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Dial M for Murder

Blackmail and Brandy

Dial M for Murder

by Frederick Knott

Simon Friend and Gavin Kalinat at Richmond Theatre until 18th January, then on tour until 18th July

Review by Andrew Lawston

It’s a stormy night in Richmond, perfect for an evening of blackmail, deception, and murder. Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder, made internationally famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film adaptation (from Knott’s screenplay), plays out almost like an episode of Columbo. The audience knows the truth behind a murder from the outset, and the play becomes a suspenseful psychological thriller as the question becomes how, or even if, the true culprit might be unmasked.

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This production at Richmond Theatre updates the play’s setting slightly from the 1950s to 1963, and this is mostly reflected in the stylised décor of the spacious set that depicts Tony and Margot Wendice’s comfortable flat, as well as in the stylish and well-cut costumes that generally emphasise the characters’ physicality. Both set and costumes were designed by David Woodhead, and as a result they complement each other well. The set is full of details that inform the audience’s view of the characters before the play even begins: a shelf of tennis trophies can be seen very much on display, but not prominently, and several of them look tarnished and neglected, or are partially hidden behind other bric a brac. The record player’s lid is kept open throughout, suggesting heavy use. Pride of place is given to a drinks trolley, and indeed characters make themselves drinks almost constantly throughout the show. These are all neat and thoughtful touches that make the set look like a real home for much of the play.

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Dial M for Murder is the story of Tony Wendice’s scheme to have his wife murdered in order to inherit her money, a scheme that goes very wrong. Wendice himself is played by Tom Chambers in a wide-ranging performance that is charismatic enough that you can never truly hate the character, despite his ruthless scheming. His Wendice is a charming host, and maintains a convincing façade as a devoted husband. Sally Bretton shines as Margot Wendice despite her character often being more of a plot device than a real person. Michael Salami makes the most of his part as TV writer and Margot’s love interest Max Halliday (who’s recently returned from New York, where he wrote a murder a week for a full year), and provides real energy to a very wordy script.

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The cast is rounded out by Christopher Harper, in a dual role as Captain Lesgate, a petty criminal in an audaciously unconvincing fake moustache, and Inspector Hubbard, a deceptively placid detective who unravels, together with Max, Tony’s deadly plot. Harper was undoubtedly more effective as Inspector Hubbard, but was highly engaging in both roles.

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The performances are uniformly strong, despite a few night stutters and jitters, and the play moves at an assured pace. For a play in which the action hinges on such minute details as the position of latchkeys, mud on the parquet, and the whereabouts of stockings, there was however one curious choice.

After Tony Wendice has coerced Lesgate into murdering his wife, in a scene where he establishes his alibi by leaving for a party with Max, Lesgate could clearly be seen crossing the stage behind the French windows, and could be seen taking up position behind the curtain and waiting for several minutes in order to carry out his attack. This was confusing for many in the audience as Wendice’s plan, and subsequent dialogue, made it clear that he supposedly entered through the front door. It was unclear whether the curtains should have been closed and we weren’t supposed to have seen him (the spectacle of Lesgate sneaking through the door and tiptoeing behind the curtain might have looked awkward). Or whether there was a problem backstage and he simply used the alternative entrance. Perhaps it could even have been a deliberate piece of misdirection on behalf of director Anthony Banks. In any case, it seemed to be a slip that caused some audience confusion in an otherwise assured performance.

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With a naturalistic set, stylish period costumes, and brutally realistic fight sequences courtesy of Alison de Burgh, this new production is a slick, taut, thriller that provoked much engrossed conversation among audience members as we all filed back out into a dark and stormy Richmond night.

I ought to make the shameful admission that I’d not previously seen the play or film of Dial M for Murder, and so I was genuinely and completely gripped by the psychological drama that unfolded as Tony’s lies began to unravel, slowly but surely, throughout the second half. I was almost certainly in the minority in the auditorium with that omission, however, and it certainly seemed that familiarity with the material had made no impact on the audience’s enjoyment.

Andrew Lawston
January 2020

Photography by Manuel Harlan

A Christmas Carol

Uplifting Festive Tale

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens adapted by Emma Louise Tinniswood

Step On Stage Productions at Hampton Hill Theatre until 11th January

A review by Milly Stephens, one of our younger reviewers (aged 14)

Step On Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol performed by its Youth Theatre was extremely engaging with scenes from festivity and laughter through to death and poverty.

In Act One, due to the nature of the show, there is more need for chorus than action, but I think that Step On Stage overcame this obstacle very well, as the narration was very strong and engaging. Hampton Hill Theatre is a very big space, but the actors managed to project their voices exceptionally well and there wasn’t a word that I couldn’t hear. The set and costume were outstanding and creative.

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Cast of A Christmas Carol with Adaptor and Director Emma Louise Tinniswood

I really loved all the singing and I thought that the Christmas carols were very tuneful and even though it was a short time after Christmas, it still put me in a Christmassy mood, looking forward to next year’s Christmas.

The scene based at the Cratchit family’s house was one of my favourites, as it was realistic and had very good dialogue and atmosphere that made me feel included into a real family’s Christmas lunch. I also loved the scene at the feast with the Fezziwig’s as there was joy and dancing all the time. When the cast sang Five Gold Rings, the Ghost of Christmas Present broke the fourth wall, encouraging the audience to participate and sing along.

At the start of the play you see Scrooge – in this performance played by Scarlett Gladstone, who is a talented young actor, being glum and miserable even though there is so much Christmas merriment, especially at this time of year. (Alice Bray plays Scrooge on alternate performances).

Then Marley, who has been dead for the past seven years, comes to visit Scrooge to give him a warning. Daisy Diamond played the character of Marley extremely well, captivating the audience and leaving them on the edge of their seats. The creative use of haze, clanging chains and echoing microphone heightened the tension.

The first Ghost of Christmas to visit Scrooge was Laura Bergin, as the Ghost of Christmas Past. I thought that Christmas Past was acted very well, as she was delicate with her movements and that she had very good characterisation.

Then the Ghost of Christmas Present came to see Scrooge. I thought that Charlotte Williams brought a great sense of humour to the part and that it was a superb contrast to Scrooge who hated Christmas.

The last Ghost to appear before Scrooge was the Ghost of Future, played by Eli Rogers, who was cold, serious and foreboding and made Scrooge realise he had to change in order to be loved by everyone, not hated.

After the spirits had warned Scrooge of how he was viewed, he changed his ways and began to be generous to the poor and needy, especially the Cratchit family. Scrooge became a changed man.

I would highly recommend this show, as you can never be too young or too old to enjoy this festive tale with its uplifting moral ending. Congratulations to all the cast and creatives from Step On Stage.

Milly Stephens
January 2020

Photography courtesy of Step On Stage Academy

Once

Craic and Broken Hearts

Once

by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, based the film by John Carney

Adam Spiegel, Robert Bartner, The New Wolsey Theatre and Queen’s Theatre at The Ashcroft Playhouse, Fairfield Halls, Croydon until 11th January, then on tour until 25th July

Review by Mark Aspen

Restraint is a word used much more than once in the wonderfully romantic piece of folk whimsy, Once. If restraint seems unapt a word for a musical, especially one that starts pre-show with full-on foot tapping folk rock band, then think again. Think Riverdance meets Brief Encounter.

In various manifestations, Once has jigged its sprightly way around five continents over the last decade. It started life as an Oscar winning film by John Carney, which had originally been released in 2007. In an adaption by Irish playwright, Enda Walsh, it then took off as a stage musical and it has rapidly developed something of a cult following. Croydon is debuting its first ever UK Tour and the some of the audience at the press night were showing off fanfolds of tickets to follow it throughout 2020. Certainly for these aficionados once is not enough for Once.

Once is a gentle love story, it is about taking courage and believing in oneself, it is about the power of music.

If music is the driving force of the plot of Once, it certainly gets a turbo-charged start. Cast and audience immediately enjoy the craic at a pre-show party that extend from stage to stalls and on, as sixteen musicians burst a lively fire-cracker of Irish folk music, the fidgeting fiddles set against soothing squeeze-boxes, pounding feet against honeyed harmonies, humming and keening against whoops and shouts, joyous and jolly. Remarkably, though, these talented musicians are also the talented actors who will tell us the story of Once.

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The lights fade down, but the party continues; then with the house lights out, the fiddles become violins, the music lyrical and the soft story starts. The basis of the plot is fairly simple: boy meets girl, but both are already committed to another; they fall in love; girl helps boy to fulfil his aspirations, boy helps girl to regain security; both regain their committed significant others; boy and girl part, their love unconsummated. What make this simple plot special is the gentleness; that the two never lose their place in their own cultures, and they remain bound together by a common love of music. In fact, to paraphrase, they make music, not make love.

