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Review, Invasion, Bad Clowns Comedy, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take Men in Black. Set it in England. Add some bumbling comedy buffoons and what do you get? Invasion by Bad Clowns Comedy.

Filmed exclusively for reviewers, Bad Clowns Comedy have nicely given us a good quality recording of their show at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. Filmed with different angles and great sound recording, it is one of the best recordings over the past year of Covid that I have seen.

If you were to imagine Men in Black set and written by the British, this would be it. The character’s fumble around, they’re not sure what they are doing, to some degree it could be seen as a spoof. It reminds me much of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost if they brought their films or even their show, Spaced, to the stage. It reminds me also of when Ant and Dec ventured on the film Alien Autopsy, when the narrative is meant to be spooky and serious, but in true British Comedy style, is a comedy of itself. If Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall decided to make a Sci-Fi theatre show for Bottom, this is what it would be.

Each character has its own flaws – Sam’s character is stars truck by his commanding officer, but lacks common sense and this leads to hilarious errors. Christian is the smarter of the two but exasperated by Sam and still, finds ways to be inadequate as a Special Agent himself. John is the commanding officer, who encompasses both Sam and Christian’s traits, and for sure, should not be a captain – hilariously finding ridiculous ways to stop a bomb, to engage with the set, the characters, the narrative. If this was true life, it would be one hilarious worry.

The three performers bounce off one another and the audience well. When there is the odd mistake or a heckle, they are quick to react and incorporate it into the performance. It only adds to the hilarity. They engage with the audience, using their responses and heckles to incorporate and help the narrative. They address them the entire time and so there is no escape, but makes you feel part of an exclusive club.

Adding multi-media in the form of a large presentation screen, recorded voices with Sci-Fi style orders, they effortlessly pick up on the quintessential elements of known Sci-Fi, from films, tv shows, games as well as British Culture. Some being well known dances that we all followed at school discos, the presentation of pop ups on a computer screen from way back when, with the correct noises and the use of brain control with helmets often seen in Sci-Fi films. It allows us to spot and identify with these parts and shows their intricate research and well written production.

A wonderful part of this production is that they clearly enjoy what they do and are very skilled in improv and going with the flow of the performance. Times where they could corpse or it’s on the verge of this, is still so professionally done and fits… like it was always meant to happen.

Invasion by Bad Clowns, is a hilarious and very British Sci-Fi Comedy production which anyone, whether into this genre or not, would find themselves laughing out loud at.

Review, Miss Margarida’s Way, 5Go Theatre Company, Drayton Arms Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In this small upstairs theatre, we are taken back to childhood and enter the classroom of Miss Margarida.

Based on the original play by Brazilian playwright Roberto Athayde in 1971, the play sees us degraded, bullied, bombarded by two Miss Margarida’s who, are not by any stretch of the imagination, model teachers. There is a sense of oppression, and this is what Athayde had meant for: a satire on the dictatorship in his country, formulating this insistence from an early age in society.

5Go have decided to split the character of Miss Margarida, mirroring one another but in some moments showing some kind of alter-ego; not much different from each other but often one is highly sexually charged, the other much the disciplinarian. There is a lonely school boy on stage – often positioned in previous version within the audience, he takes a small but central role in Miss Margarida’s affections and spite. However, having him on stage but the Miss Margaridas mostly addressing us felt a little disconnected and would have helped the fourth wall break if he sat with us or not be there at all, as majority of the insults were thrown our way, but not his.

Unaware of this play before entering, I did wonder what I would encounter. When 2 hours of insults, of repetition on sexual education, on religion could sound tedious, it was very easy to watch and often provided comical moments, mostly at the audacity and sheer gumption of Miss Margarida and her opinions and views; I imagine, exactly how Athayde intended the play. It flowed smoothly, picking up and becoming hyperreal in moments, making this timeless and appropriate for any era, not just in Brazil in the 1970’s. We feel very under-fire, very spotlighted, sometimes quite literally with lights shined upon us, often something felt with oppression. But it did take some time to change tact, which is perhaps a criticism more of Athayde’s writing than it is of this production.

Miss Margardia’s Way by 5GO is well constructed, delivered well but there are moments of disconnect between audience interaction and the characters as well as taking quite a lot of time to pick up momentum in the narrative.

The Barber of Seville, WNO – Review by Eva Marloes

WNO The Barber of Seville Cast of The Barber of Seville photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

After the long 18-month pause due to the pandemic, the Welsh National Opera comes back with a Barber of Seville that is plagued by odd production choices but ultimately rescued by some strong performances. The WNO rehashes Giles Havergal’s 35-year-old production that has all the action confined into a small compact set to give the impression of a travelling theatre company. The elements of meta-theatre, actors congratulating each other and the ‘special effects’ of wind and thunder performed on stage, are a little too trite. The faded colours and claustrophobic nature of the two-floor set do a disservice to the brilliance and energy of Rossini’s masterpiece. The confined space also impedes the movement of the performers significantly.

