Reviewed by Stuart Frank
Havant Arts and Spring Heritage Centre
Why do we go the theatre? What is it that we hope to get out of an experience where we part with our hard earned cash to sit for two or more hours and watch a group of actors perform in front of us? Do we go because we hope to learn something new that we didn't already know? Perhaps it's escapism to take us away from the bad day at work or the the dreaded weekly shop at Tesco?
I believe we go to the theatre because we want to be captivated by something. Something that's so compelling you can't bear to miss a single second. Something that draws you in so much that even when it makes you feel uncomfortable you revel in the disgust of what you've just seen unfold before your eyes. As an actor and as a director, I believe that if you can generate that distinct feeling within your audience then you have made magic happen. And I must say, HumDrum do exactly that and then some with their exquisite offering of 'Brimstone & Treacle' this week at The Spring, Havant.
Originally written as part of the BBC's 70s 'Play For Today' series by Dennis Potter, 'Brimstone And Treacle' was immediately pulled just before it was due to be broadcast for fear of a national outcry at the depiction of the harrowingly dark themes of it's story.
Centred around just four characters, we follow the events of the Bates family - Tom (James George), his wife Amy (Sarah Parnell) and their daughter Patti (Emma Van Kooperen). The tone of the production is already set so distinctively before Act One has even started with Patti lying on her sick bed in the centre of her parents' 1970's living room. We soon come to realise that a car crash from two years ago has caused severe physical damage to Patti that is likely to see her never fully recover, much like the obvious state of her parents' marriage in the aftermath of her paralysis.
Enter Martin Taylor (Michael Gondelle) - a smooth talking, charming wordsmith who seems to somehow know Patti from his past and will stop at nothing in order to convince Tom and Amy to let him in to their home and get close to Patti once more. With Tom so wallowed by his own personal demons and Amy so desperately blinded by clinging on to every last ounce of hope that life will one day grant her some happiness, Martin is able to play God in the Bates' household and take control of Patti in any way he desires.
Emma Van Kooperen gives the performance of a lifetime as the physically paralysed Patti Bates. Never before have I witnessed an actor with so few lines to make such an impact as part of the storytelling process. With every move, look, groan and spit she gives, she delivers with a conviction and honesty that is so real you can't quite believe that this is a dramatic performance and not a genuine persona. I will continue to hear those blood-curdling screams for a long time following this. She is equally matched by Michael Gondelle who delivers such a hellishly evil performance as Martin Taylor that we just keep willing either Tom or Amy to figure out what he's up to in order to stop him.
Sarah Parnell delivers an exquisite performance as Amy Bates, the put-upon wife and mother so desperately trying to grasp at any glimmer of hope - no matter how glaringly false it is. Ms Parnell achieves perfection on every line she delivers, always judging it just right to get the correct and, ultimately tricky, balance of comedy and drama on point.
James George is outstanding as Tom Bates, the stern and steely fronted husband, who only lets his guard down to reveal his true feelings and identity when he feels he's not being watched. Both Mr George and Ms Parnell worked so impeccably well together, you could be forgiven for believing they were actually a real-life married couple. The moment between Tom and Patti in the first quarter of Act One where he sings softly to Patti at her bedside is truly heartbreaking.
Director Sam Sampson obviously has a deep passion for this piece, as detailed within his Director's Notes, and that passion is clearly what has steered this production towards the excellence it achieves. From the diverse range of characterisations he has developed, through to the impeccable attention to detail of the 1970's setting, he has successfully ensured that his audiences are able to become exactly what a piece like this strives for its audience to be - the fourth wall of the living room, soaking up every comical, uncomfortable and tragically horrific moment that occurs within its presence.
An exceptional theatrical experience that will stay with me for a very long time to come. So it was definitely worth going to the theatre after all...
Brimstone and Treacle runs until Saturday 30th September with a matinée at 2:30pm and an evening performance at 7:30pm. Tickets available by calling 02392 472700 or online at:
The Southsea Shakespeare Actors are celebrating their seventieth birthday with two comic productions based on the works of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare: The Loose Canon and Harlequinade are being staged at the Hayling Island Station Theatre from Wednesday 8th November until 11th November nightly at 7:30pm.
