Production Present Laughter
Reviewer Phil Williams
Publication Dark Chat Reviews
Tread the Boards present laughter, hijinks and hilarity with
a smooth undercoat and glossy finish that once again make many full-priced West
End theatre companies seem like DIY cowboys.
A fully decorated stage marked a departure from the typical
bare black boards we are used to in the Attic theatre; there were so many rugs
on stage you could tell the Easter Bank Holiday carpet sales had started. The
backwall was also fully decorated with black and white photographs, Italian
theatre masks and the trusty HMV gramophone (if ever Darkchat introduce a ‘prop
of the year’ award, this will become the Roger Federer of the theatrical props
world). For once we felt transformed to a home setting in the Attic, rather
than a stage ready for a production. We were tempted to take off our shoes,
place our feet on the head of the audience member sat in front of us, and
summon the butler for a stiff port before nap time (if only we had a butler, or
any port), and all the better for it. Thankfully, what followed matched the
splendour of the stage itself.
The plot, familiar to most, centres around theatrical Garry
Essendine and his preparations for an upcoming play tour in Africa. In the
hectic days prior to his voyage to the southern continent, Garry manages to
squeeze in enough romantic engagements to keep a James Bond fan happy, crush
the theatrical dreams of devoted fan Roland Maule, and dismantle the business
partnership that has funded Garry’s rise to theatrical success. All of which is
done with a dressing gown, an overabundance of witty putdowns, and a vat of a
rather disappointing sherry.
Essendine himself is the embodiment of Coward, and the play
requires a strong Coward-esque performance to carry it through. With almost
half the script devoted to Essendine, the production would either sail
unrestricted to Cairo, or be sunk before it had even managed to leave
Portsmouth harbour without the right actor in the lead role. In Charlie Davies,
TtB have found an assured and able captain, one which sails it effortlessly on
its long (and it is indeed a long play) journey with barely a ripple of
disturbance along the way. In short, Davies is astounding in the lead role;
every stomp, hand wave and eyebrow rise is perfectly tuned to the poisonous
dialogue he is armed with. Davies commands the stage whenever he is given the
opportunity to shine, spitting every syllable from every putdown at his victims
in a manner akin to the great Rowan Atkinson himself.
As ever, the supporting cast is a strong ensemble, with
particular credit to John-Robert Partridge as enthusiast and weirdo Roland
Maule who provides total hilarity in his brief scenes with his short bursts of
energy, heavy handshakes and squeaky laughter. Sonia Saville plays a strong Liz
Essendine and emerges as perhaps the only cast member who manages to shun
Davies from the spotlight when the two lock horns. James Parsons also makes a
fine second act turn as Morris Dixon, the love victim of Garry Essendine who
moves swiftly through the emotions late on.
Director Keith Myers has reproduced Coward’s vision with
great skill and attention to the detail, and it was warmly appreciated by
packed audience. This is Tread the Boards finest production since Frankenstein,
and we look forward to much more from this hidden gem of Stratford theatre.
Production An Inspector Calls
Reviewer Sandy Holt
Publication Stratford Herald
Less is definitely more in Tread the Boards theatre company’s
latest production, An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley.
As with all of the
productions at The Attic Theatre at The Lazy Cow, Bridgefoot, Stratford, there
is always the challenge of the space. Yet this company has not only mastered
the art of bringing versatility to its approach in staging, but also addresses
how to engage with the audience without gimmicks.
Director Andy Woolley has stripped his production to the bare
minimum, giving the actors the opportunity to really discover their characters
Set against a backdrop of just a golden sofa and chair,
alongside a drinks trolley, this design allows the audience to focus on what is
really important – the wonderfully constructed script.
It is common knowledge that this thriller questions morality
and leaves its characters having to take responsibility for their actions. And,
despite the original, first performed in 1945, being set in 1912, the message
behind this classic three-act drama is still relevant today. You can’t help
going away considering the impact one’s actions have on others both then and
now. Your conscience is pricked.
The director has carefully constructed his production to give
the impression each member of this middle-class family is brought to the dock
to give evidence on their involvement in a young girl’s suicide.
Bayliss offers a wonderfully sanctimonious head of the house as Mr Birling,
with Juliet Grundy a haughty side-kick as his wife, Sybil.
Partridge is a determined Inspector Goole, passionately bringing the moral
message of social responsibility to the stage and Catherine Prout a
worldly-wise yet impulsive daughter, Sheila.
(Gerald Croft) Richard Lee O’Donnell (Eric Birling) and Clare Sykes/Marion
Braddish (sharing the role of Edna) complete the strong cast.
Production Blithe Spirit
Reviewer Sandy Holt
Publication Stratford Herald
Staging one of Noel Coward's comedies is always a safe bet - the script in itself always makes for a good show whatever the standard of acting. But when the audience is offered fine acting as well, a theatre company is sure of a box office hit.
