The Noble Nine
Reviewed – 30th January 2019
“has a slow start but gets stronger throughout to pack an unexpected and gripping finish”
Estelle West, illustrious author of The Noble Nine novel series, is on her death bed. West’s eight estranged grandchildren (a loyal hamster completes the nine) reunite and reminisce over their childhood adventures when they were the inspiration for dear Noona’s tales. Idyllic memories of simpler days spent picnicking and watching the otters frolic expose bitterness and tension towards tomboy Bammie (Claudia Grant) who is now engaged to Hank and a functioning adult. With Estelle’s shock reveal that their inheritance is hidden as gold in the family mansion, the grandchildren visit the remote island where they spent their childhood for one last caper. But will it ever feel the same again? Dark secrets of the past are unearthed, unleashing a bloodthirsty brawl to haunting chants of ‘leave it to the nine’.
In the damp warren of tunnels below Waterloo station Toby Vaughan as a wide-eyed presenter comically totters into the cavern to set the scene. Vaughan succeeds in captivating the audience in all his roles, later appearing as perishing Estelle and as an overbearing estate agent. Whimsical Winnie (Ella Bruccoleri) and Oldest Arthur (Ryan Dooey) are memorable as the trailblazers of the group, bringing a psychotic twist to our Edith Blyton childhood fantasies. This is offset by Bookish Hen, the reluctant cousin, physicalised nicely by Willy Hudson. Jennifer Leong, Dipo Ola and Claudia Grant complete a strong cast.
Performing in a damp-smelling subterranean space is in some ways an atmospheric backdrop well-suited to this adventure. Theatre Tewl capitalise on the long stretch of space between the audience as the nine hunt around the manor for treasure. Lighting is used playfully, and the lack of set design seems fitting. Unfortunately, dialogue is often lost due to inevitable background noise and the feat of staging scenes to be visible to all. Nonetheless the abundance of witty jokes is well-received.
Polina Kalinina’s direction and Matt Parvin’s writing have strong potential but need fine tuning to ensure the completeness and consistency of this spoof. The piece has a slow start but gets stronger throughout to pack an unexpected and gripping finish. The overarching plot which sees relationships unravel and depicts a desperate need for the out of touch troupe to save the day is at points sensational. Particularly hilarious touches included Oldest Arthur’s recurring preoccupation with German spies and Romantic Gregory’s struggle to revive his poetic skills.
This is a promising debut play from Theatre Tewl with strong foundations for a thrilling and unmissable dark comedy.
Reviewed by Beth Partington
Photography courtesy Theatre Tewl
The Noble Nine
Part of VAULT Festival 2019
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
Reviewed – 15th August 2017
“Utterly enchanting …”
This story of a thirteen year old witch who has to leave home, accompanied only by her cat, to find a new town where she can be useful, is utterly enchanting. Kiki is played by Jennifer Leong, who is completely believable as an enthusiastic and not always competent young teenage witch. Her companion is Jiji the cat, a deceptively simple puppet brought to life by the skill of Thomas Gilbey. Although the puppet is much smaller than Gilbey we forget that Jiji is not real because he is given such personality through subtlety of movement and voice. Gilbey meows beautifully!
Kiki grows up a little during the play, finding her way through difficulties and excitement with the help of Charleen Qwaye’s Osono, a baker in the town. Qwaye’s warmth in this role is palpable and her patience and care for the young witch are touching. Apart from Leong, all the cast play multiple characters, and they do it with panache and an amazing ability to change both costume and character in seconds.
There are some deliciously camp moments such as Stevie Raine’s fashion designer really not liking Kiki’s dress, and a hilarious array of characters, including bitchy teens, a pompous mayor, an horrendous nephew and a florist with attitude. Matthew Durkan’s Tombo is a sweet boy who is fascinated by flying and who becomes Kiki’s firm friend. Tombo is instantly lovable and Durkan plays him with huge charm. Kiki’s parents, Kokiri and Okino, are played by Kanako Nakano and Stevie Raine. They are the background to Kiki’s adventure, reluctantly sending their daughter off on her new life. Nakano also plays the horrendous nephew with great glee. They are a hugely talented ensemble.
Kate Hewitt’s direction is pitch perfect and bold. She knits together puppetry, some great physical moments and seemingly dozens of characters with a lightness of touch that perfectly suits the story. She uses the space well, creating a believable world and allowing the actors to shine in all their roles. Robin Gulver, the movement and puppet director also deserves a mention here, as the results of his work are superb.
The framework for the action is the beautiful and adaptable set, designed by Simon Bejer. As soon as the audience walk into the theatre the atmosphere is established, with Japanese lanterns and a set that hints at a town, hills and a changeable yet stable landscape. Elliot Griggs’ lighting design is gorgeous and transforms the stage, creating a train, a rainy day and much more besides. The lighting interweaves with Max Peppenheim’s soundscape, making the world of the play vivid and alive. Add to this the simple and lovely video design by Andrzej Goulding and you have real magic.
The story was adapted from a novel by Eiko Kadono and is better known as a fantasy anime produced by Studio Ghibli. Kadono says that the story began when she saw a drawing by her daughter, showing a young witch on a broomstick, with a radio tied to it and music notes flying through the air. She looked at it and ‘all at once Kiki was born.’ I am very glad that her daughter drew the picture, because this play is a delight. Only the most deeply cynical could fail to be charmed by this joyful, innocent tale and there can’t have been any cynics in the clapping, whooping audience this evening! Go and see it. Take the kids. Take your granny. Go with your mates. Enjoy the enchantment one evening in Southwark.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Helen Murray
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
is at The Southwark Playhouse until 3rd September