Magical Mythologies at The Tobacco Factory Theatre Bar

magicI love a bit of magic. I do a bit myself in my children’s entertainment act and I am developing a magic show for 2015. So when I was asked if I would like to go see local magic legend Peter Clifford I jumped at the chance. But who to take with me? Why not Nailsea’s most popular magician, Steve Burley. Take a magician to review a magician’s show. Genius- why yes I am!

So, Peter Clifford’s Magical Mythologies was a laid back magic cabaret in the bar of the Tobacco Factory Theatre, with about 45 people sat around on tables and sofas, all within spitting distance of the stage – so Peter better make sure he is good or he could get awfully wet.

First obstacle – I’m here to make notes and write a review, but the only seats left are directly in front of the stage where Peter can see me. Right – how am I going to make notes without him seeing me? Answer – I can’t. I’m trying to make notes on my phone but Peter tags me straight away. OK, I’ll do this from memory.

Peter has a relaxed, laid back style. He is confident in his work and owns the stage well. He starts his first trick with a very traditional linking rings – acknowledges that it is an old act that we have all seen, so ups the anti and borrows wedding rings from the audience. He then proceeds to link the rings he has just taken from the audience right before their eyes.

Nice move, and it sets the tone for the evening. Lots of audience involvement and lots of new slants on traditional tricks. He also links it in some of his own journey into magic, giving glimpses of how he became interested in magic as a young boy. There is rope cutting and reforming, there is mind reading, there are predictions and a very funny coat hanger trick (no spoilers).

It is lounge magic. It is not all singing all dancing Vegas. It is close up magic that should have you thinking at last once “OK, how did he do that?” I am not sure about the title of ‘Magical Mythologies’ though. I was expecting at to see as a bare minimum a Minotaur and a golden fleece. I would have gone for ‘Peter Clifford’s laid back close up magic cabaret show that he does in the bar of the Tobacco Theatre’. Hum, maybe not as catchy.

What does my professional Magician friend Steve think of it all? “Very good. I was impressed with how he managed to involve everyone in the room and there was some very smooth close up magic. I had an idea for developing the rope trick myself and I really liked what Peter did with it.” So if a professional magician can watch it and be impressed, then it should be fine for us muggles.

Peter Clifford’s Magical Mythologies (without a Minotaur) is running Monday to Wednesday until the 7th January (except New Years Eve) at The Tobacco Factory theatre bar

– Review by Ade Bowen, Action Pussycat

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Mrs Gerrish’s Grotto at The Brewery Theatre

Mrs_Gerrishs_Grotto-480x360Tonight I went to see Mrs Gerrish’s Grotto at the Brewery Theatre, a Ministry of Entertainment production.

Our heroine Mrs. Gerrish is a 50’s seaside landlady who decides to open her guesthouse over the Christmas period, with an action packed programme of events to keep her guests happy. Set in Weston-super-Mare, The Lancastrian Lord Mayor of the town decides he wants to make Weston into a mini Blackpool, and plans a fabulous switch on of some very grand Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. Will it all go to plan? From early on in the show, the audience can see that this is looking increasingly unlikely.

I’m not sure that I was the target audience; in the café beforehand I realised that most people there were 20-30 years older than me, and I’m well into middle age. This may well be related to the shows obvious roots in 70’s style humour, with double entendres and slightly risqué lines being plentiful throughout.

This two-hander started well, with Kate McNab (who wrote and is starring in this show) doing a stonking introduction and getting the whole audience singing along to ‘Que Sera Sera’ within a few minutes, and a simple line about ‘tinsel over the front entrance’ leaving us in stitches. However the show lost its way soon after, with a slightly odd staff recruitment scene. There was then a rather uncomfortable introduction of a character (one of several played by Ross Harvey) who was apparently hilarious on the basis of having thick glasses and a learning disability; again, very 1970’s.

The second half started with a rendition of ‘What a difference a day makes’ sung by Kate McNab, which seemed to have no relation to the plotline. The show did recover some of its early promise though, with a beautifully badly danced version of ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula’, and a lot more innuendoes. Overall, although I laughed a lot during this performance, I felt that was due largely to the company I was with more than the actual show. I came away with a feeling that we may have seen it on an ‘off night’; there were fluffed lines, and although there was plenty of innuendo in the lines, there wasn’t a lot of ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ feeling from the actors delivering them. The show could be shorter and tighter; there was a lot of time waiting for the actors to rearrange the stage, and some material that could be trimmed.

However, the audience seemed to love it and at the end almost everyone joined in with clapping and singing along to ‘Rocking around the Christmas Tree’. I’d say that this is a light-hearted, feel-good show that is likely to appeal most to older adults, but anyone who is happy to laugh at gags about ‘Santas sack’ and find mentions of Axbridge and Bridgwater funny may well enjoy it. I’d recommend taking along a couple of friends who are raucous laughers

Mrs Gerrish’s Grotto is on at The Brewery Theatre until Sunday 4th January.

– Review by Ginny Gould

Santa’s Little Trolls at The Brewery Theatre

 

Image with thanks to Adam Laity

Image with thanks to Adam Laity

On Friday 12th December, I took my two year old daughter along to The Brewery Theatre in Bristol to see Santa’s Little Trolls. The age recommendation for this show is for ages 2 – 6 and their families. This is the first time I have taken my littlest to the theatre on her own as she has usually tagged along to productions with her  5 year old sister, so I was interested to see how she found the experience and whether it would be suitable for her.

Using a mixture of puppets and actors and performed by Dik Downey and Vicky Andrews, ‘Santa’s Little Trolls’ tells the story of Jeremy, a father living in Norway who loves Christmas and everything about it, from mince pies to christmas music, but above anything else, he loves SNOW! His sun worshipping daughter who lives in Australia comes to stay with him for Christmas, but finds his eccentric ways embarrassing, his lack of a TV and penchant for odd Norwegian folk music too much, and is worried Christmas is going to be a bit of a let down. Little do they know they are about to encounter two uninvited guests at the bottom of the garden, two friendly little trolls who have tunnelled into the shed! These trolls are the ones who are responsible for making it snow each year. Trouble is, they have decided they are on strike, and won’t make any snow until they get on the front of their very own Christmas card. Will the elves and Santa be able to change their minds before Christmas Day rolls around? Will Jeremy get his wish for a white Christmas to make things magical for his daughter?

I loved this show. I thought it was sweet, charming and with just the right amount of festive sentimentality. I’m only a tiny bit ashamed to say that I had a little tear at the end, and left the theatre feeling ready for Christmas to begin. The puppetry from the ‘Pickled Image’ company was superb. Initially I was really aware of the black cloaked human operators, but this only lasted a minute, and I really felt like the puppets were alive, due to the skill of the puppeteers.

In terms of its suitability for 2 year olds, I guess this very much depends on the 2 year old! My daughter is only just 2, and there is quite a lot of dialogue in the show, which was pretty much lost on her. She is able to sit for 45 minutes, but for some little ones this may be too much, so its worth bearing this in mind. However, there is enough going on visually to hold the attention even if they may not fully understand what is going on. She was fascinated (and, judging by how hard she gripped my arm, perhaps a little nervous!) of the puppets, and was pretty much transfixed by the action throughout, although she was not giggling like some of the older audience members. She LOVED the snow at the end, and the fact that she got the chance to come up onto the stage when the show was finished to play with it. Later on in the day, she announced her “best bit today Mummy was snow!” Overall, It’s hard to know exactly what she really made of the show because she can’t put it into words fully. All I do know is that on the way up to the Brewery Theatre on the train she was very whinge-y and there were lots of tears. On our walk back to the train she spent the whole time singing.

If you want a bite sized but classy show to ease you into the festive spirit, then Santa’s Little Trolls is the show for you and your little ones, and is on until Jan 4th 2015.

Review by Karen Blake

‘Peter Pan’ at Weston-super-Mare Playhouse

peter panIt’s that time of year again, as the Panto comes to The Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare. This year’s tale is Peter Pan, and is also the first time that the yearly pantomime has been an in-house production, with Mark Thompson and Martin Cleverly producing the show. We are transported to Neverland, where Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, battles his arch enemy Captain Hook, with Wendy, Micheal, John, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and the Pirates along for the ride. I’m pleased to report that this show had all the usual ingredients we have come to expect from Panto, with glitz, innuendo, audience participation, dancing, men dressed as women and terrible gags that you can’t help but titter at.

Dean Gaffney and Gemma Bissix, both ex-Eastenders stock, provided the star turns in this year’s Panto. I can’t say I am a massive fan of Gaffney so wasn’t expecting his performance to grab me. However, he proved to be a really quite likeable villain who had the audience booing and jeering with gusto, and who acted with good comic timing alongside Steve Bennett, our Panto Dame Mrs. Smee. When I asked my five-year-old daughter who her favourite character was, she confidently replied ‘Captain Cook’, although when pressed on why this was, she could only giggle and say it was because of the bit where he wiggled his bottom. Gemma Bissix was a fine sidekick, playing Mrs. Darling, Chief Squatting Cow and Mermaid Mia. For me, I thought she also stole the show with her performance of ‘Strong, handsome man’ as Mermaid Mia, showing off her singing talent and catching the attention of the dads in the audience in her skimpy costume. Steve Bennett provided our panto dame for the evening, and was everything that a dame should be, saucy, flirty and just a little bit rude. My one critique here would be that I would have liked the costume designers to have been much more flamboyant with the costumes for Mrs. Smee. In previous pantos, I have been left giggling at the sheer silliness and extravagance of the dame’s costumes, but here they were perhaps a little lacking. It didn’t take away from Bennett’s performance though, as he was funny and charismatic.

The supporting cast proved to be superb, and was the backbone of the show. Jordan Fox was a handsome, graceful and perfect Peter Pan, and Sophie Adams was Wendy off to a tee. Both had lovely singing voices, and the beautifully choreographed flying scenes were stunning. Clever use of video imagery projected onto large screens really made the two look they were whizzing over London and then up into the stars, and was wonderful to watch. The supporting dancers were fantastic, and it was great to see some potential stars of the future from the Tina Counsell and Carlea theatre arts dance schools, both local to Weston.

Overall, this show was much more of a traditional panto than last year’s offering featuring George Samson, where much of the action was tailored to showcase his dancing skills. This was no bad thing, because although I felt it took the audience a little bit longer to warm up this year, I preferred the way this production flowed and it seemed a little bit more rounded. By the second half, the audience was nicely warmed up and everyone was joining in with the action. Maybe that was because some of the adults had a little bit of lubrication at the bar during the interval, but the auditorium was drowning in shouts of ‘He’s behind you!’ and “it’s a ghost… A GHHOOOOSSSSTTT!!’ as adult and children’s inhibition alike vanished.

Some may say that the Bristol Hippodrome Panto is the one to see this year after their coup of getting Pudsey and Ashley; ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ winners as their star turn this year. Well, I’m pleased to report that Bristol is NOT the only local panto that can boast of a dancing dog…

Silly, sweet, funny and a treat for all the family, ‘Peter Pan’ is on a The Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare until January 4th 2015.

Dick Whittington at Bristol Hippodrome

dickwhittingtonIt’s panto season at Bristol Hippodrome, where some old favourites are back. And so are some relatively new faces.

In 2014, it’s time once again for Dick Whittington, the story of a poor but good hearted boy and his cat, who, against all odds, proves his worth to become the esteemed Mayor of London.

We’re treated to everything we’ve come to expect of a good ole British pantomime: innuendo; glitz; bad jokes; colour; popular song; romance; a tale of good versus evil and not a little pottiness. What’s more, all the extra bits that we Bristol Hippodrome panto goers now take for granted is abundantly present: a very funny script and appearance-in-drag by Writer and Director Eric Potts and a winning showtime performance by the much-loved Andy Ford.

As Sarah the Cook, Potts is our extravagant Dame, his camp facial expressions enough to have kept Charles Hawtrey on his toes. Sarah’s food-themed costumes are perfectly delicious: who wouldn’t want a couple of huge buns as breasts? Andy Ford plays Idle Jack, another variation on the role he plays every single year, he admits. But that same old character is the one we love! He’s the Andy Ford who has us laughing and singing every time! He’s the one who never lets us down with his silly, exaggerated movements and his daft tom foolery.

That Potts and Ford are used to performing together is evident as we witness their comfortable on-stage banter; my favourite scene involves these two funny men and some appropriately naughty sausages. Of course it does.

But it’s not all about them; far from it. Brenda Edwards is sweet and round as Fairy Bowbells and, in stark contrast to Barbara Windsor in the same role five Bristol Hipp pantos ago, it’s refreshing not only to have a black actress playing this part but to listen to a powerful singing voice.  There are also decent support roles from Lara Denning as Queen Rat (it’s always good to have a female baddie) and Ben Goodridge as the Sultan/Alderman Fitzwarren, while Hayley Jane Goold’s Tommy the Cat does some impressive gymnastics, especially when catching those dastardly rats.

Our hero, played by Ben Faulks (aka the unexpected heartthrob of many a mum, CBeebies’ Mr Bloom) is pleasant to watch and clear of diction, giving us a convincing enough Dick. But it’s Ashley, one half of that Britain’s Got Talent act with her dancing dog, Pudsey, who is the real surprise of the evening. None of us had expected Ashley to be so believable and confident as Alice Fitzwarren and she plays her role with conviction, with clarity. The ‘prince’ and ‘princess’ roles in any pantomime are often the weaker among the cast but not so this year! And this pair share a rapport, being comfortable with each other and even showing a little romantic chemistry.

My 8 year old’s favourite part was seeing Pudsey the Dog do some of his cute dancing, though she would have liked more of him (it’s easy to see, however, why this might not be possible). It’s revelatory that the casting team have gone with a ‘star’ who actually means something to this younger generation, someone they know, and we’re sure there were more little children at the theatre than than is usual. Pudsey is definitely a crowd pleaser.

The biggest big-up, however, is for Terry Parsons’ set and costume design. The colours are dazzling and the seemingly myriad, beautiful backdrops are as glittery as panto deserves. The whole set gives you a glow reminiscent of mulled cider and warm mince pies on a freezing cold Christmas Eve. And the costumes are sparklingly handsome, particularly those worn by the tireless troupe of dancing, welcoming villagers.

As a grown-up, I would like to have seen more camp and innuendo/smut, although the legacy of Louie Spence’s performance last year is one that makes any production comparably tame. I definitely didn’t let myself go as much as usual but, then again, I normally come away from a Hippodrome pantomime hoarse from screaming, hissing and singing.

This show is packed with up-to-date songs by the likes of Pherrell Williams, One Direction and Ella Henderson, which delighted my daughter.  Bursting to the brim with gaiety and fun, Dick Whittington will please any die-hard lover of panto. Go and see it – you’ll be glad you did!

Dick Whittington in on at Bristol Hippodrome until Sunday 4th January 2015

– Review by Becky Condron

101 Dalmatians at Tobacco Factory Theatre

Image by Farrows Creative, with thanks

Image by Farrows Creative, with thanks

This year, the Tobacco Factory Theatre has once again teamed up with Bristol’s Travelling Light Theatre Company to produce a Christmas Show that would have any audience laughing until its face aches.

