Review – ‘Ton of Bricks’ – Stroke of Genius Community Theatre Company

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This particular show had completely passed me by until I was asked to accompany my friends, Dawn, Jeannine and Helen on a bit of a girlie road trip to The Robin Hood Theatre in Averham.  It’s a small public theatre situated in the countryside close to Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire, seating 150, it has the reputation of producing professional, high standard entertainment and it certainly didn’t let us down last night!

The main reason for our trip was to support one of our dear friends, Cliff McArdle who we all met in the cast of the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar in Lincoln Cathedral in 2015.  Cliff wrote all the Music and Lyrics for ‘Ton of Bricks’, with the script being Written and Directed by Carolyn Drury.  After the show, Cliff said he found the experience a really rewarding one, that was made easier by the clear directions given by Carolyn Drury; he said, “She knew exactly what she wanted from each song , and all I had to do was to write them!”  Well, what a fabulous job Cliff did with every single song; although he’s ‘dabbled’ in song-writing for many years, this particular show was his first foray into composition not specifically for children (despite it being set in a village school), having left the teaching profession a few years ago to concentrate more fully on music and song writing.

The show itself was set in a Village School, where the rich, older generation London weekend visitors were buying up all the property in the village, leaving the local young people, wanting to stay in their village, with no affordable housing.  The result of that, lead to the decline in the numbers of children attending the local school, with the stark fact that it might close within a year or two.  A fleeting thought by the Head Teacher, led to a series of well planned discussions and events, eventually saving the school from it’s sad demise.

There were some brilliant characters that were totally believable from beginning to end.  The wonderfully buoyant Head Teacher, Mrs Esther Dawson played by Sarah-Lee Taylor was so obviously drowning in ‘Paperwork’ as portrayed in a fabulous duet with her efficient school Business Manager Sarah, played by Kerri Saxby.  Despite her drive to success as Head Teacher, she was lonely, having only in the last few years been widowed.  Her school and her ‘school children’ meant everything to her so she needed to save it and them at all costs.

Mrs Dawson was plagued on a daily basis by her nasty neighbour from hell Bob, played brilliantly by David Baliol-Key earning him a very loud ‘booooo’ at the end!  He made Esther Dawson’s life a misery but it didn’t just end there; Bob’s very sad, downtrodden and very bullied wife Marilyn played by Yvonne Cockayne, showed the audience just what a mean character he was, fortunately getting his comeuppance in the end being left one lonely old grumpy man.  Sarah-Lee in pensive thought, gave a wonderful rendition of ‘If Only’, a beautiful song asking the question we might often ask ourselves, I wonder what would have happened if only…?

Two hilarious cleaners Molly and Sandra, played by Zanda Pepper and Flick Millis, doubled as ‘scene shifters’ earning special thanks in the programme from their mum, Writer and Director Carolyn Drury.  They were both wonderful, even just walking on stage, and the looks passing between them brought laughter from the audience.  Their duet ‘Get the bleach’ made me wonder whether there must have been some glue in their buckets and elastic on their mops…  (I will forever wonder!).  (I also thought I saw a slight resemblance to a couple of other ladies in the community meeting towards the end of the show… maybe some older, well-to-do great aunts also lived in the village and occupied a couple of the elusive properties…?)

The snooty Councillor/land owner Edward Montague played by Tony Smith, seemed initially to be the baddy, but with the help and money from the charming suave and sophisticated building entrepreneur Tony Marshall played by Ian Carr, eventually saved the day in more ways than one!

A gorgeous duet by Ian and Sarah-Lee, ‘What do I like?’ showed us that even with our personal differences and preferences, love can still prevail…  after all, we all like a bit of the ‘bright lights’ sometimes!

The wonderfully portrayed ‘posh’ head boy and girl were stunning in their performances, looking down their noses at the lesser beings in the playground, otherwise known as ‘Year 7’s’; Giles played by Kane Stone, was clear and articulate as well as showing a kind brave side, winning the heart of the unexpected girl by breaking up a fight.  Tara, the head girl, played by Hannah Roe, showed more than a hint of ‘Miranda Hart’ (Sorry Hannah I had to say it!).  She showed a brilliant sense of comedic timing and an altogether hilarious performance; their duet ‘I want to go where the action is’ was both enthusiastic and passionate.

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Kane Stone in rehearsal
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Hannah Roe in rehearsal

The other 3 teenagers played by Lewis Wilby, Jo Anna Geary and Toby Lobmeister, despite looking and acting like the sort of teenagers you don’t want anything to do with, were obviously misunderstood, and their song, ‘Pride’, a mix of solo and trio, was very touching…

“…Yes, we’re often skint,

but we’re rich in the important things,

the importance a family brings

fills us up with pride…”

The Year 7’s really got involved in the whole show, both singing, acting, speaking and choreography;  I was impressed by their passion and obvious enjoyment throughout the performance.

One of my favourite numbers, apart from ‘Pride’and ‘If Only’ (there were many favourites!), was the solo ‘Sunday, Sunday’, sang again by Ian (despite my friend Jeannine speculating in advance Sarah-Lee would join Ian in her dressing gown before the end of the scene!).  The humorous reference to building Mr Trump’s wall in Mexico was a delightful addition to the script making it very current!

Since I left school back in 1982, I haven’t had much to do with teachers or schooling apart from through my son’s education, until I joined the Jesus Christ Superstar ensemble in 2015, where I met Cliff and a lot of other either current or past teachers…  being part of a community with a lot of people with a teaching background, you pick up a lot of vibes about the state of schools today, including the fact that record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession.  This production highlighted perfectly for me some of the key issues facing both schools, teachers and students in our world today with both hilarity and extreme sadness with hints of bullying, theft, overwork and long term sickness amongst the teaching staff (the lazy jobsworth caretaker Frank played by John Dodd a typical example).  The script was delightfully funny yet emotional and each song, and the unique, elusive harmonies, were performed with a sense of confidence and assurance.  It was also great to see Cliff supporting the male harmonies whilst playing the keyboard during a few numbers!

Jeannine said about the show:

“Cliff…. I can’t tell you how proud we ALL were of you… the show was fantastic… very refreshing to be honest…
We had no idea what we were coming to…I just thought that we were kind of coming to support you in this fantastic venture… which was ok in itself anyway… You’re our friend and we wanted to support you…
We had no idea that it would be such a brilliant show…
Interesting script… Amazing songs and harmonies… some wonderful performances from the youngest on stage to the older ones… I liked the choreography, it went perfectly with the songs…
It was funny yet at times rather moving…
I just loved it Darlin’ ….. Well worth coming over for……THANK YOU…”

Helen said:

“What a great show!  Funny in places, poignant in others. Very strong cast who were fully into their characters. Loved the score with themes running through it for the characters. Clever lyrics and I really enjoyed all the songs entwined in the final song. I had no idea what Jeannine and gang were taking me to, down the dark country lane, but what a great night. Well done you and your team x”

Dawn said:

“Well, I thought it was incredibly well observed, a modern tale with totally believable characters and songs that just, well, fit in perfectly with clever and moving lyrics.  I went from laughing out loud to holding back the tears”

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Helen Kent, Jeannine Ridha and Dawn Wilson waiting for the show to begin

I don’t know what more to add other than what has been said already above, except congratulations to all the cast and the Production Team, especially Carolyn, Cliff, the Choreographer Rebecca Ladds, the musicians, Stage Manager, Jean Baliol-Key, the sound, lighting, set design and construction and all others involved.  You’ve done a brilliant job and I really hope it’s not the last we see of the writers of this – this show needs to be seen again and again.

Congratulations!

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Cleaner’s break time!

 

Photo’s taken during show rehearsals…

Review -‘A Chorus of Disapproval’ – The Lincoln Company, Louth Playgoers

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Having read previously that this show was about a group of people taking part in amateur dramatics I was very interested to see exactly how a play could be made with this subject.  I have to admit, when the curtain went back and my husband and I were introduced to the whole company, in ‘cheap low quality’ and ‘amateurish’ looking costumes, performing a ‘very interesting’ song and dance routine, I really did wonder what we’d let ourselves in for, especially as I’d got such high hopes for cast members I’d worked with previously!

