Category Archives: Theatre

Why you dont need to be a tweed wearing old boy to review Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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Gemma responds to Danielle Tarento’s comments about online criticism

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2016/danielle-tarento-unpaid-bloggers-often-lack-intellectual-background-to-write-theatre-reviews/

Theatre is not about how much you know, who you know or what else you’ve seen. Your reaction to theatre as an art form, as entertainment is deeply personal and unique. For many of us…you know, the other 55m of us who live outside London; the closest we get to watching theatre is on an annual trip to the Christmas Panto (ah, those precious memories of Park and Dare in Treorchy are still alive and well!).

Danielle Tarento thinks that anyone without ‘an intellectual or historical background’ shouldn’t have the honour of reviewing theatre. This is a shockingly elitist and classist viewpoint. If marginalised and under-represented groups and communities didn’t feel excluded and ‘un-entitled’ enough to enjoy theatre and possibly feel inspired to write about it before, Tarento takes us back to the ‘good old days’. Those days when theatre could only be written about by a privileged, privately educated few…and you’d have to buy the broadsheets of course (old chap) to read about it.

Are full-time critics even relevant any more? Surely critics are facing the same fate of the old journo hack typing away at ‘his’ typewriter. A dying breed in the traditional sense. As I’m sure many journalism graduates will attest to – ‘journalists’ are two-a-penny now and anyone with something to say can publish, blog, become an interest sensation or develop an on-line following. Does this represent a threat to the written word, the demise of polished prose or the end of intellectual debate? Far from it. Journalism and the meteoric rise and reach of social media platforms has resulted in the diversification and democratisation of knowledge. It has opened up opportunities to engage with others, to share and to debate, even to participate in art, theatre and film remotely. It has become a lifeline for the isolated and the hard-to-reach, those who lack the funds to catch a cab to the West End on a Saturday night and get paid (handsomely) to do so. ‘Un-cultured amateurs’ will happily spend their last £12 on a cheap seat at a show and beg a family member to drive them 35 miles to get there. They’ll scrimp and save for those chances to just be in the audience and share in the magic. What is there to be gained in creating divisions and driving wedges between audiences and full-time critics, anyway? We are all part of the conversation and we all have something equal to say – and that is to be celebrated.

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Gemma at Disney’s Mickey Mouse show at the Wales Millennium Centre

Tarento may be right that ‘two-a-penny’ community/amateur critics don’t have the full knowledge of the art-form, but it is precisely this reason that makes these reviews worth reading. Amateur critics are not out to impress people with their fantastic knowledge or their rich CV of experience, they are responding to theatre in a pure, untainted way. They are only what they feel. Theatre directors and practitioners take their cues from audience response as well as critics…and some take no cues from critics at all. Amateur critics represent the audience, while critics represent…well, something else entirely! They are paid to watch theatre and produce an entertaining article they should be out of their nit-picking. London-based theatre critics are viewing theatre from a narrow prism of opportunity and life chances. Most of us out here in the real word are the true theatre champions, the enthusiasts, the geeks, the am-dram community. We love theatre because of what it brings us on a personal level – warmth, inclusion, memories, escapism, a deeply moving experience that we want to re-live over and over again because we love it, not because we are paid to write about it. The days of the tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, hoity-toity critics peering over their horn-rimmed spectacles are over…and they know it. As for you, Tarento I’ll see you not in court….but in the theatre (darling!).

All of the contributors for Get the Chance are volunteers. They attend activity and review in their own free time. They are all part of the Spice Time Credit network and receive one Time Credit for every hour of volunteering.

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Review Origins – Animikii Theatre by Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In this darkened room at the bottom of the Southbank Centre, an intimate setting with a small audience feels like a secret space for a spiritual group.  4 poles lit up, one with a hooded robe draped on it and boxes that remind me of some form of religious set, there’s a serious feel to the atmosphere, cleverly set by this staging and lighting that we are made to feel anxious for the performance to commence.

