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Reviews

2017-01-robin-hood-egg

Robin hits the target in Greg Bank’s modern day take on the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood. egg Theatre Bath

Liberation day is coming sing the outlaws in Greg Banks’s urban toned muscular production of Robin Hood. Four modern day homeless people sit around a fire lit in an old dustbin complaining about their lot before re-telling the story of the Sherwood Forest Medieval socialist who robs from the rich and gives to the poor.

It is a refreshingly earthy and even grungy version of the folk myth but never allows the humour to evaporate into the arboreal canopy above. The quips, the jokes and the knockabout are always in preference to a heavy handed political message. The message is there but the abiding memory is of a good story well told with a quiver full of laughs.

Set in the round in the egg auditorium the stage is a series of logs, ropes and piles of fallen leaves. An orchestra of three musicians known as the Marianettes sit up on a raised platform and provide all the sound effects required along with thumping ska inspired music to the songs. Amy Sergeant (guitar), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Rhian Williams (drums) add huge energy and volume to the musical theatre show while the Ziggy Jacob’s lighting creates a moody middle of the forest atmosphere.

With plenty of fighting, chases and disputes this is an action packed narrative that takes place inches from the audience in an intensive drama that pitches good against evil, the poor against the rich, the down-trodden against the privileged. You don’t need to search hard for the themes. There’s no green tights, bows and arrows, quivers or a horse in sight, but the cast switch effortlessly between characters doubling up seamlessly to keep the saga ticking over.

Bearded Peter Edwards is a serious minded Robin Hood determined to return justice to the streets of Nottingham but has his work cut out with baddie Nik Holden as the Sheriff. With his tattered leather coat Holden puts up stiff resistance to the Merry Men and convinces as the dark lord of the castle. If the two protagonists are a couple of sober sides then Stephen Leask playing several rotund characters provides much of the humour. From his appearance with his invisible dog to his bath tub Prince John and to his not terribly devout Friar Tuck the laughter comes easily. Banks’ script helps but the cast make so much of the physical humour, the improvised slapstick and the one liners that we feel at once part of the gang and able to laugh at the foolish antics.

Maid Marion played with gymnastic nimbleness by Rebecca Killick is lively love match for Robin and (perhaps borrowing something of Nancy from Swallows and Amazons) is an ideal role model for girls and boys as the loyal daughter and an adept archer.

The audience of all ages are gripped throughout the 90 minute show and enjoy any chance to be incorporated into the action with the sack race at Nottingham Castle a particular highlight. No yawns, no fidgeting, or early exits even from quite young children. A refreshingly new production with its sharp modern view of the outlaws anchored in the here and now but set in a mythical old England that is bang on target.

Harry Mottram

Runs to Sunday, January 15, 2017

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Traditional pantomime has plenty of sparkle and local references in the jokes – but not enough sweets

 Aladdin. Theatre Royal Bath

A sparkling finale from a production that is kind hearted to the core and delivers beautifully choreographed dancing and musical set pieces with the fabulous vocals of Loula Geater as the Slave to the Ring lighting up the Main House.

Michael Gattrell’s Aladdin is a buoyant, bubbling, good natured traditional pantomime that never allows the pace to falter and is filled with all of the ingredients necessary for a wholesome production. Jon Monie pulls the story together as Wishee Washee. He invites children onto the stage to have a chat and a go at Kung Fu, pours liquid gunge over PC Pong’s (Tom Whalley) head and fits in birthday greetings to members of the audience while being the comically useless brother of Aladdin. However children complain that he doesn’t throw enough sweets to the audience – so he shows room for some confectionary improvement despite his commanding presence.

The kind hearted tone of the show extends to the baddie Abanazar played with relish by Bill Ward who can’t help debunking his evil persona with self-deprecating asides. No small child will have nightmares over his dramatic entrances and dastardly plans to steal the magic lamp. Up against him is the wholesome nice guy Mark Rhodes as Aladdin who any mum would love as a son since he is so nice and sings and dances so well. Shame about his mum though: Nick Walton as matriarch Widow Twankey is superbly grotesque and is just one innuendo short of being too smutty. Of course the shadow of the late Chris Harris still haunts the dressing rooms of the theatre as the grand dame for many years but he would surely approve of Walton’s take on Peking’s least politically correct mum.

Silk clad Gemma Naylor is suitably beautiful as Princess Naylor if an unlikely looking Chinese aristocrat as she falls for Aladdin in a waft of sequined veil of love at first sight. A real star turn is Tom Whalley who brings some period piece old style music hall acting as the hapless copper to the fore while another old style acting gem is Glyn Dilley playing the straight man as emperor.

A much simplified story line inspired by late 18th century notions of where the East is (Arabia, Persia, China and Morocco) in a panto that refreshingly includes local references, current political quips, topical notes and many a joke at the expense of residents of nearby towns. Yes, all the ingredients of a traditional show are here and performed with energy in a show that knows its audience. In a cracking dance and song production it is a pity about the dated looking flats depicting old Peking. They look as if dropped in from a panto of another era. A small matter perhaps but when the show zips along with stand-out singing, exquisite dancing from the Dorothy Coleburn School of Dance, and a cast on fire – sets and design are important.

Harry Mottram

Runs to Sunday, January 15, 2017

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2016-12-around-the-world-in-80-days-princess

Ambitious production nearly makes the grade but puts the Brewhouse back on the creative map

Around The World in 80 Days. Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton.

Like any long journey, Tim Clayton’s Around the World in 80 Days trundles along with periods of flatness interspersed with moments of high interest. Moments you remember like the circus, the elephant journey and the Parisian night club rather than some of muddled scene changes in what is inevitably a complex drama involving several continents, numerous sub-plots and a host of characters.

Jules Verne’s 19th century novel follows the intrepid Phileas Fogg on his ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days with his sidekick Passepartout for a bet. Well it was 1872 before aeroplanes, high speed rail or even cars had been invented. Phil Willmott’s musical adaptation along with Annemarie Thomas’s lyrics gives the adventure story a 21st century twist with an anti-imperial theme, debunks the racism of the time, turns the sexism of Victorian England on its head and sends up big game hunters all at the same time.

Verne’s novel was written in an era when the sun never set on the British Empire. A time when the Suez Canal had just opened, railways snaked across America and Asia and international travel was possible for the rich.

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Cleo Pettitt’s ambitious fob watch inspired set and props lends the right context, tone and texture to the drama and aided by Krissie Oldroyd’s steam punk costumes gives a visually evocative feel to the whole production. The lighting and staging are equally strong but the sound and musical backing is all too weak for a project of this grandeur and demands a stronger soundscape.

Clayton’s use of the community cast works well. The choreography of their movement, the clarity of their vocals and singing, and in particular the way he blended them into the production with seven professional actors was excellent. Yes there are moments when some community cast actors are going through the motions but the audience accepts this, while their inclusion makes the production greater than the sum of its parts. The youngest actors naturally are clinchers in the ‘ah’ factor that all family theatre needs and providing some of the best and most comic moments.

The story is written by a Frenchman about a Frenchman whose personable character and humanity upstages the stiff upper lipped snobby Englishman Phileas Fogg. Tom Babbage never knowingly departs from his Gallic voice and manages to galvanise the whole production with energy, self-belief and a sense of fun. Ross Barnes as Fogg is perfect as the frightful prig while Samantha Harper glitters nicely as Princess Auoda in her finery as she reprimands Phileas Fogg for his political incorrectness and insensitivity.

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With a voice straight out of the officer’s mess in Zulu Dawn Derek Frood is the essential Victorian upper crust bloke with his Flashman-esque manner as Captain Fix – the potential nemesis for Fogg, while another trooper is Karen Davies as Miss Fotherington. Both threaten to overshadow the main characters such is their stage presence, but both generously give the younger actors space. Nikkola Burnhope crackles and sizzles in her various guises (best as the Irish love interest to Passepartout) and Samuel Clifford adds massively to the production with song, action and moustaches.

This production is something of a halfway house between full-on professional theatre and quality AMDRAM but does better in its production values than Peter Pan down the road at the Northcott in blending the two. The Brewhouse is Somerset’s central arts hub but lost out when it collapsed in 2013 and closed for a year. Since its reopening it has reinvented itself and with this production shows ambition and creativity enough to justify its role as a central part in the South West’s theatrical landscape.

Harry Mottram

Runs to December 31

More details at https://www.thebrewhouse.net/

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The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic - Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden) - Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic – Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden) – Photo by Mark Douet

Frightening, friendly, funny and fabulously icy: The Snow Queen has it all in this musical triumph

The Snow Queen. Bristol Old Vic.

Something cuddly, something scary, something wonderful. Snow and ice, good and evil, and characters who are so well developed you feel you know them: The Snow Queen has it all. Bristol Old Vic’s winter season family show is a vibrant, inventive and brilliant musical play that entertains children, teenagers and adults in equal measure. A five star production that delivers its moral messages, warnings and themes in a superbly crafted narrative complete with lively music, strong performances and stunning creative special effects.

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic - Zara Ramm and company - Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic – Zara Ramm and company – Photo by Mark Douet

Directed by Lee Lyford and adapted by Vivienne Franzmann from Hans Christian Anderson’s 1844 fairy tale, the updated story dumps the Christian allegory in favour of being yourself and being kind to people. Snow, ice crystals, clouds of dry ice and a terrifying 12ft tall Snow Queen all compete in a blisteringly paced two hour and a bit production that leaves the audience feeling like the world can be a better place if everyone is more friendly. And this simple message is wrapped up in its central song: “Ev’ry Body Needs a Body to Hug.”

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

 

The play whisks the audience away with Gerda on her mission to find her kidnapped friend Kai. Robbers, freezing temperatures, evil aristocrats, tut-tutting parents, goblins and an enchanted garden won’t stop the wannabe explorer from her task. Emily Burnett’s Gerda blazes with bright-eyed goodness; Miltos Yerolemou revels as the Flower Witch in his floral romper suit and as the seedy Robber Dad; while Jessica Hayles is limitlessly versatile in her roles as Robber Girl, Duchess Greedielle and The Parrot.

There was a wonderfully evil Goblin Boffin played by Joanna Holden who doubled as Olive Owl as the woodland animals mounted a rebellion against the Duchess. She was aided by a perky Marty Magpie performed by Zara Ramm who was also the narrator and the wonderful Queen of the Sun. Kai (Kay in the original story) was played with balletic poise by Steven Roberts and Dylan Wood was the enjoyably sorry-for-himself Anton the Reindeer.

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

What gives the drama the x-factor are the musicians who add extra characters and bring a vibrancy to the show and add to the action. Gwyneth Herbert as the voice of The Snow Queen was exceptional and also very frightening. Her various voices, her singing and musicianship were breathtakingly brilliant. She was accompanied by Faith and Branko Ristic whose music added a tone of ancient European folksiness which helped to root the production back into its original home.

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

Add to all this the lighting (Richard Howell), the sharply defined sets (Tom Rogers) the projections (Will Duke)and clouds of dry ice, plus the use by Lyford of the audience area for the actors to occasionally break out from the confines of the stage and you have a show that few will fail to enjoy. The large numbers of children who were present on the press night were at turns in awe, in fear, in delight and by any measure entertained. Fear it should be added, of the terrifying Snow Queen designed by Marc Parrett. Should she have had flashing eyes and an animated mouth? Perhaps, but nevertheless, as the icy villain with her skeletal frame and flouncing white skirt she should never be invited in by small children for mince pies this Christmas.

Harry Mottram

The production runs to 15 January 2017

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Listing in the magazine and website:

BRISTOL Bristol Old Vic Theatre, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED England. 0117 987 7877; www.bristololdvic.org.uk; tickets@bristololdvic.org.uk  THE SNOW QUEEN 2 Dec 2016 – 15 Jan 2017. Ages 5+. Come on an epic adventure this Christmas with Bristol Old Vic’s enchanting new version of Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless story The Snow Queen. Best friends Gerda and Kai are inseparable, growing up in their close-knit village surrounded by laughter and song. Their world is turned upside down when children start disappearing, and the legend of the strangely beautiful Snow Queen becomes all too real. When Kai too is stolen away, Gerda sets off on an ambitious and dangerous journey to save her best friend. On her way, a hodgepodge of mysterious characters – including a magpie, a garden of colourful flowers and a trusty reindeer – help her discover her true strength. Featuring cracking live music and original songs, this electrifying coming-of-age tale directed by Lee Lyford.

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2016-12-cinerella-tobacco-f

Cinders is bovver-bootingly brilliant in this too-dark theatre of the grotesque production

Cinderella: A Fairytale. The Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light, Bristol

Too dark, too grim, too adult. Chris Pirie’s revival of Sally Cookson’s drama based on the European folk tale Cinderella was a disturbingly bleak dip into the darker themes of the original story. The director decided to take out most of the magical aspect of Cinderella in order to amuse and entertain the largely middle-aged adult audience.

This is not really pure children’s theatre – rather a self-indulgent exercise in adult theatre that pretends to be aimed at children. The few children in the audience on press night appeared to be at times puzzled, sometimes entertained, but not particularly enthused. Their parents on the other hand lapped up the anti-thesis of the fairy story which is coated in sugar in most modern versions, whether in film, television, animation or pantomime. This production goes to the other extreme with its aggressive style that throws out the glamour of the glass slipper and celebrates the Doc Martin boot using the sturdy footwear as its motif.

And yet there is much to be admired creatively in this uniquely south of the River Avon production. Firstly the music: composer Benji Bower has been a fixture in a series of Bristol seasonal shows creating exceptional live music conveying a variety of genres. In Cinderella: A Fairytale his composition features a joyous finale with Prince (Joey Hickman) paying tribute to the cast in a Bonzo-esque-Intro-Outro number. Brian Hargreaves and Alex Heane produce fluent tones of jazz and country, folk and classical which helps to set the atmosphere in a stage with virtually no fixed set.

Pictures: Farrows

Pictures: Farrows

The Tobacco Factory has issues with height – but Katie Sykes the designer excels with her minimalist design taking into account the pillars that blot out some of the audience’s views and introducing an attractive avian theme of fluttering wings. Joêl Daniel as choreographer tackles the huge amount of movement in the drama – using the small space to effect, and Matt Graham’s lighting consistently blended tone and emotion into the narrative.

