Big This Week

Recent Posts

Wednesday, 21 June 2023

REVIEW: Roman Holiday at the Theatre Royal, Bath

In the search for titles for new stage productions the old film catalogues are providing a great source which might appeal to theatre audiences with a memory of the title. The 1953 award-winning Roman Holiday which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck is the latest romantic tale to find its way to the stage. Adapted for the stage by Kirsten Guenther and Paul Blake and featuring the music of Cole Porter it provides a frivolous enjoyable evening’s entertainment. However, don’t expect the wit and innovation of say the adaption of the 1955 film The Ladykillers or the staging and brilliance of Back to the Future. 

This is a simple story. The programme suggests it is a reversed Cinderella and the script includes the heavy-handed reference “turn into a pumpkin and drive away in a glass slipper” but for those who know their pantomimes, it is more akin to the opening scenes of Aladdin with the Princess escaping the confines of her overprotective court to mingle with the ordinary town folk, meet an eligible bachelor and be pursued by two dubious policemen. The man she meets, Joe, even has a laddish mate, Irving, to assist him but the result is a bit wishy-washy! The programme also alludes to Princess Margaret, the troubled sister of our late Queen who liked a good time away from court, might even hint at press intrusion into more recent Royals and there is a rather explicit call for “closer cooperation with Europe”, but it is all so gentle that if modern references are intended they slip quietly by.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

REVIEW: Charlotte and Theodore at the Theatre Royal Bath

The title of Charlotte and Theodore, the new play by Ryan Craig which is enjoying its world premiere at the Ustinov Studio in Bath until 18th March before a short tour to Richmond and Cambridge, does not do justice to the brilliant writing and performances of this clever two-hander. The promotional blurb states, “cancel culture, gender politics, trans rights, online abuse and power struggles are all at play on a university campus” and suggests a rather dry woke debate about modern society driven by social media activism but instead the ninety-minute romp is a funny, witty and pacy exploration of a couple’s relationship over ten years which resonates with Generation X and older audiences. Despite running straight through it never stops amusing and engaging and we could have happily sat through another few scenes of their life together. 

The script is a beautifully observed debate about modern-day gender roles in family life, the ambition and desire for career success and the impact of the community they live in on their relationship. It’s packed with metaphors and allegories that illustrate and amuse and seem to sit naturally in the mouths of two philosophy lecturers at the university. How do you describe a desk that identifies as a stool? Why symbolically is Teddy's last costume change in front of Lotte’s wardrobe? What happens when a flock of swarming birds get caught in a change of wind direction?

Sunday, 22 January 2023

REVIEW: Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Theatre Royal Bath

Edward Albee’s 1962 three-act play Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? is perhaps best known for the 1966 film which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the aggressive game-playing American couple who live on the campus of a small New England College. It is an uncomfortable challenging play over three Acts which are subtitled as a clue to the progressively unpleasant behaviours of the older protagonists. Act 1, Fun and Games, sees the couple Martha and George invite a young couple Nick and Honey back to their house at 2 am after a faculty party in a drunken series of interactions. Act 2, Walpurgisnacht (a reference to a witches' meeting) ups the tension as the games become more serious and fractious. Act 3, The Exorcism reveals the truths amongst the illusions and games. The result is a long evening in which the action, though dramatic, involves four particularly unsympathetic characters touching on child abuse, murder, adultery, sexual harassment, and bullying behaviours in the context of an unfulfilled career and inadequacies of marriage.

This latest production is staged in the Ustinov Theatre tucked around the back of the glorious Theatre Royal in Bath. It is a black-walled claustrophobic cramped venue which should offer the audience intimacy and engagement with the performance but the armless stiff-backed seats and heavy herbal cigarette smoke from the chain-smoking Martha created a heady uncomfortable atmosphere in which it was difficult to really settle and appreciate the production. It makes a sharp contrast to the Alan Ayckbourn 1965 comedy, Relatively Speaking, which is also a four-handed about martial problems and role-playing, which is on at the main house at Bath Theatre Royal and offers a much more fun and congenial evening’s entertainment. This play is said to have some laugh-out-loud moments but on my visit, those around me responded with stifled embarrassed chuckles and the sharp contrast between the comedy and the grim aggressive tone was missing.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

