Tag Archives: Fin Redshaw

Pieces of String – 4 Stars


Pieces of String

Mercury Theatre Colchester

Reviewed – 27th April 2018


“Joel Harper-Jackson in particular stood out with a tangibly human performance full of intensity and heart”


If I had gone into Pieces Of String knowing that its earliest inspiration to writer Gus Gowland came from seeing stories of being gay on the WWII frontlines, I would have expected an entirely different animal to the rounded, sentimental and sharply funny original musical that I watched last night. Although yes, that original concept is certainly apparent.

This show came together via embryonic shorter pieces by Gowland alongside musical development theatre company Perfect Pitch. It isn’t easy to come up with a pithy summary that gives justice to all the elements blended here but you can count on themes of love, family, taboo and grief, held together with some deeply sardonic laughs and a couple of stunning vocal performances to boot. The action takes place on the day of a funeral with various memories and trinket boxes coming to life to tell the story of the deceased while his family try, and fail, to get along nicely as they pack up his life for the last time.

Cue then some neatly spliced flashbacks and surprise appearances around the ragged family dynamic of surviving daughter Jane, played by a suitably taught Carol Starks. She could have been a piece of string herself, tightly wound and ready to snap at any point as the somewhat harshly written mother of two, juggling her discomfort of accepting her gay adult son and closing down the life of her father whom we discover was not a particularly warm aspect of her own childhood. The part of Jane is something of a harpy, an easily dislikable target played exceptionally by Starks, but I can’t help but wonder how much more she would have made of it had it been written slightly less two dimensionally.

Casting has been well allocated, and you will find an unsurprising history of theatre credits for all members who do the production and themselves proud and would be equally well placed in larger scale and more established shows. Joel Harper-Jackson in particular stood out with a tangibly human performance full of intensity and heart as the soldier Tom.

The songs weave into the action fairly fluidly though this is definitely a piece of musical theatre in the traditional sense rather than a play with songs. Act one’s Standing In The Shadows can be called nothing less than an absolute belter of a show tune, which would be possibly worthy to a Les Miserables comparison.

The set (Fin Redshaw) is quite gloriously nostalgic and I would challenge anyone not to look fondly on the retro furniture and decor that give a classic and shabby backdrop at the same time, mirroring the past and present in the action, the chintzy facade of propriety and the decay beneath it. Clever lighting (Ben Cracknell) provides the required battlefield feel for the trenches scenes simply but very effectively and deserves mention. I must also heap praise on movement director Ellen Kane as the choreography in Pieces of String is outstanding. The frequent and fluid physical movements of the cast flow gracefully to allow the gentle jumps between past and present to become truly elegant. Really beautifully done.

The performance I attended received a standing ovation which is understandable both due to the great work of cast and production team alike and also perhaps due to addressing the currently socially relevant themes of equality and toxic masculinity without ever being preachy or overtly judgmental on societal attitudes of then or now.

I can’t quite give it five stars, due to a few niggles I found with the characters of Jane and oh so typically gobby teenager Gemma, commendably played by Ella Dunlop but it felt written only to serve the purpose of having bit of youth and sarcasm to round out the cast. I also can’t quite reconcile myself to the timeline of the family in question. Pernickety souls such as myself may struggle to make it work without an additional generation in there somewhere but that’s a very small detail that I will shut up about promptly.

It was a pleasure to see Gus Gowland on stage at the end of the show, he seems to justly proud of his baby here, having taken on the creation of book (basically the script), lyrics and music like a true pro, despite being in the early stages of what I hope will be a substantial career in the arts. We need voices like his.

In parting, I have to say that for regional theatre Pieces of String is almost perfect, and I would thoroughly recommend catching it if you can.


Reviewed by Jenna Barton

Photography by Robert Workman


Mercury Theatre

Pieces of String

Mercury Theatre Colchester until 5th May


Featuring Craig Mather
The Wind in the Willows | ★★★★★ | London Palladium | June 2017
The Barricade Boys | ★★★★★ | The Other Palace | December 2017


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Love Me Now – 4 Stars


Love Me Now

Tristan Bates Theatre

Reviewed – 29th March 2018


“a relevant and contemporary narrative that explores consent within a relationship”


The stage is taken up by a sloping double bed, red material snaking up the headboard to weave through the ceiling, clothes strewn, all slightly reflected in the shining black floor. Designer Fin Redshaw punctuates set and costume alike with bright red, a colour that bring out the intensity of the piece and mixes sexuality with foreboding. Michelle Barnette’s debut play is opened by B (Helena Wilson) entering through the audience, staring wide eyed at us as she moves to the stage, ‘Voulez Vous’ emblazoned across her T-shirt.

In B’s flat, A is preparing to leave post sex but when the door gets stuck, the pair are forced to discuss what exactly is going on between them. Interspersed with snapshots of their relationship prior to now, what begins as a conversation about a relationship unearths an ugly and pervasive misogyny. This is a relevant and contemporary narrative that explores consent within a relationship, the silencing of women, and the double standard surrounding sex and gender, that slut-shames women who have lots of sex and deems them “whores”, yet normalises and accepts this behaviour in men.

Helena Wilson is fantastic as B, urgent and warm, rounded and relatable, she comes alive onstage and is impossible to stop watching. Alistair Toovey as A is utterly unlikeable, callous and violent. Gianbruno Spena offers sinister comedy as C, but his characterisation feels the most stylised, the least natural.

What should have been the final scene is incredibly powerful, as B prepares to go out, shaking hand applying lipstick after a scene of near rape and near domestic abuse. This is an image of absolute strength in its vulnerability, reminding the audience how unfortunately normal this kind of narrative is, how many people have experiences like this and are forced to carry on. This should have been a brutally moving final moment.

Unfortunately this is not where the play ends. There is another half hour yet to come of light relief that descends into something more sinister, and a replay of earlier scenes, that seem an unnecessary over-labouring of the point. This second segment of the play does not take us anywhere we had not already arrived at, and does not give the audience and the actor credit for being able to understand and deliver respectively the impact of what has happened to B in her single lingering stare.

This is a compelling and moving piece of theatre with a stunning performance from Helena Wilson, that just didn’t know when to end.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Helen Murray


Love Me Now

Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th April


Helena Wilson
The Lady From the Sea | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | November 2017
Alistair Toovey
The Box of Delights | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | December 2017



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