A physical theatre piece, the biblical story of Abel and Cain is the premise for this beautiful piece of work. For those unknown to the story, as I was myself, these two brothers are the direct descendants of Adam and Eve. Eventually, Cain murders his brother Abel which is unclear in the bible as to why. Many have understood it as it was through jealousy and envy in God’s attention to Abel and not Cain. Unfamiliar to this story, a piece made of physicality and sounds and no speech, Animikii Theatre did a fantastic job in telling the story.

We are introduced to these shirtless characters, who play with one another using the space to give the initial build-up of the brotherly connection. Using laughter, sounds and imitation of actions through avant garde physical metaphors, the audience giggle along with the almost caveman-like attitudes and relationship. This is all set in the concept of Cain’s memory – switching from fun memory and obvious timeline of events, to Cain’s switch into turmoil at this reminiscence.

The movement and choreography of the piece brings us into mystical interpretation of what leads to Cain’s mental destruction. A wonderful dreamlike state, Abel’s loveable and fun character turns into a devil like character in a red robe, who tricks Cain into false sense of securities. It’s unclear who this character is until we return to ‘reality’. The performers do well to switch from positive to negative, to evil to innocent and while we know the final out come from the initial physical summary at the beginning, it is still a shock.

The lighting in this dark room is versatile, and while we should base physical theatre pieces of the movement, the contouring of the body and interpretation, the lighting plan highlights the men’s bodies in these states to render us in awe at their physical abilities.

Origins creates the right atmosphere and does well to use physicality and sound to bring this ancient story to life.  We are pulled into the biblical story without a feeling that we are being forced religion upon us.  We relate to the relationships and actions which is in your face but not negatively.

Interview Liz May A personal introduction to BSL for live performance

Here is a short BSL video from BSL Interpreter Liz May.

A written version is available below.

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Hi my name is Liz May

I am a Sign Language Interpreter. What I love most is Theatre interpreting.

What we do and the process of this work is, we watch the rehearsals, their characters, what they are like and get a grip on what makes them their character. And what I am doing will then match the characters on stage.

At the moment tonight and today I am in Chapter in Cardiff interpreting a play called Belonging

It’s really interesting, its lovely to see that there is more access coming in now.

I regularly interpret in different theatres some in Newport some in Cardiff. That’s what we do!

http://southwalesinterpreters.co.uk/interpreters-rsli.html

Interview Alastair Sill A personal introduction to Audio Description for Theatre

Our project coordinator recently spoke to Alastair Sill who provides Audio Description for a range of theatre companies in Wales.

Hi Alastair, can you tell me how you got involved in your area in the arts?

 After finishing my degree in English, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to be involved in drama. I started writing to a few theatres across the country and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry was one of the theatres I contacted. It just so happened they were looking for a marketing assistant to train up, so I went along and was lucky enough to get the role. I was a general marketing assistant so distributing posters, general office support etc, which was fine. Whilst there I was chatting to a colleague about other roles available in the theatre. She mentioned that she was involved in Audio Description and would I like to come and have a listen to it and see what I thought? I said yes and went along. At the time Audio Description was a voluntary service so there would have been about 6 audience members who were interested, this must have been about 15 years ago, things have changed since then. After meeting everyone I was keen to get involved, in-house training was provided by a member of the Audio Description Association. I enjoyed the training but was really interested in acting and applied and managed to get a place on the drama degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and completed this course in 2003.

http://audiodescription.co.uk

After qualifying I saw an advert for a training course in Audio Description at the Soho Theatre in London. Which I applied for and got accepted. The final exam was to AD a Christmas show at the Soho Theatre, which was the Big Bad Book by Lauren Child, which as you can imagine was very nerve wracking. The production was brilliant with lots of animation and live performance. It was difficult to capture in AD the style of the animation in the show but it went well and I passed the course. I continued to develop my acting career but the AD started to drip-feed into my work, mainly through friends based in Cardiff. who had their own theatre companies. I think one of the first productions I provided AD for in Cardiff did was at The Sherman Theatre called The Minotaur in Me by Paul Whittaker. The Sherman then asked if I could do the Christmas shows and then a few more shows a Sherman.

