Wise Children

An incredible piece of storytelling from birth to death with everything in between.

At Bristol Old Vic, this is an adaptation by Emma Rice of the Angela Carter novel, the show tells the story of twins Nora and Dora Chance. Chorus girls, raised in the theatre but living on the wrong side of the tracks in London the show made me feel uplifted.

On their 75th birthday the pair tell us in beautiful detail the joys and heartbreaks that brought them to this point in their lives.

With a set that moves with each scene, and live music and dance at every possible moment this show embodies everything that is beautiful about theatre. At the end I felt ready to step up on stage and stay with Lucky Chance’s.

There is mastery in the show’s ability to go from a joyful moment of comedy to a very dark place, and then bounce back out of it just as quickly.

It was also deeply refreshing to see gender blind casting and big female characters.

The show continues at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 16th February 2019, when it continues its tour to Manchester.

More information about the show and theatre company of the same name can be found here.

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The Secret Rapture

Kelvin Players Theatre Company deliver a highly emotional play, and with great depth of character exploring themes of estranged family relationships, morals and social pressures.

Although not as overtly political as other work by playwright David Hare this piece, first performed in 1988, has been resurrected by Kelvin Players because of the relationship between Marion, a Conservative MP, and her sister Isobel who runs a small design firm with her lover Irwin.

Fran Lewis who plays Isobel stole the show, with a very intense performance of a woman who is bound by a sense of duty to do ‘the right thing’ and this duty becomes even more unwavering when she is pushed into a corner by her sister and late father’s second wife.

The action starts shortly after Robert, Isobel and Marion’s father, has passed away.  Marion and her born-again Christian husband Tom have just arrived at the family home where Isobel is waiting with the father’s body.

No mention is made of their mother, but we discover their father has remarried a much younger woman, Katherine. Something which clearly divided the two sisters.  Marion, played by Fiona McClure is a fierce dominant woman, and comes across as a stereo typical self-righteous Tory.

As the family struggle to come to terms with their grief, Isobel ends up giving Katherine, an alcoholic with no apparent work experience except bar tending, a job at her small design firm to try to give her a sense of purpose.  A choice which is the start of Isobels down fall.

This play is very middle class, with phrases not commonly heard these days and this creates a stereotype of the home counties and traditional conservative values, with a strong sense of Thatcherism. Juxtaposed against the current political climate, on the verge of the EU referendum, it emphasises the current divide in society and how this is impacting the personal lives of individuals.

The direction by Bob Havard is well placed, and the overall concept of the performance is uncomplicated.  Allowing the complex, multi-layered writing shine.

Unfortunately, due to the powerful performances from Lewis and McClure, the other characters were slightly over shadowed. Meaning that Irwins transition from lover, to scorned ex-boyfriend is somewhat unexpected.

The Secret Rapture continues at the Kelvin Players Studio in Bristol until Saturday 23rd April 2016, get your tickets on their website.

Doubt: A Parable was also directed by Bob Havard, and performed by members of the Kelvin Players Theatre Company in November last year at the Alma Tavern, read the review here.


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Oh Whistle

Oh Whistle is an exceptional one man show by Nunkie Theatre performed at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Sunday. Robert Lloyd Parry brought to life two ghost stories by M R James, and indeed James seemed resurrected also in this vivid performance.

In two short acts Parry, on stage in a single arm chair lit only by candle light, took the audience back in time to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when M R James was originally writing.

Parry told the stories as though he were James, occasionally he took on the character he was speaking of.  Not so often that it felt erratic, but enough to create a very singular character, one of an eccentric academic with a passion for detail.

Each act told a different ghost story, the first harking back to the times of the witch trials, and the second made reference the archaeology of the Knights Templar. James was a respected medieval scholar at Kings College, Cambridge and Eton College.

The storyline of each tale was simple and the narrative sped forward at quite a pace, meandering only to provide a little colour to the scene.  There were limited physical props with which the story was told, and very clever use was made of the candle light and shadows it cast.  Especially at the end of the first act, when Parry held up his hand to completely obscure his face.

To maintain the character so strongly throughout was incredible to watch, and the performance alone was worth seeing.  No matter that the stories were uncomplicated, this was a historical piece in a way.  Showing a time when ghost stories would have been told by candle light as a form of entertainment, and they lived up to expectations by sending an audible shudder round the room at times.

Parry created a character that could have just as easily stepped out of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book, it was a very clever way to present the stories in such a simple but atmospheric way, with absolute economy.

The show will continue to be toured by Parry and Nunkie Theatre, dates can be found on their website.


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Happy Hour

Happy Hour, currently on at Tobacco Factory Theatre Bristol, is like a scene from a soap opera. From the off we know there are tensions in Kay’s life, an unanswered phone call, hurried gasps from an inhaler between large gulps of wine.

Kay is perhaps in her late 20’s or 30’s, she is waiting for her mum and brother to arrive to a room above a pub.  We then discover, as her mum Anne enters carrying her husbands ashes in an old shoe box, that the pub belongs her Kay’s Mum and recently deceased Dad.

There is a terse exchange before the third character Tom enters where we learn that Tom, Kay’s brother, is an aid worker of some kind and has flown back especially to say goodbye to his dad and to hear the reading of the will.  Having missed the funeral, this is an important moment for Tom and his family, but not for the most obvious reasons.

Happy Hour is a bit like Abigail’s Party, the classic ’77 play by Mike Leigh. It is very much a fly on the wall drama about family life and social etiquette; parents mess up their children by trying to give them a good education and build ambition, children don’t like their parents to have hopes and dream of achieving more than parenthood.

Happy Hour is more focussed on a very specific moment, and is stripped back as far as possible which in a way is good. I was kept engaged the whole time, and there was a lot of comedy in Anita Vettesse’s script.  But I didn’t feel strongly connected to the characters, because the script didn’t quite give the actors long enough to grow the depth required.

Tom, played by Stephen McCole, is the strongest character and just over half way through has a monologue where he really gives context to the play and what the absent father was like when he was alive. Without which, it was difficult to piece together the complex emotional relationships in this family.

Happy Hour is the first play by Anita Vettesse, an experienced actor and script reader and was produced by the Tobacco Factory in association with Oran Mor and Sherman Cymru.

It was a short play and fun night which started with a scrumptious Pieminister Pie, as part of Oran Mor’s A Play A Pie and Pint series.


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Doubt: A Parable

Doubt: A Parable Alma Tavern Theatre Bristol

Doubt: A Parable, currently on at The Alma Tavern Theatre in Bristol, is an extremely clever play which leads you to question, and even doubt, each of the four characters in turn. This performance was well pitched, subtly undulating between comedic and dark.

The play follows events that unfold over two months, Sister Aloysius; a nun and Principal at St Nicolas’ catholic school, suspects something isn’t quite right about Father Flynn who is new to the school.  Her concerns become real when one of the teachers; Sister James, mentions a private meeting between Father Flynn and a young boy from her class.

Sister Aloysius knows the hierarchy of the church, and in 1964 as a woman without proof, her word would mean nothing.  So she can not go to anyone else above her to investigate this matter, she must remain in control and deal with this herself.  But she needs a witness, and so innocent, naive Sister James dragged deeper in to the web of contradictions.

Father Flynn presents two key sermons, one as the opening of the play and the second after the seed of doubt has been sown. The sermons further throw the audience off the scent of whether he is guilty of what he is being accused of or not, and cast further shades of grey on to what should be a black and white issue. Tom Colebrook who plays Father Flynn has a deep resonating voice, a piercing stare, and a convincing Bronx accent.

We meet the mother of the aforementioned boy, and as a woman who is supposed to protect her child Mrs Muller leads us to question what is more important; a good education, or protecting his childhood and sexual innocence. Considering the context of the play, set in 1964, Mrs Muller and her son are black and trying to build a good life, she must choose between these two things.  Mrs Muller is played by Jenny Davis, and she comes across as a little precocious, perhaps a bit too confident for her social standing but this removes the power for a moment from Sister Aloysius, diverting the course of the play.

Each scene of this play flips the issues over, and asks us to consider the other side.  There is a right and a wrong, but without conclusive proof who do you believe, and who really has the power.

In the end we don’t really know if good has reigned over evil or not – each person may have a different opinion. It would be fascinating to see this same story played out in modern-day Ireland, removing some (although not all) of the assumptions around gender equality and racism.

This performance by Thoughtful Theatre brought together four actors with varying degrees of experience, but managed to match them together well. It was a smooth performance with little fuss, and a simple set and lighting design, allowing the main focus to be the actors and story.

Perhaps a little more sound would have been nice, the distinct lack of children was somewhat spooky – although perhaps this was intentional. Background noise of children playing, or some sombre organ music during the contemplative scenes would have helped change the tempo.

Father Flynn is played by Tom Colebrook, Sister Aloysius by Paula O’Rourke, Sister James by Jaleelah Galbraith, and Mrs Muller by Jenny Davis. The Director is Bob Havard and Production Manager is Terri Mohiuddin. Doubt: A Parable is an award winning play by John Patrick Shanley.

Doubt: A Parable is on until Saturday 14th November 2015 at The Alma Tavern Theatre, buy your ticket here now!

Why not read some other reviews while you are here, recent theatre reviews include And Then Come the Nightjars and Glory Dazed.

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And Then Come the Nightjars

Bea Roberts’ award winning play And The Come the Nightjars is an incredible, but delicate piece of theatre set during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in rural Devon. It centres on two characters; a dairy farmer and a vet, who have clearly known one another for a long time and during the play we really see this relationship pushed to breaking point.

Currently at the Bristol Old Vic following its debut at Theatre 503, Roberts manages to subtly tell the horrific story of how the 2001 outbreak ripped apart the countryside and the lives of farmers and rural communities with humour and a genuine sense of understanding.

Michael, an already elderly farmer at the start, and Jeff the head vet in the area have history.  We know this through the muttered comments, and half conversations they exchange.  They understand one another.

When Jeff is faced with the reality of slaughtering Michael’s perfectly health prize-winning cattle, by order of the government, the emotions of the play really run high.

David Fielder, who plays Michael, shows the strength of a man who has worked the land his whole life.  resilient  and tough but entirely devoted to his ‘girls’, the dairy cows, who descended from his fathers cows.  Fielder really did seem to decline in health during the play, and the passing of time seemed so evident.

Jeff was played by Nigel Hastings, who to begin with played a vet who seemed out of place in the Devon countryside, as though he would be so much more at home in Surrey, but as the play progresses and his character is changed by the events, you see the person who was born and bred in Devon come through.

Both characters are so well drawn, and I don’t recall seeing a relationship between two men move me so much.  I think this is what Tim Crouch was aiming for in What Happens to Hope at The End of the Night, and he didn’t quite make it.  But Bea did.

The set it the same set, transferred from Theatre503 and adapted to fit the larger space of Bristol Old Vic’s Studio., and it has so much detail.  From the real farm-yard equipment and hay bales, to the cobwebs in the eaves.

And Then Comes the Nightjars is unafraid of silent moments, sometimes with Michael and Jeff on stage, sometimes an empty stage. I really enjoyed a moment in the middle of the play where time passes, and all we see is the changing colour of the sun through the seasons, filtering in through the wooden slats of the barn. The composer Olly Fox I assume was responsible for the music, and is was so well judged and complemented the moment without taking away from the emotion at the height of the play.

This is a beautifully written story, that says such much about British agriculture. This period in farming history can’t be forgotten about, for the people who suffered and lost what generations had built up.  And The Come the Nightjars is a worthy memorial.

And The Come the Nightjars continues its run at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 17th October, get tickets here.

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The Stick House

The Stick House by Raucous is an incredible assault on your senses; from the moment I stepped into the dark cavern under Temple Meads I could smell a damp earthy forest.  Walking slowly and crunching over an uneaven surface of gravel, paving stones and soil; I was closely surrounded by everyone else who had come to see the show but I didn’t feel the safety of numbers.

We had each been given an oversized name badge, hung around our necks it was awkward to walk without feeling like I was going knock in to someone.

An overside table and chairs is the first thing we saw, as the scene is set with a projected image and booming voices, hands on a poker table acted out the first scene as we learnt of what is to become of Marietta, the central character.

