Archive for April, 2010

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First Class

Sunday, 11 April, 2010

Sweet escape

Oxford – Burton Taylor Studio – 7 to 10 April 10 – 20:00 (0.50)

First Class

A charming show which incorporates dance, physical theatre and fantasy, First Class is a fifty minute production that delights.

It opens with a man wearing a red diamond-patterned jumper and he’s holding a parcel.  He is waiting for something or someone.  He’s standing at a counter with a post office leaflet on top.  Cough.  He finds a bell and rings it.

From behind the counter a woman pops up called Beatrice (Bea).  She is wearing a uniform of sorts – black jacket, white shirt, red patterned neckerchief, white trousers and black pumps.  Her brunette hair is braided (French plait).  He wants to post the parcel.  She works at the post office but is more interested in selling dreams than stamps.  Bea wants the man – Michael Bates – played by Nir Paldi to take a holiday to Paris.

It may seem a presumptuous question but Bea – Amy Nostbakken – is a presumptuous girl.    Bea embodies a dream of a better, brighter life – escapism and wonder.  Bea is bubbly and dramatic with an odd sounding American accent; Michael is quiet and reserved and sounds vaguely Middle Eastern – a normal, everyday British man – a juxtaposition of characters.

Michael seems interested in what Bea says which encourages her to draw him into her fantasy world.  Suddenly the fantasy affects everyone – Paris is the city of love and as Bea speaks of the Eiffel tower small romantic lights shine at the front of the stage.  Bea jumps up at Michael and spontaneously they are dancing and recreating well known French dances including the cancan, carousels, mimicking fireworks and physically creating the Eiffel tower with their bodies.

The lighting design by Jules Richardson is perfect for the mood of each scene, from the Eiffel tower lights to a moody blue stage when Bea tells a sad tale of a captain on a boat, a woman called Josephine and her baby.  Direction by The Company is perfectly timed for First Class, there are fast moments when the boat becomes a speedboat with Michael as the captain, followed by slow, seductive scenes but the show is always moving forward and feels exactly the right length.  It doesn’t stop, even for a costume change, Bea and Michael just disappear behind the auditorium (audience’s seats), talking as they walk, and reappear with Bea in a sexy black dress before she begins sensual, but also funny, solo jazz dance moves and sings in French.

Sound Design by Amy Nostbakken is smart and seamless, her song is repeated on the speaker and it is though the fantasy is becoming reality.  Michael is scared and intrigued by the world she’s showing him, sometimes he just wants to post his parcel but sometimes he allows himself to be swept up.  Ultimately he is fascinated by everything she does.  First Class has some memorable dialogue.  Bea says she could tell that Michael is capable of being more than what he is, that he has a ‘certain swagger’ and ‘big red – shouldn’t be wound so tight’ referring to his red jumper.

Michael is funny as the comic foil, the straight guy.  Bea is dynamic, extraordinary, the storyteller.  He’s practical.  She’s a dreamer.  Props are used sparingly and to great effect, a corkscrew takes on a life and dance of its own, the parcel doubles as a shipwreck and the post office counter contains – well, let’s not spoil the ending.

First Class,written collaboratively by The Company, lives up to its title. It is a visual treat and a sweet escape.

Cast Credits:  (alpha order):  Amy Nostbakken – Beatrice.  Nir Paldi – Michael Bates.

Company Credits:  Writer – The Company. Director – The Company. Lighting Design – Jules Richardson.  Sound Design – Amy Nostbakken.  Technician/Operator – George Mann.  Costumes – uncredited.  Props – uncredited.  Producer – uncredited.  Company: Theatre Adinfinitum.   Company: Half Wit Theatre.   http://www.theatreadinfinitum.co.uk    http://www.halfwittheatre.com

(c) Wendy Thomson 2010

reviewed Saturday 10th April 2010

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The Intimate Strangers Want You

Sunday, 11 April, 2010

Oxford – Burton Taylor Studio – 7 to 10 April 10 – 21:30 (22.30)

The Intimate Strangers Want You is a funny, hour-long sketch show incorporating singing, dancing and a camp director wearing a fur coat and a beret played by Matthew Rose.

The opening set is minimal with two Intimate Stranger posters stuck on black panels which run the length of the stage.  The posters show the First World War moustachioed army man pointing his finger.  There are three chairs on the stage.  Upbeat dance music is playing.   Pre-recorded sketch clips are played; these opening sketches are war themed.

When the performers come on stage the first scenario is about making a Bond film and these characters come back for more Bond sketches which builds to a very amusing climax.

After an Anne Frank sketch the show moves on from war references to varied topics including TV programmes such as Bill and Ben and The Weakest Link.  The show would have felt more coherent with a consistent theme running through all the sketches.

Sketch highlights include:

Matthew Rose as a hunched over beatbox reverend who rhymes residential care to the tune of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  This is very funny.

Harry Charrington is a modern day Hamlet with a little hair weave – a distressed teenager writing emotive poetry, and Rose Wardlaw plays Ophelia who offers to cheer him up.

Matthew Rose and James Taylor Thomas are two-faced grannies who don’t like their meal but enjoy their waiter.

Harry Charrington is Rolf Harris in animal hospital who runs over Rose Wardlaw’s cat and tries to resuscitate it with a sexy dance and his autograph.

Rose Wardlaw’s cookery section with wine and flan and more wine is very amusing.

In between sketches the performers go behind the black panels to change props and costumes, the lights are dimmed and the pre-recorded audio sketches are played, many of which are spoken by Rose Wardlaw who also does the voice overs for the Bill and Ben sketches.  She has a great radio voice.  The set is changed by Chris Markham.

Direction is by The Cast, the flow of sketches is slightly interrupted by disappearance for costume changes.  The technician – Alan Lewis ensures there isn’t a gap between live and recorded sketches.  Although the audio sketches are entertaining and keep the show moving it seems a shame to leave the stage empty momentarily without a focal point – it reduces attention.  Enjoyment of the show could be enhanced with a permanent visual presence.

There are some solo performer monologue sketches which are amusing.  The props and costumes are very good – this is managed by Chris Markham, a lot of attention to detail went into this such as the grannies wigs, all the Bond outfits and the outfits and set for Bill and Ben.

The Intimate Strangers Want You is worth seeing for the Bond sketches alone – the director/James Bond wants ‘Guns. And sequins.  And sequins on guns’ and everyone gets an eyeful of his companion Tracy Sexy Face – Harry Charrington – in a bikini.

There are some great ideas in the show and it will be interesting to see how The Intimate Strangers – written by Matthew Rose develops it in the future.

Cast Credits:  (alpha order):  Harry Charrington Matthew RoseJames Taylor ThomasRose Wardlaw.  Cameos:  Chris Markham

Company Credits:  Writer – Matthew Rose. Director – The Cast. Technician – Alan Lewis.  Costumes – Chris Markham.  Props – Chris Markham.  Stage Manager – Chris Markham.  Company: Confugium Stage.  http://www.confugium.com    http://www.intimatestrangers.net

(c) Wendy Thomson

reviewed Saturday 10th April 2010 / Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford UK