To Sleep

601808_584287428248149_744081770_nI have to make a confession: I have tried my hand at playwriting and as such I get very excited when I see new writing that is challenging and engaging. I do enjoy going to watch Shakespeare and other classics but what really pushes my buttons is finding something new that has been done well.

To Sleep is a dark and comic play about two mismatched suicidal strangers. Martin (Peter Hynds) is a middle aged man who meets Hayley (Ellie Lawrence), an off-the-rails 17 year old, in an A&E waiting room. As the two start to talk to each other they realise they are both there because of failed suicides. It is often those areas in life that are most taboo: sex and death, in which there is the greatest opportunity for comedy. And when dealing with something as intense as suicide it is useful to have a release valve for all that pressure. When done well humour can be that release valve – it’s a brave thing to attempt to do, but it works well in To Sleep.

As the play progresses Martin and Hayley decide they will take their own lives together but it’s not as easy as they had anticipated. They reveal to each other their stories of how they came to feel the way they do. As the two characters journey together towards their own demise they form a bond that would not be possible with anyone else, and they help each other in their own weird way.

Ellie Lawrence’s portrayal of a seventeen year old who has nothing left to live for is close to perfect. There is something in the glamorous but unkempt hair, something in the half rolling of her eyes and condescending tone that tells of someone whose last defence is to push everyone else out.

All that is on stage throughout the play are three chairs which represent everything from a hospital waiting room to a leather sofa. The minimal set has the effect of focusing the attention on the characters and the intense relationship between them. Peter Hynds directs and acts in the play and presents us with a man broken by tragedy but still with a lightness of touch to make him warm and endearing.

Matt Fox’s script was very tight: effortlessly switching between humour and tragedy. The people of Swindon should be proud to be represented by him. His other work includes Swindon The Opera and the Madam Renards Mini Fringe Festival.

The next stop for To Sleep is The Camden Fringe in London on the 20th and 21st of August.

 

Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing WebBeautiful Thing is a love story following two teenagers, Jamie (Dominic Baker) and Ste (Joshua James Foyster). They battle first with themselves, to come to terms with their sexuality, and then against the prejudice that exists in their working class estate.

As much as this is a play about sexuality, it is also about family. We get an insight into Jamie’s complex and often turbulent relationship with his mother (Sarah Lewis). The story takes place outside three houses and these neighbours also become a sort of dysfunctional family.  The dark side of family relationships is also explored with abuse and emotional breakdown. But don’t be put off; this is an uplifting story that will leave you with a smile on your face.

The production authentically captures the feeling of the deprived estate where the story takes place. Jamie’s mum and his defiant teenage neighbour, Lea, clash throughout the play. Ella Thomas brings believability to Lea’s larger than life character and Sarah Lewis is utterly convincing as Jamie’s conflicted single mother. The deeply flawed but loveable characters are well thought out and performed in a way that is a pleasure to watch on stage.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

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Before you enter the theatre you are given a polite notice that you should feel free to leave your phones on and, if you like, take pictures. If that seems weird, things are about to get a whole lot stranger in Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental play.

Nassim Soleimanpour was denied a passport from the Iranian government when he refused to do military service. Not able to travel around the world, his second best option was to write a play that could. He imagines, in the play, all the countries that it might go to, what the cities look like, what the audience looks like and what they will think of it.

Nassim’s presence is felt throughout the play (he even has his own empty seat in the audience). The idea of communicating through the barriers of time and distance by the medium of theatre is something that thrills him.

As you may have guessed by now this is not your average play. And a word of warning to anyone who might feel uncomfortable being part of the story (yes, I mean audience participation, but not only that), you might find it a bit of a challenge.

When you walk in, the theatre is almost completely bare.  Every night the play is performed by a new actor. He or she is led onto the stage and given an envelope. Inside is the script. They have never seen it before and experience it for the first time, along with the audience. The only information given to the actor before the show is how to pronounce the writer’s name and that, at some point, they may have to imitate an ostrich.

Everyone is free to make their own decisions. Everyone is responsible for the decisions they make. If there’s something in the script that you think is wrong, should you stop the play? If you’re in the audience and you do nothing, are you complicit? These are the questions that Nassim asks. He also muses on mob mentality and the risks, and rewards, of being singled out as different.

