Playwright Anthony Shaffer’s script is tight, the mystery and suspense expertly presented. It is set in the Wiltshire manor house of Andrew Wyke, a murder/ mystery author. Wyke’s home is a temple to his obsession with the inventions and deceptions of fiction and his fascination with games and game-playing. He lures his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, and convinces him to stage a robbery of her jewellery. Thereafter, what is real, and what is imagined, tantalises the audience. It is said that the composer Stephen Sondheim, a friend of Shaffer, who also had a fascination for illusion and mystery, was the inspiration for the play.



This will delight the murder mystery crowd and draw new admirers to this finely crafted work.
Wizard of Oz

I was a child. We were living in America. Christmas was coming, The snow was falling thick and fast outside, then this enthralling story set in Kansas unfolded before my eyes. I was hooked. The magic of this story has never left for me.

A departure from the straight forwards pantomime of recent years, nonetheless this will not disappoint.

I bet Emily and Dexter will have a miniature witch scuttling along the wire over the auditorium…

A success as certain as Santa’s arrival on the 25th.



Absurd Person Singular

Alan Ayckbourn is a consummate, hugely successful, playwright. He understands the craft of comedy and farce as well as anyone. He does not write for posterity, he writes for a living, and has earned well out of it. His heyday was the 1970’s, but he was also prolific in the 60’s and 80’s. He was very good at writing about “now”.

That now has passed. The now of “The Good Life”, “ It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, Love they Neighbour” “Are You Being Served”. The relationship neuroses which he specialises in are from a different time . That is no sleight on his writing. Its success was its contemporaneity , not its enduring statement on life and love.

There are excellent modern comedies being written by the likes of Torben Betts. “Invincible” (2014) is superb, “Caroline’s Kitchen” (2019) a joy. Betts is himself a disciple of Ayckbourn. It would be good for the Committee to look forwards, and not back, for this genre

Sutton Arts have wisely drafted in the master of comedy, Barrie Aitchison, to realise this production. He will not let anyone down.



An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde plays are a challenge. If you ham them up, they become too smug and arch, played straight, they can be laboured and drawn out. Fortunately, alongside “The Importance of Being Earnest” this is in the top two of his most produced plays.

The action is set in London, in “the present”, and takes place over the course of twenty-four hours. Will the Director elect to present this in contemporary 21st century style?

He started writing it in the summer of 1893,at Goring-on-Thames, where the pop singer George Michael used to live, after which he named the character Lord Goring.

After opening on 3 January 1895, the play continued for 124 performances. But In April of the same year, Wilde was arrested for gross indecency and his name was publicly removed from the play.

It is a tale of blackmail and political corruption, public and private honour. “Sooner or later, we shall all have to pay for what we do.”

Would a man marry a woman he did not love simply to protect a friend, or keep a confidence? Today that would be unlikely, but for the original audiences of “An Ideal Husband,” it was plausible enough amid an array of misunderstandings.

Goring declares, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”. Occasionally the lengthy script, which can run to three hours, does become self- obsessed, but Wilde is such a good writer that it does not matter.
The Deep Blue Sea

A stunning choice.

Written by Terence Rattigan in 1952, the story and characters are based upon his secret relationship with Kenny Morgan, and the aftermath following the end of their relationship.

Taking place over the course of one day, the play begins with the discovery of Hester Collyer in her flat by her neighbours, after Hester has failed in an attempt to commit suicide by gassing herself.

What distinguishes this play is its exploration of the inequality of passion, and its signature, quintessentially British understatement.

The characters are brilliantly written, the part of Collyer should have every actress in North Birmingham and South Staffs hammering at the door to claim.

With the right cast it could be the hit of the season. Highly recommended.


This is a left field selection. A revival of a show first performed in 1970 featuring a series of vignettes on love and marriage, not a linear story. It can be seen either as unforgivably bitty, or bravely surreal in its disregard for the conventions of Broadway musical. Its episodic storytelling gives great scope for the wit and neurotic comedy of Sondheim. However its narrative strength, where it exists, is in the unbearable loneliness of urban life, where everyone talks incessantly and nobody listens. Something which Neil Tennant, lyricist with 80’s band the Pet Shop Boys, a huge Sondheim fan, revisited in some of his own songs.

