Category Archives: Theatre

3Bugs Fringe Theatre presents: The Trojan Women @ The Guild of Students

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When it was announced that 3Bugs would be taking an adaptation of Euripides’tragedy The Trojan Women to represent them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, it was clear that the society is again pushing the boundaries of student theatre. An ambitious project to undertake as a whole, let alone to condense into a forty-five minute adaptation.  

The script, adapted by Director Georgina Thomas, is one to be admired as a work unto itself. The tragedy has been cleverly condensed to offer the audience a grounded overview of Euripides’ original text. Making the most of its limited timeslot, the adaptation, whilst pacey, avoids feeling rushed and still allows the audience to emphasize with its highly developed characters.

For me, this is a production that showcases the strength of its actors. The engaging opening monologue from Poseidon, played by Ben Firth, immediately set the tone as one of unease and foreboding, which picked up in intensity as the hardships faced by the women were revealed. The performances were strong throughout, however particular mention must go to first year student Lizzie Roberts, who gave a fantastic performance as the mentally unhinged Cassandra. Her exchange with the slimy Talthybius, played brilliantly by Jack Alexander, was especially well-executed.

The Chorus (Ella Darbyshire and Lucy Cheetham) are also noteworthy for praise. They bounced off each other with ease and carried the plotline between the speeches of the main characters. The wordy nature of the Greek text was balanced by some clever directorial choices, the addition of song; performed beautifully, broke up the dialogue and the blocking was well thought-out achieving maximum impact in the more emotional moments.  The set was minimal but effective, giving the actors free reign of the space, which they utilized brilliantly. They balanced the stage and created some beautiful stage images, further establishing the relationships between the characters.

Though the 1950s costume was visually striking, I struggled to see any further link to the era, and found it superfluous to the onstage action. The choice of clothing made it hard to ascertain the different social statuses of the characters, the chorus supposedly servants yet dressed in the same fashion as the ladies of the court. The actors, however, did well to combat this with their character relationships and objectives clearly defined; the stony Hecuba (Cassiah Joski-Jethi) was a stark contrast to the seductive Helen (Lauren Dickenson).

The adaptation offers a well-informed snapshot into the tragic lives of the women of Troy, and packs a hefty emotional punch. Andromache’s (Emily Anderson) moving “you may think me a feeble woman… but I am stronger than you think” stayed with me, and the production certainly makes you question the validity of the statement. The power struggle between the women and their male oppressors is evident and comes to a shocking climax in the suicide of Hecuba.  Left ambiguous, the audience questions if the act was a desperate fit of despair, or a more calculated choice to regain control.

A thought-provoking production, The Trojan Women offers a complex plotline, skillfully handled by its actors and will be performed 11th-16th August 11:00, and 18th-23rd August 17:00, at theSpace on the Mile (Space 1). Staying true to the classic text whilst brining its own original take on the characters and their relationships, 3Bugs is once again presenting a play set to challenge as well as entertain.  

 by Nicole Rixon

Article 19 presents: ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’

Some plays dissolve with time. As Co-Directors Lily Blacksell and Rebekah Lucking masterfully proved, Peter Nichol’s 1967 play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, remains pertinent.  This revival was handled with great sensitivity; to the subject matter and the script itself. 

     Nichol’s semi-autobiographical account explores the hardships faced by Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila; a young couple raising a disabled child. Upon its original debut, critic Irving Wardle praised Joe Egg for having ‘significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’ Indeed, this production walked the tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The frequent jokes, such as calling their daughter Joe ‘a living parsnip,’ allowed one to forget, and later question, what you should and should not laugh at; a deft exploration of why humour is so often intertwined with trauma. 

     The opening scene was electric. Standing centre stage, Bri, played by Jacob Lovick, addressed the audience as naughty school children. This provided a nice prologue to the frustrations of Bri’s life, both at work and more importantly at home. Lovick, the highlight of the play for me, was utterly convincing. As he stood there trying to command the attention of a ‘hall of children,’ he was every ridiculed teacher I’d ever had. Throughout the play, everything about his mannerisms and voice was a sigh of defeat. What’s more, he handled the music-hall, old comedy club, style of the play very well. 

