Offbeat Reviews, Feedback & Insights
Are we amused ... or not?
We welcome your reviews of productions, the plays, the process, the problems or any other feedback you care to give.
Some of these are fairly lengthy, but we've included every word sent to us!
THey may shed light on how (and possibly) why ....
READ REVIEWS ABOUT:
WAR AND CAKE
THE DREAM MAKERS
DARKNESS IN THE NIGHT
War and Cake - Competition Report
In 2014 War and Cake won 'HIGHLY COMMENDED' in the Trinity College International Playwriting Competition (we may have mentioned this already!)
These are a few of the comments made in the competition report:
"..this play is hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every sentence. Genuinely laugh out loud funny."
"This is a quick, imaginative and at times surreal comedy"
"The dialogue is quick, witty and often fantastically unexpected"
"A fantastic play which has had me laughing each time I read"
Trinity College International Playwriting Competition Report
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Spy School - original production by Brockhampton School, Bromyard
Wow! Our big problem now is how to follow it! Our Year 6 children loved Spy School. The idea of a school for spies but with spies who were not all of the 'James Bond' mould filled them with enthusiasm. The different groups of spies were identified both by movement, name and costume ensuring that each child had 'their moment'- always important in a school production. The songs were great and the hauntingly beautiful 'We're in too deep' soon became a firm favourite as did the opening 'Spies'. A script full of characters including Father Christmas and Easter Bunny got everyone laughing from the first reading and 'We're on the case Easter Bunny' remained a catch phrase for the summer (and beyond). The play is so well written, with a plot which ensures that everyone stays involved right through to the end. A fabulous musical play which we would have no hesitation in recommending; great script, wonderful songs and a running tine of about an hour - ideal as a school production. We can't wait for Spy School - The Eighth Department.
Sally Handley, Brockhampton School
Spy School is a delightful play for primary aged children, incorporating lots of good characters, some punchy songs (and one hauntingly sad one), and a simple plot with a nice twist at the end. Most of the cast are tutors at a school for secret agents, and a particular quality of this script is that every one not only has words to say, but an individual character to develop, which can be exploited to the best of each child's ability. These are loosely based on gentle parodies of every spy tale ever created, from early cloak-and-dagger, through the trenchcoated shadies of the 1950s to modern tuxedo-clad Bond types, with gadget-wielding geeks, code crackers, the Men In Black, and a couple of science fiction robots thrown in for good measure.
The plot revolves around three rookie spies - the brash, the nervous and the sensible - on their first assignment, for which they are far from prepared. On the point of giving up they receive help from an unexpected source, and accidentally outwit all their tutors, much to the glee of the headmaster (codename: Father Christmas) and his deputy (Easter Bunny). Finally, they are caught in the Catch 22 situation that if they show how well they have succeeded, they will also show how unsuited they are to the School, a dilemma they ingeniously resolve to bring about a happy ending.
Hugh Farey, St Richard's School, Bredenbury
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The Dream Makers - original production Conquest Youth Theatre, Bromyard
As someone who dreams vividly almost every night, and who can rarely find anyone at the breakfast table remotely interested in hearing all about it, I went to see The Dream Makers with great expectations - and I was rewarded! Not that the dreams portrayed in this performance were anything like mine but then mine are never anything I order, whereas the ones in the show did try to be, but evidently sometimes disappointed the clients in not being romantic or terrifying enough.
The programme did not make clear whose original idea this play was nor who wrote the script (perhaps one or several people?), but they should be complimented on the inspiration of the idea and the frequent wit of the script. A slight criticism here: a few of the young actors need to learn to enunciate more clearly, perhaps by speaking more slowly, as some of the witty gems were lost in poor diction. Most of the performers were skilled and well-rehearsed way beyond their years, in the dialogue and in the complex, wonderfully choreographed dancing and dream-mayhem.
The set too was rather beautifully colourful, ordered chaos; the costumes were all good but also nicely differentiated in style so that one could quickly get the significant roles of the different groups - Dream Actors, Grounders, Crew, Dreamers. The five dreamers were not, of course, a team - each of us dreams alone - and each of them coped well with their quite difficult solo roles, isolated sometimes in the midst of deliberate Dionysian chaos. The dream sequences were impressively staged and the last two were quite beautiful. The lighting and music made a big contribution to these and indeed to the whole show.
In the midst of all the weird fun of this performance, I was moved by two underlying and sensitive themes: one of these was the theme conveyed by Beka's search for her friend Keri who had moved on from being a Grounder to becoming a Dream Actor and, in the process, had forgotten Beka. This touched on one of the difficulties of childhood and adolescence - the need to grow up, to move on, and to accept that things cannot stay the same and childhood friends may not be friends forever. This was nicely and not mawkishly spelled out in the final scene when Beka moves on to become a Dream Actor herself and leaves her team of colleagues, the Grounders. They, the Grounders bring me to my second hidden message - and to compliment this group of young actors, particularly the Supervisor. They were the ones who moved in after the dreams were over and cleaned up the mess that was left behind. They were not allowed to see or be part of the fun of the dreams: as far as the Dream Actors were concerned they did not even exist. As their well acted Supervisor reminded them, the least breach of the rules and they would lose their lowly jobs. How like a City Office block where the cleaners, on minimum wage or less in some cases, come on site at 4a.m, clean and disappear long before the first smart-suited office worker arrives. What a satisfying, many- layered show this was!
Off The Record, Bromyard
The Dream Makers - 1st US production HATTBox Players, Virginia
Last year our theatre was fortunate to produce Barbara Hockley's play, The Dream Makers. One of the things we liked about it was the ability of our actors and director to interpret the dreams how they wanted to. They held round table discussions about what they saw the Anxiety Dream being, and the Nightmare and Heroic Dreams were particular favorites. We also chose music that underscored each dream, which made for a fuller experience for all concerned. The premise is unique and clever, and our audiences absolutely loved the show.
Vickie L Scallion, The HATTBox Players, Virginia USA
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The Dream Makers - St Richard's School, Bredenbury (A Director's View)
There were a number of reasons why I decided to produce The Dream Makers as a Year Six (ten year olds) production both practical and literary. Although its setting, plot and characters are individual and unusual, they all have an archetypal quality which raises the play out of the merely quirky and gives it a slightly mythic status.
The principal premise of the play is that groups of people can occupy the same space without either knowing anything about the other. This resonates well with schoolchildren, who come to a clean and tidy school at the beginning of the day, and leave it dishevelled in the afternoon, only to find it pristine again the following morning. Who is responsible for tidying it? Magic? A team of secret operatives? What lies locked away in the cupboard marked 'Cleaners Only'? If we imagine that the cleaning team itself has no idea whose mess they are tidying, or how it occurs, we have a situation very similar to the Dream Factory. Each group of people, as in life, has the wildly imaginative, the realistic, the curious, and the wholly uninterested, and the results of each attitude are cleverly worked out.
Another theme is that of forgetting. As children leave their primary schools, they disperse, and even best friends can end up widely separated. Is it best that they forget they ever knew each other? A discussion on this point was the most emotive of all those I and the cast had on the themes of the play.
The groups of people are somewhat archetypal in themselves. On the one hand, the users of the Dream Factory, practical technicians and creative actors, and on the other, down to earth and mostly incurious 'Grounders', the put-upon but phlegmatic maintenance team. One of the practical benefits of play like this is that the three groups can rehearse quite a lot more or less separately, giving a director three times as much rehearsal time.
Although the plot is somewhat fantastical, which could influence the way the play is staged, I wanted to use the fantastic elements in a magical realism sense, so that they occurred within a wholly realistic, work-a-day environment. Accordingly, my Dream Factory became DreamPalace Inc. with a corporate logo on its stationary and the work uniforms of the Grounders, and the Studio in which all the action takes place rather mundane except when the Dreams were actually taking place. The technicians, in particular, all worked behind a long work bench piled with the equipment of their trade and a fair amount of concomitant detritus, piles of paper, coffee cups and so on; and the Grounders swept up real mess into real black plastic rubbish bags. The actors are professionals at what they do, but it is fairly routine, and they spend most of their time sorting out their pecking order. Maintaining the archetype theme, the boys were dressed as James Bond (dinner jacket) and Woody (cowboy) and the girls as Action Girl (trousers) and Romantic Girl (floaty dress). The Grounders wore uniform boiler suits, but the backstage crew nothing special at all. Thus at the beginning of the play, for example, Keri could run through a door which literally became invisible to the pursuing Beka as she ran towards it.
The division between the two halves of the working environment was marked by lighting. The grounders used glaring yellow overhead floodlights, while the production team worked in the semi-darkness of a rehearsal, with brighter lighting on the stage as the dreams took place. While they were working, an otherwise invisible door was lit by a distinctive red gobo, and the transition between the two states was marked, as suggested in the script, with a distinctive alarm, which gave just enough time for actors to scurry on and off and required.
This unusual but semi-mythic stage having been set, the plot revolves around a Grounder (Keri) who escapes to become a Dream Actress, and the confusion of a mysterious Agent (Jude) who, having been sent, disguised as a Grounder, to recruit a new Actress, finds that she has already gone. Jude and his minders incidentally introduce the concept of an unseen infrastructure (including a whole department for vending machines), which not only places the action of the play in a wider context - the Dream Factory is clearly a fairly mighty industrial complex(!) - but also reminds the audience, and the cast, of the wider context of their own environments, of which, in the case of children, they know rather little.
The dreams themselves can be developed hugely or minimally, and, given our limited rehearsal time and production team (just me), ours were fairly minimal. In keeping with their 'types', the cast developed a number of stereotypical aspects of anxiety, horror, romance, etc., each of which was presented as a mime to an appropriate piece of music (I can't remember which of our ten year olds suggested the theme from The Alien as the anxiety music - he certainly knew it better than I did!). As making a mess was an important part of each dream, appropriate material was strewn about the stage (shredded paper, rose petals, insects, seaweed, snow) during each one. Each dream was prefaced by a well defined preparation phase as the actors arranged the set and prepared their props, a suspense phase, as the actors waited for the dreamer to enter, and the dream itself, which began as the director called 'Action' as soon as the dreamer appeared.
1) Anxiety. The dreamer enters following someone with papers labelled 'Important' but when he catches up, the papers are shredded and scattered. Then a cloth is dropped over his head from which he struggles to escape. A small child appears and pulls at his sleeve, but looks away whenever he turns around. His is then threatened by a man with a sword, and, looking around for weapon, is given a carrot. (The Alien Theme)
2) Romantic. The dreamer was presented with a large box of chocolates and a glass for champagne, but the chocolates fall on the floor and as the dreamer bends down the champagne goes over the back of her neck. Rose petals to be fluttered over her have got stuck together so she is bombarded with lumps of stuff, and a box which clearly ought to have a ring in it actually contains a large frog. Finally as she is about to fall into the arms of a lothario shimmying towards her she is pushed aside by another actor who gives him a mop instead. (Love Story Theme)
3) Nightmare. Actors appear friendly but turn their backs as the dreamer approaches, revealing grotesque masks on the backs of heir heads. Insects are scattered over the dreamers head. Ghosts and spiders have no effect. (Psycho Theme)
4) Underwater. The dreamer is swooshed around with lots of swirly arms around the stage. The action of this dream is more indeterminate than the others so that the audience can concentrate on the activities of the Grounders, dressed as seaweed, kidnapping Beka. (La Mer)
5) As the dreamer enters melodramatic girls point wildly to someone trapped high on a mountain. Bracing his shoulders the dreamer fights his way through a blizzard, fights off an evil villain and valiantly climbs the mountain to rescue the girl, being presented with a medal when they return triumphantly to the ground. (The Ride of the Valkyrie)
The Dream Gate through which the dreamer enters was an archway centre stage, and only used for the entry and exit of the dreamer. The 'invisible' door through which the dream actors and crew was USR and the Grounders entrance USL. As we didn't have enough cast for dreamers, they were acted by a boy and a girl of the Technical Crew, always wearing the same Wee-willie-winkie style night gown, hat and teddy. Another of the crew played the Secret Agent. (We could have had two Secret Agents but the remaining technician wasn't really up to it!)
To cope with not having enough children, Dextra and Vextra were combined into one, Violet and Decibella (Sound and Light) became Indigo (a Boy), and Aestheta (Design) incorporated into Lacey (Costume) and Rouge (Makeup) as seemed appropriate at the time. Sadly the Security Guards were cut altogether.
Hugh Farey, St Richard's School, Bredenbury
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Seeing Things - original production, Conquest Youth Theatre, Bromyard
The last weekend of November saw me at the Conquest Theatre, and a double bill by the Youth Theatre featuring plays by both Barbara Hockley and her brother Rob - a talented duo.
The first half was a tightly-written forty minute drama by Rob Hockley called Seeing Things. Dealing with the confused fantasies of a group of young teenagers, this could have been either grim or embarrassing, but the author had somehow combined acute observation of how real teenagers think and speak with his own wit and lightness of touch in such a way as to involve an audience of all ages.
The star of the show was the geeky and utterly socially inept Brian, played by Alex Cofield so well we began to wonder if he hadn't revealed a best kept hidden side to his real character. Disturbed by apparitions whenever he felt heightened sexual tension, he decided to find out if they were real by trying to tape-record them, calling in his best mate Stuart and a group of Stuart's ex-girlfriends to keep the 'thing' level as high as possible.
Stuart, played with nonchalant loucheness by Liam Stobart, was a self-assessed babe magnet with such overweening self confidence that not only did he not notice the clumsiness of his advances, but neither did his ex-girlfriends, who ended up begging to re-establish their relationships.
The three girls were particularly well written, I thought. Each was given an individual character of her own, and the chance to earn our sympathy. Mary Ann Wall (Jo) was affectionate, generous and rather naively looking for romance, while Bethanie Evans (Belinda) was mostly out for fun, and Vicky Stack (Andrea) looking for what she could get. They were loyal friends, however, and tried to support Jo until the discovery of the tape-recorder under the bed led to a classic sit-com farce of misunderstandings, confused explanations, and eventually a happy resolution.
This was a slickly performed and clearly very well-rehearsed play, that required no concession at all by the audience towards the youth of the cast. They all performed with energy, pace and the assurity that only comes from total confidence in their fellow actors, and there were lots of little bits of character-defining stage business that suggested considerable exploration of each part. Brian's bedroom and the drawing-room downstairs were simply but well depicted, and the action switched seamlessly between the two. It kept us both cringing and laughing from start to finish, and in the end keen to see more of Rob Hockley's work at The Conquest.
Hugh Farey, Off The Record, Bromyard
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Darkness in the Night - original production, Conquest Youth Theatre, Bromyard
The Conquest Theatre's Senior Youth Group gave us a splendid double bill at the end of last year, of which Rob Hockley's Darkness in the Night was the first part. His sister Barbara's version of the Orpheus legend is reviewed elsewhere, but the pair of plays made an excellent contrast and complemented each other very well.
While the premise behind Darkness In The Night was fairly wacky, the real theme of the play was friendship, aspects of which were intelligently explored in the script, and delicately presented by the cast, whose acting was crisp and mature throughout. To begin with the plot, however - and it might help to read this next bit all in one breath! To protect her friend Lily from the unwanted attentions of Dave, Kate has persuaded Dave that Lily has died in an explosion. Lily, a reformed kleptomaniac, invites Kate to the abandoned house where she has stored her loot in order to dispose of it, while at the same time Dave drags his friend Bob to the same house, which he thinks is an ancestral home, to try to contact Lily's departed spirit. Inevitably the two pairs meet, Dave convinced that he has conjured Lily from the dead, and hilarious ramifications ensue. So far, so farcical, but amongst the witty and fast-paced dialogue across the sexes, there are wonderful moments of tenderness between the manic necromancer Dave and his stolid but ever-loyal sidekick Bob, and also between feisty Lily and her thoroughly down-to-earth companion Kate. It would be easy to lose this aspect of the play amongst the comedy, but skillful direction by Barbara and some very well-honed acting by the four protagonists meant we never failed to take their relationships seriously, even at the most absurd moments.
By taking his part with total seriousness, Sam Collins (Dave) magnificently succeeded in convincing us that he really was crazy enough to think he could summon up the dead by immersing himself in heavy rock music, while Liam Stobart as Bob allowed his loyalty to override his incredulity with a beautifully studied low-key performance. Flora Harvey gave us a strong and determined Lily, and Alice Gaston who as Kate had to find true love and dump it again for the sake of her friend in the space of about five minutes, was heart-rending rather than absurd. The pace of the play called for an ensemble performance of a very high order, and these four young actors rose to the challenge with confidence and terrific success.
Although sounding completely authentic for teenagers, Rob Hockley's script was full of finely crafted witticism, and carefully avoided the kind of slang that dates a play too precisely. This is the second of his plays that the Youth Theatre has taken on, and surely by now they have between them established a very high reputation. As usual the auditorium was much less than full, and I cannot emphasise too much what a treat you missed if you weren't there.
Hugh Farey, Off The Record, Bromyard
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Perilous Tales - original production by Conquest Youth Theatre, Bromyard
In 'Perilous tales' the Conquest youth theatre gave us a mad, silly and inventive peek into a world of twisted fairytales where not all stories end happily ever after. A warning to all of us that too much happiness maybe our downfall, that being beautiful doesn't necessarily make you clever or popular, that having everything isn't everything and, most horrifying of all, video games can have you listening to ABBA for all eternity if you don't read the small print. An unsettling and macabre show populated with quite stunning decadent weirdness throughout whilst at the same time including singing and dancing and being thoroughly enjoyable for most ages. The singing by Mary Ann Wall was particularly fine and the dancing was riotously infectious with some interesting 'Thriller' moves and Alex Cofield providing some rather inventive and highly amusing moves of his own.
Each part of the play used a fair range of different dramatic technique to highlight the abilities of its very capable cast. There was the wonderful pantomime Princess Loki played by Joanna Handley constantly clocking the audience with snide glances and comments. A surely typecast Matt Oliver as gorgeous Gerald, beset by plaintive ghosts, manipulative girls and unfeasibly large nails, playing completely and hilariously in verse. A madly modern couple robotically protecting their happiness with walls, and a wicked witches video game whose final level ends in the horror and madness of Saturday night fever. At each turn we were kept wondering as the weirdly macabre ensemble twisted and played with our expectations of how fairytales should be and even put in a few excellent morals at the end, as all good fairytales should.
All in all the play was a huge success showing off the tremendous talents of the actors, and its writer and director Barbara Hockley, who must surely possess one the weirdest minds in the area. Mention must also be made of the staggering amount of time, effort and work put in by the lighting, sound and set design crew. In particular the costume design which was amazing and colourful and, bearing in mind that this show was only on for three short nights, simply had to seen to be believed. A truly wonderful and engaging performance which by the end had me dancing in my seat. Again! Again!
Bethan Hockley, Off The Record, Bromyard
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