An Evening of Comedy and Drama

Dragon Theatre Company is a company based at St George’s Hall in Gants Hill. I went along to see a production of two short plays: In the Bag by Frances Bartram, set in the back room of a charity shop, and People Like Us by Cherry Vooght, set at a seaside caravan resort.

In the Bag was an entertaining short piece about what happens when staff at a charity shop discover a large amount of money in one of the donated bags. People Like Us was a moving story about family, ageing and the prospect of death (which was more uplifting than that makes it sound!). It’s always impressive to find an amateur theatre company that focuses on producing original work, and I enjoyed the evening.

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Herstoric

Herstoric is a pair of hour-long musicals, bringing to life stories from history and celebrating the women involved. In their mix of history with modern styles of music, including rap and pop, they reminded me of Hamilton, but despite some flaws they had a charm all their own.

The Year Without a Summer by Rhiannon Drake focuses on the women in the lives of Romantic poets Shelley and Byron; in particular, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Lady Caroline Lamb. It features excerpts from Byron and Shelley’s poetry and most of the action takes place in 1816, the year when Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted, plunging the world into a temporary darkness.

A Mother’s War by Will Drake focuses on the women of the Wars of the Roses – particularly Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort. It spans several decades and culminates in the marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York, which was largely masterminded by their respective mothers and founded the Tudor dynasty.

The shows were hugely entertaining and the performances were great; particular highlights for me were, in the first show, Lady Byron’s (Emma Breton) solo number and Caroline Lamb’s (Lara Sas) confident narration, and in the second, Margaret of Anjou’s (Amy Lynch) determination and Margaret Beaufort’s (Aemilia Owen) scheming. Though they were uneven in parts and sometimes seemed slightly disjointed, they had a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop in the future.

Pomona

Pomona is a recent play by Alistair McDowall that I was excited to be able to see at LAMDA, having missed it in its previous two incarnations. The dystopian thriller sees a girl searching for her sister in a bleak wasteland inhabited by a varied cast of characters.

There were some superb performances in the show, but though I found it entertaining I did find it hard to follow. The blending of reality and fiction was captivating and the symbol of Pomona, a barren area in the centre of the city, acted as a reminder of all the things in real life we choose not to see.

The Play That Goes Wrong

I’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong several times now, but it’s the sort of play that you can watch over and over and never tire of, so I was happy to go and see it again with my mam and a friend when they were down in London. The show has been running at the Duchess Theatre for several years now, but it is still just as fresh and funny as it always was.

Of the latest cast, I particularly liked Bobby Hirston as Max (Cecil and Arthur) and Gabriel Paul as Trevor, but everyone was brilliant and full of energy. I still thoroughly recommend this show and I can’t wait to see Mischief Theatre’s new shows later this year.

Jimmy’s Fiddle

I’d never been to Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, before, but the prospect of a show devoted to the music of the North East – specifically Tyneside – drew me there. Jimmy Hill was a real life character who played and composed folk music at the Hawk public house on Bottle Bank, Gateshead, during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was known as the “Geordie Paganini”, after the famous Italian violinist.

In story and song – with a bit of clog dancing thrown in for good measure – we learn about Jimmy’s life and hear first-hand the tunes he definitely and was believed to have composed. Sadly Jimmy died at the relatively young age of forty, but left behind a legacy of folk music. It was very different to the sort of thing I normally go and see, but it was entertaining.

The Conductor

The Conductor is a play based on the novel by Sarah Quigley, adapted by Mark Wallington and Jared McNeill, telling the story of how Dmitri Shostakovich composed his magnificent Leningrad Symphony at the height of the siege of what is now St Petersburg. It takes the point of view of conductor Karl Eliasberg, a man who has not achieved the career success he would have liked, but who ends up as the conductor of the preeminent orchestra in the city, the others having decamped to relative safety in Siberia.

It’s a short play, but an absorbing story, with good performances from Joe Skelton as the conductor and Deborah Wastell as a variety of characters including his mother and love interest. Danny Wallington is also excellent as Shostakovich himself, showing how he dedicated himself to his composing and playing us several snippets from his masterwork.

Come From Away

Come From Away, the musical by David Hein and Irene Sankoff that has just arrived in the West End from Broadway, is based on a true story. During the September 11 attacks, 38 planes were rerouted to Gander, a town in Newfoundland that was formerly a refuelling stop for planes crossing the Atlantic. As a result, the population almost doubled overnight, as strangers from all over the world landed, and the population of Gander gathered to help.

We are introduced to the normal lives of these people, living quietly at the top of the world, their disbelief at turning on the news and seeing the Twin Towers fall, and how they rallied round once they heard that several planes would be arriving. They befriended these strangers, invited them into their homes, cooked meals for them, and introduced them to the ways of the Newfoundlander. This isn’t, as I had feared, a soppy or sentimental tale. Some of those involved find it difficult to get along; not every story has a happy ending. While it has plenty of warmth, the show doesn’t shy away from the nastier side of human nature: while a gay couple is happily accepted by the small town, one of the Muslim passengers is ostracised for his race and faith.

The cast do an excellent job at portraying the large number of characters; there is lots of doubling up, and while it is made clear that lots of people were involved in the events at Gander, the show naturally focuses on a relatively small number. One of my favourites was the trailblazing female pilot, played by Rachel Tucker, whose rendition of “Me and the Sky” was one of the highlights of the evening. I also liked the shy British businessman and the American divorcee who formed a relationship when they met on the plane.

The music is rousing and memorable, with a strong folk influence; I confess the accents meant I couldn’t always understand the lyrics, but I suppose that’s a good reason to buy the cast recording. A simple set surrounded by trees, a number of chairs, and an on-stage band showcased the story.

This is a hugely powerful musical, even more so because it is based on something that really happened. Ultimately it shows that the darkest of times can bring out the best in humanity.