Monday, 18 November 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol - Sunday 17 November

Jon Brown, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer

Being a big fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens, I was looking forward to seeing a festive mixture of both on stage for the first time. It was a clever and exciting proposition by writer John Longenbaugh.

Performed by Baroque Theatre Company, we see through the eyes of Dr. Watson; Holmes’ trusty companion, the famous detective sleuth’s infusion with the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge on the eve of Christmas. After failed attempts by Dr. Watson to cheer up Holmes into celebrating the holiday season, the unrepentant, ill-tempered detective is forced to analyse the facts and solve the most important mystery of his life – past, present and future. 

The story focused heavily on atmosphere, spirits and sudden changes in time, tempo and mood. The set was simple; two working doors upstage were used to good effect to bring characters in and out of rooms. Two straightforward room settings were at either side of the main space, leaving a large area to play out the majority of the action. Ideally I would like to have seen a more substantial set as I did feel it was a little bare in places. I just wanted to be drawn into the story more, and I felt the set required a little more attention to detail. 

In the lead role, Simon Michael Morgan bought an energy and assurance to his performance. He cracked out his dialogue with the required delivery, pace and confidence. As Dr. Watson, Paul Andrew Goldsmith was a suited side-kick to Holmes, looking every bit like the loyal friend and both he and Simon were the real drivers behind the wheel of this challenging piece of the theatre.

The commitment and team ethic displayed by the ensemble cast was impressive throughout. Everyone contributed something different in bringing this story to life. Unfortunately the execution of dialogue by Russell J. Turner and Terrance Vincent was at times muffled and unheard and a few lines were lost too, thus dropping the pace, focus and energy. Jill Davy as Mrs Hudson was funny throughout and she worked hard at keeping the action flowing. Helen Fullerton, Libby Waite and Claire Bibby threw themselves into a variety of roles, with a strong confidence.

Sadly, I felt the cast were let down a little by other factors. The coordination of the lighting cues, sound cues and music was weak at times, and this style of theatre needs sharp timing, and a total unison with all its technical cues. The sound levels required more attention too. I am all in favour of underscored music as this can really add to the atmosphere and mood. However some pieces of music were simply too loud and played for too long, and this bought a distraction to the action and again some of the dialogue was not heard.

Adam Morley’s direction was bold and expansive, but I was thrown by some of it, which resulted in some confusion. I actually wondered if certain moves were absolutely necessary. I did enjoy the intention to use the whole playing space and this worked very well. There were a few moments when some of the characters were either watching another scene or conversation, or had stepped out of that scene completely but remained on stage. In these situations, I thought they could have been better positioned, thus bringing a stronger focus to the main action.

I mean it when I say that it was a hardworking and courageous attempt by the director, players and crew. To bring together this classic Dickens story and Doyle’s famous sleuth to the stage is no easy feat, but a hugely ambitious one. With a few adjustments and changes, it would indeed be an even better and stronger spectacle. 

Happy Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Vagina Monologues - Monday 4 November

Jasmine Alice, Hawthorne Thetare Reviewer

Flower Power

As soon as I stepped into the Hawthorne theatre tonight, I was hit by a tremendous buzz of excitement, and I soon realised that the show I was about to witness was to be of the same nature; full of energy and enthusiasm. As I looked around, I took in various groups of animated ladies, ranging from young to elderly, all here and full of eagerness for the same reason. We were about to unite as an audience, and embark on an emotional journey to reinvent the way we think and feel about our ‘lady parts’ and also who we are as women. 

Although you would think the distinctly transparent title ‘The Vagina Monologues’ would definitely scare off any males, it was a nice surprise to see a small number come and be a part of the experience. I personally wouldn’t put it on the ‘top ten things to do on a stag night’ list but it was nice to know there were some fellers there in support of female friends and relatives who hadn’t already run a mile, as expected!

The monologues themselves were created from the results of a series of interviews by Eve Ensler, and were performed by three actresses; Hollie-Jay Bowes; Terri Dwyer and Diane Keen. The trio shared a spectacular presence yet each also upheld an individual quality, showing great versatility and a clear understanding for the pieces.

I particularly thought that there was a good balance in regards to the ages of the actresses, and this reflected in the monologues, as the audience was led through a spectrum of maturity and mental and emotional attitudes. 

The set was simple, and included a red semi-circle base with three chairs, two tables and the occasional spotlight. I was drawn to the red floor arrangement, and I felt the scarlet half-moon  cleverly symbolised the vagina itself, with it’s mouth shape acting as an entrance. The backdrop held lots of twinkling lights, resembling a mass of stars and to me, conveyed the amounts of different stories and personalities from the interviews shining through and reminding us of their existence. The chairs were each facing forward, ensuring every word was directed at the audience. I really liked the simplicity of the staging as it felt very much like we were all together having a conversation, rather than being spoken down to.

The best thing about the whole performance for me, was the pure honesty in the ‘stories’ and monologues shared, as it was very clear they were an appropriate dramatisation of real events and opinions – spoken and shared by real women. I could tell I wasn’t the only audience member who felt this way by the great reactions given to the script, especially when some vulgar names for the vagina were mentioned..
(..but I’ll let you guess those for yourselves!)

As a part of the audience, I felt very much included and I really enjoyed the personal touch of interacting with us, the dear folk (Or more like rowdy women!) of Welwyn Garden City. I believe this only helped spur on the crowd even more, to bring bigger better responses during the rest of the show.

During the evening, a selection of happy facts about the female intimate parts were administered and some not-so-chirpy, yet extremely touching truths too. This really put life into perspective for the audience who were very interested and seemed to soak in all the given information. I found it amazing how attentive a not-so-long-ago raucous crowd could be, when drawn in by the right actors.

My favourite monologue of the evening was definitely one which made good use of the ‘c-word!’ I found myself being more drawn-in every time the naughty word was said (and believe me, that was quite a few times!) For me, it gave the obscenity a new ‘reclaimed’ meaning and perspective. Throughout the whole play was an abundance of humour and wit, which made the experience altogether give you a reason to smile. Not to mention the hilarious and surprising short display of fireworks, which really added an extra spark to a great night!

Overall, I would recommend ‘The Vagina Monologues’ as a really enjoyable show, which definitely deserves a standing ovulation! 

Johnny Tait, Local Comedian and Hawthorne Theatre Lover!

As I and my companion walked into the large foyer of the Hawthorne Theatre on Monday evening, one could sense that there was a  good feel about the show we were about to see and a real fun exciting buzz was in the air. The bar staff were working flat out, the wine was flowing freely, it was obvious that tonight was not going to be like any other night at the theatre. The Ladies were out in force, they were going to make it their night. The auditorium was absolutely packed and before the show began I was looking around to see if I could spot any other men.  Having spent most of my life seeking out women, this was a strange experience in itself. Was I the only man there? The show we were about to see was 'The Vagina Monologues' I knew nothing about the show and did not what to expect, the cast consisting of  3 women Hollie-Jay Bowes, Terri Dwyer and Diane Keen were  sat on high chairs and immediately they began talking about Ladies private parts and quoting a long list of the slang terms used for that part, and they did not beat about the bush, some of the words had the audience laughing whilst others made us squirm. 

"Women don't make good comedians" Is a saying I have heard many times. Well if you believe that then you are totally wrong, their delivery was spot on and when it came to comic timing their fingers were right on the button. The  cast interacted with the audience in such a warm friendly way that they even manage to break down the inhibitions the ladies had and got them calling out a word that I was brought up to understand was taboo to say in front of women. Most of the tales they told were funny and lighthearted, but there were also tales of abuse and female genital mutilation which at times made me shudder and feel ashamed to be a man. The Vagina monologues enjoyed a long run in London's west end before moving to Broadway and is currently half way through a nationwide tour. And having seen the show for myself I can fully understand why it plays to packed houses wherever it goes. Though I did find listening to Ladies talk about nothing but vagina's throughout the performance a little bit tiresome. Maybe because the subject matter is something that I like most men know virtually nothing about.


Balley Cymru's Romeo a Juliet - Sunday 3 November

Jane Wing, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer

Last night I went to see Ballet Cymru's production of 'Romeo and Juliet' at The Hawthorne Theatre, Campus West in WGC. I am not a regular ballet goer, but I was really looking forward to this having recently seen a production of the play and therefore knowing I would definitely be able to follow the plot!

I was not disappointed! Ballet Cymru are and up and coming company who strive to add a unique flavour to their productions, and I think they really achieved this aim with this version of the classic tragedy.

From the very beginning it was clear that we were not going to see a traditional interpretation. The costumes were very interesting, militaristic, stylised, with the members of the 'two households' mainly differentiated by the use of colour. A notable exception to this was Mercutio (danced by the excellent Dausuke Miura) who wore a striking boldly coloured outfit which seemed to set him apart from the others.

The set was minimal and provided entirely by projections onto the backdrop which seemed a very practical solution for a touring production and quite effective in this case, although I couldn't quite work out where we were supposed to be – some kind of run down city slum or perhaps a war damaged place if the military theme is to be followed through.

I must mention the beautiful Prokofiev score which I absolutely love.  This version was recorded by Sinfonia Cymru – who's mission is to nurture and support young musicians at the start of their careers.

The dancing was energetic and accomplished, and I liked the way the emotions of the characters were shown by the dancers through their faces as well as their dance moves. The choreography felt very contemporary to my inexperienced eye and when I read that Jo Fong the guest choreographer has worked with many different visual arts companies, including DV8 Physical Theatre, I was not surprised!

A particularly interesting scene was the 'Dance of the Knights' which was done with the use of traditional Welsh clog dancing intermingled with the traditional ballet. I thought this worked very well and the sound of the clogs added an imposing and threatening edge to the scene which played well with the military look and covered faces of the dancers.

Individual performances that stood out for me were those of Juliet (Lydia Arnoux) and Mercutio. I mentioned that Dausuke Miura's costume made him stand out – but so did his performance! He was the dancer your eye was constantly drawn to with an energy and strength that made him very eye catching. And Lydia Arnoux is so tiny and delicate to look at that she easily captured the youth and vulnerability of Juliet which made me really believe in her beautifully shown internal struggle over whether to drink the friar's potion or not. I also felt that Juliet's relationship with Romeo (Daniel Morrison) was played with a gentleness and innocence which helped to reinforce the youth of the 'star crossed' duo.

The emotion story was so convincing that despite knowing the tragic ending that must come, I did find myself wishing for a miracle to happen so I wouldn’t have to witness poor Juliet waking in the burial chamber to find Romeo already dead beside her! But alas, it was not to be, and we were all carried along emotionally to the finale together.

I left with a real desire to see more ballet, I want to see different interpretations of this and other classics, and I will definitely be purchasing a recording of the score with the certain knowledge that listening to it will whisk me back to the romance and drama I saw last night.

Once again the Hawthorne Theatre have shown that watching a small production on a local stage, if cleverly done, can prove just as exciting and innovative as those produced on a much grander scale.

Friday, 1 November 2013

An Audience with Steven Berkoff - Thursday 31 October

Renee Rogers, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer

A Villain’s Face!

Image sourced from
Image sourced from

I was first introduced to the works of Steven Berkoff when I started College eleven years ago and since that first reading of his adaptation of Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis (1969) I was in awe. Spending five years experimenting with his work, watching his portrayal of calculating and destructing villains in film, TV and Theatre and finally going on to teach aspects of his ‘in-yer-face’ theatre style to budding young actors; having the chance to see Berkoff outside of character depiction was something I just had to watch! An Audience With Steven Berkoff was an intimate interview with this legendary figure, known for his controversial remarks and boundary breaking theatre. With local director Guy Masterson hosting the event it was clear from the start the proceedings were going to be an honourable affair with a nice paced structure and relaxed interaction. Berkoff almost shuffled onto the stage, dressed casually in blue tracksuit ensemble, I am not sure why this irked me but it was not how I expected this powerhouse of an actor to come across. Although if anything it was a testament to his ability to transform himself through his own physicality when taking on professional roles.

Image sourced from
Image sourced from

The questions were well thought out as to allow for expansion and diversity, which was best seeing as Berkoff found it rather hard to be succinct and direct with his answers. Was this just ‘his way of communication?’ or is it a sign of his aged mind telling related stories until finally the path veers towards a nod of the answer and the question can conclude? Forthright with his answers Berkoff never tried to hide his thoughts and opinions, and although somewhat controversial, his comedic nature still shone through with his reminiscent stories of childhood, generation expectations and detest for the ‘deep rooted establishment.’ It definitely made me sit up and think! Once the floor was opened up to the audience you could see the ‘fans’ itching to get their question across to the master. It’s the part I enjoyed the most. Audience members with a love for the arts could interact with someone it was clear they admired. Berkoff didn’t disappoint with his open answers and a real passion burst from the actor as he made sure his point was well acknowledged by the nodding audience.

Image sourced from
Image sourced from

With a repertoire and biography to eclipse the best, its no wonder he is hailed as a pioneer practitioner pushing the boundaries of performance to the next level. His homage to the great names such as Peter Brook and Marcel Marceau, allowed my mind to ignite as I remembered the works of these great innovators. ‘We must go back to the classics’ was his parting advice. He explained that the classic stories and plays, show the whole spectrum of human nature and should not be dismissed for modern work (unless it’s his of course!) I have to agree. We spend our lives searching for the ‘next big thing’ without giving any thought to the past predisessors that formed our theatrical history as we know it. And on that note I am off to find my thumbed copy of Oedipus….night!

Review of Theo the Mouse - Wednesday 30 October

Kim Cutbill, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer

I went to see this production with my five year old and my friend with her daughter and had a very enjoyable time. I found it was very child friendly and had some adult humour in it too. Did make me laugh and my child had fun too. They got the audience to join in with the singing and dancing and really in-cadged the crowd. I would highly recommend taking children to this show and I think it would suit children from 2 to 8 yrs but then again I enjoyed it.The set was simple but worked as there wasn't to much going on,and I think the timings were about right for younger children. I liked that they got children from the audience to come up on stage and gave out prizes they seemed to be very comfortable. I would definatly like to take my children to see this type of show again.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Review of Teddy Time - Sunday 27 October

Mary Barton, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer

We took our 4 year old twins to see teddy time, firstly lilly is a likeable person and the kids could really interact with her and they felt comfortable too,

The 2 stories lilly told were ones all the children knew so it made them feel like they was part of the story and they could follow along with it too,

The moving teddy lilly had and the magical wardrobe the kids loved it, made it all feel very magical.

Costumes were good, the children was a little unsure with the wolf at first but after some silly dances they were fine with it.

I asked the children what they thought and replied with "lilly has a beautiful voice and magical teddy's and what to watch it again".

Duration was perfect the children were interacting so much they didn't have time to get bored.

All in all we give teddy time a 10/10 happy face's of all the children coming out and would take the kids to see it again.