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THE PRESS

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The reviews are listed chronologically - the most recent first. The list is by no means comprehensive but is a compilation of all that I've kept over the years. It will be of no surprise to any visiting theatre designers to the site to see the scant critical attention given to the designer's contribution on a show. 

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'Blok Busta' at the New Players Theatre, London

March 24th - April18th 2009

Keith Myers from Whats on Stage.com wrote:

Date Reviewed: 30 March 2009
WOS Rating: 3 star
Average Reader Rating: 5 star


Well, it’s all very rock ‘n roll; the Players Theatre bar is full of glam women and men in frilly shirts, leather trousers, dodgy mullets and with faces reminiscent of the heady days of 70s glam rock. The time of curtain up is also very rock ‘n roll as the front of house staff battle to get the revellers into the auditorium and we eventually go up 20 minutes late.

“Set in the comic strip world of Glamsville, Blok Busta is a new glam rock musical of mostly an original score, but with a few of those all time favourites interwoven into one enormous glittering glam-fest!” says the programme. To a certain extent it does what it says on the tin; the majority of the show is sung with short interludes of cartoony dialogue to advance the flimsy plot of a murderer called Busta who kills by playing disco music at his victims.

But that is not what this evening is really about; it’s about a bunch of kids stomping around in platform shoes, big hair and make-up belting out some catchy rock riffs. The songs by Mike Bennett and several collaborators including Steve Etherington are a mix of sub Rocky Horror style set pieces and fun pastiches of hits of yore with witty lyrical and musical references. I particularly enjoyed “The Jacuzzi Song” and “Too Young To Die”. But where Rocky was anarchic, sexy and funny, Blok Busta is a little too crude in its humour at times.

The team of hugely versatile and talented actor/musicians perform and play well and drive the show along. Ben Craig is fun as the androgynous, high heeled Aladdin Pain and Clare Kinson is great as the uber-vamp lesbian dominatrix Jean Jeanie. Hellraiser, a Brian May lookalike and mean guitar player is strutted by Al Howell, Inspector Stone, the wheelchair-bound police inspector, is belted out by Mikey O’Connor, Sarah Vezmar manages to mix a good voice with a nice sense of comedy as the mouse that morphs into rock chick Virginia Plain and the dynamic Tiger Feet is played with huge gusto by Susannah van den Berg.

Although director Alkis Kritikos has done his best, I would have liked more story, humour and character development and less music.

Rocky Horror it ain’t, but it's rocking good fun.


Sam Marlowe in
wrote:

Wham, bam, no thank-you, ma'am. Mike Bennett's glam-rock musical apparently has the blessing of Andy Scott of Sweet, the band responsible for the hit single to which its creatively spelled title alludes. It's hard to imagine who else will welcome it. A witless mix of overamplified spoof songs, camp characters and idiotic plot, it owes plenty to Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, itself the spawn of the far superior Rocky Horror Show. So it's nothing if not derivative - but that would matter less were it executed with more panache. Instead, Alkis Kritikos's production is amateurish and Bennett's writing less Seventies homage than cheap rip-off.

It's 1975, Glamsville, and the town is being stalked by a psycho called Busta. He murders his victims by playing them disco music (don't ask), then scatters cornflakes over the corpse - he's a cereal killer, geddit? This causes consternation down in Devilgate Drive nightspot, where suspicion falls upon Aladdin Pain, an androgynous singing sensation. It's up to the Ironside-like, wheelchair-bound Inspector Stone and his leggy, vampish sidekick Jean Jeanie to uncover the killer's true identity.

So far, so desperately dumb and utterly unfunny. But there's a worse problem: Bennett's script references Roxy Music, Bowie and T-Rex but his pastiche score, composed with Steve Etherington, is stuck deep in the Mud of the genre's tackiest depths.

Songs by Sweet, Sparks, the Rubettes and Suzi Quatro make brief appearances, but even the jukebox pleasure of a string of glam classics is restricted to a ramshackle, last-minute singlaong medley reminiscent of a painful karaoke night. The young actor-musicians perform with enthusiasm, but their squeaky-clean stage-school overtones couldn't be farther from the gender-bending erotic ambiguities of divine David or beautiful Bolan. Ben Craig's Aladdin, writhing about in platform sandals, hotpants and what look like his mum's net curtains, works hard to summon a hint of unhinged allure, and Clare Kinson's dominatrix Jeanie has charismatic attitude. But this is a rock'n'roll suicide.


Paul Vale in (30th March 2009) wrote:

This new musical blends a selection of classic glam rock anthems with original numbers to create an energetic ensemble piece. If the Rocky Horror Show is your idea of the pinnacle of the musical theatre genre, then you might find this show a masterpiece.

Author, composer and lyricist Mike Bennett has evidently ploughed a great deal of love and care into creating new songs that suit the period with assistance from Steve Etherington, who also acts as musical director. Unfortunately less thought has been given to structure, story and lyrics. Everything in Blok Busta comes at you at one level, leaving little room for the sympathetic treatment of any of the bizarre characters. Designer David Burrows significantly fails to add any glamour to either the setting or costumes while Francesca Jaynes’ choreography and Alkis Kritikos’ direction both lack any narrative involvement. In short Blok Busta is an interesting first draught, given a full set of production values but much in need of stronger creative input.

The cast works hard with the material to create a fun atmosphere for the audience. Ben Craig does remarkable job as poor little rich boy, Aladdin Pain. Squeezed into skintight silver leggings and a sequined blouse, Craig primps and preens in a good likeness of a spoiled seventies rock star. Sarah Vezmar is allowed a little more range as she changes from mousey glass-washer Virginia Plain to a strutting Glamsville Groover. The rest of the talented company ensure that the pace and decibel level rarely falter.


Liz Hoggard in the Evening Standard (30th March 2009) wrote:

Mamma Mia! proved that the tribute musical can take in a human story. And now we have Mike Bennett’s Blok Busta —a glam-rock musical blending hits of the 1970s with an original score.

The action takes place on the streets of Glamsville, terrorised by “psycho-killer” Busta. The weapon of choice is disco music, a banned substance known to be deadly.

Thanks to TV shows such as Life on Mars, we know investigating the 1970s can be fertile territory. As well as platforms and loon pants it was a decade marked by social unrest, misogyny and racism. But Bennett’s comedy is more School Disco than witty pastiche.

If you’re a child of the 1970s, there is a real primal thrill to hearing Sweet, Slade and Alice Cooper again. And it’s hard to fault the cast, who act, sing, dance, and play all the instruments.

But your heart sinks as soon as Bennett is forced to pad out the soundtrack with his own compositions.

We are told that Bennett’s scriptwriting career includes work for several West End plays, but he has precious little sense of theatre. Kitsch on its own is not enough.

Which is a pity because Bennett is on to something. The moment in the mid-1970s when white MOR rock gave over to the heady vibe of disco was fascinating. The underlying message of the musical is don’t be scared of new genres.

And the surreal poetry of Sweet’s hit Blockbuster (which inspired the piece) really does stand up. “You better beware, you better take care/You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair.”

But a Viz-style whodunnit is simply lame. Save your money for Priscilla Queen of the Desert — or go back to the original records.

The Londonist (online review)

Wandering into a London theatre to be confronted by only 14 other people two minutes before curtain call is always a worrying sign. Maybe it's a hidden gem, we thought to ourselves. Warning: it is not a hidden gem.

'Blok Busta' is a brand new musical from TV scriptwriter and record producer Mike Bennett. Inspired by the glam music of the 70s, it tells the tale of a group of friends in the town of Glamsville who are terrorised by the serial killer Busta. His weapon? The power of disco music and a sprinkling of corn flakes (we have no idea). Aiming to be a farcical who-dunnit, the jokes come fast but more often than not create groans rather than laughs. Indeed the whole plot muddles its way from murder through schizophrenia, misogyny, threesomes before an overly intense and nonsensical ending.

