Tag Archives: York Theatre Royal

Review: Bouncers bounces back

9 Sep

Cast from L to R – William Ilkley, Don Gilet, Ian Reddington, Ace Bhatti (photo from http://www.bouncersonstage.com)

John Godber’s Bouncers, which has been frequently produced since its first performance in 1977, has been given a shake-up in this new version for Watershed Productions directed by the esteemed playwright himself. The play is set in and around a nightclub where Judd (William Ilkley), Les (Don Gilet), Lucky Eric (Ian Reddington) and Ralph (Ace Bhatti) work as doormen. The four actors also play a group of girls celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday and a group of rowdy lads out on the pull.

The cast effortlessly switch between their very different roles and seem equally at home in each of them. I particularly enjoyed Bhatti as sexy Susie and he and Reddington have a couple of very funny scenes together highlighting that physical comedy can be just as successful as wordplay. Set and props are minimal but excellent use is made of lighting and sound to create an effective club feel and Lucky Eric’s speeches are most effective when he is placed in a spotlight. These four speeches act as a kind of social commentary breaking up the comedy and reminding the audience that the sort of behaviour these bouncers see every night is very often not funny and can actually be disturbing and demeaning.

Bouncers has been ‘remixed’ before, and Godber has clearly tried his best to make this version as up to date as possible. This was a bit hit and miss. I enjoyed the music choice, for example – the actors first appeared to Rihanna’s Where Have You Been and the group of girls tried and failed to sing along to a Wanted song- but references to ‘records’ and having the girls and guys getting ready for their nights out at a hairdressers and barbers respectively just didn’t sit right. This is a minor complaint, however, of an evening which kept the packed theatre constantly in hysterics.

Bouncers was at York Theatre Royal 5-8 September and is touring until 17th November. For details see www.bouncersonstage.com

6 days to go! #mysteryplays

27 Jul

There’s less than a week to go now until the first performance of The York Mystery Plays 2012! After attending the first read through, I only really joined the rehearsal process in late June, but it has taken a long time to get to the stage we’re at now!

Even though I knew it would be a massive project, I am still taken aback by the scale of the whole thing. We have moved on to the purpose built stage now and have had technical rehearsals on it all this week, alternating between the two casts – the ‘Potters’ and the ‘Carpenters’. Despite the inevitable waitingaroundness of the infamous ‘tech’, this week has been great bonding time and I’ve been meeting and talking to new people every day. This really is a community project – there are people here of all ages, professions and theatrical experience.

Not only is the cast made up of community members, but nearly every other role is too – from stage managers to wardrobe assistants- all given that slick of professionalism by the amazing people at York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights headed up by directors Damian Cruden, Paul Burbridge, Katie Posner and Alexander Wright.

I love that we are in 1940s/50s dress. For me, it makes the whole thing more earthy and more real. I may just be in the ‘mob’ but I feel as if I am playing an actual real person, an ancestor maybe. ‘Humanity’ has replaced ‘ensemble’ and that’s what the plays are all about; humanity (Jesus included?) and how it responds to events outside of its control.

We are depicting the story of the Bible. We are the citizens of Nazareth and Jerusalem. But above all, we are the citizens of York.


Summer project: The York Mystery Plays

2 Jul

Now that my (first) degree is over and I have more time to be doing theatrical stuff I will hopefully be updating my blog more regularly, especially because I hope to study a Masters in Theatre in the coming academic year!

For now, my plug is the York Mystery Plays 2012 (you can follow them on twitter @yorkmystery2012 ). I’m now in rehearsals as a member of the ensemble and it’s looking spectacular, not least because the stage itself is going to be massive but also because there are so many talented people involved. The production is professional but the cast (apart from two) is made up of members of the community… but if I hadn’t had told you that, you wouldn’t have guessed!

It’s on from 2nd August – 27th August and is taking place out of doors in the Museum Gardens. Tickets can be booked through York Theatre Royal.

So if you’re sick of the Olympics already like I am, or just fancy an awesome production of a brilliant story, come along! And I can promise you that you at least will stay dry…

And if you come along when the Carpenters are performing, I can also promise some fantastic faces such as this (taken during the Waggon Mystery Plays 2010…):

Review: 40 Years On

3 Oct

Alan Bennett’s first stage play, ’40 Years On’ is bravely tackled in the continuing ensemble season of the York Theatre Royal. It is an entertaining yet demanding and overly long play which is rarely performed. The company succeed in bringing out the sparks of brilliance but are sometimes let down by a clumpy and awkward structure.

The play is set in 1968 in an all boys school. The headmaster (Rob Pickavance) is due to retire and it’s also the last school play and assembly of some of the boys. What Damien Cruden’s production does excellently is creating the world of Albion House School. The set is spot on but even before entering the auditorium, the Belt Up and community cast of school boys wandered round the foyer handing out handmade programmes and the show got off to a flying start when the audience were invited to join in with a roof raising rendition of ‘Jerusalem’. The audience were also there to play a role, that of the parents and governors, and the interval refreshment trolley which some of us got to partake in was a nice and unexpected touch.

It was a shame that the script dictated that the school boys couldn’t be used more. For long periods they were stuck on the peripheries as the staff (Martin Barrass, Jonathan Race, Andrina Carroll and Sarah Quintrell) put on the end of term play. It was at these moments when the play often seemed to drag as we moved back and forth in history and more characters (invented and well known figures) were paraded around than you’ve had school dinners. Barrass in particular often descended into unnecessary slapstick but showed good range in his variety of personas (perhaps too much considering the ‘teachers’ are not supposed to be accomplished professional actors!).

’40 Years On’, then, came alive when the fifteen school boys took centre stage with songs, dances (all well choreographed by Jean Harvey) and general humorous antics. Nik Fenwick as Lord had great presence and a singing voice to match and Dominic Allen of Belt Up Theatre had some lovely touches as a rather geeky lectern reader, but the whole group was terrific.

Yet it was the aforementioned Rob Pickavance who was clearly the standout star. His character of the headmaster is an absolute gem and carried with it the bulk of the play’s wit, honesty, nostalgia and energy, not to mention lines!

If anything, then, the play and not the production was at fault at times and Bennett himself has admitted its complicated and often confusing structure. Yet it’s still worth a watch, even if it is no ‘History Boys’. (York Theatre Royal until 15th October)

This review can also be found here: http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/review-40-years-on-york-theatre-royal/

Summer’s lease hath all too short a date

21 Aug

As my long summer suddenly speeds towards its end and my approaching birthday once again warns me that I don’t actually have that long until I need to begin studying again, I felt now would be a good time to continue to put off said studying and write a blog post about my theatre experiences this summer.

Summer is the time of year where many theatres close to prepare for the new season but is also the time when audiences get to sample the delights of open air or site specific theatre.

In July, I went to the grounds of Ripley Castle to experience my first Sprite Productions show; ‘Macbeth’. I say ‘experience’ because this was more than just a play. I have seen, and performed in, the Scottish play countless times and can quite geekily quote passages off by heart, but the set up of this particular production, directed by Charlotte Bennett, made the audience see this well known play with a fresh pair of eyes.  ‘Macbeth’ was a real day out – we sat in the grounds to eat our picnic before being ushered by the three weird sisters to the first location; this was to be a promenade performance through the woods which surround the castle and lake. The audience moved between large areas which represented battlefields to more secluded and intimate corners of the wood for Macbeth’s palace and the witches’ lair and even were invited to sit down and eat the food at a banquet table for the scene where Banquo’s ghost appears. There was not a weak link in the cast – Catherine Pugh as one of the weird sisters was a small but standout performance – and every detail had obviously been clearly thought about. I look forward to getting up to Ripley to see future Sprite productions.

The very next day I was on to more of the Bard! This time, back in York but still outdoors (Rowntree Park) for the York Shakespeare Project’s latest offering of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. The project, made up of mostly amateur actors but often employing professional directors, aims to stage all of Shakespeare’s plays in a twenty year period (of which it is now half way through). As is the case with British weather, the performance we had originally booked for was rained off but happily we managed to catch it on their last night. What I like most about the project as an audience member is that it always looks as if the cast are having a really good time and are passionate about what they are doing. Yes, there was the odd line stumbled upon and a couple of projection issues but it was fun and enjoyable. The director had chosen to set the play in post war Britain which worked rather well and the songs and dances that were included were well choreographed. Stand out performer was Sebastian Hulkkov as Benedick. He really did the character justice and seemed the most at ease with Shakespeare’s verse. An entertaining evening.

I’ve been getting into a bit of Shakespeare myself with a summer workshop at Upstage Centre where we performed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It was a challenge to get a show up in a short amount of time with an age range from 8 years old to 20 (me!) but it was rewarding for everyone when we had a very appreciative audience who weren’t afraid to laugh! I enjoyed playing two roles- Lysander and Starveling – it was fun to be playing a man again!

So, it’s been a bit of a Shakespeare overload this summer (not that I’m complaining!). I’ve also seen York Theatre Royal’s summer show in the main house in the round, ‘Peter Pan’. Since ‘The Railway Children’ in 2008, the theatre has created a reputation for good family shows in the summer months (adapted from well known favourites by Mike Kenny) and this didn’t disappoint, although I have to say that ‘The Railway Children’ is still my favourite (it’s now in London and Canada). Unlike ‘Wind in the Willows’ last year which really drew you in with the storytelling, at times ‘Peter Pan’ almost threatened to descend into panto which clearly entertained the children in the house and the Down’s boy that came with us loved Martin Barrass as Smee and the big crocodile at the end. I enjoyed the Belt Up actors as the pirates and the youth cast were also very accomplished. As usual, the stage design, effects and costumes were obviously well researched and executed. ‘Peter Pan’ didn’t exactly blow me away but it is a magical family show for a summer evening, rain or shine! (On until Saturday 3rd September).

Review: Two Planks and a Passion

11 Jul

York Theatre Royal’s and Riding Lights’ Two Planks and a Passion – the third of the former’s main house ensemble plays – is a credit to York and to regional theatre. A charming and entertaining script by Anthony Minghella, a large and talented community cast and atmospheric music by Christopher Madin give this production (on until 16th July) a big heart.

Set in York and based around King Richard II’s visit to the city and to the mystery plays in the late 14th Century, the play focuses just as much on the royals (played by professionals) as on the ‘normal’ citizens of York and on the competition between two of the guilds putting on two of the plays.  Ambitiously, there are two community casts, totalling over 50, which are alternating the run and the cast I saw (the Taylors) had been impeccably cast; there wasn’t a weak link. Most impressively, voice projection, even discounting the fact that it was a largely amateur cast in the round, was spot on – here we have, quite clearly, professional amateurs. Rory Mulvihill and Rebecca Beattie, in particular, have great vocal presence.

The cast have clearly thought hard about their characters as there were some great nuances and subtleties to certain performances. It almost goes without saying that Jonathan Race (as King Richard), Michael Lambourne (as Oxford) and Emily Pithon (as Queen Anne) were on form but it was to the community cast’s credit that they did not seem to ‘stand out’ so significantly as to be distracting. Gemma Shelton, playing a wife of one of the players, gave a very truthful performance and Paul Stonehouse, as the non-too-holy Father Melton, was pitch perfect.

The promised spectacle of the 2012 Mystery Plays in York will need to build on the success of Two Planks and a Passion but it is without a doubt a great introduction to the project and an entertaining, if slightly over-long, stand alone production.

This review is also posted here: http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/review-two-planks-and-a-passion-york-theatre-royal/

Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

5 Mar

You can read my review of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (York Theatre Royal and touring) here: http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/review-to-kill-a-mockingbird-york-theatre-royal/

Happy New Theatrical Year!

4 Jan

It’s 2011 which means lots of theatre for us to gobble up! I’ll be in Germany until the end of May and I promise I will update you with the shows I’ve seen so far but until then here is a small selection of some of my picks for the coming year and what will be going in my diary…

So first up, my home town theatre, York Theatre Royal who have released a really exciting programme for 2011! From April to November, the main theatre will be transformed in to a magical ‘in the round’ space which it saw this summer for its lavish Wind in the Willows and the equally beautiful Youth Theatre production of Coram Boy. The theatre looks entirely different in this state and opens up a world of possibilities for actors as well as designers. Whilst there are still Proscenium Arch type shows before this period and events in the Studio space, I would recommend seeing at least one of the productions in this configuration.

I’m especially excited about Peter Pan (29th July-3 Sept), adapted by Mike Kenny, who adapted both The Railway Children and Wind in the Willows for the theatre, and which I can almost guarantee will be a truly magical delight for all the family and no doubt also a visual spectacle. Following that, I’m definitely booking a seat for 40 Years On (23rd Sept-15th Oct) purely because it is written by Alan Bennett. Can’t really go wrong there.

Further South, in Oxford at The Oxford Playhouse where I spend a lot of my time and where I was a student rep last year there also seems to be a varied and interesting programme. I’ve got my eye on Aykbourn’s The Life of Riley (7th-12th Feb) and Polly Teale’s Bronte (24th March – 2nd April) although I’m not sure I could get back to see them.

As a Shakespeare geek I’m also looking forward to the new shows on at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, especially because of the recent transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The first ‘new’ production in the space will be good old Macbeth (16th April-6th Oct) which was, incidentally, the first play I ever saw by the RSC in the old Royal Shakespeare. I’m not sure if I will go down for this, purely because I have seen the play so many times, but I’m sure it will be well worth it if I do. Although it’s not Shakespeare, one play I will definitely be seeing there this year is Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss (14th Oct-5th Nov). I’m hoping to do my dissertation on German theatre post Brecht and the opportunity to see one of the set texts in the flesh, albeit not auf Deutsch, will be foolish to miss. A play which is shocking and challenging, I think my challenge will be persuading a virgin of German theatre to come along with me! Other straight Shakespeare offerings include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (29th July-5th Nov) which I have a feeling will have a handy Oxford student coach-trip along with it… (16-25 year olds can also check out the RSC Key scheme which you can find on their website and which I will blog about soon)

Unfortunately I don’t often get the chance to see much theatre in the capital, but a long and lazy summer might lend itself to a few trips! Having followed the ‘Dorothys’ I would quite like to see The Wizard of Oz (from Feb 7th) with my favourite Dorothy, although there are many other musicals I should really catch as well. As for straight plays, I’d really like to see Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternate the roles of Frankenstein and his monster in Frankenstein (from Feb 5th) at the Olivier/National Theatre after all I really ought to see something there at some point. The downside, or perhaps the upside?, of this of course is that if you want to see Miller and Cumberbatch play both roles opposite each other you have to go twice! Closing on the 19th Feb is Wilde’s An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville featuring Elliot Cowan who should be seen around more in my opinion! I’m off to educate myself in London theatre happenings now seeing as I clearly do not know enough. Please post your tips here.

Happy Theatre-going!!