Savage Children: Wild Girl at the Old Town Quarry, Weston

We’ve been saying for years that Weston’s Old Town Quarry would lend itself perfectly to a whole range of outdoor events – theatre, concerts, festivals even. Despite being minutes on foot from the centre of town, nestled safely yet menacingly above Grove Park, it’s a space so underused that many have never even visited.

So, thank you The Theatre Orchard for realising this and for bringing a piece so well suited to (what often feels like) our own personal haven of tranquility among the trees and age-old stone.  And, look, it really must be a secret, so minuscule is the audience who have come to enjoy Wild Girl, a story of love, beauty, nature, strength and hope.

And could there be a tale this perfectly suited to such a setting?

Wild Girl is part of the touring Savage Children, a collaboration between Bristol Old Vic, Dukes Playhouse (Lancaster), Theatr Iolo (Cardiff) and the egg (Bath).  2 actors, a handful of onlookers, birds, butterflies.

“There’s a Girl.  Have you seen her?”

Madame and Monsieur de la Condamine are looking for her.  She’s wild, a savage, but, even so, they miss her presence and her energy.  Wild Girl‘s story is told from the point of view of her two temporarily surrogate parents. Not even parents, barely custodians – no-one can truly look after this free spirit, escaped from the shackles of early Eighteenth Century slavery into the woods of Champagne.

Dean Rehman and Géhane Strehler each, together, give a truly gorgeous performance, relating to us their tale of woe, of love.  They speak earnestly as the childless couple, while acting out the persona of Wild Girl, each in turn, screaming, prancing, tearing around the stage.

As we sit on the grass in the semi-sunshine, facing the severity of the carboniferous limestone, shrouded by the woods above, early summer creatures flying past us, the clangs and tinkers from Nathan the Blacksmith’s workshop to our right, we can really believe that Wild Girl is near, that she will come again.

We stretch out on blankets, three friends cradling their daughters of differing ages (all under 9 years old), our very own Wild Girls, enchanted by these outpourings of parental love before us.

My own moment of awe and beauty is when Monsieur de la Condamine, communicating with Wild Girl through the paintings of his wife, lets go an imaginary blackbird and, overhead, seeming to escape from his very hands, a real flesh and blood bird (a crow or raven, I think) flutters and disappears into the dramatic backdrop of the Old Town Quarry.

My daughter enjoyed it and, though not yet seven years of age, she appeared to catch the nuances of the piece and saw the play through to the end.  During the last ten minutes, she started to tear up grass, mimicking the actions of Wild Girl herself.  And, when the performance finished, I found her pounding the open space of the quarry on all fours, in deference to our heroine, repeating her name over and again, “Me-me, Me-me.”

This was a lovely experience and please, please Theatre Orchard, come back with your one-off shows such as these.  Let’s convince the people of Weston to get behind you – this is too special to lose.

Savage Children is touring in North Somerset with The Theatre Orchard till Saturday 1st June.

– Review by Becky Condron

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Le Navet Bete in Napoleon: A Defence – Brewery Theatre

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4 men, a dozen characters, music, a few props, a daft script, a bloody hoot

Le Navet Bete are at The Brewery Theatre, Bristol, for just over an hour of utter bonkerdom, with Napoleon: A Defence.

Napoleon is holed up just outside Paris (or could that be on a beach in Austria? – Yep, a beach. In Austria!)  –  if the British attack, will the French be able defend?  Will Major Blunt’s disguises be enough to foil the enemy? – he’s a bit of a master, you know, that finger is just … well, it’s just, “Wow.”

We arrive at the Brewery seconds before the show starts and we’re escorted to our seats by Le Navet Bete’s Nick with a warm, humorous welcome.   Audience participation is important to this friendly, Devon-based bunch of talented men – “Fondant fancy anyone?” “Here, love, throw a lettuce.” “Shall we dance?”  And the audience engages fully, no-one getting embarrassed or stage frightened, everyone having a great big ball.

The four actors work so well together – I particularly liked Dan Bianchi’s dead-pan Yorkshireman, Major Blunt, and nothing less than adored Matt Freeman’s beautiful campery (and, yes, his athleticism, his physique …).  I giggled stupidly at Alex Dunn’s gormlessness and shameless spotlight-searching and found myself wailing at Nick Bunt’s yodeling Austrian nun.

I didn’t just laugh; I cried tears, aware of the proper joy coming from my 6 year old next to me and the guffaws of the woman in the seat behind us.

Thank you Alex, Matt, Dan, Nick – we had a riot.    

Catch it if you can – family entertainment at its best.

 

And here’s my daughter’s take on it:

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#wearenotfrench

Napoleon: A Defence is showing at Brewery Theatre, Bristol, until Sat 1st June

– Review by Becky Condron

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean – Bristol Old Vic

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Shona Reppe’s new show, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, offers a delightful journey into a Victorian scrapbook. Page by page, the huge scrapbook provides a delicious window to the past; with evocative smells, images and music of an era gone by all adding to the mystery.

Who was Josephine Bean? Where did she come from?

Slowly an unusual life unfolds before us.

The show is totally engaging and enchanting to watch. It’s guaranteed to have your children tickled and you quietly smiling in your seats.

Now showing at Bristol’s Old Vic, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean is clever, quirky, funny and curious!

One of the most original plays we’ve seen for a long time.

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean is on at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 1st June

– Review by Andrea Harris