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Posts Tagged ‘Craig Edwards’

Though I’ve seen screen, TV and stage adaptations, I have to confess I’ve never read Charlotte Bronte’s clearly autobiographical book. Sally Cookson and her company and creative team here deliver a Kneehighesque Complicite-like staging. It uses every trick in the minimalist book (apart from puppets!) – bare wooden stage, platforms steps & ladders, frames & lightbulbs, fire & smoke, ‘movement’ & music. It proves to be a highly effective, lucid, nicely rounded production.

It’s a touch slow to take off and to settle, but I was shocked when I realised at the end of the first half that 100 minutes has passed; it didn’t feel like it. Mind you, it took us from Jane’s birth through her miserable childhood with her aunt, schooling and teaching at Lowood to Thornfield and her position as governess, and the seeds of her relationship with Mr Rochester. I thought her period as teacher was rushed and the passion between her and Rochester played down, but it was very good storytelling nonetheless. The 70 minute second half covers a much shorter, more intense period as the relationship evolves as an emotional roller-coaster, returning to birth, of Jane’s child. It held me throughout, though it didn’t move me as much as I would have expected (though the lady next to me was in tears, normally my default position).

Ten actors and musicians play all of the roles. Madeleine Worrall’s journey from feisty child to defiantly independent woman is very well navigated. Laura Elphinstone manages five characterisations including brilliant performances as school friend Helen and Rochester’s French ward Adele. Felix Hayes has a commanding presence as Rochester and Maggie Tagney doubles up as the evil aunt Mrs Reed and the more empathetic housekeeper Mrs Fairfax and does both very well. Oh, and Craig Edwards is a superb dog (amongst other roles)! There’s a very eclectic selection of music from Benji Bower (including Noel Coward’s Mad About the Boy!) most played live by his on-stage trio and it adds much to the success of the evening. The wonderful Melanie Marshall’s singing is heavenly.

I was worried that this style might be a bit lost on the Lyttleton stage (I kept imagining it in BAC’s Grand Hall, its natural home), but that was less of an issue than I thought, at lease from mid-stalls. I was also worried the NT audience might not take to it, but the ovation proved me well and truly wrong. A very welcome co-production with Bristol Old Vic, whose Artistic Director brought Jerry Springer – The Opera, Coram Boy, A Matter of Life & Death and War Horse to the NT’s stages – what a track record!

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For the second year running, the most original and enjoyable Christmas show in London hails from Bristol. Last year it was Swallows & Amazons from the Old Vic; this play with music (no, it’s not a panto) is from the Tobacco Factory, in a co-production with Travelling Light.

Similar folk tales exist around the world, and this adaptation is a mash-up, with the German (Grimm) and Chinese one’s to the fore. It’s darker and quirkier than what we’re used to. Ella’s mum dies in childbirth and her dad soon after he marries his obnoxious second wife, who has a son & daughter rather than two daughters. Ella first meets the prince – a twitcher – in the forest and a flock of magical birds replace the fairy godmother. The wicked stepmother puts her son in a frock for a second chance of bagging the prince as a son-in-law and the slipper becomes a rather cool jewel-encrusted boot.

It’s a little slow to take off, but when it does it charms you. Two multi-instrumentalists, Brian Hargreaves & Adam Pleth, provide a superb soundscape, music and songs. Katie Sykes design is shabby cool, with trees made from plywood, a lot of large paper lanterns & a mirrorball and everyone wears Doc Martens. The costumes, particularly the ball gowns of the step-mother, sister and son, are great. Sally Cookson’s staging has echoes of early Kneehigh – creative, minimalist, captivating.

The five performers play all roles (and birds) brilliantly. Craig Edwards is as nasty a step-mother as you could wish for, Thomas Eccleshare is a terrific nerdy prince (who handled the audience’s impromptu but inappropriate panto interruptions with wit and aplomb), Lucy Tuck & Tom Godwin take the step-sister and step-brother on a journey from nasty to nice and Lisa Kerr is a sweet tomboyish Ella.

This is far too good for kids; get yourself there pronto.

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