Things go Brum-p in the night as Ghost Stories comes to the Second City

FOR TEN years, reviewers and audiences have been asked to keep the secrets of the uniquely spine tingling show ‘Ghost Stories’ – and so you’re certainly not going to get any major spoilers from me!

Since its original West End run the show has toured the world, been made into a movie and is now back here at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham to start a UK tour with an all new cast.

Ghost Stories was conceived as a concept and written by ‘League of Gentlemen’ originator Jeremy Dyson along with Andy Nyman, (who devises many of the Derren Brown experiences), so it is little wonder that audiences expect to go home ashen-faced and seeking solace in the company of others. ‘Best avoid dark roads and solitary railway carriages if we can’ is the communal thinking, nervous laughter hitting the night sky as we exit and wander the streets together for as long as possible. A voice unseen tells you to ‘Look straight ahead, ignore dark alleyways and corners’.

The cast is a four-hander comprising Joshua Higgott as the ghost-debunking narrator Professor Goodman, Gus Gordon as Simon Rifkind, Paul Hawkyard as Tony Matthews and Richard Sutton (who trained at Birmingham School of Acting) as Mike Priddle. Together the quartet act out a series of tales to make you literally jump out of your seat or – as in my case – for your companion to soak you in red wine.

Note I said four-hander and indeed the walkdown starts that way then in the blink of an eye there is an interloper.

That of course may not happen every night – depends what mood the spirits are in I suppose….

Ghoulies, demons, stuff of nightmares, apocalyptic chappies, headless homages to things that go thump in the night – this is a full-on haunting experience like I’ve never encountered before in the theatre.

It obviously has a huge following as it was rammed to capacity.

Congratulations to directors Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman and Sean Holmes,  set designer Jon Bausor, James Farncombe and Nick Manning for amazing light and sound and Scott Penrose for the effects.

I’ve kept the secrets so I’m sure they’ll let me live and I would definitely encourage you all to catch the tour and do the same – but best wear an extra pair of pants.  Oh and it’s 90 minutes straight through and strictly no readmission if you have to use the rest room – hence the loo-queues before curtain up.

And it’s OK to scream by the way.

****Review by Euan Rose.

Aladdin and his magic lamp will burn bright at Malvern after its first night jitters

OPENING nights are traumatic as well as exciting occasions and Malvern’s Aladdin was certainly both of these.

As the curtain rose, those of us in the first few rows of the stalls were engulfed in a thick mist of stage smoke and a sea of programmes were waved in defence.   Missed too were lines and moves in the chaotic first few minutes of the show.

For me this is the beauty and the magic of live theatre. Pantomime audiences go for a good time not a critical time, so I shall be charitable. The keystones for success were all there and with the first night teething troubles behind them (Oh yes they are) – talent and tenacity will triumph from here on in!

As it’s Christmas allow me to indulge by reviewing in verse:

What do we want?

A nice evil baddy to boo

A princess to view

A dame in mad frocks

A hero that rocks

Just let tradition and madness ensue!

John Challis –nee Boycie – makes bad Abanazar cool

Mark James’ Wishee Washee’s our favourite fool

Loula Geater sings nicely as Spirit of the Ring

Gary Davis is majestic as the Emperor King

Danny Rogers hits the nail as PC Pong

Jacob Morris’ Genie is tiny but strong

Joely Barbour’s Jasmine is so full of grace

James Steen’s Widow Twankey has good pantomime pace

Whilst Aladdin – Aaron Jenson –

Accent and carpet flew all over the place!

Director Damian Sandys has crammed lots into his show

Christine Walls’ frocks are quite stunning you know

The set design team just kept spectaculars coming

A shout out from me for Esme Ireson’s drumming

Alistair Bull sets the dance as show choreographer

Jon Monie wrote the words as script lexicographer

Ben Merrick’s lighting was designed to impress

As was the 3D and animation FX

Couldn’t find a credit for who did the smoke

But thanks, pal, you made us shed tears and choke!

Act Two contains a spectacular magic carpet ride and one of the best slapstick scenes I’ve seen with buckets of soap, lots of slipping, sliding and general mayhem in the laundry.

All’s well that ends well and Malvern’s Aladdin ended in true pantomime splendour with a magnificent wedding walkdown.

Breathe, company – first night is over

You have a show

It will grow and grow

Audiences will come to cheer and boo

A very Merry Christmas to all of you!

