A trip to the Birmingham Rep this week will have you talking about Pop Music

‘PAINES Plough’ is renowned for both offering up new work and giving new takes on presentation.

In Anna Jordan’s ‘Pop Music’ at the Birmingham Rep they offer both.

Directed by James Grieve, it’s concept is simple – two drink-jaded people meet on the dance floor at the wedding of mutual friends and as they dance they open up to each other about their lives, as song lyrics and rhythms set off memories of the 80s and 90s.

‘G’ is played by Rakesh Boury and ‘Kayla’ by Katherine Kotz – both of whom are excellent in their respective roles – feeding off each other as the first one provokes a thought which sparks off a reaction in the other then the other returns the compliment.

It’s a bit like a closely fought tennis match set to music.

As the night progresses we discover they were at the same school – Kayla was a tough member of a girl gang who bullied G – G spent most of his time in solitude, hiding with only his orange earphones for company.

Naturally he remembers her far more than she remembers him. Equally naturally G has succeeded in life whereas Kayla has failed to fulfill any of her teenage dreams.

This is of course a well-used cliché but it is also more often than not a truism.

Most of the Silicon Valley billionaire computer company founders tell stories of being the school geek who was bullied and the best looking cheer leader who married the beefcake school football star often ended up being the sad, big fat obese couple when their crowns soon tarnished in the real world.

The clever bit in the writing is that there are several layers of depth to this cliché.

G despite being successful as a pop music engineer had not found happiness with either sex in relationships. In a way Kayla still manages to bully him by scratching at those wounds. Will they get together? Would it work out if they did?

The REP has long been pioneers in promoting new ways of making theatre acceptable to a wider audience through imaginative use of audio visual and human signing. In this production the signer – Ciaran Alexander Stewart gets equal billing alongside the cast of two actors and even a name – ‘Remix’.

He gets the best costume too and is more often than not centre stage and even joins in some of the dancing.

He is fact quite brilliant in the role – to me though I found this was at the cost of allowing G and Kayla to cross over the fourth wall to us between cast and audience. Our eyes were too often on Remix or the word screen.

The play runs at 75 minutes without an interval and seems just about the right length.

Paines Plough, and here’s a nice piece of trivia, got their name on the night the company was conceived, at the Plough Inn drinking Paines bitter – offer an original nights theatre once again.

It is well worth a trip into Birmingham for this – it runs until Saturday, September 22.

Visit https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/pop-music.html for more information and tickets, which start at £10.

Review by Euan Rose.

Breakneck speed 39 Steps at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre is great fun

THERE were just four actors playing a myriad of parts when The 39 Steps was staged at the Crescent Theatre’s Ron Barber Studio.

In the plot, a night at the theatre turns swiftly into a complex cacophony of dastardly deeds, merry mayhem, murder most foul, sinister spies, lovers, lasciviousness and a barrel load of laughs.

The action zooms from a moving train to cars to Scottish Highlands and Lowlands to back where it starts in the theatre where only the knowledge of the famous ‘Memory Man’ can save our innocent hero from a trip to the gallows.

‘The 39 Steps’ started life as a novel by John Buchan, and then became a classic movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a radio play and a straight dramatic adaption before Patrick Barlow created this ‘whacky races on speed’ version.

It was a smash hit both on Broadway and in the West End running for many years and scooping lots of awards.

The Crescent quartet of actors give their all to the venture.

David Baldwin’s combination of innocence and arrogance make him a perfectly suave Richard Hannay, Molly Wood suitably flaunts herself in all the sexy roles whilst Niall Higgins and Katie Goldhawk take on seemingly hundreds of characters with great aplomb – all credit to them for remembering who and where they are.

The action takes place in the confines of the Ron Barber studio, which is set out in a panoramic style with the audience straight on.

The downside of this is if you are seated in the middle you are fine but if you’re seated to one side then you miss out on the action if it is appearing on the other.

