Steeleye Span – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

Venue: Assembly Halls, Tunbridge Wells

Date: Sunday 31st March 2013

This was the last concert in the tour, and while we enjoyed getting our regular Steeleye fix, I have to admit that the effects of the tour were showing tonight. Maddy’s voice was definitely husky, and there were some wobbles during the songs. Even so she produced some lovely stuff during Betsy Bell and Mary Grey, and the final part of Tam Lin was pretty good too. Julian was more involved this time round, and there was a treat at the end of the first half; they’re working on a new project based on the Wintersmith novels of Terry Pratchett, and they played four of the songs that will be released on the new CD later this year (November time).

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The Virgin In The Ice – March 2013

Experience: 6/10

By Ellis Peters

Adapted, designed and directed by Michael Lunney

Company: Middle Ground

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Friday 29th March 2013

Fortunately I’m already a fan of the Cadfael books, as this rather choppy adaptation of Ellis Peter’s The Virgin In The Ice wouldn’t have encouraged me to become one. Middle Ground did their best, but it’s hard to transpose detective fiction successfully to the stage – Agatha Christie adapted several of her own books to make sure they worked – and despite the clever use of video for backgrounds, maps, etc., there was still a lot of stage furniture to be wheeled on and off between quite short scenes. Even with the help of an abundance of monks, this took some time and inevitably lost momentum.

I won’t go over the story again; they were pretty faithful to the book, and the scene at the robbers’ stronghold was very well done. With so much of the action being on the top of a tall structure we couldn’t see it very well, but the dialogue was clear enough. Gareth Thomas was fine as Cadfael himself, and there was good support from Paul Hassall as Hugh Beringar and Daniel Murray as the young man, Yves Hugonin. But with so much story to tell, the other characters were sketchy at best, although I wouldn’t criticise any of the actors as I did feel they weren’t helped by the adaptation.

We enjoyed ourselves well enough – as I said, we’re fans of the books – and I did have a few sniffles at the end when Cadfael came face to face with his son. A good effort, but not Middle Ground’s best work.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

Trelawney Of The Wells – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Arthur Wing Pinero, with ornamentation by Patrick Marber

Directed by Joe Wright

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date: Thursday 28th March 2013

This was a real eye-opener. A previous touring production we’d seen had been rather bland and we remembered very little of it. Today’s performance was anything but bland, and the memories will keep us chuckling a good while yet. It’s not clear from the play text how much Patrick Marber has added, nor which bits are his, and since I don’t know the play that well I can’t be sure how much his work affected our experience. It would be interesting to see another version sometime to compare them, but that may not happen anytime soon. This version is definitely affectionate towards the original, and well worth seeing.

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Richard III – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Tuesday 26th March 2013

After a late night yesterday, I confess to nodding off a little in the early stages of this performance, but I got the gist of the staging and by the second half I was all attention. The energy drooped a little in the final scenes, a problem inherent in the play rather than the performances, but otherwise it was a brisk and straightforward telling of the story which managed to come in at just over three hours. We didn’t find it quite as sparkling as previous SATTF productions, but that just means it was very good instead of superb.

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Hamlet – March 2013


Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Monday 25th March 2013

For such a well-known play, it was refreshing to see a distinctly different take on many aspects of the story, coupled with a version of the text which dropped many familiar lines. Of all David Farr’s productions at the RSC that we’ve seen, this one is definitely the strongest, and as this was only the eleventh performance (press night tomorrow) there is plenty of scope for the actors to develop their roles within the overall structure. Mind you, they’re starting from a high baseline, with much to enjoy already in this lively, if a tad over-long, production.

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The Man Who Pays The Piper – March 2013

Experience: 9/10

By G B Stern

Directed by Helen Leblique

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Saturday 23rd March 2013

It would be hard not to notice the theme to this year’s Orange Tree program. First there was The Stepmother, a play by Githa Sowerby about women’s need for financial independence, and now, in this play, G B Stern also exposes the social changes that led to a generation of young women developing careers first and families second. As the next play is called The Breadwinner, the theme is clearly continuing for a while yet. And fortunately, with Sam Walters’ gift for unearthing and scheduling both neglected plays and new work, this is proving to be a season well worth catching, yet again.

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Rutherford & Son – March 2013

Experience: 9/10

By Githa Sowerby

Directed by Jonathan Miller

Company: Northern Broadsides

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 21st March 2013

This was an excellent performance marred only by some seriously inconsiderate coughing from a large number of audience members, particularly during the first act – get some cough sweets! Having said that, the audience were nicely responsive to the play, gasping a bit when two characters had an unexpected kiss and when Rutherford senior came out with some of his more outrageous comments. We applauded warmly at the end as well, and Steve and I left feeling very uplifted and happy – a marvellous experience.

