Caretaker Review Roundup

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Bristol Old Vic and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate revive Harold Pinter’s 1960 play The Caretaker as part of their autumn season. Directed by former Gate Artistic Director Christopher Haydon it is the first all-black production of the play since the National Theatre’s version in the early 1980’s. Starring Patrice Naimbana (Barber Shop Chronicles NT, The Histories RSC) as the tramp Davies along with Jonathan Livingstone and David Judge as brothers Mick and Aston it plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 30September before stopping off at The Nuffield, Southampton 10-14 October and in Northampton 17-28 October.

Kris Hallett- WhatsOnStage  3 stars

It is a striking visual representation of Harold Pinter’s play, one that asks its audience to look at his 1960 breakthrough hit with fresh eyes…Christopher Haydon’s production…..consistently interrogates the text anew…..If the accent occasionally means lines of dialogue are lost, Naiambana still peels back the layers within the tramp….. His intentions as he attempts to turn one brother against another don’t seem as malicious as usual, but of a man making it up as he goes along; used to having to turn every little advantage, any sign of weakness into his favour; his is a world where only the strongest survive. When he is presented with shoes, he cups them in his hands with a look of wonderment akin to King Midas discovering his gold. Human kindness has left this man behind…..If Livingstone is slow and heavy David Judge’s Mick is lithe and coiled, like a puma ready to pounce….. violent menace is at the heart of so much of Pinter’s work. Here Haydon pushes that atmosphere to the forefront, lighting from Paul Keogan casts the room in angular shadows while Elena Peña’s sound design crackles with horror motifs, it can feel a little much at times but is consistent with Haydon’s overall concept to turn Pinter’s drama into a non-literal nightmare. In this, he succeeds.

Lyn Gardner- The Guardian 3 stars

Entering the theatre, it looks as if there has been an explosion: chairs hang in mid-air, a wardrobe tilts in empty space and a ladder to nowhere is suspended above the stage. Designer Oliver Townsend has borrowed to clever effect from Cornelia Parker’s 1991 installation Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View to create the setting for Harold Pinter’s Godot-influenced 1960 play…It might be read as a play about how a good deed does not go unpunished; it could be seen as a warning that blood will always be thicker than water; and it is often like watching a chess game in which one player thinks he has a winning move only to discover that he has been tactically outplayed. Director Christopher Haydon plays it as a parable of our times, a migration … Townsend’s design lifts it from the literal and into an enclosed dream space, one rumbling with distant thunderstorms, which crackles with electricity recalling the electro-convulsive therapy that Jonathan Livingstone’s Aston has been forced to undergo. This room is a place of shadows where potential dangers lurk:…Haydon gives this timeless play a little shove out of the 1960s and into the 21st century…he and Naiambana treat Davies with real compassion….This one shows us his vulnerability – and how poverty, homelessness and constant uncertainty make you duck and dive, creating paranoia about those who might be getting ahead of you in the brutal game of survival…It’s an evening that, like Davies, is in danger of outstaying its welcome. Judge doesn’t always manage the disconcerting changes of mood that should make Mick such a terrifying adversary. But Livingstone provides fine support as the burned-out Aston, a quiet husk of a man incapable of building the shed he dreams of constructing.

Dominic Maxwell- The Times 4 Stars

The stage may look like an explosion in a junk shop, but Harold Pinter’s much-revived three-hander from 1960 comes thoroughly box-fresh in this riveting rejig… Yet if skin colour is the initial talking point here…it’s the execution that matters. The last couple of productions I saw…made me wonder if The Caretaker, for all its not entirely explicable oddness, was in danger of becoming a museum piece. Here, its housebound absurdism crackles with life, a mix of comedy, sadness and sadism that you can’t second-guess. And skin colour is only really relevant here with the character of Davies, the homeless old man played by Patrice Naiambana as a relentlessly larky, unstoppably discursive Jamaican…his opening sally against “all them blacks” now marks him out as a different kind of cracked….It’s a magnificent performance…Livingstone, forever fiddling with the same toaster plug, is the perfect straight man — and excels in his moment in the spotlight talking about his electro-shock therapy. As his big brother and landlord Mick, David Judge is a joy: a lithe, clenched bully who laces his aggression with ostentatiously articulate facetiousness…The chemistry between these odd bedmates keeps the air alive with dark comedy, as the play manoeuvres somewhere between myth and kitchen-sink absurdism….Whether you’re an old hand or a newcomer to this cornerstone of Sixties drama, this is a marvellous mix of the strange and the familiar.

 

Rosemary Waugh- The Stage 4 stars

Harold Pinter once said that The Caretaker was funny “up to a point”. That point is the bull’s-eye at the centre of director Christopher Haydon’s new production….Haydon delicately draws out the strands of sorrow running throughout, resulting in a staging that’s both entertaining and sensitive. Patrice Naiambana…is a largely convivial mass of semi-controlled chaos….Under other circumstances, Naiambana’s performance would be a show-stealer, but David Judge’s Mick is also superbly unsettling. His performance is physically impressive, involving endless squatting and springing around the space, and he has the ability to make idioms seem disarmingly creepy: “got off on the wrong foot” in particular….Oliver Townsend’s set design looks like a snapshot taken from the centre of a tornado. A multitude of household items float in space. Rain hammers against a window seemingly in free-fall. It’s this balance of familiarity and absurdity that Haydon excels at exploiting in Pinter’s play.

 

Broadway World- Tim Wright 3 stars

Christopher Haydon directs with the right amount of faithfulness to the text alongside flexibility for his cast….. For Pinter aficionados there may be one too many liberties taken with the script but Patrice Naiambana as Davies, brings a pleasing change of pace to the script with his Caribbean flow. Contrasted with the exacting and precise Mick (David Judge) their scenes provide the highlights of the production…. Oliver Townsend’s design is a constant marvel. It’s as if a normal flat, full of odds and ends has exploded and then frozen in time while on its way back down to earth. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the nightmarish goings on in the flat, as if it could all come crashing down at any second. The trickle of rain down the window is a constant reminder of the bleakness. For all its style though, the production doesn’t always find its rhythm….Wisely perhaps, Haydon doesn’t play the script too much for laughs but that does make the revelations in the play less uncomfortable without the contrast. What is apparent though, is that Haydon is looking to find new meaning from the text….. In this, the production breaks new ground, even if it’s a little bumpy along the way.

 

Bristol 24/7 Shane Morgan

… “there is no point in doing anything except to discover something new.” It is this approach to a 20th-century classic that makes director Christopher Haydon’s vision of The Caretaker such a triumph….In many ways, David Judge’s Mick is the riskiest of performances on offer. A dangerous mix of Romper Stomper and A Clockwork Orange with a Joe Orton-esque delivery, Judge squats and thrusts his way across the stage, bringing menace with every perfectly articulated syllable….The stage is a beautifully crafted explosion of a squalid, dark and damp apartment designed by Oliver Townsend…At the epicentre of this vision is Patrice Naiambana’s pitch-perfect Davies. This is a performance so full of charm, humour and tenacity that it will prove to be one of the great readings of the role…. Haydon weaves together a version of The Caretaker that is relevant today, now….This isn’t simply a revival, it is a re-imagining. It is bold, terrifying and funny: a classic mix of the best elements of Beckett absurdism, Osborne anger and Orton grime. These are elements that always exist in Pinter’s writing but are all too rarely exploited. Haydon does this with startling effect. This is a classic version of a classic play that demands and deserves to be seen.

 

Reviews Hub Leah Tozer 4 stars

Director Christopher Haydon and designer Oliver Townsend’s set for Bristol Old Vic… on display as the audience take their seats, certainly feels like a moment frozen in time: suspended in the space are step ladders, drawers, desks, trolleys, toilet seats, light-bulbs, buckets, a door, and two windows with rain dripping down; a scene that feels like it should be in motion, but that is inexplicably still, as if someone has pressed pause….David Judge, wearing a leather jacket and chewing like a tough-type on a toothpick, uses an impressive physicality to jump, prowl, and pace about the place, commanding the space but uncomfortable in it…. finally, Jonathan Livingstone’s Aston…serious, slow, and almost stilted, but as all is revealed in a revelatory, heartrending monologue, it also is revealed as a perceptive, astute performance that falls into place, and makes sense, as slowly as he moves.

The characters are like atoms in space – or time – all existing at once independently of one another and occasionally making contact. Sometimes there’s a reaction, a moment of connection, as when Aston reaches out to offer Davies a new pair of shoes. Sometimes there’s an explosion, as Mick’s staccato, commanding speech reaches a crescendo with the Buddha statue as a casualty. But, most of the time, there’s nothing but space between them: their speeches land somewhere beyond each other and they float further away into space, isolation, and loneliness…There are moments of humour, but it’s also heartbreakingly human, showing that the search for home isn’t just about houses, but other people, too

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Two Man Show- Circomedia ☆☆☆☆

Gender seems to be a focal point for a images (1)lot of independent theatre companies this year. The display of the female form and whose gaze this is designed for has been a part of a number of shows from Hot Brown Honey to Sh!t Theatre. Nakedness is front and centre of Rash Dash Theatre’s Two Man Show, a work that explores the female form alongside the male psyche. Exploding genre’s together- from cabaret to physical theatre along with naturalistic duologue scenes- performers Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland alongside musician Becky Wilkie offer a show that is slippery on first watch to get to grips with. There is plenty going on under the surface that requires a lot of scratching to reveal.

It all begins with a story, the girls talking into a mic that distorts their voices to childish pitch and explains the history of patriarchy. In the caveman era they explain the average life expectancy was 30, which basically means that patriarchy was created by teenage boys. The words we speak, the rules we live in, all decided by men. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus is it any wonder that women find their way blocked in a society designed through patriarchal history.

The poster warns of (non-sexual) full frontal nudity and that is what they provide. It is the parenthesis that describes the effect though under the male gaze female bodies are defined as erotic currency, yet here the nudity ends up feeling as natural as a new born babe, an acceptance of woman’s bodies  for what they ae rather than what they are fetished as. The difference between the two genres can be revealed with the minimum of manipulation as we see them turn Michelangelo’s strong virile David into a coy flirtatious coquette with little more than a jut of a hip and a flick of the wrist.

Its weakest sections are the dramatization of two brothers reuniting at the deathbed of their father. From the names Dan and John to the man-spreading, jutting jawlines and talk about cars to hide emotion it is ‘man’ painted in the most primary of colours. You can see what they are trying to do here, yet it does feel a little like an assault, however much they try to address it come the conclusion. I have seen a number of works this year that have painted ‘man’ as the enemy and it can feel for those with a y chromosome a helmet is required to avoid shrapnel shots every time we step into an auditorium. It is likely a build-up rather than an issue directly with this show but in taking aim they are also simplifying a sex down to its most obvious weaknesses’ something that critics would definitely take exception to if the shoe was on the other foot.

For all its frustrations though it all comes together at the end with a terrific climax as Goalen and Greenland break out long monologues that look at what being a modern female means. It concludes that women should be as accepted for being as loud, bolshie and free as they want or indeed quiet, thoughtful and kind-hearted. Women wear as many hats as there are people and ultimately this is a show that asks for an understanding and an acceptance of each of them. If male created words aren’t enough to fully explain what they are feeling, this work of total theatre helps articulate it loud and proud.

Two Man Show plays at Circomedia until the 16September and then tours

Autumn Theatre Preview 2017

After the drought of summer here come the flood of Autumn. The theatre calendar is packed full of drama before a jam packed Christmas full of family (and some not quite so PG) crackers. So here’s a list of shows that are definitely worth marking on the calendar, from musicals, opera and classics to new work there really is something for everyone as the nights draw in and extra layers are required.

The Caretaker- 9-30 September Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic’s big Autumn production is a revival of Harold Pinter’s 1960 work, directed by formed artistic director of London’s Gate Theatre Christopher Haydon and starring Patrice Naiambana in the role of Davies, who gets his feet under the table when he is invited into a home. The design shots seen so far suggest anything but a straight telling of this modern classic.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/the-caretaker.html

 Two Man Show- 13-16 September Tobacco Factory atCircomedia

Partnering with MAYK Tobacco Factory Theatres brings Fringe First award winners Rash Dash to Bristol with this show that explores gender, language and humankind. These girls were the talk north of the border last year with a show that defies classification. Mayfest comes a few months early.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/two-man-show/

 Living With The Lights On- 18-22 September Tobacco Factory

Following his thrilling turn as Shakespeare’s quintessential villain Iago earlier this year in Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory Othello, Mark Lockyer returns to the Tobacco Factory with his one man show that explores the actors personal battles with mental health that led a once promising actor onto the streets and and his hard fought road to recovery.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/living-with-the-lights-on/

 The Real Thing- 18-30 September Bath Theatre Royal

Laurence Fox stars in one of Tom Stoppard’s greatest works in the latest Bath Theatre Royal production, starting its life in the theatres main house before touring round the country. High class sheen is always one of the company’s great assets, combining this with such an intelligent work could produce terrific results.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3028/The-Real-Thing/1508