So how did you employment as an Audio Describer develop from there?

 I then went to work at the Torch Theatre. Peter Doran the Artistic Director said they had accessed some additional funding to provide moreAD for their productions so I spent an autumn season there, which was really nice. I provided AD for a Christmas show and a play called Accidental Death of an Anarchist, by Dario Fo the play is a farce. That was a challenging piece for me to AD as it was difficult to keep up with the timings. When you are describing different types of theatre you have to change the AD to fit appropriately.

I wonder if you would mind explaining your actual process when you are asked to Audio Describe a production?

 I spend quite a long time with the work; firstly I go and watch the play, with the audience. Then I come back again and read the script and often watch it from the audio description booth, which is the space I am usually in when providing AD for a production. I make notes on the script, pauses in the dialogue and perhaps the facial gestures of the cast. It’s important to note relationships between the characters and how lighting helps to tell the story. Then I come back again and watch it for a third time and will often have been given a video recording by the theatre or production company. This helps to really focus on what I need to be prioritising when providing AD. I can pause and rewind, which you can’t, do in real life! In total this process can take about 5 days to a week.

Could talk a little about your actual approach to live AD during a production?

OK so most importantly you cant talk over what’s happening on stage! This means you might create a sentence that you think describes perfectly what’s happening on but then when the actors are performing you might not be able to find the gap. This means you have to condense everything down to tell the story. This can be difficult as there are often lots of different things happening at the same time. You have to try and focus the AD down to the essential elements that convey what’s happening on stage and are most important for the audience.

There are moments when there might be a pause or a silence and the AD disrupting this can spoil this silence and the drama of the moment. Essentially AD is about choosing when to talk and not to talk! The AD audience and non-AD audience share the same space and the same moment in time, you have to feel what’s happening on stage. When it works, you feel connected to the world on stage; it’s a strange sensation as though you are on stage with actors.

Then there are also moments which frustrate me and I am not alive to the situation and I speak over what the actors are saying and that annoys me as I want it to be as good as it can be. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and get too descriptive. There is only so much information the audience can assimilate in their heads. It’s really important to get to know your audience.

So what companies in Wales have you been working with most recently?

I have worked with new writing company Dirty Protest on the play Parallel Lines written by Katherine Chandler and directed by Catherine Paskell. Catherine and the team were very helpful. Everyone was interested in the AD provision, I was aware it was a piece of new writing and felt a responsibility to describe it correctly. I spent quite a long time in rehearsals which was beneficial to the final AD for the production and also provided AD in a variety of venues when the show went on tour.

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Alastair providing AD for Taking Flights production of A Winters Tale

I have also worked with Taking Fight Inclusive Theatre Company as a cast member and provided AD. Taking Flight often perform outside for their production of ‘A Winters Tale’ I played a character who was sort of the court audio describer and I was referenced during the play by the cast and was visible to the audience, which I am usually not. There were moments during the production when I would provide live AD with a microphone to an audience who are using headsets and then moments when I would speak directly to the entire audience That was really great to be able to integrate AD in this way.

I have recently just started to AD dance, for a production called Jem and Ella. I am developing my dance vocabulary and getting working on getting the emotional feeling across as much as the technical vocabulary. I had a lot of support from Jem Treays and his daughter Ella who are the performers in the piece. They helped me develop my vocabulary to AD the movement in the show, I found Rudolf Laban’s quality of descriptive movement helpful as well.

As you mentioned AD provision is becoming increasingly common, more creative use is being made of artists working in this field. What do you personally think the future might hold?

 Well in Wales there are more companies and venues supporting the provision, which is great. Some venues really support AD well but I think it needs to start from the top down. Awareness of audiences need to start from that initial entrance to the venue and meeting the Front of House staff right through to the actual performance, inclusion should be the norm. Venues often don’t know when someone blind is attending so if possible they should aim to have an inclusive attitude for every show.

