15 July 2013


Writer: Tony Tortora 
Director: Richard Bonham

In Churchill, debuting playwright Tony Tortora has offered a vignette that is modest in physical scale, but rather grander in terms of psychology and characterisation. The play concerns the recently-deceased former prime minister arriving at neither Heaven nor Hell, but a ‘weigh station’ for the afterlife, in which Sir Winston is presented with several of his favourite artefacts in the hope he’ll be entertained until he moves to his final destination. Unimpressed with the facsimiles of the possessions of the mortal coil, and with the obsequiousness of his anonymous servant (who ends up named after Winston’s last trusted servant Howes, played by Stephen Bellamy), Churchill demands a companion more intellectually stimulating.

Enter Hitler.

Attempting to put words into the mouths of two of the most compelling public speakers in human history is an unenviable task, and Tortora has very nearly pulled it off. Daring, too, were the actors, who not only had to embody these leaders of warring nations, but to do so almost on their own for two hours. Howes and his subordinate, the down-to-earth Annie (Carolyn Eden), provide comic effect, as well as a slightly unwieldy touch of deus ex machina.

The first half is very entertaining, and feels far briefer than its hour. Jeremy Dobbs, though he doesn’t look incredibly like Sir Winston, delivers with largely accurate enunciation and carries himself with suitable gravitas. Michael Forrest was a rather less convincing Hitler, though his task was inherently more difficult. Not only are there myriad Churchill speeches to learn from, but tonight’s Hitler spoke English (in the afterlife, everyone apparently speaks English, leading Churchill to revel in the fact that he always knew God was an Englishman) and we don’t know how that would have sounded. Rather less northern England-accented than tonight, perhaps?

Whether due to the fatigue that comes with such demanding roles (and the sheer amount of lines Dobbs and Forrest needed to memorise), or press night jitters, the lead performances slipped a little after the interval. It’s especially unfortunate when Hitler stumbles over his lines just as he waxes lyrical about how fascinating a speaker he is, or Churchill chewing for rather too long on the syllables of the word ‘oratory’. The nerves noticeably diminish when Carolyn Eden appears on stage, her easy confidence and Annie’s likeability positively influencing her colleagues.

Intriguing was the actual script. It was quite obvious that at one point, commonalities would be found between the two otherwise utter enemies, so it was interesting to see how they’d arrive at such a point in the conversation. It turns out the initial thawing in the atmosphere comes when Churchill inspects the paintings Hitler has with him; they’re both fond of art. And so the occasionally too friendly debate begins. There is perhaps not enough content to justify the running time: though it would seem the two could argue forever (a notion touched upon in the play), points such as the different levels of wealth the pair enjoyed/endured growing up were rather driven into the ground. While this is also drawn attention to in the script, such self-awareness does not necessarily excuse the flaw’s existence.

As this was early in the play’s run (the third performance of this premiere run), one would hope the lead actors settle more comfortably into their lines as the nights go on, and certainly before the play debuts in London, later this summer. As it stands, Churchill is an interesting, if not entirely successful debut for Tortora, whose ambition is to be applauded. There are some wickedly amusing lines, and the subjects discussed – such as the paradox of Hitler’s anti-Semitism coexisting with his fondness for some Jews – provide food for thought. However, the play feels a little too much like a snack, when its ingredients should provide a banquet of character and drama.

Runs until 20 July 2013
This review originally appeared in The Public Reviews
Photography: Matt Tullett

05 July 2013

If you have read my blog before, you will know that I love California. I love the weather, the culture, the attitude, and even the superficiality of Hollwood that thinly veils the awesome sordidness beneath. I'm currently working on a desert rock article (you know: Kyuss, QOTSA et al), and decided I'd see what earthlings? were up to now, or indeed if they were still a thing. They are, it turns out, and here is their Facebook, which isn't the most active thing in the world.

Did discover the above video on there, though, which is pretty cool. It treads a fine line between glorious celebration of rock music played in a desert, and hipster-moving-pictures-Instagram-fest featuring scenester tatts and prescription-free spectacles. I'll let you be the judge, though as I say, I rather like it.

It'll be a far cry from the glory days of a young Kyuss hauling a generator into the desert for their ramshackle, but brilliantly inspired, gigs, but that's progress for you. New QOTSA album is really good, by the way, but I'm sure (or at least optimistic) that I'll visit that in greater detail in the near future. In the meantime, I notice my albums in the years 2011 and 2012 lists are more than a little tardy at this point.

29 June 2013

Truly Unpleasant

I don't know who this cat is, but his/her/its tumblr blog is a pretty excellent collection of western comics, manga, odd Japanese superheroes and various other examples of trashy pop-cultural bric-a-brac. I love it.

28 June 2013

Tristan and Yseult

Writers: Anna Maria Murphy and Carl Grose

Director: Emma Rice

In theory, a play about Cornish separatists shouldn’t be very engaging. Amusing, perhaps, but not quite as edifying, energising and life-affirming as this production of the timeless Tristan and Iseult (aka Yseult or Isolde) from Cornwall’s own Kneehigh theatre company.

This retelling of the other legend of doomed lovers begins almost imperceptibly, a live band playing in the background as patrons find their seats and peruse the programmes, which happen to contain white balloons. Meanwhile, geeky-looking folk on the floor (the Quarry Theatre is almost in the round) peer at their audience through binoculars, claiming to be observing relationships.

Gradually, as the room fills, we learn that we are currently in the Club of the Unloved. These observers, uniformly dressed in anoraks and snoods, are the titular romantic outcasts, doomed to view such interaction from afar. Rather than the traditionally intimate telling of classic romantic tales, this performance shows us the events from a detached point of view, the love-spotters circling a raised central stage, often breaking the fourth wall for comic effect.

Once the introductions are made (a favourite being King Mark of Cornwall/Kernow, whose every entrance is accompanied by Carl Orff’s O Fortuna), any attempt at subtlety flies out of the window, as a very able cast hurls itself – often literally – into the telling of the story with infectious energy and exuberance. While Tristan (Tristan Sturrock) and Yseult (Patrycja Kujawska) make fine use of prop ropes as though they were attempting to merge TRX workouts with acrobatics, special mention must be given to Carly Bawden. Bawden plays Whitehands, our narrator, princess of the unloved, who it also turns out is quite exquisite at singing and dancing. The cast as a whole are impressive, balancing the emotional, the physical and the comical very well.

The energy carries the plot along very nicely, itself a relatively simple tale of promises, betrayal and love potions. The play seems to lose its way somewhat after the interval, perhaps a symptom of making its running time two hours. That said, the cast and song selection more than compensate, as does the black and white theme. Babies should be baptised in black, the argument goes, so as to hide any stains picked up through the journey of life. The audience is asked to participate at points, for example the inflation and release of our white balloons during a wedding scene. The theme of colour, specifically our friend Whitehands, is a focal point of the conclusion, but that is something not to be spoiled by revealing it here. Tristan and Yseult, and Kneehigh, are highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in The Public Reviews
Photo: Steve Tanner

19 January 2013

Testing the Sexus

I got a new tablet. Well, I got a tablet, anyway. So I'm testing out how well I can blog from here. I may not be the most prolific writer of late, but it's not for a lack of good intentions. So if this toy, the Google Nexus 7, can help me blog more, then I'll be happy. You may not be, but I will. Not sure how I link to other posts from here, but I guess I'll have to figure that out. Maybe prepare a bit better before writing the post. Anyway, I shall try some pics for now. Albums of the year to follow.

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