Family Pages: Grooving On Up

Something for the Venue family section.

Grooving On Up

Many parents dream of a big night out, but once you’ve booked a babysitter, nightlife can be a disillusioning experience. If you want to hear the tunes you love but you don’t fancy a theme night, if you want a friendly crowd but not too friendly, if you want to dance but you need to be up bright and early with the children, there isn’t that much out there. So what do you do when you’re not ready to give up nightlife, but the nightlife isn’t making the effort to keep up with you? If you’re a Groovy Mama, you stop waiting for the next wedding or birthday to bring the party to you, and you make your own. Continue reading

Theatre Review: Romeo And Juliet

Originally published in Venue, issue 829. Venue’s teaser for Globe Touring’s upcoming performance of A Winter’s Tale in Bristol describes the show I review below as “triumphant”, so apparently my editor would have bumped the final score up by a star.

Globe Touring: Romeo And Juliet

The play might have a rep for romance, but the love story is the palest part of this outdoor Romeo and Juliet. Alan Morrissey and Dominique Bull in the leads come off second best to the physical comedy of their respective foils – a dashing, clowning Mercutio in the shape of Nitzan Sharron, and Marsha Henry’s bawdy, bustling nurse (although by casting the one black actor as a big smutty servant, the production picks up an unsavoury tang of Gone With The Wind). An emphasis on broad comedy and low violence keeps the play brisk and sharp, even though the lovers’ lack of spark means you occasionally forget just why everyone is rushing headlong to the crypt.

After nightfall, the production picks up atmosphere for the last two acts. The staging (featuring a VW Camper and two strings of fairy lights) becomes transformative in the dark, and the venue – an old bowling green, sunken and secluded – comes to life. The leads’ awkward imitation of teenage infatuation gives way to a much more satisfying portrayal of desperation, and the pall-bearing finale is almost a tear-jerker. But so long as you remember the umbrella and the picnic, there’s really no need to cry.

***

ROMEO AND JULIET, BRANDON HILL PARK, BRISTOL, THURS 31ST JULY – SUN 3RD AUGUST

Someone Cares

“Rachael! Come back! Look at this! I TOTALLY WROTE THIS! LOOK!”

One day, seeing my own words as pull-quotes on a theatre billboard will not lead me to bellow down the street at my sister to share my excitement. And then, my friends, I will be a Real Writer.

Not yet, though.

Theatre Review: Trade It?

Originally published in Venue, issue 824. Since I wrote this, Show of Strength have received word of a recommendation to Bristol City Council to cut completely the funding they receive. SOS are urging people to show their support for the company by writing to the council (postal and email addresses on the SOS page).

Show of Strength: Trade It?

Show of Strength’s newest piece turns the back alleys and open spaces of Bristol into impromptu stages for a series of ten ten-minute vignettes on the Fair Trade City. Bristol became great through the brutal iniquities of slavery, but the port which once made its money from the buying and selling of people has now become just the place to pick up some ethically produced groceries and organic textiles. Some pieces (the haunted monologue of “Noah”) reinvest the city with the horrors of its past; others (the thrillingly demented “Bag And Baggage”, with Nadia Williams) confront the idea that post-emancipation, slavery has only been displaced to other victims on other continents under the guise of market forces. It’s uncomfortable viewing at times, and not just because the first hour is spent walking the city (alternatively, the Saturday matinee is presented entirely at Temple Church Gardens), but with a satisfyingly rude wit and charismatic performances, Trade It? moves nimbly around subjects which too often invite worthiness.

Having only a short time to establish each character, and a complicated set of issues to hang on them, Trade It? runs close to cliché a few times (one piece, “Original Skins”, loads up the telling details a little too high and sacrifices theatre to theory). However, a sharp sense of drama and a keen eye for the ironies of exploitation ensures that the show almost never stumbles into predictability. Covering a riot of genres – absurdist allegory, kitchen sink drama, huckster sideshow (with expert tumbler) – Trade It? keeps the audience on their feet throughout. But disparate as the pieces may seem, there are powerful associations at work between them. “Big-Mouth Strikes Again” threatens to be a straw-man portrait of a white racist, but Dan Winter’s performance takes a swerve from antagonism into pathos, and the segment becomes even more interesting when “Calling A Spade A Spade” dissects the etymology of racial insults and empties them of meaning.

Under the direction of Robin Belfield, the actors combine naturalism (early on, there are moments of exciting hesitation as the audience gauges whether the latest person to wander along is an actor, or just an unfortunate pedestrian passing through) with the vigour it takes to fill an open space. And throughout, viewers are called on to participate: chanting to summon a zombie, calling out the punchlines to politically dubious jokes, playing the guests at a tense inter-racial wedding – it’s impossible to be a passive spectator. So when the evening concludes with a painfully funny skit on the ethics of global trade, the audience is already a part of the action, and ready to take home the play’s fair-trade moral along with the fair-trade goodie bag. ****

Trade It? Bristol City Centre (starts at Horse and Rider statue, Lewins Mead; finishes temple church gardens), Tues 24 June-Sun 6 July.

Theatre Review: Crown Matrimonial

Unpublished sample piece for Venue.

Crown Matrimonial, Theatre Royal Bath.

With its opulent decoration, static presentation, and painfully deferential attitude, Crown Matrimonial has all the theatrical power of an evening spent staring at a commemorative plate. Midway through the second act, six weeks into the 1936 abdication crisis dramatised in the play, during yet another clipped discussion of love-versus-duty, Patricia Routledge as Queen Mary cries, “Will it never end?”. Audiences might feel a rare stab of sympathy with her as the play shuffles circuitously to its well-known conclusion.

It’s not the cast’s fault – Routledge hits the note of restrained matriarchal power throughout, and receives perky support from sundry royals and household characters. But despite portraying the queen as a woman with love for her children as well as devotion to the monarchy, there is no suggestion that she feels anything as interesting as anguish or even mild conflict when her maternal feelings clash with her regal ones. Positions are entrenched from the outset, and two hours of bickering on a sofa does nothing to make the royal family seem important or endearing.

Repeated allusions to European politics don’t help. As a continent prepares to brutalise itself, the only disgusting thing about Wallis Simpson is that the cabinet spent any time discussing her when they could have been worrying about Hitler. Ultimately, the play’s true villain is modern Britain. “One must move with the times”, remarks Edward, to which a lady-in-waiting ripostes, “Only of they are moving in the right direction.” Mired in tedious conservatism, Crown Matrimonial goes nowhere at all. *

CROWN MATRIMONIAL, THEATRE ROYAL BATH, MON 16 JUN-SAT 21 JUN.