Aladdin runs at Malvern Theatres until January 5.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

***Review by Euan Rose. 

The King and I

THIS award-winning production of the classic ‘The King and I’ is one of those shows that just ticks all the boxes.

From the minute the orchestra strikes up the overture and the billowing, gold curtain that has replaced the traditional house tabs becomes a dancing light show, the hairs start to rise on the back of your neck.

The curtain lifts to reveal a paddle steamer, the Chow Phya that has just arrived into the port of Bangkok. We are back in the 1860s and on deck and gazing into the strange cacophony of teeming human life on the dockside, is schoolteacher Anna Leonowens. She is dressed in a huge, hooped skirt of the period and arrives to take up a post as tutor to the children of the King of Siam.

Alongside her  – and naturally nervous at the alien scene unfolding before them – is her young son Louis. Anna boosts his courage as she teaches him to put on a brave face by singing (and whistling of course) ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’.

From here Anna enters a world of both splendor and inequality – where the King is supreme in all things, slavery is normality and savagery and beauty make discordant bedfellows. ‘East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet’ as the saying goes – but our heroine puts up a pretty good fight at bringing her own brand of slightly jingoistic British values to the Royal household of Siam, becoming much loved by all including eventually the King himself.

The storyline, which is actually based on true events detailed in the real Anna Leonowens diary, has enthralled many generations. When you think of the King, you automatically think of Yul Brynner as the definitive bald headed monarch in the movie – amazingly he actually played it over 4,000 times on stage too. In this production we were privileged to see the magnificent Jose Llana who starred in the Tony award-winning Lincoln Center, Broadway production. His every movement, gesture and utterance was indeed a master class.

Annalene Beechey matches Llana blow for blow and shows that Anna too has many layers as she wears petticoats.  Beechey is vocally and physically perfect in every way.

If this were a heavyweight-boxing contest it would go the full 15 rounds and end in a draw with both hands held high in triumph.

The entire company is excellent but I’d like to give a special shout out to Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thaing as the King’s number one wife and wise whisperer of wisdom – Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn who readies himself to take the throne and lead it into a more open and less misogynistic future and to Paulina Yeung as Tuptim, who has the voice of a songbird as the bride gift from the neighbouring King of Burma.

The choreography by Christopher Gattelli is ‘wowsome’; the wardrobe designed by Catherine Zuber gorgeous in every detail – the ever-moving set from Michael Yeargan awesome, the lighting design by Donald Holder – bold and sensitive whilst the orchestra under the baton of Malcolm Forbes-Peckham is full and joyous.

In act two there is a play within a play, or rather a ballet within a play where the dancing is taken to another level of excellence as the wives and children put on ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ (their version of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’) for visiting Western dignitaries at a state banquet. This combines traditional Thai with modern dance and is quite breath taking.

Of course the number we are all anticipating is ‘Shall we Dance’ and when it eventually comes, it is so worth the wait – powerful and oozing sumptuous sexual energy.

Overall, I can’t find enough superlatives to endorse this five star production – tears and laughs came in seemingly endless waves from an audience entranced by a night of culture, history and magic that truly delivers its eastern promises – in a word it’s simply ‘delightful.’

The show runs at the Alexandra Theatre until January 4.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose.

Dick Whittington

THERE was a great atmosphere at the Wolverhampton Grand as the official opening night also marked 125 years to the day the theatre first opened its doors.

The Grand really is quite a gem of a theatre, splenderously appointed, warm and welcoming and home to some wonderful productions.

‘Dick Whittington’ is splenderously staged by Qdos Entertainment, with one lavish set after another appearing – it was like gazing down a kaleidoscope and quite rightly, accompanied by an equally lush, never-ending parade of frocks.

Picture by Tim Thursfield. s

The script by pantomime legend Ian Adams contains the right mix of cheese, cheek and schmaltz with plenty of audience participation. Hard-working Adams also not wrote the piece, but also directed and played the traditional panto dame of ‘Sarah the Cook’.

The cast of stalwarts, many of who struggled admirably with seasonal sore throats included bewitching Julie Paton as Fairy Bow Bells (she also choreographed the show), the luscious Katie Marie-Carter as Alice Fitzwarren, the girl Dick loses his heart to, Jordon Ginger making a posh feline out of Dick’s sidekick Tommy the Cat and Tom Roberts brings oriental delight to his role as ‘The Sultan.’

