Recent Posts

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

REVIEW: The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Watermill Theatre

When we first saw this show in the August 2020 sunshine it was our first live show after the first lockdown and its celebration of that fact with plenty of jokes about social distancing, face coverings and anti-bac sprays was the secret weapon in an energetic and lively production. It had the feel of an improvised melodramatic pantomime that might have been part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Its quick revival as the opening show in the 2021 summer season is a bold move but the feel was very different on a cold damp May evening with only half the audience tables filled. As live Theatre emerges from the third lockdown, nine months after its first outing the Covid jokes feel less fresh, and the spontaneity feels more laboured.

Abigail Pickard Price's adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle story of The Hound of the Baskervilles uses the original novel as a launchpad for a riotous three-handed dash around the Dorset, sorry Devon, moors in search of the Hound which as one character says would have Conan Doyle spinning in his grave. Pickard Price, as an associate director of the Watermill, has directed several shows over the years at the venue and is used to working within the limits of the small venue but on this occasion, she has worked with no set, props from stock, and apparently only four days of rehearsal. This version is staged on the front lawn and the Watermill itself provides an attractive backdrop to the production.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at the Watermill Theatre

The Watermill Theatre has risen to the unique challenges of programming a theatre and operating it safely in 2020 with an exceptional year mounting five new productions and attracting over 3500 to its tiny venue. The normal capacity of just over 200 has been reduced to just 73 by social distancing and bizarrely you can only drink in your theatre seat and not at a table in the bar under the latest Government regulations but it has navigated these issues with great skill and ingenuity. Bloodshot, Camelot and Lone Flyer provided brilliant memories to the warm welcoming reception you always get there. The Christmas offering is a two handed version of the classic A Christmas Carol adapted for their stage by the playwright in residence Danielle Pearson with a reduced rehearsal schedule and just two socially distanced actor-musicians playing 19 different characters. Could it match the previous outstanding shows? 

Simply staged by designer Isobel Nicholson with dark brick walls with two windows through which shadow puppets are illuminated to add to the cast and a minimum props of a desk (which doubles as Scrooge's Bed), a stool, a ladder and a washing line, the production relies on the two performers to conjure up in our imagination the various scenes. Of course, it is a familiar story with many classic past versions including film versions with Alistair Sims (1951), Albert Finney (1970), and Michael Caine (1992) all playing Scrooge which influence our own imagination as they cast a shadow over any new version. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

REVIEW: Lone Flyer at the Watermill, Newbury

The Watermill continues its indoor reopening season with a revival of its 2001 play about the life and death of the amazing Amy Johnson, the first women to fly from Croydon to Darwin Australia in 19 days in May 1930. The venue continues to smoothly and efficiently handle the Covid pandemic restrictions artfully wrapping two thirds of its seating capacity in the theatre and allocating a table to each ticket purchase group for use before the show and at the interval. It creates a welcoming and safe feeling environment even if face coverings during the performances is a necessary irritation. However this production does not quite hit the extraordinary heights of the first play, Bloodshot, despite the excellent efforts of the Director Lucy Betts and the fine cast of Hannah Edwards as Amy and Benedict Salter as the rest of the thirty characters!  

The challenge is the structure of Ade Morris's play which intersperses a chronological retelling of the aviator's life story from her birth in Hull in 1903 to her death in 1941 mainly through exposition from Amy, with flash forwards to her final flight as a member of the World War II Air Transport Auxillary, and interactions with her husband Jim Mollison (from 1932 to 1938). At times it feels like an animated version of Wikipedia with some very detailed explanations of landings on her flights and then skipping over details of her health problems and very short episodic interactions with key characters in her life. It means we never really get sucked into the drama and emotions of her fascinating inspiring life while admiring her tenacity, bravery and single minded determination. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

REVIEW: Bloodshot at the Watermill Theatre

After a very successful outdoor summer season with a fun "Hound of the Baskerville "and an excellent "Camelot", Paul Hart the Artistic Director of The Watermill near Newbury launches a socially distanced indoor season with a revival of "Bloodshot" which previously played the venue in 2011. It is a tour de force performance by Simon Slater in a very safe feeling, well thought out venue.  

To comply with Government Step 4 guidance for indoor performances the team at the Watermill have adjusted the audience flows and the seating plan to create a compliant environment. We enter through the restaurant and are guided to a reserved table where drinks orders are delivered before the show and at the interval. The usual restaurant buffet is replaced by a two-course menu served to the pre-booked table. Masks are required to be worn throughout the visit except while eating or drinking at your table. The one-way system guides you to your seat and each row has been restricted to just four or five seats avoiding the need to push past other audience members and the staggered layout creates natural distance between each party. The effect reduces capacity to 37% of the tiny venue, sold in parties of 1, 2,3,4 or 5 but inevitably matching this to demand leaves some empty seats. It works extremely smoothly and the wonderful staff make it welcoming and enjoyable despite the masks. However, the atmosphere in the auditorium is muted by the social distancing creating a bigger challenge for the performers in getting a response. Slater rises to this challenge tremendously.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

REVIEW: Camelot at the Watermill Theatre

The Watermill has led the way with its short season of outdoor theatre in its delightful grounds. Following its tongue in cheek version of The Hound of the Baskerville, the artistic director, Paul Hart has directed a concert version of the 1960 musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe with his usual trademark actor-musician casting. It is a simple but charmingly effective staging that showcases the fabulous score.

I am predisposed to enjoy the evening partly because of the warm welcome and consistently high standards the Watermill productions deliver but mainly as the show brings back strong memories of the 1982 production of Camelot with Richard Harris as Arthur and Fiona Fullerton as Guinevere at the Apollo Victoria, which remains one of my all-time favourite musical productions. Harris's powerful charismatic stage presence made up for his lack of singing voice and he rang every emotional response from his final rallying call to young Tom to carry the legend of the knights of the round table home.

Monday, 10 August 2020

REVIEW: The Hound of the Baskervilles at The Watermill Theatre

It was, as always, a delight to travel down the M4 to the wonderful Watermill Theatre near Newbury to see Abigail Pickard Price's post-Covid adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle story of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Of course, the experience was very different from my last theatre visit to see Quality Street at the historical theatre in Bury St Edmunds on March 12th. Part of the joy of the show is the celebration of being back watching live theatre, and the audience and the cast enjoy plenty of jokes about social distancing, face coverings and anti-bac sprays. This sets the tone of the show, a melodramatic Pantomime which uses the original novel as a launchpad for a riotous three-handed dash around the Dorset, sorry Devon, moors in search of the Hound which as one character says would have Conan Doyle spinning in his grave! 

Pickard Price, as an associate director of the Watermill, has directed several shows over the years at the venue and is used to working within the limits of the small venue but on this occasion she has worked with no set, props from stock, and apparently only four days of rehearsal. The limits of the production constraints show, a bit like an Edinburgh Fringe show but that is part of its charm. The outside setting with the audience seated at tables of four seats adds to the fun as the cast move amongst them and applaud themselves on and off stage as they run to and from the usual dressing rooms.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

REVIEW: Kiss Me, Kate at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

Kiss Me Kate is a musical that I have admired ever since seeing the 1987 Old Vic production directed by Adrian Noble and starring Nichola McAuliffe and Paul Jones as Lilli and Fred with the gangsters played by Emil Wolk and John Bardon. The show won two 1987 Olivier Award for Outstanding Performance of the Year in a Musical. So, it was with some anticipation I ventured down to the Watermill for the first ever actor/musician version of the show after seeing their four-star versions of Sweet Charity and Amelie.

Paul Hart again directs a cast of twelve actor musicians in the intimate Watermill Theatre with set design by Frankie Bradshaw (who did excellent sets for Jerusalem there and for Sweat at Donmar) but on this occasion they fall short of my expectations. The set is unimaginative, an old paint frame and a red front cloth to denote whether we are backstage or on stage in the production of the Taming of the Shrew and the direction seems to encourage overacting and rather obvious stagey laughs. When you are trying to play a bad actor, the character must convey belief that they are a good actor otherwise it just comes across as false and hammy.

Friday, 19 July 2019

REVIEW: Our Church at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

The Watermill Theatre Artistic Director Paul Hart has commissioned this new play for this season's local regional tour and this interesting new play arrives at the home venue for a short run until July 20th. Our Church is written by Marietta Kirkbride based on a story she heard about a church committee grappling with how far to include a convicted sex offender into their congregation. She uses this basic idea to explore the alternative views of how people react to the situation.

