Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky - Review - People's Theatre

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky
People's theatre
11th June 2019

Written by Nick Dear
Directed by Hugh Keegan

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is the story of the friendship between poets Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.  There are four main characters - Edward Thomas, Helen Thomas, Robert Frost and Eleanor Farjeon and the play follows the relationships between these four friends. Though the play is ostensibly about the friendship between Frost and Thomas and the influence they each had on the other's career, for me, the relationship between Helen and Edward seems the strongest thread and Helen's voice the strongest, throughout.

Each character addresses the audience at some point - the first we hear is Helen and her voice throughout is the strongest. Even as she is moved away from Edward's focus she remains steadfast and forthright. Anna Dobson plays the role beautifully - capturing the transition from the joy of the young lover, through the drudgery of motherhood and housekeeping, essentially bringing up the children and running the household alone as Edward pursues his own dreams. Her devotion to Edward shines through even as he pushes her away.

Edward Thomas (Sam Hinton)  is an unhappy man - he doesn't fit comfortably into the world - at odds with his father, labelled failure by him because he does not share his hunger for financial success. Thomas wants to enjoy life as he lives it, not spend life striving in a job he hates in order to get on in society. His affinity is with words and with the land and the countryside. City life stifles him. He makes his living - such as it is writing literary criticisms, biographies, essays, reviews but it takes the friendship with Frost for him to realise he himself could be a poet. And yet still he feels that something is missing. Ironically, having fought against the constraints of city life, and the daily grind of marriage and children, he finally finds purpose by joining the army. And therein he finally breaks Helen's heart.

Robert Frost (Mark Burden) is a more enigmatic character - though he is one of the main characters in the drama I feel  we learn very little the man himself - other than his love for words, and his affection for Thomas, other than this we are given only glimpses into his own private life, snatches of his family history and background.

Finally, we have Eleanor Farjeon (Alison Carr), hopelessly in love with Edward but never more than friends. Their relationship brings light into Edwards life and darkness to Helen’s – she befriends Eleanor to keep an enemy close, and though the two women are friends, Helen is aware perhaps even before Eleanor herself, of the other woman’s love for her husband.  Eleanor is light, apparently carefree, and becomes the confident of Edward and Frost.  Hers is a lonely life, despite her place in society. Both she and Frost feel the loss of Edward keenly.

There are many, many layers to this play – it explores intellect and intelligence, but also emotion, and the nature of love, and expectation, success and failure, and self-worth. It is threaded through with images of nature and the love of the natural world, and the love of words. But also the power of words, both those spoken, and those not, their power to enlighten, and to educate but to also to confuse, to crush and to undermine.  The themes of language and nature are embodied in the stunning set created by Rolf Wojciechowski – with its draped images of distant hills and trees, and skies filled with cloudlike words – some legible and some just a hint of language.

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky is a beautifully sad play. A story of love, and loss. The cast portray their characters with such empathy throughout. Lovely performances from everyone involved. Performed in the round, this is an absorbing and intimate experience. As the audience, we switch from being voyeurs of these people's lives to being included in them, and back again.  
Studio productions never disappoint at the People's Theatre. This one takes them to another level.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Spamalot - Review - Theatre Royal

NMTC at Theatre Royal Newcastle Tuesday 28th of May

I flaming love this theatre company and I think for the past 5 years I have seen all their productions and I can't wait to tell you all about it!

This is one of the funniest shows that they have done in a long time, but sadly tonight the audience wasn't there.
There was a severe lack of audience members so this is my call to you (person reading this) GO and SEE THIS SHOW!!!!

Even if you don't like or get Monty Python (I don't), you will love this play which tells the story of King Arthur and his knights of round table as they try to find the holy grail.

King Arthur, played by the charismatic Charles Docherty, is joined by his noble steed - Patsy - played Stuart Liddle. Just try to find a better double act than these two...... I'll wait.

JoJo Hatfield -who should really be on broadway playing parts in big shows - is amazing as the Lady of the Lake.
Her vocals are amazing and wow! she hits that high note with ease.

There are plenty of comedic parts  including Sir Robin the Brave who was played (apparently) by James Mitchinson... but knowing James as I do, I know he doesn't have long hair. (perhaps he was wearing a wig? - Ed)

Dennis / Sir Galahad tonight is played by Jay Robinson (but he will also be played by Jamie Douglass later in the week). Jay is fantastic and is transformed into a dashing knight by the Lady of the Lake.

Sir Lancelot who is played by Stephen Mason who I have to say looks good in fishnets and it's not the first time he has played this character (Are you trying to tell us something, Stephen?).

Sir Bedevere is played by Dan Collins who looks like he is enjoying himself in his first NMTC show.

I have to say that James Forster (who plays Prince Herbert) looks fabulous in a dress and a wig!! (You must do it often?)

There are so many characters that I could talk about but I'll be here all day so I'll just go through them quickly.

Prince Herbert's Father was played by Gawen Robinson, Dan Greener was fantastic and showed a more comedic side to his acting this year.
Carl Luke played Not Dead Fred, Lindsay Gill who is also the publicity officer plays the historian.
Dan Fisher plays Brother Maynard and Concorde and Lee Benson plays Black Knight and Bors with Kim Robinson playing Galahad's Mother and Micheal Skoles who multitasks well playing 4 parts.

But the star of the show was the coconuts!!!!!! (Only Joking).

We go through the journey with Arthur and his knights to find the holy grail but seeing as the knights are not the brightest crayons in the box they don't last long until they come unstuck.

With Great songs like Lady in the Lake, Knights of the Round table and of course the song we all know Brave Sir Robin.... (What you don't know it???, you ain't lived) LOL only joking . It's Always look on the Bright Side of Life.
This show has a fantastic ensemble of lovely young ladies,
I'll list them below.
Jacqui Simpson, Susan Sanderson, Lisa Powell, Alia Nabi, Judy Mahoney, Claire Blake, Tricia Tait, Cindy Redhead, Sheila Coleman, Sara Blair, Kate Sword, Jess Wells Auchteronie, Laura Wood, Bryony Souza Hawkins, Ruth Scott, Jessica Carle and even a cheeky little cameo from Choreographer Sandra Laidler who I swear lies about her age saying she's 40 (she's only 38!!!).

Bea Atkinson has done a great job directing the cast alongside Carl Luke (He's not paying me for these mentions I promise), the man with the musical baton is Malcolm Moffat and Lisa Roach is Dance Captain. And God is played by the Idle called Eric. This show is funny and sophisticated and you will belaughing and tapping your feet and whistling - or trying to in my case as I was losing my voice!

With many people backstage working their asses off to help with the show.

All they need is the audience. Tickets start as little as £17 in the stalls so do go and book one! You won't be disappointed!

Book here

On until Saturday 1st of June.

Rubes Hiles

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Woke - Review -Northern Stage

23rd May 2019

Of late it seems to be my fate to find myself at Northern Stage surrounded by people half my age. I'm not complaining. I think it's commendable of Northern Stage to seek to reach out to a new younger audience. It's just – you know – I don't really know what I'm talking about here.

Woke is a one-man show by south London rapper, Testament, who describes himself a human beatbox and conscious MC. Are they actual things or is he making it up?

Human beatboxing, according to my friend Wiki, is a type of vocal percussion, imitating drum machines, using mouth, lips, tongue and voice; it may also, as in this case be vocal imitation of turntabling and other musical instruments. 

I know nothing about hip-hop but I can recognise skills. Testament is an amazing performer, not just vocally, sampling and turntabling a range of styles. 

His theatre skills are enviable. He interacts with his little daughter Elise so convincingly we believe she is there, and I as an audience member felt none of the usual awkwardness in greeting her likewise as if she were really there.

Woke is about the impact of having his daughter on Testament; how her birth made him question the culture of rap but also of wider society. It's a mixture of spoken word, live theatre and hip hop rap, which manages to get its message across with wit and passionate style. Testament goes through the history of rap and its precursors and manages to subvert rap's own techniques -- rewinds, remix and repetition – to underscore the insistent sexism and an echo-y meaninglessness at its heart.

The track 'Ojectify' (which you can download at:, all profits go to is a masterpiece of satire and rap beats. It's the skills that lift this show out of worthiness into something that rap's own audience can relate to and question their own assumptions.
But it's not just a critique of rap culture, an easy target, which comfortably lets white liberals off the hook. He examines the stereotypes of the 'black father': "My wife – oh you're surprised? You thought I had a baby-mother?"; or of being congratulated for playing with his own child at the playground.
He also situates it within the sexism of the wider culture, through a mash-up of film and tv tropes that emphasise female passivity and objectification.

What sort of a society is he bringing his little girl up in?

He ended the show by acknowledging the irony of a one-man show about girls and sexism, asking the
women in the audience to give their advice to Elise, or "What would you like to tell your younger self?" The response was all a bit affirmative, like the insta poems of Rupi Kaur. But maybe that's just me being a bitter old woman, and young women are much nicer. (My contribution was: don't take any bullshit.)

Testament than improvised a rap from the advice solicited.

Seriously, it was a great night, great skills. I wished the audience was a hundred times bigger. Testament is a voice that should be heard.
*pics courtesy of Northern Stage  

Gerry Byrne

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Barefoot in the Park - Review - Royalty Theatre

Barefoot in the Park
Royalty Theatre
21st May 2019

Despite its title Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park is not set in a park. It is set in an apartment on the fifth floor of a brownstone building in New York. The play centres on newly weds Paul and Corrie Bratter. They are an unlikely pairing. Corrie is young, impulsive, immature, the only daughter of a doting, widowed mother.  Paul is a staid, sensible, recently qualified lawyer. Somehow the two have met, fallen in love and had a whirlwind romance culminating in a six day honeymoon in the Plaza Hotel.

The play begins on the first day in their new home - an apartment that Corrie has found, and which Paul has not actually seen yet. It is not the Plaza Hotel. It is small - very small - the heating does not work, the bedroom is actually a dressing room, only big enough for a single bed, and the bathroom has no bathtub. And, it is five flights of stairs up. (The stairs play a crucial part in the humour of the play).
Corrie believes that love will make up for the shortcomings of their new home. Paul however is not convinced - having climbed the five flights of stairs (not including the stoop!) he arrives out of breath and lacking the enthusiasm and passion Corrie had hoped for. It's not the start to marred life either of them had expected. And the situation is about to get worse - Paul has been awarded his first case at work and has to be in court the next morning so must work all evening. Problem, there is no furniture (it hasn't arrived yet), there is no heat, there is a hole in the skylight and Corrie's mother is on her way up. Add to this an eccentric upstairs neighbour and you have a recipe for comedic disaster.

Simon draws on the discrepancy between expectation and reality, and pits contrasting personalities against each other to create comedy situations. The play looks at the nature of relationships, of expectation, and aspiration. He presents four very different characters each equally out of depth in the situation they find themselves, and each one must find the way to compromise in order to find the happiness they desire.

Neil Simon's observations of people are wry and witty. Unfortunately the performance on Monday didn't do justice to the writing. Somehow the delivery of  the key lines didn't quite hit the mark and so much of the wit of the writing was lost. I didn't quite feel the chemistry between Corrie and Paul, though newcomers Kylie Archer and Daniel Hart gave fair performances. David Armstrong as Victor Velasco was a little too over the top - he just over-cooked the Albanian eccentricity. However the interaction between Paul (Daniel Hart) and Ethel (Lorna Breeze) was lovely, and there was a real sense of empathy between those two characters. Lorna Breeze as Ethel gave by far the best performance of the night.

Act two felt more settled, as if the cast had relaxed into their roles and I liked Victor much more once he had admitted to his wig and ulcer!

I'm not sure why this one didn't work for me - it is a favourite film and stage play and I had been looking forward to seeing it performed at the Royalty. I was disappointed. There have been some excellent productions recently and the Royalty team generally do comedy very well - perhaps, like Corrie and Paul, my expectations were too high? Perhaps the direction missed the comedy of the situation? Or perhaps it was simply first night nerves.

Barefoot in the Park runs until Saturday.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Frankenstein - Review - People's Theatre

People's Theatre
22nd May 2019

When you think of Frankenstein, I would bet that you think of a rather crude, squarish monster...A caricature propagated by Hollywood, stomping stiff legged, arms outstretched, groaning inarticulately. Perhaps more than any other monster, Frankenstein's has been taken over and diminished, and dehumanised  by the movie industry. Nick Dear's play seeks to explore and reassert the humanity of Frankenstein's creature.

