Just at the moment when the RSC is butchering Shakespeare with its dreadful production of Macbeth, Tread the Boards company has come to his rescue. He is still alive and well and living in Stratford but he has moved his residence to The Attic. This company demonstrates that actors can still be professional, can remember all their lines accurately and can be heard. There is nothing pretentious about either of these productions (there are no little girls in Christmas pyjamas pretending to be witches) and when there are gender switches they work perfectly.
Admittedly Jonathan Legg's production is rather long, and feels it for a while before the interval especially, but it's worth it. It's a masterstroke to begin the play with a scenes of Richard murdering Henry VI and the crowning of Edward IV because this enables the audience not familiar with the play to grasp the background to the play's events and establishes a splendidly clear storytelling of a complicated story which is maintained throughout. The nine actors from The Dream are joined by John-Robert Partridge playing Richard by three actors from Stratford College (Justin College, Dan Hodges and Dean Sherlock) and by Daniele Sanderson who is wonderful as Margaret and so different from Dame Peggy Ashcroft. Pete Meredith plays what seems like dozens of roles, all well. Matilda Bott as Lady Anne looked as if she was going to resist Richard but she gave in only for pragmatic reasons as shown by her reluctance and disdain for her husband at her wedding. The stars of the production, though are John-Robert Partridge as Richard and Dru Stephenson as Lady Buckingham. Their scenes together are magical. Stephenson gives her character a huge range of mood, wile, subterfuge and naivety. Partridge is quite simply one of the best Richards I have seen - morally, spiritually and practically hypocritical and evil and yet charismatic. His timing and verse speaking are impeccable and he is riveting to watch. The lighting, designed by Kat Murray, cleverly accentuates Richard's glinting eyes and gives his smiling a splendid eeriness.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Nine actors play all the parts but they are often unrecognisable in
their different roles. They are different characters. We are used to the actors
playing Theseus and Hippolyta doubling as Oberon and Titania but I have never
before seen the actors playing the lovers double as the Mechanicals. I haven't
seen a female Egeus (called Elissa here) either but it works just fine; there
is nothing gendered in what she says. John-Robert Partridge's production is
full of inventiveness. Hippolyta (Dru Stephenson) is a grumpy and reluctant
bride and turns out in Act V to have a Scottish accent with ironic contemporary
overtones both of conquest and reluctance to be married. The same actor is wonderful
as Titania. The Mechanicals are made contemporary with modern jobs and their
play is unlike any I have seen before. The entire cast is outstanding and the
doubling allows Partridge to dispense with the interjections of the lovers
during the play of Pyramid and Thisbe, intersections which all need footnotes
for a modern audience. Bottom, a bookseller, (Edward Manning) is suitably posh
and pompous and Puck (Pete Meredith in athletic and even gymnastic vein) is
lovely to watch and to listen to. All four lovers (Joe Deverell-Smith, Kate
Gee-Finch, Matilda Bott and Robert Moore) are excellent and their characters
fully differentiated so there is no mistaking, as so often happens, which is
which. The long scene between Helena and Hermia is lightened by a simultaneous
fight between Lysander and Demetrius while Bottom's pompous rehearsal is
lighten by simultaneous farcical attempts to sit down by the decrepit tea lady,
Mrs Snug. Partridge certainly doesn't neglect verse speaking either. It is
impressive, as is his very careful and telling treatment of pauses. This is a
must-see production - witty, funny, lively, skillful and fresh.
Available on The Herald website soon - click here
THIS production of Richard III – one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most difficult works, directed by Jonathan Legg, is nothing short of a triumph. Unlike its famous neighbour, the ‘Attic’ is a tiny venue, but rather than be eclipsed in comparison to the ‘ghosts of Richards past’ across the bridge ‘it rejoices in its own strength’.
Up-close and personal acting, splendid costumes, props and armoury and the utilisation of every inch of stage space to involve, engage and embrace its audience. A combination of director and principal actor has created a unique take on the dastardly demon that is the deformed and debauched ‘soul-who-would–be-king’ – Richard. John-Robert Partridge, is more tricky-Dicky than Mephistopheles, catching an eye here, sharing a joke there so that we, the audience, heaven forbid become complicit in his machinations – a clever and unique performance by a master of the craft. As the body count grows so does the tension, yes we know he will get his comeuppance at the battle of Bosworth in the end but my goodness what a wonderful journey to the point where no one will give the last of the Plantagenet dynasty a horse no matter how loud and hard he shouts.
The company was flawless and all deserve naming. Dru Stephenson captures the would-be Machiavellian qualities of Buckingham, Daniele Sanderson is a delight as Margaret, Kate Gee-Finch gives up a new take on Elizabeth Woodville and Edward Manning effectively doubles as Hastings and Tyrell. Elsewhere David Hubball excels as George Duke of Clarence, Matilda Bott makes for a lovely Lady Anne, Dawn Bush entertains as the Duchess of York, Pete Meredith a stout Catsby whilst Robert Moore brings majesty to both Edward IV and Lord Stanley. Stratford College students, Justin Steer, Dan Hodges and Dean Sherlock, played other supporting roles. Kat Murray designed the clever and effective lighting.
This is Shakespeare at its finest, where you are acted too not acted at. It is where a complex plot is made easy to follow and overall theatrical outing becomes a joyous experience..
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens adapted by John-Robert Partridge
Directed by Keith Myers
Review by Coventry Today
In an age of cynicism, the Albany Theatre’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic A Christmas Carol is a gladdening must-see that brings us all back to the true spirit of the season. Staged by award-winning Tread the Boards Theatre Company, it is heart-warming, blood-curdling, spine-tingling and tear-jerking by turns, with special effects aplenty and generous helpings of Christmas music to make sure the audience stays firmly under its spell.
In a script that remains impressively true to the resonant language of Dickens’ original, short narrative sections are used to stitch the action together and keep the plot moving – but not at the expense of spookily evocative detail. A reference to the church bell, for example, whose chimes on Christmas Eve vibrate ‘as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head’ deftly conjures up Victorian London in the grip of winter – reflected, of course, in Scrooge’s wintry heart.
The tale of Scrooge’s visitation by the spirits of Christmases Past, Present and Future, and his transformation from tight-fisted curmudgeon to big-hearted favourite uncle, is a perennial favourite. But coming in at just one hour forty minutes – including interval – the relatively short running-time of this production means the audience can appreciate the symmetry between the three well-wishers Scrooge frightens out of his office on Christmas Eve, and his three later visitors, who bring his harsh words back to haunt him.
Apart from fine performances by cast and children, one area that deserves special mention is lighting. The contrast between the icy blues and whites of misanthropic Scrooge, and the fireside yellows and oranges of his rekindling humanity, adds an extra dimension to the story’s meaning; while the singing of the Coventry Carol at Tiny Tim’s funeral brings the subtlest and most affecting touch of local colour.
Written in 1843, it’s easy to dismiss Dickens’ most famous Christmas creation as nothing more than nineteenth-century schmaltz. And it’s true that characters such as Tiny Tim’s do seem impossibly sweet to our knowing present-day palates. But the message of Marley’s ghost, and his clanking chain, is the same now as it was nearly two hundred years ago: you only have one life – so make sure you live it right.
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg
By Peter Nichols
Directed by Ash Bayliss
Review by The Stratford Herald
A day in the death of Joe Egg , by one of Britain's finest
living playwrights Peter Nichols is, like so many of his plays, a very dark
comedy about a very serious issue.
Seeing it at the Attic Theatre almost 50 years after it was
written , you quickly realise that the issues it treats are just the same as
they were half a century ago.
Disadvantage, the NHS, euthanasia, the stress of looking after a severely disabled child,
the self-righteous attitudes of those around , the flaws in patronising
middle-class socialism and the egocentricity of a bereaved mother-in-law are
all issues as current now as they were then.
Only the tiny details – the car bought for £25 , the telephone box round the corner, the need for a three-penny bit to make it work reveal the plays age.
Tread the Boards production at the Attic was something of a
triumph. Victoria Baker and Ash Bayliss who also directed , playing parents
Sheila and Brian, were superb, both on their own and together – powerful,
emotion filled, , fully three dimensional, subtle and moving.
Brian’s mother Grace, played by Diane Ellis, was also
outstanding in a very difficult role in
the second half of the play (with a very period, very ridiculous hairdo) and
Mark Tracey as Freddie and Deborah Williams did well with the role’s in the play’s second half where Nichols
broadens the focus of the play into
society’s attitudes and values. Emily Butterfield as Joe did a fine job too – just enough to
create an uncomfortable presence.
This is an uncomfortable play to watch because the
characters address the audience directly, making us involved and complicit in
the attitudes, political stances and complexities of the emotional and physiological
issues surrounding looking after a severely disabled child. Our safe distance
Good on you Tread the Boards for daring to put on this fine
play and doing it so well.
By Mary Shelley
Directed by John-Robert Partridge
Review by Dark Chat
If you ask about theatre in Stratford Upon Avon most people will mention the Royal Shakespeare Company. Right, but also wrong. If you want a large scale production of a Shakespeare play you should head to the recently refurbished Shakespeare theatre but, if, you prefer your entertainment more intimate, yet of a similarly high quality you should check out the "Tread The Boards" company, based in the Attic Theatre. They have been producing impressive versions of classic stories for many years, the latest being Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'.
Perfectly timed to coincide with Halloween you enter a small space and see a figure draped in a sheet on a slab. Immediately director John-Robert Partridge leads you to assume this is the monster then surprises you by unveiling Victor Frankenstein recovering on a ship having been rescued from the icy wastes of the Pole. We are now in flashback mode as he reveals the tale of how he appears in this wretched condition.
This adaptation is more truthful to the novel than most recent productions yet it seems obvious that you would want to use such great material. It is truly one of the great stories showing the possible consequences of science meddling with nature. Two hundred years later and nothing has changed.
A good plot is a start and a director's vision can only take you so far as the success of a play ultimately revolves around the actors. Here, the "Tread The Boards" company are very fortunate indeed. All the cast are exemplary ( amongst the supporting roles Jennifer Hodges breaks your heart as the doomed Justine) but Mr Partridge is blessed with two outstanding performances in the lead roles.
Rich Bunn makes you understand the tricky title character, from inquisitive student, lover,obsessed scientist to horrified widower seeking refenge. Most horror films concentrate upon the monster as a pure figure of fear but he is actually one of literature's great tragic figures which Adrian Daniel Varney portrays beautifully.
The pacing of the piece is captured perfectly with the tale unfolding before us without any dull moments and just as impressively the director avoids any aspects of melodrama with all events seeming natural and realistic.
Last year I saw the Danny Boyle version at the National Theatre and I can honestly say I preferred this more intimate version. Obviously, they do not possess the resources of the subsidised London theatre but tonight proved that imagination is just as important as finances. The simple premise of plunging the venue into pitch darkness and allowing the actors to roam amongst the audience was truly terrifying.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Victoria Baker
Review by Stratford Herald
WHEN shall we three meet again?” crowed the three witches
as the lights come up. There was not a wart or
witch’s hat in sight, however, as this production is intriguingly set in the glitz and glamour of the 1920s.
The witches are depicted as sultry showgirls with a delicious touch of malevolence, along with their slick of red
lipstick. And maybe it was their curses that caused something ‘wicked to this way come’ as no sooner had we
slipped into Act Three than the performance was halted by an ear-splitting fire alarm.
But the show must go on, and after a ten-minute interlude, we found ourselves back at Banquo’s monologue,
with Ryan Vernal giving a performance that actually seemed enlivened by the unwelcome interlude. Under the direction of Victoria Baker, the 12-strong cast provided captivating performances from the very start. Sarita Plowman seemed to have got Lady Macbeth’s character well under her belt: she played her as wonderfully
manipulative with a touch of mania that dilapidated nicely into a despairing stupor when her schemes go awry.
A bit more projection through her monologues, however, would have been of benefit.
Ben Thorne, as antihero Macbeth, depicts the character’s tussles with ambition and self-doubt with aplomb — he seemed particularly at home with the language, delivering his lines with clarity and an easy naturalness.
A special mention must go to Arthur Velarde, who played Donalbain, the King’s son, with particular verve
and who radiated that elusive quality stage presence.
Besides the wonderfully glamorous costumes, it was hard to fathom what the 1920s setting added to the production, although a nearby audience member commented that “it makes it a lot more fun” and there’s no arguing with that, visually it was a treat.
Like the era in which this is set, all in all this Macbeth is a roaring delight. Although perhaps we should stick to
calling it ‘The Scottish Play’ to prevent any further jinxes.
By J.M Barrie
Directed by John-Robert Partridge
Review by Primary Times Edinburgh
The familiar tale of the boy who never grew up is
delightfully portrayed in this lively and ambitious production from Tread the
Boards. The energetic cast work extremely hard to bring Neverland to life with
many of the busy actors playing several roles with ease. The clever stage sets
are transformed swiftly and nothing is omitted in this faithful adaptation, the
lost boys, the crocodile, the mermaids, Tiger Lily and of course the nefarious
Captain Hook and his scurvy pirates. The eternally youthful Peter entices Wendy
and her brothers to Neverland so that she can be a mother to Peter and the lost
boys and read them stories and tuck them in at night.
