Newly imagined dance Romeo and Juliet in Brum was full of passion and talent but would be better on a smaller stage

SHAKESPEARE’S Romeo and Juliet has spurred so many critically-acclaimed versions over the years – such as Bernstein’s West Side Story, Prokofiev’s classical Ballet score or the Leonard di Caprio film Romeo + Juliet – that it takes a very special creative vision to find something different to say. Step up Rosie Kay and her dance company, whose new production premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome this week.

This production has had a long gestation from conception back in 2015 – with planned performances delayed due to a seemingly endless series of Covid lockdowns and it must have seemed at times to choreographer Kay and production partner Birmingham Hippodrome that it would never happen.

From the opening, it is clear that this is a mash-up of dance styles from Hip-hop, Urban, Indian, contemporary and even some ballet moves. The soundtrack is also a mix of styles, incorporating both classical (Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet ballet score) and ultra-contemporary with Composer Annie Mahtani’s original soundscape incorporating spoken word mixed with police radio reports. Herein lies the rub – such a heady and jam-packed mix of movement and music styles makes for an, at times, disjointed performance that struggles to find its flow.

The opening scene, which introduces the two rival gangs, is confusing with few visual clues to distinguish each gang – perhaps this is deliberate, to emphasise the similarities rather than the differences, but it made it hard to follow.

The party scene that comes next is similarly disjointed, until Romeo (Subhash Viman Gornia) spies Juliet (Mayowa Ogunnaike). From here on, the production finds its flow, with a beautifully handled pas-de-deux that serves to emphasise the difference in backgrounds between the ill-fated lovers – Gornia’s flowing, classical style contrasting perfectly with Ogunnaike’s more earthy, raw performance. This Juliet is a sassy, street-wise teenager, but Ogunnaike still manages to convey a sense of joyful innocence in her relationship with Romeo.

The news of the relationship spreads through the streets like wildfire and soon the gangs are back on the streets as rumours spread and escalate. Things got confusing here again, trying to follow who is who in each gang.  A frenzied fight ensues and two of the gang members are killed.  The body count reaches five by the end of the performance with of course both Romeo and Juliet ultimately taking their own lives, leaving just four gang members to mourn at a makeshift street shrine.

There is no mistaking the passion and talent of the dancers, but I felt that, rather than the huge Hippodrome stage, this production would suit a more intimate setting where you are close enough to see the sweat and feel the raw energy of the dancers.  Having said that, there is much to commend the production, which can only improve with more outings out of the confines of a covid-restricted rehearsal room.

***

Johannah Dyer

Euan Rose Reviews

Great to see the Birmingham REP back and ‘East is East’ at the theatre where it started

THE REP is the last theatre on my reviewing journey to open up again after lockdown and it was great to be back in their huge raked auditorium once again taking in the buzz of a full house press night.

Having said that, the front of house is in the midst of a major refurbishment and so the route from door to theatre was like walking through a boarded up building site. in mitigation no construction was of course allowed for much of the lockdown, but they need to get on with it now if they want to have happy returning audiences.

East is East started life in the REP studio back in 1996 and so that’s a good link to why it’s enjoying it’s silver anniversary revival back where it started.

Ayub Khan Din’s script must have had far more impact back then, dealing as it does with mixed race marriage and the problems this caused both with family and in society in general. Director Iqbal Khan ups the stakes with some quite shocking scenes of domestic abuse, which were only

hinted at in the original.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

The story takes place in the streets of 1971 Salford. Bretta Gerecke’s set design sprawls out across the huge REP stage, unfortunately making the Khan home appear more of a tacky stately home than a ‘Hovis ad’ terraced house. Gerecke fills it with a mish-mash of tasteless furniture – giving it the persona of an Asian  Steptoe and Son – or, in the case of the Khan and Sons!

Whilst to me the set just doesn’t work in the space, however the clever use of projection screens as a method of story telling between scenes, works very well indeed.

The cast is strong all round – led by an outstanding performance from Tony Jayawardena as George, the ‘Big Daddy’ of the house.  He wants his children raised the traditional Muslim Pakistani way, including arranged marriages, but the rest of the family have other ideas.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

Jayawardena’s vocal projection was a joy in a production where many lines from other characters were lost in the cavernous auditorium. This is not a new problem, those of us that know the theatre well are aware of the number of dreaded dead spots when it comes to audibility. Such a pity and although it may go against the theatrical grain, I am sure I was not alone in wishing on this occasion it had been a little mic – enhanced.

Sophie Stanton was warm and compelling as George’s white wife Ella. A special shout out too for Noah Manzoor as the effervescent Sajit – but good as he is, he’s actually upstaged by his ever-present grimy old parka.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

It’s wonderful to have the REP’s doors open again and this joint National Theatre/REP production has much to commend it as the season curtain raiser.

Next, I look forward to seeing a wide diversity of theatre, including new work from the artistic director Sean Foley. Like the refurbishment, his plans have had to be put on hold for too long.

East is East runs at the Birmingham REP until September 25.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews.

Pay a visit to this bloomin’ great Little Shop of Horrors at Birmingham’s Old Joint Stock theatre

IN A FEW weeks of firsts, this was my first time walking through Birmingham City Centre from New Street Station since before the lockdowns started. I was quite taken aback by the freshness of the air and the sparseness of the traffic. Goodbye mean streets – hello clean streets.

I spied lots of new restaurants plus some old favourites on my stroll to The Old Joint Stock Theatre. Lots of places to sit as well – which I did for a while and simply watched the world go by.

In truth I felt like I had travelled forward in time, people were flying about on scooters and bikes, narrowly avoiding pedestrians and many were dressed either in suits which were fashionably undersized, or posh denim meets linen grunge.

Haircuts were something else too and dyed every colour of the rainbow.

Bear with me, there is a purpose to this long preamble to my review of ‘Little Shop’ – like most of my chums it’s taking a bit of courage to go back into town, but having now got back in the saddle I want to encourage you to do the same.

The Old Joint Stock is a splendid 100-seater studio theatre housed on the top floor of an equally splendid pub. It was actually built as a library back in 1862, then became a bank and finally one of Birmingham’s top venues serving top quality ales, food and theatre.

I have learnt to always expect the unexpected at the OJS and their version of ‘Little Shop’ was just that. The audience are housed on skid  row right outside (and sometimes inside) Mr Mushnik’s flower shop. For any of you that might not be aware of the story, it’s a cautionary tale about a talking, man-eating plant from out of space.

In this case, you can add walking to the talking as director Adam Lacey has cleverly chosen to free his plant from its pot.

Named Audrey II in homage to Mushnik’s lovely shop assistant Audrey, Number II may start out as tiny cactus but ends up as a psychopathic, botanical hobgoblin in a psychedelic jumpsuit. Matt Bond revels in the role and certainly doesn’t hold anything back – it’s like watching Freddie Kruger  on speed. Bond has the most amazing singing voice too, which adds a whole other dimension.

He is complemented by a company of great voices – individually strong, collectively awesome. Thomas Cove’s Mushnik rivals Topol’s Fiddler and Bradley Walwyn’s Orin makes the most bad-ass dentist you’ll ever see  – so glad he gets gobbled up. Hope it hurt!

Bella Bowen delightfully understates Audrey – she’s the girl next door we all should have married.

Alex Wadham makes a magical job of everybody’s favourite nerd, Seymour. Like Bond and Cove, he too is blessed with a magnificent set of tonsils.

The rest of the company applies their multi-talents to the collection of minor characters and ensemble. Hannah Victoria was quite a stand out for me in a minor role, as a compelling ‘Ronnette’.

Lacey has done his job well – the pace never sags, the show is well staged and his team is drilled to perfection. Pippa Lacey as choreographer again brings originality and sparkle to the show and Jack Hopkins musical direction simply rocks!

It runs until September 26. I urge you to book, go back into town if you haven’t already and experience something very special.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews.

Perfect Priscilla at the Birmingham Hippodrome marked the end of the 18-month theatrical desert

HIP, hip hooray – the curtain at Birmingham Hippodrome rose again last night ending an 18-month lockdown.

CEO Fiona Allan veritably oozed jubilation as she walked to on-stage to welcome us back. The roar that greeted her was deafening and there was a nary a dry eye in the house.

Exit Fiona stage right, strike up the live band from the pits under the musical direction of Richard Atkinson and lights up on a show that has gained legendary status and a loyal following – known affectionately simply as ‘Priscilla’.

For the uninitiated, this is a musical adventure about three friends who happen to be drag queens, on a personal quest in a tour bus called Priscilla. They travel across Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs – and what a splendid journey it is!

Edwin Ray is totally captivating as the gentle Tick/Mitzi, a queen with a past that includes fathering a son he has never seen – hence the reason for his journey.

He is joined for the fun of it by the outrageous but undeniably body-beautiful Felicia/Adam (played with lashings of passion and credibility by Nick Hayes) and the ageing Bernadette – a beautifully understated performance by Miles Western, which makes you listen and care.

Whilst Tick and Adam are gay men and female impersonators, Bernadette has had a sex change to become the woman that was born inside her body – quite a daring role to include in the original film 25 years ago and way before transgender was an acceptable conversation topic.

The trio are supported by a first-class singing and dancing ensemble, plus three magical divas, Rosie Glossop, Claudia Kariuki and Aiesha Pease – all of whom have lung power to raise the roof.

I have two special hat-doffing mentions – firstly Daniel Fletcher as Bob the heart of gold mechanic who falls for Bernadette and secondly Grace Lee as Bob’s outrageous bi-polar Thai-bride Cynthia, who outrageously puts the ‘ping’ into Ping-Pong.

The  anonymous ‘creatives’ include frantic and breath-taking choreography– spot-on direction and a wondrous collage of clap-a-long, sing-a-long musical arrangements (thank you for including one my all-time favourite classics – MacArthur Park) and stunning-glittering settings plus delectable and endless sparkling tinsel, feathers and frocks.

Long may this Queen reign – absolutely loved it and exited the auditorium with an aching jaw from laughing so much; tears of pure joy in my eyes and the happy pounding music of a great band.

Never has a musical been more timely – Unmissable!

Priscilla runs at the Hippodrome until Saturday, September 14. Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews

Brilliant Blackadder at Brum’s Crescent is ‘theatrical wonder’

AS A REVIEWER back working again after lockdown my happy journey continues; this time at The Crescent for the in-house Company’s opening night of their first production back in the main house. The cheers from the audience and the post-show bar jubilation said it all really – Birmingham’s premier league theatre company has returned.

The show is Blackadder II – hardly a small undertaking to stage either. There are many fundamentals, the biggest being the audience expectancy to engage with the characters they love from a legendary TV series – yet lines have to be drawn up twixt stage and screen.

Director Kevin Middleton has linked together four of the most popular episodes from the Blackadder Elizabethan, ‘mad Queen Bess’ period. He does this in a unique and dangerous way by making the backdrop a kaleidoscopic, three dimensional cyclorama into which, by the magic of green screen filming, the mad cap characters can pop in and out as if by magic.  After the first time this happens it becomes a natural adjunct to the on stage live performance rather than a conjuring trick. Colin Judges (whose set designs at the Crescent are the stuff of legends) is responsible for this new theatrical wonder.

Middleton also paints great pictures with his real-time, on stage actors – there are no untidy bus queues. Indeed each group ensemble is set and crafted with the detail of a classical painting.  Add to this a cavalcade of exquisite and colourful frocks from the talented costume design duo, Rose and Stewart Snape – plus a lighting strategy to compliment all from John Gray.

Nick Doran, with a big beaming smile and a naughty sparkle in the eyes, starts, links and ends the show as the front of curtain minstrel.

Behind the tabs we meet smooth-of-tongue and fleet-of-foot Shaun Hartman as Lord Edmund Blackadder himself. Hartman never stops working and has that very special actorial quality of letting us into his private thoughts – this is indeed a masterful outing for him.

Veteran Crescent actor Brian Wilson puts in a delightfully dry-humoured performance as Lord Melchett – contrasted completely by the romping and correctly over-the-top delivery of Lord Percy Percy by Mark Shaun Walsh.

Daniel Parker makes a droll and appropriately cringe worthy Baldrick, whilst Katie Goldhawk is a delicious tour-de-force as the stark raving mad Queen Bess.

All of the company is worthy of note – honestly there is not a weak link. So in addition to the aforementioned characters take a bow the multi role-playing Karen Leadbetter, Simon King, Becky Johnson, Paul Forrest, Joe Palmer and Michael McLernan.

I read that this show has been a long time in coming thanks to Covid lockdowns. Rehearsal room comforts were replaced with socially distanced, outdoor winter rehearsals, which happened in the ‘Walking Dead’ setting of the deserted car park next door. Performance dates were constantly shifted meaning the cast ended up being more an SAS offshoot than thespian troupers.

Middleton’s production was seamless in its delivery on first night, there were no major gaps or pauses to tighten up – a tweak or two maybe where adrenalin moments will be replaced with easier moves, but essentially the director has done his job very well – his show is up, off and running with ‘winner’ written all over it.

If you are a Blackadder aficionado, true fans in attendance informed me that you will appreciate the due deference shown to the TV classic. If, like me, you are a relative outsider to the party then the voyage of discovery is a very happy one.

It is so good to have the Crescent back in the house and in such top form – book your seats and let a well drilled despotic rabble engross you in this horribly hysterical, historically-incorrect, gorgeously gratuitous and oh-so-naughty romp.

Blackader II runs between now and September 4, click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

Fiennes’ Four Quartets on Freedom Day at Malvern is one to remember

IN THE old chestnut of a cliché  ‘Where were you when ….. happened?’

Well “Where was I on so called freedom day?” At Malvern Theatre watching Four Quartets by TS Eliot amongst a mask-free, ordinarily-distanced audience. The rear foyer doors to the magnificent patio were open for the first time and the buzz of theatre lovers returning to normality resounded everywhere – a joyous experience!

Left to own devices a few folk still wore masks around the foyer and bars but I didn’t spot one in the auditorium itself. Everyone was respectful of each others space – there was no jostling for position at the bar just smiles amongst strangers

.

Picture by Matt Humphrey. s

Apart from the end of lockdown celebrations, we were gathered to pay homage to one of our greatest theatrical practitioners – he of the green eyes and silken tones, the glorious Ralph Fiennes.

Four Quartets is a one-man show based on four TS Eliot poems, directed and performed by Fiennes himself. As the curtain rises, Fiennes, whilst the house lights are left up, struts barefoot onto a set consisting of two huge, dark-grey rectangular tablets, designed by Hildegard Bechtler. He sits and engages us in eye contact, as the lights slowly fade down. For the next hour and 17 minutes he barely pauses for breath and word perfectly takes us through the quartet of  Eliot poems – Burnt Norton,  East Coker,  The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding

The opening programme note offers TS Eliot’s quote which he gave when asked for an explanation of the poems. He replied: “It is not exhausted by explanation and means what it means to different sensitive readers.”

One could be forgiven for saying this is the language of ‘cop-out’ – in fairness I gave up trying to search for meaning and rather just let the words wash over me and enjoy the experience on a different level to that which I would normally enjoy theatre.

The tablets moved silently like living and observing entities twixt and between each segment – inventive lighting design by Tim Lutkin made them appear at times to have faces and places emerging slowly from within, illusions of course, this Pandora’s box of phantoms, visible only to the individual watcher and interpreter.

This is an evening like no other – you have to clear your mind of clutter and let Fiennes work his sorcery as he meditates on the nature of time, faith and even a personal crusade in search of spiritual enlightenment.

To my simple mind this is Eliot’s 1943 version of Don McClean’s equally mystical 1971  ‘American Pie’, which has been the subject of many interpretational debates over countless traditional rye bourbon and dry ginger ales.

On return from Malvern, ‘Four Quartets’ discussion continued in the ‘rose’ garden alongside pizza and wine late into the night.

The tour continues before moving to into the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End for an season.

Four Quartets has four more days to run (it ends on Saturday, July 24).

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Evening of magic and mirth with Crescent’s Pygmalion at Harvington Hall

THIS OUTDOOR production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion by The Crescent was a night of blessings and none

of them mixed – just an abundance of delights.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Take the venue on this leg of the tour, ‘Harvington Hall’ near Chaddesley Corbett – a jewel of moated house with walled gardens and secret passages. To think I’d passed the sign oodles of times but never ventured down the lane before. I shall most certainly return to explore the mysteries of the house itself.

I have said many times over the last few weeks that my job as a reviewer has allowed me the joy of sharing with casts and audiences the emergence of post-lockdown theatre and this was another first – an unmasked audience in the open air. How wonderful to observe audiences expressions and to hear unmuffled laughter.

To sit and enjoy a glass of wine and a Cromer Crab pre-show was also a hedonistic treat.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

The company entered through an arch of tumbling roses and for all intents and purposes the years melted away like being in a time warp.

In the opening scene, the unwashed laughed and tried to turn a coin from the gentry who in turn were seeking taxicabs to whisk them away to their world of privilege.

Thankfully the vendors didn’t break into an opening chorus of ‘Loverly’ – Pygmalion is of course Shaw’s original song-free tale of flower girl Eliza Doolittle’s journey from gutter to manor and vulgarity to elegance.

Director James David Knapp has drilled his troupe well in the art of outdoor performance – everything a little bigger. a shake of the head rather than a roll of the eye and above all else aim your voice at the back row and beyond.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Basics established, now Knapp can let rip with the players telling the tale. The furniture is stripped to bare bones of a few representational boxes and the odd hand prop – but costume designer Stewart Snape bedecks Knapp’s production splendidly in a never-ending bevy of delightful frocks.

Naomi Jacobs plays Eliza Doolittle full pelt from the off – taking no prisoners. Her wails, whines and slovenly posture are a veritable, one-level assault on the senses. Mercifully the flower seller undergoes an early make over.  Jacobs is as delightful once her diction and deportment are perfect, as she was annoying pre-transition.

Skye Witney is quietly commanding as Mrs Higgins, Henry’s mother. Her presence is always comforting and when she speaks, even her arrogant son takes notice.

Liz Plumpton performs a pretty impressive double as housekeeper Mrs Pearce and socialite Mrs Eynsford-Hill. Her character changes were seamless as too were her quick costumes switches. Plumpton’s duos were clever and confident,cool and competent.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Ray Stafford added strength to the line-up with his intelligent, almost laid back approach to Eliza’s dustman dad. I’ve never seen it performed so uniquely.

Ella-Louise McMullan and Jordan Bird both give pleasing cameos as Clara Eynsford-Hill and her bother Freddy whilst Martin Tedd turns in a respectable outing as Colonel Pickering.

Colin Simmonds as professor of phonetics Henry Higgins ticks all the boxes and then some. He is amusing, annoying, engaging, boorish, childish and profound all on cue and all with a reserve of energy that bubbles along merrily without boiling over. Simmonds is an actor of immense talent whose Crescent performances are always something to savour.

