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Summerland

Haunting Images 

Summerland

by Arlitia Jones

Richmond Shakespeare Society, Mary Wallace Theatre until 3rd July

Review by Eleanor Marsh

Nothing can be so deceiving as a photograph

Franz Kafka

First things first.  It is wonderful to be back seeing live theatre and RSS have chosen to open with a play highly suitable for a nervous audience.  A cast of three who are rarely in close proximity to each other is a good call for the times in which we find ourselves.  And hats off to the efficient front of house team who managed the sold out (socially distanced) audience in a very firm and extremely friendly manner.

And now to the play…

A picture paints a thousand words and I have to say when I discovered the subject matter of this play was spiritualism and photography in 1869 I was surprised.  The posters and artwork at first glance looked to be of a European field and a member of the Hitler Youth.  I now realise the picture is of a confederate soldier, which does make me appear a little dim, but in my defence I must say that for some time, every reference I found to Summerland was of the film, which is set in the Second World War.

However, I fear that director Harry Medawar might have felt the same so painstaking was the attempt to set the audience in the correct time and place.  Personally I could have done without the very long music in blackout at the beginning of the play.  Much as I love both the Battle Hymn of the Republic and When Johnny Comes Marching Home, I couldn’t help think that an arrangement of the two together might have been more expedient and also given more of an idea of the mystery surrounding Mrs Mumler. Neither of these pieces of music reappeared, which was a shame as there were times when a gentle underscore of one or other of them would have added to the dramatic effect.

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In the Heights

Exhausting and Exuberant

In the Heights

by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Warner Bros (PG) at Curzon Cinema Mayfair, then Odeon Richmond and Kingston until 15th July, then nationwide.

Review by Heather Moulson

On my way to West End and the historic Curzon cinema, I had mixed feelings about going to see In the Heights.  This musical film, a mastermind of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s, had a lot to live up to after his hugely successful Hamilton.    Set in the predominately black and Latino neighbourhood of Washington Heights in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this is presented as a seemingly blissful area with synchronised fire hydrants, impromptu barbecues and celebrations on the street.   However exhausting this all is, most scenes are fresh and exuberant: not to mention colourful.  Against the background of a New York heatwave and cusp of a Fourth of July blackout, all kinds of goings-on are featured in this small community.   The writer himself weaves in and out of the story, playing an ice-cream seller with a cart.   

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Stray Dogs

An Air of Authenticity

Stray Dogs

by Matt Wixey

Anarchy Division at Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham until 30th June

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by Denis Valentine

Stray Dogs is a timely and interesting snapshot into parts of the lives and mind-sets of two people working within the Police Force and offers a certain perspective at a time where police relations and practices are rife in the public consciousness.  The fact that it is written by an ex-officer adds an immediate air of authenticity to what’s about to be witnessed and keeps the lingering question of just how much is this based on real events and personal testimony throughout.    

Firstly the two actors – Catherine Adams as Mason and Bridges played by Richard de Lisle – are both very strong in their roles and show great versatility when they transition from directly interviewing each other, to audience addresses, as well as moments which require them to briefly inhabit different characters and voices. 

Adams switches well early on, from the hardened interviewer into a more informative persona, with whom the audience can relate more to and trust to gain some insight behind the ‘Officer’ (which as the play later suggests are just one and the same). 

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Annie Jr. (Hampton Hill Green)

From the Stage to the Heart

Annie Jr.  (Hampton Hill Green)

music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Dramacube, Hampton Hill Green Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 26th June

Review by Millie Stephens

Millie Stephens is one of our younger reviewers.  She trained with the Rose Theatre, Kingston, and is now fifteen years old.

Annie Jr is performed by an outstanding cast of twenty-two talented young actors from Dramacube, staged at Hampton Hill Theatre.  Annie Jr is Stephen Leslie’s amazing take on the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Annie.

The musical director Abbey Mordue did a wonderful job of lifting the elegant and vibrant singing off the stage and into the audience’s heart.  There was a wonderful range of slower, emotional songs for example Maybe – Reprise sung by Keiva Mcnelis who played Annie; in comparison with Little Girls which was an energetic, powerful song sung by Charlotte Taylor who played Miss Hannigan.  Also the ensemble songs like N.Y.C and Hard-Knock-Life created a buzzing atmosphere where the audience could feel the energy and excitement radiating through the theatre. 

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Quietus (The Extra-Ordinary Tale of Hamlet)

Deliciously Terrible Anguish

Quietus (The Extra-Ordinary Tale of Hamlet)

by Nicholas Jonne Wilson

The Questors at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 26th June  

Review by Poppy Rose Jervis

 ‘We may all know the story of Hamlet: one of ghosts, deceit, oppressive families and revenge.  But this surreal re-imagining of Shakespeare’s most iconic work delves far deeper into the inner workings of a dream, stranger than life itself.  Immersing us in a new, spell-binding world … ‘

With a no-nonsense beginning this play magnetically places the audience with Hamlet sleeping on a simple white box board on the very edge of the stage and within seconds pulls us into his world as he is taunted by ‘Ophelia’.  The powerful angst-ridden start as he awakens and finds himself unable to make sense of things is not a melodramatic opening, but indicative of both his real struggle and the powerful performance from all cast that is to come. 

Two white box ‘uprights’ with a door space in between are all the production has by way of background set, and all that is needed for actors and audience to transcend time and place and travel in and out of the mind.

Prepare for witching time as Wilson’s skilful and thoughtful writing, imaginatively realised and carefully not using the ‘same old, same old’, makes clever use of the text of Hamlet to create the compelling, original script Quietus of around an hour’s production length.  Shakespeare was the first to use the term ‘quietus’, originating from ‘to quit’ (or quietus est: he is quit) as a metaphor for the termination of life. 

‘When he himself might his quietus make, With a bare bodkin?’ and Wilson’s work, (which is Hamlet but it is not ‘Hamlet’) takes four characters with their attendant spirits to intrude into the innermost mind with thoughts of death as a release from life, and with the torment and confusion of dreams crossing into physical existence, to question, ‘What is reality to a mind that is already broken?’

Brevity is the soul of wit (and the skill of a writer, director and designer) and in a shortish play we are not distracted by unwanted text, characters that would detract from purpose, props, set or other worldly insignificancies as minds are emptied to make them home for cast and demons at play. 

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Annie Jr. (Twickenham Green)

Undaunted Daughters

Annie Jr.

music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Dramacube, Twickenham Green Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 26th June

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington!” said Noël Coward, though he might have added “unless it’s a Dramacube production”, if he’d been around to see one. 

One of the most (and there are many) satisfying features of Dramacube productions is the level of professionalism consistently on show.  Thursday night’s Twickenham Green cast bowled along at a brisk pace driving forward the story of little orphan Annie, delivering lines, comedy, dance routines and songs with non-showy confidence and quite a lot of skill.  Their seamless move from one particular ensemble scene into the NYC song and dance routine, which involved a very quick change for all, was particularly impressive.  

Two young actors shared the leading role of Annie on Thursday night: Megan Went and Tabitha Gooding.  Both brought out Annie’s self-reliance and personal strength and managed to be endearing in a non-sentimental way despite this being a show drenched in sentiment. 

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Annie Jr (Hampton Hill Blue)

An Enthusiastic Return

Annie Jr.

music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Dramacube, Hampton Hill Blue Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 26th June

Review by Celia Bard

The feeling I experienced when walking through the doors of Hampton Hill Theatre was quite emotional for it was fifteen months or so since last setting foot in a theatre due to that very vicious tiny virus who shall remain nameless.  In many ways it was appropriate that the production I was about to see was Annie Jr, produced by Dramacube.  Cast memories back to March 2020 when this production had been ready to go: the stage had been set, lines learned, tickets sold and then ‘lockdown’ immediately prior the opening performance.  Everything was frozen, not even the stage could be struck.  How disappointing this must have been for all concerned: how fitting it is that the first production now being shown at Hampton Hill Theatre is that same musical, Annie Jnr.

Though still not quite out of the woods, the magic started immediately I entered the auditorium and took my seat, wearing the obligatory mask.  This after having provided a name and phone number, had my temperature taken and sanitized my hands.  Despite being a huge fan of musicals I’ve never seen the production of Annie on the stage.  Annie Jnr didn’t disappoint, capturing much of the amusement and charm of the story, supported by an enthusiastic and capable young cast. 