The play begins with a blinding flash - the spark of life - and as the stage lights rise, we see the creature standing, arms outstretched like Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, apparently geometrically balanced, perfectly proportioned. But the image of perfection is short lived, as the creature collapses and drags himself towards his creator in an ungainly, uncoordinated
crawl. Horrified by the hideousness of his creation Frankenstein runs, abandoning the creature, believing it would not survive. And so the first experience of humanity for the creature is that of rejection. Rejection and cruelty will be the formative experiences for the creature - though he revels in the beauty of the world around him, and finds friendship with the blind man, he is unable to forget men's cruelty and his reaction to rejection is always rage, which he cannot control. The creature learns, he is intelligent and logical, but emotionally limited. He lacks understanding of why men are cruel and vengeful. He sees that beauty is valued, and can appreciate it himself, but is also acutely aware of his own lack of beauty and worth. He feels the isolation of being unlike others, and longs for companionship. Unable to find it he strikes out against everyone, his own actions mirroring the reactions of men towards him, and leads eventually to tragedy.

The People's Theatre have produced an astonishing play. Colin Jeffrey's portrayal of the creature is compelling. His ungainly gait and halting speech embody the imperfection of his physical body, and contrast completely with the intelligence the creature very quickly displays.  Against this image of the creature is set the handsome, assured, articulate and calculating Frankenstein, played by Adam Owers. The contrast between the two characters could not be greater. It is an excellent piece of casting.

This is a play that will shock, and surprise the audience - there are brutal and bloody scenes, but also moments of heart aching compassion, and even some humour. You will find your sympathies lie with the creature - misunderstood wretch that he is, even at his darkest moments he is a worthier character than his creator.

The staging, lighting, sound, all contribute to the immersive experience for the audience. Frankenstein addresses the audience in the first scene effectively drawing us into the narrative, and at times characters enter from the back of the auditorium - from rowdy, riotous villages to the terrified, and terrifying creature - ensuring that we never relax or feel complacent about what is unfolding on stage. We feel we are somehow complicit in the action.

To leave the theatre still feeling the emotional effects of what you have seen and experienced is the sign of a good production.  The People's Theatre's production of Frankenstein does exactly that. It is definitely not for the faint hearted, but you definitely should experience it.

It plays until Sat 25th May.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Preview - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Northern Stage

By Ursula Rani Sarma
Based on the book by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s book has been adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma and is directed by Artistic Director, Roxana Silbert, her last as Artistic Director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini’s spiritual sequel to The Kite Runner had its European première at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and is on its way to Northern Stage at the end of this month. The cast features Waleed Akhtar (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen/ Lasse Hallström; What Shadows / Birmingham Repertory Theatre and The Kite Runner/Nottingham Playhouse & Liverpool Pal Aron (Behind the Beautiful Forevers/National Theatre; Stella/ Sky One); Sujaya Dasgupta (Death of a Salesman/Royal & Derngate, Press/BBC);  Munir Khairdin (Whitechapel/ITV); Naveed Khan (Tamburlaine and Tartuffe /RSC); Mollie Lambert (The White Devil/Shakespeare’s Globe); Shala Nyx (Miss Prue/Bristol Old Vic; The Shadow Factory/Nuffield Southampton Theatres) and Lisa Zahra (The Kite Runner/Wyndham’s) and
Amina Zia (Tartuffe/RSC). 

Khaled Hosseini’s international best-selling novel is the powerful story of three generations of
women discovering strength in unity and finding hope in the unlikeliest of places. Set in 1992 in an Afghanistan ravaged by war, an orphaned Laila is left alone in an increasingly threatening world.  Her older neighbour Rasheed is quick to open his home and takes Laila as his second wife.
Everyman); Rasheed’s first wife Mariam has no choice but to accept her younger, and now pregnant, rival. As the Taliban take over, life for all of them becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear, and the two women find themselves unlikely allies.  In A Thousand Splendid Suns, love grows and sustains the human spirit even during the hardest of times.

Roxana Silbert directs A Thousand Splendid Suns, her final show as Artistic Director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre. She said:
“In Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns we are given a rare glimpse into 30 years of contemporary Afghan history and thanks to Ursula Rani Sarma’s emotionally stirring adaptation audiences will be able to bear witness to the extraordinary story of two radiant women who struggle to survive the terrifying political situation they find themselves in. I can’t wait to bring this inspiring and enlightening story to the stage.”

Playwright Ursula Rani Sarma said: “This play is about the immense strength and endurance of women and how they can survive tremendous suffering to keep those they love alive. It is also about how even in the darkest of times and places, love can grow and sustain the human spirit beyond all pain and hard-ship. It’s about friendship and loyalty, courage and selflessness, grief and violence. What the play has to say about love, endurance, and survival is very much worth listening to for a contemporary audience. There is beauty and strength at the heart of A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I feel so proud to be part of its evolution from novel to stage.”