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     In her programme notes, Blacksell astutely pointed out ‘there is something terribly British about Bri and Sheila’s resort to comedy to help them deal with Joe’s disability.’ Indeed, as Lovick pranced around on stage like a 1960’s Michael McIntyre, with more depth, whether it was to make fun of Freddie, or to try and seduce his wife, one could not help but feel a strong mix of hilarity and pity. 

     Breaking the fourth wall often takes one out of the story, however in this production it was done so successfully you felt like a confidante of sorts and even, at points, the characters’ psychologist. Finding it easier to confide in the audience than each other, Bri and Sheila replayed key episodes in their life story. This device was especially engaging when Sheila spoke to the audience. A doting, perversely optimistic wife, it soon became clear that she was just playing along with Brian’s jokes and play-acting to keep her husband happy. 

     Phoebe Brown, who played Sheila, presented a deeply moving portrayal of a woman haunted by guilt. Brown evoked such a sense of compassion and in my eyes was the most empathetic character. Brown and Lovick made for a convincing couple; you believed they were in love, despite the complexities of their relationship.

     The second half of the play lurched into Mike Leigh territory, however thankfully never appeared cartoonish. Chloe Culpin expertly played Bri’s Mum, Grace; so uninteresting and self-righteous, the atmosphere instantly became  soporific when she spoke. Dan Burke and Emily Howard were infuriatingly funny as Bri and Sheila’s insensitive friends, Freddie and Pam. Burke’s arm-swinging, pacing the living room as if making a Presidential speech, portrayal of the socialist do-gooder was what was precisely needed to contrast Lovick’s wired Bri. Whilst the social satire might seem a little heavy handed to a modern audience, Pam’s horrific statement, ‘If I say gas chamber that makes it sound horrid – but I do mean put to sleep,’ is as shocking now as it must have been in the sixties, raising relevant questions about disability and euthanasia.

     Rachel Thomas must be commended for handling the role of Josephine with great sensitivity. Her role as a child whose brain does not allow for communicative speech or co-ordinated movement, was never reduced to a caricature. The Directors’ approach of allowing her to remain on stage, and often face the audience, even when not the focus of a scene, was effective. I often found my eyes straying to her, pondering how it must feel to be her, what my coping mechanisms would be if she were my child. Questions not easily resolved, but the beauty of Nichol’s script is that after ten years of caring for her, Brian and Sheila are no closer to understanding either. 

      Everything about this production was finely judged. From the sky-blue wallpaper and the sad, lack-lustre christmas decorations adorning the Ex-Serviceman’s Club stage, an exquisite venue for this play, to the way Joe startlingly skipped out of her wheelchair to announce the interval. A very good egg, indeed.

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GMTG Presents: The Phantom of The Opera @ The Guild of Students

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The Phantom of the Opera has been said to be a musical that is stuck in the 80s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber created his masterpiece. GMTG, however, could not have proved this statement more wrong. From the outset, there was anticipation in the air that was matched by the brilliant singers and orchestra as the show began to unfold.  

Josh Sood, the musical director, and his orchestra worked extraordinarily hard to produce a brilliant sound to accompany the performance. From beginning to end, they were a strong and bright ensemble, exactly what was needed to keep the excitement bubbling. Not a cue was out of place, not an instrument sounded out of tune and it was even unclear as to whether a recording of the orchestra was being played due to the tidy mixing of the instruments. The orchestra truly made the production a slick and dazzling performance.

Jake Dorrell and Joanna Goldspink stole the show as the comical double-act of Piangi and Carlotta. Their comedic timing and impressive singing led the audience into fits of laughter time and time again, a match well made to keep a light feel to what was a dark and mysterious musical.

Andrew Wilson (Phantom) and Abby Fiddik (Christine) were two powerful lead characters. They captivated the audience with their clear voices and moved around the stage with strong presence.

Other notable characters deserve a mention, Ben Cuffin-Munday (Monsieur Firmin) and Peter Brooks (Monsieur André) complemented each other as a team and Thom Udall (Raoul) stood out as an impressive singer matched against the Phantom.

The choreography throughout the performance was mesmerising, a special shout out to Emily Bowers and Lorna Newman who made use of the whole stage with their dancers and kept an elegant backdrop to important moments in the musical.

The Phantom of the Opera is an over-the-top performance that GMTG managed to portray well with the use of pyrotechnics that had many audience members crying out in surprise. The heavy mist that rolled out onto the stage throughout the production created the the strange and sinister setting of the musical.

GMTG is a very capable society that has clearly shown that the sky is the limit when it comes to putting on musicals. The Phantom of the Opera presents many difficult issues that GMTG overcame to create a wonderful evening of entertainment. 

By Bethany Bagnall-Ainslie

Article 19 present: Jerusalem @ The Guild of Students

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Article 19’s adaptation, directed by Elisha Owen and Nicole Rixon, was my first taste of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and it was a distinctly bittersweet one.

Set on St George’s Day in a fictional country village in Wiltshire, the play tells the tale of old, local waster Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron and his motley crew of mates. Away from the country fair celebrations, Rooster has twenty-four hours until he is evicted from his mobile home. Thus the three-hour play, dense with dialogue, passes with the tension of a ticking time bomb.

The short time span and single set made for an absorbing portrait into Rooster’s world. The set’s attention to detail was outstanding and the old caravan, stained sofa and empty beer bottles that greeted the audience gave a taste of what was to come. Staged on the same level as the audience’s seating, the play also created the impression that this was not a performance we were seeing but a slice of real life.

The play boasts an eclectic mix of characters, brilliantly played by an excellent cast. Sam Forbes was especially comical as the whimsical professor who has lost his dog, whilst Ciaran Creswell gave a great performance as Wesley, the straight-laced landlord turned stoned Morris dancer.

However the lead character, in an absorbing performance given by Jack J Fairley, is the hardest character to pin down. Essentially a low-life, surviving on drink and drugs in his squalid caravan, he is certainly not a hero- not even likable. Yet, in comparison to local thug Troy, he is not a villain. Something of an anti-hero, he simultaneously sickens and seduces the audience- just as his eloquent words and magnetism wins a kiss from his ex-wife, Dawn. In his battle against the district council to evict him, we instinctively fall on his side- but uneasily so.

Most mesmerising of all, for me, was Rooster’s seeming inability to grow up and his refusal to take responsibility for his actions, from his six-year old son to his smashed up TV. When his friends tell him he smashed it up himself the night before he replies, as he does to anything they accuse him of, ‘Bollocks!’ His crew of teenage companions further reflects this character trait and it is ambiguous whether he corrupts or protects them- plying them with drink and drugs, but providing them with a space where they feel safe.  The audience begins to lean towards the latter as the play unfolds, especially as it begins to appear that Rooster is being used. For me, the play’s most painfully sad moment was when local thug Troy laughed as he told Rooster how his so called friends pissed on him whilst he was passed out. And whilst he is certainly not fit to be a parent, the tender moments with his son persuade us that he is essentially a good man and that society is the monster.

Whilst Jerusalem is ultimately a play that explores ‘Englishness’, for me it was more about the dullness and disillusionment that accompanies growing old. The character of Lee, who is set to leave for Australia the next day, highlights the stagnant nature of the other character’s lives- particularly Rooster’s.

The play ends ambiguously, with the constant overbearing pressure of the eviction never fully resolved. I left after three hours feeling absolutely overwhelmed and utterly confused. As such, my first experience of Jez Butterworth’s work is one I’m still trying to make sense of.

By Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

Birdsong @ The Birmingham Rep

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In honour of the First World War centenary, The Rep recently staged Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation of the best-selling novel Birdsong. As a fan of both the book and the BBC adaptation I was curious yet cynical about whether the tale could be successfully transferred to the stage. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Birdsong follows young Englishman Stephen Wraysford (George Banks), intertwining his experience of fighting in the war with flashbacks of his time in France beforehand- including his passionate love affair with his employer’s wife, Isabelle Azaire (Carolin Stoltz).

