Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines

“Open your eyes, what do you see?”

It may well have had much to do with the fact that I was knackered after the previous six but I have to admit that the seventh final session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was probably my least favourite of the day. The 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines programme saw writers respond to headlines of the moment to create rapid response plays – none of which really lived up to the quality of the programmed works that had preceded them.

There were lots of interesting ideas floating around – Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Anna Ledwich’s scorching take-down of Vogue’s declaration that the cleavage is out of fashion probably worked the best, interleaved with a young woman’s desperate search for adequate healthcare and the inadequacy of male responses to a serious discussion about breasts. And Charlene James’ kidnap drama with a twist gave Maggie Steed a cracking part to play, directed by Alice Hamilton. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines”

Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace

“We have to ask you to be gender-blind, colour-blind, age-blind, shape-blind, but in all other ways perceptive”

I actually saw a reading of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Jefferson’s Garden in 2013 when it formed part of the extracurricular activities surrounding the run of Out of Joint’s Our Country’s Good at the St James and blogged quite extensively about it as it was a play that really struck me as one to look out for. Less than two years down the line, it has now received its first production at the hands of director Brigid Larmour and the Watford Palace Theatre where it runs until 21st February and doesn’t appear to have any life anticipated beyond that.

Which is a shame as I do think it is a fine piece of writing. Wertenbaker’s history play takes place during the American War of Independence but makes a sterling case for how the compromises in the creation of a society then have echoed throughout time to become the issues that still blight the USA today. She also plays with the way in which historical narratives are constructed (theatrical ones too) through the voice of a Chorus who stalk the action, identifying the difficulties of converting the dreams of idealism into the practicalities of the real world. Continue reading “Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace”

Review: Travels with my Aunt, Menier Chocolate Factory

“People who like quotations love meaningless generalisations”

There’s a strange disconnect at the heart of Travels with my Aunt which means it never really ignites the comic potential it possesses. Giles Havergal’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel sees four actors cover a multitude of characters and a globe-trotting range of locations in a free-wheeling narrative which commences with retired bank manager Henry Pulling being reunited with his long-lost Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. But the adventures that follow have a dated feel to them with a distinctly not-quite-post-colonial flavour and the presentational style also has a measured quality which only intermittently embraces the carefree spirit of the story.

There’s fun to be had though, as Henry falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole opened by his aunt and they ricochet from the depths of suburbia to Turkey, Paraguay and more and he gradually becomes more accustomed to the new excitements of his life, which had previously been limited to growing dahlias in his back garden. The actors share the roles as well as sharing them out so Greene’s richly evocative writing is constantly changing mouthpiece as all of them take turns in playing Henry, as well as the colourful cast of characters that pop up along the journey.


David Bamber just about wins on points as the most compelling version of Henry but also brings a lightness to a range of female characters and Gregory Gudgeon demonstrates huge variety and versatility covering a multitude of tiny parts, the postman being one of the wryly funniest. But in among the turns are slightly more questionable decisions. Jonathan Hyde’s Aunt Augusta is undoubtedly amusing but his style of female impersonation feels something of an anachronism in this day and age and Iain Mitchell has to tread a slightly dubious line as her Sierra Leonean manservant and lover Wordsworth.

Christopher Luscombe’s revival certainly oozes quality, not least in Colin Falconer’s richly detailed set design with its railway destination board which effectively locates the fast-moving action, and the experienced cast who display their skills with panache despite initially looking like a row of blandly grey motor traders insurance salesmen. But it rarely makes an effective case for this being a play worthy of such attention. It is old-fashioned due to its very nature but the problem is it feels old-fashioned too – its antiquated attitudes, the construction that loses its comic spark at the expense of predictable twists, an overall atmosphere of dated quaintness albeit strongly performed.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 29th June

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would love you if I could”

Are certain of Shakespeare’s plays done to death whilst other neglected? When asking a friend, with whom I caught up briefly this week, what he was going to see this week, my response to him saying As You Like It was ‘which one?’. This may actually be the only production currently running in London – though I did take in the Royal Exchange’s modernised version on my trip to Manchester last month – but it does feel we are never too far away from As You Like It in one shape or another.

This particular production, which has played a few dates at Shakespeare’s Globe in the midst of a considerable UK and Europe jaunt, has the similar small-scale touring feel to the Hamlet that opened the Globe’s season this year with a small cast of travelling players – here in Victorian dress – covering all the roles and providing the musical accompaniment, all from the large wooden box that dominates, and forms an integral part of, the stage. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt”

Hoping that the above quote doesn’t ring true, this revival of Christopher Luscombe’s 2008 The Merry Wives of Windsor slips back into Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of a US and UK tour taking in Santa Monica, New York, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Richmond and Bath through to December.

The only of Shakespeare’s plays to take place in his contemporary England, it takes some of the characters familiar from the Henry IV plays, most notably Falstaff and creates a pleasing romp as he chases after the wives of two gentlemen from Windsor but doesn’t reckon on just how cunning the women are. There’s also a young couple straining to be together in the face of parental disapproval, some comedic foreigners, some funny business with a laundry basket and a whole load of farcical fun. It plays here, as nicely explained in the programme, as a bit of a forerunner of the modern tv sitcom and it really does work.

A nice thing about this play is its balanced treatment of women, with 3 strong, funny female characters all of which are played with aplomb. Sue Wallace’s Mistress Quickly is nicely knowing in her manipulation of Falstaff and compassionate in rearranging the love affairs of the youngsters. And Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively are just an absolute delight as the mischievous cohorts with a visibly strong friendship. Andrew Havill’s Basil Fawlty inspired mugging as Ford fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece and as Falstaff, Christopher Benjamin wins our sympathies as well as making us laugh.

The only slight disappointments for me was the sagging of the pace in the first half and Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Gerard McCarthy as the rather bland lovers, typified by their overlong duet. William Belchamber’s fey Slender and Philip Bird’s linguistically-challenged Caius were much funnier and more interesting and there was no hint at all of the former drinking buddy of Prince Hal in McCarthy’s Fenton, meaning he came across as just dull.

As a little aside, I do find it curious programming that this sits alongside the two Henry IV plays this year. With the crossover in characters but not the casting and the fact that this doesn’t really square with the timelines of the history plays, it just sits a little odd in terms of the season as a whole. And with Allam’s Falstaff so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but compare, however this is but a minor quibble.

It is clear why this production has been revived though: it is superbly acted throughout the ensemble, it is huge amounts of fun and once it gets started it just romps through its proceedings with a vibrancy and energy that should win over audiences no matter where it plays.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd October
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews