Tag Archives: Aimee Powell

All Puns Blazing

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY SISTERS

B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 8th December, 2017

 

One Christmas tradition that doesn’t get me bah-humbugging all the way home, is the Belgrade Theatre’s annual alternative production to the (excellent) pantomime in the main house.  The B2 studio becomes home to a show for the grown-ups, in a genre- as well as gender-bending cavalcade of bad jokes.  This year, riffing on Cinderella, writer-director Nick Walker gives us a Western with a cast of four women, playing cowboys.  There is a plot, a chase to beat the bad guy to some buried treasure, and along the way we encounter a range of tropes (the saloon, the train, the Native American guide) as well as a host of larger-than-life characters performed by this versatile and industrious quartet.

Doc (the mighty Katy Stephens) is our protagonist and narrator.  Such is her wry charm, we let her get away with the worst puns imaginable without rising up and lynching her.  She is supported by the Magnificent Three: Miriam Edwards, Laura Tipper and Aimee Powell, in this relentless barrage of fun.  Some of the jokes are as old as the hills and the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, but there is plenty of invention in the pun-fire, lots of new material to make groan-ups of us all.

Walker evidently spends the rest of the year writing jokes for Christmas crackers, and is possessed of a particular kind of genius.  For example, the treasure could be silver, could be gold – it could be either ore.

I can hear you groaning from here.  This type of thing is perhaps an acquired taste.  It is certainly right up my alley.

Performing with indefatigable brio, the cast pull out all the stops to keep the laughs coming, and the knowing looks add to the fun.  We are not expected to take a second of it seriously – but the cast certainly do, playing with commitment and skill – the comic timing is superb; and the production values are certainly no joke.  The Belgrade’s in-house production services dress the show in quality costumes.  I love the tumbleweeds that punctuate the script’s worst excesses and the horses are hot to trot.  A simple but effective set with a sunset backcloth serves for all locations, allowing the performers to do most of the work, while the sound effects (Rob Clews) and the lighting (Chris Munn) evoke the genre while augmenting the humour.

It’s an hour of fantastic fun and it makes me think we don’t see many Westerns on the stage.  Yes, there are musicals and opera set in the Wild West but no ‘straight’ plays?  It’s a gap in the market perhaps I can head off at the pass…

The-Good-the-Bad-and-the-Ugly-Sisters-Credit-Robert-Day

The Magnificent Four: Laura Tipper, Aimee Powell, Katy Stephens and Miriam Edwards (Photo: Robert Day)

 

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Catching Some Rays

ALL IS WELL

mac, Birmingham, Friday 12th May, 2017

 

Vanessa Oakes’s play centres around four characters who lose their way in a forest.  Not just any forest but the contaminated one at Chernobyl, site of the biggest nuclear accident (so far, that is).  As is the custom, Aleks (Mark Carey) has returned to pay respects to his mother’s grave.  He’s not the only one on a similar quest.  People’s concern for tradition outweighs fear over the radiation that continues to poison the area, and will do so for thousands of years.  Young couple Stefan (Jack Richardson) and Nina (Aimee Powell) separate, reunite, fall out (no pun intended) and reconcile.  Meanwhile, old Anna (Janice McKenzie) gets on with her life in this forbidden forest, lamenting the loss of her home and defying the law of the land.  There is some mystery about who she is – the ambiguity is intriguing: is she Aleks’s mother?  Is she a ghost?

The presentation is simple, the location suggested by a rusty Russian sign, overgrown, a door frame standing alone.  The characters narrate scene headings and provide descriptions of what is not staged, so we build in our imaginations the scale of the forest, the weather conditions and so on.  Mark Evans directs with an assured hand, keeping things straightforward so that the ideas in the script are clearly transmitted.  The result is a stark reminder of the terrible accident, its impact on the locals and the area, and also a reminder of the folly of nuclear power.  Even after Chernobyl, people still want it – even though, the play points out, it is much more expensive than renewables.

The characters visit this toxic territory as though it’s a post-apocalyptic theme park.  We learn that tourists flock to the region, attracted by the horror, the ‘ghost town’.  How ghoulish!  And how typical of the attitude the play decries, that of not looking to the future, of hankering for the past through the prism of nostalgia instead of protecting ourselves and the land.

Janice McKenzie’s Anna is both wise and foolish, worldly and blinkered.  Aimee Powell’s Nina is passionate, tinged with fear, in her anti-nuclear stance, while Jack Richardson makes an emotional Stefan, albeit a bit of a twit.  Mark Carey’s Aleks is a scientist, resigned to radiation in the world, as if there is no alternative to nuclear energy.  The four meet each other in turn, throwing up in their conversations the questions Oakes wants us to think about.  Is it really worth gambling the environment?  Silly question but some people (corporations, governments) think it is.

It’s not all bleak.  There is humour here, reminding us the people of Chernobyl are humans like us and not just statistics.  And there is a charming blackbird puppet (designed and made by Joff Chafer) expressively operated by Jack Richardson.  Life goes on, the blackbird signifies, and while it does, all must be well.  Mustn’t it?

A thought-provoking hour that amuses and horrifies, but we engage with the issues and ideas more than with the characters.

Anna - All Is Well 2017

Anna (Janice McKenzie) Photo: Anand Chhabri