An impressive set was waiting in the gloom when the audience first filed in; a filthy trench with ladders stretching up to the implicit threat of No Man’s Land. Even now we are still shocked by the conditions they fought in, from the soldiers’ grimy uniform to the nurse’s blood stained apron. The neglected setting of the war scenes contrasted well with the elegant furniture used in the effortless flashbacks to pre-war France.

The play also tells the tale of the lesser known tunnellers, who laid mines under No Man’s land. I was doubtful of how these underground episodes could be conveyed on stage but the imaginative solution was to plunge the stage into darkness and pull forward a few short, propped-up wooden beams with dimly glowing lamps dangling from them. When the men came crawling through them on their hands and knees the illusion was complete and the claustrophobic atmosphere created on stage was stifling. 

George Banks impressed me greatly as the lead, especially given the demanding nature of his role. Wraysford was required to be almost constantly on stage and to switch between the present and past continuously. This contrasted his carefree optimism and passion before the war with his disgust and detachment during the war, showing great depth of character.

However the best performance by far was that of Peter Duncan as the working class tunneller Jack Firebrace. Despite his poorer background he is the most noble of all the men, always in good spirits and cheering the others up- despite receiving the news that his little boy has died back in England. Duncan played him with a brilliant mixture of bravado and vulnerability that made him the most likeable character and the most tragic. Jack Firebrace is the decent man that gets written out of history and the play makes you feel guilty for that.

The play’s depiction of the experience of war was extremely vivid, with the sudden shell explosions making the audience jump in their seats and the aeroplanes being made to sound as if they were directly overhead. The horror of the Battle of the Somme was also alluded to without having to attempt to re-enact it. Before they go ‘over the top’, Captain Gray quietly tells Wraysford that their bombing failed to destroy the German wire. When Wraysford asks him what to tell his men, declaring they will be slaughtered, Gray tells him not to tell them and simply hands him a pair of wire cutters. The audience already knows the catastrophic consequences of the Somme and we do not need to see it to picture it.

Despite Birdsong evoking the experience of the First World War so well, it ends with Wraysford telling the audience that we can never understand what they went through- as all the other characters join him in silence, and listen to the faint sounds of birds singing. Thus despite our current commemorations of the First World War, a century after it started, Birdsong suggests that the true horror of the war remains concealed- leaving an even more poignant impression in the modern mind.

By Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

The Threepenny Opera @ The Birmingham REP

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Before the performance began, the audience were greeted with a motley crew of cast members chanting “no ifs, no buts, no disability cuts!” in front of an, assumedly, once glamorous now tattered red show curtain thinly veiling an ensemble of musical instruments and actors milling around, preparing to perform the opera for the poor. Around the auditorium were banners spray painted with powerful messages such as ‘Keep your filthy tax out of my bedroom’ and ‘Old people are worth more than the pennies we give them!’ The rawness and unabashed nature of this introduction set the audience up to confront some uncomfortable and challenging world views, perfectly aligned with the original intentions of Brecht.

As the Musical Review aptly put it, the play was “no-holds barred”. From the adapted and highly satirised lyrics tarring ‘Tories and their minions’, paedophilic priests and Jimmy Saville with the same brush for their ‘sexual imperatives’, to the highly ironic song performed in a prison cell by Macheath (Milton Lopes) ‘Live Life in Luxury – That’s What it’s For’, the audience were presented with a vivacious performance that served its purpose in reinventing Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

Almost every taboo imaginable was confronted in the performance, to the extent that some audience members were unsure whether to applaud or wince at the audacity of their presentation. For me, this only served to make it more enjoyable. The messages of the play were confrontationally presented by an awe inspiring cast, the majority of whom were disadvantaged – either in terms of their sight, mobility, hearing or their height. The casting was a stroke of genius; as the performance did not aim to make you feel sorry for the cast members, or empathise with them for their disadvantages; it aimed (and succeeded) to challenge and question the way our society works. It also demonstrated how extremely versatile the cast were, as the majority were not only actors and singers but also talented musicians.

Musically, the levels were sometimes a little unstable, and a few hiccups were had with the subtitles projected onto the walls, but these minor hindrances didn’t affect the overall experience to any substantial extent. 

