A refreshing Eyre of honesty as Blackeyed Theatre stages Bronte classic in Malvern

‘BLACKEYED Theatre’ is a new company to me, but one I shall certainly be watching out for in the future if this brand new production of Jane Eyre premiering at Malvern is the usual standard of their work.

There have many incarnations of this Charlotte Bronte feminist classic including most recently, the high energy, ‘Kneeehigh’ version.

Picture by Alex Harvey-Brown. s

This was, as with all Kneehigh productions, a highly-enjoyable fusion of theatre and circus.

‘Blackeyed’ offer a more sedate, retro-repertory approach. They are seemingly a touring company traditional in playing style, and costume. Victoria Spearing’s set is the exception to tradition however as there are no flying cloths or moving set pieces  but a three dimensional labyrinth comprising a piano, wooden beams, ropes, steps and curtains, which cleverly become rooms, buildings and coaches.

There has been an obvious close collaboration twixt Charlotte Bronte adapter Nick Lane and director Adrian McDougall as script and production work in perfect harmony.

Picture by Alex Harvey-Brown. s

As to the actors – Kelsey Short is just perfect as the heroine, Jane Eyre – she narrates her story as well as acting it and takes us along with her in an inclusive performance as we share her pain, her joy and most importantly her reasoning. She makes us concur with which of life’s paths she chooses to follow next and why.

Ben Warwick plays Bronte’s classic macho man Edward Rochester with panache and just the right amount of swagger. Warwick and Short make a believable and natural romantic duo.

Camilla Simson, Eleanor Toms and Oliver Hamilton perform a wide range of characters between them, completing this talented company of five – all of who also take turns on the piano and play fiddles and other instruments to perform composer George Jennings haunting underpinning score.

Picture by Alex Harvey-Brown. s

This is a refreshing and honest adaptation of a classic tale of which I am sure the famous novelist would most definitely approve.

It’s a highly recommended splendid night out – catch it if you can this week at Malvern and if not then somewhere on its national tour for the next few months.

Jane Eyre runs at Malvern Theatres until Sunday, September 29.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Brum Rep’s Rebel is a tad disheveled

CO-CREATED by talented duo, Robin French, who is also the writer, and Alex Brown who is also the director, this in-house production explores the power of music against racism on the streets of Birmingham and Coventry.

It is set back in the bleak social and economic years of the late 1970s – in particular the joining together of  punk, reggae and 2Tone – ‘Rebel Music’.

It is a three-hander from a very talented trio –

Lauren Foster brings masses of warmth, wonder and disillusionment to Denise, a mixed race girl who pines from her missing Jamaican dad.

Hannah Millward is infectious as Denise’s madcap tartan mini-skirted blonde crack-a-jack, best-mate Trudi.

And Nathan Queeley-Dennis multi-tasks splendidly as a variety of character but mainly as Andrew.

There is some clever stuff and moving moments – Andrew’s lengthy monologue at the end of act one is a theatrical joy and the Sparkhill standoff between BNP and the anti-fascist alliance blood-stirring.

Whilst Rebel Music has much going for it, it is also work in progress.

It’s not as if it leaves questions unanswered – it’s more that it goes off down to many blind alleys, perhaps making this production a workshop on the road to a more rounded script.

The storyline needs more joining up of the personal journeys whilst the political ‘then and now link’ feels a little tenuous.

After it’s run at the REP it is touring around Birmingham and Coventry at various unusual locations including libraries where I am sure it will continue to evolve.

Music is a timeless and all-powerful rallying call  – the beat goes on.

Rebel music runs at The Door at the Birmingham Rep until next Saturday, October 5.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

A Bunch of Amateurs is very professionally staged in Kidderminster

Here’s what I think of KODS bunch of amateurs

Under the direction of Coral Dickinson this gauntlet is taken up by Kidderminster Operatic and Dramatic Society and delivered with a dollops of panache and alacrity.

THIS was my first visit to ‘The Rose’ and I was struck by the thought that there could be no finer location to perform a tender English comedy, which concerns a local drama group performing in their own little theatre.

The pride and passion of the front of house volunteers and the audience regulars at The Rose was quite infectious.

‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ which was originally written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman as a film in 2008 starring Sir Derek Jacobi and the late, great Burt Reynolds. It was in fact, the Royal Film performance that year and apparently the Queen enjoyed it so much she had it shown again at her Sandringham Christmas party.

It was then turned into a stage play, which probably because of its title has never graced the West End Stage. After all who wants to pay a couple of hundred pounds to see a bunch of amateurs – no need to answer that it is rhetorical.

Nevertheless within that title lies a challenge – can actors play actors acting badly without appearing like a bunch of ‘don the slap and the wig part timers’ -whose audience are press-ganged into attending because it’s Auntie Ethel, Uncle George or eight-year-old Elisha Botts first steps on stage?

Under the direction of Coral Dickinson this gauntlet is taken up by Kidderminster Operatic and Dramatic Society and delivered with dollops of panache and alacrity.

The plot is not implausible really – Stratford-St-Johns drama group in Suffolk is in danger of closing because they don’t have the funds to repair their leaking, aging building, decide to try and get a big name to play King Lear in their final do-or-die production.

They can’t believe their luck when fading movie action hero Jefferson Steel says ‘Yea’. Trouble is Steele thinks he’s appearing in Stratford as in Royal Shakespeare Company not Stratford as in Hicksville St Johns. These things happen – it’s rumoured that the Arab princes who bought Manchester City football club actually thought they were buying United – what a difference a name makes?

So lets get on to this bunch of amateurs that Dickinson has assembled for this KODS cast –Dorothy Nettel as the company director Tracey Mann whose bright idea it is to bring in a star sets the tone from the get-go with a warm naturalness that becomes a rallying call as crisis follows crisis, Mark Cox provides many a laugh as Denis Dobbins the company goffer and superstar Steele’s entourage whilst Claire Hadland makes a delightfully comedic job of playing landlady-come-Lear-cast member, Mary Plunkett.

Lauren Bell the glamorous wife of brewery owner and show sponsor is performed with the cheekiest of smiles and a sexy swagger by Emma Paine and Jessica Steele – daughter of said superstar Dad, is given believability by Lucy Charlotte-Webb.

Andy Partington is spot on as the Machiavellian prima donna Nigel Dewbury, his caustic humour and over-the-top portrayal is compulsive.

Finally John Caldwell puts in a commendable and tireless performance as the aging tough-guy come pussycat – Jefferson Steele.

Director Dickinson has him coming from a different entrance every time, scaling walls and leaping from chairs – convincing American accent too.

I have some minor niggles, we are left in the dark too often –remember seconds of silence in the dark seems like minutes to an audience – easily solvable Ms Dickinson – however your attention to detail in both characterisation and staging is most laudable.

This KODS cast may be amateurs playing amateurs but you really can’t see that join. They are a well-drilled, talented team, which do their real theatre company and director proud.

It’s well worth seeing.

The final performances are tonight and tomorrow.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn

Here’s my thoughts on The Crescent’s first show. Of their new season

JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn is a gem of a show to kick off the new Crescent Theatre season with and my word they do her justice.

Sumptuous cossies, a set to transport you to ‘The famous Globe’ of old London town and music from Christopher Arnold to grace any royal parlour – and that’s before we get on to talking about the acting.

At approaching three hours long, dear Nell could have been an endurance test, even for the theatre faithful. But there is so much crammed in here to relish that you’re left rather begging for more not screaming for mercy.

The play is set after the death of Oliver Cromwell where 30 year old King Charles II comes has returned from exile in France to grace the throne once more.

The story is not just about lovely orange-selling, part time hooker Nell, but concerns theatre and theatrical folk. It’s the game-changing time when women were first allowed to grace the stage as actors –Heaven forbid this step should cascade them into being allowed to vote and workplace equality!

No this is the time when women ruled with the power of sex and cunning whilst men just thought they ruled and enjoyed the sex.

We meet a company of actors struggling to put on performances in the Kings’ own theatre – artistry must be tempered with political correctness but whatever happens – the show must go on!

Laura Poyner is our hardworking Nell – she rarely leaves the stage as she acts, sings, and cavorts her way into our hearts. In a dress as bright as the oranges in her basket she is simply joyous with a performance that sucks you in and keeps you there until her final epilogue.

Alice Macklin puts in fine support as Nell’s sister Rose, Pat Dixon is as delightful as she is funny as Nancy, Jaz Davison gives up a delicious double as Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine (if any of you have seen the series ‘Get Shorty’ then think the Mexican Cartel boss lady) and sad Old Ma Gwynn, Nell’s brothel keeping mater.

Joanne Brookes completes the main cast female line in another splendid double as we get two mistresses for the price of one – the hissing court bitch Lady Castlemaine and the clever French beauty Louise de Keroualle.

There is not a weak link in this cast – on to the males -Tom Fitzpatrick smiles majestically just like the picture that adorns so many pub walls as King Charles II’ all that’s missing is the spaniel on his lap – a perfect piece of casting,

Sam Wilson is gloriously outrageous as Edward Kynaston, the member of the company who got to don the frock and the face slap before Nelly takes over, Graeme Braidwood is a suitable harassed writer John Drydon, Alan Bull brings the right amount of bluster to Lord Arlington and Luke Plimmer as Ned Spiggett and Christopher Arnold as Henry Purcell also put in solid performances as actors playing actors.

Two special shout-outs firstly for Mark Payne as the lead actor of the King’s theatre troupe Charles Hart – he manages to demonstrate the whole range of acting skills when teaching Nell how to act  – whilst masking it in another layer of what Hart is really thinking –no mean feat for an actor playing an actor showing another actor how to act – if you follow my drift?

Secondly to a truly extraordinary outing for Andrew Cowie as Thomas Killgrew the company director. He is so funny, so believable and so intense – I can’t find sufficient superlatives. – ‘cept perhaps to say Bill Nighy (whom Cowie really resembles) couldn’t have done it better.

Sometimes there is nothing as real as pretense – Killgrew’s uproarious rehearsal room scenes are spot on and timeless. Within those walls plans are hatched, hearts joined and broken; dreams made and shattered – Viva la suspension of disbelief.

Of course all this would never have come to pass if there wasn’t a real director with a vision – Dewi Johnson take a well-earned bow. It didn’t escape my notice that the actors never stopped acting and muttering even when moving the scenery. The company did you proud and you welded them into one hell of a team.

Standards for the season have been set!

Nell Gwyn runs at The Crescent until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Romeo and Juliet

THE TRAGIC story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet has seen many versions over the centuries.

Of course the most famous is William Shakespeare’s play, (which itself was based on a 16th century poem), but this New Adventures production will surely rank as a new classic. It will surely come to rank alongside Bernstein’s West Side Story, the Franco Zeffirelli film and the  Kenneth Macmillan ballet created for Nureyev and Fonteyn.

Like Macmillan, Matthew Bourne uses the evocative Prokofiev score as inspiration, but Bourne’s is a very different interpretation – one which puts the teenage angst of the protagonists at its heart.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

Set in the ‘Verona Institute’ – a detention centre for troubled youths – this stark, clinical design by long-time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston with its prison-like walkways and barred doors brilliantly conveys the bleakness of the situation the teenagers find themselves trapped in.

Here, every aspect of the lives of the inmates is controlled by nurses and wardens – illustrated by the unrelenting, twisted, disjointed movements. One warden, Tybalt, (a menacing Danny Reubens) uses his power to take advantage of the young women, always selecting a different girl to sate his sexual desires.

He chooses Juliet as his latest victim. Their dance is an uncomfortable watch as Juliet tries unsuccessfully to escape his clutches.

Seren Williams as Juliet brings just the right amount of innocence, angst and feistiness to the role.

Enter Romeo (a dashing, innocent-at-large Andy Monaghan)– deposited at the Institute by his powerful parents, the Montagues (Mrs Montague is portrayed as a Teresa May lookalike) – who clearly have no understanding and little time for their troublesome son.

In a humorous scene Romeo is gently teased and shown the ropes of life in the institution by the streetwise trio of Mercutio, Benvolio and Balthasar.

The only brightness in the gloom for the inmates are the dances held by the hapless, do-gooding Chaplain, Revd Bernadette – an engaging, funny portrayal by Madeleine Brennan which brings some welcome humour. The inmates dance with mechanical, stilted movements under the watchful eyes of Guard Tybalt, but once he leaves, they become uninhibited – think school disco when the teachers have left!

Here Romeo and Juliet first set eyes on each other and there follows a pas-de-deux which beautifully captures the innocence and clumsiness of teenage first love – all snogging, fumbling and writhing.

But Tybalt still has Juliet in his sights and continues to exert his power over the troubled youngsters, culminating in a heart-stopping fight scene, danced with such precision, fear and ferocity that you are on the edge of your seat.

