How do you fit a Railway Station complete with Trains, a Tunnel, Cuttings, Footbridge, Platforms, a House and more into a small performance space, with a cast of 11, 7 children and 4 Engine Drivers! If you had come to the Angles Theatre Wisbech you would have seen what a creative and imaginative Director with a talented cast and crew had put together.
You had to see the set, as to try and describe it in words does not do justice to the design and flexibility. Two platforms at either side of the ‘stage’ with a railway track down the middle, a footbridge at the rear, a ‘train’ that came in and out transforming into a full stage and main performance space. The skill of this design was that with the talented cast carefully setting the scenes and creating the correct atmosphere this allowed the imagination of the audience to accept and see every scene in the correct setting, be it at home, at the station, in the railway cutting or the tunnel.
This play has a different interpretation whereby the children have grown up and are telling the story of what they did as ‘the Railway Children’ a very clever interpretation which made the telling of the story much more emotional. My feeling is that these three characters must be carefully cast, and we were not let down by Harriet Kember-Whitfield, Billy Garner and Rebecca Phillips Bartlett as Roberta, Peter and Phyllis respectively. These three brought out the different characters of the children with consummate skill and to hear Roberta’s child’s cry of ‘Daddy, Oh my Daddy’ at the end of the play tore at the heart strings of the whole audience. Their command of their characters, dialogue and interaction was just superb, they became the children that they were reminiscing about. I cannot discriminate between the three of you, well done.
The story does not revolve around just the three children, we have a Mother, Mr. and Mrs. Perks, the old Gentleman, The Doctor, Father, a Cook, Mr. Szczepansky and Jim (one of the Hounds).
The talent of the cast did not stop with the portrayal of the three children Roberta, Peter and Phyllis. Wendy Coles portrayal of Mother was handled with sensitivity, caring for the children, hiding the truth, being strong and yet weak with illness when needed, the anxiety about Father, her dialogue was strong and true as was her acting. She was complemented by Kevin Shippey who appeared so briefly as Father but doubled as the Doctor, a role that seemed to have been made for him, a great stage persona with the tenderness required when dealing with Roberta and the illness of Mother. Bob Kynnersley was the epitome of a kindly Old Gentlemen, a lovely re-assuring presence, well spoken, immaculately dressed and well spoken.
Owen Angier from being a smart butler became a disheveled Russian Émigré as Mr. Szczepansky, I’m no expert on Russian or French but he very confidently and clearly spoke these two languages, a small but important role and this was, as he always does, well portrayed and believable.
Gay Hoyle as Cook / Mrs. Viney added to the role call of minor characters who shaped their character with the correct interpretation of their role, a good solid performance and clear dialogue looking the image of a homely cook even if she had contretemps with the children. Daniel Pease as District Superintendent / Jim spoke clearly and enjoyed having a limp, keeping it up for his curtain call. I did have a suspicion that he was looking for someone in the audience at times though especially in early scenes where I believe he appeared as an older child.
And so we come to Mr. and Mrs. Perks, Lorraine Carver was an effective Maid however she doubled as Mrs. Perks and this is where she more than held her own, looking after the children, nursing the baby and matching her husband, hers was a nicely performed role. Ian Jones as Mr. Perks portrayed this Railway official to perfection, Grumpy but also soft hearted, every mood was portrayed so well, he moved acted and spoke exactly as Mr. Perks should have, done nice and clear and with a clear view of how his character would be in real life. Well.
All the above were complemented by the seven youngsters who performed variously as the Perks’ children as well as the Hare and Hounds, they were very disciplined and happily performed their roles, very little dialogue, but what there was, was clear and well spoken.
Without the stage crew who were credited as Engine Drivers - Callum, Jacob, Catherine and Jasmin the set would not have worked, they silently and efficiently performed their role of moving the ‘train’ in and out, no hiccups, no problems. (If there were the audience didn’t notice them at all.)