In my opinion, it would have been more inclusive had it been set in the round or traverse.

That is to take nothing away from the company who with just a few benches as furniture take us with them on this breakneck journey.

The lighting design by James Booth is quite magnificent in its creativity, the sound well conceived and balanced by Roger Cunningham.

Director Sallyanne Scotton Moonga has worked in tandem with her actors with her touch showing like a fifth cast member at times.

Catch it before it closes on September 15– it’s great fun.

Visit https://www.crescent-theatre.co.uk/ for more information and ticket prices.

Review by Euan Rose.

Madcap mayhem aplenty as The Comedy About a Bank Robbery comes to The Birmingham Rep

THE COMEDY about a Bank Robbery is the latest offering from Mischief Theatre – a company that has achieved phenomenal success over the past few years and has amassed a very loyal following.

‘Mischief’ is the brainchild of three ex LAMDA students Jonathon Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis, who share a love of slapstick and comedy improvisation.

Like many companies, their journey started at the Edinburgh Fringe where they won the ‘Improv.’ Award’’ back in 2008.

From there they went on to write and perform ‘The Play that goes Wrong’ followed by ‘Peter Pan goes Wrong’ both of which enjoyed long West End runs.

The difference between these and this new show is that they don’t hide it under an umbrella of the worst kind of am-dram where everything that can go wrong, does so.

The last two also had been ‘performed’ by the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as its legend. So this new show is a sort of ‘coming of age’ for this quite unique company who’s sole mission is to make its audience collapse with laughter. One is reminded of the song ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ sung by silent movie director Max Sennett in Mack and Mabel when he sings about the Keystone Cops.

There is a plot of sorts – master criminal Mitch Ruscitti (Liam Jeavons) escapes from prison with the assistance of prison officer, Neil Cooper (David Coomber), in order to steal one of the world’s most valuable diamonds.

There then follows two hours of non stop slapstick, taking the genre back to its roots with a cacophony of misplaced clothes, people falling out of windows, getting trapped in folding beds, wardrobes and boxes, getting compromised in accidental sexual positions and a series of unfulfilled romantic encounters before we get to the actual heist.

Here we are into ground-breaking technical stuff theatrically where a special mention must go to David Farley as the set designer who surely must be up for some kind of award as his ever-changing, multi-storied, yet practical settings move as fast as the action. A highlight being the floor of the bank actually appears in real time, not projected on the back wall of the set so the audience is viewing the action as if from the ceiling – quite a wow moment.

Meanwhile the robbers are making their way along the ceiling via an air vent which is at the front of the stage adding yet another perspective.

Moving on from this we travel to the vault where the diamond is in a bulletproof glass case, which of course is alarmed – it can only be deactivated by putting a code into a keypad without touching the floor. Along with Ruth Monaghan the token gangsters moll (Ashley Tucker) our ‘crims’ descend on ropes singing hush a bye baby to send the guard to sleep.

This sent the audience into even greater fits of laughter. Diamond heist completed there just remains a fight to the death for the spoils.

There are some well-sung, great songs and the whole production has a nostalgic B Movie 1950s feel to it.

Also there is a very clever back story of ‘singing seagulls’. However, like ‘Mrs Brown’ and Marmite you will either love this madcap mayhem or like me, whilst admiring it, find much of it tiresome and repetitive, but I was in the minority – can’t say I was a Keystone Cops fan either come to think of it.

The comedy about a Bank Robbery’ continues to provide unpretentious fun and frolics until September 8 when it continues its national tour.

Visit https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk for more information and tickets.

Review by Euan Rose.

Freakishly good theatre as the Side Show comes to Brum’s Old Joint Stock

THE OLD Joint Stock’s resident company always offer their audience something different and ‘Side Show’ by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger is certainly no exception.

The original ran for just 91 performances on Broadway when it premiered in 1997. It fared only slightly better in its 2014 rewrite and revival when despite positive reviews it closed after just seven weeks.