 Puccini’s Tosca- 27 September-14 October Tobacco Factory

The Opera Project and Tobacco Factory co-production is always a highlight, witnessing opera in intimate surroundings is as hair raising as witnessing it in some of the great houses. This year Puccini’s thriller gets the chamber treatment.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/puccinis-tosca/

 Ice Road- 2 October- 19 November Jacob’s Wells Baths

Following on Raucous Collective’s first show The Stick House, this new multi-disciplinary work taking place in a Victorian Bath House should provide a powerful experience. Sharon Clarke’s script, aided by, amongst others, Limbic Cinemas projection and Timothy X’s sound score, hones in on an abandoned apartment building during the siege of Leningrad and looks at the story of the children left behind in war.

http://www.raucous.org.uk/ice-road

 Rita, Sue and Bob Too- 3-7 October Bristol Old Vic

The great Max Stafford Clark has done more for regional theatre than almost any other director in the UK having made regional touring a priority of his career all the way from the late 60’s to today. He signs off from his work with Out Of Joint with a revival of one of his most successful works Andrea Dunbar’s play about the sexual awakenings of young female adolescents. Filthy and hilarious in equal measure, its Stafford Clark at his best, ensuring the regions weren’t left with little more than light entertainment in its theatres.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/rita-sue-and-bob-too.html

 Fossils- 4-7 October Wardrobe Theatre

An extinct fish, missing father and live electronic score combine for the latest work from Bucket Club directed by previous director in residence at the Tobacco Factory Nel Crouch, which has travelled to New York for Brits Off Broadway since its successful premiere at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.

http://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/fossils/

 The Bekkrell Effect- 18-21 October Bristol Old Vic

The showcase piece of this year’s Circus City be prepared for a punk aesthetic take on circus to rock the old Theatre Royal. French company Groupe Bekkrell are presenting what the blurb claims is an ‘exhilarating visual feast’. For those who expect their circus traditional be prepared to leave your preconceptions at the door.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/the-bekkrell-effect.html

 War Horse- 18 October- 11 November Bristol Hippodrome

This needs no preview. A risky show that became a worldwide hit it’s a homecoming of sorts for Joey with co-director Tom Morris firmly ensconced as artistic director at Bristol Old Vic. It’s likely to be this autumn’s hot ticket so get booking now.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/war-horse/bristol-hippodrome/

 Waiting for Godot- 19 October-4 November Tobacco Factory

The first ever sole producing work for the Tobacco Factory sees them produce Samuel Beckett’s seminal work, famous for, as Vivian Mercier claimed nothing happens…twice. Of course there is much more to it than that with a musicality to its text that few other plays can match. With the news that original director Peter Hall has sadly passed away, this is a fitting reminder of a seminal work that changed how Britain looks at theatre.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/waiting-godot-samuel-beckett/

 Christmas Eve- 19 October-18 November Ustinov Studio

Following The Mentor’s trip to the West End German literature superstar Daniel Kehlman returns to the Ustinov Studio with a new work, reuniting the heavyweight due of translator Christopher Hampton and director Laurence Boswell. It sounds like a cracker too, a real time thriller pitting two foes against each other in an interrogation room where only one can come out the victor.

http://theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3029/Christmas-Eve/1524

 People Places and Things- 24-28 October Bristol Old Vic

This Headlong and National Theatre hit will also be hitting New York this autumn with its original cast intact so the British tour will allow a chance to see a brand new cast tackle this pulsing work. Lisa Dwyer Hogg will take on the role that propelled Denise Gough to acclaim and an Olivier award. It also plays Bath between the 17th and 21ST October.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/people-places-and-things.html

 Education, Education, Education- 1-4 November Bristol Old Vic

Bristol’s own The Wardrobe Ensemble return with their latest Fringe First production. The last 1972: And the Future of Sex was pure bliss, a perfect melding of ideas and execution that showed this company had really arrived. The acclaim from Edinburgh suggests that this is on the same level. It looks at the 90’s school system, of Blair, Chumbawumba and a system that left Britain in special measures.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/education-education-education.html

 How To Win Against History- 2-11 November Tobacco Factory at Wardrobe Theatre

An Edinburgh smash hit twice over Seiriol Davies musical comedy about Henry Cyril Paget, flamboyant fifth Marquis of Anglesby in the 19th century who blew it all on being ‘just too damn fabulous.’ For those who like their theatre big and flamboyant and with a cult edge this is one not to miss.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/how-to-win-against-history/

