Tag Archives: Tom Wells

Ecce Homo

ABOUT A GOTH

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 27th July, 2017

 

Gritty Theatre bring their production of Tom Wells’s 2009 piece to Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre en route to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  A one-hander performed by newcomer Clement Charles, this is the story of Nick, a 17-year-old Goth, who is gay and who volunteers at a local old people’s home.  Dressed like a kind of vampire undertaker, a cross between Marilyn Manson and Noel Fielding, Nick is instantly appealing – it’s his camp bitchiness (or bitchy campness) that gets us laughing along with him from the off.  His performance is a one-hander in a different sense when he confides that he has to abandon a masturbation session because of his fear of staining his black duvet cover.  Nick narrates key scenes from his life, including his visits to old man Rod at the home.  He (Nick) is bright and witty, scathing and sensitive – exactly the kind of character I would have found alluring when I was that age, all those centuries ago.

Director Ian Moule doesn’t let Nick keep still for a minute, eliciting an energetic and engaging performance from the likeable and talented Charles.  During his anecdotes, Nick gradually strips away his gothic accoutrements, sloughing them off one at a time – and it’s all in keeping with the action: his socks become galloping hooves in one of his mum and dad’s historical reenactments, for example – the piecemeal degothification adds to Charles’s electrifying portrayal, as Nick eventually goes the full monty – in the best possible taste!   No detail is overlooked, from the black toenail polish to the seemingly throwaway characterisations of the others who populate Nick’s life.  Wells’s witty script is given insightful treatment – a balloon is put to symbolic use and the baring of Nick’s body, along with his story and his soul, elevates this coming-out story to something more universal: it’s about becoming aware of one’s own identity, of discovering who you are beneath the labels we and others place on ourselves.  At the end, Nick stands before us, without a stitch or a smear of makeup.  He doesn’t need to say, “Here I am”.

Clement Charles is thoroughly captivating, his delivery immaculate and exceedingly funny.  He’s also a great little mover if his cavorting to the Sugababes and Britney is anything to go by.  It’s an assured performance that rings true.

This is a satisfying and entertaining hour or so, that stirs memories of one’s own troubled teenage years (is there another kind?) reminding us that Goths, teenagers and even the elderly are humans too.

Fabulous.

about a goth

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Parton is such sweet sorrow

THE KITCHEN SINK

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 29th September, 2016

 

One advantage the New Vic has when it comes to naturalistic works is the intimacy afforded by the in-the-round setting.  The audience becomes all four walls of the room, and these walls have ears (and eyes too) to witness what transpires within this family’s home.  Bronia Housman’s set looks lived-in while giving the action room to breathe.  The kitchen/dining room is surrounded by thousands of milk bottle tops – Dad Martin is a milkman: his home is built on the fruits of his labours.

We meet Mum, Kath, (an excellent Emma Gregory) a warm-hearted, loving, funny woman, a problem-solver and supportive mother.  There is a warmth emanating from Gregory’s characterisation, even when she’s not saying a word.  Kath is the heart of this home and the production.  Her husband (Jason Furnival) is less optimistic, less open to change, in a thoroughly realistic depiction of an embittered working-class man, striving to survive the prevailing economic climate.  His business is suffering because of the rise of Tesco and his float is on its last legs.  Meanwhile, daughter Sophie (Alice Proctor) ‘helps out’ having lost her own job when Woolworth’s closed down.

Proctor is superb – we come to understand her as the play goes on and her of her boyfriend and also the judge of her jujitsu exam, in a subtle revelation that is touching.  Tom Wells’s writing makes us care about these people from the off.  Dan Parr is also great as Sophie’s awkward but good-natured plumber boyfriend Pete.  Tongue-tied and sweet, he endears himself to us immediately – and makes us laugh a lot, too.

Completing the family is the likeable Steven Roberts as son Billy, sensitive and artistic with a passion for Dolly Parton.  Billy is heading for art college in London and it is refreshing to see a play in which the gay character’s sexuality is not the issue.  It just is what it is.  Roberts is a mass of youthful energy, and teenage attitude, and Wells’s writing convinces.  The family rings true; there is a lot of love in this house.  I defy you not to care about them.

Director Zoe Waterman handles the humour expertly.  No beat is missed and yet the dialogue comes across as natural, the laughs organic rather than set-ups.  Even the moments of broad comedy (due mostly to the eponymous sink) come within the bounds of plausibility.  Waterman gets the tone exactly right throughout.  She has her cast continue to act during scene transitions (underscored by Ms Parton’s biggest hits). It all makes for an entertaining evening – it’s an absolute pleasure to spy on these people and have our funny bones tickled and our heartstrings tugged.

This is the “hard-working family” we hear so much about, large as life and before our very eyes, trampled beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of big business.  The play makes its points subtly, through the personal lives of the characters and their relationships.

A flawless production, heart-warming and hilarious.  We see the characters’ dreams go down the drain but they have plenty of love on tap.

kitchen-sink

Hello, Dolly. Emma Gregory and Steven Roberts (Photo: Geraint Lewis)


Folk Tale

FOLK

The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 19th April, 2016

 

Tom Wells’s new play is about folk – as in people and as in the traditional music they share.  It’s about traditions surviving through generations – not just music but belief, here typified by Winnie’s constant appeals to saints to assist her in all walks of life, including playing the spoons.

Winnie is a nun, straight out of Father Ted.  Nuns are ‘for comedy’ she states and she certainly gives us that.  Hard-drinking, smoking, and foul-mouthed, she knows how to have a rip-roaring time to let off steam, singing folk songs with her lifelong friend Stephen on a Friday night.  Their revelry is interrupted when a brick comes through the window.  Winnie confronts the vandal only to find it’s fifteen-year old Kayleigh.  To Stephen’s (and our) incredulity, she invites the girl in to join the party.