The obvious question is why? Despite that question mark, this production by the highly talented director Karl Steele succeeds on many levels. Firstly, because he has chosen to convert the entire theatre into the Side Show or Freak Show, where we the audience are voyeurs just like our ancestors were back in the first half of the 20th century when people paid to laugh and scream at those unfortunates born with deformities. ‘Steele’ invites us into the nightmarish world he has created; a pre-show experience before it becomes a musical and this is live and not some Channel Four documentary watched from the comfort of a living room.

The theatre resides on the top floor of the Old Joint Stock pub and restaurant in Temple Street Birmingham. To reach it you have to ascend several flights of old fashioned stairs – adorning the walls are portraits of the freaks we are going to see perform. When the auditorium is reached it is like entering a circus tent and a chalkboard time chart at the check in desk listing what freak is on when all adds to the illusion.

Inside, the audience is seated on all four walls with a smaller tent and mini stage central to the back wall. There are podiums intermingled throughout the audience on which freaks gyrate like grotesque night club dancers in some post-apocalyptic world. Next to me was a three legged girl (Lizzie Robins), on others, a bearded lady (Vicky Addis), a tattooed lady (Sarah Haines), a very strange person in black and white dungarees and a shaven head save for a carrot top bun –referred to as ‘(Geek’ (Maisie-Kate Robertson), a half man/half woman (Bea Coleman), an armless ‘Venus de Milo’ (Jessica Birtwistle), a bone bedecked Cannibal King (a charismatic Patison Harrigan), Dog Boy (Jaoash Musunio) and a dusky Fortune teller who can rival the guitarist from Kiss for the length of the thrust of her tongue (Alanna Boden).

The tension is broken only when the band under the musical direction of Nick Allen strike up and the cast literally throw themselves from the podiums into the opening number ‘Come see the Freaks’ where Sir (Simon Peacock) bangs his cane and conducts his bizarre circus. As the number reaches its climax the curtains on the small stage are peeled back to reveal our headliners, the conjoined Hilton Sisters, Daisy and Violet, (gutsy and passionate performances from Cassie Aurora and Elle Knowles).

The twins are enticed away from the seedy Side Show by would-be theatrical impresarios Terry Connor (convincingly played with a snake oil salesman smile by Richard Haines) and Buddy Foster (an equally convincing but nicer chap image by Bradley Walwyn) to join the famed Orpheum Circuit. Terry asks them to share their dreams; Violet, the gentler of the two, says she just wants the normal life of a husband and home, Daisy, on the other hand, seeks fame and fortune. Terry tells them he can make their dreams come true after Sir rudely refuses Terry’s offer to be cut in on the twins’ potential vaudeville career, Terry devises a scheme whereby Buddy will teach the girls to sing and perform. They leave the Side Show and Jake, the Cannibal King, the twins’ friend and protector, leaves with them. They do indeed enjoy significant success professionally but fail at every level personally in the arenas of love and normality.

They are destined to be joined forever not just physically at the hip but emotionally in their hearts. Without them the Side Show fails and sadly the other freaks disappear from what was their only family.

The story is strongly factual; The Hilton Sisters were born in Brighton England in 1908 and died from the Hong Kong Flue epidemic in North Carolina in 1969. Violet lived for a few days longer than Daisy as was discovered at the autopsy. Her death was probably as much from a broken heart as the flu germ.

Why wasn’t this a smash on Broadway? Look at the recent success The Greatest Showman (very much along the same lines) has had? The reason is top musicals have a ‘must buy’ CD and have you coming out singing the lyrics.

Apart from ‘Who will love me as I am?’, the rest of the numbers are pretty unmemorable. That doesn’t mean to say that they are not well-performed – quite the opposite. This OJS production is better than the script and score they were working from; it is an excellent night at the theatre.

It runs until Saturday. Visit http://www.oldjointstock.co.uk/ or call 0121 200 1892 for tickets, which are £16. Shows start at 7.30pm.

Review by Euan Rose

Constellations under the lights of the Crescent was ‘written in the stars

ONCE, some 40-odd years ago I was stopped on a red traffic light as I was passing through Evesham – an army-style open topped jeep came through the other way. Driving it was a strawberry blonde with big eyes, which caught mine, just for an instant and we smiled ever so briefly. Couldn’t have been more than a ten-second meeting and one I had forgotten – until seeing the Crescent’s opening night of Constellations.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Nick Payne’s’ drama is set in – well actually it isn’t exactly set in any one place or time zone but happens on multi-platforms across a series of parallel universes.

It is a series of ‘what ifs’ – what if our company of two, Quantum Cosmologist Marianne and Beekeeper Roland meet at a party – or not? Hit it off or not? Go back to his or not? Go back to hers or not? Sleep together or not? Spend the rest of their days together or not?

Do we care? Oh yes!Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

I’m not going to give you any spoilers or answers here – then again maybe there aren’t any?

Perhaps I never went to see it at all? Maybe we living in a universe that exists on the head of a pin? Maybe in another a universe I met jeep-lady and spent my days with her.

Such was the impact of this production that I pondered what-ifs all the way home and continued to ponder into the early hours.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Undoubtedly Constellations is a very clever play despite being one which could easily make for a boring evening – thankfully Mark Thompson has directed it with obvious love for the text as well as the theme and has added in conjunction with the creative team of Joe Harper and John Gray – a generous dollop of clever sound links and imaginative lighting. The lights above us change colours and patterns like a DNA string or a homage to the voyages of Starship Enterprise.

Robert Laird plays Roland with warmth, sensitivity and believability, Beth Gilbert as Marianne matches him on all counts – they fit together like a pair of perfectly hand made gloves crafted from the finest softest leather.

They tell the story via a wide spectrum of artistic skills and offer up a seamless journey where there are no footprints to follow.

One particular passage is done in sign language – you didn’t need to be a student of BSL to follow it – the expressions on their faces said it all.

The use of dance throughout is yet another way of communicating – here Dance Instructor Jo Thackwray uses Beth’s dance talents to the fullest whilst working cleverly within Robert’s obvious limitations so that he is always the anchor to her perfect flights and posture.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

This is quite a remarkable production in so many ways – without doubt the most original piece of drama I have seen so far this year – I can’t get it out of my head.

Constellations runs at the Crescent until Saturday, May 18. To book tickets or for more information, including times, visit https://www.crescent-theatre.co.uk/theatre-event/?EventID=117132

Review by Euan Rose.

Tragedy ‘Woyzeck’ at the Birmingham Rep was a brave move but rewrites and ‘less reading’ are needed

THE TRAGEDY ‘Woyzeck’ was written by the revolutionary dramatist Georg Buchner; he died of typhus in 1837 when he was just 24 years old, never saw any of his work performed on a stage.

Neither was he acknowledged as a writer until many years after his death.

‘Woyzeck’ is a favourite piece for lovers and exponents of avant-garde theatre to write countless adaptations and produce in every form of artistry from the realistic through the macabre to grand opera.

The REP has followed in that tradition with their huge production involving a cast of over 100 of what it terms ‘community players’ accompanied by just two professional actors Thomas Pickles as Woyzeck and Jalleh Alizadeh as his common law wife Marie.

The plot concerns a soldier/military barber returning home at the end of a war; trying to rebuild his life in peacetime.

He suffers from post-traumatic stress and eventually driven to madness by a combination of near starvation via a diet of canned peas fed to him by mad scientists, the sexual demands of his military commander and the infidelity of Marie who he stabs to death.

The undoubted stars of the night are the ensemble who dance, sing and perform like a well-drilled army.

Director Roxana Silbert and Choreographer Rosie Kay have produced some exciting and memorable set pieces.

When this army are on stage en-masse the production leaps across the curtain line and grabs you, when they are not it tends to retreat behind it.

The sometimes over complexity of Leo Butler’s script and the inaudibility of the leads made things difficult to follow resulting in too much audience time being spent reading the dialogue on the screens provided for the hearing impaired rather than watching the action.

The production would undoubtedly benefit from a text revision and cranking up the volume.

Despite its flaws this is a unique and brave production. Special mention goes to Richella McPherson who is simply magical as ‘The Robot’.

Review by Euan Rose

Crescent Theatre Company’s Urinetown is well worth spending the pennies on

In 1959, there was a TV AD campaign for a cigarette called ‘Strand’. This featured a man in a hat and raincoat smoking a cigarette on a dark, deserted street corner.

The legend ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’ actually heralded advertisings greatest flop! It seemed no one wanted to be alone and the brand died before it could inflict a lonely death on its potential users.

The title ‘Urinetown’ is possibly the most unappealing title for a musical as it is possible to envisage;

“Where are you going tonight?” –

“Urinetown” – “Really?”

The title of this musical is not the only challenge for an audience as it revels in randomness offering up parody, provocation and passion by the bucket load, flitting twixt sentimentality and sadism via a book and score by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis.

The show is set in a near apocalyptic America where years of drought have brought about such a shortage of water that private bathrooms are banned and only pay-on-entry public loos are allowed (just like Euston station). Disobeying this law means you are carted off by the UGC (Urine Good Company) police to the mysterious Urinetown.

We are sharply introduced to the action by Officer Lockstock – Brendan Stanley – who can be forgiven the rocky accent as he offers such a full on and engaging performance as part brutal, part compere, part comedian and part soft under-bellied cop.

Next we meet ‘the queue for loo’ chorus, swaying and clutching their bowels as they wait in line to pay their money for their daily pee. (You’ll be grateful for having made that comfort break before the curtain at this point – if not – cross your legs ‘til the interval)

Sitting at the desk and taking the money is Penelope Pennywise who looks like a nightmarish prison guard and is played to wonderful masochistic perfection by Helen Parsons. Francis Mallon, every inch a rebellious aging CND hippy as Joseph Strong, breaks the line and the law with a public peeing and is carted off by the UGC to a fate unknown until Act 2.

His son, Bobby Strong, the love interest juve-lead nicely portrayed by Nicholas Brady, goes from toilet attendant to rebel leader.

Watching from the sidelines is the adorable Little Sally, a tiny, teeny, tart with a heart – played with lashings of lump-in-your-throat moments by Charlotte Upton.

Enter the big bad corporate wolf – Caldwell B. Cladwell – nicely nasty, slick and slippery and perfectly portrayed by Mark Horne. As always in times of economic and ecological crisis there are those who see a profit in poverty and dividends in despair – that’s Cladwell!

You could be forgiven at this point if you thought that Dorothy had been caught by the wrong twister and landed in Urinetown as Cladwell’s daughter ‘Hope’ joins us in a gust of saccharin innocence and privilege – a joy to watch and hear performance from Laura Poyner.

Ploughing a well-planned and executed path through the minefields this show presents, director Alan K. Marshall neither makes it too dark or too silly – he offers spectacle first and cerebral pondering on greed and exploitation second – quite rightly letting the audience be happy, yet mindful. He is served by an extremely well drilled, well sung, fleet-of-foot company, who never once lose their focus.

Musical Director Gary Spruce has done a grand job and he should be justly proud of the voices and music he has nurtured to excellence. All the numbers are good but ‘Run, freedom, Run’ is a total showstopper!

The costuming and setting are excellent and a special shout out to sound creation by Kristan Webb who provided the perfect balance.

Urinetown by the resident group at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre runs until June 2 – My verdict is ‘awesome’ and well worth spending the pennies on!

