The Tinderbox at Bristol Old Vic

Photo by Paul Blakemore

Photo by Paul Blakemore

A couple of weeks ago, when Co-Director and Producer of War Horse said in the main theatre of Bristol Old Vic that we were very lucky indeed to live in (near) a city with so much young theatrical talent, he wasn’t wrong and, with The Tinderbox, the Bristol Old Vic Young Company has 100% proved this rule.

Consider for example, Silva Semerciyan’s script, which takes a seven page fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and turns it into a two hour trip to the Old Vic’s Studio.  We’ve read this tale several times and its lack of depth or analysis always surprises (read annoys) me – why does the soldier act as he does? Why does he even want to get close to a locked-away princess he’s never met?  Why should this be prophecy?   Sermerciyan’s excellent adaptation finally gives answers to those questions left by Andersen’s original.  And this, on the 100th anniversary of the Great War!  “There are no winners; we are fighting each other!”  Very, very poignant.

Or take Hettie Feiler’s accompanying piano throughout the performance – that’s something to shout about, as is Lorenzo Niyongabo’s deep, melodic singing voice in his portrayal of a suitably sinister King, who is always lurking and whittling.  His wife, the Queen, is played with regal strength and maternal melancholy by Beth Collins.  Man, she’s got issues!  Nah, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these two.  Their poor son, the Prince, is brought up to be scared, to desert, to run, Jack Orozco Morrison looking every inch the frightened 19 year old soldier, sent to the front to face death, just like every single other man under the despots’ rule.

How about Dale Thrupp’s Lady in Waiting?  You just know that this woman would never have had her own family and Thrupp brings a comically woeful element to the piece. He fails in his job to guard the Princess, a young woman who is in love with geometry and, although she is famed for her beauty (or at least she’s ‘good-looking’), she has a fine mind indeed.  Krista Matthews plays a very believable pissed-off, eager and inquisitive 16 year-old Princess, who is horrified on uncovering the truth about her Kingdom.  And it’s Fennar Ralston, our Common Soldier, “a Nobody” who, through the prophecy and that there Tinderbox, helps her to realise the misery that her family is responsible for.  Princess, he won me over too – well played.

But all of this would have been a whole lot less without the tightness of the ten actors in the excellent Ensemble, who are inner voices, the townspeople, boy soldiers called Tom and royalty from far-flung places, firmly giving an extra thud of energy to the whole show. They are Life.  And Death.

Erm, no-one on that stage is over 25 years of age?  And many of them a whole lot younger than that?  That really is extraordinarily impressive.

Ooh, and may I just add that I took my 7 year old daughter to see The Tinderbox?  It’s recommended for age 12+ but, with the odd bit of violence (no blood or gruesomeness) and a couple of swear words (I caught a ‘bollocks’ and a ‘bastard’), it was neither laborious nor unsuitable for her.

The Tinderbox plays in the Studio atBristol Old Vic until Saturday 26th April

Photo by Paul Blakemore

Photo by Paul Blakemore


– Review by Becky Condron


Pinocchio at Brewery Theatre


We all know some of the Pinocchio story.  We know that the title character has been made out of wood by Geppetto, a poor Italian carpenter, who wishes for a child that he can love, someone to look after him.  Pinocchio has a famous nose that grows whenever he tells a lie.  In truth, that’s all I did know about the story before today. Surprising, probably!

The Brewery Theatre is full for Hiccup Theatre’s interpretation of this tale.  Four actors, dressed in playful clothes, chat to their audience before the show starts. Their backdrop is an impressive range of musical instruments, which we study and try to remember the names of – banjo, harp, mandolin, violin, piccolo, ukulele, guitar, double bass.  The stage has a certain vibrancy, which bursts into something larger than life when the cast jump into their opening song about the power of imagination. And that music permeates every strand of Hiccup’s Pinocchio – brilliantly executed with every step!

This is a journey of exploration into how we can make just about anything come true. Recommended for ages 3 +, I was slightly concerned that it might be too young for my almost 8 year-old daughter. But not a bit of it! And I enjoyed the energy, colour, music and storytelling as much as she did; we were swept away by the enthusiasm of the actors, lost in a sea of fun.

Hiccup Theatre deliver this piece with riotous elegance, incorporating so much in just under an hour – humour, laughter, opera, crafty animals, fairies, near-tragedy (is Ivan Stott’s very believable Geppeto really crying?) and, of course, puppetry. Pinocchio is played by both a real man, an aptly floppy and child-like Edward Day, and a wooden puppet, which is manoeuvred skillfully by the rest of the cast. That extremely well known writer, Michael Rosen, really has packed a lot in and there is never a dull moment on stage, all magically lit at the hand of Lighting Designer, Emma Jones.

As we travel with Pinocchio on his walk of discovery from puppet to boy, we share with him the love, the wondrous joy, the curiosity, the heartache, the confusion and the fun! So much fun!

If you need a lift this Easter break, Pinocchio is it.


Pinocchio runs at Brewery Theatre until 13th April


– Review by Becky Condron



War Horse is coming to Bristol

A couple of weeks ago, we went with friends to see the special school’s viewing of National Theatre Live’s War Horse screened at WsM Odeon.  There were no schools there (there never are), just us bunch of 20 something home educators.  We fell in love with Joey the (puppet of wood) Horse and Morpurgo’s story, adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford.  What a play and what amazing artwork by Handspring Puppet Company and the actors who control every move, breath and sound.

So imagine how excited we were to hear that War Horse is coming to the Bristol Hippodrome next January.

Today, we passed by the Hippodrome and saw the queue at the Box Office on this, the first day of ticket sales to the general public.  We also saw the TV cameras and we stopped to have a chat, find out what else the press knew (we were already going to see the special launch at Bristol Old Vic a little later, so we sensed that something might be afoot).

“Stay here,” we were told. “Joey the Horse is on his way.”  We obeyed.  Ten minutes later, he trotted around the corner, driven by his three actor-puppeteers.  We got to stroke Joey on the nose, actually touch him (!!) and he took 7 year-old TCO’s aptly worn donkey hat off her head!  How blimin’ exciting!  He stayed around for a bit, did a few horsey things, showed off his skill and beauty and played up to the cameras.


Joey and his men outside the Hipp

We headed to the Old Vic.

In the auditorium, the Manager of the Hippodrome introduced Tom Morris, Co-director and Producer of War Horse, whose passion and wit must’ve given everyone a warm glow.  He spoke about the show and the tour and then the star of the piece, Joey the Horse, entered stage, up to his tricks with grace.  The audience was then given the chance to ask questions of those three actors who manoeuvre Joey in his entirety.  “Do you need a degree to do this sort of thing?” “How did you feel when you first performed War Horse?” “How do you make those horsey noises?” “How does Joey’s tail work?”


The actors-puppeteers


War Horse is special.  And it’s coming to Bristol!

Oh yes!


Have a look at the Ted Talk with the Handspring Puppet Company here

Book tickets to see War Horse at the Hippodrome here






Minotaur at Bristol Old Vic


Any volunteers for Minotaur sacrifice? Yes, plenty of little audience hands waving enthusiastically to be chosen. What a perfect way to introduce theatre to this young crowd.

The setting is ancient Greece where King Minos rules Crete, with the Minotaur, his monstrous son – half man, half bull – roaming beneath the palace in a labyrinth. The creature’s most frequent visitor is his half sister, Princess Ariadne. When King Minos demands child sacrifices for the Minotaur from his enemy, King Aegeus of Athens, this neighbour is powerless to resist. But just as things seem doomed, a hero appears, in the shape of Theseus, a long lost son.

As we walk through the door we are greeted by the actors who welcome us into the theatre. The invitation to choose our floor space also permits participation from the start. And then we are asked, once settled, to find a new space. This all adds to the buzz of anticipation of live theatre; who better to expose this to than first timers fresh from the classroom.

The action unfolds with the four actors donning their simple but effective costumes. A dress is taken from a dummy stand and put on. A robe is similarly picked up and wrapped around, giving transparency to the act of getting into character. The weak and feable King Aegeus (played by Malcom Hamilton) wears a paper cracker crown – one of the many unostentatious yet ingenious touches of this production.

Ariadne (Jessica Macdonald who also is a key player with the music) has something of the teenager about her. Stormy tempers and much oscillating between loving and hating the Minotaur, her monstrous brother who also clearly bonds with her.

Music is used to very good effect as a vehicle for changing mood and setting scene – gongs, cello, electic guitar and some beautiful and haunting vocal harmonies all play their part.

With Minotaur, writer Adam Peck is sucessful in capturing the attention of a younger audience (the play is pitched at 7+ years). Already accomplished (such as with the award-winning Cinderella: a Fairytale) Peck clearly has a talent for drawing his audience in. Minotaur is a hundred times more absorbing than a dry book on Greek myths. And it is also alot of fun, with the audience, young and older, thoroughly engaged.

The show has toured schools for the last month giving the actors an opportunity practise moving around children who are deliberately part of the performing space. Part of the process has been giving children the chance of their feedback through workshops. The result is a production that is confident and professional. This is especially evident during action sequences, with hero Theseus (Jack Holden) wielding his sword in an extremely well-choreographed but humorous way. And the tyrant King Minos (Roddy Peters) chosing sacrificial children from the audience is a work of inspired genius.

Minotour is a triumph; brilliantly produced and delivered. Directed slickly by Toby Hulse, this is not a story for the feint-hearted. The tale is dark and not without sadness, though the well-delivered humour helps digest this. And if there are some loose threads at the end – well we can look forward to Minotaur part 2. Can’t wait!



Minotaur runs until 9th April at Bristol Old Vic Theatre Studio

– Review by Francesca Ward