There are many magical moments, the portrayal (and revival) of Tinkerbell, the flight to Neverland and the Native American dancing. The performers use music, puppetry, physical theatre and humour to keep the audience engaged throughout. The entertaining Captain Hook and Mr Smee are a casting dream much to the delight of the young onlookers.
Jake (9) loved it and said his favourite part was any scene with Mr Smee in it, and especially the bit where he took the plank for a walk. Anna (7) liked the crocodile the best as well as the swordfight between Hook and Peter. For an afternoon of rollicking family entertainment take the second star on the right then straight on till Niddry Street...
Suitable for ages 3 and above.
By J.M Barrie
Directed by John-Robert Partridge
Review by Broadway Baby
Edinburgh Fringe is often filled with adaptations and
remixes of classics, so it is very refreshing to see Tread the Boards Theatre
Company bring J.M Barrie's children's' classic Peter Pan to life in a magical
production that is true to the text.
Tread the Boards have created a delightful production that is captivating, energetic and playful. One of the challenges of children's theatre is making a performance engaging and accessible for the younger audience, who will have no qualms about letting their feelings known if they are not enjoying it. With an impressive multipurpose set and lively colourful costumes, this production successfully immerses us into Neverland. There is a sense of ethereal wonder as Tinkerbell, cleverly symbolised by bright blue lights, flies from each actor seamlessly. There is a similar buzz of excitement when we hear a ticking noise, and a spectacular crocodile is wheeled around the stage, much to the horror of Captain Hook!
Through these wonderful effects and the performances of the actors, the show radiates playfulness. Peter and Wendy (Tom Riddell and Ellie Forrest) have no trouble encouraging the audience to yell for Tinkerbell as they are stranded in the ocean. Riddell delivers a very energetic performance and wonderfully captures the character's childish essence. The ensemble in general wholly commit to each of their characters with lively and engaging performances, holding up a consistent level of energy and charisma. The chemistry between Captain Hook (John-Robert Partridge) and Smee (Marc Alden Taylor) was particularly enjoyable to watch. Partridge played the villain perfectly and showed moments of impeccable comic timing with lines such as "Shut up Smee!"
The only moments of this production that feel a little less entertaining are transitions between scenes. Though this is an essential part of the production, there were occasions when a transition felt a little too long, such as the transformation from the Lost Boys' den to Marooners' rock. To the cast’s credit, not a single one breaks character during these transitions and this helps to keep up the theatrical illusion but, for a child, it doesn't take long for the attention to wander. Fortunately, as soon as the lights come up and another scene starts, we are captivated again as the performers command our attention from the very first line.
Tread the Boards have created a delightful production that is captivating, energetic and playful. The success of this show lies in its invitation for us to join in the fun and not simply watch it. It is a great family show with a childish sense of wonder, but with a few hidden gems of sophisticated humour for the older generations as well!
Pride & Prejudice
By Jane Austen
Directed by John-Robert Partridge
Review by www.madhatterreviews.co.uk
Yesterday evening I made the jaunt over to Stratford to see Tread The Board’s production of a Jane Austen classic: Pride and Prejudice. However, while I was expecting to find a period drama waiting at the other end of this journey, I was in fact greeted by a period comedy that put a new spin on Austen unlike anything I’ve seen before. Admittedly, I was hoping for a more traditional production of the iconic tale; however, the frequent roars of laughter from surrounding audience members - including some wildly enthusiastic women on the front row - can hardly be argued with in terms of how the production was widely received.
The staging of the play was wonderfully simplistic and the scene changes were commendable. As the lights dimmed the characters quickly moved in to re-arrange or remove furniture as necessary, and their interactions during these moments were often amusing in their own right.
As with all theatre productions there are certain characters and cast members who run the risk of outshining the others, and in this production this fell to some unexpected characters indeed. I simply have to commend James Tanton for a deliciously over-acted portrayal of Mr. Collins who simply stole every scene in which he was featured. The Collins character came to life in an amusing and often cringe-worthy manner through Tanton’s delivery, and he certainly provided a number a high points throughout.
Ashleigh Dickinson, who is making her Tread The Boards debut in this production as she takes to the role of Jane Bennet, also provided an endearing and authentic delivery of a much-loved character. Dickinson is soft-spoken, deliberately vulnerable, and works wonderfully alongside love interest Mr. Bingley, played by Benjamin Archer. Archer certainly delivers an enthusiastic and awkward portrayal of the character, however, in many ways this works to the make the character charmingly clumsy and engaging, and he certainly succeeded in causing several rumbles of laughter from the audience.
