Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Madness of George III

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Madness of George III
By Alan Bennett
The Sarah Mann Company
Georgian sophistication in music, architecture, dress and art coupled with ghastly primitive approaches to medicine and mental health plus a decadent royal family – Bennett’s celebrated play captures that strange time when the world tipped over from centuries old ways into revolution and change.
The Sarah Mann Company presents a new production and it all looks rather marvellous. The wardrobe’s delicious – mad wigs, some fabulous gowns and characterful touches, with a few ornate and elegant pieces of furniture easily moved about to set scene.
The play speaks of lot what being a king does to a man – and what being a future king in endless useless waiting does to a son.
Nathan Arris is magnificent as King George – confident, mannered, rather grumpy and at times disconcertingly looking very like Charles, his descent into pitiful raging foul mouthed rambling is superbly done. As his Mrs King, Sarah Mann portrays a genuinely loving and remarkably understanding wife. Their private moments are sweet and believable glimpses into what a normal life might have been for them.
Into this mannered, deferential and stagnant world with its political power-scrabbling undercurrents, steps Doug Devaney as Doctor Willis, shifting gears and changing the tone – it’s a huge, charismatic performance of a perhaps monstrous character. His understanding of the need for activity, connection and productivity for treating mental health was years ahead of its time, yet some audience members around us were audibly upset by the scenes of some of the more brutal treatments inflicted.
The unexpected arrival of a full choir building to Zadok the Priest plays on our recent memory of the dignified moment of anointing – but the moment this king is bundled into a horrible device and wheeled helplessly away is the most powerful moment of the whole night.
With wind in the trees, sounds from the surrounding world plus its long stage with audience on three sides, sometimes the staging means dialogue is inevitably lost, especially in moments where actors turn upstage, and that walk from entrance to speaking can be a waiting moment. BOAT presents its usual challenges, largely handled well by a powerful cast.
The play’s full of little battles for power, position and status. The politicians and courtiers have their own struggles for supremacy throughout, and the three doctors are an audience delight, their various obsessions and awful remedies played off against each other, scrapping for top position.
So many moments and clever touches – the equerries’ and footmen’s distress at having to manhandle and disrespect their King was very affecting, their love for him quite the contrast to the languid ever-waiting disdain of Paddy Cooper’s Prince Regent and Amelia Armande’s Prince Frederick draped over velvet sofas.
The Victorian age of more immense change is on the horizon, but in the end, for now at least, all is restored.
The play is on at BOAT from 12-15 July
Details and tickets
Philippa Hammond
Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Thomas Everchild

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Architecture for Beginners


Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Architecture for Beginners
A new novel by Robert Cohen
Published by Hobart Books
Robert Cohen has created a monster. A larger than life faded football hero with enormous ambitions for movie stardom and a big vision for a new stadium – but something’s not right. Quite a lot isn’t right.
Reggie’s a barnstorming bully; grandiose and charismatic, with a violent streak and a flair for sentimental display.
The narrator, architect Alex, is a mesmerised Watson drawn back into his orbit decades later, crashing back into a childhood ‘friendship’ remembered rather differently by them both.
Seizing the chance to numb his own perilously teetering marriage and problematic workplace, Alex embarks on a project that will bring its own form of chaos.
This is a book by a playwright and actor and it shows – the writing’s a pacey hurtle, dialogue tumbles out, each distinctive character voice instantly identifiable.
The layered structure works well; a set of flashbacks within flashbacks wrapped in a disaster, memory retrieval a driving force here. There’s a rather enigmatic element too, possibly supernatural or psychological, that will leave you wondering.
It’s a book that wants to be a TV series – visual, energetic and character-driven, with a spectacular ending.
Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Pugs of the Frozen North

A little cracker for the Christmas holidays

Pugs Of The Frozen North
By Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Adapted by Philip Reeve and Brian Mitchell
Original music by Brian Mitchell
The Foundry Group
Kick off your family Christmas at this little venue in the roof at Brighton’s Presuming Ed, full of families, small children, bobble hats and woolly scarves, and some toy dogs, too.
Cast Brian Mitchell, Emma Howarth and Murray Simon multi-role and quick-change their way through a pacey, cosy-scary tale of magic in the mysterious legend-sparking strangeness of the frozen north, with energy, verve and buckets of snowy charm.
With a kraken encounter, singing yetis, a great example of just how to make a sledge from two dining chairs and an audience full of yipyipyipping pugs, it’s the tale of an epic race to the ice palace.
There are some huge themes in this little cracker for the Christmas holidays; friendship, courage, the circle of life, and how the smallest pug can PULL like a husky team if they all PULL together.
It’s on til Friday December 23rd, with performances at 11.00 and 2.00. (One-hour show).
Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Risqué

