Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Ghost In The Machine (The Seance)

A Sussex Playwrights first – we review John Knowles’ new online play created entirely in lockdown

Sussex Playwrights Reviews:

The Ghost In The Machine (The Seance)

A Zoom play by John Knowles

Cast:
Amelia – Emily Carding (editor)
Alice – Sabina Arthur
Frank Sidney Kean
Pete – Patrick Kealey
Gary – John Knowles
The Ghost – Dominique Gerrard (director)
Gary’s Wife Susan Elliott

May’s an amazing time for creativity, here in Brighton and Sussex.

At the time of writing, Brighton Festival, Fringe and Artists’ Open Houses should be happening all over the city.

But as we all know, it’s all off for now.

Instead, an extraordinary flowering of creativity is happening online. Artists are creating new audio, TV, film, music and different ways of communicating all using the internet. We’re seeing ambitious live Shakespeare performances in isolation, new audio dramas and commercials all filmed in the actors’ own homes.

And here’s a first for Sussex Playwrights Reviews – a brand new play by John Knowles, filmed and delivered entirely online, a collage of actors’ faces and backgrounds all recording into their own devices in isolation.

An online seance is about to begin. The familiar group is gathering together in isolation for the first time, led by medium Amelia (Emily Carding), all smoky eyed and ethereal in the Northern lights – until of course it all begins to go wrong. She’s dragged out of her carefully cultivated persona, as slightly pissed Gary (author John Knowles) crashes into the meeting.

The play has great fun with the social and technological awkwardness we all share in the New Normal; as you can’t hold hands, just how do you cope with that online? Those interruptions from family, arguments and unfortunate revelations when mute hasn’t worked – they’re all so now.

Amelia’s valiantly holding together the wafty ‘is there anybody there’ schtick, but finally losing it in the face of intransigent irritating people is very funny.

But the note turns dark when another participant logs in and gains control of the meeting.

Knowles’ writing ranges from amusing parody, closely observed online chat and exasperated rows, to the final editorial tone of the play’s real message.

The fun, relatable premise leads us into explorations of online spying, Zoom bombing, and just how much information, personal details and secrets about ourselves do our computers contain – and who has access to it?

It’s real lockdown theatre for now.

Watch here (20 mins)

Philippa Hammond

A Christmas Carol

 
 
Sussex Playwrights Reviews
A Christmas Carol
Lantern Light Theatre
 
Adapted by Sophie Flack
Directed by Kerren Garner
Technical support Katy Matthews
Music Tom Dussek
Violin Seth Morgan
 
It’s the night before Christmas and Scrooge is having spectral visitations showing him the past, the present – and what the future might bring, if he doesn’t mend his ways.
 
Dickens’ best loved and most produced work is everywhere this Christmas and we can’t get enough of it here in Brighton this winter.
 
This satisfying and faithful new adaptation from Lantern Light Theatre offers an Austerity Britain take. Narrator Deborah Kearne gathers the tale together in the role of a homeless woman, highlighting the central theme of poverty and want, and the possibility of change in all our hands. A word from Sussex Homeless Support after the show delivered the lasting message that this is some people’s Christmas present.
 
Lantern Light’s USP is the ability to fit venue and show, and St Nicholas’ Church, probably Brighton’s oldest building, is a terrific venue. Eerie sound and lighting design by Dan Skelt highlight rood screen, dais, long aisles and real candlelight, with London fog drifting about the ivy-wreathed stone pillars creating atmosphere, visuals and mood which a theatre just can’t offer.
 
Seth Morgan’s Scrooge, all forkbeard and power brows, takes the commanding lead. The supporting cast double multiple roles most effectively, using each actor’s own physicality with style. As the ghosts, Sophie Flack flits between white lady Christmas spirit and the girls of Scrooge’s past, and Tom Dussek’s the rich-voiced personification of a Green Man spirit. Robert Cohen clanks with elegance as Marley’s chained ghost and Ben Baeza’s a charming Tim, while director Kerren Garner adds a great note of grim humour as the corpse-robbing Charwoman.
 
Churches were made for singing, at which the production excels, and the occasional echo issue aside, the tale was told crystal clear, packed with audience enjoying mulled wine and mince pies.
 
The production is touring this Christmas, with venues including the Round Tower in Portsmouth and St Dunstan’s Church Mayfield, East Sussex.
 
 

Dancing in the Moonlight: A Play About Phil Lynott

Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Dancing in the Moonlight: A Play About Phil Lynott
 
Written and performed by Miles Mlambo
Directed by Chris Gates
 
Phil Lynott [and you’ll remember how to pronounce it] was a 60s and 70s rock icon, lead singer of Thin Lizzy, and it was clear the audience knew this, going by the ‘oooh YES’ murmurs every so often and one audience member’s later ‘I remember it ALL’.
 
The play hit Edinburgh with some impact this August, with reviewers praising the research, writing, direction and performance, and it’s heading to London soon, stopping off in Brighton for one day only.
 
The resemblance is terrific – Mlambo’s the perfect relaxed, rangy Lynott, including the husky resonant Irish drawl.
 
It’s presented as a beer-swigging storytelling chat to us, taking us through his own origin story with the evocative tale of how Mum Philomena met the Duke, his towering, glamorous stranger of a father. It touches on the dreary horror of the fate of young pregnant girls – sent to ‘homes’, set to menial punishment tasks, their babies taken away. But she was different, a fighter who made her own life and huge sacrifices for Phil. Mlambo’s writing and performance shows us her flawed, driven son, punching back and diving in, grabbing every opportunity life flung his way.
 
We glimpse the ingredients that made him; the visceral impact of Irish legend and myth firing the imagination of the young outsider boy living with casual racism and quick violence in Ireland and England, snapshots of bohemian life and its characters in the 60s, the music, drink and drugs, and history repeating itself with the smitten Phil fathering a lost child he never knew.
 
Chris Gates’ direction spins an engaging physicality and gripping shifts in pace and mood. Tech support with ironic lounge glitterball, coloured lighting moods and musical moments is neatly delivered, and the whole is funny, romantic, sometimes violent and always engaging.
 
It’s entertaining stuff and you’re with him all the way. It ends enticingly with another door opening – and the burning question ‘what happens next??’ Hopefully Mlambo will revisit this true tale and give us another instalment in the life of Phyl Lynott.
 

Quintessence

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

Quintessence
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.

Page

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