 The Tin Drum- 7-18 November Bristol Old Vic

The last time writer Carl Grose, composer Charles Hazelwood and director Mike Shephard came together it ended up being my favourite show of 2015 Dead Dog In A Suitcase. This new musical adaptation of Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum promises the usual Kneehigh aesthetic; anarchic, theatrical and possessed of huge heart. Consider me excited.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/the-tin-drum.html

 Up Down Man- 8-18 November Tobacco Factory

A sequel to the terrific Up Down Boy and again starring Matty Butler it’s a look at the question that every parent with a child with disabilities must facewhat happens when I’m not there. Don’t expect it to be a solemn look at a pertinent question, like its subject it promises to be fun while making you look at the situation from a different light.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/up-down-man/

WNO Autumn Season- 15-18 November Bristol Hippodrome

The Welsh National Opera seasons are now a firm part of the Bristol theatrical year. This Autumn they will be bringing the Russians to St Augustine Parade with takes on Eugene Onegin (15thFrom The House Of The Dead (16th) and Die Fledermaus (17th and 18th). For a chance to see opera on a lavish scale outside of London WNO can’t be bettered.

https://www.wno.org.uk/venue/bristol-hippodrome

The Open House- 23 November-23 December Ustinov Studio

Will Eno’s play has already been an award winner Stateside winning Obie and Lucille Lortel awards for best play and featuring on many end of year awards lists. Former RSC boss Michael Boyd returns once again to a theatre that is now becoming a regular home to him. Autumn seems to be the point in the Ustinov produce their big hitters, its rare one of the Autumn shows doesn’t feature on my own best of list.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3029/The-Open-House/1523

Reservoir Cats- 23 November- 21 January Wardrobe Theatre

It’s a sign of how successful the Wardrobe Christmas shows have become that it now has the longest run of any show in the area this Christmas season. This year’s Xmas mash up is of Quentin Tarrantino’s break out Sundance hit and a certain Lord’s tuner about felines looking to go up to heaven. Bristol’s underground Christmas hit is no longer much of a secret. Grab your friends and go.

http://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/reservoir-cats/

 Beauty and The Beast- 30 November-14 January Tobacco Factory

New International Encounter’s smart storytelling production played to packed houses last Christmas in Cambridge and is likely to find as warm a reception in Bristol. The Tobacco Factory has always produced a strong scrappier rival to the Old Vic for battle of the Christmas shows so expect less of the glitz of the smash hit Disney film but just as much of the heart.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/beauty-and-the-beast/

 The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales- 30 November- 18 January Bristol Old Vic

Before Emma Rice takes up permanent residence in the city in which she resides with her new (controversial) company Wise Children she brings a show that premiered at the Globe last Christmas to the King Street venue. Emma Rice’s work feels very much at home here and these four fairy tales should warm the cockles as much as a steaming glass of mulled wine.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/the-little-matchgirl.html

The Wizard of Oz- 1-19 December Redgrave Theatre

Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools Christmas show is the RSC version of Frank L Baum’s classic (which once starred Imelda Staunton as Dorothy-fact). It’s a chance to see the stars of the future working on family friendly fare at ticket prices that won’t break the bank for all the family. In November they will also be presenting How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found (9-17 November) at the Station Silver.

http://www.oldvic.ac.uk/whats-on/the-wizard-of-oz.html

Little Mermaid- 7 December- 14 January The Egg Theatre

The Egg is a year round feast of family theatrical goodness so it is only fitting that their Christmas shows are a true treat. They are also an opportunity to see South West talent get a chance to ply their trade, this year writer Bea Roberts and BOVTS trained director-choreographer Cameron Carver combine along with BOVTS stand out Georgia Frost in one of her first jobs out of drama school.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3030/Little-Mermaid/1484#Info

 Aladdin- 9 December- 7 January Bristol Hippodrome

QDOS won the battle of the panto brands and so take over the big traditional Bristol pantomime from under First Family Entertainments feet. It’s a ritual as old as time, D-list celebs (Marti Pellow, Joe Pasquale), the latest chart hits and groan inducing jokes. But come on admit it, you can’t help but leave with a smile upon your face.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/aladdin-2/bristol-hippodrome/

 

Translunar Paradise- Tobacco Factory, Bristol ****

It has been a week to pull out the hankies in the Bristol theatre scene. After Kneehigh got the tear ducts flowing with their take on the great love affair between Tristan and Yseult it is now Theatre Ad Infinitum’s turn to tug at the heart strings with their little gem of a show Translunar Paradise, playing at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday.

