Category Archives: 2021
28 May – 27 June
To my mind the name ‘The Wyre lady of Fleetwood’ sounded like something to look forward to, as it went it was the most touching play of the deep interactions and conversations about painful but loving memories. In this Brighton Fringe example they showed the world through photographs and in the documentary style feature movies with changing scenes that all came together; amply providing something of a story telling bonanza. It was so rich with characters that I found myself a little lost at times but that just contributed to the fine levels of performances by all five participants.
The moving 1st scene was of a mother in the throes of life sitting on her stairs with a brew. It was Julie Broadbent’s time to shine. The footage was without sound, only a handful of pictures to tell the story. One scene had a dilapidated lane and in it it viewed a fence to look like bars.
So it began with Dads funeral; we followed the camera around beaches and iconic buildings. Every pan had one more memory one more tear to savour. But this was a tribute to a man who was so well considered by all to be of the greatest influence. She described him in his Armani suit. But she was upset for many reasons, loss of husband, son ran away to London and she was about to resettle after lifetimes in her house.
The screen suddenly changed and we had a different contributor in front of us. I think telling a tale to match the previous one to show the same feelings of life’s fragility. We were combed through Dad going to jail but he didn’t care about that (but that it was a long breakout). He didn’t care, not because he was reckless but that he did care a lot.
Other people knew this story as they had known the successful man and were endeared by his mysterious rise in life; a man so great as to befall many fates of riches and poverties. So to recap the mothers story her husband’s death, her son lost in London and she’s having to leave the family home, tears are in her eyes.
We were shipped out to sea next when his travels took him to fishing in his fathers’ fishing boat. The Wyre lady is a large and impressive vessel of the 1930s. But I think this story meant it as a pleasure cruise. The writer Lita Doolan thought of everything in a dynamic whirlwind of the husband’s life. After these separate but connected dialogues were enacted we returned to the fragile but optimistic mother. Who was set on finding her son or rather for her son finding her in her new economically sufficient place of unfamiliar surroundings.
There was no choice, only to follow the set things that were going to happen for her. She left us with a strong but broken message about this man who many loved for all kinds of reasons. Who achieved and accomplished in his life, a life people wanted to follow and to get to know. He was smarter and wiser in his compassion and carefulness standing out for them and definitely given to any circumstance. The effect rolling from her tongue had us right there to comfort her.
28th May – 27th June
At Brighton’s 2021 Fringe festival ‘Hymns of a sparrow’ turned into a jewel of a play performed with only one participant. He stood bare from the waist up with a very fit looking body and wore a very loose fitting pair of colourful stripy trousers. This wonderfully written act began in African where we were somehow able to translate what was going on from his gestures and tone of voice. He was having big problems with his neighbour’s cows. As we focused on a bird song being played we were given to the character Simlindile singing softly to himself. In his African dialogue he was already in conversation with his neighbour.
As he took our attention he crouched down to perch on a small stool signify his problems also frantically running around trying to herd the pesky cows. After speaking this African act at length he shouted out in English “They are jealous”. Was there more going on that we did not yet know about?
The floor space was huge as he filled it with different characters who debated his cow issues. He became animated when it was needed and quiet and cheerful. We could tell that from his African his seriousness was conveyed in conversations from his eyes and in the expressions on his face. He took one of the pivotal moments, which were around every turn when he screamed to his adversary “Allow me to follow my heart!”
The cows issue started to get entwined as a matter of law. Which he navigated his way around and brought in the characters he needed to solve the matter. The idea of detaining the cows was struck in a bizarre scene as he played an old man with a walking stick. A means of punishment was suggested in the means of detainment of cows which wasn’t fair because the cows were completely innocent. For the farmer became also inflamed about the problem wandering what the fuss was about.
It was a tale we could all recognise even though we are not all farmers but then tragedy struck as mother and daughter were killed in a car collision. So the story changed and took on a whole new meaning with the cow problem yet to be resolved but with the collision there was a new twist of a situation that could not be defused. Our man went mad with grief kicking off and screaming in agony.
The old man then became a spokesman for the people who were horrified by the collision after learning that it was caused by youthful carelessness. And so he arose to condemn the act as “… a horrifying mistake.” That it had never happened before to this community he became enraged and warned his youth that they had become “…way out of hand.” Through his passion we still felt that his strong words were in danger of being ignored and left behind. Back as a young man he transposed to the world for a “…change of community…” and he became an advocate for needed resistance to nation treating other nations without respect even having a belittling treatment that has always been frowned upon.
In this play he reached out to humanity using the situational stories that were wound together through community. And after all he was in a forgiving mood towards us exclaiming quietly in the wholesome words “…we are who we are meant to be…” and with a final act he heard a bell from above and cocked his head to the sound. As he sang quietly with the sparrow song; he was comforted. Because everywhere sparrow songs are the hymns for the morning as the bird’s springs into the day with a new song. An enlivening performance of a brilliant play.
This play had all bases covered in storytelling, physical enterprise, with a journey that all in all felt like a fair play scenario and something given to the correct amount of time. Excluding the harsh lesson of the accident, he played each role in a seamless and remarking performance without a problem and gave it the exultant nudge to harness the story. A show to be sought after well worth having a good look at.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
28th May – 27th June, 2021
The 2021 Brighton Fringe is seeing a return to attending the live performance, which after a year of quarantine will bring joy to many. Offering an abundance of shows to scroll through and plan for. ‘Sparkly bird’ was for me a happy return to the theatre that has been sorely missed. For the welcome performance of ‘Sparkly bird’ I was excited. The Brighton Fringe is well known around the globe as a pioneering shining light for theatrical events. The show got down to business beginning quickly straight into Kat Lee’s written and directed eulogy of a dear ones suicide.
‘Sparkly bird’ was a musical, theatrical, dance and screen compilation that had the life and death of Suzanna Reine at heart who took her own life in 2004 at the tender age of 36.
The venue was for a smartly personalised dressed presentation with long drapes for movie footage and had the band in a row. The acts had specially segregated themes to give tribute to Suzanna whose feelings were brought back to life. A trapeze hung in the heart of the stage where we were treated to dancing and acrobatics of our two dances by Catherin Ben Abbes, and Miz Wells.
Kat lee-Ryan’s sad times show presented the story through compassion so honestly made with joy in the heart produced by the well known; Bad Times Sound, We went through everything with Kat in her examination of Suzanna unfolding many points of view also raising compelling points with the power of music, dance and screen behind it. She sang of the painful disbelief that sudden loss always has.
With the face of Suzanna in a portrait shaped camera angle it took hold of us with an expression of pain and being overcome. The dance of the two was of her aloneness as she danced in solo but then joined in partnership with someone who held her as she fell and as she fainted.
The narration came at important moments with Simon Goodman who offered spoken insights of the tale; he would repeatedly and at intervals read out loud from his clip board dressed in a fine looking smoking jacket, though he was on her side. Kat Lee’s emotions in the development of her profound connection with the phases of the music going from deep upsetting grief to tune’s playing the sweetest and most playful song of memories when life felt complete.
The air of respect and roaring tenderness clasped the hands of Suzanna’s story and her journey. Following her around the many act performance was an enriching walk through the taste and truth of her life with attention grabbing capable vocals, commanding and sure.
These are two lines of Suzanna’s ups and downs on top of the world to being way down in desolation and blackness; “I think I’m superman…up in my room.” Where “…sometimes it all falls down.” A beautiful recollection of a so short life appreciated as a wonderful show and in the most appropriate way brought to our attention the grievous world of suicide. The reddish glow of light, the darker stages, the in-between surreal moments caught by camera coupled with spangly costumes made this sparkly bird a vision to enjoy, this was the highest tribute ever.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
28th May – 27th June, 2021
With the Brighton fringe underway I found my way to ‘Effing robots: How I taught A.I. to stop worrying and love humans’ which was performed by L Nicole Cabe of Giant Nerd productions. She appeared on screen with black on either side as a simple online discussion offering introductions to who she was as a person and what her passions were, self admitting a pull towards sex. She was setting us up for an hour of extremely well informed information about A.I. With twists and turns of the monologue that gave up a real sense of personal consideration towards our A.I. education.
She well knew that today the infiltration of technology can nowhere be ignored by anyone, as having cemented a place in the hearth of our very living rooms. She has taken the show on for a few years and is a hardened contributor to the Brighton Fringe itself.
She took us lovingly in hand making it work for us, delivering her messages in her role as an important informer. Her love of technology transferred onto us to greater and greater levels, in an accuracy that levelled the playing field. It was about how well we know programmes and apps, but dropped a few grenades that she smoothed over by delving into sexual problems of males in society, using America for compelling example.
She made no bones of censorship when she suggested that our human and super human happenings are because we are all already cyborg’s! Cyborg’s who are interconnected with lap tops, video games with the formation of communities of what she called a wider tribe. The monologue was peppered with her outgoing personality calling herself a self absorbed Artist, joking about online dating. This aspect allowed her to investigate how far ahead her theories are on A.I. taking over.
But her take wasn’t like a 1984 warning it was in fact the polar opposite of that. It was her embracing of the self revealing roots that robot’s or as she called them sex – bots are at the point of being a fact that cases the love we have for ourselves which is actually being increased with A.I. interaction. And that at this stage the primary function of technology is for understanding humans.
She had role reversal experiments to enhance her across the board opinions on this new highly effective state of human and machine relations. It was clearly visible that her take on tech has been long established and that the intimacy between them is offering an unignorable relationship of clearly positive and powerful promise of things to come.
Refreshing, dynamic, reasonable very well mannered joking with us kept the hour to a speedy pace in an interaction that was full of masterful presentation. It was fun, informative and giving of things that many of us are unaware of. I’m happy to leave these things be for now but I’m now more than curious to see the next level of this new integration so well executed by Miss Cabe who played the robot and the human teacher of love’s new possibilities.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
Brighton Fringe, 20201
May 28 – June 27
Kate Maravan is an exceptional actress with a polish’d pedigree. From wherever in the world, & from wither which angle, her one woman play – The Old House – is nothing but enjoyable. Some will like it more than others, that’s for sure, but no-one will ever dismiss the play; it is too raw, too tender, too well done to ever think otherwise.
The crux of the content is a mother-daughter getaway to a former holiday home by the sea, somewhere beyond Chelmsford. The daughter is approaching middle-age & the mother definitely has dementia’s onset hovering over all her actions & words. Kate swaps between the two characters with a snap & a flop, tansitioning seamlessly with a well-timed face wrinkle, or a relocation of the head’s angle.
Kate: We’re off to the old house, all the way to the coast
Mother: The old house, we had some wonderful summers at the old house
Inbetween these scenes we have various slices of the most marvellous performance poetry; it really is stuff well-written & recited just as well. Overall this minimalist masterpiece of mime, rhyme & memories is more than a fine watch, & more of a radio play than a physical play, & it positively works as a stream. The Old House literally pulses with life; while the subject matter of decaying mind & fraying consciousness is handl’d supremely delicately, born from the fact the play is an elegy to Kate’s own mother’s battles with the perilous & unforgiving wastelands of old age.
‘The Old House’ is the second play I’ve seen in the streaming age. The first was full of live action, sets & props, & I didn’t really enjoy it. The Old House, however, with only a smattering of sound effects to coax the mind into its cosy bosom, was something I got into &, dare say, enjoy’d. Not for everybody, but for those who its is for (you know who you are), The Old House is an entertaining spectacle of professionalism, love & joi de vivre.
Damian Beeson Bullen
Leeds Playhouse 50th
19 – 29 May, 2021
It seemed that for the Leeds Playhouse 50th year celebration the number 6 was at the centre of everything. The online unfolding of six stories was written by six directed, by six, performed by six. The gentle performance of simple monologue showed all kinds of sides to stories that come from the troubled yet hopeful experience of many people today.
