Cinderella nominated for Olivier Award

27 03 2013

Cinderella - Tobacco Factory Theatre BristolA show that was born in Bristol before transferring to London has been nominated for an Olivier Award, theatre’s most prestigious honour.

Cinderella was the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s 2011 Christmas production, and last year transferred with much critical and popular acclaim to the St James Theatre in London.

The Olivier judges said: “Veering away from the now more famous Disney-influenced story and taking the plot back to its Brothers Grimm roots, Sally Cookson’s Christmas offering was touching and packed full of theatrical creativity.”

Cookson is an associate artist at the Bristol Old Vic, where she most recently directed Peter Pan. Cinderella was co-produced by Bristol-based Travelling Light Theatre Company. Music for Cinderella was created by Bristol’s Benji Bower, the designer was Katie Sykes and many other cast and crew also had Bristol connections.

Cinderella is nominated in the Best Entertainment and Family category at the Olivier Awards, alongside Room on the Broom which comes to the Colston Hall from September 20 to 22.

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 2013

14 02 2013

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory returns today for its 12th season. With impeccable timing, the first production of this year is Richard III, the king whose bones were recently found languishing underneath a car park in Leicester. Two Gentlemen of Verona will follow, before a national tour.

An unsubsidised Bristol theatre company with an envious national reputation, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is always an annual highlight.

Shakespeare’s most popular English history play, Richard III begins today and runs until March 30. After a short break comes the early comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona between April 4 and May 4.

Both productions are directed by Andrew Hilton and feature the largest casts yet seen on the Tobacco Factory Theatre stage.

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 2013

Review: The Lost Present, Brewery Theatre

5 01 2013

Ed Patrick and Vic Llewellyn work in the Lost Toys department alongside their gorilla Gorgeous and the dog Delightful. Vic doesn’t like Christmas because years and years ago he lost a present down Avon Gorge and Ed in solidarity won’t open his until they can open them together.

Gorgeous wants to be a chef but has no frying pan and Delightful wants to be a footballer but has no football.

It is surprising how much plot, action, music and fun two men (and a gorilla and a dog) manage to fit into 45 minutes, a testament to the writing of Mike Akers.

The music and fun part isn’t that surprising as Ed is Bristol’s international rock star Kid Carpet, who has performed his kiddy disco punk folk shambolica most recently with Kid Carpet & The Noisy Animals, a rock musical theatre show for children and families.

Vic, last seen in Bristol in The Mysterious Vanishment of Poppy and Dingan at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, helps Ed and Gorgeous and Delightful with their quest.

There is dancing and cutting and wrapping, sticking, tea drinking and the search for presents. There is also lots of singing and music from various implements you would normally find in a workshop.

The children and adults loved it and the creativity and plot were pleasantly surprising, the latter even robustly so. You may be very surprised to find that it is a treat to solve the mystery of the lost present, whether you are three or older. Even my almost two-year-old had lots of fun at this performance at the Brewery Theatre.

By Joanna Papageorgiou

The Lost Present

The Lost Present is at the Brewery Theatre until Sunday, January 13. Click here for more information.

Review: Hansel & Gretel, Tobacco Factory

8 12 2012

Tobacco Factory Theatre director Ali Robertson has three favourite ensemble companies. They are the RSC, somewhat unsurprisingly Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, and New International Encounter (NIE), a company spanning the UK and Norway who were invited to make this year’s Christmas show at the North Street theatre.

Hansel and GretelHansel & Gretel may be a familiar fairytale, but this version is anything but familiar. This is a production where the audience are complicit in the goings-on as a character breaks out of character to explain what they, or their character, is thinking.

This is also a production where parallels can easily be drawn to these austere times that we live in. A Southville audience probably will not be down to their last onion skin or resorting to cannibalism  However, the troubles of our world in 2012 is certainly mirrored by the world created 200 years ago by the Brothers Grimm of hardship, pain and sacrifice.

Hansel and Gretel are played by Unai Lopez De Armentia and Stefanie Mueller, who as well as portraying their human form also portray puppet personas.

This means that on their way around the room collecting the stones Hansel has strategically dropped in order to find his way home after being abandoned in the forest, the puppets can high-five the children charged with their keeping.

The pillars in the Tobacco Factory Theatre can block sight lines and, like last year’s production of Cinderella, this was in the round. But here thanks to Mueller’s imaginative set design they were turned into tree trunks, with the solitary metal pillar left as the chimney of a wood burning stove.

From a pan-European company, language is a key element, with the cast from Spain to south Somerset often utilising their mother tongues, especially the blood curdling screams in Norwegian from Mia Hawk (above) as the evil step mother.

Being in the round, some lines are unfortunately lost. And the pace noticeably dips in he second half after a thundering start. But the skill of these actors made me often forget there were both human and puppet versions of our protagonists, in a witty and immensely enjoyable production from a company who deserve all their plaudits.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel & Gretel, Tobacco Factory Theatre until Jan 19. Click here for more information.

Review: The Mysterious Vanishment of Pobby & Dingan, Tobacco Factory Theatre

20 11 2012

Much of the best elements of childhood are to do with imagination, and it is imagination that forms the heart of The Mysterious Vanishment of Pobby & Dingan, a tale of a brother and sister from a poor mining community in the Australian outback who go on the hunt for Pobby and Dingan, sister Kellyanne’s best friends who just happen to be invisible.

Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, a multi-award-winning young Australian playwright, and based on the short story by Ben Rice, this production of Pobby & Dingan is by Bristol’s own Travelling Light Theatre Company, most recently seen at the Tobacco Factory with last year’s Christmas production Cinderella.

Kellyanne’s big brother Ashmol hates Poppy and Dingan, until they are lost and a chain of events is set off which brings their entire isolated community together.

On a simple set designed by Katie Sykes, where characters spent much of their time either sitting on or loitering around a sofa, director Craig Edwards kept the stagecraft very straightforward as just two actors played a variety of disparate characters.

Vic Llewellyn as Ashmol and Jordan Whyte as Kellyanne were both superb, switching in an instant from childhood innocence to adult malice, the mood often conveyed by just a few notes of the double bass or other assorted instruments of Ron Phelan.

The Mysterious Vanishment of Pobby & Dingan is on at the Tobacco Factory Theatre for today and today only until it continues its tour. Click here for more information.

Review: Jigsy, Tobacco Factory Theatre

30 08 2012

You might know Les Dennis from Family Fortunes. You might know him from Celebrity Big Brother or his marriage to Amanda Holden. You might know him from Extras and more recently Life Is Too Short, where he played fictionalised versions of himself.

58-year-old Dennis began his career as a comedian working the working men’s clubs of his native Liverpool and the North West, and it is this guise that he reprises in Jigsy, a one man show about a stand-up comic of the same name, coming to the end of his career and looking back on it with a mixture of nostaligia, hope and despair.

Jigsy is returning to the Tobacco Factory Theatre for the second time, after its debut run was performed there last year. On its opening night last night, Dennis came back out for two bows, such was the affection shown towards him by the audience, many of who were seeing this show for the second time.

The Liverpool club circuit is dying, or has already died, but Jigsy persists in playing. He has no choice, and backstage between sets as we wait for the bingo to finish, he talks us through the glory years of the club scene, interspersing memories with jokes, impressions of comedians that he has met along the way, and reflections about what could have been.

It is a tour-de-force performance from Dennis, who is transformed before our eyes into the character he inhabits, sinking pint after pint of mild, coughing a wheezing cough, and pausing for comic effect in all the right places.

Written by Tony Staveacre and directed by Hannah Chissick, particular credit alongside Dennis must also go to set designer Harriet De Winton. The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate’s work was last seen at the Tobacco Factory in The Adventures of Pinocchio and her faded glamour here, with football stickers on the mirror and a box of Space Invaders crisps in one corner, brings the spiralling situation Jigsy finds himself in even more firmly to life.

Dennis’ once smooth-faced blond television star is completely forgotten in Jigsy, as he returns to Bristol from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a show that will have you yearning for the good old days, if they were good old days at all.

Jigsy is at the Tobacco Factory until September 8. Click here for more information.

Mayfest 2012: Minsk, Tobacco Factory

25 05 2012

Of all things, it is the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Azerbaijan this weekend that has brought into sharp focus what an oppressive regime in Europe can do to its own people. Human rights protesters are being bundled into the back of cars by state security forces, and journalists arrested for daring to ask questions.

Some of the pictures on the news bare striking similarities to a video shown near the beginning of Minsk, a thought-provoking, troubling and deeply moving show which has been brought to Mayfest by Belarus Free Theatre.

The video shows young  people in a square clapping, before their illegal gathering (there is a law in Belarus that prohibits people standing together and doing nothing) is violently broken up by plain clothes police officers.

As the young actors in turn do innocuous activities like clap, play the flute and unfurl a rainbow flag, they are bundled off by heavies in beanie hats looking just like the heavies on the video screen, onto which is also projected an English translation of the Belarusian spoken and shouted.

What makes Minsk all the more powerful is that the events acted out are not just true but happened to the actors in front of us. Dzenis Tarasenka was seized at a rally and spent three hours being stretched against a wall. He proudly showed us his scars.

Belarus Free Theatre are some of the most outspoken critics of the repressive regime in Europe’s last dictatorship. Tarasenka is not alone in his suffering; many company members have served time in prison, lost their jobs, gone into hiding or been exiled.

Not many pieces of theatre so skilfully open your eyes to troubling happenings in a country that may be in Europe but remains virtually unknown to outsiders.

With panache and bravery, Minsk reveals the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary true stories. This is must-see theatre.

Minsk is at the Tobacco Factory until tomorrow. Click here for more information.