Isabella Marshall as the titular character was bovver bootingly brilliant – adding a much needed pinch of glamour with her sweet singing voice and wistful stage presence. Craig Edwards, Lucy Tuck and Dorian Simpson revel in this theatre of the grotesque production as they dominate the story and the stage with their black humour and slapstick. Joey Hickman as Prince manages to salvage the rags to riches play with his good natured, humorous character and softer approach interacting with the audience on the theme of love and at times returning the narrative to a more child-friendly style.

Sally Cookson’s original production has been universally acclaimed in both Bristol and London. Somehow here the drama has taken on a different tone. Commercial theatre and pantomime are sometimes a world away from the creativity of the best of children’s theatre. This production of the classic folk story is certainly creative but somehow loses much of the magic and mystery of children’s theatre in its adult orientated boot stomping, shouty approach.

Harry Mottram

The production runs to 22 January 2017

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter – and if you disagree or agree email childrensthatremagazine@hotmail.com but always visit www.childrenstheatemagazine.co.uk

Listing in Chidlren’s Theatre Magazine:

BRISTOL The Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Rd, Bristol BS3 1TF; 0117 902 0344; www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com CINDERELLA: A FAIRY TALE 2 Dec-22 Jan. Age 6+ Director Sally Cookson. Revival Director Chris Pirie. Composer Benji Bower. Dramaturg Adam Peck. Designer Katie Sykes Lighting Designer Matt Graham. Puppetry Consultant Chris Pirie. Choreographer Joêl Daniel. Devised by the Company. Cast: Ella Isabella Marshall; Prince Joey Hickman; Step Mother Craig Edwards; Step Sister Lucy Tuck; Step Brother Dorian Simpson; Musicians Brian Hargreaves and Alex Heane. Since our fabulous production Cinderella: A Fairytale premiered here in 2011, we’ve performed it at three other venues for Christmas, it has been seen by 60,000 people, been nominated for an Olivier Award and won an Off West End Award. We’re absolutely delighted to bring it back to Bristol this Christmas. When Ella’s mother dies she is brought up by her devoted and loving father who teaches her the names and calls of the woodland birds that surround their home. But when her father marries again, Ella’s peaceful life is turned upside down by a host of new and unpleasant relations. It appears her only allies are the feathered friends who roost in the trees, but they are no ordinary birds… With their original and absorbing visual style, crystal-clear storytelling, original live music and pitch-perfect ensemble acting, the dream team from Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light with whom we created 101 Dalmatians and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, bring this classic tale of fortunes reversed, startlingly and imaginatively to life.

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2016-12-peter-pan-exeter-northcott-captain-hook

Please turn up the volume Peter Pan

Peter Pan. Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Lost wires, lost lines and lost voices – let alone the lost boys. Peter Pan is a highly ambitious production probably two dress rehearsals short of a first night. Already cancelled on Friday for being “not ready” the Exeter Northcott Theatre’s Christmas family show will surely improve and within a week will be a slick operation. However, on its second running, some changes need to be made.

Projection and diction. Two of the fundamentals of the theatre need to be addressed. Much of the dialogue was hard to catch from all but the main characters. Although some of the cast were mic’d-up which helped when their diction was clear (Tootles take a bow) but for others the amplification simply creates an annoying buzzing voice that is difficult to hear. For those at the back of the auditorium much of the dialogue was lost and thus the narrative too.

Paul Jepson the artistic director will no doubt sort out those issues in what is a visually exciting and creative version of J M Barrie’s 19th century fantasy play. A practical, evocative and period piece set that looks good and with its props, its different levels and doors is a masterpiece by designer Ellan Parry – one of the show’s triumphs.

There is much more to be admired in the production. The back projections blended neatly into the action adding an overall fusion of the senses. Peter’s shadow projections were exquisite. And the music and lighting blend into a visual and audio experience to give the right tone to the drama as we pitch headlong from London to Neverland, Indian encampments and the ocean awash with sea creatures. So much is pitch perfect in the production – and for the child who is experiencing live theatre for the first time it is a feast for the eyes and ears.

It was a joy to see Steve Bennett back where he belongs: centre stage at the Northcott as Mr Darling and an unlikely but welcome Tinker Bell as the frisky drag fairy.  His entrance by high wire is something that everyone in Exeter should witness. They may well say to themselves: “did I really see that?”

Talking of high wires, Peter Pan played by Laura Prior coped well with technical glitches, staying in character and winning the audience over with improvised lines and movement. Can Peter Pan be played by a female? Well in the sense that the titular character is an in-betweener aged around 10 or 11 then why not? After all Pauline Chase played the part for several years on the stage until 1913 and by tradition women have frequently played the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

As for Captain Hook, well Kerry Peers certainly slings her hook upon the stage. In terms of being the pantomime villain perhaps she’s not frightening enough. The chief baddie of the drama is supposed to relish murdering children and Peers needs to up her fear factor although her visual persona is wicked pirate. As the children’s mother she is everything a mother should be.

Macy Nyman turned in a satisfying big sisterly performance as Wendy connecting well with the children and Peter Pan although with her harness strapped in under her lace trimmed pyjamas looked a little bulky. She like Peers, Prior and Bennett were also clearly heard with well defined voices and characters. One of the highlights of this show is to see so many children on stage – playing children. Yes, some of the voices disappear in the ensemble, but the costumes, the energy and the sheer youthful presence is just what is needed in a play about children, play acting, fantasy and make-believe.

The audience buy into the show’s ambition with applause for anything that goes wrong, or when the children fly up into the heavens, as well as the well-rehearsed set-pieces. There’s a very good fight scene when the children take on the pirates in which small boys appear to have the upper hand in fencing buccaneers. The audience would have liked to have seen more of the mermaids whose brief appearance complete with song added a musical note to the drama, and the pirates revealed they too can create music and were again underused. Missed opportunities perhaps, but in general a production that children new to the theatre will love as it improves and gains confidence and flies off to Neverland.

Harry Mottram

Continues to January 1, 2017.

Full cast list:

Laura Prior Peter Pan
Steve Bennett Tinker Bell/Mr. Darling
Kerry Peers Captain Hook/Mrs. Darling
Macy Nyman Wendy
Mark Carlisle Smee
Greg Hall Starkey
Jessica Parsons Tiger Lilly
Scott Simpson Lean Wolf/Jukes
Jake Sullivan Great Big Little Panther/Cookson
Guy Dennys Cecco
Marissa Rowell Mullins
Damian Schedler Cruz Noodler
Gabriel Drake John
Brandon Taylor-Young Michael
Darcy Tithecott Liza/Second Twin
Jessica Searle Slightly
Holly Baker Nibbs
Bradley Swinbank Tootles
Ryan Whitehead Curly
Emily Baker First Twin/Jane
Josh Cade Lost Boy
Theo Munro Lost Boy
Bradley Swinbank Tootles
Emily Rose Farmer First Mermaid – Pan
Rhianon Hegarty Second Mermaid – Pan
Marissa Rowell Third Mermaid

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Sympathy: Jo finds a friend in A Taste Of Honey

Sympathy: Jo finds a friend in A Taste Of Honey

Teenage sex, soggy biscuits and witty one liners in A Taste of Honey at the Alma Tavern Theatre

A Taste of Honey. Alma Tavern Theatre, Bristol. Age: 11+

In the confined space of the Alma Tavern Theatre we enter the claustrophobic world of northern England on the cusp of the 1960s. It’s damp, dingy and depressing in the Salford flat designed by Jenny Davies with its shared bathroom and lavatory down the corridor. There’s Jo, her mother Helen and her abusive husband-to-be-Peter. And there’s the joy of damp bedclothes, luke warm coffee and a heater that doesn’t work. It’s not a love nest but rather a snapshot of British social angsts of the late 1950s where there’s nothing much to eat except soggy biscuits.

Rebecca Robson as Helen crackled with sexual and social frustration as she snapped, scolded and scathed anything and anyone who didn’t fit into her narrow view of the world. Her unlikely looking daughter Jo (Bethan Croome) took most of the flack although with her flat Merseyside accent she deflected every insult with some of Delaney’s best lines.

Setting: it all gets very tense in A Taste of Honey

Setting: it all gets very tense in A Taste of Honey

On her mother fishing for compliments: “You don’t look forty. You look a sort of well-preserved sixty.” And on her mother’s fake concern for her care: “The time to have taken care of me was years ago, when I couldn’t take care of myself.”

It’s a world where black men are the ultimate taboo, gay men are disgusting ‘pansies’ and worst of all, foreign food such as spaghetti is so horrific it should probably be isolated and exterminated.

Stroppy: Jo's mum kept up the attack throughout the play

Stroppy: Jo’s mum kept up the attack throughout the play

Director Matt Grinter’s take on Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 social drama at the Alma Theatre played it straight. With an authentically grotty set, period music and authentic yellowy lighting the Red Rope Theatre production of one of the classics of the post war era didn’t disappoint. Elliot Chapman as Peter may have over stated his case at first but his underlying aggressive alcoholic persona who goes too far unnerved just enough. Jimmie played by Joey Akubeze was perfectly nuanced as he woos Jo, and Geoff portrayed by Zach Powell in an understated but sympathetic style was an effective foil to Jo who in turns abused him and lent on him for support.

Lovers: Jo finds her man in A Taste of Honey

Lovers: Jo finds her man in A Taste of Honey

The required chemistry between mother and daughter was initially lacking in hormones, but Bethan Croome as Jo grew into the role as the drama unfolded and was at her best in Act 2 when sparring with Geoff in the most challenging role to play: the classic coming of age teenager caught up in the injustices of the world but armed with unfeasibly witty show stopping lines. Gritty, gripping and a window on a past era with timeless themes of injustice, mother and daughter conflict and social inequalities that remain as relevant today as they did in the pre-Wilsonian period.

Three stars

Harry Mottram

The show runs to October 29, 2016.

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First Women in Theatre Cygnet

More head girl than earthy orange seller

Playhouse Creatures. Cygnet Theatre, Exeter
The lime light and the low lives. The highs, followed by the desperate depths of depression. Yes, the ecstasy of a good performance and the despair of rejection were some of the themes touched upon in Playhouse Creatures at Exeter’s Cygnet Theatre directed by Amanda Knott.
In many ways an actor’s life is unchanged from the era of the Restoration to that of today. There’s the exhilaration of performance and the plaudits that follow to the black doom of unemployment and a life in the shadows. So it is in April De Angelis’ drama about early English actresses in the late 17th century.
The actresses in question were Nell Gwyn (Sofia Castro), Mrs Farley (Helen Kirk), Mrs Betterton (Kaja Pecnik) and Mrs Marshall (Jessica Parsons).
Their lives were linked together by the droll and deadpan persona of Mrs Betterton’s dresser and char lady Doll Common (Rosalind Williams) whose prosaic pronouncements on theatre, bear pits, drink, corsets and pregnancy kept the audience chuckling throughout the two act play.
For students of English Literature and drama this is a rich era with the first generation of female actors cast in Shakespearean revivals, Restoration comedies by John Dryden, William Wycherley, and George Etherege amid the murky world of Georgian society where actresses were mentioned in the same breath as prostitutes.
Williams as Doll Common was a masterclass in character acting with her drab persona and earthy comments on life in 17th century London. She shuffled around the wide stage rearranging the racks of costumes and various props with an air of ‘I’ve seen it all before’ and ‘I’ve done it all before.’
Also outstanding was Kaja Pecnik as Mrs Betterton who despite her youth was able to powerfully convey the frustrations of an actress whose fading beauty were rejected by her actor husband. And a husband who humiliated her as she was forced to see a younger Mrs Betterton usurp her position. The issue of older women on stage is something the 21st century still wrestles with today.
There was strong support from the rest of the cast but the earthy humour, street wit and sensual body language of Nel Gwynn was replace by an ever smiling Sofia Castro who was more head girl than courtesan, but kept the drama spinning along with a feeling we were watching posh girls being a bit naughty rather than experiencing the true smut of the 1660s. Castro’s Anglo Saxon repartee was more received Dictionary of Slang rather than the feel of the bawdy-house.
The stories were well-told even though much of the earthy reality was missing. Kaja however provided some memorable moments with her Lady Macbeth’s “out damn spot” speech which in particular seized the audience’s attention with a powerful portrayal of a woman on the brink of insanity.
Not bad and at times hitting some dramatic highs. An entertaining and rewarding student show with its universal theme of an actor’s life with its highs and lows. As Doll Common always says, “an actress must always have an audience.”
Harry Mottram
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chicken licken half moon theatre 2015 Jan

Funnier and funnier:  and then it all ends very suddenly

Chicken Licken, Half Moon Theatre, London
Chicken Licken does the seemingly impossible – appealing to 3 – 6 year olds and fans of The Great British Bake Off. Adam Bennett is the only star of this one-man cookery show, casually making bread – Mary Berry herself can’t match his self-assured style and natural relationship with the viewers. Though performing classic stories, the audience genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next, and even more remarkably, it seems Bennett might not either. He makes a production that has been around for 15 years feel as fresh as a newly-baked loaf.
That’s not to say Bennett is a master baker – he makes an awful (but delightful) mess. Throughout, however, he has the audience in the palm of his flour-covered hands. There’s an audible gasp and holding of breath as an egg is thrown in the air, before he chucks it over his head and under his knee, juggling with multiple ingredients (and even a rolling pin) with an understated confidence that is constantly apparent.
A great example of this is when Bennett realizes that, though the recipe calls for them, he has run out of eggs. He stares in increasing horror between the empty egg box, the recipe book, and the bowl, allowing the moment to play on and ensuring it gets funnier and funnier. When he does hunt down an egg from the coop, he cracks it and a baby chick pops out. His confidence extends to the audience: “What shall we call her?’ Chicken…”, trusting that a little voice will respond with “Licken”.
Once Chicken Licken has arrived, the production begins to tell three stories: Chicken Licken, The Little Red Hen, and The Fox and The Hen. The cookery set up transforms into the set – wooden spoons and tea towels become a front for shadow puppetry, puppets appear from dough. Bennett alone does all the set changing, controls the many characters, and guides the story. The result is quite a bit of chaos, but this production revels in it, with puppets swooping and chasing around the space.
The play cleverly handles performing well-known tales, using this as an opportunity to involve the audience in a self-aware way. Bennett asks, “You’ve read the book, what happens next?”; given the answer, he begrudgingly agrees: “Oh okay.” The production shies away from just re-telling; the tales are molded to serve the performance, just like Bennett stretching and shaping the bread. Chicken Licken is saved from an unfortunate end by the puppeteer: “You need to live to be in the next story.” It’s more interesting to see these reinterpretations that give us a taste of the traditional stories.
It does all end a bit suddenly, like a book quickly snapped shut. However, when it comes to making to children’s theatre, it’s clear DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre are part of the upper crust.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Dear Santa 1

Frankly Santa, you were a bit of let down

Dear Santa. The Core, Corby

We went to watch Dear Santa at the recently opened Core Theatre at The Cube in Corby. The facility is really good and the audience feel close and involved with the stage and performers. Despite how iconic nature of The Cube, is it is poorly sign posted, parking is not clearly identified and we walked all the way around the building before we found the door; not good on one of the coldest days in December.

We were greeted at the door by a friendly elf who told our children what to expect and where they could write a letter of their own for Santa and they showed us to our seats.

The show was sweet and pleasant ideal for the under-fives, the story of Lucy and her letter to Santa is a children’s classic and the small cast did a good job of engaging with the audience, making the children feel part of the performance.

Our children found the stage performance fun and appropriate with the simple story being told well, as Santa and his elf try to decide what is the best present for Lucy after receiving her letter saying she wants her presents to be given to those children who have none. The presents considered are all wrong – too big, too noisy, too scary, until Santa finds the right present for a kind little girl.

After the stage show finished we were shepherded by the elves onto a back room which was rather strange and a little uneasy, the pretense was to meet Santa in his workshop. This was a little disappointing as we stood in a sparse room and waited. More information and something to take away with the kids would have been of use, as our kids thought they might get a response to their letter or even a gift. They left slightly disappointed and I am not convinced that the ‘come and meet Santa’ was worth it.

Overall this was an age appropriate sweet and non-contentious stage show for the younger child but we won’t be booking to watch it again.

Art Brenton and family

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 Cinders high res medium (850x1280) half moon theatre

Cinder-Ella is full of surprises

Half Moon Theatre, London
At this time of year, Cinderella is everywhere, and everyone is trying to do it differently. This one-man version blends classic storytelling with puppetry, music and magic, adding a meta-theatrical twist and exceptional interaction.
Cinder-Ella is full of surprises and clever ideas, controlled and revealed by the masterful Kinny Gardner who is clearly an old hand. The grey, funereal set is gradually coloured by the story, and puppets appear from boots, bags and trousers. It’s all delivered with a nod-and-a-wink style à la traditional panto, and similarly Gardner gives a running commentary of the show: “I can’t use a pumpkin because of health and safety so a balloon will act as a pumpkin. It’s all getting very arty up here!’ Cinder-Ella is definitely a family show that caters to all ages, and doesn’t fall into the panto trap of sliding into jokes for adults that baffle younger audience members – there’s lots here for everyone.
Gardner fully integrates signing into the show, and it feels very natural, the movements and facial expressions adding to the storytelling. What sets Cinder-Ella apart is the audience interaction: Gardner teaches some key pieces of British Sign Language so everyone can join in with the story, producing lovely moments such as the whole room reminding Cinder-Ella to be home by midnight.
There are a few occasions when the pace is slow, moments of silent action that go on too long. The puppets are used to illustrate the story rather than tell it; as Gardner only has so many hands, there’s quite a bit of propping them against walls or attaching them to poles, and he happily steps in to help when the puppets are “too short”.
Cinder-Ella is refreshing precisely because of its engagement with styles and techniques of the past, which can be overlooked in the constant quest for innovation. It’s as familiar as an old children’s television show – a cross between Sooty and Jackanory – but not outdated.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com
National tour 9th-22nd February 2015

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there was an old woman

Attention to detail in a shoe drama

There Was An Old Woman, Southbank Centre, London.
There Was An Old Woman is the type of production theatre-makers aspire to. No good idea is shied away from, no matter how tricky – introducing smell in to the space, letting the audience move around a lot, encouraging them to lie down under a duvet on a lavender pillow. The result is a carefully thought-through theatrical piece that is a privilege to experience.
This is a show about shoes – they’re all mixed up! A ballet pump and a boot, a flipper and a flip flop, everything is confused until the Shoe Lady arrives in her shoe car, collecting discarded shoes as beds for her shoe babies.
There Was An Old Lady is an experience and a journey (lasting almost an hour and a half, though it doesn’t feel it). The audience are active throughout – if they’re not moving, they’re smelling, dancing, lying down, listening to the live music, or helping to tell the story. The performance begins in the foyer, with a shoe-covered carpet to play on. Everyone is  given a shoe which they “drive” into the main performance space, taking them past the scent of Christmas tree branches (later, lavender and apples fill the air). As the Shoe Lady tries to find her way home, she meets a friendly bear and a sleepy woman who are keen to assist but don’t have the proper footwear – the audience find their shoes and slip them on.
The performers (Susannah Austin, Griff Fender, Lewis Floyd Henry and Ellie Griffiths) skilfully handle interaction in a relaxed environment that welcomes and inspires it. One girl was keen to talk to the characters and they weren’t afraid to enter in to a full conversation, expertly leading it back into the story. Throughout, they carefully made sure that each child had the opportunity to participate to whatever level they were comfortable with, making sure to spread themselves amongst the audience. An expert touch was having this as a main role for one of the performers, who introduced herself to each child in the foyer beforehand and played with them, then spent a lot of the production sat in amongst everyone, a now-familiar face to support the audience.
The set and costumes are very stylised, all black, white and red, and of course shoes are everywhere – they are the bows on the performers’ headgear, they are worn as necklaces, one even balances on the end of the musician’s guitar. There are small, almost unnoticeable, details like the chairs being draped with fabric hanging from the walls to maintain a cohesive aesthetic. The amazing attention to every element adds up to a lovingly made, and received, production; a shoe-in with audiences!
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Scrunch press

Making tiny people very welcome

Scrunch. Unicorn Theatre, London.
Anyone who has spent Christmas with a baby knows that for them, the presents are beside the point – opening them is the real fun (when I was little, my mum wrapped up random objects because I enjoyed ripping off the paper so much). Scrunch is a sensory production exploring the best bits of Christmas when you’re really little. It’s wonderful as a stand-alone performance, but it’s the packaging that makes it an extra special Christmas treat.
There’s often so much more to a good children’s theatre experience than just sitting down and watching a play. From dressing up boxes and toys in the foyer, to workshops and activities post-show, to ensuring enough toilets and suitable space for buggies: as a reviewer, I’ve always made the decision to concentrate on the piece itself. This time, however, I think Unicorn Theatre and the creators of Scrunch deserve a mention for going above and beyond to accommodate and welcome the audience. It felt like an extension of the piece itself, guiding parents and their very young children through one of their earliest experiences of theatre together.
The audience are welcomed into a dedicated space, away from the hustle and bustle of the main foyer, where children can roam a bit more freely and adults can grab a tea and a mince pie; there are baby changing facilities and plenty of room for pushchairs. Aware that this may be a first theatre visit with their baby for some, director Sarah Argent reassures everyone that that they can move spaces or leave if they need to, that little ones can giggle and gurgle as much as they want, and understands (unlike Claridge’s) that babies may need to be fed during the performance, which is okay too.
Ushered into a white winter wonderland, everyone settles onto a floor of duvets and pillows, while the sole performer Kevin Lewis rocks a doll baby to sleep before carefully putting it into a cradle. Chris Wiegand’s review in The Guardian perfectly describes the effect this has: “For a few beats you think the story will revolve around the baby but this recognizable ritual, and the sense that someone is sleeping in the room, serves to set the show’s gentle, hushed tone.” As the doorbell rings, cards and packages begin to arrive which provide endless gentle fun – envelopes for playing peepo, wrapping for ripping, paper strips to make hair. Lewis isn’t afraid to repeat each action and take his time, the silliness only becoming funnier.
Scrunch is just as great theatre should be – it feels very live and very personal. Lewis turns to make sure everyone gets a good look at what he’s doing, with lots of eye contact; he’s so hardworking, constantly responding to the reactions in the room. He takes the stripes of his new socks and the red of his gift bag and picks out the stripes and red in the audience. One particularly big parcel contains a polar bear, which says hello to each of the 16 babies.
The 25minute performance naturally becomes a play session, with enough paper and packaging for everyone to join in. As Kevin Lewis and Sarah Argent interact with individual children, parents start chatting, and the babies enjoy exploring and making new friends, this is a festive reminder that the best things at Christmas aren’t necessarily gift-wrapped.
Flossie Waite

Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Jabberwocky-web-page-banner-refresh

In celebration of nonsense

Jabberwocky, Little Angel Theatre, London.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gymble in the wabe…” The meaning of Lewis Carroll’s poem from Alice Through the Looking-Glass is no clearer to me after watching Jabberwocky at Little Angel Theatre. This is a production, however, that celebrates its nonsense and gives the audience ownership of the story.
A boy leaves his home and enters a forest where strange creatures float through the air and march across the ground. There are fights and friendships, and the bizarre world comes alive through puppets that can completely change shape and an abstract, visually striking set. The boy is performed with a marionette puppet which gives him a naturally nervous, shaking energy, capturing the sometimes scary quality of the adventure.
Though almost wordless, Jabberwocky relishes language and the potential of Carroll’s neologisms – hooded, clawed creatures chant only ‘grabe’, ‘outgrabe’ and ‘brillig’, the impact of each word differing massively.
At this time of year there’s a real temptation to create and see obvious festive fare, but this is something for those trying to avoid, or add to, traditional Christmas shows. It couldn’t be more different from Cindermouse; Little Angel has gone to real efforts to cater to everyone this season.
Jabberwocky is very artistic, beautiful, and a bit weird, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but certainly refreshing. With all the pressure on children’s theatre to produce commercial work, it’s quite moving to see something so genuinely experimental.
I saw Jabberwocky very early on so it will only become more sure of itself with time, whilst remaining an ‘it’ that is hard to define. As Alice would say, “Curiouser and curiouser…”.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Group Shot Front of theatre(1)

Andy and Eric save panto with sausages and winks

Dick Whittington, Bristol Hippodrome
Panto season is something I look forward to all year. I love the abandon of theatrical sophistication, the capers, the audience participation, the clichés, the boo-able baddies and the winsome widows. In fact, I believe pantomime is the bedrock of British theatre. Therefore, when I go to a pantomime, I have extremely high expectations. Maybe too high for this pantomime, for though my party and I left the theatre with aching sides and broad smiles, the production was not without its many faults.
A number of factors came together to trip up Bristol Hippodrome’s Dick Whittington before the cat had been let amongst the pigeons. The first was the choice of the panto itself. Needless to say, there must be some kind of rotation necessary to prevent repetition, but ask anyone what Dick Whittington is about and most will be left umming and ahhing about the finer details, something never found with the Hans Christian Anderson fairytales.
Even then, the script left a lot to be desired, with opportunities for all the panto clichés to be thrown in dropped for the sake of another uninspired pop cover by, albeit, a very enthusiastic and polished chorus. My first-time pantomime friend turned to me, frowning, during the production to say the story was difficult to follow. I had to explain that was because there was barely any story to follow.
The second problem was something that larger pantomimes always suffer from and that was the shoehorning in of today’s Z-list celebrities who must carry the show with not an ounce of talent. This year’s headliners were even more non-sensical, and not entirely without irony, with 2012 Britain’s Got Talent winners Ashleigh and Pudsey, human and dog duo, taking up most of the billboard.
Aside from dragging what story there was away from the lemonade-topped Ben Faulks (Mr Bloom from CBeebies) as Dick himself, Ashleigh Butler, though a sweetheart on TV, is not an actress or a singer, and sadly not strong or likeable enough to entertain through the drippiest of love songs, oddly taken from an antiquated indie soundtrack.
However, I cannot fault in any way the comedic pairing of Andy Ford (a beautifully fourth-wall-breaking Idle Jack) and Eric Potts as Sarah the Cook, who corpsed their way through a wobbly script, and dragging out the funniest scene with a sausage I think I have ever witnessed on stage to a point where neither actors nor audience could draw a breath from laughing.
If there was something that saved a rocky boat from an all-out shipwreck, it was the self-depreciating humour of this duo, whose broad winking to a potentially mutinous paying audience transformed grumbles into guffaws.
Aside from that, it’s difficult to praise a pantomime when the most accomplished part of it was a 3D underwater show produced by Disney Pixar, which had nothing at all to do with the story but delighted the audience. I hope this direction is not the future of Bristol’s Christmas pantomime, but as long as veterans Ford and Potts are still holding things together I cannot see it going far wrong.
Sophie Jones

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Teen rebel Wendy jars in Peter Pan

Peter Pan. Polka Theatre, London.
In this re-imagining, the classic tale is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s. When the boy who never grew up appears, he pops his collar; a James Dean wannabe who slicks his hair as he chases his shadow. This is Peter Pan in puberty, no longer the otherworldly boy, and fashioning him like a real world movie star brings him back down to earth.
Peter Glanville’s adaptation places the story just after the birth of the ‘teenager’, and Peter Pan isn’t the only thing that comes through the Darling window. When Michael and John are fast asleep, Wendy quietly retrieves a wireless hidden on the windowsill so she can listen to rock and roll music under the covers. Wendy has always been on the cusp of growing up – it’s her last night in the nursery after all – but this production pushes her over the edge. It’s tricky to make the source material support this reading, and at times it makes the production seem more dated. Her rebellious streak and fondness for teddy boys makes excitement over mermaids and fairies stick out.
Likewise, Peter’s disinterest in Wendy as anything other than a mother figure comes despite him thrusting his hips like Elvis in a leather jacket. Peter waits outside Wendy’s window to listen to her fairytales, but he looks more like a secret boyfriend sneaking into the house.
Few productions of Peter Pan stick closely to the original script and none can include all of the episodes and characters of the play and books. It’s always a case of selecting and shaping, and this small-scale production makes space for the Never Bird, who is all too often forgotten, and finds imaginative ways to fly in limited space. Still, the epic story feels too big for this stage – apart from Wendy and Peter, the other four members of the cast play up to four characters each, and focus strays into the logistics of making this work rather than the performance.
More harmonica than panpipes, this production justly tries to bring something new to a tale that has been told for 110 years, but flies just short of second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.
Flossie Waite 

Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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George's Marvellous Medicine 2014

George’s marvellous production ideal medicine for young children

George’s Marvellous Medicine. Northcott Theatre, Exeter.
Warning: this play will blow your grandma through the roof!
Loved by children since Roald Dahl wrote it, George’s Marvellous Medicine staged by the Birmingham Stage Company, is perfect material for a children’s play, although it comes with a warning not to go off and try this at home!
George’s grandma (Deborah Vale) comes to stay on their farm, and while his parents are out she bosses him about, demanding cups of tea and scaring him with stories of eating bugs and worms. When she demands her lunchtime medicine George (Clark Devlin) decides to surprise her with a homemade medicine which he hopes will make her into a nice grandma. Cue a long list of everyday household items, which mixed together turn into a powerful magic potion.
When Grandma takes the Marvellous Medicine instead of making her nicer it causes her to grow into a giant – at which point she rises from her chair and breaks through the roof of the house (brilliantly staged in the play). George then feeds the medicine to a chicken that grows to 10 times the size and causes havoc by running around the farm. When George’s dad (Richard Mullins) returns he is very excited as he sees the potential to grow enormous farm animals which could solve world hunger.
He makes George mix another batch of the medicine, but it all goes horribly wrong, shrinking the chicken he tries it out on. Grandma demands another cup of tea to be brought up to her, and mistaking the cup of medicine in George’s hand for tea drinks it, which shrinks her to nothing.
A marvellous production, with great comic timing and well acted with a small cast, and very close to the original story. Audience participation kept the kids involved in the story, though there could have been more, and this reviewer, and children aged eight and ten, had great fun watching.
The production directed by Ellen Mills and Phil Clark was enhanced by artwork in the foyer, created by local school children. Good for three to 11-year-olds – older children may be disappointed as it is aimed at a young audience.
Lucy Mottram

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Peter Pan-223_John, Wendy and Michael

A magical version of Peter Pan

Peter Pan. Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in fairies? The pantomime production of Peter Pan, which is featured at Northampton’s Derngate Theatre this Christmas, was indeed a magical piece of panto. It is jam-packed full of all of the essential ingredients for a fantastic panto, with lots of extra quirks and surprises for good measure.
The story of Peter Pan is set in London, starting out in the Darling household, where Wendy and her brothers live. Their housekeeper is Ms (not Mrs, but Ms) Smee. She helps the children get to sleep at night by reading the story of Peter Pan. The story unfolds with the characters flying away to Neverland, where they have adventures and encounter panto baddy, Captain Hook.
Ms Smee (Cori Dupree) is haphazardly assisted by her son (Joe Pascale). These two characters bounce slapstick and tongue in cheek humour brilliantly off each other throughout the panto: Ms Smee is a buxom and dry witted grand dame with multiple, outrageous costume changes (which the audience are encouraged to describe as FAB-U-LOUS each time she enters the stage). Their scripts are littered with brilliant jokes (in asking about the breed of the Darling family’s pet dog: “what is a shtizu?” Pascale replies “it’s a zoo, but with no animals in it!”) and there are some genuinely silly scenes – when both are mermaids and Pascale slides off the rocks and can’t get up from the floor was one such daft episode. Just in case the humour wasn’t good enough already, there are surreal moments aplenty aswell, including dancing penguins, collapsing barstools and an outstanding appearance by an aging rock and roll star which had the audience’s grown ups in absolute stitches(Ceri Dupree at his brilliant best!).
Aside from these characters, Peter Pan himself, Tinkerbell and Wendy are all delightful and childlike, appealing to the younger audience with their swashbuckling adventuring. They are full of energy and charm. The resident baddie, Captain Hook was loudly jeered by the audience who had warmed up well to their role, shouting and booing loudly.
Stage sets and in particular the visit from the Daddy crocodile showed off the brilliant design and special effects. The children in the stalls were very brave, even though some thought they were going to be the crocodile’s dinner!
Peter Pan was true magic from beginning to end and all the children I spoke to rated it at least a 9/10. There is something for all in this panto and unlike some children’s shows it is warm and friendly to its audience throughout and certainly the six year-olds boys helping with this review were in fits of giggles throughout. All in all, a magical piece of family entertainment which provides everything and more from the Christmas pantomime.
Karen Brenton (and Oscar and George aged 6)

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Robin Hood 1 (Photo Hattie Miles)

Oh Robin… why is Marion such a wimp?

Robin Hood. Lighthouse, Poole
The panto season is here again. Oh yes it is! Excited children, noisy music and carefully sited merchantising.
The Lighthouse Poole does Christmas panto with gusto, with this year’s offering of Robin Hood a rich mix for children, parents and grandparents. It starts well with a loud clap-along musical introduction and energetic dancing from the adult chorus and the child dancers.
The evening is the familiar mix of simplified story, dancing, songs, silliness, slapstick, very old jokes and traditional comic episodes; they even managed to squeeze in a decorator’s slapstick scene.
This old reviewer had to remind herself that old jokes are still funny – and new to those who have not heard them before – as my young neighbour fell about laughing at the school scene that featured cross-dressing and much double entendre.
Ed Petrie carries the title role of Robin Hood with easy athletic charm, every inch the hero and he worked the audience beautifully. His hat was miraculously and mysteriously stuck to his head throughout energetic dancing. And his classic song in front of the curtains was a masterpiece of silliness.
Maid Marian was played by Alicia Woodhouse who was sweet and lovely  as a traditional heroine, but with her obvious skills she should have been given more to do than looking pretty and vulnerable. Isn’t it time for more positive female role models than this outdated 70s caricature? (Script writer please take note.)
Fairy Mary appeared in a puff of smoke for a chat with the audience, and was far more lively than the maid of the forest – and was rather more decorative than one might expect.
The real star (as is often the case in panto) is the villain. Here it’s the Sheriff of Nottingham, played very ably by Patrick O’Kane, who worked the audience well from a standing start. Indeed the boys and girls in the audience were well primed to boo him in his elegant tights and boots. His solo song, “It’s all about me,” was edgy… and charming.
However the balance of the show weighted heavily towards colour and sweetness, with the charming villain in black was sadly outnumbered. He badly needed to have some henchmen or visible power to demonstrate that Robin and Marian were under a threat from which they could (or could not) escape.
The dancing improved through the evening as the dancers warmed up. Highlights included the magical toys – coming alive in a dream sequence, and the fairies dancing in the green wood.
The staging and scenery were fine, though underused. A bit more flying or movement around the theatre might have pepped up the magic. While the last beautiful set was rather wasted by the short amount of time one had to see it – the audience needed to pay attention for its brief appearance.
Oh Yes! It had all one may expect of panto. Oh No! There was nothing to scare the nervous. Oh Yes! The script was simple, with few contemporary references and stuck in the past.
Oh No! Things do not change in the Lighthouse’s panto land.
It seems a pity that with an audience consisting of many Brownies, there were no sparky girl role models for them to identify with, while the drama’s females were mostly decorative.
Oh Yes! the villain had the best lines.
Oh Yes! The children loved it. (But they deserved better.)
Alex Brenton 

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Merlin-Will Merrick with dragon Mabinogion153

Scary dragon and slick stagecraft

Merlin. Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton
A great performance by the cast, the storytelling of this classic legend was superb with the use throughout of song and live music – all with a contemporary take. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the Royal Theatre in Northampton.
Will Merrick portrays the quirky, uneasy character of Merlin brilliantly and the audience could really relate to the role and his awkward and clumsy infatuation with Vivian.
The use of the cast to move magical objects was clever and the cast’s playing of instruments throughout was well delivered. The staging and production was slick and imaginative, it worked really well given the close and intimate setting of the Royal theatre the audience felt connected with this story of friendship, love and magic .
Francesca Zoutewelle as Gwen was brilliant and her stage presence commanded attention.
Tom Giles was amusing as the comedy French villain Garotte, however the star of the show as far as we were concerned was the friendly puppet dragon.
The action flowed throughout the play, there rarely being a dull moment, bearing in mind this is a full two hour plus production.
The use of puppets for the battle scene with the Saxons was beautifully choreographed, and our children certainly liked the sword fighting, which was almost dance-like.
Our younger children found some of the darker scenes and the emergence of the dragon scary, however overall the play was very well performed and would be suitable for children of six and above.
Overall a well deserved thumbs up from Violet and Oscar – and their dad.
Art Brenton 

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Cinderella - David Ball and Byron Mondahl as The Ugly Sisters - TRB - Photo credit Freia Turland - (ref132)

Ugly sisters inject umf into slick and pacey production of Cinders

Cinderella. Theatre Royal Bath. Age 6+
They came, they twirled, they triumphed. The Ugly Sisters are supposed to be hissed at but by the end of Scott Ritchie’s Cinderella the audience were not sure whether to boo or cheer as the duo David Ball and Byron Mondahl took the show by its glittering balls and gave it real umf ─ and some.
The passing of the legend that was Chris Harris earlier this year potentially left a hole in Theatre Royal Bath’s annual panto. His theatrical spirit need not have worried. Harris’ long time fellow actor Jon Monie was always going to hold the show together such is his exceptional stage presence, quick wit and winning personality with children as love-sick Buttons.
But another factor made this panto a success and that was the hormonally confusing Ugly Sisters. Played as a brilliant double act by David Ball (the tall bossy one) and Byron Mondahl (the fat stupid one) the couple swept all before them with real aggression, earthy humour and lots of local references in Adam Ryan’s script.
The Bath panto is known for its dance support from the girls and boys of the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing. The class of ‘14 were given some complex but smile-producing routines by Lewis Butler, adding movement and a balletic texture to much of the show. The costumes of the dancers caught the eye – in particular the combination of black and cream. And the wardrobe department should be congratulated in general for outfits that matched the personalities of the characters.
Dani Harmer as Cinders seemed to play within herself and wasn’t helped by the script by being a particularly wimpish heroine. A slightly feisty and assertive Tracy Beaker-esque character would have been more appropriate and given a better role model for today’s young females.
Athletic Bobby Windebank as Dandini and old stager Richard Colson as the Baron also caught the eye in this enjoyably energetic production noted for its choreography, its pace and two very outspoken sisters.
Harry Mottram  

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Felix Hayes as Clarabel Image Farrows Creative

A darkly comic production

101 Dalmatians. Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Dodie Smith’s much beloved children’s story about spotty dogs, evil furriers and more puppies than you can throw a stick for has captured the hearts of millions. It may seem then a daunting task to bring 101 Dalmatians to the stage in a whole new theatrical and musical edition, besides attempting the feat with a cast of five.
It need not be a concern however, as under Sally Cookson’s careful direction and the Travelling Light Theatre Company’s propensity for original and greatly entertaining productions, the cast took the madcap story under their belts, bringing belly laughs to a whole litter of theatre goers. The production was a deliciously dark retelling, set to a toe-tapping doo-wap/synth live music score with enough jeopardy and laughs to make even the grouchiest old dog smile.
Particularly impressive were the tricky role changes (a clever nod to Smith’s theory that dogs and their owners look alike), as awkward mathematician Mr Dearly (a laugh out loud Tristan Sturrock) became dappy dog Pongo, and Mrs Dearly transformed into her clumsy pet Perdita-played sweetly by Lucy Tuck-without ever dropping out of character.
There were also boos and hisses aplenty for the demonic diva Cruella De Vil (a sultry Carla Mendonça) prompting a few fantastic heckles from children in the audience.
One who particularly stood out was Felix Hayes, who leapt between the most disturbingly funny furrier, dim-witted hitman, roly-poly puppy and maternal cow with seemingly no effort.
With plenty of bottom-sniffing, silliness and capering, the show is a must see for a heart-warming Christmas evening. You may even find yourself pining for a pup of your own.t.
Sophie Jones 

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Reading the riot act: Stephen Leask as The Miller and Iris Roberts as Emily. Pic: Nick Spratling

Reading the riot act: Stephen Leask as The Miller and Iris Roberts as Emily. Pic: Nick Spratling

A musical folk story with funny and witty lyrics

Rumplestiltskin. The egg Theatre, Theatre Royal Bath
Like the opening song about a little going a long way this production achieves just that. And in one sense it could have done with a little more to make it go even further considering the range of talents assembled behind the production.
Did the director Lotte Wakeham subconsciously hold back on making this folk story a bigger show? Perhaps. Certainly it could have gone up 25% in ambition to become something far greater than the sum of its parts.
And yet that may sound churlish as Rumplestiltskin is an excellent four star show with the cast of four giving their all as the story reached its climax. But somehow it needed a little bit more such as film and more special effects perhaps, or the musicians to be on stage and in costume to add extra depth to the cast, and a back story to the main protagonist whose raison d’être was something of a mystery. Why did Rumplestiltskin want a child so much and why was the dark forest so frightening?
This aside Rumplestiltskin is a highly enjoyable musical play with four first rate performances from the cast of four. Iris Roberts as Emily has a beautiful voice, and gives a gutsy performance as the rags to riches heroine who lives on her wits. She cuts a dash in two outfits – one a pastiche of a peasant girl crossed with a little Vivienne Westwood – the second a neat cross between the peasant girl rags and a regal one with a swirling layered skirt and an decorated princess line bodice.
Stephen Leask as The Miller, brought the show to life with his dad dancing and was a constant hit with the young audience as he goofed around, moved with suprising agility even kissed the king. Cat-like in movement Crystal Condie as Rumplestiltskin was a strange mix in dress mixing the Rat King from Dick Whittington and a shiny spiked ant-eater, but never allowed her character to become a pantomime baddie.
While Richard Lowe’s camp King reflected Emily’s narrative of being transformed by life’s events. Effiminate, comedic and with an excellent feel for timing and connecting with the audience Lowe also sings beautifully.
Children clearly loved the show and were neatly included into the story when name ideas were required or when a chorus was needed to be sung, but again the style never became panto but simply inclusive, a delicate line to hit for the director.
Matt Harvey’s lyrics and script were witty, fun and always moved the story along while Thomas Hewitt-Jone’s compositions were fine motifs to this Christmas season show.
Harry Mottram

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Swallows and Amazons - 2014 - Credit Simon Annand (13)

Blending dreams and imagination… in the attic

Swallows and Amazons. Bristol Old Vic
An elderly Titty enters her attic, finds a dusty photograph of a lost summer holiday, and memories of one August in 1929 in the Lake District come flooding back.
In Tom Morris’ reinvention of Arthur Ransome’s idealic childhood adventure we never really leave the attic with every prop a piece of junk inventively used to create one of the theatre’s most memorable ever shows.
Laced with fantasy and Titty’s memorable dream sequence of giant parrots, flapping cormorants and conspiring pirates the musical drama is a DIY spectacle that’s very funny, very dramatic and always true to the spirit of Ransome’s original story without a lake in sight.
Helen Edmundson’s economic script combined with Neil Hannon’s music and lyrics are one of the strengths of the two act play that fuses a strong narrative and inticate plot with exceptional characterisation of children by adults.
The six main characters are supported by the players in blue – a motley crew of overall clad furniture removal men who appear to live in Titty’s attic but double up as parrots, pirates and musicians as the drama dictates.
Ransome gave each of his child characters distinct and clearly recognisable attributes we all see in children – and then exagerates them. Morris does the same trick with his cast creating enjoyable caricatures of childhood in Swallows and Amazons.
Hence Stuart Mcloughlin’s John is noble and responsible but fragile in his desperation to emulate his terribly British father. Jennifer Highham was a wonderfully focused Titty in her total refusal to accept the adult world about her, but embrace her Robinson Crusoe fantasy.
Tom Bennett’s Roger was the one character the children in the audience most identified with, in his strops and sulks – and desperation to be seven years old and taken seriously. And Bethan Nash’s Susan was a big sister delight as her mothered Roger, organised supper and disapproved of the Amazons.
Peggy and Nancy played by Millie Corser and Evelyn Miller as the Amazons had Cumberland accents that were one part Old Peculiar beer and one part slate roofed lakeland cottage with their earthy vowels and prosaic oaths.
Give me theatre like this any day with its wild inventiveness, its beautiful songs, its inclusiveness and its careful blending of all elements of performing arts.
Is this a story too remote for today’s ipad children or is it really aimed at their parents and their memories of Ransome’s novels?
Perhaps in part, but the children present responded, applauded and pelted Captain Flint with fake rocks in the climactic battle suggesting they couldn’t get enough of the action and the high spirits on stage.
Harry Mottram    

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Nutcracker-and-the-Mouse-Ki

Purnell’s idea to opt for an 1803 novella pays off

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Unicorn Theatre
It was Purni Morell’s idea to adapt E.T.A Hoffman’s 1803 novella this Christmas. The Unicorn Theatre’s Artistic Director has championed the rights of children to an “ownership of culture and in particular iconic work” and what could be more iconic at this time of year than The Nutcracker. Revamping this classic draws out the role of children in the original text, placing them centre stage and giving them autonomy.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King delves behind the beloved ballet and brings us the story of Marie (Naomi Ackie), who is more interested in a nutcracker than her Christmas gifts. When her brother Fritz (Alex Austin) damages the nutcracker, she bandages him up, and he soon comes to life to thank her. What follows is a quirky production that goes all over the shop, but it’s a very entertaining exercise in imagination.
It’s a story we think we all know, but there are so many more stories within it, and it is through them that the production explores supportive adult/ child relationships. The best adults in this play are those that care about stories, and let children make decisions about what is going to happen in them.
Writer Annie Siddons has peeled away some of the layers, but did add one, framing the production by having Hoffman (Sandy Grierson) as a narrator on stage throughout. He cares deeply about the narrative, asking the audience’s opinion, checking whether they liked certain bits, explaining any edits: “It was exciting but unfortunately a lot of it falls out of the scope of this story.” When Drosselmeier (Colin Michael Carmichael), Marie and Fritz’s godfather, is telling them a story, they have to add bits and join in, and he puts all three of them at the heart of the action.
In contrast, Marie’s mother only wants her children to hear calming, instructional tales for girls, symptomatic of her general fussing. She can’t deal with wildness, and is far more fragile than her hardy, brave children. Granted, she is grief-stricken after the death of her husband but still, as Hoffman tells us, “sometimes grown-ups can be dumb-dumbs.”
The set design is ambitious – a big wooden framed house that looks like a cuckoo clock and turns into a Gingerbread House. There are scary moments – the seven-headed-mouse-king appears from under the floorboards – and surprising moments – an actor delves under these same floorboards to tell a bit of the story. It’s slightly too long, but the cast maintain energy-filled, funny, sincere and sometimes manic (in a good way) performances.
If you’re looking for a ballet, then there’s a dance in the extremely psychedelic Candyland, but that’s as close as you’ll get.  The Nutcracker and the Mouse King champions children being imaginative and creative, and this version should be the new Christmas tradition..
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Catchy music and a barrel of monkeys having fun

The Three Wise Monkeys. Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, London
Swinging through the trees and eating an endless supply of ‘nanas’, you might think that life as a primate is all monkey business, but Three Wise Monkeys reveals otherwise.
See No, Hear No and Say No learn not to turn a blind eye (or ear or mouth), in this energy-packed production that strikes a balance between monkeying around and a weightier plotline.
The set, a big climbing frame, is one of the stars of the show. It is clambered over, swung off, scrambled across and generally scaled with ease, transforming from treetops to rooftops to bridges. The music is catchy, from hummable upbeat numbers to tense drums.
The writing, from the Olivier Award-winning Mike Kenny, is predictably terrific, and has the audience instinctively participating almost instantly, and genuinely upset when things take a turn for the worse.
But it is all ten times better than the sum of its parts because of the cast. The three wise monkeys, See No, Hear No and Say No, and Ivan, a storyteller and musician who also puppeteers Do No, give their all in performances that are so dynamic it would be tiring to watch if it wasn’t so infectious.
The monkeys, communicating through lively facial expressions, wild gesticulation and forceful sounds, seem almost to be aping young children.
It hits even harder when their carefree, playful ways are curtailed in a play that touches on the threat to wild animals posed by humans.
At 55 minutes, it starts to feel slightly too long for the youngest in the suggested age bracket but that aside, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys and will have any audience going bananas (we’re sorry, we had to!)
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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The special hat in play or transformations

Inside Out. Half Moon Theatre, London.
What could be better than watching actors making a mess and being silly on stage? Joining in! Inside Out taps into the early years’ impulse to copy the fun in front of them. The audience were already mimicking the noises, actions and sometimes whole phrases of the play before they were invited to open the bag of props provided to each child so they could fold, make puppets, dance and tidy along with the story. This co-production from Tell Tale Hearts and Imagination Stage (USA) is uniquely interactive, putting the ‘play’ in plays.
A brother and sister play in their room at bedtime, until the former loses his special hat and they must go on an imaginative adventure to find it. The signal for the hat’s ‘specialness’ is a very funny recurring dramatic phrase – everything stops each time it is mentioned for special music to play and special actions to be done. But it isn’t the only special piece of clothing in the show – every item is fun as wrongly put-on pyjamas turn the wearer into a penguin and a snake, and t-shirts and trousers can be tied together to scale a mountain.
These simpler transformations actually work better – the caterpillar socks or fish gloves are more meaningful than the crafted puppet towards the end. It is far more entertaining seeing the two siblings turn the objects around their bedroom into other things, playing in a way that the young audience could, and would, too. Whilst the puppet is fashioned out of old clothes, it appears ready-made, falling out of the realm of their bedtime play.
It is nice to see a role reversal of gender stereotypes, similar to that in the two-hander Seesaw on at the Unicorn recently. The boy finds real joy in neat folding and frets about the untidiness, whereas the girl has to be cajoled into caring about the mess.
Whilst many productions invite their young audience onto the stage for a play session afterwards (as does this show), it’s rarer to have all the children on stage during the performance.
Inside Out’s distinctly relaxed attitude works really well, creating a production that is in no way precious, and in every way a wonderful welcome to theatre.
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Great sets and a script that trusts the audience

Angel. Polka Theatre
There have been quite a few plays recently about the relationship between young people and pensioners, and a number of these deal with illness in older people, such as The Summer Book and Monday’s Child. With Angel, this is just one part of a play packed with issues, and whilst it does feel political, it’s not heavy-handed. Ruth Cooper’s production does not offer lessons to be learnt, but creates an opportunity for the audience to pick up some useful stuff.
Bill is a girl whose parents are constantly at each other’s throats. Miriam is an older woman who remembers less and less, and grows more and more afraid of being put into care. And Ronnie is stuck in a residential home, his daily interaction a cursory “I’ll be with you in a minute” from the staff.
“This isn’t a story,” Bill tells us at the beginning. “This is real.” At first, though, it seems exactly like a story, Bill’s pronouncement a nice dramatic trick. When Bill sees Miriam drop her bag, she follows her home, lets herself in through the unlocked door to return it, and the two get along famously. So far, so twee. But all of a sudden Miriam’s mood shifts – she reacts with justified terror at the stranger she suddenly realizes has entered her home. We’re reminded with a jolt that this isn’t a world where everyone’s a neighbour: you can leave your preconceptions about storytelling and issue-driven drama at the unlocked door.
Along with Miriam’s mood changes, she slips into being a little girl again, her voice high as she vividly remembers a childhood race. Again, this seems like a theatrical device, monologues to reveal her character and backstory to the audience. But when Bill is in the same room we realise that no, these slips are ‘real’ and spoken aloud – Bill can hear and see them, and they’re scary.
Bek Palmer’s great set makes more and more sense the longer as the play goes on. The beige, washed out interior of Miriam’s house, filled with piles of old newspapers, seems to suggest a receding life that can be looked-over, but a closer look reveals exotic knickknacks that speak of an interesting past. The sound, designed by Ed Heaton, is also subtle but effective – over the radio, the news reports Vince Cable’s anger at a fresh wave of cuts announced by the government in a play where all three characters struggle to deal with their circumstances alone. When Miriam becomes a little girl again, a deep, long, deadening noise sounds that is so fitting, it is hard to even distinguish its existence.
Kevin Dyer’s script trusts the audience, showing rather than telling, and feeling above all that. Ronnie sits silently in a wheelchair, on a platform at the back of the stage, facing steps. He occasionally interacts with a harried voice, but for long stretches of the play it is easy to forget that he is there – even with the best will in the world and an attentive audience, Miriam’s fears about care homes are felt to be true.
The play couldn’t be so affecting if it wasn’t also so funny, and it’s refreshing that an older woman provides most of the laughs. Angel is very honest: when Bill tells Miriam “it’s going to be okay”, Miriam angrily responds that it’s not, and they’re both right and they’re both wrong. After 70 minutes, there’s no happy ending, but thing’s are a bit better.
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Raymond Briggs Father Christmas

Classic story of Father Christmas who goes to the toilet before he flies off for another ‘bloomin’ Christmas’

www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk

Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Lyric Hammersmith, London
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas is the story of a grumpy old man muttering to himself as he does a night shift. The Christmas miracle that Raymond Briggs first performed in 1973, and that the Lyric Hammersmith and Pins and Needles have recreated, is to turn it into a festive, entertaining classic.
The grouchy Santa has cemented himself in the nation’s Christmas; in our household, it is a tradition to watch the animation every Christmas Eve. You just can’t mess with Christmas traditions. When a story and a character are so treasured, it would be wonderful to bring them to life, but you have to get it right – and it’s easy to get it wrong. Just look at The Snowman.
This Father Christmas sticks loyally to the things that made the story so wonderful in the first place – the aesthetic style is faithfully reproduced; the limited speech is there; the moodiness of St Nick isn’t sweetened for the stage. But this isn’t a purist’s version – and all the better for it.
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas has considered carefully what will work best for the stage, and how to adapt the story so that it is an inventive, innovative but recognisable piece of theatre. This version does not reveal what Father Christmas gets up to the other 364 days of the year, following him as he globe trots on his holidays. The only time this part of the original plot is touched on is when he’s flicking through travel brochures on the loo. No, this is a detailed behind-the-scenes look purely at Father Christmas’ big night – Christmas Eve.
Stacey Ghent provides the sound and music, and this is a complete masterstroke. Tucked away up by the rooftops, in what seems like an attic full of odd bits and bobs, she uses these random objects to create the crunch of snow under Father Christmas’ boot, the strike of a match when he’s lighting the cooker, the plop when he’s sat in the W.C. … as well as the music, providing the score for the action, and songs for the little radio he takes with him in the sleigh. It’s hard to know where to look, at Ghent or Father Christmas: she is so involved in every moment (and utterly disgusted as she creates the soundtrack to his toilet trip), and it’s so interesting to watch how she makes sound effects.
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas is a story that lacks conversation, but between Stacey Ghent’s sounds and Barry McCarthy’s mumbling, a dialogue of sorts builds up. McCarthy as Father Christmas is a superb and animated mutterer, with endless growling, grumbling noises, and no end of facial expressions either. He strikes a balance between cantankerous and ‘quite nice really’, masterfully stomping his way through the production in his fur-trimmed boots.
The stage is packed with set, which manoeuvres and shifts to become just like the illustrations – the kitchen is there, the rooftops are there, the reindeer stable, the W.C. Zoe Squire’s design is ingenious but playful: the passing of time as Santa Claus delivers gifts is marked by sections of the walls opening like doors on an advent calendar. There’s palpable anticipation about how Father Christmas will get into the sky to begin his present-giving  – no matter how clever the set is, there just isn’t enough space for a sleigh and reindeer, and there’s no way they’ll be able to fly… Is there? This scene alone will have any Scrooge who thinks they can’t bear ‘another bloomin’ christmas’ buying a turkey with all the trimmings.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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 cindermouse

