Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hobson's Choice - Review - Royalty Theatre

Hobson's Choice 

Royalty Theatre

18th Feb 2019

Hobson's Choice - a play in 4 acts, set in Lancashire around 1880.  Hobson's Choice was first performed over a century ago but the themes are as relevant today as they were then -  the nature of independence, snobbery and social mobility, patriarchy and the place of women in society. 

Hobson is a shrewd man. He uses his daughters as unpaid shop girls and pays his workers, Tubby Wadlow and Willie Mossop, a pittance. We soon learn that the success of the business is due entirely to the talent of his eldest daughter Maggie rather than any business acumen of his own. For Henry Hobson reputation and respectability are everything,  appearances are important. To his fellow business associates in Salford he is an upstanding, respected  tradesman, but to his daughters he is a bullying, overbearing, controlling parent. Often coming home drunk, in the middle of the day, he is quick to lose his temper when challenged by "uppity women". Faced with rebellion he threatens to marry off the two younger girls to husbands who will keep them in their proper place. Maggie he dismisses as too old to be wed - later admitting to his friend that he needs her in the business. However, when he realises he will have to provide a settlement for each daughter he retracts the suggestion of marriage and the girls are faced with a lifetime of unpaid skivvying.

When a wealthy and influential customer praises Willie Mossop's work and demands that in future all her boots should be made by him, Maggie sees an opportunity to escape from under her father's tyranny. She proposes to the shy bootmaker and railroads him into agreeing to marry despite the fact that he is already tokened to another girl. Maggie is ambitious - not only for herself, but for Willie Mossop, and her sisters.  She sees the potential in Willie and refuses to allow other's snobbery to derail her plans. Despite her sisters' disdain for Willie she still engineers their own marriages to the men they love, and out manoeuvres their father at every turn. She is single-minded and determined, practical and hardworking. She is also compassionate and loyal. however she will not be taken advantage of - having found a way out from under her father's influence, she is determined to live life on her terms and in the end she gets exactly the outcome she wants, but unlike her father she does not do so at the cost of others.

Corinne Kilvington is excellent as the pragmatic Maggie, a calm but forceful presence on stage and a perfect foil for the blustering, bullying Hobson (ably played by David Armstrong), and the shy and unassuming Willie (Jordan Carling). Both Kilvington and Carling give convincing and natural portayals of their respective characters while the rest of the cast give stirling support. Under Andrew Barella's direction they have created a well timed, well executed, hugely entertaining play. 
Favourite moments: Maggie putting her proposal to Willie Mossop, his consternation and bemused reaction is classic,  and Willie's proposal to Hobson, the transformation of the two men is both triumphant and poignant at once. 
There are lots of laughs, and lots of telling moments in this play. 

Hobson's Choice runs until Sat 23rd February and by gum! you should go see it!

Denise Sparrowhawk

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Preview - Hobson's Choice - Royalty Theatre


The Royalty Theatre, Sunderland, continues its 2018/19 season with the much-loved classic Hobson’s Choice.

Harold Brighouse’s play, made into a 1954 David Lean film starring Charles Laughton, centres around the life of cobbler Henry Hobson.  His comfortable world is thrown into disarray when his ambitious daughter Maggie decides to set up her own business, along with Hobson’s bootmaker, William Mossop.

A strong cast includes David Armstrong as Henry Hobson, Corinne Kilvington as Maggie and Jordan Carling as William Mossop, as well as a number of new faces.

Although first staged in 1916, and set in 1880s, Hobson's Choice has very modern themes, exploring the role of women in society and business, patriarchy, bullying and emancipation. Over a hundred years since it was first staged it is still relevant today. DS

The play runs from 18th to 23rd February on the theatre’s main stage.
Tickets for regular season shows are £8/£6.50 in advance, £9/£7.50 on the night.

Tickets can be booked via www.ticketsource.co.uk/royaltytheatre or on 0333 666 3366.

Group bookings for parties of 10 or more can be arranged via rtboxoffice@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jack Lear - Review - Northern Stage

Jack Lear 
Northern Stage 
12th Feb 2019

 A modern take on Lear. Set in Hull in the fishing industry. You might expect guttural language and working class grit. You almost certainly don't expect an ethereal stage set and Shakespearean verse. And it's Lear, so you might not expect too deaths but not too many laughs. You might be surprised.

