Peter and the Wolf at Tobacco Factory Theatre

Peter and the Wolf x4

Image by Peter Stevenson, with thanks

Peter and the Wolf is a well-known and much-loved children’s story by Sergei Prokofiev, who composed both its narrative and easily recognisable music.

It’s a tale about of a brave young Russian boy called Peter, who against his grandfather’s wishes, not only approaches the big bad wolf lurking in the forest beyond the peaceful meadow but, with his friend the blackbird, contrives a plot to ensnare him. The composition was written by Prokofiev in under a week and the key is in its simplicity, with each character given his own identifiable score, allowing even the youngest of children to follow the plot with ease.

The Little Wolf Gang theatre group’s version of Peter and the Wolf is scaled down, with a cast of four players: Fiona Barrow on violin; Edward Jay on accordion: David Adams on bassoon and storytelling by Martin Maudsley, each performer being as crucial to the whole as the next. The teamwork in this production is solid and every cast member is keenly aware of with the others, maintaining a fluidity and playfulness that is beyond impressive.

Peter and the Wolf nestles between two shorter Russian folkloric tales. The one about a fiddler and the devil is a face-paced whirl of a story, in which the musical chemistry between Barrow and Jay is palpable. The other, named Bear-lero, is about a woodcutter whose insatiable appetite for greatness leaves him unstuck. Set to the music of Ravel’s Bolero, the moral is understood and the music entrancing.

Martin Maudsley storytelling is upbeat and fun, his diction clear and his voice completely audible, even above the booming and powerful sound of our reduced orchestra. Adams adds to the visuals, injecting a playful menace into the production, particularly when he uses his bassoon as a hunter’s gun. Jay’s musical arrangement is spot-on, perfect for this younger generation, and my eight year old and I both enjoyed both listening to and watching the heartfelt spectacle in the auditorium of the Tobacco Factory.

Peter and the Wolf and other wild musical tales is recommended for those aged 6+, though there were younger children in the audience and, really, don’t feel that you can’t go without children as adults will love this as much as the kids. In a word … beautiful.

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Peter and the Wolf and other wild musical tales is at Tobacco Factory Theatre until Saturday 31st Jan.

Check out The Little Wolf Gang’s website for samples of their music and storytelling

– Review by Becky Condron and Celeste


Grounded at Arnolfini

Thanks to Gate Theatre for the image

Thanks to Gate Theatre for the image

The moment I walked into the studio theatre space at The Arnolfini, I knew we were in for something special with ‘Grounded’ written by George Brant and performed by Lucy Ellinson, a show presented by The Bristol Old Vic. A woman stands before us already on the stage as we file in and find our seats. She resides within a cage like structure with a mesh front and eerily lit by green lights. I feel strangely voyeuristic at first, like I shouldn’t be looking at her. After a few minutes, I am unable to take my eyes off her, and the show has not even begun. Ellison begins her monologue with a sudden ‘pow’ of a start, and I remain unable to tear my eyes away from her for the rest of the performance. Dressed in the uniform of a pilot, she immediately draws you in with her ‘tough guy’ persona. She is cocky, confident, brash and so very… well, male in her demeanour. Our heroine is a fighter pilot, in love with her career which is so clearly much more than just a job to her and also in love with ‘the blue’, and the feeling she has when she is in the sky, so powerful and in charge. She boasts of drinking sessions with her ‘boys’, of how men are afraid to approach her in bars. She is beautiful, yes, but also a little terrifying. It would take a man with real balls to approach her. But one does, and she likes him. They fuck, her description of it so refreshing. Its about the pleasure of it, its not romance. He wants to do it while she wears her uniform. She describes it in such a typically… well, ‘male’ way. I liked that too, it sometimes feels like woman are not allowed to feel like that about sex. But hey, we like to fuck too, right?! The macho swagger shifts a little as we learn of her unplanned pregnancy with this man. But she keeps the baby, she tries to make a life with him. You feel her relief as she goes back to her love, her work, her life. OK, so she is going to be a drone pilot, so she will be one of the ‘chair force’, nowhere near her beloved ‘blue’. But she gets to see her family every night, she kisses her baby and her man goodnight every night. Thats a good life. Its not so bad. Is it? 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. A certain kind of order, yet a certain kind of madness. Remotely controlling a plane, she is removed by distance from any kill she makes, yet strangely feels much more involved. Her decent into the pit of despair feels horribly predictable, yet depressingly mundane. The explosive finale is impossibly hard to watch, yet compelling, sad and an important reflection on modern warfare and the sheer futility of it all.

I found this show incredibly powerful. The character played by Elinson pushed and pulled me. I thought could not relate to the bits of her that were so very masculine. Yet, as a working mother who ties herself up in all sorts of knots about how I feel leaving my babies in the care of others, I could relate to her struggles. I have my own versions of her need for blue sky and freedom. I know how it feels to be grounded. The mundane nature of her life outside of work repelled me and made me want to gather my family, quit my job and run for the hills. But I am also aware of my own personal paradoxes. I know if I did not follow my own passions, if I spent every moment with my kids, I would go slightly insane too. The overriding masculinity and brashness of her character made the moments of tender motherhood we glimpsed in our heroine all the more vulnerable and heart wrenching when we witnessed them.

When the performance ended, I, like many of my fellow audience members felt emotionally wrung out and exhausted. There were tears. Plenty. But I urge you to see this. It is a hard ride, challenged me in ways I found uncomfortable, but was utterly mesmerising. Lucy Elinson gave life to a character who challenged my views on masculinity and femininity, and made me question my own life choices and decisions. She left me stunned and incredibly moved. I’ve looked at as Elinson suggested we do at the end of the show. I was troubled by it, but you should look too. But, more than anything else, I urge you to see this show. Maybe it is an exaggeration to say I feel changed through watching it. Maybe. But maybe you might feel the same way too.

Grounded is at Arnolfini until Saturday 31st January

– Review by Karen Blake

Who is Dory Previn? at Tobacco Factory Theatre

Dory-Previn_for_web-480x360I have a confession to make. I didn’t think I was going to think much of ‘Who is Dory Previn?’ which I saw last night at the Tobacco Factory Theatre. Here was a show about a lyricist who found fame in the 60’s, someone I knew nothing about. After reading about the show, I guessed I would probably like Dory, but I also predicted that it would be good, but not something that would blow me away. How very wrong I was!

Singer and storyteller Kate Dimbleby accompanied by Naadia Sheriff on piano and vocals, takes us on an exploration of the life of this cult songwriter, with the show running for two nights only. Part cabaret, part gig and part theatre, this performance was different from anything I had seen before, but it really worked beautifully. When Dimbleby walked onto the stage, it was almost palpable how much the audience immediately liked her and warmed to her. She moved seamlessly back and forth between being in character as Dory, and being ‘Kate’, telling the story. And this is probably not really relevant to the review but Kate? You really, really have the most fabulous legs! I don’t know the singing voice of Previn, but according to overheard reflections of my fellow audience members, Dimbleby really had her off to a tee. And me? Well, I just thought her voice was fantastic. The songs of Dory Previn are really a gift to any singer, with lyrics that are so rich, expressive, heartbreaking, wise, witty and full of colour, but Dimbleby really did them justice. It’s important here not to forget about Naadia Sheriff, who also had a lovely voice, and held the performance together with her accomplished piano playing and supporting vocals.

Dory Previn was not exactly dealt a winning hand in her life, with a troubled childhood that culminated in her father having a nervous breakdown and holding the family prisoner in their own home at gunpoint for several months. It was no surprise then that Previn had demons of her own to battle, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and episodes of incarceration in psychiatric institutions throughout her life. She was however, a woman who very much knew love, both the intense, almost unbearable pleasure of it, and the heartbreaking bleakness of it when it goes wrong. But she loved fearlessly and wholeheartedly, and I loved her and related to her because of that. Famously married to composer Andre Previn who she collaborated with on many tracks, her heart was broken for the first time when he left her for actress Mia Farrow. But she survived electroconvulsive therapy after being hospitalised again, and went on to write more introspective and confessional songs about love, sexuality and her own story. I’m not ashamed to say I cried on hearing some of these songs for the first time. What power to move her lyrics had! She also went on to love again, as we hear about her struggles with her love for a younger man in ‘Lemon Haired Ladies’. Lastly we learn of the last love she shared her later life with, artist Joby Baker, who she lived with in contentment until she died aged 86 in 2012. On Valentine’s Day. How appropriate for a woman who lived a live full of love, and lived it richly, painfully and creatively BECAUSE of love.

So who is Dory Previn? Well, for me she is someone I fell in love with a little last night. I admired her creativity and talent. We learnt that Dory decided in the end to stop her medication and give voice to the spectres of her schizophrenia, and ended up winning, writing some of the best music she ever had. It touched on my fears that sometimes, as an artist, I create my best work when I am in a difficult headspace or going through some sort of trauma, and I find this a little troubling. She is someone I could relate to, that probably most people who have ever fallen madly and passionately in love could relate to. She is someone I want to know better. She is someone who showed that happiness, love and contentment are there to be grabbed, even under the most difficult of circumstances. I adored her music, and plan to listen to more of it. Dory Previn was a complex, damaged but wonderful woman. And Kate Dimbleby? Well she is pretty bloody fabulous too. Go see this show if you can catch it anywhere else on tour. I really urge you to. You might just fall in love with it as much as I did.

– Review by Karen Blake

Fleabag at the Brewery Theatre


Your boyfriend dumps you so you go and get a new hairstyle, right? That’ll show him. Unless you’re a woman known only as Fleabag: then your reaction would be embark on a sex and booze binge, willing to shag anything that comes into your eyeline, including unattractive fellow passengers on the tube. Perhaps the man who is interviewing you for a job might appreciate a flash of your bra?


Well, your boyfriend did walk out because of that huge wank you had in bed, whilst he was trying to sleep. And the guinea-pig themed cafe that you run is losing both your interest and its custom since your best friend, Boo, accidentally killed herself in despair at her boyfriend’s infidelity. Life’s a bit shit, really. But you’ll rise above it in your own way.

Phoebe Walker-Bridge’s Fleabag is the tale of a highly sexed modern woman who seemingly doesn’t give two hoots what you think of her. She’s egotistical, pretty, witty and fearless: a modern-day (anti-)heroine. She exists on a diet of web porn and chasing prey. And, it appears, no-one can really escape her smutty mind: when she rocks up, late at night, drunk and messed up at her own father’s door, she wonders, “If he saw me on the internet, would he click on me?”

Oh, does this all sound a bit too in your face? It should. Maddie Rice in the title (and only) role has a confidence that is so entrenched, a self-awareness that is so sharp that she’s almost scary. Her matter-of-factness and fortright attitude demand that you listen to what she has to say. And you’d be right to take note because here is a woman who has keen observational skills about the world we live in, documenting the ugliness that surrounds us in the most entertaining way. Fleabag is unforgiving and laugh-out-loud funny. She is also painfully vulnerable, though she’d never admit that.

It’s obvious that all is not quite right with this almost plummily-accented woman who sits majestically tall on a stall before us and that her apparent self-love masks more than a little self-loathing. But why? When it comes, the POW! moment is almost excruciating.

I’m not sure I was supposed to feel much empathy for her but I did and, in the main, I liked the woman Fleabag and I’d willingly go for a drink with her (though I might leave before she did me any real harm). I think that this play aimed to be offensive too but, actually, I enjoyed her crudeness and I loved her terrifying honesty. And, so, right now, it may still be morning but I would probably be wise to go to the fridge, grab that half-empty bottle of wine and sit in stillness to question my own morality!

A powerful, heartfelt performance from Maddie Rice makes Walker-Bridge’s finely-tuned bitter-sweet tale of one-woman-lost very good value indeed.

There’s a Fleabag in all of us.

Fleabag shows at the Brewery Theatre until Saturday 7th February

– Review by Becky Condron

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil at Bristol Old Vic

Image by Shot Away, with thanks

Image by Shot Away, with thanks

It was with great excitement I went to watch the opening night of The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil put on by The Bristol Old Vic Young Company. I have to say I was impressed with the enthusiasm and energy the group of youngsters put into the production.

The story is an adaptation of a book. However, I have not had the opportunity to read it so I am unsure how true to the book it is.

I watched intently as a young man living in a neat community suddenly grew a beard.
The method created to depict the growing beard was inventive and fun. There were a few songs within the play as well that were sung with great competence. I particularly enjoyed ‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles, although I would have enjoyed hearing more of it (secret Bangles fan).

The play would appeal to a younger audience, maybe 8 -12years. I did take my 15yr old son and he agreed with this. There were comedic moments that appealed to all ages and in particular the bearded men of the audience. My son recalled an older bearded man in the audience finding the offensiveness of the beard particularly humorous.

I am still trying to work out if there was a hidden message in the story and what that might be. There probably isn’t and that may be the point.

The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil shows at Bristol Old Vic’s Studio until 10th January

– Review by Catriona Daynes