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That music surrounds the pair’s attraction is the consummately presented theme in both director, Peter Rowe’s concept and Libby Watson’s design. The musician-actors are always there, a physical presence “greyed-out” from the action when not active in it, always there to play music, dance or sing; and more importantly, always there as their cultures, their communities, always ready to support each other. (Were all communities so supportive!)

Watson’s set is a corner of a Dublin pub, the music corner, adorned with framed music memorabilia and gig posters. It is the sort of pub where the locals often have an impromptu “Trad Sesh” where folk music and indie rock combine, mics are open, and everyone contributes. Other settings are created within the arms of the pub, by trucking or carrying on features for the interior of a flat or a shop. In the ceiling of the pub are roof-lights, but the whole roof may lift off to reveal the wide world of a night sky. Projection designer, Peter Hazelwood, creates some wonderful skyscapes, including a soulful crescent moon, and Mark Dymock’s lighting design is so precisely integrated to the whole that lights dance with the ensemble and a floor mounted starcloth becomes Dublin by night.

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The plot is so much a boy-meets-girl story that the pair are called Guy and simply Girl. As the opening ceilidh dies down, we see Guy as lovelorn and dispirited, singing Leave, a lament for his lost love, now living in New York. Girl approaches him and brightly, if disarmingly, asks him “Do you enjoy being Irish”. We discover that she is a Czech émigré from a musical family, whereas his business is “hoofers”, he runs a vacuum cleaner repair shop with his “Da”. Soon a deal is struck, he will repair her old upright Hoover, and she will pay him by playing him music on an old upright piano in the music shop above which she lives.

Once 2Daniel Healy is a natural as Guy (and has also been a composer and a busker), a man a crossroads in his life. His slightly husky tone works brilliantly with the melancholia of his songs. You can hear the catch in his voice in Leave. The elfin Emma Lucia plays Girl with a vivacious direct charm. She sings her own solo The Hill with such appealing clarity that it leaves the audience mesmerised. The centrepiece for many in the audience is the Oscar winning duet Falling Slowly, and their richly complementary voices leave all enthralled. It is almost as if the audience falls for these characters before they realise that they are falling for each other.

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The music shop is owned by the fiercely protective eccentric Billy. Billy is not so much a loose cannon as a whole wonky ordnance. The loose-limbed Dan Bottomley has great fun playing up the loveable fire-eater. With his not-yet-perfected karate, Billy is willing to die for his friends. He has two pet hates, Corkonians and bankers. When he meets his seeming nemesis, Bank Manager, who comes from Cork, sparks fly. A superb violinist, Samuel Peverley plays Bank Manager not so much as gravel-voiced as tarmac-voiced, but has the great comic virtuoso solo, Abandoned in Bandon, which rescues the character from being merely the stooge to Billy.

There is a lot of, albeit big-hearted, stereotyping, especially when Girl introduces Guy to her extended Czech family. The ex-pats are learning (Irish-) English from RTE television sit-coms, so to help the audience their words are projected as surtitles … in Czech, a nice reversal of norms. The Czech family offer a host of wonderful cameos. Reza is a brazen go-getter in a scarlet mini-skirt (woolly leggings under), willing to use her charms in winning ways, for example to get Billy to use his shop as rehearsal space for their scratch music group when they are preparing to help Guy make a demo-disc. Ellen Chivers has a superb singing voice and she plays the part of Reza with great aplomb, tossing her blonde pony-tail to move the music and tease the men. Svec is the stout-hearted oak of the family, a heavy-metal drummer willing to sacrifice his art to the folk style by using his trousers to muffle the drums. With giant stage presence, Lloyd Gorman seizes the role of Svec, plus he gives us a rousingly impressive drum solo. The matriarch of the family is Baruska. Susannah van den Berg, who last exhibited her coloratura locally as a larger than life Queen of Hearts (in the Rose Theatre’s Alice in Winterland) excels as Baruska, pushing Guy’s pre-business-finance visit to a fine melodrama, culminating in “Those how live in fear, die in their graves!” She is also a very accomplished accordion player. Rosalind Ford, who plays Guy’s Ex-Girlfriend, dances and sings whilst playing a cello that seeming floats with her.

