What others think of our work
Click the + sign to expand each article, and click the - sign to close
RELATIVELY Speaking is the seventh play that Alan Ayckbourn wrote, some 52 years ago, and although it was his second West End transfer, this was the one that made him an overnight success as soon as the reviews were published. The play is very cleverly constructed, with economy of language to help introduce confusion, but it has a simple structure, and a simple plot, all of which makes the situation funnier and more awkward as identities are confused and ambitions thwarted.
This is the third Ayckbourn I have seen by this company, with two different directors and some of the same cast. From the many of his plays that I have seen, been in or directed, I agree with the playwright that the secret of his plays is to play them for truth, and reality, in as natural a style as possible. Sadly many professional companies play it too much for laughs, something I find very dated, and which misses so much of the subtlety and pathos of the characters and the script. Dramatic Productions, however, get it exactly right: their characters are always played as real people, meaning that we share their joys, their despair, and their suffering.
Young couple Ginny and Greg have only been together a month, but before she can accept his marriage proposal she must stop the contact from her former, married, lover Phillip, so she goes to visit him, telling Greg she is off to her parents. He finds the address and follows her. That is all I need to write about the plot: suffice to say that complete confusion ensues, as Greg has not met Phillip, and neither Greg nor Ginny have met Phillip’s wife Sheila.
Nicole Faraday and Joshua Ward are Ginny and Greg, Julia Savill and Russell Biles are Sheila and Phillip, each one of these know exactly how to bring the best out of this play, and all four of the characters become real people in their hands, tightly directed and kept just the right side of slipping from frustrated character into farcical caricature by Tracy Murrey. We squirm as Greg treats Sheila and Phillip as Ginny’s parents, we laugh as Phillip thinks he knows what is happening, and we share the delight as Sheila finally realises what her husband has been up to and takes revenge. We laugh at the mistakes, the confusion, the improbability, but we do not laugh at the characters, we care about them because they are so believable. This is honest and natural acting, indeed Ayckbourn should be delighted to know that his work is as safe in the hands of this company as his own, and I for one look forward to the next of his works that they choose to present.Read review on The Fine Times Recorder's website
Mark Blackham , Fine Times Recorder
ALAN Ayckbourn loves a good idea, such as playing with location, as in RolePlay, a former choice by Dramatic Productions one of three otherwise-unrelated plays set in the same Docklands apartment, or with character, as in last year’s new work Roundelay with five main characters in their own half-hour play, whilst all featuring in the other works, and even with different floors in the same property as part of one, same-level, set, with Taking Steps. Inspired by the way that J B Priestley plays with time, Ayckbourn’s 44th play, Time Of My Life, first performed in 1993, shows the events of one evening, at a family birthday party in a favourite restaurant, whilst also taking us back two months in time, and forward two years, as the two sons of the family dine at the same restaurant before and after the evening of the party. We therefore follow three separate strands of time, and the lives of the characters developing, in real time, as well as quickly into the future and backwards.
The secret of making Ayckbourn enjoyable, in my opinion, is to make every single character on the stage completely believable, and this company manage this very well. I saw many of tonight’s actors in RolePlay two years ago, but in the same way that familiar television or film actors can easily convince us they are someone different, this company stops short of caricature and plays with a natural and believable style that had audience members sighing with sadness at one character’s demise, and drew gentle smiles as a young couple’s relationship developed in reverse, even with our knowledge of how it was going to end.
Julia Saville and Timothy Lowe, as Laura and Gerry, are on stage for virtually the whole production, often frozen and in darkness, but there nevertheless, and dominating the action, as their influence does in every scene, and these two actors are masters of their art: even when Julia seemed to stumble over a word or two she stumbled in character, and found her words in style. Their older son Glyn and his wife Stephanie, played by Steve Rollins and Celia Muir respectively, had to go through many emotions as they experience pregnancy, death of a parent, separation, reconciliation, and finally divorce, and I believed every part of their journey. Some of Rollins’s words can run into one another, partly from the Northern accent, but as a dysfunctional couple they were very realistic, and it was Muir who drew the audible sigh from the audience as we shared her sadness. Tom Barber Duffy and Rebecca Legrand were younger (and favourite) son Adam and his latest girlfriend Maureen, and they were both very careful not to fall into obvious stereotype, particularly Legrand, with a genuine innocence and naivety rather than just playing a dumb blonde. Their relationship was a delight to watch, with its gradually reducing intensity as the time moved backwards to their first meeting, demanding finely crafted acting from both. The Common Man of this play is one actor playing the owner of the restaurant and also all the waiting staff, including one female and a singing waiter, with a lovely voice, and this again was a finely tuned performance by Alan Colclough, giving a different nuance to each member of the Calvinu family, from a made-up country somewhere between Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean with equally made-up speciality dishes. His timing and physicality added to the humour without ever stealing the scene or taking us out of reality.
Director and Producer Tracy Jane Murray is certainly a name to look out for if you like your theatre well-done. She should be extremely proud of her company, and of her directing talents, and I look forward to future productions, particularly from Mr Ayckbourn’s ever-growing canon.Read review on The Fine Times Recorder's website
Mark Blackham , Fine Times Recorder
The audience ratings are falling and once popular BBC radio soap, Applehurst - an everyday story of village life - is in need of a quick fix.
Executives decide, as only executives can, that if they kill off their most popular character it will boost the ratings. Sounds familiar eh?
And sure enough before you can say ‘Nigel Pargetter’ sweet, loveable, reliable local nurse Sister George is dispatched beneath a speeding lorry.
Only this play was first staged more than 50 years ago and June Buckridge, the actress who plays George, isn’t very loveable at all.
She's a foul-mouthed, hard-drinker who controls and abuses her much younger lover Alice.
Dramatic Productions’ revival of Frank Marcus’s groundbreaking comedy drama highlights the emotional turmoil that this odd couple face when the axe falls.
It's gruelling stuff with powerful screaming matches but it’s certainly not without humour.
Julia Savill is excellent as the manipulative but vulnerable Buckridge facing the death of not only her character but her relationship and her career too.
Amy Loughton is the submissive and needy Alice, desperately trying to resolve hidden issues while Celia Muir is super-smart BBC admin lady Mrs Mercy Croft who seems to offer sympathy and solutions.
It soon emerges however that she has her own agenda.
With Judy Norman as clairvoyant neighbour Madame Xenia cranking up the laughs, this production directed by Tracy Jane Murrey gets the balance absolutely right as she probes the humour of the characters but lays bare the emotional pain of abusive relationships.Read review on Bournemouth Echo's website
Jeremy Miles, Bournemouth Echo
THERE are just a few moments in Frank Marcus’s poignant and prescient play The Killing of Sister George that underline how much things have changed since it was written in 1964.
Its Wikipedia entry says that Marcus intended it as a farce, but it was taken up as an iconic drama-with-laughs by a Lesbian community starved of theatre to which they could relate. But after Beryl Reid’s film performance its farcical intentions were scuppered.
Broadcasting House and the BBC are tat the heart of this story, and it’s salutary to see that more than 50 years ago the move for audience ratings and box ticking was bubbling under an increasingly corporate surface.
Actress June Buckridge, whose sexual tastes must be hidden from colleagues and (of course) Auntie’s audience, has spent the past six years creating the role of Sister George in an Ambridge-style radio soap. She has been the series’ most popular character, a down to earth and robust district nurse on a moped.
But “George” (as Buckridge thinks of herself) has been a “bad boy”. Her latest drunken foray – in a taxi full of novitiate nuns – can’t go unpunished. And the audience figures are dropping.
Certain that something is afoot, the actress takes out her fears on her housemate Childie, a much younger woman whose life is surrounded by dolls and feminine trappings. Then BBC executive Mrs Mercy Croft, famous agony aunt of the airwaves, comes to call …
Director Tracy Jane Murrey cleverly integrates the radio recordings and broadcast into this single-set play.
Amy Loughton is a stronger and more charismatically manipulative Childie than in some performances, and Judy Norman makes the most of every nuance of the Russian fortune teller downstairs. Celia Muir is all feline elegance as Mrs Mercy, delivering her coup-de-grace with a frosty smile.
The central role is, of course, Sister George, played with gusto by company regular Julia Savill. Although the play has been criticised as portraying caricature lesbians in a negative way, most of the progressive 60s and the experimental 70s hadn’t yet happened, and roles were clearly delineated. I’m sorry to say that June Buckridge would NEVER have worn that dressing gown. A man’s camel or plaid would surely have been easy to find. And the hair (which I suppose is needed for the revival of the wonderful The Woman Who Killed Her Husband in less than a month) would have been more convincing short.
Julia Savill’s timing is famous, and came to the fore in the wonderful Stan and Ollie scene, the touching speech about the bath mat, and the despairing closing moments.
The Killing of Sister George is a period piece, not only a look at a time when the line “I’m not married to you, George” addressed a legal impossibility but also an inconceivable thought” but the early rumblings of big business and its effects on artistic communities.
It is well worth producing, and Dramatic Productions are doing it proud.Read review on The Fine Times Recorder's website
Gay Pirrie-Weir, Fine Times Recorder
Frank Marcus’s 1964 play (and subsequent 1968 film), with its references to lesbianism and illegitimacy, was probably rather more shocking at that time than is the case in our ‘anything goes’ society today – but shocking or not, it has certainly stood the test of time as is shown in this outstanding production, beautifully directed by Tracy Jane Murrey.
Ratings in an Archers-type radio soap, Applehurst, are slipping and the answer would seem to be to kill off the main character, the cheery and popular district nurse, Sister George. This goes down rather less than well with the actress playing her, June Buckridge, whose life quickly begins to crumble around her, culminating in the departure of her much younger live-in girlfriend, Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught, for sanctuary at the home of BBC executive Mrs Mercy Croft.
I would like to heartily thank whoever it was who decided to set the scene by having 1960s hits playing pre-show, as I must confess that much as I enjoyed the production, I would have been very happy listening to those songs all evening, being of an age where I can remember them very well indeed. They did indeed set the scene, as did the entire set with its typically ’60s wallpaper and furniture. I was particularly taken with the ‘on air’ sign on the wall that lit up whenever scenes from the soap were enacted, and with the clever disguise for the BBC microphone.
The role of June Buckridge is a tour-de-force and Julia Savill fully embraces it, making it entirely her own and banishing all thoughts of its creator, Beryl Reid. Whether playing drunk, angry, despondent or cheerful, she entirely convinces in this masterly characterisation and on opening night even a momentary lapse of memory was barely noticeable, so well did she disguise it. Amy Loughton, as her girlfriend, has the difficult task of playing someone who is actually rather older than she likes to pretend, but she accomplishes this with ease, displaying her character’s game plan to great effect. Celia Muir excels as the elegant, hard-as-nails Mrs Mercy Croft, leaving the audience in no doubt that her softer side is as brittle as the rest of her, and there is a lovely cameo from Judy Norman as the eccentric Madame Xenia.
This extremely classy and surprisingly humorous production is, in my view, a must-see.Read review on Scene One's website
Linda Kirkman, Scene One
The Spirit of Love
- Do you believe in ghosts? Have you had encounters or visitations?
- Have your curtains ever billowed without a breath of breeze or wind?
- A trembling of lights, or whispers around your shoulder?
- Or maybe you’ve been haunted by a favourite old song? An ‘earworm’?
- Or a lost love that you just can’t shake off?
Well, here is a treat for all of us – right here in the midst of our local Dorset community - the spirit of love is haunting the stage of the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne this week – love in all its diverse shapes and sizes, as writer Charles Condomine, played with great charm and energy by Conrad Hornby, finds himself lured into the web of competition between his new young second wife and his now-dead first wife – back to haunt his new marriage.
Ruth is the new sophisticated, society ‘model’, played with feisty wit by Celia Muir; while Emma Stevens gives a mischievous and elegantly seductive portrayal of the playful ghost-wife, Elvira – conjured to the house during a séance that Charles has arranged to help him research his latest book. Perhaps he should have been careful what he wished for!
Martin Bishop and Judy Norman play with great sensitivity the older Doctor and his wife, invited to the séance evening, and providing another ‘spirit’ of the marital relationship, as their habitual, genteel bickering and spatting belies their long-lived commitment and devotion.
