Hope Mill Theatre
Written by Jonathon Marc Sherman
Directed by Daniel Bradford
One innocuous window in a set that is mainly comprised of doors. Yet this window ten stories up is the Russian roulette of double glazing. Parents, wheelchairs, VHS tapes, remote controls are hurled out and there are a few near misses with several siblings. For all its bland decor this is a high octane living room which sets the scene for this production. Three brothers who are like emotional volcanoes operating out of sync. At any one point there is usually one comatose on the couch with another erupting while a third is seemingly calm but bubbling under with something dark. The catalyst for them to swap places is usually the presence of the sunny faced but equally troubled Stella pertly played by Hannah Ellis Ryan.
Play With Fire and Swaggering Crow have chosen well with this production. The acting is full blown and fast paced as it should be in what feels like a live recording of a television sitcom. The writing is mainly slickly delivered quips and witticisms with some cracking one – liners. The strong cast make good use of this gallows humour as everyone avoids their own emotional pain with sex, drugs, booze, bonsai or psychobabble quacks like Dr Miracle. The theme of addiction and how we safely or harmfully feed our psychological pain is alluded to but never satisfactorily addressed in this quickfire trip through the mess left by a family rocked by tragedy.
There are some great performances from cast most notably Alex Phelps as Teddy as he shifts gear in the second act and moves from the autobot big brother spewing empty platitudes to the conniving train wreck on the couch. William J Holstead as Sty continues his trajectory as a great character actor with superb comic timing who is just electric when on stage. Paddy Young charms as the petulant younger brother desperate for love.
This is a well- paced play about some very dark subject matters. Director and cast are clearly having fun with a great script and packed houses at Hope Mill suggests all round success.
Hope Mill Theatre 30th May- 9th June
THE EDGE THEATRE
A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Cast James Rowland
Writer Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director George Perrin
You are seven years old and your Dad tells you that your Mum has done a stupid thing. Actually your Mum is in hospital and has just tried to commit suicide. You feel guilty that you’re clearly not enough to make her want to stay alive. You’re seven years old and you need your Mum to want to stay alive. So you start to write a list of every brilliant thing which might just make her want to stay alive.
This a play with perfect pitch. It delivers on every level. What could be mawkish and heavy handed is instead life affirming and delightful. There is unbridled energy in this performance and absolute glee in each interaction but also moments of real affect where Rowland describes the reality of depression on relationships and family and the lasting impact on children.
This award winning play has toured America and Australia as well as Edinburgh Fringe and lots of small regional theatres here. It is a play that could easily run and run as it has a lot to say about life and due to its format every performance will be unique.
There is no big cast or eye catching set or clever lighting to hide behind. There is just a great script and soundtrack, with one actor on stage who is engaging with the audience well before the performance starts and whose impact lingers long after he has left the stage.
This is a uniquely engaging performance in that it exists only through the audience participating in an act of trust and taking on a range of roles on stage. Foreman gives out post it notes or annotated sketches or coffee stained scraps as the audience is first seated. As he calls out the numbers on the papers each participant becomes a part of the performance. Others are deftly engaged as actors voicing roles such as the veterinarian who euthanizes his first pet dog or the narrator’s father or his first love.
The success of each show relies on a willingness to participate that is elucidated by pure charm and warmth. From start to finish this ensures the attention of all involved as we wait for a cue for our part. The result is a theatre space full of energy and life. As the list grows so does the confidence of the participants as we move from the 7 year old child listing-
3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
To the teenager-
994 Hairdressers who listen to what you want.
To the adult in love-
1009 Dancing in public, fearlessly.
9995 Falling in love.
To the man who has known depression and loss-
999998 Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.
1000000 Listening to a record for the first time……
Adding to the list I write-
1000001 Watching Every Beautiful Thing on a Summer evening at The Edge Theatre.