Lakeside Arts

PRESS REVIEWS

On this page you can read reviews by journalists who have attended events at Lakeside Arts Centre.

 

Review Oleanna (Nottingham)
13 May 2011
What's On Stage


“Whichever side you take, you’re wrong” was the original tag line for Oleanna, David Mamet’s exploration of the power struggle between John, a university professor and Carol, a student who accuses him of sexual harassment.

Struggling with the complexity of the course, Carol turns to John for guidance but finds herself increasingly bewildered by his convoluted academic language and intellectual double-speak. His clumsy and patronising attempts to offer help are misinterpreted by the student who accuses him of assault and, eventually, rape.

Faced with a ruined career John’s frustration over the accusations made against him spills over into a climatic act of violence which leaves the audience in no doubt who is the ultimate victor.

Clare Foster’s Carol makes the tricky transition from vulnerable co-ed to arrogant accuser with complete conviction, yet Alistair McGowan as John somehow fails to convince as a creditable potential predator. He is just a little too diffident to make his hinted “darker side” seem credible, with little real hint of menace or genuine sexual power play. As a result he wins the sympathy of the audience diluting Mamet’s contention that “the corruption is on both sides” leaving us with little doubt as to who is the villain of the piece.

Yet Matt Aston’s accomplished direction still made the by-play between the two protagonists acute in its accuracy and left many in the audience debating the issues raised by this still powerful play long after the house lights had gone up.

- Nick Brunger




Review Oleanna by David Mamet
Thursday 14 April 2011

Guardian

 
Brilliant verbal jousting ... Oleanna, with Alistair McGowan and Clare Foster. Photograph: Alan Fletcher
It is almost 20 years since the first appearance of the play that, as Michael Billington wrote, "enflamed passions and divided partners". When it was new, David Mamet's two-hander seemed to recast Educating Rita for the era of political correctness. Two decades on, the social and sexual landscape it describes has completely altered.

If Mamet's play has the power of prophecy, it has slightly diminished as drama. Simply put, the scales are no longer even. In the original production, the unctuous male academic seemed as much a victim of circumstance as his passive-aggressive female student. Yet today, for someone in a position of authority to make physical contact without expecting disciplinary action seems culpable or, at best, naive.

The play is further rooted to its period by the reliance on an inopportunely ringing phone, which Mamet practically incorporates as a third character. Today, there would simply be a stack of voicemails to deal with once the tutorial was over. What has not dated, however, is the brilliant verbal jousting. It snaps back and forth, in Matt Aston's production for new Midlands-based touring company Engine House, with the exhilarating beauty of skilled baseline players locked in a long, attritional tennis rally.

The opening exchanges are the best: Clare Foster's cheeks burn and glisten with tears of frustration as Alistair McGowan drapes smug condescension round her like a suffocating blanket. Would his character really expect to go unchallenged about referring to a committee that includes women as "good men and true"? Either way, McGowan and Foster strike me as a lovely pair of blokes.

Alfred Hickling



Review Oleanna by David Mamet
Friday 15 April 2011

Left Lion


Adrian Bhagat went to see Oleanna at the Lakeside Arts Centre

Alistair McGowan, the comedian, impressionist and serious actor, takes on the role of a university lecturer in David Mamet's play about language, political correctness and power. The play begins in the office of John, a lecturer, who is talking loudly on the phone leaving Carol, a student, waiting silently. As the supervision begins we learn that Carol, played by Clare Foster, is clearly struggling and out of her depth on the course. She is desperate to pass but she seems unable to understand the concepts and her anxiety hinders her further.

In contrast, John is perfectly at ease in his own environment. His calm self-satisfaction make Carol seem shrill in comparison giving him the opportunity to be patronising to her. From his position of power, John mocks the value of education, which shocks and offends Carol to whom education is very important. John attempts to find common ground between them but this falls flat and the yawning gap between their situations becomes more apparent. The dialogue becomes splintered as sentences are left unfinished and each protagonist seems to be part of a separate conversation.

An act that may or may not be sexual harassment leads Carol to bring a complaint against John. She apparently uses the raw facts of the event out of context to create a misleading impression. As the complaint is investigated it is John who now appears out of his depth as he fails to understand new unwritten rules of conduct and behaviour. He begins to look like a dinosaur and the failings of his character undermine him. As she gets the upper hand, Carol presses the dispute further, threatening John's career and family life.

Many people will see John as the victim of this story, but this wasn't the intention of writer David Mamet. We are lead to question whether Carol's grievance is justified - does she genuinely believe that John was at fault or is she just using political correctness as a weapon? You could see this play as praise for the ability of rules in a society to undermine authority and overturn privilege.

Having seen this play produced a few years ago, I remember having more sympathy for Carol but this time I found it hard not to take John's side. I'm not sure if the difference is due to the production or just that I'm getting old. It's true that neither of them as particularly sympathetic characters but regardless of which side you take, this is a very powerful piece of theatre, excellently directed by Matt Aston and flawlessly acted.



Review Oleanna by David Mamet
Wednesday 13 April
Nottingham Post


FROM start to finish of an uninterrupted hour and twenty-five minutes, this Oleanna is an entirely compelling production.

When Alistair McGowan (John) says, "I have an interest in the status quo. Everyone does", he indicates the audience. It's a good idea. But as a device for ensuring our concentration it's superfluous: we're already heavily involved in proceedings.

It's not simply a matter of a couple of stunning performances from McGowan and Clare Foster (Carol) – for stunning they are. The audience is treated to a deadly power struggle between two utterly realistic and believable characters in a play of astonishing thematic and textual complexity.

At a US college in the early nineties – all the way down to a dusty spider plant, it's a brilliantly observed academic office set – a foundering student has come to her professor for help.

But by near the end, when depending on your interpretation there is or is not a twist in the tail, the power relationship has been turned on its head; on the strength of her allegations of academic and sexual misconduct, he's about to be out of a job.

McGowan makes his man a professional carer and sharer of a lecturer; but he's also a pompous hypocrite, pretending to be student-centred but actually self-centred.

Foster's student is inadequate and vulnerable but wily and ruthless as well. These are performances of depth which make you care about two people, as people.

Along the way – the play's not simply a polemic – there's an examination of political correctness, feminism, the assumptions surrounding higher education, and much more. We're forced to look at the issue of self-image, indeed the whole concept of Self.

Dialogue is uncannily true to life. It's jagged and chopped up. Snatches of speech overlap with others, and the characters talk to one another without connecting or properly engaging.

She's struggling to articulate or to understand words which to him are basic; he's using speech to confuse, impress and intimidate rather than to convey information.

It's hardly a help that, concurrently with his conversations with Carol, John is unwillingly on the phone with his wife over a problematic house purchase – real estate transactions seem be a preoccupation with writer David Mamet, hence the otherwise obscure title Oleanna.

This is directed, in association with the Lakeside Arts Centre, by Matt Aston for his new company, Engine House. It's their first production. And it's a winner.

* Oleanna runs till Saturday April 23 inclusive.

