Review: The University of Wonder and Imagination, Cahoots NI

Cahoots NI’s The University of Wonder and Imagination tackles the challenges of interactive family shows with gusto and proves immense fun

“In imagination we trust, in wonder we must”

Created and directed by Paul Bosco McEneaney and co-written with Hugh W Brown, The University of Wonder and Imagination is a wonderful and wondrous addition to the programme for the Belfast International Arts Festival. An interactive family show hosted on Zoom limited to just six families at a time, the show acts as an open day for this ever-so-special university where you get to decide where you go and who you see, but magic decides what will happen.  

On our trip through the university, we met noted mathemagician Professor Carmo, whose array of card tricks and number games had me going from ‘hey I think I know how he did that’ to full-on ‘no seriously, how did he do that?!’. You really feel the benefit of the small group size here so that everyone gets at least one chance to to be a part of the magic.

Space Professor Lola Hurst has a much mellower vibe about her room as we take a trip through the solar system and debate the logic of time travel. And last but by no means least on our trip, Professor Wilbert Hoffman helps us explore the magic of portraitology which has to be seen to be believed, so definitely get your imagination fired up if you happen to meet him too.

The overall feel is one of just pure fun and escapism, an entertaining hour which makes great use of Zoom technology to create a special atmosphere. And credit to the performers – Hugh W Brown, Sean Kearns, Caolan McBride, Philippa O’Hara and Lata Sharma – all of whom did a marvellous job in keeping the whole trip inclusive and engaging this big kid just as much as the genuine little ones.

Running time: c 1 hour
Photos: Melissa Gordon
The University Of Wonder And Imagination is part of the Belfast International Arts Festival on various days and times; find their schedule here

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

“We are worth your shillings”

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall”

Re-review: The Commitments, Palace

“Why don’t you get out of my life and let me make a new start?”

Cast and crew members across the West End may not agree but I do find it surprising that more shows haven’t gone for the variation of Sunday evening performances in their schedules. Particularly with tourists, it’s a ready-made and captive audience with little else to do in this bustling city and by the looks of the Palace Theatre last night, keen as mustard. That said, it can be something of a trial going out on a Sunday night when a work-filled Monday morning is looming around the corner.

For me though, the chance to see The Commitments one more time before it closes its doors after a run that has lasted more than two years was enough to tempt me out and I’m glad I did as it really is good fun. Technically speaking, it is less of a musical than I would strictly consider, the narrative quickly gives way to a mini-concert at the show’s end but with music as good as this, and an actor-musician cast as talented as this, such crowd-pleasing antics feel entirely forgivable. Continue reading “Re-review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: The Commitments, Palace

“The Irish are the blacks of Europe”

In the ongoing search for the perfect recipe for a West End musical, The Commitments has done better than most since opening last October. Here, a hot-shot director (Jamie Lloyd) has been mixed with material that has already been a book and a film (written by Roddy Doyle, directed by Alan Parker) and tinkers with the jukebox format (using iconic US soul classics) to create an engaging piece of entertainment. The main surprise comes with how little story there actually is – the premise is simply that young gun Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put a band together and that is pretty much it.

So in place of narrative twists and turns, we get the slick movement of Soutra Gilmour’s ingeniously inventive set design; instead of depth of character, there’s a wide-ranging songbook which gives everyone a turn on the mike or a chance to rock out a solo and thus express themselves through music. It’s a curious interpretation which takes a little time to really gel, the opening 20 minutes or so struggles to make its mark as there’s little music and the surprising thinness of Doyle’s writing is at its most exposed – for all the time Jimmy spends in his house, his ma gets an appallingly small amount to say. Continue reading “Review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Thank the Lord you ain’t in there with them”

The first play ever to be written for the Globe by a woman, Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is the final play to open in this year’s set of offerings. A slice of life of those both in and around the Bethlem mental hospital in London, or Bedlam as it is better known. The plot as such centres around Dr Carew’s corrupt running of the asylum, concerned more with women and profit than observing the Hippocratic oath and actually caring for his patients. But the arrival of new patients and a much more socially aware doctor loosens his grip and soon everything begins to change.

It is huge amount of fun and Jessica Swale’s direction has a very keen sense of the possibilities of playing in the Globe, especially with the yardlings. Soutra Gilmour’s design has the stage in a circle with a ramp going up one side, but if you’re in the yard, be prepared for all sorts of interaction, both on the floor and on the stage and a range of bodily fluids and liquids to come flying at you from the sides and indeed above! And it is so wonderfully musical, taking advantage of the rich archive to pull out a number of songs like ‘A Maid In Bedlam’ and ‘Oyster Nan’, covering ballads to bawdy drinking songs, and it all really works. Continue reading “Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Presume not that I am the thing I was”
 

As we approach the mid-point in the Globe’s calendar for the Kings and Rogues season, Henry IV Part 2 is the latest play to open on Bankside, booking right through until October. Following directly on from the events of Henry IV Part 1, it follows the same characters as the increasingly frail King worries about whether his son Prince Hal is ready to assume the kingship, having fallen back into his wayward ways, Falstaff and his motley crew continue to live life to the full but the shadow of their mortality loom long on the horizon and though rebellion has been quashed, there are still murmurings of discontent.

This is indeed a more reflective play and nowhere is this better personified than in Jamie Parker’s Hal. He looks and sounds older, more mature, having grown into the role of a statesman able to forgive those that crossed him in the past and become the son his father has long sought after by outgrowing the feckless compatriots of his younger days as shown in the crushing final scene. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Herein will I imitate the sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds”

You gotta love the English weather: the two outdoor performances I’ve attended this week have been mostly rained on and the two small theatre pub things have been on ridiculously hot evenings turning them into saunas, you just can’t win sometimes! Fortunately, I was seated for this matinee of Henry IV Part One so I was sheltered from the occasionally heavy showers, not so the yardlings though…

It’s all huge amounts of fun: it starts with a mummers masque and ends with an exuberant jig and is full of music and singing throughout which captured the varying moods of this coming of age story perfectly. Prince Hal, son of Henry IV, is struggling to find himself both personally and politically, amid the pressures from three different groups of people: the politically astute King and his courtiers, the witty and shrewd Falstaff and assorted drinking buddies and the rebel camp headed up by the forthright and charismatic Hotspur, each challenging him a different way. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Measure for Measure, Almeida

“Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?”

First things first: this has a double revolve, a double revolve people!! Two bits that move independently from each other! And a table that rises up from the ground! And now breathe… So, from the Shakespeare play I know the best, to one which I’ve never seen before in two days. Measure for Measure sees one of the largest casts ever at at the Almeida, 17 if you’re wondering, and I caught a preview last night.

Set in a Vienna which is riven with sexual depravity and political misdeeds, the Duke of the city decides to leave it in the hands of his hardline deputy Angelo, whilst remaining about incognito in order to see how he fares in restoring order. He disguises himself as a friar where he encounters the highly religious Isabella, who is faced with the prospect of sacrificing her virginity in order to save her brother’s life, that brother having been sentenced to death by Angelo for getting a girl pregnant before they were married. There is then all sorts of gameplaying that ensues, both political and personal, as we rush headlong to the conclusion which may or may not include lots of weddings. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Almeida”