Tag Archives: Neal Foster

Terribly Funny

HORRIBLE HISTORIES: Terrible Tudors

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 23rd October, 2019

 

Based on the popular series of children’s non-fiction books by the extremely popular and prolific Terry Deary, this show by the Birmingham Stage Company is playing in tandem with Awful Egyptians, which I imagine is just as much fun.

A cast of three, led by Doctor Dee (played in this performance by director Neal Foster) take us through the reign of the Tudors, from the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field through to the succession of James I after the demise of Elizabeth.  Along the way, there are interludes examining other aspects of Tudor society, like the cruel punishments meted out to criminals (some hilarious practical effects here) and the disgusting elements of medical practice.

Foster is a delight, whether its in one of his many characters (including Henry VIII) or when he’s addressing the audience with a good old-fashioned ‘Shut your face!’.  He is supported by a more-than-able pair, Dross (Lisa Allen) and Drab (Izaak Cainer) who take on all the other roles, as well as being enjoyable characters in their own right.

The facts come as thick and as fast as the jokes.  The declamatory style of storytelling is leavened by silly voices and camp gestures, and the action is augmented by cartoony sound effects (thanks to Nick Sagar) and animated projections on the screen that forms the backdrop.  The performance style owes much to Monty Python and pantomime, and the script has a touch of the Carry-Ons, without the bawdiness.  There are plenty of mentions of poo and grisly deaths to keep the kids fascinated, while the adults will find much to enjoy in the execution (heh) of the comic business by these three talented players.

The second half has the added ingredient of 3D effects to make you flinch and gasp, as the Spanish Armada is blown to splinters and blood from the botched execution of Mary Queen of Scots splatters across the screen.  There are catchy songs, including one to help you remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives, and even Will. I. Am. Shakespeare crops up with a version of I Gotta Feeling.  The anachronisms make the history accessible and keep the laughs coming.

And then, as the reign and life of Elizabeth come to an end, she recaps the dynasty, in a powerful moment from Lisa Allen, bringing depth and gravitas to the piece – but don’t worry, there’s another catchy song to round things off.

Thoroughly enjoyable, informative and hilarious, this Horrible History makes for Terrific Theatre.

1 Terrible Tudors by Birmingham Stage Company. Photo by Mark Douet

Terrible Tudors: Lisa Allen and Izaak Cainer are armed and dangerous (Photo: Mark Douet)

 


Nasty and Niece

AWFUL AUNTIE

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th September, 2018

 

Birmingham Stage Company is back, following up the success of Gangsta Granny with a second alliterative title from comic actor-turned-children’s-author, David Walliams.  Walliams appears to have appointed himself the successor to Roald Dahl and his work bears many similarities to Dahl’s classic novels for children.  Chiefly, Walliams doesn’t sugar coat any aspect of his stories, populates the tales with grotesques, and places a wise child at the heart of them.  Adaptor-director Neal Foster captures the Walliams spirit superbly well, rendering the action in imaginative, theatrical ways.

This one is a grim (Grimm) melodrama that is positively Victorian in its sensationalism.  The titular aunt – Agatha Saxby – is monstrously cruel to her recently orphaned niece.  The title deeds of rambling manor Saxby Hall are at stake.  Richard James is enormous fun as this squawking villain, stomping around in plus fours and a ginger wig.  His sidekick, Wagner, is an imposing owl – and a beautiful piece of puppetry performed by Roberta Bellekom.

Georgina Leonidas instantly gains our sympathy as plucky, long-suffering heroine, 12-year-old Stella, who finds an ally in the form of friendly ghost, Soot (the likeable Ashley Cousins) a chimney sweep’s boy who came to a sticky end on the job.  The pair uncover the true extent of Auntie’s abominable activities as they clamber up and over Jacqueline Trousdale’s revolving set pieces.  The gothic events are offset by the humorous appearances of dotty retainer, Gibbon, in a hilarious turn by Harry Sutherland.

Jak Poore’s original score adds to the urgency of the action and the melodramatic atmosphere of the whole.  It may lack the warmth of Gangsta Granny, but there is plenty here to enjoy as Stella endures tribulation and trials, and Auntie gets her comeuppance in a satisfactory turn of events.