Bold changes made to the classic Cinderella story where Cinders is no pushover

Cindermouse. Little Angel Theatre  www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk
Traditionally, the mice in Cinderella are turned into horses by the Fairy Godmother. It’s a fairly important, but fleeting, role – they lead the carriage that takes Cinders to the all-important ball. In Cindermouse, however, mice are centre-stage. The production invites us to Mousetown (after a quick check for cats who are obviously not welcome), to watch a retelling of the classic fairytale using only rehearsed rodents.
Karen Prell’s adaptation makes some bold changes to the classic Cinderella story, adding some new bits, taking away others. Cindermouse’s father is alive and well, and a struggling clockmaker who can’t afford the right parts for his clocks. The horrible stepmother is just a mean lady next door with two lazy daughters, so Cindermouse helps with the cleaning sometimes. There’s still a fairy godmother, but there’s no transformation of a pumpkin into a carriage or a dog into a driver. The ball is a big birthday party, and this is a successful deviation from the well-known tale. A range of performers, like a mouse on stilts or another balancing a ball on his nose, are a playful touch. Here, and throughout Cindermouse, much of the comedy comes from exploring the tricks puppets can do.
In many ways, these changes contribute to a modernised version of events with an arguably more feminist bent. Cindermouse isn’t bothered about meeting the prince at the ball; she’s only going to the party to make sure the prince’s birthday present, a clock made by her dad, works properly. At midnight, the clock only strikes 11 because of its dodgy parts. It is up to Cindermouse to decide whether to make it chime once more (with a quick kick or bash) or not, choosing between helping her father or staying with the prince; family comes first and she dashes off.  Cindermouse is never being rescued by the prince; whilst she is as helpful and kind and good at cleaning as ever, she is not a pushover and makes her own decisions. An added bonus is that her happy ending encourages the ugly sisters to try housework.
Whilst Cindermouse is commendable for it’s updated story, it’s never quite clear why it is being told through mice. Except for the opening search for Larry the theatre cat and the setting of Mousetown, the script could be interchangeable with other animals or even humans. As the leading species in this production, more could have been made of these miniature mammals; rodent-based humour perhaps. It does allow for cute puppets though.
The cast, Roger Lade and Andrea Sadler, work hard as they animate and voice a large cast. Whilst both are commanding in character, it’s a really nice, interesting contrast when they step front of stage as themselves. All the  buoyancy and life of the piece seems to come directly from the puppets, not the people, which feels like great puppetry.
Cindermouse is a sweet alternative to a traditional pantomime; you can get ready to shout ‘He’s behind you!’’ and argue “Oh no it doesn’t”. Audiences will be delighted when the prince comes out into the auditorium, checking whether the glass slipper fits any tiny feet. The production isn’t revolutionary, but it is guaranteed to have something for all the family.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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One Snowy Night is at the Children's Centre in Stratford. Pic: Helen Maybanks

One Snowy Night is at the Children’s Centre in Stratford. Pic: Helen Maybanks

A Christmassy suprise not to be missed

One Snowy Night. Children’s Story Centre, Stratford, London
Acclaimed children’s playwright David Wood has often said that the key to creating a great children’s play is “Lots of suddenlys!” One Snowy Night, then, is a perfect text to be adapted for the theatre, each knock on Percy the Park Keeper’s door a ‘suddenly’ that never gets old.
There’s been lots of discussion about immersive theatre recently – is the term overused, and does it actually mean anything? It’s definitely bandied about a lot in theatre for young audiences too, but One Snowy Night really earns the claim. Audiences walk into a wood with long trees, dappled light and a leaf-covered path; there are birds tweeting and a Keep Off the Grass sign, the walls are covered in watercolour versions of the book’s illustrations. Invited into Percy’s hut, everyone sits on carpets surrounded by lampshades, biscuit tins, The Zen of Cricket guidebook, drying socks, a coal fire, a wireless. This is not a half-hearted set – this is a proper cosy home with a roof, a bed and the most important feature of all – a door.
Percy the Park Keeper is going to bed one snowy night, when he hears a knock at the door. It’s squirrel, who wants to stay in Percy’s hut and out of the cold. Just as they are settling to sleep, there’s another knock at the door – badger! Percy welcomes him in and is ready to get back under the covers, but a constant stream of animal visitors means its soon one big sleepover, and he’s fighting for a corner of the duvet.
Stephen Harper is a commanding, relaxed Percy, receptive to the audience and creating the perfect atmosphere for a truly ‘immersive’ experience. The audience feel perfectly at ease guiding him, warning him, reminding him, pointing things out to him and, best of all, laughing at him.
Sam Dutton puppeteers all of the animals, and it’s a neat trick every time he tucks one into bed then magically appears at the door. He switches between all of their characters effortlessly – the old gentleman badger, the manic squirrel who trashes the joint, the shivering Welsh rabbits – and he and Harper have a lovely way of handing the puppets between each other.
It’s an awful cliche, but this production really values its audience, and understands how precious time is with young children at this time of year.
All of the creative team have clearly worked their socks off, and it shows in the attention to detail of the set, the quality of the storytelling, and the magic of being inside a best-loved book.
The only downside is that it takes quite a while to settle everyone on the grass, and then there’s a lot more shuffling to seat everyone in the hut, but this does let you take a closer look at your surroundings.
This adaptation has all the “suddenlys” of the original text to work from, but even when you think its all over, there are still some additional Christmassy surprises.
One Snowy Night is not to be missed.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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Arcola

Skillful silliness guides the mood from bouyant to contemplative

The Three Sillies. Arcola Theatre, London
It’s not been long since the clocks went back, but it already feels like years. As the days draw dimmer and shorter, how nice to step into a May Day Fair with The Three Sillies. Jingling Morris Dancers welcome the audience to the Sillyton Parish 1914 Village Fete, where bunting abounds and you can have a go at hoopla, splat-a-rat, and an everyone’s-a-winner raffle. The fun of the fair is a brilliant set-up to a play’s worth of absolute silliness (done with absolute skill).
The Three Sillies is the tale of a man who thinks that his fiancée and her parents are the silliest people he has ever met. He decides to go on a journey to find three people sillier than them – unless he succeeds, he refuses to get married. This plot tenuously links three completely ridiculous and unrelated scenarios – from a cow on a roof to women catching the moon in a pond to a man trying to jump into his trousers – but it also means that anything could happen. As the fete stalls change into different pieces of set, the production is constantly unpredictable. Perhaps most unexpected of all are the serious bits, with solemn nods to the silliness of war.
The music, particularly the folk duets of Chris Rusbridge and Arran Glass, is truly lovely and guides the mood from buoyant to contemplative with ease. The production’s greatest success is that it feels like everyone is enjoying themselves – each member of the audience, and all the actors around them.
The Three Sillies isn’t revolutionary but it is great fun, and an excellent contribution from the Arcola to the Family Art Festival. By encouraging families to play together at the beginning, everyone is ready to join in the silliness – including one father who was perfectly willing to sing “I like to wear my pants on my head” to his children’s delight.
Flossie Waite  
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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grandad and me polka theatre

Production’s touch of magic added to ordinary events in drama that crosses the generations

Grandad, Me… And Teddy Too. Unicorn Theatre, London
It’s not becoming of a grown woman to be jealous of five year olds, but I really wish I’d bought my teddy (a monkey called Monkey) to Grandad, Me … And Teddy Too. The BYO Bear meant the audience was as populated with fluffy friends as children and their guardians, a nice touch that was only part of the effort made to create a magical but familiar environment. Polka’s Adventure Theatre had become Mia’s world – the audience sat on grass in her garden, and the stage was her playroom.
It’s in her playroom that Mia video calls her Grandad; he lives in Argentina but they speak every night. Now, Mia and her teddy, Teddy Too, are counting down the sleeps until Grandad comes to stay! But when he arrives it takes time to get used to.
Mia’s experience is beautifully observed, allowing for both the excitement and awkwardness of their meeting. She has a very specific way of doing things, and Grandad just can’t seem to get it right. For one thing, he’s too tall. He can’t do Teddy Too’s voice or walk.
When Mia presents Grandad with a cracked egg, he delights in telling her that maybe it’s a dragon’s egg, and the dragon was born, and the dragon flew away! Mia shows a flash of confusion and quickly rebuts him: “No, it’s a real egg, from a robin. I found it in my garden.”
The production follows them as they tentatively test the water, seeing what the other will enjoy, and gradually learning that whilst Mia likes cold and Grandad likes hot, they both have a real talent for making music with deflating balloons (a moment of genius).
Chris Randall’s lighting design, full of fairy lights, made the theatre feel cosy and the everyday objects in Mia’s home feel extraordinary. Elements of the set suddenly appeared though they have been there all along – a spider’s web in the garden that glints, a toy aeroplane that flies overhead and a globe that glows whenever Grandad is traveling.
The whole production added a touch of magic to ordinary events, whilst appreciating that to children, events like a visit from Grandad are full of magic.
The resolution is quietly charming, and the whole production is very gentle and understated. Grandad, Me … And Teddy Too feels like it could have played out in countless homes, and it’s not surprising that lots of research with children, parents and grandparents went into creating the story. Mia and Grandad feel very ordinary and real, and that’s a good thing.
Flossie Waite
Follow Flossie on Twitter @ctheatrereviews and at her website http://childrenstheatrereviews.com

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George's Marvellous Medicine 2014

George’s marvellous production ideal medicine for young children

www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk

George’s Marvellous Medicine. Northcott Theatre, Exeter.
Warning: this play will blow your grandma through the roof!
Loved by children since Roald Dahl wrote it, George’s Marvellous Medicine staged by the Birmingham Stage Company, is perfect material for a children’s play, although it comes with a warning not to go off and try this at home!
George’s grandma (Deborah Vale) comes to stay on their farm, and while his parents are out she bosses him about, demanding cups of tea and scaring him with stories of eating bugs and worms. When she demands her lunchtime medicine George (Clark Devlin) decides to surprise her with a homemade medicine which he hopes will make her into a nice grandma. Cue a long list of everyday household items, which mixed together turn into a powerful magic potion.
When Grandma takes the Marvellous Medicine instead of making her nicer it causes her to grow into a giant – at which point she rises from her chair and breaks through the roof of the house (brilliantly staged in the play). George then feeds the medicine to a chicken that grows to 10 times the size and causes havoc by running around the farm. When George’s dad (Richard Mullins) returns he is very excited as he sees the potential to grow enormous farm animals which could solve world hunger.
He makes George mix another batch of the medicine, but it all goes horribly wrong, shrinking the chicken he tries it out on. Grandma demands another cup of tea to be brought up to her, and mistaking the cup of medicine in George’s hand for tea drinks it, which shrinks her to nothing.
A marvellous production, with great comic timing and well acted with a small cast, and very close to the original story. Audience participation kept the kids involved in the story, though there could have been more, and this reviewer, and children aged eight and ten, had great fun watching.
The production directed by Ellen Mills and Phil Clark was enhanced by artwork in the foyer, created by local school children. Good for three to 11-year-olds – older children may be disappointed as it is aimed at a young audience.
Lucy Mottram
The play continues to Sunday 4th January.
For details visit www.exeternorthcott.co.uk and www.birminghamstage.com

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Back to the 70s: no positive female role models in the panto at The Lighthouse

Robin Hood 2 (Photo Hattie Miles)

Robin Hood. Lighthouse, Poole
The panto season is here again. Oh yes it is! Excited children, noisy music and carefully sited merchantising.
The Lighthouse Poole does Christmas panto with gusto, with this year’s offering of Robin Hood a rich mix for children, parents and grandparents. It starts well with a loud clap-along musical introduction and energetic dancing from the adult chorus and the child dancers.
The evening is the familiar mix of simplified story, dancing, songs, silliness, slapstick, very old jokes and traditional comic episodes; they even managed to squeeze in a decorator’s slapstick scene.
This old reviewer had to remind herself that old jokes are still funny – and new to those who have not heard them before – as my young neighbour fell about laughing at the school scene that featured cross-dressing and much double entendre.
Ed Petrie carries the title role of Robin Hood with easy athletic charm, every inch the hero and he worked the audience beautifully. His hat was miraculously and mysteriously stuck to his head throughout energetic dancing. And his classic song in front of the curtains was a masterpiece of silliness.
Maid Marian was played by Alicia Woodhouse who was sweet and lovely as a traditional heroine, but with her obvious skills she should have been given more to do than looking pretty and vulnerable. Isn’t it time for more positive female role models than this outdated 70s caricature? (Script writer please take note.)

Robin Hood 1 (Photo Hattie Miles)
Fairy Mary appeared in a puff of smoke for a chat with the audience, and was far more lively than the maid of the forest – and was rather more decorative than one might expect.
The real star (as is often the case in panto) is the villain. Here it’s the Sheriff of Nottingham, played very ably by Patrick O’Kane, who worked the audience well from a standing start. Indeed the boys and girls in the audience were well primed to boo him in his elegant tights and boots. His solo song, “It’s all about me,” was edgy… and charming.
However the balance of the show weighted heavily towards colour and sweetness, with the charming villain in black was sadly outnumbered. He badly needed to have some henchmen or visible power to demonstrate that Robin and Marian were under a threat from which they could (or could not) escape.
The dancing improved through the evening as the dancers warmed up. Highlights included the magical toys – coming alive in a dream sequence, and the fairies dancing in the green wood.
The staging and scenery were fine, though underused. A bit more flying or movement around the theatre might have pepped up the magic. While the last beautiful set was rather wasted by the short amount of time one had to see it – the audience needed to pay attention for its brief appearance.
Oh Yes! It had all one may expect of panto. Oh No! There was nothing to scare the nervous. Oh Yes! The script was simple, with few contemporary references and stuck in the past.
Oh No! Things do not change in the Lighthouse’s panto land.
It seems a pity that with an audience consisting of many Brownies, there were no sparky girl role models for them to identify with, while the drama’s females were mostly decorative.
Oh Yes! the villain had the best lines.
Oh Yes! The children loved it. (But they deserved better.)
Alex Brenton       3 stars
The pantomime continues until Sunday 4th January. For details visit www.lighthousepoole.co.uk
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Peter Pan-223_John, Wendy and Michael
Peter Pan. Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in fairies? The pantomime production of Peter Pan, which is featured at Northampton’s Derngate Theatre this Christmas, was indeed a magical piece of panto. It is jam-packed full of all of the essential ingredients for a fantastic panto, with lots of extra quirks and surprises for good measure.
The story of Peter Pan is set in London, starting out in the Darling household, where Wendy and her brothers live. Their housekeeper is Ms (not Mrs, but Ms) Smee. She helps the children get to sleep at night by reading the story of Peter Pan. The story unfolds with the characters flying away to Neverland, where they have adventures and encounter panto baddy, Captain Hook.
Ms Smee (Cori Dupree) is haphazardly assisted by her son (Joe Pascale). These two characters bounce slapstick and tongue in cheek humour brilliantly off each other throughout the panto: Ms Smee is a buxom and dry witted grand dame with multiple, outrageous costume changes (which the audience are encouraged to describe as FAB-U-LOUS each time she enters the stage). Their scripts are littered with brilliant jokes (in asking about the breed of the Darling family’s pet dog: “what is a shtizu?” Pascale replies “it’s a zoo, but with no animals in it!”) and there are some genuinely silly scenes – when both are mermaids and Pascale slides off the rocks and can’t get up from the floor was one such daft episode. Just in case the humour wasn’t good enough already, there are surreal moments aplenty as well, including dancing penguins, collapsing barstools and an outstanding appearance by an aging rock and roll star which had the audience’s grown ups in absolute stitches (Ceri Dupree at his brilliant best!).
Aside from these characters, Peter Pan himself, Tinkerbell and Wendy are all delightful and childlike, appealing to the younger audience with their swashbuckling adventuring. They are full of energy and charm. The resident baddie, Captain Hook was loudly jeered by the audience who had warmed up well to their role, shouting and booing loudly.
Stage sets and in particular the visit from the Daddy crocodile showed off the brilliant design and special effects. The children in the stalls were very brave, even though some thought they were going to be the crocodile’s dinner!
Peter Pan was true magic from beginning to end and all the children I spoke to rated it at least a 9/10. There is something for all in this panto and unlike some children’s shows it is warm and friendly to its audience throughout and certainly the six year-olds boys helping with this review were in fits of giggles throughout. All in all, a magical piece of family entertainment which provides everything and more from the Christmas pantomime.
Karen Brenton (and Oscar and George aged 6)  4.5 stars

The show continues until 4th January
For details visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk

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Theatre of Youth production NY Buffalo

Passionate defence of children’s theatre in Nickel City

Film: Long Live TOY. Defending Children’s Theatre in the Nickel City. Documentary film on www.longlivetoymovie.com
The Theatre of Youth (TOY) in Buffalo, New York State is under threat from funding cuts by the local authority. Instead of doing a Taunton Brewhouse Theatre and simply closing their doors one day when the money ran out they decided to make a film.
Long Live Toy is the result. The film is a passionate defence of children’s theatre and its benefits in the USA’s third poorest city of major size. TOY was founded in 1972 by Daemen College theatre instructors Rosalind Cramer and Toni Smith Wilson. It began as a small company of local actors working out of the theatre at Daemen College and has grown into a strong part of the community’s amenities and cultural life and resides in the Allendale Theatre.
We learn about the social problems the city faces, the main movers and shakers in the theatre and also the politicians who see arts as an easy target to cut when times are hard.
The documentary was screened as part of the Buffalo International Film Festival in 2010 when the city authority’s Erie County Executive Chris Collins decided to cut all the cash used to help the not-for-profit theatre. Fortunately the film galvanised the campaign to save the theatre and was ultimately successful with shows continuing to be staged with the next production The Night Before Christmas being staged in December.
The film is a testament to the transformative power of children’s theatre as well as the importance of culture to the vitality of a community with its main hero Meg Quinn the theatre’s artisitic director.
The film falls somewhere between campaigning video and straight documentary. It’s strength lies in the power of the arguments put forward by advocates of children’s theatre in America.

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Swallows and Amazons - 2014 - Credit Simon Annand (13)

Swallows and Amazons. Bristol Old Vic
An elderly Titty enters her attic, finds a dusty photograph of a lost summer holiday, and memories of one August in 1929 in the Lake District come flooding back.
In Tom Morris’ reinvention of Arthur Ransome’s idealic childhood adventure we never really leave the attic with every prop a piece of junk inventively used to create one of the theatre’s most memorable ever shows.
Laced with fantasy and Titty’s memorable dream sequence of giant parrots, flapping cormorants and conspiring pirates the musical drama is a DIY spectacle that’s very funny, very dramatic and always true to the spirit of Ransome’s original story without a lake in sight.
Helen Edmundson’s economic script combined with Neil Hannon’s music and lyrics are one of the strengths of the two act play that fuses a strong narrative and inticate plot with exceptional characterisation of children by adults.
The six main characters are supported by the players in blue – a motley crew of overall clad furniture removal men who appear to live in Titty’s attic but double up as parrots, pirates and musicians as the drama dictates.
Ransome gave each of his child characters distinct and clearly recognisable attributes we all see in children – and then exagerates them. Morris does the same trick with his cast creating enjoyable caricatures of childhood in Swallows and Amazons.
Hence Stuart Mcloughlin’s John is noble and responsible but fragile in his desperation to emulate his terribly British father. Jennifer Highham was a wonderfully focused Titty in her total refusal to accept the adult world about her, but embrace her Robinson Crusoe fantasy. Tom Bennett’s Roger was the one character the children in the audience most identified with, in his strops and sulks – and desperation to be seven years old and taken seriously. And Bethan Nash’s Susan was a big sister delight as her mothered Roger, organised supper and disapproved of the Amazons.
Peggy and Nancy played by Millie Corser and Evelyn Miller as the Amazons had Cumberland accents that were one part Old Peculiar beer and one part slate roofed lakeland cottage with their earthy vowels and prosaic oaths.
Give me theatre like this any day with its wild inventiveness, its beautiful songs, its inclusiveness and its careful blending of all elements of performing arts.
Is this a story too remote for today’s ipad children or is it really aimed at their parents and their memories of Ransome’s novels?
Perhaps in part, but the children present responded, applauded and pelted Captain Flint with fake rocks in the climactic battle suggesting they couldn’t get enough of the action and the high spirits on stage.
Harry Mottram Five stars
Reviewed Tuesday 2 December 2014. The play runs daily to 15th January 2015. Details at www.bristololdvic.org.uk

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Ugly Sisters: Byron Mondahl and David Ball gave the show energy. Pic: Freia Turland

Ugly Sisters: Byron Mondahl and David Ball gave the show energy. Pic: Freia Turland

Ugly sisters inject umf into slick and pacey production of Cinders

Cinderella. Theatre Royal Bath. Age 6+. www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk
They came, they twirled, they triumphed. The Ugly Sisters are supposed to be hissed at but by the end of Scott Ritchie’s Cinderella the audience were not sure whether to boo or cheer as the duo David Ball and Byron Mondahl took the show by its glittering balls and gave it real umf ─ and some.
The passing of the legend that was Chris Harris earlier this year potentially left a hole in Theatre Royal Bath’s annual panto. His theatrical spirit need not have worried. Harris’ long time fellow actor Jon Monie was always going to hold the show together such is his exceptional stage presence, quick wit and winning personality with children as love-sick Buttons.
But another factor made this panto a success and that was the hormonally confusing Ugly Sisters. Played as a brilliant double act by David Ball (the tall bossy one) and Byron Mondahl (the fat stupid one) the couple swept all before them with real aggression, earthy humour and lots of local references in Adam Ryan’s script.
The Bath panto is known for its dance support from the girls and boys of the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing. The class of ‘14 were given some complex but smile-producing routines by Lewis Butler, adding movement and a balletic texture to much of the show. The costumes of the dancers caught the eye – in particular the combination of black and cream. And the wardrobe department should be congratulated in general for outfits that matched the personalities of the characters.
Dani Harmer as Cinders seemed to play within herself and wasn’t helped by the script by being a particularly wimpish heroine. A slightly feisty and assertive Tracy Beaker-esque character would have been more appropriate and given a better role model for today’s young females.
Athletic Bobby Windebank as Dandini and old stager Richard Colson as the Baron also caught the eye in this enjoyably energetic production noted for its choreography, its pace and two very outspoken sisters.
Harry Mottram     4 Stars

The show runs from 11 December to 11 January 2015

For details visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk
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Merlin-Will Merrick with dragon Mabinogion153

Scary dragons and slick stagecraft in triumphant Merlin

Merlin. Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton. Review: http://www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk
A great performance by the cast, the storytelling of this classic legend was superb with the use throughout of song and live music – all with a contemporary take. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the Royal Theatre in Northampton.
Will Merrick portrays the quirky, uneasy character of Merlin brilliantly and the audience could really relate to the role and his awkward and clumsy infatuation with Vivian.
The use of the cast to move magical objects was clever and the cast’s playing of instruments throughout was well delivered. The staging and production was slick and imaginative, it worked really well given the close and intimate setting of the Royal theatre the audience felt connected with this story of friendship, love and magic .
Francesca Zoutewelle as Gwen was brilliant and her stage presence commanded attention.
Tom Giles was amusing as the comedy French villain Garotte, however the star of the show as far as we were concerned was the friendly puppet dragon.
The action flowed throughout the play, there rarely being a dull moment, bearing in mind this is a full two hour plus production.
The use of puppets for the battle scene with the Saxons was beautifully choreographed, and our children certainly liked the sword fighting, which was almost dance-like.
Our younger children found some of the darker scenes and the emergence of the dragon scary, however overall the play was very well performed and would be suitable for children of six and above.
Overall a well deserved thumbs up from Violet and Oscar – and their dad.
Art Brenton   5 Stars
The play continues until 5th January 2015
Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton, Guildhall Rd, Northampton NN1 1DP; 01604 624811; www.royalandderngate.co.uk
Pictured opposite: Will Merrick looking pale and interesting as Merlin and above the friendly dragon

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A deliciously dark retelling: our take on 101 Dalmations at The Tobacco Factory

low res Carla Mendon+ºa as Cruella De Vil 2 Image Farrows Creative

101 Dalmations. The Tobacco Factory

Dodie Smith’s much beloved children’s story about spotty dogs, evil furriers and more puppies than you can throw a stick for has captured the hearts of millions. It may seem then a daunting task to bring 101 Dalmatians to the stage in a whole new theatrical and musical edition, besides attempting the feat with a cast of five.

It need not be a concern however, as under Sally Cookson’s careful direction and the Travelling Light Theatre Company’s propensity for original and greatly entertaining productions, the cast took the madcap story under their belts, bringing belly laughs to a whole litter of theatre goers. The production was a deliciously dark retelling, set to a toe-tapping doo-wap/synth live music score with enough jeopardy and laughs to make even the grouchiest old dog smile.

Particularly impressive were the tricky role changes (a clever nod to Smith’s theory that dogs and their owners look alike), as awkward mathematician Mr Dearly (a laugh out loud Tristan Sturrock) became dappy dog Pongo, and Mrs Dearly transformed into her clumsy pet Perdita-played sweetly by Lucy Tuck-without ever dropping out of character.

There were also boos and hisses aplenty for the demonic diva Cruella De Vil (a sultry Carla Mendonça) prompting a few fantastic heckles from children in the audience.

One who particularly stood out was Felix Hayes, who leapt between the most disturbingly funny furrier, dim-witted hitman, roly-poly puppy and maternal cow with seemingly no effort.

With plenty of bottom-sniffing, silliness and capering, the show is a must see for a heart-warming Christmas evening. You may even find yourself pining for a pup of your own.

Sophie Jones 4 Stars

The play continues until 11th January 2015

For details visit: http://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/    Pics by Farrows Creative

low res Lucy Tuck as Mrs Dearly and Tristan Sturrock as Mr Dearly Image Farrows Creative

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Rumpelstiltskin - the egg theatre's Christmas Show 2014 - (ref2) crop

A musical folk story with funny and witty lyrics

Rumplestiltskin. The egg Theatre, Theatre Royal Bath
Like the opening song about a little going a long way this production achieves just that. And in one sense it could have done with a little more to make it go even further considering the range of talents assembled behind the production.
Did the director Lotte Wakeham subconsciously hold back on making this folk story a bigger show? Perhaps. Certainly it could have gone up 25% in ambition to become something far greater than the sum of its parts.
And yet that may sound churlish as Rumplestiltskin is an excellent four star show with the cast of four giving their all as the story reached its climax. But somehow it needed a little bit more such as film and more special effects perhaps, or the musicians to be on stage and in costume to add extra depth to the cast, and a back story to the main protagonist whose raison d’être was something of a mystery. Why did Rumplestiltskin want a child so much and why was the dark forest so frightening?
This aside Rumplestiltskin is a highly enjoyable musical play with four first rate performances from the cast of four. Iris Roberts as Emily has a beautiful voice, and gives a gutsy performance as the rags to riches heroine who lives on her wits. She cuts a dash in two outfits – one a pastiche of a peasant girl crossed with a little Vivienne Westwood – the second a neat cross between the peasant girl rags and a regal one with a swirling layered skirt and an decorated princess line bodice.
Stephen Leask as The Miller, brought the show to life with his dad dancing and was a constant hit with the young audience as he goofed around, moved with suprising agility even kissed the king. Cat-like in movement Crystal Condie as Rumplestiltskin was a strange mix in dress mixing the Rat King from Dick Whittington and a shiny spiked ant-eater, but never allowed her character to become a pantomime baddie.
While Richard Lowe’s camp King reflected Emily’s narrative of being transformed by life’s events. Effiminate, comedic and with an excellent feel for timing and connecting with the audience Lowe also sings beautifully.
Children clearly loved the show and were neatly included into the story when name ideas were required or when a chorus was needed to be sung, but again the style never became panto but simply inclusive, a delicate line to hit for the director.
Matt Harvey’s lyrics and script were witty, fun and always moved the story along while Thomas Hewitt-Jone’s compositions were fine motifs to this Christmas season show.
Harry Mottram      4 stars       Age: 7+
Reviewed on Friday 5th Deccember 2014
Follow Harry on Twitter @herrythespiv; Facebook; Google+; and LinkedIn

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The war that shaped a century but stopped for Christmas football

British Tommy: Robin Hemmings in rehearsal for War Game at the Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Chris Cooper

British Tommy: Robin Hemmings in rehearsal for War Game at the Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Chris Cooper

War Game. Bristol Old Vic
This production of War Game was the perfect example of how to stage a one person play. Although with Rebecca Marie Loxton on stage working the music and sound effects at a desk tucked in the corner technically there was a cast of two.
Robin Hemmings as Will gave an excellent performance as the young country lad volunteering to fight for King and Country in 1914. He did exceptionally well with a range of characters to portray, from the German footballers, his fellow village football team mates, a Sergeant Major and the recruiting officers.
Using basic props of hats and coats he stretched his elastic face into a series of comic contortions like a living cartoon figure. At one moment playing football, then racing to catch a train and at another moment waving to peasant girls in Flanders fields.
Full of energy and with a clear voice he also mimed and used his body to indicate bayoneting soldiers, latrine duty and the precious moment of opening a letter.
Director Toby Hulse created a neat balance between the comedy of youthful exuberance to the misery of the trenches but never lecturing or seeking the phoney pity of so many First World War events being organised this year with their poppies, Royalty, military and political cliques claiming the moral high ground despite their continuing complicity in war.
Song, physical theatre, evocative light and sound that blended into a production that ebbed and flowed with emotion, action and storytelling. This was a joy to watch.
And from the start Hemmings included the audience into the play encouraging them to take part in firing practice, sing along with him, take penalties in the football matches and even share a bag of peppermints.
Private Peaceful worked on the same level of the story of doomed youth – a concept that all older children and teenagers easily connect with – but War Game inspired by Michael Foreman’s novella moved the idea onto another level.
Played out on Susannah Henry’s bandage and wooden pole designed set, with a packed studio audience of which half were in their teens the 60 minute drama never dragged but still kept the poignancy that one expected for a story of war stopping briefly for the innocence of a playground kickabout.
Harry Mottram                                  5 Stars

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Dog-tastic performances in the story of an OCD boy and a pup

Mucky Pup Theatre Alibi Simon-Palmer,-Samuel-Clayton-&-Cerianne-Roberts pic steve tanner

Mucky Pup. The egg Theatre, Bath

Rarely does a show seem so perfectly formed. Music, lighting, acting and action all combined to create 55 minutes of beautifully balanced theatre for primary school aged children. Theatre Alibi’s artistic director Nikki Sved blended the arts and disciplines of theatre to bring Daniel Jamieson’s story of OCD Ben’s social transformation to life in a touching, humorous and bitter-sweet ensemble production.