The action is set in the 1930s and tells the story of a young orphan girl, Annie, who is fated to live in an austere and depressing orphanage under the evil headship of Miss Hannigan.  Annie’s life changes drastically when she is given opportunity to spend two weeks in the home of the wealthy billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, who wants to adopt her.   Like all fairy tales the happy ending isn’t immediate and Annie and Oliver Warbucks, with the aid of the police, have to overcome fiendish plans dreamed up by Miss Hannigan and her partners in crime, Rooster and Lily, who try to scupper everything.

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Quietus

Demonic Duets

Quietus

by Nicholas Jonne Wilson

The Questors at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 26th June  

Review by Nick Swyft

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, but this version came in at under an hour.  Its purpose wasn’t to retell the story but rather to examine the psychology of the main protagonists, in what is described as “the extra-ordinary tale of Hamlet”.

Each of the main characters, Hamlet (Nathaniel Flynn-Murphy), Ophelia (Arabella Jacobson) and the Queen (Sara Mearza), were represented as both themselves and as their demons (Dumitru Cotelea, Isabella Cotrell and Alexandra Bivol respectively).

The play opens with Hamlet being taunted by images of Ophelia and her demon as he sleeps, but the true nature of these demons is revealed in the steamy sessions of the second scene.  Sex scenes on stage are always a draw, if sometimes awkward, but this one was pretty tame.  The costs of production couldn’t run to the hiring of that modern phenomenon of an intimacy coach, but the gist was clear enough – demons are not respectable creatures.

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Annie Jr. (Twickenham Blue)

Amazing Actors Amaze

Annie Jr.

music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Dramacube, Twickenham Blue Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 26th June

Review by Evie Schaapveld

Evie Schaapveld is one of our younger reviewers.  Eleven years old, she acts with a number of local stage companies.

The Twickenham Blue Cast performance of Annie Jnr was a great performance by Dramacube.  I was going to see this play last year but because of coronavirus it was then postponed for many months.  This is the first play that I’ve seen for ages, so it felt very nice and exciting to go into the theatre, since I hadn’t been for a very long time.  The songs that played while you were waiting for the play to begin and when it ended were very well chosen.  When the curtain opened, there was astounding scenery and I really liked the New York backdrop. 

The play starts with the orphans in the orphanage and Annie (Mimi Worsley) and the orphans singing Maybe which was well sung by all the girls.  After that Annie attempts to escape but is foiled by Miss Hannigan (Mia Cousins), and all the girls are then put to work, which leads them to sing It’s a Hard Knock Life which had good choreography.  The props in this scene were very good and I really liked the large oversized bed and the laundry basket that Annie escapes in.  I also enjoyed Mia Cousins singing the song Little Girls which she performed really well.

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Prima le Parole

Icing on the Opera Cake

Prima le Parole: Preview

Opera Live At Home On-Line from 29th June

Preview with Thomas Forsythe and Helen Astrid

Opera critic Thomas Forsythe discusses the forthcoming production of Prima le Parole with Helen Astrid, founder of Opera Live At Home

 TF:    Firstly can I congratulate you on the triumph that your on-line series Opera Live At Home  has achieved during lockdown, establishing an international following as an opera recital and discussion programme.  

Tama Matheson

HA:     Thank you.  This month though the evening will be slightly different, as it will feature an actor and opera director, Tama Matheson, who is following on from the incredible success of His Quest for Peace – Panufnik at the Barnes Music Festival last month.

TF:     Yes, that was remarkably well received, and of course Sir Andrzej Panufnik lived in Twickenham for almost thirty years and much of his best work as a composer was done here.  His widow, Lady Camilla is a well-known figure locally.

HA:     Tama’s lyric drama brought out the victory of the human spirit over adversity that is the epitome of Panufnik’s music.  Now, for Opera Live At Home , Tama Matheson takes centre stage again with Prima le Parole.  He will delve into the history of opera and will excavate a handful of the better- and lesser-known theatre works that underpin the operatic canon.

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