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The Playwrights Forum > Critic's Corner > Reviews and Critiques > Write Now Festival Reviews - Actors Studio Liverpool UK - 2012

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 Posted: Fri Apr 6th, 2012 07:46 pm
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Sue Callaghan Murray
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Catfish Therapy by Ian Moore ** – Write Now Festival Liverpool - Friday 30th March 2012

On the opening night of the event Liverpool based playwright and event director Ian Moore was airing his new complex psychiatric tale about multiple identity. On entering the Actors Studio Theatre we were faced with a figure in a nightgown and sack covered head. With hands and feet bound to the chair Suzanne Collins shouted out, the house lights dimmed and we were off. Lynne Fitzgerald joined her for powerful verbal and physical exchanges that switched between the calmness of an episode of the Chaser to the heaviest scene from the Exorcist!

Half way in the roles reversed with Suzanne Collins portraying a smartly dressed administrator and Lynne Fitzgerald the night gowned oppressed. Gone was the pile of “subversive” children’s books and the boot had switched to the other foot. The lighting and sound design was extremely well executed and produced an element of intrigue most associated with 1960’s television. The characters however were starting to fall victim to the ferocity of the intense delivery and action. Nearing what was timed to be the end, the overall flow was beginning to flag and a very strong message of Schizophrenia almost appeared to have nowhere to go. It was quality acting, engaging and extremely plausible but now it had been firing-on-all six for a just a little too long.

Eventually along came the doctor (Richie Grice) who in a very brief concluding entrance finally gave away the keys to the kingdom. Despite reference to the condition D.I.D an element of self-interpretation had hung high in the balance for much of the time. Not only had the play noticeably overrun but I feel too much had been attempted in too short a time. I later learned that Collins, best remembered as former Brookside cast member Nikki Shadwick, had stumbled on the role by chance when she happened to be local to the casting. For me and what she ultimately brought to the stage, I was very glad she did. Catfish Therapy is one for those who like their drama with a generous crust and don’t mind having to work a little to get at the filling.



The Match by Mari Lloyd **** - Write Now Festival Liverpool – Friday 30th March 2012

Not being the greatest follower of the beautiful game I hoped that there was more to this evening’s offering than a debate about Blue versus Red. I certainly will say that the content and delivery did not disappoint. This opening night performance at the Write Now Festival began with Annie (Sheila Jones), delivering a form of relaxation class to the audience. In came her visitors Tina (played by Annie Edwards) and Everton shirted Frank (John Windsor) and the contrast was immediately apparent as high spirits and voice levels shattered the peace. The fourth character Annie’s ailing husband does not actually make an appearance but Mari Lloyd invites you to get to know him pretty well, even to the point where we were invited into a lesson in communicating with Motor Neurone Disease before Frank goes off to watch the match in the sufferer’s room.

With little pause for breath the Match gets under way against a backdrop of reminiscing with Annie’s treasured photo album. The past is by no means left in the past as Annie enters into a sensitive one-to-one with both members of the visiting couple. Half time was perfectly utilised in a play of two halves and Frank’s instantaneous well delivered humour used in contrast to the real life issues that emerged as the plot developed. The sting in the tail is measurably injected and the laces tie up nicely as the final floodlight dims.

Enjoyment of the Match did not require a season ticket or any action replays. It was Studio Fringe theatre at its best with just enough of a set to create the illusion. If there was one thing that I may have possibly altered was the full set illumination throughout the majority of the performance. Some of the delicate exchanges could have benefitted greatly from being individually highlighted. The Match is very much a multi appeal work and I am sure we won’t have seen the last of it this week in Liverpool. It is a winner and Mari Lloyd and team have a chance of being in the honours for many a season to come.



Swim by Stephanie Blakeborough ***** – Write Now Festival Liverpool – Sunday 1st April 2012

Write Now Festival’s first offering on Sunday was Swim by Stephanie Blakeborough who may be remembered for providing us with Mrs Bojangles at last year’s event. Billed as a black comedy there were certainly no offensive or painful sharp edges cutting through the curtains. Let’s face it, four people going away for a weekend in the country was hardly going to win any awards for original concept but I’m delighted to report that the performance was both exciting and a wonderful testament to observational humour. Full marks were also obtained for using a highly original method of playing-in the scene links. This often problematic dilemma was eliminated by an actual clarinet player displaying musical irony that even the late Les Dawson would have been proud of.

Andrew Welsh plays nervously obsessive Alan who bounces off highly aloof Simone (Christie Peto) while thirty something couple Carole (Sharon Heywood) and Dave (Mike Sanders) quickly add to the group tension and dynamic. Heywood as Carole portrays an extremely convincing drunk as the alcohol fuelled antics of Saturday night unfold and the surprises begin. There is theft where nothing actually gets stolen and full sexual portrayal utilizing only minimal discrete sexual content in a very cleverly designed and easily accessible plot. Ultimately Simone turns out to be not exactly what is written on her lid.

Swim gives an instant acquaintance with actors that will leave you reliving the highlights for some time to come. The direction and use of performance area are excellent and as well as having an inspiring cast Stephanie Blakeborough has crafted a truly memorable piece. I make no apology for coining the clichés “new writing at its best”, “genuinely funny” and “catch it while you can”. In my book it is a deserving potential contender for play of the festival.



Saving Grace by David Griffiths *** - Write Now Festival Liverpool – Wednesday 4th April 2012

After taking Excess Baggage from Liverpool’s Write Now Festival to Edinburgh Fringe last year, David Griffiths was back with his new offering for 2012, Saving Grace. The advertised subject matter of social networking entwined with a Hen Night landed right on my personal preference button but I have to say may not have such a must-see appeal for everyone. After a slightly disjointed and undefined start Katie and Cheryl, played by Marie Westcott and Angela Simms respectively, set about organising a surprise Hen Night for Danni (Esther Dix). It did somehow take until the unexpected and energetic arrival of Jay (Chris Crookall) to fully kick-start the proceedings. Using simple costumes and props the stage set was convincing and the comedy component was both smoothly and naturally delivered. However try as I did I just couldn’t make Jay’s clothing into a police uniform until it was almost a little too late.

Eventually periods of silence in the latter stages did give the girls a great opportunity to convey some well executed visual expression and all in all it was indeed a quality performance. Being very much a traditionalist I did struggle to understand why off stage areas were being used for relatively intimate dialogue and at times the overall view was somewhat restricted. The sound links and mobile phone interaction were also an adventurous piece of direction but in all honesty they worked extremely well. You couldn’t help but begin to feel for Grace’s wellbeing, whoever and wherever she was.

With Saving Grace David Griffiths has come up with a very amusing and enjoyable play. The cast list is one of more-than-acceptable reputation and it shows. The issue that could ultimately restrict Grace’s antics from becoming a full touring production may be down to the simple factor of size of target audience that it can be aimed at. There again with a full fringe festival season ahead and DG’s previous tenacity I could easily be proved wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time….

©Sue Callaghan Murray 2012

Last edited on Wed Nov 21st, 2012 09:52 pm by Sue Callaghan Murray

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