HAMLET- Kelvin Players 7-21 April 2021 (delayed from April 2020)

Hamlet A0 - No Dates

This above all: to thine own self be true.’

 A dead king demands retribution from beyond the grave, Hamlet must take action.

 In the hedonistic court of Elsinore where eyes are everywhere and deceit abounds, a family is ripped apart by treachery and murder.

 Kelvin Players take a bold, contemporary approach for a fresh look at Shakespeare’s classic revenge tragedy, one of the greatest plays ever written.

 Torn by uncertainty, bitter with betrayal and driven by loss, Hamlet’s search for truth is at the heart of human existence.

CAST

Claudius – David Alexander

Gertrude – Marion Brazier

Guildenstern – Josh Cooper

Ophelia – Alina F Flaherty

Polonius – Carol Fuller

Horatio – Alex Heath

Rosencrantz – Jenny Hills

Hamlet – Fran Lewis

Gravedigger – Elizabeth Madgwick

First Player – Rick Procter-Lane

Laertes – Hannah Rousell

The Ghost – Tim Whitten

REHEARSAL PHOTOS

Hamlet Rehearsal Photo
David Alexander (Claudius) and Marion Brazier (Gertrude) ©Teri Mohiuddin
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Fran Lewis (Hamlet) ©Teri Mohiuddin
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Elizabeth Madgwick (Gravedigger) & Fran Lewis (Hamlet) ©Teri Mohiuddin
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Fran Lewis (Hamlet) and Hannah Roussell (Laertes) ©TerMohiuddin
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Alina F Flaherty (Ophelia) & Hannah Roussell (Laertes)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf- Tobacco Factory ☆☆☆☆

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Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ©Mark Dawson Photography

There’s something about watching great writing in an intimate space that can sucker-punch the air out of its watching audience. As is the case with Edward Albee’s 1962 masterpiece about marriage warfare, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, given an ever-tightening production by David Mercatali that by the end leaves its audience as emotionally winded as the characters. Over 210 minutes its laid witness to a long, bruising night of the soul. I predict many stumbling out into the street needing their own generous measure of bourbon.

It’s 2 am and a party is only just getting started. Middle-aged History professor George and his wife Martha are hosting his young, high-flying colleague Nick and partner Honey. But as the drinks cabinet spirits flow, George and Martha launch into full trench warfare on their marriage and engage in a sadistic game of ‘get the guests’ on the unsuspecting visitors.

It originally feels overpitched in the space, characters pitching their bon viveur to a space somewhere further away than the fourth wall of Anisha Field’s fashionably 60’s set living room. The jokes are a bit egged, the forced intimacy a little too desperate. Pooky Quesnel’s Martha feels too obviously vampy, a cross between Elizabeth Taylor in the film and Bette Davies. Its first act feels the less focussed, not helped by a few minor line stumbles and a certain artificiality in the playing.

Yet as the alcohol kicks in the emotional truth becomes clearer as the alcoholic fog descends. The shields of forced affability are dropped and a direct attack on the human spirit is launched. The play ends with all four of them hunched in four corners of the room, barely still standing, reeling from almost fatal blows.

It’s a play that I’ve always come to see as Martha’s based on some recent star castings, the aforementioned Taylor, Kathleen Turner, Imelda Staunton, but here the play undoubtedly belongs to Mark Meadows George. He begins the evening with a stooped weary acceptance that he has missed his chance in life, constantly overlooked for promotion and seeing his light dim. Yet as the fight between him and Martha deepens, he puffs up until he is almost unbearably terrifying-looking to land the knockout punch. For the first time, he seems to be the moral compass of the work, the one its audience can feel genuine affection for. His late cruelty almost hurts us as much as it does Martha, as though we’ve witnessed a close friend overstep the boundaries. It is the first superb performance of the year.

Quesnel certainly brings the allure in a figure-hugging green dress and is a fine actor, but she struggles to find the balance between the venom the character sprouts and the vulnerability that these barbs hide. It is only in the last few minutes that you start to be let into her pain. In the best versions of the work, the sympathies of the audience should be flying between the pair as often as a tennis rally, here Meadows serves mostly to love.

Joseph Tweedale and Francesca Henry bring life to the dull All-American couple, Tweedale spinning into ever-increasing toxicity with every shot knocked back and Henry pitching perfectly the look of fear in her ever-widening ‘aw shucks’ smile.

