Review – 100 Acre Wood, Nonsens!cal Theatre, University of Northampton Flash Festival, Castle Hill United Reform Church, Northampton, 17th May 2016

100 Acre WoodDeep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, you’ll find the enchanted neighbourhood of Christopher’s childhood days. Hmm. I reckon that if your enchanted neighbourhood was made up of the inhabitants of this household, any Christopher Robin worth his salt would run a mile. But there is a link between A A Milne’s cuddly cosy children’s characters and these four troubled beings – they’re all (loosely) based on Christopher Robin’s pals. It’s a clever device and works very well, although the play itself is enjoyable and engaging enough to stand alone without any reference to Pooh.

When we entered the auditorium, Eddie was seated at the front of the stage, nervously waiting for an appointment with his counsellor where we discovered that he has had a breakdown following the death of his father in Afghanistan. Behind him, three oafs in a bed, which made an amusing contrast, but you appreciated absolutely why Eddie was anxious about returning back to the house-share with what would likely be not terribly understanding mates. However, he does pluck up courage and return home, and during the course of the play you see him attempt to re-integrate back into his old society and also see how his domestic partners (the aforementioned oafs) also have their own devils to cope with. There’s the neurotic and tidiness-obsessed Rachel, with her cleaning routines and her minute repositioning of furniture; the hale and hearty but prone to anger Tommy, who tries to bully the rest of the group into doing what he wants; and the apparently carefree William (Trespassers William, perhaps?) who suddenly becomes aware that his voracious appetite is not just something to entertain others with but is a serious health problem – both mental and physical.

Nonsensical UmbrellaI don’t know if the cast remember the TV series The Young Ones (surely they’re too young) but it strongly reminded me of that show with its wayward household of lovable miscreants, who lived in a surreal house with a talking fridge and other soft furnishings with opinions. 100 Acre Wood also has cupboard doors with a mind of their own and a talking fridge – no special effects, just an actor with a door in front of his face. It was so silly that it was very funny – but never over-the-top so that it got in the way of the serious message of the play. It also has a really well written and spoken sarcastic and surreal narration. There’s a lot going on there! No wonder Rachel was so neurotic. Freedom for eggs!

The cast gelled together extremely well and gave a really strong performance throughout. I thought Jared Gregory carried off Eddie/Eeyore’s general moroseness with great aplomb; that first scene, in particular, I found very moving and absolutely believed in the character’s plight and distress. His sense of embarrassment, and his simple inability to express himself was really well conveyed. Top work sir! I also thought Kieran Hansell was excellent as William/Pooh, channelling his inner James Corden with his hail fellow well met façade, hiding further distress. The scene with the honey (or hunny, I suppose) was one of those Ayckbournian moments when you start laughing heartily at what is ostensibly a really funny moment then the laughter catches in your throat as you realise you’re watching someone fall apart. There were opportunities for that scene to be played even more – shall we say… distastefully – and on reflection I think that discretion was the better part of valour.

Nonsensical Theatre CastDanni-Louise Ryan’s Rachel/Piglet successfully made us feel anxious with her own anxiety, fluttering around the set cleaning and moving things, never able to relax, lacking the courage and/or character to join in the lads’ fun, but not wanting to anyway because of the mess they would make. There was a wonderful scene between her and Mr Gregory when she suspects that he is plucking up courage to confess lurve, but in fact what he wants to tell her about his therapy. It was both funny and sad, as neither got to give or hear the message they wanted to convey. There was an excellent stagecraft moment when some paper cups that had been sent flying in an earlier scene and landed by Mr Smallmind’s feet, were retrieved by Miss Ryan for a later scene. And we just thought she’d forgotten to pick them up earlier, more fool us. I also enjoyed the robust performance by Elliot Holden as Tommy/Tigger, bouncing around the room and leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His was perhaps the character with the least light and shade to it, but he has great stage presence, and I loved his confidence and the clarity of his voice, which is something never to be underestimated!

A really good mix of the surreal and the harshness of reality, producing four excellent performances and hugely enjoyed by the audience. Definitely one of the best shows of the festival!

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