Monday 16 December 2019

Theatre Review: Living Spit's Odyssey at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Bristol comedy duo Living Spit returns to the Tobacco Factory with a unique rendition of Homer’s Odyssey. This home audience knows what to expect by now from Howard Coggins and Stu McLoughlin at their best, based on shows such as Adolf & Winston or Elizabeth I—Virgin on the Ridiculous: knockabout hilarity and bawdy jokes, supremely inventive storytelling and silly songs, audience interaction and plenty of dressing up with bad wigs.

Living Spit’s Odyssey is different, though, as the endearing duo are joined on stage by jazz and blues singer Kate Dimbleby and professional musician Sam Mills. Dimbleby takes centre stage as Penelope, waiting in Ithaca for 20 years while her husband Odysseus is away fighting in the Trojan wars and serially delayed on his epic journey home.

Penelope’s house is reinvented as a nightclub, because, rather than sitting and weaving for two decades, this 21st century version of an empowered Penelope has been entertaining her many suitors with song—her smoky tones layered to a crescendo on a vocal looper. It’s a strong opening number that she insists on finishing, despite the untimely interruption of a triumphantly returning Odysseus—played by Coggins and accompanied by McLoughlin’s Anonymous Minion 1—proclaiming, swearing and desperate to regale her with his exploits and explain his multiple detours.

Before a sceptical Penelope, Odysseus and his Minion then re-enact their travails—stopping off at the land of the Lotus Eaters because the ship’s crew wanted a proper poo in privacy, then trapped in a cave by the cyclops Polyphemus as they seek to exchange their plentiful supply of wine for a much-needed truckle of cheese. Supporting this narrative, Mills proves to be a versatile actor as well as musician, stepping in to play a dish-plying waiter in a Chinese restaurant and Polyphemus’s swivel-eyed lone surviving sheep.

There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud creativity in the simple rotation of dishes in the restaurant, the use of torches in the dark cave to create multiple characters and the panto-like retelling of the crew’s disastrous appropriation of Aeolus’s bag of winds. The songs are warm and witty and the foursome makes effective use of ingenious costumes and props and Katie Sykes’s simple circular set. But there are also moments between episodes where the comic momentum seems to flag.

The second act is much slicker, as Odysseus resists being turned into a pig by Circe thanks to a hilariously simple delivery from Hermes. His vivid sacrifice of a soft-toy goat and sheep draws gasps from the audience; he encounters a very lively Land of the Dead and evades the sirens’ call, only to be trapped by the nymph Calypso—an amorous McLoughlin dressed up in best shower-curtain style. There is even pathos as Penelope expresses doubts about her husband’s enduring love, accompanying herself on the ukulele, and Odysseus sings a torch song, joined by his wife in an unexpectedly moving duet.

While Living Spit’s brand of raucous playfulness has always been underpinned by structure and skill, this collaboration brings a new and hitherto unseen sophistication to their performance. Dimbleby is not only a singer and musician but also an accomplished raconteur; their contrasting styles meld successfully to bring greater depth to the show’s musicality and emotional breadth to its larky storytelling.

Reviewed on 12 November 2019 | Images: Camilla Adams

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Theatre Review: A Taste of Honey at Theatre Royal, Bath

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

When 19-year-old Shelagh Delaney’s debut play A Taste of Honey opened in Stratford East in 1958, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Written about social deprivation in working-class Salford, as experienced by a teenage girl whose liaison with a black sailor leaves her pregnant, its raw humour and bleak regional cadences catapulted her into the ranks of kitchen sink dramatists. She became a female counterpoint (whether she liked it or not) to Look Back in Anger’s John Osborne.

Ahead of her time—and doubly so as a young woman—Delaney challenged the conventions of the day, but fast-forward more than 60 years and her storyline no longer holds the same capacity to shock. Satiated as we are by Shameless-style grit, it’s crucial to remember that it is rooted in the likes of Delaney. Yet, despite director Bijan Sheibani’s commendable efforts to enliven the narrative with a three-piece band and dynamic-though-marginal set changes, this National Theatre interpretation still feels like a product of its time—primarily a revival of historical interest.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good performances here. Precisely because we are no longer outraged that teenaged Josephine (Gemma Dobson) is about to give birth to a mixed-race baby, or that she has taken in her gay art school friend Geoffrey to live with her, there’s a greater focus on her relationship with her mother Helen (Jodie Prenger). This emerges as the story’s core; a balancing of pain, humour, anger, judgement, and love that many a mother and daughter over the years—rewinding back in time from the likes of Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird—will recognise.

These are women to whom life has handed nothing, perennially bonded despite the demands of Helen’s new husband Peter (Tom Varey), and doing what they can to survive. Prenger breathes life and glimpses of humanity into a mother who might easily be a monster, her singing revealing a yearning undertone that would otherwise be lacking.

Dobson’s Josephine appears initially shrill, but her school uniform in the opening scenes reminds us of her extreme youth. She matures as the narrative unfolds; though her short-lived romance with Durone Stokes’s sweet-talking but feckless sailor Jimmie is sketched in the briefest of outlines, her friendship with Geoffrey—played with engaging effervescence by Stuart Thompson—helps her navigate the daunting prospect of parental responsibility.

Hildegard Bechtler’s gloomy set captures the breadline existence of its inhabitants, but the frequent fluid movement of walls and furniture by a chorus of characters is a distraction. Though the sudden influx of strangers at scene changes suggests the claustrophobia of tenement living, it becomes visually over-busy.

David O’Brien’s three-piece jazz band neatly captures the mood in the prelude to the play’s opening and emphasizes the ebb and flow of emotion throughout; Prenger’s vocals and Thompson’s post-interval rendition of 'Mad About the Boy' are highlights. Yet even with this musical underpinning, whole flights of dialogue seem to flag; it’s hard not to conclude that, although honouring Delaney, this production of A Taste of Honey ultimately does little to illuminate her legacy.

Reviewed on 28 October 2019 | Images: Marc Brenner

Thursday 28 November 2019

Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory celebrates its 20th anniversary season in some style with a second production of Much Ado About Nothing. In her modern dress interpretation, director Elizabeth Freestone mines all the play’s sharp-tongued humour and disquieting duplicity to create a contemporary romantic comedy with a dark heart.

