Review – Leviticus, Not Aloud Ensemble, Flash Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year Acting Students, The Deco, Northampton, 3rd April 2019

Flash FestivalWith the appalling news coming from Brunei of the intended execution, including stoning, of the LGBT population, there’s never been a more fitting time to bring this discrimination and violence to the attention of the general public through theatre. The Brunei situation has come about through the extreme application of Sharia Law; but closer to home there are plenty of instances of discrimination against LGBT people, citing faith as the source. For example, religious-based frenzy about teaching primary school children about LGBT sex education has gone sky high, in a deliberate distortion of the excellent work of the No Outsiders programme which actually has nothing to do with sex, and is all about living together in harmony.

LeviticusFrom some parts of Christian society, we’ve all heard the mantra, it’s Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. Far be it from me to question those people who still believe in the Garden of Eden, but times do move on. Leviticus may indeed say that it is a sin: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22); but it also says you shouldn’t shave your beard or have a tattoo. You don’t see theological protests up in arms about that.

Bethany RayNot Aloud Ensemble’s imaginative and stimulating new play, Leviticus, takes four characters, each with their own secrets and issues, who find themselves idling their time in a waiting room. It’s not long before we realise this is God’s Great Waiting Room – purgatory. There’s the troubled, anxious young man with a short temper; the pious, Bible reading cleric who becomes angry each time the Lord’s name is taken in vain; the sulky teenager who likes to see how far she can push the others before she irritates them; and, new recruit, the glamorous Californian who can’t stand a silence and who acts as a catalyst for the others to open up. The three women each have a criminal past, which is presumably why they’re still waiting years – decades, even – for their Final Judgment. Each also reveals her own homophobia during the play. The fourth’s only crime was to love another man, and to get bludgeoned to death in a homophobic attack for his pains.

Samantha TurnerI don’t want to spoil the details of this excellent play for others, but I was impressed at how everyone’s backstory was slowly revealed, and came to explain the reasons why they were in purgatory. It’s a finely crafted, well written script, and brings the best out of its cast of four. Each character also has a musical moment – all beautifully, tenderly sung – and whilst you wouldn’t exactly call this Leviticus – The Musical, that extra element added depth to each of the characters and helped us understand their motivations and emotions.

Bethan MediBethany Ray is fantastic as the extrovert, verbose American, trying to dominate the proceedings as best she can, revealing her brittle interior whenever the brash exterior mask slips. To balance, Samantha Turner is also excellent as the introverted, lighter-obsessed teenager, who revels in being a pest and flies off the handle whenever pushed. This could easily have been a stereotype character, but Ms Turner made her into a very real, believable creation. Bethan Medi gives a very strong performance as the dour, puritan cleric, beyond distraught that her life of devotion has led her to sharing purgatory with such irreligious wretches. And Thomas van Langenberg gives a very clear, emotional delivery of the man who is furious that his life has been brought to an end by the ignorance and savagery of others.

Thomas van LangenbergIn addition to the play and performances, the staging is superb with some very effective and heart-stopping use of lighting, and the musical accompaniments were exquisite. I’ve only got one slight quibble with the play; the placard moment, I felt, was an unnecessarily unsubtle addition to what was otherwise a very skilful and profound work, which had already conveyed the messages on the placards much more eloquently. But that is a minor quibble! This is a fine production, sharing an important message and superbly performed. I loved it!

P. S. Also, congratulations on creating a programme that was interesting and informative to read!!

Review – Global Warning, University of Northampton, Final Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Isham Studio, Northampton, 31st January 2019

globalwarningClimate Change and the lethal waste in our seas are definitely up there among the world’s biggest problems at the moment – and it doesn’t help that so many of the powers that be either don’t take them seriously or, even worse, deny their existence. This group of young actors from the Final Year BA (Hons) Acting Students at Northampton University have collaborated to create their own take on the problem and ways in which some people can help (or hinder) progress.

Nafetalai TuifuaThis show is a sequence of inter-related sketches and scenes that highlight the scale of the problem from many different angles. First, we are introduced to our keen and lively cast who parade on stage and then “assume positions” of varying degrees of artistry, from which they bawl, prance, leap, moan and all sorts of other noisy actions in between; all under the masterful watch of their wonderfully posey and pompous Director, played with dazzling humour by Ryan Greendale. They’re happy, playful little performers who all eventually die due to their contaminated environment. It instantly makes a very forceful point – although if that scene had carried on much longer it might have got a little self-indulgent.

Daniel HuberyThen we meet Gwilym, with his uphill task of keeping his herd of cows in check, as they blunder all over the stage and up into the audience. These devious cattle have a plan to increase methane production by working on their farts. This was a fun sketch, primarily as a result of their having to keep their bovine secret from Gwilym, so that every time he turns up, all untrusting-like, they revert to their traditional mooing. Very nicely done! The next sketch featured some well-meaning broccoli farmers (I assume that’s what they were) being tricked out of their land by the scheming Nafetalai Tuifua and Lyric Impraim in an enjoyable exposure of how simple folk don’t have a chance against Big Business.

Samantha TurnerAnd so the show continued. I won’t go through each and every sketch – I won’t be able to remember them all at any rate! But there were some entertaining running characters who burst forward every now and then. Hannah Magrath’s Doctor keeps a constant eye on the deteriorating double-act of Louise Akroyd’s Mother Earth and Daniel Hubery’s Poseidon (lord of the sea). This somewhat abused couple fight for breath and can’t stop the coughs as their condition gets worse and worse. There’s a highlight when Poseidon, in his snorkel and speedos, leads the cast in a big number about the pollution in the seas. I enjoy and admire how Mr Hubery is not afraid to look ridiculous in order to get the laughs! By the end of the show, Poseidon (lord of the sea) and Mother Earth have frankly given up the ghost – and the future is definitely looking grim.

Ryan GreendaleAnother recurrent character is Trevor, from the Climate Change/World Ecology think tank, a seemingly well-meaning but ineffectual chap with a serious message on how to manage the future. He gets bombarded from the audience with recyclables, and eventually is bribed by Interested Parties with cash to flash to keep his ideas to himself. It’s a good, understated performance from Joseph Mattingley, who connects extremely well with the audience.

Melissa KnottOther sketches include three nature-watchers sailing out to sea in a coffin, who marvel at the destroyed world around them – lovely performances from Fiona Moreland-Belle, Samantha Turner and Simon Roseman; a Tongan hula party brought to life by the immensely watchable Nafetalai Tuifua; and the vegan thugs who beat meat-eaters up with celery sticks. Ms Turner, again, is the ringleader of this green gang and has a quietly authoritative stage presence; she reminds me a little of a younger Jessica Hynes, which is No Bad Thing.

Kieran JamesThere’s one incredible coup-de-theatre, for which everyone should be congratulated; when the stage is transported to the sea with the use of one large sheet of tarpaulin, waving and blowing in the air, being raised over our heads, with the wind rushing and the sense of sea spray on our faces, and making the detritus on the floor look even more disgusting and criminal as a contaminated sea bed. A relatively simple device, but in effect, absolutely breathtaking and beautifully carried out.

Joseph MattingleyAll members of the cast worked their socks off as part of the big ensemble and also in their individual roles. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned I really enjoyed all the contributions made by Kieran James and Melissa Knott who were both outstanding in their stage confidence and all their characterisations; but everyone played a tremendous part in creating an engrossing show. Very enjoyable all round – and plenty to make you think about too!

Review – Aladdin – Adventures in the East, University of Northampton, Final Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Isham Dark Studio, Northampton, 12th December 2018

AladdinIt’s a tall order – but also a vitally important one – to get the 3rd Year Acting Students to cast away all thought of serious theatre and throw themselves into the panto vibe. After all, it’s a regular source of fruitful employment! I believe last year’s group were the first to be asked to take on such a task when they performed Cinderella to a pack of excitable primary schoolkids. This year I had the pleasure of watching the new students perform Aladdin to more than 70 happy youngsters from Castle Academy, and judging by the kids’ reactions (which has to be your best gauge) they absolutely nailed it.

Amber KingIn fact, the biggest challenge the cast had was trying to work out how to get themselves comfortably back on script to continue with the show rather than allowing themselves to get lost in the children’s enthusiastic responses. That requires some strong stage authority, which I guess comes with experience, but for the most part they managed to get us back on track with the show whilst still allowing that all-important audience participation, without which panto is merely some adults playing dressing up and silly sods.

Samantha TurnerIt’s a brisk, funny script, with just the right amount of stock panto routines to please first-time theatregoers and old reprobates like myself. Total confession time – I am a complete sucker for a panto. I don’t care if it’s only the boys and girls who are meant to shout back at the stage, I can’t resist joining in without any sense of embarrassment at all (I leave the embarrassment to those around me).

Tonia ToselandThis was my first opportunity to see this cast of students at work and I was tremendously impressed. The University has a reputation of creating absolutely first class actors and, from this performance, my initial reaction is not only that that reputation is safe for at least another year but also that there isn’t one weak link in the whole cast. They all came across as extremely likeable (perhaps not Abanazar, but then he’s not meant to be!) with some great instincts for comedy and some excellent stage presence. I can’t pick out only the good names because everyone is good. However, there are some really impressive aspects and performances that I’d like to mention.

Daniel HuberyAmber King’s Sheherazade takes instant control of the show with her dynamic opening appearance, whisking us away to that magical land where panto is real. Samantha Turner is superb as Aladdin, with all that fresh-faced, innocent but impish enthusiasm required of a panto principal boy; and, as his/her love interest, Tonia Toseland is perfect as a dazzling Princess Jasmine, a heart full of goodness cutting a romantic dash as they both navigate their journey on their flying carpet (which I thought was remarkably effective!)

Nafetalai TuifuaOf course, there’s just as much comedy as romance (if not more) and I loved the three-part genie played by Beth Hâf Jones, Abi Cameron and Hannah Bacon in their myriad regional accents and with some enjoyable comic business. Sultan Daniel Hubery and Sultana Katie Glenn made a highly entertaining couple; I could see Ms Glenn as a dark tragedienne in some gloom-filled costume drama, whereas I think Mr Hubery would be a brilliant Baron Hardup! Kieran Jones had the joint pleasure and challenge of giving us his Twankey en travestie; a neat blend of the faux feminine and the wotcher mate that worked very well. Thomas van Langenberg oozed slippery wickedness as the evil Abanazar, and, in a minor role, I did enjoy Tyler Reece’s hard-nosed bouncer guard watching us all with his beady eye.

Tyler ReeceBut for me the star of the show was Nafetalai Tuifua as the irrepressible Wishee Washee; he really got under the panto veneer to become the truly playful pal with whom all the kids in the audience would want to be best buddies. I laughed along with all his enthusiasm, and when he proposed to Soapy Sophie (sorry, spoilers) I genuinely felt an emotional pull. Above all, he made me forget that I was an adult, which I reckon is quite a rare gift.

Great promise from this likeable young cast – I look forward to seeing them perform in more shows during the course of the year!