Ramona Tells Jim by Sophie Wu, Bush Studio, 14 October 2017

This is the third time we have been to the new Bush Studio and the third time we have been thrilled by the results there. From our point of view, this is akin to the wonders of the Hampstead Downstairs as a source of top notch fringe theatre.

Click here for a link to the Bush’s on-line resource for the Ramona Tells Jim play/production.

Spanning 15 years, the play depicts the fumbling, youthful love between Ramona and Jim as teenagers, as well as the lingering aftermath of those fleeting but life-changing events.

Here is an embedded trailer for the production, which shows snippets of the junior scenes:

The playwright, Sophie Wu, is a new name to us. Apparently she is more TV and film actress  than playwright at this stage of her career. We’ll certainly be looking out for her plays again. Ramona Tells Jim is a charming, short piece – very impressive as an early effort.

This search term – click here – digs out plenty of reviews. In truth the reviews speak more highly of the production than the play, claiming some lack of depth and/or plausibility in the latter. But what do the reviewers know? We thought this was 80-90 minutes of high quality, thought-provoking, dark comedy.

Extremely well acted and directed too; the reviewers certainly agree with us on that. Director Mel Hillyard wowed us as recently as March with Scarlett at the Hampstead Dowstairs and also last year with the Brink at the Orange Tree. She is certainly a director to watch.

We had also seen Ruby Bentall before, although I had to look this up to recall where; in DNA and The Miracle at the Cottesloe yonks ago. All of the performers were very good indeed.

The audience had their moments on the night we attended. The Bush was very quiet that evening, as the next production in the main house (Of Kith and Kin – we’re going to that in a couple of week’s time) has not yet opened. Just before the doors were due to open (15 minutes before scheduled the start of the play), two members of staff went through and locked the door behind them. One couple, seeing people go in, went running up to the door and banged on it fervently, thinking that they had missed the start of the show, perhaps unused to 19:45 start times for the new studio rather than 19:30 in the main house.

“We must be the most stupid people on earth”, said the door-banging chap as the couple joined the rest of us in a sedate drinking/milling around mode for a few more minutes.

Actually, the most stupid people on earth award for the evening might go to the woman next to me who left her mobile phone on, noisily pinging through texts and e-mails during the 1998 scenes – very incongruous noise – until she realised the problem was her, at which point she tried to rectify the problem discreetly, hoping no-one would notice that it was her. Plenty of people noticed, love.

Next up for a stupid award was the woman who insisted on rattling her voluminous drink ice around in her glass like a teenager noisily munching popcorn in the cinema, then later cackling like a hyena at the fumbling sex scene which was surely whimsical pathos humour rather than guffaw humour to anyone old enough to know better, which this woman surely was.

Crumbs, the above paragraphs infer that we had an irritating evening but we really didn’t – we came home truly delighted with the play and the production. We had a light supper of salami and cream cheese baguettes with some salad stuff, washed down with a very jolly Dão red.

Highly commended by both me and Janie – we’ll be looking out again for the talent that was on show – writing, directing, producing and acting.

The Brink by Brad Birch, Orange Tree Theatre, 9 April 2016

Wow. This was great.

Despite our unexpectedly disappointing evening at the Hampstead the day before in the hands of old favourites Neil Labute and Michael Attenborough, we still had high hopes for this play by new playwright Brad Birch and emerging director Mel Hillyard.

Our high hopes were well founded. A young teacher descending into psychotic madness does not sound like an entertaining, even amusing subject. Yet somehow this extraordinary play and production indeed entertained and amused, while also bemusing and shocking us.

The cast were all excellent, with especially strong performances by Ciarán Owens as the unfortunate young teacher, Nick, and Vince Leigh in several roles, as Nick’s headmaster and other tormentors.

Vince Leigh I recognised as soon as he came onto the stage, as a nice fellow I chat with sometimes at the health club. I was delighted and relieved when he and the production turned out to be so good. At dinner afterwards, one of Janie’s first, unprompted and highly-positive comments was about Vince’s performance, at which point I told her about the small but pleasing connection.

We’re big fans of the Orange Tree and think that Paul Miller is doing great things there since taking over eighteen months or so ago. Pomona, for example, was simply superb.  

We attended the last preview – so press night is this Monday. We really hope that The Brink is well received by the critics and does well for the Orange Tree – it deserves to.

Details about The Brink, including the reviews once they have been published, are/will be gathered here on the Orange Tree site.

 

Absurdia: A Resounding Tinkle and Gladly Otherwise by N.F. Simpson, The Crimson Hotel by Michael Frayn, Donmar Warehouse, 18 August 2007

I’m not sure we were quite in the mood for a triple-bill of British Absurdist comedies. I’m not sure we’d have been in the mood for these plays even if we had been in a more appropriate mood.

Billed as being a precursor to Pythonesque comedy, the only python-like thing in the 1960s N.F. Simpson material was talk about a neighbours snake. His plays were certainly more English whimsy than European absurdism.

The Michael Frayn was a modern piece, but lesser Frayn in my view.

Great cast; it would probably seem worthwhile watching Peter Capaldi paint the ceiling. Douglas Hodge directed this production – he seems to have a good eye and ear for this sort of stuff. It’s just not really out sort of stuff.

The critics weren’t too sure either: