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Tag Archive | "Play"

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Review: As You Like It

Posted on 06 June 2013 by Rebecca Hussein

As You Like It Queen's Theatre, HornchurchIt is not often that I am proved wrong. In fact, if you were to push me to an estimate, I would say that I am only proved wrong around 94% of the time, which gives me a keen 6% in my favour. With statistics like these, I am happy to accept my rare defeats and it was therefore with great pleasure that, with their new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It, I was proved wrong about the Queen’s Theatre.

I have previously lamented that the budget constraints that the Queen’s endures mean it is unable to experiment, forced instead to cater to its regional theatre audience with light-hearted, safe shows such as They’re Playing Our Song, which I reviewed back in March of this year. Yet its reworking of As You Like It, transforming it into a promenade piece set within the natural beauty of Langtons Gardens, is the perfect example of the kind of celebratory and unique theatre that the Queen’s can offer when it completely unleashes its creativity.

Taking inspiration from the play’s famous quote, the Langtons Gardens truly captures this sense of “All the world’s a stage.” Thematically too, the setting is a triumph, with the sense of freedom that the gardens provoke perfectly paralleling the emancipation that the characters feel through the power of love. Not only this, but the sheer delight of falling in love, another key motif within the play, is captured keenly throughout the piece, glorying in the delights that the gardens have to offer — whether it be entering a scene by leaping from a tree, or emerging in a tiny, fairylight-covered sailboat from across the lake. This moment in particular beautifully captures the sense of magic and wonder that the whole production embodies, with director Bob Carlton conjuring up something of a fairytale through his endlessly inventive use of the space.

Another key aspect of this play is its sense of comedy, something that the performances in particular explore with great success. In a stand-out turn as the jester Touchstone, Matt Devitt employs the use of puppetry and clowning to expert effect. Indeed, the ceaseless energy and animation of each performer is infectious, the pace of the piece never faltering as the audience are swept along through the joyous atmosphere that is created. The wonderful musical interludes are also crucial in helping the transition from scene to scene and yet none of this would be possible without achieving a real sense of audience interaction, something that the irresistible charm of the performers gain with ease.

Crafted with love and boundless imagination, As You Like It is perfect summer evening’s entertainment, leaving its audience with memories of a magical experience. Like our heroine Rosalind (an utterly charming turn by Sarah Mahony), the Queen’s is unable to always show its true face, yet through pieces such as this it casts off any preconceptions and reveals itself as an exciting and innovative producer of theatre, able to rival that of central London’s theatre hub.

As You Like It is playing at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (in Langton Gardens) until 14 June. For tickets and information, please see The Queen’s Theatre website.

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein likes cats. She also likes writing about the theatre. A bit. But she mostly likes cats.

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Review: Lullaby

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Jemma Anderson

LullabyUsing the stimulus of the idea that music helps to develop a baby’s sensory awareness, Lullaby is specially designed so that mothers and babies can spend some quality relaxation and exploratory time together. On entering the Adventure theatre, you are asked to remove your shoes and are told that in order to keep it as an intimate performance, one parent and one baby are admitted per ticket. Other observers can watch on a live screen for a smaller fee. Unfortunately, on the performance that I attended, only one mother and baby were booked in (the maximum is 12 pairs), so another observer and I were given access to the cloth tent in which the performance takes place. It is explained that should you need to, you can step out of the ‘tent’ into a small relaxation area filled with lavender plants and comfy benches with your baby, and that the rule is that “there are no rules” in terms of how you want to use your time in the space.

Deviser, composer and performer Natalie Raybould, dressed in a neutral fabric similar to that surrounding the tent, begins by kneeling down and singing a haunting yet relaxing melody whilst making small interactions with the babies. The little boy who was sharing the tent with me at this point was completely transfixed, not only by the singing and music, but also by Raybould folding a caterpillar out of muslin, which, through a series of movements, becomes a butterfly. It is both beautiful and engaging for the baby. Slowly, Raybould brings in a large lit ball, and interacts with it as if she was protecting the world. Without spoiling it too much, the singing continues whilst lighting and shadows are used to enhance the mood, although one couldn’t help but feel that more coloured objects or engaging lights could have been used to help keep the babies a little more engaged whilst she steps out of the tent. It is then left to the parents to enjoy ten minutes of time with their child in whatever capacity they want. On exiting, carers are also provided with a website where they can download the music from the show.

Although the score is basic, it is effective in having a relaxing effect on the child and their carer, and in the cosy, carpeted tent, it gives a sense of a safe environment in which to play. Lullaby is a great idea to engage children from a very early age in music and the senses, but I hope that it can experiment a little bit more with the idea. The Polka Theatre which, from the outside, wouldn’t look out of place in children’s television show Balamory, uses the slogan “Where Theatre Begins” (which is very apt for this particular performance) and is the perfect venue for the show, allowing the babies to have a bit of play time before or after the show in its many nursery rooms. Overall, Lullaby is a good interactive session for parent and baby to bond, and I think is very important in providing the very young with their first theatrical experience.

Lullaby is playing The Polka Theatre, Wimbledon until 25 May 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Polka Theatre website.

Jemma Anderson

Jemma is currently studying Drama, Theatre and Performance at Roehampton University. Between studying and reading about theatre, she also watches and reviews as Editor-in-chief of the Drama Department's newspaper, The Call.

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Review: Hamlet

Posted on 24 April 2013 by Rebecca Hussein

Hamlet - Stern Alarum

The last time I saw a production of Hamlet – and for better or for worse I have seen a few – was Dominic Dromgoole’s great production at the Globe. The very nature of that stage, with the lights and sounds of London in the summertime pouring in from the open top, made this first production by new company Stern Alarum all the more unnerving. Set in a genuine Second World War bunker in Dalston, this telling of the Hamlet tale retreats into the darkness like an injured creature, the damage that the characters endure made suddenly tangible and frightening.

Entering the bunker is a disarming and sensory experience: the cold, the damp and the encroaching darkness pull you ever deeper into the tortured psyche of Henry Douthwaite’s Hamlet. Indeed, the way in which he weaves in and out of scenes gives the impression of winding, endless corridors beyond our claustrophobic and stifling space that manifest the maze of his mind, infested by paranoia and a desire for revenge.

The sense of madness in Douthwaite’s excellent portrayal is visceral and threatening; the way in which he launches himself at Angela Ferns’ fragile Ophelia, and the sexual tone of his violence, have a sense of danger and rawness like that of a trapped animal. He scrawls on the damp walls with chalk like someone incarcerated, stating that “Denmark is a prison” – and yet it seems an asylum. The sounds within the bunker take on an otherworldly echo, adding to this sense that we have been abandoned by the outside world, and the lights that represent the old king’s ghost cast shadows on the rest of the characters that make them look haunted and drawn.

Douthwaite is ably supported by a fantastic cast and Ferns in particular is perfect as the tragic Ophelia. There is a pinch of resentment and bitterness within her responses that, despite her sense of fragility, also hint at her own desire for revenge for the wrongs committed against her. The scene between Hamlet and Terry Diab’s Gertrude is also moving, as Hamlet seeks the comfort of his mother in one last embrace before the bodies begin to pile up.

Director Andrew Shepherd masters this haunting interpretation of Hamlet. Both the setting and cast conjure up an atmosphere that expertly captures the dark elements of this play and the goose bumps that one feels upon leaving are certainly not all from the temperature.

Hamlet is playing at the Dalston Bunker until 27 April 2013. For more information and tickets, please see the Stern Alarum website.

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein likes cats. She also likes writing about the theatre. A bit. But she mostly likes cats.

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Review: They’re Playing Our Song

Posted on 13 March 2013 by Rebecca Hussein

They're Playing Our Song
The Queen’s Theatre was my first experience of the stage, regularly accompanying my family to the various pantomimes and children’s shows with a great deal of excitement each time I stepped through its doors. As a local landmark, it is incredibly dear to me and this is why in recent years I have felt increasingly conflicted about its artistic choices.

Built in a place of great cultural heritage and spawning a huge number of home-grown talents such as David Eldridge, it remains in the difficult position of straddling both choices that convey its artistic strength and, simultaneously, pull in the loyal crowds that keep it alive. And so while Eldridge’s fantastic In Basildon, a play that is essentially about the audience at the Queen’s, plays at the Royal Court in West London, the Queen’s must showcase crowd-pleasing productions in which its audience see what they want to see and not always what they, perhaps, should in order for this great theatre to survive.

They’re Playing Our Song immediately highlighted this dilemma. A musical comedy set in the 1970s, it tells the tale of a composer and a lyricist on the bumpy road to true love, and is based on the real life relationship of composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. With the garish lights and a live band in the corner, the set was akin to be that of a cheesy 1970s chat show, the perfect example of the way in which the Queen’s relies on the past to target its elder audience. The sight of it was enough; I wanted to hate it.

And yet what I learned as I looked around the packed auditorium is that not only are these kind of productions vital to the Queen’s survival, they are crafted with such skill that it is incredibly hard not to warm to them. Sarah Mahony and Dan de Cruz as the loved-up couple are utterly charming, completely capturing the bouncing energy of their witty exchanges and conveying a fantastic chemistry. They are ably supported by Greg Lusk and Barbara Hockaday performing the live musical accompaniment – it is a testament to all the performers that they carry the pace with ease despite their small numbers.

I arrived feeling conflicted about the upcoming performance but left feeling reassured that the Queen’s can hit the balance between audience numbers and integrity. With the help of a Neil Simon script, with a sharp wit that refuses to allow it to dissolve into sickly sweet fluff, They’re Playing Our Song feels like a girly night in and its quality ensures that there is no aftertaste of guilt to its simple pleasures.

They’re Playing Our Song is playing at the Queen’s Theatre until the 30 March 2013. For more information and tickets, please see the Queen’s Theatre’s website. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein

Rebecca Hussein likes cats. She also likes writing about the theatre. A bit. But she mostly likes cats.

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