She has assembled a strong cast, including returning regulars and alumni from Bristol Old Vic’s theatre school, to deliver the tale of soldiers coming back from war to Leonato’s court in Messina. Zachary Powell is on commanding form as their leader Don Pedro, hatching plots to bring about the liaisons between Claudio and Hero and Beatrice and Benedick that underpin the play’s dynamic.

There are shades of a general seeking to keep his men on track in the aftermath of conflict, with light-hearted subterfuge helping them readjust to civilian life. By contrast, Georgia Frost’s Don Jon demonstrates the bleaker side of war’s profound psychological disturbances, as a soldier intent on darker deceits—slandering Hero’s virtuous reputation and causing Claudio to shame her—to avenge past perceived wrongs.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett delivers a beautifully judged Beatrice; intelligent in her fiery wit while verbally jousting with Benedick, she is alternately comic in falling for her friends’ playful deception of her sparring partner’s supposed declarations of love, then raging at her powerlessness as a woman in a man’s world. Whenever she’s on stage, it’s hard to look elsewhere, but Geoffrey Lumb’s convincing Benedick matches her in spirit. Though often outdone by Beatrice’s wit, Lumb finds depth beyond Benedick’s initial combination of charismatic swagger and gullibility, to declare his love with truthful sincerity and rally to her entreaties to right the wrong of Hero’s fate.

At times, the production feels as though it is veering too far into comic cliché with the masked ball, where many of the initial plans are laid, becoming a distracting superhero costume party. After the interval, the local Watch uncovering Don Jon’s connivance in full-on health and safety mode, complete with hard hats and high-viz jackets, feels rather over-worked. But Jean Chan’s minimal set and costumes are bright and summery, and there’s a joyous energy throughout, both in the dancing and in the musical interludes provided primarily by Bethan Mary-James as Hero’s maid Margaret—who gets away surprisingly lightly with her central role in her mistress's undoing.

After so many comic interludes and festive wedding preparations, the outcome of Claudio and Hero’s nuptials is brutally shocking; Imran Momen’s previously restrained Claudio is vicious in his rejection of Hannah Bristow’s sweetly trusting Hero. Equally outrageous to modern sensibilities is Leonato’s response in dismissing his daughter’s pleas of innocence and wishing she were dead. In a moving portrayal, Christopher Bianchi brings believability to Leonato’s short-lived paternal outburst, tumbling into sorrow and remorse as he accepts that she has been wronged.

As with many a Shakespeare play, it seems a long way back from here to a happy ending, with further deception, identity switching and a whole dose of forgiveness required to reunite the lovers. But Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s reputation for clear and compelling storytelling lives on; particularly in the latter stages, this dynamic yet thoughtful and nuanced interpretation treads the fine line between comedy and tragedy with consummate ease.

Reviewed on October 25 2019: Images: Mark Douet

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Theatre Review: Me & Robin Hood at the Spielman Theatre,Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Me & Robin Hood is the second of Hoipolloi’s Loose Change trilogy examining inequality and the relative values we ascribe to life and art, while raising money for the charity Street Child United. It follows on from The Duke: Shôn Dale-Jones’s one-man tale of a porcelain family heirloom, that saw him seated at a desk, cueing up his own music and sound effects from a laptop.

For Me & Robin Hood—after his customary handshake greeting at the door—Dale-Jones appears on a stage that is empty aside from his water bottle. Yet, in this stripped-back setting, his storytelling has even more room to flourish. He needs the space to create his narrative—to imagine the front room of his childhood home in Anglesey, a football match he played for his local Llangefni under-11s team or a confrontation with a bank manager after an impromptu one-man demonstration with a placard.

Beneath his genial demeanour and charismatic wit, his personal worries about his mortgage and stress-induced skin condition, Dale-Jones is angry—about the inequality that exists in a world that accepts millions of children living on the streets and the ever-widening gulf between rich and poor stretching back to the Thatcher years. It’s time to invoke the spirit of his fictional friend Robin Hood—whom he first met in 1975, watching the six-part TV series as a seven-year-old, at home with his family and best mate.

In his eyes, Robin was a true radical, gainsaying the authority of the Sheriff of Nottingham and robbing the rich to give to the poor. If he were here today, he wouldn’t be propping up the system by helping in his local charity shop, he’d be exploding the shared myths of society, plundering banks to redistribute cash and rewriting the story of money.

Weaving fact and fantasy together so seamlessly that the audience is left guessing where one finishes and the other begins, Dale-Jones questions our commonly held perceptions of what is acceptable in society. He admits he too is complicit, a product of the boarding-school education his Thatcher-supporting greengrocer father strove to provide for him, that chafes against the social conscience of his grandmother. But his show is raising money for street children and the challenge is there for us all to do what we can.

Looping back and forth through multiple threads, Dale-Jones is such a gifted storyteller and his tale so skilfully crafted that not a moment of this 70-minute monologue sags or drags. Reaching from the 12th century to the present via his childhood exploits, Me & Robin Hood encompasses friends and family, bank managers and robberies, a run-in with the police and an idiosyncratically off-kilter course of therapy. On an empty stage, Dale-Jones pushes at the boundaries; playful, challenging and seething with ideas.

Reviewed on 2 October 2019| Images: Murdo Macleod

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Book Review: Violet by SJI Holliday

Crime fiction author SJI (Susi) Holliday has followed up her creepy Gothic novel The Lingering with another psychological thriller. In Violet, she explores the far-reaching consequences of a friendship forged during a fateful train journey traversing the vast open territories between Beijing and Moscow.

When Violet and Carrie bump into each other in a Beijing travel centre, it seems like a match made in heaven. Violet is desperate to buy a ticket for the Trans-Siberian Express, having split from her boyfriend in Thailand. Meanwhile, Carrie has one to spare after her best friend Laura had an accident and couldn't make their round-the-world trip.

The two women hit it off and, after a few drinks, Carrie impulsively offers her second ticket to Violet. Their friendship is cemented by exchanging snippets of previous failed relationships and they board the train to Moscow via Mongolia in a haze of optimism. But, of course, all is not quite what it seems; Violet is the novel's ultimate unreliable narrator, choosing what she hides and what she reveals, dangling tantalising glimpses of past lives and obsessions that raise many more questions than they answer.

Carrie, by contrast, unveils her innermost feelings in a series of emails to Laura back home in Scotland. But she too has her mysteries; what happened between Carrie and her boyfriend Greg before she left home? And how exactly did Laura meet with her untimely accident? As the claustrophobic intimacy of the railway carriage gives way to the vast open steppes of Mongolia, the two women are alternately attracted and repelled by each other, manipulating their own versions of the truth as their newly woven bond threatens to spectacularly unravel.

There are scenes of Shamanic festivals and Mongol horse-riding, of drug and booze-fuelled partying, but to tell more would be to tell too much. Holliday deftly ratchets up the tension - from an adventure charting the highs and lows of ill-advised excesses to something much more sinister and unhinged. Coupled with a travelogue that makes you want to ditch your day job, pick up your backpack and head off across the world - though hopefully avoiding the darker chills of this twisting tale.

I read this novel in a single sitting, gripped by its encroaching menace, as the trip of a lifetime strays into a cross between Single White Female and shades of Killing Eve. Certain events defy belief by the end and are more loosely sketched than the detailed character work of the novel's central relationship, but it's a nail-biting, high-octane ride along the way.

Violet by SJI Holliday is published in the UK in November 2019 by Orenda Books. Many thanks to Anne Cater for my review copy.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Theatre Review: Reasons To Stay Alive at Bristol Old Vic

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Rumi’s words "the wound is the place where the Light enters you" are quoted in this insightful adaptation by April De Angelis of Matt Haig’s bestselling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. The phrase encapsulates the spirit of a play—jointly produced by English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres—that charts the depths of pain caused by anxiety and depression but ultimately finds joy and inspiration in the world.

Aged 24, Matt’s young life collapses while he’s working in Ibiza. Suicidal feelings drive him to the edge of a clifftop, where he’s ready to jump into the void. While thoughts of loved ones—his girlfriend Andrea and his parents—pull him back from the brink, the agony inside his head continues. Medication doesn’t help and, back home in England, even a trip to the shops to fetch milk becomes a journey of despair.

Director Jonathan Watkins has woven stylised physicality through the more naturalistic scenes of Matt’s unravelling, choreographed around Simon Daw’s design of a fragile, fractured skull-like shell. Composed of three sections, the set serves as a scaffold for the cast to clamber over and rotate, a visual representation of Matt’s mind spinning out of control.

The imagery is striking, though perhaps more suited to the intimacy of a studio theatre than the scale of Bristol Old Vic’s main stage. Similarly, De Angelis’s neat narrative device, framing the play within a conversation between Matt’s older and younger selves, sometimes slackens the tension by providing the younger, disoriented Matt with a steadying voice of reassurance too early on. The most powerful moments are when we find him grappling to make sense of his frenzied, hostile world, clinging only to his stalwart Andrea for support.

There’s a pleasing chemistry between Mike Noble’s rawly vulnerable younger Matt and Janet Etuk’s patient but not saintly Andrea, occasionally exasperated but always steadfast. When Andrea herself needs help in one scene, it’s imaginatively provided as she leans on a succession of supportive bodies. Meanwhile, Connie Walker and Chris Donnelly as Matt’s baffled parents provide moments of lightness as they try to find comfort in the storm—Matt’s favourite fish pie for supper, a trip to the theatre to watch Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

Though on this occasion, Matt is beset by demons—ingeniously represented by Dilek Rose’s fiend licking his cheek—he does begin to experience moments of calm. With the love of those around him, he discovers that running soothes his mind, while art and literature—from Emily Dickinson to Stephen King—gradually help him to scrabble out of the vortex.

Matt’s self-help lists from the book are theatrically flagged with props and chants: things that generate more sympathy than depression, famous people who have suffered mental illness and, all importantly, those reasons to stay alive.

Medical intervention may be given little credit for Matt’s personal rehabilitation, but there’s an emphasis on every recovery being unique and ongoing. As younger Matt grows stronger, Phil Cheadle’s previously equable older Matt—despite the weapons he has learnt to arm himself with—experiences his own moments of relapse and there’s a poignant coming together of the two versions of himself.

Mental illness is treated with great sensitivity throughout Reasons to Stay Alive; this informative and illuminating piece of theatre remains true to the book not only in exposing the havoc wreaked by depression, but also by offering the prospect that it can be overcome.

Reviewed on 1 October 2019 | Images: Johan Persson

Thursday 31 October 2019

Theatre Review: Posh at Theatre Royal Bath

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

As Laura Wade’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished work The Watsons transfers to Menier Chocolate Factory for a much anticipated London première, her 2010 play Posh has been revived for a UK tour.

Based on the antics of Oxford’s notorious Bullingdon Club, whose past members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, Posh is an incisive, funny but ultimately unsettling exploration of elitism and entitlement. With a grammar school Prime Minister swept aside this year in favour of yet another old Etonian, the play feels as relevant today as it did almost a decade earlier.

Ten rich and privileged young men, all undergraduates of Oxford colleges, meet for an evening of reckless abandonment where dinner is only the beginning. This time, The Riot Club has been warned to tone it down; their last termly meeting reached the pages of the Daily Mail and ex-members in the upper echelons of power are displeased with the coverage. So, the club has chosen to dine in an out-of-the-way gastropub under the improbable alias of a group of young entrepreneurs.

Director Lucy Hughes handles the pace well in her professional debut, as the evening unfolds in a series of arcane and ritualistic toasts, bravado-filled high spirits and increasingly bigoted views. Club members reinforce their own sense of superiority over the common man; it isn’t easy being posh, after all, what with all those poor people and their huge plasma-screen TVs getting in the way. And the National Trust taking over one’s home and inviting everybody in for cream teas and souvenir thimbles.

Among a well-matched young cast that believably builds to a foul-mouthed, alcohol-fuelled crescendo of violence, Tyger Drew-Honey of Outnumbered fame impresses in his first stage performance as the obnoxious but troubled Alistair Ryle. Adam Mirsky as Guy Bellingfield is impressionable but foolish in his ambitions to become the club’s next President, while Joseph Tyler Todd bumbles ineffectually as the intellectually challenged but almost likeable George Balfour.

