Oyster Boy Review

York Theatre Royal – 1 April 2017.  Reviewed by Marcus Richardson

Based on The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, a novel written by Tim Burton, Haste Theatre decided to adapt the wacky story line to the stage. Through the use of devising they came out with an oddly sad but hilarious play

Now excuse me if my review is less than detailed, as there was no programme and I had to spend some time researching. The play was set in 1950s America, where dreams can come true for anyone.  It’s the bittersweet tale of ice cream sellers Jim and Alice who fall in love, on the beach. However, their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of their son Sam, born with an oyster shell shaped head!  The play explores the issues Sam faces growing up, we see before his birth and throughout his life. This was an amazing way to explore issues that are controversial as it takes away race and swaps it with something else.

The all female cast of 6 took an abstract approach to an abstract story.  4 of the women worked creating characters with a mainly comical setting; from two doctors who are on the incompetent side, to a pair of twins who becomes Sam’s friends they see through his condition and represent childhood purity.  The other actors played the parents of Sam, One who went to the USA from Italy to make a living and Sam’s mother a plain American gal.  At points the acting was very funny and made me laugh, but at other points it did feel rather flat, and I couldn’t hear some of them speak on stage especially when there was music playing.

I left the theatre very bewildered as its not something you see every day and it was hard to process. The style was very interesting to watch as it relied a lot on the actors with skills that you don’t always use in normal commercial theatre, I loved the story as it was a great way to explore the issues. If you can I would say go and see the show, as it’s important to expose yourself to the wacky and bizarre, and it was good to watch the set of actresses bring this story to life

Rehearsal images for Sasha Regan’s The Mikado

Regan De Wynter Williams Productions present

Sasha Regan’s all-male

The Mikado or The Town of Titipu

UK Tour: April – July 2017

Following the highly successful all-male tours of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, Sasha Regan returns with the world premiere of the irresistible The Mikado – one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous operettas.

In true topsy –turvy fashion, Gilbert and Sullivan’s inherent humour and timeless tunefulness are married with Regan’s wicked sense of fun. This vibrant production successfully pokes playful fun at British politics and institutions. The crazy storyline takes us to 1950s England where a school camping trip is visiting the far away land of Titipu – a place where flirting is banned on pain of death and where tailors can become Lord High Executioners but cannot cut off another’s head, until they have cut off their own!

Regan’s idea to transform these much-loved classics into all-male productions stems from her own experiences performing Gilbert and Sullivan at a single-sex school. Her shows are now renowned for playing on the humour that can emerge from these gender changes.

Regan comments, Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing our work playing in some of the most beautiful theatres our country has to offer. 2017 is going to be a great year for us as we bring a brand new staging to our audiences – it’s beyond exciting.

Rollickingly silly, beautifully sung and imaginatively reframed (Libby Purves – H.M.S. Pinafore 2016

Sasha was recently awarded the Special Achievement Award at the Off West End Awards 2017 for her contribution to musical theatre.

Performance Dates

18th – 22nd April Theatre Royal, Bath Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET

24th – 29th April Theatre Royal, Winchester Jewry Street, Winchester SO23

9th – 13th May Edinburgh Kings Theatre 2 Leven Street, Edinburgh EH3 9LQ

23rd – 27th May Richmond Theatre Little Green, Richmond TW9 1QJ

30th – 31st May East Riding Theatre 10 Lord Roberts Road, Beverley HU17 9BE

1st – 3rd June The Spa Bridlington South Marine Drive, Bridlington, YO15 3JH

6th- 10th June Exeter Northcott Theatre Stocker Road, Exeter EX4 4QB

13th – 17th June Theatre Royal, Brighton New Road, Brighton BN1 1SD

27th June – 1st July Cambridge Arts Theatre 6 St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PJ

4th – 8th July Malvern Festival Theatre Grange Rd, Malvern WR14 3HB

13th – 15th July Hall For Cornwall Back Quay, Truro TR1 2LL

17th – 19th July Dorking Halls Reigate Rd, Dorking RH4 1SG

20th – 22nd July Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8FT

25th – 29th July Quays Theatre , Lowry Salford The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ

Chinglish Review

Park Theatre 22 March – 22 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The European premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish at the Park theatre is a fast and funny comedy of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.

Guiyang city is building a new cultural centre, and American businessman Daniel (Gyuri Sarossy) is bidding for the contract to provide the signs. Unfortunately, doing business in China is slightly more complicated than in the states; as explained by British consultant Peter (Duncan Harte) it’s all about the guanxi – relationships. The cultural and linguistic differences are explored with sharp wit and the foibles and hypocrisy on both sides are exploited beautifully. The legendary labyrinthine dealings of Chinese business and politics leave Daniel, and the audience, giggling in exasperation and amusement.

Beginning with a presentation of some of the best examples of Chinglish signs from the internet, and explanations of the misinterpretations (it’s all Chairman Mao’s fault apparently), the bilingual production shows Daniel’s various meetings with Ministers and magistrates. These are a full-on laugh-fest of botched translations by wonderfully over the top translators (Siu-see Hung, Windson Liong and Minhee Yeo) providing lines that range between the deadpan overly literal to sexual innuendo as the actual translations are displayed on stage. Minister Cai, a put-upon old-school official (Lobo Chan – in a hysterical performance) and Vice-Minister Xi Yan (Candy Ma) both have their own agendas, and Daniel is caught in the middle. When Daniel and Xi begin an affair, things become more complicated, and more personal.

Candy Ma is fantastic as Xi, making her a strong, modern woman who is trapped by the expectations and obligations of tradition. Her attempts to explain what the bonds of marriage mean in China, and her quiet moments pondering whether she is any different from her grandmother with her bound feet and arranged marriage are very moving. Duncan Harte is impressive in both languages as the lost and slightly manic Englishman seeking a role in a more accessible China now that he “isn’t even that tall anymore”, and Gyuri Sarossy’s Daniel is a sweetly befuddled not-so-innocent abroad.

Director Andrew Keates keeps things tight and fast-paced, thanks in a large part to Tim McQuillen-Wright’s brilliantly multi-functional set. A wall of wooden blocks is transformed into bars, board rooms and hotel rooms by the cast with slick movement and creative lighting – inspired.

Chinglish is a triumph – written, directed and performed with exquisite skill, and most importantly, very, very funny.

Echoes End Review

Salisbury Playhouse – 31 March 2017.  Reviewed by Joanne Gordon 

Echoes End, written by Barney Norris, is the story of love, war and change.  Set on a farm in rural Salisbury Plain between 1914-1918, the sleepy, quiet villages are infiltrated with the arrival of thousands of servicemen when camps are set up to accommodate those waiting to deploy to the trenches of the First World War. Two families work the land, Arnold (David Beames) and his daughter Anna (Katie Moore) along with his old friend Jasper (Robin Soans) and Margaret (Sadie Shimmin) with her son John (Tom Byrne). That’s the way its always been for generations, the Plain is vast with swathes of green hills, rivers and sunsets that take your breath away.

It has always been presumed that John and Anna would wed and bring up their family on the Plain just how they were.  As the war continues the landscape changes, with the rolling hills now covered in thousands of tents, field hospitals and a new railway cutting through the land.  After declaring his love and intentions to Anna, who declined his advances – feeling she did not know how to love him back, and that there is a bigger world out there for her than just the farm, John volunteered to join the Army to fight for his country.

As Farm life continued, an injured ANZAC soldier named Jack Howard (Oliver Hembrough) from the camp arrives to sell black-market goods to Arnold.  He helps Anna start up a fire and the spark of friendship begins. Within days, John gets notice of deployment and comes to say his goodbyes to his distraught mother and Anna.  When John heads back down to camp there’s a beautiful moment where they “cuckoo” to each other till they can no longer hear it like they used to when they were children, to make sure the other was safe walking down the lanes back home. Time carries forward and Anna’s relationship with Jack blooms, much to the disdain of her Father.  Jack, now healed has to head to France to continue his war and once again Anna, despite loving him deeply treats him in a cold manner and lets him leave without telling him her true feelings.  She confides in old Jasper, as her father is seriously ill,  that she is carrying Jacks child and feels he probably had a right to know but it’s now too late.

