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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Real Arts Theatre/Slapstick (Oaklands College) - Three Odd Acts & Cabaret

I was hanging around some teenagers last week. All in the interests of theatre your honour. Real Arts Theatre Company (Oaklands College) were presenting their devised piece, Three Odd Acts, to an invited audience. Can’t speak for the rest of them but this old codger had his cerebral bits challenged. Coped with the first act, mental home for the seriously disturbed and psychopathic. Shopping in Waitrose easily conditions you for that. Second act, interesting but confusing, had me scratching my limited intellect. Hotel gangster, lady detective, dancers, singers, and a Mexican lothario with wandering moustache and hands. Murder and mayhem, liberally sprinkled. And then, as they passed the post, it all made sense. Bit like the 3.30 at Lingfield Park. The murder and mayhem takes place in the head of a mental inmate. Gangsters and dancers are really doctors and patients. Easy really, even if truth and reality is merely a personal choice of fantasy. So they hinted at the end. But whether gangsters are really doctors or nurses really gun toting killers is a matter of choice. All I know in this world is that it helps to be a little mad. Especially in Waitrose.

The intentions were good in this quirky piece of devised drama and there was some serious talent on the small stage. I would have liked a stronger production hand to focus and shape the scenes, directors are useful if irritating buggers, and I would have liked a small narrative hint that the second act was not precisely what it seemed. Perhaps there was and I missed it. It’s my age your honour. But I wasn’t blind to some serious embryonic theatre skills. Victoria Burrough was a compelling Evangelina, long blonde hair and good character internalising and Danielle Field scored for her disturbing Raven. Both had a penchant for killing, possibly in the Lizzie Borden axe manner, and both made their distinctive mark in the madhouse. They were well supported by the dysfunctional companionship of the bloody and abused Diamond (Ellesha King) and the obsessive deviancy of Julie (Roz Farmer). Both these young ladies were strong on diction and projection and completed a powerful quartet of nutcases. The rest suffered a bit against such strong characters and only Connor Mcsweeney’s bogus reporter, gliding across the stage with ease, caught the eye.

Switching to the Los Ventura Hotel, real or fantasised, I liked the opening plane journey sequence to establish characters and disparate singing and dancing was conducted with comic skill. Hostess Chloe Ahrendt (it’s all in her head apparently) had some strong moments but was not helped by being placed looking upstage in key scenes. Eyes are so important in characterisation and we lost hers at times. Aries Anders and Deborah Lopez performed an amusing competitive dance and Bryan Fawcett’s lecherous Mexican showed considerable acting talent. A bit uncontrolled and indulgent but full of stage presence and moustaches. I can see him milking many future audiences. But much as this student piece perplexed it gave us two of the best performances of the evening. Helen Abbot’s forgetful singer and Hector Hadley’s foulmouthed gangster. Rich in rhythms and depth, both are actors to their fingertips and both seriously impressed.

This is probably these young performers first taste of a critique, albeit only this humble blog. It is part of the territory when you tread the boards in earnest. Everyone’s a critic from the ‘Darlings you were wonderful’ to the ones who echoingly slam seats as they leave before the first act curtain. And in between, as you take all on manful theatrical chins, you get balanced and thoughtful stuff from nicer folk. I throw in tuppenceworth of tosh to ‘Three Odd Acts’. My wife, Frances Hall, below gives a more measured and eminently sensible take on the second night’s ‘Cabaret.’  Buy one, get one free. Can’t be bad in these harsh economic times. Roy Hall

CABARET – Oaklands College
Slapstick Arts & The Real Arts Theatre Company


This was the second evening of entertainment provided by Oakland’s first year drama students to showcase their work this term. The two companies both performed the same selection of songs from the show ‘Cabaret’ to an audience seated at tables in the hall. An interesting idea allowing us to compare the different choices the two groups had decided on for presenting each number.

Ben Simmons and the Company of Slapstick Arts got the evening off to a good stylish start with ‘Willkommen’, capturing the atmosphere of a 1930’s Berlin nightclub. Equally good were James Hart and the Real Arts Company, kicking off the second presentation. Unfortunately Slapstick Arts were plagued with technical problems as their microphones were not working properly throughout their production, however they were not fazed by this and carried on as though nothing was wrong. It just meant that some of the voices were rather drowned by the excellent backing track. We were still able to hear most of the words and the performances were generally well crafted. I particularly liked ‘Two Ladies’ performed with great energy by George Clark, Sarah Higgins and Samantha Monaghan. Very cheeky! Again they were perfectly matched by Connor McSweeney, Helen Abbott and Chloe Ahrendt for Real Arts later on. Both teams won great applause and laughter with ‘If You Could See Her Through My Eyes’ although I think the stronger vocal performance came from Bryan Fawcett in the second show.

The next two numbers in the programme were performed very differently by the two groups. ‘Mein Herr’ was cleverly done as a double duet by Slapstick Arts, but I think the stronger version came from Real Arts with an outstanding solo from Roz Farmer supported by a team of dancers, all with real attitude. On the other hand I marginally preferred the full company version of ‘Money, Money’ with George Clark as the MC, over the duet version performed by Connor McSweeney and Alice Smithson. Both were good but Slapstick Arts won out on balance. However, a word for the ladies in excellent freeze pose that framed the duet for Real Arts, very effective.

The big solo ‘Maybe This Time’ was well crafted by both Sarah Higgins and Victoria Burrough. Victoria probably gave the stronger vocal performance but I thought Sarah had more of the vulnerability of Sally Bowles, and for me the choice of a dress worked against Victoria. In all the other portrayals of Sally the various girls chose to merely augment their outfits with a ‘Sally’ accessory which worked very well.

Rounding off with ‘Cabaret’ both companies gave rousing finales to their pieces. Overall, a fascinating piece of theatre with a few rough edges but plenty of enthusiasm. Frances Hall