Tag Archives: A E Harris Building

Afternoon Delight


A E Harris Building, Birmingham, Sunday 3rd December, 2017


A small but discerning audience gathers on a chilly afternoon in a converted factory building in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  On offer is ‘An Evening of Sex’ but before we can get too excited, the programme notes reveal that the three short plays we are about to see are united by one factor: the characters do not have sex.  Frankly, I’m relieved.


First up is a one-hander, so to speak, written and directed by Dominic Thompson and performed by Jack McBride.  Martin wakes up hungover and handcuffed to a toilet.  It’s his first wedding anniversary and he’s missed a lot of voicemail from his Mrs.  He’s due to fly with her to Dublin and time is running out.  McBride holds our attention well – as the bottom falls out of Martin’s world, and the arse hangs out of his trousers.  There is some neat physical comedy here as Martin drops his phone into the bowl and has to fish it out again, using a sock as a glove, and McBride swaps in and out of the character of a cleaning woman with clarity and ease.  This is a natty piece of writing from Thompson, fresh and contemporary.  We never learn why Martin’s so-called mate has done this to him, but that’s a minor point.

Fred and Ginger

Next up: a two-hander that charts the relationship between schoolfriends, Carl and Izzy.  We meet them at rehearsals for their annual school production, in a sort of Neil Simon Same Time, Next Year kind of way.  In four scenes, we see them grow up before our very eyes, from immature kids eating sweets and playing with Matchbox cars, to young adults, catching up with each other, both having their own lives.  Tilly Farell-Whitehouse undergoes quite a transformation in terms of look and attitude as the earnest, sweet-natured Izzy, quoting her mom and gran as the ultimate authorities on just about everything.  Dominic Thompson is equally credible as the wayward Carl, for whom school is not the best place.  Writer Michael Southan leaves it to us to fill in the gaps between the scenes, keeping the exposition of each scene to the minimum, and this works very well.  It’s sweetly played, and nicely paced by director Ian Robert Moule.  One of the mission statements of Gritty Theatre is to put West Midlands voices, West Midlands stories on the stage.  One of the advantages of the local accent is it readily lends bathos to any statement, a gift for any comedy: witness Izzy’s line, “That last chorus of Fame shredded my larynx.”  It would be interesting to see how the accent plays in the metropolis.

Painting a Picture for the World

Third and last, we have another two-hander, written by Dave Pitt.  The setting is the neat but sparse boudoir of one of your higher-class prostitutes.  Kitty (Jessica Melia) admits her latest ‘trick’, Mark (Damien Dickens), a nervous fellow who just wants ‘to talk’.  And so begins an exchange of observations rather than bodily fluids, the upshot of which is that money can’t buy you love.  Well, we could have told him that from the start.  The play does provide something of a window into the world of the working girl but comes across as an interview rather than a conversation.  Melia cuts a sympathetic figure and Dickens gets Mark’s awkwardness across, but we know he’s going to go away unsatisfied.  The tart with a heart pecks him on the cheek ‘for free’ and he shuffles out.  The session peters out and the play ends.  Nicely played but with no real pay-off.

All-in-all, a fresh and delightful afternoon of brand-new writing.  Perhaps Gritty Theatre have played it safe this time around but I look forward to seeing more of their work.



Storms and Teacups


A E Harris Building, Birmingham, Friday 19th July, 2013

An old man in a nursing home reminisces about the past.  He is visited by his daughter but is paranoid that members of staff are out to get him and has dreams, tortured collages of memories.  He even has an imaginary friend with whom he mocks other inmates.

What is remarkable about Hotel Teatro’s telling of this tale is that in this piece, characters only speak lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.   Director Daniel Tyler has dismantled the original play and cut-and-pasted dialogue and phrases to fit this new narrative.  For the most part, it works very well but I found myself forever pulled out of my engagement with the action as I worked out which character originally said which line and in what context.

The company of five actors are a skilled bunch, some of them more at ease with the language than others.  Corey Campbell is excellent as the Carer, keeping a naturalistic tone as he tends to old Prospero, and adopting a more dramatic attitude when he comes over all Caliban-like in the old man’s paranoid fantasies.  Alice Coles is also very strong as dutiful daughter Miranda, visiting her old dad.  She reminds me of a young Jane Asher.  She doubles up as her own mother in a couple of memory sequences: we see how Prospero met and married his wife and also, later on, how he lost her.  It’s like the first ten minutes of Disney’s Up.

The ‘real-life’ scenes are interspersed with some effective movement sequences, directed by Christopher Worrell, with Prospero conjuring up these images by twisting his blanket or brandishing his staff (well, a walking stick!).  Worrell also appears as imaginary friend Ariel, a graceful, other-worldly presence.   James MacNaughton offers solid support as a ‘Patient’ and also a Trinculo-like figure, a rowdy cook who slips Prospero swigs from his hip flask every now and then. Andy Brownlie’s Prospero is a likeable old soul – reminiscing over a photograph album, he takes out a picture of his late wife, “How sharp the sting of this remembrance is!” he says, in one of the piece’s simpler and more touching moments.

Ultimately, the play comes across as more clever than it is powerful.  The ensemble works very well with very little in the way of staging.  Excellent sound design from John Roddy creates the atmosphere of the naturalistic scenes as well as the stylised sequences, proving the low-budget, plastic chair theatre can be richer in ideas and execution than shows privileged to have bigger budgets.

I would have liked to see more extremes in old Prospero: his anger, his confusion, his sentimentality, all need sharper contrasts – the unpredictability of the moods of the elderly can be alarming and heartbreaking, and perhaps I would have been drawn deeper into his plight and away from my own compulsion to identify the provenance of every line they said.