Undermined

Undermined

Danny  Mellor in Undermined

Young actor Danny Mellor presented his self-penned hour long one-man play Undermined at Wilton’s Music Hall this week following an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival.

This is a well-structured work describing a year in a young miner’s life in North Yorkshire during the tumultuous 1980’s miner’s strike. Based on true stories, it is beautifully observed, not only of the events shaping the strike through the eyes of one miner, but the various people affected.

Well directed by Ben Butcher, and using finely honed movement skills, Mellor builds vivid pictures of crowd scenes, picket lines, fights and individual characters. His depictions of the men and women of the community are amusingly and sensitively portrayed, from the familiar Northern matriarch to the swaggering gawkiness of some of the young men.

By turns he is rangy, still, drunk or exhausted, with sharp attention to detail both in physicality and voice.

The emotions elicited in us move from great amusement to shock, anger and tears.

My one note of criticism is that at the beginning of the piece, where Mellor moves into a fast spoken part, that one section was almost inaudible on the evening I saw it, not helped by its being set against energetic music. This was a pity, as it is an important part of the plot, explaining why the union chose to strike at that moment. Writing as someone who was not in the country at that time, it would have helped to be given the playwright’s perspective on this.

This is easily rectified, however, by a slightly slower delivery and greater attention to diction at that point. It does not detract from enjoyment of the piece as a whole. The main thrust of the narrative is not so much the political wrangling on the national scale, but the undermining of both the strike itself, and crucially, of the friendships and community ties. The consequences of the divisions formed then are still felt in those former mining communities to this day.

An excellent piece of theatre.

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Shell Shock

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Tom Page and Tim Marriott in rehearsal for Shell Shock

Shell Shock is a powerful and acutely-observed new one-man play soon to tour the UK describing a young soldier’s difficulties in settling back into civilian life, and the effects on his mental health and family life.

Originally created at Eastbourne College, former pupil turned professional actor Tom Page tells one soldier’s story of coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tommy Atkins’ observations on life on civvy street are poignant, frequently comic and always moving. His over-emotional responses to post office queues, a trip to Ikea, his relationships and family lead to alienation and anger.
The story, adapted from the original novel Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins, highlights the work of charities such as Combat Stress and Help For Heroes and was described by General Sir Mike Jackson as: “a vivid and compassionate portrayal of an ex-soldier having to cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and it shows just how important is the work of charities such as Combat Stress”.

Shell Shock is written by Neil Watkin and adapted for the stage by Tim Marriott and features a filmed introduction from Squadron Leader John Peters, the former RAF Tornado pilot famously shot down and held captive by the Iraqis in the first Gulf War.

 
Read the interview with adaptor and director Tim Marriott and actor Tom Page here:

TIM MARRIOTT

How did the project come about?

Neil Watkin (writing as Neil Blower) is a former soldier who returned to the UK after several overseas tours and after leaving the army began to demonstrate signs of PTSD. As part of his treatment he was advised to write a diary. Into this work he amalgamated stories of other veterans with similar tales to tell creating a fictionalised account of a generic ‘Tommy’. The resultant diary/novel was published and received positive responses including General Sir Mike Jackson comments: “a vivid and compassionate portrayal of an ex-soldier having to cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and it shows just how important is the work of charities such as Combat Stress”. Having recently written and produced a number of issue related works for the Brighton Fringe and on tour, I was approached by the publisher to write a stage adaptation.

The novel you have adapted is essentially a diary. What were the challenges in dramatising it for the stage, and how were you able to overcome them.

Written in the first person as a direct address piece, it wasn’t immediately obvious how this could be a stage drama. However, I knew about Alan Rickman’s adaptation My Name is Rachel Corrie, a blog written by a young American woman killed in Palestine by an Israeli bulldozer, and subsequently could envisage how a direct address piece could work. The humour of the original diary, the guttural language, Neil’s excellent ear for dialogue and the fact that I was working with an extraordinary young actor, Tom Page, ideal for the role, meant that the pieces quickly fell into place.

The first problem was that this is a written diary, so we made the choice to change this to a video diary to allow Tom to speak to the audience and infuse the action with cinematically screened footage to reveal his subconscious and colour the flashbacks and nightmares that any PTSD sufferer experiences.

Shell Shock 2017 Printers Playhouse

Tom Page in Shell Shock

How were you able to secure the funding to mount a full production and tour it?

We are LIBOR funded. The UK government has recently been highlighting reforms in mental health care, particularly with reference to veterans. We therefore applied to the LIBOR fund with the support of Anglia Ruskin University, who are to evaluate the project and several related charities such as Help for Heroes, Combat Stress and PTSD resolution.

You are touring to a range of spaces, each of different shapes and sizes, and each presenting a particular challenge. How will you adapt the set to suit such an array?

We have an expanding set of doorways and partition walls suggested by wooden frames, which can be tailored to each venue. The walls and empty door frames are in part meant to be suggestive of his deconstructed mind but also of his nightmare shopping experience in Ikea!

The piece is imagined largely in Tommy’s home and bedroom, his mother represented by a cottage sofa, his father by a leather arm chair, his fiancée by the bed – so these are the key areas with stage space defined by a floor cloth, which can expand for larger venues.

 

TOM PAGE

What drew you to the project?

I immediately identified with the central character. The diary drew me in straight away and I was fascinated by ‘Tommy’- the trauma he experienced and his denial as he falls into PTSD really impacted on me. The strength of the script, the remodelling of the diary into stage form was amazing. I could hear the voice of ‘Tommy’ so clearly, and what a challenge! 90 minutes on stage alone… got to be done!

You have a very different background from Tommy Atkins. You are highly educated, while Tommy left school early and has difficulty reading and writing. How do you identify with the character?

Not so sure about highly educated! I didn’t join the army at 16, I finished school with A levels, but have not gone on to college or university and actually experienced some learning difficulties at school and could really identify with the problems Neil faced and that he has expressed as ‘Tommy’. Like him, I have had to learn to mask such difficulties and deploy strategies to overcome them, so although I recognise I am very different to ‘Tommy’, there are similarities I could draw on in creating the character.

Do you or your family have any military background?

I served in the cadets as a teenager and have to say did not enjoy it!

How do you see your future career developing? What do you see yourself doing?

I have been lucky to gain some professional experience as a teenager in small parts on TV and in commercials and have managed to perform in professionally produced plays at the Brighton Fringe, in Eastbourne and on tour – I just hope to keep developing this kind of powerful work.

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For more information on the production, forthcoming tour information and the Shell Shock project please visit www.shellshock.org.uk

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A Christmas Carol – Fitzrovia Radio Hour

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Fitzrovia Radio Hour – A Christmas Carol. Photo: Geraint Lewis

 

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are an acclaimed troupe who re-work vintage plays and write their own works and adaptations in the style of 1940’s radio drama, complete with cut-glass accents, live sound effects and plenty of nonsense.

Dickens’ Christmas classic is ‘broadcast’ live from the atmospheric Vaults Theatre by a cast comprising Ernest Andrew (Samuel Collings), Vanity Fair (Alix Dunmore), Beau Belles (William Findley), Stanley De Pfeffel (Michael Lumsden) and Gretchen Hagaegard (Dorothea Myer- Bennett).

From the start we are let into the secret that there has been rivalry and jealousy over the part of Scrooge, and the actor about to play the eponymous role has been injured in mysterious circumstances at the nearby Old Vic. However, the show must go on, though one cast member is visibly distraught, and Ernest Andrew takes his place.

Of course, there are more ghosts than the cast bargain for and the inevitable mayhem ensues.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Fitrovia Radio Hour -A Christmas Carol.  Photo:Geraint Lewis

 

The whole production is delightfully silly, very slick and wonderfully energetic. Beautifully choreographed, we see the actors jump to the microphones taking various characters in Dickens’ story, and create the splendid sound effects with a vast array of props, ranging from cloth in water, to cabbage in a boxing glove to coconut maracas.

