Archive for January, 2010


Interview – Paul Caister

Sunday, 31 January, 2010

Paul Caister is the Director of The Poor School established in 1986 which offers short term acting classes to the enthusiastic and long term training to the talented… interview with Wendy Thomson

Wendy Thomson (Fringe Report) attended Poor School’s four day acting course of which Paul Caister is the director.  Paul Caister is a charismatic and plain-spoken individual.  His interesting manner is matched by his attire – linen jacket and trousers in the height of winter, this is a man blessed with thick skin and warm blood.

Fringe Report (FR, Wendy Thomson): Thank you Paul for sparing the time to talk to Fringe Report and I’d like to say in advance, thank you for your honesty and openness with your answers.  I know you’ll be direct, as you were on the course.

Paul Caister:  I get myself into trouble speaking with journalists.

FR:  I’m not really a journalist.

Paul Caister: I’ve heard that one before.

FR:  [laughs]. Do you mind me asking how old you are?

Paul Caister: I’m 54 and I enjoy being older, this is better than being 24.

FR:  Why?

Paul Caister: Because I’ve found something to do.  I’m younger at heart now.  At 24 I was a very serious, intense person.  I’ve chilled out a bit and done some of the experiences and absurd obsessions that I wanted to and got them out of my system.  I’m more relaxed now.  I have libertarian sympathies.  I think there’s too much officialdom and meddling in personal lives.  I’m not a Tory economically.  I admire people like George Orwell and George Bernard Shaw who were individually minded.    But I’ve also got more realistic.

FR: Can you tell me about your background and where you grew up?

Paul Caister:  I was born in North London.  My parents were first generation, middle class teachers.  My grandparents were working class, one was a miner in South Wales and another was a shopkeeper in Kent. My parents were post war communists, this  wasn’t particularly unusual. There was a global landslide in 1945 and Churchill was voted out because of a huge surge of sympathy with communism.  There weren’t any opinion polls then.  There was a lot of sympathy with Old Labour.

FR: How did this affect your upbringing?

Paul Caister:  I wasn’t christened.  I went to grammar school, about 20% of kids did then.  I didn’t do very well at school and I left at 16 without any qualifications.  I assumed I would be an actor.

FR:  What were your first jobs?

Paul Caister:  They weren’t interesting, whatever I could pick up, mainly office work.  I counted cars for Camden council.  I went to Bristol Old Vic for a two year training but left after four terms in 1975.  I knew I didn’t want to act, I wanted to direct.

FR:  What made you change your mind?

Paul Caister: I’d done some directing prior to going to Bristol.  On a good day I felt like I knew what I was doing [with directing].

FR:  We’ve gotten up to 1975, but The Poor School wasn’t founded until 1986.  What happened in these 11 years?

Paul Caister:  I found Fringe venues and put on plays in London.  I didn’t make any money then.

FR:  How did you survive?

Paul Caister:  I don’t know – I always ate and had a cigarette when I wanted one – I’m not sure how I managed financially.  My parents got divorced.  I opened a pub theatre called The Grove in Hammersmith but I overworked and had to give it up.  It was an interesting experience but it was too much.

I had a girlfriend from New Zealand so I went to New Zealand for a year, specifically the North Island – Wellington and Auckland – then onto Australia for four years.  I directed and acted and got TV jobs there.  I wrote a play which I also directed and I put that on.  But I became ill and anxious and developed a tranquiliser addiction.  There was a great deal of drugs and sex.  Not all with the original girlfriend.

FR:  [At this point FR interrupts to check that Paul is happy for these personal details to go into the interview and he says yes its fine.]

Paul Caister: The difference with Australian girls is that that would pull the blokes rather than the other way round.  They were more forward.  Or less reserved.  That was a revelation to me.

FR: So why did you come back to Blighty?

Paul Caister:  There was a sense that I was playing truant.  Also, to get off the drugs.    I did some directing and teaching.

FR:  You set up the Poor School – why?

Paul Caister:  Because I could and I could do it better than other people. I had three staff at the start and I’ve got better teachers now.  I’m very happy with the teachers.    Some teachers have been with the Poor School for longer than others.  Clare Davidson [teaches voice] has been with us for 9 months.  Trudi Rees [who teaches Jazz] graduated as a student in 97 and came back later to teach and direct.  Grantley Buck [teaches musical theatre] since 2003.  Christopher Dunham [directs] has taught at the Poor School for about 9 years.  Toby Spearpoint [stage fighting] was a student and has been teaching since 2007.  Marcelle Davies [movement] has been with us for over twenty years.

With other companies what the drama student gets at the end is a piece of paper.

[FR note: The Poor School does not offer an academic qualification].