Picture by Tim Thursfield. s

This quartet is joined by the very engaging Aaron James as Idle Jack and Coronation Street star Ryan Thomas, as the wannabe mayor himself Dick Whittington. Plus a  spot on spiffing Su Pollard as Queen Rat who it was nice to see reunited with her old Hi-De-Hi pal Jeffery Holland who rejoiced in the role of Alderman Fitzwarren.

An energetic ensemble join the principals as does engaging teams of tots from the Willenhall based, Classic Academy of Dance.

The very capable Grand Theatre Orchestra is under the glorious baton of Kelvin Towse.

There are some wonderful moments on offer, great songs, hard core slapstick,  an amazing hand clapping/ jiving routine plus a truly scary giant rat that looms its fangs out over the stalls.

If you’re looking for a truly traditional pantomime to put a mince-pie warm glow in your veins then ‘Don’t look behind you’ rather look across to Wolverhampton where you’ll find a grand show awaiting.

Dick Whittington is on at the Wolverhampton Grand until January 12.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose

Peter Pan wows the crowd as he flies into the 21st century at the Birmingham Rep

AS OPPOSED to other city centre theatres, the REP is not only a producing house but also one, which produces new work at the cutting edge of performing arts.

I was therefore expecting a very different Peter Pan from the one so closely guarded by the JM Barrie trust until it ran out of copyright 70 years after his death. Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital still get all the royalties, though the play itself can now be and is changed into many formats.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

Last year the Hippodrome did a full panto version featuring Donny Osmond, which, fun as it was, barely bore any resemblance to the original story. This version conceived and directed by the very talented Liam Steel certainly delivers ‘different’.

Gone are the snow capped rooftops of Victorian London and the ‘Darling’ children looked after by Nanny the dog.

Here we have a modern day high-rise, soulless housing estate in Birmingham, where street kids play ‘catch-me-if –you-can’ with community police officers.

We do however still have the ‘Darlings’ – Wendy, Michael, and John but no Mr or Mrs Darling. Instead we have foster mum Jess who, in a parody of the original where Mr Darling blames the woes of not being able to tie his bow tie on the children, Jess does the same as she gears up for a night out clubbing with her mate to celebrate a birthday. She exchanges harsh words with Wendy, the mixed-up, mother surrogate to her siblings before leaving.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

So far JM Barrie hasn’t got a look in and there was no Nana the dog, my favourite character as it happens – then maybe that’s a blessing for it would surely be transformed to a Rottweiler. Suddenly, wonder of wonders! Not only in flies the boy who never grew up but he is speaking the lines that I know! Kisses and shadows et al – all is forgiven and now I realise what Steel is trying to do – not to try and upstage Barrie but make him accessible – this show is not aimed at the likes of me but at a new seven plus generation – my word they were lapping it up too.

Off Wendy flies, spearheaded by Tink and in red devil formation with Peter, John and Michael to Neverland to meet the lost children – yes in this new diverse PP that oozes equality there are lost boys as well as girls.

In the original, Captain Hook is doubled by Mr Darling – here the dastardly cad is played by a woman – ie doubled by foster mum Jess.  Her pirates look like refugees from a Mad Max movie and sing rap songs rather than yo-ho-ho shanties.

Nia Gwynne’s Jess/Hook brings strength and stability to a relatively raw and emerging company, Mirabelle Gremaud rocks as a punk ‘Tink’, Cora Tsang is a thoroughly modern if still petulant Wendy, Kascion Franklin makes for a wise  John Darling and Mollie Lambert a needy Michael.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

Lawrence Walker as Peter, has an awful lot of action to do, flying as he does to all high corners of the huge stage, summersaulting and generally being a one boy gymnastic team. He also manages to engage and show Peter’s soft underbelly, despite being more feisty kick-ass street kid than pretty young scallywag.

Mention must be made of Georgia Christou, the co-adapter of this ‘reimagining’ and to designers Michael Pavelka for the set and Laura Jane Stanfield for the costumes.

In summary, this is a show with lots of action, sounds and music more of the streets than fairyland that boldly goes where its creators intended. It is for that age group where we don’t quite understand them for a few years.

Whilst I will always love the original, the kids screamed their approval of this new age Pan and I can’t disagree with them – it delivers ‘reimagining’ in spades.

