Headley Theatre Club predicts a Riot!

Riot! cast outside the gates of Headley workhouse (now Headley Grange)

 

In November 1830 a mob of several hundred men stormed the dreaded workhouses at Selborne and Headley and laid them waste.

This year Jo Smith’s play called Riot!, performed by members of Headley Theatre Club, brings the action to life again as a team of actors visit local venues to tell the story with music, words and action.

The production runs over two weekends from July 14-22, visiting Alton Assembly Rooms (8pm Friday 14), Liphook Village Hall (2.30 and 8pm Saturday 15), The Rural Life Centre, Tilford (2.30pm Sunday 15), The Triangle Liss (8pm Friday 21) and Headley Village Hall (2.30 and 8pm Saturday 22).

Tickets can be obtained from the individual venues, or centrally by visiting the Headley Theatre Club website www.headley-village.com/drama or by ringing 01428 717358.

 

Petersfield Youth Theatre summer workshops

Petersfield Youth Theatre is offering five-day summer workshops to both members and non-members in August.

Summer Fun for 5- to 10-year-olds involves three workshops each day led by professional theatre practitioners.

Summer Stage It for 11- to 14-year-olds involves musical theatre, working with a Director/Choreographer and a Musical Director. You will work towards a presentation for family and friends on the final day.

The summer school will be held at Bedales School, Steep, August 21-25, 10am-3pm. The cost for PYT members is £85, non-members £105.

See www.pyt.org.uk for more details and to book.

 The seminal story of two girls who fled Ireland for freedom

REVIEW

The Country Girls, by Edna O’Brien

 Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The first novel of Edna O’Brien, ‘The Country Girls’, was banned in her native Ireland and criticized by the church when it was published in 1960. This seminal coming-of-age story mirrors her own experiences of growing up in a highly conservative Roman Catholic country where women struggled to make their feelings and voices heard. Her domineering mother despised literature and even tried to burn the books Edna was reading.

In 1954 O’Brien married an Irish writer, who was disliked by her parents, and they moved to London. Her groundbreaking book was published in her 30th year, and it changed the tone of Irish writing.  She later adapted it for the stage, and has since won international acclaim.

The heroines are charming Kate (Grace Molony) and her bubbly best friend Baba, short for Bridget (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman).  We meet the girls in drab convent school uniforms, white socks and sandals. They feel troubled and trapped in their west of Ireland convent, although they are befriended by one of the nuns, Sister Mary.

This matches Edna O’Brien’s own experience in county Clare where she grew up. As a girl before the War and as a young adult, she lived in a deeply  deprived country where women were particularly oppressed. In 1951 Noel Browne, the Health Minister, tried to introduce the free Mother and Child Scheme to protect young women. This was opposed by the church and the medcial profession, and the Minister had to resign. Books were banned, films were censored, and there was no TV, or mains water for many people, until the Sixties.

Against this real life claustrophobic background, we find the two teenage girls in the story trying to find their way. Baba is constantly breaking the rules in search of fun and leads Kate astray. Out of school, they meet a couple of spiv businessmen. Kate rejects their advances as she is being courted by an older married man, known simply as Mr Gentleman (Valery Schatz). Baba is expelled from the convent after going off with her beau, and the two girls are separated for a while.

  

Kate is flattered by the attentions of the older man and shows a growing affection for him, although he is married. However, the two girls are reunited and Baba persuades Kate, with some difficulty, to leave Mr Gentleman and go with her to London. Kate battles with the demands of her drunken widowed father. In leaving home she overcomes her innate sense of duty, but only with the help her wayward friend Baba. For them, that marks the start of a brave new world as they move from childhood to womanhood, suitcases in hand.

The theatrical version of Edna O’Brien’s tale works well. The innocent rebelliousness of the girls within the confines of their strict social straightjacket rings true. The setting by Richard Kent of bleak stone buildings against a green floor provide the stern background for life in Ireland in the first half and London in the second act. ‘The Country Girls’ is at the Minerva until July 8 and you can enjoy a play with good writing, deft direction, and two fine young lead actors.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith

 Powerful performances in a classic cocktail

REVIEW

‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, by Tennessee Williams

Chichester Festival Theatre

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III is reckoned to be one of the top three American playwrights of the 20th century, together with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. The last of his great works, ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, has stormed into the Chichester Festival Theatre this June. Typically for Williams two lost souls battle for survival in a turbulent sea of alcohol, drugs, disappointment, corruption, blackmail, and sex, where inner turmoils are embroiled with outer hostilities. This is truly an exceptional work and it is a big surprise to learn that there were 26 years between its opening on Broadway and its first production in London.

Elia Kazan, who directed the play in the fifties and most of Tennessee’s other successes, has said: “I think this is the most autobiographical play Williams ever wrote. I believe it is Tennessee in disguise.” The Pulitzer Prize winning author himself said, before he became famous with ‘A Glass Menagerie’ in the forties, that his plays would be a “picture of heart”. What a troubled and tormented heart.

Set in St Cloud, Mississippi, on the Gulf of Mexico, the play opens in the large suite of a hotel where gigolo Chance Wayne (Brian J Smith) staggers out of bed leaving his restless older partner moaning in her sleep. She is ‘the Princess Kosmonoplis’ (aka fading film star Alexandra del Lago, played by Marcia Gay Harden). He has returned to his home town shortly after his mother’s funeral, which he failed to attend. He is desperate to regain the respect of the local people by showing them he is still a player. He also wants to regain the love of his teenage crush, Heavenly Finley (Victoria Bewick), the daughter of local bigwig Boss Finley (Richard Cordery), with his dream of making them both Hollywood stars with the help of Alexandra.

The scene seems familiar territory, with echoes of Williams’ previous big success with ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, first produced in 1955. Paul Newman, who had starred on stage and in the later screen version of that work, was also cast as Chance on Broadway. Williams believed that he was rapidly losing his creativity with age (he was only 48 in 1959) and that process was being hastened by drink and drugs. In 1954 he had said: “I don’t dare turn down a street unless I can sight a bar a block and a half down it.”

In the play the word “monsters” is a prevailing theme. “I like you. You’re a nice monster,” Chance tells Alexandra early in the piece. Much later, she says to him: “Monsters don’t die early; they hang on long. Awfully long. Their vanity’s infinite, almost as infinite as their disgust with themselves.” Yet, these monsters are sad, disempowered creatures, brought low by misconceptions, denial, and unrealised dreams. Alexandra is running away from what she expects to be bad reviews of her recent comeback movie; Chance is living on a dream in which someone else can make him a star where he has failed, and when his attractions are beginning to fade as he approaches his thirties. As Alexandra tells him: “Of course, you were crowned with laurel in the beginning, your gold hair was wreathed with laurel, but the gold is thinning and the laurel has withered. Face it – pitiful monster.”

Initially Williams wrote this as a one-act play featuring only Alexandra and Chance. Kazan persuaded him to expand it, so he brought in Boss Finley and his family and the St Cloud people, who are all hostile to Chance. In the background is the story of a black man who was attacked and castrated, and Boss Finley turned a blind eye to this event. Chance fears his own fate, and also learns that at some time he has infected his beloved Heavenly with a sexual disease; she has had a botched hysterectomy, which has left her barren and bitter.

This volatile cocktail has painful effects in a visceral second act which takes place in the downstairs bar of the hotel where Boss Finley is to hold a rally and make a big speech. A drunken, drug-filled Chance tries and fails to convince his former friends that he is on the way to Hollywood stardom. Meanwhile, Alexandra has learned that her fears have proved wrong about her new movie, which has had critical success. She offers Chance the opportunity to escape an angry situation by getting out of town fast and remaining her driver. Will Chance take the chance? He explains his feelings and his decision in a powerful and emotional speech directed straight at the audience at the end of the play.