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Quartermaine’s Terms – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Simon Gray

Directed by Richard Eyre

Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th March 2013

Henry David Thoreau wrote that the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, a quote which I have always remembered but never understood until today. Simon Gray’s work exemplifies this concept, particularly in this play where the characters present bright and cheerful facades to cover the truth of their inner despair. We get to see both the inner and outer aspects of their lives during a performance, and thankfully there’s enough humour to lighten the load.

The set was as usual for this play, with an old leather armchair front left for Quartermaine himself, other seats across the front, a table and chairs behind, lockers on the right and a small kitchen area back right. Other staff room paraphernalia – books, filing cabinet, etc. – were dotted around, with entrances at the back and on the right. The style and costumes were all appropriate for the early 1960s.

The performances were all excellent, and there was plenty of laughter from the audience. Rowan Atkinson played the central character really well, and a lot of the humour was down to his performance. His character came across as more cartoonish than the others, and this portrayal brought out less of the sadness in Quartermaine’s life that I experienced in Nathaniel Parker’s previous interpretation (June 2008), but it still worked very well, and with such a strong cast the production as a whole was excellent. Conleth Hill was marvellous as the erudite older teacher who eventually takes over the school, while Will Keen wrung every last drop of social embarrassment out of the accident prone but hard-working Derek Meadle. Malcolm Sinclair was suitably stroppy and forgetful as the headmaster, and the rest of the cast were equally as good. Well worth the visit, although I wouldn’t care to spend much time with any of these people in real life.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

A Cricket Match – March 2013

Experience: 6/10

By Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Patric Kearns

Company: Talking Scarlet

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 13th March 2013

This is a version of Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges; we’ve seen four others before, so we were keen to see how this one played out. The weather problems may have contributed to the small attendance, but even so the cast gave us a good performance, and it was an enjoyable enough evening. I found myself wishing for a full-on production sometime, with all the parts played by different actors, but that’s just a pipe dream for the moment. It would also be nice to have an Intimate Exchanges marathon sometime, but again I’ll have to wait.

This version took us down the route of an affair between Celia and Miles. Miles was married to Rowena, a free spirit type, while Celia was married to Toby, Miles’ best friend, who owed his job as headmaster of a local school to Miles’ role as chairman of the board of governors. Miles contrived to see Celia alone for dinner – she thought it would be a foursome – and made his play, ending up in the shed with his trousers round his ankles. Their affair was common gossip, and while Miles eventually returned to Rowena, Celia was stuck with an unsympathetic Toby.

The third act gave us the cricket match. It’s difficult with only two actors to show us all the necessary characters, but these two did very well. I did find myself distracted by the lack of accurate scoring at times – always a drawback when putting cricket on stage – but the development of the relationships was pretty clear and by this time the audience had warmed up a bit so there was more laughter as well. Stephen Beckett was particularly good when it came to Miles’ hesitant and bumbling way of talking; his ‘blah, blah, blah’ noises when fast forwarding through the speech he was rehearsing were very funny.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

The Stepmother – March 2013

Experience: 9/10

By Githa Sowerby

Directed by Sam Walters

Venue: Orange Tree

Date: Monday 4th March 2013

We’re having something of a Githa Sowerby mini-festival at the moment; given that she only wrote three or four plays in total, seeing two of them in quick succession is quite something, and from what I’ve seen, they deserve to be revived much more often. We’ll be seeing Rutherford and Son in a few weeks’ time; tonight’s play dealt with the financial situation for women in the 1920s, and gave us one of the nastiest male characters to be seen on stage in any play.

Not only was this the first professional production of this play in the UK, it was also our first time upstairs at the Orange Tree. We weren’t as close to the action, and although our position in one of the corners gave us a good view of the performance, we definitely prefer the ground level.

The set was a flexible design which allowed for two other locations in addition to the sitting room in Eustace Gaydon’s house in which most of the action was set. From the entrance corner there was a fireplace with two armchairs on the left side, French windows to the garden in the middle of the far left side (the seating had been moved to the adjacent corners), a sofa with coffee table on the far right and a desk and chair on the right hand side. Between the Prologue and the first act there were some minor changes to the furnishings to indicate the passing of time.

After the interval, there were two short scenes in other locations, and the furniture was rearranged so that both were on stage at the same time. On the far side, next to the French windows, the desk, chairs and the central section of the sofa had been set up as Lois’s business room with the addition of a filing cabinet. On the near side were the fireplace and the other two parts of the sofa, representing Peter’s flat. At the end of the first scene, Lois left her room and walked a few feet into Peter’s flat to continue the play; with the lighting changes this was very effective.

It only took a few minutes for the cast to change things back to the sitting room again, and since the previous scene had left us with a cliff-hanging moment, the energy didn’t flag at all; I was champing at the bit to find out how the story would work out. The final act resolved things in as satisfactory a way as could be expected, and our only disappointment was that we hadn’t been able to make any of the midweek matinees for a post-show discussion.

The Prologue (practically an Act in itself) was set in 1911, and introduced us to Eustace Gaydon’s household. It soon became clear that Eustace had money worries, and that he had relied on receiving a large inheritance from the estate of his recently deceased sister. When he found out who would actually be getting the money, he was angry though he tried his best to hide it, but he soon decided on a course of action which would lead to the rest of the events in the play.

The first Act was set in 1921. With Eustace remarried, his two daughters now had a stepmother, and it soon became clear that the three women got on very well. Lois, the new Mrs Gaydon, was perhaps too fond of her step-daughters, and they loved her as if she were their own mother. There was also the aging Aunt Charlotte, whose increasing deafness and memory loss suggested that she wouldn’t last to the end of the play, and so it proved.

Despite the convention of the wife staying at home to look after the family, Lois had taken her ‘hobby’ of dressmaking and turned it into a successful dress design business. Her husband had taken on the management of her financial affairs, and the girls were both now grown up and the elder, Monica, was keen to be married. Unfortunately, her intended, Cyril, was the son of a solicitor, Mr Bennet, with whom Eustace had fallen out years ago. Mr Bennet objected strongly to the match, and Eustace simply wouldn’t take the subject seriously, laughing off Monica’s pleas for assistance. When Monica turned to Lois for help, she agreed to discuss the matter with her husband. The resulting disagreement, just before Eustace left on a long business trip, led to Lois taking matters into her own hands and promising Mr Bennet that she would provide a settlement for Monica of £10,000. Despite his total disbelief that the money would be forthcoming, Mr Bennet agreed to withdraw his objections once the settlement had been drawn up.

When Eustace returned from his trip and confronted Lois about her promise, the revelations were shocking to her. What was more shocking to the audience was the despicable way that Eustace tried to turn everything round to blame her. I’ve never heard so many gasps of shocked laughter at any performance before, and I’m not sure I’ve heard that many at all the other plays I’ve seen put together. Eustace’s final demand to Lois, backed by the threat of telling her secret to his daughters, was horrifying in its viciousness; by this time I was desperately keen to see him get his comeuppance and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.

Lois did at least have someone else to turn to. Her platonic friendship with Peter Holland, a neighbour who also happened to be a lawyer and very rich, changed when Lois found herself in need of more substantial support than a chat. This one transgression was discovered by Eustace, and he held it over Lois to manipulate her to his own advantage. Peter, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy to push around, and his forcing of the situation gave Eustace two options, each equally unpleasant (hooray!). With the set being rearranged for the final act, what would Eustace do?

Well, he basically behaved as he always had; blamed others for his misfortune, charmed where he saw some advantage in it and tried to bully when the charm didn’t work. His final theft of some money before leaving the stage was spotted by one of his daughters, and despite Eustace’s attempt to spread a little nastiness, the girls were determined to stick by their stepmother. Cyril was also determined to stick by Monica, and with a final phone call between Peter and Monica, overheard by Lois, the play concluded satisfactorily.

We were very impressed both by the writing and the performances. It’s not easy to portray such a figure of hate without tipping over into pantomime villain, but Christopher Ravenscroft held the line brilliantly. The audience’s reactions to Eustace’s flagrant deceptions and self-justification were regularly audible: after he asked Lois a question such as “don’t you trust me?” one woman in the audience said “No!”. I would have liked to call out myself on occasion, but at the same time I wanted to concentrate on what was happening with all the characters. Eustace was a very human villain too, the sort of person who does exist and has preyed on others from the dawn of time.

The other characters were nicer, of course, but not without their flaws as well. I did wonder how the young couple would manage once they had to fend for themselves, and Lois was clearly a bit of a wimp despite setting up and running a successful business. With such a strong cast the minor characters were very well drawn too, and I noticed a similarity with Rutherford And Son in that Githa Sowerby has an outsider come in to the play (in this case, Mrs Geddes) to give a different perspective.

This was another great production by the Orange Tree, and I do hope this play will be revived more often; we’d certainly see it again very happily.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at