However, it does seem a little disingenuous to praise up individual performances from what is a seamless ensemble, which is constantly engaged with the storytelling, a benign Greek chorus. The ensemble is not only multi-talented but generous in its common creativity, seamless in its faultless acting, seamless in its dancing (unobtrusively choreographed by Francesca Jaynes), seamless in musicianship and seamless in its singing. The a cappella reprise of Gold was another show-stopping highlight.

Once 5Nevertheless, in this now-you-see-it now-you-don’t, but never-to-be love affair, the most intense moments are quieter, reflective ones, when the poignancy that marks out this musical as being special comes into its own. These are moments of discovery between the two would-be lovers, and the revelations. Girl has a husband who has gone back home leaving her with their young daughter (played with great confidence on press night by Isabella Manning). Guy asks why he left, but Girl ignores the question to say Miluju tě, untranslated but meaning I love you.

Loneliness lurks just around the corner, but the demo disc is in the bag and the airline ticket in the pocket. Why complicate matters?

“It’s a complicated thing, this love” says Billy. But don’t you show restraint, for this bittersweet and idiosyncratic musical is one you should see once … then you will want to see Once once more.

Mark Aspen
January 2020

Photography by Mark Senior

Le Corsaire

New Age for This Flamboyant Ballet?

Le Corsaire

by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev; music by Adolphe Adam and others

English National Ballet at the London Coliseum until 14th January

Review by Katie Hagan

Ah, Le Corsaire, what a joy you are! Ballet’s majestic romp took to the high-seas last night, with a triumphant first performance of its 2019 run at London’s indisputably splendorous Coliseum.

Performed by a hot cast of English National Ballet’s lithe dancers, Le Corsaire returns to the capital after a successful stint in 2016. A firm favourite, it will no doubt mesmerise its audiences once more with its romance, luscious choreography, luxurious set and costumes, not to mention the swelling music of English National Ballet’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

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It would be false of me to deny the show has been missed. Delivering on spectacle and stunning virtuosic dance, it is easy to see why this ballet is loved by new and old enthusiasts. Not only does Le Corsaire have the visuals to keep the eyes stimulated, audiences can be strangely charmed by its bombastic, unbelievably believable turn of events. Of course the protagonists, Medora and Conrad, went unscathed and survived the final hurdle! Only in this illusionary ballet can a ballerina keep her tiara on during a ferocious storm at sea.

As an audience member, it is vital to suspend all your beliefs when embarking on the escapist Le Corsaire. Try to abandon all desires to follow a narrative, and just sit back and absorb the magnificence that this classical production has to offer. This extravagant feast, staged by the talented Anna-Marie Holmes, has been revised many a time, but was initially based on Jules-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilie’s libretto, itself an interpretation of the poem The Corsair by the 19th Century’s resident bad-boy Romantic poet, Lord Byron.

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Divided into three acts, Le Corsaire follows the story of the heroic Conrad (Francesco Gabriele Frola), who is heading towards the Ottoman Empire to rescue his belle, Medora (Erina Takahashi) from the wretched hands of slave-traCorsaire 4 Mackder, Lankendem. Played by guest artist Brooklyn Mack – who looks completely at home onstage – Lankendem plans on selling Medora for a hefty price to the bumbling governor, the Pasha, played by guest character artist, Michael Coleman.

Act One opens with a cargo of bodies on a busy stage, perfectly encapsulating the hustle and bustle of a popular citadel. This first scene is a real medley of ENB’s talented principals and soloists, all of them throwing down gauntlet after gauntlet with their jeté-ing and pirouetting. You wouldn’t have thought a significant change to the two main characters had occurred only hours before the curtain rose.

Corsaire 3 AdamsSuch an opening sustains the first act’s momentum. The Odalisque pas de trois is a memorable section, containing Precious Adams’s lightening-speed beats and oozing upper body extensions, as well as Julia Conway’s fluttering chaine turns. Whilst exhibiting herself to the Pasha, Medora’s friend and fellow enslaved girl, Gulnare, danced by Shiori Kase, flitters around the stage with the determination of a single-winged, wounded butterfly.

Although Le Corsaire has previously come under scrutiny for its negative representation of women, Gulnare moves with a force  to be reckoned with. During her pas de deux with Lankendem she is resolute and does not engage with him as he vaingloriously parades her in front of the Pasha. It is an interesting characterisation which definitely paid off.

Corsaire 5 WoolhouseLe Corsaire’s subplots come to the fore in Act Two, as we follow Birbanto’s sabotage of Conrad’s plans to save Medora. Jealous of Conrad’s bond, Birbanto tells Medora to give Conrad a rose which is, unbeknownst to her, poisoned. Played by Erik Woolhouse, his hair standing on end, Birbanto goes from trusted friend to enemy. Whilst his characterisation often veered on the sulky, frustrated school-boy, I was impressed with his maverick movements. It is rare to see a dancer splay their hands and sweep around the stage with a slightly hunched back, all the while looking roguishly enigmatic. There has definitely been a conscious effort to tread deeper into Le Corsaire’s characters and I applaud ENB for this decision.

Corsaire 7 CirioConrad’s jumps are a wonder and so are his pal Ali’s – played by Jeffrey Cirio – split leaps. The buoyancy and vitality of this cast is affectingly infectious. All of this promise was narrowly jeopardised during Medora and Conrad’s pas de deux, however. The signs of their late casting showed during their strained final lift. Although still met with rapturous applauds, this anticipated duet unfortunately frayed at the seams.

Perking himself back up, Frola continues to barrel-turn and straddle jump into Act Three as he seeks to reconcile himself with Medora, who was once again *sigh* abducted by Lankendem. After the crisp and fresh Enchanted Garden section, the farce kicks into acceleration for the final time, until Birbanto is exposed for his misdeeds and Medora and Conrad are happily reunited.

In this staging, Anna-Marie Holmes has tried to do away with Le Corsaire’s sinister undercurrents of racism and sex-trafficking. Whilst the female roles have indeed grown stronger, and there is thankfully no yellow-face to be seen, the black ballet dancers are too token-y; either cast as the ‘comic’, ‘villainous’ or secondary character. Yes, it is encouraging to see three black dancers onstage. I just hope one day we see one in the lead role.

But change does not occur overnight. As far as I am concerned, Anna-Marie Holmes has done a sterling job at meticulously unpicking Le Corsaire. With a superb cast and an opulent aesthetic, the great outweighs the weak in this ballet.

Katie Hagan
January 2020

Photography by Laurent Liotardo

Blast from the Past

Impetuous Blasts with Eyeless Rage

Blast from the Past and Stage Door Blues

by Marc Harris

Barnes Community Players at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, 7th January

Review by Eleanor Lewis 

The subject of ageing and coming to terms with the life changes accompanying it is currently a hot topic for dramatists. Marc Harris has taken up the theme in his new play, Blast from the Past.

The story is that of Tim Horton, a successful actor who has reached retirement age where he is struggling with the loss of his wife and some issues with his memory, but otherwise living a reasonably happy life. Tim has been offered an audition for a small part in a very decent, upcoming film and he’s nervous about going to it. In five distinct scenes Horton, played by Rodger Hayward-Smith, converses with his brother to whom he is close, his twin daughters and his young neighbour who invites him to dinner and the prospect of friendship across the generations. The play takes us through the usual themes of how the generations interact (quite positively in some cases) and how families function, or don’t, particularly when faced with an ageing parent. One of Tim’s daughters urges him to remove his late wife’s clothes from the house, something he cannot do, and a small row follows. This rift is eventually repaired with help from the other daughter. Tim’s family is in fact a happy and supportive one, (which does of course reduce the potential for drama).

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The play itself is efficiently constructed and progresses steadily through its five stages, broken by an interval, and reaches a satisfying, if slightly hackneyed, conclusion. Its strengths are in the accessibility of its subject matter – it seems everyone in the developed world is seeking comfort and help with ageing – and the gentle, generally positive way in which the story is told.

Blast from the Past does need a boost of dramatic adrenalin though. The five scenes are long and whilst the dialogue is natural and on the whole believable, there is a great deal of it and at times this felt like listening to people actually making small talk. The first scene between Horton and his brother is particularly lengthy and would benefit from paring back. Given that each scene consists of people talking to each other, what is on view is mainly static: people sit down with each other and pretty much stay there, a little movement would be good, or else this becomes a radio play. Tightening the dialogue would also show off the vein of humour running through the work and it would be good to bring this rather more to the fore. There is for example a ‘running gag’ about pears, and whilst this shouldn’t be overdone it could be extended a little, I only noticed it twice. Blast from the Past clearly isn’t meant to be a laugh-a-minute-comedy, nor do I think it should be one, but even so a little humour tends to increase audience concentration.

