A Christmas Carol by Menken, Okrent and Ahrens at LOST Theatre

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A Christmas Carol the musical is an all-time favourite Dickensian story, composed and written by the renowned Alan Menken, Mike Okrent and Lynn Ahrens. The trio has adapted a magical score and script, depicting the nasty Scrooge amidst the Christmas cheer of the London inhabitants. In the spirit of the season, the Lost Theatre Company tried their hand at the musical, garnering a cast of over 20 actors with ages ranging from seven to 60.

As with many family productions, quality must be sacrificed in the understanding that most of the children actors are enjoying their first theatre experiences. This production accommodated a wide range of ages and skill levels, and unfortunately this disparity in skill was very obvious to the viewer. Actors onstage demonstrated definite moments of “excited”, “spooky” and “morose”, but unfortunately these moments were forced rather than character-based. I longed to be able to read the back-stories to each character, but I couldn’t see past the obvious neglect the directors had towards character development.

Throughout the musical, outdated and poorly executed projections flashed on the set, putting a stamp of mediocrity on the production. The backing track poorly represented Menken’s vibrant score, and oftentimes it drowned out the actors’ voices onstage. Some of the downtrodden townspeople wore uncharacteristically sparkly makeup, whilst I felt that basic costume details could have been remedied for an altogether more polished outcome, but somehow these elements were overlooked.

That being said, I still had an extremely enjoyable evening. The scenes glistened with the addition of some well-executed choreography and tricks. Some of the actors’ shone through with their harmony lines and stage presence, but this needed to be matched throughout the cast for the production to soar. Like the best of chick-flicks, a bad rating doesn’t correlate to a bad time, so if you’re feeling a bit Bah Humbug this Christmas, visit the Lost Theatre!

2/5 WIGS

By Ranga Liliu

Benighted by J. B. Priestley at The Old Red Lion Theatre

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Damien Tracey productions have taken J. B. Priestley’s ‘dark night’s adventure’ and turned it into a stage production, trying to create a Christmas/comedy/horror for all to enjoy at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Driving through Wales, Mr and Mrs Waverton and their friend Roger Pendelton break down with only a dark house looming on the hill as refuge. Once invited in by the strange doorman, they meet the Femms. Rebecca is the God-fearing sister of Horace. Horace would much rather be drinking gin. They are joined by another couple who are similarly stranded, Sir William Porterhouse, a wealthy fabric businessman and showgirl, Gladys du Cane. Between them they try to wait out the night in the creepy abode, and as the night wears on, learn the tale of the third Femm sibling, locked away in the top of the house…

There was some very fine acting from a strong cast of actors. Harrie Hayes and Tom Machell played the upper crust Wavertons with a perfect manner and decorum. Matt Maltby played a nuanced character, overtly happy but holding in some darker feelings due to his wartime experiences. His conversation with Jessica Bay as Gladys du Cane outside the house was a highlight. Jessica Bay for her part was equally brilliant creating a charcter for whom we felt the most sympathy. Michael Sadler brought a lot of the comedy to this piece, with his strangely silent butler, Morgan, and his vocally excentric, Horace Femm. Ross Forder completed the company, bringing a final dose of humour to the piece in his portrayal of the Femm sister.

We were under the impression we would be in for some kind of Christmas comedy/horror. Sadly all of these elements seemed lacking. Although there were moments of horror and comedy, and it takes place just before Christmas, there did not seem to be a stylistic focus. Instead we got a few couples in a house, chatting, without much happening until the end. There were no big scares and no big laughs. There was almost a nice use of sound effects at the beginning, but imperfect timing diminished their impact. In any case, this complex sequence made an effective execution impossible.

The highlight of the piece was surely Gregor Donnelly’s beautiful set, which promised so much more than the play provided. Dark walls, different floor levels protruding at odd angles and one wall covered in chairs that seemed to be melting into it. Gothic horror it screamed!

Adapting a book into a piece of theatre is no easy feat. An entertaining book can make an entertaining play but it is no small task. This adaptation needed the horror or comedy elements ramped up and the text taken further. As a play J. B. Preistley’s ‘Benighted’ was slightly underwhelming.

WIGS 2/5

By The Ginger Wig

Scenes From The End by Jonathan Woolgar at The Tristan Bates Theatre

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Here at Ginger Wig, we have a keen eye for talented performers. Héloïse Werner is indeed one of those performers, pushing herself to incredible lengths vocally and emotionally through the piece, Scenes from the End. With her opening sequence, a beautiful soprano voice floats through the air. It seemed otherworldly, as her face and stature were devoid of the effort needed to produce that full-bodied sound. She had a very candid look about her: a messy ponytail, slightly off-centre, piercing blue eyes staring out from a face that seemed to be young and weary simultaneously. Her first notes became a repeated sequence that she finally completed, turning the “oo” of her notes into an unexpected and rushed word: “oblivion”.

The sequence garnered chuckles from the audience, but unfortunately that’s where the humour ended. The next forty minutes were torturous, and no amount of talent from the performer could stop us from becoming restless in our seats. She performed the piece in chapters, with a series of projections that accompanied each new take. A few interesting quotes about the end of humanity projected up onto the screen, and it was wholly engaging to note the breadth of writers who’d contemplated the end of our existence. From Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis, ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries, we saw thought-provoking quotes that were ill paired with unnerving performance. With the use of an alarm clock, a piano stool, prerecorded voice and a tuning fork, Werner created a sense of unease throughout the piece, singing difficult scales in addition to the unbearable ping of the fork, the drumming of the stool. She did reach a blues-inspired section, where we had repose from the upsetting sounds and were able to appreciate the flexibility of her timbre as she created a relaxed feel. This section, however beautiful, was still confusing to the audience who were perplexed by the absurdity of her other chapters.

If the goal was to create a discord reflecting the end of our existence, the goal was reached. Was their success enjoyable to watch? No, it was not. I wish I could say this was a thought-provoking piece, but in order to achieve that, Scenes from the End needed to establish a topic that the audience could interpret and question. The only thing we could think as the performance developed: when will this end?

WIGS 1/5

By Ranga Liliu