It soon became apparent that the cast had become very adept at getting across the ‘amateur’ vibe; I knew exactly what they were capable of and it certainly wasn’t amateurish!

In summary, the story follows a young, seemingly shy and placid, widower, Guy Jones (played by Mark McCredie) as he attempts to join Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society (PALOS). After a very amusing audition, he gradually rises through the company ranks, mainly by his inability to say no to anybody or anything, and through what other people in the cast read into him!  The company then attempt to put on The Beggar’s Opera, and Guy becomes the male lead, while simultaneously conducting various liaisons with several of the female cast. Many of the scenes and songs from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera are kept within the play, usually being sung with their own, new context.

The play was Directed by Rebecca Mann who says in the programme:

“I was particularly interested in working on Ayckbourn’s play because of the absolute recognisability of these characters found in village halls across the country taking part in amateur dramatics.  I think that every theatre enthusiast and amateur thespian will see someone they’ve met – perhaps even a reflection of themselves!”

I totally agree with Rebecca.  Having only been involved in amateur theatre for the past 2 years, I could see a remarkable resemblance to some of the cast and crew that I have worked with in that time…  We laughed incessantly, as did another particular audience member, very loudly, at many stages throughout the show. It was especially amusing while the cast seemingly took weeks to get through the first 2 pages of the script, going over and over the same sections time and time again, and changing direction and lead roles at every rehearsal, with half the cast sitting out until they were needed;  all of which were hilariously brought to life by each and every cast member!

Rebecca also says:

“We had fun finding the quality of the performances inside ‘The Beggar’s Opera’.  Gay’s characters already give plenty of room for exaggeration –  adding on Ayckbourn’s characterisation only allows for more eccentricities!”

The whole cast certainly went to town with their exaggeration and obviously had a blast rehearsing and performing in this show.  Each character had their own unique idiosyncracies which were accentuated to highlight their individual traits and quirks. The energy, enthusiasm and skill with which each character was portrayed made it simple for the audience to completely relate; understanding who they were, and some insight into the background of their particular individual role.

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All the cast did extremely well but I particularly enjoyed the performance by Mark McCredie, playing Guy Jones.  Mark graduated from the University of Lincoln with a First Class BA (Hons) Drama degree.  Mark played ‘Judas‘ in the 2015 production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in Lincoln Cathedral, and his interest is now primarily in physical and musical theatre.  His interpretation of the quiet, subdued young widower Guy, barely opening his mouth, transforming into Crook-Finger’d Jack (hilarious what you did with your digitus secundus!), Matt of the Mint and then finally Macheath, the star of the show…  his voice as well as his characterisation also transformed, as his character grew in confidence, and he delighted the audience as he fluently performed his auditions and ballads – typical of opera’s of their time; (the Beggar’s opera being the only example of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera to remain popular today).

Tom Hallmark played Daffyd ap Llewellyn, Director of ‘PALOS’; he’s a first year drama student at Lincoln University and loves comedy, particularly classic sitcoms.  Tom showed several sides to his character, the firm and often harsh director, friend, absent husband and performer (his rendition of the beautiful Welsh song ‘All through the night’ or ‘Ar Hyd y Noswill be one of my most remembered from the show!  Wouldn’t it be hilarious if all auditions could be like this!  I really enjoyed Tom’s portrayal of Daffyd, and the contradictions in how he behaved as a man v director… showing how typically directors hold all the power and control but like all power it can be abused.

We saw corruption, swinging, cheating, politics and sexual tension…  the show had it all, and Hannah Llewellyn, wife of the director, Daffyd, played by Sophie Cole really had it all; her declaration of undying love for Guy, although gloriously portrayed, wasn’t reciprocated.  She captured the attention of the audience several times throughout the show with her beautiful solo soprano melodies! I saw Sophie and several other cast members perform recently in the Lincoln University production of ‘Treasure Island’.

The cast also included Laura Potente playing Bridget Baines, an aggressive, angry character, but one fuelled with tension and a love for creating havoc with a keen eye for the men, usually someone else’s!