Review by Euan Rose

Theatre group ‘Ramps’ up the quality with ‘Our Country’s Good’

‘RAMPS on the Moon’ are an annual touring company made up by a consortium of six major theatres including the Birmingham Rep.

Each theatre takes a turn to produce a show with an integrated cast of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors and performers alongside a top drawer creative team. This year it is the turn Nottingham Playhouse and their associate director Fiona Buffini.

Part of the brief is to explore new ways of storytelling to audiences across the broadest spectrum.

When the show opens we are offered up audio description screens either side of the stage plus three of the cast signing to the audience.

There is also another large audio description on a ships sail in the centre of the stage which mercifully is only used for opening as it is an overkill leaving us literally, not knowing where to look when we should be concentrating on the action.

There the criticism ends as this brilliant company bring to live Timberlake Wertenbaker’s rather dark tale based on the real life records of officers, marines and convicts in Australia’s first penal colony.

There is much wailing, whipping and hanging and emphasis on the class gulf between a society where officers and marines are the ruling class who can do no wrong and the convicts, whose only crime, was to be born into poverty can do no right. Their sole purpose for existing being to cater for the sadistic pleasures of the elite whilst tilling the seemingly unfertile soil of Australia.

The Governor-in Chief, an intelligently observed portrayal by Kieron Jecchinis, encourages the staging of a play by the convicts, namely ‘The Recruiting Officer’ by George Farquhar.

It is his hope this will break down some of the barriers in the new world order. Cptn Jemmy Cambell, beautifully played by Jarrad Ellis-Thomas, forms a company against all odds’ his transportation ‘Dirty Dozen.’

Theatre as it always does, becomes the leveller; prejudice and class are left at the rehearsal room door and the golden rules of loyalty and mutual encouragement abound – ‘cast before class’. The play ends in stark contrast to where it begins where it begins – curtain up on hope and optimism at the convicts’ first night to the show’s curtain up on hopelessness and despair.

This is a very strong company with no weak links; a special shout out to Ghemisola Ikumelo who is so moving as convict Lis Morden; Alex Nowak doubling as hilarious pickpocket convict Robert Sideway and bigoted Reverend Johnson; Saphire Joy who is beautiful both in appearance and character as comvict Mary Brenham; Fergus Rattigan as the hilariously energetic ‘Ketch’ (he is also the company’s fight captain); Milton Lopes as the ever watching Aboriginal Australian and man of the show Garry Robson who moves us to tears as midshipman Harry Brewer.

Don’t go and see this because you want to support a show where the majority of the cast are disabled in some way. Do go because this is an exciting company offering quality theatre well worthy of the standing ovation it received.

Review by Euan Rose.

‘Happy’ Heroes tale at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre is pulled off by terrific trio

HEROES’, currently being performed at the Crescent Theatre until tomorrow, started life in 2003 as piece of darkish French Theatre by Gerald Sibleyras.

His original title ‘La Vent des Peupliers’ literally means ‘The Wind in The Poplars’.

I think it was a wise move by Tom Stoppard in his translated version to rename it ‘Heroes’ – less with a slip of the tongue we could be expecting to meet those wild-wooders from ‘Wind in the Willows’.

Instead of Badger, Ratty and Mole we have Henri, Gustave and Philippe – in both cases the plays concern a trio of adorable chums but there we’ll leave the comparison.

Our three heroes are veterans of the Great War where they endured unimaginable horrors. Whatever happened to them in the four decades since the end of that abomination is unclear and for our purposes, irrelevant; for when we meet them it is 1959 and they are in a French Military retirement home run by nuns.

There, on a terrace they have claimed as their own, they reflect on life, death, sex and the burnt out embers of what remains of their ambition.

They are united in fear and loathing of one particular nun, though we never see any evidence of the alleged persecution; rather they are left alone to reminisce and dream.

Dreams turn to plots, which culminate in an escape plan devised by Gustave, their self-elected leader.

