Tag Archives: family

News: Meet A Python! Terry Jones to Make Book Signing Appearance This Saturday

Official artwork for 'Nicobobinus'.

Official artwork for ‘Nicobobinus’.

Terry Jones, Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumni and children’s author, is the inventive genius behind 5* “…maelstrom of colour, activity, and wonder” Nicobobinus, currently playing at the LOST Theatre, London.

After the matinee showing of Nicobobinus on Saturday 20th December, Jones will be signing copies of his book from 4:30pm. Fans of Jones’ children’s book, young and old alike, should not only miss this opportunity to have him scrawl something on a beloved personal item, but should absolutely, definitely, see Red Ladder and DumbWise’s stupendous musical adaptation.

[youtube http://youtu.be/hqR4ZWg4klI]

Nicobobinus plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions and family tickets available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.


Musical Review: Nicobobinus (LOST Theatre, London)

Official artwork for 'Nicobobinus'.

Official artwork for ‘Nicobobinus’.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

An utterly spellbinding adaptation of Terry Jones’ much loved children’s book. Has children and adults alike awestruck and enrapt.

Overview

Nicobobinus is a boy who can do anything! But one day, when a Golden Woman turns his arm into pure gold, him and his best friend Rosie must travel to the Land of Dragons in search of the only known cure: dragon’s blood. But their journey is fraught with peril, including murderous monks, surgeon pirates, and moving mountains.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Writing

Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumni has written a children’s book with wild imagination and whimsy. Characters are flamboyant and improbable who both amuse and wonderfully boggle. John Ward’s adaptation absolutely embraces and matches Jones’ creative mind, but also adds a theatrical imagination that wholly and inescapably charms.

Ward’s adaptation is one definitely aimed at a younger audience. It’s face paced, silly, and larger than life enough to keep the smaller ones involved at every moment of the way: laughing, gasping, and even quivering at dragons and dangers. It’s an epic weave of a tome with tremendous highs and perilous climaxes. Taking on Jones’ novel, Ward seems to tap into a humour that children thrive and love – just the right amount of silly and unpredictable: a posturing precisely honed at the level for small-folk. But simultaneously, there’s plenty for the adults too, including things like Monty Python and even Les Miserables reference jokes intelligently and unexpectedly placed. But most fantastically, there’s a universal comedy and tone that both parties involved lap up with relish.

The only thing that could possibly be lingered upon is that new-age morality that Jones injects, and that Ward perhaps stays on this a little too long at points. But even in doing so, it doesn’t take away from anything that Jones and Ward have conjured, or even dampens the pace and wonderment that the production adds to it. It’s just a noticeable thing rather than anything critical.

But overall, the fact that a two hour long show can keep children’s attention hook, line, and sinker without them fidgeting or chattering, is a mammoth achievement.

Life's a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Life’s a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Music & Lyrics

Eilidh Debonnaire’s score is beautiful, catchy, and energetic. It’s simple enough to grab the attention of the younger audience and to keep it, but complex and varied enough not to sound infantile in the slightest. Her scoring for an eclectic gaggle of instruments, from double basses and various saxophones to accordions, adds a rich and quirky sound which is just as interesting as the songs are sweeping and bouncy. But it’s not just in the songs that Debonnaire excels. There’s also some wonderful underscoring that replicates the imagination, rhythm, and the energy of the rest of the production.

Lyrics are straightforward and easy to understand for children, but still have a basic poetry that makes them skip and aurally intrigue. There’s really nothing bad I can say about the score: it’s pitch perfect for our pint-sized patrons, and also delights the parents.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Direction & Production

DumbWise and Red Ladder theatre companies have produced a spellbinding production using incredibly resourceful means. All there is by means of set is the stage painted like a giant map, and two moving halves of a bridge that alter their positions to suggest everything from the canals of Venice, to giant walls, and even a pirate ship. Couple with this projected images and textures upon the set and stage, it prompts a fervid imagination among the audience to fill in the blanks. Where imagination can’t quite deliver, Joshua Pharo’s video work keep the pace going using luscious animated illustrations. It adds to further wonder and variation that keeps adults and children engrossed. Elsewhere, Ward, also directing, ensures that there’s rarely a static moment, also using length, breadth, and height of the space to almost dizzying effect!