 

  

This work provides dramatic and memorable theatre. The treatment of the characters and issues make for universal interest, whereas some Williams’ epics seem more removed from everyday life. The performances, especially by the two award-winning leads, and the sets are superb; and there is masterly direction from Jonathan Kent (who directed hits for Chichester and London like the Chekhov trilogy, ‘Gypsy’, and ‘Sweeney Todd’). You are urged to grab the opportunity to taste this wonderful cocktail in the next two weeks, with the run of ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ at the Festival Theatre ending on June 24.

www.cft.org.uk

 

by Nick Keith

 Satisfying start to the new season at Chichester

REVIEW 

Forty Years On by Alan Bennett

Chichester Festival Theatre

Daniel Evans, the new artistic director at the Festival Theatre, has chosen to direct ‘national treasure’ Alan Bennett’s first play as the opener to the 2017 season. Having enjoyed John Gielgud, Paul Eddington and Bennett himself on stage at London’s Apollo Theatre back in the 60s, it was intriguing to see how the old play would stand up, with octogenarian Richard Wilson (who had a heart attack last August) and a large, mainly youthful cast.

The setting immediately gave hope, with a real organ as the vast centerpiece of the stage at Albion House, a minor public school where the headmaster (Wilson) is celebrating his final day in charge. The school and staff are performing for parents and alumni a skittish revue written by Franklin (Alan Cox) who is to become the next head. In the context of the 60s ‘revolution’, Forty Years On takes a nostalgic, romantic and witty view of some of the major events in the 20th century. The revue flits back and forth with gentle pastiches of life in Edwardian England and the two World Wars, interspersed with sketches on T E Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Oscar Wilde’s plays, and upper class thriller writers like John Buchan.

There is lots to laugh about and plenty to smile about, although the play is overlong and some of the sketches don’t work (might have been omitted?). However, fans of Alan Bennett will emerge with satisfied grins. His acute observation, satirical sketches and lyrical speeches evoke laughter and even tears. As a man with a 1st class honours degree in modern history from Oxford University, Bennett gives his play a strong sense of historical truth, and there is no fake news although the tone is usually humorous. Bennett himself was state-educated in Leeds and apparently his insider information about public school life came from his friend Russell Harty, who taught English at Giggleswick School.

Despite a few falterings, Richard Wilson provides sound headship to a lively cast. Danny Lee Wynter, as the master Tempest, makes the most of his parody turns. Mischievous contributions from members of the Youth Theatre include a raucous interruption to proceedings by the school rugby team. The play is also graced by an invigorating tap dance sequence and some rousing anthems from the public school songsheet. Daniel Evans seems a safe pair of hands for CFT, and we can all look forward to the rest of the summer with keen interest. The 2017 programme includes: Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, Fiddler on the Roof, Ian McKellen in King Lear, and Alan Aykbourn’s The Norman Conquests.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith

Winton Players audience had the time of their lives

REVIEW 

TIME OF MY LIFE (Winton Players)

Festival Hall, Petersfield

Friday, April 28

Set in an Italian restaurant, with three strands of timeline: present – the family dinner to celebrate mum Laura’s birthday; future – son Glyn and wife Steph meeting after the dinner and beyond; and past – son Adam and new flame Maureen meeting and getting to know each other leading up to the family dinner.

The marvellous Dil Peeling played five characters – restaurant owner and all four waiters – to great comic effect – a standout performance.

Eileen Riddiford also gave a masterly performance as Laura, the bitter , sniping wife of businessman Gerry, drinking her way to revealing ugly truths about her past.

As Gerry, Nick Witney was rather too kindly, his outrage at his wife’s infidelity with his own brother not quite believable. Nick seems altogether too lovely a person to hit anyone, especially a woman! But his was an intelligent performance, with great clarity.

Lawrence Cook came across well as the pathetic elder son Glyn, the philanderer, disliked by his own mother for being weak. His other half Steph was played by Anne-Lise Kadri, showing a nice arc from mousy downtrodden wife to smart, no-nonsense businesswoman, still kindly towards Glyn but strong enough to say goodbye at the end.

As Maureen (an odd name for a young girl in the nineties), young Monika Jankowska was sassy and bright, funny and beautiful, and it was easy to see why Adam, the adored younger son, would fall in love with her. I’m not sure what the accent was, but it was charming.

Finally, I was sad to see that Charlie Essex, who had been rehearsing for months for the role of Adam, was struck down with illness just before the dress rehearsal. He was back to play the Saturday performances which I would love to have seen, as he is a very talented young actor. However, the last-minute stand in, Joe Dove, script in hand, in his stage debut no less, picked up the role and did so magnificently. Well done, young man!