The ‘commoners’ who facilitate the evening make only fleeting appearances, with the reactions of the ruby-wedding party next door left to the audience’s imagination. Though she has little opportunity for character development, Ellie Nunn makes the most of her cameo as the smuggled-in escort Charlie, whose scrupled refusal to do the boys’ bidding undermines their arrogant supposition that anybody can be bought with enough cash.

Thoughts of restraint fly out the window as Will Coombs’s realistically detailed set design of a private dining room is progressively and almost thoughtlessly trashed in the course of a meal—just another of the high-octane evening’s traditional ceremonies that even brushes with the supernatural. But the laughter ends abruptly when the boys’ contemptuous goading of the pub’s landlord and his waitress daughter crosses a line.

Like the primal tribalism of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the denouement becomes uncomfortable to observe. Maybe this time, these deeply unpleasant characters cannot simply buy themselves out of the consequences of their actions and must take their share of the blame. Yet, perhaps most disquieting of all—considering our current crop of politicians—is the young men’s elastically self-serving relationship to the truth. Normal rules simply don’t apply here; this sharply observed, questioning piece of political theatre continues to shine a penetrating light on establishment shortcomings.

Reviewed on 23 September 2019 | Images: Photo Tech

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Theatre Review: The Lion King at Bristol Hippodrome

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

With over 100 million people having seen The Lion King worldwide, the most successful stage musical of all time needs little by way of introduction. Now Disney is marking the 20th anniversary of the show’s run at the Lyceum Theatre in London by embarking on a tour of the UK and Ireland, kicking off in Bristol.

There can hardly be a more theatrically dazzling opening sequence than the gathering of animals at Pride Rock to celebrate the birth of Simba, the lion cub destined to be king. To the soaring strains of “Circle of Life” accompanied by a live orchestra, they assemble on stage from all corners of the auditorium: leaping gazelles, prancing zebras, stilted giraffes and swaying elephants depicted by majestic masks and fluid, graceful puppetry.

How do you follow such spectacle? As this well-known story of family betrayal and redemption with its roots in Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins, the show borrows heavily from Disney’s much-loved 1994 animated film. Sections of the dialogue are instantly recognisable when, in the shimmering heat of the Serengeti Plains, Scar plots to rid himself of both his brother, the current King Mufasa, and Simba, Mufasa’s impressionable only cub.

While some characters swerve towards impersonation, others strive to echo rather than recreate their film personas. Members of the new touring cast have been drawn from around the world and South African Thandazile Soni is simply outstanding in voice and interpretation as the eccentric mandrill seer Rafiki.

Jean-Luc Guizonne exudes leonine strength and dignity as Mufasa, while Young Simba and Nala, portrayed on press night by Hunter Del Valle Marfo and Minaii Barrowes, are impressive and endearing in their professional debuts. As the cubs set off in search of adventure and encounter the menacing hyenas for the first time, there’s another stunningly choreographed performance from the ensemble among the piled skeletons of the elephant graveyard, culminating in Scar’s bleakly rousing rallying song “Be Prepared”.

Comic asides are provided by neurotic courtier Zazu, played by Matthew Forbes, and Timon and Pumbaa double act Steve Beirnaert and Carl Sanderson. There’s even the odd regionally-based quip to give the touring show some pantomime-style local resonance—with Zazu joking that one of the backdrops resembles a shower curtain from Bristol’s St. Nick’s market.

The production is visually breathtaking throughout; aside from director Julie Taymor’s combination of African masks, Japanese Kabuki costumes and Indonesian shadow puppetry, the striking costumes and lighting design reflect the colours and heat of the African savannah. As Simba discovers his father’s demise and escapes to his jungle refuge, he grows into Dashaun Young’s initially tentative adolescent lion, emboldened through his reunion with Josslynn Hlenti’s courageous young lioness Nala to return to the pride lands and claim his inheritance.

Songs from the film written by Elton John and Tim Rice are supplemented by an additional score and Lebo M’s rousing African vocal arrangements. With each performance featuring 232 puppets and six African languages spoken or sung, The Lion King is an epic carnival of diverse styles. On occasion, the fusion can jar rather than blend, but this does not detract overall from a spectacular must-see celebration of the age-old triumph of good before evil.

There are still further tour dates to be announced: if you can’t catch it in Bristol, the show returns to the region during July and August 2020 at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre.

Reviewed on 12 September 2019 | Images: Disney

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Theatre Review: Wild Swimming at Bristol Old Vic

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, FullRogue returns to Bristol Old Vic with Wild Swimming, the show that made its scratch debut as part of 2019’s Ferment Fortnight artistic development programme.

Annabel Baldwin plays Oscar and Alice Lamb is Nell, two childhood friends whose meetings on the same Dorset beach span 400 years of English history. It begins in the Elizabethan era: think of an anarchic cross between Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and David Nicholls’s One Day with an added frenzy of edible snacks.

Sharply written by Marek Horn, this playful hour-long production simmers with ideas of gender privilege. Oscar returns from his first year at university with his head crammed full of romantic poetry and swimming the Hellespont, but Nell has never been away. She may come from an affluent family and have the upper hand in the sharpness of their verbal jousting, but she must wait at home to be married while Oscar enjoys the roving life of a young gentleman.

Despite their differences, Nell and Oscar’s destinies are intertwined. They challenge each other’s ideas and assumptions but, as they gallop through the centuries and audience-assisted costume changes, there’s a natural teasing warmth between the two. FullRogue’s stated aim is to “stress test” new works—even potentially destroying them—in live performance; Julia Head’s direction frequently (it could be argued too frequently) delves into the meta, with bouts of intensive line delivery punctured by seemingly impromptu discussions of their merits.

Though the two characters remain consistent in their relationship throughout the years, shifts in tone and perspective occur in each era as Nell finds greater opportunities in the world beyond the beach. From reading Jane Eyre in the 19th century, her voice finally emerges in the hiatus between the two World Wars, just as Oscar is losing his. Amid the boisterous, energetic fun of this idiosyncratic race through history, his quiet diminishment after fighting at Gallipoli is palpable.

While Nell refuses to bow before a soldier’s reverence for sacrifice or countenance a madcap scheme to avoid the present day, Oscar retaliates that she views him as an oppressive idea rather than a fallible individual struggling to exist in a world he no longer understands. A refreshing and taut exploration of gender politics delivered with deceptively relaxed wit and silliness; Wild Swimming may only have snacks on offer, but this production provides more than enough food for thought.

Reviewed on 11 September 2019 | Images: The Other Richard

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Book Review: Cage by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Having devoured Snare and Trapthe first two books in Lilja Sigurdardottir's Reykjavik Noir trilogy, I've been drumming my fingers impatiently for the final instalment. Once again translated by Quentin Bates, Cage picks up the threads in April 2017, almost six years after the final chapters of Trap, with financier Agla now coming to the end of her prison sentence for her part in Iceland's banking collapse.

Agla is far from happy at the prospect of parole; after her incarceration, the freedom it promises seems overwhelming and she's still suffering from the heartache of her abrupt abandonment by former lover Sonja. But she becomes drawn into a friendship with an ex-junkie prison mate and finds her interest further piqued when the representative of a foreign business consortium asks her to investigate a potential world market price-fixing fraud.

Who knew the hazards of global aluminium storage could be so riveting? As before, the narrative is female-led, but this time Cage is Agla's story more than Sonja's. Both are resourceful, self-reliant women, beset by vulnerabilities but battle-scarred and increasingly adept at making the strategic first move in a dog-eat-dog world traditionally dominated by men.

Prison proves no barrier to Agla's investigations - she knows the rules well enough by now to evade them. Shrewd as ever, she recruits her nemesis Maria, formerly of the state prosecutor's office and now an investigative journalist, to go where she cannot. As she sets off on a trail that stretches to a metal storage facility in the United States and back again, Maria for once finds herself at the heart of the action. Threatened then captured, her very existence put in doubt, she might just be out of her depth.

Though Reykjavik is Iceland's capital city there's a small-town feel to the connections between many of the characters and, as with the first two books, there are plenty of enticing subplots. Agla's path again crosses that of the merciless entrepreneur Ingimar, still out to protect his own interests at all costs. Yet Ingimar's home life could prove even more explosive; against a background of mounting nationalism, his son Anton plans to impress his girlfriend on her birthday with a uniquely devised celebration.

Reappearing after a long absence and catching Agla unawares, Sonja has her own dilemmas to resolve. Though she has risen through the ranks of the drug-dealing underground, she fears those above her are trying to cut her out of the network - and knows only too well how the superfluous are ruthlessly eliminated. Back in Iceland she turns once more to retired customs officer Bragi for reassurance: 'They understood each other. He was her conscience and she was the black stain on his.'

Sigurdardottir always skewers her characters with deceptively crisp prose, yet is so adept at revealing the flashes of humanity beneath the chess game of survival, that you find yourself in sympathy with the brutality of their decision-making. As usual, convincing detail is coupled with twists and turns aplenty, the complex threads weaving together into a satisfying conclusion of retribution, tinged with hope for a brighter future alongside regrets of what might have been.

Cage by Lilja Sigurdardottir, translated by Quentin Bates, is published in the UK by Orenda Books. Thanks to the publishers and Anne Cater for my review copy.

Monday 30 September 2019

Theatre Review: Unicorns, Almost at Weston Studio, Bristol Old Vic

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Having so movingly captured the physical and psychological traumas of three Bristolian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan with Pink Mist, Owen Sheers now brings his lyricism to the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two. Unicorns, Almost commemorates the life of poet Keith Douglas, who survived the hell of tank warfare in the Western Desert, only to be killed by a mortar shell three days after the D-Day landings in Normandy, aged just 24.

As a child, Douglas dreamt of fighting on horseback, joining the cavalry only to find horses had been replaced by tanks. Such romanticism also led him to hijack a truck in Egypt and escape his safe army headquarters desk job, heading for the heart of the action; fearing death, it seems he also raced towards it.

In this one-man play, Dan Krikler embodies Douglas’s contradictions and pent up, relentless energy, pacing the stage as he relives childhood memories or tells of the women he has loved so ardently; urgent, whirlwind affairs of dancing and stolen nights leading to four broken engagements—no time to waste when the next day could be your last.

With a change of scarf or the donning of a beret or coat, Krikler’s performance is beautifully judged, the words seeming to pour out of him. He frequently addresses the audience directly, inviting us into the sombre theatre of war and its overture of bombardment. Director John Retallack and sound and lighting designers Jon Nicholls and Ben Pickersgill support rather than overshadow this narrative with a simple army encampment staging, a typewriter to the side and banner of handwriting melding with voiceovers, projections and a soundscape of gunfire and shelling.

Interspersed between Douglas’s reminiscences are his poems—unsentimental but compassionate in their spare and honest tone. He describes the brutalities of warfare, depicting mangled and decomposing corpses and his own increasing facility for killing: “how easy it is to make a ghost”. Yet here too is the comradeship a soldier begins to feel for his enemy in their suffering on war’s common stage. Douglas looks directly where many of us would look away; not for him the British officers’ tendency to contain horrors within sporting metaphors of cricket and horses.

While recognising the works of Great War poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, Douglas seeks to carve his own path. Predicting his demise—perhaps obsessed with it—and knowing time to be short, many of his final battles are internal. He struggles to put his thoughts into words that will satisfy rather than frustrate him, to leave a legacy for those who will view him through “time’s wrong-way telescope” ten years hence.

In the context of the play’s final moments, “Simplify Me When I’m Dead” emerges as a paean to a life of compressed intensity. Though it took time for Douglas to be recognised in the aftermath of war, with the slender volumes of his poetry languishing untouched on bookshop shelves, Unicorns, Almost is a sobering but poignantly illuminating memorial to a voice silenced far too early.

Reviewed on 4 September 2019 | Images: Contributed

Thursday 19 September 2019

Theatre Review: The Argument at Theatre Royal Bath

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

William Boyd is a master storyteller, with a host of novels, short stories and screenplays to his name. Just think of how The New Confessions or Any Human Heart mine the intricacies of lives lived long against a stirring backdrop of 20th-century upheaval.

Yet, as a playwright he is still a relative novice: though he has previously interpreted the short stories of Chekhov (a dominant figure in Theatre Royal Bath’s 2019 summer season), The Argument is only his third play and the first with a wholly contemporary setting. Having premièred in the intimate space of Hampstead’s Downstairs Theatre in 2016, it now comes to Bath’s main stage.

Meredith and Pip have been to see a film. Meredith is full of criticism, while Pip is much happier to accept it for what it is. But their ensuing differences plunge depths that threaten to undermine their three-year-old marriage, delving into previously unspoken fissures of intellect and earning capacity.

The couple resorts to airing their relationship’s shortcomings with Meredith’s parents and their respective best friends in a succession of two-handed scenes. Each is sprinkled with Boyd’s exemplary wit and verbal dexterity - Pip, for example, describing his friend Tony’s long-standing dislike of Meredith as a "tinnitus of resentment" - and quickly escalates into an argument of its own.

Christopher Luscombe directs an impeccable cast. Felicity Kendal and Rupert Vansittart are compelling as Meredith’s battling parents Chloe and Frank: she irascible and testy, full of twitchy repressed anger, he pompous and complacent in his entitled world view. Alice Orr-Ewing is self-confident and incisive as museum curator Meredith, intellectually condescending to Simon Harrison’s less highbrow PR executive Pip. Esh Alladi and Sarah Earnshaw add strong support as their friends Tony and Jane.

There are some captivating scenes: when Tony meets up with Jane to discuss what can be done to reconcile the warring couple, confused by the rising inflections at the end of her every sentence, they lose the basic ability to communicate with each other. But while each argument reveals brutal truths and dwells on the nature of marriage and the accommodations required to maintain it over the long term, they are not as cathartic as they might seem. Old ground is covered as well as new and the descent of every scene into hostility becomes predictable and repetitive, even in a play that runs for only 75 minutes.

The ongoing fractiousness also tends to emphasise each character’s cold-hearted cynicism; though Meredith hankers after a successful marriage that is "a small civilisation of two", she and Pip are far from achieving this dream. Very little human connection in the form of empathy or tenderness is on show, and so the characters at times feel inconsistent and two-dimensional, as though their sole purpose is to manoeuvre towards the point where a full-blown quarrel can ensue.

The production has all the polish that the Theatre Royal Bath applies so well. Simon Higlett’s set slides seamlessly back and forth to reveal a succession of (mostly) neutral-toned chic and desirable spaces enhancing a central living-room sofa and chair, reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing or The Truth by Florian Zeller. Yet, The Argument’s limited physical activity suggests it might be better suited to the Ustinov Studio space next door and in its short running time the narrative jousting - though amusing enough and neatly circular - fails to deliver full psychological complexity, feeling ultimately unresolved.

Reviewed on 14 August 2019 | Images: Manuel Harlan

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Theatre Review: Uncle Vanya at Theatre Royal Bath

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

The misery Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya traditionally wrings from the boredom and isolation of rural life is undermined in this new adaptation by David Hare. From looking into the claustrophobic living area, at the end of the first act, perspective shifts outwards towards the horizon, affording a view of such tranquillity that any flagging human heart would surely be stirred. Yet, although some of his decisions as a director may be questionable, Rupert Everett’s impassioned performance in the title role is fascinating to watch.

His Vanya seems set apart from his peers, vital and imposing with a generous moustache and dark belted tunic. By all appearances a man of great appetites, it’s unlikely he would be a stickler for sensible routine, even if he has been worn down by years of conformity. Still, the play’s beginning finds him drunkenly collapsing on a makeshift bed, exhausted by the demands of entertaining his brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov, who is visiting with his beautiful new young wife Yelena.

Everett’s interpretation mines a self-deprecating humour in the misery of his situation, railing against Serebryakov’s professional mediocrity as an ‘artistic bed-blocker’ for more talented candidates, wondering at his appeal to the women who flock to him despite his age and self-obsessed ill-health. This is a Vanya heart-achingly in love with Yelena and despairing in his soliloquy at the futility of his life of hard work and many squandered opportunities.

The trouble is that Everett takes up so much of the oxygen that the other characters in this two-hour adaptation often have little room to breathe. At times they appear stilted and conventional where Vanya is all whirlwind fluidity - they could almost be acting in a different play.

Still, there are strong performances from fine actors here, that deserve more of a chance to develop: Katherine Parkinson is an interesting and dutiful Sonya, fiercely intelligent, witty but wistful in her unrequited love - how you wish that, like Jane Eyre, she could loosen herself from the ensnaring net. John Light, whose injury during previews means he is performing with a crutch, inhabits Doctor Astrov’s conflicts and obsessions, bringing out a remarkably far-sighted preoccupation with environmental ruin, yet the torture of his soul seems underplayed when compared to Vanya.

Clémence Poésy’s portrayal of Yelena is more self-confident than languid, though as her most prominent attribute is her beauty and her role to be a catalyst for change, Hare’s adaptation allows her little agency. The shattering moment when her husband refuses her dearest wish to play the piano is almost thrown away.

Charles Quiggin’s beautiful set of gauze curtains, leafy walls and hanging foliage swaying in the breeze, combined with ferocious storms and delicate snow, artfully suggests the inevitable passage of time. But the inward-looking tedium of routine central to Chekhov’s portrayal of Russian country life falls away; even the ever-present samovar, though a pointer to daily ennui, feels familiarly comforting and the ethereal landscape does little to reinforce the mournfulness. There is no hint of peasant-filled hovels or the unrest discussed in the text to spoil the view.

Don’t expect a cohesive directorial vision or fresh insight into Chekhovian themes in this production of Uncle Vanya, go instead for a mesmerising, mercurial central performance and a glimpse of ideas that strive but never quite achieve their potential.

Reviewed on Tuesday 30 July 2019 | Images: Nobby Clark

Monday 9 September 2019

Theatre Review: Vienna 1934 - Munich 1938 at the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Vanessa Redgrave combines the personal and political with resounding polemic in this intimate portrait of her family and their friendships during the years leading up to the Second World War. A production that she has written and directed herself, Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938, subtitled A Family Album, is based on a legacy of notebooks, journals and memoirs and defies easy categorisation.

It is Vanessa who introduces us to her eclectic cast of real-life characters, all connected to her family in some way and with a common bond of strong socialist principles. She begins with a low-key slideshow projected onto the white back wall of Lee Newby’s minimalist set, peppering it with twinkling wit and warmth. Though her style can meander into asides and interjections, as one of the nation’s most distinguished actors, she is never less than engaging.

In the late 1930s, renowned poet Stephen Spender formed a close friendship with Vanessa’s father, Michael. Prior to this, he had fallen for the vivacious young American psychology student, Muriel Gardiner, whom he and his secretary and lover Tony Hyndman met in the increasingly febrile environment of Vienna during the rise of fascism that crushed a strong socialist movement.

Part One tells Muriel’s story as she becomes involved with the Austrian Social Democrat party, driven to become an underground faction. Aided by Spender and Hyndman, she helps many Jews escape the fascist threat through the provision of false documents.

Vanessa hands over to dramatised narration by Robert Boulter as the glamorous young “rock poet” Spender, with Lucy Doyle—remarkably in her professional debut—playing his foil as Muriel and Paul Hilton taking on the roles of two prominent Austrian socialists. Their characterisations are undoubtedly skilful and immersive and the facts extraordinary, though this section’s increasingly sombre tone is at times over-detailed with references that can make it difficult to follow.

Part Two is more humorous and accessible, with Hilton now playing Vanessa’s brother Corin, telling of their father Michael’s love and friendship with Spender and Hyndman. Doyle portrays Vanessa’s mother Rachel Kempson, who meets and falls in love with Boulter's Michael during rehearsals for a play. But Michael’s affections soon range elsewhere, though, with homosexuality still criminalised, his diary entries are coded; "he feels these moments intensely because he knows they will not last," comments Corin of his father’s latest infatuation.

The final part covers Rachel’s brother Nicholas’s naval journals concerning Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia as the tentacles of fascism extend to Africa. It concludes with a lengthy but astonishingly fluent monologue by Hilton as the German writer in exile Thomas Mann, denouncing Neville Chamberlain’s appeasing Munich Agreement of 1938 for its betrayal of Czechoslovakia.

This is part dramatized political lecture, part very personal remembrance of a family struggle against a tide of overwhelming political upheaval. There’s a message within this engaging, consummately acted but sometimes disjointed and exposition-heavy production that equates events of the 1930s to the rise of modern-day populism, urging unity rather than an isolated retreat. Vanessa Redgrave herself admits she is not a writer and she could still hone a more cohesive, edited form for her disparate narrative threads, yet at its best this is an intriguing and unusual insight into the personal and political commitments of one of our most prominent acting families.

Reviewed on 17 July 2019 | Images: Nobby Clark

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Book Review: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

How refreshing to find a woman writing spy fiction, a genre in which both authors and their protagonists are predominantly male. Texan-based Lara Prescott's debut novel The Secrets We Kept may revolve around the extraordinary story of Boris Pasternak and his banned novel Doctor Zhivago, but it is told through an almost exclusively female lens.

Appropriately for a cold war setting, the story divides its narrative between East and West. In the Eastern strand, Pasternak's mistress and muse Olga Ivinskaya is taken forcibly from her family home to the notorious interrogation cells of Lubyanka - reputed to be the tallest building in Moscow, because 'you can see all the way to Siberia from the basement'.

In the West, the CIA's Washington typing pool is populated by experienced female operatives from World War Two, all demoted to administrative roles once the men returned from fighting. Wry, knowing and used to spotting a detail, these girls don't miss a trick - whether it's the latest office gossip or a campaign of subterfuge to undermine the Soviet establishment. In an era when Sputnik is circling the earth and striking fear of communist domination into many an American heart, such missions are considered of existential importance.

From their midst, new recruit Irina - Russian born but American bred - and seasoned operative Sally are singled out for extra-curricular duties. Sally trains Irina in the art of espionage - carrying classified documents and disappearing into a crowd. At a time when even the scent of illegal homosexuality can end a career, the pair become dangerously close.

Back in the East, Pasternak - already famed throughout Russia as a poet - is writing his epic novel Doctor Zhivago, its courageous heroine inspired by Olga. But, as well as revolving around the sweeping love story between Lara and Yuri, the book captures the turmoil of the Russian revolution and emphasizes the individual freedoms that Soviet authorities deem unacceptable. Failing to find a publisher in its native land, the quest begins to smuggle the manuscript to the West for printing and then back again in book form, to reach a receptive underground audience for its subversive themes.

The Secrets We Kept is based on extensive research, with Prescott combining real and imaginary characters and events to vividly evoke the misogyny and ideological conflict of the 1950s. It is pervaded by captivating details of the era's clothing and food and the contrasts of glitzy parties and gruelling prison camps; there's an atmospheric sense of place, both in the swamp of Washington and Pasternak's beloved dacha in Peredelkino.

As the personal and political become intertwined, East and West mirror each other in the struggle to define a love that lies outside society's norms. Equally fascinating is the currency of words - whereas today's messages traverse society through Facebook posts and Instagram influencers, in the 1950s books were the cultural weapons of choice.

You don't need to have read Doctor Zhivago to appreciate this novel - though if you haven't it will most likely send you scuttling out in search of a copy. Words matter in The Secrets We Kept and, though Pasternak is their originator, Olga, Sally, Irina, and the secret-keeping typing pool are their unsung champions.

The story is told through multiple narrators and, if I have a niggle, it is that there are eventually too many perspectives to absorb, at times diluting both characters and prose to brushstrokes. Yet, perilously close to contradicting myself, I would also like to have heard the omitted voice of Pasternak's wife Zinaida. Nevertheless, this is a gripping and illuminating debut, bound for the bestseller lists and already optioned for film, that reopens a portal in time and makes me want to grab Doctor Zhivago from my bookshelves and enjoy it all over again.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott was published in the UK by Hutchinson on 3 September 2019. Many thanks to Anne Cater and the publishers for my review copy. 

