The Therapists - Review

Written by New Venture member, Andy Thomas, this hybrid piece of theatre starts off as a comedy double act, full of one-liners, and then develops into a gloriously funny surreal play.

However there was a short period before the play element took off when the one-liners ran out of steam and out-stayed their welcome. The laughs stopped coming. The double act brought to mind Abbott and Costello –- a straight guy and a gormless stooge and a little of them went a long way.

A little more work and revision on the script is needed to tighten up this section. According to the programme the play was directed by Andy and his cast. Possibly some impartial direction would have helped.

Bernard, played by Andy Thomas is an inept would be therapist. He is tutored by Jim Polkey-Calderwood's Sam, a slightly less inept one. Together they are struggling to make ends meet with the threat of eviction by their landlord hanging over their heads.

Several of Bernard's disastrous sessions are re-enacted -– his answer to his clients' problems being to counsel them in the style of his favourite films –- Star Wars, The Exorcist and The Godfather.

By accident the pair of them stumble into regression therapy and that's where the lunacy starts.

By going back in time a wartime romance is uncovered that includes a hilarious scene where Jonny Hume skillfully impersonates the clipped tones of Celia Johnson at her Brief Encounter best! A beautifully realized piece of acting that was matched by Jim Polkey-Calderwood as a very demure Edna. Confused? It would take more space than the Editor will allow to fully explain the plot.

Delightfully comic cameos were provided by Laura Bennett and Katie Scarfe, whilst comedy with a menace was served up by the impressive Robert Maloney as the psychotic landlord. His running joke with a hot iron was a joy.

This strong cast provided an unusual, unique and entertaining look at the world of therapists and proved that laughter is still the best cure for depression.

Barrie Jerram
29 May 2006

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Review

Director, Carl Boardman, aimed to bring a fresh approach to this classic play.

Not only did he present it as a promenade production, whereby audience and cast were meant to intermingle, but he made it a dark and sinister one.

The stories of the young lovers and the antics of the rude mechanicals, rehearsing their play, were overshadowed by a primeval atmosphere.

The woodland fairies were not the frothy and benevolent kind as normally depicted. Here they were swamp-like creatures that slithered and crawled like the un-dead. They acted as barriers throughout the wood over and under which the lovers had to pass.

Was Carl successful in his interpretation? Yes and no!

Whilst there were many good things about the production to commend, it disappointed in two areas.

Having enjoyed promenade performances in the past, I was not happy with it being used for this production. It was a mistake not to clear the studio and leave the rostrums in place. By doing so not only was the acting area reduced thereby cramping the action but it encouraged more of the audience to be seated and not to interact. I know that the rostrums were used at times as acting areas but I felt that the disadvantages of this outweighed the advantages. I wondered how cumbersome things would be with a larger audience than the one on the first night.

Whilst appreciating the desire to bring out a primeval side to the play and to make the fairies dark forces –- and there were some interesting and innovative touches — it was felt that this was overemphasized thereby unbalancing the play, with the action often being held up.

The strength of the production lay with the actors.

There were excellent performances from Nick Hedges as Oberon, ruler of the fairy kingdom — a sinister, magical figure -– and from Lex Hills, an earthy and sensuous Titania. Her seduction of Bottom, was wonderfully funny.

As the object of her lust Paul Wilson was sheer delight. His blustering Bottom was played with great gusto, in the exaggerated style of a Victorian Actor Manager. It was a pity that his transformation into an ass was not better achieved. If it had to be restricted to just the ears of a donkey then at least give him some that stood upright and not floppy rabbit ones. Also a little braying laughter would have helped.

It was pleasing to see the continuing progress made by Chris Nunn and Kieran Burke, late of the Youth Theatre, as the love-struck rivals. Charlotte Grimes made a sweet Hermia in contrast to Imogen Miller-Porter's feisty Helena.

The rude mechanicals led by Tom Robinson's Quince provided great fun with the play within a play sequence.

The evening was an interesting and entertaining one, albeit there were times when the Director's interpretation needed further explanation.

Barrie Jerram

Blue Remembered Hills - Review

Dennis Potter was a prolific writer of television plays that were ground breaking in their style and content. Only a few of these have made the crossover to the stage – Blue Remembered Hills being the most successful.

Set in wartime Britain it depicts the activities of seven children as they play in the fields and the woods during a hot summer. Their games reflect the war going on around them whilst their dreams are full of the perceived glory of conflict.

Peter and John are seen contesting for top place in the gang hierarchy with Willie, the slyest of the acolytes, having an innate cunning that allows him to appear to support but undermines instead.

Stuttering Raymond and the abused and disturbed Donald are the target of the gang's tormenting and bullying.

Although not really part of the gang, Angela and Audrey are hangers on that get swept along with events. As they play 'house' they sub-consciously mimic their mothers and spout overheard domestic dialogue.

For this play Potter's unorthodox approach is to have all the children played by grown up actors. As the play develops there is a fascination in watching the adult cast successfully and humorously display childish characteristics.

The acting of each member of the cast was a joy to watch.

It was particularly pleasing to see Mike Chowney back on stage after almost a two year absence. He gave a strong performance as Peter, the bullying leader whose vulnerability is exposed when challenged by fellow gang member, John, well played by John Adam.

Once again Andy Bell gave a performance that showed how he is developing into a fine actor. As the crafty Willie his facial and body language fully conveyed the slyness of the character.

Martin Hoskins coped well with the difficulties of playing the stuttering Raymond, although bullied himself, he is not adverse to tormenting the pathetic Donald.

There was a particularly moving performance from Mark Green as the tragic Donald. The reality of his suffering tugged at the heartstrings.