Jack Lear written by Ben Benison and resented by Hull Truck Theatre is a force to be reckoned with. It is a modern reimagining of the Lear tale. Set in Hull, in the fishing industry, it tells the tale of Jack Lear. A self made man. A hard man. he wanted sons but was cursed with daughters. Undaunted he raises the girls to be men, teaches them to survive in the harsh world of fishermen, making no allowance for girlish softness, nor pubescent angst. The girls learn to stand firm on a rolling deck. The survive harsh, rough life at sea and they survive their father's moods, his violence, his tough love. And they wait for their dues, learning when to speak and when not to, knowing how this hard man work, they bide their time and watch their mouths and eventually are rewarded.

Jack divides up his kingdom, boats and houses between his daughters - all they have to do is give him the assurance that he has a place to live with them. They dissemble, not actually answering his question, but not denying him the right as their father to a place at their hearth. all except the youngest. Victoria cannot give the assurance, she names him for the difficult, drunken disruptive man that he is and refuses to give false assurances. She plans to marry and cannot speak for their future family. For her honesty and forthrightness, she is cut off and banished from the family, her share of the business divided between her older sisters. Before long the sisters' true colours show and a drunken Jack finds himself cast off. He throws himself on the mercy of the sea that has been his life hoping to die in the mighty storm that rages. But he is discovered half dead and placed in a nursing home, a shadow of the man he was.

The themes of madness, family, loyalty, sibling rivalry, the nature of woman, are all evident with a
modern twist. All five of the cast give outstanding performances. Sarah Naughton and Nicola Sanderson as Freda and Morgana, sisters set against each other by their father - forged in rivalry strike the perfect balance of self-preserving collaboration and mistrust. Olivia Onyehara as Victoria - the favoured child, is separated from her sisters by her father's favour and her own
honesty. She transforms from forthright, angry honesty to compassionate forgiveness. Barrie Rutter's Lear swaggers and blusters and bombasts his way through life, bullying and abusing his daughters. He ably transforms from Jack the lad, legendary big man, to fragile lonely old man, creating a sympathetic reaction in the audience. In the end we see through Victoria we see the man he could have been rather than the bully he actually was. The performance which steals the show however is Andy Cryer's Edmund. Sleazy, self serving, a womanising charmer, he slithers and oozes across the stage, addressing the audience directly to reveal his plans. I'm happy to report he gets his just desserts in the end.

A fabulous set is made up of a sail and a tangle of fishing nets suspended from the rafters, with atmospheric lighting and sound - drum rolls, cymbals, thunder and lightning, and a brilliant disco with Edmund throwing some "night fever" shapes on the dance floor, all enhanced with brilliant music by Eliza Carthy.

This is a moving, thoughtful, funny and hugely entertaining production. The juxtaposition of Shakespearean language and the Hull accent is surprising and funny, but absolutely works. Ben Benison's play, under the direction of Barrie Rutter, is a visual and aural delight.

It runs until 16th February.

Denise Sparrowhawk

*pictures by Nobby Clark

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Approaching Empty - Live Theatre - Review

Approaching Empty

Live Theatre 

Feb 8th, 2019

Set against the backdrop of Maggie Thatcher’s death in 2013 (yes she has been dead that long!) in a Minicab Office in Middlesbrough of all places, this play written by Ishy Din has the audience laughing along. It could be set anywhere and still work as the writer states.

Times are changing and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the business world, and the taxi business is no exception. With their competitor Fleet doing really well, will Raf’s company survive? Raf (played by Nicholas Khan) is a chain-smoking, no-nonsense business man who knows why he got into business. On the other hand, Mansha played by Kammy Darweish, is a wise old fox who has been in the job for years; unlike Raf he just wants to be secure. He loves his job more than himself. These two men are just trying to get by as friends.

Shazad, Raf’s son, played by Karan Gill, is at university studying business. He has no interest in the taxi business but gets shoehorned in at any occasion to help out. Sameena is the new kid on the block; she's been to prison and has something to prove and wants to create a new life with her children. Sully played by Nicholas Prasad the more experienced driver we see, is a young man coping with the loss of his father who died after a long term health problems related to working in the factories. Raf and Mansha have different views on the factories closing under Thatcher with Raf saying it was a good thing but Mansha saying it was a waste of talented men. I do believe that both characters are right, and we needed the closing of the mines and factories but we didn't need to do it in the way it was! But that's in the past we can't change it, only learn from it.