Although the libretto will divide, the score will not. I agree with those who believe this to be Stephen Sondheim’s finest music.

“The Little Things You Do Together” and “Getting Married Today” are sublime, even if we have insufficient time to develop warmth for the characters themselves. Listen out for     “ Getting Married Today” ,” Ladies Who Lunch” and, at the end, when Evans sings the spine-tingling “Being Alive”. human race.

It will be interesting to see whether the Director gives this a 1960’s feel, as per the original, or brings it up to the present.


There is so much to look forwards to for this season, for dates and booking:


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1984 – Derby Theatre

1984 header
George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949. Seventy years on Derby University productions have rebooted the story for the 21st Century. The undergraduates have produced every aspect of the show with the only external direction coming from co-directors, Theatre Arts Lecturer, Amanda Wallace, and Artistic Director, Sarah Brigham.



A quirk of fate sees the production taking place thirty five years after the title date, which was itself thirty five years after when it was written, in a slice of auspicious synchronicity.

1984 slogan


The stage adaptation is by Nick Lane an actor turned director, as well as playwright. From 2006-2014 he was the Associate Director and Literary Manager of Hull Truck Theatre, a company with which he has had a long association and with whom he shares a connection with Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sarah Brigham.



No production of 1984 could omit Orwell’s ubiquitous political slogans, this one uses them well. They loom all over the stage on giant screens, omnipresent, omniscient augmented by wall posters. Big Brother is everywhere. Tom Bathurst’s work as video and projection designer is impressive, the screens at various times sending out messages, watching, and live action interface in Room 101.



Chelsea Forde, is superb as Julia, the female lead in a story in which women fight to make their mark. Fey, but confident and self- assured, she draws the audience to her as surely as she lures the affections of Winston.



Director Amanda Wallace redresses the book’s gender imbalance on stage by creating a six strong female chorus of narrators, an innovative idea which works commendably in bridging the gaps between a three hundred page book and a two hour stage production. Shania Waterson stood out, providing another strong female presence. They played a vital role in injecting volume, pace, energy, jeopardy, and a visceral presence, particularly in the memorable “Five Minute Hate” sequence


Ewan McConnachie plays an intense, reflective, neurotic Winston, in a role now laden with the reality of 21st Century surveillance. It builds to a cataclysmic climax in his betrayal of Julia. His nemesis, the spy O’Brien, is memorably portrayed by Robert Boyle with sinuous malevolence.


The first act sets the scene, the second is where the narrative unfolds, the highlight of which is unquestionably Winston’s confrontation with rats in Room 101, skilfully utilising multi- media to great effect. Dominic Murray’s lighting design was monochromatic and powerful in white light. Jordan Stych’s sound sparse, but always complimentary. A single, two tier, stage set , designed by Jude Martin, functions well. The bedroom doubles into a torture chamber, a nice twist on the banning of sex – and beware naff hanging picture frames.


Costumier Emma Jayne Smith decided that any female hairstyle would do, so long as it was a blonde ponytail, a commitment which even Robert Boyle entered into. Boiler suits, and buttoned blousons created a uniform which were enormously effective visually, blending perfectly with the live action screens to chilling totalitarian effect.


Thematically the story fits perfectly into the 21st Century present .The three word slogans such as “Ignorance is strength” and “Freedom is Slavery” will be familiar to watchers of Trump, and “Build that Wall”, and Brexit with “Leave Means Leave”. Fake news abounds. Winston is coerced into declaring that four is five as nonsensically as our Parliament was recently confronted with the idea that an old deal was a new deal. The only difference being in O’Brien’s success with electric torture.



This is a hugely rewarding production. Inevitably 1984 cognoscenti will argue about the minutiae of the page to stage adaptation. The second half is more satisfying than the first, but the overall result more than does justice to the book with every member of the cast enthusiastically contributing to a weighty and substantial whole. Ends Saturday 25/ 5/19.
Gary Longden

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