Sussex Playwrights Reviews

Sweet Productions
Brighton Horrorfest 2019

Written and performed by Emily Carding
Directed by Dominique Gerrard

Winner of the Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award (Brighton Fringe 2019).

‘one of the UK’s leading Shakespearian actors’ – The Stage

Earth, the far future – and humanity has finally succeeded in wiping itself out. Its successors, the android Guardians, are at work. Humanity 2.0 is under construction, and we’re the evidence it’s going quite well.

Emily Carding as Guardian Ariel, a poised, precise figure in turquoise plus ethereal makeup, eyes black pinpoints in blue-shadowed white, welcomes us to our lessons.

This artificial intelligence, a creature charged with the care of precious if problematic young life, is programmed with the entire works of Shakespeare as its guidebook to the human soul.

With crystal clear delivery, all measured oddness and beatific white gaze, every second, every move is choreographed and precisely executed.

Assured technical support delivers a complete and subtle soundtrack of nature, computer sounds and voice fragments. As the light changes colour and quality, Ariel shifts and rearranges body components and voice samples, into young Juliet, blokey Henry and extreme Richard, all fluidly accessed moment by moment.

Like all experiments, some don’t go according to plan. There are moments of humour in the eeriness; the AIs can’t have been paying attention to Romeo and Juliet, as they completely fail to get adolescence. And shocks too, achieved by swiftly flipping lighting and performance. We’re left with our own ‘cry God for England’ moment, a call to action in our own fight for survival.

The piece is versatile; it could be performed in a huge venue with projections on screens, headmic and video closeups – or in the tiniest most claustrophobic venue, even one to one. Up close, Carding’s favoured mode, it’s captivating, an intensely personal and mesmerising experience.

Keep an eye on the Page for news of when and where Quintessence is on next.

Philippa Hammond

2 Dumb the Musical

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

2 Dumb the Musical

Roedean Theatre, Brighton

This is the first ever performance of this show. Roedean Theatre hosts a five performance weekend of this new rock musical by Tim Newman and Stuart Brayson, featuring an assured and accomplished lead cast, great voices and songwriting and superb support from the live band and the Brighton Academy’s 120-strong chorus.

Denver James is both a rock star, and a charismatic leader of the young. He’s come to the PM’s attention – and as he gathers his people, a great conspiracy unfolds.

Laced with glimpses of characters’ private life and the past, with strong echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar, this tale of a silenced youth movement that’s found its voice feels so now, with Extinction Rebellion and climate change school strikes front page news.

For a show of this quality and scale with rightly ambitious plans to transfer and tour, this intensive weekend tryout is a great opportunity to polish a gem.

It’s wordy, the writing at times resembles a lecture, with characters rapidly declaiming manifestos and political opinions, and as a result is long (there is an interval, and a bar) and would benefit from an edit.

The technical element is terrific, using the venue’s resources to the max. This is no school hall; Roedean’s fully equipped theatre has the wow factor, with huge scope for very big shows. Brighton fringe must surely envy the Roedean students for this terrific asset.

The few first night technical glitches can be addressed – the sound mix on the night lost some of the lyrics and occasionally dancers and spot lights didn’t quite meet.

But we’re left with a lasting impression of a show with fantastic energy, the quality of lead performers’ singing, fabulous exhilarating ensemble singing, dancing and sheer exuberant presence are a joy. The enormous almost entirely female supporting cast often surround the audience, using every inch of the stage, aisles and upper tiers. We felt completely part of the whole experience, the finale enclosing us in a wall of sound and firefly-like torchlight.

Highly recommended, and it will be fascinating to see where 2 Dumb the Musical goes next.

The show contains strobe light and audience floodlighting effects.

Carparking on site and it’s the Roedean School stop on the 27 bus route.


October 25/26/27 3.00 pm & 7.30pm
Roedean Theatre

Philippa Hammond
Thomas Everchild

Suicide Notes

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

Suicide Notes
by David Wells
Atomic Force Productions
Brighton Horrorfest 2019

There have always been stories of hauntings, curses and demonic possession.

Sam and Ali have been charged with disposing of their late neighbour Eric’s papers – without looking at them. So of course, they can’t resist a peek, and are drawn into a strange tale of horror, murder and devotion.

Wells’ script is an intricate and loving exploration of the link between music and mystery, taking in the notion of the musician who sells his soul to the devil, cursed songs and the urban legend of the 27 Club – the roll call of rock stars who met their end at the age of 27. There’s an engrossing murder mystery here too, unfolded through a discovered journal.

Mobiles are used as torches, sources of information and jokes about social media, so we’re firmly in the here and now, as the story delves into the past. Sweetwerks’ simple black box space is well used by directors Mill Goble and Wells, although some action on the floor might be difficult for anyone beyond the front row to see. Projection of social media posts and newspaper cuttings has great scope for more – in contrast, the ‘gore’ of one image sat uneasily with the literary exploration of the mystery’s gradual reveal.

As Sam, Tabitha Wild’s sparky performance is assured and entertaining, with Jack West’s Ali her petulantly funny foil. Gordon Foggo delivers great contrast with strange and otherworldly intensity as Eric, trapped in the terrible truth of his wife’s death, spinning his tale through journal extracts.

It’s an engrossing exploration, and left me with the urge to delve deeper into the weird tales touched on throughout the play.

Suicide Notes
October 23/24 20.00
Details and tickets: https://m.facebook.com/events/525900304887313

Philippa Hammond

A Night Of Chekhov

Sussex Playwrights Reviews
A Night Of Chekhov
Mosh Pit
Three short Chekhov plays, plus Afterplay by Brian Friel, presented by Mosh Pit and directed by the actors.
It’s energetic, entertaining and fun – not what I’d expected, and vague expectations of languid wilting and moping about quickly vanished tonight, at my first ever encounter with Chekhov.
In A Tragic Figure, Jack Kristiansen is the despairing put-upon husband manically manipulating his boxes round the theatre as the audience files in, at the end of his tether lamenting his terrible lot to kindly yet presuming friend Paul Moriarty.
In The Bear, Tom Dussek’s loud lairy landowner; a scruffy Falstaffian slob (or maybe a Romeo if he’d survived to get bitter) and Penny Scott Andrews’ austerely buttoned-up shut-down widow whip up some unexpected sexual tension, refereed by Kristiansen’s appalled butler.
They’re pacey and amusing – and I think there are still more laughs to be teased out of these characterful pieces as the run continues.
Part two changes pace with a sharp little piece, The Ninny, with Kristiansen as a disdainful, bullying employer, tormenting that most powerless member of a household, the governess, played with sweet restraint by Jenny Rowe.
A neat scene change slips Rowe into the final piece, stories and lies, half truths and tales spinning out in a gradually revealed and subtly played encounter between Rowe’s love-inspired Sonya from Uncle Vanya and Moriarty’s valiant Andrey from Three Sisters.
Brian Friel’s gentle, contemplative play revisits these two faded Chekhovian characters in later life and reduced circumstances, both clinging to hope and finding it where they can. And money’s a recurring theme throughout the night; the reckless spending, owing, controlling and fear the having and the lack of it can spark.
The Rialto Theatre Brighton
October 8-11 7pm £15/£12


Mercury Theatre Productions

Oxford University National Tour Production

Written and directed by Alex Blanc
Jack: Henry Waddon
Michael: Joe Woodman
Brianna: Abi Harindra

Rialto Theatre, Brighton (Edinburgh preview)

‘… a lighthearted, honest look at male mental health in the 21st century, and we’re really proud to be working in association with the UK’s leading mental health charity SANE on the production. It aims to show that recovery is possible; in the midst of a crisis in mental health, Numbers’ core message is one of hope.’ (producers)

We think we’ve seen this before – three young actors, three chairs, an Edinburgh-focussed hour on a black box stage. But this goes above and beyond expectations. Writer/director Alex Blanc’s tale of three troubled young people is sharply observed and written in a fluent, natural voice.

A therapy group’s a classic storytelling setting. We’re the other members of the circle, hearing Jack and Michael sharing their stories of who they are and what’s happening to them, with the message that boys too suffer emotional distress and tortured self image.

The writing slips between monologues and conversations, with Jack sometimes commenting on the story and moving the scenes along. On a directorial note, it’s sometimes a little on the nose – characters saying how they feel in an appropriate tone of voice – and a more contradictory reading of the lines might add intrigue and deeper layers, while at times, rapid speaking meant words and meaning were difficult to catch. That great performance energy and a very simple pared down staging kept the pace zipping along, while the few issues with the lighting can be easily polished ready for Edinburgh.

As Brianna, Abi Harindra’s sincere, giving performance is the initially ‘all about me’ girlfriend who gradually comes to a deeper understanding of what’s happening and matures into her new more adult self.

There’s ambiguity too in Michael’s story, Joe Woodman’s tightly-wound portrayal of the all too familiar tale of a gay teen rejected by his parents and seen as a problem to be solved by their church. Is he telling the truth, though?