Alan Geary



Review Oleanna by David Mamet
Wednesday 13 April
Theatreworld

We’re almost 20 years on from the first production in Cambridge, Massachusetts of David Mamet’s controversial play, Oleanna, inspired by the legal battle between Anita Hill, a university law professor, and her former colleague and supervisor, Justice Clarence Thomas. The charge of sexual harrassment and abuse of power brought then is brought once again by Carol, Mamet’s initially diffident and tongue tied student, against John, her professor and tutor. Times have changed but the power of the drama, particularly within this university theatre in Nottingham, remains fully charged.

Always good to grab your audience from the onset as Matt Aston, director, and designer, Laura McEwen, do from the word go. The action on stage has begun by the time we enter the auditorium. Carol (Clare Foster) sits silently and nervously. John (Alistair McGowen), her teacher, fully engrossed on the phone, ignores her. The set, John’s study, reduces the stage area by half, creating a strong focus on the actors, ironically so near physically and yet so far apart in understanding, empathy and communication. The physical claustrophobia suggests we’ll be going nowhere fast.

In 90 minutes, three scenes, and no interval we follow the story of the student who comes for help with her course work, of the teacher who attempts ineptly, condescendingly and inappropriately to do so and of the charges and subsequent demise of one/ both of them in the process. It’s a very clever play in which every word, spoken and unspoken, is vital. Mamet gives us a variety of possibilities from which we can judge. Is this student really ‘so stupid’?  Is her teacher so unaware? Is the situation a set up? Why is neither of them capable of listening? Undoubtedly these are traps that both parties would be much more aware of guarding against today. Think of assessments for teaching competence, the need for observers in vulnerable situations, not to mention training sessions to guard against discrimination. But you can’t risk proof life and human nature so that Mamet’s essential drama keeps its full relevance.

It’s a big ask of the two actors. Alistair McGowen describes the role as ‘ genuinely the hardest thing I’ve done’. He says that he and Clare feel nervous before every performance. The lines are complicated, often truncated, making little sense and not easily memorable, their main purpose being to show a lack of communication. Small movement is important. I liked Foster’s portrayal of the nervous student – facial expression and bodily twitchings, McGowen likewise, with his powerful spreading gestures indicating supremacy and control, and then, of course, Mamet’s all action twist at the end, leaving the audience stunned. Indeed the audience were incredibly focused – not a cough or sigh, so totally bound up in the situation were they and listening intently to every nuance and word. Damian Coldwell’s forboding music and sounds only confirmed the sense of doom.

So here’s a chance for Nottingham audiences to catch what can be described as one of Mamet’s most controversial plays, extremely well acted and produced and also well supported by what Lakeside describes as ‘contextualising events’ – 4 free discussion/lecture sessions to further explore the play. See www.lakesidearts.org.uk for more information

Elaine Peel

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Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 10 May 2010
Whats' On Stage

5 Stars *****

Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham: Wednesday 5th – Saturday 22nd May
Lincoln Performing Arts Centre: Wednesday 26th  May - Saturday 29th  May

Old age is the final war that most of us are called on to fight.  Jimmy’s battle is his second great conflict.  His first was as a tail-gunner in thirty missions during the Second World War – his current one against hardened arteries, prostate cancer and a series of mini-strokes that have robbed him of much of his mobility and dignity.

He ekes out his time in an old peoples’ home tended by newcomer David who is fighting battles of his own; engagements that have left him rebuilding his life as a care-assistant seeking new meaning to his existence after redundancy and a failed marriage.

At first victim to Jimmy’s frustrated baiting the two come to form a closer relationship built around reminisces of his RAF service and particular memories of wartime companions who failed to survive.

Tim Dantay and Paul Greenwood play David and Jimmy in this moving and effective two-hander from TV writer William Ivory (Common As Muck, The Sins, A Thing Called Love).  In this his second stage play and the mid-point in a “Southwell Trilogy” inspired by his Nottinghamshire birthplace and, in this case, his father’s wartime service in Bomber Command and the trials of old age, William Ivory has created a memorable drama.   

Greenwood’s Jimmy is a beautifully studied portrayal of decrepit old age in which infirmity and the close inevitability of death combine with haunting memories of youth and, in particular, a miraculous escape from the fate that befell the rest of his crew.  Dantay’s David struggles to maintain a sense of self while his world crumbles around him and the depths of his faith are tested by his relationship with his octogenarian patient.  Two powerful performances directed by Matt Aston combine to make one totally engaging night in the theatre.

Full marks to Laura McEwen and James Farncombe for an extremely effective stage and lighting design and particular for the use of the overhead fan in the flashback sequences, while Damian Coldwell’s sound graphically illustrated the terrors of a bombing raid over wartime Germany.

Nick Brunger

 

 

Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 17th May 2010
Newark Advertiser

There’s something so good about going to a play and hearing the dialogue littered with local references: Southwell, Farnsfield, Gonalston and Newark, and to hear two actors who have mastered the local dialect is even better.

Bomber’s Moon at the Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, until May 22, is a play about Jimmy, a former RAF gunner shot down in the Nuremburg raids, who is now in a Southwell sheltered housing scheme and looking back on his time during the war.

He shares his memories with his new carer David — both revealing their own stories, layer by layer, as the play goes on. It is a bittersweet tale of the past, the present and memories, both happy and painful.

The play has been written by the brilliant Southwell-born William Ivory who says that the story is loosely based on his relationship with his own father. The play looks at the role of faith in people’s lives.

Jimmy is played by Paul Greenwood, who was TV’s Rosie in the 1970s. Greenwood gives a truly wonderful and moving performance as the cantankerous Jimmy who finds himself with David (Tim Dantay) who, as a new carer, is unsure of himself. There are many flashbacks of the raids, triggered by the propellers of Jimmy’s ceiling fan.

This may be a production about old age, memories and faith, but there are moments of humour also for which Ivory is so well known. It is skilfully directed by Matt Aston.

The stage set of Jimmy’s room, featuring biscuit tins and a comfy chair, has been brilliantly designed by Laura McEwan. Both actors are on stage for 21/2-hours. Such stamina deserves a huge amount of respect. This is truly a masterpiece — LC.

 

 

Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 17 May 2010
Lax Parenting Blog


Being Nottingham born and bred it's always lovely to see local references on screen and stage. Billy Ivory's latest play has these in abundance and bases this two man show in and around his Southwell birthplace.

Set design is strikingly simple, a room in a nursing home, a ceiling fan that becomes the propeller during WW2 flashbacks, a circular window in the door becomes the 'Bomber's Moon" and a walking stick in silhouette as the gun. During the raids the noise clattered throughout the tiny theatre and the lighting was superb.

The swearing is profuse and unabashed. Jimmy played by the talented Paul Greenwood is an ill old man, ex RAF gunner who takes out the frustrations of his old age and incapacity by being rude and difficult towards his carers. His new carer David acted marvellously by Tim Dantay is a nervous man, recently separated from his wife and eager to please. Jimmy's surliness and awkward questions expose David's many weaknesses that he is trying desperately hard to hide. His faux cheerfulness teamed with the occasional slip of temper and immediate guilt and remorse makes the paring fascinating to observe.

As the relationship between the men builds you witness some touching moments of tenderness, black humour, startling revelations from their pasts and a gritty viewpoint on life post war.

At two and a half hours long this is not for the fidgety of bottom but the dynamic between the two men and some stupendous acting make this a must see production.