Ridiculous product placement advertising, cast dynamics and a crackling script keep the pace moving as well as the visible theatrics, and arch reference is frequently made to the venue in which the show takes place.

The result is a highly amusing, joyful romp guaranteed to bring Christmas cheer.

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Bounder and Cad

Bounder & Cad 4

Bounder and Cad

Bounder and Cad‘s alter-egos, Adam Drew and Guy Hayward, are in reality two very personable young Cambridge graduates having found themselves on the cabaret circuit almost by accident. They met as students, sang in choirs, put together a song for a friend’s party, which people enjoyed, and things went from there. While acting with Cambridge Footlights, Adam learned that the price of tickets for the May Ball were reduced for performers, and that set the ball rolling.

Adam is the lyricist of the two, with Guy acting as editor and marketing manager. For the most part, they produce their own updated lyrics to songs by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Occasionally, they also compose original music.

Their inspiration largely comes from stories and celebrities in the news (hence a song about Prince Harry which went viral on youtube), but often from the people they are singing for. This might involve some quite detailed research, such as the somewhat daunting commission to perform a satirical take on Greece’s financial crisis at a Grexit-themed lunch for international bankers, and where Russell Taylor, Telegraph satirist of the ‘Alex’ cartoon fame, was in the room.

Before long, they were being invited perform in such places as Highclere Castle and the 10 Downing Street Christmas Party, where a friend was working and a band fell through at the last minute. Adam says: “The pay was terrible, but hard to turn down”. They wrote a gentle coalition spoof on Cameron and Clegg to the tune of Me and My Shadow, which Adam thought he had better get clearance for. Apparently, it went through many different levels via email, until they were told ‘no’ by Cameron’s private secretary. This was a let-down, but they did the gig and after Cameron and Samantha left the party , the staff really wanted to hear it. Adam was initially unwilling, having been vetoed by the PM, but Guy was up for it. Interestingly, although Adam writes the cheeky lyrics, it would seem he is the more reticent and Guy is the one who grasps each opportunity to perform.

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Bounder and Cad

Their interest in the cabaret form came about through interesting angles. Lyric writing appeals to Adam, a classics scholar, because of the compressed nature of getting an idea across in a few lines. He says: “I find it plays its part.. reading Latin, especially Horace, at the risk of sounding pseud, because it’s so wonderfully compact. .. I love a line where every syllable has a purpose, creates an image, tells a story and achieves a twist.”

Whereas Guy, a music graduate, wrote his PhD thesis on the psychology and anthropology of music, specifically the way the presentation of music has varied from the generally accepted Western approach, where the artist is expert, to community singing where the audience is very much expected to join in. Cabaret, of course, spans the two.

Understandably, they are becoming known as the successors to Kit & the Widow and Fascinating Aida, and are appearing at The Pheasantry 3rd September in what promises to be an amusing evening.
https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/bounder-cad-pizzas-and-pizzazz
Fiona-Jane Weston

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Rodgers Revealed

Richard Rodgers

Richard Rodgers

The duo that put together Bernstein Revealed at St James Studio has reprised a former show of similar format, Rodgers Revealed, this time at North London venue JW3 Edward Seckerson and Jason Carr draw upon their vast knowledge of the scores and the stories behind them to create an intimate evening exploring the life and music of one of the most popular composers of theatre music.

Incredibly prolific, Richard Rodgers wrote more than 40 musicals and over 1,000 songs – more than Franz Schubert, and as Seckerson points out “with much smarter lyrics!”  Most of these were penned by Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, two personalities that could not have been more different.