It is less a play and more a conversation with the author. And yes, it’s a two way conversation; he tells you how to contact him and he wants to know what you think. Having a conversation with a random Iranian playwright might seem like a strange way to spend an evening but the play is so absorbing you won’t give it a second thought.

The play is challenging and thought provoking, but also gentle and funny. Whether you end up on stage or not, you won’t be able to forget this play for a while.

 

 

My Boy Jack

“If you can fill the unforgiving minuteMBJweb

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”1

My Boy Jack is based on the true story of the writer Rudyard Kipling – well known for, amongst other things, his poem If. The play explores the relationship that he had with his son at the start of the First World War.

Rudyard Kipling’s extreme patriotism seemed to run at odds with his parental instinct. He wanted, more than anything, to encourage his son’s desire to be in the war – despite him being under age and extremely short sighted. Fighting, and even dying, for your country was, for Rudyard Kipling, the highest honour. He felt that it was every man’s responsibility to fight and it was no different for his own son.

On stage, two very different scenes were set. Extending out into the audience was an old fashioned living room. There were Persian rugs scattered over the floor and a decanter of brandy on the table. The writing desk was complete with books and a small silver framed photograph. Behind that, on the raised stage, were WW1 trenches, with jagged barbed wire tangled on top of piles of sandbags.

Including the scenes from the trenches was an ambitious move. It could have drawn attention away from the main story. In fact, the contrast between the two settings, the bleakness of the trenches and the cosiness of the living room, serves to intensify the family’s conflict.

At the heart of the play is the complex relationship between Jack (Dan Lea) and his father, Rudyard (David Gosling). Jack’s motivations for wanting to join the army are mixed. He wants to please his father, but also to escape the smothering environment where he feels treated like a child. It’s fascinating to see this relationship unfold on stage. Rudyard is overbearing and his motives appear bizarre to his family; Jack feels stifled and yet still seeks his father’s approval.

As the play progresses the family slowly start to unravel. Rudyard’s wife (Caroline Groom) cannot understand why he would want to put Jack in danger and their daughter (Cara Withers), who fears the death of her brother, asks the questions that neither of her parents are able to say out loud.

The only criticism I have is that the ending felt too drawn out. The play comes to an explosive climax, and then just keeps on going. As interesting as the resolution to the play is, it would work better if condensed, leaving us resonating with the power of the ending.

The Woman in Black

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The reputation of this play precedes it. It’s a truly terrifying experience, its organisers claim. But can a live experience really capture the same qualities of horror that we see in films – with their fast scene changes and mood music. The answer, is yes.

It seems unlikely when you enter the theatre and see the sparse stage – punctuated by a couple of chairs, a small chest and a coat rack – that this could be a setting that could evoke fear.

The play has a humorous start. A middle aged lawyer (Julian Forsyth) fumbles over lines that he reads out from a book. Abruptly, a young actor (Antony Eden) calls out from the back of the theatre, telling him to speak up and to think of his audience. The lawyer appears to take this in, and then starts again, quietly mumbling to himself. No, the actor implores, think of your audience. The lawyer stops and takes stock, then starts again. But he can still only muster little more than a whisper.

The action soon becomes more intense as the lawyer asks the actor to help him tell his story: his terrifying encounters with the woman in black.

The fact that this epic tale could be told by only two actors is a credit to their skills. On stage the actors switch effortlessly between roles and yet each one feels natural and engaging.

The set, which at first glance looks so simple, proves to be deceptively complex. By using curtains, backlighting and projected images the audience is transported between an empty theatre, the interior of a house, a graveyard and a child’s bedroom. The use of light and shadows throughout the production is excellent; imagine a candle lit face in a room surrounded by darkness or barely perceptible movement in the shadows of the stage.

The play increases in tension until even the opening of a door can leave your hairs standing on end. It’s a fun and frightening experience that will leave you talking about it all the way home.

The Woman in Black is currently showing at the Wyvern Theatre as part of its 33 stop tour. So go and see it, if you think you’re brave enough.

Top 10 shows to see in the New Year

If your New Year’s resolution is to see more theatre then there couldn’t be a better time to do it. So wrap up warm and brave the rain and snow for 10 of the best shows in and around Bath.

