“a story of the heart, using the infinity of time and space to juxtapose the small, individual worries we have down here on Earth”
The final day of the final week of the vast VAULT Festival has finally come. It has been an amazing, jam-packed couple of months of entertainment. From what has seemed like a manic, whirlwind explosion of art, it was a pleasant and satisfying end to the festival to see Katie Granger’s Ares, a play that’s quietly understated and charming, spreading faith and hope about the future, whilst giving an honest reflection on humanity.
This is a one-woman show following Alice (Andrea Hall), a highly intelligent astrophysicist, working at NASA, who has ferociously worked her way up from her humble beginnings on a dirt-tracked farm in Florida, to becoming the first person to lead a team on a mission to Mars. This sought-after position includes picking crew members, and Alice knows that her husband Dan is the best spaceman out there for the job. She knows how risky this mission will be and chances of him never returning are high, but is she able to put aside her personal fears and unease for the sake of the job?
Split into six parts, this hour-long adventure through the entirety of Alice’s life is touching and empathetic. What is most apparent is Alice’s drive to overcome any barriers that stand in her way, whether it be never knowing her mother, to being an African-American farm girl proving herself at Harvard, to surviving as a woman in a male-centric industry. Her story is certainly admirable to say the least. But it is the humanistic cracks that show, letting love in and the constriction of work that really make this a personable and relatable tale. What could easily have been a science lecture, turns into a story of the heart, using the infinity of time and space to juxtapose the small, individual worries we have down here on Earth.
Andrea Hall gives a truthful and humbling performance that is full of honesty. Her right-leg being in a cast meant she was sat down or briefly stood on crutches for the entirety, but this did not diminish the production. What was most important was the storytelling, and she conveyed Katie Granger’s powerful words of narrative with sincere precision. The images that Granger’s text conjure up, are powerful enough on their own. Both cast and crew managed to prove how creating something that is delicate and unobtrusive can be more engaging and have a mightier pull on the heartstrings than anything relying on flashy spectacle. A chair and a captivating story is all you need.
“a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic”
The Trotters have come up in the world. They’re now residing in the West End. But you can’t take Peckham out of these geezers. Only Fools and Horses The Musical has been in the pipeline for many years, but now it has finally arrived, brimming with the familiar warmth and humour that made the original sitcom one of the nation’s most-loved tv shows.
The genius behind the sitcom, John Sullivan had ruminated with the idea of turning his beloved creation into a song and dance show decades ago. He even collaborated with Chas Hodges, of Chas & Dave fame, to noodle around song ideas. Sadly, due to both men’s passing, the gauntlet was passed to the writer’s son, Jim Sullivan, who acquired the help of another tv great, Paul Whitehouse, in finishing where his father had left off.
Unquestionably a tall order to package approximately forty four hours of material into a two hour show, yet Sullivan Jnr and Whitehouse do an excellent job at piecing it all together, picking the most memorable punchlines and visual gags to incorporate. Based around the ‘Dates’ episode where Del Boy first meets his other half, Raquel, through a dating agency, as well as Rodney’s marriage to Cassandra, this stage adaptation sticks to Musical Theatre ‘boy gets girl’ conventions. Iconic scenes are given a nod to, whilst fresh material such as a fantasy sequence that flashes forward from the show’s 1980s setting, to the hipster Peckham of today, is an entertaining addition. The quality of the original writing is not diminished, as Sullivan and Whitehouse have managed to bottle its infinite lovability.
The time and care taken in the script doesn’t always replicate itself in the music, with many songs feeling like the have been idly added as padding. Writing responsibilities were fractured between eleven composers/lyricists, which makes the consistency questionable. The witty, mockney lyrics of ‘Bit of a Sort’, and ‘Where Have All The Cockneys Gone?’ are examples of where the songs really lend themselves in developing the characters, whilst ‘The Girl’, crooned by Raquel (Dianne Pilkington) is reminiscent of Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! However, the random addition of two pop songs and a couple from Chas & Dave’s cannon of hits, feels as much as a rip off as the dodgy goods out the back of Del Boy’s van.
The cast could quite easily have chosen to impersonate the original stars, yet, for the most case, the decision to embody the essence of the character instead is rightfully selected. However, Peter Baker’s uncanny vocal and physical resemblance to Roger Lloyd Pack’s Trigger is something of a treat. The three generations of the Trotter household are well performed. Tom Bennett is a loveable jack-the-lad Del Boy, channeling his cocky exuberance, and newcomer Ryan Hutton excels as downtrodden Rodney, whilst Paul Whitehouse makes a delightful cameo as grandad. A special mention should be made to Oscar Conlon-Morrey whose virtuosic ability to play many of the small ‘bit’ parts got some of the biggest laughs.
Where the show may be occasionally lacking in the musical department, it makes up for in its barrage of vintage comedy, cleverly bypassing any of the derogatory ‘humour’ of yesteryear. Overall, a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic.