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Thursday, 29 September 2022

REVIEW: Woman in Mind at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written and produced more than eighty full-length plays since his first in the late fifties and established himself as one of Britain’s most prolific and successful comedy writers. In the sixties and seventies, he had a string of hugely successful plays based largely around middle-class families in crisis but often with a brilliant theatrical trick that made them stand out from the rest. In 1985 he wrote Woman in Mind which has a very different darker feel but is still firmly rooted in the eighties culture. When do you remember your local Doctor last visiting you at home three times in a 48-hour period! Or did he?

It is written entirely as if seen through the eyes of Susan, a woman in a loveless marriage with an errant son who avoids contact with his parents. She has developed an alternative reality with an imagined family. Following an accident, with a rake in her garden, we see her increasingly confusing merger of these two realities. The characters she imagines as her mental state declines are like a collection of stereotypical stock characters from a seventies Ray Cooney farce, the bumbling vicar, the cheery old Doctor, the wayward young man, the incompetent housekeeper, the upper-class fool, and the attractive blonde bride. Yet here the tone is darker, the comic moments mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny and the interplay between the two alternative worlds too often misses the opportunity for her spoken out loud lines to be misheard by the other alternative world.

Saturday, 29 January 2022

REVIEW: Doubt at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, is a story about that- what happens when we look behind the hard outer layer of something and you let yourself listen to doubt? This play inspires provocation in its questions and as an audience you leave asking them. Who do you believe? Who is in the right? What do I believe? The list goes on. 

Amongst the austere setting of the church and the (unfortunately) familiar story of a suspect male priest is subtle, comments on a women’s role within the Catholic church and how in the pursuit of fundamentally an honest intention they are painted as wrong or evil. 

The epitome of this is portrayed by Monica Dolan as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, who's quick whit is brilliantly executed through her enduring and berating pursuit of the truth. Its quite heart breaking to see someone do the right thing, while the whole time being questioned as to weather it is the right thing to be doing, and indeed while others around you are manipulated or persuaded in to having doubts towards your intentions. 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

REVIEW: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Chichester Festival Theatre

This was Martin McDonagh's first play written in 1996 and although brought up in England by his Irish parents, he located his first few plays in County Galway where he holidayed as a child. His brilliant writing and structuring of plays were already visible in the tightly drawn “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”. He went on to write the wonderful “The Cripple of Inishmaan” which Daniel Radcliffe so brilliantly played in the West End and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” which Aiden Turner scored a hit with. We are now waiting for his first non-Irish play “The Pillowman” to come to London after the pandemic delayed its opening. Of course, he found even greater fame as the writer and director of the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” which won four golden globes. It was therefore a pleasure to see this revival at the Minera theatre in Chichester.

All his early plays depict what may be thought of as stereotypical Irish characters in fairly poor bleak settings, but his writing makes them feel real from the start and the plot development is believable despite the often dark and shocking twists and turns. He captures the lyrical phraseology of the rural Irish voices and peppers his script with meaningful pauses which add to the tension and threatening behaviours and also allow the audience just enough time to speculate on the motivations and potential outcomes. Even simple phrases such as “Lumpy Complan” (the nutritious drink) or “Do you want a Kimberley” (a local Irish Biscuit) seem to acquire threat!

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

REVIEW: South Pacific at the Chichester Festival Theatre

The one thing I have missed most during Lockdown is full-scale Musical Theatre with a large cast, strong band and wonderful tunes and the Chichester Festival Theatre opens its new season with the 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein South Pacific which was delayed from last year. The delay has given this classic musical a very modern and telling context not just with the Black Lives Matter campaign but also just days before the racist abuse of three England footballers.

Lyrist Hammerstein campaigned throughout his life for racial tolerance and equality and puts his political position at the heart of this Second World War story set on an island in the South Pacific. Every storyline has this theme from the overarching US Navy versus the Japanese, through the role of women in the story, the Western attitudes compared to the local islanders and the love stories that develop. Nurse Nellie Forbush (played until 25th August by Gina Beck before she is replaced by Alex Young) falls for Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) but rejects his marriage proposal when she discovers, not that he has killed a bully back in France but has two children by his dead Polynesian wife. Young Lieutenant Cable (Rob Houchen) falls for a local girl Liat (Sera Maehara) but he rejects marriage too, for fear of how his folks back home would react.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

REVIEW: Celebrating Sondheim at the Chichester Festival Theatre (Online)

Chichester Festival staged this celebration of the music of Stephen Sondheim last November in front of a socially distanced audience, just before another lockdown was announced and streamed it live to those who booked in advance. If you missed it, this encore is a chance to enjoy a selection of songs from shows that the cast have been in or wished they had been in. It is essential viewing for any Sondheim fan.

Our first encounter with his music was in the fabulous Side by Side by Sondheim in May 1976 at the Wyndham Theatre with Julia McKenzie, Millicent Martin, David Keenan and Ned Sherrin in a revue-style show and of course, many shows have been added to his catalogue since then. Daniel Evans has assembled a modern-day equivalent of this talent for his concert and half a dozen of the songs from Side by Side survive the passing 45 years although disappointingly there is nothing from Gypsy, West Side Story or A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. 

Friday, 5 March 2021

REVIEW: Facing the Music: Imelda Staunton at the Chichester Festival Theatre (Online)

Chichester Festival Theatre this week launched a series of four online events under the banner "Facing the music" before rerunning a recording of last year's event "Celebrating Sondheim" to at least connect with their audience and to celebrate musical theatre. First up is the irrepressible wonderful Imelda Sondheim, now surely a National Treasure, in conversation (when he lets her speak) with Edward Seckerson, a specialist musical theatre journalist. It's a fascinating insight into her approach to her work and reminds us of how she has become one of the leading Stephen Sondheim actresses amongst a host of other excellent work. 

The ninety-minute interview focuses on her portrayals of Sondheim's extraordinary leading lady creations and draws out her approach to each and the similarities in them. It briefly touches on her role as Vera Drake in the Mike Leigh film made in 2003 which involved six months of improvised rehearsal and three and half months filming and of which Staunton said she had "never done anything else easier" and the rehearsal put the character into her "muscle memory". So successful was the process that she won a BAFTA and Oscar nomination. It also touched on her time at RADA and in repertory in Exeter and Nottingham that gave her a solid base of experience.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Pocket Size Theatre: Top 10 Best shows of 2018!

Theatre in 2018 has been incredible! We're ending the year in a strange place, lots of long running shows closing but also lots of exciting shows coming up! Click here to see a list of shows we're looking forward too. We reflect, with our incredible team, on some of the best shows of the year. Take a look!

Six at the Arts Theatre

"Hamilton may be in trouble, theres new girls on the block and they've come to steal your fans. The music will be stuck in your head for days and this has to be one of the hottest shows of 2018. Get your tickets now, however I suspect we’ll see the return of this show to London very soon."

Six returns to the Arts Theatre from the 16th January after completing a sold out run at the Arts Theatre and a successful UK tour.

Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre

"An absolute must-see for those who perhaps don't know Shakespeare as well as they should as it brings his historical text stampeding into the modern day and for those who know it like the back of their hand: it's new, vibrant and will be unlike any other retelling you've seen before. Shakespearean perfection."

Julius Caesar played the Bridge Theatre form January through to April with a National Theatre Live broadcast in March.


Monday, 1 October 2018

REVIEW: Flowers for Mrs Harris at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Any review of Flowers for Mrs Harris has to start at the end of the show as the magical uplifting final sequence back in her Battersea home makes the whole production worthwhile; when Clare Burt as Mrs Ida Harris stands in her sixties kitchen and baskets of flowers are loaded on to the revolve one by one from her friends and the people whose lives are touched, one can't help shed a tear of joy for her and the production.

The second half of the production explodes into life when Andre Fauvel, played with comical delight by Louis Maskell, is kissed on the cheek by Natasha, Laura Pitt-Pulford. His rubbery legs and comic walk on the stairs of the Christian Dior showroom kicks off the show and from that moment the whole production lifts, the characters expand and the music seems more melodic. 

The challenge is that over the preceding seventy minutes the show is slow and laborious establishing Mrs Harris's humdrum life with her British cleaning clients thinly sketched. She is a lonely widow who sets a single goal to acquire a Dior gown. The music has echoes of Sondheim but is not varied enough and lacks the comedic elements which make the second half sparkle. It needs a judicious cut, a new tune and to play up the comic interplay with her local acquaintances. 

Sunday, 26 August 2018

REVIEW: Copenhagen at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Having just returned from a cruise that took us to Elsinore in Denmark and the Neuemgamme Nazi forced labour camp memorial site near Hamburg where many dissident German and Danes were killed by excessive work and starvation between 1938 and 1945, there was a real poignancy and context to this first theatre visit on return to see Copenhagen at Chichester.

It is 1941 and the German Physicist Werner Heisenberg has returned to see his mentor and father like figure the Danish Jew Niels Bohr . Both are working on nuclear fission and both know that this could create a nuclear bomb for their masters. There are conflicting recollections on this real life meeting which Michael Frayn first explored in this play in 1998 and although more evidence has come to light since then there is no major revision to the text for this revival . They recall their first work together from 1924 and 1927 and their long walk to Elsinore castle but the world has changed since then with Nazi's in control of much of Europe and Heisenberg now Professor at Leipzig. Both know they are being spied on and live in fear of the Labour camps.
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