Written by Tim Coakley
Directed by Murray Hecht
First seen a few years ago, they’re back with a new set of nine sketches, in a fun and fond nod to Benny Hill, Carry On and every 60s and 70s sitcom. Chat line girls, dominatrices, adult babies and pups, a visit to the knobs and knockers shop in a ‘four candles’ sketch for post watershed, and of course Matron, it’s all here, like 80s alternative comedy never happened. The women are powerful, dominant and definitely in control in Risqué’s world.
Standouts include Lena Richardson’s dom, getting down to business with her furry newbie client (Dave Lee), ending in a surprisingly sweet and unexpected unmasked moment, and Sascha Cooper’s flamboyant visit to Tim Charles’ shy and helpless doctor.
The final sketch, set in a failing strip club with Hill as a glum wannabe stripper, Charles as the faded club owner and Cooper an exasperated pro is the highlight; echoing Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore it has the potential to develop into a play in itself.
Quick costume changes, simple settings and each sketch flowing into the next, I’d have liked the pace to be tightened up throughout, pepping up the pace, speeding up the changes – maybe even giving time for slipping another one in …
A 21st century take on a very British seaside postcard style of humour.
At the Latest Music Bar 30/5 – 1/6
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Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Acme Dating and Detective Agency

Written by Timothy Coakley
Directed by Murray Hecht
Possible spoiler alert!
Neil James as Charles de Vere, successful, confident, yet desperate, looking for love and about to step into the strange new world of the dating agency. Tabitha Wild as Annabelle Kensington is elegant, slinky, a poised cut-glass inquisitor filleting him in seconds.
But it isn’t what you think it is. Nothing is. The writing’s twisty and turny, characters playing characters, and just when you think you’ve got the measure of it – you haven’t. Snappy and pacey direction and two assured, versatile performances blend polished banter, messy truths and confiding asides to audience, the pair dancing round each other playing layered games with what’s real, what isn’t.
Pay attention, because in these glimpses of a relationship in flux, reveal after reveal, unpredictable shifts in accent, class and sexuality, nothing’s fixed. The effect is clever, surprising and in the end, poignant.
At the Latest Music Bar 30/5 – 1/6
Philippa Hammond
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Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Maestro

A new piece on the life and work of Donizetti from Magichour Productions, featuring live operatic performance

Written by Duncan Hopper and Mike Wells

The music of Donizetti

This new piece on the life and work of Donizetti from Magichour Productions, featuring live operatic performance, is currently on tour around some beautiful Sussex locations. Tonight’s venue, the Regency St George’s church, Kemptown, Brighton, perfectly sets the scene.

Donizetti is dying, his mind filling with memories of life, love and music in his final hours.

Robert Tremayne makes a dashing Donizetti, handsome and magnetic in his prime, fading from glamorous peacock to ruined wreck at the end of life. There’s tragedy and humour here too, with knowing digs at the outrage of lockdown and masks ‘in this day and age’.

As the flirtatious opera singers and battling divas in his life, Karen Orchin fills the generous space with soaring voice, with solo grand piano accompaniment by Simon Gray. Being this close to a soprano delivering some of Donizetti’s greatest arias is a terrific experience.

Sophie Methuen-Turner gives a gentle sweetness as his supportive, loving wife Virginia, and transforms physically and vocally into the formidable Contessa, both commanding and frail.

While the piece reads more as a musical docu-drama than a play and recorded music occasionally played under the spoken word can make a few speeches a little challenging to hear, it’s an intriguing glimpse into key points from the composer’s life and work, with live operatic highlights.

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza’s award winning 2008 play all feels very contemporary; a middle class comedy of manners for now, with the main theme ‘what lies beneath?’

Yasmina Reza’s award winning 2008 play all feels very contemporary; a middle class comedy of manners for now, with the main theme ‘what lies beneath?’

On the surface, it all starts in such a civilised, cultured way. Coffee and clafoutis, chaise longues and tulips. Two pleasant couples, meeting for a nice chat about a little … disagreement … between their young sons. Then all begins to unravel.

Roger Kay’s direction is tight, pacey and assured, delivering a quartet of pin-sharp and pointedly observed performances. Physical and verbal energy fizz in the tiny Rialto space, with a lovely sofa shift from one couple per sofa to the men briefly united in rum and resentment on one and the women united on the other.

Tom Dussek’s urbane Alain is bullish and confident, barking orders into an endlessly intrusive mobile, while making light of the ‘boys will be boys’ situation – until the appearance of the rum shifts his focus, never really on family responsibility, always on his own terms

Jenny Delisle as Annette battles with anxiety over her husband’s refusal to engage over their son’s deed, until the shock vom scene brings everything to crisis point, in a brittle study in how it can all become too much to bear.

As Veronique and Michel, parents of the injured boy, Sophie Dearlove and Neil James are the ‘nice’ ones, Veronique committed to supporting every good cause and Michel gently supporting the women in his life – yet revealing a surprisingly cruel streak.

Of course, the boys’ playground spat isn’t the only instance of childish rage boiling over; little digs and bubbling anger begin to mount, each character brooding over their own stored up issues, the civilised veneer scraped away as the booze takes hold and the masks slide off.

One of the most attention-grabbing and interest-gripping pieces I’ve seen on the Fringe, thanks to terrific harmony of writing, directing, performance and staging.

But I’m left with questions … What happened to the poor little hamster? Does mum stop taking the tablets? What happens next??

Philippa Hammond