And so begins a friendship between the two women, and a gradual thawing from the taciturn Stephen.  Winnie, in the face of medical advice, continues with the fags and the booze until her wild ways catch up with her, while Kayleigh has to come to terms with the prospect of being a single teen mom, and Stephen has a revelation of his own to make.  It’s a charming, funny script, peppered with sweet and haunting music, as Stephen tutors Kayleigh to toot.

Connie Walker is a real live-wire as the energetic Winnie, showing us warmth and heart beneath the surface.  She is irresistible in her good nature and is the driving force of the action.  Patrick Bridgman is perhaps a little too quiet as the reticent Stephen but he gets across how deep still waters can run, and Chloe Harris’s awkward and damaged Kayleigh blossoms before our eyes – her confidence and self-esteem growing in tandem with her proficiency on the penny whistle.

Director Tessa Walker marshals the three very different energies of the trio, contrasting moments of hilarity with poignancy.  Folk music, here a metaphor for humanity, transcends time, gender and sexuality.  Our commonalities will enable us to get along despite our differences in character and circumstance.  It’s a heart-warming message, subtly presented.

A conventional piece but none the less satisfying because of it, Folk is an enjoyable, life-affirming piece that doesn’t sugar-coat its take on life.

Patrick Bridgman_Stephen, Connie Walker_Winnie, Chloe Harris_Kayleigh in Folk_credit Graeme Braidwood

The folk of Folk: Patrick Bridgman, Connie Walker and Chloe Harris (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)


Theatrical Gold – part two

HOARD FESTIVAL (2nd Visit)

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 16th July, 2015

 

An eagerly anticipated return visit to the New Vic to catch more of the excellent festival of work inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard. Before the double bill in the main house, I catch another couple of ‘table plays’ in the bar.

In Hwaet! by Tom Wells, Elizabeth Elvin plays a woman in cod-Anglo Saxon garb, a mother preparing a surprise party for her daughter who is leaving to study archaeology at university. It’s an amusing monologue – the woman has a very funny turn of phrase – but running through it is a rich vein of emotion that is ever-present in Elvin’s eyes, behind the smiles and the laughter. Lovely stuff.

Sara Pascoe’s Hoarder features a young Anglo Saxon widow who monitors squirrels so she can dig up the nuts that hide away. She is a bit squirrel-like herself and she seeks the stash of gold her late husband buried – she even asks a couple of people around the table to open their bags or empty their pockets. It’s an energised performance from Gwawr Loader, tightly wound and delivered with conviction. Fab.

On to the main double bill.

UNEARTHED by Theresa Heskins

The New Vic’s resident director Theresa Heskins appears (here portrayed by Bryonie Pritchard) to explain how she put the play together. She interviewed a range of people connected with the discovery and then edited their words together to create the narrative. And so the actors speak verbatim words of real-life people. The style mixes naturalism with documentary elements. Pritchard withdraws, substituting us, the audience, as Theresa; the characters now address us, as narrators. This is a fascinating account of an endlessly fascinating story. We meet Terry whose metal detector found the treasure (David Nellist in bluff, amusing tones) and the museum experts whose minds were blown away when he took it to them. Also included is famous TV historian Michael Wood (invoked by the wonderful Adam Morris) who speculates about the nature and the origins of the find. It cracks along at a fair pace; names are projected on the floor to help us keep track of who is whom and images of some of the pieces appear and spread across the stage. There isn’t much in terms of on-stage action but that’s not the point. The documentary style engages us and holds us throughout. As facts and opinions are unearthed, our imagination is stimulated and our sense of wonder activated. Pure gold.

THE GIFT by Jemma Kennedy

This is a story of an Anglo Saxon community thrown into conflict by the return of the menfolk from battle. They bring with them a bag of gold from the recent convert to Christianity, their King. He wants to enlist them to help build a cathedral at Lichfield. The men are up for it; the women not so much. In this society, the women have equal say in decisions and ownership of property – but it’s no egalitarian utopia: they keep bondsmen and slaves to do their bidding.

Jemma Churchill impresses as the formidable matriarchal Wilda, determined to stick to their own ways and values, contrasted sharply with the meek Welsh girl, their slave Cain (Gwawr Loader). David Semark wears the garb and his chieftain’s attitude as though he was born to them, while brash,blokish Beorn (David Kirkbride) shows us lad culture stretches across the centuries. Romayne Andrews is appealing as young man Teon, who is sweet on the slave girl, and Johnson Willis adds to his portrayal of Dudda the bondsman with some sweet lyre-playing. Paula James is ‘wise woman’ Rowena, who interprets dreams and conducts rituals (they are a superstitious bunch) but the rot of Christianity is spreading, infecting hearts and minds, even within this very tribe.

It’s a story of the end of a world. Kennedy’s script has an air of authenticity about it and the production benefits from Lis Evans’s design work in terms of the set and the costumes. Gemma Fairlie’s direction keeps proceedings clear, but the piece seems a little too earnest to me. When Teon elopes with Cain and marries her in a Christian ceremony, she is merely swapping one kind of slavery for another: the new religion diminishes the status of women in society – we’re still working through the consequences.

There is still plenty more going on at the New Vic that I haven’t seen. Like the treasure of the hoard itself, or Anglo Saxon society, I can only glimpse tantalising parts with my understanding incomplete, and the whole thing unknowable.

Unearthed

David Nellist as Terry, the world’s luckiest detectorist