REVIEW: Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Bath

Aladdin is one of the best Pantomime titles, it's full of great opportunities for magical and comical business such as the Laundry scene, the attempts of The Emperor to stop his daughter being seen by Aladdin, the meeting of Widow Twankey and her long-lost brother-in-law Abanazar, the cave transformation and genie’s appearance, the magic carpet ride and of course Abanazar’ s final defeat. It has however become caught up in the debate about inclusivity and diversity in casting as it is based in China and because some past productions have included some racial stereotypes. The UK Production’s latest version with a script by Jon Monie which played at the Theatre Royal Bath until 8th January does its best to steer through this minefield with a diverse cast and set in Humdrum Heights while sticking with the traditional storyline and names. 

Tom Lister as Abanazar drives the show with a delightfully strong energetic performance, revelling in his evil persona and the audience’s reaction to him and geeing them up to react more. He interacted brilliantly with the stage right box having caught a young audience member out once and played on it beautifully thereafter. Indeed, his sortie into the audience armed with a water pistol was so distracting that the audience completely ignored the song being sung on stage! The character takes charge right from the start with a very good prologue setting out the story in a three-way rhyming couplet opening with the spirit of the ring (Amy Perry) and the Genie (Maddison Tyson) and then a well-judged comical romantic first meeting with Widow Twankey (Nick Wilton) in “You are the one that I want”.

Friday, 9 September 2022

REVIEW: Into the Woods at the Theatre Royal, Bath

The combination of Stephen Sondheim’s extraordinary score (less than a year after his death), Terry Gilliam’s outlandish creative ideas, Leah Hausman’s extensive operatic movement and choreography, a cast with the Julian Bleach recreating the weirdness of The Grinning man and Audrey Brisson captivating us as she did in Amelie, the evocative staging of a Pollock’s Toy Theatre and the glorious setting of the intimate Theatre Royal Bath combine in this production of Into the Woods in theatrical alchemy to create a wonderful celebration of this amazing composer. Sondheim’s music can be something of an acquired taste, but once acquired the joy never leaves you. Though the songs are not as memorable as those from Gypsy or Sweeney Todd, there is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek joy to the mash-up of traditional well-known fairy-tale stories and its commentary on the human condition with its themes of growing up, morality and wish fulfilment. This version does not seem so macabre as I recall it, although the majority of characters do die, the staging and childlike setting of the toy theatre give it a more engaging emotional connection so that the final songs of “No One is Alone” and “Children Should Listen” are much more touching and meaningful.

Gilliam’s creative stamp is throughout the show with moments reminiscent of his Monty Python animations and his more outlandish movies. The dressed proscenium arch and forestage which mirrors Pollock’s toy theatre centre stage immediately set the tone as you enter the venue. The young girl playing with it, placing the tin cans and vases on stage brings you into her world of imagination before she invites you to watch the show. The delightfully comic Milky White (played with great physicality by Faith Prendergast) looks and acts like the girl’s toy. The Baked Bean tin becomes Rapunzel’s tower and the 2d sets look like they have been cut out of the Toy Theatre kit. The use of the stage left box in the false proscenium for the Stepsisters (Charlotte Jaconelli and Jamie Birkett) is also very effective. When the Giant arrives, it is a cross between the Monty Python giant foot and the terrifying doll’s head from Toy Story. Visually it's stunning in its theatricality and creativity.

Monday, 7 March 2022

REVIEW: Animal Farm at the Theatre Royal Bath

Robert Icke’s bold reimagining of George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm could not be more timely or relevant as the famous allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the corruption of ideals by power feels all too real with the brutal events in Ukraine and the irrational statements of the Russian President. The steady horrific fall from Major’s strong idealistic vision embodied in eight commandments including “all animals are equal” and “Four legs good, 2 legs bad” (excepting all birds of course) to Napoleon’s rewriting of history and just one commandment, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is stunningly and clearly portrayed by the cast of fourteen with thirty puppets.