Into this recipe for farcical comedy Coward has stirred two richly comedic eccentrics: Madame Arcati, the medium; and Edith, the maid - played with relish by Julia Savill and Dani Bright respectively. Julia gives us a solid and bracing Arcati from the ‘jolly hockey sticks’ school – often thrusting wide her arms and eyes to the heavens; while Dani plays the unwittingly hapless maid – often sunk in bewildered embarrassment. When the two join forces for the climactic denouement, there will be many sides split at their intensely funny portrayal of attempts at an exorcism!
The period setting and wiz-bang special effects make this a demanding production for the stage management team, who are working hard behind the scenes – ably led by Chris Murrey.
If you’ve never tried a Noel Coward play before, I can heartily recommend this one to you; especially in this latest presentation by the Dramatic Productions Company, confidently directed with assurance by artistic director Tracy Jane Murrey.
This piece requires precision comic timing contrasted by the more wistful and sentimental passages – with a great ensemble cast this production certainly crackles and sparks with the popping and fizzing of champagne, whilst stirring our reflections on the nature of relationships, partnerships, marriage and – of course – LOVE.
As the song plays – "I’ll be Loving You Always" – and as a certain royal figure once said in public – "Love? – Whatever that means ... "
Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy a night of farcical comedy – and romantic contemplation.
Preview by Jayne Skellet
IF the spirit of Noel Coward hovers around any theatre where his plays are being staged, it must have been very blithe last week, when Dramatic Productions staged his delightful satire on the vogue for seances and spiritualism in the appropriately Art Deco setting of Wimborne’s Tivoli Theatre.
Blithe Spirit is usually seen primarily as a star vehicle for a great character actress – as with Angela Lansbury in her return to the West End last year – and in Julia Savill, the company has an actress of the stature required. She reigns over the stage whenever she appears, with flamboyant costumes and a vocal range to match.
But this enduring comedy is much more than a one-woman show and director Tracy Murrey had an able and elegant cast that totally inhabited Coward’s preposterously believable love triangle and their friends and servant.
Conrad Hornby as Charles Condomine was attractive and charming, with just that hint of callous indifference that will enable him to walk away from his warring ghostly wives at the end of the play without a hint of regret.
Celia Muir was superb as Ruth, the second (living) Mrs Condomine. It’s hard enough being the second wife of a man who still recalls the beauty and charm of her predecessor with such relish. But to find the former wife back in the family home really is an awful lot to ask of even a very well-bred and sophisticated woman.
Emma Stephens as Elvira, with ghostly pallor and a glorious evening gown, was capricious and charming, wilful, wicked and witty.
Martin Bishop and Judy Norman were well-cast as the sensible older couple, Dr and Mrs Bradman, and Dani Bright brought just the right level of hysteria to the part of Edith, the maid who holds the key to the mystery.
The period cut-glass Coward voices were pitch-perfect, and the pacing of the action was beautifully balanced between the indulgent languor of the monied upper middle classes at leisure and the ferocious forces of jealousy and misery unleashed by the preposterous Madame Arcati and her psychic dabblings. There is only one word for the production – Masterly.Read review on The Fine Times Recorder's website
Fanny Charles, Fine Times Recorder
The tone for Noel Coward's farce Blithe Spirit is stylishly set immediately, with the Tivoli stage transformed into the lounge of an elegant house during the 1930s. Musically there is a subtle play on words as the song I Don't Stand the Ghost of a Chance with You blends into the opening scene.
For this improbable story relates to a middle-aged writer who wishes to research the occult for his latest novel and enlists the local medium to hold a séance. With his second wife and their socialite friends he hosts a psychic evening, only to discover that the ghost of his first wife has come back to haunt him.
What a pivotal part Conrad Hornby has as sophisticated Charles Condomine, brought to his knees literally and metaphorically by the demands of his two wives, past and present. Conrad is nothing short of brilliant combining body language with tightly delivered dialogue and he is matched by Celia Muir as Ruth, the second Mrs Condomine. She excels throughout, whether glacial with fury or brittle and explosive, her interaction with Charles is compelling. When Elvira – exquisitely played by Emma Stevens – joins them for the ménage a trois scenes there are delightfully funny moments since Ruth cannot see or hear her ghostly predecessor. Emma characterises the youthful Elvira to perfection, whether playful or pouting, mercurial or malicious.
Madame Arcati is the ideal larger than life role for local actress Julia Savill and she makes the most of it, complete with eccentric clothes and wild hair. Rather in the style of a jolly games mistress in her delivery, she is an ideal foil for the hapless maid Edith (a good part for Dani Bright) who lacks confidence but who has an unexpectedly important role to play in matters ghostly. Martin Bishop as Dr Bradman and Judy Norman (his wife) splendidly complete a stellar cast, all of whom have lengthy professional pedigrees – and it shows.
Producer and director Tracy Jane Murrey – who was also responsible for costumes and set design – must be congratulated on this production which would have graced the West End. A witty but wordy play, it kept up a fast pace with precise comic timing. Dramatic Productions seeks to push the boundaries of theatrical entertainment and the company certainly did that.Read review on Blackmore Vale's website
Pat Scott, Blackmore Vale
Farce tells why men can't have their cake and eat it
The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
One of the oldest adages of them all is being explored in a production of Debbie Isitt’s The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband at the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, tonight.
And director Tracy Murrey, of Dorset-based Dramatic Productions, says the black comedy about middle-aged Kenneth, who gets himself involved in a warped love triangle, tells perfectly the story of that apparent conflict men can have – between the bedroom and kitchen.
“In a nutshell, it’s about Kenneth, a chauvinist with a weakness for fatty foods and skinny women,” she says.
“In the midst of a mid-life crisis he trades in Hilary, his plump and stoic wife of many years for the younger, prettier, slimmer and more culinary-challenged Laura.”
“However, he quickly regrets his rash decision and finds himself torn between the delights of Laura’s bedroom and Hilary’s kitchen.”
“I couldn’t possibly give any more away but, needless to say as the title implies, Kenneth discovers he can’t have his cake and eat it.”
The play has given Tracy a great opportunity to flex her creative muscles – and audiences can expect to see it cleverly told through a series of flashbacks, which she says can be quite surreal and tricky to stage.
“It’s a great piece for Dramatic as it gives us the opportunity to showcase three of our best loved, local character actors in a cracking comedy: Julia Savill, Russell Biles and Celia Muir.”
“I’m committed to not wasting a single humorous moment from Isitt’s extremely funny script but also keen to ensure the pain and point of view of the characters is always underlying.”
“The truth of the piece is that it has a lot to say about human weaknesses, loyalty and selfishness as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh out loud experience.”
Set in the era of rock ‘n’ roll, Tracy thinks this is a story which may resonate with many.
“I guess the play is about the simplest of desires - sex and food - and we’re all familiar with those. Of course, anyone who has been betrayed in love or lamented the loss of their youth will identify with the characters and their situations on some level.”
“It’s also worth mentioning that fans of rock ‘n roll will enjoy the soundtrack. A highlight of working on The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband is all the wonderful Elvis tunes I get to listen to.”
This latest project comes after Dramatic Productions enjoyed a successful year in 2014 which saw a string of well-known plays performed – but Tracy wants to continue to support new writing and give people the opportunity to see something fresh.
“We are also committed to new writing and giving people the opportunity to see something less well known,” she says.
“That said The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband was very successful when it was first produced at the Edinburgh Fringe in the 1990s.”
“It later enjoyed a run in the West End with Alison Steadman in the lead role so I’m hoping some of our audience will have heard of it.”
And Tracy could not reserve more praise for the play’s host in Poole, praising its support for work created in the community.
“We consider Lighthouse to be an integral part of our work at Dramatic Productions and we are extremely grateful and proud to be an associated company at such a special venue” she says.
“Not only does it facilitate our productions it is also an incredibly creative and inspiring environment within which to work.”
She describes the arts scene in Dorset as a whole as ‘vibrant’ and praises the likes of Dorchester-based Activate and the Arts by the Sea festival for giving artists such a good platform.
“On a smaller scale I have seen some excellent fringe theatre popping up in bars such as Camden in Ashley Cross, Chaplin’s Cellar Bar and The Shelley Theatre in Boscombe to name a few - this is just the tip of the iceberg.
"There is a lot going on, however, I would dearly love to see better accessibility to the arts for families struggling on low incomes. Perhaps this is something Dramatic Productions can look at as we move forward.”
“As a Dorset girl through and through, I feel privileged to live and work in such a culturally rich part of the UK.”Read interview on Bournemouth Echo's website
Toby Wadey, Bournemouth Echo
The routinely excellent Dramatic Productions take a highly satisfying journey through darkly comic territory with this well-tuned three-hander.
Debbie Isitt’s comedy explores a love triangle which involves all the big subjects - sex, death, food and Elvis. Director Tracy Jane Murrey and a supreme cast handle the story of a pig-headed, fun-seeking, glutton, writhing hopelessly in the grip of a mid-life crisis, with aplomb.
Russell Biles plays Kenneth, a middle-aged Elvis fan whose life in the suburbs has hit the buffers. His performance is delivered with superb comic timing and a physicality that belies his rotund stature. Bored with Hiliary, his well-intentioned wife of 25 years, Kenneth has been seeking thrills elsewhere with younger, more attractive Laura. The trouble is it is all going very wrong. For a start Kenneth is a bad liar. Worse still Hilary is a superb cook and Laura, while fun in bed, is a disaster in the kitchen.
Julia Savill is brilliant as the blameless but betrayed wife - badly hurt, quietly seething and plotting her revenge while Celia Muir captures the dilemma of the once vivacious bit on the side who is gradually having the life sucked out of her by the selfish, greedy man she has taken on board. As they celebrate their third anniversary, Kenneth and Laura accept an invitation to dinner with Hilary, little suspecting the main ingredient of the ‘special’ meal she has planned. Whoever said that revenge is a dish best served cold had not considered this ingenious alternative.
With nods to farce, slapstick, mime and physical theatre this is a fast-paced comedy which requires not only skilful acting but a deep understanding of the material which has moments of both poignancy and almost cartoon madness. It’s complex stuff with time-shifts and some marvellous moments of both visual and verbal humour. It focuses on human weaknesses but remains laugh out loud funny.
Working on what must have been a minimal budget director Murrey and the cast do an excellent job using a set made up of just two tables, three chairs and a lampshade. I was interested to note that both set and costumes were predominantly green - the colour of envy. Tellingly there are also flashes of red - the colour of passion. Perfect!Read review on Dancing Ledge's website
Jeremy Miles, Dancing Ledge
DEBBIE Isitt’s play The Woman Who Cooked her Husband was first published and performed in 1993, and when it was revived nine years later, national newspaper critics were at pains to point out that feminism had moved on in the decade and it seemed dated.
Fast forward to 2015 at Poole Lighthouse’s studio theatre, where Dramatic Productions staged the play.
Dated? I don’t think so. Leopards, as we all know, don’t change their spots, and even “new men” have attitudes ingrained. If the laughter from the large audience at Poole at the Saturday matinee, whose ages ranged from teenage to octogenarian, was anything to go by, this is a play whose message is pretty much timeless.
Tracy Murrey’s sparkling production has powerhouse performances by all three actors.
Kenneth, resplendently bald in green sateen drape jacket, is a lifelong Elvis fan. One night, at the club where he’s the life-and-soul, he meets Laura (in a matching dance dress with red petticoat).
Before long Ken is cheating on Hilary, his devoted wife of 25 years, inventing excuses for late homecomings and imaginary friends to help. Bored with waiting for her new lover to break with his wife, Laura goes to visit Hilary.
This witty and perceptive play is told in short scenes, out of chronological order, and demanding great skill from its actors.
Julia Savill’s Hilary is dumf, self effacing, feisty and poignant almost all at once. This might be black comedy but there wasn’t a woman in the audience who was not rooting for her.
Russell Biles has never been better than as the simple, and simply arrogant, Ken. His scene batted between wife and lover is both brilliantly choreographed (by Paula Lelliott Stevens) and performed.
