A thrilling and totally engaging piece of physical based theatre
Warhorse author Michael Morpurgo wrote the novel Private Peaceful in 2003. Morpurgo was incensed that unlike other combatants, Britain had still not pardoned the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers it had executed in World War One for mutiny and cowardice; in one case a sixteen year old boy.
Morpurgo had to wait until 2006 when Labour defence secretary, Des Browne, finally issued official pardons. Private Peaceful written by such an influential writer has been cited as one reason why Labour after ninety years caved into the pressure to recognise the many injustices done to the executed men and their families.
Last week, Stage Left Theatre Workshop presented a stage version of Morpurgo’s work at Loughborough’s Organ Grinder pub in a script written by the late Robert Staunton, former head of Youth Arts in Leicestershire.
The play is performed as a flashback to the immediate years leading up to the war and subsequently in the trenches of Belgium. Its principal characters are brothers Charlie and Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful (Kevin Biddlecombe and James Williams) growing up in rural England and falling in love with the same girl, Molly Cox (Lucy Johnson).
But as the action unfolds you forget that these are memories as the audience is thrust into the hard lives the brothers endure both at home and then as privates in the army in the battlefields of Ypres. Along the way we meet the Colonel, who treats the Peaceful family as his serfs and the brutal Sergeant ‘Horrible’ Hanley (both played by Anthony L Church) as well as Molly’s strap wielding father, also played by Church. The cast is completed by Jennifer Tillotson, the boys long-suffering widowed mother.
Stage Left is an ensemble and as such the strong individual performances go towards the whole and what a whole it is. John Tillotson’s strong vision and direction create a thrilling and totally engaging piece of physical based theatre; some of the action in the trenches is mesmerising and I suspect the emotional climax of the play made for many moist eyes amongst the audience.
But probably the most outstanding moment was right at the end of the play when a dust sheet is torn down to reveal a plaque containing the names of everyone of the 306 executed soldiers (and sailors). It is a symbol I suspect Morpurgo would find entirely fitting.
Loughborough is fortunate to have Stage Left as the resident theatre company at the Organ Grinder and should look forward excitedly to their next production in September.
The Vagina Monologues.
I have been attending performances by Stage Left since this community theatre group first started out and have seen them grow in confidence and ambition. They are now firmly established in their pub theatre base, the Organ Grinder in Loughborough, which provides the ideal venue for their varied programme.
Their most recent production, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, was the strongest yet and clearly illustrates how assured this company has become. The cast of nine was very strong and brought this powerful and engaging play to life. There was assured direction and truthful, honest acting which allowed the content to do its work. The cast captured beautifully the balance of humour and poignancy in the play. So refreshing to see a community theatre springing up in our area and one that makes theatre both engaging and entertaining.
Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues started life in 1996 as an off-Broadway one-woman show, developed from a series of interviews with women about their attitudes to their own sexuality. Nearly twenty years later it has achieved iconic status as one of the most influential – and, still, controversial – plays to emerge from the Women’s Movement in the late twentieth century.
As for the content – the clue is in the title. It is indeed a series of monologues (originally all performed by Ensler herself) and all of them are about the vagina, and associated themes, including masturbation, birth, female genital mutilation, rape and orgasm. The play’s premises are (a) that oppression works most effectively through silence, (b) that - for women in particular - to talk openly about sexuality is an essential part of reclaiming the fullness of one’s being, and (c) that the theatre is as good a place as any to start... At the prospect of which, the middle-of-the-road theatre-goer may well simply give up – especially if he (sic) has seen the splendid parody of the play in the episode of Friends, where Chandler, the lone man in a bleakly empty auditorium, quails in the face of a stereotypically humourless feminist proclaiming “Chapter One. My first period…” in a tone which makes it clear that he personally is almost certainly responsible for everything terrible that has happened to her ever since then.
Stage Left’s production of the play, staged in a room above a pub called The Organ Grinder (and there’s a name to conjure with!), could not have been further from that parody. The production, directed by Lisa Wood, sold out weeks in advance; the small theatre was packed and there was a tremendous buzz of anticipation among the audience; they were not disappointed. In Lisa Wood’s production, the monologues were staged rather than just spoken, and were performed by a cast of nine performers from the town and the University. This combination of chorus and solo performances gave the evening a variety of pace and tone which matched the variety of the monologues themselves. Some of the cast were seasoned performers; others were first-time actors – and the very rawness of their performances added power to the evening! This was community theatre at its most effective: the bond created between the audience and the performers was extraordinary. The play’s emotional tone ranged from the cheerily matter-of-fact, to the raunchily funny, to the bitterly tragic, to the quietly sad. Often these contrasting tones played across each other. Particularly outstanding was Jennifer Tillotson’s performance of “The Flood”, a monologue in which an elderly women remembers the embarrassment of her first teenage sexual experience – and embarrassment and a humiliation so overwhelming that she had never again “been down there”, and now looks back on a life of sexual abstinence. The humour and the sadness in Ensler’s writing
combined to provide a powerful image of loss.
