“children in the audience were delighted with the level of interaction and opportunities to participate”
Today the Omnibus Theatre, a small intimate theatre nestled in the corner of Clapham Common, was home to the touring family show “My Dad the Magician”.
This is a charming piece of interactive theatre perfectly pitched for ages ten and under. Tom Adams as himself tells a poignant tale of his childhood through the use of audience participation, song, dance, humour and just a little bit of magic. The story of his mum meeting his stepdad, falling in love, getting married, losing his job and moving to the seaside slowly unfolds during the course of the hour. His enthusiasm, love and passion for his family is clear to see and it is hard not to be consumed by it. The story line itself is probably pitched a little beyond some of the younger members of the audience (ranging from three upwards) but it does keep the older children and adults enthralled.
The children in the audience were delighted with the level of interaction and opportunities to participate. Whenever Tom asked for a volunteer there was a raft of hands waving in the air keen to be chosen! Sometimes relying on the audience to respond can crush a show but Tom has the ability to keep the children engaged! A bit of a feat of magic in itself.
The set was simple and props had a homemade air, which added to the wholesomeness of the show. This is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour – if you have a small child and it’s on tour near you I urge you to pop along!
“the performances are unrushed and powerfully moving”
From the very opening we realise that this is a ‘Cherry Orchard’ with a difference. As part of a series of classic plays relevant to today, Phil Willmott’s adaptation is set in 1917 amidst the Bolshevik uprising, the murder of the Tsar and the uncertain future of the middle classes; it is almost fast-forwarding to the consequences Chekhov hinted at when he wrote it in 1903. Ranyevskaya returns to Russia after five years in France and faces the prospect of having to sell her beloved family home to the son of a serf who had worked for them. To heighten the immediacy and urgency felt in modern Russia, features like music and magic have been left out, avoiding any slackening of pace, the compact stage area concentrates the action, and the outcome of the play fits the confusion of both then and now. To add to the unpredictability, the role of the elderly footman Fiers has been cut, due to a fall suffered by the actor, Robert Donald. ‘Cherry Orchard’ is a play which revolves around memories in times of change so Fiers’ absence means missing the richness of the most distant past but with it more focus on the present.
Far from the lofty grandeur of larger stages, Justin Williams and Jonny Rust cleverly create faded opulence with the simple use of stairs and significant props. The lighting by Sam Waddington dresses the changes of mood and atmosphere, and the music and sound (Theo Holloway) are imaginatively designed to both set the scene and underline key moments of drama, though the sinister rumbling of the overhead trains is presumably unplanned. Penn O’Gara’s attention to detail of the costumes adds dimension to the personalities.
The individuality and ensemble of the actors is perfectly crafted. Each one’s complexity interlocking with the others to bring an array of emotions. Suanne Braun and Richard Gibson are excellent as the aristocrat Ranyevskaya and her brother Gaev, instilling huge sympathy despite their superficial, frivolous lives. Lopakhin, played by Christopher Laishley, portrays the strength of the rising middle classes but painful awareness of his roots. Dunyasha (Molly Crookes) and Yasha (Hugo Nicholson) represent the servants, breaking away from the past constraints of their position with a confidence and ease in several entertaining scenes. Even the smaller role of Madame Pishchik (a male landowner in the original) played by Caroline Wildi, is a subtly uncomfortable presence on stage, as a further reminder of the plight of the rich. Daughter Anya and former tutor Trofimov (Lucy Menzies and Feliks Mathur) radiate the youthful optimism as the country trembles with uncertainty.
As Director, Phil Willmott succeeds in producing a disquieting ‘Cherry Orchard’, stepping away from the traditional, more static Chekhov and connecting with today’s social climate in Russia. Apart from a couple of instances where the tension is broken precipitately, the performances are unrushed and powerfully moving, maintaining the farcical tragedy. In keeping with element of the unforeseen, the intentional changes to the script combine with the unexpected loss of Fiers to make this a brave and intelligent production, deserving credit for reawakening a classic to new interpretation.