Next we were led through by light and sound coming from deeper within the tunnels. As I went further in to the dark and my eyes adjusted to the glowing light I found The Stick House; an incredible structure built into the solid arches of the station foundations.  Inside was Marietta and the Woodcutter, and as voyeurs we spied through the chair legs in to their private scene.

The play tells the story of Marietta coming of age, she was lost to the Beast in a game of cards and this is her fate. Over her head is a cage made of sticks.  She is in love with the Woodcutter and is hoping to escape the Beast and finally be free.

Although, she seems so at one with her surroundings and has become an enemy of the nearest village as the people believe her to be an evil witch who brings bad luck, I can’t image how she would cope being ‘free’.

Marietta’s only friend is the Hobbledehoy, another outcast who is not welcomed by the local villagers.  Nothing is what it seems in this strange enchanted world.

We are invited in to The Stick House, and yet I couldn’t work out if we were really welcome.  Even when given a protective stick person, lovingly created by Marietta as a protective charm, which further affected my senses as it became a beacon warning of danger.

The Stick House uses so many clever tools, from building sound to create a world beyond the forest, to projections bringing other characters to life and further extending this folklore land. It is enchanting but deeply disturbing, and I felt that I was slightly removed from the terror by being in such a foreign environment.

It was upon leaving, as I removed my name badge and gave up my temporary identity I felt like I was going through some strange, ritualistic ceremony.  Walking out of the arched world and back in to real city was when the true horror of what I saw dawned on me and really remained.

This is phenomenal theatre, gripping story telling by writer and Raucous Creative Director Sharon Clark and heartbreaking to think that The Stick House won’t exist forever and I won’t know what really became of Marietta. 

The Stick House continues at The Lo-co Klub in Bristol until 17th October 2015.

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Glory Dazed

The Kelvin Players like to challenge themselves, and Glory Dazed is an excellent choice.  Directed by Alex Needham, the play keeps pace, and takes you on a real roller coaster. Up laughing at a joke one minute, and down the next almost in tears a split second later.

Glory Dazed is a heart wrenching play about the effects of war on British soldiers, and on a subtle level it also explores how relationships change, and how people change when placed in certain circumstances.

This performance is slick, and has well-developed characters; Ray has returned after touring in Iraq and Afghanistan, it isn’t clear if he chose to leave or was forced to leave the army.  But what is clear, is that he isn’t stable. His ex-wife Carla has been beaten and manipulated by him, yet she is determined to remain strong for her kids. Old friend, and landlord of the pub where the play it set, Simon has been living in fear of Ray returning.  And new girl Leanne, who only recently started at the pub seems to have a lot to learn, and Ray is willing to teach.

The set design is very detailed, and helps to build a convincing surrounding; set in Doncaster this play sheds light on the run down and forgotten about town. That is why this play is inherently a play about British soldiers, because it shows where Ray was from and why he was driven to sign up. Carla describes life as a struggle, a struggle that she doesn’t always have the energy for.

This is a fierce play, that isn’t afraid of offending people. But is a play that needs everyone to see it, and I applaud Kelvin Players for choosing to put it on.

The odd line was delivered, just a little too quietly so it was missed. But the passion, and stage direction make up for this. Ray is an imposing force, not to be messed with and you can’t leave without feeling affected by his story.

Glory Dazed runs from Tuesday 14th to Saturday 18th July, you can get tickets here, and find out more about the Kelvin Players on their website.

Glory Dazed was written by Cat Jones and originally produced for Soho Theatre by Second Shot Productions, a theatre and film company based within HMP and YOI Doncaster.

Why not read my review on Owen Shears’ Pink Mist.

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Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool by Bea Roberts is a subtly heart breaking piece that explores love, and the various emotions connected to it; happiness, attraction, lust, passion, obsession, rejection, shame. All with modest, and seemingly unintentional comedy.

Roberts presents the life of Emma Barnicott through a series of exchanges, conversations, imaginations, and an attempt at masturbation; which was an excellent opening scene – all through the use of projectors, monitors, audio recordings and a random selection of props. Overall creating a beautiful but strangely real notion of a person, yet because there is no live speech we are left to fill in some blanks about who Emma is.

