Tag Archives: Rob Castell

Magic Moments

WINNIE AND WILBUR

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 5th April, 2017

 

The popular series of children’s books comes to the stage in this exuberant adaptation by writer Mike Kenny who captures the essential fun of author Valerie Thomas’s original while weaving in his own theatrical magic along the way.

Winnie is a witch who lives alone with her black cat Wilbur (a puppet expressively operated by Ben Thompson).  She is surrounded by other cast members who appear as other characters, as narrators, and as ‘invisible’ forces that carry out her magic spells, and so Winnie’s ‘flap-top’ flies to her lap, for example.  The devices are both simple and sophisticated, employing slow-motion and physical comedy to hilarious and inventive effect.  A ride on a broomstick, Winnie’s bicycle, and a disappearing act are all carried off imaginatively to our surprise and delight.  Director Liam Steel works his cast hard; the attention to detail and the timing are both impeccable in this larger-than-life, cartoon of a show.

Rachael Canning’s design takes its lead from Korky Paul’s illustrations, adding to the show’s authenticity as an adaptation.

Leading the piece in the role of Winnie is Sophie Russell, in a charming and hilarious portrayal.  Winnie may be a grown woman but she wears her emotions on her sleeve in an endearingly childlike manner.  Consistently funny, Russell is a joy to watch.

She is supported by an equally skilled ensemble.  Rob Castell provides musical accompaniment onstage as well as appearing as Uncle Owen and, funniest, Winnie’s sister Wendy.  Anne Odeke is a hoot as Aunty Alice, threatening Uncle Owen with dire consequences when she gets him home.  Ed Thorpe amuses as Winnie’s supposed nemesis, Cousin Cuthbert and Maimuna Memon adds to the fun as sister Wilma.  The cast only leave the stage for quick costume changes.  The jokes are rapid fire, the songs (by Marc Teitler) are tuneful pastiches with witty lyrics, and it all adds up to a magical event that is never short of amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Wonderful silly fun for children and adults alike – and it’s interesting to see you don’t need innuendo or grown-up gags to keep parents and childless reviewers like me engaged, enchanted and entertained.

I have definitely fallen under Winnie’s spell.

Sophie Russell (Winnie), Ben Thompson (Wilbur) and Ed Thorpe

Sophie Russell and Ben Thompson (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)


Norsing Around

NORSESOME

mac, Birmingham, Friday 25th July, 2014

 

People have at least a nodding acquaintance with Norse mythology – be it from the names we give to the days of the week, to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, or of course, the comics and CGI-laden films of the MARVEL adaptations. This production by Temple Theatre reminds me why it’s my favourite mythology, rich as it is in adventure and magical happenings.

Devised by the company and scripted by Paul O’Mahony (who also performs) and Mike Tweddle (who also directs), it is a 90-minute romp through the stories, a dazzling display of physical comedy, performed by three energetic and versatile actors on an almost bare stage.  

They are dressed like ordinary people of today – the gods have very human foibles as well as superpowers; the actors don hats and neckties and so on, to signal the rapid changes between characters. The whole of Asgard is represented, each god delineated by an alteration to stance and demeanour. There’s a lot of running around but Tweddle’s direction keeps the action perfectly clear; there is no confusion about who’s doing whom at any moment.

Keep an eye out for the magnificent Troels Hagen Findsen as Odin, holding court – while Paul O’Mahony and Leon Scott tear around as gods and goddesses, often exchanging dialogue with themselves. O’Mahony’s Loki is how I imagine the trickster to be, rather than the snooty posturing ponce we’ve seen in recent blockbuster films, and Scott’s Thor is a marvellously hilarious characterisation. Such is the skill of the actors, I feel bad for not mentioning other characters, as if I’m missing someone out!

It’s fast-moving in terms of action and plot, and thanks to a tight and witty script, peppered with original songs (by O’Mahony and Rob Castell) never flags for a second. Phill Ward’s sound design enhances the imaginative use of mime, physical theatre, voice, gesture, and (yay!) puppets is marvellously entertaining and although this is a very humorous take, the stories themselves are not buggered about with. There are moments –just little touches – of high drama too, as the global consequence of these often bonkers events are considered. There is a pertinence here, a relevance to current events in our world of men and monsters. The most important thing in the world is peace, says Odin.

You can’t argue with that.

norsesome