They honed in on the life experiences of all six acts. It was nice to see real theatre again after what has felt like a drought (to use a serious yet dispassionate word). But the passion that arose from these interpersonal conferences didn’t leave us until the end. The event was called Decades: Stories from the city which cut into the six decades from 1970s till 2020s. It began with gusto when the video revealed the scrawny dressed Isobel Coward as the endearing character Loz.
Named ‘Nicer than orange squash’ by Alice Nutter, the fresh dialogue was fit to bring us into this world of Leeds traditions of a love for grass roots culture which as we know can be choppy stuff. This 30 min experience took us into the many worries and ups and downs of poor or rich Loz. She seemed through this story telling to live a courageous life but in the turns and twists of her story her faith in life was shaken and even disturbed when it hit her that she was singled out by her fellow squatters as being less than human and so discarded.
But for her greater, more naive moments she would join protests against the government with flying passion. The short play held the flag up for Leeds to generate its powerful, exemplary stance as a place whose roots lie at the heart of it. Even in the ‘Nicer than orange squash’ which served as the perfect introduction to the 5 other plays or monologues to come. We were ready to receive.
So onto the second performance of recollection called: ‘The Bodyguard’ by Simon Armitage, which was set in a bedroom with (Conner Elliot) as Wilf sitting on it. For which we were ready for second phase of event. He spoke about his mother, family and about his tastes and young preferences, being but a boy. His reflections mirrored the time period of the 1970s accompanied by his clothing and bedroom decor. It was like an iconic take of the written word where he behaved fully and then emptily as to correctly follow his experience through the emotion of a young man. Sometimes comedically prancing other times more down or low choosing to sit on the floor.
For the 2000s decade we were treated to ‘The unknown’ (mysterious) by Leanna Benjamin: another short piece but with the now customary plethora of subject information. We were now at a stage of leaning into these lives that were being represented and were created for representation of the heart of Leeds itself. Set in her apartment, which was of nice furniture, we joined Nicola Batha (who played Sophia a young woman in the progress of the 2000s). She would laugh with glee when recalling her life that we were to see was filled with loss and heart ache.
At this point of revelations we were intimately involved in her performance as Sophia who walked around compassion and sensitivity and who listened and sang to songs of the time. We think she passes as the play ends but not before losing her beloved mother “I want my mum” was one of the final things she said. These plays were written to be felt and endured for such is the fate (apparent) of grass roots love.
The title of play number 4 of the 1990s was ‘Don’t you know it’s going to be alright’ which was set outdoors where a lonely figure of Eva Scott as Denny at and quickly produced a can of beer. She took us round the drugs world of the time but not really from the point of view of being any criminal until her sister was arrested during a rave of hundreds of people. As she spoke we went along with her through revelations and effects on her personal character and the character of the life she has found to live. But even after everything she finds that indeed don’t you know it’s going to be alright: As she makes a step in the right direction.
In the second to last performance Akiel Dowe as Jamie in Stan Owens ‘Pie in the bus stop’ set indeed at a bus stop in the city. We saw the very capable act of what turned out to be an exercise in discovering responsibility. Family and friendship was explored at every turn of these short plays. And in this one the phone rang and rang as his mother doted over him.
He wanted to start life as something, finding it hard to do when listening to different perspectives. He came up with the idea of music but his mother’s needs were great and too important for him to do anything but lovingly look after her. He became enflamed when given the choice between music or mother and left us with the line or rather the thought that maybe a bus stop is no place for decision making which was actually profound.
And now at the height of it but not for the fun of it we had Cassie Layton play the damaged Layla. The final decade was to be the 2010s in a short play by Kamal Kaan’s ‘And after we sail a thousand skies’ a work that earned this great title. We were at this height of finality when we saw her sitting at a cafe as we zoomed in she was perplexed by news she was listening to. She becomes upset and we were about to find out why.
As a stranger sits with her she smiles and engages in talk. But it soon followed that she has been through the worst possible thing of running from her home to find somewhere she can she put her freedom and safety in her great love of music. Her parent gave her this function when she was young but the same person had her tongue cut out during terrifying times abroad.