1

Quartermaine’s TermsRowanA_0
Rowan Atkinson takes the lead role in this tragicomic play. It explores the relationship between seven teaches over two years. The play takes place in the staff room of a Cambridge school in the 1960s. Quartermaine’s Terms is a very British play about the muddled up lives of normal people.

Theatre Royal Bath

14th – 19th Jan

From £22

Box Office: 01225 448844

2

Fencesfences_0

Lenny Henry exceeded expectations when he put on a stunning performance as Othello in 2009. This February he’s back on stage playing Troy Maxson, a talented athlete who was unable to fulfil his dreams because of the racial segregation of 1950s America. The play has been awarded the New York Drama Critics’ Award, two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.

Theatre Royal Bath

20th Feb – 2nd March

From £18.50

Box Office: 01225 448844

3

The Woman in BlackWIB_0

The Woman in Black is one of Britain’s most well-known horror plays. It’s bound to have you on the edge of your seat, or perhaps hiding under it. It comes to Swindon on its 33 stop tour to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Go and see if this play lives up to its reputation as the most terrifying live experience in the world, if you’re brave enough.

Wyvern Theatre

7th – 12th Jan

From £18.00

Box Office: 01793 524481

4

Blood BrothersBB_A5_BP_generic_0

This critically acclaimed tale of nature versus nurture follows twins who take a very different path through life. They are separated at birth and later re-united with shocking results. The play is narrated by the West End star Marti Pellow who gives a top performance. The show is returning to Bath after its previous sell out visits so snap this one up quickly.

Theatre Royal Bath

28th Jan – 2nd Feb

From £20

Box Office: 01225 448844

5

6394686181_a64dc9da18_bA Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

If you think you know what can be done with puppets, think again. This play brings a life and humanity to the puppets which is nothing short of magical. It’s a story about a strange creature that transforms the luck of a depressed town. This is one that adults will enjoy just as much as children. It is visually striking and perfectly executed on stage.

Bristol Old Vic

5th – 16th Feb

£14 (£8 children)

Box Office: 01179 877877

6

A Midsummer Night’s Dreammidsummer_s_001

Director Tom Morris and the Handspring Puppet Company last worked together on the phenomenally successful War Horse. Now they’re coming to Bristol to breathe life into Shakespeare’s epic fantasy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whether you’re a fan of Shakespeare or not, this will be a show that you won’t want to miss.

Bristol Old Vic

28th Feb – 4th May

From £8

Box Office: 01179 877877

7

Swan Lakeswan_lake_swindon_209

The Siberian Orchestra who accompany the ballet know a thing or two about cold weather, but alongside the Russian State Ballet they give a warming and lively performance. Follow Prince Siegfried as he searches for love and finds it in the midst of a magical curse. The romantic ballet will enthral anyone with a passion for music or dance. Tchaikovsky’s score adds a haunting beauty to this unforgettable story of love and magic.

Wyvern Theatre

15th – 16th Jan

From £30

Box Office: 01793 524481

8

Stitchingstitching

This dark and disturbing play is recommended for an adult audience only. It follows a couple, Abby and Stuart, who slowly pick apart their relationship after Abby discovers she is pregnant. The play explores the extremes of love and pain. It is a brave, ambitious and ultimately disturbing experience not for the faint hearted.

Ustinov Studio Bath

25th – 26th Jan

£13

Box Office: 01225 448844

9

White Rabbit, Red RabbitWhite-Rabbit-Red-Rabbit_v_8may12_pr_b

Every time this play is performed it’s different. That’s because each performance is given by a new actor. The actor has never seen the script before and has no idea about what the play will be about. The play requires no director and no set, just a brave actor willing to take a plunge into the unknown. The playwright wrote this while under house arrest in Iran for refusing military service; this is reflected in the play’s themes of personal freedom and social responsibility.

Bristol Old Vic

16th – 19th Jan

8pm

£12

Box Office: 01179 877877

10

Beautiful Thing373044_404564179617765_1121485768_n

T.S. Theatre Productions’ previous plays included A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest. This time they’re bringing us Jonathan Harvey’s urban fairytale about adolescence and sexuality. This love story with a twist brings us into the world of Jamie and Ste as they battle against a whirlwind of emotions to confront their sexuality.   

Swindon Arts Centre

28th – 29 Jan

£10

Box Office: 01793 614837