Connecting Plays Review

Following their participation in the recent National Theatre Connections 500 festival, local youth group Characters Stage Company with their version of Bassett by James Graham, took to the boards again at St Margaret’s Hall, Bradford, on Saturday and took my breath away.

This exhilarating, startling snapshot of a generation who have inherited a world at war, performed by the older menders of Characters Stage Company, was coupled with Over 18, a new devised piece by the younger group working with writer Moira Townsend Williams and director Sophie Jacobs Wyburn.

Over 18 commented on the plight of youngsters at war ‘in response’ to Basset. The cast did an excellent job as they evoked the bombing of London; the plight of evacuees; the enlistment of under-age children in the American Civil War; and managed to snipe at the role of the media, too. Their commitment to drama was clear and each performed a variety of roles with enthusiasm.

Bassett, performed by the older group, specifically written for young people by rising star James Graham, was a modern, relevant and brilliantly nuanced by an outstanding cast. I might just as well have been at the Donmar or Hampstead. Music, costumes,Lighting all supported the group’s remarkable performance. Tensions build gradually as the group dynamic exposes the strength and fragility of the different characters and their relationships. The surprise ending had me on the edge of my seat. It’s not surprising that the production recently received a standing ovation at The Egg in Bath.

If I had one criticism, it would be that since Over 18 ‘was in response to Bassett’ the evening would have been better balanced in reverse, with this play performed second rather thank topping the bill. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that stars of the future are being born in Trowbridge – and we may not have long to wait before they are both treading the boards and lighting up the silver screen. Congratulations to the full company, producer Moira Townsend Williams, director Sophie Jacobs-Wyburn, set designer Hilary Statts and lighting designer Ziggy Jacobs Wyburn. Good job.

Written by Angela Clarence for Wiltshire Times

Dreamcatcher Review

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing a preview ofDreamcatcher, the new play from Moira Townsend Williams and directed by Penelope Wildgoose.  It’s Moira’s second play written for her innovative youth group Characters Stage Company, the first being Faceless, the anti-social media hit performance.

It tells the story of eight school friends who attend a school reunion.  The reunion has all the makings of what you would dread from such an event – horror, feelings of complete inadequacy andhideous cringe-worthy types. A binding factor however, is the realisation that none of the friends at 28, have achieved their childhood dreams.  Two of the friends, Ed, an eccentric geeky, pedantic scientist with a camera, who still lives with his mother, and Mel, the struggling waitress/student, make it their aim to help everyone realise their long lost dreams.  The forces are against them, and what follows is a tale full of surprises and intrigue, propelling you to a place somewhere between reality and imagination.

Dreamcatcher draws you in from the start with a wonderful dance sequence from the cast in which they create an American-Indian style dreamcatcher.  A cleverly reconstructed nightmare scene of the day’s events is captured perfectly which draws the viewer into the surreality.

It’s a story primarily of lost dreams and disillusion.  In common with a lot of fantasy drama, it feels this is an allegorical account of the present day government suppressing the fantasies of the young through financial cuts and restrictions, and unrealistic educational guidelines. (Achieving A starsas young as age 5 is the norm in thissetting) Lightening up, as humour is a-plenty, we have the brilliantly drawn character of the headmaster and his two lady loves. The comedic timing of each is impeccable. Added to this is the very welcome appearance from the Clamerons, the Shakesperean fools of the piece.

Without giving too much away, it has a powerful ending that had this writer at least, questioning their own life’s decisions.

The set is simple, yet beautifully appropriate to the play, with an array of props, used with great imagination.

Musically, the cast’s terrific singing voices more than do justice to the very strong original material co-written by the writer and director and add depth to an already diverse performance.

All the actors are worth noting, but standouts include Fin Griffin, playing Ed, who at just 11 years old, has star written all over him, and similarly Olivia Walker, whose portrayal of the hopelessly infatuated Sharon is just hilarious. Ellen Hendry’s performance as Mel issensitive and mature and listen out for her beautiful solos .

Director Penelope Wildgoose has put together a great play with a strong cast, smooth scene changes and a clear focus.  It’s hard to remember that these are children – the way in which they take direction is second to none.

Catch Dreamcatcher at The Arc Theatre, Trowbridge Monday 7th July and Tuesday 8th July and St Margaret’s Hall Bradford on Avon, Saturday 12th July 7pm.

Faceless Review

Faceless is an ‘anti-social media drama’ from the new innovative stage school Characters. It plays at Wiltshire’s Arc Theatre on the 6th and 7th July 2013

Nine months ago, children from Bath, Bradford-on-Avon and local areas auditioned to become part of an exciting piece of work from Characters director Moira Townsend-Williams. Directed by Suzie Latham, the result is a fresh and sophisticated play, expressed through the voice of youth today. It had me riveted from the start.

The year is 2045 and protagonist Evie, played by the highly talented Isobel Pitman, is struggling with the world of technology she finds herself engulfed in. Evie’s family only have cyber eyes for the virtual world, despite Evie’s best efforts of distraction. Let’s just say there’s not much living going on in the living room. One really feels for Evie and her need for human interaction. I felt that without it she, and the rest of the human species would simply grind to a halt. Evie is asked ‘why are you talking? why not put it on Facebook?’ Evie does find some respite with her friend Jack and his family (they even play charades) although this is short-lived.

Background newsflashes remind the audience of the age we’re in: ‘worlds last penguin found on motorway’.  It’s a world where the only music known is that of ringtones.

Although in parts dark, and worryingly believable, humour is a-plenty, including a poignant yet hilarious wedding scene where in 2045, you make your declarations to your LWW and LWH.  Don’t worry if you’re not au fait with today’s text speak, there are handy translations on the back screen.

Enjoy a trip to the Click Click Click Clinic, set up for those addicted to technology.  Techno-busting activities include trying to read a (real) book, albeit to the cries of YHAL (you’re having a laugh) when asked to give up their mobiles phones for five minutes.

Look out for the ‘Agents’, reminiscent of the Blues Brothers, the musical, comedic and cinematic legend.

The play is futuristic, however not unimaginatively so, which makes it all the more easy to become engrossed in. Intelligent, and thought-provoking, it had this reviewer trying to hide her iPad, and reach for her pencil and notepad.  I could imagine watching this in thirty years time and it just being a regular fly-on-the-wall documentary.

With haunting music and fabulous choreography, this is a hugely ambitious piece of work for the young performers, but no other age group could have played it and with such skill and aplomb.

Faceless reaches out to everyone. One scene in particular is one that many mothers out there will identify with.  Evie’s mum makes the point that hiding behind technology was an easier option than mothering, especially being able to avoid ‘all the endless questions’ .   When the mother reminisces about a time of picnics, the sea and knitting, you almost want to run out and take deep breaths so as not to miss another second of living. Many people will enjoy seeing a 70s turn-table on set. The records alone were enough to send me into my own private reverie.

As you can gather, with every scene a winner, I enjoyed it enormously, and will not be surprised to see Faceless playing in the West End.

Buy your tickets now, for fomo*

*fear of missing out