Personally I am interested in creating my work with AD at the heart. Also I am not aware of anyone that provides AD in the Welsh Language in Wales and wonder if that is something that could be supported in the future?

Next up I am providing AD for Theatr Fynnon for a production called Pupa, which will be performed at Chapter Arts Centre on Friday 20 May – Saturday 21 May. Then National Theatre Wales and a production called Before I Leave at the Sherman Theatre. I think the AD for that production is on Saturday the 11th of June at 2.30 pm. I am also working with Hijnx Theatre Company and their Unity Festival. And of course Taking Flight who are performing Romeo and Juliet this summer.

Many thanks for your time Alastair.

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Alastair recently took part in a charity bike ride to raise funds for Taking Flights summer performance of Romeo and Juliet.

You can catch Alastair providing AD at the following performances below.

http://www.chapter.org/theatr-ffynnon-present-pupa

http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/performance/music/before-i-leave/

http://www.hijinx.org.uk/unity/

http://www.takingflighttheatre.co.uk/romeo-juliet/

Review Belonging Re-Live Theatre by Helen Joy

Belonging

Review from a 3rd Act Critic and Older People’s Involvement Worker

“Feeling Affected, in a Good Way”

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s sold out.

Gently twanging music plays around the warm space as we settle into our seats. I am sitting between the usher and two women from the Wales Arts Council. We introduce ourselves and look down on the audience – average age, maybe 35? Surprising. And I am pleased.

The stage is dimly lit and we can see a wooden room – a staircase, bookshelves, television and pictures, a small lamp on a side table. Simple. It is a home, someone’s home with the usual vase of dried flowers gathering dust and memories to one side.

I have been warned. It is a tear jerker. Ah but it will be bread and butter to me, apparently. It won’t touch me – it’s my job.

It is two stories – a mother and her children; and a long married couple. It is a small cast scampering through complicated emotions, making us believe they are different people at different times even when they are the same person by name. From the start, I am transfixed by their abilities and follow their journeys with some fear and some hope. But only some hope – I am convinced this play will go the way of most – a depressing indictment of dementia and social services.

It does make a few political points about services – unnecessary, I feel – please do not tell me what to think; I have been there, you know. I am here for a play about belonging.

And this they do well. The stories duly plunge into confusion, misery, loss and anger with moments of utter hopelessness. But they hold on.

Through scenes of stress-driven tragedy we join in their epiphanies and cariad, we move on. My tears – and I am not alone, all around me people gently wipe their faces – are now for joy. The future is ok. These remarkable characters are safe somehow.

Does this play glorify dementia and its impact? Most definitely not. Does it give false hope? No. Does it give some sense that people experiencing dementia are lessened by it? No.

Practitioners should see this work – it offers an oriel onto the legitimate feelings of everyone affected by this disease and its different forms.

We are always being told how we should behave, what we should and shouldn’t say and do around people experiencing dementia.. but we are all human, with all the complexities that brings; and this play shows us that that is ok too.

Huge applause and the usher steps aside. We nod to each other and I leave the dark womb of the theatre.

Cat, apple, sausage – we are all checking our memory function and checking our tears as we wander into the light outside.

ReLive H Joy

Event:                      Belonging

At:                             Chapter Arts Centre

Playwright:          Karin Diamond

Director:               Peter Doran

Theatre:                Re-Live Theatre

Seen:                      2pm, 6 May, 2016

Reviewer:           Helen Joy for 3rd Act Critics

Running:              May 2nd – 7th 2016, May 2nd – 7.30pm, BSL May 3rd                                                                         6th – 2pm, 7.30pm daily

Links:               http://www.re-live.org.uk/belonging/

 

Review Cyprus Avenue The Royal Court by Hannah Goslin

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We enter a small but perfectly formed room with a low level traverse stage. Completely white and clinical there is nothing in the room but the audience areas and 2 chairs in one corner of the square carpeted staging, and one chair diagonally in the other with a small table containing a jug of water and a glass. Very minimalist, the area is open to the unfolding of absolutely anything.

Based in Belfast, we meet Eric played by Stephen Rea who is well known for recent television programmes such as War and Peace and Dickensian, and his counsellor Bridget played by Wunmi Mosaku, who sit the furthest opposite each other as they can be. The story unfolds from the point of view of Eric reminiscing past events that have lead him to this current situation. We begin with the simple sense that the man needs help and this is all it is. As the hour or so passes, his insanity becomes even more palpable and chaotic leading to actions and events that are dark and for the audience, shocking.

The play cleverly plays on cultural, emotional, political and religious identity. The main concept is of the Catholic and Protestant war and prejudice in Ireland. Eric representing the North consistently professes that he doesn’t hate Catholics or the South, yet his rants and racist wordings express otherwise. Cleverly, the use of a black character in the counsellor highlights the sheer ridiculous nature of Eric in feeling these ways – unintentionally relating to African and black culture in a racist manner, the counsellor turns this around to show that there is no difference in cultures if they were to go simply by his description. With the state of theatre at the moment looking into the diversity of actors, Wunmi Mosaku’s character has the most brilliant line noting that she is not African, she is British. Being born and bred in Britain, this is her identity and this, intentionally or not, pokes attention to the current theatrical world and its lack of diversity and the absurdity of this. Just as Eric is Irish despite being in the North, and Mosaku’s Character Bridget is British and not African, the casting of characters should be based on their talent and not based on their race, ability, gender or orientation. It is no one’s business what you are, but what you can bring to the table, which Bridget points out is wrong with Eric’s stereotypical view of the world.

The writing of the play is so intelligent, that a lot of comedy comes from the irony of the situations but along with the actor’s brilliant portrayal, the sense of timing and take on the words makes the majority of the production extremely funny.

This is what makes the slow building crescendo even more shocking. Eric’s mental state deteriorates more and more over the hour to lead to a huge case of seeing red and committing horrendous atrocities. The well-constructed violence in production is so realistic that writing this review and remembering this still makes me queasy. The once white and clinical staging becomes messy with mud, items thrown across the carpet and blood leaking from the floor. Symbolising Eric’s mind, his once innocence is tainted and becomes very dark and messy. While slowly building and pushing you into a sense of false security with the comedy, the ending where chaos ensures but suddenly stops, returning to where we began in Eric’s retelling of the story. We are left shocked and amazed at this story, on this stage, at this moment in time and the beautiful performances by the actors in this production.

Looking around the audience, not one single person looks relaxed as if their thoughts of the story presented on stage had still to be resolved. Being left vulnerable as an audience and to change preconceptions is quite a skill, Cyprus Avenue written by David Ireland and directed by Vicky Featherstone achieves this beautifully, disturbingly and intelligently.

Review X The Royal Court by Hannah Goslin

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The stage is white, clean and leaning downwards towards us. As the ‘curtain’ which is more of what looks like the outside of a ship is lifted, the staging continues this colour scheme but is constructed with a huge crack in the middle. Are we in a submarine? The large window where nothing can be seen could be a more futuristic decoration to the current submarine style, a large ladder to the side of the stage into the ceiling makes you feel as if you are under something. And the stage is silent. The two characters mill around, looking quite anxious, Jessica Raine’s (known for her debut in Call the Midwife on the BBC) looking the most intense, munching nervously on dry cereal. So many questions arise as the characters begin to talk, and you find yourself becoming as anxious as them as you are unsure what they are talking about, without any previous knowledge of events.

As we begin to understand the premise, X (written by Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone) is the story of an abandoned space team with no communication to a future concept of Earth. The world has begun to die, food is made in labs as animals and plant life are long extinct. Technology has long taken over from tangible things and the use of an older character reminiscing this in comparison to a younger generation pointing out the more technologically advanced versions hits home to how we are slowly becoming like this existence. X looks intently at the sense of time – how closely we rely on morning, noon and night, how our bodies unknowingly rely on this and how this can affect us. The combination of all of these elements shows the slow deterioration of the characters sanity, with clever back and forth scene changes from the past to the current. We’re never really sure which is which, along with being consistently plunged into darkness for a scene change, we feel anxious and lack a sense of time ourselves. The production very intelligently brings us into the action this way and makes you as confused as the characters.

