Blink at Bristol Old Vic

 

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So, there’s this boy, Jonah, left a tiny fortune by his dead mum. He’s alone. And there’s this girl, Sophie, suffering a similar loss, without the hard cash but with the flat that her dad has recently bequeathed her. Alone. Lonely. They are invisible: he is dressed in grey, she in beige. 

The boy moves away from the northern family farm that he has been (pointlessly?) guarding and travels to London, where he takes up lodgings beneath his new landlady, Sophie. But he doesn’t yet know that.  

She’s mischievous in her solitary existence and decides to send the boy downstairs a camera link, so that he can watch her every move. And he does.  The pair embark on a journey of togetherness, without openly acknowledging the other.  They travel around London.  Side by side.  Apart.  He is the voyeur; she is the watched.  Until …

He has a reason to be constantly by her side, every moment, caring, watching, waiting.

Blink is the story of two young people who are sick in their loneliness and may even be able to find solace, love and warmth.  It’s the tale of being alone yet, perhaps, not wanting to be.

Blink is about how two people can find each other against the odds. But also about how fleeting love can be.

Lizzie Watts and Thomas Pickles are convincing in their independent monologues, each sharing their lives with us, the audience, and with each other.   But it is evident that something is not right, something has to give – her stubbornness? His persistence?

We came away from the Studio Pit at Bristol Old Vic feeling deflated.  Is that all there is to love?  What does it take to tear down crumbling walls?  A word? An action?  Does one person feel annoyed, or even hounded, while the other is left wondering what on earth just happened?

Well acted, witty and intimate, Blink is showing at Bristol Old Vic until 1st March.

 

– Review by Becky Condron

 

 

 

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Jane Eyre at Bristol Old Vic

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Despite the fact that they don’t yet accept the Bristol Pound, Bristol Old Vic is easily one of the places I most like to be.  The dedication of this venue to offering relatively inexpensive, first-class entertainment draws an audience to it, making us feel part of the team: even those of us who aren’t too familiar with, say, classic plays or novels.  Last year, A Midsummer Night’s Dream had this Shakespeare virgin ready for a theatrical orgy, Tristan & Yseult got us sighing with love and song and The Little Mermaid made us twinkly eyed.

Jane Eyre takes such excellence to another realm.  This, maybe one of England’s best known love stories, has been deemed worthy of two parts by Director Sally Cookson.  The book isn’t exactly a tome, so why bother?  We saw Jane Eyre over two nights – in fact, we all but devoted our weekend to it; it has been noted that it takes a committed theatre goer to do this, especially if you don’t live in the city.  But, oh my, it was worth it!

10 actors and musicians own the stage that resembles a wooden playground, many of them adopting multiple roles with perfect versatility.   I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was 30, without pressure from an English Literature exam but simply because I wanted to.  Parts of it made me sad, others angry and, at times, it allowed me to almost touch romance.  Our Old Vic weekend brought back these emotions in floods over and again, as I became excited knowing that Jane was about to meet Him for the first time, that, NO, that voice does not belong to Grace Poole and that Mason would bring the whole, flawed wedding party crashing down.

In the title role, Madeline Worrall plays a strong, wilful heroine, laden with grief, always questioning, ”unjust, unjust.”  I wanted to soothe her, to tell her it would be alright, thankful for my own life as a woman in 21st Century Britain.  I didn’t much care for her Mr Rochester, portrayed by Felix Hayes, but then I didn’t in the book, always feeling that Jane was ‘above’ him – so, yes, I must concede, almost grudgingly, that Hayes plays the bumbling, brooding Gent to very good effect indeed.

Cookson’s Jane Eyre is a story very well told and so easily digested.  But the high quality of the acting here makes it difficult to pin down anyone as outstanding except …

The music!   Centre left of the stage, just up there on the slope, stands a huddle of instruments and we are left unsure as to who is playing which, such is the fluidity of their masters.  Composer and Musical Director, Benji Bower, gives Jane Eyre a melancholic, intoxicating, comedic element that no words ever could.  And, as Bertha Mason, Melanie Marshall is the only character not dressed in appropriately muted Nineteenth Century attire; her red dress is as vibrant as her singing voice.  She’s always there, menacing, impossible to escape!   I have an almost urgent need to reread Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea to once again familiarise myself with her, the first Mrs Rochester.    The only disappointment is that Marshall doesn’t scale Michael Vale’s tall wooden structure to scream madly from the rafters and throw herself from its heights.  But, then again, perhaps she doesn’t need to. Maybe that voice is enough.

Whenever Jane is off again, running away, or being sent there,  I want to climb into that unseen carriage with her and the rest of the cast, who also play her inner voice, her personal madness, just to jog/dance alongside them to the beat and the heart-pacing repetition of the voice(s) of the coach master.  The music of Jane Eyre is so powerful that, as soon as we got home, we gave ourselves a fix of those songwriters that Bower’s score either reminded us of – Mark Hollis, Terry Riley (by Bang on a Can), Brian Eno – or that which was more explicit – Dinah Washington, Gnarls Barkley and, then, more Benji Bower.

I might have to admit that, this time, I’m at a bit of a loss for words.  There is a danger that, on reviewing Jane Eyre, only a stream of superlatives will pour out.  It may be the best piece of theatre you’ll see this year!  Enough said?