Saturday 31 August 2019

Theatre Review: Amélie The Musical at Bristol Old Vic

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Those who remember the 2001 French film Amélie with affection will thrill to this musical theatre version, playing at Bristol Old Vic on the latest stop of its UK tour before heading to London. Extensively rewritten by Craig Lucas after a limited Broadway run in 2017, Amélie the Musical captures all the whimsical charm and romantic yearning of the original movie.

Amélie Poulain grows up an unhappy child in the care of her emotionally repressed parents. Convinced that she has a heart condition, they insist she is home schooled in isolation, her only friend a suicidal goldfish. As a young woman, Amélie escapes to work as a waitress in a café in Montmartre where, despite the kinship of her employer and regular customers, she remains socially awkward and alone.

From Audrey Brisson’s previous appearances in Bristol in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and The Grinning Man, it comes as no surprise that she is exceptional in the title role as a young woman living primarily through her imagination. Brisson captures Amélie’s essential quirky appeal, combined with pitch-perfect vocals and seamless physicality. She is supported by an outstanding ensemble of actor-musicians who, under Michael Fentiman’s assured direction, propel the story forward with a combination of spoken narrative, episodic interludes, fluid movement, puppetry and joyous folksy musicality.

As Amélie is inspired to perform small acts of kindness that enhance the lives of others, she moulds herself in the image of Princess Diana. It is the shocking news of Diana’s untimely death in Paris that inspires a departure from the score’s previous harmonious melding of accordions, violins and double basses to a storming Elton John pastiche from Caolan McCarthy, bringing the first half to a thunderous close.

Though the reference to Diana tethers the setting to 1997, Madeleine Girling’s enchanting, stylised design and sepia-toned costuming harks back to an earlier era, an artisan Gallic bubble that has drifted into the late 20th century. Amélie’s kindnesses are simple, low-tech missions of human connection, from attempting to restore a memory box to its boyhood owner to transforming a grumpy greengrocer through hilarious intervention by taunting life-sized figs and coaxing her father out of hermithood in pursuit of his revered family gnome. But, while she succeeds in solving problems for those around her, she is still unable to directly resolve her own.

Danny Mac turns in a winsome and nuanced performance as Amélie’s love interest Nino, collector of discarded photo booth pictures and unlikely sex-shop worker. Having met in the maelstrom of act one, their developing relationship takes on a meandering quality after the interval, as Amélie sets a succession of puzzles and tests for Nino so that she can avoid the reality of a meeting. Though there is some padding here that could be sharpened, it is a measure of the chemistry established between the two actors and the audience’s immersion in their story that their eventual, inevitable union after so much song and movement is greeted with a still, hushed silence.

The rapturous reception of Amélie the Musical in Bristol bodes well for the production’s London transfer in December. There is so much to enjoy in this sweetly charming and uplifting celebration of life’s simplest but often forgotten possibilities, seen through the dreaming eyes of a singular, yearning young woman.

Reviewed on 16 July 2019 | Images: Pamela Raith Photography

Monday 26 August 2019

Theatre Review: The Caucasian Chalk Circle at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

This review was first written for British Theatre Guide

Never let it be said that Bristol Old Vic Theatre School lacks ambition. Having recently concluded a marathon production of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby with its graduate class, now those completing the MFA for international Professional Acting students take on Bertolt Brecht at the Tobacco Factory.

Written in 1944, The Caucasian Chalk Circle remains one of Brecht’s most accessible and popular works. Here, in Frank McGuinness’s modern translation, rather than beginning with two peasant communities in a land ownership dispute, the setting moves to an urban environment and the conflict between a local community and a property developer hell-bent on thinly-veiled gentrification. It’s an apt scenario in an area of Bristol where so much redevelopment has and is still taking place, lending added authenticity to the cast member activists greeting the audience at the door with flyers.

There’s much to enjoy as a group of travelling performers then invade the Expert’s presentation to hijack events and present a morality play over the rightful parentage of a baby, echoing Solomon’s biblical judgement. The youthful cast has an energetic life-force behind it and, under the direction of The Wardrobe Ensemble’s Jesse Jones, injects well-choreographed pace and verve into the story. The musical narration is engaging and there’s a tangible sense of mischief in many of the performances, with over-the-top archetypes of the landed elite receiving their comeuppance in the chaos of civil war, while the peasant underclass exploits their desperation, extracting a living any way they can.

At times, though, the buffoonery becomes too frenetic at the expense of narrative clarity, as eclectically adopted accents wander and some of the lines become difficult to hear when yelled with full force. But it does provide a meaningful contrast to the poignant central story of Grusha, a young servant girl who risks everything to save an abandoned baby from the war’s ravages.

Though Brecht’s emphasis is on alienation and social commentary, wanting audiences to engage in critical thinking rather than pure emotion, Grusha’s moral dilemmas are this play’s essential core and Marine Laurencelle brings endearing integrity to the role. Her tentative moments of love with her soldier fiancé Simon, played with touching warmth and understanding by James Costello Ladanyi, are the most affecting of the production, as Grusha remains true to her conscience and growing love for baby Michael, despite the great personal sacrifice entailed.

There’s effective use of projected backdrops and simple wooden crates on wheels to provide instant changes of levels, as Grusha escapes across rivers and over the mountains to the relative safety of her brother’s house. Other aspects of the staging using inflatable chairs and space-hoppers feel bizarre, though arguably adding to the aura of Brechtian absurdity. One of the most bleakly funny scenes plays out when Grusha marries Adam Troyer’s dying farmer in a bid to afford Michael protection, only to find her groom springs miraculously back to life once the war is over and he is no longer in danger of being called up.

Alice Birbara endows the wily judge Azdak with wild coke-snorting licentiousness, combined with an underlying hunger for justice that sees the chalk circle being invoked as she decides on Michael’s future parentage. Freja Zeuthen provides a comically outrageous portrayal of the spoilt, pouting Governor’s wife Natella, only interested in reclaiming her son when she realises the inheritance he will bring. This year’s students should be commended for their achievements; their production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle is memorable for some fine performances, pleasing musicality, committed ensemble work and the intensity of its retelling.

Reviewed on 26 June 2019 | Images: Mark Dawson Photography