 

 

Review: Bomber's Moon
Friday 14 May 2010
The Weasel Under the Cocktail Cabinet Blog


Bomber’s Moon is the long awaited return of award wining writer Billy Ivory and his Southwell Trilogy to the Lakeside Djanogly Theatre after the triumph of The Retirement of Tom Stevens in 2006. Under the direction of Matt Aston, who also directed the first installment, Bomber’s Moon is a two-hander which tells the story of Jimmy, an octogenarian RAF veteran of the Second World War, who is taken painfully back to his days as a Lancaster Bomber tail gunner by the atmospheric shadows of his retirement home ceiling fan. As Jimmy relives the missions he flew over Germany, we also see the scars from another conflict, those left on his carer David, struggling with an emotional breakdown and the loss of those close to him. Both performers play their parts beautifully and the piece contains a third returning presence with David and the actor playing him, Tim Dantay, both appearing in Tom Stevens.

The play is wickedly funny and the scenes in which David and Jimmy interact in the retirement home are written with destructive force; the piece is compelling watching, the audience hanging on each revelatory word as the two men spiral downwards. Criticisms are limited but the staging of Jimmy’s flashbacks and becoming his younger self in some instances broke the close connection between him and David. However, in the second act, when Jimmy’s old comrade Frank joins him, again played by the chameleonic Dantay, there is more of a tenderness to the action which mirrors David’s affections toward Jimmy in the present.

Designers Laura McEwen and James Farncombe have created a stellar set with clever nods to Jimmy’s past, especially the port-hole door window and fuselage walls, whilst their sepia lighting and the shadows from the overhead fan take the audience back to the forties seamlessly. Equally Damian Coldwell’s sound design beautifully re-creates the terror of the raid and peacefulness of a safe return home.

This is a play deeply rooted in the East Midlands, to quote Jimmy “dug from the soil round ‘ere”, and is rich with local jokes and references. This doesn’t restrict the piece though as Ivory’s text speaks broadly about what it is to grow older, to lose and to love, in short, what it is to be human.

Bomber’s Moon: ****
Posted by Nicholas d'Eu at 09:08  

Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 11 May 2010
Left Lion

Adrian Bhagat went to see Bomber’s Moon at The Lakeside Arts Centre.

Bomber's Moon is the second play from acclaimed Notts-born screenwriter Billy Ivory. Back in 2006 I raved about his first offering, The Retirement of Tom Stevens, and together they are part of the Southwell Trilogy - a series of plays set in Nottinghamshire and exploring the life of Ivory's father. With the critical success of the first play, my expectations were very high and I am pleased to say that Bomber's Moon doesn't disappoint.

David is a character from The Retirement of Tom Stevens, played by the same actor, Tim Dantay, picking up his story a couple of years later. After a breakdown, David has started working in a care home and meets Jimmy, a former World War Two RAF gunner who is nearing the end of his life. Jimmy is straight talking, foul mouthed and cynical. David is awkward and nervous, using phrases straight out of a nurse's training manual in his attempts to connect with Jimmy. They form an unlikely friendship because they are both trying to deal with a traumatic past.

David's tries to put his marriage break-up and the death of his father behind him while Jimmy's motto is 'Never Forget' - deal with the past else it will haunt you. Each of them learns a little from the other's approach. The main theme of the play is faith, both lost and found. Their contrasting attitudes create a tension between them as Jimmy berates David for his conversion to Catholicism whilst appreciating how his faith maintains his tenuous grip on sanity. Like Dr Faustus, Jimmy apparently is determined to reject the chance of salvation that is offered to him.

Paul Greenwood, playing Jimmy, depicts the indignities and frustrations of old age with real skill. Aside from the excellent acting and the superb direction from Matt Aston, this production features a great set with excellent sound and lighting design. In flashback sequences, the room in a nursing home converts cleverly to show Jimmy's turret in a bomber plane. Realistic sound effects help to recreate the atmosphere of terror and movingly depict the courage of the crew.

Although the play sounds like heavy going, there is a thread of dark and coarse humour throughout with many laugh-out-loud moments. In brief, this is another triumph from Billy Ivory and best of all there is still another play in the trilogy to come.

 

Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 10 May 2010
Guide2Nottingham

Ian Charles Douglas went to see Bombers Moon at Nottingham's Lakeside Djanolgy Theatre.
 
Could any first day at work get off to a worse start? Naïve, bumbling David is desperately trying to succeed as a care assistant when, guess what, it all goes horribly wrong.After his first resident in the unnamed nursing home turns out to be a porridge–encrusted stiff, he stumbles into the lair of the crafty old pensioner destined to be his comeuppance.
 
Jimmy is a lewd, foul-mouthed old man, as embittered as he is incontinent. His quick wits and spiteful tongue are soon running rings around his buffoon of a carer. Thelaughs come fast and furious, as much at David’s ham-fisted attempts at befriending as the cruelties of old age. The men have nothing in common but their hopelessness.
 
Or do they?
 
The gags steadily give way to a darker context. Both men are condemned by their pasts, by circumstances beyond their control. Jimmy’s story is slowly revealed by flashbacks and monologues, a Wartime tragedy followed by a peacetime oozing with failure. Terminal illness comes as the last in a long list of humiliations.
 
Despite the pills and suppositories Jimmy is still needle-sharp, and not fooled for a minute by David’s clownish façade. His new care worker is hanging onto life by the fingertips, so emotionally scarred that his survival is as unlikely as the dying veteran’s.
And so their slow emotional tango begins. Will they overcome their feuding long enough to escape their demons? Can they find a point to their meaningless lives before it’s too late? And what secret heartaches have led both men to this sorry juncture?
 
With only two actors in the spotlight for this marathon performance, the script puts their mettle to a rigorous test. Thankfully both players nimbly fulfil the demands.
 
Those of us old enough to remember Adrian Mole, Rosie, and Captain Zep, will be delighted to see Paul Greenwood treading the Lakeside’s boards. He captures the character of Jimmy with a breathtaking skill, driving the production through an intense two hours. He excels at the grimaces, shaky limbs and all round frailty brought on by cerebral bleeds and creeping cancer. At the same time he somehow projects that crafty twinkle in Jimmy’s eyes to the very back row.
 
Tim Dantay succeeds in his role as the confused and none-too bright David. He manages the transition from a Three Stooges reject to a man too broken to continue with clarity and depth. Indeed, the character’s dumbness makes his moments of tragic revelation all the more profound.The audience’s belly laughs are replaced with a silence so complete you could hear a tear drop. And a few did.
 
Full marks to Laura Mcewen and the team for a set that links Jimmy’s RAF past to his senile present. The bloated bomber’s moon turns out to be a care home window. The ceiling fan suggests plane propellers. Even a Zimmer frame doubles for the bomber’s guns as the terrified younger Jimmy is caught in the flare-ups of a night raid.
 
And now a warning! Audience members with a faint heart might want to brace themselves for the occasional out-of-the-blue bang. The sound system works just fine at the Lakeside theatre, as my startled nerves can testify.
 
William Ivory deserves kudos by the bucketful for penning a script with a distinctive East Midlands flavour. The dialogue has a razor sharp wit while the characterisation is as focussed as anything you’d see under a microscope. He tells his story with passion, fleshing out the characters with just the right balance of pathos and comedy.
 