The first performance, Shakespeare: The Loose Canon is a play in which two actors (Rob Bartlett and Aaron Holdaway) and a critic (Vincent Adams) attempt to account for every Shakespeare play in under an hour. It is directed by Paula Bartlett and David Pearson.
"Was William Shakespeare actually Christopher Marlowe disguised as Francis Bacon?", the show description reads. "When a boy dresses as a girl who’s pretending to be a boy, who really wears the trousers? Why are there so many shipwrecks? And who wrote The Four Noble King’s Gentlemen from Verona?"
"Shakespeare: The Loose Canon is a hilarious headlong attempt to deliver the whole canon of Shakespeare plays in 60 minutes or less. Synchronise your watches and fasten your seat belts...."
Following the fast-paced madness of this, the audience will be treated to a production of Terence Rattigan's masterpiece Harlequinade.
"Written in 1947, the same year that saw the founding of The Southsea Shakespeare Actors, this is a rarely seen comic gem, a wonderfully funny one-act farce about a classical theatre company just before their opening night on tour in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet."
"Their intrigues and dalliances come to light in a series of surprising revelations, with increasingly calamitous consequences, in this affectionate celebration of the lunatic art of putting on a play."
Harlequinade is directed by Steve Blackham and features Sarah Parnell and Andy Thomas, amongst other members of the company.
Tickets for this special anniversary show are on sale now from the Hayling Island Station Theatre box office. You can purchase them by calling 02392 466363 or by clicking the link below.
Following the success of It Started With a Touch, local writing talent Roger Goldsmith is to stage the premiere of another piece he has written at Rosie's Vineyard this October.
'Grace', staged from October 23rd to the 25th, is essentially a play about love and forgiveness. Grace and Paula were best friends at school. They do not meet until years later when a tragedy involving their respective families bring them together. What follows tests their friendship and brings into question the history of their time together at school.
Originally, the piece had a reading in Paris in 2015 by Moving Parts Theatre and an extract was staged at the Arts Studio by Sheer Height Theatre the same year. An extract from the play resulted in Goldsmith being offered a place at the Royal Court Writers' Group in 2016. This performance, nightly at Rosie's Vineyard, will be the first full staging of the play.
"I started writing the play about four years ago," Roger Goldsmith tells us. "It has gone through various drafts. And titles. Sometimes it takes a time to understand what your own play is about. You have to search for it, explore, dig deep, until you get there. I think, I hope, I have got there at least in terms of the original idea and what I thought I wanted to write."
"I am very much looking forward to seeing Megan Joan Green and Leigh Cunningham, who play Grace and Paula respectively, perform in what are both difficult and demanding roles. Katie Watson and Chris Mills, who were in my play It Started With A Touch last October appear in Grace together with Philip Amor, Stuart Frank and Alice Baker.
The play is to be directed by Hazel Aspden, a young up and coming director from the Southsea Shakespeare Actors."
Here at PortsmouthTheatre.com we love celebrating and seeing the wealth of writing, directing and acting talent from within our own city and we hope you will come and support this production alongside us.
Reservations for tickets can be made by emailing email@example.com, via Facebook Message directly or by telephoning 07951750165.
Reviewed by Sarah Miatt
Have you ever done something in your life and wondered what would have happened if you’d done something else?
This is the main question asked in Our House, the musical based around the music of top British band Madness. Many of these “Jukebox musicals” have very little plot, but not so in this case. Often described as a cross between Sliding Doors and Blood Brothers this heart-warming and funny musical was written by Tim Firth (Calendar Girls) and follows the life of young Joe Casey (Sean Ridley). Joe, breaks into a block of flats on his 16th birthday to impress his girlfriend Sarah (Molly Lancaster) and the story is then split between “Good Joe” who stays and faces up to the police and “Bad Joe” who runs away.