The roles of Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine (and Kitty Bennet) went to Cassandra Wilson, and she was undeniably fierce in both roles. Her delivery was flawless and she delivered her lines with such bite, it is no wonder why she was cast for both roles. The Mr. Wickham of this production was also a wise decision by casting as Stephen Horncastle breezed on-stage sporting a soldier’s uniform and ruffled hairstyle that left Ciara May Wilson (Lydia Bennet) appropriately weak at the knees. Bob Joyce’s portrayal of Mr. Bennet was also a welcome sight here as the character was modestly played and certainly worked towards counteracting the brashness of Mrs. Bennet, Joanne Gough.
It would of course be impossible to discuss Pride and Prejudice without mentioning Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and, while the second half of the play certainly offered some touching moments between the pair, I must admit the first half hit one or two stumbling blocks. Elizabeth Bryant makes her debut here as Elizabeth Bennet and at times she delivers the character with commendable authenticity. However, due to the comedic element of this production, some of Austen’s original bite for the character just seemed lost here. A little less bookworm and a little more snide, this may be the modern Elizabeth Bennet, it just wasn’t what I initially expected from a period production. Having said that, the second half certainly picked up for me as the comedy was dialled down and the sincerity of the performance became more apparent. Bryant brings her Bennet alongside Henry Heathcote’s commendably moody Mr. Darcy and between them, they succeed in delivering some truly touching moments.
Overall it was an enjoyable performance and, while I was perhaps expecting some more traditional elements in terms of delivery, the comedic spin was certainly well-received by the majority of the audience, and I certainly commend the company for placing such a unique take on a classic. Pride and Prejudice will continue to run at The Attic Theatre until July 19th; tickets can be purchased online and it is certainly worth attending if you are in the Stratford area over the coming days.
The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
Directed by John-Robert Partridge
Review by www.justsandy.co.uk
Stratford’s Tread the Boards Theatre Company has finally come of age – and it is only five years old!
When the fringe theatre company, founded by Catherine Prout and John-Robert Partridge in 2009, first became the resident theatre company in the Attic Theatre it prided itself in not only taking on popular classics, but challenging itself with lesser known works, ambitious projects and even new work.
Performing in a challenging theatre space some of these
productions were a flying success and some, well, good work, but with flaws.
Not so now. Tread the Boards has really come into its own
and its latest production, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
(still currently running, until Saturday) is its best offering to date. This troupe of actors, who have many accolades under their
belt, have not only developed themselves over the past five years as
performers, but now could knock spots off any rival company. Ironically, this was the first performance the company
performed at the Attic Theatre and, with a different cast, a lot has happened
since then. Directed by John-Robert Partridge, this show brings out all
of Wilde’s beautifully complicated humour, with clarity, of course. We all know the story and we all know how difficult it is to
follow in the footsteps of the Dames Edith Evans, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith,
but all eyes were on Elaine Turrell who pulled off quite successfully a rather
different and understated take on Lady Bracknell, especially when delivering
the “hangbag” line.
John-Robert Partridge (Jack Worthing) and Benjamin Archer (Algernon Moncrieff) were the perfect double act and (unlike the criticism reported of the 2014 revival featuring Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis), brought a freshness to this perfect comedy. But credit should really go to the outstanding performances of Genevieve Lowe (Cecily Cardew) and Catherine Prout (Gwendolyn Fairfax) who gave exemplary performances especially in the garden sparring scene, which they pulled off with great aplomb. Support acting from Diane Ellis (Miss Prism) and Martin Tomms (Dr Chasuble/Lane) completed a perfect cast with near perfect performances – with the added delight of Lewis Lanning (Merrimen) whose facial expressions and gestures stole the show on the comic front. With the added benefit of an extraordinary good design for this space (Zoe Rolph) and fitting music, this performance of The Importance of Being Earnest couldn’t fail. Tread the Boards has already established its reputation as the top fringe company in Stratford – and attracts some of the best fringe actors on the block. Interestingly, it is not the only performance of this classic comedy locally this year – Coventry Belgrade Theatre will be staging the West End revival (check it out for yourself) in late September/early October and Stratford’s Consensus Opera the musical version also around that time.
They have a hard act to follow. The Importance of Being Earnest runs until 18th April at the Attic Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
For more information and ticket details visit www.treadtheboardstheatre.co.uk or reserve tickets from 07952 819557.