Posts Tagged ‘ Bristol Old Vic ’

Great Expectations, Bristol Old Vic

5 stars

In Neil Bartlett’s staging of Great Expectations at Bristol Old Vic, you hear the story more than watch it. The chains of the convict, the hammering of the blacksmith, the unhinged humming of Miss Havisham are as much a part of the characters as the costume, expression and lines…

Read the rest of my five-star review of this production in The Independent here

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Bristol Old Vic: review

4 stars

Think you know Aesop’s fables? Think again. Sally Cookson’s production of the famous tales presents a happy-camper tortoise opposite a onesie-sporting hare, a grumpy teenage boy who cries wolf and a rock ‘n’ roll crooner as the sun.

Bristol Old Vic’s outdoor summer show is a consummate piece of storytelling theatre which brings Aesop’s ancient fables – as told through the pen of Michael Morpurgo – to vivid life.

Read the rest of my review of this production in The Independent here

A Thousand Shards of Glass, Mayfest, Bristol

‘Can you walk on broken glass?’ was the urgent question with which I was greeted as I was shown to my seat in a loft above Bristol Old Vic.

‘Erm, I don’t think so.’ I replied, feeling more than a little daft. But at least my question was in English – the previous audience member had been greeted in Arabic…

A Thousand Shards of Glass, directed by Jane Packman and written by Ben Pacey, which I saw as part of Bristol’s Mayfest theatre festival, is a one-man show in which sound is central: it is setting, character, plot and dialogue. The result is a small-scale show which punches well above its weight.

Before the show began, performer Lucy Ellinson warned us not to worry too much about the meanings of the words. Instead, she said, we should let them carry us along without clinging on to literal meaning. And indeed it would be impossible to pin down the exact plot of the piece, but here’s an attempt: our main character – Lucy – seemed to have discovered that the world in which she lived had only two dimensions – coffee tasted like the idea of coffee. And in order to burst back into 3D, she had to get to the top of the tallest building in the city, a glass and steel skyscraper, and sing a song she’d heard in the desert. All the time avoiding the were forces who wanted to stop her.

But that makes A Thousand Shards of Glass sound like nothing more than an audiobook version of The Matrix. And while there were elements that clearly echoed science fiction films like Inception, and spy thrillers like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this production is also about something much more everyday. It is a lovesong to reality, an ode to sensation.

Lewis Gibson’s sound design is nothing short of brilliant. Helicopters hover just above the theatre, lift machinery clanks into life and, perhaps most vividly of all, there’s an explosion of shattered glass. In the dark of the theatre, I’m sure I wasn’t the only member of the audience to flinch.

But what made the hour-long production whizz by was the virtuoso performance from Lucy Ellinson, who immediately and entirely engaged our sympathies, leading us through the barely-there plot just as she’d led us to our seats at the beginning.

Thought-provoking, open-ended and produced to an exceptionally high standard: A Thousand Shards of Glass was experimental theatre at its best.

A Thousand Shards of Glass has just finished its UK tour. Visit the Jane Packman Company website for more information about this and other projects.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bristol Old Vic

Handspring Puppet Company, dir. Tom Morris

How do you represent a charm on stage? How do you conjure a retinue of fairies? How do you show a man transformed into a donkey?

Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company are at their best when tackling the impossible. Their best-known venture in the UK is War Horse (how do you create a horse with enough personality to charm an audience?) and now they’ve again joined forces with that production’s director, Tom Morris, with a very different story in their sights.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems, at first, to be the perfect play for the Handspring treatment. It has illusion at its heart, questions of truth, identity and play-acting. And yet, it is also one of Shakespeare’s most human works: who doesn’t recognise their young self in the four impetuous lovers? Who hasn’t been angry, jealous, dizzy over love? And it’s this examination of a very human emotion that is lost in Handspring’s stagecraft.

Tom Morris’s production at Bristol Old Vic transfers the action to a workshop space. In Vicki Mortimer’s design the stage is surrounded by half-painted planks, tools, hanging dust-sheets. The set has the half-finished coming-into-being appearance that is the trademark of Handspring’s puppets. The cast wear loose jeans, dungarees and checked shirts.

The four human lovers – Hermia played by Akiya Henry, Demetrius played by Kyle Lima, Helena by Naomi Cranston and Lysander by Alex Felton – all have a puppet version of themselves. They each both play the role and operate their puppet self. Sometimes they direct their speech at an actor, sometimes their puppet. The result is distraction and dilution. During the one scene in which the mini-lovers are abandoned completely as the two men fight over Helena, who in turn scraps with Hermia, it feels like an exhilarating release and a pity that actors of this calibre are hampered by cumbersome – and largely unnecessary – puppets.

There are nice moments: when Hermia tells Lysander to ‘lie further off’ the two actors exchange puppets in a neat ornament on the theme of Shakespeare’s text.

Where the puppetry does work, however, is in Morris’s imagining of the fairy world. Puck is a pulsating jumble of floating workshop objects – now a dog, now a giant (although it also reminded me of the computer game character Rayman…). Peaseblossom, Cobweb and Mustardseed are at once endearing and menacing. One leans towards the audience sing-songing ‘kissy-kissy’ before its mouth snaps open to show sharpened fangs and its eyes turn red.

But Bottom is the heart of this production. His transformation is nothing short of astonishing. Miltos Yerolemou gets laughs in all the right places as we’re introduced to the band of mechanicals. But when he returns – as an ass, the audience’s laughter is disbelief, anarchy. Yerolemou is placed in a contraption which turns him almost entirely upside-down, his bare bottom (see what they did there?) in the air, two donkey ears attached to his feet. It is the most imaginative moment in the production by some way – though obviously presents some challenges to the actor as he tries to deliver his lines…

This is the not the dream Dream but there are moments which capture the vertiginous anarchy of Shakespeare’s story. There is a sense that Handspring and Morris are still experimenting and the end result might yet be an astonishingly rude, ravishingly sexy evening of revels. But it’s not there yet.

A Midsummer Night’s Drear runs at Bristol Old Vic until 4 May

Peter Pan, Bristol Old Vic: review

4 stars

‘I rather expected she’d be prettier’ says Wendy of Tinker Bell and I imagine much of the audience thought the same. In Sally Cookson’s production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, Tinkerbell is not exactly the daintiest of fairies. In fact, she’s a man.

Cookson, whose last adventure at Bristol Old Vic was to Treasure Island, has created a Peter Pan with grit. Neverland is an industrial building site, Captain Hook wears a kilt and Peter carries a knife…

Read the rest of my review of this production on The Independent’s website here

Coasting, Bristol Old Vic Studio: review

3 stars

Fruit machines in the amusement arcade flare and bleep, waves crash over the shingle and a dead body lies on the beach. This is the twilight world of Natalie McGrath’s Coasting, the first full-length play to come out of Bristol Old Vic’s new-work programme, Ferment.

Pearl and Ocean live on the edge of respectable society: they flirt with criminality, they loiter under the pier at night and hide from Falcon, the chief of police. But then they spot the body on the beach and Ocean gets involved with a gangster. In the hands of director Emily Watson-Howes, it has moments of real power. But those moments are scattered through an evening that feels self-consciously showy and ultimately frustrates…

Read my full review of ‘Coasting’ on The Independent’s website here

Treasure Island, Bristol Old Vic: review

4 stars

A ship has dropped anchor in Bristol. There’s nothing unusual in that, perhaps. But this one is on dry land, parked outside the Old Vic Theatre and overrun by 18th-century pirates.

The theatre space of the Old Vic is closed for redevelopment. But director Sally Cookson, not one to be deterred by the lack of a theatre, decided to construct a stage on the Old Vic’s doorstep for her production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island…

Read the rest of my review of ‘Treasure Island’ on The Independent’s website here

Swallows and Amazons, Bristol Old Vic: review

A sea breeze made the curtains dance, water lapped against the moored sailing boats and cormorants swirled overhead. But we hadn’t even left the auditorium: the wind was created with a piece of canvas and a drum, the water by lighting and the cormorants by some bin bags.

Swallows and Amazons Bristol Old Vic

Tom Morris’ production of Swallows and Amazons is a tribute to the power of the mind. Arthur Ransome’s original story of the six children who spend the summer on Wildcat Island fighting imagined enemies and hiding from make-believe barbarians is itself a testament to children’s imaginative powers. Morris’ production simply carries on the good work.

The set is almost non-existent. Swallow, the children’s boat is simply hinted at by a sail and a couple of planks of wood. Everywhere in this production, the audience are allowed to fill in the gaps: a parrot is created from a feather duster and a pair of secateurs. Robert Innes Hopkins’ design encourages the audience to mimic the imaginative process of the children on stage.

Swallows and Amazons boat and doll

The brilliant freebies from the programme

And what an energetic lot they are. Susan, played by Rosalie Craig, is motherly and fretful – but no less keen on adventure, while John Walker (Stuart McLoughlin) is the lanky, serious-minded older brother. Akiya Henry as Titty is outgoing, bubbly and adventurous: a scene where she leaps into the “sea” elicits a gasp from the audience. For a split second you forget there’s no water and that she’s leaping through the air into the arms of six other actors.*

Stewart Wright steals a few of the scenes as the youngest of the intrepid explorers, Roger. His tantrums are hilarious and his mannerisms exactly mirror those of the toddlers I was sitting next to. Until the second half, I didn’t even clock that he hadn’t bothered to shave his beard off to play the role, so compelling was his characterisation.

The stagecraft of the show cannot be faulted: Tom Morris has created a show which reminds the audience not only of the power of the imagination but of the power of theatre. However, the show is let down by one key element: the songs. The production is in fact a new musical, by Helen Edmundson and Neil Hannon, and with only one or two exceptions, the numbers are eminently forgettable.

Amazon pirates Nancy and Peggy Blackett (played by the brilliant Celia Adams and Amy Booth-Steel) get the best songs by far and sing with childish relish about walking the plank and using guts for garters. They liven the stage up and provide a much-needed balance to the somewhat po-faced Walker children.

Morris has created a brilliant piece of theatre which makes adults into children and children into pirates. Swallows and Amazons is a masterclass in stagecraft. And besides anything else, the programme is brilliant.

*A note: In Or You Could Kiss Me essentially the same stunt was performed with puppets and in my review I said such a stunt was only possible with a puppet. I have been breath-takingly proved wrong.

4/54Comedy Masks