Tag Archives: Southwark Playhouse

Primary Colours


Southwark Playhouse, London, Saturday 18th February, 2017



 Alex Mackeith’s debut play is a cracking contemporary comedy that opens a window into the pressurised world of the primary school head teacher.  Hard-working, beset from all directions, Jo (Ann Ogbomo) appears indefatigable, able to juggle several balls and spin plates all at the same time.  She seems on top of everything but even so, with all the demands made on her, she is running to stand still.  Ogbomo is passion on legs, imbuing Jo with strength and conviction, and also vulnerability – her emotional life is suffering because of her work.  We glimpse the woman in pain when, in unguarded moments, Jo’s professional face is allowed to slip.  She is supported by secretary and wannabe teacher Lara (Fala Evans-Akingbola), fielding calls and organising Jo’s day with efficiency and nervous energy.  Lara is boning up on educational theory but, as Jo points out, ‘real kids’ aren’t like that.  The play hints that the wealth of experience of someone like Jo is disregarded by the policy makers and textbook compilers.  It’s SATs results day and the suspense is palpable…

Enter part-time tutor Tom (Oliver Dench), a posh boy who would be better off on a gap yah.  Socially inept, Tom professes to be keen to help, even if it’s just with teas and coffees, but it emerges that his approach is at odds with what the children need to get them through the processing the system demands.

Sometimes the play verges on the polemical but Mackeith leavens the proselytising with sharp, funny dialogue that has a ring of truth.  He is, perhaps, preaching to the converted.  Director Charlie Parham keeps the pace snappy.  Lines collide naturalistically, arguments build, and punchlines bite, while allowing space for character-led comic business – Dench is particularly good at this: we wince at Tom’s behaviour.  Moments of quiet and moments of crescendo are all the more powerful among the rapid-fire stichomythia.

Exquisitely and believably played by a strong quartet (Kevin Howarth appears as an aggravated parent) this is a timely, thought-provoking insight into those working at the chalk-face (whiteboard-marker face!) – an abject lesson in the effects of the failing policies of successive governments, showing the human face of those who have to work within the constraints of mandates and number-crunching at the expense of the children of this country.

It’s also a right good laugh.


Ann Ogbomo, Fala Evans-Akingbola and Oliver Dench (Photo: Guy Bell)

Absolutely Batty


Southwark Playhouse, London, Saturday 24th January, 2015


Having heard the original cast recording over a decade ago, I have been eagerly anticipating seeing a production of this quirky musical by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe ever since. Today I finally got my chance.

Southwark Playhouse is suitably cavernous for this tale of a creature discovered in a cave. Shaped like a human but behaving like a wild animal, ‘Bat Boy’ is taken in by the local vet’s family, despite the other small-town (read: small-minded) folk wishing him destroyed like an unwanted pet or mad dog. The story has much in common with Edward Scissorhands – Bat Boy learns the ways of the world through home education and also through hard knocks received at the hands of supposedly civilised people. Rob Compton in the title role gives an astounding performance: his movements are animalistic: chiropteran, yes, but he also waddles around like a naked baby bird. Educated and tamed, he is as well-spoken as Niles Crane, and can belt out the musical numbers in an expressive pop-rock voice.

Laurence O’Keefe’s score combines pop and rock with musical theatre – and there are some amusing disco touches. His lyrics are also wittily rhymed – there is not a duff number in the piece.

Stewart Charlesworth’s dual-level set, with a huge screen on its upper level and scenery on trucks, allows the action to move quickly between locations – and there are some hilarious moments involving some inept puppetry to suggest the scale of the underground caverns. Charlesworth’s colourful costume designs can be described as redneck chic, with some delightfully fake-looking wigs by Sam Cox.

Director Luke Fredericks has a comic-book, schlocky approach: the characterisations are larger-than-life to match the tabloid sensationalism of the plot. Video clips are put to effective use – especially when the story of Bat Boy’s origins is at last revealed. It’s a very funny show indeed.

The ensemble cast is top notch. Simon Bailey’s evangelist preacher is a hoot – and so is his Mrs Taylor. Lindsay Scigliano makes for a powerful leader of the town council, while doubling up as teenager Roy. Lauren Ward is excellent as vet’s wife Meredith, who forms a bond with the strange creature, while Georgina Hagen as daughter Shelley is both funny and sweet, growing up as Bat Boy – now called Edgar – becomes more humanised. Matthew White is also strong as the town vet and the piece’s villain, Dr Parker – but everyone is on point; the comic business of the townsfolk doesn’t miss a trick in this detailed and relentlessly amusing show. Nolan Frederick puts in a surprise appearance in drag as ‘Mother Nature’ while Russell Wilcox’s sheriff strives to be the voice of reason as the town ignites with vitriolic and vengeful scapegoating.

At the heart of it is the question of what makes us human, and what makes us less than human, when we allow our baser instincts to take over. Edgar the Bat Boy is differently human and elicits our sympathy. The townsfolk of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are all-too disappointingly human in their revulsion, their rejection and their bloodlust against someone who is ‘other’.

Bat Boy is immense fun, and dramatically satisfying in its sensationalism and silliness; it’s a crazy cartoon of a musical that deserves a wider audience and a longer run.


Castle in the Air

Southwark Playhouse, London, Tuesday 20th December, 2011

Inevitably, any adaptation loses something in the retelling but Mike Sizemore’s dramatisation of Dianna Wynne Jones’s fantasy novel sits well in its simplifications. The play is basically a three-hander with additional pre-recorded voices, one of which is provided by Stephen Fry no less in his honeyed, mellifluous tone. The live cast members perform in front of, behind and with a remarkable set – basically a cut out fairytale Gothic castle, protruding from the cyclorama like an illustration in a pop-up book, onto which are projected scenery and effects in a constantly changing procession of moving images. It is dazzling, enchanting and seductive and just about manages not to upstage the actors completely. The use of technology is astonishing. Fire demon Calcifer (voiced by James Wilkes) dashes from fireplace to flaming torch, a latter-day Puck crossed with Tinkerbell and Jeeves.

Daniel Ings is a dashing, erratic wizard Howl, darting around like a Tim Burton character, balanced by the sedate and warm-hearted Old Sophie (Susan Sheridan) who provides the emotional link to the audience. Howl, like any Beast, must rediscover his own humanity in order for a happy ending to come about. The action, crammed into seventy minutes, tears along much like the titular castle itself – my favourite sequence was when the static cut-out shapes appeared to dash across exotic landscapes, accompanied by exhilarating music by Fyfe Dangerfield. The composer, him off of Guillemots, has more than proved himself in this sphere. His score enhances the mood of each scene, at turns delightful, atmospheric and haunting, but always in a supporting role to the drama.

The sensations of movement and flight are well executed, and the video effects are also brought into play for a fight between the wizard and wicked Witch of the Waste. I would have liked to have seen more made of the seven league boots but I appreciate we can’t have everything we want, and extending the running time and necessitating an interval would have broken the spell cast by this inventive and beautiful production.

The production suits the venue, the Playhouse’s Vault, very well; it is a dark and cavernous space, but I could have done without the accompanying smell of musty cellars – especially when the production is so fresh.