Red Riding Hood at Brewery Theatre

Image by Andy Sapey, with thanks

Image by Andy Sapey, with thanks

We’ve seen a few theatre productions that include puppets, which use them to bolster a performance rather to BE it. But Red Riding Hood by Norwich Puppet Theatre, in collaboration with Peter O’Rourke, is pure, undiluted puppetry. And brilliant it is too.

The Brewery stage is a collection of wooden beams that are cleverly rearranged and slotted into new positions throughout the show to become a forest, a garden or Granma’s house. The lighting is sometimes foreboding, while at others it is used to illuminate and create figures in silhouette. Ben Glasstone’s music is powerful, at times menacing, in turn joyous, while the songs add lightness to the dark.

The puppets are almost old-fashioned. At the end of the show, we asked one of the puppeteers where we could acquire such a creature but of course we can’t; they’re custom-made. Carved of wood, you want to caress them, feel the smoothness of their round faces and discover how they move so gracefully.

I counted nine puppets in all, controlled by two puppeteers. Puppeteers – is that even the right word? These people are skilled actors and my eyes flitted between the ever-changing expressions on their faces/the movement of their bodies and the masterful way they both brought to life those wooden figures, manipulating them into telling this very well-known folk tale. Beautiful.

Tim Kane’s script is fresh and builds upon the many versions of the story that have gone before. The conversations add to the humanness of the piece and give supporting characters a biography of their own. When the wolf has swallowed Granma and Red gets to meet the carnivorous aggressor in her cottage bed, I realised that the build-up had me wringing my hands, clenching my jaw and then … you’ll see.

A twist that had some of the kids belly-laughing! Yes, this production is well worth a visit.

Recommended for age 4+, I was at first worried that Red Riding Hood might be too ‘young’ for my 8 year old. Then, I reasoned, if I like puppetry how could she be out of the age range? And, absolutely, there is enough material here to keep any adult entertained. The child next to us was probably 2 years old – don’t do it, really! This production does take a little concentration and I might even put the recommended age up to 5 or 6 years?

About ten minutes after we left the Brewery Theatre, we found a craft shop on North St, where we bought a stick of willow for 50p, because my daughter is determined to turn one of her dolls into a real, breathing puppet. THAT is the lasting review here. And this:

Red Riding Celeste

Ooh, and I absolutely adored Granny’s Herb Song. As I sat listening to it, I wondered whether I could get hold of a copy of the words and, whoppee!! – this and a host of educational resources and activities are available on Norwich Puppet Theatre’s website 🙂

Red Riding Hood is at Brewery Theatre until Sunday 22nd February. And then on tour

– Review by Becky Condron and Celeste

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Fleabag at the Brewery Theatre

fleabag

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?

Inappropriate?

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

Mmm Hmmm at Brewery Theatre

mmm hmmm

At the Brewery Theatre, we’re plunged into darkness, which is really quite thrilling before anything else even happens. And then the sound of female voices. In the dark. Until the stage lights come on to reveal three women, who appear to be in some kind of agony. Writhing, moving, crawling.

This is Mmm Hmmm, a three woman acapella show written and directed by Bristol-based Verity Standen. She’s joined by the equally Bristol Ellie Showering and Dominie Hooper, who together form a trio of high octane, harmonic devilment.

Everyday, banal situations are turned into something really quite incredible. Ordering chocolate at the First Great Western buffet carriage or drinking tea with a pal (Darjeeling is near-orgasmic, apparently), are given a beauty they probably don’t deserve. The pedestrian is bejewelled, star quality lavished upon it by voice.

Voice. And energy. Blimey, these women are working hard and, by the end of the show, sweat seeps through their very impressive dresses that morph into a whole series of dresses. Harriet de Winton, please will you be my costume designer too? I would really, really like one of these outfits. Any colour. I want to transform myself into a monk or a crazy human pogo stick (at least that’s what I saw) just like these three.

Some of the audience laugh out loud whenever the cast make a mad dash around the stage. I don’t but I’m aware that I’m grinning widely for most of the performance. Mmm Hmmm is eccentric and holds a certain Britishness, as much for the lyrical content as the off-the-wallness of it.

Just when you think it can’t get any sillier, our doyennes of vocal expression take the weirdest tea-break you’ve ever seen as they scoff on dry biscuits (digestives I think), spitting out the dust. Really? As if this piece of theatre wasn’t difficult enough to achieve, they then go and dry their mouths out to such an extent that, surely, it should be impossible to speak let alone come out with those notes? But no, they more than succeed and, actually, go on to perform my favourite part of the evening with ‘You Made me Love You,’ a number to which they seem to lose every inch of self-control and sanity.

As with all enjoyable shows, there is an extra, unseen member of the cast in the Lighting Designer and without James Mackenzie, this show wouldn’t have been quite so clever. He illuminates to create subtlety or intensity, highlighting the talent of these women.