John returns home a changed man after suffering a serious injury and struggles to adjust back into farm life, angry with his mother for not telling him of Anna’s pregnancy and her relationship with Jack.  He withdraws from their friendship, and they no longer speak.  Anna’s father dies and the farm goes back to the Lord of the Manor.  As she leaves the farm she sees John in the field, explaining how she is moving 30 miles away to live with a woman who will support her with the baby and gain employment, they stand and watch one last sunset together regretting how long they have left it to speak and that they will always have a love for each other.

The set was stunning, with tall trees, rolling grasses and a rippling river side.  Lighting gave the sense of red sunsets and long summer days.  Living local, I enjoyed references of nearby places meaning I could place myself in the middle of its setting. One to see if you enjoy local, social history with a humanistic element.

Gabriel Review

Richmond Theatre 28 March – 1 April, National tour until May.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

1943, and for two and a half years the German occupation of Guernsey has seen the women doing what they can to protect their families and homes. For Jeanne Becquet (Belinda Lang) that has meant sleeping with the commanding officer while he turns a blind eye to her black-market activities and allowing her family to live in peace. All this changes when a new officer takes command. The Becquets are moved out of their comfortable home into a farmhouse and Von Pfunz (Paul McGann) sets his sights on Jeanne as her daughter Estelle (Venice Van Someren) wages a supernatural campaign against the invaders in her home. The discovery of a young man on the beach creates conflict and danger for the Becquets as they secretly nurse him back to health. He has no memories and switches between English and German in conversation. Convinced he is an angel, Estelle names him Gabriel, but the adults’ attitudes are more suspicious – is he a downed RAF pilot, an SS officer, an escaped slave worker or a Guernsey local?

Carla Goodman’s inspired set adds to the biblical metaphors, with Gabriel hidden above the kitchen in an elevated attic room, and constant references to the men tunnelling under the house – the slave workers in a living hell, accompanied constantly by the sound of waves hitting the cliffs beneath the farmhouse.

After a mystical opening scene, with Estelle conjuring an enchantment, the play’s light-hearted tone is abruptly squashed as Von Pfunz, after allowing Jeanne to insult him and spill many personal secrets all evening by playing dumb, reveals his perfect English. The childish enthusiasm he displays for Jeanne’s honesty and his passion for poetry do nothing to hide the clinical brutality of his beliefs, and McGann nails his almost scientific zeal for purity in Europe. McGann gives a masterclass in evil hiding behind civility – charming and erudite, but snapping into Nazi rhetoric in the blink of an eye. Belinda Lang is fantastic as Jeanne – she has most of the best lines, and can play arrogant sarcasm in her sleep. But here she must gradually strip away the veneer of strength to show the frightened and desperate woman willing to do anything to protect her family. The pain and shame she feels as she makes her choices in the play’s climatic scenes are palpable.

Robin Morrissey as Gabriel is haunting and strangely charismatic as the blank Gabriel, and his scenes with Lily (a passionate Sarah Schoenbeck) and Estelle are very moving, as the three cling to each other in their search for a family and stability. Venice van Someren makes Estelle a convincing adolescent, funny and frustrating, with just the right amount of Bonnie Langford style histrionics to be sweet rather than annoying. Jules Melvin’s performance as housekeeper Mrs Lake is subtle and fun. Her sighs and comments as she watches the Becquets and their antics are a joy, as is the strength of all the female characters.

Director Kate McGregor has created a wonderfully tight and evocative production. The questions about how educated people could embrace Nazi ideals are still puzzling and relevant in today’s political climate, and Moira Buffini’s wise and witty writing is thought provoking without preaching. Gabriel’s illness is described as “something growing in your head” and the word cancer isn’t mentioned, until Von Pfunz, in the middle of a seemingly charming and rational speech, describes Lily a Jew, as the cancer in Jeanne’s house, drawing gasps from the audience.

Gabriel is still entertaining and full of tension and shocks after 20 years. This UK touring production is a gem, if it’s coming to a theatre near you, get a ticket now. And if it’s not, buy a ticket anyway – it’s worth the journey.

UK Tour Schedule

28 March – 1 April Richmond Theatre

4 – 8 April Liverpool Playhouse

18 – 22 April Theatre Clwyd

24 – 29 April Theatre Royal Windsor

15 – 20 May Yvonne Arnaud Guildford