Drama training is a practical training.  It includes those who aren’t academically as bright, as those who are.  The important factor is how committed and imaginative is that individual.  The aim of The Poor School is to do our best to train an actor and bring them as close to their potential in a short period of time.

FR:  The Poor School has been running for 25 years. How has it changed or developed in that time?

Paul Caister:  There’s not been a fundamental change in what the school tries to do.    I’m wiser and better at it, having been through various ordeals and crises.  I still make mistakes.  That’s the nature of doing things.  I’ve got less energy than when the school started.  Last Wednesday I taught 9 classes in a day but I got through on adrenaline. I’m delighted to have something to do.  The Poor School has a good reputation now.  We have a few hundred graduates.

FR:  You mentioned crises; does any particular one stand out?

Paul Caister:  No one particular crisis – every day is a battle.  If you do anything worth doing you’re going to make enemies.  It can be vulnerable in this business if you receive negative word of mouth or press.  In running anything: to make a decent omelette you break some eggs. Regarding the acting classes, you cannot get more out of it than what you put in.  Some people drop out, those people tend to have flabby temperaments.

FR:  How do you juggle running the school with the demands of personal life?

Paul Caister:  I don’t cook or do housework.  I’m old fashioned that way.  I let my woman do all the work.  When I have to do things I do them, like looking after kids.   I’m no good at multi-tasking.

FR: How many children do you have?

Paul Caister:  I have six children.  The eldest is 21 and they’re at Sheffield Uni, my 18 year old daughter is about to go to university.  I have 15 and 12 year old daughters who live with their mum in Brighton.  A boy and girl of 6 and 2 with Trudi.

I was 34 when I started a family.  I never had a plan.

FR: The classes on the 4 day course were a mixture of stage fighting, voice, movement, Shakespeare, musicals, jazz, rehearsal of pieces – are there any different classes in the full time course?  Is the full time course a higher standard?

Paul Caister: The four days are not a dumbed down version of the full course, it includes the same classes.  There is a different atmosphere on the two year course.  Students have made a commitment to go through the six terms.  There is a difference between playing football at the weekend and being signed to a premiership team.  The Poor School is taught in the evenings on the two year course.  This enables students to work during the day and act in the evenings.

FR: Who are your heroes?

Paul Caister: That’s a good question.  I saw Alec Guinness on stage twice, both were modern plays.  He’s the only actor I’ve ever seen that can speak quietly and intimately but also reach the back of the theatre.  He is astonishing on stage.

FR: What does Shakespeare mean to you?

Paul Caister: Shakespeare is a very good playwright.  It’s depressing when people make a dogma of him or do it badly.  There are people who don’t have an insight into him and some teachers don’t understand Shakespeare.  I think there is a diminishing importance of words particularly expressive words.  Brevity is popular.  Texting.  I love words. In the last 450 years our heritage has developed.  In all that time except the last 30 years words have developed.  Language sets you free and the use of it feeds the soul.  It’s very sad that so few people have love for it or use it.  It’s partly me being an old fart.  It was different in my day.

FR:  How do you choose which students should be offered a place on the full time course?

Paul Caister:  I’m looking for evidence of an imagination which manifests dramatically.  It’s tangible but hard to define.  It exists in impressions and attitudes.    When most people act they look ill at ease, they look like a fish out of water.  Some people look at home.

FR:  How can someone learn to act?

Paul Caister:  Can acting be learnt?  Anyone who works hard at anything will get better at it but you need a natural aptitude as well e.g. you could run 100 metres but not get a great time.  Is it worth someone committing themselves to acting if they have no natural ability?  No.

FR:  What if people enjoy acting but don’t have natural ability are you saying they should they give it up?  What about amateur dramatics?

Paul Caister:  Acting can be enjoyed as a hobby and there is the whole social side to amateur dramatics.

FR:   For students and auditionees who aren’t chosen for the two year Poor School training, what advice would you give to them?

Paul Caister:  Try.  Prove us wrong.  Plenty of people do careers they don’t want to.  Most people come round to it in their own way.  They’re a square peg in a round hole.  If someone is convinced they can act they’ll have the motivation and drive to prove people wrong.

(c)Wendy Thomson 2010


Going Postal

Sunday, 31 January, 2010

A Discworld Drama

Reading – Progress Theatre – 28 January to 6 February 10 – 19:45 (3.00)

Going Postal the play is a thinly veiled satire on the closure of post offices and corruption within the Royal Mail and government officials.

Director Christine Moran keeps the story moving in a character-heavy production which includes a vampire, a zombie, wizards, golems and a pirate, through many scenes and much set changing, which distracts from the action and makes it confusing.  Those unfamiliar with Discworld could get a bit lost.

Moist Von Lipvig played by Owen Goode is a likeable anti-hero who manages to save the post office and win the heart of alpha female Adora Dearheart.  Zsuzsi Kingsnorth is the fearless strong willed Adora Dearheart with chain smoking ease.  Unfortunately the couple lacks chemistry with more heat emanating from the tip of Adora’s cigarette.

Lord Vetinari played by Dan Clarke forces Lipvig to become the Post Master as a punishment for forgeries.  Dan Clarke is dressed as a B movie villain with dark slicked back hair, goatee and a long black coat with buttons to his feet.  A suitably Hammer Horror menacing performance but licence for more ham and extra cheese.

Costume design by Tom Bradbrook and Aidan Moran is impressive from Moist Von Lipvig’s gold jacket, trousers and winged hat to Alex McCubbin’s Mr Pump who’s attired in an orangey red clay outfit with bright green LED eyes which shines when the lights go down.  The golems – there is another one – Anghammarad played by Carole Brown are modern day slaves who attempt to purchase their freedom from Adora Dearheart.  The sarcasm, futility and acceptance of their situation with the faint hope of self emancipation is well delivered.  Reacher Gilt played by Rik Eke is in charge of rival postal company The Trunk and dressed as a pirate, with an eye patch, red silk coat, white shirt, and white parrot on arm.  He has an authentic gravelly pirate voice which must be wearing on his throat over the run.

Liz Carroll as Junior Postman Groat is believable in a male role with fake gray hair and matching goatee.  A sweet silly character obsessed with rules, regulations and red tape rather than getting post delivered, but quickly won over by Lipwig’s new methods after getting promotion.  James Mould presents Apprentice Postman Stanley as a reasonably mixed up kid, obsessed with pins then stamps.

Fun portrayals and outfits from Louise Banks who played Wilkinson, Young Mrs Parker, Deaconess of Offler and Dan Clarke as Old Mr Parker, Robed Man with Boots, Mr Spools, Maitre D’ and Ponder Stibbons.  The wizards look suitably wizard-like and there is a very enjoyable magic window with a wizard stood at a jaunty angle.

Lizzy Nash played Sacharissa Cripstock the reporter for the Ankh-Morpork Times.  An accurate portrayal of an accurate reporter, it felt like looking into a mirror (one of those flattering ones) – hair tied back, glasses.  Sensible black dress.  Little notepad and pen.  Pertinent questions.

Set design by Aidan Moran and Martin Noble is not as successful as the costumes.  There were multiple set changes, nearly one for every change of scene, fifteen in the second half, which felt unnecessary for the story and broke up the action.  The walls are painted in a shade of dirty yellow which look – perhaps deliberately ugly – and induce a mild vomiting sensation.  Coloured lights are shone onto the stage when Lord Vetinari is in his chamber, the bright blue, red and green squares of light were a strong contrast with the yellow walls and aesthetically displeasing.  It was cold in the theatre and there was a bad smell.  The seats were comfortable.

The stage adapation of Going Postal by Steven Briggs retained the witty dialogue which Terry Prachett is renowned for, such as when the letters and parcels want Moist Von Lipvig to save the Post Office, they ask him to ‘Deliver Us’.

But the story became confused with the retention of too many characters, there were thirty nine speaking parts plus additional non speaking roles for a two and a half hour play plus interval, with upwards of thirty scenes.  It felt over complicated for the plot.  However tempting it is to retain all the wonderful funny silly characters from the Discworld universe, this production could have benefitted from a dispassionate cropping.

Cast Credits:  (alpha order):  Louise Banks – Wilkinson / Young Mrs Parker / Deaconess of Offler.  Karen Bird – Stowley.  Carole Brown – Anghammarad / Miss Maccalariat.  Ali Carroll – Nutmeg / Coachman Harry.  Liz Carroll – Junior Postman Groat.  Dan Clarke – Old Mr Parker / Robed Man with Boots / Mr Spools / Maitre D’ / Ponder Stibbons.  Trevor Dale – Mr Slant / Mr Pony. Matthew Drury – Igor / Devious Collabone.  Rik Eke – Reacher Gilt.  Owen Goode – Moist von Lipwig.  Jesse Harte – Drumknott.  Philip Herbst – Young Mr Parker / Gryle / Sane Alex.  Christopher Hoult – Trooper / Pin Customer / Senior Postman Aggy / Archchancellor Ridcully.  Mandy King – Greenyham.  Zsuzsi Kingsnorth – Adora Belle Dearheart.  Alex McCubbin – Mr Pump.  James Mould – Apprentice Postman Stanley.  Lizzy Nash – Sacharissa Cripstock.  Peter O’Sullivan – Big Dave / Voice of the Poet / Coachman Bill.  Dan Powell – Lord Vetinari

Company Credits:  Writer – Terry Pratchett. Adapated by – Steven Briggs. Director – Christine Moran. Artistic Director – Aidan Moran.  Assistant Director – Matt Wellard.  Lighting Designer and Operator – Martin Noble. Sound Designer – Aidan Moran. Sound Operator – Martin Noble.  Stage Manager – Laura Mills. Assistant Stage Managers – Laura Gavin / Tony Powell / Emily Proctor / Emma Walsh. Set Design – Aidan Moran / Martin Noble.  Set Construction and Painting – Louise Banks / Ali Carroll / Liz Carroll / Dan Clarke / Rik Eke / Jamie Gilmour / Christopher Hoult / Pete Hughes / Mandy King / Alex McCubbin / Christine Moran / Aidan Moran / Heather Noble / Martin Noble / Peter O’Sullivan / Naomi Sykes / Helen Udale-Clarke / Michael Udale-Clarke.  Costume Designers – Tom Bradbrook / Aidan Moran.  Costume Team Leader – Zsuzsi Kingsnorth.  Costume Team – Liz Carroll / Sandra Gough / Jo James / Fiona McNeil / Emma Walsh / Helen Wright.  Make-Up Design – Emma Thomlinson.  Props Team Leader – Laura Mills.  Props Team – Laura Gavin / Glen Mills / Aidan Moran / Tony Powell / Emma Walsh.  Publicity – Dan Clarke / Fiona Dempsey / Christine Moran / Heather Noble / Abby Salter / Emma Walsh.  Poster Design – Aidan Moran.  Photographs – Mandy King.  Programme Editor – Graham Mitchell.  Box Office, Bar, FoH Rotas – Heather Noble.  Rehearsal Space Co-ordinator – Dorothy Grugeon.  Production Manager – Heather Noble

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed on Saturday 30th January 2010


Ordinary Lads, By Paul Ferguson

Friday, 29 January, 2010

Celebrating the friendship of young men

London – Etcetera Theatre – 28 – 31 Jan 2010 – 7.30 (1.15)

Paul Ferguson’s Ordinary Lads is a gentle celebration of the friendship of young men and the all too prevalent follies of youth. It is a comedy, stretched to the edge of fantasy sometimes in terms of plot, in which one of a number of (all male and single) friends gets into a scrape, and the others combine to attempt to extricate him from the mess he finds himself in. They don’t quite say ‘all for one and one for all,’ but there are moments when the script – quite a funny one at times – comes preciously close.

The writing is clearly lovingly created, and the actors charged with animating these characters (obviously drawn from life, and acknowledged as such by the writer) do a pretty good job. The lovable but hopeless Bones and the streetwise Jack the Lad, Dibbs, are probably the most successful, but Nico Lennon has an interesting night as (successively) the ruthless loan shark, the local ganja dealer and a car delivery driver.

Direction is by Jake Hendriks, who does manage that most momentous of challenges, keeping an audience (pretty much) interested in a set (Olivia Altaras is the set designer) that is dominated by a sofa. He also manages to bring out the various levels of the humour in the script – some semi-mime, verbal sparring, knockabout slapstick – with a good degree of flair.

The action takes place in the living room of a flat, where some of the ordinary lads of the title live. The production starts quite slowly and takes a little while to get going, but once the characters are established, the play moves along at a pretty good pace, with some genuinely funny moments, and some imaginative pieces of sound design (David Gregory) to help vary the interest. I wasn’t quite convinced by the scene where the characters are watching the horse-race (a little more time spent in the betting shop on a Saturday afternoon might have helped here), but the genuine enthusiasm of all concerned was infectious.

Ordinary Lads does stretch credibility from time to time, but that’s what comedies do in order to get their audiences laughing, and this production is no exception to that. The pace sometimes flags a little, possibly because the characters are cooped up in that living room the whole time, and the serious elements in the plot (don’t expect too much in terms of peaks and troughs) don’t really come across as anything momentous or revealing. But this play isn’t about massive generalities, just some ordinary single blokes trying to get by in the first half of the 21st Century.

I suspect these ‘likely lads’ will make a welcome return at some future point in Paul Ferguson’s career.

Cast: David Cullinane – Sparky; Nik Drake – Fergie; Nico Lennon – Jukebox/Tony Turk/Delivery Guy; Simon Naylor – Dibbs; Marc Pickering – Bones

Crew: Director – Jake Hendriks; Stage Manager – Katie Milne; Writer/Artistic Director – Paul Ferguson; Casting Director/Artistic Director – Charlotte Chinn; Executive Producer – Grant Stringer; Technical Director/Lighting Designer – Gary Bowman; Administrator – Caroline Ferguson; Designer – Olivia Altaras; Sound Designer – David Gregory; Wardrobe Supervisor – Rachel Cox; Production Electrician – Chris Gunnell; Scenic Painter – Ellie Sung; Production Crew – Joe Beardsmore; Production Crew – Sam Tanner

Reviewed at the Etcetera Theatre, 28 January 2010

(c) Michael Spring


Wild Thing

Monday, 25 January, 2010

London – The Royal Academy – The Sackler Wing of Galleries – 24 Oct 2009 – 24 Jan 2010.  10:30 – 17.30.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's Dancer

Wild Thing is an exhibition of sculptures, sketches and carvings by Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) and Eric Gill (1882-1940) in three connecting rooms, each room dedicated to one artist and each containing exactly thirty two exhibits.

Jacob EPSTEIN – Room 3

The works on display range in size from a deep stone tablet called Birth (c 25cm x 25cm x 15cm) to the monster of the Rock Drill (205cm x 141.5cm).  The range of media used includes busts in bronze and marble and sketches in pencil and blue crayon.

Torso in Metal from the ‘Rock Drill’ 1913-16 (c 50cm x 20cm x 40cm bronze)

The bronze sculpture is a black hunched over torso with a metal ribcage, the right arm at its side which ends where an elbow would be, the left arm in front which ends in a triangle instead of a hand, a long neck and a triangular face, reminiscent of a horse’s snout.  It has a hard masculine body armour and vulnerability with exposed abdominals and ribs.  The physicality of the torso suggests movement.  It looks like police and authority.  This being wears a visor which obscures its eyes; this prevents an observer from knowing what it is looking at.  The power of the gaze suggests superior eyesight which gives it power over observers.

The sculpture may have inspired modern conceptions of androids from Star Wars battle droids to cyborgs such as Robocop.  It has a child like vulnerability in the fusion of metal and flesh.  It is physically stronger than humans but with an internal fragility.  As cyborgs are a new race this makes them children comparatively speaking.  The torso in metal provokes a reaction of excitement because it is almost alien, almost animal.  This mixture of metal and organic looks like a soldier of action.  There is the smell of bullets and gunpowder accompanied by a taste of sulphur and grass.  It evokes the sound of marching armies with metallic boots on concrete – click click click.

Rock Drill 1913-1915  (205cm x 141.5cm. Reconstruction. Materials – polyester resin, metal and wood.

The Rock Drill is the bigger brother of Torso in Metal. It is a white, full bodied, armoured metal android standing astride a black tripod on top of a raised platform.  This makes the entire height approximately eleven feet tall and the structure towers over its fellow exhibits.  The Rock Drill looks like a director or a cameraman.  The right arm has a working hand clutching a lever.  The left arm ends where the wrist would be.  Its feet rest on jutting metal barrels which are inscribed with ‘Holman Bros Ltd Camborne England’.  The legs are like metal boots with hard triangular edges.  The feet have no toes.  Bone becomes metal becomes wood.

It is difficult to establish whether this being recently jump up onto the tripod or if it is a part of him.  There is a smell of fear and tangy salty sweat.  There is exhilaration in the contrast of metal and organic.  It looks futuristic and alive; it can almost be heard to whirr although it would be difficult to establish if the whirring was coming from the being or from the tripod.  There is a taste of fresh snow and a feel of hard sharp edges like a cold wooden bench.

Eric GILL – Room 1

The works on display are a mixture of sculptures and figures – black stone, bronze and brass, painted plaster cast, Portland stone, drawings, marble, bath stone.

Garden Statue – The Virgin 1911-1912 (c 5 foot tall. Material – Portland stone)

The virgin is curvy and slender with a small waist.  Standing upright she strides forward with her right foot.  Her arms reach up with her elbows parallel to her head, hands reaching crossed behind her head, her hair visibly flowing down her back.  She is wearing a skirt which sits just over her mons pubis.  She has a naked upper torso, a slightly rounded belly with an exposed innie navel – small pert breasts leading upwards to a collar bone but no neck – the neck and hair flow onto her arms, there is no dividing line.  Her nose is a stub and looks as though it has been worn away by the elements.  Her mouth is open, pouting, eyes closed, head back.  The Virgin is an ironic name as she looks more than ready to renounce her title and receive physical love.

Her lower body is enclosed and hidden, the lines of the tops of her legs and her vagina are not visible under the skirt, but she evokes sex.  There is a smell of early morning mist, lavender, bath salts, and a taste of dew.  The Virgin is almost too slender, which is out of proportion with her curves.  She gives a feeling of dreamlike relaxation, washing soft silky hair.  She is an English beauty.  Almost like a prayer, the hands cross behind her head.