As with Bernstein Revealed, the results of years of in-depth research are engagingly delivered by host Seckerson, and further enriched by banter with the equally knowledgeable and eloquent Carr illustrating points at the piano, and songs sung by a West End leading lady, this time by Olivier Award nominee Anna Francolini.

There is a good balance of old favourites, such as South Pacific‘s Wonderful Guy and the heart-renderingly beautiful What’s the Use of Wondrin’ from Carousel, and rarely performed jewels like the poignant Nobody’s Heart from Jupiter and The Gentleman is a Dope from Allegro, initially a flop, but is soon to receive its European premier at Southwark Playhouse.

As ever, Carr plays his arrangements superbly with both sensitivity and great virtuosity, as the occasion demands. By sharing the contexts of the songs, such as ballerina Natalia Makarova’s backflips in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, both Seckerson and Carr furnish us with an insight into these riveting instrumental solos.

Francolini sings with a wonderful Eartha Kitt style purr, captures the New York cadence beautifully in Manhattan and fairly bites on the rhymes in the lyrics. Her light delicate touch on To Keep My Love Alive, ending on a rich low note was a masterclass in delivering a comic song.

The team also indulged in an amusing moment of musical interpretation of Rodgers’ work (which Rodgers himself notoriously took great exception to – to the point of publicly berating the stars that had the temerity to do it) on Falling In Love With Love.

Serendipitously, on the night of the European Referendum, we were treated to Stephen Sondheim’s witty number This Week Americans, which features some dry observations on the behaviour of certain Europeans. Sondheim’s relationship with Rodgers was difficult, but fruitful and it was particularly interesting to hear this infrequently performed item from their collaboration Do I Hear A Waltz?

I also enjoyed the encore medley of Edelweiss, Hammerstein’s last lyric, and Carr’s excellent jazz arrangement of My Favourite Things, but the song of the evening was without question Francolini’s extraordinary rendition of Bewitched from Pal Joey.  Tortured, fascinated and potently attracted to a man she shouldn’t be, Francolini lets us in to the character’s internal struggle with the rights, wrongs and inevitabilities of the issue, so that the listener hears the lyrics wholly anew.

A magical evening greatly appreciated by the audience.

 

Fiona-Jane Weston

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Fiona Coffey: A Touch of Mrs Robinson

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Fiona Coffey as Mrs Robinson. Photo Zoe White

 

A Touch of Mrs Robinson is Fiona Coffey’s first attempt at cabaret, and she presents a very interesting idea. Mrs Robinson is a character from The Graduate, a novel written by Charles Webb in 1963, and made into a film directed by Mike Nicolls in 1967 featuring the great Anne Bancroft as Mrs Robinson. Set in a rich suburb in California, The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, aged 21, returning from college unsure of his future, and is seduced by Mrs Robinson, an older woman and the wife of his father’s business partner.

Fascinated by the foxy, predatory, rule-breaking Mrs Robinson, Coffey narrates her relationship with and thoughts about the character, and features songs to illustrate points along the way.

Coffey makes a stylish entrance singing a medley of Cool to Be Cool and Peel Me a Grape . Well costumed, she has a good presence about her. There are times when I feel she could ‘inhabit’ the character more deeply in terms of acting, but there is a nice air of hauteur, especially in her treatment of Musical Director Michael Roulston, with the silent expectation that he will pick up her leopard print coat from the floor .

Harold Sanditen has done a good job of directing this show. It is well structured in terms of narrative arc, has good placement of songs, and he makes full use of Roulston’s comic talents as well as his renowned musical ability. I particularly enjoyed Roulston’s portrayal of the hapless, conservative Mr Robinson, maintaining the casual expectation that she will deal with his coat as he hands it to her.

The excellent 3-piece band comprises Henry Gilbert on bass and Jonathan Kitching on drums, as well as Roulston at the piano. Playing Roulston’s superb arrangements, they occasionally join in the vocals, and contribute this way to some of the stand-out songs for the evening, including a great doo-wop version of Lucky Lips.

