Romeo and Juliet at Tobacco Factory Theatre

Image by Craig Fuller, with thanks

Image by Craig Fuller, with thanks

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is probably one of the best known stories of all-time and an explanation of its plot is unnecessary. But what happens when you introduce an 8 year old to this tale of tragic love, violence, hope and hopelessness?

Well, that probably depends on which production you take her to. Armed with little more than a couple of viewings of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film and a handful of pages of the very helpful Orchard Classic Shakespeare Stories for children, we sit in the auditorium of the Tobacco Factory staring at a wooden roundabout on stage and discussing the four paint/blood splattered supporting pillars. “They’re going to have to paint it all again when the play finishes,” she says astutely.

And, before Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s run of Romeo and Juliet is out, there is going to be an abundance of red used and an awful lot of cleaning to do. So much blood! But all in the right places.

Under Polina Kalinina’s direction, this production is set loosely around the events of the 1968 student uprisings in Europe, a time of upheaval and change in a continent where those born to war-weary parents were coming of age, an era when the nature of conflict was being re-evaluated. Verona’s Prince has the back up of police heavies, armed with tear gas, in response to those teenagers who run amok and tear up their own playground to use as weapons, while the older generation attempts to retain the status quo.

Emma Bailey’s set and costume design really captures the feel of the late sixties/early seventies, and never more so than in the dazzling masked ball scene, which is reminiscent of the opening sequence of (the film) Blade, with a delicious glug of glam rock added – sequins, glitter and gas masks abound. Here, where the two lovers first meet, is a riot of music and dance, executed with delight by the entire cast and in a wonderfully energetic piece of teamwork. And it’s a part of the story my daughter was eagerly awaiting.

But she was probably even more impatient for the death of Mercutio. Oliver Hoare gives Romeo’s friend and the Prince’s kinsman an antagonistic edge as a liquor swilling youth who is ready for the fight. I’m not saying that he deserved it but the only unfortunate part about his killing is the out of control spiral of tragedy that ensues. Jonathan Howell’s fight and dance choreography is rich in togetherness, yet each actor is afforded the individuality to be true to his or her own natural movements. Cue another fight! Yet Craig Fuller’s convincing Tybalt is so obviously distraught at his irretrievable actions that his own death at the hands of Romeo is almost inevitable.

Oh, Romeo! Our hero is in love with love itself and Papa Essiedu is a handsome a Romeo as you’re likely to encounter. Essiedu plays Romeo with swagger, so clearly having fun with his role, flirting with the audience, whilst pledging his love to Juliet, his sun in the east. Daisy Whalley, as Juliet, was my daughter’s favourite character and you can understand why – just five years between them and yet a world apart. Whalley completes Romeo and their on-stage chemistry is strong.

For me, two characters stand out. The hippy Friar, played by Paul Currier, is the crossover between the light and dark, which are such an integral part of this play. Complete with yogic sun salutations, here is a man that you feel any teenager would confide in; he’s that understanding youth worker. And, like Currier, Sally Oliver brings what Shakespeare could have made a marginal character to the forefront. As Nurse, Oliver is brash, truthful, resolute and caring. This is a part wonderfully acted and Oliver is maybe even a stage stealer. Plus she really does have the best outfits, including those rollers!

The double suicide climax didn’t leave either of us crying but we were thoughtful and a little worn out at the pure exuberance of this production.

It’s hard to say what my 8 year old made of it all as she hasn’t yet said that much. She was the only child in the audience, though there were plenty of teenagers present. The blood, violence and love scenes didn’t ruffle her and, if you have a young one, only you will know what they can handle and what you want them to see. I can say that, although she didn’t get every word (nor did I!), she knew the bones of the story and understood what was happening. Today, the morning after our Romeo and Juliet theatre outing, she had no hesitation in popping on the film again and quoting a few lines of Shakespeare at me: “‘I dreamt a dream tonight!’ Romeo said that. ‘Bosom of the North,’ Mercutio!”

However versed in the Bard you may be, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory will make your heart beat fast. It is nothing short of stunning!

Romeo and Juliet plays at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 4th April

– 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

Logic of Nothing at Brewery Theatre

The evening’s show, the Logic of Nothing tumbled us into the chaotic and gadget-filled world of the Oscar Boffin (performed by Matt Pang of PanGottic circus/theatre company).
Reminiscent of an old style mime show, our entertainment was introduced by a simple hand poking out from the top of a wardrobe. And not just your average wardrobe. Or your average hand for that matter. With the aid of a small white ball (a common catalyst in the show) and a series of carefully contrived wires and wizardry contraptions, the wardrobe partially collapsed, revealing our protagonist, Oscar Boffin.
We were whirled by gadget demonstration through a most unusual mind.This was no ordinary show. But then a show billed as both Heath Robinson and Albert Einstein inspired is going to be pretty out of the ordinary. Our man Boffin amazed, astounded and definitely entertained with his ambitious capers using inventive contraptions for simple tasks. Each one painstakingly set up to trigger cause and effect. And, it seemed, setting up gadgets for the sake of it. An obsessive compulsive gadget loving indulgence. And why not. Thrown in with this was some spectacular clowning and juggling. Oscar Boffin (Pang) with one eye on the watching crowd, won his audience over with his charming performance.
In a true miming style, there were no works but a soundtrack using the actual sounds of the contraptions and gadgets themselves. With carefully placed mics and the occasional looping at timely moments, the sounds were in keeping with the action. And the odd bit of Burt Bacharach in the background which was suitably both fitting and slightly surreal. Oscar Boffin’s ambitions to line up objects for reactions coupled with comic timing were generally very funny and occasionally hilarious.
As the title suggests there was no particular story – more like a series of off the wall sketches giving us an insight into the world of an eccentric inventor with a gadget fixation, linked by a juggling theme. It was comparable to a one man stand up comedy show without words. Very clever, bold and fun. Matt Pang held the space extremely well – as did his chosen audience participation ‘volunteer’ when it came to experimenting with an expanding balloon and plans to pop it!. The momentum gradually build up and towards the end the audience were definitely integrated with the action, complete with full belly laughs.
This was a clever show with magic moments, delivered professionally whether the gadgets themselves delivered or not. Full marks to PanGottic for the thought, engineering and enterprise involved in the preparation of Logic of Nothing. A lot like the fizz of the balloon experiment; nerdy science meets gadget and clowning wizardry. Definitely fun.


Logic of Nothing runs at Brewery Theatre until Feb 1st 2014


– Review by Francesca Ward