Ecstasy 1910-1911  (c 5 foot tall, 21cm deep, 40cm wide. Material – Portland stone)

A rectangular stone slab contains a carving of copulation, their bodies protrude halfway out of the stone.  The woman is astride the man who is standing up, legs bent, he is deep inside her.  Only her face is visible and her eyes are closed.  His head is turned away, facing into the block of stone.  Her feet don’t touch the ground, toes dangling they rest on his.  She holds her arms protectively, one around his back, one round his neck.  The man’s arm is around her back but a hand reaches into her hair – unfortunately this part of the statue has worn away so it is unknown what her hair looks like.

The man and the woman are of a similar height and build.  She has a calm expression, eyes and mouth are closed, lips pressed against his hair.  A very pert nipple on her small but perfectly formed breast is exposed under his arm.  The male is muscular, taut and strong, thrusting upwards, inwards, pleasing her.  The sound of this gentle repetitive rhythm has been freeze framed in time.  Ecstasy tastes like lemonade, smells like freshly laundered sheets and is tender like the brush of fingertips upon a bare arm.

On one side of the stone block is the carving of a hand.  There is a large eye on an open palm. The thumb is at a right angle and the fingers are upright.  This symbol has an occult meaning.


The works on display range in size from a carved toothbrush called Ornament (15cm x 2cm x 1cm) to a massive Head of Ezra Pound marble sculpture (80cm x 45cm x 45cm).  The range of media used includes pen, pastel and ink drawings, marble, bronze, limestone, red Mansfield stone, plaster and Bath stone.

Crouching Fawn 1913   (c30cm wide x 12cm deep x 25cm tall. Material – Bath stone)

The fawn is lying down but the front right leg and head are raised.  The back legs are folded in, the right ear is folded back against its head and the left ear is alert.  The fawn looks peaceful and sleepy but ready to leap up and run away if under threat.  The fawn is graceful with smooth lines and a sweet doe like expression – it is young and looks feminine even if it is male.  Its eyes look as though they could be closed or open.

If this deer became a dance it would be a minuet.  It feels like sunshine on the back of the neck, warm and pleasant but will burn if left too long exposed.  There is peace amongst the trees and leaves of the wood and the element of danger.  A taste of almonds and the sound of a chattering brook.  The fawn is alone, what has happened to its mum.

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed Sunday, 24 January 2010


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), by C. S. Lewis

Friday, 15 January, 2010

Book Review by Wendy Thomson

There has been four inches of snowfall and Reading looks like Narnia.  I stand underneath the lamp-post outside BMW Coopers, holding up my umbrella to keep snowflakes out of my eyes, and I feel like Mr Tumnus the faun about to discover Lucy appearing from the wardrobe.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the second book of The Chronicles of Narnia, is my favourite story from childhood and I enjoy it just as much now, even though the days of sticking plasters on my knees and playing with my brothers is over.  In the story there are two sisters (Lucy, Susan) and their brothers (Edmund, John) who are evacuated from London during the Second World War to stay with an elderly professor who lives in a large house in the countryside.

The siblings play hide and seek and Lucy wanders into a spare room searching for a good hiding place.  She climbs inside a large wooden wardrobe; but finds at the back trees and snow, which is a bit of a shock after fur coats and mothballs.  Lucy has stumbled upon a magical world called Narnia, ruled by a wicked ice queen; who has made it always winter but never Christmas.  Ordinary animals can speak and a battle for good over evil is destined.

There is a rich variety of mythological creatures, some of which come from the classics and some created by the author.  We are told of unicorns, fauns giants, dwarfs, dryads, naiads, satyrs, centaurs, ogres, hags, cruels, incubuses, wraiths, horrors, efreets, sprites, orknies – perhaps C. S. Lewis was not fond of Scottish islanders – wooses, ettins, winged horses, even a dragon.

Magic exists.  When I was little – littler- I thought I could fly down the stairs, I could cast spells over snails from the garden, and I believed animals understood every word I said to them. C.S. Lewis connects magic to reality; any child can step into an ordinary wardrobe and find a world inhabited by talking beavers and be recognised as a daughter of Eve or a son of Adam.

Christianity is a frequent topic if you can ‘Adam and Eve’ it.  Aslan, the Lion is a living god of Narnia, a wise and benevolent force who inspires hope and liberation.  Like Jesus he sacrifices himself to save his people and he rises from the dead.  He has a large flock of Narnians.  His church is headed by the children who act as bishops – as kings and queens of Narnia they guide their subjects and set good laws.

The Lion and the Witch as individuals can be viewed as a metaphor for the soul.  Every person has good and evil inside them and experience internal conflict.  Decisions are made for love and fear.