Mercatali’s production, though long (the estate refused any cuts to be made in this version so we have the complete, not the definitive version of the play) finds layer after layer in the lashings of marital discord. The early comedy turns dark, the simmering violence turns erotic, the early ease ends in desolation. Each of these moments is carefully delineated in a production that requires regular movement for sightlines in the round while using ever-increasing stillness as the night slowly drifts into dawn.

A strong cast and fine director certainly bring clarity to this towering American masterpiece, but it will be remembered chiefly for Meadow’s George, crunching through broken glass, a fitting metaphor for a marriage long since shattered.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 21 March and then Salisbury Playhouse from the 26 March to 11 April

The Laramie Project- Weston Studio ☆☆☆☆

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The Laramie Project © Mark Dawson Photography.

Though we are never directly introduced to Matthew Shephard his presence is all over The Laramie Project. He is in the stooped shoulders of the residence hanging around a bar, he is present in their defensive reactions to questioning, their furtive glances as their unease with difference is aired to a group of New York theatre-makers. If the small (he was reported to be little more than 5’2), queer Shephard was little more than a parenthesis in the history of Laramie, Wyoming before, he became a significant chapter on the night of October 6th 1998, when he was beaten, tortured and left for dead by two men who may have been driven to commit the crimes due to his sexual orientation. Tragically six days later, he was dead.

Moisés Kaufman’s verbatim play is not exactly an easy watch. Over 2 ½ hours, its audience is made to pay witness to viewpoints and crime details which explore the darker elements of the human soul. In closed-minded, small Laramie, to be gay was to be different and to be different could get you hurt. Conservative Christians from the Westboro Baptist Church who campaign against ‘fags’ rub shoulders with disaffected young men who claim they are fine with people’s sexuality as long as they don’t have to encounter it. Its long, first half feels particularly tough, you come out at the interval needing not only a stiff drink but probably also a shower to rub the stench of bigotry off you.

Yet somewhere within this hope still resides. It’s in the students who attended the funeral of Shephard and formed circles around the picketing Westboro bigots wearing wings that made them resemble angels. It is there in Shephard’s Father who makes a final moving speech to a jury about not putting his son’s killer to death. Even in the bleakest of moments, light can breakthrough.

The graduating class of BOVTS handle the challenges the play poses well. Kaufman’s work is adapted from over 200 interviews that he and his company the Tectonic Theatre Company conducted in the City, condensed and moulded into dramatic shape. Almost inevitably, the characters are little more than snapshots, yet the overall characterisation is shaded enough not to fall into caricature. Dialect coach James Gitsham has done an admirable job in ensuring the Western American accents of Wyoming and the Bronx accents of the theatre crew are sharp and on point.

The text and Nancy Medina’s fluid, lively production ensure that a play without direct character interaction feels connected and well populated. The funeral scene is elegantly staged as candle after candle is snuffed out while the courtroom scenes take on the air of a thriller as a killer’s life is debated in the dock.

In a strong cast of 15 multi-rollers, there is particular stand out work from Isobel Coward as the first police presence on the crime scene who may have become infected with HIV as a result, Sebastian Orozco as a wisecracking taxi driver and Danial Radze who flicks in an instant from killer to father, movingly delivering a eulogy about his fallen son.

Paired in the same week as Her Naked Skin under an LGBT themed season, the work showcases that in the battle for equality, work still needs to be done. The memory of Shephard and others murdered for who they are resonate with as much force as Emily Davison sacrifice under the King’s horse. The battles continue.

The Laramie Project plays at the Weston Studio until the 29 February

Her Naked Skin- Circomedia ☆☆☆

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Kiera Lester in Her Naked Skin at Circomedia. ©Ed Felton

It took a shocking 32 years for a living female playwright to have an original play staged in the National’s Olivier Theatre, so Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s 2008 play Her Naked Skin, the first of its kind, deserves its place in the canon. Yet watching the play for a second time, in this revival by the BOVTS, it is difficult to be inspired by a text more workmanlike than inspired. It tackles the epic by combining the personal and the political on a grand scale, but its dialogue feels grounded and expository; even with a cast of talented, dedicated performers; it is only in its last few moments where it penetrates the soul.

It begins with arguably the most important moment in the history of the suffragist movement; Benjamin Thapa’s projections showing us Emily Davidson throwing herself under the hoofs of the King’s Horse Anmer during the 1913 Epsom Derby as Oliver Wareham’s sound design ratchets up the terror and frenzy of the moment that would come to define a movement. It was the greatest of sacrifices, but. only one of many, as women around the nation, campaigned for the right to vote; vandalising property, serving prison sentences and going on hunger strike.