The success of this performance was enhanced for me by the extremely talented signers, with a special mention for actress and signer Jude Mahon. During the songs, she delivered as compelling a performance as the actors singing, and was remarkable in her ability to bring several different characters’ personalities to life through sign language; undoubtedly she captured the essence of the songs for deaf audience members. Other notable performances were given by Mrs Peachum (Victoria Oruwari), Polly Peachum (CiCi Howells) and Tiger Brown (Will Kenning), a chief of police who served in the army with the notorious but oh-so-charming murderer and rapist, ‘Mack The Knife’.

All in all, if you are looking for a theatrical performance that will challenge your views and beliefs, and prompt your thoughts towards questioning the structure and hierarchy of our society as it is today once you leave the theatre, this is the play for you. Utterly fascinating.

by Hayley Yates

3Bugs Fringe Theatre present: House of America @ The Guild of Students

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Ah, the eighties. What a glorious time of nihilism, high-waisted jeans and no work. The lack of hope that characterises the eighties is what you get in bounds in Ed Thomas’s House of America. What you also get is three under-thirties struggling to escape from the Welsh valleys, or, more pointedly, the house they grew up in and their mentally fragile mother. Mrs Lewis, Boyo, Gwenny and Sid are living on top of one another, with the threat of the cast mines looming over their simple lives and their secrets adding to their claustrophobia. To attempt to escape, Gwenny and Sid dream of travelling to America, seeing their estranged father, and being like Joyce and Jack from On the Road, while Boyo remains reluctant.

While Thomas’s play conveys an overwhelming sense of hopelessness well, it is flawed in places. The cast mines initially work as an effective metaphor for the threat of modernity and the secrets that will tear the family apart, but the constant repetitions of ‘They’re coming closer,’ and ‘They’ll destroy this house,’ undermine it, making the play quite expositional. In fact, exposition is one of the major flaws of the script: the audience is often on the cusp of figuring something out (usually due to some excellent facial expressions or body language) but is denied the privilege through speech.

However, flaws with the text aside, this production was raw, chilling and uncomfortable to watch: the things I like best about theatre. Director Tamar Williams utilised the small space of the dance studio brilliantly, and the actors’ breaking of the fourth wall added to the play’s theme of suffocation. Williams’s interpretation was also brave in that it allowed the audience to become aware of the play’s theatricality subtly: the moving and banging of chairs to suggest a temporal or spatial shift was an excellent decision, with the sounds echoing the intrusive industrialism.

 Another triumph of this production was the inclusion of music (provided by a band led by Musical Director Nick Charlesworth). While the band could play rock and roll classics with ease, the real treat was the improvised traditional Welsh music, and the beautiful singing that often accompanied it.

 This play deals with a variety of issues, including two murders, mental illness and incest; this is a script that asks for a lot from its actors. The onstage chemistry and tension between Lily Blacksell and Jack Alexander was palpable, and I wish that the script would have allowed more space for this. Blacksell and Alexander could communicate their emotions through a series of subtle facial expressions, and their interactions were incredibly convincing (and therefore very difficult to watch).

Blacksell’s final monologue was the highlight of the play: sensitively interpreted, she captured the misfortune of Gwenny’s situation – one that is entirely beyond her control – to make her a tragic, although not sympathetic, character. Blacksell was able to move Gwenny from a girlish, daydreaming woman who wants to be like Joyce Johnson to a severely ill and troubled person.

 Jack Alexander was also able to capture Sid’s daydreaming personality well: his panic during his final scenes was intense. Alternatively, Jacob Lovick and Mary Davies were at their best when providing dark humour. Lovick’s comedic timing was consistently on point, while Davies was excellent at providing Mrs Lewis’s unwitting comedy.

 During its first act, I wasn’t really sure where House of America was heading. However, its second act provided the punches I was looking for. The play perhaps tries to throw a few too many, if I’m being honest: the truth about Clem Lewis or the incestuous relationship would provide sufficient drama for one play. However, Davies’s production is sensitively directed, imaginatively realised, host to some good performances, and contains some excellent live music, making this a play I am glad I haven’t missed. 

by Jenna Clake