No spoilers as to who kills whom, but the spiral of despair and mental anguish is about to escalate, as the lovers are isolated. Juliet begs the Reverend to help her see Romeo again and she agrees, taking Juliet to his cell. There is less innocence and more sexual tension in this pas de deux as they are re-united, but for Juliet the sexual assaults inflicted by Tybalt cannot be forgotten and her mental anguish is painful to watch.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

The ending is, as we’d always known it would be, truly tragic and brilliant in its execution.

Bourne’s productions are built on precision from his dancers and this is no exception. The performances  throughout were faultless – the exertion and passion palpable and utterly compelling. What is even more brilliant is Bourne’s commitment to bringing on new talent – five of the creative team are trainees, and in every tour venue the company are working with six young local dancers aged 16-19, who are inserted into the cast so seamlessly that you can’t see the join. They rightfully got the biggest cheer of the well-deserved standing ovation.

This is a production that every parent of teenagers – and every teenager – should see.

The final performance of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet take place at the Hippodrome tonight and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14).

Click here for more information, times and tickets, which start at £40.50.

Review by Johannah Dyer for Euan Rose Reviews

Shane Richie proves he’s a born Entertainer in Malvern

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MENTION John Osborne’s classic play ‘The Entertainer’ and Sir Laurence Olivier springs to mind – he made the part of infamous Archie Rice his own both on stage and screen. It is a brave actor who dares to follow in those hallowed 1957 footprints, but here we are some 60 years later with Shane Richie revelling in a role he too seems have been born to play.

When we first meet Archie, it is on stage as a club comedian seemingly left over from another age. He is pleasant enough and he engages us instantly – but is this pity we feel rather than admiration?

Director Sean O’Connor (I presume it’s him as there are no other writing or staging credits in the programme) has set this new version in Thatcher’s Britain of 1982 where we are about to embark on our last hurrah sending what’s left of the fleet to the Falklands for a bit of Argy bargy.

Normally I am very wary of updates just for the sake of it (the original chronicled the Suez Crisis of the 1950s), but this is a stroke of genius – the cap certainly fits and I’m so glad O’Connor didn’t try to tie it in with Brexit – tempting, as I’m sure it was.

Comedy went through a massive change in the 1980s – it was the time of the subtle clever stand-up replacing the obvious cheeky chappy like Archie.

His response is to resort to tasteless and racist, toe-curling humour and his love affair with the audience becomes more fractured every time he performs to us.

Of course he can’t see what’s happening – it’s our fault.

Running alongside the fall and fall of Archie Rice on stage is the disintegration of his dysfunctional family and home life. Seemingly the only common denominator they all have is an unquenchable appetite for endless tumblers of gin.

Everyone starts out as normal, take Granddad Billy Rice (an ebullient Pip Donaghy), himself an old entertainer, warm as toast in welcoming Jean, Archie’s daughter by his first marriage when she turns up unexpectedly. But this isn’t exactly a social call – Jean (a convincing Diana Vickers)  has come to lick her wounds following breaking up with her fiancée.  Her character unfolds like a flower – from bud to bloom in complexity. She has been an active protester against the Falklands war in direct contrast to her brother Mick who is Archie’s hero son away fighting for Queen (her majesty’s portrait adorns the lounge wall) and country (there are Union Flags hanging in the window).

Sarah Crowe plays Archie’s long-suffering second wife Phoebe – she perfectly captures a woman who tolerates the misogynistic treatment dished out to her because whilst she isn’t exactly happy to be a victim, the alternative frightens her even more.

Phoebe’s solution: drink more and smile. turn a blind eye to Archie’s philandering and constant put-downs and fuss over everyone like you’re a real mother hen.

Finally there is Frank (a sardonic, ever-smiley Christopher Bonwell), Archie’s other son whose job it is to introduce Archie on stage and be his gofer in life – providing him with whatever he wants.

O’Connor’s direction is very clever, he uses the political backdrop by way of red top paper headlines in a cacophonistic harmony with  Archie’s descent into obscurity and likewise family battles echo the political squabbles.

Shane Richie gives us a tour-de-force as the ubiquitous creature that is Archie Rice – like Lord Olivier he will be a very had act to follow.

He is not always an easy watch, in fact there are times when Richie’s Rice makes you squirm with embarrassment – even to the point of feeling unclean in his presence;  just like the master John Osborne intended.

There is much to relish in this production and perhaps even more to ponder over on the journey home.

The Entertainer runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, September 14.

Review by Euan Rose,

Check out the tour dates by following link :

Check out the tour dates by following link :