Seasoned Professionals / White Girls

This double-bill of new shows from Norwich-based theatre company Laughing Mirror could not have been more contrasting.

Two-hander White Girls is a punchy and engaging piece that deftly explores our attitudes to migration and charity, framed through the experiences of two naïve young women who volunteer to help at the infamous Calais Jungle back in 2016.

Told with minimal props and staging, Frankie Bloor and Valerie Smith play both the main protagonists and the string of secondary characters in writer and director Madelaine Accalia’s challenging tale. Smith’s expressive face conveys both the giddy joy and tortured lows of their adventure, with Bloor strong on accents and physicality.

White Girls
White Girls

The piece carefully balances comedy with a serious message, keeping you rapt throughout the one hour run.

Seasoned Professionals is the best type of mindless fluff, an enjoyably silly tale about the panicked reaction of the Department of Seasonal Mascots when austerity bites and an inspector is sent in to chop a festival from the calendar – cue daft jokes, slapstick adventure, and a sprinkling of comic songs.

Harrison Cole is deliciously over the top as a drunken Santa and flamboyant Guy Fawkes; Jessica Cuthbert provides the backbone as both the inspector and a divorcing Mrs Claus; and Harry Benjamin delivers several flawless falls as the ever-fainting Easter bunny.

Daniel Hemsley, Katy McEntee, and Ashden Woodrow show their range across a multitude of roles, and Pete Rapp’s vocals and ukulele ensure the musical numbers go off without a hitch.

The script – by James Darby, Chad Porter, and Holly Richards – has a mix of groan-inducing puns and smart theatre in-jokes. A few judicious cuts could help (for example, a plot line involving an intern isn’t worth the payoff) but overall it bounds along at a jaunty pace with plenty of laughs.

Both plays are transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe. White Girls will be at Gilded Balloon Teviot from July 31 to August 26. Seasoned Professionals will be at Surgeon’s Hall from August 2 to 17.

A View From The Bridge

Miller’s classic tragedy of lust and betrayal is given a bold and confident reworking in this stylish Maddermarket production.

The set is stripped back to little more than a square of white flooring, a solitary chair, and a plain backdrop that serves as a screen for shadow plays throughout the action.

The colour is instead provided by lawyer Alfieri, whose narrator role is beefed up with additional dialogue and stage time, roaming through the action as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie becomes increasingly frustrated at his niece Catherine’s developing relationship with illegal immigrant Rodolfo, to the concern of both Eddie’s wife Bea and Rodolfo’s brother Marco.

Greg Lindsay-Smith rises magnificently to the call as Alfieri, the wise but impotent commentator who, like the audience, can anticipate what is going to happen but can do nothing to prevent it.

As Eddie, Nick Meir is a study of masculine frustration: tense, troubled, terrified of acknowledging his taboo desires. The opening of act two, where he returns worse for alcohol, is brilliantly played: a slight off-balance to his deportment conveys everything we need to know.

Miller is sometimes criticised for the two female parts being underwritten but Panda Monium gives Beatrice plenty of character: a strong woman that guides her niece and stands up to her husband. Similarly Nyree Williams turns in robust and believable Catherine.

Jose Tarouca’s Marco is brooding and dark while Ben Prudence as Rodolfo is contrastingly slight, literally given their physical differences as demanded by Miller’s tale.

Jez Pike’s direction and design takes several liberties with the script. The boldness mostly plays off but the focus on Alfieri dislocates us a little from the meat of the play, and Catherine’s girlish fascination with Eddie is almost entirely excised. The shadow plays sometimes work well – such as suggesting the secretary at Alfieri’s office – but can feel like a conceit in search of a purpose.

On its own terms though this is an immensely powerful and enjoyable production, and a View not to be missed.

The 39 Steps

This stupendously silly spy thriller is a delight from start to finish.

Based on the story – but not the style – of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 film, itself a loose adaptation of John Buchan’s book, this comic romp turns theatre convention on its head.

Just four actors represent dozens of characters, making frequent in-jokes and playfully messing with what it means to be on stage: we see fake cars with breadstick window wipers, beds constructed out of people, and some very odd escapes through windows.

Everything is played for laughs, particularly by Molly-Rose Treves and Ben Prudence who take on most of the heavy lifting playing policemen, hotel owners, crofters, music hall stars, and even an airplane. Their comic asides to the audience are perfectly timed.

