Tag Archives: Jason Southgate

Ostriches to Fortune


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 13th September, 2016


Keith Gray’s wonderful coming-of-age novel is brought to the stage in this exuberant adaptation by Carl Miller.  A quartet of actors narrate and enact the story of three boys, Blake (Fred Haig), Sim (Carl Au) and Kenny (Faaiz Mbelizi), who embark on a journey to Scotland, taking with them the stolen ashes of their recently dead friend Ross (Shea Davis – ever-present as a ghostly observer, appearing in flashback scenes and as a range of characters along the way.)

The action is slick.  The boys share the narration, often arguing about who should represent whom, dropping in and out of character with split-second precision.  The style reminds me of early Godber.  Teechers, say, or Bouncers.   Director Tony Graham makes the most of his cast’s physicality in order to populate Jason Southgate’s sparse but versatile set.  Movement sequences (by Tom Jackson Greaves) bridge events in the narrative, often portraying what the boys’ words cannot articulate.

Carl Au is superb as the highly-strung but pragmatic Sim, flipping to the other end of the scale to portray Kat, a girl Kenny encounters on the way.  Faaiz Mbelizi’s Kenny is gauche and uncool, contrasting with Fred Haig’s sensible and mature Blake.  All three are splendid but it is the willowy Shea Davis who mesmerises, shaking out his long hair with a slow smile as Ross watches his friends bicker and mess around.  The performances are flawless from all four and are chock-full of nicely observed details alongside the more choreographed, stylised moments.  At times, the imagery is as beautiful as the writing.  The bungee jump, for example, played against a reconstruction of the accident that killed Ross.  Arnim Preiss’s lighting adds to the physical and verbal lyricism of the moment.

This is a show where memory and narrative entwine, until the truth is teased out.  A story of boys going on an emotional, developmental journey as much as a cross-country train trek.  Told by blisteringly skilful performers, Ostrich Boys gives us endearing characters, verbal and physical humour, fun, tension and a deeply poignant denouement.  This is superior storytelling, as entertaining and moving as theatre should be.  Get your head out of the sand and get your arse to Coventry; this is one production you would be foolish to miss.


Shea Davis as Ross (Photo: Robert Day)


Peter Panned


Hippodrome, Birmingham, Thursday 11th June, 2015

Odd, you think, that Welsh National Opera present Richard Ayres’s opera at this time of year. Surely, it might attract more of an audience at a more festive time of year.

Anyway, here it is.

Ayres’s score is sophisticated and complex, at odds with the subject matter for the most part, making me think we are to observe through the lens of adulthood rather than the innocence of childhood. It’s a hard listen though superbly sung. Hilary Summers as Mrs Darling sings a weird lullaby in which she tells her kids she will ‘tidy their minds’ while they sleep. She returns as Tiger Lily later on, which seems a lot more fun. Ashley Holland blusters as her husband and struts and preens as a colourful Captain Hook – it is when the pirates come on that the whole enterprise lifts, as silliness and camp are permitted to creep in – but just for a moment.

Marie Arnet’s Wendy is both sweet and earnest, while her brothers (Nicholas Sharratt and Rebecca Bottone) throw themselves around with enthusiasm. It’s Aidan Smith in a dog suit as Nana who gets the best reception. An air of surrealism hangs over the whole enterprise: Jason Southgate’s set takes elements from an Edwardian nursery and enlarges them – Neverland, for example, is a collection of building blocks, and the pirate ship is an overgrown choo-choo.

Counter-tenor Iestyn Morris is Pan, in white and silver garb, performing aerial tricks while singing. He’s suitably heroic and boyish but there is something missing – and I mean with the entire production. It’s lacking in a spirit of fun and adventure, the playfulness of Barrie’s play.

It’s not just because of the dense music. The lighting (by Bruno Poet) is simply too dim for the majority of the show. Both the ‘real world’ and Neverland are murky places, never mind the mood of the characters or the time of day.

And it’s a shame because the orchestra under Erik Nielsen’s baton and the chorus (as ever) are in superb form, summoning up some of the exuberance the material requires to get off the ground.

Director Keith Warner adds some comic touches but they are lost in the general gloom – which is just as well in the case of some ill-advised fart jokes.

It seems to me a mismatch all around. Neither Ayres’s score nor this production’s design suit the material. Neither do they shed new light on the familiar story – in fact there is very little light at all.

Me and My Shadow: Peter Pan - Iestyn Morris; Wendy - Marie Arnet Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL

Me and My Shadow:
Peter Pan – Iestyn Morris; Wendy – Marie Arnet
Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL