Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Bertolt Wrecked

Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Bertolt Wrecked

Cascade Creative Recovery drama collective
Direction from Speak Up! Act Out!
Original music by The Undergrowth Tea Party

‘A cornucopia of dystopian dysfunction. Sketches and music about the strange times we live in. In the style of Brecht and Weil.’

This performance was devised through a series of workshops over the last six months, and performed by a group of people who are in recovery.

We’re met outside by company members in makeup and masks, in an interactive, knowing fairground style – we all need disinfecting before we go in, so our reality is part of the show.

We’re somewhere around the 16th wave of Covid, in a near future where the strange new world we all had to get used to has become an even stranger New Normal.

It’s the first time I’m at an event in over a year, in a socially distanced audience, and my own apprehensions are mirrored and expanded by the work on stage. It’s all very meta.

A cast of ten perform glimpses of separated families, Draconian laws and the need for human interaction in a sometimes bleakly funny, often despairingly familiar near future, while a three piece live band sing ironic, dark songs in the corner of a cabaret nightclub.

Sometimes slower and quieter than it deserved, the show would benefit from a longer run, so cast and crew who’ve lived their own nightmares, and together are dealing with this one, too, can get into the swing of it, pick up the pace and the punch.

All the best to this charity, Cascade Creative Recovery. Recovery community space and cafe to connect people up with each other, signpost services relevant to maintaining recovery and organise creative projects and events.

More at

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Clean – The Musical

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

Clean – The Musical
Different Theatre

Tasha’s in Brighton in the middle of the Covid pandemic, sorting her late mother’s things. She stumbles across her mother’s research on the history of the women of Brighton’s laundries – and their stories open up over three centuries, told to us by the women themselves.

The show first stepped out in 2019, winning Best New Play at the Brighton Fringe.

It began as a promenade piece in a lovely garden on the site of a laundry, and now it’s flowered out to a good two hours, newly developed for the strange new world of 2021.

It’s interwoven with a score of fourteen captivating solo and choral songs with that 60s & 70s folky protest vibe, book and lyrics by Sam Chittenden and music by Simon Scardinelli.

Blending folk, musical theatre and operatic voices, it’s an intimate show featuring seven actor/singers, some playing instruments too, plus two musicians.

The playing and singing’s gorgeous, with spine-tingling harmonies and solo performances, from raw to roar, and the natural stage and organ loft used to great advantage.

The venue enfolds us and looks terrific, a white linen-draped church, all characterful period detail. In Delphine du Barry’s design, clothes and sheets are strung across and round the space, each chair with its own label dedicated to a suffragette, and the costumes blending the iconic purple and green pallette of the suffragette movement.

The stories and histories each character shares are a revelation – there was a smallpox epidemic in Brighton in 1950. And an earlier typhoid outbreak. And so many laundries employing so many women, their sites now houses. And Sainsbury’s.

The piece flits through time – slipping through layers of time in the same place is a Chittenden motif and this new Covid-informed update has new resonance, connecting today’s front page themes of pandemics, women’s rights, women’s voices. Then and now.

Although they seldom interact, the characters are still connected together in work, refuges, campaigning and family ties through girlhood, motherhood, marriage, new independence, menopause. Each character is a compelling solo performance rather than interacting with the women of other times, their tales interweaving and echoing each other.

The men they conjure in their testimonies are uniformly awful; threatening and violent, emotionally unavailable, dismissive and discarding. It is a bleakly resigned view of relationships; and I wonder if there were any tales of supportive, unconditional love out there to be gathered into these experiences?

The show weaves rage and grief, tenderness and community spirit – and the occasional flash of fun.

It’s evolved – and there’s a sense that it could evolve again, perhaps adapting to a huge space and huge cast. It will be intriguing to see where it goes next.

The Brighton Theatre community is here today, and I spoke with more friends, both real life and new from Zoom, this afternoon than I have done in over a year, sharing our own ‘what a year’ stories before and after the event. Which just feels so right for this show.

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Rebel Boob

Sussex Playwrights Reviews

Rebel Boob
Speak Up! Act Out!
Director Angela El-Zeind
Choreography Katie Dale-Everett

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with one woman diagnosed every ten minutes. And around 350 men a year, too.

Eight out of ten are not warned about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

This week, rage about the way gynaecology submits women to extreme pain without anaesthetic has taken centre stage, so this topic feels so much a part of the conversation right now.

This piece of verbatim theatre is based on interviews with survivors, some of whom were with us in the audience tonight.

Three women tell their stories, each dipping into testimonies that plunge us into some dark places, from the in-shower oh-crap moment to glimpses of the realities of the treatments.

We begin at the moment of diagnosis, a professional voice droning on – but it’s overtaken by the thundering heart, the wooshing in the ears, she’s falling, twisting, caught in a tornado.

Yet there’s joy and positivity too, glimpses of new beginnings, relationships strengthening, and the sense of a second chance to seize the day.

And a fun moment – an unexpected, brightly contrasted piece of audience participation that’s very cleverly popped in just where it’s needed.

The show’s performed by an assured trio;
Chess Dillon-Reams’ fluid dancer brings a powerful glow, Aurea Williamson is all restrained grace and compassion and director Angela El-Zeind delivers a performance of poise and authority.

It’s staged very simply, a few seating blocks and spotlights, with slides flitting on and off screen and audio snippets from the interviews, monologues and dance and physical theatre pieces interweaving together.

Like the survivors it celebrates, this compelling, frank and emotionally captivating piece will go on to new directions, telling more stories and spreading the word.

(PS: Do your checks, and go for your scans)

Philippa Hammond



Sussex Playwrights Reviews: The Other Side Of The World

Sussex Playwrights Reviews:
The Other Side Of The World
by Jonathan Williamson
Producer Simon Moorhead
Director Sorcha Brooks
In the 1950s, TV was new – and needed new ways to create it, made by young people with energy and vision. And the global reports created by Alan Whicker and his two-man team were leading edge stuff.
Today we can see the world as it happens online, but being able to see crisp first hand accounts of what was really happening out there was revolutionary then. And this new audio feature gives a behind the scenes look at just how it was achieved.
Producer Simon Moorhead is the son of Whicker’s right hand man, cameraman Cyril Moorhead, and the script is packed with family anecdotes from home and abroad.
There’s a great sense of seat of the pants early TV here, creating both the content and how it was made as they went along – with new kit, new ways of using it in a fast paced new broadcasting style.
The relationship forged by this close knit trio is captured in their central performances. Jon Culshaw’s spot on with the laconic iconic Whicker timbre and tone. Tom Dussek’s Cyril is experienced, fatherly and unflappable, and Matt Beaumont’s sound man Freddie is us, boyish, seeing it all for the first time with fresh eyes, exhausted, and exhilarated in turn.
The trio bounce round the planet, plunging into the world they find and capturing what they see and hear – and they’ve a smash hit on their hands.
Ultimately endearing and captivating, we’re right there travelling with them. Looking over their shoulders we’re given insights into just how it was done, how the pieces were constructed, on the journey in cars and planes, always heading somewhere, nailing bits to camera and coaxing audio in the bedding-draped hotel wardrobe.
Shocking and gripping images and sound documenting what’s happening out there flood back to the BBC, the excitement of the first rushes as the London crew realise just what they’ve got.
The script flits in and out, short scenes and leisurely paced glimpses taking a little while to power up, then building up steam.
The layered soundscape creates a great sense of period, old-school typewriters, engines, phones, telex and gunshots, cool jazzy music and vintage RP accents telling us that was then.
At its best, the feature plunges us into filmic set pieces; a faceoff with a Canadian icebreaker, ghastly Japanese conveyor belt surgery and the international incident that … nearly … caused WW3.
Like all the best travellers’ tales, the piece reveals dicey moments terrifying at the time and funny looking back – the stuff of great after-dinner stories and family legend. It captures a very personal take on a slice of TV history.
To listen:
TBC Audio, Catflap Media and The Jungle Room
Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Lord God

Sussex Playwrights Reviews
Lord God
The Foundry Group
Book and lyrics Philip Reeve and Brian Mitchell
Music Brian Mitchell
Arrangements edited by Stephen Wrigley
The angels get along very nicely as long as the Lord God doesn’t interfere, so it’s sometimes wise to pack Him off on a little seaside break. From Heaven to Devon seems the ideal solution – but there’s a rather fetching atheist professor and her drama critic fiancé in the mix …
Reeve & Mitchell serve the latest vintage-inspired slice of Englishness from the engagingly skewed Foundry Group world of Ministry of Biscuits and Whaddya Know – We’re In Love!
It’s a boutique multi-roling four hander production with audio track, created and developed by the cast under lockdown conditions, with choreography by Amy Sutton, costumes and settings by Peta Taylor.
Writer Brian Mitchell has a blast as the Archangel Gabriel, a quick thinking Jeeves to Murray Simon’s Lord God, of course an Englishman, all energy and charm, channelling Bertie Wooster in striped blazer and monocle.
Emma Wingrove’s a prim beige-clad sensible atheist transformed to larky, tipsy flapper.
Jo Neary brings the bounce, as Perkins the part time angel, the receptionist and the actress, and as the waitress her rendering of Full English Breakfast with Mitchell was a huge hit with the crowd.
Brighton Open Air Theatre’s a magical place of trees, flowers and birds as night falls over the bowl and the spotlight slants across the stage.
It has its little ways – and with the long narrow space, with audience curving round the sides, acoustics can be a challenge. Unmiked voices, especially singing, can be difficult to hear all round.
There’s a song sheet – Mitchell’s clever Gilbert & Sullivanesque lyrics and sparky lines deserve every syllable pointed home, so maybe a case for having a mic option at the venue?
Sweet, gentle, full of heart, you know just where you are with a Foundry Group show, this time in that Christie / Wodehouse world with a surreal twist.
Just imagine it touring the genteel hotels of the south coast, complete with Palm Court Orchestra …
Philippa Hammond
PS – Jolly good!

Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Julius Caesar

Brighton Shakespeare Company

Brighton Open Air Theatre

A unique experience – reviewing two different performances over two nights as the elements put in a spectacular first night appearance in Brighton Shakespeare Company’s tense, intense and cool new production of Julius Caesar at the Brighton Open Air Theatre.

Dreadful portents and bad omens set the dark mood of the play, and on the first night, that uneasy threatening sense spilled out into the real world. Crows flapping about over the darkening space, distant sirens in the city and a lowering sky, sullen thunder, flashes of lightning – the theatricality was spectacular and we were riveted. Called off at the interval with  ‘cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!’ – well, we had to come back for more.

Shakespeare’s tale of unrest, mistrust, angry mobs, betrayals and conspiracies feels uneasily real right now, and is presented in BSC’s signature pared down style, this time inspired by a Tarantino aesthetic.

The mood’s sombre, a simple black and white pallette, dark suits, shades and little black dresses, with washes of red light for the conspiratorial exchanges on the bare green stage.

Taught, punchy direction by Mark Brailsford with Sarah Mann and Kerren Garner, and some stylish unpleasantness from the fight arranging team Jack Kristiansen and Josh Plummer mean the show zips along with energy and pace.

Julian Parkin’s Caesar is a restrained and distant being, a god of human frailties.

As the conspirators, Sean McLevy’s blazing Cassius, Deborah Kearne’s slyly amused and knowing Casca and Stewart Barham’s infinite sadness over what he must do light up their shifting, fatally intertwined relationships.

Andrew Crouch as a youthful, commanding Mark Anthony delivers a magnificent performance, huge-voiced and passionate.

Kerren Garner’s Portia and Tia Dunn’s Calpurnia show another side of the politics of powerful men; the wives who must bear the spotlight and share their husbands on a huge stage. Demanding then begging for attention, notice and consideration, these are too-brief glimpses of two formidable women.

Great support from a multi-roling team, George Derbyshire, Mark Brailsford, Jules Craig, AW King, Katy Matthews and Oscar Smart, and a sweet and ultimately heartrending turn by Phoebe Elliot as the boy Lucius.

The play continues through Sunday at BOAT. 

Details at

Philippa Hammond

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

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