And Celia Muir is the perfect Laura, selfish, sexy, neurotic and incompetent. Her understanding of her real situation grew tangibly and delightfully.
The denouement is flagged in the title, and again in the opening speech, but the future is subtly hinted by two tiny moments, both handled with great delicacy by the two women.
In my opinion, this is the best thing that the versatile and talented Dramatic Productions has ever done, and if it’s dated in London, I think it has powerful legs in the provinces!Read review on Fine Times Recorder's website
Gay Pirrie-Weir, The Fine Times Recorder
From the Lord of Misrule, through Shakespeare’s ‘Fool’, to our current monarchs of comedy-cool – the question of using humour as a vehicle to present serious issues, has challenged artists and audiences alike for millennia. When we cry with laughter, are we recognising and relishing some human folly; or identifying with and anguishing over the roots of our flawed humanity?
In this surreal black comedy of domestic manners, our three protagonists are trapped in a deadly ‘pas de trois’ – from the domestic dance floors of deadly suburbia to the ex-pat bars of Benidorm, they hit each other with their ‘rhythm sticks’ – taking us on a rollercoaster of ‘Strictly’ style moves and vociferous battles of banter and brawling.
From the very opening image of a greenly dressed woman, lying on a vibrantly green table beneath a shimmering emerald chandelier of wickedly glittering kitchen cutlery, we know that we are perhaps in for a strangely entertaining evening of theatre – and certainly we are not disappointed.
The environment of the Studio space at The Lighthouse, Poole has given director, Tracy Jane Murrey just the right atmosphere in which to conjure to life, this claustrophobic tale of love and marriage, lust and divorce – oh yes – and not forgetting sex and food! A complex, stylised piece, Murrey has really looked into its darker corners, and dug out every bit of ‘green’ that she can: the innocence of first love, freshness of new love, the envy between rivals, the bile of hatred, the poisonous venom of revenge. And she has a strong cast of performers who carry the demands of this complex style of storytelling with great energy and lustiness, as well as great pathos and sensitivity in the reflective passages.
Carrying the role of the hapless patriarch Kenneth, is actor Russell Biles, who shows us his full range of physicality, from larger-than-life slapstick moves, through his awkwardly mincing tango, to finely timed flickers of facial expressions. We laugh at his ridiculous posturings and bellyaching. Competing for his love, attentions and loyalty are: his first-wife-and-ex-wife – the mature Hilary, played boldly by Julia Savill; and his mistress-come-second-wife – the young Laura, played with a grounded sense of ‘street-chic’ by Celia Muir. Between them, they effectively engage us in a battle for our sympathies; cleverly taking us on the twists and turns as they torture Kenneth in an ever spinning web between them.
The technical crew, Oliver Selby and Jo Myles, are kept busy throughout, with snappy lighting and sound effects, and rearrangements to the furniture, that are crucial to the linking of this episodic piece that jumps us back and forth in time; their smooth teamwork produces a satisfying whole for us.
Set to a sound track of some of Elvis’ more haunting numbers, we watch the threesome exhaust themselves again and again – “Suspicion” – “If You’re Looking for Trouble” ... these underline for us the themes and messages of this piece.
Like Dorothy on her quest to find the great Wizard, who can allegedly get her back home, the women’s ruby slippers lead them to their own Emerald City, only to find that their ‘great wizard’ is also – ‘just a man’.
And with our heads full of memorable images, we are left at the last to muse over the sorry outcome of this romp and a rampage through the battlefields of patriarchy and feminism – is anyone the winner here? Perhaps let’s leave the last word to the young Laura, as she bemoans, “Everyone’s hurt and we’ll soon be dead, so let’s start thinking about the starving in Africa and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Preview by Jayne Skellet
Having trained at Dorset School of Acting based at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, Jamie Lee-Hill is making giant strides in his burgeoning film and TV career. His latest appearance on the big screen finds him playing Laban Tall in the critically-acclaimed new adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd that opens a week-long run at Lighthouse on 29 May.
Laban Tall is the young farm labourer who is firmly under his wife Susan’s thumb. In Hardy’s novel he is referred to as “Susan Hall’s husband” and their relationship suggests a flip side to the romantic yearnings of the main protagonists. His Old Testament namesake is a man whose concern for his family is all-consuming to the extent that it becomes detrimental both to himself and his family.
Jamie will also be seen next year in the second series of The Hollow Crown, BBC2’s series of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays. He’ll appear alongside an all-star cast topped by Benedict Cumberbatch as King Richard III, Judi Dench as the Duchess of York, Michael Gambon as Mortimer and Hugh Bonneville as Gloucester.
His other film credits include supernatural horror The Haunted (shooting now), children’s adventure Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? and the haunting psychological noir Emulsion, which premiered at Lighthouse as part of the Indie Screen Dorset season. Jamie also spent two years working with Lighthouse associate artists Dramatic Productions, appearing as Steve Hubble in A Streetcar Named Desire.
He took time out from his busy schedule to field a few questions…
Congratulations on Far From the Madding Crowd, how did you get the part and what do you make of the finished film?
Thank you, my agent Tracy Murrey at Dramatic Productions gave me a call in August 2013 asking for a photo of me for the casting, they didn’t want actors’ studio head shots, they wanted us as we were.
I was incredibly lucky as I had been about to get my hair cut the day before, but I’d ran out of time as I was running around buying smart clothes for the premiere of Emulsion. If I’d cut my hair, it would have been too short for the part! I got lucky again when I got a call on a sunny afternoon a week or so later saying I was down to the last four and I had to e-mail a self audition tape that evening.
I happened to be on holiday where I’d lived for part of my childhood in a small North Wales village. I was by one of my old neighbour’s sheep farms, so I got my son to point his iPod at me as I sat on a hillside surrounded by sheep. It was the perfect audition setting for the part of a shepherd. It was only a few days later when I got the call from Tracy saying it was me.
I had already given up my day job as I’d had great belief that the part would be mine, but nothing prepared me for that ecstatic feeling of getting the call. Then I couldn’t actually believe it was all going to happen.
The finished film captures the heart and essence of Hardy’s novel, the cinematography is stunning, the costumes are superb, there are some great performances, with Carey Mulligan being perfect as Bathsheba Everdene.
Dorset is as big a character as any and it features delightfully. It must have been a difficult job for the editor to cut such a sweeping story down to less than two hours. The only disappointment was that some of the supporting actors including myself had their lines cut. I still appear throughout the film, and I am now looking forward to the DVD to see if some of my lines are reinstated in the deleted scenes section.
How well did you know the book before you started work on the film? As a Dorset-based actor is there a greater pressure to be true to Hardy’s original material?
My parents used to be members of the Hardy Society and my Dad’s passion for his work resulted in me having already read the novel. Coincidentally, I had also listened to an audio book version shortly before hearing of the casting.
I read the book for a third time prior to filming. I had a small dusty old copy of the book with me each day on set, but also took my Kindle so I could search the scene we were doing each morning and recap.
I visited Puddletown (Weatherbury in Hardy’s Wessex) and created a detailed back story for my character. It felt strange to take over from Hardy, using all he had written of my character and then taking it further in creating more details and stories of his background. The work put into building my character paid dividends when I had to improvise – although so little of all that work actually appears on screen.
I didn’t feel any extra pressure to be true to the book as a Dorset actor, but I did feel pressure to get the Dorset accent right, particularly as many of the extras were from West Dorset farming stock. I was born in Dorset, but spent part of my childhood away, before returning to my native county.
I don’t have a strong natural Dorset accent, but I have lived around those who do and was particularly inspired to use some of the dialect I would hear in childhood visits to my Gran’s farm just a few miles from where we filmed. Her farmer husband, Ernie, could have stepped straight out of the pages of a Hardy novel.
What was it like to work on a big budget mainstream movie?
It was a huge step up from the previous independent films I had worked on. The sets were packed with a large crew and it was difficult to work out what everyone’s jobs were.
The first shoot I was in was the sheep dip scene which we had rehearsed previously. It was exhilarating whenever I got to do lines and close up featured work with the main actors. I got on very well with Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts, both of whom are warm, friendly people with a great sense of humour.
Thomas Vinterburg is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, laid back most of the time, but incredibly focused on his vision. It was gratifying to get such positive feedback from him on my acting given his standing in the industry.
How did the experience compare to The Hollow Crown – another literary giant, some even more stellar names in the cast, a major production?
It was great to get back on a big production, a year on from the movie, this time for a BBC series.
In The Hollow Crown, I was only a featured supporting artist, king’s guardsman, with no character name or dialogue; whereas for Far From the Madding Crowd, I played a named character, Laban Tall, who’d been carefully crafted by literary master, Thomas Hardy.
The similarities are that I was setting my alarm for 4am, standing outside in the cold for hours, and occasionally chatting with big stars, this time Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, and once again, Tom Sturridge. Tom recognised me from Far From the Madding Crowd before I recognised him because he inhabited a very different character and look, with shoulder length hair. He is a lovely actor and delivers beautifully understated performances.
You will see a more nuanced human side to Sergeant Troy in this version of the film, less black and white, one with a repressed emotional intensity.
Big films, or small? Film, TV or stage? Acting or directing?
Big. Film. Acting.
Lighthouse has loomed large in your formative years as an actor, how important has it been to your professional development?
Lighthouse has had a massive influence on my career. I first performed there in the Poole Literary Festival when I did a poetry reading prior to Poet Laureate Carol Ann-Duffy appearing, I also had a short film I appeared in shown at the same time.
I am always eager to learn something of my craft when I come and watch plays. My favourite memory of performing at Lighthouse was when Dramatic Productions put on a terrific rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire. I was brought in at the last minute to replace another actor to play Steve Hubble.
Had that not happened, I would not have met Tracy Murrey and been taken on by the Dramatic Productions’ agency books. Then I would not have got the part in Far From the Madding Crowd.
So for Lighthouse and all that followed, I am forever grateful.
How did you start out as an actor and what were you doing before you turned professional?
I used to watch my Dad perform in amateur dramatics, but the light bulb moment was in a school lesson when texts of a play were dished out. One hit my desk and I was asked to read for the part of a hooligan. I found it utterly thrilling.
I got the lead role in a school play, which was cancelled because of a teachers’ strike. I knew then I wanted to be an actor, but there was no drama club, no drama option for GCSE and I could see no career path into the art.
I ended up in loathsome and stressful work, settling down, marrying and maintaining steady jobs in support of my family. I started out in insurance, moved into construction and got a journalism diploma and a quantity surveying degree along the way.
It was only after I separated from my wife that I decided to strive towards the dream career I had always wanted. Building on years of experience in amateur productions for St Luke’s Players and All Saints’ Dramatic Society, I then worked in fringe theatre, started doing student films, then independent films, performed at Lighthouse for Dramatic Productions and step by step got into bigger films, taking a large leap with this latest one.
What advice would you give budding actors wondering how to get a start in the business?
Don’t even try unless you have an all-consuming passion for acting and you barely go an hour without thinking about it. Only do it if you can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
It is brutally difficult to break through, especially in later years. The younger you start, the more likely you will be successful. Training is important. I am taking adult lessons with Dorset School of Acting and they have been very helpful.
Try to find a way of earning a second income so you are either self-employed or have the flexibility to take time out whenever you need to audition or play a part. Be patient and don’t give up. Get good at networking and developing relationships with people in the industry.
Use social media wisely, image is everything. I’ve only just worked out how to take advantage of Twitter and have been astonished to have gained 10,000 followers since Christmas; I finally discovered what a powerful tool Twitter can be. My tag is @JamieLeeHill2
What’s the best thing about being an actor? And the worst?
There are so many reasons I love it. Acting appeals to my sense of adventure, I enjoy the variety, it takes me to all sorts of places, and times, I get to meet so many wonderful people, and play different roles. I enjoy research and finding out things I would never do so otherwise.
Above all, the best thing is the satisfaction of producing as good a performance as possible. There is nothing like the soaring feeling of utter immersion in the character being played, when it’s like being taken over and everything just flows perfectly. That’s when incredible things happen.