I must give a special shout-out to the duck that decided to give his own show by nibbling at the open-sandaled toes on offer in the front row.

It was indeed an evening of magic and mirth where it was a delight to be in the audience.

Catch the next leg of the tour at Blakesley Hall on Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Oleanna masterpiece at Malvern is ‘not for the faint-hearted’

HEATRE followers know a play by American playwright David Mamet is not going to be a comfortable night, but rather to expect an assault on your senses.

Although it was first premiered way back in 1992, ‘Oleanna’ is no exception, indeed it has an extra relevance as it is now post ‘Me-too’ and all the changes that has brought about.

The word ‘masterpiece’ seems fitting but of course masterpieces require squeezing like a ripe orange to drain every drop and must be treated as if the writer himself were in the audience to observe and nod approval. Director Lucy Bailey does Mamet proud and so do her company of two – Jonathan Slinger and Rosie Sheehy.

Slinger plays John Pullman, a university lecturer and published writer at the top of his game. At the start of the play he is awaiting university tenure and a healthy pay rise, which he is going to use to buy a new house befitting his upcoming status. Sheehy plays Carol Styles, a student at the bottom of the educational ladder – the polar opposite to John. She feels as much a failure as John feels a success

Both Slinger and Sheehy give gladiatorial performances as the three acts take us on a journey that is a cross between a theatrical rollercoaster and a tough day at Wimbledon.

Slinger peels layer after layer from the smooth John – every students ‘pin up’ tutor. The chirpy tutor exudes confidence from every pore in act one, loses the shine in act two and descends into a train wreck in act three.

Sheehy turns from wallflower to sunflower over the same three acts as she changes into the ‘Cruella Deville’ of students.

The set, by Alex Eales, is John’s spacious, book-lined university office. At the opening John is on the phone and seated at his main desk, at his back is a much smaller desk where Carol sits cowed and awkwardly. When he turns it is to a position of dominance, over his incumbent student. Beyond Carol’s desk is a sofa and a floor lamp, which not too subtly cries ‘casting couch’.

The plot’s main theme concerns sexual harassment but Oleanna is so much more than that – it is about power, misogyny, misplaced political correctness and ultimately assassination by another name.

Oleanna starts quietly and ends in breath-taking violence. We are left to review over and over again the rights and wrongs, the lies and truths. It is oh-so clever – a masterclass in acting and direction as much as it is a masterpiece in writing. I am recommending this production highly but with a warning – it’s not for the faint–hearted.

If you were wondering, Oleanna is the title of a 19th century Irish folk song about utopia.

It runs until Saturday, July 17.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan RoseEuan Rose Reviews.

Flawless Copenhagen at Malvern Theatres is ‘one for the purists’

THIS REVIVAL of Michael Frayn’s 1998 Tony award-winning drama from Theatre Royal Bath and Jonathan Church Productions is a challenging show both for cast and audience.

It is a cerebral piece surrounding conversations about complex theoretical physics and a factual meeting which took place between two atomic scientist giants, during 1941 in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. It demands concentration, skilful direction and depth of performance.

Director Emma Howlett stepped in for the original director Polly Findlay, who took it right up to technical rehearsal before the second lockdown kicked both the launch and her involvement into touch. Howlett was assistant director so was obviously in the best position to take up the reigns. The combination joins up most of the dots and makes for a unique – if fazing – piece of theatre.

It is set somewhere in some form of afterlife where our protagonists relive the same meeting over and over again without reaching agreement on what the outcome actually was.

The trio of actors offer pretty much flawless performances.

Malcolm Sinclair as Danish Scientist Niels Bohr, looking alarmingly like Channel 4’s Jon Snow at times with his ‘pay attention’ gazes, runs the whole gambit of emotions as he ponders over what was actually said at the meeting.

Philip Arditti plays Bohr’s old protégé and friend, the German-Jew Werner Heisenberg, whose main cry to fame was formulating the ‘Uncertainty Principal’ in quantum mechanics.  He is gregarious but with a soft underbelly at times revealing he is aware (though chooses to ignore) that but for the grace of physics he would be in a concentration camp.

Haydn Gwynne is the cement between the bricks as Bohr’s wife Margrethe. Sometimes scathing of the men’s bickering and then saccharine sweet at their friendship – almost in the same breath. For me, Gwynne takes the top prize. Apart from her energy and power, her delivery makes the story a little easier to follow.

Both Bohr and Heisenberg worked towards creating an atomic bomb, Heisenberg for Germany and Bohr as part of the successful team that created said bomb which brought about Japan’s surrender. We of course know that outcome now, but what if this meeting had gone a different way? What if these two giants had fused together to create nuclear fission giving Hitler the ultimate weapon of mass destruction? A sobering thought.

To be honest, I found the evening heavy going – audiences need space in which to reflect, but in this piece there was none. The constant need to try and work out whether we were now in the afterlife or back in 1941 was over challenging and my mind wondered to what was happening in the modern day man semi-final tussle between Italy and Spain rather than what might have been three quarters of a century ago. I am sure it’s a great night out for purists and I salute all those involved – but I found it more of a squib than a banger.

Copenhagen runs at the Malvern Theatres until Saturday, July 10.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews.

More inspired performances on show as football play at Moseley’s Prince of Wales delights the crowd

AS WE come out of lockdown and the beginning of the end of artistic darkness forced on us by ‘that virus’, I am revelling in my privileged position as a reviewer, witnessing the rebirth of live theatre.

This night was even better as it heralded the launch of a brand new performance space as well – The Prince of Wales Pub Theatre in Moseley, Birmingham.

All credit to joint-impresarios Becky Jones-Owen and POW general manger Sterling Archer on this welcome initiative. Sterling? Where have I heard that name before? Ah yes, a chap doing rather well for our national football team at the moment. Ironic, then, that this first show  ‘1902’ is all about football.

It is a play about four Hibernian football fans who have tickets to the 2016 Scottish Cup Final to see their team play Glasgow Rangers  – 1902 in the title being the last time Hibs beat  Rangers.

This is though a play that uses football merely as one level of a piece which takes the audience on a 75-minute roller-coaster ride.

It all kicks off when his chums find that Derek ‘Deeks’ Longstaff  (Nathan Scott-Dunn) has borrowed £1,000 from local long shark and sadist Samuel ‘Sambo’ Donaldson (Gregor Copeland) to pay for their match tickets – without a plan B of how to pay it back. Scott-Dunn (who also wrote the play) and Copeland give superlative adrenalin-driven performances amongst a cast that exudes energy and dynamism with every word and gesture.

Sands Stirling, who also directs, plays Deeks’ hard man and drug dealing alcoholic brother Tony. Deeks’ pals comprise Johnny Tulloch as Craig Turnbull, Cameron Docker as Thomas ‘Zippy’ Collin and Josh Brock as Frank ‘Frankie’ Armstrong.

The final member of the company is Ella Stokes who turns in a stellar performance as Bonnyrigg barmaid Margaret ‘Mags’ Evesham – a silent observer for the first third of the show until she explodes like a demented Jack-in-a-box that jumps right out of the box and proceeds to wreak havoc on all in her path. Her decking of Tony with a tin tray was iconic moment to savour.

A special shout out too for Sandy Bain, who links things together with his guitar-playing and vocal work.

There are many twists and turns in ‘1902’ ending in a stunning kick-by-kick, goal-by-goal narration of the legendary match itself.

This is an inspired piece of theatre, beautifully crafted by the writer and passionately performed by a flawless company. The setting is perfect – we are locked in a ‘wee pub’ ironically within a real pub.

It’s a bold and brash and I cannot recommend it highly enough, grab a ticket if you can.

1902 by The Saltire Sky Theatre Company runs until Friday, July 8.

Click here for tickets.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.