Theatre Review: ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’, Dorfman Theatre 29th November 2016

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‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’
Book by Bryony Kimmings & Brian Lobel, music by Tom Parkinson and lyrics by Bryony Kimmings.

I recently caught the last performance of Bryony Kimmings’s A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre.

During the first act, we’re introduced to people with various cancers at various stages of their diagnoses through Amanda (played by the wonderful Amanda Hadingue), a single mum facing the prospect of her four-month-old son having cancer. The musical numbers are moving, haunting and surreal as each character deals with the reality of cancer. Some of the most moving moments came from Laura (masterfully and movingly played by Golda Rosheuvel) in the final stages of ovarian cancer and not ready to face her end and the young man (Gary Wood) trying to deal with testicular cancer on his own.

The twist came in the second act when Amanda stops to ask the writer (the ever present voice of Bryony Kimmings) a question and it’s revealed that the characters are real people with real stories met when Bryony was navigating the NHS with her four-month-old son. Laura, the woman facing a terminal diagnosis was an actress and singer who stopped singing but found her voice in her final weeks. The cast as themselves invited two of the people whose stories we were witnessing onto the stage to give their hopes for the future and invited the audience to name the people they wanted to remember who had been affected by cancer.

Needless to say, it was very affecting and probably one of the few times as a theatre goer I’ve been asked to face the truth. I can see why the reviews have been mixed but I found it a profoundly moving and challenging piece of true theatre

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Review: ‘Young Sherlock Holmes #1 Death Cloud’ by Andrew Lane

‘Young Sherlock Holmes #1 Death Cloud’ by Andrew Lane (3/5)

In ‘Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud’, Andrew Lane introduces us to 14yr old Sherlock Holmes, waiting for his father to collect him from school for the summer. Instead, it’s older brother Mycroft who turns up with some bad news for the young Sherlock, instead of going home he’s being sent to Holmes Manor, home of Sherringford Holmes as father (a soldier) is being sent to India. Not to worry though, it soon becomes clear that there is something very strange going on in Farnham.

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Review: ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ at the Greenwich Theatre, 2nd July 2012

(Please note, I left at the interval and this was technically a preview.)

‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ adapted by Tim Kelly, presented by Sell-A-Door Theatre Company at the Greenwich Theatre, Monday 2nd July, 2012.

Following from their somewhat lacklustre but “staggeringly competent” production of The History Boys I was apprehensive but optimistic about their presentation of Tim Kelly’s adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles.

Kelly’s adaptation is by far the most popular with amateur companies but it’s hard to see why. Kelly removes us from Baker Street and introduces Holmes and Watson at Baskerville Hall as guests of Watson’s old hospital associate, Lady Agatha Mortimer (Camilla Simson). The mystery of the legend is gone, Holmes is wholly familiar with the story and enlightens Watson (and the audience) of poor Sir Hugo’s fate and the legendary curse of the Baskerville’s. The genderswitch and promotion of Dr James Mortimer makes little sense, and makes for a large plot hole – why would Lady Agatha be performing Sir Charles’s autopsy and why would a court accept her findings? Presumably this is to introduce her as a viable suspect in Act 2 as Sir Charles was going to meet a woman (thought to be Laura Lyons but there always needs to be red herring, and alas – I’ll never know).

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The reviews are in…

Reviews are out for ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ and they’re… well, not great.

The West End Whingers ‘reviewed’ us before press night (black mark in my book), they went in expecting to hate it and hated it christening it ‘Lend Me a Pillow’ – I doubt you could sleep through the show, there’s too much laughing from the audience, door slamming and general hilarity. To be honest, even though I read the WEW blog I don’t really take them seriously, I have for a long time thought that they give good reviews to the shows they’ve been invited to by producers who have caught on to the ‘anonymous’ free publicity blogs can give. They do this rubbish about covering their faces in photographs, trying to gain some notoriety I suppose in a sort of “ooh, we’re edgy and if producers knew who we were they’d bar us from seeing the show.” way.

The Guardian gave us 3 stars but the review itself is a bit snooty as they don’t like that a farce has a ‘moral’ (!!). The Times gave us a brilliant review (4 stars) and it looks like that reviewer from The Times was more in-tune with the audience – they almost gave it three stars but the audience’s enjoyment swayed them (“My fourth star hovered for a while, uncertain: it was won by the unforced glee of the preview audience. For it’s a good-hearted show with real laughs: not to be sniffed at.”) The Stage absolutely loved it saying “…this is by far and away the most accomplished musical comedy opening in the West End this season.” I don’t think The Evening Standard stayed for the second act, they agree with the West End Whingers and I have to say – if the Evening Standard reviewer thinks that the tunes are instantly forgettable I’d love to know his secret, I’ve hummed ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ ever since the technical! It is interesting that the ‘reviewer’ gave it 2 stars but the reader rating is 4 stars. (Update: The Arts Desk gave us a good review “…it’s not “Lend me a pillow”, as one vicious wagster put it, but “Take me again”. And if you like to see showbiz staging at its slick, frivolous best, you shouldn’t miss it either.”)

Audiences and critics are in disagreement here, the audiences we’ve had have loved the show and even if we’ve only had two levels open and have barely filled them we get standing ovations, cheers… all the signals that the audience is having a great time. Hopefully then it’ll be word of mouth and social media that sells the show.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to work on a show where everyone in it is a very talented professional. Saturday night the lead, Max (Damian Humbley) fumbled the wine bottle thrown to him by Tito (Michael Matus), dropped it and slipped over in the broken glass cutting his arm pretty badly (he went to A&E after the show) – watching from the spots we could see his shirt sleeve getting redder and he seemed to bleed all over Tito in the bed – he carried on with everything regardless, even directing cast away from the glass/water on stage. Major kudos and he got a well deserved cheer at the end. Saturday night was a bit of a show for things going wrong, in the second act Cassidy Jansen’s (playing Maggie) dress came undone during her number with the in-disguise Max – audience had a good giggle, stage management didn’t know what was going on and I managed to muck up my spot cue in trying to let them know over cans (I don’t have a clip on my belt pack so it was on the spot stand and my spot ‘wanders’ if you don’t keep a tight hold of it). There’s a line in the show that’s something like “from this point forward, there is nothing that could possibly go wrong.” – it got the biggest laugh of the night.

Maybe they could use it for a bit of publicity – the cast literally bleed for their art 😛

Play Review: ‘Or You Could Kiss Me’, Cottesole Theatre Wednesday 20th October

‘Or You Could Kiss Me’ sounds very good on paper; Handspring Puppet Company in collaboration with author Neil Bartlett in a unique story of a life-long South African couple’s journey to the end, told with puppets. Unfortunately, it only sounds good on paper and unlike some reviews I’m putting equal blame on Handspring and Neil Bartlett. In the programme Bartlett talks about the initial development, rather than a conventional script this was devised as a vehicle for the puppets – it’s a if someone said “we’ve got these puppets…” ,the National jumped at the chance and Neil Bartlett saw the opportunity to send an entire auditorium of people to sleep in his almost steam of conscious ‘play’ (unlike Beckett, Bartlett doesn’t have the talent to pull this off). Due to the scripts failings, it was hard to appreciate the puppets as there seemed no reason for them to be puppets, it made it difficult to find the emotional as there wasn’t anything to connect with and there were so many people involved in ‘intimate’ moments the intimacy was completely lost.

The play runs for 1hr40, without an interval (probably to stop people leaving at the halfway mark). A thoroughly disappointing production, made more so because it had so much promise.

0.5/5