Raf wants to sell the company and has an offer of 120k from Fleet but Mansha is against working for them. Mansha offers to buy the business but he hasn't got the money and isn't normally a risk taker. How could he get the money? His help comes from an unlikely source in Sully and Sameena and eventually they buy the business. But you always suspect something is wrong. Things begin to come to light which the three new partners don’t understand and Raf is giving no straight answers.  Tany - Sameena’s brother and the local hard man - comes into the fold (played by Maanuv Thiara) to save the day but not before he shows Raf what a cut-throat world being in business literally is. 
We finish off with a new owner, new manager and the rest of the characters in limbo deciding what they want to do in life. 

But for Raf there is nothing that can be done, and he is dying. 

As for Mansha, he's off on holiday. 
This play was a great laugh, well written and everyone involved should be pleased with the result. Rina Fatania who plays Sameena gets performance of the night for me. Great direction from Pooja Ghai, assisted by Heather Carroll and a great team.

On until Saturday 23rd February

Prices from £6 - £22 
Reuben Hiles
*Picture credit Helen Murray 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Preview - Wonderland - Northern Stage

Wonderland comes to Northern Stage 

I'm pleased to see yet another gritty and honest play about mining communities coming to the North East. DS

Following rave reviews from critics and audiences Nottingham Playhouse revealed that Wonderland would be returning to the theatre to kick off its 2019 season, prior to a run at Northern Stage in Newcastle.

Set in 1983 Nottinghamshire, Wonderland sees two 16-year-olds, Malcom (played by John Booker) and Jimmy (played by Joshua Glenister) wait nervously at the pithead. Guided by veteran miner Colonel (played by William Travis), they descend into the brotherhood, banter, searing heat and liquid blue light of Welbeck Colliery.

Meanwhile in London, an American CEO Ian MacGregor (played by Robin Bowerman) is brought in to reform King Coal. Pits close and a strike is called.

Taking the stage as The Times reporter David Hart will be Giles Taylor, while Geff Francis will play pit manager Tilsley and transport secretary Nicholas Ridley. Holding roles as pitmen in the story will be Karl Haynes as Bobbo, and Jack Quarton as Fanny.

Nicholas Shaw and Paul Kemp have been confirmed to play pitman Spud and real-life politician Peter Walker in the Nottinghamshire-based show, respectively.

Directed by Nottingham-born Adam Penford and written by the daughter of Nottingham miner Beth Steel, the local story proved a huge hit with East Midlands audiences and returns to the award-nominated theatre for the second year running. 
Morgan Large’s ambitious coal-face set design also received critical acclaim, winning Best Design in the UK Theatre Awards 2018. 

Adam said: ““Wonderland was a huge hit in 2018 and received standing ovations every performance. Our audience has been calling for its return since it closed and it’s clear they feel an ownership of Beth Steel’s beautiful play.  

“It’s rare that theatre resonates so strongly with a community, producing tears and laughter in equal measure. I’m sure the production will capture the imagination of the audience again, whether they’re returning or seeing the show for the first time.  
“I’m also thrilled we’re taking it to Northern Stage, where the story will resonate just as deeply.” 

“**** This is a big play…full of heart and very little sentimentality” – The Guardian

“powerful and pertinent - ****” – The Stage

“Richly theatrical - ****” – What’s On Stage

“Unmissable” – British Theatre Guide

“*****” – East Midlands Theatre

“This is a fine start for Adam Penford as the Playhouse’s new Artistic Director,” – Nottingham Post

Wonderland runs from Friday 8 February through to Saturday 23 February 2019 at Nottingham Playhouse and from Wednesday 27 February to Saturday 9 March 2019 at Northern Stage

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Preview - Jack Lear - Northern Stage

A modern day re-working of Shakespeare's King Lear comes to Northern Stage in February. 

 Lear is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays - with more layers than an onion - so I will be interested to see how this modern interpretation of the story works when it comes to Northern Stage next moth. 