It is in this gruelling cycle that the play springboards into the relationship that forms between two active suffragettes from different parts of the social strata, Lady Celia Cain (Clementine Medforth) and young Limehouse born worker Eve Douglas (Chanel Waddock). As the fight for the vote heats up, so does the romance between two women who feel constrained by the lives they feel themselves in.

Medforth shows us the women trapped in a life that she no longer desires. Her cut-glass accent may suggest her breeding but the longing in her voice tells us of the freedom she so craves away from the conventions of her social class. It is her play and Medforth anchors it, finding multiple nuances within this complicated campaigner, even if the play doesn’t allow her to make sense of how quickly she turns away from her working-class lover. In this role, Waddock is terrific, charting her journey from gawky mouthy teen to an oft-abused weary woman. If Lenkiewicz gives her less to work with, Waddock still manages to let us see that class boundary shielded the top from the worst of the degradation borne out to those at the bottom. The final scenes when we see her receive a forced feeding are painful to watch as the slight Waddock is forced down by a team of orderlies and receives feeding from a tube up her nostril.

This is a show for the women to shine and there is also sterling work from Kiera Lester as the older woman driven by her hopes for the future and Charlotte East who shows us the conflict in the prison guard Briggs. The men are written more boorishly, brayers and hayers, though Jake Simmance as William Cain gets to portray the conflict of a man trying to do best by a woman he has lost.

Staged in traverse, Sarah Bedi makes use of the configuration, turning it into a debating chamber as ideas and societal structures are challenged. If the first half feels overtly expository, the second half hurtles along, carried along by two women who want to create a future different from the ones written in stone.

Her Naked Skin plays at Circomedia until the 22 February.

The Realistic Joneses- Ustinov Studio ☆☆☆☆

Jack Laskey, Claire Foster, Sharon Small and Corey Johnson in The Realistic Joneses

If the theatre is an art-form where the word is boss, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses pushes that maxim to its full capacity. His 2014 Broadway surprise is a world where the word is everything. Oh, not to communicate feelings in the way we have come to expect, but to deflect, block and drift into non-sequitur in a way that stops feeling ripping out at the seams. For a play that doesn’t stop speaking, it takes a long time for anything to be said. But Eno’s magic is to show us this is the way of the world, language expounded to camouflage the purpose of what its characters want to say. In his fascinating, slippery programme notes, Eno talks about the influence of Chekhov on this play and as this piece begins to heat up the tragi-comic masterpieces that the Russian master wrote, begin to grip ever tighter in their influences.


In Peter McKintosh’s clever mirror design, two sets of Joneses; married, neighbours, drifting; come together one night. Bob (Corey Johnson) and Jennifer (Sharon Small) are the older couple, caught in a world in which youthful idealism has slipped into the day to day drudge of being closer to cashing that last cheque. Pony (Clare Foster) and John (Jack Laskey) are the younger couple; naive, innocent; yet perhaps calling all the shots. Both men are suffering from a nerve disease that is affecting the language centre of their brains. The emptiness of language to convey feeling at the heart of the work mirrors their own feeling that words really aren’t enough.


Eno throws in plenty of doubles throughout. A scene in a supermarket where it looks like John may want to seduce Jennifer later takes the shape as Pony stares intently at Bob. Both men find support in the wife of the other who both desperately scramble to understand their own husbands. Its structure lets the play breathe even while seeming to tie itself into ever more complicated knots. The mirrors symbolise these two similar couples and the cardboard boxes that represent tables, cabinets and various household furniture perhaps symbolise the slight sense of impermanence that living with a disease provides. The future is as solid as a box provides.

Director Simon Evan’s production keeps the words at its centre. There is very little physical intimacy between the pairs, everyone keeping everything at bay, only through language, so that when a hug finally arrives it feels momentous. The last scene where the two couples lazily stroke arms, leave hands absent-mindedly on legs is riveting simply because we have been denied it before. It’s a brave decision, one that does leave the work feeling chilly for a substantial amount of its 105 minute playing time but one that does just about justify itself by it’s close, mostly helped by its strong quartet. 


This is another work from the Ustinov that features a feast of great acting. Laskey and Johnson are two sides of one illness, Laskey spinning into ever more webs as the illness takes hold while Johnson provides the heaviness of one who has lived with the illness for longer. As the two women, Foster and Small show the loneliness which living with a partner with illness can induce. Foster’s wide beam mask can’t help mask the tears rolling down her cheek while Small’s reaction to potentially being propositioned at the supermarket-as she tries to work out if she is being mocked or offered one final chance of something different- is worth the price of admission alone.

