Friday, 19 July 2013

The Boy Who Cried Wolf!

“I fooled you!”

The recurrent smug smirk of the titular boy to his frustrated mother is the best page marker for this fantastic collection of Aesop’s fables.

After the sailaway success of 2011’s outdoor production Treasure Island (directed by Sally Cookson, who is also behind The Boy Who Cried Wolf!), Bristol Old Vic has once again created an outdoor magical land on the cobbles in front of its historic theatre on Bristol’s King Street.

And whereas two years ago we were swept away by a swashbuckling tale aboard a recreated pirate ship, this year we’re immersed in a forestry set that feels like the living embodiment of Enid Blyton’s famous Magic Faraway Tree. The set includes real trees coppiced from West Tanpit Woods, as well as imaginatively painted corrugated iron backdrops, ladders and gangplanks above head height, and a fabulous treehouse for the musicians.

The ancient Greek slave Aesop was responsible for hundreds of moralistic fables, and beloved children’s author Michael Morpurgo whittled these down to just 21 for his edited anthology, and of those a small handful were picked for the Old Vic’s new show. Some are well known (The Hare and The Tortoise, The Boy Who Cried Wolf!, The Goose and the Golden Egg), while others are less familiar (The Sun and The Wind, The Cat Belling, The Miller, His Son and The Donkey). But by the end of the show, all will have become much loved by a new audience.

The three main cast members are Chris Bianchi, Lucy Tuck and Tom Wainwright – all of whom assume a number of roles, and all of whom support each other magnificently with a joyous camaraderie. They are backed up by the musical Bower brothers Benji and Will, who also join the cast in a few supporting roles. Benji’s terrifying brown bear is one of the highlights of the evening – with his rolling eyes and wild hair perfectly supporting the ferocity of his megaphoned roars.

Alongside the title story – which is told in three parts throughout the evening, highlights for me were The Miller, His Son and The Donkey (complete with wonderful donkey sound effects), and The Goose and The Golden Egg (for which the goose is magnificently represented by a shopping bag, feather duster, salad tongs and rubber gloves – pictured above). The subtlety of the goose gently grooming herself as her greedy owner fantasised over the apparently luxurious pages of Clifton Life was a thoughtful little something extra.

The only segment that worked less well was The Sun and The Wind, which failed to hold my attention – and I found myself gazing away from the stage and over the rooftops of King Street.  There was also an over-long song towards the end of the performance, for which the cast was uncharacteristically sedentary, which again lost my attention. But these are small niggles.

However, the music, led by Benji Bower (below), is what really makes The Boy Who Cried Wolf! a magical show. He’s obviously an extremely talented composer who is perfectly placed to score theatrical productions. 

The Boy Who Cried Wolf! is performed on the cobbles of King Street outside Bristol Old Vic until 1 September. Click here for more information and to book your tickets. The first 50 tickets for every show are just £10 each.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Emily Wilding Davison: A Suffragette’s Family Album

We’re spoilt for choice with suffragist and suffragette literature at the moment, and much of it centres around Emily Wilding Davison, because June was the centenary of her death under the hooves of the king’s horse in Epsom.

This latest offering by Maureen Howes is something extra special, though. A Suffragette’s Family Album is the result of ten years of exhaustive research from Maureen, who has dedicated the past decade to uncovering every possible scrap of information about Emily. The book aims to help us try to piece together a complete picture of one of the best remembered suffragettes, and to try to help inform us about her actions on that fateful derby day.

Emily’s closest surviving relative Geoffrey Davison has written the book’s preface, which is an indication of the close involvement of Emily’s family with Maureen’s research. And through postcards, letters, photos – even Emily’s christening gown, Maureen pieces together Emily’s entire life story, which really comes to life thanks to the many photographs.

With the aid of timelines about Emily individually as well as the suffrage campaign generally, plus a great deal of supporting background information about the other campaigners who worked with Emily, A Suffragette’s Family Album is an extremely authoritative and comprehensive guide to Emily Wilding Davison. Maureen has evidently worked extremely hard on this book, and her decade of research has more than paid off.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Tristan and Yseult

Tristan and Yseult. Yseult and Tristan. Tristan, Tristan, Tristan…

I’ll admit it. I’m totally smitten by actor Tristan Sturrock, who plays the hero of the latest Kneehigh show to reach Bristol Old Vic. And as a leading love interest, Sturrock is more than perfectly cast – sharp cheek bones, nicely toned arms, and a devilishly handsome face. My heart has melted.

I thought it was best we cleared that up from the start, and then moved on with the real review of Kneehigh’s most well loved show, which is touring again to celebrate ten years since Tristan and Yseult first delighted audiences around the globe.

Bristol Old Vic’s press officer and I were chatting about our shared love of Kneehigh before the show. “Nobody ever forgets their first Kneehigh show”, she told me. And I agreed, adding that my first Kneehigh show was The Red Shoes in 2010… peering down from the Old Vic’s nosebleed seats, utterly mesmerised by the fantastic spectacle.

The star of The Red Shoes was Patrycja Kujawska, who tonight returns as Yseult – our love-struck heroine. And with Tristan Sturrock as her lover Tristan, Kneeigh founder Mike Shepherd as her brother King Mark, and the mesmerising Carly Bawden as the leader of the unloved, the casting was as strong as you would demand from a Kneehigh show.

The multi-layered set for Tristan and Yseult resembles a circus ring, with the stepped floor on the stage, acrobatic pulleys, and rising platforms, as well as sails and sheets flying up and down the stage. And as the audience files in, we’re entertained by nightclub singer Whitehands (Bawden) on the stage, and her flock of anorak-bedecked trainspotters popping up in the audience and on the side of the stage – searching through binoculars not for wildlife, but for love.

As the story unfolds, we find Cornish King Mark battling to protect his country from Irish invader Branigan (Craig Johnson). However, he’s quickly slain by elegant Frenchman Tristan (Sturrock), who conveniently happens to be passing (“he’s the prince of hearts and the kings of oceans”, as one character swoons).

When King Mark said to Tristan, “I don’t know who you are, but I recognise you”, I wanted to yell out: “He’s Peter Pan!” But I restrained myself. Even when Sturrock was recreating his festive Lost Boy acrobatics on ropes and pulleys.

Believing he is exacting the ultimate revenge on his dead nemesis, King Mark issues Tristan with a quest to hunt down Branigan’s beloved sister Yseult and bring her to Cornwall to be King Mark’s bride.

Well, you can imagine what happens. Tristan and Yseult fall head over heels in passionate love, despite the most hilarious efforts of Yseult’s maid (Johnson again – doing a magnificent impersonation of Tubbs in A League of Gentlemen) to keep them apart.

A little part of me found it hard to feel sorry for King Mark, who is heartbroken to discover Yseult is in love with Tristan. I mean, this is a man who only hunted Yseult down to spite the memory of her beloved brother… whom King Mark had killed. I mean, this is a man who forced a woman to marry a man she had never met, giving her no choice in the matter, and expected her to love him unconditionally. Did he really think that would work out well?!

However, don’t stop to dwell on that sort of thing, and just let yourself be swept up in the ride. Tristan and Yseult has everything – puppetry, mime, fire, blood, balloons, boats and sunglasses. And Tristan Sturrock. If you didn’t already love him, you certainly will now.

Tristan and Yseult made me feel joyful, tearful, and appreciative of my own happy relationship. Just go and see it. (If this was the sort of site that lowered itself to rate things out of 10, Tristan and Yseult would receive 20.)

Tristan and Yseult is at the Bristol Old Vic until July 20. Please do anything you can to grab a ticket. Information on this link.