Two aspects stood out: the overall combination of all the elements to give tone, emotion and pace especially with Dominic Jeffery’s lighting and Thomas Johnson’s music played by pianist Lucia Sanchez de Haro, plus the wonderful comic chemistry between Chatty (Simon Palmer) and Ben (Samuel Clayton). Clayton’s portrayal of the cleanliness obsessive Ben gripped the young audience from the start. There were several over excited children in the stalls who were very boisterous before the lights dimmed but who became engrossed with the story as soon it opened in the swimming pool where Ben’s social isolation was revealed.

Clayton’s strongest sequences were those telling sections where his vulnerability were revealed. The bully who rubs him in the mud, his desire to make friends and his heart to hearts with his mum (Cerianne Roberts). Roberts gave excellent support through a range of characters including Noggin the park kid, the head teacher and Ben’s frustrated mother trying to do the right thing.

Palmer was dog-tastic as the eponymous Mucky Pup, grabbing the children’s attention with his frisky body language, doggy dialogue and facial expressions gleaned from a thousand playful pups everywhere. A canine object lesson in character acting through body language alone.

Performed in Trina Bramman’s expressive splash-like set Mucky Pup neatly explores so many of those early human experiences we all suffer and also enjoy. Playfulness, fear, danger, loneliness, friendship, parental love, and the changes we go through as we discover life isn’t as straight forward as we’d hoped – with a little help from a dog.

Harry Mottram Five stars

Reviewed Friday 7 November 2014

The show is currently on tour – for full details visit www.theatrealibi.co.uk

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The_Falcon_s_Malteser__New_Old_Friends___photo_by_Julian_Foxon_Photography__3____Media_View_544f8592a47f6

Revealed: the secret of being a good detective is er… concentrate at school! Falcon’s Malteser is a good introduction to theatre for boys

The Falcon’s Malteaser. The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset
The Studio space at Poole Lighthouse was crammed with over 100 people on a warm sticky October night. The advised age was 8+ and there were many parents and grandparents dragged along by keen children who thought they knew the Anthony Horowitz story. The atmosphere was jolly and relaxed, sugar levels kept high with soft drinks and popcorn, but the reviewer need not have worried that rustling paper would interfere with the storytelling as the attention of the audience was grabbed from the start and held fast throughout the show.
The story of younger brother Nick and his attempts to keep his private detective older brother Tim Diamond alive, was told in quick clever comic strip style. The other characters, feckless parents, gangsters, fierce police inspectors, shop keepers, untrustworthy women, in quick change costumes and accents were peopled by two amazing actors.
The action was fast moving but easy to follow, with clever twists on what initially seemed a fairly basic rickety stage set, until every permutation of door, sign, desk and chair played through successfully. The script was simple and direct though it did develop some subtlety and left the audience to work out with Nick’s help the underlying puzzle of how a box of Malteasers could contain a fortune in diamonds.
At the beginning the audience appeared quiet and respectful but the gentle humour and slapstick won them over. Noticeably the child audience began to respond more to the jokes in the second half. The jolly good nature of the piece did not allow the narrative tension to build and the fear and threat in the original story was not present, however this script is aimed straight at children and the elements of farce in chases around the set, were good fun.
There were several charming bits of business, particularly the guitar playing in handcuffs. The introduction of a science teacher to help the solving of the puzzle was a clever touch. The moral was definitely to be a successful detective you need to concentrate at school. A point hopefully taken on by the many boys in the audience.
In brief, Falcon’s Malteaser is ideal for family groups, children from 8 upwards especially boys, if you enjoy childrens theatre with style, an intelligent script and excellent acting.
If you want a traditional detective ‘whodunit and can’t smile, stay away.
Alex Brenton                                  4 stars
The show is on tour this month: Great Torrington’s Plough Arts Centre on 2nd Nov 3pm & 7pm, 01805 624624; at London Jacksons Lane 4th-8th Nov, 020 8341 4421; 12th Nov 1pm & 7.30pm Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre, 01902 321321; 15th & 16th Nov 7pm & 3pm; Inverness’ Eden Court, 01463 234234; 21st Nov 1.30pm & 7.30pm; University of Hertfordshire’s Weston Auditorium,01707 281127; 22nd Nov 7pm, Manchester Z Arts, 0161 226 1912; 23rd Nov 2.30pm; Southport’s The Atkinson, 01704 533333;  and on 29th Nov 7.30pm, Didcot’s Cornerstone, 01235 515144.

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Never work with babies or dead dogs: puppets triumph in Kneehigh’s frenetic show

Includes babies: Dead Dog in a Suitcase at the Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Steve Tanner

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love Songs). Bristol Old Vic Theatre, Main House

A creative, comical, kaleidoscopic, cacophonie of sound, smoke, music (and lots of shouty acting) Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love Songs) is entertaining from explosive start to destructive end.

The Bristol Old Vic was pretty well full with fans of Cornwall’s unofficial national theatre company. They mainly came in anticipation of a follow up production to the company’s outstanding Tristan and Yseult that incorporated the hallmarks of Kneehigh’s style: namely comedy, live music and song, modern and classical cultural references, dance and physical theatre; plus high production values of sound and lighting and even higher drama. Dead Dog comes close but didn’t quite match the creativity or the contemporary tone of the Celtic tragedy with its dramatic shifts in mood and spectacular dance and circus skills. Instead what it lacks in subtlety it makes up with its exuberant and frenetic pace.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase - Picture by Steve Tanner (3sm)

Based on John Gay’s 1728 anti-opera musical satire The Beggar’s Opera, Carl Grose’s production takes the raw ingredients and recreates and resets them in a late 20th century world of ska music, disco, dubstep, travel cases, dark glasses and leopard print clothing. Despite the claims of the producer Paul Crewes that we “still observe a world where bankers destroy lives yet still collect bonuses, where power of wealth and celebrity is completely distorted, where the Law is often found to be corrupt…” there were few obvious identified targets for all this anger. We have a could-be-in-any-party politician shot for daring to expose a pilchard scam (true to the Cornish company’s roots but with no obvious political equivalent such as the scandal over weapons of mass destruction); a corrupt mayoral election (but with no indication that this was a dig at today’s elections where investigations into postal votes have caused concern); and despite director Mike Shepherd’s programme notes about his concerns over the rise of UKIP, the Syrian war and the increasing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” it was hard to identify any specific contemporary targets in the play. Instead it had the feeling of a rant at the political state of the nation but without singling out anyone to lampoon. Farage, Cameron, Clegg, Assad, Netanyahu and Lord Stevenson to name but a few.

Instead the satirical drama was updated with music, high-octane energy and the fast paced story of the fall and fall of gangster hitman Macheath played with good-humoured charm by Dominic Marsh and his peerless love interest Polly Peachum (Carly Bawden). Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum was enjoyably obnoxious while testy Lucy Lockit was given a punchy persona by Audrey Brisson. The ensemble cast were all box-office value giving excellent performances. Giles King as Colin Lockit the policeman, worked his kilt off, while brilliantly badly dressed Les Peachum (Martin Hyder) was a credit to the wardrobe department run by Jacquie Davis.

For pure entertainment the show was a hit with never a dull moment with its gyrating disco dancers, fabulous singing and complex chorography aided by a slide to shoot the cast onto stage and mobile platforms that were constantly moved to create anything from a scaffold to a sitting room. Apart from the songs and stunning final climax the puppetry threatened to steal the show. Sarah Wright’s Punch and Judy, the eponymous dog (and flies) and in particular her babies (memorable in an absent father come Child Support Agency scene) blended the puppets perfectly with the action.

Four Stars

Harry Mottram

The show continues until Saturday, 25 October 2014 at the Bristol Old Vic. Details at www.bristololdvic.org.uk/ and also at www.kneehigh.co.uk Reviewed on 9 Oct 2014.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), A New Beggar’s Opera was written by Carl Grose, with music by Charles Hazlewood and was directed by Mike Shepherd – and it was a Kneehigh with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production.

http://vimeo.com/99840551

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An Elephant in the Garden. Review. Northcott Theatre, Exeter.

The elephant in the room for children is that in Simon Reade’s production of Michael Morpugo’s novel there is no elephant. It’s a huge let down. It’s in the title and the elephant dominates the novel, but all we get is a middle-aged woman giving an hour long animated soliloquy.

For a child who has read the story of wartime survival in Dresden during the collapse of the Third Reich in Germany in 1945 the drama An Elephant in the Garden is a huge disappointment. Staged in the Northcott’s theatre the play as such presented by Poonamallee Productions and the Devon theatre is essentially a dramatized story telling of Morpurgo’s novel. Alright in a smaller and more intimate venue but in the large space at the University it lost a great deal and short-changed the few children in the audience.

For the audience was overwhelmingly adults in number. For them Michael Morpurgo hit all the right notes for his 21st century look back at defeated Germany. Nobody wanted to be a Nazi. Being nasty to Jews was an embarrassment, and the bombing of Dresden by the RAF was in effect a war crime. It was all a bit predictable.

Director Reade failed to reinvent Morpurgo’s novel as dramatic entertainment for children – instead it was a tedious revisionist retelling of how the end of the war ended in the Fatherland through the pages of novel without the charm. However, Alison Reid’s performance was commendable. She told the story with verve and strong characterisation but in a vast space like the Northcott she needed more energy. The text alas was against her. Yawns and fidgeting soon set in amongst the few children in the audience. So many characters and so many bad German accents and even worse juggling. Who needs to know the Russians are coming from the East and the Nazis are brutes? We wanted to know about the elephant, how big was it, what noises it made, and how much it ate, and how many poos it did a day. The love story was interesting but this wasn’t the pulsating hormonal power found in the Diary of Anne Frank.

Morpugo’s text didn’t help, with its Hitler assassination note and its bland dialogue and descriptions. It made global war boring. Chris Samuel’s design – a limited circular set within crumbling walls kept captive Alison Reid who wasn’t allowed to interact with the audience as she raced around the tiny space like a demented construction worker in her dungarees. She seemed rather pleased to come to the end of the 65 minute show – ten minutes shorter than advertised – as she gave the only moment of real entertainment for kids with a piece of clowning and juggling to celebrate the end of the Berlin Wall.

In the more intimate confines of the Brewery in Bristol the show should connect rather more and perhaps have a little more umpf. But the sound effects were weak, the props few in number and without some sort of theatrical elephant children won’t rate it. Instead they’ll see it for it is – an enjoyable storytelling show for adults who want their revisionist preconceptions of World War II reinforced. For children it was a bore.

Harry Mottram Reviewed Fri Oct 24th 2014 Two stars

The show continues to Sat 25th Oct at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, before moving to the Brewhouse at The Tobacco Factory in Bristol for a run from November 4th-15th. For more details visit http://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com and http://exeternorthcott.co.uk

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A mesmerising 25 minutes of er… plastic bag ballet. The strange world of Non Nova

apres

L’après-midi d’un Fœhn-Version 1. Bristol Old Vic Studio Theatre

Take one man, six office fans and 30 plastic bags and with the help of some lighting and the music of Debussy you have an unlikely but captivating show for children. Ah… there’s the bit that’s missing. When I saw it in Bristol around 80% of the audience were adults with comparatively few families, mums and tiny ones in tow. The 25 minute ballet des sacs en plastique transfixed the mostly twenty-somethings who sat in the circular space to see this mesmerising performance.

Plunged into darkness with lights picking out the ballet master played by Jean-Louis Ouvard in his woollen hat and greatcoat and six steel office fans arranged in a circle we watched as the fans carried the plastic bags into the air. Each was made so as to appear when inflated like little bouncy toddlers leaping around, ascending and descending as the ballet master walked in their midst. He opened the show by making one of these little plastic people using scissors and tape before releasing into the freedom of the circle.

As the music of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune mingled with the whirring of the fans and the crinkling sound of the bags colliding in the air around the umbrella wielding performer the faces of those few children in the front row were mesmerised by the hypnotic mixture of sight, sound and movement.We were warned not to enter the stage area but I felt I wanted to walk amongst the floating bags and experience that magic when an autumn wind blows up leaves in a vortex around you as you walk through a park on a blustery day.

Perhaps it was the sound that soothed the audience into a trance or perhaps it was the ingenious way the fans were assembled giving life to the bags to float seemingly at will to the ceiling and back again. Dancing around Ouvard who ushered the bages around like a group of reception year children on a school trip. As creator, he gave life and then as the mood changed he became the destroyer slashing and cutting his brood until they were just a mound of trash in his hands as the music the lights and fans died.

A neat and beautifully simple idea to symbolised birth, life and death, using the humblest of everyday consumables – and all without words. Directed by Phia Menard the French Company non Nova production is a joyously magical 25 minutes of theatre that will keep not only children quiet, but all those 20-somethings as well.

Five Stars

Harry Mottram

The Company Non Nova show was presented jointly by the Bristol Old Vic, crying Out Loud and Circomedia.

The show is currently on tour:

Sun 19th Oct 1pm, 3pm & Mon 20th Oct 10.30am, 1.30pm The Civic, Barnsley

Thurs 23rd Oct 5.30pm, 7.30pm & Sat 25th Oct 12noon, 2.30pm Cambridge Junction

Sun 26th Oct 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm Lighthouse Poole

More details are available at http://www.cryingoutloud.org

 

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