There is a sadness behind the sitcom-like deadpan that keeps its audience gripped while still holding it one step removed. Like much of the work here, you find yourself more impressed with it the longer you let it stew rather than necessarily in the space. Yet with Deborah Warner, all set to walk into the job come the Autumn there still feels like no other venue that challenges and enriches its audiences so much.

Romantics Anonymous- Bristol Old Vic ☆☆☆☆☆

romantics

For all of us that have fallen, hook, line and sinker for theatre our earliest memories of theatre are likely attached to those of great joy. For all the shows that play tricks with our minds; breaks our hearts or sends us into the grips of great Beckettian existentialism; it is the palpitations of joy that brought us originally to worship at the sacred altar of the religion we call theatre. Which is why Emma Rice is so palpably an artist to treasure: there is no one currently working in British theatre that views her position as bringing joy to the masses as much as the former artistic director of Kneehigh and The Globe. If her unceremonial firing from the Globe left a sour taste, thank God it allowed her to bring her artistic talents back to Bristol where her company Wise Children is based. If the Board of Directors could have seen a show as unrivalled in beauty as Romantics Anonymous (which originally opened at the Sam Wannamaker) and thought to remove her from her post was a good idea, you do have to wonder, exactly what it is that they were smoking. Bristol is its only UK dates before transferring to the States, though one expects that it will have a hefty run in the capital by the end of the year.

 

Adapted from the 2010 French film Les Emotifs Anonymes, its main narrative follows two socially awkward souls, chocolate factory owner Jean-Renoir and master chocolatier Angelique, both more comfortable behind the public-facing door than in the company of others, who find love and potentially the chance of happiness with each other when the opportunity to save a failing business comes there way. What Rice has always done excellently is accept and find the best of people on their own terms (think of the bird-watching chorus of Tristan and Yseult breaking hearts). There is no Damascus moment here, no moment when the two find the confidence to speak out; instead, it embraces the need and beauty for both extroverts and introverts; that accepting and being accepted on your own terms is more important than changing the fundamental element of your DNA.

 

It helps that Marc Antolin and Carly Bawden invest these characters with such charm and awkward elegance. This is a rare rom-com where you feel you can root for each character equally. Antolin makes us understand the pressures heaped on his shoulders by a risk-averse deceased Papa, soaking his way through shirts when under pressure and questioning why he has a chance of bringing anyone happiness. Bawden brings the smooth texture of the best chocolate but shows the true pain of anyone who finds in the bad behaviour of anyone else a reason to believe she isn’t enough. This is romance as it truly is, not out of a fairy tale; when Angelique is told that Jean-Renoir is the man who provides the least risk of failure, it is an acceptance of a reality that social anxiety really can be enough to shoot down in flames a sure-fire thing.

 

Rice’s staging is full of her customary exuberance from the terrific Gareth Snook using every inch of the King Street stage to dance joyfully around to a finale where the lovers literally walk on air. It’s a production that reminds me most of her The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a show that I adored and was met elsewhere with a rather customary Gallic shrug. Thankfully, the same can’t be said of the rapturous reviews that have met this one. Perhaps it lacks that killer bankable tune that would send it into musical theatre nirvana but that hardly matters in a show where love, joy and life’s imperfections all merge to make the perfect recipe. C’est Magnifique. Cinq stars!

 

Romantics Anonymous plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 1 February

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire- Marble Factory ☆☆☆☆

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Pantomime season may be rolling to a close, but a new decade starts with a bang with Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire, pushing audience interaction to another level entirely. There is no ‘he’s behind you’ here, instead, the audience is expected to give the full-blooded belt to a range of karaoke classics. Indeed, we are having too much of a good time to be paying much attention to the bloody power plays that sends Mr Ubu and his wife Mrs Ubu to the top of the food chain. When the world is going to hell in a handcart, we might as well party to wade off the impending catastrophe. Sound familiar?

 

Kneehigh has always managed to make theatre feel populist; like a proper rollicking alternative to the latest Marvel blockbuster, or Champions League tie; the international sensations who have run further than anyone in modern drama to hark back to the tenets of John McGrath or Joan Littlewood. Yet, within oodles of fun, the serious point lies just underneath the surface. It is in the admonishment of the audience of how easily they are prepared to go to war, one side against another, with no real idea why they are spraying artillery fire against those who minutes earlier they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with. It is there in its closing moments when an audience in unison point their fingers and sing Lou Read’s haunting lyrics ‘You’re Going to reap what you sow’ and absolve their sins in an instance of pack mentality. In an era where more and more of us want to take responsibility for the future well being of our planet, it is a stern reminder that it does not take much for us to fall happily back into the pack. There is an intellectual rigorousness constantly prodding beneath the fun.

