Tag Archives: Old Joint Stock

Soaping Up

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BOBBY (OFF EASTENDERS)

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Wednesday 10th April, 2019

 

The titular Bobby is a young lad from the fictional London borough of Walford, famed for committing the murder of his elder sister and for braining his mum with a hockey stick before being caught bang to rights and carted off to a detention centre.  This play by George Attwell-Gerhards looks at the psychological effects of such storylines on the child actors who enact them.

Here, Annie (Laura Adebisi) is a twelve-year-old who, being no longer cute enough for yogurt adverts, lands a job in what seems to be a particularly sordid soap opera.  She puts a hockey stick to good use against her mother before getting locked in her father’s basement and fall victim to his sexual predations.  The action jumps from Annie’s audition, to shooting scenes from the soap, to her deteriorating home life… with Attwell-Gerhards’s script charting the blurring of lines between fiction and reality, the pressures of sudden fame on someone so young, the treatment of young stars by the media – there’s a lot packed into this hour-long piece and director Lucy Bird keeps things taut, as her cast of three flick between characters, like switching channels by remote control.

Tom Bulpett is Annie’s dad, thrust into a PR role for which he is unprepared and unsuited.  He is also a casting director, and Annie’s soap co-star.  Cara Mahooney is Annie’s mum, and a friendly make-up artist who takes Annie under her wing, and a TV director, feeling the pressure.  Both actors are top-notch and there is never any confusion about who they are at any particular moment, their characterisations are well-differentiated and clear.  The characters represent a range of abusive and exploitative experiences Annie faces – the play certainly exposes a kind of child abuse that is rarely considered: the effect on the young psyche of playing out extreme and disturbing situations.  We have all heard stories of grown-up child stars struggling to cope with life in the real world, and such stories invariably tell of crime and drugs and mental illness.

As the central figure, Laura Adebisi is credibly child-like, enthusiastic and eager to please.  Adebisi combines vulnerability with stroppiness, as Annie lashes out at her real dad, while chumming up with her onscreen, abusive dad.  We see her psychological decline in tandem with her onscreen character’s deprivations, culminating in a scene with an iron that must be a homage to Little Mo and Trevor, that iconic moment of a woman standing up to her abuser.

This is powerful stuff.  Darkly comic to begin with, satirising the industry, it develops into a gripping psychological drama.  The transitions are slick and effective, and there is dissonant sound underlining Annie’s distress.  I would suggest the TV screen that comes on at the end is too small to have the necessary impact, but the intimacy of the Old Joint Stock puts us right in the action, making us as viewers complicit in the exploitation of a child.

There are a couple of instances when they ask, “Annie, are you OK?” – and I can’t decide if this is unintentionally awkward or intentionally clever…

This is the second show from Birmingham’s Paperback Theatre that I have seen in a couple of months.  They’re two for two in terms of excellence, in my view.

bobby

Tom Bulpett and Laura Adebisi

 

 

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Cobblers

TIMPSON The Musical

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Thursday 4th April, 2019

 

This isn’t the first musical to mine Romeo & Juliet for material, but it’s certainly the funniest.  The setting, such as it is, is Victorian London.  Two rival businesses both alike in indignity, one mending shoes, the other making keys, give rise to a pair of young lovers.  You know the rest – or you might think you do.  The plot takes a few swerves along the way to its resolution: the union of the two families and the formation of the High Street business we all know, the shop where you can get your shoes mended and your keys cut.  Yes, this is the world of the Montashoes and the Keypulets.

Writer-director-performer Sam Cochrane, the driving force behind the project, comes and goes as a range of characters, from a talking portrait to a winsome maid.  He is aided and abetted by versatile maniac Alex Prescot, who seems indefatigably energetic in his quickly-changing portrayals, in an irresistible performance.  I fell for him at once.

James Stirling is bluffly bombastic as Master Keypulet, the Machiavellian patriarch, contrasting with Susan Harrison’s diminutive dipsomaniac Lady Montashoe.  Madeleine Gray is hilariously histrionic as Monty, the Romeo figure, while Sabrina Messer’s Keeleigh (the Juliet) is simply sublime.  Messer can belt out heartfelt numbers and then within the space of a semiquaver, drop into a deadpan aside, forever undermining any emotive content the show might have.  She is delightful, to put it mildly.

It’s a good job there is no scenery to speak of, because this lot would be chewing it.  The acting style is over-the-top-and-a-half, the jokes come thick and fast.  Even the songs are laced with daftness with the onstage trio of musicians (Sophie Walker, Dan Hester and MD Lewis Bell) joining in proceedings.  Those songs, with lyrics by Sam Cochrane and Chris Baker, and music by Tom Slade and Theo Caplan, cover a range of styles and are all fabulously entertaining.  They are performed with gusto by the cast – even the choreography, by Ellie Fitz-Gerald is bloody silly. And they all keep instep!

This tale of cobbler meets key-maker is cutting edge (heh) and performed with sole (heh heh) and is a shoe-in to get tongues wagging.  This show has the power to heel… I’ll stop now.

timpson

Alex Prescot and Madeleine Gray

 


Wise Cracks

VULVARINE: A New Musical 

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Thursday 21st March, 2019

 

They’re back!  Fat Rascal Theatre, who gave us Beauty & The Beast – a Musical Parody, the funniest show of last year, bring their new comedy musical to town, and it’s a cracker!

It’s an origin story: we witness the transformation of humble tax-office worker Bryony Buckle into a superhero for our time.  With High Wycombe serving as Metropolis or Gotham City, the fast-paced fun involves an evil plan to rid the town (and then, the world!) of gender equality.  Bryony, like other women, is injected by the local doctor, but on her way home, a well-timed bolt of lightning endows her with supernatural powers: strength, flight, the ability to talk with her cat… Dubbed ‘Vulvarine’ Bryony and her workmate Poppy, uncover the plot of the evil Mansplainer and many comic-book capers ensue.

In the title role, Allie Munro is an absolute hoot as the bespectacled and gauche Bryony learns to have confidence in her newfound abilities.  Katie Wells lends enthusiastic, nerdy support as sidekick Poppy, while Robyn Grant’s mad scientist Mansplainer is a grotesque super-villain, all but chewing the scenery.  Jamie Mawson is great as Lois Lane-figure Orson Bloom, awkwardly trying to establish a relationship with Bryony and distracted by the more assertive Vulvarine; and there is a hilarious turn from Steffan Rizzi as Sonya, wife to the villain.  Where Grant goes gloriously over the top in her gender-swapped role, Rizzi is more subtle in his, creating an amusing portrayal without caricature or parody and yet is still very funny.

Grant also wrote the book, giving it a satirical edge and plenty of good old British smut and double entendres.  The songs, composed by James Ringer-Beck with witty lyrics by Daniel Foxx and Grant, are tuneful, adhering to musical theatre convention with a lightness of touch and some fun choreography by Jed Berry.  This is a show that makes a virtue of its small scale production: the special effects are hilariously low-budget (like the hairdryer that enhances Vulvarine’s flying) and there is a lot of humour to be derived from the knockabout staging and the relentless energy of the five talented performers.

The show makes its points without being preachy.  Feminism can be funny and also self-deprecating, it turns out.  The whole thing is infused with irresistible charm and silliness with an undercurrent of being very clever indeed.  Robyn Grant is some kind of genius, I think, and not the evil kind.

Having a female superhero is no less effective, no less daft, than having male ones.  Given the recent outcry from man-babies over the gender-swapping of Captain Marvel, this show could not be timelier.

Super!

Vulvarine-6-uai-1032x688

Allie Munro as Bryony Buckle with Elton the cat (Robyn Grant has a hand in him too!)

 


Grounds for Fun

HOPPERS

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Tuesday 29th January, 2019

 

This latest production from Gritty Theatre is the brand-new piece from Michael Southan, and it’s quite a departure from his earlier play, Fred & Ginger but no less enjoyable.  It’s a kind of play-within-a-play, with three cast members walking on, carrying cardboard boxes to add to those already on stage.  They announce they’re going to do a spot of pub theatre and tell us a story called Hoppers and it’s football-related – Hoppers are ‘groundhoppers’, fans who try to attend matches at a number of stadiums throughout the season.  That’s what I gather, anyway; I could be mistaken.

And so, there’s plenty of fourth-wall breaking as the three narrate, often speaking in verse like a scaled-down Greek chorus, using their physicality and versatility to set the scene.  They recruit a plant (well, a woman) from the audience to be the protagonist.  This is Sal (played by Michelle Jennings) a foul-mouthed barmaid whose father has just died, thus triggering a quest.  The retrieval of a missing away kit drives the plot, as Sal goes from pillar to post, and club to club, meeting oddball characters and meeting their demands so she can track down the precious relic and complete her late father’s collection.  Jennings does a good line in exasperation as the beleaguered barmaid; Sally learns there was more to her dad than she ever knew.

Appearing as her father, as well as a host of other characters including boring Tony off the radio, is the rather protean Conor Nolan, whom I cannot fault.  Equally committed are Amy Anderson and Danny Milwain (who seems to be constantly snacking on something, whatever role he’s playing, including at one point an entire cucumber.  You don’t see that every day.)  Director Dominic Thompson gives them plenty of business which they pull off with precision and skill.  The presentation is sharp, slick and sassy, reminding me of early work by Godber with the added four-letter words of Berkoff, and while there is some lovely writing here, the form tends to overshadow the content at times.

There is much to enjoy here: a slow-motion skittles event, for example, and some perfectly timed reactions.  The local accents (instant comedy!) and local references strike home, even if in my ignorance I don’t appreciate the whole non-league football theme.

As items are unpacked from the ever-present boxes, Sal learns and we learn that there is more to our parents than their role as our parents – they are people too, with ambitions, interests and histories we would do well to learn about while there’s time.

Funny, with its heart and its theatricality on the sleeves of its football strip, Hoppers is both simple and sophisticated, almost mythic in its storytelling, and entertainingly enacted by an energetic ensemble.

hoppers

Chorus to this history: Conor Nolan, Amy Anderson, and Danny Milwain


Wonderful, Wonderful Life

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – A Live Radio Play

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Friday 7th December, 2018

 

Frank Capra’s beloved film, starring Jimmy Stewart, is a Christmas favourite in my house.  Here it is brought to the stage in this adaptation by Joe Landry, who re-sets it as a radio drama. We are in the studio of WBFR in Manhattan.  WWII is over and we settle in to watch a cast of five perform the script using only their voices and a few odds and ends for sound effects.

Hosting the show is Anton Tweedale, who also appears as the villain Mr Potter (among other roles).  He points out the APPLAUSE signs, which we must obey – as if we need prompting to show our appreciation of this slick and effective piece.

The actors address the microphones rather than each other, meaning they’re always facing front.  Director Anthony Shrubsall prevents things from becoming static by giving them plenty of business.  You could close your eyes and enjoy the piece as a radio show, but if you did, you’d miss out on the darting around, the creation of the sound effects; the moves are all choreographed to keep the story going.

Charles Lomas is an affable George Bailey, the big-hearted hero, whose life consists of sacrifice after sacrifice to help the people of his small-town home.  Lomas makes the part his own, and brings great passion to the role.  Hannah Fretwell is sweet as Mary, George’s wife, while Marisa Foley excels in a range of female roles, from the local goodtime girl to George’s mother and infant children.  Rowland Stirling is superb as second-class angel Clarence and many other parts, demonstrating versatility and skill as he switches between characters, often conversing with himself.

You might think that with all the mechanics of the production in full sight, we would be kept at a distance from the story.  There is some of that, and you can reflect, Brechtian-style, on the evils of capitalism, as embodied by the sneering Potter.   But the story, even as it is presented here, still packs an emotional wallop.  George Bailey is a kind of anti-Scrooge.  It takes an other-worldly spirit to show him that the world would be worse off without him, rather than better.

Technically perfect, totally charming, and excellently presented by a talented ensemble, this is a wonderful It’s A Wonderful Life.  Even this old grinch was moved to tears – or perhaps it was the complimentary gin and tonic I knocked back in the interval.

Heart-warming stuff indeed.

wonderful life old joint

Anton Tweedale, Marisa Foley, Charles Lomas, Hannah Fretwell, and Rowland Stirling


Disney Heights

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – A Musical Parody

Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Wednesday 28th November, 2018

 

Taking its cue (and just about everything else) from Disney’s animated feature, right from the whistling Mickey Mouse and the fairy-tale castle at the beginning, this parody from Fat Rascal is a scream from start to finish.  Shadow puppets enact the backstory: but this is no direct re-enactment.  The spirit of the age – gender-swapping – casts its spell over the production, to hilarious effect.  And so Belle becomes Beau, a handsome if bookish young man who lives with dotty artist Maureen (Lesbian ceramics, anyone?).  The Beast, an enchanted princess, is covered in fur (“As is her right”)… This daft romp through the classic has a political edge, holding up the traditional roles reserved for males and females in these stories to ridicule.

As Beau, Jamie Mawson is superbly melodramatic, to cartoon-character proportions.  Robyn Grant’s Northern Beast (imagine Victoria Wood dressed as the Gruffalo) is sweet and bumptious.  Katie Wells’s villainous Chevonne, an entitled man-eater straight out of a Jilly Cooper, has the most outrageous lines, delivered with relish, while Allie Munro rushes around alternating between sidekick La Fou Fou and dotty Maureen.  Playing the Enchanter and Mr Spout, the bewitched teapot, along with a host of other characters is Aaron Dart; in fact, the entire cast darts about in this fast-moving feast of fun.

The songs, with music by James Ringer-Beck and lyrics by Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot, sound rather familiar indeed, with just enough differences to make them ‘new’.  The lyrics follow the patterns of the Ashman-Menken originals.  If you know the score, there is much to delight in from how near the mark they come.  If you don’t, if you’ve never seen the film, it doesn’t matter; you’ll still have a lot of fun.

The script combines wit and daftness with social satire, with pantomime’s acuity for a topical reference, poking fun at middle-class, first-world preoccupations.  The fast pace sweeps us along through low-tech representations of key scenes.  Beau’s trusty steed is a stationery bike, fondly named ‘Bicyclette’ and the enchanted servants are merely the objects (a teapot, a clock) held up by actors in masks.  But the low-tech approach is a big part of the show’s charm and a main source of its humour.  The show takes parody to dizzying (Disneying!) heights.

Despite all the gender-swaps, the rushing around, the swearing, the innuendos, despite everything, the storytelling retains some power, and there is a moment within all the laughter where we are touched by the relationship between the two leads.  And here, brilliantly, the show makes its main point: a happy ending doesn’t have to be traditional marriage.  We don’t have to follow the paths laid down by these tales or be restricted by cultural norms.  And yes, feminism can have a sense of humour!

Relentlessly funny, delivered with charm and boundless energy, this is a beauty of a show and one of the most hilarious things I have ever had the pleasure to see.  I adored it.

beau

Beau jest: Jamie Mawson

 

 

 

 


Copping It Sweet

POLICE COPS IN SPACE

Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Friday 6th April, 2018

 

Wondering whether the show will live up to the promise of its title, I settle into my seat.  It’s a packed house – word has got around that the Pretend Men (Nathan Parkinson, Zachary Hunt and Tom Roe) are in town with their award-winning brand of theatre.

A sequel to Police Cops, which I regret not seeing, this is a fast-paced frolic, telling the story of Sammy Johnson (Parkinson) who, following the murder of his Police Cop father, seeks to become the best damned Police Cop in Space ever.  Sammy teams up with Ranger, an alien pilot (Hunt), and they go after the killer, megalomaniac robot Tanner (Roe).  Along the way, we meet a host of unsavoury characters, all portrayed with infallible gusto by this energetic trio of performers.  The action is choreographed to maximise the silliness.  Characterisations are broader than the Milky Way and the script is riddled with nonsense and word-play.  If the Pretend Men were ever tamed, they could be churning out comedy programmes for Radio 4.

I enjoy the wild inventiveness of it all.  It’s not so much low-tech as no-tech – although judicious use is made of glow-sticks from time to time.  Very much a physical show, the movement of the actors is at the forefront of the performance, the daftness augmented by some silly props, among them a rat sellotaped to a remote-control car… The show is packed with moments of genius – a motorbike conjured out of next-to-nothing, for example, a balletic sequence between Parkinson and Roe, depicting the love story between Roe’s Terminator-like character and Sammy, his target… Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl crops up later, and it’s never been put to better use.

It’s an hour of non-stop delight and a great workout for your laughing gear.  Sometimes a show comes along that represents everything I love about the theatre.  If Police Cops in Space has something other to say, perhaps its holding up models of masculinity for our examination and ridicule.  Perhaps it’s just celebrating the daftness of genre fiction as a version of the human condition.  I don’t care; all I know is I had a great night.

police cops in space