(PINS AND NEEDLES - POLKA THEATRE / ALBANY DEPTFORD / UK TOUR)
At one point during The Bear, my goddaughter Blue turns to me and coos: “This is magic!” She’s absolutely right. This production, by Pins and Needles, is everything children’s theatre should be: sensitive, witty, gorgeously crafted and, despite the presence of an enormous polar bear, impressively light on its feet.
The Bear is adapted from the picture book by Raymond Briggs, the same writer behind that tear-jerker The Snowman. The two stories have a lot in common: a lovable central kid, a mysterious and ephemeral friend and a delicate emotional thread running right through. Here, the kid in question is young Tilly (Naomi Stafford), who is delighted when a polar bear clambers through her bedroom window. But when the bear begins to make trouble, defecating all over the garden and crashing through the kitchen, Tilly begins to wonder whether her house is really the best home for her new fluffy friend.
Directors Emma Earle and Hal Chambers’s sumptuous production is wonderfully whimsical, yet relatable. All of the magical touches are grounded in an everyday reality that the kids can understand. When Tilly and the bear play hide and seek, Blue squeals in my ear: “He’s a very good hider!” When the two sing a song together, Blue wriggles along in her seat and, when the bear has a bath, she is delighted as real bubbles float over her head.
Every moment is lavished with care, and even the scene changes – played out on Zoe Squire’s detailed but agile set – feel like a game designed with children in mind. Tilly’s bedroom is transformed into a kitchen or garden with just a few twizzles of the set, all performed with twinkling energy by Tilly’s kooky parents (Suzanne Nixon and Dan Gingell).
The greatest praise must be reserved for the polar bear, created by Samuel Wyer. Watch out War Horse: this is one of the most gorgeous puppets I’ve ever seen. The frame is made of huge rings, with soft, white fur laid over them. The paws are controlled by “mum” and the body by “dad”, and yet the giant, gentle creature seems to move as one. It’s such a convincing creation that there are a few tears of fear when the bear first lumbers on stage, but they’re soon replaced with rapt silence.
There is something profoundly moving about watching Stafford’s tiny frame snuggle up beside the bear’s sprawling body. It speaks of the trust that children instinctively place in others and hints at the limitless depths of a child’s imagination. Think big, whispers Briggs, and you never know what might happen. The Guardian, 2015
The delightful notion of a polar bear about the house is beautifully explored in this witty, inventive production
The logistical challenge of squeezing a vast polar bear into a snug suburban home is conveyed with ingenuity in this adaptation of the Raymond Briggs classic. The huge ursine puppet may elicit a frisson of fear among young children when it first looms into view, but that’s all part of the magic of this sensitively conceived production.
Zoe Squire’s softly domestic set is an adaptable foil for the blundering bear, which appears as a ghostly shadow at the window, then seems to pour through it. This fluidity of movement is down to the talent of puppet designer and maker Sam Wyer, who has fashioned a bear body from hoops covered in white fur, topped with a beautiful beast of a head, and four great paws, separately manipulated by Suzanne Nixon and Dan Gingell, who also play Mum and Dad.