The story is a gently paced tour of faith and despair. Issues about care for the elderly are crammed in for good measure. Thanks then to the cast and crew for reminding us just how powerful a live performance can be.

Review: Bomber's Moon
Monday 10 May 2010
Nottingham Evening Post

Although it's part two of the trilogy begun with The Retirement of Tom Stevens this stands up brilliantly as a self-contained play. David, the same character as appears in Tom Stevens, is again splendidly played by Tim Dantay, recently seen in Joe Egg at the Playhouse.

Alongside a straightforward surface narrative - an old man in a nursing home is being visited by his male carer - writer William Ivory gives us various levels of complex and skilfully intertwined revelation. The Lincs/Notts dimension isn't an optional bolt-on; it's integral to the play.

Jimmy (Paul Greenwood) who was a tail-end Charlie on a WWII bomber, has unresolved issues; and from the start it's obvious that David is also carrying problems around with him. The mysterious borderlands between homo-eroticism and wartime comradeship and bonding are explored. And there's a strong religious theme: we get the paradox of belief in a suffering universe; and one of the men is, unwittingly, an agent of God's grace. Yet it's all done with gritty realism and black humour.

Greenwood's Jimmy is wicked and seething, an ordinary man lumbered with sexuality in a failed body. There's poetry in his reveries, not only when he quotes from John Gillespie Magee's High Flight, but there's realism in his language: "You can get away with f***ing murder when you're my age", he says.

Sound and lighting effects are powerful. A depressingly realistic and cluttered room in a nursing home converts to the inside of a bomber during the ill-fated Nuremburg Raid: the fan on the ceiling becomes a propeller; and - a marvellous touch - a round window in the door becomes the bomber's moon.

Post-break it's unnecessarily long, but a miraculously bitter-sweet ending is worth the wait.
A Lakeside and LPAC production, this is directed by Matt Aston.
Alan Geary

 

Review: Bomber’s Moon
Monday 10 May 2010
The Stage


This two-hander is the hardest thing in the world to watch but it’s a masterpiece, a portrait of old age gut-wrenchingly realised by Paul Greenwood as Jimmy, ex-RAF gunner shot down in the Nuremberg raids.

He’s venomous and foul-mouthed as he rages against his confinement, his impotence, his pills and suppositories, but he can only be savage from his chair. Once on his feet, he’s tottering and panic-stricken, entirely dependent on David, his shiny new carer. Tim Dantay is magnificent as David, comical in his eagerness and terrible in his brokenness.

He does false cheerfulness best of all, and the heart goes out to him as he tries desperately to please. It’s the shifting dynamic of the two men’s dependence on each other that Ivory explores with such observation and perception. There are moments of great trust and tenderness and times when comedy makes tolerable what is almost unbearable.

The screaming tension of the bomber raids is realised in frequent flashbacks, triggered by the propellers of Jimmy’s ceiling fan and the porthole light of his door. Life since that time has only been an approximation, and now, at the end of it, he’s faced with the big questions of faith that have always thrust themselves at him. Pick a religion, any religion, he declares - but in a neat thread throughout and a twist at the end, it’s not that simple.

The two of them are on stage for a gruelling two and a half hours. It’s endurance for which they win huge respect.

Pat Ashworth

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Review: Flat Stanley
Monday 30 November 2009
Nottingham Evening Post

LAKESIDE is carving out a reputation for family shows that prove there's life beyond panto at Christmas.
Following last year's The Happy Prince and the 2007 production of We're Going On a Bear Hunt, the theatre again turns to a classic children's book for inspiration. This time it's Flat Stanley. Lakeside's sixth Christmas show, based on the 1964 book by Jeff Brown, is possibly the most fun yet.

The tale of Stanley Lambchop, the boy who's four feet tall but only half-an-inch thick, makes for a colourful and exuberant show. Our two-dimensional hero – flattened in his bed by a falling board – is brought to life by an engaging performance from Richard Dale in a "flat suit".

Stanley discovers it's not all bad being flat – he can slide under doors, makes a great kite and can even post himself to California for a holiday. His adventures are wittily realised thanks to a colourful set, light-projections and Julian Butler's infectious score. The story is easy to follow for pre-schoolers but catchy songs and wry humour will hold the attention of older children, too.

Flat Stanley is an inspired choice for a festive family show. Keep it up, Lakeside, you've become as much a Christmas fixture as any panto.

Rob Wandsworth

 

Review: Flat Stanley
December 2009
Left Lion

Lakeside have always bucked the Christmas trend of putting on a panto over the festive period and this year is no different with their production of the modern children’s classic, Flat Stanley. It may not require any shouts of “He’s behind you!” but that’ not always a bad thing…

Stanley Lambchop is a young boy who, after an unfortunate accident with a notice board, ends up a mere half an inch thick. Not all bad, but not all good either - Flat Stanley is the tale of the adventures and challenges him and his family face with his new 2D body. From retrieving Mrs Lambchop’s ring from a grate in the street to being a kite for his brother and catching a cat burglar at a local museum - he’s definitely a hero.
Unfortunately, there are problems that come hand in hand with being flat. Stanley’s brother, Arthur, becomes jealous of all the attention that Stanley is receiving, Mrs Lambchop struggles to cope with the two boys and Stanley has to deal with being a novelty one minute and a freak the next. Thankfully, all of this is resolved in the all singing and dancing finale and the tale has a happy ending.

The potential problem of the flatness of the lead character is imaginatively dealt with on stage by putting Richard Dale (Stanley) in a flat fronted costume and using projectors to make it look like he’s slipping down a grate and under doors. With a cast of only four, they play the Lambchop family of Mr and Mrs Lambchop, Stanley and his brother, Arthur as well as the madcap extras including inept policemen, a careless doctor and a lisping museum curator. A brilliant turn by all, especially Ross Mcleod who plays the young, at times hilariously sulky, Arthur and Richard Dale who manages to cartwheel in his awkward flat suit.
 
Lakeside’s production is a bright, colourful, American 50s inspired take on the tale; the director was aiming for a ‘Hairspray for children’ and he’s hit the mark. Running at about an hour long, the show is full of song and dance and you’ll be lucky to escape without wanting to break into one of the catchy songs whilst doing jazz hands. – Alison Emm




Review: Flat Stanley
Thursday 3 December 2009
The Stage

Small children love the adventures of Stanley Lambchop, the boy who got flattened by a bulletin board in his sleep and ended up just half an inch thick. Mike Kenny’s adaptation sets the story in its 1964 context and makes it big, zany and very ‘American Dream’, with a frilly housewife frying eggs and asking: “Sunny side up, dear?”

It’s almost cartoonish at times, on a simple and colourful set, and with the story threads brought together in song and dance. Richard Dale rises to the considerable challenges of playing Stanley, limited largely to sideways and backwards movement in his strapped-on cardboard Stanley. Projected images and other devices are cunningly blended where the character needs to slip down a grating or under a door.

