The return of Diane Samuel’s Kindertransport to the stage 25 year years after it was first penned could not be more more relevant today.
It is a story of family relationships and secrets set against a backdrop of themes which explore the treatment of refugees, nationalism, anti-semitism and cultural identity.
The story is centered around the true events of the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children fleeing Nazi Germany and its occupied territories before the outbreak of the Second World War.
There is a challenging uneasiness about this play in which the seemingly humane policy of providing safety for the children is set against their parents’ requirement to have work to go to to qualify for refuge. The policy split many families, leaving the parents to face their fate in the brutal Nazi regime.
Samuels also requires the audience to question the long-term consequences of conflict and its impact on the lives of subsequent generations.
There are two inextricably linked parallel stories in the play – that of progress of young Eva (Leila Schaus) leaving her mother to escape Nazi Germany for the safety of Britain in 1938, and that of her older self Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) with a daughter of her own in 1980s Manchester.
The stories interchange as Evelyn’s daughter, Faith (Hannah Bristow), preparing to leave home, discovers a box of papers from her mother’s past resurrecting the ghosts of a past her mother would rather was left alone.
There are some fine performances which delve into the intense relationships between mother and daughter and the themes of clinging on to roots and heritage. Hannah Bristow is particularly good as the modern daughter displaying her insecurities and selfish arrogance of youth.
The play is a stark reminder of one of world’s darkest periods but there are lines which are remarkably prescient, particularly as Evelyn refers to keeping her immigration papers suggesting they would be needed in case anyone wanted to send her back.
It is not always an easy play to watch and there are no tidy endings and resolutions but it certainly worth the journey.
Runs till May 5
The Sound of Music is at the Palace Theatre this week and is sure to have fans of the timeless musical singing along to those classic tunes.
This tale of love blossoming between novice nun Maria and the frosty Captain von Trapp when she arrives as governess to his children has been a regular festive favourite in Christmas TV schedules and is now beautifully brought to the stage with impressive and lavish sets and high production values.
It is based on the true story of the von Trapp family singers who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as political refugees.
After a slightly underwhelming start to the show when it would have been nice to have seen a little more personality from the nuns ruminating about how to solve a problem like Maria, the production picks up with some delightful performances by the children.
Lucy O’Byrne does well as Maria, delivering those familiar tunes with aplomb. Neil McDermott seemed to struggle as the Captain in the first half of the show with some of his singing being drowned by the music, but his performance grew on me and he did much better after the interval.
The interval came following a truly show-stopping performance of Climb Every Mountain, by Megan Llewellyn in the role of Mother Abbess. It was magnificent.
Acclaim should also go to Kara Lane and Howard Samuels who excelled in the roles of the Captain’s prospective wife Elsa and impressario Max Detweiler. Neither would be out of place in Hollywood roles.
Overall, a charming production which is well worth a visit.
Runs till Saturday March 17
If you are new to Shakespeare, trying to take in his longest and most quoted work could understandably be considered to be thrown in at the deep end.
But there can be no better introduction to the bard than this stunning production at the Bolton Octagon which presents an accessible and absorbing drama, as gripping as McMafia or Collateral, without compromising on the themes Shakespeare sought to explore more than 400 years ago.
Hamlet is the classic revenge tragedy – the story of a young prince attempting to avenge the death of his father at the hands of his uncle who has usurped the throne and the dead king’s widow. Hamlet’s obsession is at the core of this drama and David Ricardo-Pearce portrayal is excellent.
The universal and timeless themes are brilliantly explored with Denmark transformed into a more contemporary militaristic regime where the soldiers carry AK47s and the leaders are dictators akin to Stalin or Putin.
There are two halves of 75 minutes, punctuated by a 20 minute interval, and action flies by – such is the quality of the production.
And it is no one-man show. Brian Prothero is superb as the usurper, Claudio with Eric Potts delivering a suitably tragi-comic portrayal of the bumbling civil servant Polonius, recast as a priest for this production. Also worth a mention is Margot Leicester whose portrayal Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude – now married to her former brother-in-law, the new King – is sensational.
The Octagon’s former artistic director, David Thacker, who was invited back to direct this production, can be proud of what has been achieved. The theatre’s 50th anniversary season goes from strength to strength.
Runs till March 10.
It was always going to be a big ask to bring Patricia Highsmith’s tense psychological thriller to the stage and this production doesn’t quite pull it off in the way that Alfred Hitchcock famously did on the silver screen.
There is much of merit in the show, with some effective mood lighting and innovative use of sets, but the pace and direction lets it down and it is certainly a play of two halves.
The story is based around the consequences of a chance meeting on a train between Guy Haines, an ambitious architect and alcoholic wreck, Charles Bruno. In a drink-fuelled stupour, Bruno comes up with a hypothetical plan, where he would to murder the wife Haines is about to divorce in exchange for Haines killing Bruno’s father. When Bruno unexpectedly keeps to his side of the bargain, pressure is applied for Haines to deliver, thus providing the main premise for the drama.
But prior to the interval, the dramatic action is laboured, slow and frankly quite boring. When you don’t care that much about the fate of the characters, you know something is wrong. However, maybe some-one had a work in the break, because the pace picked up in the second half culminating in the dramatic conclusion at the end.
Chris Harper as Bruno and Jack Ashton as Haines deliver reasonable performances although there are one or two instances of the audience perhaps laughing when they shouldn’t as Bruno becomes increasingly psychotic.
Overall, not a terrible night at the theatre, but one that is distinctly underwhelming.
Runs till February 10
A stage adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of those productions that could go horribly wrong.
But Bolton Octagon continues its 50th year celebrations in fine style with a superb version based on the classic novel.
Jessica Baglow takes on the title role, providing a convincing and passionate portrayal of the strong willed woman, ahead of her time.
And Baglow’s impressive performance is matched admirably by Michael Peavoy who is perfect in the role of the smouldering, brooding tragic hero – Mr Rochester. For anyone who has read the novel, he is everything you expect. Read More…
Bolton Octagon’s season has been completed with a wonderful production of Alan Bennett’s beautifully crafted and bitter-sweet monologues familiar to fans of the Northern bard by TV performances by Thora Hird, Patricia Routledge and Bennett himself.
And David Birrell, Cathy Tyson, and Sue Wallace do great justice to Bennett’s scripts for Chip in the Sugar, Lady of Letters and Cream Cracker Under the Settee.
Birrell is superb as the repressed gay man with a history of mental health issues living with his mam. He successfully delivers a performance which conveys that typical Northern humour bearing the distinctive Bennett stamp.
Tyson is also more than competent as the the busybody not afraid to to express her views in a series of letters to her MP, the police, the chemist and eventually writes herself into trouble.
But for me it is Sue Wallace who excels in a tear-jerking portrayal of 75-year-old Doris, after a fall in her home considers the options of whether to face her grim fate or end up in a care home.
If you think this production is a recipe for a depressing night out – don’t. This production pulls off the remarkable task of presenting a moving commentary on the issues around loneliness and community whilst at the same time making us laugh.
It is well worth the trip to Bolton.
Runs til July 8.
Is there anything Sheridan Smith can’t do? Gritty drama, sit-com, and now a faultless performance in the hit Broadway musical, Funny Girl.
Smith excels as Fanny Brice, the role made famous by diva Barbara Streisand in the film which tells the true story of a gawky girl stumbling her way into the limelight rising to stardom as part of the hugely popular Ziegfeld Follies.
This bitter-sweet tale weaves together the glitz of Brice’s fabulous career and her rocky relationship with husband Nicky Arnstein. Smith delivers a masterclass in musical theatre, with outstanding performance of those classic tunes, which include People and Don’t Rain On My Parade. Read More…