Mr Ames, (the fabulous pianist) was played by Ed Wellman, Enid Washbrook by Jess Bark, Rebecca Huntley-Pike by Lauren Simpson, Fay Hubbard (the not so subtle swinger fighting over the pants was very amusing!)!) played by Samantha Miles and Ian Hubbard (the apparent loser in the swinging game!) played by Joe Giggs.  Jarvis Huntley-Pike was played by Simon Panayi, Crispin Usher (and the wonderful knee in the groin moment) played by Elliott Sargent, Linda Washbrook  (and the fabulous ‘girl fight’ with Bridget) played by Hannah Thorpe and finally Ted Washbrook (with his moody exit from rehearsal), played by James Ashfield.

All the performers of this show are either current or previous students from the University of Lincoln – all proving the dedication, professionalism and a passion for performance!

The Musical Director was Mark Wilde (past musical director for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in Lincoln cathedral, 2016, and current musical director for ‘Jekyll and Hyde: the musical’ 2017 also in Lincoln Cathedral).  Assistant Director and Stage Manager was Emily Cartwright.

Other thanks,

For the Lincoln Company:

Production Manager – Martin Rousseau

Stage Manager – Alex Kent

For the Riverhead Theatre:

Stage Manager – Bob Booth

Lighting – Roy Hobson

Sound – Brooke Vickers

Programme Design – Jeremy Smith

—————————NOTE——————————

For those of you who missed out on seeing this marvellous production at Louth Riverhead Theatre, you’ll be pleased to know that The Lincoln Company are going to be performing ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’ for 2 nights only, at Lincoln LPAC, tickets are available here.

Fri 24th Feb – Sat 25th Feb

The Lincoln Company 


Tickets: £10 Full // £8 Concessions // £5 LIVE PASS

Running Time: 2 hour 20 mins (inc. interval)

Age: 12+

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Review – Treasure Island – University of Lincoln Drama Students

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What a delight seeing the University of Lincoln’s graduating drama students in Treasure Island on Tuesday night…  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the production, thinking that it might only be suitable for children (considering the number of Cub Scouts in the foyer before the show), but I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

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We’ve all heard of the story, but this show really has got lots of its own twists and turns;  the LPAC website explains the story:

One snowy winter’s night a young girl searches through her uncle’s attic and finds a treasure chest…

With a treasure map in her pocket and the ghost of Captain Flint (James Ashfield) never far behind, young Jem Hawkins (Laura Potente) is drawn into a world of swashbuckling excitement, brimming with buccaneers and buried gold as she sets sail to Treasure Island.

Join us on the good-ship Hispaniola this Christmas for an action-packed retelling of the classic pirate adventure told by University of Lincoln’s graduating drama students.

Yo-ho-ho…!

Walking into the theatre we were transported to the attic room where the big chest was revealed… throughout the performance the set transformed into a pirate ship, the details of which were exceptional, and then to an actual island, and then there was a bit of an ‘Indiana Jones’ theme.  All the sets and staging were so well done I was really impressed by the quality and details and the work that had obviously gone into the production.  I don’t want to give too much away about the finer details, as the element of surprise at each stage added to the overall experience, but all I will say is the show was fast moving, comedic, sometimes beautiful, and definitely great fun.

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The Director, Dominic Symonds, in the programme, writes:

… at times it’s exciting, as the courageous treasure-hunters carry out their quest; at times it’s exhilarating, as the menacing Long John Silver (Jordan Sheil) tries to scupper their plans; and at times it’s downright daft, as we follow the exploits of the bumptious buffoons who fund their voyage into the unknown.  In the end, it’s a story about a youngster’s hopes and dreams, about overcoming challenges and becoming stronger in the process.  That’s something we can all learn from…

There were lots of stand out moments for me; James Ashfield (Captain Flint and the Rock voice) really showed off his ghostly dark side in more ways than one; I definitely jumped a few times at his terrifyingly booming voice and could see the younger children looking a little wary as he made various surprise entrances throughout the show!

Jordan Sheil (Long John Silver) gave an exceptional performance, I’m not sure how his voice is going to last for the whole run, especially with multiple shows daily, but his characterisation of such a nasty character was brilliant.

Laura Potente (Jem Hawkins) and her 3 stage sisters Tabitha Foster (Charlie Hawkins), Holly Marshall (Lotte Hawkins) and Holly Lomas (Fran Hawkins) each had their own characteristics which came across clearly to the audience, I particularly loved the tutu and swan hat!