The animals’ characters and physical presence are brilliantly captured by Toby Olie’s extraordinary designs and Daisy Beattie’s supervision of their creation (she gets a stage embodiment as the young calf at the end). The relative scale of each creature and the way they move and react is carefully recreated on stage so that you focus on them and not the puppeteers dressed mainly in black alongside them. The pre-recorded voices of each animal including such famous names as Juliet Stevenson and Robert Glenister are cleverly played in as part of Tom Gibbon’s complex sound design which uses speakers along the forestage to give direction to the voices. They are supplemented by the animal sounds created live by the puppeteers. The combination of the physical presence, strong voice characterisations, and animal sounds gives each creature a distinctive voice that we can emotionally engage with. Indeed, the young people in the row behind me audibly gasped as one after another was lost in battle or executed as the story progressed. 

Friday, 7 January 2022

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Bath

While many Pantomimes close around New Year’s Day each year, the Theatre Royal Bath’s production usually runs until the following weekend and this year it’s Cinderella closes on the 9th of January. It’s a great time to visit Bath as the streets are quieter and you can appreciate the wonderful architecture of this lovely Georgian City and there can’t be a more wonderful setting for a traditional family pantomime than this beautiful venue. Jon Monie must love this place too as this is his 19th season in Pantomime here and with over 1000 performances behind him, he has the experience and knowledge on how to write and deliver a very well-judged and balanced show. It clearly was enjoyed by the schools’ parties at the matinee I attended but had plenty of cheeky innuendo for the adults to enjoy (with only a joke about Strange-ways Prison overstepping the mark).

His script, in the hands of Director Hannah Sharkey with a very good ensemble cast, is an excellent combination of traditional storytelling, a fresh injection of ideas into some of the standard pantomime business and music choices with new lyrics that flow from the story. The whole production is well-staged in another UK Production set design by Charlie Camm, Jon Harris and Jason Bishop with an attractive practical village scene, a very successful transformation scene from Kitchen to Coach and a clever touch when Cinders is hidden from Charming by the Ugly Sisters. This all adds up into an excellent showcase of the skills of the cast to entertain young and old. 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

The Past, Present & Future of Pantomime

Pantomime is often a child's first experience of live theatre and therefore it plays a critical role in establishing a young person’s love of live entertainment. It is also a unique shared experience as the whole family go together and the genre is built on audience interactions and traditional calls and shout outs. Sadly, this year there will not be the usual hundreds of venues staging a pantomime, and thousands of actors and technical staff will be unemployed. Only a few have survived the Pandemic and even then, in an abbreviated form, led by Qdos with Lottery funded shows in large venues to ensure they are Covid safe.

Qdos has established itself as the leading Pantomime production company usually has 35 productions each year including the two leading venues of the London Palladium and Birmingham Hippodrome but there are many other companies who usually produce multiple productions (UK productions, Imagine, PHA, Jordan and Evolution) and lots of “in house” productions. All of them are built on the same traditional elements that have made the genre so established over the last two hundred years.

Friday, 13 April 2018

REVIEW: Mary Stuart at Theatre Royal Bath

After a successful run in the West End, Mary Stuart is now on a short tour of Bath, Cambridge and Manchester giving regional audiences a chance to see this fascinating play. Having enjoyed it at The Duke of York , it was great to catch up with the production 12 weeks later in the magnificent New Theatre Royal in Bath.

The play deals with the threat to the rule of the tolerant Protestant Queen Elizabeth from her first cousin the Catholic Queen of Scots which results in her imprisonment for 19 years while the courts of England and France plot and counter plot. It was written by the German playwright and philosopher Frederich Schiller in 1800, over 200 years after the events it depicts and clearly sympathises with Mary. Robert Icke's masterstroke is to take this tale and present it in modern dress with TV's, syringes and a digital clock to give it a freshness that both strips the original story back to it core, the challenges faced by these two women and their positions in the society of the day and points clearly to the parallels in the politics of today with the threats posed by opposing religious ideologies. At the same time it draws out the weight of responsibility on leaders for critical decisions, their difficulties of knowing who to trust despite their power and the emotional conflict that their position can create with their personal life.
Blog Design by pipdig