It is a patriotic story – one that could be enjoyed whilst listening to ‘England my Lionheart’ by Kate Bush.  The Professor lives in a huge country house ‘so old and famous that people from all over England used to come and ask permission to see over it.’  It is pro monarchy – Aslan is ‘King of Beasts,’ the children are rightful rulers of Narnia destined to sit on the four thrones at Cair Paravel castle.  Peter and Edmund are knighted.  We distrust the pretender to the throne – the Witch attempts to legitimise her dictatorship through the self imposed title ‘Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands.’

The battle between the Lion and the Witch echoes the war that the children left behind (World War II).  They have to grow up quickly and experience harshness, including cold (it’s always winter), hunger (enchanted Turkish Delight is given to Edmund which leaves him always wanting more) and death (Lucy and Susan witness Aslan being killed by the Witch).

The children are given weapons so that they can take part in the battle. Gifts received from Father Christmas include a sword and shield, bow and arrows, dagger and horn. C.S. Lewis tones down the violence for his intended audience.  The Witch is fond of turning rebellious inhabitants into stone using her magic wand – she’s not depicted as a mass murderer although her cruelty is evident.

Like the war taking place back in England there are informers: ‘there are trees that would betray us to her;’ traitors – Edmund is disloyal to his siblings and runs to the Witch after she offers him rank and privilege; and fierce opponents – Maugrim, chief of the Witch’s secret police is a scary SS-like wolf.

These are children that anyone can relate to.  The eldest – Peter and Susan – assume the role of the absent parents who care for and reprove the younger pair.  They have good manners – Lucy lends her handkerchief to those in need of such a useful item including Mr Tumnus the faun and Giant Rumblebuffin.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is inspirational because these ordinary children are special – they are saviours of a nation.  Instead of being scolded by Mrs Macready the Professor’s housekeeper, they bravely fight a war, heal the wounded, and fulfill a prophecy.

(c)  Wendy Thomson 2010

January 2010


Play on words

Thursday, 14 January, 2010

Female eunuchs

London – Tristan Bates Theatre – 4 – 23 Jan 10 – 19:30 (1:05)

Black Eye Peas ‘I gotta a feeling’ is being played by DJ Jonnie – Tom Crawshaw, as bums fill seats, he welcomes everyone in.  Especially the ladies.

Eddie played by Yaz Al-Shaater sits on a chair at the front of the stage. The set, which is designed by Amy Penrose, is an office with white walls, three white blinds covering three windows, two desks and one clock where the time has stopped at 10.23.  Most of the furniture has a brown label/tag attached – the desks, the wastepaper bin, the laptop, the briefcase.

Eddie talks about the four walls of theatre and breaking down the fourth wall.  Fred – Michael Grady-Hall shouts stage directions at Eddie from the stairs next to where everyone is seated.  Fred has shaken the fourth wall because of where he is standing.  Eddie changes the style of his monologue accordingly – ‘Tense’ ‘Cadence’ ‘Shakespeare’.  He picks up a gun with the tag still on it as though he’s going to commit suicide.  A verbal bang, as it is a fake.

Fred joins Eddie on stage.  The men wear identical outfits with subtle differences such as Eddie’s ripped jeans.  Blue jeans, navy shirts, grey jackets.  This is a theatre company but they don’t seem terribly busy. Eddie does a crossword which is interjected with Fred’s phone call.  Some of the words from one are the answers for the other.  They have an argument about putting a sharpener in the bin.  Anger results in swearing, even lifting up a desk.  The penalty for swearing is to put 20p in a swearbox.  They also have an honesty box.

The lights go off and on again.  The phone rings.  The audience are accused of leaving a phone on.  Fred tries to explain to Eddie that you should never exchange a cross word.   Which is a saying.  The character of Eddie is slow and he doesn’t understand this.  There is some humour from this and many other puns.  An actress arrives late and tries to sit with the audience.  She speaks to Fred over the heads of the viewers and explains she had arrived for an audition for the part of a doctor.  They had already cast the doctor but Fred likes the look of this strawberry blonde girl Jen who is played by Meriel Rosenkranz, so she is invited on stage and asked to read an audition piece from an envelope – she reads an office supply costs letter in the context of her brother dying.  Which is very funny.

Jen and Fred hit it off, and after some discussion about a casting couch they kiss.  Eddie gets rather excited and squeezes his water bottle which explodes over him and the set when he talks about sex.  Fred likes his plays on words.  He says he’s writing to get girls.  Maybe not just him, but also writer Tom Crawshaw.

From this point on the play spirals into a downward descent.  The play doesn’t seem to respect the character of Jen or women.  She is treated like a sex object and dispensed of.  There is plenty of testosterone from the lads, lots more anger, desk lifting, fighting and guns.  Fred and Eddie reverse roles but this is not enough to detract from the teenage angst and adolescent hormones that seem to waft through and pervade a play that has a lot of clever thoughts and nice touches to it.  A shame that women are portrayed as mysterious emotional objects whose function is to culminate in sex and nonsensical suicide.