The four actors play everything from a lisping gallery curator to a careless doctor and a pair of cops straight out of Top Cat. It’s very jolly, particularly the scene in the portrait gallery where Stanley poses as a shepherdess and foils the dastardly robber. But the production also brings out the jealousy and isolation of Stanley’s brother Arthur, hunched in his dungarees and crying: “It’s not fair.” All is resolved in a fun finale. - Pat Ashworth

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Mark Padmore & Simon Lepper
Friday 20 November 2009

Tenor Mark Padmore's reputation precedes him. Little has been seen of him here so far, but he drew a large and enthusiastic audience for a garland of Romantic songs.

Heinrich Heine became the most popular German poet of his age. He inspired some of Schubert's last pieces, and soon his bitter-sweet verses found one of their greatest musical transcribers in Robert Schumann, whose Liederkreis Op. 24 opened the concert.

The second half was devoted to the 16 songs of Schumann's Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), where the composer binds Heine's lyrics into a visionary cycle on the age-old theme of thwarted love.

Between these two cycles, Padmore offered an agreeable taste of the lesser-known 19th-Century composer Franz Lachner, who also set Heine ballads to music.

Schumann's style, though, is inimitable, using melody, rhythm and harmony to project an intensely vivid world of its own. That world was memorably re-created by the singer in every nuance and gesture, Simon Lepper complementing him with equal intensity at the piano.

Elaborate postludes left no doubt that the musician was claiming the last word. His song of the lotus-flower made a fetching encore.

Peter Palmer

Review: University Of Nottingham Choir and Orchestra, Albert Hall
Monday 30 November 2009

This was a concert of Eastern European music whose planning was as skilful as its execution. Take the first half: two works which very few in the audience would have heard before but which will have left many deeply moved and eager to hear them again.

Szmanowski's Stabat Mater attacks the pit of your stomach as well as your tear ducts. This is music which, under the direction of Sarah Tennant-Flowers, emerged as urgent, passionate and intensely beautiful. Of course it needs expert performers to negotiate its complexities – so hats off to the University Choir and Philharmonia for being such fine advocates. Soloists Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo) and William Berger (baritone) radiated conviction, whilst soprano Rebecca von Lipinski was simply outstanding in the high-lying soprano role .

Novak's In the Tatra Mountains was the other discovery. Rugged mountain landscape, threatening clouds, violent storm, setting sun: these were the basic elements of what conductor Jonathan Tilbrook ensured was a memorably dramatic symphonic poem, surely deserving of a more prominent role in the repertoire.

More familiar territory in the second half: Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet (again totally committed, passionate playing) and Dvorak's majestic Te Deum.

WILLIAM RUFF

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NG Magazine - Annie Cliffe
Monday 9 March 2009

Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre presents a fascinating portrait of D. H. Lawrence written by the Nottingham-based, Sneinton-born playwright Stephen Lowe. The play takes as its inspiration from a very specific period in Lawrence’s life, just after the completion of his most infamous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
   
The novel and its illicit content had initially been refused by most publishers. In the play, Lawrence and his wife Frieda are looking for a last resort, so they travel to France to visit American publishers Harry and Caresse Crosby to convince them it is a novel ‘worthy’ of Lawrence’s genius.
   
Dantay does credit to D.H. Lawrence's contradictory character.
   
Empty Bed Blues depicts an impoverished Lawrence whose moods swing pendulum-like between wry humour and despair. Believing his book to be the necessary shock to induce a sexual revolution, but unable to convince others, the play is a meticulously detailed impression of his artistic struggle. Tim Dantay comes to life as the tortured artist but creates a deeply personal version of this type. A powerful presence on stage, he does credit to the contradictions of Lawrence’s character and the turbulent yet tender relationship with Frieda is convincing.
   
The emphasis on the autobiographical significance of Lady Chatterley is an interesting one and the interpretation of the most notorious of Lawrence’s novels and provides the vital human element. Lawrence and Frieda’s marriage is deliberately paralleled with the liberality of the much younger Crosby’s. Sexuality infuses the stage of Empty Bed Blues just like the narrative of Lady Chatterley and desire openly surrounds Lawrence himself.
   
Passionate crusade against the oppression of desire.
   
However, the gap between Lawrence the writer and Lawrence the man is clear. His fiction and its radically candid and celebratory depiction of sexuality stands starkly at odds with his views on his own life. The play makes clear this contradiction between his passionate crusade against the oppression of desire and his own personal adherence to tradition. The play could certainly have benefited from some ruthless editing to avoid the brilliantly acted scenes of Lawrence’s irrepressible passion becoming tired.
   
All in all though, Empty Bed Blues is an exciting, well acted and well produced performance. And the ingenious stage-design that incorporates a revolving set and exquisite projections is definitely well worth a look.
   
 

Left Lion - Adrian Bhagat
Wednesday 11 March 2009

Adrian Bhagat went to see Empty Bed Blues

One weekend in 1929, D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, visited a wealthy young American couple living in Paris. Lady Chatterley's Lover had been banned in Britain and the impoverished Lawrence was seeking funds to publish an American version, hoping to gain a wider readership and to gain a much-needed income. The poet Harry Crosby and his wife Caresse were typical of the Lost Generation - living a Bohemian lifestyle and consciously rebelling against social norms. Stephen Lowe's new play gives an account of the encounter between the two couples and throws light on the final months of Lawrence's life.
 
At this point, Lawrence was ill with tuberculosis and had only a short time to live. Aware of his own imminent death he was trying to create his legacy through literature but at the same time dealing with a troubled relationship with his wife. The main theme of the play is the contrast between the gloomy Lawrence and the hedonistic Crosbys. They had each expected to find kindred spirits in the other but their forms of rebellion were very different. The Crosbys are surprised to discover that Lawrence's lifestyle is conventional and find him reserved and morose. In contrast, Lawrence finds the Crosbys' hedonism shallow and meaningless and he seeks to make a breakthrough in his literature rather than in his life.

The Crosbys misunderstand Lady Chatterley as the work of an inhibited man unable to break free from convention and consider it an inferior work. Lawrence tries to explain the real value of the work but in doing so has to reveal the emotional pain caused by his writing and the difficulties of his personal life, causing much discomfort for his wife. He expresses his frustration at the censorship of his work, believing that it has the ability to change society and as we know, although it took more than thirty years, his belief was proved correct.
 
As well as a portrait of Lawrence's final years, this play is also a meditation on the nature of rebellion and is rich in symbolism. The cast of four are excellent and in particular Tim Dantay plays Lawrence very well. The set is mostly comprised of animated back projection, evoking both the Crosbys' tropical garden, complete with rippling lake and flying birds, and the stone walls and log fire of the house, which is extremely effective. Throw in Matt Aston's excellent directing and you have a fascinating experience that gives plenty of food for thought.


The Evening Post - Alan Geary
Wednesday 11 March 2009

D H Lawrence is a massively over-rated writer. Most of his ideas are not just wrong: they're a load of half-baked nonsense that won't stand scrutiny. And his prose is usually dreadful. In this play, Stephen Lowe's latest, Lawrence strides about pontificating exactly as he writes.
But don't let that put you off. The play is rich and interesting at many levels, it's a visual delight - and it's stunningly well acted by everyone.

DHL and his wife Frieda are visiting Harry and Caresse, a couple of wealthy American aesthetes; they want Harry, a publisher, to put up the money for Lady Chatterley. Lawrence, racked with tuberculosis, has only months to live.
Sex is the over-arching theme, of course, but the play is interwoven with discussion of class, cultural values and religion.It's also paradoxical, funny and tragic.