Peter Pan runs until January 19 at the Birmingham Rep.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose.

My Cousin Rachel

THIS Theatre Royal Bath Production of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘My Cousin Rachel’ adapted splendidly for the stage by Joseph O’Connor, is quite a theatrical shot in the arm.

Set in a sinister ancient house on a desolate tidal island off the Cornish Coast, this is gorgeous Gothic splendor from the get-go. Here lays a house where mystery lurks round every dark corner. The sea laps gently at times and fearsomely at others, blue skies turn to black, lightening strikes at appropriate times and sea mist hovers throughout.

The pièce de résistance of designer Richard Kent’s quite remarkable set is a huge revolve which takes a winding central staircase from the interior and turns it into an outdoor balcony overlooking the sea.

It is well known that Daphne Du Maurier wrestled with her sexuality throughout her life and this reflected in her creation of some of literatures most powerful females – I write of course of Rebecca as well as Rachel.

Birmingham School of Acting trained and ‘Call the Midwife’ star, Helen George is wonderful in the title role, to give her, her full title Rachel Coryn Ashley – aka the twice-widowed Countess Sangalletti. I didn’t know the story very well and am certainly not going to put a spoiler in here if you don’t know it how it all ends up either. Suffice it to say that George takes us splendidly on her journey from humble almost subservient beginnings – growing into a towering dominatrix, consuming all in her path.

George is well supported by Jack Holden as Philip Ashley as the ‘woe-is-me’ young man who is about to inherit the Cornish stately pile and travels his own journey from Rachel hate to Rachel love and back to hate again with the necessary melodramatic aplomb.

Simon Shepherd plays Ashley’s mentor and chum Nicholas Kendall who deftly handles his journey of dedication and doubt through to downright suspicion of dastardly deeds afoot. There is welcome comedic relief from the darkness in the form of Sean Murray as the old retainer John Seecombe and my special heads up is to Christopher Hollis as a splendidly camp Italian lawyer Guido Rainaldi who, much to Ashley’s annoyance, treats Rachel as his personal fag hag.

David Plater’s lighting design is deliciously spooky, with the sound composition by  Max Pappenheim adding atmosphere in abundance. This production still has to grow to fill every crevice of the wondrous set and do Du Maurier’s wonderful words full justice, but I believe it is ultimately West End bound where it will reside comfortably for a long run

My Cousin Rachel runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose.

The Grinch – stealing hearts and making Christmas at the Alex in Birmingham this Yuletide

THE MUCH-loved legend of American children’s literature, Theodore ‘Dr’ Seuss, wrote ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’ over six decades ago back in 1957. He penned it in rhymed verse and also illustrated it himself.

In 1966, it was adapted as an animation featuring the voice of Boris Karloff and then 34 years later at the millennium became much more widely known in this country via the live action film starring Jim Carrey. Only last year, a new animated version was made featuring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The musical, with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and original score by Mel Marvin made its debut in Minneapolis in November 1994, after special arrangements had been made with the Dr Seuss estate to exclusively adapt and perform the book.

It opened on Broadway in 2006 and now finally gets its UK premiere at our own Alexandra Theatre here in Birmingham.

The production is refreshingly true to the book in that the dialogue remains in rhymed verse and the quite wonderful set is like a series of black-and-white hand drawings coming to life.

As if to endorse the homage to Dr Seuss a group of children from the audience are invited onto the stage pre-curtain where the stage manager reads the start of the original book to them before we are transformed to Whoville.

Our narrator is a dog, well two dogs actually – West End veteran Steve Fortune immediately endears as ‘Old Max’ whilst X Factor winner Matt Terry, is as deft on his feet as he is with his lungs as ‘Young Max’.

Talent abounds everywhere with stand out ‘Who citizen’ performances from Karen Ascoe as Grandma, David Bardsley as Grandpa, Holly Dale Spencer as Mama and Alan Pearson as Papa Who.

Edward Baker-Duly is truly magical as the grumpy Grinch, the poor misguided solitary creature who goes on a mission to steal everything Christmassy from the homes of the citizens of Whoville on Christmas Eve.  Baker-Duly dances, sings and cajoles us into believing he is indeed the Grinch personified.

The story is a sort of morality tale and whilst the Grinch does indeed try to ruin that ‘most wonderful time of the year;’ along with him we remember the true meaning of Christmas not the commercial one which leaves many a family in debt for months.