Stratford's Tread the Boards Theatre Company, the resident company of the Attic Theatre at The Lazy Cow (formely Cox's Yard), achieved just this as it proved, even on a freezing snow ridden evening as was last weekend, it could still fill the auditorium with its warming production of Blithe Spirit.
Director John-Robert Partridge had selected his cast well, but as with every Coward staging the play was not without its challenges, namely the sheer pace of the words as well as comic timing.
Luckily the cast took this in its stride to create a fast-firing comical delight - there were only a few moments in the second half when the actors seemed to lose their pace.
The play, which takes its title from Shelley's poem To a Skylark, revolves around the life of socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites an eccentric clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a seance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The consequences of which prove fatal for his current wife after his deceased wife is conjured up.
Dan Gough provided a steady Charles Condomine and Emma Sian Cooper a confident and elegantly cold-hearted Ruth, his current wife. Cooper came into her own as she raged ratty exchanges with Meg Lloyd as the ghostly Elvira (deceased wife). Lloyd gave a delightfully mischievous performance as the ghost and Jennifer Hodges as the wonderfully batty Madame Arcati exuded energy throughout.
John-Robert Partridge and Sarah Campbell worked well together as Dr George Bradman and his wife Violet, but for me, topping off the show perfectly was the bustling performance given by Elaine Turrell who offered a real comic delight as Edith the maid.
A suitably simple yet refined set (designed by Andy Woolley) completed what was a wonderful nip of comic hard stuff, which melted any grumbles of freezing weather.
Production A Midsummer Night's Dream
Reviewer Sandy Holt
Publication Stratford Herald
This week Tread the Boards Theatre Company proved that it could do ‘merry and tragical’ yet not ‘tedious’ and relatively ‘brief’ when it tackled its first full-length Shakespeare. The company is performing A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Attic Theatre in Cox’s Yard, Stratford. The play has had more than its own fair share of outings in the town recently, yet director John-Robert Partridge has managed to bring a fresh approach – using a couple of tricks seen on the RSC stage over the years as well as his own inventions – to this well known play. Mr Partridge said he wanted to choose a play that could embrace the company’s unique style of ‘bringing the darkness of the production to light’ and this Dream certainly fitted the bill. The director had done his research which paid off. He offered a dark view of how he tackled Puck and the fairies, a sense of a ‘Prospero’ kind of character in Oberon and Goth fairies – all set against a black backdrop with just a few sprigs of foliage and flowers representing the forest. There were obvious stars among newcomers to the group. Jessica Manning’s command of characterisation was a dream in itself – she swiftly moved from a comic ‘northern’ Elyssa (Egeus) to the wickedly seductive Peaseblossom and a charming mechanical. And Daniel Gates’ staring Puck was unnervingly sinister – in line with perceptions of spirits of the day. ChloeJane Thorpe offered a suitable fiery Hermia and Catherine Prout (Hippolyta/Titania) once again proved her regal mettle, playing against the soppy Lysander (Benjamin Archer). Marc Taylor also gave a sterling performance as the ambitious,over enthusiastic Bottom.
Production The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Reviewer Sandy Holt
Publication Stratford Herald
To tackle all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets in just under 2 1/2 hours is no mean feat, but to get upstaged by an eight-yearold in the audience could understandably tip any actor over the edge.Not so for the three menfrom Tread the Boards Theatre Company who were performing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare—Abridged! at theAttic Theatre in Cox’s Yard,Stratford on Sunday. They took young Molly, whose infectious laughter.and comments had the rest of the audience in stitches, in their stride—even during the famous ‘To be or not to be’ speech from Hamlet—and made her constant wonderful expressions and exclamations part of the show. The trio, John-Robert Partridge as Daniel Singer, Daniel Gough (Jess Borgeson) and Andrew Maguire (Adam Long) had made the West End smash hit their own. It was originally made famous by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, but the Tread the Boards actors, under the direction of Ash Bayliss, have created a performance which no doubt could be made famous in its own right because of their unique personalities and the added contemporary asides. Mr Bayliss’s set, a simple cloth backdrop with backstage space, worked well in what historically has proved a difficult space to perform in. The action including all of the audience and even a flipchart didn’t obscure sight-lines. But the real praise should go to the performers whose unrivalled energy captivatedShakespeare lovers and haters alike as they rollercoastered through a two-man version of Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, Othello as a rap, the Histories as a rugby match and Hamlet, which was finally performed backwards. Their fast costume changes were slick as they switched from character to character and a special mention should go to Mr Maguire who managed to play all of Shakespeare’s women. They promised the audience that they would ‘laugh until they can laugh no more’ and judging from the reactions of Molly and many of the audience that night, they didn’t disappoint. This theatre company seems to be going from strength to strength—at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival it took the Dark Chat Reviews award for ‘best play’ for the The Importance of Being Earnest which had premiered at the Attic Theatre. And judging from their performance on Sunday, the company is destined for even greater things.
Production Macbeth Live!
Publication Stratford Herald
An innovative and entertaining production… The Macbeths – in all their grisly twisted descent into murderous madness – were intensely played by John-Robert Partridge and Catherine Prout. A great Addition to this year’s Fringe.
Production The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication Broadway Baby
This is a very traditional production, but none the worse for that. An almost capacity audience enjoyed themselves a great deal. Algernon and 'Jack' (Matthew Huntbach and John-Robert Partridge) gave two very good performances, and they made great use of the space – this was close to theatre-in-the-round. They energetically chased each other in pursuit of the elusive cigarette case. Miss Prism (Elaine Turrell) was a delight. You did feel that she might like to climb up Dr Chasuble – even perhaps to eat him! Jay McCabe as Dr Chasuble was suitably formal in a rather nervy way, though his mannerisms could perhaps have been a little restrained. I liked having the servant, Laine (Ciaran Brown) nicking some sherry right at the start. His manner was unchangingly lugubrious - very fitting. Lady Bracknell (Christine Hart) was firm and commanding, but her particularity could have been further developed. So much attention is given to her at several points, and a very strong even overpowering character is called for. Cecily Cardew (Catherine Prout) and Gwendoline Fairfax (Donna Cooper) – the one girlish and calculatedly spontaneous, the other firm and purposeful - were very good in their plotting scene together. The diction was of a very high standard throughout. The company seemed to relish what they were doing, which adds to the enjoyment. If there are any tickets left for the remainder of the run, I would recommend getting hold of one.
Production Loyalty Binds Me
Reviewer Marko Spriggs
Publication Guide 2 Stratford
Loyalty Binds Me – The True Story Of Richard III : Tread The Boards Theatre Company, Stratford upon Avon Tread The Boards Theatre Company brought their ‘true story of Richard III’ to the stage at the Attic Theatre last week. This well researched, powerful and well delivered production was a notable success for the theatre company. The big question director John-Robert Partridge wants us to consider, on the stage, relates to the infamous murder of the two princes in the tower of London. There is a view that a power hungry Richard had them ‘removed’ in his bid to ascend to the throne – did he do it? Shakespeare has done little for the case of Richard’s defence. Writer Neil Hewitt-Dudding set out to present a more balanced telling of the story of the houses of York and Lancaster. The murder of Richard’s two nephews lying very much at the heart of a story, which began life as a screen play and which he has been working on for sixteen years. Indeed the long history brought to life by a hard working cast started and ended its journey in the tower of London. During the two and a half hour performance there were some powerful and emotive scenes and some highly inventive use of the small theatre space and minimilastic set. The stylised choreography of many of the fight scenes which combined skilful stage craft with a modern filmic penchant for combining slow motion and real time sequences were particularly effective. As a play for theatre audiences with ever decreasing attention spans I think that the text could have benefitted from some further pruning, which is by no means a reflection on the quality of the writing. There was some stunning acting on display from the dedicated cast which comprised; Richard Bunn, Emma Sian Cooper, John Robert Partridge, Adrian Daniel, Daniel Gough, Catherine Prout, Catherine Pugh, Taresh Solanki, Marc Alden Taylor, James Tanton, Mark Tracey, Elaine Turrell and Andrew Woolley. Tread The Boards are certainly a company to watch out for and I commend them for their work and willingness to take risks.
Production Three Tall Women
Reviewer Tony Challis
This is an intense and demanding three-hander which is performed to a very high standard by an accomplished cast. At first, we have centrally a 67-year-old widow with Alzheimers (Joanne Gough, giving a commanding performance in a role once occupied by Vanessa Redgrave ), being looked after by a very knowing and subtly powerful nurse, ( Rebecca Varey,) and observed by the youthful and gauche lawyer’s assistant,( Catherine Prout). The widow is demanding and suspicious, though inclined to forget what she is being demanding and suspicious about. This difficult character is skilfully managed by the nurse.Part way through things change abruptly, and the three become parts of the widow; young. Older and old, as she examines her life as it closes. She wonders what might be the happiest time – various experiences, or the end and the chance at last to stop. She does not seem to be one who has given great pleasure. There is a silent part for the gay son, who has walked out years ago and who receives verbal abuse from the widow. This is surely a representation of the author, the esteemed American dramatist Edward Albee, most famous for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?My attention was firmly held throughout in this character driven play in which little happens, as each actor fully inhabited their character, even as these metamorphosed mid-play. This is a production of which Tread the Boards Theatre Company from Stratford on Avon can be proud. The show has a short run and I would recommend it if you want a meaty drama with food for thought and red-blooded acting.