Neighbourhood Watch

Neighbourhood Watch is a 2011 play by Alan Ayckbourn. I went to the Bull Theatre in North London to see a performance by Garden Suburb Theatre.

The play satirises “middle England” and Neighbourhood Watch schemes. It begins when brother and sister Martin and Hilda move to a new estate which they feel is being threatened by hoodlums. They decide to take steps to keep guard on their estate, but soon things get out of hand, with ID cards, locked gates, armed patrols, and even a set of stocks.

The performances were good and the play was very amusing, a commentary on the dangers of leaving law and order to well-meaning volunteers.

Separate Tables

Separate Tables, two short plays (Table by the Window and Table Number Seven) by Terence Rattigan, were performed by Theatre West Four in the studio of Ealing’s Questors Theatre. Set in the Beauregard Hotel near Bournemouth in 1954, the plays share some characters but are self-contained stories exploring human nature, loneliness and difference. The performances were very strong and I found both plays moving.

My Mother Said I Never Should

My Mother Said I Never Should is one of those plays I’ve been aware of for a long time but never got around to seeing. I went to check out an amateur production at the Putney Arts Theatre.

Charlotte Keatley’s 1985 play is about four generations of women in one family, set between London and Manchester and covering several decades in their lives. There’s great-grandmother Doris, her daughter Margaret, artist Jackie and the youngest, Rosie. It’s about secrets, love and family and it’s gripping throughout, with strong performances from each of the four leads. It’s refreshing to see a play that focuses entirely on women and their relationships, and this production does it full justice. While some aspects seem slightly dated now, overall it’s a solid exploration of highly relevant themes.

The Cardinal

Southwark Playhouse, while it has a deservedly excellent reputation, isn’t the first place I would think of in terms of seventeenth century plays. I might have to rethink that, though, as Justin Audibert’s production of The Cardinal in their Little space is unmissable for anyone interested in revenge tragedy.

Written by James Shirley, the play was one of the last to be performed during the reign of Charles I – before the Puritans banned the theatres – and has rarely been performed since.  Stylistically it’s a Jacobean revenge tragedy, technically it’s from the Caroline era. Sometimes, watching a ‘rediscovered’ play you start to realise why it has lain undiscovered all these years, but with The Cardinal I felt I was witnessing a little gem.

Set in Navarre, it is the story of the Duchess Rosaura who has been left a widow and now hopes to marry her true love, the Count d’Alvarez. Unfortunately, she has been betrothed to Columbo, the nephew of the Cardinal, with the consent of the King of Navarre. Desperate, she writes to her fiance in the army asking to be released from her contract, and owing to a misunderstanding, he consents. However, once he realises she was being serious, he is unhappy to say the least, and embarks upon a campaign for revenge.

The most famous name in the cast is RSC stalwart Stephen Boxer, and he does an excellent job as the titular Cardinal, plotting and scheming in the tradition of the best revenge tragedy churchmen. He is matched by Natalie Simpson, who is superb as Rosaura, the spirited heroine.

The plot has several twists and turns, but it’s fairly easy to follow in spite of this. As it’s a revenge tragedy, it’s natural to expect a bloodbath, but all the same the play didn’t quite go as I had expected. There’s plenty of wry humour and I can say that it’s one of the most entertaining plays of this era I’ve ever witnessed.

If I gave star ratings, I’d probably give it five, as it’s just so much fun and so excellently performed. Well done Southwark: probably the most versatile small theatre I know.

Bat Boy: The Musical

Bat Boy: The Musical is a relatively modern musical, with a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe. It premiered in 1997 and was based on a 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-boy, half-bat found living in a cave. I somehow managed to miss it when it was at the Southwark Playhouse, so was pleased to see that it was getting a student performance. I saw it performed by the London College of Music at the University of West London.

It’s the story of a young boy living wild in a cave, discovered by a bunch of young cave explorers and ending up in the care of Meredith and Shelley Parker, wife and daughter of the local vet. Against all the odds and great prejudice, the pair manage to care for him and ‘humanise’ him by teaching him to read and live like one of them. However, the supposedly respectable Dr. Parker has a secret, and it’s only a matter of time before it is discovered, threatening everything Meredith, Shelley and the ‘Bat Boy’ (now given the name of Edgar) have worked for.

Bat Boy has some good tunes but not great lyrics, and it’s not as clever as it wants to be, but it still has something interesting to say about small town life, the concept of Christian charity and how public opinion can easily be swayed. The young cast do a good job with the material, and altogether the show is thoroughly entertaining, with an unexpected twist.

The Drowsy Chaperone

The Drowsy Chaperone is one of those musicals I’d heard a lot about, but never actually seen until I bought a ticket to this production by Sedos at the Bridewell Theatre. It’s a relatively modern musical – it was first performed in 1998 – but it harks back to the 1920s golden age of Broadway, rather like 42nd Street does, but in a very different way. The show has a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

An unnamed narrator (the ‘Man in the Chair’, brilliantly played here by Alex Baker) is alone in his flat suffering from an unspecified sadness. He decides to play his favourite record, a recording of the 1920s musical The Drowsy Chaperone, to cheer himself up. As he does so, the characters come to life all around him and perform the show in front of us.

Sedos is an amateur group, but their performances are usually of a very high standard, and this production was no exception. I was hugely impressed by all of the cast, especially Corin Miller and Angus Jacobs as the soon-to-be married couple. The sets, while simple, worked very well. The music was good and served as a warm pastiche of the musical styles of the 1920s, but the best bits were actually the narrator’s asides, as he commented on his favourite scenes and remarks on the histories of the performers.

Ultimately, The Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to theatre, a show about the power of musicals which will resonate with anyone who loves them. I’m so glad I got the chance to see this show.

Every Brilliant Thing

Every Brilliant Thing is a hard watch, but it’s ultimately uplifting and life-affirming. The play is by Duncan Macmilllan and is about depression and how hard it is to help the ones you love. The main character grows up with a mother suffering from mental illness and who attempts suicide more than once. As a child, he starts a list of every brilliant thing in the world to try and encourage her to keep going, and continues the list as it grows and grows over the years. Items on the list range from ice cream, rollercoasters and people falling over, to birdsong and music.

We follow our narrator from his childhood right through to his university days, falling in love and coping with his own challenges. During the show various audience members are chosen to portray different characters in his life, from the teacher who used a sock puppet to counsel him, to his father and his girlfriend. I must admit I found this a bit daunting, hoping that I wouldn’t be the one to be picked! Overall, Every Brilliant Thing is an absorbing, moving tale, and it really makes you think.