“a joyous piece of children’s theatre – and is sure to bring a smile to old and new fans alike”
For any family with junior school age children, Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books have become a familiar and popular addition to our bookshelves. Liz has now written and illustrated fifteen books in the series, and when I mentioned to my ten year old son that Tom Gates was to be ‘Live on Stage’, he was very excited to see how that would work. Director, Neal Foster and Author, Liz Pichon agreed that rather than base the show on one of her many books, they would create a brand new story, and so in a first for the Birmingham Stage Company, they worked together to do just that.
The story starts in the classroom: Tom has got three sad faces on the class achievement chart. If he gets four, he will not be allowed to go on the class outing to the local biscuit factory. At home, his grandparents (the Fossils) have decided to renew their wedding vows, and preparations are in full swing.
Jackie Trousdale’s set is mainly comprised of six drop down screens that have Liz’s very stylised doodles projected onto them. These go up and down as the scenes change with amazing effect. Doors and windows appear and disappear in the blink of an eye, and the rain cloud that follows sister, Delia around constantly is very amusing. My favourite scenes involved Dad (Daniel Harkin), driving Tom and his friends around town in his borrowed hot dog van, all down to a clever projected illustration and some impeccably choreographed acting.
The cast work extremely well together, many playing multiple roles to deliver a fun and cohesive script. Matthew Chase proficiently leads the cast as the titular Tom, his signature hairstyle is lifted straight from Liz’s illustrations and is a nice touch. Justin Davies and Ashley Cousins as school friends, Norman and Marcus, really capture their characters – we all knew similar people at school! Amy Hargreaves shines through as sugary classmate Amy and the emotionally charged big sister, Delia.
Some of the funniest scenes involved Ashley Cousins as Granny and Matthew Gordon as Grandad. Grandad teaching Tom to play the spoons and a wedding arch made of Zimmer frames were among the highlights. Look out for the special wedding carriage, it’s very funny and brilliantly designed.
The whole piece is woven with original music by Liz’s husband, Mark Flannery, with lyrics written by Liz herself. The songs are catchy and witty, and bring more fun to the proceedings. Tom Gates – Live on Stage is a joyous piece of children’s theatre – and is sure to bring a smile to old and new fans alike.
Reviewed by Emma Gradwell
Photography by Mark Douet
Richmond Theatre until 24th March then UK Tour continues
“Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality”
The Watermill Theatre in Bagnor near Newbury is without doubt one of the most beautifully located theatres that there is. The auditorium seats just 200 people and the fixtures of a once working mill make it utterly charming and unique. It prides itself on its in-house productions providing an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary pieces.
Macbeth has been a very present work in the last year, with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre giving us updated productions. Traditionally, Macbeth, a brave Scottish General, is visited by a trio of witches who prophesise that he will become King of Scotland. His ambition, and that of his wife, spurs him to murder King Duncan and take the throne. A continuity of control and ruthless violence create their eventual demise as they are consumed by guilt and paranoia.
Artistic Director, Paul Hart has tried to bring some original elements to this production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it falls short. The set (Katie Lias) is simple and relies heavily on lighting to create the necessary tone of the piece. Lighting Designer Tom White succeeds to an extent. Duncan’s murder is one of the most compelling moments in the production and this is largely down to the staging and lighting which create a sinister and shocking scene. It also worked very well at the close as we saw the blood falling down the wall as it fell from Malcom’s crown. However, throughout the rest of the production it was less effective and uninteresting.
Billy Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality during the monologues and soliloquies. Lillie Flynn as Banquo is excellent although I was confused as to the relevance of the gender swapping of the character as it did not bring anything to the production. Emma McDonald as Lady Macbeth is rightly, unlikable and I felt no sympathy for the character. Her diction seemed over enunciated and the presentation felt forced. Eva Feiler as the Porter confused me and the performance was never quite humorous or creepy enough. The idea of this character as a bell hop could have been a genius one but it never reached its potential. The exclusion of the Wyrd Sisters was also a baffling choice.
The Watermill has been using the musical element of their productions as an integral part of their plays for some time. I have seen it work in previous productions to great effect but with Macbeth it seemed formulaic though the choreography by Movement Director, Tom Jackson Greaves was pleasant and effective. Shakespeare works best when kept fresh and relevant and sadly this production did not quite manage it.