No words are spoken but much is said in this 75 minute work conjured from the mind of the multi-talented George Mann and his performer accomplice Deborah Pugh. The work follows an old man William- played by Mann with the use of a mask to differentiate old and young- as he heads home from the hospital having bid a final goodbye to his wife and lifelong companion. Unpacking the suitcase she took to the hospital with her, filled with a lifetime of accoutrements brings back recollections of a life lived with love; full of the happiness, laughter, tears and fury that it brings and provokes in turn.

It is a play partly about the mourning process, of getting used to two becoming one. He makes tea for two. He sits blankly at the table, the silence dragging intermittently on where once there would have been chatter. It’s the kind of show to make you grip your loved ones close and call those who may now be alone. It’s a work to remind you that nothing matters as much as cherishing every moment you have to those who you love most. It is in short both exquisitely painful and tremulously beautiful.

Both Pugh and Mann were trained at the École International de Theátre Institute in Paris and the Lecoq based training they received there is at the heart of the work devised. The two are balletic in their movement, switching from the hunched arthritic older couple contemplating their final goodbye and then zooming back to the couples early days where the heady rush of romance promises a lifetime of possibility and they are a musical break away from being in a dream ballet devised by Agnes de Mille. The masks used to convey the older couple are gnarly wrinkled but still possess neutrality, it is only when they breathe into them and take on the physicality of the old that they truly work their magic. Drama school students across the country dread trying to bring these masks to life in exercises where they feel lumpen and uninspired, but here those countless hours of exertion in the safety of the classroom pays off. The exercise has turned into exquisite art.

Accompanying them every step of the way is Sophie Crawford providing a live scoring on stage using accordion and vocals. It is has the dreamy otherworldly feel of East European folk music, mixed in with the odd whistle of something closer to home, Vera Lynn in the background as William is forced into a first separation from his wife for example.

It’s a show revived as part of Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ten year anniversary but is a work that will not age, do not be surprised if it continues breaking hearts in the tenth, twentieth and many further anniversaries as well.

13- Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at TF Theatres ****

13

A country split down the middle. A passionate orator with idealised beliefs rousing crowds of young people to be politicised at political rallies. A female Tory Prime Minister losing her grip on her previously water type public image. Mike Bartlett’s 2011 play 13 has only gained in resonance in the last six years and arrives at Tobacco Factory Theatres as part of Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools graduation show feeling timelier than it did at its premiere. On original showing the critics were measured; respectful of Bartlett’s form and ambition but less blown away than they had been for his previous work Earthquakes In London.  Viewed later, from a distance, with less remembrance of Rupert Goold’s propulsive production of the latter, it feels a more complete work, prophetic in ways that even Bartlett couldn’t predict.

Originally premièring in the cavernous Olivier it is a state of the nation play that few modern playwrights get the opportunity to write. Taking us from the highest offices of power into the life of those at the bottom of the rungs it reminded me both of Shakespeare’s Henry IV  and Richard Curtis’  It shares some of that film’s contrivances, so all the characters in the work, from PM’s to cleaners and the powerful prophet are firmly linked. We may all only be six degrees from Kevin Bacon but here there is a suspicion of schematics joined a little too neatly.

It’s a minor quibble though for a work that spreads its debates fiercely across the political spectrum and doesn’t find any easy answers. A Tory Prime Minister (Laura Waldren) is contemplating supporting a US war in Iran but finds herself opposed by a charismatic backpacker, John (Billy Harris with the boyish idealism and quiet conviction that will produce followers), back after a number of years in the wilderness. He builds his support on a soapbox, through YouTube clips and social media feeds. Soon his speeches are a revolution, a prophet raised to a God. It all builds to a climactic debate in a Number 10 backroom where the personal and political intertwine.  The right is poorly represented in the theatre but Bartlett articulates it here, arguments floated about economic policies helping the country and how balance and compromise,’the best choice’ stabilises the country more than the myth of right and wrong. Bartlett never fully reveals who he feels is his antagonist and protagonist, the characters spar like Bolingbroke and Richard bouncing power and righteousness between them.

Director David Mercatali’s production is full of striking visual imagery, from 12 figures standing in shadowy blue that drew an intake of breath at its introduction to the ensemble playing imagery of chaos from their smart devices. His previous work at the Tobacco Factory Blue Heart was all about the small details, a flicker of an eye, a brush of the arm;, the cadence of the line; here he opens up his canvas and paints in broader brushstrokes. Some of the minor roles are a (admittedly entertaining) caricature and there is a suspicion that as the work ratchets up towards its climax, it is only the ones in power that keep Bartlett’s attention.