In the lead role, Henry Waddon’s Jack is a young man struggling to deal with life. Little setbacks, a lost football match, trigger a spiral into depression, anxiety and bulimia. Waddon delivers a physically relaxed and vocally assured exploration of explosive emotional depths engagingly flavoured with a sweet sense of humour. One to watch.

The Numbers tour continues:

Edinburgh Fringe, C Aquila Temple: 1-26th Aug
Oxford, Old Fire Station: 4-6th September

Philippa Hammond

The Merchant of Venice

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

The Merchant of Venice
Brighton Shakespeare Company
BOAT, June 2019

The hottest day of the year slanted through a green amphitheatre lends occasion to comedy lanced with shadows. Brailsford’s Brighton troupe – the Brighton Shakespeare Company – make BOAT the Shakespeare go-to in late June. Last year’s vigorous The Comedy of Errors darkens this year with The Merchant of Venice from 1597.

The title role’s taken by Paul Moriarty (also Duke of Arragon), Shylock by Jules Craig. With Amy Sutton as Portia – a role she rightly claims she’s born to play – Kerren Garner’s raucous Nerissa and Duncan Drury’s ardent Bassanio, it’s a line-up that almost guarantees distinction.

Moriarty’s melancholic voice commands distinction from the first, as gadflies Lorenzo (Andrew Crouch, excellent) and Stewart Barham’s skirling Gratiano float round before the entrance of Bassanio. The initially quiet Crouch livens up when courting Rachel Mullock’s joyous, flirty Jessica.

Drury and Moriarty render the homoeroticism latent and affectionate, the latter fatalistic and weary from the first, his young friend in Drury’s reading. Drury’s not quite the ruthless go-getter, his feeling for Antonio and later Portia is genuine and alter (with the ring scene) conflicted. There’s no sense that Moriarty’s delicate but firm underlining of his feelings are reciprocated or perhaps recognized. Drury’s Bassanio is casually venal, entitled to a degree, an attractive insider-dealer heedless of consequence. But he’s neither cruel not within his limits insincere. As we find.

Barham’s gravelly disdain is venom contained, less sheerly cruel to Shylock than some and winningly raunch for raunch with Garner’s in-your-face lust as Nerissa, the maid to Portia who unlike her mistress can choose and blatantly does in front of her (no matter decorum would forbid, the emotional truth of it is overwhelming). Her desire’s expressed in dance-offs. In this production the constraints of the ardent aristos are underscored by their servants’ licence (Gratiano’s status cemented after wedding Nerissa). Barham too makes a parodic peacock of the Prince of Morocco.

It’s the same with Crouch and Mullock: flirty, passionate (Jessica grabs Lorenzo from the start) less lusty than sexy. Their playful badinage in V I is beautifully pointed, darkening from mythic classics to parries at ‘pretty Jessica’ fully answered but not really portending any fractiousness. Crouch literally dances attendance and their playfulness is balletic. This Jessica casts few shadows save at the end when she realizes how she inherits what she does.

Directed by Mark Brailsford and with costumes designed by Sean Chapman (Shylock and ‘Balthazar’ striking in black, period robes seamed mainly with old reds and saffron) this production is segmented by a music system directed by Brailsford (Strauss waltzes in the interval, Praetorius period dances otherwise), with Associate director Sarah Mann and Assistant director cast-member Kerren Garner. The set’s by ‘Ethel Mermen’. With minimal props – two benches, three caskets and a set of scales – there’s otherwise just a seductive backdrop panel of Venice with gondolas in yellow and black duo-chrome. The BOAT team supply standard facilities and lighting.

The badinage between Sutton and Garner is exquisite, both in their initial scene together when they parody previous suitors with basso and falsetto voices, and when confronting Barham’s preening Morocco and Moriarty’s rickety Arragon, full of frog Franglais.

Sutton’s distinctly terraced voicing and stage command from purr to latter steely judgement is quicksilver contained in dignity. Sutton never overstates the envelope of a rich woman richly left but inured to one constraint; but she’s deliriously playful within that. She manages though a different entitlement to Bassanio: one who knows the use of things for others’ sake, admittedly easy for her.

It’s here when Drury proves his mettle, quick sincere and decisive in his rejection of the gold and silver to Sutton’s quickening excitement, he chooses true. Drury proves here and in the subsequent trial scene his genuine agonizing and worthiness as much as any Bassanio can deserve the depth of a Portia.

There’s different registers for suitors, for Bassanio – where she breaks decorum when demanding to be claimed with a passionate kiss – and her later avatar: all recognizably different but in character. Thus Sutton’s Dr Balthazar really does seem and look different: by turns a paper-fumbling Colombo, pleading, steely, remorseless. Sutton spares some of the anti-Semitism now attributed to Portia. The text has been lightly edited.

Similarly she and Garner run rings round their hapless spouses in the two ring scenes, where Sutton literally rings with consonants. The trial scene where she takes on Craig is notably powerful: keen, spare, rivetingly lucid – which goes for the production but never more so than here.

Brailsford’s major role is Launcelot Gobbo – a role he takes in the spirit of Eric Morecombe judging by his dancing exits. It’s a characterful almost kindly reading, not as nasty as some and without the anti-Semitic point of the original. There’s a sense in which tis production wants to underscore the summery outdoors of its setting and concentrate tragedy in Shylock alone, but for Antonio’s incurable melancholy.

Garner’s Tubal to Craig’s Shylock. It occasions one of Shylock’s great monologues after an earlier one to Gratiano (‘Hath not a Jew…’). Craig’s Shylock is doubly discriminated against as a Jew and a woman. Craig brings out the desperation and revenge Shylock seeks through the only recourse she has: law. Craig’s quiet tread to judgement is riven by first Antonio’s unrepentant hostility even when making the bond – Moriarty spits in fact. And by the later discovery of Jessica’s betrayal.

This is expressed – to Tubal – in the ring (originally ‘had of Leah’) which is substituted ‘husband’ and ‘his’ not ‘my bachelor days’ of the engagement ring casually discarded by Jessica for a monkey, which Craig laments she would not have parted ‘for a wilderness of monkeys’ Rather quite in the first three acts, Craig is notably commanding in the latter two acts, basilisk-eyed and like Sutton, remorseless in front of Brailsford’s Duke of Venice. Her final ‘I am content’ after judgement is taken after a long pause and a visible shrinking into herself. It’s masterly.

There’s fine support from Katy Matthews as Solario and Gaoler as well as stage manager.

The final scenes as suggested are taken at a light lick. There’s no lingering fear from either Portia or Jessica, let alone Nerissa that things will go wrong. They’ve all commanded their respective husbands and as the final dance-off shows ‘put a ring on it’ to Beyoncé’s bouncy send-off. Despite a very occasional energy drop in Acts Two and Three this is a production of real distinction, one of the best I’ve seen outside the Globe and RSC. Sutton matches any Portia and Craig’s Shylock is a revelation.

Directed by Mark Brailsford and with costumes designed by Sean Chapman (supplied by Gladrags) this production is segmented by a music system directed by Brailsford (Strauss waltzes in the interval, Praetorius period dances otherwise), with Associate director Sarah Mann and Assistant director cast-member Kerren Garner. ASM’s Oscar Smart.

The set’s by ‘Ethel Mermen’. With minimal props – two benches, three caskets and a set of scales, there’s otherwise just a seductive backdrop panel of Venice with gondolas in yellow and black duo-chrome.

The BOAT team supply standard facilities and lighting.

Tour dates TBA.

Simon Jenner
Sussex Playwrights

The production will next appear at Lewes Castle

Brighton Shakespeare Company



ritten, directed and performed by Lauren Varnfield
Pretty Villain Productions

‘I was a normal human being for 18 years before I met Ian’

It’s a full house tonight. That peroxide bob and sullen shadowed glare mugshot is already here live on stage, as we walk in, and we reckon we know this story, told in a tight, edgy forty-five minutes.

But Varnfield’s is a seemingly impossible achievement – research, writing and performance altering the way we’ve always seen Myra the monster.

These days we understand more of the lasting effects of physical and emotional abuse on the developing child and adolescent brain. Details of Myra’s grim childhood and teenage infatuation with the mesmerising psychopath Brady suggest that today, coercive control might actually be a credible defence.

A visit from the police, handcuffs, a holding cell – we don’t learn how they were caught, it’s irrelevant and this isn’t the police story.

Time passes via headlines; politics, social history, public events all stream by while Myra is incarcerated. It’s a great use of projection to create a sense of wasted decades.

The play flickers between scenes, backwards and forwards in time, eloquently showing how the past is always with us. Varnfield’s swiftly shifting performance is superb; brittle young girl, constantly on high alert, confusing excitement, arousal and terror til she can’t tell one from the other, contrasts the ageing imprisoned Myra, still, hunched, the voice low, slow and weary.

So was she really the changed, kindly woman Longford portrayed? We’re left with our own conclusions, guided by the letter from a mother begging for the peace that the truth might have offered.

The final moments are chilling; a video journey along the long, lonely road under boiling clouds up onto the Moor.

Rialto Theatre to June 1st
Philippa Hammond