This is a reasonably complex musical that Fareham Musical Society did extremely well. Despite a few minor first night set and sound malfunctions this was a polished and slick show and the overall feel was fast paced and full of energy.
The cast were all, without exception, clearly having the best of fun on that stage with more energy than I have seen in a show for a long time. The two sets of comedy duos were brilliant. Adam Bromley as Emmo and Gareth Billington as Lewis Joes best friends were suitably idiotic and had fantastic chemistry both with each other and Sean Ridley's Joe. Hannah Edwins as Angie and Zara Newbury-Skinner as Billie as Sarah's sarcastic and critical best friends were nothing short of hilarious with great comic timing.
Stuart Frank as Reecey was very convincing as the villain of the piece with a great bad boy swagger. Graeme Clements was very believable as Joe's deceased criminal dad with some lovely moments as he’s watching the decisions his son makes and also made a fine narrator to the tale.
Marie Ridley as Kath Casey was fabulous with a great Irish accent and wonderful facial expressions, the only complaint was we didn’t see more of her. Molly Lancaster as Joe's childhood sweetheart was very endearing with a beautiful singing voice and performed with a wonderful emotion that was heartbreaking at times.
Finally, Joe Casey himself, Sean Ridley. This was a standout and phenomenal performance. I have never seen someone perform with so much energy and put so much into a role. He was seldom off stage and when he was it was to do an insanely quick costume change. Not once did his character or enthusiasm drop. He was a pleasure to watch.
There is nothing not to like about this show so get yourselves down to Ferneham Hall and I guarantee you’ll be dancing in the aisles and singing to your favourite Madness tracks.
Our House is being performed at Ferneham Hall until Saturday 23rd September. Nightly at 7:30pm and matinée at 2:30pm Saturday.
Reviewed by Matt Gibbins
Titchfield Festival Theatre
Whether you're a Monty Python fan or not, Titchfield Festival Theatre's offering of 'Spamalot' has something that every one can enjoy, if you can excuse the occasional rough-around-the-edges execution.
Lovingly ripped off from the hit film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', Spamalot delivers all the favourite sketches that we know and love so well. The whole ensemble worked well together and provided a welcome level of pace and slickness to the production, though one or two members of the cast could do with looking more engaged. That aside there is really quite a bit to be praised.
Set design by Adam Bumfrey was impressive and used to its full extent, matched brilliantly with some inventive lighting design by Ian Pratt. Choreography by Chenny Thyme was simple but effective, though seemed to be the area where closer attention to detail could have been paid, and Direction by Rob King was strong, particularly his use of the space, and the admirable level of pace and transition.
Ron Long as King Arthur was charismatic and led us through the story with great clarity. Clogging away at his heels was Russell Churcher playing the endearing and lovable patsy, who's rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life had the audience enthusiastically singing along. Emma Jeans handled the Lady of the Lake with a good level of conviction, though perhaps could have played up the diva characterisation more.
Ensemble highlights were plentiful and showcased some strong performances throughout, particularly Katie Watson as the wet and pathetic Herbert, and Francesca Nicholson as the obnoxious French Tower Guard, and the diverse Mark Allen as practically every other role you can think of.
Trailblazing through this production, it's only right to give the biggest praise to Ed Owen-Jones, who not only played three entirely different parts with superb contrast, but gave such conviction to his performances, and quite literally bared himself on stage.
Overall an enjoyable evening of raucous good fun, and silliness appropriate for all the family. If you don't mind an inoffensive naughty word or two.
Titchfield Festival Theatre are staging Spamalot nightly until Saturday 23rd September 2017. Tickets available by telephone on 01329 556 156 or online: http://titchfieldfestivaltheatre.com/project/spamalot/
With the support of the Arts Council England, New Theatre Royal Portsmouth and Resident Artist Jon Adams, DYSPLA will debut their new R&D project: YOU WILL FAIL HER at New Theatre Royal on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd September 2017.
YOU WILL FAIL HER is a one-woman performative installation that weaves the audience into the tapestry of the protagonist’s life through immersive theatre, moving image and an interactive soundscape. The performance will address topical themes of State and Parental responsibilities exploring the emotional consequences of a failed education system and, in light of the recent cuts to education funding, prove that it is still the most vulnerable students in our society who experience discriminative education.
Schools are facing 8 -10% funding cuts and are struggling to balance their budgets. In Portsmouth alone 216 Teachers will lose their jobs as a direct result of the cuts to the education budget. Teaching Assistants and SEN programmes will be slashed, while grammar schools will have their funding boosted. Angela Rayner, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, calls the continuation of grammar school funding “a vanity project” and says “they do not create school places for children who need them.”
After each performance Guest Speakers will lead a radical and forward-thinking debate, to explore ways to challenge the issues within Britain’s educational system and to promote how Dyslexic and neurodivergent students can still succeed within a defective system.
DYSPLA is currently inviting experts in dyslexia, mental health and educational reform to create a Panel of Guest Speakers capable of challenging the suitability of Britain’s education system.
Confirmed guest speakers are:
Thursday 21st September 2017:
· Pennie Aston, from GroOops
· John Hicks, from Jabbla Sprint plus (a company that produce dyslexic software) and manages a dyslexia blog
· David Dixon, director of Chapel Arts studio
· Liz Weston, director of Flow Observatorium
· Mark Sherin, manages Lyndhurst Dyslexia Centre
Friday 22nd September 2017:
· Lulu Whitmore, a dyslexic individual who founded her own community engagement and promotional website
· Amanda Martin, teacher and a trade union activist for NUT and Nation Education Union
· Mike Douglas, a dyslexic individual who blogs about Mental Health
· Gavin Hodson, Portsmouth based artist who runs Portsmouth Makers Guild
This looks to be a very interesting and informative couple of evenings, combining theatre and debate in a unique, artistic and effective way of questioning the world we live in.
YOU WILL FAIL HER is to be staged in the Minghella Studio at the New Theatre Royal. Tickets are available at the box office which is linked below, or available on 02392 649000. Both performances begin at 7pm.
The ever-popular Fareham Musical Society return to Ferneham Hall this week with Our House, the musical based on the hits of Madness.
You can take a sneaky-peek at the production, which runs from September 20th until the 23rd (with a Saturday matinée at 2:30pm), in its rehearsal stages via the trailer below, filmed by Tony Neal.
We're looking forward to this feel-good Olivier Award-winning musical!
"On the night of Joe’s 16th birthday, a split-second decision forces him to choose between himself and his heart," the show synopsis reads. "As two very different paths unfold before him, the consequences of that choice will change his life forever.
"Set to a score of MADNESS hits including “It Must Be Love”, “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers” and “Our House”, this hilarious, high energy musical will have you singing and dancing in the aisles... Welcome to the house of fun!"
The musical stars featuring include Sean Ridley, Molly Lancaster, Gareth Billington, Adam Brombley, Zara Newbury, Hannah Edwins, Stuart Frank, Graeme Clements, Marie Ridley and Roger Trencher.
Tickets are available now and advance booking is highly advised. You can book by telephone at the Ferneham Hall Box Office on 01329 231942 or, alternatively, we've got a link to the online box office below.
Evening performances begin at 7:30pm nightly. Saturday matinée at 2:30pm.
Going to 'Our House'? Let us know your thoughts on the show! firstname.lastname@example.org or @portstheatre
HumDrum return to The Spring in Havant for five performances of Dennis Potter’s blackest play, Brimstone and Treacle, between 27th and 30th September.
The play – originally written in 1976 for television – was banned for eleven years by its own creators – the BBC – because of the dark nature of Potter’s tale.
Tom and Amy Bates’ daughter, Patricia, has been knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, suffering brain-damage as a result. The constant care she requires begins to wear down the already-fragile bond between her parents when suddenly a stranger appears, claiming to be an old lover of Pattie’s. He insinuates his way into their home, ostensibly to help with her care, but he is very much not what he appears to be.
Potter adapted it for the stage shortly after the BBC ban on his work.
Director Sam Sampson feels the forty year-old play works as both social history – reflecting the often-uncomfortable mores of the time – but also holds a mirror up to 21st century Britain.
“The themes of oppression, sexism, racism and intolerance Potter makes his audience confront are still – terrifyingly – present today. From the recent business of male/female salary parity at the BBC to the recent rise of the far Right in politics – it’s all here in Brimstone and Treacle. What makes it even more effective is that Potter isn’t afraid to make you laugh, although the subject-matter is far from laughable. It’s his way of making you question your attitudes to his themes’.
“The play is a mix of supernatural horror, kitchen-sink drama and situation comedy – so we hope it’s going to appeal to a wide range of people!”
Performances are at The Spring in Havant at 7:30 pm with a matinee on Saturday 30thSeptember at 2.30. Tickets are £10.00 (£9.00 concessions) and are available from The Spring box-office on 023 9247 2700.
Photograph (by Eleanor Carver) shows Michael Gondelle as Martin, Sarah Parnell as Amy and James George as Tom.
The Bench Theatre are half way through their run of Mark My Words, a show promoting and showcasing writing talent from local writer Mark Wakeman.
"Bench Theatre is proud to present an exciting collection of new one-act comedies from the pen of one of their own award-winning playwrights," the show synopsis reads. "Having delighted audiences with his Christmas shows Cinderella, Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty, and being the only writer to feature in every Supernova festival, Mark offers up a selection of plays with only one intention – to put a smile on your face.
From romantic comedy to farce in the blink of an eye – come and enjoy the fun."
It's an interesting evening of theatre with much acting talent bringing the one-act comedies to life, and you only have limited time to come and see it. It runs at the Havant Spring Arts and Heritage Centre until Saturday with a matinée on Saturday afternoon. Link to the online box office below.
New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth has joined forces with The Old Market in Brighton and the University of Portsmouth to explore the future of live entertainment.
A first of its kind, this partnership will allow artists to combine new and old entertainment to tell stories using multimedia technologies and discover how the digital age will change the way we consume and imbibe stories.
"As technology advances at an ever-increasing rate, we are keen to explore what the future of live entertainment will be in the coming years. Our partnership with New Theatre Royal and the excellent team at the University of Portsmouth enables us to bring some of the UK’s leading artists to play and explore,” comments James Turnbull, The Old Market.
This unique new venture will see two dynamic theatre companies take part in a week-long residency from 11th to the 15th September to explore the creative implications of real-time motion capture technology. Laura Doye, Artistic Director at New Theatre Royal comments, “This project marks the start of our Creative Technology Gateway, an exciting artistic vision that will bring artists and technologists together to find a common language for future theatre makers. We are so pleased to working in partnership to realise this vision and to open opportunities for artists to learn and develop future skills.”
Following an open artist call, Limbik Theatre and Spymonkey were chosen to participate in the residency. The successful theatre companies’ innovative approach to performing arts reflects the project’s aspiring vision to challenge the future of theatre. The residency will allow the professional artists to undertake five days of research and development in the Motion Capture Suite at the University of Portsmouth as well as a space to rehearse at New Theatre Royal.
Known as the home of groundbreaking technological progression, the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth will provide a team of technologists and digital artists to help the performers realise their ideas.
Alex Counsell, Mo-Cap expert and Lecturer at University of Portsmouth, said that he was excited to be merging the technical capabilities of motion-capture and virtual reality with the creativity of the theatre. “This work is totally experimental and will open up a whole new level of immersion. We’re doing real-time motion capture so we are creating things and seeing them happen immediately. We’re starting something new and unique and I can’t wait to see where we are by the end of the week.”
The aim of this creative project is to engage with the technology without the stress of production cycles, this work could involve anything from animating non-humanoid characters to exploring the relationship between a live actor and one performing through an avatar.
This residency and the TOMtech programme is funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and presented in partnership with New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, University of Portsmouth, CiRCA69 and Digital Catapult Centre Brighton.