Sung in English, the Barber loses its spirit and kick. Nicholas Lester, as Figaro, was disappointing and uncomfortable with a truly awkward English translation by Robert David Macdonald. Nico Darmanin’s Almaviva was also unimpressive. This struggling Barber was rescued by Heather Lowe’s Rosina and Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo, both giving excellent and funny performances. Heather Lowe’s coloratura mezzo soprano is agile and strong. She delivers with confidence a rounded performance. Keel Watson also gave a strong performance as Don Basilio.  

The irrepressible fun and joy of Rossini’s Barber is here constrained. Some strong performances breathe life into the WNO’s Barber and give the audience a pleasant but unsatisfying welcome back to theatre.  

Review, Small Change, Peter Gill, Both Barrels Theatre, Omnibus Theatre By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A blanket white stage. Some old, red colour metal scupltures. I hear someone describe them as artwork much like Barbara Hepworth. Very old city feel.

A set design, perfect for such a play. Small Change is set in Cardiff – these “sculptures” reminded me so much of the Bay, the docks, the nooks and crannies of Cardiff. Where there’s always something to discover around a corner.

Small Change tells the story of 2 boys and their 2 mothers – it looks at their relationships, all intertwining into one another, of the time period and its taboos, of mental health and repression. It’s a lot to put into a play and Both Barrels Theatre do this well.

Firstly, we have to talk about the accents. All very perfect, I suddenly felt transported to my family, to my time in Wales, and it erupted personal memories for me. Granted, this may not do this for every audience member, but the thick sing song accent certainly helped place the performers before our eyes in Cardiff.

The play took another worldly, unusual turn. The writing of Small Change is at times nonsensical but also poetic – just like most Welsh writers, there is a poetic and descriptive aspect to the narrative, and this not only felt unique to the play but also highlighted a unique part of Welsh theatre. Repetitive statements, questions, rhetoric. The genius of the writing is one of truly great playwrights in that it is unusual, it is one of a kind but also allows the director and performers to read into it and develop their own opinions and approaches to the text. And Both Barrels have utilised this.

I wasn’t expecting and was certainly pleasantly pleased to see physical theatre – a type of theatre that I feel I see less of and which is a shame, because it is so interesting how atmosphere and feelings can be shown through movement. We really feel the struggle, the sense of looking back at the past, the changes in time, and the moments of real emotional turmoil not only through the writing and the performers conviction, but also their movement.

Small Change drew me in; it is poignant, it is a really unique take on a well known production and the physical theatre is fitting and fluid.

Review, Is this a Waste Land?, Charlotte Spencer Projects, Sadlers Wells, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Out in the East of London, we are taken to a barren land sitting in between skyscrapers and posh looking apartment buildings. Some built, some in the stages of being built, with the Olympic park and Orbital tower also over looking us.

There’s nothing here, but bits of old materials, items, objects in a small part of this fenced off area. We are asked to pick an object, and so the performance begins.

Armed with headphones and work gloves, we follow instructions spoken to us to explore and experience this space, at times as a group, at times on our own. Music and soundscapes are added to the recording, adding atmosphere and transporting us to different places while we look out on the concrete land. Over the space of an hour and half, we become familiar with this space, beginning to think of its past, present, future, of our own lives and those less fortunate or even in better positions. We think of society, of politics, of environment and nature. We think of London and gentrification. So much comes out of an empty fenced area and a bunch of junk.

Soon it is clear that we are being told different instructions, splitting up and doing different things in different groups. We are the performance, and while the instructions will be the same for each performance, it is clear that there is scope for each production to produce something unique dependent on the participants.

There is at first hesitation: What are we waiting for? What are we doing? What is the reasoning? Soon we are immersed and so all the elements and subjects that are brought to light that I mentioned earlier become clear, giving food for thought and making us feel a range of very deep emotions.

At times, there are professional performers who do their own things to the side, creating physical performances of their own, of artistic installations that are there and blink, you could miss them. A lot goes on and again, this makes each performance different for those attending – some may see some things, and from a certain angle, others something completely different. And that is the beauty of this.

Something so barren becomes familiar and filled with items, with people, with physical theatre, and without words, when we are teaming up or constructing, we work together and it makes sense. Somehow, communication isn’t always needed – after some time, we all just understand one another.