On the one hand the perpetrator has paid the price for his offence by serving a prison sentence and losing his family and the Christian values suggest forgiveness and repentance should be accepted norms . On the other hand how would any of us react to that person if we had suffered a personal experience which had affected our own family lives. The play very successfully sets out the arguments on both sides creating sympathetic characters and a thought provoking situation that challenges the audience to question how they would react as we eavesdrop on the committee meeting. 

Director Nik Partridge gets the best from the cast of three in what is a relatively static situation around a table in the church hall and builds the tension in each act between the characters especially in the scene where Annie reveals her inner thoughts to Tom. However the final scenes are slightly hampered by the structure as one character is unable to move and the second character has to leave the stage several times and it felt that a third character was needed to assist the resolution.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

REVIEW: Amelie at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

Amelie UK premiere is at the intimate Watermill Newbury until the 18thMay before embarking on a long tour of venues in England, Scotland and Ireland including some large houses like Wimbledon New Theatre, Woking Victoria Theatre and the Manchester Opera House through to October. It will be worth catching it on the tour to see how it fares as it expands onto these large traditional proscenium arch stages. However here at the Watermill it is off to a very good start capturing the delightful quirky Frenchness of the original 2001 film with Audrey Tautou and reinventing itself by all accounts from its Broadway musical debut.

Its success is built around the petite French-Canadian actress Audrey Brisson who has a joyous expressive face, large sparkling eyes and a glorious voice that means you can’t take your eyes off her even with the rest of the ensemble cast towering around her. She is Amelie the awkward young girl, home schooled with a heart condition who lives in a garret above an Art Nouveau Paris metro station and spies on the odd collection of people passing through. Gradually she makes connections between them and almost invisibly brings lonely people together while still shying away from a relationship herself. The story takes us through delightful flights of fantasy and with an amazingly inventive staging that is amusing, engaging and keeps the pace up throughout most of the show.

Friday, 5 April 2019

REVIEW: Moonfleet at the Watermill theatre, Newbury

The Watermill continues to prove it is a very special venue , intimate and friendly but consistently producing very good quality productions and with a strong active Senior Youth Group of years 7 to 11 supported by The Sackler Trust, Principal Supporter of The Watermill's core Education and Outreach work. The latest show is a very fine adaption by Danielle Pearson of the J Meade Falkner novel Moonfleet which uses a cast of 28 to tell the story of smugglers on the Dorset coast. 

Written as a story telling by the Mohunes, the inhabitants of the village, who appear to draw lots from a bag to cast the main parts at the start of show. But it is an ensemble piece with lines spread throughout the large cast who are well drilled to sharply deliver them in a rhythmic poetic fashion that keeps the audience engaged and interested. 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

REVIEW: Macbeth at the Watermill

Paul Hart, the artistic Director of the Watermill and Director of this production together with Movement Director Tom Jackson Greaves are establishing a very interesting style of Ensemble cast productions having previously collaborated on Twelfth Night, Teddy, Sweet Charity and The Borrowers for the company. They have now turned their attention to Macbeth and set it in modern army dress and a brick built hotel designed by Katie Lias which turns the intimate theatre into the castle settings for the play. It creates a fresh modern feel which with rock/pop music underscoring many scenes makes it easily accessible and I think very appealing to a younger audience.

They pack the production with lots of clever ideas with some very good use of projection on the rear wall, a bellboy at the centre of the action curiously offering polo mints, and a chorus of sexily dressed temptresses. When the talk is of "black and deep desires", the cast burst into song with the Rolling Stones Paint it Black. After Macbeth has had Banquo killed, they sing L-O-V-E by Gregory Porter while performing a bizarre dance. And when Macbeth is killed they sing Johnny Cash's Hurt. When Macbeth speaks the line "is that a dagger I see before me" the hallucination is two chorus with two knives. The directorial choices are interesting but ultimately distracting from Shakespeare's words and in some ways overwhelm the efforts of the cast. 