There is electricity between yourself and the other actors, which then transfers either onto the screen, or to an audience in the case of theatre. That’s when the magic happens and that’s what I do it for.
The worst thing is the amount of people out to exploit actors, expecting them to work for low or no pay. I fully support Equity’s year-long ‘Professionally Made, Professionally Paid’ campaign.
What’s next for you?
There are a couple of other movies due for release soon. There’s a kids’ film, Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?, which had an open casting at Lighthouse. From what I have seen so far, it looks fabulous. I am also appearing in another locally-shot film, K-Shop, which has been described as a kind of Sweeney Todd set in a kebab shop. I also have a couple of short films entering festivals, including The Egg, shot locally by Kinetic Film.
In June I will be acting in a Harvest Moon Motion Pictures production of The Haunted. It is an American-funded Gothic horror film being shot in Pinewood’s new studios in South Wales. This time I get to play a bad guy.
Before that I am off to the Cannes film festival in May. Last year was my first time and it was absolutely amazing. On the first day I was there, I got cast in a feature film called The Blessed. It is a brooding, dark, psychological horror/chiller due to shoot in 2016. It’s receiving a lot of interest from Hollywood A-listers, including Oscar-winning actors.
The next step in my career would be to play a lead role in a feature film – I will see what comes of Cannes 2015.Read interview on Lighthouse's blog
There’s a reason Dramatic Productions played to a packed house for the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest; watching Wilde is always guaranteed to be a rib-tickling, fun and farcical night out. With traditional set and costume, this production directed by Frank Holden, gave us what you would expect from a classic comedy of manners. Two frivolous young men, Algernon and John attempt to impress their sweethearts by pretending their names are Earnest. The young ladies make it quite clear they could never love a man of another name. Algernon and John’s lies soon begin to unravel when they all find themselves in the country together, and they must verbally wrestle the indomitable Lady Bracknell to secure their engagements to Cecily and Gwendolen.
This is an incredible wordy play that needs great attention to detail to ensure that the delivery of Wilde’s sharp wit is effective. Opening night nerves seemed to have contributed to a number of forgotten or stumbled lines, which hopefully will iron themselves out as the run continues. An incredibly fast pace of line delivery from some of the younger actors also denoted a little too much nervous energy. The most notable performances came from the more experienced actors, namely Patricia Garwood, who delivered a naturally authoritative and imposing Lady Bracknell, Julia Savill gave us an assured performance as the serious tutor Miss Prism and Mervyn Stutter was a delightfully bumbling country reverend. Celia Muir’s Gwendolen was full of feisty vigour and was quite believably Lady Bracknell’s daughter. John Evans did a lovely job of playing two very different butlers as we moved between town and country.
Those behind the scenes have worked hard to create a full, opulent set in a small studio, and Frank Holden optimised the space with well thought out direction, often using the stairs as part of the action. Overall, this is a fun night out, with the expected sharp-tongued and witty ‘Wildisms’ that audiences have loved for so many generations. Do go and support a local theatre company who have clearly worked hard to bring professional theatre to Dorset using local talent.Read review on The Drama Point's website
Hannah Soulsby-Phillips, The Drama Point
I have seen many an Ayckbourn play murdered within the first five minutes, and never recover, so I am often filled with trepidation and dread at the thought of reviewing any production, however lauded or well acclaimed the actors might be. I seated myself in a quiet corner ready to tease out some merit from hours of rehearsals, readings and misdirection. However, and I should have known better, Dramatic Productions, cast, crew, Director and Producer, delivered a faultless performance, with so many high points this review could sound like a 'Love In'.
Rebecca Legrand (playing Julie-Ann Jobson) and Conrad Hornby (playing Justin Lazenby) played off each other with great ease and formed a totally believable partnership within the first three minutes of the first act. The delivery and responses to Ayckbourn's lines were exceptional, allowing the subtle sub-text to bleed through naturally, without being forced. It was refreshing to see such a perfect casting.
The farcical nature of the plot was allowed to unfold because the acting and phrasing was seamless. Kerry Gardner brought all of his creative magic and instincts by using his experienced Director's eye to milk every line, situation and scene to the best effect. He appeared to draw out and empower the actors to bring an authenticity to the farce, and clearly by the laughter in the audience throughout the play, it was evident that - 1) we either all know, or 2) have met, one or more of those characters in our everyday lives.
Celia Muir's, Paige Petite character, and her explicit dance routine received the loudest hoot of laughter, as the whole cast reacted in total unison to some of her jerks and twerks! The laughter from the audience filled the theatre with a chorus of merriment.Yet, as always with Ayckbourn, the actors created and highlighted the pathos and irony intended to shine through, by the use of poetic silence and timing so that the audience could wallow in the downside of human misery and entrapment.
I say with most sincerity that this production was equal to, if not better than many of the West End performances I have seen of Ayckbourn's work. For me, the best performances of the night were by Rebecca Legrand, Conrad Hornby, Celia Muir and Russell Biles, although Steve Rollins turned in a skilled performance as a failed boxer with a heart.
This was a pleasure to review, an evening of pure unadulterated pleasure that remained true to Ayckbourn until the end. A production the great man himself would most certainly have applauded and totally have approved of.
Do book your tickets soon or you'll be disappointed, as the performances are sure to be a total sell-out once word gets out on the street. Brilliant 5* rating.
Review by Rosie Jones, National Trust Writer in Residence at Kingston Lacy
It’s so heartening when in the opening scene of a production you sense that you’re in for an evening of accomplished acting and great characterisation.
The seven members of the company are all professional actors, with innumerable theatre, TV and film credits - and even better it is a Dorset company, so the talent is local.
A young couple living in a Docklands apartment have planned a dinner party where they hope to introduce their respective parents and announce their engagement.
It’s a situation that can be fraught in everyday life, but you can be assured that Alan Ayckbourn’s pen will wield at least one character from hell, and several with unusual quirks.
Julie-Ann (Rebecca Legrand) is desperate that everything should go well, and fearful that her parents will disapprove of their living arrangements, whilst Justin (Conrad Hornby) is rather more laid back about the occasion, despite fears that his mother may not arrive in a fit state.
Although initially it was a little difficult to tune into Rebecca’s northern accent, the part gives her a great chance to show her comedic talents and Conrad is so proficient you forget he is acting.
The part of Paige Petite gives Celia Muir ample opportunity for both pathos and hilarity, particularly when she shocks all with her raunchy ‘dance’.
Steve Rollins is suitably sinister, yet dim, as minder Micky Rale.
Julie-Ann’s parents Derek and Dee Jobson would be the in-laws you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Russell Biles encapsulates the prejudiced business owner who sees everything in black and white, whilst Judy Norman is desperately annoying - but in a good way - as his cloying wife.
Julia Savill is one of those actresses who never disappoints and she is hugely impressive as Justin’s mother Arabella. Delightfully squiffy, she totters and flounces her way through the play - an all round comedy gem.
The play continues until Saturday - try to get a ticket.Read review on Blackmore Vale's website
Review by Marilyn Barber, Blackmore Vale Magazine
ALAN Ayckbourn had already written as many plays as Shakespeare by the age of 48, the age at which the Bard died, and has now completed almost 80 plays. He enjoys gimmicks, such as his Norman Conquest trilogy, in which the action takes place in three parts of the same house, living room, dining room and garden, over the same weekend, House and Garden; two plays running simultaneously in neighbouring auditoria of the same theatre, with cast dashing between the two, and his latest play, Roundelay opening next month, which has five short, related, plays performed in random order, decided by audience members drawing ping pong balls from a bag half an hour before the show.
Roleplay is the third in his Damsels in Distress trilogy, in which the same company of actors originally played different characters in three plays set in the same Docklands apartment in the early 1990s. We are introduced to a young couple who are about to meet each others’ parents for the first time and announce their engagement, but, being Ayckbourn, they are from different parts of the country, and social class. To add to the drama, an upstairs neighbour, a modern day gangster’s moll, is literally dropped into the action, along with her gun-toting minder, and the plot develops as the melting pot simmers away.
This is black comedy at its finest – we are laughing at other people’s misfortune, and Dramatic Productions bring every tiniest jot of humanity and humour out of the text.
The characters are established right from the start, with Rebecca Legrand and Conrad Hornby’s Julie-Ann and Justin setting everything up. This can sometimes be a difficult and thankless task, but these two accomplished actors play completely for truth, never slipping into caricature, and leaving us feeling for them as real people. Their high standard was matched by every other character as they arrived, through the window in the case of Celia Muir as retired exotic dancer Paige Petite, who performed a lap dance which would happily grace the bar of any East End pub. As her minder Micky, Steve Rollins settled into the role well by the second half, but seemed a little over-nervous, even for his character, in his first couple of scenes. Julie-Ann’s stereotypically-Northern parents were played to perfection by Russell Biles and Judy Norman, who could have stepped straight out of Emmerdale, but the Emmerdale Farm of the 1970s, before any scandal had reached Yorkshire.
Having been wonderfully set up in the script with three off-stage telephone calls, the final character we meet is Justin’s mother, Arabella Lazenby, who has to dominate the stage almost before she arrives, and Julia Savill did not disappoint in any way – she was completely believable in her drunken confusion of the two girls, and her comic timing was sublime, especially her few lines about a foreign taxi driver misunderstanding Surrey for “sorry”.
Ayckbourn gives actors wonderful material, which can sometimes sadly be ignored, misused, or even thrown away, but this cast and director milked it for every drop of pathos, humanity, and comic nourishment. Tightly directed by Kerry Gardner, this was top-notch entertainment, and I would thoroughly recommend tracking down Dramatic Productions and getting along to any of their future shows.Read review on FTR's website
Mark Blackham, The Fine Times Recorder
It's clear by its title that Macbeth 2070 was going to take Shakespeare to a new era – well one that was based in the future at least!
Whilst the principle of the story was very much the same as a classic version of Macbeth, Macbeth 2070 was based on Mars after The Earth had died and its population had resettled there. Set to be next in line to take charge of New London, Captain James Macbeth soon discovers that Commander Paul Duncan has a different agenda. With pressure from his wife, Macbeth becomes obsessed with murder and loses control. With a robot to hide the traces of his crimes and three children’s spirits to haunt his conscience will Macbeth loose himself forever or will someone discover his bloody antics before it’s too late?
Brought to you by Dramatic Productions (DP) and written by BAFTA award winner, John Foster I did feel that this version of Macbeth would be ideal for those studying it at school. Shakespeare can be hard to get a handle on at the best of times, but I felt that both DP and Foster removed the barriers and complexity in this piece and made it much more accessible for all. The stage set up was simple and effective, the space ship sound effects were minimal – in fact done with a dust bin lid but to a great affect and the acting talent was well done.
The basic set up of characters was followed through with just four actors, which I felt was done very well. Special mentions go to Steve James for his outstanding portrayal of Macbeth as he slips slowly into insanity and to Sadie Parsons (Macduff/Banquo) who played her characters which much needed personality and gave them something a little bit extra (being a female playing male roles).
All in all I felt Macbeth 2070 offered something a little different to the norm, and being a fan of both sci-fi and Shakespeare it was inevitable that a crossover would reel me in – hook, line and sinker!Read review on ALT Entertainer's website
Review by Michelle Stannard, ALT Entertainer!
The year is 2070. Global warming has left planet Earth a parched and uninhabitable ruin. The survivors have colonised Mars. It should be a new beginning, but already a deadly power struggle is underway as Captain James Macbeth travels aboard a military spaceship, heading for a deadly confrontation with armed forces supremo – Commander Paul Duncan.
Welcome to Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it before! Or at least a new sci-fi story based on Macbeth, the Bard’s classic tale of treachery, murder and madness.
Five hundred years after it was first written, this curious re-imagining of the dark and haunting tragedy has been penned by BAFTA winning playwright, John Foster.
It is being staged at Lighthouse in Poole by Dorset-based Dramatic Productions, as part of National Shakespeare Week and is raising money along the way for the British Heart Foundation.