The Direction was imaginative and very successful, Costumes, Lighting and Sound were all very good. We really believed that the trains were coming and going with the sound and lighting effects, especially when the children were on the footbridge and the waving of the red petticoats on the track, when Roberta fainted in front of the engine because of the light and sound one could have believed it had really only just stopped in time and of course Daddy coming out of the smoke at the end.
An excellent production, well done to all.
Thank you for inviting me to review this production.
RATz Blackadder Goes Forth
Date: 29th June 2019
The hottest day of the year to date is not an ideal day for sitting in a theatre watching Actors performing in full Army uniform. It might have been hot inside, but the theatre gave a warm welcome to the audience who gave a warm response to the cast and crew.
The foyer was filled with the sound of World War I songs being played on the piano and few audience members between thirst quenching drinks singing along to these familiar tunes. A nice touch to put the audience in the mood for the show to come.
It is always a problem for Directors when producing a show that has originally been written for television for scenes can be anything from 15/20 seconds to 5 minutes or more. A stage director doesn’t have the luxury of saying cut. Here Curtis McMullan in his directing debut took advantage of his experience of film work and created a set that worked well and enabled, with the use of blackouts, to switch quickly from scene to scene. Essentially a box set, one half of which was a timber lined trench, complete with beds, table, chairs and ancillary props and the other half was a smart decorated Office complete with pedestal desk, splitting the two scenes was a large map board which double as a huge red cross sign for the trench side becoming the hospital. Each side light appropriately as required. A mention here for the set builders, decorators and the prop team for the huge range of props, the well-dressed set and the efficient stage crew who worked quickly and silently in the many scene changes. This was one of the key elements in the success of this production.
The cast in this show stepped up to their characters with skill, so often the audience is so familiar with the characters portrayed on screen that they can be disappointed by the characters on stage. Most fortuitously that was not the case, there were so many elements of the original actors, but also their own interpretation.
Red Vaughan as Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson’s role) was so obviously the devious, twisting character out to escape his eventual doom (although never confirmed in the plot) his contempt for Captain Darling showing through so well. Overall his diction was good, although I did have some problem in ‘Major Star’ as he spoke upstage for some of this and the lines were sometimes lost. Red looked the part and performed his well very straight faced especially his feigned madness in ‘Goodbyeee’.
The role lovingly played by Hugh Laurie was portrayed with style by Liam Nixon, the mannerisms, the movement and acting was very good, Liam looked as though he really enjoyed this role from gorgeous Georgina, where he was very coquettishly superb, through to the hospital patient being mothered by Nurse Mary, his expressive face and little movements portrayed with care. A great character role performed so well.
Baldrick was played with style, that gormless character, the butt of humour, having to be battered around stage, putting up with the sharp tongue of Blackadder. Never an easy role to be so treated, but essential to the character and Paul T. Hanks wore the look of this downtrodden character well, even allowing himself to be dragged off stage by one leg, the scene where he eventually makes coffee for Darling was a joy to listen to, and his interpretation of Charlie Chaplin with his slug representing the Chaplin moustache.
The pomposity of Melchett needed a big character and a big man to fill the role played by Stephen Fry and here Rodger Richmond filled the role effectively, big and loud although easy on the eye and ear, clear well spoken, well performed. Portraying a character with a strange sense of humour regarding sending Darling to the Front as a privilege rather than a horror.
Owen Angier, the youngest male actor fulfilled the role of Captain Darling with a certain élan, a smoothness that brought out the intellectual superiority over Blackadder. This superiority wasn’t always portrayed as well as it could have been, but he more than held his own against the older cast members, nicely spoken clear dialogue and a good presence around the stage, whether hopping off stage tied to a chair or joining his fellow Captain in the final scene as they prepare to charge from the trench.
Addie Booth has had a busy time of it in this show, building the set and then being encouraged to appear on stage as Smith and Field Marshall Haig, for a first time performer he did well with both a ‘German’ accent and a ‘public school’ accent. A respectable and able performance.