– Review by Becky Condron

Jane Eyre runs at Bristol Old Vic until 29th March

That Catherine Bennett Show at Bristol Old Vic

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Taylor is 9 years old and, in a world of uniformity, she is bored of being told not what to do but WHO TO BE.   And pop stars, in particular, aren’t they just all the same – same look, same hair, always singing about love or lack of it?   What about individuality, whatever happened to that?  What about those songstresses of old – Aretha, Joni, Madonna, Kate?  Now they had some oomph …

On a week long stay at her Aunty Bryony’s, Taylor reviews, imagines, reinvents and plots.  With brilliant rapport, the two women create a brand new pop star, based on what a 9 year old might want a role model to be – a community driven, kind, safe, successful, hard-working, animal loving type of woman.   And all that sex? Get rid of that.  And, while we’re at it, let’s have a pop star with curly hair (“they never have curly hair’) and glasses, make-up on just for fun, skirts below the knee, sensible shoes that she won’t fall over in, a back pack to carry about all her pop star related stuff.

Catherine Bennett is born.

Bryony Kimmings plays the cool, understanding aunt.  She tells Taylor about Emeline Pankhurst, helping her to see that all we really need in life is belief and courage.   She transforms herself into her niece’s pop star dream, bringing a roll of new songs that actually mean something: songs about animals and kindness, apathy, human rights and a voice for kids, freedom of speech, equality, the future!

We can do this, we can visit schools, reach the kids, be on Radio 1!  Everything here feels very real, genuine.

Backed by 2 miserable dancers (because no-one is happy all the time and CB can’t dance very well), who are also comical, Catherine Bennett sparkles in her ordinariness.  Audience participation is high and members are invited to design a new future, to play instruments, to explore palaeontology, to dress up, to imagine …

There is a Lily Allenesque aspect to CB, you know when she first hit the scene in her flouncy dresses and different look, singing about bullying, society’s obsession with weight loss, city life gone bad and making the world a better place?

Aimed at 6 to 9 year olds, That Catherine Bennett Show is an ode to females everywhere, a call to arms to help our daughters be who they want to be.  Boys should go too, see for themselves that girls also like martial arts and just being themselves.

My 7 year old girl came out of the Bristol Old Vic and said straight away, “I want to be a Doctor.”  Within the hour – “I want to make a new invisible friend” and “I’m going to invent a new rap.”  Her new friend is an entirely black badger, save the splash of white on his tail, and her rap is called My Friendly Street.  We’ll have to work for a bit longer on the former.  Right now, she’s upstairs, rehearsing her new show; I can hear her singing.

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Thank you, Catherine Bennett – you can come round to ours for a cup of tea anytime.

Be sure to check out CB’s website, complete with videos, songs and a blog.  Let’s celebrate girls and women.  Let’s be who we are!  Who we want to be!

– by Becky Condron and Celeste Condron

That Catherine Bennett Show is on at Bristol Old Vic until 22nd February

Tea Time at the Brewery Theatre

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I am 4 and my Daddy and me took a trip up to the Tobacco Factory to watch Tea Time,  a short play by Danielle and Jessy aimed at 2 to 6 year olds,  We had fun.  The small theatre at the Brewery Factory was near to its 140 capacity with lots of children around my age and their mummies and daddies.

The set looked like it had been drawn by a child, but in a good way, with wonky cookers and a funny cat.  The 2 actors spent time before the start of the show mingling with the audience and chatting to all us children.  This was fun and I was able to tell Danielle about the pizza I had made the day before.  Daddy liked Danielle too because she was pretty.

Within a minute of the play starting, I was in fits of giggling at Danielle and Jessy being all silly and girly on the stage.  The 2 actors have a funny, childlike way about them as they explain how they were best buddies and they like eating food together.  The humour was great for my age, with a couple gags in there just for the parents to enjoy as well so that they were not left out.

Danielle and Jessy brought lots of laughter as they tried to out do each other with how hungry they were.  Jessy said, “I could eat a swimming pool!”  Then Danielle said, “Yeah, well I could eat a swimming pool and all the armbands!”  Then Jessy said, “Well, I could eat a swimming pool, all the arm bands and all the swimmers!” etc.  They also get around to making some dinner using ingredients from a magic cupboard, then end up making a magnificent castle out of it instead.  My favourite part was with the chocolate mousse (no spoiler), before they have to hunt for the hamburglers who keep stealing the food.

It was total silly nonsense and all the children loved it.  There were songs, jokes, slapstick antics and more silly nonsense, and I really liked the 2 actresses and my Daddy said watching me scream with laughter was priceless.

Daddy said – “I would have liked a bit more audience participation.”  Although the 2 actresses talked to all the children at the start, this level of interaction faded once the show started.  There were plenty of opportunities for the audience to get involved but it wasn’t really explored or exploited – but then again I do love a good pantomime (Oh no I don’t.  Oh yes I do!).  It was a bit like a panto, or Justin’s House on CBeebies, but without the audience participation.  Maybe it was the audience I was with, I don’t know, but I wanted to shout “It’s behind you” and sing along to the songs but nobody else was.  But then I get up and do the dances with Amy when watching Milkshake on Channel 5 in the morning – I just can’t help myself.

All us children watching sat mesmerised for the full 50 minutes of the show and we all cheered at the end.  So if you are looking for some live entertainment and can get your mummy or daddy to the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, it is definitely worth a trip.  Just beware of the hamburglers!

– By Willow Bowen, aged 4

Tea Time is on at Brewery Theatre until Sunday 23rd February