There are for sure some hard hitting moments; we are instructed to make, to create, to perform and soon we see it destroyed or taken away and there is a real social and political underbelly to what we are experiencing.

Is this a Waste Land? Is a complete triumph of physical theatre, of space exploration, of immersion and of poignant point making.

Review, The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In true Hampstead Theatre style, the staging is impeccable and welcomes you as soon as you come in. All based in one bedroom, the room is traditional and like ones I remember my Grandmother having when I was a child. Above the staging is ever changing cloudy sky, that throughout the production, seems to reflect the mood in colour and atmosphere.

This set is only the beginning of this well thought out play. The Memory of Water is a story of grief, relationships and secrets. Of the passing of a Mother and the memories associated with her and their childhood. As things unravel, we see new sides of each character and the impact that both memories and relationships have on how we live our lives and think of our past.

The set of the bedroom not only makes this feel intimate, but adds to the sense of a broken fourth wall. The interactions between all the characters are perfection; they bounce off one another, are quick witted and natural. We certainly feel like we are going through the moments of grief between family members, and their estranged relationships, while their memories bring them back together. It is easy to feel relatable to and anyone who has lost someone can certainly feel their life reflected.

The performers move effortlessly around the stage, feeling at home, comfortable and all the while very naturalistic. Even when we see interactions with the deceased, this is meant to be hyper-realistic but there is a fine line between feeling whether this is real or not.

The Memory of Water is a very relatable depiction of family ties, of the importance of memories in how they shape yourself, your life and how you view others. It is also a very enjoyable production, feeling like an easy and immersed narrative.

Review, The Song Project, Royal Court Theatre By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the Jerwood upstairs, we are welcomed by smiling faces, finding our seats around the outside of a circular orchestra, filled with instruments and plant life.

The Song Project is what is says on the tin. A show created with feelings, thoughts, emotions and life circumstances and turned into song. While this feels a little like how songs are created in general, there is something new, interesting and unique about this performance.

The performers interact with us, with eye contact, welcoming us to the space, so while this is a performance, it certainly feels as if we are being welcomed by friends and into a less formal space.

There for sure is a feeling of something quite European about the type of music – reminding me of Sigur Ros, Little Talks, Bjork with its sense of sound scaping sounds and not following a usual song that one may find in the charts. With only 4 performers, they each chop and change instruments and places in the orchestra, showcasing their absolute talent.

Each song speaks to you. There are lyrics on depression, on fear, on the trails and tribulations of life, but all something that someone in the room could relate to. It’s serious at times, sometimes you just need to close your eyes and feel it in your soul and others it makes you laugh out loud.

Combined with well thought out lighting and set design, the movement of the performers around the space for sure makes this feel very professional and rehearsed but at times ad hoc and keeping us on our toes.

The Song Project could easily be described with one word: Inspirational. Coming away, I felt euphoric and sentimental as well as fully inspired to create my own work. The Song Project has something for everyone, and feels like a very intimate and extraordinary gig.

Review, The Wing Scuffle Spectacular, The Revel Puck Circus, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s been a while since many of us were in a big top, and I for sure missed the element of being in a field, walking into a giant tent and being wowed from start to finish.

The Wing Scuffle Spectacular takes the elements of fear and laughs in the face of it. Along with what we all expect – spectacular stunts, comedy and those ooh and ahh moments, there is also a narrative where the performers face danger but really, there is no real danger. For example, flawless rope acrobatics over broken glass has its illusion shattered (pardon the pun) when the performer stands on them on the end and it isn’t really glass. Despite these illusions being dropped cleverly, we never expect it as they intertwine this will real death defying stunts. There’s a comedy to it when your heart is in your throat and suddenly it is all a farce – Revel Puck are showing us to face our fears and make light of the danger.

Traditional Circus is always in play when we have our resident clown bringing the comedy between each stunt, with his own talented tricks and skills. He has his own narrative – a budding friendship between him and the… Lion! Don’t worry, there’s no real animal here but the development of a stuffed toy that gradually gets bigger throughout the show. From terrorising him, to becoming friends, to a romance, the clown and the Lion made the children and adults alike scream with laughter.

What I love about Circus is that the tricks and stunts tend to be similar or on the same path, but the way they are executed along with the narrative is what really makes it. And this troupe certainly bring their own performance, comedy and personalities which really adds to the general theme.

The only elements that felt awkward and with a need to fill were times when there was no silence or dialogue. It felt, well, a little static – some I could see the reason behind it, to create some tension, but I think with children in the audience still making noise, it lost this atmosphere and felt like we were intruding as they set up or began a trick, or even when they were performing; as if we walked into their warm up or training session.