Soon there is a very Sci-Fi horror take on the production. The story telling of seeing a girl with an X cut across her face, movement and sounds in areas of the ship and outside that are impossible and the interaction with characters that apparently do not exist. It feels like a Doctor Who episode, with a little less comedy and more adult themes. The same use of black outs, the violence and gory scenes throw at you push you into the situation and characters feelings; the actors using their abilities to consistently be in this state, it is a real testament to them that the constant confusion and high intensity anxiousness doesn’t leave them just as insane after the production has finished. As I was sat on the edge of a row, the darkness and non-rhythmic music made me feel vulnerable, half expecting for lights to flick on quickly and find some scary alien like character staring at me from the aisle.

Ending the production, the scenes leading up to this are emotional, fast paced, almost uncomfortable. X is so brilliant with doing this, that the calm ending where Raine’s character once left alone, has a daughter who continues the abandoned life in this space hub, seems unfinished. While in a way it is resolved and gives us the chance to calm down, it makes you wonder what putting us in such fearful situations was for. However, this is answered with the sense of loneliness, the loss of the sense of time, the emotional and intensity of the production; nothing is resolved. We still are left not knowingly what happens to this space hub.

X is beautiful, yet scary, evoking a rollercoaster of emotions and to be able to combine such opposite elements is a testament to the production, the actors and the writing. Going home, it certainly makes you think: What will we become?

Review NT Connections Sherman Cymru by Lois Arcari

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NT Connections is an annual festival which develops strong links with young talent, raising the profile and awareness of youth theatre companies and their members. The three day festival, which took place at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff (only one of which I was privileged enough to attend) was packed full of short productions such as Simon Armitage’s Eclipse, presented by the Everyman Youth Theatre and Lucinda Coxon’s What are They Like, performed by West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company.

Although I could only catch two of the nine productions featured in the festival; the diversity of plays and the thorough rehearsal of their excellent young casts was evident in both.

During the day there was also opportunities to participate in an extensive range of workshops. These workshops really made the atmosphere of a creative buzz and talent checking even further heightened. Some generally constructive such as an insight into review writing workshop with critic Jafar Iqbal of the Western Mail, others shedding light into current issues in the arts such as inclusivity. A particular highlight for attendants was the one off workshop from playwright Matthew Bulgo.

It was a great opportunity for bolstering support of local Welsh talent, and its place in the Sherman’s packed catalogue cements its place as one of the most active theatres in Wales .The venue doing all it can to heighten not only its already well regarded profile, but that of fresh talent and Welsh arts. Seeing new talent in a space evidently very invested in the future of theatre with so much packed into its tight schedule seems a must for anyone interested in looking out for the future landscape of Welsh Theatre.

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http://connections.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Review Funny Girl The Savoy Theatre by Julie Owen-Moylan

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When most people think of Funny Girl it is probably inevitable that they think of Barbra Streisand who played musical comedy star Fanny Brice in the Broadway Production of 1964 and went on to win an oscar for the movie of the same name. Songs such as ‘People’ and ‘Rain On My Parade’ are so synonymous with Streisand, that I wondered whether the new Funny Girl revival, that has recently transferred to the beautiful Art Deco surroundings of the Savoy Theatre in London, would suffer in comparison.

My only experience of Sheridan Smith was as a television actress notably in Mrs Biggs, Gavin and Stacey and of course playing Cilla Black. Having watched her playing Cilla I knew that she could sing but there is singing on television and there is commanding a stage. I need not have worried. From the moment Sheridan takes the stage, she is Fanny Brice. It would be understandable to have an actress offer up a performance of Streisand’s interpretation of Fanny Brice but Smith doesn’t do this. Funny Girl is taken back to its Broadway roots. It is Brice’s story, albeit a somewhat fictional account of her rise to fame and subsequent marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein, played with a delicate light and shade from Darius Campbell. Yes, it is he of Pop Idol fame.

