Tag Archive | "James Cotterill"

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Review: Our Share of Tomorrow

Posted on 23 June 2013 by Liam Blain

Our Share of TomorrowWhen a playwright chooses to direct his own work it’s always a risk – but with Real Circumstances’s production of Our Share of Tomorrow at Theatre 503 in Battersea, to say it has paid off may be a slight exaggeration.

Dan Sherer’s play, set in an Essex fishing village, tells the story of Cleo (Tamsin Joanna Kennard), a young girl whose mother has just passed away, her unconventional friend John (David Tarkenter), who she has picked up for companionship, and Tom (Jot Davies), her mum’s old flame who can’t let go of the feelings he had for her many years ago. The play passes at speed between different moments in time from Cleo’s first encounter with Tom, back to John and Cleo’s chance meeting in a hospital waiting room, to cross sections of the time Tom shared with both Cleo and her mother. The bonds between all three of them fray as they all battle the demons of loss, desperation and where the lines blur between right and wrong.

Kennard shines in her role as the mournful yet inquisitive Cleo, and Davies’s bumbling portrayal of the simple, understated Tom is heart wrenching to watch. Tarkenter does seem to let the side down, though, with his over emotive and extremely exaggerated acting style that appears to jar with the other, much more relatable, characters.

Some blame for Tarkenter’s underwhelming characterisation must go to Sherer’s script, which lacks cohesion. The dialogue can be very dubious in places and the lack of a climax in the storyline is a loss worth mourning. The decision to include singing in the production was well made, breaking up the wordy conversation and adding a lighter layer of entertainment to the piece. However, the rhythm section of the performance whereby the characters of John and Tom used boxes and bags as drums to back Chloe’s beautiful vocals was maybe a step too far, turning an emotional and true to life piece of theatre into the encore from Stomp.

James Cotterill must be commended for his beautiful wooden set design, converting one of the cosiest theatres in London into an intriguing piece of scenery. As soon as the audience enter the playing space they are relocated automatically to the emptiness of Tom’s life and the ambiance of a seaside village.

Overall, Our Share Of Tomorrow is an interesting piece that has all the components for a captivating piece of theatre. I just can’t help but feel that some parts of the production fell short, creating a slightly confusing but nevertheless heartfelt performance.

Our Share of Tomorrow is playing at Theatre 503 until 6 July. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website.

Liam Blain

Liam Blain

Liam is from Edinburgh but is currently completing his final year student at Royal Holloway University of London studying Drama and Theatre Studies. As well as writing for a number of other publications he is the Artistic Director of theatre Company Out of Town Productions which specialises in contemporary issue based theatre. Liam's theatrical interests range from west-end musicals all the way to small contemporary fringe performances.

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Review: MEAT

Posted on 11 June 2012 by Veronica Aloess

MEAT is a play that takes a while to get your teeth into, but once you do, it’s tough content to chew. With the first physical confrontation, the initial humdrum kitchen sink drama it’s dressed up to be (designed by James Cotterill), suddenly comes alive. And the impact is visceral.

Jimmy Osbourne’s new play (developed with Director David Aula) is set in the familiar surroundings of a town where everyone knows, or rather gossips, about their neighbour. Of course there’s the obligatory gang of hoodies, temperamental teen, and share of mid-life crises – nothing out of the ordinary. Until one of those young hooligans is murdered (Rob, played on edge by Ian Welchardt) , and as young Carla says (Charlotte Whitaker), it’s like the town has woken up and are on the hunt for justice. Osbourne’s social commentary loses its way because this voice of revolution struggles to be embodied by a singular, stroppy character (this isn’t for want of trying on Whitaker’s part). MEAT is moving because the focus falls upon a single family at the centre of these tumultuous events, and the ironic question of whether it was the butcher who butchered a youth that questionably deserved his fate.

The problem is that I believed in the story, but not in the characters. Osbourne’s dialogue is very clever; the characters are forever interrupting each other, they never seem to be having the same conversation, but this can be jarring to follow. When Joy and Vincent’s relationship reaches equilibrium, it’s startling the difference more balanced dialogue can make. Consequently, since the play takes time to find its momentum, so do the actors. They all seem a little forced, as if overcompensating in the small space. As downtrodden wife Joy, Tracy Brabin slowly finds that glow of ‘joy’ again. On the other hand, Graham Turner finds his stride too late as Vincent, only inhabiting a humane character at the climax. By playing the rest of MEAT harder, as Vincent-the-head-of-the-household, he simply lacks charisma. Still, the cast develop a cathartic sense of unity as a family despite the disturbing circumstances. This prevailing filial devotion is the heart of this play, and strikes at the heart of the audience.

In the close proximity of Theatre 503, Alison De Burgh’s fight direction is so real it turns your stomach. And your stomach sinks that little more every time you see a butcher’s knife – but the use of pillows in the place of pigs for the butcher to gut, exemplify how Aula’s staging continually detracts from the sting MEAT could have.  The metaphorical battle for power within the household: backing characters into a corner, the condescending motif of kissing the subordinate character on the head, are such blatant gestures they’re more like exercises that should be reserved for the rehearsal room. At the same time, you can’t argue this sense of structure exposes animal-like tendencies in the family, each struggling to lead the pack. Similarly, Aula seems to lead the audience’s reaction in this way, by trying too hard to make MEAT mean something when it’s all there in the script.

MEAT has all the ingredients of a great play, and therein lies the problem. As a team, Osbourne and Aula have been so formulaic that they defeat themselves, yet at the same time deserve praise for such detail. MEAT isn’t allowed to find its natural rhythm and consequently, no rapport is built with the audience from the beginning. But when we do reach the meaty scenes of this play, it has the power to smack you in the face.

MEAT is playing at Theatre503 until 30 June. For more information and tickets visit Theatre503′s website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Review: The Flint Street Nativity

Posted on 14 January 2012 by Laura Turner

Christmas may feel like it’s long gone now we’re steeped in the cold, dark days of January, but the company of Hull Truck Theatre’s The Flint Street Nativity is keeping the spirit of the season well and truly alive.

The adult cast brings Tim Firth’s comedic study of a junior school nativity play to life with enthusiasm and aplomb. Set in a classroom free of adult supervision, the children run wild during their preparations for the nativity, with fights over whose dolly should play Jesus, who is the best Mary and what stars are really made of. There’s real charm in the detail of designer James Cotterill’s brightly coloured schoolroom, which boasts plastic seats stained with spilt paint and glitter, a playhouse-come-stable, and an arts and craft area complete with childish drawings of the holy family featuring a “fat man” and a duck. Costumes, too, cleverly emphasise the characters’ youth, from a shepherd sporting oversized slippers to an angel embarrassed by the light-up wings her mum has made especially for her. From start to finish, this is a production that reminds us what the festive season is all about: the kids.

It has already been noted elsewhere that Firth’s tale of infant politics, first written for the screen, has been instilled with new life on the stage through the addition of carol singing. Or rather, attempts at carol singing. The children (with the notable exception of perfect student Jenny, portrayed immaculately by Elaine Glover, who determinedly mouths the correct words as the rest of the class descend into chaos) have not exactly learnt their words. This offers the opportunity for each actor to have their moment in the spotlight with solos revealing the children’s innermost thoughts. From Lauren Hood’s jealous and tortured Angel Gabriel to Laura Elsworthy’s side-splittingly straight-talking Shepherd, these children are far from shrinking violets, and song provides the perfect vehicle for both rowdy ramblings and crushing confessions.

Comedy is of course at the forefront and is more often than not generated by the children parrotting their parents. Whether it’s Elsworthy’s Shepherd using her farming experience to give no-nonsense advice on how babies are born (“You moo a lot”) or Lucy Beaumont’s starstruck Wise Man informing everyone that playing Bingo is how you “get things”, the laughs come thick and fast. There are priceless moments too numerous to count, and the skill of this flexible cast lies in the actors’ ability to create 10 completely individual characters, ranging from Frazer Hammill’s fantastically loveable geek to Al Nedjari’s lisping loner to Rina Mahoney’s Angel, desperate to be liked but tormented by the cruel games young girls play. Snapshots of adulthood are littered throughout the play as the children talk about their mums and dads, and much hilarity is provided by James Holmes’ Joseph, obsessed with Question of Sport, and Dale Meeks’ dedicated devotion to the unattainable Jenny.

There is something deeper too in these moments of adult impersonation. In one interlude set in the storeroom, Hood shines as she smears red lipstick round her mouth and imitates her mother, capturing the perfect balance of childish innocence and a painfully accurate observation of a mother. Moments like these build to the climax of the play, which sees the action shift from the nativity play to a parental gathering afterwards. The transformation is impressive as the cast agilely adopt the parental roles but maintain resonances of the relevant child. The tone subtly but surely shifts as more of the parents gather, and the comedy cuts closer to the bone. Firth gradually reveals the weakness, fear or paranoia of each parent, culminating in an achingly beautiful moment between Glover’s PTA super-mum and the wonderfully woeful Neil Caple. The confession that his son doesn’t know he’s separated from his wife is gently met with the heartbreaking truth: “He’s a seven year old boy. He’ll have known before you did.” Caple and Glover create a devastating moment genuinely stunning to behold that will surely stay with the audience for quite some time to come.

To say that The Flint Street Nativity far supersedes its comedic beginning is to in no way diminish its triumph. It is testament to it. An acute observation of parents and children alike, it is the laughter itself that ultimately reveals the pain lurking beneath the bravado. An exuberant and energetic cast get the balance just right and give voice to emotions so true to life that they will send you home with a smile on your face, an ache in your chest and a tear in your eye. Heartbreakingly hilarious.

The Flint Street Nativity plays at Hull Truck Theatre until Saturday 14 January. Tickets and more information available from Hull Truck Theatre’s website here.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Review: Toad

Posted on 12 July 2011 by Jack Thomas

Arriving at the Southwark Playhouse, we were led through the back door to The Vaults, a space I didn’t know existed – but how perfect a setting for Bad Physics Theatre’s production of Toad. This reinvention of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ takes places under two huge railway arches and the space, which is wet, dark and dingy, has been fantastically transformed by designer James Cotterill into the wild wood. The cast literally disappear into the depths of the “wood” and appear from every which way.

What strikes you from the very beginning of this performance is that this is a very exciting production. Bad Physics Theatre creates something really wonderful in the space, and kept me fully engaged throughout the performance. All the characters from the much loved The Wind in the Willows are present, none more so than the adventurous Mr Toad, played brilliantly by Dan Starkey. Starkey’s larger-than-life Toad leaps and bounds across the stage. With great comic timing and endless amounts of energy you can’t help but find this mischievous character a little bit loveable. Keeping Toad in line throughout the narrative are the usual suspects, Ratty played by Jonny Mcpherson, Mole (Steff White) and Badger (James French). The trio work very well together, playing off each other in their quest to keep Toad out of trouble, with some great one-liners.

Naturally, keeping a car-driving toad out of trouble is never going to be easy, particularly when a very jealous Weasel (Ben Neale) has taken it upon himself to rid the wood of the Toad, backed up by his accomplices Ferret (Avita Jay) and the wonderful Mark Conway as Stoat. A special mention must go to Conway who, during the scenes of deception, plays not one, not two but twelve rabbits, pulling it off with great comedic talent and a routine of voices and movements that would leave the majority stumped.

Director Dan Bird has worked and devised with the company to produce something very special: a darker portrayal of a well-loved tale, with great amounts of fun and laughter to keep you smiling throughout. The exciting thing about this production is that there is a real sense of experience, from the moment you walk into the space to the very end when you leave, this is a refreshing production that is well worth a visit.

Take it like a TOAD.


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