Overall, I had SUCH a brilliant time at The Revel Puck Circus. It felt light, it felt fun, it felt normal and felt so good to be back seeing Circus performance again. The Wing Scuffle Spectacular has something for all ages, keeping to the tradition of Circus but bringing a youthful and unique take on it.

Review, Refuge, Katie Duncan, The Space, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

One can only imagine persecution, domestic violence, other awful circumstances that lead you to leave you home, to flee all you know just for protection.

Refuge by Katie Duncan brings these feelings to the stage. Featuring the story of 3 women, this production tells their tale in a Woman’s refuge. All stemming from different backgrounds, different ages and with different reasons for being there, we get to see their relationships, good and bad, their fears, their life progressions and what those working and helping them also have to deal with.

Usually at The Space, everything is on the one stage but for Refuge, they have spread out to the sides, creating the kitchen and bedrooms. They effortlessly make the set feel like a hostel-like home, with the small amount of characters still being in and out of each other’s pockets, the stress of living with one another palpable over the niggling issues and in a way, the small scale of the venue helps create that atmosphere and let the narrative fill the room.

With the different backgrounds, religions, cultures, ages and so on, the stories brought are vast and so different, but still so similar with how they have reached out for help from the refuge. Each story is taken with real respect, and shows that the relationships that can be created, no matter how different you are from one another, are also so special. But it also doesn’t shy away from conflict. Even with things in common, not everyone gets along, not everyone lacks judgement to and from others and so while they flee from conflict, it can also be found in their refuge.

Each performer brings their character effortlessly for the stage that it does feel as if you are interrupting, breaking the fourth wall. They interact with each other as people who have known each other for ever, and so the naturalism is completely felt.

Refuge is a really interesting, microscopic look at Women’s Refuge, the troubles that woman face from all over the world but also how important support of other woman in this is, how important friendship is, and how both of these help in the safety of woman who unfortunately face these awful circumstances.

Review, What The Ladybird Heard, Julia Donaldson, Palace Theatre By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The best critic for a children’s show, are the children themselves. I was lucky enough to take my 3 year old nephew, an avid reader and Julia Donaldson fan, to see What The Ladybird Heard at the West End located, Palace Theatre.

Walking up to the theatre, the original book in his bag, he pointed out the poster on the outside in complete excitement. A rainbow ballooned archway was set up for the queue and ticket check, and straight into the auditorium, the stage was set out already ready for our viewing. His eyes were wide and so was his mouth in awe.

What The Ladybird Heard is a wonderful show about a farm yard with an array of the usual animals, including a prize cow. Two local thieves devise a plan to steal the prize cow, but their plan is foiled when the, usually silence, Ladybird hears their plan and involves the animals to scupper their attempt at stealing the cow.

My nephew has read the book many times, but I, myself, had no idea the premise of this production. As an adult, I loved the concept – it was easy to follow, it was fun and full of mischief and learning opportunities for children. The production takes the book and changes some of the written to a song, adds other songs, with dance and jaunty movements across the stage. This is fun and you find yourself often dancing along.

The Ladybird, Cats and prize Cow are already there and available, but a wonderful sequence occurs when the farm hands use bits and pieces on the farm to create the other animals for the tale. This is so fun when you try to guess what they are developing, what noise the animal may make, and this makes it full of magic and curiosity.

There are plenty of opportunities for audience engagement, with the encouragement for children to sing, to make the animals noises, to boo and hiss and cheer. As for my nephew, he stared in awe the entire time, my sister informing me that this means he is really enjoying it – a brilliant sign. Even offering him a drink and snacks throughout meant putting it in his eyeline because nothing else could take him away from the stage.

The set and props are so well thought out, with great attention to details. The paper flowers grow up the wall when they are watered, the sun and moon come up and down in the background, while most of the animals are moved by the performers, you soon forget this as they are so cute to look at and so funny when they get involved.

The performers themselves are so talented – at no point did they corpse or lose focus, when at times it could have been easy to do so with the silly, funny additions made. Along with recorded music, the performers add music and soundscapes using live instruments which I always think is a great thing to add to a children’s show, giving them a chance to see something they may have never seen or heard. They also sing live, with great voices and well thought out harmonies, the songs themselves are easy to pick up and after a sentence or two, you find yourself singing along yourself.

What The Ladybird Heard is perfection. It is funny, it is colourful, witty and well paced. As an adult, I found myself encapsulated, singing along, and enjoying every aspect, even guessing what would happen next. My nephew, was stunned into silence and when it finished, could not stop talking about what he saw on stage. It is the perfect production to watch with theatres opening up and to get children into theatre.