Theatre Rewards Those That Take Risks – The Clearing – Miller Centre Theatre Company – Review

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Theatre rewards the risk takers. Not just the cast and creatives but audiences that step outside the safety of what they know.

The Clearing

This production is a treasure,  a pearl of great price for those that will seek it out.

A play about Oliver Cromwell’s genocide in 17th century Ireland is not an easy sell from a marketing point of view. This is a play about so much more, with a disturbing relevance for our divisive 21st century. Helen Edmundson has finely crafted a tense, emotional and dramatic story. I studied this play at college and it has remained with me since that first reading. It has one of the best final scenes of any play I’ve read or seen.

High praise to director Chester Stern who set this play in the round. Which allowed for a fluid change of scenes. He brought the best out of his cast and created the harrowing world of 17th century Ireland before our eyes.

The cast got a (rare) standing ovation from me. I’ve never seen a better amateur cast. Being brutally honest they were better than a great deal of so-called “professional” casts I’ve seen.

Robin Clark gives his greatest performance to date as Robert Preston the English gentleman caught between saving his way of life and yet trapped by his marriage to Madeleine his Irish Catholic wife. His tragic descent from hero to selfish turncoat were superbly shown by Robin.

Lucy Baker as his passionate wife Madeleine gave an equally brilliant performance. Particularly moving was her scene at the docks with Pamela Cuthill’s Killaine who is in chains, destitute, broken and bound for a life of slavery. It’s a scene that’ll stay with me. It was dramatic, touching and brought tears to our eyes. Their interaction throughout the play was a joy to watch. The relationship between these two is the heart of the story for me.

The villainous Sir Charles Sturman was played by Lawrence Marsh. What a nasty piece of work! Yet Lawrence gave him a zeal and religious intensity that made us realise he really did think he was being merciful and Christian in committing such atrocities all in the name of “cleansing” this “wicked land”.

Mark Pendry and Sally Bosman are touching as the kindly Solomon and Susaneh Winter. Their pleading before the judge was particularly moving as were the dilemmas they face. I’ve seen Mark in a few things, this performance certainly rates as his best.

Cris Semple digs deep to bring fire and the sense of injustice in nationalist Pierce. A small but vital role as his character lingers in the background of all the goings on.

Tony Dent provides support as a commissioner, a judge and a sailor. He gives weight to these small roles as they’re present at key scenes. His sailor in the aforementioned dock scene was truly menacing.

The play cleverly shows how being thrown into turmoil affects people in different ways, and offers a warning that we may not be as righteous as we may think , God forbid, we should ever be in a similar situation.

So as you can see I loved it. It’s on until 8th June. Make the effort,  you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable night at the theatre. Tickets can be bought here.

I normally refrain from giving amateur productions a star rating. On this occasion I make a valid exception. Nothing amateur about this production.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Ps. I declare that I know the director and some of the cast. Yet this is no hyperbole but heartfelt. I am genuinely proud of what they’ve achieved with this piece.

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Slightly Off Target – Bullet Catch – The NT Shed -Review

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The Shed is the National Theatre’s temporary theatre whilst the Cottesloe is transformed into The Dorfman. It’s a great 250 seater studio space.

Bullet Catch comes to it from its success in Edinburgh last year, and fresh from a Broadway run this year.

It says in the programme “this is not a magic show; it’s a theatre show featuring magic.” I disagree, it’s a magic show, albeit one with a thought through narrative. Narrative, trick, narrative, trick… is the order of the evening. It’s a tad pretentious to claim this is anything more than a magic show (and there’s nothing wrong with a decent magic show).

Rob Drummond is the “magician”(a term he doesn’t use in the programme or on stage). He’s an engaging, pleasant and skillful one. His narrative revolves around the notorious “bullet catch trick” that has claimed the life of numerous magicians over the years.

Throughout the 1hr 20 mins he is assisted by a single member of the audience. It’s a big ask for an audience member to become such a integral part of a show. (Leading some to speculate whether they are a stooge) Ours last night was confident and candid thankfully. I wonder how it’d work with someone not quite as confident or comfortable being on stage for over an hour?

I have two issues with this show;

Number one; he exposes a magical secret/effect (one also used by Derren Brown in his An Evening of Wonders show) that isn’t his intellectual property to expose.It comes quite late in the show. I think it serves no theatrical purpose, other than to make Rob come across as cold, heartless and as if he doesn’t care, which is a shame as he’s built such good rapport with the audience. In a show where so much has gone into the narrative and framing of the effects this exposure felt unnecessary and quite lazy.  He’ll no doubt argue that he gives option for audience members to cover their eyes. True, but he takes about 2/3 mins to expose it, sitting with eyes closed for that long is not really an option in a theatre.
He should have thought of his own secret to expose rather than ripping off someone elses. (as Penn and Teller expertly do) Strangely at the end when my colleague wanted to examine a prop on stage as he was leaving the theatre, he was told he wasn’t allowed to by a stagehand “as we doesn’t want people to know the secrets“!

Number two;  his big finale is a bullet catch. He produces (via a rather lame magicians prop box) a Glock 9mm handgun. Except we’re in the UK and handgun’s are illegal,  a recent case saw a former S.A.S soldier in trouble for keeping his firearms after leaving the service. If a former firearms specialist gets in trouble with the law, I doubt wielding a loaded illegal firearm on the NT stage would go unnoticed by the police. Plus it made a noise akin to a cap gun and the petite volunteer fired it single-handed with no recoil!
This effect also featured a really “clunky” method, a real shame as rest of magic was performed effortlessly.

So for me it was an enjoyable and interesting magic show, but it didn’t hit the bullseye.

STARS: ★ ★ ★