Vocally, Coffey’s best numbers are when she sings simply and uses a more legitimate singing sound. The stories and pathos come through well in Such Pretty People and Step Inside Love, which she makes her own.

There is much to recommend this show. It is a great concept, combining not only an unusual idea of creating a back narrative to an iconic fictional character, but a wry and amusing look at women’s history during the 1950’s and ‘60’s and the appeal this woman still has today.

There are fun devices for audience interaction too, with a competition to write the best Mrs Robinson seduction line, together with her plausible explanation as to why she would want her target to carry out certain outrageous tasks. There are sometimes contests on dressing like the character.

To take the show to its next level artistically, a suggestion would be to work on a more conversational style of patter, and to develop the different colours in her singing voice. Coffey has good pipes, and understands her character well. Better technique would enhance these qualities adding greater effect to her delivery.

These reservations aside, this is an entertaining piece and a very creditable first attempt at a notoriously tricky genre. The show tours occasionally, and I wish Coffey well with the future of it.

Fiona-Jane Weston

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Edward Seckerson: Bernstein Revealed

Bernstein-Slider

Just one year before Leonard Bernstein’s death in 1990, Edward Seckerson was presented with an extraordinary chance to interview his idol. It transpired that Seckerson’s editor chose the young enthusiast over the heads of more senior and experienced critics.

On the day of the interview itself, things did not bode well. Many of the cast of the concert had flu, Bernstein himself was feeling under the weather and told the orchestra he was in a foul mood. He introduced himself to Seckerson by declaring he had been told to do this interview “on pain of death”.

But, Seckerson won him over by telling him he wanted to converse about Bernstein as a composer, not as a classical conductor. This altered the atmosphere considerably and the two were able to bond.

Seckerson’s admiration for this great composer has never wavered, and the evening at St James Theatre was a thorough exploration of this most prolific and versatile musician and writer.

He is joined by composer, arranger and musical director Jason Carr, and together they draw upon their vast knowledge of the scores and the stories behind them.

Carr opened the evening with a wonderfully played prelude with no fewer than thirteen references to Bernstein’s work, setting the highly polished tone for the night.

The songstress for the evening is West End lead Sophie-Louise Dann, in fine form displaying her strong flexible voice, excellent movement skills and great versatility. The latter is demonstrated early in contrasting the strident 100 Ways to Lose A Man and I’m A Little Bit in Love, but particularly in the 2nd half of the show with Bernstein’s more contemporary classic style pieces such as Ain’t Got No Tears Left, Take Care of This House and a spine-tingling version of There’s A Place For Us .

Bernstein was inspired by good text, and his rarely presented musical On the Town was represented by a number of comedic songs, including I Can Cook Too, in medley with the most surprising Rabbit at Top Speed from a collection of 19th century French recipes by Emile Dumont. Bernstein set these recipes to music, just to see if a recipe could be taken word-for-word and turned into a decent song. It could, and he did.

Bernstein is best known for his musical theatre pieces, most notably West Side Story, but the evening celebrates a much wider canvass, including Mass, a theatre piece composed by him with additional text and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. It was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy as part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Originally, his intention was to compose a traditional Mass, but he eventually decided on a more innovative form, although much of the liturgical work is sung in Latin. Seckerson told Bernstein that he considered Mass to be his seminal work. Bernstein replied: “Seminal! Now, that’s a critic’s word! But, I’ll kiss you on the lips for it.”. Apparently, this was typical. On meeting the Pope, Bernstein was reminded that he was only meant to kiss the ring.

Much to Bernstein’s chagrin, he felt his music was not taken seriously enough by the music literati of the day. This hurt him, but he continued to “write the music I had to write”, believing passionately in the power of music to transcend social divisions, to move and draw people together.

Seckerson certainly plays his part in aiding our current appreciation of this extraordinary body of work. This is an impeccably researched, informative and very entertaining evening, performed by two of the best artists in London.

Fiona-Jane Weston

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