Little One at Brewery Theatre

Image by Graham Burke, with thanks

Image by Graham Burke, with thanks

This year, the students at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School showcase their work at Brewery Theatre with a series of plays by its four graduating directors. First up in these ‘Directors’ Cuts’ is Little One, directed by Laura McLean and written by Hannah Moscovitch.

Little One is the story of two adopted siblings, Aaron and Claire, brought together in a house in Ottawa by their two new well-meaning parents. Aaron is aware of his orphaned history; Claire might or might not remember hers. Aaron knows his given name; Claire represses hers.

A neglected or abused early life has left a legacy of instability in Claire, who must never be asked certain questions about her background, according to the ‘psyches’. Aaron is in charge of making sure she’s OK, being the older, less unhinged brother. And he seems to do his best – sacrificing some of the things he loves for ‘family unit time’ and generally doing the right thing by his little sister.

But, “She’s a monster,” he tells us almost from the off.

Kate Cavendish as Claire and Sam Woolf as Aaron address the audience alternately throughout the hour long production and Emily Russell’s lighting design is key here, illuminating each actor in turn, yet holding the other one there, within reach, often subdued but never obscured. What is interesting though is that, while Aaron recounts his life (obsession?) with his sister, she only talks about the neighbours, the Tech Guy and his mail-order Vietnamese bride, thus weaving us into the world of two families.

Cavendish displays versatility, switching from eager-to-please bouncy kid to throwing out her hauntingly worrying death stare. Woolf engages with authority so that we really want to find out how the whole thing ends!

A vital message of Little One is that nothing is exactly as it might seem; people are too complex for straight paths. At some point you feel sympathy with every character in the script, even, maybe especially, the ones we don’t meet (Roger, Kim-Li, Mum and Dad). I felt for Aaron in his protector guise and at times I wanted him to break and admit to his parents that he just couldn’t play this role anymore. Claire is unusual but, in her, I caught more than a glimpse of the pushing, questioning, stubborn, annoying, loving, insecure child that we have all known.

There is a dark humour in Moscovitch’s intelligent writing and other audience members laughed at the appropriate times, but I couldn’t even bring myself to snigger because the underlying subject matter is too painful and important. McLean’s direction has pulled all of the elements together, showing us that delicious promise and talent at BOVTS. Has it ever been any other way?

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Directors’ Cut Season 2015 runs at Brewery Theatre now and throughout May and is well worth your support!

Little One shows at Brewery Theatre until 2nd May

– Review by Becky Condron

The Government Inspector at Brewery Theatre

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Last night I went to see Flintlock Theatre perform The Government Inspector at the Brewery Theatre.

This was an eccentric, wonderfully weird four person show with Klezmer music providing a fast, frantic soundtrack to the rapidly moving story. It’s a simple tale; a corrupt mayor and his dodgy accomplices become aware that a government inspector is coming to their district incognito, and that they are potentially in a lot of trouble. Their attempts to hide their tracks seem to be in trouble when they find that a mysterious official looking person has been in residence in the town for two weeks already. This leads them to welcome the stranger into the mayors home, where he is wined, dined and given numerous ‘loans’ of money. It is only after the stranger has become engaged to the mayors daughter, and driven off in the mayor’s car to get his uncles permission for the betrothal, that it becomes apparent that he was in fact just a young man who’d run out of money and couldn’t believe his luck.

Most of the actors played more than one role, and audience members provided an extra couple of characters (this really isn’t a show where introverts should sit at the front!). The changes between characters were slick, and I particularly liked Jeremy Barlow’s Charity Commisioner, a truly grotesque character who also elicited a moment of true sympathy with his pathetically sad exit after his trumpet was taken away. Sam Davies as the Mayor was wonderful, particularly his portrayal of frantic activity in just a few yards of what for want of better words I’d have to describe as a silly walk. Robin Colyer’s rich boy on the make was an arrogant twit, who did a beautifully collapsing drunken fall, and Francesca Binefa’s Bobchinksy was a joy, particular when he was bellowing at a poor audience member to ‘stop interrupting!’.

More than anything, what I loved about this show was the physical acting, from the exaggerated and wonderfully comic facial expressions to the truly skilled bad dancing. Overacted movement , ridiculous gaits and frantic gesturing combined with Robin Colyer’s text adapted from the Gogol play made for a really enjoyable, crazy, funny experience. I’d definitely recommend this for a real feel-good experience, as well as the lesson it carries about human stupidity and venality.

The Government Inspector is at the Brewery Theatre until 14 Feb.

– Review by Gin Gould

Strawberry and Chocolate at Brewery Theatre

Photo by Max Johns

Photo by Max Johns

Strawberry and Chocolate at Brewery Theatre, Bristol, opens to the sound of Silvio Rodriguez’s Ojalá (If Only). On the stage is a clever arrangement of books, religious iconography, a chair and three men. Welcome to 1970s Havana, a place of revolutionary fervour, sugar quota madness and machismo; a dangerous place for a gay man to be.

The revolution has offered David the chance to study at university and his ambition is to be a writer in his beloved Communist Cuba; Diego is an older man, finely attuned to the world outside of the island, a purveyor of beauty. He is homosexual; the young David is not. After a chance encounter at Coppelia ice creamery, David is lured back to Diego’s apartment and, though uncomfortable there, he returns, convinced by fellow communist youth activist, Miguel, to spy on a man who is an apparent traitor of the revolution.

And so it seems … traitor he must be. In an anti-Religion State, Diego is Catholic. He drinks contraband whisky, reads banned books from all over the globe, courts foreign diplomats. But most outragously of all, he wants sex with men.  He gives David a key to his home and the boy is smitten by Diego’s hidden, flamboyant world in a country of uniform and uniformity.

I watched the 1993 film Fresa y Chocolate in Santiago de Cuba during the mid-90s, where I hung around with mostly Cuban university friends, half of whom were gay. Although prosecution of homosexual acts had become decriminalised in Cuba in 1979, it seemed to me that the release of this film had only very recently allowed the gay community to breath a collective sigh of relief and host One Big Coming Out Party. In my circle of friends, gayness was to be celebrated. That this film was jointly Cuban made and uncensored in a Special Period ‘Socialist Revolutionary’ Cuba, where life had taken a dramatic, though temporary, downturn since the fall of the Soviet Union, is important. It appeared to be an apology for those earlier years of persecution of homosexuals, many of whom had been sent to correction camp and sentenced to forced labour on the sugar plantations. It was a cry of ‘we now welcome difference; let’s band together to make this maldito thing work!’

Strawberry and Chocolate is a love story that tries to make sense of that younger revolution. It is a discussion about what the new Cuban Man should be. You can feel the blossoming friendship between Craig Fuller (Diego) and Matt Jessup (David), who, at first seem to be different and, as the story progresses, less so. Jessup plays the slightly scared, then eager, boy well. Fuller is wholly believable as the sort of man you’d want in your life: a man of passion and intelligence. And Ryan McKen as the macho Miguel is dislikable (which he is supposed to be) but his actions are also understandable in a country rife with anti-gay, anti-religious and anti-capitalist propaganda. A good job by all and thank you for not trying to adopt Cuban accents; the ‘street’ versus ‘posh’ speak did the talking.

If I could change one thing, it would be a slight injection of wit. This is achieved in the film by a camper Diego and, though Fuller plays him beautifully, the extra puff of the lips and wink of an eye might complete his character.

I adored the set design and all credit to Max Johns for it. The ramp of books served as focal point to Diego’s ornamental apartment, whilst symbolising El Malecón, the esplanade and seawall, the beginning of the divide between Cuba and her imperialist enemy, 90 miles across the Straits of Florida. I understood every last reference in the play – from the Virgin de la Caridad and her sunflowers to the madly bustling Coppelia. I expected to feel a strong twang of longing for that country I once lived in but, no, that didn’t really happen, not while I was at the Brewery Theatre. Now, however, the morning after, I have an urge to watch that film again and to dig out some Cuban poetry, maybe cook up some Moros y Cristianos.

Almost the entire cast and creative team involved in Strawberry and Chocolate is a product of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. And, so, they do it again; this city really does have a remarkable amount of talent!

 

Strawberry and Chocolate is on at Brewery Theatre until Saturday 13th September

 

– Review by Becky Condron

 

 

 

Pinocchio at Brewery Theatre

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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