 Barrie Rutter OBE leads cast for Jack Lear at Hull Truck Theatre 

With music composed by folk icon Eliza Carthy MBE 

Hull Truck Theatre are donning their oilskin overalls and fishing boots in January, as they step into 2019 with Jack Lear, an exciting new production written by Ben Benison, set on the banks of the river Humber. Jack Lear will showcase a cappella folk music composed by Yorkshire-born folk icon Eliza Carthy MBE, daughter of musicians Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. 

The title role of Jack Lear will be played by Hull-born Barrie Rutter OBE. Winner of numerous awards, including the "Creative Briton Award" in 2000, Rutter continues his Shakespearean adventures in this gritty re-working of King Lear. Rutter gives life to the eponymous central character and uses his directing talent to tell an intense, complex, and unique story.  

Nicola Sanderson (Somewhere, National Theatre, Henry V, Northern Broadsides, The Merry Wives, Northern Broadsides/ West Yorkshire Playhouse) will star as Morgana, Jack Lear’s eldest daughter. Sarah Naughton (Euphoria, Ensemble 52, Fruit, Hull, Hamlet, East Riding Theatre, Dark Winter, Ensemble 52, Hull Truck Theatre) will be Jack’s middle daughter, Freda. Olivia Onyehara (All our Daughters?, New Vic Theatre, Pride and Prejudice, Nottingham Playhouse/York Theatre Royal,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream/ Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York) will join the cast as Victoria, the trawlerman's youngest daughter. 

Andy Cryer (The Comedy Of Errors, Northern Broadsides, Othello, Whitehall Theatre, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare’s Globe) will take on the role of Edmund, the solicitor who adds an extra touch of drama to this stormy family affair.  

The creative team includes Kate Unwin (Set Designer), Aideen Malone (Lighting Designer), and Mathew Clowes (Sound and Digital).  

Jack Lear opened at Hull Truck Theatre on Thursday 17 January and the production transfers to Northern Stage in Newcastle from 12th to 16th February.

Age recommendation: 14+ 
Tickets start from £10 for Jack Lear at Northern Stage. To book online visit www.northernstage.co.uk or call the Box Office on 0191 230 5151.  

Photo credit: Nobby Clark

Friday, January 18, 2019

Preview - Mary Mary - Royalty Theatre


The Royalty Theatre will begin 2019 with the premier of local writer Billy Tower’s Mary Mary.

The play is based around the life of Mary Kelly, considered by many to be the fifth and final victim of Whitechapel killer Jack the Ripper.    Little is known of Mary Kelly’s life before she came to reside in Whitechapel – making her by far the most mysterious of the serial killer’s alleged victims.

Director Abbi Laidler says: “It is a fictional account of factual events and I try to explore how those events had an impact on the Whitechapel community and Mary Kelly in particular. The victims have been reduced to names in police files, but these women had lives that are often overlooked in the search for the killer. I am not interested in naming the killer in this play, I am using Mary to focus on how these events affected her as an individual.  I really hope you enjoy this show written by the talented Billy Towers.”

The play, which runs from 23rd to 26th January, stars Nikki Slack as Mary and Andrew Barella as Joseph Barnett.  Also appearing are Helen Bowie and Alex Goodchild.

Being performed in the Royalty’s studio theatre, which last year saw performances of Five Kinds of SilenceTemple and new piece Jesu Mercy, all tickets are £6.50 and are strictly limited to 60 per evening.

Over the years I have been reviewing I have come to relish the intimacy and immediacy  of a studio production. Performed in a small space these productions can have a greater impact on the audience members than plays performed in the larger auditorium.  The close proximity of the audience to the stage - often in the round - creates a sense of involvement and increases the intensity of the experience. There is no where to hide when emotions begin to run high. 
 Often studio productions are plays by established writers which  explore difficult themes, or they may be new works by writers testing their wings. Mary Mary is a combination of a new work by a local writer, and an exploration of a difficult subject. It sounds fascinating and I am looking forward to experiencing it. 

Tickets can be booked via www.ticketsource.co.uk/royaltytheatre or on 0333 666 3366 and I recommend purchasing in advance to avoid disappointment - Friday and Saturday are already sold out.