The show is shorter than we expect, which is hardly surprising – any one of them could have collapsed if they’d tried to eek out any more songs. But this is 45 minutes of pure joy and, as they take their bows, I find myself laughing, ‘incredible’ the first word to come out of my mouth. Then, walking down the Brewery stairs, I can’t prevent myself from la-la-la-ing. Once at home, I have to play Kate Bush’s ‘Mrs Bartolozzi’ (though Mark said they reminded him of Bjork and Laurie Anderson).

My only regret of the night was that I didn’t take my daughter so I could show her how funny, innovative and powerful we women are. I might go again.

Mmm Hmmm is on at Brewery Theatre until Saturday 29th November

– Review by Becky Condron

Arabian Nights at Brewery Theatre

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“Was it a mistake to bring the iPad today?” I think, as she sits in Mark’s Bread below Southville’s Brewery Theatre, making a list of all the buildings she’s spotted on the journey, plotting how she can fit them into her new Minecraft world, taking note of where a skyscraper might be best placed.

We’ve arrived at North Street early, partly by design, partly due to the rigidity of the WsM-Bristol train time table. This is always a bonus, as it means that we can take time in this lively, friendly bakery and have some tea and cake, while we watch the busy bakers through the window, revealing mouth-watering smells as they open ovens, uncovering fine-looking pastries and bread. She polishes off her Mendip Moments ice-cream (this place keeps it local) and declares, “A theatre! My world needs a theatre!”

And, really, what would life be like for us without the theatre? Particularly one that brings us productions like Story Pocket Theatre’s Arabian Nights, a show that really fires the imagination in all of us.

Luke Pitman is the actor on stage, watching the audience stream in to take their seats. He smiles and then begins to interact with us so that we are wrapped up fully in the show before it even starts (don’t get there late if you embarrass easily). He introduces himself as the storyteller.

The storyteller!

There are 3 actors in this version of Arabian Nights and, let me tell you, they are all excellent storytellers. And, anyway, Arabian Nights is about storytelling, isn’t it? It is but, from the many incarnations I’ve seen in my life, not everyone is that good at interpreting Sheherazade’s 1001 tales.

But these guys are naturals, keeping the kids and adults spellbound throughout the hour-long show. As the actors morph from one character to another with ease and persuasion, it becomes clear why the printed programme does not assign each of them any one character. Sheherazade’s cunning and skill must save her life and Story Pocket Theatre has decided to concentrate on four of those stories, which the cast tell through multiple roles.

Expect fun! William Forde is hilariously Monty Pythonesque, particularly in his role as Abanazar, Aladdin’s evil ‘uncle’. At times, Luke Pitman appears to be Jim Carey doing Rik Mayall – so very expressive with a gorgeous dose of slapstick – and Yasmin Goodwin brings clarity to the show, helping to pull it all together with wit and elegance.

The set is dominated by a crown-like white structure, reminiscent of a Moorish castle, which obeys those magic words … Open Sesame … and acts as a screen for the cast, at one point transforming itself into a boat.  And there is unexpected chair puppetry in The Little Beggar, a heartwarming tale of community responsibility, or lack thereof.

Arabian Nights is fast-paced, tight and funny. It’s half term fun for the very young (there are three-year olds loving every second) to adults who seem to have come without kids!

We loved it and, after all, Minecraft is just one way to imagine a whole new world!

Arabian Nights is at Brewery Theatre until Sunday 2nd November

– Review by Becky Condron

Strictly Balti at Brewery Theatre

StrictlyBalti_hero

‘Our lives are full of boxes’ says Saikat Ahamed as he opens the stage at Brewery Theatre for Strictly Balti, his one-man tale of life as a second generation Bangladeshi boy in Birmingham.

And the set is just that, a series of boxes that Bristol-based Ahamed sits on, jumps on and upturns throughout the show, never quite managing to ever fit into one. And why should he? How could he? At home he is Saikat, at school he is Sid and, on a family trip to the Motherland, he is the English boy. His parents want the best for him, “to be a doctor!” and, though he’s an accommodating boy, he doesn’t always understand the sacrifices the older couple have made in order to improve their son’s life.

Brought to us by the excellent Travelling Light Theatre Company, this is the (autobiographical) story of anyone who has ever had to grow up, regardless of their parentage, because it’s a story about the absolute need to fit in. Everyone argues with their parents, most of us had a first crush, many kids struggle with identity issues, we’re all made to do things we’d rather not do.

Sometimes monologues can be delivered with anger, even brutality, but Saikat’s journey is told with gentle humour and honesty. He loves his parents, that’s plain. But, blimey, they can be set in their ways, demanding, out of touch with what it really means to be ‘English’. I liked the man Saikat, I would have liked the boy. He kept my attention and I don’t think I missed a word he said.