Lighter relief was provided by the comic talents of Kirsty Harbron, as Angela playing at motherhood and whose attractiveness lead one to suspect that real motherhood would be an early visitor. Abigail Landon was equally funny as the plain tomboy, Audrey, always ready to give someone a good bashing.

A fine production was to my mind marred by an ugly set. Given the constraints of the studio space, one does not expect lavishness but were 2 muddy brown panels and a bare paint splattered floor the best that the production team could come up with. Surely a green floor cloth and some foliage would have conveyed better a sense of the outdoors.

That gripe apart it was an enjoyable evening of nostalgia for many of us to remember our childhoods and the summers that were always hot. Or were they?

Barrie Jerram
11 March 2006

The Beauty Queen of Leenane - Review

Martin McDonagh’s play had the doomed inevitability of a Greek tragedy but was counterbalanced with generous helpings of comedy.

Maureen, a plain, lonely middle aged woman trapped in an isolated Irish household and left to care for her elderly mother, her two sisters having escaped through marriage.

The relationship is the distaff version of Steptoe and Son with Mag, the selfish mother manipulating her daughter and thwarting her only hope of love and happiness. Maureen in turn detests her mother and the drudgery that she is subjected to.

The atmosphere between the couple seethed with tension broken by some splendidly comic battles as each taunted the other.

The arrival of Pato Dooley, back from England for a visit, promises an escape for Maureen but in fact proves to be the catalyst that sets off a train of events with tragic consequences.

Pat Boxall directed with great sensitivity and captured well the many changing moods that the text called for. She was helped by the atmospheric music created by Edward Gamper.

The roles of two protagonists provided two meaty roles that offered a challenge to each actor – both performances were sublime.

Janet Hewlett-Davies was truly horrendous yet, at the same time, mesmeric as the mother. There were times when her awfulness made this member of the audience want to get up and hit her! She gave a masterful performance with facial expression that spoke volumes - the ever watchful eyes, the sly glances and the pouting mouth were a joy to watch.

Equally impressive was Maggie Clune as Maureen - again a great demonstration of effortless acting with the face telling all. It was a heart breaking portrayal that captured the character’s loneliness and sexual frustration and was full of great poignancy. This sensitivity made her outbursts of anger and violence even more shocking. Not having seen Maggie’s work before, this introduction leads me to hope that it will not be long before she appears at NVT again.

Tim Blissett’s Pato was a creature of bluffness that hid a shy and tender man and was beautifully realised. His courtship of Maureen, and particularly the letter scene, was most moving.

Completing the cast was Paul Wilson as Pato’s brother, Ray. He depicted well the simplicity of the character to comic effect but, sadly, had a tendency to speak too fast at times.

In fact, lack of clarity was something that all the cast suffered from. On a few occasions the softness of voice together with the Irish accent meant that small amounts of dialogue were missed.

This apart the production matched the benchmark set at the beginning of the season.

Having moaned about the paucity of the set for the previous production I must congratulate those responsible for creating such a realistic setting this time.


Barrie Jerram
12 April 2006

Through the Wormhole - Review

I well remember the feeling of exhilaration that I had on leaving the NVT after seeing The Last Resort a couple of years ago. If I am to be honest then I must say that, as much as I enjoyed its sequel, I did not come away with the same elation.

Why should that be? There were so many good things about the production that I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact reason.

I suspect that one reason would be because a major factor in my memory of the first panto was the shock of its originality. This time around that element, by its very nature, had to be missing.

In addition it was felt that the first act was a bit slow in taking off and needed a bit of a lift. Maybe it could have done with some more gags.

Possibly the fault lay with me – my expectations may have been too high.

But enough of the negative! There were many witty, inventive and enjoyable things to be positive about.

Eleanor Gamper, wearing her writer's hat, produced an intriguing sequel that involved Brighton under a new ice age, a giant worm, traveling through time and space together with the reappearance of some favourites from the previous show.

Reprising their roles as the Prince Regent and Mrs. Fitzherbert, Denny Vans Agnew and Laura Bennett, again delighted with assured performances that demonstrated a superb sense of comic timing.

Carl Boardman once again took to drag as Old Mother Brighton – this time reincarnated as Holly, one of the eccentric Miss Tree sisters. He was joined by Andy Thomas as Ivy. Their performances brought to mind Hinge and Bracket – although with the maniacal portrayal of Ivy it was more a case of Un-Hinged!

They were pitted against the evil wiles of the dastardly Christiana and of her plot to rule the Universe. Once again the recipient of the audience's hisses and boos was Pat Boxall, who obviously relished her return to this role.

The sisters were aided, by amongst others, an assortment of odd characters who had traveled through time. In addition to Prinny and Mrs. F other local personalities such as a bewildered King Alfred, nicely underplayed by Peter Milner and an exceptionally well-endowed cave woman rejoicing in the name of Jawbone, a wickedly funny and camp caricature by Jonny Hume. There were many other pleasing performances from the rest of the cast, sadly too numerous to mention.

Director, Nik Hedges coped well with the enforced change to and the limited space of the studio, particularly in the ensemble numbers.

More creative credit has to go to Eleanor Gamper, wearing another of her hats. She was responsible for the show having original lyrics and music and created a good mix of lively numbers and ballads.

For me, and I suspect for many, the high spot of the evening was Einstein Alive, a clever parody of the Bee Gees' number, with the eminent scientist transported though time to a Seventies Disco. An image that will stay with me for a long while was that of Jerry Lyne, looking remarkably like the great man, strutting his stuff on the dance floor.

It would be very wrong not to give praise to the rest of the creative team for the effective set and especially to Peter Milner and helpers for the delightful and inventive costumes.

Barrie Jerram