The Shoemaker’s Holiday

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The play begins with a series of amusing freeze-frame dioramas economically introducing the whole cast and the main groupings within it. Speedily the action moves to The shoemaker’s workshop with its volatile and anarchic journeymen, maids and the master’s wife. These diverse characters are held together by David Troughton’s remarkable Simon Eyre, an eccentric but loveable master, who alternately cajoles, begs and threatens his household in order to keep it in being by renewing the bonds of trust and affection that are at its heart. So we begin to understand what is meant by the oft repeated phrase ‘the gentle craft.’

The threats to Eyre’s extended family of artisans comes from the conscription of a shoemaker by the noble recruitment officers, one of whom deserts his military duties to pursue his lover whilst hiding in the shoemaker’s workshop.

This production avoids being a morality play exposing the hypocrisy and malice of the rich in their dealings with the poor. It is too nuanced, too funny, and too true to its historical period to make such easy judgements. The lovelorn nobleman/cobbler, Rowland Lacy, dressed in his Dutch disguise complete with clogs and cod accent amuses us and we forgive him going AWOL. Similarly Hammon, spurned by Lacy’s fiancée, puts in train a dastardly scheme to seduce the conscripted shoemaker’s wife. It comes to nothing and shamed by the exponents of the gentle craft he emerges as a figure of pathos, a disappointed lover bitterly giving his money away to preserve his damaged reputation.

Finally, I must mention Vivienne Parry for her inspired comic creation of Margery Eyre, the shoemaker’s wife, as she tries to adapt her speech, dress and deportment to her sudden elevation to the top rank of London society.

An entertaining and absorbing production.

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Chris Luscombe: Question and Answer.

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This Question and Answer session gave us a fascinating insight into the experiences that shaped Chris’s development from Cambridge Footlights Review and concurrently working as a West End theatre usher, (a job he described as a masterclass for an aspiring actor or director).  It was evident that Chris’s wealth of experience in repertory theatre and subsequent career as a director  had given him a conviction that creating a new show is fundamentally a team effort.  He believed that this was particularly true of comedy and his current project  as the director of  this season’s much lauded Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won.

The audience were quick to pick up on Chris’s emphasis on the collaborative nature of comedy and what followed was an absorbing description of Chris’s style of ‘benign dictatorship’ and the creative tension that exists between giving actors room to develop their roles and the need for the director to be prescriptive about the parameters of the world they are creating to ensure, in Chris’s words, ‘that we all end up in the same show’.

Chris paid tribute to his talented, and extremely musical cast, his assistant directior, Guy Unsworth and his work with Nigel Hess, ‘the Rolls Royce of musical directors’. His empathy with actors was evident in his amusing description of the perils facing the understudy.  The audience agreed with him that the RSC tradition of playing an understudy’s performance on a Friday afternoon was  an admirable and hugely successful initiative appreciated by actors and audiences alike.

A Friends audience always impresses with its deep knowledge and appreciation of the plays and this was evident in questions about how Chris decided where to make cuts. There followed an in depth explanation of the reason why a line was cut and the constant reviewing that takes place as a result of this decision to ensure that the play as a whole retains its coherence. Similarly, the audience was intensely interested in Chris’s descriptions  of how  he works closely with actors to ensure that their focus, their movement around the stage, and their understanding of the language all contribute to the comedy.

A thoroughly enjoyable an engaging session.

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Wolf Hall a howling success!

imageThis tense political drama is a tour de force for the RSC. The Tudor court, wolfis and predatory world where the protagonists play for the highest stakes.  Into this world, so true to Hilary Mantel’s creation, we witness Ben Miles’s Cromwell, still and watchful. As the play develops we see him warily circling the dangerous and capricious characters that occupy the highest in the realm and whose trust and support he must win.

It is unfair to dwell too long on individual performances as this is a production in which the whole ensemble contribute to an utterly convincing creation of a world turned upside down as the king wrestles with the consequences of divorce and a break with Rome. The ensuing uncertainty is palpable as the court struggles to make sense of a world where old loyalties dissolve and new hazards, and opportunities, arise.

The sets are skilfully pared down and contrast with the opulence of the courtiers’ dress serves as a visual metaphor for the splendour and harshness of this world. A further contrast between the lavish dress of the court and it’s disdain for Cromwell in his monochrome attire points up a major theme of the play.

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Evie looking forward to seeing Wendy and Peter Pan

When I got into the theatre to watch Peter Pan I felt a bit frightened and I wondered what would happen. When I first saw the stage I noticed that there were 4 beds, I wondered why because I was expecting 3! I liked the bedroom scene it seemed very real.
The actors were very good I especially liked Peter Pan and Wendy and the Shadows. When the Lost Boys came in they were daft and funny. Whenever Wendy tells a lie she does a pig snort so everybody knows when she is lying, that was very funny.

The underground house was great. The floor came up and inside it was like a real house and Tink had a proper bed and there were lights and a place to cook.
I really liked the flying it was exciting! The pirates were a but scary and the music when the ship came onto stage was quite evil, I wondered how the pirates had hooks and stumps for arms and legs. The crocodile was very good even though it was not like a crocodile costume I could hear the clock ticking and it was scary and very real.

I would definitely recommend children go and see this excellent show!

Wendy and Peter Pan reviewed by Evie aged 7.

Evie looking forward to seeing Wendy and Peter Pan

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Talking strong to power

The cumulative effect of this complex play was overwhelming and the cast received a well earned standing ovation. David Tennant’s generous performance as the betrayed priest king made room for Michael Pennington’s furious and despairing John of Gaunt and Oliver Ford Davies’ wonderfully nuanced Duke of York as the certainties of his world crumble before the realities of shifting power.

The staging is beautifully crafted to illustrate the plays themes. Richard, the priest king in flowing white robes and Christ like tresses contrasts starkly with his disaffected lords, unshaven, bald,treacherous and armoured. The king flits back and forth between his small coterie of trusted advisors and his angry vassals.

Nigel Lindsay’s Bolingbroke, brutal and self assured at the beginning of the play visibly quails before the broken king as he foretells treachery and dissent which will soon face the usurper. This is played out on stage as lords queue up to throw down their gauntlets at each other, repeating and multiplying the challenge to trial by combat demanded by Bolingbroke at the start of the play.

A wonderful performance, get tickets if you can!

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Jerusalem is builded here!

Maria Aberg’s As You Like It makes playful references to Glastonbury and Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem in their shared yearning for a life free from the restrictions and drudgery of everyday life. The malice and injustice of the usurping Duke’s court is portrayed as place of robotic compliance , painted here in drab black and grey aspiring to an empty  sophistication. Rosalind and Celia escape to live on their wits in the dangerous but liberating forest amongst love lorn rustics and new agers.

The cast exude a powerful chemistry that makes this exuberant and joyful play  so heart warming. As the house lights went up one could see the audience smiling at one another so palpable was the impact of this uplifting production.

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