Everything in this production is spot on and well thought out. A maelstrom of colour, activity, and wonder: it’s captivating.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Cast

If the adaptation, the music, and the production wasn’t perfect enough, there is also an amazing cast involved. Max Runham as titular Nicobobinus is exceedingly sprightly, bounding about the stage with ferocious energy. Indeed, on press night his fervour and dedication was so much so that he ended up sustaining an injury, coming on for final bows with a bloodied nose! Samantha Sutherland as Rosie matched him stride for stride, and together they’re exude an almost exhausting power and child-like quality between them, perfect for the roles of our exuberant hero and heroine.

But they are supported by a trio of supreme comic talent: Debonnaire, Jofre Alsina, and Lloyd Gorman. As excellent entertainers, they are side-splittingly hilarious to watch. Excelling at everything from facial physicality to physical high jinx and marvellous vocal characterisations, they keep both adults and children in roars of laugher throughout. They also work effortlessly together to create a close-knit ball of comic energy that is unbearably funny.

Verdict

Out-rightly one of the most magical pieces of theatre I’ve seen as both a child and an adult. A dazzling Christmas show that will have each and every member of the family utterly dumbstruck with amazement.

[youtube http://youtu.be/hqR4ZWg4klI]

Nicobobinus plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions and family tickets available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.


Theatre Review: It’s A Wonderful Life – The Radio Play (Bridge House Theatre, London)

Wonderful! Sophie Scott (left) and Gerard McCarthy (right). Photograph: courtesy of Anton Hewins.

Wonderful! Sophie Scott (left) and Gerard McCarthy (right). Photograph: courtesy of Anton Hewins.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Proof that all you need for great theatre is a good story and brilliant storytellers. The production finds an ineffable charm in its resourcefulness.

Overview

George Bailey is a man with great ambitions. Yet his good nature has meant he has never been able to leave the sleepy up-state New York town of Bedford Falls. And now, things have come to a head and he’s contemplating suicide. But can rookie second class angel, Clarence, intent on earning his wings, be the one to convince him that he really has a wonderful life?

Writing

If I’m going to be upfront about things, I’m going to have to admit that, for all it’s praise, I’m not a huge fan of the film of It’s A Wonderful Life: even though it’s synonymous with Christmas and considered one of film’s all time greats. Yet famed radio-playwright, Tony Palermo, in his scaled back and succinct adaptation, has managed to find a different and hidden magic in the tale through it’s resetting. It might just be actors speaking into microphones accompanied by live sound effects, but he’s managed to still find a pace and an imagination that is difficult not to get drawn into. It’s an excellent radio play, even it’s being performed on stage. Palermo’s focus is, in his own words:

“…presenting theatre audiences with an authentic and delightful experience of radio drama in its heyday.” – www.ruyasonic.com.

He achieves this wholly and effortlessly.  Most astonishingly is, that despite the bareness of the concept, the children in the audience were completely hooked: something I had not expected, and speaks volumes for the show’s ability to engage and enchant.

The production’s setting the show as a local Penge 1949 live radio broadcast adds even more charm, including 1940s style adverts for actual business. Actor Daniel Hill also does a wonderful job of playing the broadcasts’ host too, working the crowd and creating a friendly and festive atmosphere. All in all, it not just create a sense of nostalgia but a palpable sense of time-travel.

Direction & Production

If you think that mainly getting a cast together to speak into microphones would make for lazy direction, you’d be wrong. Guy Retallack ensures that he never drops the ball and adds wonderful nuances throughout the production. There’s still plenty of interaction between characters, and they often ignore the mics and focus on each other, responding directly both physically and emotionally among themselves rather than just at the microphones. Retallack also makes great use of the small stage space, having actors muster and perform at the back of the stage even if it be feet away from the front, as well as make use of the passageway towards the dressing rooms. In fact, you almost forget the microphones are there and are engaged in the action as if it were a play rather than a radio broadcast. Retallack has added myriad visual details to something that doesn’t require it, and in doing so has incredibly elevated it into something extra special.

Elsewhere, Susan Burns on the sound effects is always on cue, adding an aural colour where visuals are missing. Whilst Fiona Martin’s minimal set of retro mics and “On Air” sign, coupled with the beautifully tailored period costumes, add further suspension of disbelief that the theatre space is a time casual fresh from 70 years ago.

It’s an incredibly resourceful production, but it has ensured that at every step of the way it’s frugal necessity is converted into inescapable charm.

Cast

I really can’t think of anyone to pick out in particular from the cast as they’re all top notch. Each and every one of them are not just great actors, but brilliant storytellers. Working with nothing but themselves and very few props, they manage to conjure up a lost era of a small town far overseas without having to force anything or try too hard. They’re as integral to the magic as the script and the production, and have the audience hang on every word and command their every attention when executing their craft: it’s utterly bewitching.

What’s more, as many of them play several characters, they switch instantly between them, not just in voice but in stature and physical characteristics that gives a striking visual difference as well as an aural one.

Verdict

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Radio Play is a wonderful time-warp. A warmth and heart that’s moving, unfathomably cosy, and steadfastly brilliant. Palermo’s writing and Retallack’s cast and production add an unexpected and surprising magic to, and perhaps even bettering, a story that has long been a pinnacle of Christmas.

It’s A Wonderful Life – The Radio Play plays at the Bridge House Theatre, London, SE20 8RZ, until 4 January 2015. Tickets from £10. To book, visit www.bhtheatre.co.uk.


Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass (St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden, London)

Alice 1Rating: *****

In A Nutshell:

Electric, inventive, and mad-cap, this is a family show that has as much narrative style and substance as it does outrageous fun.

Overview

Continuing on from the success of their production of Alice in Wonderland last year, Iris Theatre returns to Lewis Carroll by adapting his topsy-turvy sequel. Alice catches a glimpse of her older and frailer self through a looking glass. In order to try and make elderly Alice remember who she is, she bangs a little too hard on the mirror and both of their worlds are sucked into each other. In order to save her older self for the notorious Jabberwocky, she must traverse towards rank eight of this giant chess-board world to defeat it.

Writing

Writer and Artistic Director, Daniel Winder, adapts Carroll’s book with a great deal of intelligence. Most interestingly, he uses a framing device of Alice on the quest to save her older self: something that is not part of the original novel. What this illustrates is that Winder knows Carroll more than most. In execution, it gives the narrative a drive and purpose other than becoming non-sequential nonsense that an adaptation could have easily been. But it also means that, despite being a family friendly show, it gives it real substance that makes it work as equally as fantastic as an adult piece of theatre.

This framing device, despite adding to the text, is actually quite organic and relevant. Taking into account darker themes from episodes such as the White Knight’s song and the encounter with the Wasp in a Wig, Winder embraces the fact that there are definite allusions to Carroll lamenting a lost and happy youth: subsequently, a widely accepted interpretation of Carroll’s earlier related work, The Hunting of the Snark. The result is an adaptation that is as engaging as it is electric. The frolics, fun, and nonsense are superb, but empathetically dwelling on the tender melancholy that is inherent in the text gives it that extra edge, making it more than a juvenile affair.

The only negative is that it does drag a little in the second act, especially in the more verbose scenes such as that with Humpty Dumpty. This is mainly because of the original book itself is lengthy, but also because Winder et al had set a pace in Act I that was always going to be difficult to keep up with. But given everything else that’s amazing about this production, it really is a trivial criticism.