Darkly delicious with a generous helping of toilet humour and gross-out moments, Awful Auntie is awesome entertainment for the whole family.

Awful-Auntie-by-Birmingham-Stage-Company-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-_50A82121

Georgina Leonidas and Ashley Cousins try to twoc their way out of trouble (Photo: Mark Douet)


Grab This Granny

GANGSTA GRANNY

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 16th February, 2016

 

Every Friday night while his parents go ballroom dancing, young Ben (Ashley Cousins) has to stay with his granny. He resents this arrangement, finding the old woman boring and smelling of the cabbage that is ubiquitous in her cuisine. In order to keep the boy on side, Granny (a lonely old woman, neglected by her son and his wife) tells Ben exciting stories of her former life as an international jewel thief. Ben is hooked. He plans the biggest heist of the lot (the theft of the crown jewels) as Granny’s comeback and swan song… but has the old girl been telling the truth?

Adapted from David Walliams’s popular children’s novel, this is a cracker of a show, crammed with things to amuse audience members of all ages. There is some delightful comic playing: Ben’s mum and dad (Laura Girling and Benedict Martin) aren’t quite in the Roald Dahl league of monstrous parents, but they flit around, selfish in their sambas, and tyrannical in their tangos. Alison Fitzjohn supports as a range of characters – her assertive Matron gets a lot of laughs – and Richard James’s Teacher and Policemen are also indicative of the versatility of the players. As Strictly-type personality Flavio, Umar Malik almost steals the show, prancing and posturing around. The cast also change the scenery – Jacqueline Trousdale’s ingenious set opens up and turns around to create a wide range of settings – and they dance their way through the transitions, keeping the mood elevated. Jak Poore’s superlative score combines heist movie suspense with ballroom rhythms and flair – irresistible.

But the show is all about the relationship between a boy and his gran. Ashley Cousins is a likeable narrator, bouncing with boyish energy and Gran (played in this performance by Louise Bailey) is full of surprises as much as flatulence, keeping to the right side of grotesque. Beneath the comedy and the adventure runs an undercurrent of loneliness and an admonition to us all to get to know the elderly before it’s too late.

Director and adaptor Neil Foster delivers high quality entertainment for all the family, balancing Walliams’s toilet humour and heart perfectly. Gangsta Granny is a funny, touching and salutary story, performed here with exuberance, great warmth and panache.

granny

 

 


Gardener Questions Time

TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 15th April, 2014-04-16

One of the best books I’ve ever read is the classic novel by Philippa Pearce and so I approached this David Wood adaptation with excitement and trepidation. Would the stage version capture the charm, wonder and emotive power of the original?

The answer is an unqualified YES.

Young Tom (David Tute) goes to stay with his aunt and uncle while his brother recovers from the measles. Virtually quarantined, Tom is bored and isolated until one night the grandfather clock in the grand house where his aunt and uncle rent a flat, strikes thirteen. Tom learns this is a signal for an enchanted time in which he is able to sneak out of the house and into a garden which no longer exists. There he meets Hatty (Caitlin Thorburn) who treats him like an imaginary friend or even a ghost. The plot gets all timey-wimey as it passes at different speeds for the two children but the action is kept clear by a tight script, that uses elements of narrative theatre to spark our imaginations with what isn’t shown on stage. Wood cleverly uses the device of Tom’s postcards home to his brother to reveal the character’s inner thoughts and feelings.

As Tom and Hatty, Tute and Thorburn are captivating. The cast is rich with strong character actors doubling their roles. Helen Ryan is perfectly horrid as Hatty’s evil aunt Grace, and daunting landlady Mrs Bartholomew. Tom Jude is good fun as Uncle Alan and brings atmosphere as superstitious gardener Abel. Ed Thorpe contrasts his roles of brother Peter and cousin Edgar very effectively.

Director Neal Foster makes the most of Jacqueline Trousdale’s flexible set, on which the actors use mime and minimal props to conjure the bygone age so that we see it clearly in our mind’s eye. It’s a spellbinding piece of storytelling aided by Jak Poore’s sweet and plaintive music, played live by cast members on and off stage.

Above all, the story is king. It’s a tale of friendship and growing up and mortality that touches us all, made here into an enchanting and moving superior piece of theatre.

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