Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Bristol Hippodrome

17 04 2013

Airborne divas, Tina Turner wigs with a mind of their own and the biggest technicolour flares you’ll ever see. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert makes no secret of what it will deliver in terms of spectacle; plunging the audience straight in at the deep end with an all-singing, all-dancing rendition of It’s Raining Men…

Read more on the new Bristol Culture website.

Preview: Ablutions, Bristol Old Vic

16 04 2013

Burlesque dance, hallucinatory visions of Elvis Presley, Mormons and the Grand Canyon all feature in a new play opening today at the Bristol Old Vic. Ablutions, adapted from the novel by Patrick DeWitt, is from FellSwoop Theatre, last seen in Bristol at the Brewery Theatre in 2011 with Belleville Rendezvous.

They set the scene for Ablutions thus: “Picture yourself as a bartender, sipping top-shelf whiskey and watching your customers descend into nightly oblivion. Your heart is broken by the world around you and leaving your whiskey aside, you hatch a devious, unthinkable plan of escape…”


Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Arnos Vale Cemetery

4 10 2011

Writing about an open-air play that was performed indoors is somewhat tricky. For as yesterday’s weather was in two parts, summer in the morning and autumn in the evening, so Two Gentlemen of Verona by Roughhouse Theatre is in two parts: one for fair weather, one for foul.

Unfortunately last night, the rain was too much to hold what is believed to be Shakespeare’s first play inside, so contingency plans were put in place and it was performed within Arnos Vale Cemetery’s Anglican chapel rather than among the pathways and graves, a site-specific production with the aim of “highlighting one of Bristol’s landmark sites in a new and exciting way”.

It would have been intriguing to experience Shane Morgan’s direction in the open air and see what he has decided to do with the use of the cemetery’s spaces and avenues.

His use of the Anglican chapel was very skilful, as the audience faced each other with the actors occupying the middle ground, sitting down to the left or right of us and occasionally among us as the story progresses: Valentine and Proteus falling in love with Silvia and Julia and all the shenanigans in between, before a rushed conclusion and reconciliation gives us a very happy ending.

Wearing modern dress, the actors are all engaging. Robert Harper as Proteus’ clownish servant Launce provides many laughs, in particular when searching for his dog but the stand-out performances come from the two love interests. Grace Bendle as Julia is fierce yet demure, with eyes as big as saucers and a real stage presence; while Kirsten Foster, a student at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, is elegant and authoritative as Sylvia.

The two gentlemen, Feargus Woods Dunlop who plays Valentine, and Elliot Chapman as Proteus, spark well off each with the help of the roguish Danaan McAleer as Speed, who in character skilfully led us from the bar to the chapel for the start of the performance.

Let’s hope for better weather for future performances, because what occurred under cover was both innovative and stylish, and outside in the open air surroundings of such a splendid location this Shakespeare double-bill could be very memorable.

Roughhhouse Theatre’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and Measure for Measure are being performed on alternate nights at Arnos Vale Cemetery until October 15. For further information and to book tickets, visit

Bristol Old Vic perform Treasure Island outdoors on King Street this summer

31 03 2011

Tickets are now on sale for the Bristol Old Vic’s open air summer production of Treasure Island. While the historic theatre is being renovated, the stage comes outside to the cobbles of King Street in the city where Robert Louis Stevenson drew inspiration for his famous pirate tale.

Treasure Island will be performed in a specially designed open air theatre directly outside the theatre, the first fulfilment of the Old Vic’s promise to take their productions into Bristol while renovation work continues on the theatre.

Directed by Sally Cookson (Boing!, How Cold My Toes, Aesop’s Fables), Treasure Island follows in the footsteps of that other nautical tale Swallows and Amazons.

Treasure Island follows Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins as they set sail on in search of Captain Flint’s buried treasure.

Treasure Island will be performed on King Street from July 7 to August 26. Tickets cost from £7 and the show will be suitable for ages 6 and up.

For more information, visit

National Theatre Connections Festival

23 03 2011

Today sees the start of National Theatre Connections at the Bristol Old Vic. The fortnight-long event will see 10 new plays being performed by young theatre companies. Each play has been commissioned by the National Theatre in London and written for actors aged 13 to 19.

Visit for more information and to book tickets.

Wednesday, March 23 – Saturday, March 26

7pm – Frank and Ferdinand by Samuel Adamson

A Bristol Old Vic Young Company production
Directed by Ben Vardy (Made in Bristol)

A satirical mystery about the suppression of truth, the making of myths, and how we see what we want to see, not what’s there.

Wednesday, March 23 – Saturday, March 26

8.30pm – Children of Killers by Katori Hall (Olivier Award winner for The Mountaintop)

A collaboration with Bristol City Academy
Directed by Miranda Cromwell, assistant director of BOV Young Company

The president of Rwanda is releasing the killers. A trio of friends, born during the genocide’s bloody aftermath, prepare to meet the men who have them life. When violence is your inheritance, what is your future?

Monday, March 28

7pm – Children of Killers, City Academy Bristol. Directed by Miranda Cromwell

8.30pm – Frank and Ferdinand, Bristol Old Vic Young Company. Directed by Ben Vardy

Tuesday, March 29

7pm – Cloud Busting, Court Fields Community School. Directed by Kirsty Cotton

8.30pm – The Beauty Manifesto, Lyme Youth Theatre. Directed by David Lockwood

Wednesday, March 30

7pm – Shooting Truth, Impatient Vagrant. Directed by Kat Ingle

8.30pm – Too Fast, Tiverton High School. Directed by Nick Lineham

Thursday, March 31

7pm – Gargantua, Millfield School. Directed by Moira Clark.

8.30pm – Frank & Ferdinand, Stage by Stage. Directed by Ian Trafford

Friday, April 1

7pm – The Beauty Manifesto, Move Youth Theatre. Directed by David Duthie

8.30pm – Those Legs, Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts (ICIA), University of Bath. Directed by Nathan Webb

Saturday, April 2

7pm – Gargantua, Barnwood Park Arts College. Directed by Melanie Jones

8.30pm – Shooting Truth, Kingsley School. Directed by Michele Borsten

Sunday, April 3

7pm – Frank & Ferdinand, Stagecoach South West. Directed by Fi Cross

8.30pm – Too Fast, Bryanston School. Directed by Sinead Emery

Legally Blonde coming to Hippodrome

17 03 2011

Legally Blonde The Musical will be coming to the Bristol Hippodrome in July. It is part of the first national tour for the show based on the film starring Reese Witherspoon. Earlier this week the London production was named Best New Musical at the prestigious Olivier Awards.

Legally Blonde will be at the Hippodrome from July 19 to August 6. Tickets are on sale now.

Casting is still to be announced for when the show comes to Bristol, but its London stars were both successful in the Olivier Awards.

As well as winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Legally Blonde also won Best New Actress for Sheridan Smith (best known for playing characters in Gavin & Stacy, Benidorm, and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps).

Best Supporting Role in a Musical went to Smith’s co-star Jill Halfpenny, who has appeared in both EastEnders and Coronation Street and won Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.

Christiaan de Villiers, general manager of the Hippodrome, said that the arrival of Legally Blonde “completes a sizzling summer line-up of West End musicals at this theatre”.

He said: “Having just won the Olivier for Best New Musical, Legally Blonde will undoubtedly be a huge success here in Bristol and a hot ticket from the moment it goes on sale.”

Tickets for Legally Blonde cost from £18.50 to £59.50,  with concessions available at certain performances. Tickets available now from the Hippodrome box office, by calling 0844 847 2325 or by booking online at

Review: Oh Mary, Brewery Theatre

16 03 2011

On the poster for Oh Mary, Cornish actor Bec Applebee is standing high up on a craggy coastline, arms aloft looking out to sea. In one hand, she holds a mop. All becomes clear why during the course of this wonderful one-woman physical theatre performance, based on the true story of Mary Bryant.

Through her own words, sounds and physicality, and with the help of a few props, Applebee transports us with Mary from Cornwall to Australia and back again.

The use of the materials on stage reminded me of Tom Morris’ Swallows and Amazons at the Old Vic last Christmas, in particular when Applebee rowed across the ocean with a wooden chest representing her boat.

Applebee made a lover who she met on a prison ship to Australia out of a mop, and a baby out of a skirt. She also provided the sounds of the ship creaking and groaning, and her baby crying.

It was a first-rate performance from Applebee, who easily held our attention. Her face is magnificently expressive, and with one spin and the clever use of a rope, she could transform herself from a 17-year-old girl into the merciless judge sentencing her first to death and then to the colonies.

Credit must also go to director Simon Harvey, with narrative by Anna Murphy, choreography by Helen Tiplady and specially-commissioned music by Dalla and Radjel.

This was not a happy story, with rape and bereavement to test Mary’s resilience, but there were some happy moments, especially the arrival onto what looks like an idyllic desert island complete with fish, butterflies and a turtle.

Oh Mary is a one-woman show of real panache performed by an incredibly talented actor, telling a moving story of one woman’s real-life adventure.

Oh Mary is at the Brewery Theatre until Saturday, March 18. For more information, visit

Review: Joseph, Bristol Hippodrome

23 02 2011

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is back in Bristol, and the standard is as high as one would expect from such a classic production and quality songwriting. Everything is as slick as it should be, from the choreography and costumes to the musical production.

In the starring role of Joseph is Keith Jack, who proved his musical theatre credentials by coming a close second in BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do in 2007. Jack certainly fits the bill, taking the audience with him through his journey and eventual reconciliation with his family with his fantastically strong voice.

Jennifer Potts was perfect in the role of Narrator, blending the scenes and essentially carrying the show. The choir of children from the Bristol School of Performing Arts were adorable, and the brothers lent the show its energy.

The standout performance was Adam Jarrell’s Pharaoh. He definitely has a career as an Elvis impersonator to fall back on. The Superbowl theme complete with cheerleaders and American footballers was an undoubted highlight of the show.

Everything about this musical is bound to please; the songs are so thoroughly etched on everyone’s minds from countless school plays across the country. Everyone feels they own a piece of this musical, even my companion whose role in 1991 was as a cloud.

This love for Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical – which somehow mixes together calypso, rock and roll, disco, and country and western – was no more evident than when the audience stood to applaud the last ten minutes, way before the curtain finally dropped.

The problem with such affection and ownership was the overwhelming urge to sing along, especially when it came to Any Dream Will Do, with one particularly enthusiastic fan bursting into the a-ha-ha’s at the first opportunity, seats scarcely warm.

Joseph is a much-loved musical, and it’s great to have it back in Bristol with a new leading man. There will be a huge splash of colour during its week-long run.

Review by Lizzie Murray

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is at the Bristol Hippodrome until February 27. Click here for more information.

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 2011

10 02 2011

Tonight sees the welcome return of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, a season of plays that is always one of the highlights of Bristol’s cultural year. Richard II runs at the theatre from February 10 to March 19, and this is swiftly followed by The Comedy of Errors from March 24 to April 30.

Richard II is Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s first ‘English History’ play and one of Shakespeare’s simplest and most moving tragedies.

It is an account of King Richard’s last days and concentrates on his most fateful error – the exile of his cousin Henry Bullingbrook and the seizure of his Lancastrian estates. Bullingbrook would return to England, topple Richard and take the throne himself as Henry IV, setting the stage for the Wars of the Roses between York and Lancaster.

The play is a study of a man reduced from – as he saw it – divinely appointed King, to a mere mortal without role, freedom or friends, making it among the most moving of all Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Director Andrew Hilton said: “Staging Richard II fulfils a long held ambition of mine to do this great tragedy with a huge and talented cast, with a remarkable young actor, John Heffernan, at its centre.”

The Comedy of Errors is much lighter fare and a great comedy of confused identities. Separated as babies by a storm at sea, two sets of identical twins have been brought up in different countries in ignorance of each other. When fate intervenes a second time and brings them (unknowingly) together in Ephesus, mayhem ensues – marital confusions, wrongful accusations and arrests, bewilderment and madness.

For more information, visit

Review: Very Hard Times, Brewery Theatre

3 02 2011

If Very Hard Times could be compared to a song, it would be Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Starting with harmony and a simple piano hook, by the end it verges on the ludicrous but is all the better for it, three songs in one making a startling whole

Very Hard Times starts as a Victorian melodrama based on a lost Dickens novel and gradually unravels into both a pastiche of the banking crisis and global financial meltdown, and the relationship between actors on the stage. Three stories in one.

But it doesn’t just verge on the ludicrous like the Queen classic, but charges boldly at that definition as the three actors on stage ham it up to the best of their abilities.

The opening scene is very sparse. A table, two chairs, a baby’s cot. Times are so very hard that impoverished couple Wayne Clendennen and Philippa Howard (right) are forced to eat a fly.

Their life spirals into a new direction with the arrival of A Banker (writer Angus Barr, below), and by the end the play is unrecognizable from the pitiful opening scene.

The marvellously expressive Howard has the biggest journey, transforming from a downtrodden housewife into something completely unexpected as her real life and stage role collide.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Under Milk Wood: Live On Air, performed in this very same theatre only a few weeks ago.

The difference is, however, that unlike Under Milk Wood where a Foley artist disrupts the play but the show goes on, in Very Hard Times the bickering and under-the-breath stage directions from Barr – slipping out of his banker role and into director role, presenting a caricature of himself like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip – substantially alter this production.

Very Hard Times, directed by Phil Booth, is the latest play from Bristol-based Publick Transport and follows hot on the heels of last year’s The Department of Spelling Pistakes.

It is certainly not subtle, but has laugh-out-loud scenes and is very much a play of its times. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, it is startlingly original and utterly preposterous.

Very Hard Times is at the Brewery Theatre until February 19. Tickets cost £9 (concessions £7). Click here for more information.