Cast Credits: (alpha order):  Yaz Al-Shaater – Eddie.  Tom Crawshaw – Jonnie.   Michael Grady-Hall – Fred.  Meriel Rosenkranz – Jen / Doctor. 

Company Credits: Writer – Tom Crawshaw.  Director – Tom Crawshaw. Designer – Amy Penrose.  Lighting Designer – Jacob Mason-Dixon.  Dramaturgy – Neil Keating.  Graphic Design – Yaz Al-Shaater / Haz Al-Shaater.  Sound Design – Yaz Al-Shaater.  Fight Director – Jeremy Barlow.  Technical Operator – Uncredited.    Production Manager / Stage Manager – Bekki Coward.  Co-Producer – Natalie Eskinazi.  Company – Three’s Company.

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Adventure Time

Thursday, 14 January, 2010

Spontaneously enthusiastic – genuinely amusing

London – Tristan Bates Theatre – 4 to 23 Jan 10 – 21:00 (0:30)

Adventure Time is a thirty minute show which is staged like a live radio broadcast.  There are three men and four stools.  Martin Brady-Small played Michael Grady-Hall wears a cowboy straw hat, red tie and a waistcoat.  Jon Grimshaw played by Tom Crawshaw wears a red T shirt and a dark blazer.  Jazz L.Carter played by Yaz Al-Shaater looks cute in a red and white striped t-shirt, badge and big glasses.  It doesn’t really matter what the cast looks like, because they are on radio.  Nice they made an effort though.

One broadcaster is missing, hence the empty fourth stool, this cast have problems.  The actress Theresa Compangnie hasn’t shown up for work.  They don’t want the non-present DJ – MC Phale to know – he’s in another studio and will hand over to them for a live reading in a couple of minutes – so the team asks for a volunteer.  A member of the audience (uncredited/unknown) is asked to read the missing part.  Don’t worry, says Martin Brady-Small – he will explain what to do.

As the new Theresa Compangnie takes her seat and starts to read through the script, audience instructions are given.  Jon Grimshaw holds up signs: ‘Applause’ ‘Cheer’ ‘Laugh’ and when they are whipped out of sight the reaction must stop.  A short rehearsal and everyone involved becomes quite tight with their whoops and clapping.  Laughter on demand does not come as easily.  However, this is one thing the cast don’t have to force because this is a genuinely amusing show.

Now the radio play begins – so what’s it about?  The willing audience member plays Flora, a slave girl on FunnyHaHa island who is trying to escape from an evil steward read by Jon Grimshaw.  The details of the plot get lost in the fun of the characters and interruptions for participation or problems on set.  There is a Hip-Hob goblin voiced by Jazz L.Carter.  There are jokes about elves including Filofax the leader of the elf army who is Elf conscious.

Martin Brady-Small has an impressively realistic sounding west country accent for the character of Miner Problem who reports to Jon Grimshaw’s Major Setback.  Martin Brady-Small with or without accents has a great radio voice.

The sound effects by Yaz Al-Shaater range from squeaking doors to Windows shutting down – oh no the laptop has stopped working.  Disaster – but Jazz L.Carter manages to save the day.

The cast asks for audience volunteers to be a goblin group called the Fairer Six who will need to play scrabble and read lines.  No scrabble is played but the volunteers read their parts with spontaneously enthusiastic interpretations of goblin voices.

Jon Grimshaw as the evil steward is about to do something nasty to Flora and he inhales the air from a balloon.  There is not any helium in the balloon so his voice does not become squeaky.  However the expectation of such makes this process amusing.

For the dramatic finale, the audience is asked to make sound effects for the sea, a snake, an explosion and monsters.  There is time to rehearse during an ad break, then its back ‘on air’.

It may help that the actors are performing with their scripts in front of them, which on this occasion is perfectly allowable, it being a radio broadcast.

A fun show which felt relaxed for everyone involved, whether or not it was truly spontaneous – audience member participation – are they plants?  It’s left for the public to decide.  If everyone had a good time, does it matter?

Cast Credits: (alpha order):  Yaz Al-Shaater – Jazz L.Carter.  Tom Crawshaw – Jon Grimshaw.  Michael Grady-Hall – Martin Brady-Small.  Guest Stars:  Theresa Compangnie.  The Fairer Six.  MC Phale.

Company Credits: Writer – Tom Crawshaw.  SFX – Yaz Al-Shaater. Director – Uncredited.  Designer – Uncredited.  Technical Operator – Uncredited.  Producer – Uncredited.  Company – Three’s Company

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed Wednesday, 13 January 2010