Directed by Brenda Adams, with an attractive set designed by John Chapman, Time of My Life was written in 1992 but feels somewhat older. I felt that some of the darker undercurrents – about enjoying what we have rather than looking for better or mourning a past which seems happier – were a little lost. However, the packed Festival Hall audience very much enjoyed this production, and it was good to see experienced and new actors onstage together giving polished performances.

Kat Wootton 

Two Sisters offer more Lion and Unicorn laughs with the tears

REVIEW

Two Sisters (Lion and Unicorn)

Sheet Village Hall  

April 21 and 22 2017

If, like, me you spent your student days during the second half of that most blessed of decades, the 1980s, you would have dined lavishly at the most rich and toothsome of cultural banquets. Your vinyl would have been graced by the Smiths and the Cure. Your politics would have been stridently anti-Thatcher, while enjoying what now seems like a la

vish student grant. And the chances are there was

Laura Sheppard and Ali Hill in Two Sisters, for Lion and Unicorn

one film you loved more than any others: Withnail and I. And you would spend long evenings drinking your grant away in the pub while shouting out selected extracts from this tale of two scabrous, washed up, boozed up actors living in squalor, bewailing the injustice that they are not famed and feted. It was hilarious – and still is.
Many of its aphorisms are too foulmouthed for this genteel reviewer. But one did come to mind as I sat back and enjoyed the Lion and Unicorn’s production of Two Sisters; the eponynous Withnail’s condemnation of the entirety of Russian drama: “…all about women looking out of windows, complaining about ducks flying to Moscow”.

And let’s face it he has a point. Caroline Harding’s Two Sisters involves no ducks but does involve women who are far from happy from their lot. They spend pretty much the whole play regretting everything that has happened in their lives, even spending time sitting or lying down to enjoy the comfort of a coffin that has mysteriously appeared in the room. Salad Days, this is not.

But in the expert hands of Laura Sheppard as Anya and Ali Hill as Sonia and under promising young director, Sam Gaffney, it was full of laughter – albeit laughter in the dark. In fact what I admired most about their work together but was not what they did, but what they let the other do. This was am dram of the highest order, allowing each other to shine and with splendid comic timing. They were hand in glove as they depicted two people in a living hell, with little in their lives and little prospect of more.

Ali was lugubriousness itself, but extracted a great deal of humour from her plight and her complaints about her small husband. Ali herself is the very model of propriety, but she gives a jolly impression of a lascivious old lush. Indeed, this was Russian despair via John Orton with even a soupcon of Frankie Howerd. But she also revealed her character to be capable of real feeling as well, with her speeches about her love – and her fears – for her children truly memorable and rather beautiful.

Alongside her was the redoubtable Laura. She was the more energised of the two – but it was the energy of a woman for whom happiness is a long distant memory. Again, she was very funny, even playful at times. But again, she showed herself capable of real emotional depth. In the programme notes, she described the play as profoundly poignant – and that too was what I saw in her performance.

But as well as two sisters we were also treated to lots of poetry – a first half full of it in fact, organised and led by the estimable Jill Hancock, who put together a programme of poems on the theme of sibling relationships. And what fun her crew had with them. Each shone at different times, especially when imitating children, with Roger Wallsgrove in particular clearly enjoying himself a great deal. Jill herself had something of Alastair Sim about her as she revelled in Mary Dunn’s Lady Addle Remembers, while Beryl Savill was especially effective in Kit Wright’s Waiting for the Tone. The highlight was perhaps unsurprisingly the weird sisters of Macbeth – and this produced a highlight all of its own; John Deavin, well known to many as the basso profundo of our parish church choir, revealing himself to be very comfortable with his inner crone as he screeched and stretched his way as one of those sisters. It was most unnerving. But like the whole of this cornucopia of poetic delights, most enjoyable.

I had a cracking evening at Sheet Village Hall – but also one in which I pondered anew what it was about Sheet that meant it was so suitable for a drama of despair. Last year I cringed at Ben Gander’s extraordinarily painful OCD and Me, and squirmed at the bourgeois hate-fest of God of Carnage. Now we have the despair of Two Sisters. But darkness though there might be, there is always a great deal of laughter when the Lion and the Unicorn are in town. And frankly, with two months left of a general election campaign, I’ll take any laughter I can get, especially when it is from acting of this calibre.

Hugo Deadman

Thrilling, inventive dance show from Motionhouse

REVIEW

Scattered – Motionhouse 

G Live, Guildford 

April 4, 2017

If you’d like to see how dance can portray the ever-changing climate of the planet we live on today, then prepare to be utterly amazed by the Motionhouse sensation – Scattered.

Artistic director and choreographer Kevin Finnan of Motionhouse explores the relationship between humanity and the earth, and our ethical responsibilities for the world around us.

The concave, bowl-shaped stage and technical projections were very atmospheric and used to great effect. T

The electrifying music composed by Sophy Smith along with the atmospheric lighting by Natasha Chivers aided the unique performance from these exceptionally gifted dancers. My eyes were continually jolting left, right, up and down, trying to take everything in.

One moment the dancers were performing small movements on the floor, falling intricately over one another, then they were sprinting up the curved wall, hanging from head to toe. The sheer strength of all seven dancers was mind blowing and their ability to leap and slide from the descending wall – all in perfect time with the backdrop of the projection – was awe-inspiring.

Each scene explored our relationship with water:  icebergs melting, waterfalls stopping, and taps drying out in the scorching heat of the desert – all seamlessly reflected on the backdrop of the stage.

Delivered with  strength, skill and technique, this is a captivating, energetic and highly physical piece of dance which kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole 70 minutes – recommended viewing.

 

Chloe Tucker

A school production to be proud of

REVIEW

Pride and Prejudice

King Edward’s, Witley

This is one of my favourite plays, so I was absolutely delighted to be invited to review the King Edward’s Upper School production, and certainly did not leave disappointed!

Set in the gentrified salons of fine 18th century English houses, the play weaves a complex love story.

King Edward’s Witley – Pride and Prejudice

The two central characters, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy (Levi Nordmann) and Miss Elizabeth Bennet (Ella Garrett) played by Lower Sixth Form pupils, at first appear poles apart – Darcy is dashing and proud, only too aware of his wealth and status, but finds himself intrigued by, and drawn to, headstrong Elizabeth – reluctantly finding himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class.  To succeed they will both need to overcome their own pride and prejudice.

Soon Darcy becomes captivated by her obvious intellect and feisty nature, especially when she stands up to the dominating force of his interfering relative Lady Catherine de Bourgh played by Charlotte Fox (Lower Sixth Form).

“He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far we are equal.”

Really strong supporting cast – all word perfect and well versed in the manners and etiquette of the time.  The soldiers looked dashing, and the ladies suitably captivating.  Many provided great characterisations, especially Mr Hill the butler played by Year 9 student Alex Kalika and the quirky footmen – Alex Kalika, Ben Dowson (Year 10), and Upper Sixth Form pupils Will Kriehn and Alex Dean; special mention must go to Remi Trovo (Lower Sixth Form) the gushing, social climber Reverend Collins – we loved every nuance and flourish of his delightful toadying, and Jessica Langan as Jane Bennet, who turned in a sweet and poignant performance, opposite her beau Mr Bingley (Max Kirkillo-Stacewicz from Lower Sixth Form) who gave us an equally solid performance.  There was well-articulated dialogue from likeable rogue George Wickham played by Harrison Martin from Year 11, and a delightful and irritating characterisation as Caroline Bingley played by Victoria Berger (Lower Sixth Form) tried to thwart the affections of Jane and her brother.

Aside from outstanding performances by the lead characters (whom I could cheerfully watch all day long), I especially loved the chemistry between Mrs Bennett – Kseniia  Elinson, Lower Sixth Form and Mr Bennett – Daniel Varbanov, also Lower Sixth Form – who, despite English not being their mother tongue, delivered the solid and witty dialogue with great panache.

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

Well done everyone, especially thanks to co-directors Mr James Langan and Mr Dan Tobias, and their back stage team.  A triumph!

By Sharon Gleave