The mission is to reach the distant hilltop surrounded by polar trees they can see through binoculars from the terrace.

If all this sounds a bit grim then fear not as Stoppard has lost much of the darkness in translation. It has in fact gained by offering up compassion through comedy.

Claire Armstrong Mills has directed thoughtfully and skilfully applying a fine brush to the task rather than a trowel.

Thankfully there are no ‘custard pie’ moments – we are offered chuckle not guffaw material and the evening is all the better for it.

Inevitably the trio will be compared to the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ but to me, these old soldiers offer far more substance than that.

John Whittell as the gammy-legged ‘Henri’, Dave Hill as agoraphobic ‘Gustave’ and Brian Wilson as the gentle ‘Philippe’ who suffers periodic fainting due to a piece of shrapnel that has lodged itself into his brain, make a joyously talented threesome.

Never do they act at us, but rather allow us to eavesdrop on their world through an almost ‘reality show’ approach.

Any fourth wall acting barriers are down and we believe. The final tableau of them flapping their arms majestically like migrating geese on the wind is beautiful.

Alice Abrahall makes the most of playing a silent Nun and the stone dog on the terrace does its best to steal the show.

Keith Harris’ setting is both pleasing on the eye and practical for the mature company – a consideration worth praising.

Catch it till the May 19 – you’ll come away happy.

Heroes is on at the Ron Barber Studio at the Crescent Theatre until tomorrow.

Tickets are £12 (£11 concessions).

Call 0121 643 5858 or visit https://www.crescent-theatre.co.uk/theatre-event/?EventID=95532 for more information or tickets.

Review by Euan Rose. 

Bold String Quartet’s Guide to Sex is enthusiastically received at Birmingham Rep

THE STRING Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety is an extraordinary theatrical experience.

It began with a silent and majestic entrance by Miltos Yerolemou via a forest of abandoned music stands and a wall of tubular chairs – by the time he reaches the front of the stage the silence is deafening.

This is broken when he recites a piece from ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ by Robert Burton. Gradually, Mairead McKinley, Cathy Tyson and Nick Harris, join him – all A list, award winning actors with pedigrees that speaks volumes.

They do not have character names, as the shows creator and director Calixto Bieito does not deem it appropriate for them to have them.

Rather they are destined to perform individually and when they are not performing to go on endless ambles around the vast stage in search of what is personal to them and deliberately kept unclear from us.

They are joined by ‘The Heath Quartet’, of Oliver Heath, Chris Murray, Gary Pomeroy and Sara Wolsenholme – wonderful musicians who are actually the fifth actor in this artistic cacophony.

So once the assembly is complete, the journey commences and we are taken through an often sad, sometimes beautiful, occasionally nightmarish, always challenging trip into the relationship between sex and anxiety disorders. This is achieved through a mix of acting, verse, prose, text and music.

There is the cleverness of melding soliloquies into duologues by the use of gesture and not quite making contact. In turn this signifies a powerful cry for help – after all depression is an illness never suffered alone.

The music goes from the nail-biting grating and experimental to the majestic and the joyous, which washes over players and audience like a soft comforting cloud of cotton wool.

The most moving words of the night come when Cathy Tyson tells us of the death of her child and most moving action when Nick Harris in his role of a OCD sufferer tries to stroke the cello.

There are visual highlights too – not least of which when the huge wall of chairs comes slowly forward and then cascades onto the stage so close to the players that you think they are going to be buried.

The evening fittingly ends in chaos as the back wall collapses revealing the speakers and lights behind – followed by darkness. Perhaps signifying the final mask has fallen revealing the frailty that lays beneath.

The REP has staged the world premiere of this bold piece of theatre.

It was enthusiastically received and gave the audience much to think on.

I feel it will either go on from here to become a transatlantic ‘must see’ in the West End and on Broadway or it will fail to find an audience and disappear.

Time will tell.

Review by Euan Rose.