Music and Songs

Although not a musical per se, there are plenty of songs throughout. Candida Caldicot creates a score that captures the anarchy and wonder of Carroll’s world. With this, the songs themselves are fun, simple, and catchy, making them especially suitable for children but immensely enjoyable for adults. Caldicot can also pen a ditty that has as much heart and emotion, where needed, to bolster Winder’s emotive vision. She also isn’t afraid to experiment, using vocal and musical effects at points to create atmosphere and tension, such as in the Jabberwocky’s lair, to great effect.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASSDirection & Production

There is so much I can laud here, I’m not sure where to start! Ultimately, Tara Finney’s large team of set, lighting and sound designers, builders, and movement directors manage to transport you to Wonderland effortlessly. Using only a fairly minimum bits of set and props – such as fairy lights, and various landscaping features – the several performance areas are decked out to create enough whimsy to prompt audience members on their own journey of imagination. But what’s tremendous is tenacity and inventiveness of Finney’s team, finding surprising things to take advantage of that are already existing within St. Paul’s church and its grounds, adding extra and unexpected oomph . One example is using a low chord on the church’s own organ when entering the lair of the Jabberwocky. This could have easily been done using pre-recorded sound on their excellent AV equipment. But by doing this instead, the audience also get to feel the physical rumble of this domineering instrument, making it particularly exciting and scary.

But there’s also a very high-end professionalism here too. There are some moments that are as aesthetically arresting as those you’d find on a West End stage. For example, older Alice’s bed chamber is breathtaking when you enter, with it’s larger than life tilted bed engulfed in the vast Edwardian church space. There’s also a wonderful moment the Wasp in a Wig teeters off, holding high the golden comb given to her by Alice, making it glint in the spotlight and casting an imposing shadow as she exits. These touches edmonstrate that this isn’t just a lets-have-a-laugh-and-cobble-together-an-outdoor-promenade-production, but that Iris Theatre to be as professional outfit as anything else in the West End, if not better than some of the productions currently on in the theatres.

Director Jamie Jackson also ensures a solid balance in this being a promenade production, making sure the audience are never spending too long or too quick a time in any place. But he also understands how effective interaction can be and is never scared to directly involve the audience. There are plenty of moments when the audience are involved, either as individuals dressing up Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, or merely being squirted by water pistols from afar. He’s also not afraid of being inventive within this family friendly context, accommodating some of Isla Jackson-Ritchie’s bold pieces of physical theatre to great affect. Thus, he’s as integral a contribution to the show as Winder, Caldicot, and Finney, all seeming working as one to pull of this tremendous show.

Cast

I absolutely can’t bring myself to single out particular cast members here: they’re all as accomplished and as brilliant as each other. This is a cast that not only know how to act, but know how to have outrageous fun. They all throw themselves into their roles with brilliant aplomb, creating exuberant and engrossingly charismatic characters. They portray Carroll’s over-the-top personalities by wallowing in his nonsense as if it were gospel. But this is far from pantomime, and behind these outlandish characterisations there’s are passionate, creative, and mindful interpretations of the characters. Contrariwise, during Winder’s more touching moments, the actors treat their characters with a tact and subtlety as if a soft tragedy. Each player is the life and soul of whatever party they are at, and it’s a joy to see a cast as jubilant and having as much fun as the audience.

Verdict

Wild, riotous, and magical. This is one of the best pieces of summer theatre you could ask for. Even though it’s a family friendly production, there’s nothing here that will make adults feel left out or patronised as there’s a real sense of substance and intelligence among the madness and frivolity. It’s a production that makes you want the summer to never end, just so Iris Theatre can keep producing gems like this. An absolute masterpiece.

Alice Through The Looking Glass plays at St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, until 30 August 2014. Tickets are £17.99 (concessions available). To book, visit www.iristheatre.com.