The strikingly tall Harry Benjamin stands out throughout as unwitting hero Richard Hannay, the unassuming chap caught up in a spy ring and having to fight to clear his name of murder. He has the debonair twinkle and sonorous voice of the classic matinee idol; you can’t help rooting for him.

Elea Hepper is a triple love interest, playing a glamorous spy, an innocent Highlander, and a no-nonsense woman of means. She is spot on throughout, but particularly shines as unlucky in love crofter Margaret; her pining tears both comic and strangely moving.

Director Chad Porter and designer James Utting have kept the production tight; it bounces along from gag to gag and the deceptively simple staging strikes the perfect balance between suggestion and functionality. Their planning, and the copious backstage help, is the silent engine that keeps the show running.

Patrick Barlow’s award-winning script is a modern classic, earning it a healthy nine-year West End run. This production by the Maddermarket Players absolutely does it justice.

Diary Of A Nobody

It’s not quite pantomime season, but this pacey and curious production has the warmth, absurdity, and frequent cross-dressing to almost qualify for that dubious label.

What sets it apart from those celeb-draped neon-coloured extravaganzas is that rather than being a tale of magic carpets, magic slippers, or magic beans, this is supposedly a tale of the humdrum. The magic is in the humour.

An adaptation of George Grossmith’s late 19th century satiric novel, it charts 15 months in the life of an ordinary city clerk. The conceit is that Charlie Pooter (portrayed without a single misstep by Trevor Burton) has decided that if someone like Pepys can make people endure his diary, then so can he – and he’s enlisted a troupe of amateur thespians to enact it on stage.

Accompanied on piano throughout by Mr Putley (Selwyn Tillett), he charts the adventures of his household: the excitement of not managing to growing cress and radishes; the joys of enamel paint; the annual holiday to the same small Essex resort. Each entry is a barbed comment on pretention of the aspiring classes, with order frequently tipped asunder by the crashing brashness of Pooter’s hapless but somehow high-achieving son Lupin (Laurence Green).

Green, together with Steven Scase and Paul Ellingford, takes on a slew of characters, changing costume, switching between accents, limps, and hats, as they crash manically through the story. They are sometimes singing, occasionally sashaying suggestively, and constantly silly.

Two minor characters appear as skeletons hanging from rails, their voices provided by the actors hiding their mouths behind newspapers as they have conversations – as multiple characters – with themselves. It is stupid, absurd, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Freja Gift’s direction and design gives both style and substance, ensuring lots of laughs without every becoming cruel. The conceit wears a little thin in places and a couple of judicious cuts to the text would help keep up the quality, but it never dips for long.

If you’re looking for a featherlight distraction to tickle you on these cold winter nights, you really should get a ticket. Oh yes you should.

City of Angels

The shady world of the film noir thriller and a killer score combine for this latest production from Threshold Theatre Company.

City of Angels weaves together the story of aspiring screenwriter Stine with that of Stone, his on-screen gumshoe alter-ego, with the two worlds interacting as the musical progresses through murders, double-crossings and obligatory heartache.

Jon Bennett as Stone is a class act, perfectly poised as the archetypal PI and a neat contrast to the more conflicted author Stine, played by Joseph Betts. Betts voice powers through, particularly in the penultimate number.

Kathryn Jones is perfectly cast as the femme fatale: icy and porcelain on the outside with a simmering heat in her eyes. And the dame’s got lungs too – as has Stephanie Moore in the dual role of Stine’s wife and Stone’s singer ex-squeeze. She is the linchpin of the show, switching effortlessly between modes and showing real vocal prowess.

James Webber as a control freak movie executive and Ian Chisholm as Lt Munoz provide comic relief, with some darkly humorous songs – it’s not often you hear ‘cyanide’ used in a rhyming couplet – and April Nash brings a worldly presence as Stone’s put-upon secretary.

City of Angels is a complex and challenging show technically: combining the real and ‘reel’ worlds, and live and recorded vocals, across 40 scenes. The opening night had some hiccups with sound balance and the shadowy film noir lighting sometimes looked like a missed cue, but these are minor gripes against the overall stylish and accomplished delivery. The 12-piece orchestra, led by Joe Ringer, was tight throughout – especially impressive given their cramped housing on top of the stage.

This is a rare chance to see this steamy, seedy, darkly funny musical, presented by a talented cast and crew.