There are four young girls playing Cindy Lou Who – on press night we witnessed the amazing talents of Isla Gie – not just a star in the making but one that has arrived. At just nine years old she has already toured the UK in Les Miserables and now this, where the entire audience took her heartstring tugging performance into their hearts.

Shout-outs to Costume Designer Robert Morgan for stunning and ‘Who’ accurate  frocks, likewise John Lee Beatty for his storybook set, Matt August as a Director who makes the journey clear, Choreographer Bob Richard for the faultless footwork and Richard John the musical director whose baton conducts an orchestra par excellence.

This Grinch doesn’t steal Christmas he makes it – why we even get snow falling in the auditorium as the story ends – sending us happily out into the night a merry bunch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas runs until Saturday, December 7, at the Alexandra Theatre.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

A long time-coming but this UK premiere is well worth the wait.

****Review by Euan Rose.

BMOS’ Christmas Carol in Brum is a ‘wonderful way to start the festive season’

THE MUSICAL version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale had passed me by prior to this BMOS production and thus I approached the evening with a mixture of excitement and apprehension – excitement as I know that BMOS are first off the mark when new shows are released for performance to the musical theatre community – and they never spare the pennies when staging them.

Apprehension as to what damage the American writers Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens  might have done to the words of perhaps our most treasured novelist.

Amazingly they wrote this back in 1994 and then, as I learnt from the programme, it was performed annually for a number of years at the Paramount Theatre in New York – only coming to London but three years ago in 2016.

Well, all fears and doubts were unjustified – it’s a joy from start to finish – taking little away from the original classic tale but bringing modern accessibility via a really fabulous score from Alan Menken.

This ‘Christmas Carol’ flows seamlessly, never pausing for breath. It has spectacle, passion and is performed by a well-drilled company who sing and act their socks off under the direction of Stephen Duckham.

Not a weak link did I spot in this cast and stand-out performances for me came in abundance from Elliot Beech as a heart-warming Ghost of Christmas Present, Patrick Pryce as a flying wild-haired, wild-eyed, chain-bedraggled Marley, Daniel Parker as an endearing and believable Bob Cratchit as was his wife Mrs. Cratchit, played by Sarah Morris.

Also in my stand-out list comes the mighty Michael McCulley as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, a small but eye-catching performance from Siân Patterson as Fred’s wife Sally, an engaging Annabel Pilcher as the love of Ebenezer’s life Emily and happy chappies Andy Treacy and Jake Genders as Young Marley and Young Scrooge.

Then there was the fabulous Fezziwigs, Nick Owenford as Mr and Jo Smith as Mrs – my word they gave their all – acting majestically, powerfully vocal, leading the party dancing with a boisterous jubilance that was infectious and jumped the curtain line to have us smiling from ear to ear.

Of course all would be lost if Scrooge himself didn’t have the right amount of ‘Bah Humbug’ charisma, but Alistair Joliffe was for me every bit as charismatic as the other Alistair – I write of course of that late great original skinflint in the 1951 black and white movie, Alistair Sim.

Joliffe is dastardly and derisory of Christmas as befits the most miserable of misers, radiates repentance as the ghosts show him his past, present and future and quite rightly has us feeling sorry for the old codger come his Christmas Day ‘good will to all men’ (plus women and especially poorly children) shenanigans.

There are some brilliant dance routines – in particular the faultless red and white high kicking girls celebrating Christmas Present ‘Radio City’ style and Marley’s chain rattlers – great work from Choreographer Aaron Gibson.

The orchestra is spot-on, perfect under the musical direction of David Eastro, the sound by David Chinn well-balanced and the lighting design by Pete Watts was quite simply not only the best I have ever seen in a musical society production but included a couple of sparklingly original jaw dropping effects that deserve a gold star.

This BMOS Christmas Carol is a wonderful way to start the festive season – I just had to have a mince pie whilst writing my review in tribute.

Christmas Carol the musical runs until Saturday, November 30.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose 

One Under’ at the Door

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL thriller ‘One Under’ thriller from Winsome Pinnock and performed by Graeae Theatre Company is one of the best dramas I have seen this year.

It’s not really a ‘whodunit’ but a ‘why-did-he-do-it’ in this story about people trying to make sense of why a young man jumps in front of a train.