This show wouldn’t be complete without Eva Mason as Bob and Eden Carver as Nurse Mary, both characters were well played, and Eva had the more glamorous opportunity replacing the gorgeous Georgina and getting away from her Army Uniform, looking the part in both costumes. Eden had the less glamorous costume, but the more important role and she played this with both the primness of a nurse and the flirtatiousness that she needed to use with Lieutenant George Colthurst St. Barleigh.
This show had just about everything going for it, the well-known characters, a well designed and built set although maybe the trench was a little too pristine and I had an issue with the actor’s faces being in shade at times in ‘Major Star’. These were minor niggles in a well-produced show, the set really came into its own on ‘General Hospital’ and the ease with which the set changed with the scenes. Well Directed, excellent costumes, it pays to get the best. Technically proficient and using video/film footage for the final moments of the show as the men go ‘over the top’, the scene of the local war memorial the poppies and the silence at the end, broken only by the loud applause of the appreciative audience, Well done to all.
Date: 18th April 2019
As I left the theatre after this performance of Chicago I only had one word WOW!
I have never seen a production of this show although I knew the story so I was looking forward to this with some anticipation, having seen quite a few plays at The Angles Theatre I was interested to see how a full musical would fit on the stage. I needn’t have worried.
The simple set raised into two tiers by means of a scaffolding ‘balcony’ made full use of the available space with the lower uprights being used to split the floor space into down stage and upstage spaces for different elements of some scenes, with the stairs being used effectively as floor space. This simple scaffold set was complimented by an excellent lighting plot and plain black background, there was no need for any further set detail. So, compliments to the set and lighting designer.
The choregraphy and movement on both levels of the stage and entrances around the set were well thought through, with a clever hint of Bob Fosse in hand and arm movements. In such a small space the movements were clearly designed to give maximum impact to the audience, the jail and courtroom scenes were cleverly executed with the scaffolding clearly indicating a jail and the upper level for the courtroom.
A big bone of contention of mine is make-up on stage and this production had make-up which was very effective and in character for the show and the period. The wigs too were very good, I would never have known that Catherine Missin was blonde and again in period. The all black costumes were very good and effective throughout the cast.
The sound levels were very good and diction throughout was clear and easy to listen to, the singing was to a very high standard. Your Musical Director must be very proud of the cast as this was so well sung. Razzle Dazzle with Billy and the company was a tour de force
The Dance Team although small was very good, perfectly in time with each other, nothing really to fault and the rest of the company although not dancers moved very well together performing excellent ensemble pieces and I loved the way they lounge around and draped themselves over the bars in the jail scenes.
The five murderesses played by Emma, Daisy, Megan, Sarah May, and Eleanor acted their roles with enthusiasm and good characterisation, so it is not possible to praise one over the others so well done to the five of you. It is also unfair to pick one out from between Amelia, Bridie or Emma as principals although I particularly liked Rhiannon as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton with a lovely rendition of ‘When you’re good to Mama’
However the tour de force of the show are of course the two leading ladies, Catherine as Velma and Lizzie as Roxie, you were both excellent, you had obviously thought about your characters and gave your all, movement, stage presence and dialogue were excellent and your singing I loved Velma’s rendition of ‘All that Jazz’ Roxie’s ‘Funny Honey’ and the two of you with ‘Nowadays’ and ‘Hot Honey Rag’.
I loved the scene where Billy sat with Roxie as a ventriloquist’s dummy on his knee in ‘We both reached for The Gun’ wonderfully performed by both of you. Owen looked just as I imagined Billy Flynn should look, a great performance and characterisation.
Ted, your performance as Amos Hart singing and performing Mister Cellophane was one of my favourite songs in the show, bringing out the pathos of the character wonderfully, well done.
These four principals gave outstanding performances and deserved the applause and plaudits that they as teenage performers received.
Well done to the company for a great and enjoyable production, which I couldn’t fau
We are grateful for the support from the Wisbech Round Table