With a cast of four extremely good actors and an effective but very low budget set, Foster’s play uses simple props and imaginative dialogue to blast the time-honoured story into space. Steve James is Captain Macbeth driven to dastardly deeds by his fiercely ambitious and decidedly unhinged wife, Lady Geri Macbeth, played by Rebecca Alexander. Sadie Parsons is both space pilot Thomas Banquo and the voice of reason, Aurora Macduff. Russell Biles meanwhile is the ill-fated Duncan.
Directed by Charmaine Bay Parkin, the play boldly goes where Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ has rarely ventured before. At times the storyline appears to meander a little, but with strong acting it sticks to the major theme of the original - the terrible psychological and political cost of using evil to grasp power.
As he seeks control, we watch as Captain James Macbeth is gradually destroyed by his own guilt and conscience as he turns from buttoned-up good guy to psychotic killer with blood on his hands and a psyche in meltdown haunted by ghostly apparitions and the suicide of his wife.
Macbeth 2070 is certainly an interesting project and contains a plenty of good work but I don’t feel it is particularly cohesive as a play. Despite its more dramatic moments, it seems to move quite slowly. Some of the humour would certainly have worked far better had it had a bigger and more responsive audience.
It could simply need tightening up; I saw Wednesday’s first public performance. I’d been told the running time was around one hour fifteen minutes. It clocked in at nearer one hour forty and felt longer.Read review on Do More's website
Review by Jeremy Miles, Do More Magazine
THE latest show from Dorset-based Dramatic Productions is a new version of the Scottish play by John Foster.
He has set the murder drama in 2070, when Earth is a distant memory and those who escaped the conflagration have decamped to Mars and taken over, ousting the native Chuckleheads (?).
The story opens as Captain James Macbeth is piloting a group of embedded journalists from the Space Wars back home to New London in a space ship named the Duncan, after the new Martian controller, Paul Duncan.
This Duncan has promised Macbeth that, when he retires, Macbeth will succeed to the title – but he’s changed his mind.
Macbeth’s wife, Geri (aka Heartbreak) has violent premonitions of Duncan’s treachery, but she can’t persuade her husband that his ambitions are thwarted.
The famous witches are here translated into ghostly voices in the ether (the increasingly familiar hi-tech ether, that is).
Murder follows murder, and Mrs M, who was once addicted to violent video games, is so shocked by the reality of murder that she takes her own life. James gets his come-uppance and eventually the balance is restored.
There are some interesting ideas and dramatic moments in this version, performed by four actors and aimed at a younger audience.
With a mesmeric soundscape, some clever lighting devices, stark white trees and a puppet robot, the story moves on at a fast pace without interval.
The director, Charmaine Kay Parkin, is an experienced actor and course leader, and brings out humour and terror in equal measure, and John Foster skillfully weaves current issues (immigration, asylum seekers, global warming …) into his story.
In the title role is musician Steve James making his acting debut, and it’s a big challenge for newcomers to find stillness, much needed particularly in the big speech about the excitement of killing.
Russel Biles holds the audience’s attention with his subtle, quiet and compelling reading of Duncan.
Rebecca Alexander’s explosive Lady M was rivetting and Sadie Parsons, another new Dramatic Productions performer, skewered the very different roles of Aurora Macduff and Thomas Banquo, again holding the audience in the palm of her hand.
Macbeth 2070 is a challenging new work, and one for which the company should be congratulated.Read review on FTR's website
Review by Gay Pirrie-Weir, The Fine Time Recorder
MACBETH 2070: robots and killer marbles
I am sure this is a temporary state of euphoria I have been enjoying and one which will quickly pass, but currently I am that rare specimen, a happy playwright. It’s rather like being on some obscure yet-to-be-discovered amphetamine, or so I would imagine, and I hope it wears off very slowly.
My new play, Macbeth 2070, opened at the Lighthouse Poole last Wednesday for a four-night run and I was truly delighted with the production. In fact I was entirely gobsmacked by it. Did I pen this play? Was it me? Who wrote this, I began to wonder, it seemed not too bad at all. At that point I pinched myself and trod several times on my toe. I knew the production would be good but not this good.
Of course, I’d been to rehearsals. Actually, unlike some playwrights who go to all the rehearsals of their plays, I never go to that many. I think it’s good to leave the director, producer, actors and production team alone until they have something ready to show. I always worry that too much attendance at rehearsals by the writer is inhibiting for free and frank discussion and hems everyone in, whilst also suggesting that you the writer don’t really trust the team. To wait and see the work in a developed state which embraces the director’s vision works best for me and worked very well here.
I saw a story-order run of the whole play a few days before the first night and felt very pleased. Therefore I approached the opening with much less trepidation than usual, or perhaps I am just becoming hardened. But I didn’t experience the collywobbles of old nor the desperate thirst for a consoling glass of cheap red wine. It’s true that I skulked at the back of the auditorium as is normal on first nights. Anyone wishing to identify the playwright of a production needs to look no further than the far corner of the auditorium and locate the huddled figure in black looking like an anarchist with a bomb.
When the redoubtable Tracy Murray, Artistic Director of Dramatic Productions, commissioned me to write an adaptation of Macbeth for National Shakespeare Week, I wanted to make the play as different as possible from the original, while retaining Shakespeare’s underlying themes. You can’t compete with the Bard, the greatest playwright in the history of mankind. So it is better to do your own thing, even if it does upset the reverential purists. I wanted Macbeth 2070 to be like a thriller, pacey, funny and tongue-in-cheek.
I do think it is exceptionally dull just to do a production of Macbeth as Shakespeare wrote it. There have been so many versions of almost every Shakespearian play, so why add to the pile? I admire those zany cut-down versions of Shakespeare which bring pace and alacrity to the original text, but even that didn’t appeal to me. Nor was I up for Macbeth as city slicker or war zone general with everyone in modern dress speechifying in Elizabethan English. Always unconvincing if sometimes amusingly camp.
The best traditional Macbeth I ever saw was that great actor and celebrated hellraiser Nicol Williamson, himself a fearsome Scot, in the BBC production directed by the great Jack Gold. Williamson’s Stratford rendering was destroyed when he remonstrated with noisy schoolchildren and wagged his finger at them: ‘I don’t need this, you know! I could be making fucking movies.’ But the BBC film version with Williamson’s controversial throwaway ‘Tomorrow’ speech was magic.
Why try to better that and the other great versions of Macbeth such as the wondrous Judy Dench/Ian Mckellen version? What’s the point? Repeating the same old Shakespearean tropes seems acutely unimaginative and mind deadening, often smacking of deathly amdram. I wanted to do a different Macbeth, one set in the future with a strong Sci-Fi context, but which was also funny and fast as well as dramatic.
Charmaine Kay Parkin’s direction was superb: deeply creative and imaginative, minimalist yet utilizing the entire space, conjuring a weird and disturbing world of screens and mauve lights, white melancholy trees, and a sinister yet affable puppet. This was Rossum, a robot named after Czechoslovakian playwright Karl Capek’s 1921 play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Capek invented the word ‘robot.’
I really liked the limbo space of the set which became the whole world yet a place which interrogated Macbeth’s mind. The direction had a wonderful lightness of touch yet unforgiving in its presentation of violence and the increasingly dark zones of the play.
Another vivid aspect of the direction by Charmaine and production by Tracy was the visuality of the play. Macbeth 2070 was not simply characters standing around spouting the lines and monologues. The action and set-ups were minimalist and looked deceptively simple, the art which conceals art.
Yet the stage was alive with imagistic power, almost kinetic in places but always retaining its theatricality and never becoming film on stage. In particular the space the actors occupied, their physical relationship to and between one another was intensely figurative and expressive.
The look of the play was tremendous. Someone, very impressed, asked me who the set designer was. The artwork and design was by Geoff Murrey, no doubt with a little help from his friend, a certain Mrs Murrey. I was nervous that a Sci-Fi Macbeth may end up looking as cardboard as a retro Doctor Who, but visually the play was stunning.
Charmaine sensibly bypassed my scene directions and skilfully built upon the play text with what is known as ‘business’ – visual moments and character actions which added much to scenic meaning, flow and atmosphere.
In particular, I was totally spooked out by the robot Rossum becoming a shroud-like angel of death visiting the murdered bodies and carrying them away under his white wings. This reminded me of those old placard adverts of a stork carrying a baby away in a shawl, an eerie distant recall in need of Freudian analysis.
Accompanying Rossum’s ghostly undertakings was the sound of children crying, which really got to me and still haunts me, part of a brilliant soundscape created by Zak Dale Clutterbuck. This combination of vision and sound was particularly effective during a sequence in an imagined Martian swampland with torchlight piercing the darkness and the voices of dead children haunting Macbeth. Very chilling indeed.
I was so lucky with a cast of such consummate skill, enthusiasm and commitment. Their dedication was amazing. Not an easy play and not a lot of time to do it in. Steve James caught all the vulnerability of Macbeth with an initial rough diamond goodness gradually transforming into psychopathic animalism.
Rebecca Alexander was a Lady Macbeth of such delicious power and ferocity that the whole theatre seemed to shake, her presence commanding the stage simply by walking onto it.
Sadie Parsons became chameleon in her very creative and distinctively achieved duel roles of Macduff and Banquo, giving a particularly moving performance of a woman struck by familial grief.
Russell Biles offered a hugely commanding and charismatic performance, capturing perfectly the nuanced contradictions of Duncan.
A great cast which gave everything to the play. And they all got on so well together that it was quite alarming. There was the traditional Macbethian accident when one of the actors slipped on stage during rehearsals and had to be taken to hospital, but thankfully no serious injuries.
This is beginning to resemble an awards-ceremony ‘thank you’ speech but no production can succeed without the backroom people: we don’t talk about ‘backroom boys’ anymore especially as for Macbeth 2070 we had the excellent Natalie Jane Barthel as Stage Manager, wonderful costumes from Helen Thomas and production support from Christine Murray. Assistant Stage Manager James Keenan was of particular assistance to cast members during rehearsals in the line-learning process and great support to everyone in the tight timeframe of rehearsal and performance.
Plays are different from novels. With a play you are so dependent on so many different talents and that interpretative collaboration is what makes theatre so exciting. In my long and chequered career Macbeth 2070 is up there amongst one of my best creative experiences anywhere anytime.
It’s not always like this. Some productions end up as mush and wistful regrets of what might have been. But I would like to wish everyone connected with the production a very warm thank you for your brilliant work.
The show ended on Saturday, followed by a melancholy Sunday when the adrenalin drains away and there is a weird sense of loss. Writers experience this when they finish a long piece of work such a novel or play, but also at the end of a particularly successful and happy production.
Yet soon the rehearsal room will buzz again with all those beautiful anxieties. What next? Shall we blast the Bard up into the Milky Way again? Hamlet in Space?Read blog on DoppelGanger's website
Post show blog by the writer of Macbeth 2070, John Foster
With a little help from BAFTA award winning writer John Foster, Oscar Wilde’s timeless Faustian tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray is brought to Lighthouse stage by Dramatic Productions.
A very small but simple set design ensures that throughout the performance, the audience has no time to be distracted by gadgetry or setting, and the focus is drawn purely to the incredibly engaging performance given by the small cast of five actors.
Whilst Sean Pogmore gives a satisfying portrayal of Dorian, the largely female cast steals the show, with the original Basil Hallward being portrayed by Anna Newcome as Basel, and Lord Henry Wotton exchanged for fiesty Henri, played by Celia Muir.
This refreshing contemporary twist of the classic Dorian Gray ensures that Wilde’s social comment of an ambitious person surrendering moral integrity to achieve power and success is brought right up to date. This modern depiction ensures that newer, younger audiences will be able to engage with Wilde on the modern stage, even if the original text could be viewed as somewhat dated in their eyes.
The original oil painting of the 1890 novel, featuring the perfect face of Dorian, is swapped for a digital photograph, and with the help of an interactive screen behind the stage, it is easy for the audience to connect with Dorian’s heightening imperfection as his deeds grow darker. As Dorian strikes his Faustian pact with the Devil and acquires eternal youth, his face remains enduringly handsome, whilst only the photograph that Basel once took of him reflects his dissolute soul.
The play, regardless of its roots being based on Wilde, is most definitely a success in its own right as a stand-alone production, and left not an empty seat in the house.Read review on Do More's website
Review by Becky Bye, Do More
ALAN Ayckbourn’s dateless 1975 play Bedroom Farce continues to delight audiences across the English speaking world.
Set over one seemingly endless night, there are three bedrooms always on stage, as the action moves between them. Wacky lovebirds Kate and Malcolm have invited their friends round for a party, but they are not ready for the early arrivals.
Jan leaves husband Nick at home in bed, hypochondriacally nursing a bad back, while she goes to the party.
Delia and Ernest go out for dinner, but come home with empty wallets and stomachs, and settle down to pilchards on toast in bed.
And then there are Susannah and Trevor, whose volatile marriage is legendary. Trevor is Delia and Ernest’s son, and Jan’s ex. Trevor and Delia much preferred Jan, but Delia feels she must support the distinctly weird Susannah.
Not content with fighting and ruining the party, Susannah turns up at the home of her in-laws in the small hours, and turfs Ernest out of bed while she confides in Delia.
Trevor first says he wants to stay with Kate, and then moves on to explain his relationship with Jan to the stricken Nick … and all at 3 in the morning!
But that’s not all, as Ayckbourn unfurls more sails of human idiocy in this excruciatingly funny play.
It’s a staple for amateur dramatic societies, but in this production (by Dramatic Productions) the perfect timing and skillful characterisation refurbishes the play to its full glory, as Wimborne audiences discovered. Frank Holden directed with a keen eye for detail, and his terrific cast ensured a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all.
Patricia Garwood’s beautifully fey Delia was ideally matched by Lee Tilson’s puzzled Ernest. Rebecca Legrand and Chris Wright were the scatty partygivers, with Tara Dominick as the sensible Jan and Russell Biles as the long suffering and bedbound Nick.
Alan Colclough’s hilarious Trevor had his best moment explaining, with marvellous handsignals, the psychological state of his relationships.
And company founder Sasha Paul proved again her versatility as the lumpy Susannah, given to chanting self-help mantras as she blundered through peoples’ lives.
This was a production that proves just what a skilled and entertaining playwright Ayckbourn is – something that can get horribly lost by directors and companies who think his work is an easy option.Read review on The FTR's website
Review by Gay Pirrie-Weir, The Fine Times Recorder
Blithe Spirit, written in 1941 by Noel Coward, is one of the most enduring as well as sparklingly humorous plays.
The play is about a relationship between a successful novelist, Charles and his second wife Ruth, who is haunted by the spirit of his first wife, Elvira.
The play revolves Charles, who wants to research the occult for his next book. With this in mind, he invites an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to his home. The domineering Arcati conducts a séance, which inadvertently manages to conjure up the ghost of Charles’s neurotic first wife, Elvira, who died 7 years ago.
Madame Arcati leaves after the séance, not knowing that she has summoned Elvira. Comically only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, finds it hard to believe that Elvira exists.
Elvira is determined to sabotage his current marriage and makes continuous, and at times desperate efforts to disrupt it. That is where the actual fun begins and things get amusingly complicated.
Blithe Spirit overall is an amalgamation of exceptional acting, spontaneous witticism, and small but artistically crafted set, impeccable choreography and clever acting.
To successfully work on such minute aspects of a theatre show is a work of masterpiece and is definitely an achievement of the director, Frank Holden.
Emily Holden and Emma Stephens as wives handled the comic timings very well and Dani Bright as the scuttling little maid Edith was just adorable.
For any production of Blithe Spirit, casting of Madame Arcati is a challenge and can make the theatre stand or fall but Patricia Garwood conducted the character very well and was perfect in the role.
Overall, the performances by all seven characters were spectacular particularly from Ben De Halpert as Charles and Emily Holden as Ruth. However, there was a bit of artificial movement especially from Madam Arcati and Edith.
Overall, it was a good play and the theatre was jam packed.Read review on The Breaker's website
Review by Abdul Aziz, The Breaker
NOEL Coward’s 1941 witty comedy about how past relationships can, quite literally, come back to haunt us, is arguably one of his best pieces of writing. In, and prior to, my reviewing career I have sat through innumerable productions of Blithe Spirit but in all truth I don’t think I have ever seen one as well crafted as this particular one, taken at a pace that ensures every one of Coward’s words is heard and appreciated yet never too fast or too slow.
The pivotal character is, of course, the flamboyant medium Madame Arcati, invited to dinner by the Condamines in order to give Charles inspiration for his new novel but who, in a twist of fate, unexpectedly brings back Charles’ deceased wife, Elvira. Madame Arcati is invariably played as a kindly caricature, which works perfectly well. However, in this beautifully edgy production, directed with considerable flair by Frank Holden, she is anything but that.
Patricia Garwood commands the stage, striding around with a towering performance of a thoroughly energetic, eccentric and confident woman who knows her own mind, and we are left in no doubt that she really is in contact with those who have ‘passed over’. All the costumes in this production are first-class but hers, in particular, are just so absolutely right and serve to accentuate her character’s eccentricities.
Emily Holden excels as the brittle Ruth Condamine and there is a very real chemistry between Ruth and her husband, Charles, given a wonderfully gentle characterisation by a superb Ben de Halpert, while Emma Stephens is a real delight as the vacuous, bitchy Elvira.
The characters of Dr and Mrs Bradman often make little impression but in this production one certainly takes notice of Peter John Cooper and Trisha Lewis. The latter’s facial expressions and hand movements marked her out as almost as eccentric as Madame Arcati, which was rather a novel touch, I felt. And finally, Dani Bright is absolutely right as the ever-rushing Edith, the maid.
My congratulations too to the company for a fine set, although I would have been happier if they had found a better way of attaching the cloth to the table used in the séance scene!
This productions runs until Saturday and is well worth seeing.Read review on SceneOne's website
Review by Linda Kirkman, SceneOne Magazine
I felt a certain amount of trepidation after learning this contemporary reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic tale was set in ‘the vicious world of gangland London’. Visions of cartoon mockneys barrelling around the stage calling everyone ‘geezer’ and spilling ‘claret all over the gaff’ filled me with impending doom. I’ve always felt uncertain of modern takes on classics – but I was pleasantly surprised by this offering from Dramatic Productions.
An atmospheric set provided the backdrop for an evening with many pleasant surprises. Not least the fact that Dr Jekyll is a Harriet, not a Harry. The female criminologist, who submits herself to a series of psychological experiments, displays a fascination for uncovering the dark side of human nature. Exactly what is it that drives a man, or woman, to kill?
Soon our protagonist is relishing the danger when fearsome killer Edward Hyde appears to start stalking her. But is everything quite as it seems?
The audience is quickly swept up in this thriller, which built to a wonderfully disturbing conclusion.
Review by Jim Durkin, Bournemouth Echo
Screenwriter and lecturer John Foster has taken a new look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror novel Jekyll and Hyde for a new play performed by locally based professional company Dramatic Productions.
Set in London’s gangland in the present day, it’s the story of Dr Harri Jekyll, criminologist, psychotherapist and writer. She is married to a detective, Gabe, and her current work involves intensive and intimate interviewing sessions with mass murderer Jacqueline Makepeace (who will only answer to Jacky Ripper), in her prison cell. As Harri’s obsession with murder grows her alter ego Edward Hyde takes over and the story progresses to its gory and inevitable conclusions.
Tracy Murrey’s production made the most of the Studio’s space, bringing the charismatic Omar Ajayi-obe’s Mr Hyde in among the audience. It all starts as he muses on the mind of the murderer, and Harri tries to probe Jacky’s motivation. Then victim number one, Kathy, played by the remarkable young Emily Williams, makes her fated way into Hyde’s path, and the killing begins.
There are powerful performances by Nicole Faraday as Harri and by Sasha Paul as the dangerous Jacky, with Danny Seldon as the confused Gabe and Christopher Mellows as the Lord Bath lookeelikee Dan.
Most of John Foster’s play works at a compelling level, increasing the tension and slightly voyeuristic fascination. It loses momentum in the scenes between Harri and Gabe (too many words, too much explanation) and Dan, which are more narrative fuelling than essential. But this is a potent and effective reworking of the story, brilliantly performed by the main characters, and sending the audience out with a chill in their souls.
Review by Gay Pirrie-Weir, Stour and Avon
“The child who gets burned always loves the fire” A memorable line from Jekyll and Hyde, that I believe sums up the story well; a criminologist, fascinated by murder, with an alter ego of a murderer. The twist is no great shock to those who know the famous story, but it still held us captivated through its unique modern telling of the story and interesting cast choices.
Jekyll is played by Nicole Faraday a blonde, hardworking female with educated vocabulary and Hyde, by Omar Ajayi-obe, a tall, built black male with dreadlocks, a piercingly deep cockney accent and a humorous attitude to brutality. Dramatic Productions almost personified the personality difference, which made the play heavier, sending out the political message, whether intentional or not, that we expect a murderer to look more like Hyde and act intimidating in the way that Omar did and yet the reality is that it is a capability of a very average looking, professional female that opposes threat by status and behaviour. Can we ever judge a person on appearance?
The writer, John Foster struck the perfect balance between Hyde reeling us in to Jekyll’s mind, and Jekyll trying to push us out of her mind. Ultimately, we were forced to feel closer to Hyde, being the honest part of Jekyll and although there are moments of dark rancid thoughts and violence, Omar continues to keep comedic undertones.
Sasha Paul who played the character Jackie, inspired by Jack the ripper, give an exceptional performance, serving as Jekyll’s intrigue to murder. She was fiercely hostile and for the most part, making no eye contact with Harriet Jekyll, which made the few moments she does, incredibly intimidating and subsequently, important.
The play took a very exciting turn when Jekyll accepted that Hyde was part of her. Tracy Murrey’s directorial choices were beautiful and simple in the way that the characters came together for the first time, as one. Despite the direction being literal, it added a new sexual dimension to the characters, which reflected the indulgence of this new ‘self’ for Jekyll, that went on to progress; Nicole went on to wear red adding an element of danger and the relationship between the two developed like lovers. It brought an exciting tenseness to the climax.
The staging was explorative, with Omar confidently moving swiftly through the audience, breaking the fourth wall and the play was written with clear undertones of politics, humour and mystery. The one factor that I felt it lacked was the emotional response from the audience; it wasn’t hard hitting or emotionally effecting as it could have been, though no doubt it fulfilled as a light thriller and succeeded to be a very entertaining piece of theatre.
Review by Nerve Magazine
Alan Ayckbourn's plays are belters. They pick the audience up and propel them through a series of emotional turmoils eliciting, amusement, sadness, sheer awfulness to deep, rich belly laughter. And although they are becoming rather dated at the moment, their characters and situations are universal and will continue to be theatrical yardsticks of quality for years to come.
So you might think that to produce an Alan Ayckbourn is a veritable piece of cake, just learn the lines and let the play do the work. Well, yes and no. The simplicity is deceptive. The plays are constructed with hairsbreadth accuracy; emotional truthfulness is essential, they can't be played for laughs or for sentiment. There is deep subtext that needs to be understood and played. Characterisation must be of a very high order. And, at the same time, they require acting craft of the highest quality. The actors must time the lines absolutely precisely or the sub text and point of the play will not become apparent.
‘Absurd person Singular’ follows three couples over three Christmases in their three different kitchens. Actually there are four couples but in a typically Ayckbourn twist we never see the other. Ayckbourn's works were all written for his theatre in the round. This means they required very little in the way of sets and furniture. Ironically in an unforgiving space like Lighthouse studio more attention to setting is required to achieve the atmosphere of claustrophobic quiet desperation of the characters against a stage of echoing planks. The company pulled off this trick very well on Saturday afternoon when I saw it but I hope that very soon Dramatic Productions will have the sponsorship and support to be able to give more resources to the setting.
Frank Holden’s company serve him very well. The progression of the characters through their various stages of development or decline are beautifully portrayed and well delineated in Frank’s direction.
The audience where convulsed with laughter, particularly in the technically demanding second act in which Sasha Paul demonstrated her supreme acting skill in portraying a woman attempting suicide whilst mayhem is being generated around her. For the whole scene the character has no lines but it was an acting tour de force from Sasha. Emily Holden held the ring as the cleaning obsessed Jane in Act 1 and Julia Savill produced some of the best laughs and most sympathy as the hard-drinking Marion in Act 3. The men have equally demanding through-lines- Sean Pogmore as the man with the developing business empire, Steve McCarten as the architect whose business is on the slide and Christopher Mellows as the Bank manager Ronald. All acquitted themselves well.
Well done Dramatic Productions.Read review on Peter's blog
Review by Peter John Cooper, Writer/Director Spyway Projects
AMONG the great writers of comedy must be numbered Alan Ayckbourn. A cross between drama and farce, his work brings to life typical families with whom we can identify.
This vintage 1972 piece involves three couples – Sidney Hopcroft, an ambitious tradesman (Sean Pagmore) and his submissive wife Jane (Emily Holden); Geoffrey Jackson (Steve McCarten), an architect and his wife, Eva (Sasha Paul) – and Ronald Brewster-Wright (Christopher Mellows), a banker and his alcoholic wife Marion (Julia Savill).
The action takes place over three Christmas Eves, each couple hosting the others in turn. Jane Hopcroft is a home workaholic with everything neat and tidy and dusted at least a dozen times.
In contrast is depressed Eva and in the second act, she is brilliantly portrayed in a suicidal mood.
All her attempts to end her life are failures – when Jane finds Eva with her head in the oven, she assumes she is cleaning it and sets about cleaning it herself.
The final act ends up with hilarious forfeits.
The play was directed by Frank Holden and all six players must be congratulated on an outstanding performance.Read review on Bournemouth Echo's website
Review by Roy Sharp, Bournemouth Echo
ALAN Ayckbourn is so prolific that sometimes you think you have seen a play only to find you don't know it (and vice versa). Dramatic Productions, the versatile group of professional actors from the Poole and Dorset area, chose one of the Scarborough dramatist's most popular plays for their spring 2012 performance at the Lighthouse Studio last week.
I thought I knew Absurd Person Singular - and to my surprise (and pleasure) found I hadn't actually seen it before.
Written Nearly 40 years ago, it has all the master's trademarks - sharp, often laugh-out-loud comedy, cutting one-liners, brilliant plotting, clever sets (in this case a different kitchen for each of the three acts), all combining to create a coruscating portrait of the suburban middle classes in all their upwardly mobile, snobbish, self-seeking misery.
That's always the trouble for me with Ayckbourn - he really doesn't seem to like his characters and he wants us to laugh at them, not with them.
This play is no exceptions. It is at times achingly funny.
The production, directed by Frank Holden was fast-paced and wittily, cleverly moved and the outstanding cast of six captured their weird, addictive, weak, patronising or just plain nasty characters with pin-point accuracy.
You may feel you recognise these people - the arrogant amoral architect (Steve McCarten), his drug and alcohol befuddled wife (Sasha Paul), the pompous old bank manager (Christopher Mellows) and his snobbish but neglected wife (Julia Savill); the grocer with big ambitions and a very big toolkit (Sean Pogmore) and his bullied cleaning freak of a wife (Emily Holden).
Frankly, you wouldn't want to live near any of them, let alone go to a Christmas party with them.
At the end four of them are cruelly humiliated by the other two, and however much you don't like the victims, you don't like the victimisers either. I guess I just don't find humiliation funny, so it's maybe my failing.
Review by Fanny Charles, Stour and Avon Magazine
ALAN Ayckbourn's 1970s, brilliantly-crafted satirical comedy is beginning to look a bit like a piece of history as it charts the fortunes of three couples over three consecutive Christmases.
Dramatic Productions, a young professional theatre company based in Dorset makes an intelligent and generally successful stab at this kitchen comedy in which the three husbands' careers rise or fall during the intervening years while the wives each become victims in different ways of their domineering spouses.
As the characters struggle with their domestic crises, only Ayckbourn could make a riotously funny scene from a woman vainly trying to commit suicide while a party proceeds unseeingly around her.
The cast of six sink their teeth into the over-the-top characters, the actresses in particular making the most of their roles as the three bullied wives with Emily Holden suitably submissive as the obsessive house cleaner, Julia Savill as the gin-soaked socialite and Sasha Paul as the mentally unstable pill popper.
Review by Marion Cox, Dorset Echo
CHRISTMAS – the very mention of the word is enough to fill many a sane person with dread at the thought of having to spend time with those we would prefer to run a mile to avoid. Perfect material then for a playwright who specialises in revealing heartache behind laughter.
Alan Ayckbourn’s 1970s tragic-comedy is somewhat lighter material than this company’s usual choice of production, but it proves to suit them extremely well and I saw a darker edge to the play than is sometimes evident – the final scene, where the upwardly mobile Sidney Hopcroft (Sean Pogmore) turns puppet master as the others dance to his tune, is particularly chilling.
It takes place in three separate kitchens over three Christmases, so the company’s first challenge was to utilise the tiny space available in the Studio to create something that would be realistic. By the simple technique of keeping the same sink unit and table for all three scenes and changing curtains, tablecloths, chairs and cupboards, the different rooms were well depicted, and ‘noises off’ worked a treat to convince that we were within a house or flat.
Over the course of the play the three couples’ lives undergo massive sea changes, not necessarily for the better – and, this being Ayckbourn, neuroticism features strongly. Our initial sympathy for Jane Hopcroft’s (Emily Holden) submissiveness turns to loathing as she becomes cloyingly and overbearingly sweet. Actually, it is the female characters who seem to draw the least sympathy all round, as banker’s wife Marion Brewster-Wright (Julia Savill) is so insincere that her fate seems fully justified and architect’s wife Eva Jackson (Sasha Paul), once wielding power over her husband, becomes hard and unlikeable.
One feels no sympathy whatever for Sidney Hopcroft, whereas Geoffrey Jackson (Sean McCarten) is clearly a broken man and the harmless, likeable Ronald Brewster-Wright (Christopher Mellows) has been extremely unlucky in his choice of wives.
All six performers in this production, which is directed by Frank Holden, give extremely strong performances but my abiding memories will be of Christopher during the final act, so very convincing as a man whose life has spun well out of control, and of Sasha, wild of eye, manner and costume, as she makes fruitless attempts to end it all. During the latter scene, I have a feeling that the light bulb that shattered was not meant to do so in quite such a spectacular fashion, in which case congratulations must go to everyone concerned for the way in which they dealt with it.
This production runs until the end of the week and is well worth seeing.
Review by Linda Kirkman, SceneOne.
Listen to the 90.1 Hope FM's review on the Breakfast Show from Fri 14th Oct.
Radio review by Hope FM
The aptly-named Dramatic Productions delivers an intriguing and clever interpretation of Tennessee Williams' classic tale of misery and madness in the deep south.
When A Streetcar Named Desire was first staged as a Broadway play nearly 65 years ago it launched the careers of two young stars in the making, Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando.
At Poole we have Nicole Faraday (best known for her portrayal of murderer Snowball Merriman in TV's Bad Girls) as ruined Southern belle Blanche DuBois and Leigh Haywood as her abusive brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski.
In psychological free-fall after the suicide of her homosexual husband and the scandal of an affair with a 17-year-old pupil, disgraced English teacher Blanche seeks refuge at her sister's home in New Orleans.
But her airs and graces do little to disguise her growing alcoholism and infuriate Stanley. We watch as this pair - representing the dying elegance of the old south and the harsh new face of the modern working class - lock in desperate combat.
Dominant Stanley finally asserts his power in the most brutal way, raping Blanche while his wife is in hospital having a baby. Already damaged and fragile, Blanche is destroyed and Stanley has her committed to a mental institution.
A fine cast directed by Sasha Paul turn in excellent performances in this always disturbing drama.
The play, which runs at the Lighthouse Studio until Saturday October 15, is being staged in support of St Anne's Hospital in Poole and its work in the mental health care field.Read review on Bournemouth Echo's website
Review by Jeremy Miles, Bournemouth Echo
Thank you for an excellent production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE - enjoyed the whole piece, but especially the second half when the play gathered tremendous power and momentum and built to a terrific dreadful summit climax. Terrific performances and staging, great use of music and sound as well. Very atmospheric and gripping production. The tragedy of the story comes over very powerfully, amidst much tenderness and pathos. Great work!
Review by BAFTA winner John Foster
The intimate Studio at Lighthouse, Poole creates the atmosphere perfectly for Tennessee Williams classic drama A Streetcar Named Desire, which is set in a cramped New Orleans apartment during a long, hot summer in the 1940s. It is the tale of two sisters, reared in the aristocratic traditions of the deep south of America but whose lives go separate ways. Stella marries and moves to New Orleans with her volatile and violent husband Stanley Kowalski while older sibling Blanche becomes Mrs DuBois, lives graciously in the family home and has a respectable career.
Circumstances change dramatically for Blanche however, and when she arrives at the modest home which Stella and Stanley rent from the lady upstairs, steamy temperatures are matched by emotions running high.
What a challenge for Nicole Faraday (known for the ITV series Bad Girls) to capture the multi-faceted Blanche but she convinces in a role which finds her rarely off stage. Her mental deterioration from the glamorous lady of feathers and fur to a deluded wreck being taken away for psychiatric help is very moving, though just occasionally her Southern drawl and fast delivery mean words are lost. As Stella, the young woman who is torn between loyalty to her sister and her forceful husband, Emma Stephens is a joy to behold, capturing the heart and soul of the character. Her coarse and outspoken man is played to perfection by Leigh Haywood, whether loud and physically abusive or seeking forgiveness from Stella on whom he is emotionally dependant. His poker partners, Pablo (well captured by Sean Pogmore) and Steve – nicely delivered by Jamie Hill – are a foil for the sensitive Mitch, a part which Steve McCarten plays with the right balance of thoughtfulness and anger.
What a good portrayal too by Tara Dominick as the caring Eunice who also has an abusive relationship but still endeavours to help Stanley and Stella with their problems. The supporting actors all make an impact in this powerful story of desire, desperation and ultimately disaster which holds the packed audience spell-bound.
Director of Dramatic Productions Sasha Paul has used her vast experience and that of her principal players to present a drama which would grace the West End.
Committed to providing high quality classic plays that appear on the national curriculum, Sasha brings to Poole a high standard of professional theatre for all ages. Dramatic Productions seeks to enrich, educate and entertain – it certainly does all three.
Review by Pat Scott, Stour and Avon Magazine
Performance Wednesday evening 2nd night.
A Streetcar named Desire opened to a press night of glittering rave reviews on Tuesday 11th October at Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset.
Sasha Paul, Founder and Artistic Director of Dramatic Productions, has an instinctive knack of bringing the very best acting talent together with the very best theatre has to offer, as well as producing her own original work. Sasha understands what it takes to bring a playwright's work to life and preserve its heartbeat. Many productions or interpretations fall short of the mark by losing the original author's voice, but the crisp dialogue and edgy pulse points of the original play was held sacred which should please many die-hard Tennessee Williams fans; although the modern footprint the actors brought to the piece kept it original, fresh and spellbinding.
Stellar performances came from lead star Nicole Faraday who played Blanche Du Bois. Nicole teased out the fragile mind of Blanche and peeled away her sanity scene-by-scene, layer-by-layer; we were drawn into the hopeless predicament in which Blanche finds herself, a penniless, disgraced soak with only a bottle as her friend.
Equally sharing the limelight was Emma Stephens, fresh from the west end stage, her honest portrayal of Blanche's sister Stella was held in character throughout. Emma stole the prize for the most believable southern belle accent, which captured all the charm of the 'Gone with the Wind' Deep South.
A menacing yet at times touching account of Stanley, played by Leigh Haywood, provided plenty of socio-political discussion during the Q & A session at the end of the performance, about whether Stanley was typical of a man of his time. What Leigh fell short on in his accent, was more than compensated for by his dark chocolate voice and deep understanding of Stanley the man; he chose to underplay the original brutish violence by twisting his character's footprint towards intimidation, menace and hovering violence.