Picture by Patrick Baldwin. s

Stanley J Browne skillfully plays Cyrus the train driver who quits his job after the suicide occurs on his watch. The young jumper is Sonny – a quite compelling performance from Reece Pantry.

We discover through a series of flashbacks as Cyrus tries to overcome his grief by delving into Sonny’s life that, amongst other complexities, he was reeling from a disastrous fling with a girl who works in a dry cleaners. This is the slightly bi-polar Christine (Clare-Louise English) who effectively adds more confusion into the melting pot.

Cyrus also meets Sonny’s resentful adopted sister Zoe (Evlyne Oyedokun) and mother Nella, (Shenagh Govan) – both of who have their own demons to deal with.

Govan brings such captivating passion to her role which for me makes hers the stand-out performance of this very talented company.

As with all good thrillers the reveal happens satisfyingly in the closing moments

Director Amit Sharma brings together the complexity of the story with great skill and clarity. There is never a dull moment in what is a very dialogue-reliant play.

Picture by Patrick Baldwin. s

Amelia Jane Hankin has designed the perfect space where the actors can just drift in and out of the action into a central circle.

The screen on which both narrative and audio description are displayed went from being a bit annoying at the outset to a valuable asset to help keep up with where and when we were on Cyrus’ complicated journey.

With ‘One Under’, Graeae once again follows its mantra as a force for change in theatre by breaking down barriers and boldly placing talented deaf and disabled artists centre stage.

Riveting theatre.

One Under runs at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday, November 23.

Click here for times, tickets and more information on the show.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Tread the Boards’ hostage drama at Stratford’s Attic will have you captivated

IN MY role as a theatrical reviewer I am lucky to attend productions several times a week in some of the Midlands finest theatres.

‘The Attic’ in Stratford-upon-Avon is the probably the smallest venue I cover – it is also the one that offers some of the finest and most unique theatre you’ll get to see and always offers the warmest of welcomes.

This visit was no exception – a very powerful piece by Frank McGuinness entitled ‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ (from the song of the same name).

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

It’s about an Englishman, an Irishman and an American which I know sounds like the start of a joke.  Far from it I’m afraid, as the ‘three’ are hostages chained to a wall somewhere in a dark cellar in Lebanon, back in the 1980s when hostage taking was fashionable.

That was pre 9/11 and pre-ISIS where hostages were prizes to be bartered – not heads on poles to display to the world.

The set by designer Zoe Rolph is intensely claustrophobic – comprising wall and floor of dirty, dank, grease-splattered concrete, to which the hostages are already chained via floor bolts and heavy shackles as we enter.

It is almost voyeuristic to wait for them to wake from their slumber as they lay on filthy mattresses.

To be chained and imprisoned like this, not knowing whether it is night or day, what is happening in the outside world as one day merges into another, days into weeks into months into years and those in there must turn to seeking comfort in insanity. This theme is at the heart of this compelling piece as the three men take turns to be the cheerleaders in keeping them all sound.

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

Pete Meredith is the hapless captured American Adam who works out constantly by jogging on the spot whilst holding his chains, then pole-axing to the floor to do as many press ups as his body will take. Meredith perfectly captures the poor man’s battle for self-survival – it’s a fearless performance from an actor who transcends from craft to believability.

He is not alone in this transcending, Phil Leach as Michael  – the stiff upper lip Englishman – beautifully shows us the ups and downs of his journey where he discovers things about himself that he hadn’t dared to voice in his ‘outside the cell’ former life.

John-Robert Partridge is one of a handful of actors who can do little wrong for me and once again he reeled me to believing I was watching a wild eyed, bushy haired brutish, brash Irishman called Edward, not an actor playing him.

Director Jonathan Legg has painted his production with the finest of brushes – every word, movement and pause has its purpose. We already care about the three prisoners but Legg takes us deep into their personas to expose their vulnerabilities as well as their individual strengths and how they compliment each other, taking up the baton like a relay team.

In fairness I felt it could do with some pruning and being contained to one act as so intense is the feeling of confinement for the audience, that to escape between acts was somehow wrong.

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

Don’t let that put you off, or believe that the subject matter is too depressing – yes there is sadness but also moments of joy and laugh-out-loud times so that you leave uplifted.

I cannot bang the drum for ‘Tread the Boards’ loudly enough.

Try and get along before it finishes on Sunday, if that’s not possible book tickets for their next show.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.