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Sophie Cole (Mrs Hawkins) showed off her great singing voice with a beautiful solo and Joe Turner (Ben Gunner and Uncle Jim) showed his versatility transforming from the old Uncle, to the Castaway Ben.

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Other cast members all played their parts well and contributed to the whole show, Heidi Green (Hands), Rob Clarke (Morgan), Adam Cockerill (Captain Smollett), Francesca Bolingbroke (Merry), Olivia Calvert (Gray) and Elliot Sargent (O’Brien), who had some of the funniest lines in the show.

But my favourite performances were given by Jason Lodge (Squire Tralawny), supported by his side kick Jordan Leith (Dr Livesey);  their hilarious antics and comedic timing had the audience in fits of laughter on several occasions, and definitely stole the show for me!

 

I can’t review the show without mentioning the brilliant musical score, provided to us by Mark Wilde who is currently the Musical Director for Lincoln Cathedrals 2017 production of Jekyll and Hyde as well as his other commitments which include singing in the Cathedral Choir and many other credits.  We had  a feast of songs and musical numbers which took us from scene to scene and included ‘What’s Within the Chest’, ‘We’ll Follow the Map’, my absolute favourite ‘How I lost me leg’, the most hilarious pirate gospel number you could imagine which had the children and the adults in the audience probably laughing at completely different things!

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‘Ahoy! Ahoy!’, ‘The Proposal’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘X Marks the Spot’, ‘Believe’, ‘Rock’s Riddles’ which the children (and adults) in the audience thoroughly enjoyed as they worked out the riddles as they show progressed. and finally ‘Treasure Island’ which ended the show on a great high (despite the abrupt ending – a little mistake by the sound team I think but all added to the fun!), plus lots of instrumental music for the sword fights which had the children sitting on the edge of their seats with avid interest.

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Those that know me well will understand that I don’t comfortably join in with the traditional ‘audience participation’, and yet the calls for ‘Captain Flint’ throughout the show saw me shouting at the top of my voice to my hearts content along with the rest of the LPAC auditorium, with our endeavours rewarded with the appearances by James Ashfield.  The way the cast embraced and encouraged the audience certainly enhanced the experience for me and I’d encourage anyone who fancies a good giggle and a feast of entertainment during the lead up to Christmas, to get their tickets and go and have a bit of fun!Lincoln University

I wouldn’t be doing the show justice if I didn’t mention those important people that work on shows like this behind the scenes, the Crew.  Firstly the costumes; there was obviously a great team in place to come up with such stunning and authentic (mostly!) designs;  so well done to Helen Symonds, Steve Nash, Regan Bailiss, Gemma Batey, Katie Daw, Oksana Dergachova, Claire Godfrey, Heather Gray, Alexandra Hall, Poppy Howell, Katie Jacques, Lucinda Spurling, Alex Stanley-Ahmed, Hollie Starr, Marine Sztana and Bethany White for all their creative inspiration!

The Producer was Craig Morrow, Director Dominic Symonds, Assistant Director Stacie Cavell and as previously mentioned, Musical Director Mark Wilde.

There was also the Stage Manager, Martin Rousseau, Technicians, Emily Cartwright and Simon Panayi and Lighting Design, Thomas Marcinek. The Fight Choreographer was Andrew Ashenden, Assistant Stage Manager, Dwain Brown and the Production Manager/Designer Michael Hoyle.

 

You’ve still got plenty of opportunity to book tickets and take your family to see this wonderful show; you can click here to book!

Emerald Performances

£15 Full // £10 Child // £6 Schools

Monday 19 December 10am

Tuesday 20 December 10am

Diamond Performances

£15 Full // £10 Child

Saturday 17 December 2pm & 6pm

Sunday 18 December 2pm & 6pm

Monday 19 December 10am

Thursday 22 December 2pm & 7pm

Friday 23 December 7pm

Saturday 24 December 10am & 2pm

(Thanks to Phil Crow and Ashley Walls Photography for the photos included above, and some of my own (taken during the show on Tuesday 13th December, with no flash!).