Ursula Rani Sarma is a scriptwriter for stage and screen. Her previous credits include Delicious (Sky), the award-winning film Anywhere But Here, Yerma (West Yorkshire Playhouse) and The Dark Things (Traverse Theatre).

Khaled Hosseini is one of the most widely read and beloved novelists in the world, with over 38 million copies of his books sold in more than seventy countries. The Kite Runner was a major film and was a Book of the Decade, chosen by The Times, Daily Telegraph and Guardian. A Thousand Splendid Suns was the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year in 2008. Hosseini is currently a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Refugee Agency and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and lives in northern California.

A Thousand Splendid Suns has set and costume designs by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, lighting design by Simon Bond, composition by Mahmood Kamen, sound design and co-composition by Dave Price with Ben Hart as magic consultant.

Tickets and Information: 0191 230 5151
Book online:

Images: Pamela Raith

Preview - Barefoot in the Park - Royalty Theatre


The Royalty Theatre will continue their 2018/19 season with Neil Simon’s comedy Barefoot in the Park.

The 1963 play by the author of The Odd Couple follows newlyweds Corrie and Paul in their New York apartment.  While Corrie is a carefree spirit who’ll happily run barefoot in the park, Paul is more of a worrier – but Corrie believes he can be more easy-going.

The play is co-directed by James Errington and Helen Bowie, a couple who met at the Royalty.  Helen says “We are delighted to be producing Barefoot in the Park at the Royalty Theatre. Although times have changed since its release in 1963, at the heart of it, it's still a play about the ups and downs of a relationship. And we've both found some of the scenes very reflective of our own relationship, which makes it even more of a giggle.”

Helen and James recently tasted theatrical success at the semi-finals of the All-England Theatre Festival, where James shared the Best Actor award with Alex Goodchild, for their performances in Jesu Mercy, which was written by Helen.

Barefoot in the Park runs from 20th to 25th May and features a cast headed by two Royalty newcomers:  Kylie Archer plays Corrie, with Daniel Hart playing Paul.

Tickets are £8/£6.50 in advance and can be booked via or by phone on 0333 666 3366.  If purchasing on the door prices are £9/£7.50. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Voltemand and Cornelius are Joyfully Returned - People's Theatre - Review

Voltemand and Cornelius are Joyfully Returned
Picture courtesy of People's Theatre
People's Theatre
8th May 2019

I didn't know much about this play when I came but it's surprisingly good.

I have always said I hate Shakespeare and I do; his plays are boring, not that good and something that I wouldn't make my worst enemy to go to see!

But Paul Vates is doing some good stuff, this Leeds born writer who beat nearly 100 entries in the People's Play competition.

So who are the 2 main characters??

Voltemand, played by Stephen Sharkey though small in stature he makes up for it in acting ability.
Cornelius, played by the all singing and dancing Robbie Close was amazing and probably the star performer of the night for me.

It's a little and large combination which works really well.

The play is set in World War 1 but for most of the play I'm sure the language was Shakespearean.

The two find Sleeper (played by Laura Brown - who's friends were sitting in front of me).
They don't know how they got there and believe they are ambassadors of the King (Claudius, Hamlet's Uncle).

We don't know if they are insane or if everyone else is?? How can you tell???

This play gives you an insight into what it was like in the First World War and there aren't many people alive that can tell those stories, and to think a second war happened less than 30 years later.

This play brings the war to life in a new and different way.

The Second half starts with them in a bombed out church in France where the doctor (played by Pete McAndrew) delves into what they are doing as they may have taken a bit of a wrong turn (Norway to Denmark via France is a big detour if you ask me!)

We do find out what one of them is there for, but the other one has to go and find himself.

In a world where people are dying left right and centre, it would be easier for them to simply die  as too, but as they struggle on through life they learn that they can cope.

The War broke many people's minds especially those who went out to fight and this play shows how it affected people in a way like never before.

The play has some great jokes that are used really well, for example there is a joke about one of them being a shite actor!

Everyone who is involved in this whether it's the cast or crew should be proud of themselves.

Director Chris Heckels should definitely get some praise for the show as he kinda made Shakespeare good again for me, assisted by Evelyn Ryan.

Voltemand and Cornelius play until 11th of May 2019

Rubes Hiles