The Vagina Monologues has become more than a play: it is a centerpiece of the “V-Day” movement, the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. In the spring of each year productions of Ensler’s play, along with other events, take place around the world to raise awareness of that violence and to mobilize the fight against it. Lisa Wood’s excellent production, which raised over a thousand pounds for the charity Living Without Abuse is part of that global movement, and part, too, of Stage Left’s campaign to turn the upstairs room of a Loughborough pub into an extremely effective and much-needed small-scale venue where theatre that matters, and theatre with a heart, takes place.
‘EAST’ - Steven Berkoff (18th December - 20th December 2014)
Just been to see JohnTillotson's production of 'East'. Very 'in yer face' Berkoff at his best. Brilliantly executed stylised performances. Well done Lisa Wood, Kev Biddlecombe and the rest of the cast and crew.
‘What a fabulous venue and superb and moving production. Well done to all.’
‘I have to say that last night was honestly brilliant. Better quality than some shows I have seen on a professional stage in London, and I'm not just being biased!’
‘I enjoyed this so much, many thanks for a thought provoking performance.’
‘We really enjoyed ‘East’ last night,very good and very funny,well done to you all.
Came to watch last nights last performance of ‘East’ and was throughly impressed with everything from start to finish....good work folks...have a Merry Christmas...and maybe see you again in the New Year !!
Controversial Berkoff play at the Organ Grinder
A Clockwork Orange met The Krays in Steven Berkoff’s controversial play ‘East’ at the Organ Grinder in Lougborough.
Stage Left Theatre Workshop managed to easily extract all the brutal language, imagery and physicality out of Berkoff’s 1975 play based around two delinquents, Mike (Kevin Biddlecombe) and Les (James Williams). Berkoff wrote the play as a passage of youth in a time when racism was rife.
There is no subject taboo, with every third sentence littered with graphic and sexual imagery.
Other characters include the pair’s love interest Sylv (Lisa Wood) and dad and mum (Anthony Church and Hugh Axten).
Each cast member is superbly talented, launching the audience into Berkoff’s brutally comic world of lonely characters, where sex and fighting seem to be their only release from a banal existence.
Stand-out moments were a funfair and motorbike scene, where actors became the objects, as well as their babbling around the dining room table.
This isn’t a play for the faint hearted. But it certainly entertained, testament to strong direction from John Tillotson and Charles Craggs, and the intimate pub venue.
In a town where there are lots of musical theatre groups, it makes a refreshing change to see Stage Left exploring more diverse and controversial plays. Rivetting stuff!
Matt Jarram (Loughborough Echo)
It is rare to find something with nothing to fault though an edgy vocabulary sometimes took the audience to the brink. In 'East' the production has to create an authenticity lifting from that language - earthy, extraordinarily crude at times - and here delivered with the ultimate panache by consummate performances. A raw slice of life was captured in almost caricatured style enhanced by physical theatre vignettes that delighted the eye, the whole staying this side of credibility (and East Enders' melodrama). That muscular vernacular was performed as a part of a covenant between audience and actor as it veered dangerously close to the impolite but the unique relationship of live theatre allowed it, as well as the graphic description it accompanied.
At the 'Organ Grinder' in December the audience at times was swamped and crawled, reminded of the baser human character, within a deluge of necessary crudity. However, having been privileged to see the majority of Stage Left productions and the way in which admirable actors (some noticeably inexperienced at first) have matured, in this instance, their credibility overwhelmed within that context. Their skill, humour, audience engagement - did not lose concentration once - capacity to utilise a traverse space and to make the performance relevant to everyone present culminated here. Not to mention any names in particular - as to include some is to exclude others - but it is an ensemble superbly nurtured and led by John Tillotson, and a credit to Loughborough.
‘THE QUEEN & I’ 1st October 2014 @ Southfields Pork Pie Library & 4th/5th October @ The Organ Grinder, Loughborough
A Tribute to Sue Townsend
‘........a great evening, and a brilliant show.’
‘.....excellent show tonight, my son especially loved Charlie and Bev's flirting.’
‘Enjoyed the performance tonight. Thought the whole concept of a radio style reading worked very well.
A fitting tribute to Sue Townsend.’
Great adaptation of Sue Townsend's ''The Queen and I'' tonight at the Pork Pie Library. Great performances by Stage Left Theatre Workshop My son Che Goodman-Jones said he especially loved ''the woman who did the accents''. Che Goodman-Jones and Lynsey Hónez
Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Like Che, I was impressed by the repertoire of accents that the "Bev" actress used.
Brilliant show, we loved it. Well done to all.
Really enjoyed watching "The Queen & I " this evening; really good and very funny. Well done.
Last Friday I bumped into Tony Church at the 'Everybody's Reading' evaluation meeting looking at this year's festival. One of the difficulties with a festival that has around 140 events over 9 days is that you can't go to everything, although i did manage around 25. One of the ones I missed was 'The Queen and I' a tribute to Sue Townsend in the form of a radio play style production by ‘Stage Left Theatre Workshop’. So I was delighted to be given a DVD of the performance done at the Organ Grinder in Loughborough. Having now watched it I have to say that it is a real gem, doing full justice to Sue's radical rewriting of life. Particularly loved Prince Philip.