Mixing actual glam hits such as Devilgate Drive, Ballroom Blitz and The Jean Genie with new compositions will go some way to satisfy a child of the day but few of the new songs excite. Al Howell's sweet duet with Delilah, 'Disco Dispair', is a rare highlight as is the later power pop of Kandy Girl's complete with dance routine and lesbian kiss.

In fact, it is only the lively nature of the young cast, who play all their own instruments, that manage to keep us in our seats for the duration. Ignoring a distracting performance from Susannah van den Berg as Tiger Feet and a whopper of a bad note from Mikey O'Connor's Inspector Stone, the real delight is newcomer Clare Kinson who takes on the duel roles of perky teenager Delilah and saucy policewoman Jean Jeanie. One to keep an eye on.

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'Feelgood' at the English Theatre in
Frankfurt

(Translations were only available for the Frankfurt show but the originals in German for both shows are below)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Ehrlichkeit, Hoffnung, Zukunft: Alistair Beatons Politsatire „Feelgood”

Manches scheint keine satirische Übertreibung mehr zu sein, sondern die pure Wahrheit. Was nicht zuletzt die Originalzitate britischer Premierminister insinuieren, die im Programmheft von "Feelgood" nachzulesen sind. Der Parteitag ist in vollem Gange, vor den Türen toben Demonstranten, und in einer Hotelsuite feilt der Redenschreiber des Premierministers an den salbungsvollen Worten des großen Vorsitzenden. Natürlich geht es um "Ehrlichkeit", "Hoffnung", "Zukunft", "Reform". Die Partei ist irgendwie links, könnte aber auch irgendwie rechts sein. Auf jeden Fall aber ist sie auf einem ebenso undefinierbaren Weg der "Erneuerung" - und damit auch eine deutliche Satire auf Tony Blairs "New Labour".

Alistair Beaton macht seinem Unmut über die zeitgenössische Politik in seiner Komödie "Feelgood" ordentlich Luft. Nun ist die von Phil Young inszenierte Koproduktion mit dem Wiener English Theatre im Frankfurter English Theatre zu sehen. Zum großen Vergnügen des Publikums, das ein souverän spielendes Ensemble in einem Stück erlebt, das trotz ein paar Längen die richtige Mischung aus Satire, absurder Komik und Spannung aufweist. Der Premier muß große Fragen lösen. Und ebenso große Skandale vertuschen.

Ein Fall für Eddie, den John Higgins äußerst überzeugend zu verkörpern weiß. Der Spin Doctor des Premiers bellt Befehle ins Telefon, manipuliert nebenbei ein paar Journalisten und knockt gewitzt parteiinterne Gegner aus. Als Drahtzieher des Premierministers für alle Wechselfälle des politischen Alltags hat er sie alle unter seiner Fuchtel: Paul, den Ghostwriter (Gregor Hunt), Asha, die Referentin des Premiers (Amelia Saberwal), sogar den Gagschreiber Simon (John Dorney), dessen Funktion als komischer Widerpart etwas überstrapaziert wird. Es gibt nur einen, vor dem Eddie kuscht - wie alle anderen. "DL" nennen sie den Premier (Jeffrey Harmer) ehrfürchtig, obwohl seine Initialen ganz andere sind.

Einst war Eddie ein Journalist, der für seine Ideale kämpfte, genau wie seine Exfrau Liz (Amanda Osborne). Ausgerechnet sie kommt nun einem Skandal auf die Spur, der Eddies Partei locker hundert Jahre in die Wüste der Opposition schicken könnte: Der unfähige Koordinationsminister George (Ray Gardner), enger Freund des Premiers, hat sich an genmanipuliertem Hopfen bereichert - der zahllose britische Biertrinker zu Hermaphroditen mutieren ließ. "Männer mit Brüsten - das nenne ich mal eine gelungene Reform", höhnt Liz, deren Beharrlichkeit die fieberhafte Tätigkeit Eddies noch erhöht.

Das Tempo kommt nicht nur aus der Intrige selbst, sondern auch von den "Wundern" der heutigen Kommunikation, die in der Inszenierung eine wichtige Rolle spielen - bis hin zum Live-Video. Ob auch der Spin Doctor selbst eine so moderne Sache ist wie die unaufhörlich piepsenden Handys, die alle benutzen, sei dahingestellt. Daß er ein wirklich treuer Diener ist, weiß nach dem überraschenden Ende nicht nur der Premierminister. Und irgendwann erfährt man auch, wofür "DL" steht: "Divine Light" - "göttliches Licht". Das dürfte wirklich Satire sein. Obwohl, man weiß ja nie.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06. April 2005
Von EVA-MARIA MAGEL


TRANSLATION:
By Claudia Schülke

There are often things which seem less like the satirical exaggeration they are and more like reality, which is something that the original quotes made by British prime ministers in the programme booklet to “Feel Good” would support. The party conference is in full swing, demonstrators rage in front of the doors, and in one of the hotel suites the speech writer for the prime minister is polishing up the smooth words of the great leader. Of course subjects on the menu are “honesty”, “hope”, “future” and “reform”. The party gives the impression of being left-wing, but could just as much be a right-wing party. Whichever it may be, they seem to be on an equally indefinable path of “change” – and with that in mind a clear satire on Tony Blair’s “New Labour”.

Alistair Beaton makes his displeasure with contemporary politics very clear in his comedy “Feel Good”. The production by Phil Young in cooperation with the English Theatre in Vienna is now playing at the English Theatre in Frankfurt. To the great pleasure of the audience, who were able to feast their eyes on an excellently performing cast in a play which, in spite of a few drawn-out scenes, proved to have the right mix of satire, absurd comic sketches and tension. The premier needed to answer some very big questions. And just as importantly cover up some very large scandals.
This would be a case for Eddie, played by John Higgins in very convincing fashion. The prime minister’s spin doctor bellows orders into the telephone, manipulates a few journalists whilst he’s waiting and cunningly clears his way ahead of internal competition. As the one pulling the strings for the prime minister for any event that might crop up in the everyday of political life, he has just about everybody under his thumb: Paul the ghost writer (Gregor Hunt), Asha the consultant to the Prime Minister (Amelia Saberwal), and even the gag writer Simon (John Dorney), whose role as comical input for suitable interludes in the speech is somewhat stretched. There is only one person to whom Eddie buckles – just like all the others. “DL” is what they call the Prime Minister (Jeffrey Harmer) reverently, though his real initials, we learn, are different.

Eddie was once a journalist, who fought to realise his ideals, just like his ex-wife Liz (Amanda Osborne). And of all people it happens to be exactly Liz who sniffs out a scandal which could easily send Eddie’s party straight to oblivion in the face of the opposition. The lax coordination minister George (Ray Gardner), close friend to the premier, has profited from some genetically modified hops which seem to be mutating countless British beer drinkers to hermaphrodites. “Men with breasts – now that’s what I call a successful reform” Liz sneers, all the while her steadfastness increasing the feverous work Eddie has cut out for him.

The pace of the play does not just come from the unfolding intrigue but also from the “wonders” of modern communication, that play an important role in this production – even live camera. Whether the spin doctor is quite as progressive as the mobile phones which never stop bleeping is open to question. However, it is not only the prime minister who is clear about Eddie’s loyalty after the surprising end. At some point we also find out what “DL” stands for: “Divine Light”. That has to be satire surely. Though, you can never be sure.

Frankfurter Neue Presse
Politik ist ein Betrugsgeschäft
Im English Theatre Frankfurt hatte Alistair Beatons kluge Komödie
Feelgood eine eindrucksstarke Premiere.

Es ist irritierend, wie ernsthaft, fast ernüchternd «Feelgood» beginnt. Täglich werden weltweit 200 000 Babys geboren, 79 Prozent davon in Erdteilen, in denen Hunger herrscht. Das sind keine Tatsachen, von denen ein eitler Politiker spricht, der machtverliebt auf seine Wiederwahl schielt. Schließlich fehlen auch ihm zündende Ideen für den Kampf gegen den Hungertod. Oder etwa nicht? Vielleicht mit genmanipulierter Nahrung? Mit einem Reiskorn, das fünf Mal so schnell wächst wie ein natürliches? Dennoch, nur wer die Leute zum Lachen bringt, ist ein Gewinner. Was liegt da näher als den Redeschreibern des englischen Premiers einen Autoren für Fernsehgags zur Seite zu stellen? Welch grandioser Geistesblitz! Denn seine federführenden Saubermänner scheinen doch zu sehr in ihrer Haut gefangen zu sein. Schließlich fehlen Eddi, der maßlos korrupten wie scharfzüngigen Kaltschnauze, und dem scheinbar idealistischen Paul, all die schönen Worte, um die matte Planlosigkeit ihrer Partei mit glanzvoll schillernden Visionen zu übertünchen. Zu dumm bloß, dass ausgerechnet jetzt Großbritannien ein Bier aus genmanipuliertem Hopfen zu überschwemmen droht, das auffallend große Wölbungen am Oberkörper der männlichen Trinker verursacht. Nichts darf davon an die Öffentlichkeit dringen. Doch die Gefahr dazu ist immens, bedrohlich, riesengroß!
Mit großer Scharfsinnigkeit schildert der «Spitting-Image»-Autor Alistair Beaton die hohlen Hüllen von politischen Denkern. Lässt in ihnen ihr phrasenumhülltes kümmerliches Wesen entdecken, das sich anscheinend nur noch vor genau diesem entlarvenden Blick ängstigt. Was in Phil Youngs Inszenierung als dialogstarkes, fast gestenloses und bildarmes Theater beginnt, wandelt sich zu einem mitreißend turbulenten und aberwitzigem Geschehen von hohem Anspruch. Mit jeder auch bloß vermeintlicher Wendung wird deutlich, wie berechnend die Drähte unter den Mächtigen und ihren Schergen verspannt sind. Ein Netz, das nur wenigen durchschaubar, doch damit um so manipulierbarer erscheint.
Jeder der sieben Schauspieler im English Theatre brilliert mit seinem meist sehr differenziert entworfenen Charakter. Und so erfüllt sich die Schlagkraft dieser Komödie letztlich mit dem homogenen Zusammenspiel des Ensembles.

Frankfurter Neue Presse 06. April, 2005
Von Thomas Ungeheuer


TRANSLATION:
By Thomas Ungeheuer

Politics is all about deception…

Alistair Beaton’s clever comedy “Feel Good” makes an impression with its premiere at the English Theatre in Frankfurt.

The serious and almost sobering start to “Feel Good” is likely to throw you off the mark. We are told that 200 000 babies are born daily on the planet and 79 percent of those make an entrance into parts of the world where starvation is rife. These are surely not facts uttered by a conceited politician who, power-hungry, has his eyes firmly set on his own re-election. Ultimately he cannot possess the solution to the world’s starvation problems either. Or can he? Perhaps the answer lies with genetically modified foodstuffs? With a type of rice which grows five times as fast as natural rice? Still, those that make people laugh are the ones that will come out winning. And what could be more effective in that area than supplying the speech writers for the English Prime Minister with a writer who produces gags for TV? What a superlative brainwave! Especially since his story-penning “cleaners” appear to be too focused on themselves of late. For Eddi, the extremely corrupt, sharp-tongued and callous piece of work and the apparently idealistic Paul seem to be lacking in all those special words which could go some way towards covering up the dull lack of planning evident in their party with gloriously bright and visionary direction. Too bad that just at this point in time, a genetically modified beer appears to threaten overrunning Britain with havoc causing very obvious bulges on the upper body of its male drinkers. None of this can be leaked to the public. And yet the danger of that is immense, threatening, in fact, mammothly large!

The “Spitting Image” author Alistair Beaton provides us with a very astute indication of the hollow shells of political thinkers. He reveals to us their retort-ridden, miserable existence which, it would seem, fears only that: the exposing look in their direction. What starts out as being more dialogue-powered, two-dimensional theatre in Phil Young’s production, transforms into an infectiously whirlwind and crazy set of events which is sophisticated. With each and every turn it becomes clearer just how calculating the frame is under those with power and those that do their dirty work. A frame which is transparent only for a certain few and therefore all the more easy to manipulate.

Each of the seven actors in the English Theatre shine with their extremely different and uniquely developed characters. And it is ultimately the homogenous teamwork of the ensemble which allows this comedy to realise its powerful impact.

TRANSLATIONS of additional reviews:

Frankfurter Rundschau 06. April 2005
By Judith von Sternburg


The circus which calls itself a political party: Alistair Beaton’s cruel satire “Feel Good” at the English Theatre

Of all days it could have happened, it happened to be the evening of the day on which Tony Blair announced the date for the Commons vote when the audience in the English Theatre were able to take a look behind the scenes at the “control centre” of a British government party. What a circus. How reassuring it would be, if we could claim it were a different story in Germany. And how pleasing it would be if only it were less bleak an outlook in the direction of the Opposition…

Alistair Beaton’s satire “Feel Good” however, which has enjoyed success since the beginning of the century in Great Britain, does not talk about one specific problem causing the upheaval. It is much more a day of reckoning with the person in power and the mechanism which keeps him there. Not a complicated idea. The person in power hardly needs a review of his own actions to know how to stay in power and keep his image in tact. The person in power will probably be scrupulous; he possesses a command of the national language and has fate on his side. The mechanism is: political competitors will be hammered down, votes will be won, irrespective of method and disasters will only be admitted to in so far as is already common knowledge.

The simplicity of the process is very sobering. The politics is taken out of politics we hear from the angry Paul as he attempts to talk content and all around him decline. Paul thinks in a much too complicated fashion. “Feel Good” revolves around the fact that politics has nothing to do with a political content. According to “Feel Good”, politics consists merely of winning the nearest vote. What a relief it would be if one were able to discard that as pure exaggeration and nonsense…

The production currently on show at the English Theatre came in to being as a co-production with the theatre of the same name in Vienna. Phil Young directs for his ninth time locally and does it in a low-key fashion which comes with experience; in the tastefully set-up hotel rooms (by David Burrows) we are confronted with the necessary doors, pillars and a balcony so that there can always be a quick exit or someone can coincidentally overhear something they shouldn’t or hide themselves somewhere, and in the hotel rooms we are confronted with suffering, groaning, grimaces and all other signals that this comic play throws at us. Everything comes across as halfway real and very much in the vein of the sitcom. In Germany one is reminded quickly of the boulevard theatre; on London’s Westend theatre has been looked at this way for a longer time to meet a very clear need. Which is something which works well, when the foundation is sound as with this piece. Then the evening can take the liberty of needing a little longer to get going, and the director can keep himself to himself in the background and prepare the floor for the nasty pieces of work which Alistair Beaton serves up.

At the centre of attention, in this case a very large advantage, John Higgins stands as the tense leader of the pack. He is Eddie, the maker of kings, whose more subtle psychological signals will be missed by many a spectator. In the face of an uncontrolled desire for power, questioning the location of that person’s soul should not be sustained. Eddie, through Higgins performance a choleric individual who very quickly gets red and fired up and whose trains very often de-rail, works on polishing up the speech for the prime minister together with the more morally-sound Paul and the rather pert Asha (Gregor Hunt and Amelia Saberwal) at the party conference. This is an industrious search for the ever elusive phrase. Whilst this is happening they also engage in trying to keep the lid on various scandals as well as keeping a particularly energetic journalist (Amanda Osborne) in check. The worst scandal turns out to be a case of genetically modified hops on the land of the close friend of the PM (beautifully stupid: Ray Gardner), which unleash devastating effects in their male beer drinkers.

The premier, who we first see in the final scene – and the cruellest of all possible endings – also employs a gag writer to his team to help fill the speech. John Dorney plays him as an individual who even laughs as he is breathing in. After the gag writer has watched the proceedings for a while, and become accustomed to how things happen at the helm of power, he asks Eddie whether they honestly need a gag writer!

Rhein Main Net Kritik April 2005
By Antje Büdenbender

How close is this to the real world? Irrespective of whether politics is seeing the establishment of a new party in Austria, or the sitting of an inquiry committee in Germany, or even an attempt from Tony Blair at getting himself elected for a third season in office – anyone who experiences “Feel Good” at the English Theatre in Frankfurt will have the chance to look deep underneath the satire-coated surface of political machinery. In the process, Alistair Beaton’s comedy transforms the viewer into a witness to some of the most intimate and darkest depths of the human soul in the lonely struggle for power.

The advisory team of the Prime Minister furiously lay into one another, plotting and attempting desperately, to remain in control of the chaotic affairs of their party conference and to ensure that the preference in voting remains in favour of their boss. The idea starter and key character Eddie, (played brutally and geniously by John Higgins who makes use of a gigantic range of expressions and gesticulation) would appear to have everything under control. His hyperactive colleagues Asha (Amelia Saberwal plays an upbeat power-dressed assistant) and Paul (Gregor Hunt plays the speech writer who is not yet completely morally-bankrupt) jump – though strictly in the service of the prime minister you understand – when he says jump.

After the somewhat slow-moving dialogue at the opening (which remains of importance for the end of the comedy), where the bleary-eyed advisors discuss the planned speech of the prime minister, the play takes a blinding turn in pace. The events happen thick and fast as the somewhat insolent friend of the premier, George, (played in very shrewd but human terms by Ray Gardner) ends up having to divulge his instrumental role leading to a scandal of genetically modified hops piece by piece. The final bout of chaos in the hotel room serving as a conference office is served up by the comedy writer Simon (played by John Dorney with exaggerated and repeated comic effects, where less would certainly have been more), employed for his services by the premier, as he unwittingly overhears the earlier proceedings.

The dialogue and violence of the characters highlights the merciless struggle to achieve and secure power. Inexorable reality pops up when the manipulation of the media starts to happen, at first in miniature form with a bribe promising “exclusive material”. And in the second when the journalist (and ex-wife of Eddie), Liz (excellently played by Amanda Osborne as the morally stable counterweight to Eddie), is to be convinced not to follow her sense for fairness by agreeing not to publish her thoroughly researched story on genetic modification, the malevolent tip of manipulation is reached. The glorious artificial world of politics is dismantled in a detailed and brutally realistic fashion when the premier (convincingly smarmy: Jeffrey Harmer) finally holds his speech and provides an atmospheric end to this successful satire. All in all a very successful and astoundingly realistically portrayed production delivered as a cooperation between the English Theatres in Frankfurt and Vienna.

Journal Frankfurt April 2005
By Daniel Güthert

When Alistair Beaton’s political farce first emerged four years ago, it was an overnight success. The whole of England was caught smirking at the poisonous attacks presented on stage. It’s a proverbial branded product of British humour – intelligent, quick-witted and vicious. Satirical realism of the finest sort, aimed at what was then the current political stage, tagged with the motto: “Any similarities to living persons are not coincidental”. What might be described in small print as “comedy” is in reality a look behind the scenes at politics, power and the parties that stand behind them. And as comical as the slapstick interludes might be, the same vigour has been applied to clearly and transparently portraying the mechanisms of power and manipulation. At the same time the unpredictability of the events is excellently distributed throughout the course (direction by Phil Young) and the cast perform with a presence that dazzles, above all John Higgins as the cunning and abominable PR adviser to the Prime Minister. With this play the English Theatre once again hit the mark following “Cabaret”.

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'Feelgood' at the English Theatre in Vienna

DIE PRESSE
Tony Blair und sein Spin-Doktor


"Feelgood" im English Theatre: eine amüsante Politpersiflage über die britische Regierungspartei.
"Männer und Frauen. Zusammen. In einem Körper. Der Weg der Zukunft. Hier. Jetzt. Ein neues England. Wir schaffen es. Gemeinsam." So könnte doch die Rede des englischen Premierministers lauten, wenn bekannt wird, dass ein etwas doofes Regierungsmitglied versehentlich selbst fabrizierten Gen-Hopfen in Umlauf gebracht hat, der Männern Brüste sprießen lässt. Obiger Textvorschlag stammt von der spöttischen Journalistin Liz (gespielt von Amanda Osborne), die besagtem britischem Minister (Ray Gardner) auf den Fersen ist. Leider wird ihr Vorschlag nicht angenommen - der Premier zieht es vor, wenig später in seiner Rede den Tod einer "mutigen" Journalistin zu beklagen . . .

Um die feine Kunst des "Spin", der modernen Erscheinungsform politischer Manipulation, geht es in der burlesken britischen Politsatire "Feelgood", die derzeit im English Theatre zu sehen ist. Da wird der Zuschauer nicht nur in tiefschwarzen "britischen" Humor getaucht, sondern auch tief in den PR-Kochtopf des gegenwärtigen englischen Regierungschefs. "Chefkoch" am Vorabend des Parteitags ist der durchtriebene Pressesprecher Eddie (von John Higgins unschlagbar unsympathisch gespielt), der in einer Hotelsuite an der ultimativen Wahlkampfrede feilt, gleichzeitig (via Knopf im Ohr) die Debatte im Konferenzzentrum manipuliert und Journalisten mit Mini-Skandälchen von den wirklichen Skandalen ablenkt.

Alistair Beaton hat in den achtziger Jahren die TV-Politpersiflage "Spitting Image" mitgestaltet, in der Gummipuppen englische Politiker karikieren. Auch "Feelgood" karikiert unbekümmert, was das Zeug hält, bleibt dabei intellektuell strapazenfrei und bietet - dank der Schauspieler - an einigen Stellen feinstes Ensemblespiel. "Feelgood": Dieser Aufforderung kann man aber auch aus einem anderen Grund folgen. Die manipulatorische Perfektion, die im Stück vorgeführt wird, wirkt nämlich hierzulande fast exotisch. Nein, denkt man, davon sind unsere Politiker noch weit entfernt - man sollte direkt dankbar sein . . .
ANNE-CATHERINE SIMON


KURIER
In der Küche der Macht

Ein mulmiges Gefühl macht sich breit: So schlimm ist Politik? Man hofft, dass nicht und fürchtet doch, dass es in Wirklichkeit genau so zu geht im Umfeld der Macht, wie von Alistair Beaton in "Feelgood" (bis 19. 3. tgl. außer Sonntag) gezeichnet. Seine bissige wie unterhaltsame Polit-Satire über die englische Regierungspartei in Vienna's English Theatre - 2001 im Hampstead Theatre London uraufgeführt - hat im selben Jahr auch den "Evening Standard Award" für die beste Komödie gewonnen.
Allerlei spielt sich da ab hinter den Kulissen: Eddie (John Higgins), der karrieregeile Pressesprecher und Fiesling, der über Leichen geht, und Paul (Gregor Hunt) schreiben an der ultimativen Wahlkampfrede für den Premier am Parteitag und versorgen nebenbei die Presse mit Skandälchen, um von großen Katastrophen abzulenken. Es darf gelacht werden.

Denn Ähnlichkeiten mit Hintergründen - nein: Abgründen - der Realpolitik wären rein zufällig.
Ros


WIENER ZEITUNG
Rabenschwarze politische Satire


"Feelgood" ist das beste Stück, das das Vienna's English Theatre seit langem inszeniert hat. Es durchbricht die leicht verstaubte Tendenz, die das Theater in letzter Zeit aufkommen ließ. Bei der jetzt laufenden Politsatire passt einfach alles und für den Zuschauer ist der Abend das reinste Vergnügen.
Die Komödiensensation von Alistair Beaton, die 2001 in London für Furore sorgte, ist auch in Österreich unter Leitung von Phil Young brilliant. Wenn die Politik an sich schon nicht besonders lustig ist, so tut es doch gut, wenn über sie gelacht werden kann.
Mit rabenschwarzem britischem Humor zeigt das Stück wie Politik abläuft. Die Bissigkeit, die dabei an den Abend gelegt wird, ist so brutal, dass manch einem das Lachen im Halse stecken bleiben kann.
Mit viel Herz, Charakter und einer fantastischen Körpersprache bringt die Truppe dem Publikum auf der ausdrucksstarken Bühne den tagtäglichen politischen Wahnsinn nahe. Im Mittelpunkt steht Eddie (John Higgins). Der aalglatt und beinharte Stratege zieht im Hintergrund von Premierminister DL (Jeffrey Harmer) die Fäden des Geschehens. Mit eiskalten Intrigen gängelt er jeden nach Belieben: Von seiner engagierten Ex (Amanda Osborne) bis hin zum Minister (Ray Gardner). Selbst den friedfertigen Redenschreiber Paul (Gregor Hunt) hält er an der kurzen Leine, indem er den Familienvater mit dessen homosexuellen Neigungen erpresst.
Sogar mit dem Ende, von dem ob des Themas Moralisierendes zu erwarten war, punktete das Stück. Zwar ergeht ein moralischer Fingerzeig in Richtung Publikum, Alistair verzichtet jedoch darauf, die Zuschauer mit dem sonst üblichen erhobenen Zeigefinger zu belehren. Absolut sehenswert.
Alexander Mathé


KRONE
Heißer Tipp: “Feelgood!”


Was passiert in den Hinterzimmern der Politik, in Strategiebüros und Ghost-Writer-Stuben? „Feelgood“ von Alistair Beaton bringt im English Theatre Aufklärung: eine Politsatire, die zwischen bissiger Komik, trauriger Realität und abgeschminktem Idealismus pendelt. Zum Gaudium aller!
(...) Autor Beaton zielt auf jene lächelnden, populären Politiker, die Politik zur ideologiefreien Zone erklärt haben. Für jedes Problem gibt’s einen Sager: Hauptsache die Show läuft und die durchtriebenen Denker hinter dem Computerbildschirm haben Ideen.
Im English Theatre formt Phil Young Charaktere, die plastisch wirken. Er hält die Waage zwischen Komik und Biss. Kein Weichzeichner, aber auch keine politische Tragödie! Die Darsteller – u.a. John Higgins, Gregor Hunt, Ray Gardner und Amanda Osborne – spielen mit Tempo, Witz, Augenzwinkern. Sie wirken spontan. Wie auch die Abschlussrede des Premiers beim Parteitag...
Oliver A. Láng

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'The Tunnel' at Hill Street Theatre, Edinburgh

Published on Edinburghguide.com, 7th August 2004, Max Blinkhorn wrote:

"Shuddering, tense and unmissable. While at an exhibition of his own paintings, Juan Pablo Castel notices a strikingly beautiful woman, Maria Iribarne, staring intensely at one particular work. He strikes up an awkward relationship with her and the die is cast. Jamie Newall's intense and powerful portrayal of the artist Castel in this dramatisation of Ernesto Sabato's novel, The Tunnel, is one of the best individual performances I have ever seen. As narrator and character, Castel is centre stage and centre of the audience's attention for most of the play but this isn't selfish upstaging or egotism. Using Castel as character and narrator makes exposition easy and allows the story to be told in 75 tight minutes. As the plot bowls along, and scary as Castel is, he isn't able to ruffle the soft, white grace of Maria, played magically by Rebecca Gethings.

Castel's attachment to Maria is overpowering and flawed. He becomes obsessed that she is deceiving him and she may be but the clever plot does not allow us to know this. This drives both of them towards their inevitable and tragic denouement. As an exposition of the state of mind of the artist, The Tunnel is wonderful. Its conclusions about Castel's state of mind are debatable and that makes the play all the more interesting.

David Burrows' sets and Chrystine Bennett's' costumes are outstanding and while minimal, the overall impression is high value and sophisticated. David Graham-Young directs and delivers."

***** (5 star rating)

JS in 'Three Weeks' wrote:

"Adaptations are an uncertain business and all too frequently seem off-key but David Graham-Young's effort is spot on and this production is a powerful and electrifying reworking of Argentinian novel El Tunel. Jamie Newall gives a magnetic, passionate and eerily convincing performance as artist Castel who is repugnantly obsessive as he tries to seduce, own and dominate the beautiful but wayward Maria, played by Rebecca Gethings. His is an absurd and frightful form of love that chillingly teeters on the psychotic before finally falling into oblivion. We are told from the start that he murders her - he simply wants one of us to understand him. The audience was transfixed and this adaptation is a certain triumph."

**** (4 star rating)

'The Tunnel of Obsession' at The Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

Patrick Marmion inTime Out wrote:

“At 93, Ernesto Sabato must be the elder statesman of Argentine literature, and he is honoured by a highly serviceable adaptation of his 1948 novel. It’s the tale of a tortured artist who becomes obsessed with a married woman he sees in a gallery looking at one of his paintings. Starting with the artist writing his memoirs in prison, he relates how he came to know, love and then murder the woman.
On the face of it, it’s your basic love triangle seen through a mind poisoned by jealousy. But the writing also has a furtive, Kafkaesque feel, which suggests that it is also a metaphor for the state of Argentina under Peron. More absorbing for today’s audience is the abiding psychological complexity of the yarn.
It has clearly been a labour of love for David Graham-Young, but his devotion to Sabato’s story has, thankfully, not resulted in his emulating the hero and murdering the object of his affection… Jamie Newall is enormously impressive as the neurotic artist who is embittered by critical acclaim, and his performance is every bit as obsessive-compulsive as his homicidally jealous character. He is supported well by Cassandra Holliday as the enigmatic amour as well as Gordon Milne and Erin Geraghty in assorted roles… This is a strong piece of work affording a spyglass view of Sabato’s writing.”

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'Roast Beef'
by Leah Vitali at Riverside Studios, London

John Thaxter in wrote:

No great surprise to see The Oresteia restaged in a 20th-century charnel house, with Aegisthus as a pathology assistant in white wellies, wheeling bodies from the parlour to the mortuary. Nor to find Iphigenia, rescued from Hades and getting regular blood top-ups from the recently deceased.

While we are at it, let's make Clytemnestra a horror movie drama queen with Bram Stoker pretensions, parading in red basque and Morticia Addams outerwear, forever sharpening her carving knives to slice into flesh, whether it be Agamemnon's or a wafer-thin slice of his favourite rare roast beef.

Meanwhile she shackles her lover in a dog-collar - not the priestly kind - anchors her daughter to the wall when the child starts messing with her dad in bed and proves a match for any man when it comes to a tussle or a shouting match.

What is surprising is that this 'Aeschylus-lite' tragedy is no mere fringe theatre send up but a drama that recently won an Hellenic State Prize for best new play and reaches London supported by the Greek cultural establishment and generous donors.

The 80-minute show has its compensations, including a dazzling performance by Sarah Douglas - long a busy ex-pat English actress in Hollywood - demanding courage, strength and extraordinary agility for the fight scenes, handsome Greek film actor Stratos Tzortzoglou as Agamemnon and Kitty O'Lone playing the undead Iphigenia as a sexy young zombie.

And a special word for the creative team members, all making their professional debuts with this stylish, if baffling production.

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'Mystery of the Rose Bouquet'
by Manuel Puig at The Old Red Lion


“Superb revival. Warmly recommended. It will have been an exceptional year on the fringe if I see better performances or a more engrossing production than this”. (Five star rating) (Recommended)
John Thaxter, What’s On, 23rd October 2002

“An accomplished cast and director David Graham-Young’s deft touch assure the strength of this convincing production. By the end of the evening few could deny that this little masterpiece deserves wider recognition.”
Ham and High, 25 October 2002

“David Graham-Young’s enjoyably piquant production exhibits the catty humour, the skilfully elusive characterisation and the shiver-down-the spine uncertainty that reveal this as a minor gem.”
Rachel Halliburton, Evening Standard, 18th October 2002

“Contemporary Stage Company has pulled off an enigmatic, haunting production which had me pondering and meditating long after the end. Valerie Sarruf played the Patient magnificently… elegant performance from Susan Franklyn… captivating production.”
Theatre World Internet Magazine, 19th October 2002

“A decent revival of an intriguing rarely staged work”
Time Out, 23 October 2002


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'Mr Paul' by Tankred Dorst at the Old Red Lion,
(November 2001):

“ Feisty British premiere”, “Beautifully Gothic Dickensian characters ... Tight contemporary plot”, “Greatly aided by the talents of Richard Kane, David Graham-Young’s production is as darkly dramatic and mischievous as you could wish for”, “Rewarding viewing”
Time Out

“Much of the writing in Mister Paul is exquisite, as is the translation”,
“Richard Kane’s Mister Paul is a wonderful creation of weary dignity cut with creepy impishness”, “Jill Johnson’s Luise returns to steal the show, her frosty grandeur in the midst of squalor as touching as it is absurd”
The Independent

“Contemporary Stage Company is to be congratulated on their entertaining British premiere. Richard Kane revels in the title role... Rhys Meredith also impresses... Jill Johnson, delightfully garrulous and eccentric. Anita McCann, sympathetically anarchic. David Graham-Young nicely sustains the intriguing battle of wills - enlivened by many moments of surreal humour.”
The Stage

“My students and I enjoyed the performance enormously. It is very rare to find such an unusual and polished piece of work in the fringe venues.”
Head of Drama The King Alfred School


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December 22nd 2000: 'All Cloned Up' at the Grace Theatre, Battersea

Rachel Halliburton in the Evening Standard (8th January 2001) wrote:

There is less science than silliness in this musical genetic-engineering farce, replete with soupily sinister scientists, chemical confusions, and cloned sheep trying their hooves at synchronised dancing.

Presenting itself as a DNA dabbler's response to the Rocky Horror Show, it whirls the audience through a host of plots and counter-plots, encompassing cryonics, dangerous ambition, and some very dodgy sexual politics.

It is always interesting to see a musical forced onto a microscopic stage, and in the Grace Theatre
at the Latchmere pub Mike Bennett's [Alkis Kritikos'] production has taken up the challenge with a test tube shaking confidence. The antiseptically white set may not be large, but the well-developed egos of the characters roaming across it produce an illusion of spaciousness, as they posture and preen in the battle for leadership of the laboratory.

Don Paterson - a miniature Kenneth Williams lookalike - plays the punningly named Eugene (you geeenius) Graham, who is engaged in dastardly collaboration with his leather clad assistant Phillip Collier to kill his wife Fiona. The futuristic twist is that he plans to clone her, and add some more husband-loving characteristics into her character so that she is transformed from siren to simpering sock-mender ina few tweaks of her DNA.

When Phillip (Andy Cresswell) reveals not only that he wants to shaft Eugene by demanding equal partnership in the lab, but also that he has been literally shafting Fiona, some dramatic steps have to be taken. Add to this the arrival of Gemma, the ambitious journalist girlfriend of lab-prat Stuart, and a lip-pursingly denouement is set in action.

On the night that I went
, the cast certainly made its best efforts to stir up an audience which for some reason was as deflated as a dejected balloon. The basically bland harmonies were belted out with steely eyed determination, and the combination of ridiculous lyrics and wonderfully contrived choreography would have raised hoots of laughter from anybody who had arrived in the auditorium determined to party.

This kind of drama is best seen when you are in a group, hell-bent on an evening of frivolity, with a couple of pints inside you. The cloned sheep alone are worth it.

and Paul Nelson in the Wandsworth Borough News reported:

Usually at this time of year, in the middle of all the blockbuster show hoohah and tub-thumping, there comes a little production that walks away with the season, taking all the kudos away from all the big names, big budgets and hugely publicised shows.

Last year it was 'The Night Before Christmas' at the Finborough. This year it is 'All Cloned Up' at the Grace Theatre at the Latchmere in Battersea Park Road.

Last year I took no pleasure from the show 'Control Freaks' at the Studio Theatre, Wimbledon. It was written by Mike Bennett, the author, composer and lyricist of the present show. The previous musical was about a drug which created paragons, this show is about cloning. Obviously Mr Bennett has a medical bee in his bonnet, or a fear and suspiscion of the unknown that comes with progress.


Be that as it may, there are hardly two lines between numbers in this new musical, yet the book is crystal clear and never wavers from its point and with its economy it is an object lesson to would-be musical writers.

Any show stands or falls on its musical numbers and this one resoundingly stands. The numbers have an odd appeal to them reminding one again of the Rocky Horror style, so it was with little surprise to read in the programme when I got home that indeed the director had worked on that show.


It is a story about a geneticist who desires a woman to be his ideal. With the aid of a colleague, he convinces everybody all the cast of characters and us that by killing her, he can resurrect her, meddle with her genetically and make her a better person in his eyes.

During the very short, all too short first act - I could have done with more of the really excellent gags - three people manage to get killed. Three people are therefore ripe for resurrection via the cloning process. What happens is the colleague who believes himself superior becomes the devoted acolyte, the thick and stupid guy becomes the most studious and the lady for whom the project was set up, becomes, as wished, the willing slave of the scientist.

The result is hilarious. If there is anyone in the neighbourhood who think they are arbiters of taste then let them make a hit out of this show, which is a real find, and could indeed quite easily become another cult success.

With a chorus of Dolly cloned sheep, periodically making an entrance to further the plot, and some really good performances the show breezes along. There are five actors and it is impossible to favour one over the other. All are excellent.

This is the small Christmas hit we await every year it seems, and I recommend it heartily. For the collector, the programme lists not only the cast and the scenes but also the musical numbers, quite rare these days. Hooray! Usually I have to guess at them and spend the evening making dubious titles for them. With this entertainment I sat enthralled, totally taken by the events and, unusual these days, leaving the theatre actually being able to remember and hum some of the tunes.

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'A Summer's Day' by Slawomir Mrozek at the Old Red Lion, March 2000:

“Elegantly directed, designed with simple effectiveness and immaculately acted.”
What’s On

“Graham-Young’s translation is impeccable, and the acting is first class”, “If you can’t get tickets for Harold (Pinter) a the Almeida, then Slawomir (Mrozek) at the Old Red Lion is much, much more than a cheap substitute.”
**** (Four star rating)
Robert Lloyd Parry, Highbury and Islington Express

“Immaculately directed”
Dziennik Polski (London daily Polish newspaper)

“A remarkable display of acting”
Camden New Journal

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18th August 1993: 'Tonight: Lola Blau' at the Old Red Lion

Graham Hassell picked the show as What's On's 'Review of the Week' and wrote:

The omens seem good. 'Tonight: Lola Blau' - tomorrow the provinces, then Europe and perhaps the wider world. Georg Kreisler's cabaret-cum-one-woman show has already been phenomenally successful over the past 15 years on the continent, but this British première looks set to up the ante in a new version by Phil Young which opts for a trio of actor/musicians supporting the central character with acoustic arrangements for piano, bass, guitar, clarinet and percussion. This radical staging also includes slide projection and archive newsreel from the late '30s and early '40s. Yet the evening's most amazing single attribute is the performance of Esther Zschieschow. Not only does her life uncannily mirror Lola Blau's story, but this difficult and demanding show marks her first performance in English. Not bad going for an East German actress exiled in 1989...

Lola Blau is a young Jewish singer trying to find work in Nazi-occupied Vienna. When the going gets tough, she gets going, escaping to the United States where she is obliged to sing in seedy night clubs before achieving fame. After the war she returns, with some trepidation, to Viennna

The tale is told in a near continuous flow of Kurt Weill-style numbers, each cleverly evoking a mood, a period and particular environment in words and musical accompaniment. We first see Lola in optimistic vein packing to leave for her first job in Linz, singing 'Number One, Theatre Street', all naive ambition and impossible dreams. A moment later she's being evicted a day early by a landlady concerned about renting to Jews, prompting 'Silent Voices' whose lyrics display the sense of betrayal and paranoia produced by Nazi anti-semitism. Other numbers show Lola at railway stations, in cheap cabarets, or on the move again until with 'Miracles Can Happen' she gets a US visa.

There are around twenty chansons with as many changes of frock while between numbers and outfits we glimpse stills and footage of hard historic facts - Hitler on podiums, daubed 'Juden' signs and body-littered battle fields. Lola's pride at having survived and guilt at having left Europe is neatly and poignantly caught by juxtaposing the horrors of war with contemporaneous American culture caught in refrains from 'The Good Ship Lollipop' and 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'.

Lola's return to Vienna prompts a song about collaborators ('Frau Schmidt'), a brilliant pastiche of musical styles played out before and impresario ('Herr Director') and a sardonic send-up of 'Thank God For Hollywood' sung to Mozart's piano sonata in C major.

Miss Zschieschow's voice has no gusto and her sexy stage numbers aren't sexy, not even in the standard 'All Of Me'. But the fact that she's no Liza Minelli lends conviction to her stage persona and an earthy authenticity to the show. This is 'Cabaret' for grown-ups. Don't miss it."

And Jane Edwards in (August 18-25 1993):

The intriguingly named Foreign Affairs company has launched itself with a piece of music theatre by Georg Kreisler. The story describes the flight of a Jewish Sally Bowles from Austria during the last war. Esther Zschieschow plays Lola Blau, a politically innocent, ambitious cabaret singer who is fortunate enough to be allowed into first Switzerland and then the United States. Her success in the States is contrasted with the fate of most of the Jews back home. At the end of the war she chooses to return and discovers a society defeated but no less anti-Semitic. Throughout the evening director Phil Young draws on newsreel of Nazi rallies and concentration camps, a dangerous decision for there is no way that Zschieschow's interpretation of the songs or the flimsy story match that grim reality. It might have been better to have abandoned the script altogether and to allow the audience to make its own connections.

The evening hinges on the personality of Zschieschow, a small figure in boots and rolled-down socks who is happiest singing those songs that are closest to the tradition of Kurt Weill or when gently swinging in Hasidic costume and corkscrew curls to the rumba. The sexy nightclub numbers, however, are sung with such Brechtian detachment that it is hard to believe that Lola Blau would have won much favour with the Americans. Justine Blair and David Burrows have produced an excellent, simple patchwork set but the evening is very predictable. Sometimes one gets the impression that everyone living in Austria or Germany before the war was working in a nightclub."

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June - July 1992: 'Don't Fool With Love' at the French Institute and Rudolph Steiner House, London.

Michael Billington in wrote:

"Who's afraid of Alfred De Musset? The British theatre, in general, though last year I caught a stylish Musset duo on the Fulham fringe and now the French Institute has revived 'Don't Play With Love' (1834). In Michael Sdler's sparky translation, Musset emerges as the missing link between Marivaux and Anouilh: an analyst of passion like the former, but infinitely tougher than the latter.

This savage comedy is, in fact, the prototype of all those Anouilh plays about the destruction of innocence: what gives Musset his bitter irony is the fact that the country girl is ruined not by heartless cynics, but by callow lovers of her own age. Camille, a correct, convent-reared 18 year-old, and Perdican, a graduate who has had a few student flings, are cousins destined by their families for marriage. I can think of nothing in English drama remotely like this: a probing account of the fears and anxieties attendant on young love. Musset's writing takes off in the great scene when Camille and Perdican are first left alone: she reveals how her idea of passion has been warped by the nuns, while he argues that, even if the world is a bottomless pit, love defines our existence. Catholic countries, one reflects, have a head start in producing this kind of conflict between duty and desire.

Jean Marc Lanteri's production, staged on a patterned, parquet floor, is plain and simple, but Dylan Brown and Fay Rusling lend the lovers the right tremulous egoism. And, although some of the minor roles are broadly played, there are sprightly cameos from Norman Mann as a priestly foodie and from Judy Monahan as Camille's puritan guardian. Musset may be a minor master, but in his subtle dissection of the wayward human heart he is streets ahead of his British contemporaries."

And Michael Wright in :

In this bitter-sweet comedy of 1834, Alfred De Musset juggles stereotypical characters and situations with breezy elegance, adding fresh body-work to a rather conventional chassis. It's confidently done, and while the play may be a light, slight confection - all posh young lovers, jilted peasant girls, and fatuous priests - there's a decent whiff of burnt sugar about proceedings that sets it apart from your average candy-floss charade. Jean Marc Lanteri's production is a delight, with Hazel Pethig's very pretty, very Victorian costumes set against David Burrows' strikingly stylised set and Frederic Beaufort's brilliant lighting design. The acting ain't half bad either. Methinks Dylan Brown doth stomp too much as the dashing paramour, but he and Fay Rusling strike the right sort of sparks as the wire-crossed lovers and their youthful beauty contrasts splendidly with the crusty stock types de Musset stirs into his brew; a prim, quavery priest who sounds like a cross between Tiny Clanger and the Soup Dragon; a swarthy, dishevelled tutor, clearly the victim of swingeing grant cuts; a peppery Baron; a cold hard nun with a face like scrunched up paper; and Ted Carson's dour, dry Chorus, his years of experience haging like sacks beneath his sharp littles eyes. Grand entertainmnet."

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10th September 1991: 'The Knickers' at the Lyric, Hammersmith.

Harry Eyres in (11th September 1991) wrote:

"Who ever said the Germans have no sense of humour? For two-thirds of its length at least, Carl Sternheim's 1911 play is as grotesquely and deliriously funny a piece of comic invention as you could find anywhere in 20th century drama, and it is marvellously well done here under Phil Young's direction. If the salacious title (which initially caused the play to be banned by the Prussian censor) suggests some Teutonic Brian Rix farce or "No Sex Please, We're German", that is far wide of the mark; Sternheim makes use of sex not for embarrassed laughter but to make ribald fun of a whole society.

The trouble starts when Luise Mask, the downtrodden, pretty wife of a boorish civil servant, inadvertently drops the eponymous articles during a military parade. She is spotted by a dashing young poet, Scarron, who immediately repairs to the Maske residence (superbly eccentric, crazily raked set by David Burrows) where two rooms happen to be for rent. It looks, at first, as if most of the laughter is going to be directed at Maske himself, in Philip Whitchurch's splendid, Fawlty-esque performance a straining-necked bully driven to paroxysms of jealous shame by his wife's faux pas. Luise's dormant sexuality (Caroline Langrishe subtly conveys a mixture of mousiness and allure) seems to be on the verge of explosive awakening, abetted by her plain neighbour (a marvellous study in vicarious ramanticism from Marcia Warren) who sets about playing Celestina to Frau Maske's Madame Bovary.

But Sterheim has other ideas. First Mandelstam, a weak-chested, Wagner-loving barber, appears on the scene, also attracted by the flash of falling lingerie. Maske, spotting a born victim tailor-made for domination (and Jewish as well), rents him the second room and Mandelstam devotes himself to frustrating the romance between Luise and Scarron. Adrian Schiller's Mandelstam is another delicious comic performance, a sidling, tousle-headed combination of Charlie Chaplin, Egon Schiele and Gollum, whose idea of romance is reading extracts from 'The Flying Dutchman'.

But the character who attracts the most derision is Scarron, who, when poised for conquest, breaks into overheated lyric effusions spiced with Nietzsche, and seems more interested in going down to the pub with Maske than seducing his wife. Maske himself has the last laugh, but in turning the tables so neatly Sternheim leaves himself with nowhere to go in the last half-hour (and some loose ends to do with female sexuality unfashionably dangling). Still that is a small price to pay for a great belly-laugh of a play by a writer who holds nothing sacred."

And John Peter in (15th September 1991):

"...Next I raise my glass to United Distillers for sponsoring the Lyric Hammersmith season of international plays, which opens with Carl Sternheim's comedy of snobbery, The Knickers (19911). The garment of the title was worn by the beautiful young Frau Maske (Caroline Langrishe, grief-stricken in her demureness) but slid down to her ankles in the street just as the Kaiser was passing. This has thrown Herr Maske into a frenzy of demented respectability, and Philip Whitchurch gives a superb account of the bullet-headed Berlin burgher in the terminal stages of outraged complacency. Michael J Jackson and Adrian Schiller present two ghastly lodgers who are interested in something other than their rooms, and Marcia Warren stands by fluttering in prurient excitement as the neighbour. The performance in Phil Young's hands, is like a controlled explosion: anyone who has ever wondered why German expressionist comedy is taken seriously should speed to Hammersmith prepared for a treat."

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February - March 1988: 'The Collector' at Portlands Playhouse, London.

Mark Abbott in Metropolitan wrote:

This is another fringe production which is to be found at Portland's Playhouse, 383 Euston Road, NW1 (bookings 01 631 1011). David Parker's play adapted from the novel by John Fowles is a taut and claustrophobic affair, and the Argonaut Theatre Company's production does terrific justice to the play with its tight direction by Alkis Kritikos, and skilled performances by Adrian Bull and Claire Laurie.

The story concerns the fate of Miranda Gray who has been captured by the mentally deranged Frank Clegg. Clegg was a council clerk until he won three quarters of a million on the football pools. Now he holds Miranda as prisoner in the cellar of a country house, and he feels he has satisfied his collecting urge by capturing her. However, unlike Clegg's butterfly collection Miranda is alive and begins a struggle for freedom. David Burrows' set design is another integral part in the creation of the suffocating atmosphere. A backdrop of butterfly collection cabinets, with a wooden framed bed in the centre of the stage, combines with James Hendy's lighting to form the idea that Miranda is a beautiful specimen in a collecting jar.

Altogether the performances and the setting produce a frightening scene of a lovely woman enslaved by a savage man; a very modern Beauty and the Beast.

And John Symes in The Stage:

Billed as the story of "a demented person's effoer to,capture love", The Collector, now on at the Portland Playhouse, is a harrowing tale of love cocooned.

Clegg (Adrian Bull) is a young entomologist who, for reasons which are slowly spun out during the drama's course, decides to start collecting more than butterflies.

What he collects instead is a young woman, Miranda (Claire Laurie), who has for some time been the unwary object of his unrequited passion.

Unable to control his emotions and unsophisticated in his lofty ideals of love, Clegg resorts to desperate measures: he kidnaps Miranda and holds her hostage in the cellar of a lonely country house.

He's not after money and even when Miranda, desperately trying to work out what it is Clegg wants, offers him sex, he shies away, unable and unwilling to give substance to his romantic dreams.

Like many people who are deeply mad, Clegg gives the surface impression of being sane. Adrian Bull gives a zesty performance, conveying madness without resorting to over the top histrionics.

Miranda is a difficult role. When Claire Laurie isn't tied up in bed, she has to convey why a girl like Miranda doesn't whack crazy Clegg over the head with something solid at the first opportunity. She does try, later in the play, but until then we have to rely on the rather lame - and unbelievable in the circumstances - excuse that she is a pacifist who abhors violence.

This is more the fault of the playwright, David Parker, and the original author of this macabre tale, John Fowles (who later wrote the French Lieutenant's Woman). Claire Laurie handles the psychological games with Clegg with spirit and skill.

Special mention should be made of David Burrows' stunning set, a translucent blue with hidden butterflies, which almost appear 3-D under certain lights. It's not like any cellar I've ever seen, but as a backdrop to this twisted tale it is superb.

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22nd January 1984: 'Miss Julie' at the Sir Richard Steele

Francis King in The Sunday Telegraph wrote:

"The pleasure of coming on Garry Cooper's performance as the handsome valet, seduced by his master's neurotic daughter, in a fringe production of Strindberg's Miss Julie (Sir Richard Steele pub theatre) is similar to that of stumbling on a rare first-edition in a junk shop. Whether brutally demonating or being obsequiously dominated, romancing about his past life or dreaming about his future, Mr Cooper, with his sad, stricken eyes in an obdurate prize-fighter's face, is the perfect embodiment of the character.

At the outset, Miss Julie should be played as a depraved child, a modern Salome (there is a reference to John the Baptist in the text). Unfortunately, Angelique Rockas is too mature for this, so that her alternating archness and imperiousness tend to embarrass. Later, when the girl becomes increasingly conscious of a predicament that she can only solve with her death, Miss Rockas does far better.

Sarah Collier makes her mark in the usually unrewarding role of the maidservant betrothed to the valet."

And RB Marriott in :

"I have not seen a better production of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' than the Internationalist Theatre staging at the Sir Richard Steele pub, Belsize Park, directed by Alkis Kritikos and translated by Michael Meyer.

It is wild and raw, steeped in emotion and dramatic drive, like the play itself, and reveals the aristocratic Julie and the servant Jean in all their vivid colouring and depth of corruption, ambition and loging for a better and richer life than they can ever know. Further, it shows the sexual battle which Strindberg finds so vital in human relationships, and the power and devious workings of class which in his time wrought great damage, and do so today.

The attractive Miss Julie flaunts her charms, and draws into her destructive web the good-looking Jean, perhaps, without her, content to marry his little Christine and steadily continue in domestic service. But passion finds power in deep sources; visions of another kind of life seem to open; the Midsummer Eve when the drama takes place may give way to a welcome dawn. Strindberg speaks truth, however, and dawn contains death.

Kritikos in his direction realises the great work with power and imagination, in fine detail with a rich sense of character. It is played, in a very simple yet potent setting by David Burrows, with force and insight, tenderness and ferocity by Angelique Rockas as Julie and Garry Cooper as Jean, with Sarah Collier excellent as the sturdy Christine."

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18th November 1970. My first notice - and it was in

A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Julian Oldfield at the Gateway Theatre, Chester in the autumn of 1970. An interesting cast included: Gwen Taylor (Hermia) Susan Brown (Titania), Tony Rohr (Bottom), Tim Stern (Puck), Maggie Ollerenshaw (Hippolyta), Marc Zuber (Oberon), Oliver Smith (Lysander), and Veronica Roberts (Travelling Fairy (!)).

Perhaps it's no surprise that Julian Oldfield became (the last time I heard) a casting director for London Weekend Television.

Robert Armstrong wrote:

"When the curtain rises on a slickly dressed young man wearing dark glasses and perusing "Playboy" magazine, and when the set seems the perfect design for "Guys and Dolls" (complete with old style gas-lamps), the casual visitor can perhaps be forgiven for doubting a programme that lists the dramatis personae of "Midsummer Night's Dream." Was this to be yet another jazzed up version of a popular Shakespearean comedy, top heavywith gratuitous tokens of dear old 1970? It certainly seemed that way for the opening half hour at the Gateway Theatre, Chester, last night with fairies done up like Bunny girls, lovers rushing to a candy salesman, an Athenian workman struggling in dungarees and such like pieces of nonsense.

But, lo and behold, the credibility gap was suddenly bridged. The dream-like ambiance of this most poetic extravaganza asserted itself, and it seemed a most natural development to hear Elizabethan verse fall from the lips of, alternatively, an ass's head (in an Irish accent) and a youth in an Aran sweater.

Indeed, Julian Oldfield's production was already assured of success by the interval. By then, Susan Brown had done much to anchor the play with a mature and delightful performance as Titania, and Tim Sterne had outraged everyone with Puck's primitive wit. The other worldliness of the fairies' kingdom was cleverly evoked by an ethereal selection of music, composed by Donald Henshilwood, and David Burrows's magnificent choice of costumes."

And in the Cheshire Observer (20/11/70):

"The Gateway Theatre Company have conjured up all manner of magic in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" the production with which they have decided to celebrate their second anniversary.

Their interpretation of one of the happiest plays that Shakespeare wrote opened its three week run on Tuesday.

Stuart Stanley's gleaming monochrome basic set is readily "Translated" by chiaroscuro lighting effects and changes in accord with the action. Donald Henshilwood's music weaves a magic of its own, as well as linking the scenes.

And the characters, whether foolish mortals or spirits of no common rate, are without exception wonderfully in key with Julian Oldfield's entertainment - and production.

There seems nothing untoward in David Burrows' unconventional, but pleasing and resourceful costuming of the play. The Athens nobility have interesting hints of decadence; the lovers are appealingly fresh and look completely at home in theirs, the mechanics represent a cross-section of the workers and - most exotic and exciting of all - the fairies suggest other-worldliness very successfully, with Oberon appearing rather like an African potentate: a very nobel savage."

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Last updated December 2004