Infinity Pool by Bea Roberts


Infinity Pool is inspired by Madame Bovary, and really it is a very good modern adaptation that is incredibly relevant to our social media and digitally distracted lives.  All the dialogue was displayed on screens, really emphasising the time spent on finding just the right words, which is in line with Flaubert’s quest for perfection.

Emma is in a dead-end job that she doesn’t seem to like, she has one daughter who is on the other side of the world having the time of her life, and Emma’s husband seems to have lost any passion he once had for her.

Through an innocent exchange of emails, as part of Emma’s job on the help desk of a bathroom and plumbing supply, company Emma begins on online affair. Flirting through email, and then moving on to instant messaging, she knows it is wrong but like anyone having an affair, there is an attraction that she can’t resist.

Emma also has other secrets she keeps from her husband, and an inner fantasy which reminds me a little of Muriel from Muriel’s Wedding. There is something a little depressing about her awakening from her delusion, and have to face a decision over whether to take her affair in to the real world, and suffer the consequences, or not. Although this only dawned on me as I left the theatre, as it is also really funny at times.

The incredible array of kit that Roberts uses to tell the story is really incredible, and it was all (or so it seemed) controlled by Roberts live on stage in real-time. There is real skill in coordinating two projectors – one overhead, three laptops, one monitor, a microphone and probably more. She created a sound scape to Emma’s life, and presents snapshots which created some kind of middle ground between live theatre and TV.

We never know what Emma looks like, although through a series of flirty photos she exchanges, we see female hands with painted fingernail, feet in high heels, a neck. So this gave the opposite to what most plays do, no visual of the person, but in incredibly detailed visual of her surroundings, through her eyes.  As though we are Emma.

This is very different to anything I have seen recently, and is a refreshingly good use of multimedia in live performance.  Bea Roberts did not let the tech be the star of the show, and made sure each clever visual trick, image, projection really contributed to the story.

Tonight is the last night of its current run – so dash down to the Tobacco Factory Theatre now! Or, after its sucessful tour of the South West, which included the Plymouth Fringe, I hope that the tour will continue.



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Pink Mist

Pink Mist is full of raw emotion, yet is an inherently real tale about the effects of war on people; as individuals, and as people in relationships and society.

The play, written by Owen Sheers, follows the story of three men tied together from childhood, as they embark as life as soldiers and are sent on tour to Afganistan. “Who wants to play war!”

They are heartbreakingly young and blindly accepting of what is to come as, one by one, they conscript. As an audience member you know it can’t end well because before the action starts there is a wheel chair on stage. In this context you know what it represents.

Each of the three stories is led by the female in their lives, Hads and his mum, Taffs’ wife Lisa and their child, and Arthur and his girlfriend Gwen.  The present day of this play is fireworks night, as it wreaks havoc on the mental state of Hads and Taffs who, with every passing firework, hear real rockets, grenades and gunfire.

There is a standout performance from Phil Dunster who plays Arthur, he is the main narrator, and he guides the play to its poignant conclusion.

There is a lot of beautifully horrific imagery, men flying through the air to their death; a bird of prey, eggs in a nest – stolen then crushed; life and then death.

This play is a contradiction, at times it is quiet, delicate, repeating poetically formed lines, echoed by movement. And then a bomb drops. Literally.  And everyone is sent flying and a sound scape of war emerges from nowhere.

Sheers has a wonderful lightness to his prose, subtly slipping in some rhyming couplets, at other times producing dialogue and character from nowhere in a matter of minutes. The section with a spoken dictionary of Afghan phrases was particularly effective – the foreign dialect being fired out, harsh with consonants, sounded like rapid gunfire.

At all times this piece was performed with absolute commitment and integrity. I have huge admiration for the actors who go out each night a bring this piece to life, this alone must be hard. Not forgetting the horrors of actually experiencing active combat as the men in this play did.

I could say a lot more about this piece, but I shall end here by urging you to see Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic before it ends on Saturday 11th July. And I hope that BBC Radio 4 are aware of its success and are compelled to put on the radio play again.

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