Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Two theatrical experiences at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last week, of very different types. It's always pleasing to be invited to review a play on the main stage: the price of tickets is a factor that can't be discounted, and the standard is normally very high there, as it is in the Mill Studio, the more affordable intimate space where I've enjoyed many brilliant productions.
This week "Birdsong" came to the main stage, from the Duke of York's Theatre in London. On Monday I had the opportunity of reviewing it for Essential Surrey, the online Surrey magazine. Having enjoyed Sebastian Faulks' novel, I looked forward to seeing Rachel Wagstaff's adaptation but was disappointed. The production was stronger than the adaptation and I had to say so, however regretfully. Faulks himself has said of the screen play made of his novel, "It's a work in progress," and the same seems to apply to the stage adaptation. Perhaps his densely and sensitively written story is not suitable for condensing into a two and a half hour script, after all. http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre/review%3A-birdsong-at-the-yvonne-arnaud-theatre,-guildford/
A much more satisfying evening awaited us at the Mill Studio on Thursday. "Pandemonium", written by Susan Tostvig for the Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre Act Two group in 2001 and imaginatively revived for this year's youth group production by director Julia Black, was delightful. I was asked to review it for the Surrey Advertiser.
Thirty-two young actors aged between 7 and 13 played out a narrative that embraced forty Ancient Greek myths, with verve and a professionalism beyond their years.
The story is complex. Pandora (Grace Collins) is created by Zeus (Toby Escolme), because he’s piqued by his creation’s lack of attention, hoping to spread problems that will make men take more interest in the gods. When she opens the box of evils he sends to her fiancé Epimetheus (Spike Prichard), the gods become vain, greedy and selfish and the familiar myths of Narcissus, Midas and the rest are played out in a series of jazzy rock numbers.
When Zeus changes his plan, Pandora escapes with the box and a chase begins, until Hope is released and Epithmetheus learns words that will win Pandora’s love.
Two performances particularly stood out. Archie Lewis, as Eros, Zeus’s trusted fixer, had tremendous stage presence: he was deeply in character all the time. His use of gesture and his effortless rhythmic dancing were a joy to watch. His timing made him a natural comedian.
Hades (Mira Baldwin) was a diminutive business woman in a power-suit singed black by hell-fire. Mira’s sense of self and her immersion in the part allowed her to hold dominion not only over Zeus, but over the whole stage, as she strutted and sneered and plotted evil.
The three Heroes, Theseus, Perseus and Odysses, made an endearing team, and Theseus’ jumper was a star in its own right, along with his irrepressible grin. The most mature members of the cast, Evie King beautiful in satin as Hera, Alfie Reeves as wide-boy Midas and Joe Lubeck as vain Narcissus, sang and danced brilliantly. The chorus were indefatigable and tuneful.
This was a triumph for the Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre’s Act Two and a thoroughly enjoyable 70 minutes’ entertainment by this group of talented, dedicated young people.