Tag Archives: Victoria Spearing

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

★★★★

Theatre Royal Windsor

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR at the Theatre Royal Windsor

★★★★

“A multi-talented cast of Pierrot-style performers … give their all in this satirical rollercoaster of a show.”

As one of the UK’s leading touring companies with a commitment to theatre that ‘entertains, provokes and inspires in equal measure’, Blackeyed Theatre are continuing their anniversary tour of Joan Littlewood’s pioneering ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ with a stop in Windsor.

The piece was developed in an improvisatory style by Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in in 1963. Her vision was to break the fourth wall that separates audience from performer, challenging elitism by taking theatre to where it was most needed as part of her proud boast that she was a ‘vulgar woman of the people’.

A multi-talented cast of Pierrot-style performers, most of whom trained on the Rose Bruford School’s Actor Musicianship programme, give their all in this satirical rollercoaster of a show. Director Nicky Allpress acknowledges the complex challenges of the piece which she describes as ‘a beast’ to rehearse – but her vision shines through.

Projections designed by Clive Elkington detail the heart-rending cost of the so-called ‘war to end all wars’ that pointlessly took the lives of tens of millions of young people whilst their unfeeling commanders remained indifferent to their struggle from a position of relative safety behind the lines.

An atmospheric backdrop is created by a circus tent inspired set (Victoria Spearing) evocatively lit by Alan Valentine. The cast play percussion, trumpet, double bass, accordion and more. They sing the old battlefield songs with a mad intensity which seemed to escape the audience member to my right. He sang along gleefully until the fierce cost of the conflict began to appear. Then he was silent.

Even before the show opens, Pierrots lounge in a box and interact with the audience in surprising ways. There are a number of stand-out scenes, including a poignant re-creation of the moment when soldiers met in no-man’s land on Christmas Day. But there’s no false sentimentality here and the satire is brilliantly sharp in a number of key scenes that depict the officer ‘donkeys’ who ordered the British lions into destruction. Naomi Gibbs has designed some clever costumes that at one point permit the cast to play both officers and wives in a viciously entertaining ballroom scene.

The company demonstrated a brilliant command of different voices, and their take on the indifferent drawl of the officer class was particularly impressive. Tom Benjamin sparkled as the MC and Harry Curley and Euan Wilson gave equally strong performances. The other members of the cast  shone equally in this non-stop cavalcade of a show.


OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR at the Theatre Royal Windsor as part of UK Tour

Reviewed on 2nd April 2024

by David Woodward

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

CLOSURE | ★★★★ | February 2024
THE GREAT GATSBY | ★★★ | February 2024
ALONE TOGETHER | ★★★★ | August 2023
BLOOD BROTHERS | ★★★★★ | January 2022
THE CHERRY ORCHARD | ★★★★ | October 2021

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE VALLEY OF FEAR

★★½

Southwark Playhouse Borough

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE VALLEY OF FEAR at Southwark Playhouse Borough

★★½

“Despite a superb effort from the cast to deliver the vast array of characters, the dark twisting intercontinental plot failed to capture its audience”

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is not the usual ‘Holmes’ story. Adapted and directed by Nick Lane, it follows two mysteries simultaneously. One case set in a manor in Britain and one in the coalfields of Pennsylvania, filled with unscrupulous characters and mysterious motives. The tale started off slowly, and continued slowly and ended slowly. It is possible that it was more suited to its pace and layout in the book, however this adaptation was confusing, long and frankly boring. A bad case of ‘tell and no show’ occurred, not even Dr Watson could cure this affliction, although he did describe how to do so at length. A handful of specific moments of action felt exciting and held stakes that added to the drama (Action by Robert Myles). The direction made little flair of the eccentricates of the characters and the occasional moment of fun choices (actors bobbing about in a carriage during a conversation) made the majority of the flatness in scenes feel more energy-sapping. The eventual conjoining of the stories felt unclear in many ways and the finale felt like a ‘to-be-continued’ was in implied.

The actors must receive significant praise. Delivering the two mysteries required multi-rolling in and out of characters and their respective accents in slick on stage transitions. In a surprising casting decision, Holmes and Watson also multirole as minor characters in the US plot and both played this wonderfully. Admittedly, reading the cast list highlights multiple characters that could not be identified from the show. Watson is depicted as a mild-mannered companion and observer, occasionally inducing laughs (Joseph Derrington). Holmes is a contemplative thrill seeking sleuth (Bobby Bradley) of typical stoic Victorian stock. Bradley and Derrington make a believable duo and make the most of the moments afforded to them to show their dynamic. As the US plot unravels, we meet Jack McMurdo AKA Birdy Edwards AKA John Douglas (Blake Kubena). Kubena delivers an intriguing performance, injecting charm and style into scenes. The ensemble team shine in this production as Inspector McDonald/Officer Jasper/Ames/Bodymaster McGinty/Cecil Barker and…Professor Moriarty (Gavin Molloy). Molloy steals the show as he fights the script to distinguish his roles and deliver memorable moments, including a genuinely gripping death scene and funny delivery as bumbling Cecil Barker. Equal in talent Mrs Hudson/Officer Marvin/ Ettie Shafter/Mrs Allen and Mrs Ivey Douglas (Alice Osmanski) who utilises her considerable range to deliver similar roles as differently as possible, bouncing off Molloy expertly.

 

 

The technical elements of the show could have assisted in differentiating the setting or enhancing the atmosphere more. Almost all scenes were burnished in the same yellow tungsten glow, whether located in Baker Street, Pennsylvania or Tunbridge Wells. The sound design included live singing, which enhanced scene transitions and added atmosphere, but was abandoned for the most part in Act II (Tristan Parks). The set provided the backdrop of a grimy Victorian wallpaper that peeled into the wooden slats of a downtrodden mining town invoking setting rather than providing levels (Victoria Spearing). The costumes were appropriately period and aesthetically pleasing, but did little to separate the male characters beyond a pair of glasses (Naomi Gibbs).

The Valley Of Fear may be one of the most popular Holmes mysteries, but it did not translate well to stage in this adaptation. Despite a superb effort from the cast to deliver the vast array of characters, the dark twisting intercontinental plot failed to capture its audience. Rather than battling Moriarty in a game of wits, the audience were battling their minds from wandering to other iterations of these characters.


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE VALLEY OF FEAR at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 28th March 2024

by Jessica Potts

Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues:

POLICE COPS: THE MUSICAL | ★★★★ | March 2024
CABLE STREET – A NEW MUSICAL | ★★★ | February 2024
BEFORE AFTER | ★★★ | February 2024
AFTERGLOW | ★★★★ | January 2024
UNFORTUNATE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF URSULA THE SEA WITCH A MUSICAL PARODY | ★★★★ | December 2023
GARRY STARR PERFORMS EVERYTHING | ★★★½ | December 2023
LIZZIE | ★★★ | November 2023
MANIC STREET CREATURE | ★★★★ | October 2023
THE CHANGELING | ★★★½ | October 2023
RIDE | ★★★ | July 2023
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
STRIKE! | ★★★★★ | April 2023

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE VALLEY OF FEAR

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE VALLEY OF FEAR

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page