Dodie Smith’s children’s classic, 101 Dalmatians, might at first seem an unusual choice of play for a relatively small stage. I mean, how on earth could you get all those dogs in that space? All that energy and frolicking? It doesn’t take us long to find out as Pongo and Perdita, played by Tristan Sturrock and Lucy Tuck respectively, bound onto the stage, wiggling their bums (wagging their tails), panting and lolloping all over the place. On meeting in Regent’s Park, they promptly fall in love, as do their owners, Mr and Mrs Dearly, also played by Sturrock and Tuck, and they all move into together in a big house of bliss, jollity and, very soon, puppies.

But Mrs Dearly’s old school acquaintance, Cruella De Vil (Carla Mendonça), wants those puppies for a De Vil original coat and her doting furrier husband (Felix Hayes) can procure it for her. We can’t help but hiss and boo, in panto style, at Mendonça’s devilment: the woman doesn’t even have a conscience, no misunderstood criminal mastermind here! She’s simply deliciously evil.

Enter theft, chase, mayhem. Fun. Riotous Fun.

Directed by Sally Cookson, designed by Katie Sykes, with Benji Bower as Musical Director and a five-piece cast including Saikat Ahamed, as a perfect Nanny Butler, 101 Dalmatians is a lesson in Bristol theatre royalty. And it is probably the best Christmas show I have ever seen (“Yeah yeah!” I hear you mutter. “What about TFT’s Cinderella: A Fairytale? And then there was Hansel and Gretel?”)  True, they were brilliant too because the Tobacco Factory Theatre really does excel in these shows and, if possible, they seem to get better – really, just look at that cast!

Every single one of them!

Never have you seen a range of expressions as funny as those that Felix Hayes can pull. How can such a handsome man even look like that? As Mr De Vil, he is a grim, weedy, smitten, manipulative man; as Jasper Baddun, a criminal with a big heart and as Clarabel the Cow, an all-too convincing heifer, a born nurturer. And then the dogs!

Each cast member (including the 3 piece band) plays multiple roles and they really do do dogs well. They pour so much energy onto the stage, taking on canine characteristics that I’ve seen in the park or on WsM beach too many times. Tristan Sturrock is hilarious as Pongo, while we all feel for the wonderfully maternal Perdita and everyone wants to hug Ahamed’s Lucky the puppie. Dogs everywhere! This is a story fabulously told by actors who are clearly having a great time, Marc Parrett’s puppetry, dizzyingly quick costume changes and music.

Benji Bower, the man who brought us Jane Eyre earlier this year has joined forces with Will Bower and Ian Ross in a 1950’s style band, one that you can imagine populating the BBC radio waves, vintage microphones galore. Bower has suited the music so well to the story, fitting in with Sykes’ costume, prop and set design, the pair creating a feel true to (what I imagine to be) Dodie Smith’s original work.

My favourite scene might be the one where Cruella gives chase to the pack on her motorbike, immense scarf trailing in the wind. Or when our anti-heroine teams up with the band to sing of her lust for fur and we are transported to a smoky London club in 1956.

But the brilliance of this production is with the oneness the team, their love of theatre shining through and grabbing hold of all of us.

Aged 6+, this recommendation is probably about right, although there were many younger children in the audience. 101 Dalmatians is a fast-paced, uproarious treat and my 8 year old and I can’t fault it!

celeste dalmatian

101 Dalmatians is on at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 11th January 2015

– Review by Becky Condron

Theatre Uncut at Bristol Old Vic

uncutTheatre Uncut was born in 2010 as a response to the coalition’s announcement that public spending in the UK would be cut. A group of playwrights were invited to pen their reactions to these government proposals and their work became downloadable and performable by anyone, rights-free, for a week, the idea being to create ‘mass theatrical action.’

Since then, Theatre Uncut has grown. This year, the company has produced five short plays with the theme ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change,’ written by five UK playwrights, all downloadable for a month in 2014 (NOW!), all owned by everyone, internationally. These political plays have been performed in over 20 countries by thousands of people and, furthermore, Theatre Uncut is also piloting a production tour of them.

And, lucky us, Bristol Old Vic’s Basement is hosting the tour for 4 nights.

The Old Vic’s Basement is stark, dark and not particularly comfortable, an alternative to the ornate obviousness of the stunning theatre upstairs. It’s underground, the perfect setting for political theatre such as this, a leftist backlash to the mainstream. Yet, if you just listen to the ideas and opinions that are given voice by the four actors in front of us, this IS mainstream. Or at least, it should be.

The Finger of God by Anders Lustgarten is set in the very-near future, a future in which the masses are manipulated by those with financial and political power. Sound familiar? The National Lottery is losing profit and what better way to kick it into shape than to hand out punishments as well as rewards? After all, ‘The British will accept anything.’ Highlighting the power of social media and a celebrity status for Everyman, this is a powerful Brookeresque tale of greed and manipulation.

Pachamama by Clara Brennan screams pain, as a stream of words and short sentences are spoken, whispered and shouted by the actors standing in a line, trying to make sense of what is happening around them. This is a distressing last cry for help from Mother Earth, “Can’t you see what you are doing to me? What if I were to change the game? What would happen then? How would you cope?”

Reset Everything by Inua Ellams asks how to handle the ‘bedroom tax,’ that financial penalty imposed upon thousands of households that have one more room than they actually ‘need’. Simple, blow up said room! Bang! Everyone can see that – the widowed father, the aching son, the urban healer and even the woman who works for the local housing office. A humourous spin on a serious issue, this highlights the absurdity of rules and regulations that affect the lives of so many.

The Most Horrific by Vivienne Franzmann concentrates on what it is that makes us tick. What do we talk about in everyday life? What do we give credence to and what do we filter out? What is acceptable and what is too painful or complicated to let in? Can’t we just listen and see what is happening all around us? Bankers may well be cunts but what about that Ugandan Lesbian fighting for her survival in Yarl’s Wood, her life depending on immigration law? This piece is raw in the extreme and the subject matter gives us all a (much needed?) slap around the face.

Ira Provitt and the Man by Hayley Squires questions the fundamental essence of a person. When and how do we ‘go bad’?  As an official in the Department of Education gets prepared to push through a paper that will further automate and standardise our already burdened school children, he struggles with his conscience. But should he listen to his inner self, let that voice in? Can one person really make the lives of millions better (or at least, not make them worse)? Relentlessly probing, this last short play of the evening leaves us with as many questions as it answers, while demanding the change that only we can make.

And all of these plays concern our ability to listen. To listen and to be aware; to understand and then to take action. All the information is out there: if only we would slow down and take note, we would see that the pain and madness is all around and maybe we could even help to find a way to help lessen it.

Faith Alabi, Ruairi Conaghan, Ruth Gibson and Conor MacNeill do a superb job of flitting between characters, donning different accents, moving around this set made of boxes in-between plays. Each actor displays the versatility necessary to make this intense experience a memorable one too.

The four actors come together particularly well in The Finger of God, where Gibson and Conaghan play the confident, champagne swilling money-men-in-control, while Alabi and MacNeill are the target market for this new, devastating game. They make you want to shout something like, “Don’t be so ridiculous! Can’t you see what you’re doing?”

The stand out performance (and play) is Faith Alabi as the stand-up comedian in The Most Horrific. Here is a woman trying to understand what is acceptable to share, driven half crazy by real life events that are so shocking, so distressing and so unbelievable that they’re almost funny. Alabi is in tears by the end of her performance, seemingly wiped out by the hideous truth of it all, snot tickling her lips. I have to breathe deeply so I don’t break down too and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

I will be seeking out a lot more political theatre; it’s a place I feel comfortable. Who doesn’t want to question to the world? Certainly, we all need to.

Theatre Uncut deserves to be seen by a wider audience so that we can all sit up and take note of what these exciting writers are telling us. I urge you to hop over to their website, see how you can get involved. Keep your eye on these guys; they make sense.

Theatre Uncut is on at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 6th December

– Review by Becky Condron