Blast4Accompanying Blast from the Past was a second, short sketch rather than a play, (it’s about ten minutes long) entitled Stage Door Blues. This involved a couple waiting at the stage door for one of the actors from the first play. It’s cold and they are sniping at each other but there is a little plot twist to entertain the audience and this worked reasonably well on Tuesday evening. Whether the entirely clichéd 1950s-style Actor character, complete with camel coat draped around his shoulders, was deliberately written, directed, or just misguided remains to be seen but it reduced the comedy somewhat, there was enough in the writing, the costume was overkill.

Tuesday night’s performance was a rehearsed reading rather than a performance so the fact that there is scope for change, improvement and finessing goes without saying. That said, there were costumes, props and scenery, semi-staging in fact, and Barnes Community Players rendered their roles effectively, giving life to the script while reading from files. Rodger Hayward Smith particularly deserves credit for being on stage most of the time and giving an endearing performance as Tim Horton. All in all, Blast from the Past with some tweaking and tightening could well make another dramatic source of reassurance for families and individuals trying to deal with the last phase of life as we know it.

Eleanor Lewis
January 2020

Photography by Courtney Everett

The Wizard of Oz

Whirlwinds and Wizardry

The Wizard of Oz

by Frank L Baum, music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E Y Young

Dramacube Productions at Hampton Hill Theatre until 23rd December

Review by Claire Alexander

I looked forward to seeing Dramacube’s production of The Wizard of Oz with my six year old nephew. He would indeed be a critical audience having played the Tin Man in a (far, far simpler) performance as part of a holiday club earlier this year. We were not disappointed.

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We all know the story. Young Dorothy, bored with life in rural Kansas, where she only has her beloved dog Toto for company and a number of very busy older siblings, is transported beyond the cyclone and the mysterious Land of Oz. There, on her quest to find the Wizard of Oz (only he has the power to get her home), she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the cowardly Lion. They are all looking for something to make their life complete. And so starts their journey through Munchkinland, to the Emerald City. Dorothy has to overcome the Wicked Witch of the West and rescue her broomstick, before the Wizard will grant their wishes. And in a final twist the balloon that will take her home blows away before she has a chance to catch it! This was presented as the traditional musical it is, complete with all of the well-known numbers – Over the Rainbow and We’re off to See the Wizard to name a couple.

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This was an assured production from Dramacube, given all of their performers are under fourteen and some could be as young as seven. It was well presented and I liked the gauze curtain against which were projected images of life in Kansas, before it was raised to give us a more open stage depicting Oz. I particularly liked the animated horse, and the untethered balloon at the end. And then, once in Oz we had the eponymous yellow brick road stretching into the distance and the Emerald City, and this gave us a nice sense of perspective. The Hampton Hill Theatre can be a deep and a big stage when there is an open set and this cast of 21 young performers (all playing multiple roles) filled it impressively well. There was also a raised platform which was used to good effect by the wicked witch, and the crows, which also helped to give us a sense of power and height. I had the sense that the young cast had all been involved to some extent in the creation of the set and I certainly imagined the bright land of Oz ‘over the rainbow’.

There were some other nice touches. I liked the way Toto was played by a cuddly toy when we were in Kansas and turned into a shaggy scampering dog when we got to Oz – well maintained by Joshua Briggs. The chorus choreography (K’ja Young Thomas and Danielle Bond) was relatively simple but everyone knew what they were doing, and there were some good dancers among the Jitterbugs.

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The performances (I saw the Twickenham Blue cast) matched the brightness of the set and costumes with their energy and enthusiasm. It is unfair to pick out a few names when everyone had multiple roles and really contributed to the whole. But I was particularly impressed with Anya Malinowska (as Dorothy 1) singing Over the Rainbow – this was a really striking performance, no obvious nerves, of the song that is always associated with Dorothy and right at the beginning of the show too. Well done. Almost unnoticed Dorothy 1 swapped into Dorothy 2 in the form of Daisy Allen. She has already developed a confident presence on stage and she ably led her growing team of characters in her quest to find the Wizard. And finally Sophie Collins was a truthful and natural Dorothy 3 just as Dorothy’s journey was ending. I also wanted to mention Joseph Kirwan who was a wonderfully natural scarecrow! He delivered his lines with a great ‘dead pan cool’ and there is an emerging comic talent there. My nephew pricked up his ears and enjoyed the Tin Man (Jake McGowan) who wanted a heart, and mouthed the lines ‘oil, oil’ with him. And the three were ably joined by Eva Scargill as the Lion in search of courage who had a gentle timid presence. Another performance that stood out for me was Larissa Shaffrick as eccentric Professor Marvel.