In their final show as students the BOVTS ensemble does a fine job, there are-as the cliché goes- no weak links. Waldren and Harris are determined opposing forces who scrap over policy and faith until she tops him at his own game and there is terrific support from Ellis Duffy as an arrogant lawyer ready to do battle with the feminists, Euan Shanahan as a gruff Scottish lecturer cum political advisor spewing out political incorrectness while nailing some fundamental truths and Gina Ruysen as a cold-eyed American diplomats wife who finds her life changed after an airport encounter with the preacher. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Georgia Frost who even in a small supporting role still dares the eyes to look away.

It’s a chewy night of theatre that asks a number of searching political questions and refuses to give its audience an easy solution. It’s a fitting climax to the very fine graduating class of 2017.

 

Summer Season Preview 2017

Summer in theatre land is where we usually find pickings most sparse. Yet 2017 theatre here in Bristol and Bath doesn’t seem to have picked up the memo, the seasonal brochures are filled to bursting with work that I think might be worth booking. Here, in date order are the shows that have caught my eye.

Medea- Bristol Old Vic playing until 27 May

Already causing stirs and critical divide opinion is most definitely split on George Mann’s and Chino Odimba’s reimagining of Euripides original Greek myth. For me the style doesn’t land and its politics frustrate (perhaps intentionally). Be prepared to be stirred, for either good or ill

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/medea.html

While We’re Here- TF Theatres 9-10 June

Playwright Barney Norris’ miniaturist plays are full of massive heart. Having brought previously his terrific Eventide to Bristol in 2015 this new work sees two past lovers reunite on a park bench and find that there is a spark that still burns between them. His regular collaborator Alice Hamilton for Up In Arms directs.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/while-were-here/

Julius Caesar- Bristol Old Vic 9 June-1 July

If last year was all about Lear, this year, almost inevitably is taken up with Shakespeare’s political thriller of the overthrow of a powerful Emperor. In what one hopes is now be a yearly project, the graduating students of Bristol Old Vic will get the opportunity to share the stage with acting royalty, this year Game Of Thrones’ Julian Glover while being directed by Simon Dormandy who has already helped nurture the career of Eddie Redmayne among others when he was head of Drama at Eton College.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/julius-caesar.html

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time- Bristol Hippodrome 13 to 17 June

The National Theatre smash hit adaptation of Mark Haddon’s cult book returns to Bristol again as part of its second UK tour. With the long running West End runcoming to an end, it may be the last opportunity to see this production for a while and so is sure to once again be a hot ticket.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-2017/bristol-hippodrome/

Kirk vs Ming- Wardrobe Theatre 13-17 June

The team behind the Wardrobe Christmas hits come together to bring two other cult characters in a battle to the finish. If you’ve ever seen one of the Christmas shows you know what to expect, load up on the booze, catch up on the films and go in expecting a night of reverent and irreverent fun that should be a perfect excuse to drag you from a beer garden for a few hours.

http://theatrebristol.net/whats-on/2017/6/13/kirk-vs-ming-the-wardrobe-theatre-bristol

Racing Demon- Bath Theatre Royal 21 June-8 July

The Bath Summer Season kicks off with arguably David Hare’s greatest work and with the magnificent David Haig front and centre. New Artistic Director Jonathan Church made a success of his running of the Chichester Festival, and if his first season in Bath looks very much like what has come before- handsomely mounted, star driven canon pieces- its seasons that work very much to its target audience. Expect more work than ever before to make the move to the West End.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3028/Racing-Demon/1470

13- TF Theatres 23 June- 1 July

The second of BOVTS graduating shows is Mike Bartlett’s powerful, profound and epic play 13. Director David Mercatali, who did such profound work last year on Caryl Churchill’s Blue Heart will be at the helm of a play that was much praised for its ambition when it premiered at the National Theatre in 2011.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/13/

Translunar Paradise- TF Theatres 4-8 July

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s work about love, death and enduring love has toured the world and now comes back to Bristol, the city artistic directors George Mann and Nir Patel now call home. This 75 minute work of physical theatre and mask work should suit directors Mann’s vision, his work in studio theatres feel particularly charged.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/translunar-paradise/

Tristan & Yseult- Bristol Old Vic 4-15 July

This Cornish company are basically taking residency at BOV this year. Alongside a return visit of Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (9-12 May) and an eagerly awaited Autumn production of The Tin Drum, first we are presented with arguably the companies greatest hit. It’s a show that Lyn Gardner claims has to be loved by anyone who has even a passing interest in theatre. Be sure to find out.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/tristan-and-yseult.html