Sunday, 18 November 2018

REVIEW: Robin Hood at the Watermill in Newbury

The Watermill Theatre is one of my most favourite theatres and Christmas time one of my favourite times to be in a theatre seeing young children getting their first experience of a live show. In the past two seasons the Watermill has presented Rufus Norris's fairy tale adaption of Sleeping Beauty and a wonderful adaption of The Borrowers which have been perfectly pitched at the Christmas audiences. This year they have turned to poet and novelist Laura Dockrill for a modern version of the legend of Robin Hood, in what feels like her first stage play. She has taken the original well known outlaws and written them as modern day scouts falling out with a female punk Robin Hood in the traditional battle with a bizarre manic Sheriff of Nottingham. Sadly it does not work and the cast have to put a lot of effort to get anything out of the clunky script.

Leander Deena as the Sheriff reminded me of a cross between Timmy Mallet's outrageous overacting still seen in pantomime and Basil Fawlty's over the top reaction to everything. He gets most of the original songs including "I've also fancied myself", "Nice guy", "Be my wife" and "Double day" and pitches them all with the same wide eyed energy. Curiously the lyrics seem to recognise the flaws in the show as the cast sing of a "stupid and pointless song", "I don't like this song", "I thought jokes were meant to be funny" and that "we will all be half asleep by the time we finish"! The best song is a country and western song "Friends" sung by Marion and Robin backed by a washboard and guitars.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

REVIEW: Trial By Laughter at Watermill, Newbury

There can be no more appropriate authors than Ian Hislop and Nick Newman to write this celebration of the forgotten role of William Hone in the defence of the freedom of speech in Britain which the Editor and Cartoonist of Private Eye enjoy today. Hone was subjected to three separate trials over three days in December 1817 for the use of parody of religious documents to mock the Crown and politicians of the day. Hislop has himself faced many libel cases as Editor and therefore both understands the importance of the cases and arguments and how it feels to be in the dock. You can imagine the excitement they must have felt when they discovered the story and were commissioned to continue their playwriting collaboration which started with Bunch of Amateurs and continued even more successfully with the excellent World War 1 story of Wipers Times.

They first wrote it as a one hour radio play for BBC Radio 4 and have now extended it into a two act play for the Watermill but the transfer from Radio to stage is not as successfully as we might have expected. The basic tale is wonderful material; a penniless but witty writer and publisher, Home and his collaborator and drinking partner cartoonist George Cruickshank regularly entertain crowds in shop windows with their work and he sells his Reformists Register, not for revolution or profits but to change the establishment. The targets of the day are the bloated and lascivious Prince Regent, the self interested politicians in both houses and the corrupt judicial system which protects the establishment. He becomes a campaigner for the case of Eliza Fenwick, the dumpling murderer hung for allegedly poisoning her employers although they neither actually died.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

REVIEW: Jerusalem at the Watermill, Newbury

If you missed Jez Butterworth’s wonderful play Jerusalem in its 2009 West End run then hurry along to the Watermill Newbury for this excellent revival which is on until 21stJuly. The delightful theatre offers a perfect setting for the fictional village of Flintock , which is only a 40 minute drive from the Village of Pewsey from where Butterworth drew inspiration. The council of Kennet and Avon as the antagonists of the play keep it set nearby. It is a picture of isolated rural village and as one character says, the villagers’ don’t go “east of Wootton Basset”. The auditorium and foyer are decked out for the village May Day festival in flowers, fairy lights and bunting to create this idyllic scene.

At the centre of this play is Johnny “Rooster” Byron a drunken drug dealer who has lived in Rooster’s wood for years and is a magnet for the waifs and strays of the village. He is an intriguing character repellent and charming almost at the same time. A cross between the drunken philanderer Falstaff , the Pied Piper leading the village youths astray and Fagin , a loveable rogue trading off others weaknesses. But there are also hints of Henry V at Agincourt, St George protecting a threatened maiden and King Arthur telling tales of past glories at his round table. This complex character is brilliantly played by Jasper Britton from the moment we first meet him refreshing himself after a long night by dipping his head into the toilet and flicking the water over the front row, to his mesmeric bloodied final rant he is on stage virtually the whole time and gives a spell binding performance. He holds the audience attention in his glorious fantastical story telling of Summers of Love, Babies with born with bullets in their mouths, daredevil stunts, Girls Aloud fantasy and Giants who built Stonehenge yet he touches them too in his relationship with the young Marky and his mother Dawn (Natalie Walter).
Blog Design by pipdig