 

Carl Grose has provided an adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu trilogy that so scandalised the theatre community at the tail end of the 19th century. It inevitably perhaps cannot produce the depth of feeling that the original did, which incited its audience to riot, but it manages to stay fairly faithful to the original in its use of the scatological obsessed Ubu’s, who find ever-increasing metaphors to describe their genitals and appear to blunder their way to power before in-fighting and vanity soon sees the downfall of these power-obsessed megalomaniacs. As the programme notes observe, any reference to those currently in power is very much intentional. One can only hope that those who currently hold the top offices find themselves similarly the cause of their downfall.

 

As Mr Ubu, Katy Owens is a mass of blonde mop and wiry self-importance, puffed up to the max with a toxic masculinity. Owens’ has been a true standout over the past few years, most recently in Emma Rice’s Wise Children and it is terrific to see her hold the stage as she does here. Her Welsh inflexion gives a lyricalness to all that she delivers, even as she up’s the ante in a desperate attempt to hold the crown. Her version of My Way descends into a punk rejection of learning any lessons from history; a legacy that Jarry predicted and saw come to pass with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Ceausescu burn and slaughter their way through the 20th century. As his wife, Mike Shepherd (who also co-directs with Grose) finds a playful and then touching vein as the women who finds her agency ignored for too long.

 

The songs range from the aforementioned Reid to Britney Spears, Elton John to The Sex Pistols with a bit of Pharrell Williams to boot. Led by the brilliant Nendi Bhebhe and the house band The Sweaty Bureaucrats it’s a playlist designed to play well for an up for it Friday night crowd. Admittedly the whole evening loses a bit of momentum in a show that could do with a 20 minute trim and sometimes it does fall into a bit of self-indulgence but that is par for the course with a Kneehigh piece and can be easily forgiven in a night that provides terrific entertainment. In the long, dull January stretch, Kneehigh will take you straight to hell in the most rollicking of ways.

A Christmas Carol- Bristol Old Vic ☆☆☆☆

A Christmas Carol returns to Bristol in style.

It’s best, to begin with, a slight mea culpa. A year ago I took to social media and slammed Bristol Old Vic when they announced A Christmas Carol was coming back a year after its first season. In a small city, with only a couple of options, I thought it was important for the flagship venue to be giving something new to add to the seasonal offerings. But in an almost completely recast production, this Christmas Carol feels like its returning for a homecoming, another Made In Bristol work that can be added to the hall of fame of work created under Tom Morris’ watch.

A year ago I described Felix Hayes performance as Scrooge as one that strode into greatness, a performance that in some ways dwarfed the production as a whole. Stepping into his rather giant shoes John Hopkins is a more vulnerable turn, one who makes you believe that his dreams would haunt him and would be inclined to buy the whole audience a round at the bar as one cheeky punter suggested, even if he lacks the sonorous bass that so hypnotized the theatre last year.
What his slightly less-dominating turn does is allow the merits of the production to take centre stage. And Lee Lyford’s glorious production more than measures up. Its Dickens infused with the gothic imagery of A Grinning Man, a point made even stronger with the casting of Ewan Black, making his return to the city for the first time since he appeared in that masterpiece. Tom Rogers’ set is a world of blacks and greys, that bursts into gloriously ribbon technicolour in a now Bristol Old Vic copywrit coup de theatre.

Gwyneth Herbert’s score drips deeper into the soul on a second listen and the use of children from the audience to inhabit the roles of a young Scrooge and Tiny Tim is inspired. Recent BOVTS graduates Shane David-Joseph and Mofetoluwa Akande both are terrific in their roles, as are other grads George Readshaw and Black, showing that the conveyor belt from school to the theatre is alive and kicking.

It’s a thrilling festive show, one that if I was BOV I’d be looking to cash in and roll out to other regional theatres around the country. Christmas is about familiarity. The return of A Christmas Carol feels right. It allows more of the city to get to see its majesty and has converted me, like Scrooge, from bah-humbug sceptic to floss dancing proselyte.

A Christmas Carol plays at Bristol Old Vic until 12 January 2020.