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But this was truly an ensemble production. You have to be organised to play several parts with costume changes in the space of an hour and there was no sense of uncertainty on stage. Some of the performers are still very inexperienced but energy, enthusiasm and commitment shone from everyone and there is a wealth of talent among these young performers.

The only thing I missed was a reprise at the end of one of the well-known numbers by all of the cast – that would have been a worthy and fitting end to the show.

Dramacube has four casts of this show and they have all been rehearsing throughout the autumn term. I saw the ‘Twickenham Blue’ cast but I have no doubt I would have found just as much enchantment and talent in any of the other casts. Stephen Leslie and Matthew Bunn and all the adults assisting are doing some great work to nurture and encourage young performers and I am sure we will see them again as they get older and graduate to local youth theatres, secondary schools and adult groups.

Claire Alexander
December 2019

Photography by Bomi Cooper

 

 

Fault Lines

Triumph from Disaster

Fault Lines

by Ali Taylor

Questors at Questors Studio Theatre, Ealing until 4th January

Review by Emma Byrne

“What’s Christmas without a disaster?” asks the tagline from this show, in which the geological and the personal combine to create the backbone of a funny, often touching, play. The epicentre of the action is a small and struggling UK charity, desperately trying to make an impact in the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan. Oh, and it’s Christmas Eve.

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From ill-advised office party antics to well-meaning attempts to supply the first tents in the disaster area, the staff of Disaster Relief face a four-day reckoning that registers at least a five on the Richter scale: the effects are felt well beyond the epicentre.

Without giving away the plot, the comedy here is in a similar vein to the humane satire of Drop the Dead Donkey: whatever goes wrong is more likely to be the effect of cockup rather than conspiracy. There’s also something of Alan Ayckbourn’s Life and Beth here too: reactions to tragedy aren’t always as expected, which makes for cracking dramatic tension as well as some comedy moments.

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Playwright, Ali Taylor (and director Gary R Reid) set out the four protagonists, Abi, Nick, Ryan, and Pat in act one and, without being too heavy on exposition, they sell the stakes nicely. But if act one is the wind up then act two is the punch: high-stakes choices made amid rapid-fire cross talk, delivered with fantastic fervour by Will Langley (Nick) in particular.

FaultLine12The piece has to be an ensemble to work, and there were lots of generous choices on stage. Questors newcomer Callum Dove (Ryan) does great background character work throughout, adding depth without ever pulling focus. Ryan could have been played as a bunch of nebbishy ticks, but Dove really sells Ryan’s awkward intensity in a way that is touchingly genuine.

Will Langley also makes some great choices when it comes to Nick’s effortless tone-switching between mockney man-of-the-people and media-schmoozing smoothie. Pamela Major’s Pat is a great portrait of someone whose idealism has been tugged slightly out of shape over the years – rather like a beloved but baggy cardigan. When she comments that Christmas is a great time for disasters, thanks to Major’s commitment it reads pragmatism plus idealism minus tact, rather than ghoulishness.

But it’s Neetu Nair’s Abi that has to carry much of the play’s weight. Abi’s personal and professional life are upended in the course of the play. The energy she brings is pretty relentless, but it is her resigned calm in act two that really allows her range to shine.

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This is a technically demanding play and huge credit must go to set designer Fiona McKeon, whose mismatched and slightly grotty office interior is almost a character in its own right. Credit, too, goes to the stage manager and crew who manage fourteen scene changes (with attendant jumps in time) with a slick precision that ensures that the energy of the piece stays high. The number of technical cues from the control box, from phone calls to breaking news on TV, would have flummoxed a lesser company. This well-drilled production never skipped a beat.

If you’re feeling jaded, conflicted, or disappointed this Christmas season, this production of Fault Lines is for you. While hilarious, it’s by no means escapist: the conflict between ideals and pragmatism has rarely felt more timely than after this recent election. But by identifying with these well-meaning, all-too-human characters who are muddling through, there is at least catharsis in the chaos.

Emma Byrne
December 2019

Photography by Robert Vass