The sexual tension between the three main characters and the reduced financial and social circumstances Blanche finds herself in, are enough to edge her towards loosing her mind; it delivered on every count. The sound design, lighting, staging, costumes, treatment and phrasing of the piece, so ably penned by TW, helped to create and add a rich layer to the immediacy of the performance space. Nicole brought just enough vulnerability and sympathy to her character to make her believable, so the audience were left with no choice but to feel her anguish.
There was plenty of light and shade as well as authenticity during the unfolding drama, allowing space for a skilful delivery of sub-text by the supporting cast, with particularly strong performances by Jamie Hill who played Steve, Tara Dominick played Eunice with tremendous confidence and assurance.
To be able to bear witness in the provinces to such a professional cast and sparkling performance was a privilege to behold. If you missed this opportunity and you enjoy watching great theatre bring to life the best manuscripts, plays or adaptations from literature and marry these with original theatre, then watch out for future performances by Dramatic productions. You can visit their website or sign up to the regular newsletter web-listings via Lighthouse newsletters.
Review by Rosie Jones, Founder of the Prequel and Sequel to Cannes
Most people will know Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire" from the film starring Marlon Brando as the sexually overpowering Stanley Kowalski. But Sasha Paul's production for Dramatic Productions at Poole Lighthouse Studio shifts the audience's sympathies back to that of his sister-in-law, the delusional, mentally fragile Blance Dubois. In this production Kowalski is played with a grown up, intelligent intensity by Leigh Hayward that distances him admirably from the brutish Brando image and, while there is yet much chemistry to be explored between him and Blanche, last night there was enough simmering tension to make this relationship begin to pop and spin. The setting of the piece, the lower working class area of New Orleans adds to the heat and tension and the whole cast works hard to underline this atmosphere of claustrophobic intensity particularly the ebullient Tara Dominick as Eunice, Celeste Engel as Missy and the members of Stanley's poker school:Jamie Hill, Sean Pogmore and Steve McCarten who plays the disappointed Mitch with an effective puzzlement.
But at the heart of the play is the character of Blanche. Nicole Faraday portrays her to aching effect with a desperation that shows the lines under the makeup of the woman fast approaching middle age and with a hinterland of failed marriage and a long trail of affairs. This part is one of the great challenges for an actress in portraying a woman who is in such denial about her past that we in the audience cannot decide whether she is an accomplished liar or completely mad and Nicole drags us through that experience with consummate skill. The final scene in which she is led off to an asylum is chillingly gripping. The other protagonist is Blanche's sister and Stanley's wife Stella played here with spirit by Emma Stephens. This another challenging role as Stella has to appear timid and supportive whilst providing enough reality and power to balance the fizzing emotions of the rest of the characters. Her wretchedness at the denouement is heartbreaking.
The cast took a little while to get going and, initially, some of the vocal production was not crisp enough in the unforgiving acoustic of the Studio but once it was underway this production had the power to shock. Sasha has assembled a hard working and effective ensemble including stalwarts Frank Holden and Julia Savill delivering fine cameos as the Doctor and Nurse who come to lead Blanche away and Peter Fellows as the Young Collector. In these straitened times we will see fewer of the classics that require this size cast and Dramatic Productions must be congratulated for tackling this big play head on.Read review on Peter's blog
Review by Peter John Cooper, Writer/Director Spyway Projects
Sympathy for Blanche Dubois is the order of the day in Sasha Paul's production of Tennessee William's classic, reworked here by Dramatic Productions. The often taut atmosphere between Blanche, whose vulnerability and delicacy are played up beautifully by Nicole Faraday, and the brutish, primal Stanley Kowalski, given real menace by Leigh Haywood, puts the audience firmly on her side. The obvious culture clash between the two is one of the most notable features of the play, a fading relic of the Old South with pretentions of virtue, Blanche, almost crashes headlong into Stanley, a rising member of the industrial working class, and the two are thrown together when Blanche arrives to stay with her sister Stella Kowalski, Stanley's wife, a fragile buffer between the two, played by the charming Emma Stephens.
Blanche claims she has been given leave from her job as an English teacher because of upset nerves, having just lost her southern plantation due to the debauchery of her ancestors, but she has in fact been fired for having an affair with a seventeen-year-old boy, which is by no means the only sexual relation she has engaged in, with a series of various suitors since her failed marriage.
The more the suspicious Stanley digs into her affairs, the more Blanche's pretence of splendour begins to fade and her delusions of grandeur become more obvious. While Faraday consummately sustains Blanche's fragility, she also brings out the character's stubbornness and strength, determined to stay proud and keep her slightly deluded self together as the world around her attempts to unravel her past and break her down. The precarious balance between the two is skilfully achieved.
We are often perhaps wondering whether Blanche is deluded or just pigheaded, but the vague mystery is one of the most intriguing aspects of her character, and played on very well here. We never stop feeling sympathy for Blanche, as she in vein defends her troubled past and bravely faces up to Stanley's questions. And the audience are taken with her all the way.
The performance as a whole was very strong, well-paced and progressed smoothly between scenes, with only the occasional jarring sound effect upsetting a normally fine flow.
In the opening minutes the Studio's noisy steps were over-used, which often proved distracting to the action, creating a rather congested walkway and making the busy opening a little messy. But I shan't criticise the production itself for the restraints of its venue. Besides, there was a sharp and seamless recovery from the cast, bringing us instantly into a gritty and charming depiction of the French Quarter of New Orleans in the late forties, as we immediately grow to love the characters.
Emma Stephens gives Stella an energy and likeability hugely effective for the hard task of marshalling the cold tension between her sister and her husband.
Frank Holden and Julia Savill deliver powerful if not brief performances as the Doctor and Nurse in perhaps this production's most effective scene, the grim climax in which Blanche is led sombrely away amidst some quietly distressing and genuinely haunting moments.
Tara Dominick brings a homely feel to the setting as Eunice, giving her warmth and a maternal instinct whilst not neglecting a necessary sternness.
And Peter Fellows is both charismatic and funny in an amusing cameo as the Young Collector.
All in all, a skilfully put together and engrossing re-working of a classic. Dramatic Productions deserve credit for a terrific night of theatre.
Review by Samuel Hutchinson, Writer/Reviewer for thephantomzone.co.uk
One Step is a new play written by award winning playwright Sasha Paul of the Lighthouse-based Dramatic Productions. Last night saw the play's world premiere try-out at Poole's Lighthouse Studio. It comes at a time when to our amazement and admiration amputee soldiers have broken records tramping to the North Pole, proving anything is possible. From its imaginatively, surreal opening robotically introducing characters and the trappings of a newly disabled person, One Step is based on the true story of a family falling apart, falteringly finding their balance, then coming together again; deeply affected by a young man's motor bike accident, the subsequent amputation of his right leg, and a change of personality as he and they adjust to what lies ahead. The lead role of Matt is played with gritty truth by amputee actor Sean Gittins whose story this is based on; his howls in reaction to phantom pain palpable. Matt along with his fiancé Daisy – captured beautifully and sensitively by Sasha Paul - explore the ugly reality coming to terms with broken, imperfection after knowing near perfection. The mainly physical scene where the couple confront Matt's shivering, naked leg-stump is harrowing and yet sensually beautiful. Julia Savill inhabits the amputee's home-maker mother who struggles with the natural desire to wrap her son in her all embracing arms knowing in reality she must give him the confidence to conquer his brave new world. The younger brother Simon who carries the guilt of being at the controls of the crashed bike is played with cheeky bravado by Lewis Till providing much needed humour, learning quicker than the rest of the family not to tread on glass. Although this powerful docu-drama, a multi-media mix of film and gritty on-stage action is harrowing, emotional, and even mundane it deals sensitively and at times graphically with traumatic injury. There is a sensible age restriction of 15 plus for this play. The episodic nature and traffic of the stage needs a little more pace but this will come with the performers easing into the flow of dozens of mini-scenes interlaced with pauses for reflection. Some of the play repeats itself in images and word and could do with a trim. But overall a powerful, brave piece of theatre, directed with vision and sensitivity by Tara Dominick.
Review by Jane McKell, Artistic Director for AsOne Theatre.
SADLY, the loss of a limb is no longer something that only happens to older people as a result of illness. Many young servicemen, caught up in bomb blasts in places like Afghanistan, are facing a future that they could never have imagined, and motor bike accidents can also cause irreparable damage.
This powerful play, written by Sasha Paul and directed by Tara Dominick, focuses on the latter and is largely based on the experiences of Sean Gittins, who at the age of 18 lost his right leg as the result of such an accident.
Using both still photographs and film to complement the action, One Step paints a picture of this young man's very ordinary life and interaction with his girlfriend, mother and brother prior to his accident, then the tragedy of the accident itself and the struggles all of them go through to eventually regain some sort of normality.
It is superbly acted, not least by Sean Gittins himself. I can only imagine that it must have been a real double-edged sword for him to play Matt, with the knowledge of the way he felt throughout his 'recovery' giving clear realism to the character's initial unwillingness to adapt to his situation, his despair at being thought of as a freak, his selfishness and ultimately his acceptance - at which point, and with the acquisition of a prosthetic limb, normality rapidly returns.
Sasha Paul (Daisy, his fiancée), Lewis Till (Simon, his brother) and Julia Savill (Mildred, his mother) all portray their characters' emotions brilliantly and movingly. The scene where Daisy finally agrees to see Matt's stump, something she has not previously found the courage to do, was, I think, the highlight of the evening despite being almost entirely non-verbal.
Whilst there are some extremely harrowing scenes there is also a surprising amount of humour to redress the balance, and the play's overall message that amputation does not have to mean the end, but the beginning of a new way of living is positive and totally inspirational.
Review by Linda Kirkman, SceneOne.
A GRITTY new drama written by Poole actor and playwright Sasha Paul features the amputee whose dramatised story it portrays.
Sean Gittins, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18, is hoping the play One Step, to be staged at Lighthouse in April, will break down barriers.
"It's about people understanding more about people's disabilities," said Sean, 44.
"That's what I'm hoping for, for people to walk away from the play with a little bit more acceptance."
He approached Sasha after her success with her play Someone Else's Husband, which featured an actor with a hearing disability, and is currently about to be performed off Broadway in New York.
She agreed to write Sean's story after learning about his life. He does casualty simulation and through specialist agency Amputees in Action has done stunts for films and helps train soldiers to save lives.
Riding pillion on a friend's motorbike, he lost a leg and his friend lost an arm and a leg.
"He has been an inspiration for the piece," said Sasha, who has a list of TV credits to her name. "One Step is not for the faint-hearted, but it is dealt with in a sensitive way with a positive message."
Sean said the war in Afghanistan, where soldiers have survived horrific injuries, had made people more aware of the challenges faced by amputees. "There are some dark bits to losing a leg and dealing with it," he said.
He works with the military and said: "I see some terrible disabilities and terrible scars. Sometimes I take a second look. It's just basically desensitising people to it."
Sean plays the lead role, acting alongside Sasha and her Dramatic Productions company. His brother is a soldier, but in a plot twist it is not him who loses a limb. The play, which has a 15 age restriction, will premiere at Lighthouse from April 26-30, directed by Sasha's sister Tara Dominick.
They aim to run workshops and question and answer sessions and the play will then tour to military rehab centres around the country.Read Full article on Bournemouth Echo's website
Article from Bournemouth Echo by Diana Hendersen.
We all like to think that we are 'normal', but the truth is that there are all too many people who are anything but so, and whose irrational behaviour and thought processes can destroy others' lives whilst the perpetrators themselves remain blissfully unaware of the damage they have caused.
This is the basis of Sasha Paul's extraordinary play, in which a young couple (Wendy Ebsworth and Matthew Kirby), are hoping for a fresh start when they move house. But their new neighbour is a lonely single woman (Sasha herself) who, as her imagination runs riot, becomes totally obsessed with their lives.
What makes this play so very different is that the young man, Jonathan, is deaf. As Sasha says, the play is not about this fact, it is coincidental, and indeed it is - to the extent that the combined use of sign language, pre-recorded and ordinary speech quickly seems irrelevant to the story, which is absolutely gripping. As the plot moved towards its tragic conclusion, it was clear that the audience was as moved by what they were watching as I was.
Review from Bournemouth Echo by Linda Kirkman.