Snow White- Tobacco Factory Theatres ☆☆☆

Snow White Tobacco Factory ©Mark Dawson Photography

A show both international and with Bristol vibes this Snow White is charming even if it grows ever baggier as it goes along.
A Gallic filled Beauty and The Beast. A Baltic tinged Snow White. As the country prepares to go to the polls, in an election mostly driven by Brexit fever, New International Encounters Christmas shows determinedly embrace our European heritage. This is a Snow White bang up to date, with its talks of walls and quotas, veganism and activism, it’s the most Stokes Croft show you’ll see this festive season. Alex Byrne’s production rolls along nicely harking closely to the original Brothers Grimms narrative and propelled by Joey Hickman’s sensational melodic score. If its second half becomes a little baggy and repetitive there is still plenty of charm here, though its a show that may appeal to the adults in the audience more than the children.

Call it the Wicked effect but shows have realised their interest lies mostly in the villain. Stefanie Mueller’s (who pulls double duty as show designer as well) Queen is the central turn of the evening, resembling Helen Mirren in a shimmering black nightdress, she is the fox whose best days are coming to an end. As the magic mirror proclaims Snow White on her seventeenth birthday as the fairest in the land, Mueller unleashes a howl of agony, through blues-inflected song, of a woman who feels she has lost her power through her fading glamour. This villains motive is clear to see, a woman who feels she is losing her agency through every passing year. If she is going to milk every song, every line, it is because she fears to draw breath in case the world moves on again in the silence.
As Snow White, Jodie Davey doesn’t push too much into cloying Disney princess. Her physicality and facial expressions convey gawky teenage awkwardness softening into a young women’s beauty. Abayomi Oniyide gives the hunter who doesn’t stop looking for his childhood friend some genuine heart.
There are no dwarves here, simply a numerical confused commune, who have turned their forest-dwelling, using the Tobacco Factory pillars and some ragged rugs into something of a festival gathering. If the second-half runs out of steam (turns out Snow White has more lives then Jason Voorhees) Rina Vergano’s and Mike Tweddle’s script is always good-natured enough to keep its audience on side.
There is nothing as crowd-pleasing here as the first dates scene from Beauty and The Beast but it provides a constant stream of light chuckles and playful family entertainment. A show that feels both very Bristol and international in the same tonic. A soothing balm in our troubled times.

Beauty and The Beast plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 19 January 2020

The Snow Queen- Redgrave Theatre ☆☆☆☆


The Snow Queen may not be as familiar a Christmas tale as many (at least until Frozen came along and changed all that) but it is easy to see why theatre’s latch onto it for their Christmas extravaganza. A tale of adventure, memorable villains and multiple exotic locations, it allows plenty of comedic moments in among the lessons learnt and (mild) scares. The last production to hit Bristol was Lee Lydford’s disappointingly over-complicated take for Bristol Old Vic that gave lots of spectacle but little narrative thrust. Safe to say BOVTS production of Theresa Heskins adaptation is a much more solid bet, particularly in the riotous actor-muso production Paul Clarkson brings.

He starts as he means to go on, with the first trilling on skates since Andrew Lloyd Webber chose to make locomotives musical stars. It’s a prologue not encountered in the original text but gets to the heart of the piece, Rory Alexander’s tongue-tied Soren charming Heloise Lowenthal’s, sweet Karen. But when the ice cracks on Bronia Houseman’s suitably wintry set, tragedy befalls them and Lowenthal is soon transformed into the icy Queen, demonstrating a powerful singing voice that reverberates around the Redgrave. In providing a tragic motivation, the pain behind her machinations is given a much sharper focus, allowing us to view two characters lost from their soul mates and trying to call them back.
As the other half of the equation, Jo Patmore gives Gerda an inquisitive nature with a bit of Blyton spark and a whole lot of drummer showmanship determined to find her best friend Kai no matter what the cost. Ashley Woodhouse gives him a gawky, endearing quality, Housman’s costumes demonstrating a boy growing quicker than his clothes can contain him.
It is in truth all a little episodic, from Gerda being lured into a flowery nirvana, which looks to ensnared her for life, to a gang of outlaws squabbling that leads to the mother of all punch ups! Clarkson punctuates each of these with gleeful joy, his productions always imbued with a sense of the populist. Chanel Waddock is the embodiment of this within her numerous ensemble roles, bringing a keen sense of Commedia to each.
Clarkson brings it all to a close with a magicians dash as time is turned and events of the last two hours whirl backwards. What is a Christmas show without a happy ending and here Haskins ensures we get two. As the cast break into their customary Christmas medley, it is impossible not to feel the holiday spirit wash all over you.