Tim Dantay is outstanding as Lawrence. He captures the repression, the social awkwardness and the chip on the shoulder remarkably well. And so is Clare Calbraith as Caresse, who despite her ridiculously open relationship with Harry, is as in need of proper love as the rest of us.


It's an ingenious set, with a real pool of water from which Harry (Tristan Tait) makes his entrance stark naked in the first few seconds. Frieda (Marion Bailey) also takes a dip later on, and so does Caresse. It's symbolically significant that Lawrence is the only one who doesn't.

Directed by Matt Aston, this is another fine in-house production from the Lakeside Arts Centre.

 

Whats On Stage - Nick Brunger
Thursday 12 March 2009

It’s the Easter of 1929 and DH Lawrence is dying. Racked by consumption and stony broke, he desperately needs to find a publisher for his infamous “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”.  And while his illness means that his own “cock fails to crow” he is obsessed by his secret knowledge that his beloved wife Frieda is having a passionate affair with their Italian gardener.

For financial help he turns to Boston aristocracy in the form of playboy publisher Harry Crosby and his wife Caresse who live a live of drug-and-alcohol-fuelled excess just outside Paris.  But living the hedonistic lifestyle is one thing – will the Crosbys find themselves able to give their blessing to Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel?

Stephen Lowe has based Empty Bed Blues on the diaries of the four protagonists with Lawrence’s voice the loudest, though never the clearest, of the characters.  Tim Dantay is stunning as the self-absorbed writer whose prudish nature is at odds with the passion he puts down on paper.  Socially a million miles away from the racehorse-owning Crosbys, his heart is still with the Nottinghamshire miners - “true thoroughbreds who haul black coal into the light of day”.

Sex is the dominant theme of this wordy but powerful play, set around the lake on the Crosbys’ estate, where skinny-dipping ensures that there is plenty of naked flesh on view from Tristan Tait’s appearance as Harry from the (real) pool of water to the visually absorbing final scene when the video-projected backdrop brings surprises of its own.

However, love is also central to the story as Clare Calbraith’s Caresse reveals when she muses on the nature of her open marriage and Marion Bailey, as Frieda, speaks of her tender relationship with Lawrence that transcends her physical affair with the gardener.

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The Evening Post - Karen Shale
Saturday 6 December 2008


From the minute the first actor burst on stage, the hider in a game of hide and seek, the young audience was gripped.
But when a statue of a lion started talking, with blue flashing eyes, the game took on a comedy element. The lion begged to be allowed to join in and was told he could be lookout. But every time the hider (Nicky Rafferty) hid, the lion sing-songed: "There she is, behind the bench, la la la" or "There she is, behind the bin, we can see you, yes we can" as the foot-stamping actor berated him, in child-like frustration. It was almost slapstick. And the audience loved it – my daughter just chortled for about the first 15 minutes.

Then the seeker (Charlie Buckland) comes on stage. The pair decide to renact some famous stories. And one of them is The Happy Prince. Here the play takes on an altogether more serious tone.

Oscar Wilde's tale – adapted by Annie Wood and directed by Matt Aston – tells the tale of a golden statue, the Happy Prince. One night a swallow on his way to Egypt for the winter rests at his feet. She thinks it is raining but realises it is the statue crying. He wants the swallow to help but the swallow needs to fly to warmer climes and is faced with a dilemma.

So how does the statue get his way? The same way many of the audience probably get theirs... by throwing a hissy fit and bawling. Cue hysterical laughter from the audience again.

 The statue sacrifices his jewels, his gemstone eyes, his very fabric – his gold – to help the needy living in the sprawling city below. The 1888 tale is brought bang up to date with puppets of the unhappy people... Big Issue sellers, sick children in poor families... And in the end the swallow sacrifices her life... in her quest to make the statue happy by helping to make others happy.

The extra touches – the snow falling on the shivering swallow, the gold falling on the audience – add to the magic for the youngsters.

The children's productions at Lakeside rarely disappoint. They are inventive and engage their audience, involving them as much more than mere spectators – encouraging them to think outside the box a bit. And they are a treat for the parents too. The small, intimate yet relaxed setting means you don't feel embarrassed if your toddler decides to shout back at the actors, join in at inappropriate moments, etc. There's a way to get youngsters involved in theatre, to create a lifelong love of it, and Lakeside leads.

The excellent hands-on tie-in exhibition by Bramcote CofE school – working with artists Fiona Richardson and Liz Osbourne – has a shop, an office, a tent... and more. It is in the Wallner Gallery until January 11.

 

The Stage Review - Pat Ashworth
Wednesday 10 December 2008
Small children love this contemporary version of Wilde’s imaginative tale of the swallow who pauses to rest by a statue on her migration to Egypt. In the litter-strewn park garden where two children compete to make a story, a self-opinionated stone lion is stilled with sleep dust and the Prince bawls his eyes out to retain Swallow’s sympathies.

The audience is very involved at Lakeside, where they get to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as the tiny, violin-shaped puppet musician gets warm enough to finish his composition. They scramble to retrieve the showered scraps of gold that first float on to the stage area and then get fired into the auditorium. A gentle fall of snow is another marvel, and the final magic of the fountain playing leaves them satisfied.

Charlie Buckland as the ebullient Hector and Nicky Rafferty as a homely Angel engage with the audience to convey the warmth and the fun. But they don’t quite succeed in creating the hostility and alienation of the town into which the Prince and the Swallow work their miracles, and the poignancy and tragedy that is the dying bird as winter falls and her journey south is no longer possible.

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Nottingham Evening Post - Alan Geary
Wednesday 7 May 2008

THIS intelligent new piece from Stephen Lowe, a two-hander and a thriller, is utterly different from his new Brian Clough play, The Devil's League, currently awaiting performance; but it shares with it that thing called excellence.

In a seaside photographer's cluttered studio the proprietor (Deborah, played by Tanya Myers), is at work, drinking. A stranger (Jan, played by Daniel Copeland) comes in wanting a picture. He has a foreign accent and poor English. It soon becomes clear that Deborah was once a famous photographer in a war zone, but now prefers anonymity.

Arguably Myers is too attractive for her part (only arguably - a lot of female war photographers seem to be glamorous), but she captures the hard nosed seen-it-all cynicism of her character. Her philosophising isn?t entirely realistic but this isn?t that kind of play.

Copeland gives a miraculous performance. He's sad, ordinary, vulnerable, simple-hearted - and menacing - all at the same time. There's some of the feel of the character he played in The Caretaker at the Playhouse in 2006; he even wears an old suit and has problems with his shirt-tail, as he did in that production. The menace in this play comes from Copeland.

There's slow development at the start, but to have done it differently would have offended the integrity of the piece. It suddenly hits the spot at a highly dramatic moment.

As with all thrillers, you can't give the game away, but there's hope as well as tragedy in this play.