As we follow Saikat through primary and then secondary school, we can relate to him and his life, even though not one person in the audience seems to have a strand of Asian in them. Some of us, however, will know what it means to be second or third generation Irish, say. We might have felt the pull of dual, sometimes seemingly opposing, communities or that talk of ‘home’. We may have experienced the suspicion of others (though racism, interestingly, is never mentioned by Saikat) and the inner battles of otherness.

We stayed on at the Brewery for the short Q&A with our protagonist, which I throughly recommend you do if you get the chance. This gave us a fuller insight into the performance (not that it needs explaining; there’s nothing complicated about the ideas or the delivery) and connected us more strongly to this character, this actor who never became a doctor.

Due to popular demand, Tobacco Factory Theatres have added extra dates for Strictly Balti so, if you’re lucky, you still might get the chance to see it.

Strictly Balti is on at Brewery Theatre until Saturday 25th October

– Review by Becky Condron

Elizabeth I: Virgin on the Ridiculous at Brewery Theatre

Elizabeth I: Virgin on the Ridiculous by Living Spit

Photo by Graham Burke

Photo by Graham Burke

lving spit elizabeth

Photo by Graham Burke

“It’s a comedy about Elizabeth I, virgin Queen of England.” I told my Dad when asking him if he wanted to come with me to review it. “What – like Blackadder?” was his answer, and why not.

So the deal was done, my father and I were heading to the Brewery Theatre in Bristol for a night of medieval mayhem. Now, my father is a sprightly 68 year old who has seen a thing or two, but upon entering the Brewery Theatre he became a proper bumpkin and acted like he had never seen electricity, let alone been to the theatre. He was like a child that didn’t know the rules of the theatre and in the interval he got a massive fit of giggles that drew everyone’s attention.

At the start of the second act, one actor asks us to make a big thing when the other actor comes on stage because he is feeling a ‘little insecure’, and my Father shouts out “Don’t worry, we were going to already.” Note to self – explain about the forth wall to Father on way home. Additional note to self – actually, see if Father will babysit next time so the wife can come.

Elizabeth I: Virgin on the Ridiculous is a 2 man show where silly comedy comes in spades. The opening song has a bloke with a beard in a dress playing a guitar, while another bloke in a dress stands on a chair and sings the opening line “I am a woman, who is obviously not a man.” OK, let me just hold my suspension of disbelief and see where this nonsense leads. It’s fun, and very silly.

Basically, it is the story of Queen Elizabeth I, Queen of England. It starts with her in jail about to be beheaded, then follows her rise to Queen, how the Privy Council forbade her from marrying the man she loved and her decision to therefore remain a virgin, married to the throne. It includes Sir Walter Raleigh and potatoes, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada (Armada from the Spanish, ‘fleet’ – I didn’t know that) and some bloke who ended up married to a lettuce. My personal knowledge of Elizabethan history isn’t 100%, so I will keep quite about the lettuce until I know better.

The actors (Stu McLoughin and Howard Coggins) play actors playing the characters, so there is a lot of ‘falling out of character’ and asides to the audience and each other, which generates a lot of laughs. Howard keeps on referring to how he played Henry VIII in the last play (and he does look the spit of him), but how he is giving Stu a shot at the limelight. Unfortunately his actions speak louder than his intentions and he is constantly trying to ‘out do’ Stu, despite his promises.

Although it is a historical play with a good share of historical facts, there are lots of Shrek-like inclusions of modern life, such as the King of Spain leaving courtship messages on Elizabeth’s answer phone (along with sexy messages from Stephen Hawking!), pregnancy tests, playing Angry Birds on iPads and Big Brother Style Diary Room monologues.

There is a great line when Elizabeth is thinking she will have seven children and name then Chris, Mike, Lee, Chas, Daniel, Mark and Suggs. But no – that would be Madness! There is even a big bit of audience participation because “The Arts Council love that type of rubbish!”

So, what did my Dad think of it all? He said “I am a peasant. I know what I like and I don’t like being educated or lectured – but I am thoroughly enjoying this. If I had seen a poster advertising a ‘comedy’ musical about Elizabeth I, I would have never considered watching it – but I like the banter between the actors and I love the songs. I wish I could buy the CD.”

“Dad, you can, for just £5.” “Great!, I’ll do that” – and he did – the first music collection he has bought since Elvis died.

It is a fun and very silly night out that was somewhere between The Office, Shrek, Big Brother and Black Adder. Historical? More like hysterical.

Elizabeth I: Virgin on the Ridiculous is on at Brewery Theatre until 4th October

– Review by Ade Bowen, Action Pussycat

Pinocchio at Brewery Theatre

Image

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