Darius delivers a very strong performance but the stage belongs to Sheridan Smith. I have rarely seen an actress so totally inhabit a character in musical theatre. From her walk, her superb comic timing and her delivery of each song, Sheridan does not miss a beat. She is actually so good that you barely notice the rest of the cast and they deserve to be noticed for they are truly excellent, particularly Marilyn Cutts who plays Fanny’s mother and Joel Montague who plays Eddie.

The musical itself is a game of two halves as the first half is the thrill of the chase, Fanny chasing fame and Nick Arnstein. A riotous and joyful ride of delicious comedy and gorgeous songs stunningly delivered. The second half of the show centres on the breakdown of her marriage and is tender and poignant but lacks the punch of the opening act. The staging is smart, suggesting hints of Vaudeville, a Brooklyn tenement and the opulence of the Ziegfeld Follies without using much more than costumes and some clever movements across the stage. The whole show is carried beautifully by a stunning central performance as Sheridan Smith is one of those stage performers that the audience loves from the minute she sets foot on that stage to the final lung busting notes. The standing ovation was immediate and heartfelt. I would heartily recommend Funny Girl. Sheridan Smith is a special talent on a stage and that is not to be missed.

Review Hand to God Vaudville Theatre by Hannah Goslin

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One of the most anticipated shows in the West End, Hand to God is an unusual play using the combination of live actors and puppetry. A fully adult play, and not for anyone with a sensitive side to the taboo, Hand to God’s description sounds an awful lot like Avenue Q and this is possibly a comparison they have encountered many a time.

As one who has not seen Avenue Q but fully aware of its popularity, this production produces all the elements that makes it not only different but wildly adventurous.

Based in America in what would seem as the Bible Belt, the premise of the play is a combination of characters who all are a little strange to say the least. Based in the basement of a Lutheran church, Margery runs a puppetry class aimed to bring the idea of God to teenagers. Margery’s husband recently died of a heart attack and it soon becomes evident that this is her coping mechanism. Among the class is her son Jason – our main character who also uses this class as a way to help with his grief; his interest in puppetry becomes evident with his developed sock puppet, both in the making and in the performing. Other characters who fail to be up to his standard in puppetry are a sweet and naive young girl Jessica and a troublesome boy Timothy who is in love with Margery. We have Pastor Greg, a kind soul who plays the God loving stereotype which makes the comedy all the more better when this character is purposely broken. And finally, while not real life character but especially important, Tyrone our main puppet. He is filthy, angry, hilarious and seemingly possessed by the ‘devil’.

While filled with comedy, the play aims to make controversial points about religion and the how and whys of how it has come into life. It points out the good and bad of feelings, thoughts and actions and how these have been developed with a book of stories and omnipotent ‘characters’. This however is challenged by what would seem is a possessed puppet with its own mind and control over Jason. Not only scary, the scripting and premise borderlines, a horror film and The Muppets.

Harry Melling, best known as Harry Potter’s cousin in the movie series, is an incredible performer. As one who admires puppetry as an art form and performance technique, Melling’s execution of Tyrone is astounding and impressive. Somehow he manages to bring every emotion, every thought process and the controlling nature of the puppet over Jason to life. Changing from Tyrone to Jason, he easily and very quickly is able to change his voice, personality, facial features and over all characterisation from one to the other with no falter. In this, you soon are lost in the two characters he portrays and find yourself looking at the puppet as another actor.

Full of sex, language, comedy and a funny two fingers to religion, Hand to God is a fun loving and clever production which without the skills and execution of the actors (and puppets) stands out on its own leg to anyone who thought that a live actor/puppet production had been done before. I can tell you, it has not!