Tag Archives: Mark Middleton

Henry I


Reading Abbey Ruins

HENRY I  at Reading Abbey Ruins


Henry I

“a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences”


When Game of Thrones and other big budget spectaculars grab the headlines and audiences, how can 900 year old stories be brought to the stage in a way that will speak to modern audiences? This is the challenge with which Reading based company Rabble have been engaged since their founding in 2012.

This latest production is their biggest yet. Based on a show that premiered in 2016, it follows the life of King Henry I of England from the moment his father William the Conqueror died in 1087, to his own death 48 years later. This is raw and visceral theatre. The writing is not cod historical but vivid and gripping.

Eleventh century lives were short and men’s war-making was brutal. But this play is also feminist to its core, placing women at its heart, both in casting women actors in male roles and in depicting the pivotal roles women played in the story.

Rabble’s vision is also community-based and often site specific. Over 500 members of the local community were involved in bringing this epic to the stage. It sits in a sequence of linked history plays the company have developed. They appear amongst the professionals in the show and continue to be involved in workshops around the play which tours to Winchester and the Actor’s Church in London after its Reading run. In Reading it is performed in the ruins of the great abbey Henry I built to expiate his memory, and where he lies buried. There’s a further frisson. The final scene is performed on the very spot where the events depicted occurred.

Beth Flintoff’s Henry I uses a rich variety of story-telling techniques to bring a great swathe of history to dazzling life. Characters speak directly to their audience about their future. Climactic crowd scenes play out in slow motion with compelling lighting effects by designer Michael Brenkley. Many of the costumes by Sarah Jane Booth are a lush riot of satin and velvet and her spare set suits the full-on and physical drama to a tee.

Amongst an outstanding cast, Toby W Davies is excellent as Henry I. Whilst some other characters occasionally veer close to parody, he gives a compellingly real performance of vulnerability and struggle amongst all the rabble-rousing. Georgie Fellows is his queen and Mabel. Like the exceptional Amy Conachan (Adela Countess of Blois), she gives a blisteringly feisty performance of a woman at the heart of the action.

Greg Barnett is a wonderful embodiment of lip-smacking evil as Robert de Belleme. Mark Middleton is a peevishly inadequate brother to Henry and has some moments of fine comedy. Gabrielle Sheppard cuts a swaggering dash as William Rufus and William Atheling. Anjelica Serra gives an equally energetic and compelling performance in this high octane show that delighted the first night crowd. Joseph Black has huge stage presence as Bishop Roger and Conran.

Many other performers give wonderfully energetic and committed performances in this brilliant show which is a warmly recommended triumph for Rabble. It is also a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences. Congratulations to Director Hal Chambers for bringing this production to such electrifying life.



Reviewed on 15th June 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Alex Brenner


Further dates:

12th – 15th July 2023
Winchester Great Hall, Winchester

20th – 22nd July 2023
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London




Previously reviewed by David:


Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | February 2023
Cybil Service | ★★★★ | VAULT Festival 2023 | January 2023
Barefoot in the Park | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | July 2022
Spike | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | January 2022
Dorian | ★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | October 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs

Captain Flinn And The Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass


Christmas in Leicester Square

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs

Captain Flinn And The Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass

Christmas in Leicester Square

Reviewed – 10th December 2019



“a colourful and creative hour which contains enough energy, adventure and poop deck jokes for the little ones without them getting restless”


Dastardly dinosaurs creating swashbuckling mayhem on the ocean deep can only mean another popular children’s story is translated from book to stage as part of Leicester Square’s Christmas activities.

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass, one of Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto’s adventure series featuring the same lovable characters, is brought vividly to life by the Les Petits Theatre company in this fast-moving and fun adaptation by Oliver Lansley.

Jollier than the Jolly Roger and with as many ho-ho-ho’s as there are yo-ho-ho’s this show in the Spiegeltent blends imaginative set (Zoe Squire using items from a school gym, such as ladders, benches and a trampoline imaginatively) with awesome puppets and costumes (Max Humphries and Zahra Mansouri), catchy songs (Jack Graham Thomas) and lively performances from a tireless cast of four.

The company presented the first Captain Flinn book on stage six years ago so are familiar with the characters and prehistoric pirate puns already, adding energy and zest to this sequel.

Those familiar with the books will know about the kids at St Barnabas Primary School and their teacher Miss Pie who, as the show opens, are staging a low-cost drama about Captain Flinn and the pirates, complete with crash helmets, sieves and oven mitts as part of their dinosaur costumes.

But even as the budget-friendly T-Rex enters with a roar of, “We’re a T-Rex from the last crustaceous period!” the pupils lose interest, recognising that real dinosaurs were “bigger and horribler.”

And so enter the “real” dinosaurs as the fierce and vain Mr T the T-Rex kidnaps Flinn and his friends to help him find the magic cutlass which grants unlimited wishes to those who find it (though as Mr T has smudged the paper telling him about it, he is convinced he is hunting for unlimited fishes).

lt’s a colourful and creative hour which contains enough energy, adventure and poop deck jokes for the little ones without them getting restless (the recommended age is three years and above) but there’s also plenty to hold the attention of the adults, such as the DJ Rocktopus fishcotheque populated by rave jellyfish (an inventive use of bowls and fluorescent scarves) and the charming shadow puppetry.

Along the way there’s the ever-present threat of walking the plank or being tossed into the sausage machine, which provides the staple diet for the hungry pirate dinosaurs.

The four-strong cast must be exhausted with lots of racing around and efficient quick changes in what is presumably a relatively small backstage space, but the vivacity never once sags.

Mark Middleton gives the somewhat terrifying antagonist Mr T vulnerability and a personality one wouldn’t expect in such a larger than life dino costume. He also plays the schoolteacher Miss Pie, despairing as the production gets out of hand, and hoping to resolve the chaos by singing a tribute to her cat Harold.

Tom Myles is a fabulous Flinn, the young action hero with a stiff upper lip and a leadership verging on petulance, doubling up as Terrence the pterodactyl terror of the high seas. There’s a delightful tender moment when he loses his nerve and calls for mummy, which in turn leads to some careless wish-making and turns out to save the day.

Ellie Pawsey is both the brave Pearl and Tracy the triceratops, while Stephan Boyce is the nervous Tom and Stephen the stegosaurus. There isn’t much opportunity for individual characterisation, but the cast members work well together to keep the attention rapt, injecting some healthy silliness when things get a bit too scary for the wide-eyed young audience.

Director Hal Chambers ensures a rollicking pace, setting a boisterous level from start to finish.

There’s a picture to colour on the programme, but it’s worth checking out the Les Petits website, where you can also download a range of fun activities related to the show.

This X-tremely entertaining adventure marks the spot with a buccaneering holiday treat that is something to treasure.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Gail Harland


Captain Flinn And The Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass

Christmas in Leicester Square until 5th January


Recently reviewed by David:
Bruised Fruit | ★★★★ | Drayton Arms | August 2019
Anna Bella Eema | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | September 2019
Room Service | ★★★★★ | Bread & Roses Theatre | September 2019
The Hound Of The Baskervilles | ★★★★ | Abney Park Cemetery | September 2019
Homing Birds | ★★★★ | Tara Theatre | November 2019
The Arrival | ★★★★ | Bush Theatre | November 2019
Goldilocks And The Three Musketeers | ★★★★★ | Battersea Arts Centre | December 2019


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