Goldilocks, Stock and Three Smoking Barrels- Wardrobe Theatre 20-28 July

Christmas comes early with a return visit of perhaps The Wardrobe’s most successful seasonal show to date before it takes up residency North of The Border for the Edinburgh festival. As previously mentioned, grab a pint, a mate and expect to laugh until you cry at this mashup of Guy Ritchie and three sleepy bears.

https://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/goldilock-stock-three-smoking-bears/

North By Northwest- Bath Theatre Royal 21 July- 12 August

Jonathan Church’s brief sojourn to Sydney may not have worked out, but luckily for us does mean he is bringing over one of Australia’s biggest hits from the past couple of years. Promising spectacle, thrills and laughs, if this draws strong reviews expect it to get further life. It’s the show I’m most excited by this season.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3028/North-by-Northwest/1472

Young Company Show: Bristol Old Vic at St Brendans Sixth Form College 2-5 August

The young company at BOV are surely among the finest in the country. Their work is always daring, full of challenges for its members and this latest work, that explores the relationship between youth and power, sounds fascinating. It deserves an audience far beyond that of friends and family.

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/young-company-show.html

Looking at Lucian- Ustinov Studio 3 August- 2 September

A great actor in Henry Goodman tackles a great artist in Lucian Freud. Polymath Alan Franks- journalist, musician, writer- has been a feature writer for The Times and The Guardian amongst others and so has got up close and personal with many famous faces. Let’s hope that this experience to burrow deep within his subjects allows him to craft a play full of insight and not meaningless celeb worship.

http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3029/Looking-at-Lucian/1474

Sister Act- Bristol Hippodrome 7-12 Aug

Alexandra Burke dons the habit in Alan Menken’s musical of the hit 1992 film. It’s a show that doesn’t seem to have stopped playing since its original West End run in 2009, both touring and in amateur circles, a sure fire sign that we have a feel-good populist hit.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/sister-act-2017/bristol-hippodrome/

A Brimful Of Asha- Tobacco Factory Theatres ****

 

Never act with children or animals the late, great WC Field was fond of quoting, but he missed the last show stealer from the list. As shown in Why Not Theatre’s A Brimful Of Asha, it’s the matriarch you have to look out for. For all the hard work performer Ravi Jain puts in; setting the show up, carrying the narrative and then driving it on towards its end game; it’s his Mum Asha, a lifelong housewife with no previous performance experience, who walks away with the show.

With her sly intelligence and high wattage mischievous smile she allows the (mostly Western European) audience an illuminating access to her viewpoint. Her son Ravi has just come back to Toronto having studied theatre in Paris for several years. She wants him to work in finance. He wants to set up a theatre company. She wants her son married. He wants to get noticed on the Toronto theatre scene. She wants to ensure he remains close to his Indian heritage by marrying into a family that still resides there. He just wants to fall in love.  So we’re set on a conflict between generations, cultures and heritages. When he goes off to Calcutta to host a theatre workshop he soon finds himself in a trap laid out by his parents to procure him a wife. It constantly feels like an elaborate game of human chess. Ravi only a step away from being placed in check mate. The end game hangs in the balance. Asha doesn’t fully understand what Ravi does making theatre. So he turns their collective experience into a piece of theatre and gets her to perform in it. Could there be a more elaborate fight back. A final charge into the fray which has created a rollicking ride of a show, a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes of theatre. The Jain’s welcome us as family  with the offer of Samosa’s and handshakes when we enter the space, it is to the shows credit that by the end we feel a member of this crazy loving clan.

There’s a fascinating thesis to be written about the use of non-performers in modern theatre from Bryony Kimming’s using her partner and niece in her latest auto-biographical shows to Dead Centre’s audience plant in First Chekhov that completely changed the rules of that production. You feel the success of this ploy is down to the feeling of risk it engenders. However well-drilled the show (and this one has played for five years now) there is always the sense that anything can happen when a non-performer is chucked in the deep end, not trained to deal with the unexpected. They identify that risk here; at the start Asha in heavily accented English explains that she may go blank when she tells her tales. It draws the audience onside, even though it’s a clear set up. Just one of the many lovely moments contained within this little gem is just how protected she is by her son. At one point she snaps ‘You don’t know what it means to be happy’, and he replies ‘I’m learning from doing this show.’ You can’t help but be charmed.