Naomi Stafford gives a fantastically energetic performance as the little girl Tilly, first trying to make her polar guest at home, then shrilly scolding him for leaving a giant poo on the carpet and drinking out of the toilet. Such practical concerns are neatly interwoven with dreamlike scenes that unfold against the plaintive music of Lucy Rivers and speak volumes about the glorious possibilities of imaginative play. ★★★★ The Stage, 2015
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
(READING BETWEEN THE LINES THEATRE COMPANY)
"Superbly directed... A revolutionary and ambitious production of Much Ado shows regional professional theatre at its very best." ★★★★★ The Stage
"Hal Chambers' wonderfully witty production...A must see. Do not miss the opportunity to watch this excellent cast... making Shakespeare relevant to a new generation" ★★★★★ Get Reading
"Outstanding . . , West End calibre . . , stunning location . . , the story is immediately accessible . . . a flawless dance score . . a mature, hard hitting version of Much Ado About Nothing" ★★★★★ XnMEDIA
"Incredible... The real joy of RBL is its ability to make Shakespeare’s words feel fresh while still showcasing a real knowledge of, and passion for, the original text." ★★★★★ Broadsheet Boutique
"A stupendous production... the director really cracked the play, producing the definitive version of Shakespeare's comedy." ★★★★★ Remotegoat
"Sizzling... A real treat to see innovative, professional theatre of this calibre in Reading." Alt Reading Magazine
"A solid production with innovative intentions and a committed performance from a young cast, full of energy and dedication." British Theatre Guide
(COMPANY OF ANGLES / YORK THEATRE ROYAL CO-PRODUCTION)
“Every so often, a little gem of theatre comes along into your life and blows you away… Venus and Evans are stunning as the two characters that bring this neat and tidy little play to life. They’re a formidable team who carry the play’s themes and drive its plot, along with your intrigue in their back stories and true desires… It’s just right. It’s a satisfying, well-crafted play, and it deserves attention and intrigue.”
A Younger Theatre
"Entering to smoke, a dimly-lit corridor and the sounds of occasional passers-by on the march, we are guided into a small kitchen space, the walls of which extend to great effect around the edges of the regular seating.... Kate Lynn Evans and Adam Venus both do excellent work under Hal Chambers’s assured direction.' British Theatre Guide
“There are shades of a classic Greek tragedy in Villqist’s play, especially in the psychological aspect of the human drama and although it is effectively a two-hander, it feels bigger than that in its universality in depicting individual struggles within a wider conflict.” The Press, York
“…a chilling final image reminds us that, far more frightening than ghosts and ghouls, are the real horrors that lurk within humanity: hatred, bigotry, intolerance and war.” One & Other
“… a painful play which left me welling up due to the moving cast performances and water-tight quality of Villqist’s script.” Unknown Magazine, York
“Hal Chambers’ production expresses the sorrow, pity and danger in Villqist’s close study of mental vulnerability, the attraction of the violent Right to Helver, and, most deeply, the contrast between hate and love.” Reviewsgate
“My only criticism of this play is that it is not being shown for longer. If it was, you could expect to see me at the box office buying tickets for tomorrow night, the next night – and the next.” ★★★★★ Nouse
'A splendid piece of work.' ★★★★ The Public Reviews
'They pack a lot in to this production, but the skilled young director - Hal Chambers - and the cast handle the complexity of it all with aplomb.' ★★★★ Exeunt Magazine
'Ragnarok is the best production I've seen in my few years watching Eastern Angles. Indeed any theatre company would be proud to have this in their portfolio.'★★★★★ IpswichSpy.com
'Excellent...Loki's pet wolf proved to be an audience favourite.' ★★★★Whatsonstage
'Breathtaking... Director Hal Chambers deploys his cast to great effect, filling the traverse stage with confrontation, conflict and occasional comedy.' Michael Gray's Arts Blog
'As computer generated visuals come to dominate film-making it was inspiring to see how an audience of mixed ages can still be captivated by more home-spun live theatrical effects when applied with conviction and skill.' InSuffolk.com
'Visually stunning. The use of the space was inventive, the lighting and sound eerily atmospheric, the fight scenes cleverly choreographed and the puppets amazing.' East Anglian Daily Times
'This fabulous production contains everything you would expect from an Eastern Angles piece and more - just brilliant!' IP24 Magazine
'Striking... Walls rumble away, giants with gnarled heads and fiery eyes lumber out of the tunnel where once the jet-flames roared. Puppet eagles fly overhead.' Libby Purves, Theatre Cat
ROMEO & JULIET
(READING BETWEEN THE LINES THEATRE COMPANY)
'A production that could easily rival London's best…
Scene after scene came with energy and aggression… Words spat with anger… Shakespearean language given a street-style intonation...
Electro dub-step thumping from the top of a grungy, junk-modelled turret, with masked revellers dancing in unison and laser lights cutting through the darkness...
Everything about RBL's Romeo and Juliet felt vibrant and alive...
If RBL keeps making productions like this it won't be long before Reading has the reputation as being one of the most vibrant and exciting cultural hubs in the country…' Reading Post
'RBL have created a play that would easily fit into the West End
One of the most exciting productions you'll see this year
Lines delivered in a dramatic and spine-tingling fashion that excites in an entirely different way
A fresh and exciting production worth remembering. It's Shakespeare like you've never seen it before…' ★★★★★ XN Media
'Splendid, dynamic and vibrant production
Fresh intelligent modern interpretation… impeccably directed by Hal Chambers…
From the moment that the cast bursts onto the stage to the sound of a pounding electro beat with flashing lights and laser effects, you know this is going to be a very different interpretation of .Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare’s verse is strikingly delivered and totally accessible
Powerful fight scenes are filled with violence and performed with such energy and realism that they leave you feeling exhausted
Set ten years in the future, this performance has a vitality that exudes the hostility of gang culture…' British Theatre Guide
'A stellar, powerful production...
Strobe-lit and frenetic fight scenes interspersed with carefully choreographed slow-motion action' Reading Chronicle
SAM ROSE IN THE SHADOWS
(TUCKED IN - UK TOUR / EDINBURGH FRINGE)
'Delightful... lovely work fizzing with unassuming creativity... Given its willingness to tackle difficult subjects, it's good to see Tucked In's delightful, light-touch and yet seriously thoughtful family show about grief and depression will be heading to London's Greenwich theatre after its Edinburgh run.' ★★★★ Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
'Beautifully constructed by Tucked In' ★★★★ Kelly Apter, The Scotsman
'Never has a story about sadness felt so positive.' ★★★★ Lucy Ribchester, The List
'An exciting, arresting show for anyone, of any age' ★★★★ Caro Moses, ThreeWeeks
'Uplifting and beautiful and well, well worth a watch' ★★★★ Tom King, Broadway Baby
'Gorgeous... illustrated to me the possibility of the transformative and healing potential of theatre.' ★★★★★ Didi Craze, Fringe Review
'Tucked In triumph again with this utterly enchanting adventure.' The Stage
★★★★★ West End Wilma
(READING BETWEEN THE LINES THEATRE COMPANY)
'Overall the production could not be faulted and was visually and musically exciting by a company who are a welcome addition to theatre in Reading.” ★★★★ Remotegoat
'Reading Between The Lines’ latest offering is sure to cement their place in the heart of the cultural scene… Twelfth Night explodes into life… a sheer joy to watch…. Hal Chambers directs with aplomb using every nook and cranny of the church to great dramatic effect. Comic gold…” British Theatre Guide
“It was fantastic because of the venue… It was fantastic because of the acting... It was fantastic because of the music… It was fantastic because of the production... A job really well done by everyone involved in Reading Between the Lines. I'll be keeping an eye out for any future productions.”
★★★★ Xn Media
"Having only launched this year RBL has already succeeded in creating a production which will ensure its name is known around Reading and its ambitions to be the town's premier professional theatre company are quickly falling into place.” The Reading Post
ROMEO & JULIET
(BRISTOL OLD VIC THEATRE SCHOOL / NEW MUTINY THEATRE COMPANY - RURAL TOUR & EDINBURGH FRINGE)
'Shakespeare for the OMG generation? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, when it’s as good as this. Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s fizzing adaptation of love’s young dream is exactly what the One Direction audience — at whom this production is aimed — needs to get their teeth into.' ★★★★★ The Times
'A stroke of genius.' ★★★★★ The List
'Incredibly playful... This is Romeo and Juliet from the mind of a romance obsessed seven year old.' ★★★★★ Broadway Baby
'This is a sparkling, dynamic, and wonderfully performed adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for children, which balances appeal and accessibility with a deeply felt appreciation of the play’s more difficult themes.' ★★★★ Edinburgh Spotlight