Metro - Wayne Burrows
Friday 9 May 2008

Stephen Lowe's play reflects on images and the realities they can conceal. Deborah (Tanya Myers) is a burnt-out war photographer who has traded her career for a quiet end-of-the-pier berth, where she pastes together fake postcards for tourists. When Jan (Daniel Copeland) stops by her studio, he asks questions about a photograph of a deserted scene at a cafe in Eastern Europe, one that may be worth killing for. The exchange that follows brings Deborah's erasure of her life's work into a head-on collision with Jan's desire for truth. In Matt Aston's taut production, Jan's puppet show proves to be a more lasting document of real events than Deborah's 'cleansed' photographs. As the characters shed their masks, Smile builds to a gripping conclusion where redemption and terrible violence seem equally possible outcomes.

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Mansfield Chad - Tony Spittles
Wednesday 16 January 2008

Panto legend zaps Z-list newcomers

Panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor's in top form in 'Twinkle Little Star'

FANS of actor, writer and director Kenneth Alan Taylor will know that he's been a panto legend for more than two decades with his flamboyant family entertainment at Nottingham Playhouse.
But for those making the short trip out of the city to the Lakeside Arts Centre will see a different side to Kenneth, and the whole fizzy world of panto, in the dark, adult play 'Twinkle Little Star.'

This 90-minute one-man show — on until Saturday 26th before touring to Wakefield, South Shields and York — is a tour-de-force for Kenneth who plays an ageing panto dame, reflecting on a lifetime in the theatre and the changes in his stage and personal life.

Writer Philip Meeks got the inspiration for this new take on panto from one show in Newcastle which saw a Big Brother-type winner catapulted before the footlights, sharing the stage with a seasoned performer who no longer had top billing.

This loss of face, and the dumbing down of the panto tradition, were beautifully articulated by Kenneth who, as down-on-his-luck Harold Thropp, arrives at his dingy, basement dressing room ready for another gruelling panto run as Widow Twankey.

Now sidelined in favour of the Z-list pop star of the moment, Harold looks back at the time he gave up working at an electrical shop to tread the boards as the youngest panto dame in Britain.

In a script full of witty and sharp observations, the has-been stage star rues the ever-changing and downmarket edge to panto, whether it was being greeted by a company manager "who looked like she was 12" to a pop-based programme that saw his many dress changes curtailed, the same fate befalling the end-of-show tradition of an audience singsong sheet or youngsters being invited up on stage.

However, this is not a show for children, but it's one where the wonderment and innocence of panto fun and games seems to have changed, and not always for the better — especially with a shocking finale that I did not expect.

 

Nottingham Evening Post - Alan Geary
Thursday 17 January 2008

For someone famously associated with panto - his latest is currently running in Nottingham - this one-hander seems a brave venture. Kenneth Alan Taylor plays Harold Thropp, a gay old pantomime dame "teetering on the brink of clapped-out". The action takes place in his dressing room, where, as he transforms himself into Widow Twankey, he talks to the audience.

It's a real-time monologue revealing the often seedy side of panto and simultaneously telling the pathos-filled tale of Thropp's life, much of it in pre-Wolfenden cottaging days. Writer Philip Meeks tells us in the programme that the character was suggested by the late John Inman.

Taylor does one-handers about elderly men well but for sheer excellence of acting this stands out. From his masterly timing to the way he uses hands and finger-tips he's totally convincing. Thropp comes over as a non-saintly, oddly prudish gay, a curmudgeon at odds with contemporary youth and most things modern.

Mark Walters's set is brilliantly conceived. A dressing-room, yes, but, done in primary colours, it's deliberately made to look as fake as a pantomime set. Background sound is evocative of a world of stage entertainment now past.

And there's a wicked twist in the tale.


BBC Nottingham - Nick Brunger
Thursday 17 January 2008

A fading Widow Twankey gives us a glimpse of the seedier side of pantomime as he plots revenge against the reality TV star who has made his life a misery. 

In a dingy basement dressing room Harold Thropp prepares to become Widow Twankey for the final time.

Forced into dressing room number 5 by today's generation of pantomime stars – a fading pop star, the mandatory Australian soap actor and a reality TV contestant – he looks back over a long career on the boards.

Once the youngest dame in Britain he no longer has to use make up to paint the character lines on his face. He has also given up the six inch heels is which he chased Prince Charming up the palace steps for a pair of boots that lets him get "as close to the ground as possible."

But as he makes up in preparation to help switch on the town's Christmas lights Harold plots his revenge on Jezz, the Genie, who got his part by winning a "Big Brother" style telly show and who has turned the rest of the cast against him.

The final twist in this carefully crafted revenger's comedy reveals that stars can twinkle in more ways than one.

First choice for the role

Thropp is brought to life by the Lakeside's first choice for the role, Nottingham's favourite pantomime Dame Kenneth Alan Taylor.

Ken's just directed his 24th panto for the Nottingham Playhouse – although sadly sidestepping the role of Dame in recent years.

Actor and character both share a love of the traditions of pantomime. But while Alan Taylor has managed to keep those traditions alive each year at the Playhouse, Thropp hates the way they have become eroded by the so-called stars off the telly who help put bums on seats.

As we watch in real time the dressing room preparations we learn some of the secrets of the craft – how to make your legs look their best in not one but two pairs of tights – and how its considered bad luck to allow the rest of the cast to see you don your make-up.

We also learn how a stroke of bad luck put Harold back on the boards after retirement – and how a skill learnt in the past might help him get his revenge on Jezz.

How the writer found his plot

Writer Philip Meeks got the idea for the play on a miserable night in Newcastle looking at window display's outside the city's Theatre Royal.

"John Inman was in Aladdin as Twankey with some dreadful bloke who'd made an arse of himself on Big Brother," he said.

"I thought it must be awful for someone who's made playing Dame a significant and serious part of his working life to perform against someone who's only talent is being themselves.

"When I learned I was in town on the day the Christmas lights were being turned on I soon had my plot worked out."

Spooky

After previous single handed performances at the Lakeside in "Krapp's Last Tape" and "A Visit From Miss Prothero" Kenneth Alan Taylor's command of this role will come as no surprise.

Those in the know say that Ken himself is a million miles removed from the miserable and careworn old actor he plays in Twinkle; but there has to be room for more than a little suspension of disbelief when he's breathing life into a part that could so easily be confused with his own character.

The spooky thing is that he will be back at the Nottingham Playhouse later this year in Aladdin - playing Widow Twankey!

Let's hope that his fellow actors get to see him as Harold Thrupp and learn a little respect for a fine old thesp.

Otherwise – like the play's Jezz – they could end up twinkling in a way they least expect!

BBC Nottingham - Nick Brunger
Friday 18 January 2008

Reversing roles

Nottingham's best loved dame - Kenneth Alan Taylor - on his latest role as the man behind Widow Twankey.

"Now the wrong side of 60 he feels like the best years are behind him."
These are of course the thoughts of Harold Thropp, once the youngest dame in Britain and not those of Nottinghamshire's own star dame.

Kenneth Alan Taylor - writer, director and star - has delighted audiences for 24 years with his pantomimes at the Nottingham Playhouse. His name is as 'Nottingham' as Torvill and Dean, Paul Smith, Raleigh and Alan Sillitoe. 

He's presently on stage at Lakeside, Nottingham, in Twinkle Little Star, a production about an ageing actor.

The two dames

Despite both Kenneth and Harold regularly dressing up as women Kenneth insists that Harold couldn't be further away from his own character.

"He's nothing like me whatsoever!" 

The Nottingham legend's been on stage for over two decades but still finds this solo performance nerve-wracking.
"There's quite a few tricky technical bits in it for me to do, you know, things I've done for years but it's very different when you're doing it in front of an audience, when you're saying the lines of another character and you're putting makeup on."

Although being a family favourite Kenneth is keen to point out that his new role is not for children.

"It's very, very funny but it has its bleaker, darker moments with adult humour in it. But there's not too much bad language... well there is a little bit."

Good news

Gaining three grandchildren since he last played the dame in 2001, panto lovers will be delighted to hear that, for one last time, Kenneth will be "putting on the sling backs and false bust again" and returning to the stage as Widow Twankey in Aladdin in 2008.
 

Nottingham Evening Post - Alan Geary
Friday 17 January 2008

Seedy, pathos-filled winner.

For someone famously associated with panto – his latest is currently running in Nottingham – this one-hander seems a brave venture. Kenneth Alan Taylor plays Harold Thropp, a gay old pantomime dame “teetering on the brink of clapped-out”. The action takes place in his dressing room, where, as he transforms himself into Widow Twankey, he talks to the audience.

It’s a real-time monologue revealing the often seedy side of panto and simultaneously telling the pathos-filled tale of Thropp’s life, much of it in pre-Wolfenden cottaging days. Writer Philip Meeks tells us in the programme that the character was suggested by the late John Inman.

Taylor does one-handers about elderly men well but for sheer excellence of acting this stands out. From his masterly timing to the way he uses his hands and finger-tips he’s totally convincing. Thropp comes over as a non-saintly, oddly prudish gay, a curmudgeon at odds with contemporary youth and most things modern.

Mark Walter’s set is brilliantly conceived. A dressing-room yes, but, done in primary colours, it’s deliberately made to look as fake as a pantomime set. Background sound is evocative of a world on stage.

And there’s a wicked twist in the tale.

 

Metro - Wayne Burrows
Thursday 17 January 2008

According to its author, Philip Meeks, this one-man show was inspired by the late John Inman, whose name appeared on a theatre poster alongside a former Big Brother contestant. Enter Harold Thropp, the fictional ageing pantomime dame who will hold our attention for the duration of this startling piece of theatre.

With Inman himself gone, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect actor for the role than Kenneth Alan Taylor, whose love of panto is second to none, and whose last appearance at Lakeside was in Samuel Beckett’s powerful reflection on age and memory, Krapp’s Last Tape. Thropp considers his life and has realised, as his audience might shout, it’s behind him. He gripes about his dressing room and political correctness, remembers the man he loved and lost and plots his revenge on the reality TV star who humiliated him the previous year.

We hear about the glory days of British theatre, the risks and pleasures of 1950’s cottaging, an electrical apprenticeship and a dysfunctional relationship with a less-than-doting mother, all while Thropp transforms himself from an elderly gent to an outlandish parody of femininity. The exhilarating switches in mood – from grumpy comedy to bleak sentiment and borderline madness – are more than matched by Taylor’s virtuoso performance, in which the words Beckett and the pantomime dame collide in an unlikely but memorable confessional.

 

Nottingham Evening Post -Jeremy Lewis
Friday 18 January 2008

Old Curiosity Thropp

Kenneth Alan Taylor remembers the first moment he got his hands on the script for Twinkle Little Star, the monologue by Philip Meeks which runs a detailed rule over the life of a fading pantomime dame.

“The very first line grabbed me straight away,” says Taylor, who as a writer, actor and star knows a thing or two about Christmases in greasepaint and noisy frocks – the curtain is about to fall on Dick Whittington, his 24th annual romp at Nottingham Playhouse.

“The character is preparing to play Widow Twankey for the very final time. He is called Harold Thropp and he is charming, witty, vicious and sad.”

That’s plenty for Taylor to be getting on with in this Lakeside co-production with York Theatre Royal.

“It’s a very complex and amazing piece of theatre,” adds the performer. “Harold is a completely rounded character. I can’t say too much, but eventually you get his whole life story and learn why he is doing what he is doing.”

On the face of it you’d have thought Taylor would have identified with Thropp. They have long careers as panto dames in common, but they are very different chaps. Thropp is nastier, and he also happens to be gay; in fact, although this is not a “gay” play, the character’s long term relationship is a strong and recurring theme of the story.

Writer Meeks has told how he was inspired by the irony of seeing John Inman (never mind the crude squeaking and wrist-flapping in Are You Being Served?, he was a proper theatre pro) having to share top billing in the Newcastle panto with an untalented, inexperienced nobody who just happens to have been on Big Brother.

Clearly such injustices also upset fellow pros Taylor and his co-directors Matt Aston and Damian Cruden (York Theatre Royal): there is plenty of chuntering over pre-rehearsal coffee as we discuss the position in which the tetchy Thropp finds himself.

“He is now fifth on the bill, after an Australian soap star and a clapped-out pop singer,” says Taylor. “Of course he is bitter. So would I be!”
Aston sums it up: “What some people don’t realise is that to be good at pantomime, you’ve got to be a good actor.”

A good actor plays a good actor at Lakeside’s Djanogly Theatre.

 

Left Lion - Adrian Bhagat
Monday 21 January 2008

If someone mentions Kenneth Alan Taylor, you will no doubt think of pantomime. Famously, Taylor has not only written and produced the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime for the last 24 years but he always plays the dame. What you might not know is that he is a fantastic actor and this play gives him a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Philip Meeks' play is that it wasn't written with K.A.T. in mind. The play is a monologue delivered by Harold Thropp, an aged pantomime dame, reminiscing about a life spent doing what he loved and regretting the loss of history and tradition.

Thropp sits in a dingy dressing  room cleverly reproduced on stage in a pantomime style where the furniture is drawn as if in a comic book. Harold goes through his well practised routine as he dons frock, wig and make-up to be Widow Twankey at the turning on of the town's Christmas lights. He arrives fuming that he has been given a third-class dressing room and this is to be a constant theme as he complains of the decline in respect for pantomime traditions. His arch enemy is Jezz, the famous-for-being-famous reality TV star who is the real draw for the audience. Harold suffers multiple indignities and humiliations as his scenes and costume changes are cut in favour of his brutish nemesis's cheesy pop tunes.

In between these foul-mouthed rants, Harold's mood becomes more reflective as he tells of his early career as the youngest pantomime dame and the joy of his early performances. He remembers with warmth nights spent cottaging in London's public conveniences and the odd characters he found there, troubles with the law and his many happy years with his now deceased partner.

Harold, living within a world of memory and sentiment, seems to be as obsolete and unsuited to the modern world as others see him. Though he is pitiful, bitter and malicious, we also grow to have respect for him and the tradition he represents as he coaxes us into seeing the world through his eyes. Although this piece is mostly a character study, Harold's plan for revenge on Jezz is gradually revealed and we share his delightful anticipation of its fulfilment.

Since the Lakeside began producing its own plays, they have yet to present anything of less than top-notch quality; mostly it seems thanks to the wonderfully talented producer Matt Aston who co-directs this piece. Twinkle Little Star is another triumph for the Lakeside.

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