The control of emotion was as hard a thing as we are likely to see and so was of the best production. There were no barriers here no censorship at least not within because once you’ve come through such that the seemingly broken song will stand the test of time. The play came as honestly as it could, as Layla broke down and looked on in horror and wonder.
And in time, after certain directions, she stood tall with a guitar in hand to say yes but I can sing my song. And in her last words she sang; “England take me in your soil”, I flood with gushing sadness”, “Is this the place where we belong?”, “your lost words echo in my head” , We’ll meet again someday” , “This is the place we all belong”.
So the images, the differing sets, the six different actors, directors and performances built up with graceful direction from creative team to lighting made a great procession of life to life and world to world. Bonded together whirling up and up through some pain and suffering, through all these things and still to come up with music, experience or musing there was room for all of this in short 25 – 30 minute plays. An accomplished event that makes you grow perhaps from grass roots.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
Bristol Old Vic
26-29 May, 2021
Welcome to the dawn of a new age. The pent-up passions of Theatre have broken forth onto a 21st century stage fully surrounded by socially-distanced theatregoers, hidden cameras & computers beaming out live streams to the planet. It begins, for me, at the famous Bristol Old Vic, where in 1831 Paganini played his violin, & in 2021, David Grieg’s Touching The Void was returning to its home, having premiered there in 2018. the play itself is based on the 1988 book of the same name by Joe Simpson, which was adapted into a docudrama film in 2003.
I must say I enjoy’d the experience – the quality & clarity of the picture was so sharp. I was led down on a bed, feet up also, very comfy – no scrunch’d up seatsitting & squirming at the coughers; but then again no special sense of excitement at getting dressed up & driving to the theatre. However, there’s nothing wrong with attending your local stages while watching shows across the world & thus Theatreland – & its audience – will be renrichen’d for it.
Touching the Void is a ‘West End Smash’ & it does have a certain populist appeal. The production offers extremely simple storytelling, tho’ done professionally well, & with wonderful effects. It fundamentally tells the story of the unattempted beforehand climb of the 6,344-metre west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes by two English climbers. The play opens at a pub wake for one of the climbers, Joe Simpson, whose sister Sarah – played by the actorial the star of the show, Fiona Hampton- is searching for answers & truths about her brother, who doesn’t feel dead to her.
Indeed, Joe soon turns up as a living memory as the story of his & co-climber SimonYates’ South American adventure unfolds throughout the rest of the play. As the tale progressess, we are given glimpses of the cool spartan elitism that climbers have crown’d their days & egos with. Having watch’d The Dawn Wall film I now have a basic familiarity with the passion & drive of these feral intrepids, & while that film was exhilarating & often terrifying, attempting to recreate the drama of such a purely natural phenomena as ‘ape-climbs-rock’ is ultimately, for me, dissatisfying as theatrical spectacle. It look’d amazing, for sure, & there were some lovely dialogues & vignettes; but as an old skool kinda guy the Dionysian stage is meant for a different kind of drama than dangling on a rope.
The second half carried in much the same vein as the first, with no sub-plots to speak of apart from the presence of Sarah as a verbal foil for the thoughts of a severely wounded Joe. The fact that we know he must have survived the ordeal, else the book would never have been written which inspired the film & then the play; renders the whole experience of the play as like reading an extremely well-made & particularly pretty wikipedia page. But I was watching this struggle for survival from a very different posture as normal. ‘The New Normal.’ Perhaps If I had been within meters of the stage, nerves bristling to the swells of action & the yells of actors, I may have been more moved to the desperation & the dangers. I will have to watch the play live one day to reason a sounder judgement.
In the overall scheme of streaming things it is very early days of course, even Wagner was thought vulgar at the start of his career, but I think the choosing of which plays to stream is going to be vital. It is rather like transcreating poetry in a foreign language & TV theatre must naturally rarely retain the magic of the original. From now on all the Theatre World can do is Refine! Refine! Refine!
Damian Beeson Bullen