“Opening at Brighton Fringe before touring to other festivals, this new play from UK-based US writer Jill Haas – set during the Second World War – feels pertinent in today’s climate, as governments and media fixate on migrants, refugees and other ‘troublesome people’.
Haas spotlights a disparate group affected by the war, but not because they fought in it. Ordered to semi-internment on a farm on a barbed wire-fenced Isle of Man, married conscientious objectors, a German boy and a wealthy German-Jewish woman fleeing Nazi persecution struggle to adapt to lives restricted by their wartime status.
Skilfully directed by Frank Simms, this production captures the look and feel of the time, with bursts of radio evoking the world outside the farmhouse kitchen. A stellar cast brings to life the fractiousness of people thrust together and rebelling. Harry Owens is particularly good as conscientious objector Sam Bankes, mixing conviction with educated smugness.
The play stumbles over exactly how and when to end. But with the Isle of Man as a microcosm, Haas lucidly and compassionately lays out a Britain hardened by war into zealous patriotism and suspicion of ‘foreign’ and dissenting voices, inflamed by a blind-eyed government fudging its response to a complex situation.
A lucid, beautifully acted insight into a different type of wartime experience”- Tom Wicker, The Stage
“Sometimes you watch a compelling and lively BBC costume drama, set in WW2 let’s say, and think: hmm, if only they had a bit more intelligence in the script, a bit more challenge. Well, this production provides it. It’s a vibrant, very watchable play; saying the audience is captivated isn’t too strong. Partly it’s the writing, which has believable, interesting characters that you want to find out more about; partly it is the very high standard of the acting.
Doreen, a suspicious and damaged but business-savvy farmer’s wife, takes onto her Isle of Man farm not only two conscientious objectors, but also two Jewish German refugees. (They’re still German, she sniffs.) That sets up the play’s central political and social dynamic, but it’s the interpersonal developments that equally grip your attention.
The opening scene, where Harry, the conscientious objector, is interrogated by a contemptuous offstage government official, ups the ante straight away. The theme of blank, unfeeling officialdom is carried through the play, but it’s played realistically and without a heavy hand. As Leni the German refugee remarks, “The British government will do what it wants” – which in this case, includes interning a 16-year-old German Jewish boy as an enemy alien.
There is a tension here between the conscientious objector and the Jewish Germans; for the latter, to be pacifist is to be killed. Yet it’s a Quaker pacifist lady (think a progressive and likeable Mrs Snell from the Archers!) that has brought these people together, working to help on the farm.
Those themes permeate the play, but not in a stifling way. There is plenty else going on –Paul’s sexual vanity means he is only too pleased to think the beautiful Leni fancies him, even though that’s really just malicious gossip spread by Doreen. Leo, the younger German refugee, shows puppy-like adoration which is simply and compassionately portrayed. These, and other well-observed relationships between the characters, keep your attention on the stage.
It’s a completely realist play; the 1940s kitchen set on which most of the action is played out gives it a natural feel. The group portrait it offers also suits the closed and intimate environment of the Lantern’s performance space. If there is a complaint, it is that one of the plotlines concerning the farmer’s wife is a little sparse and odd; this was originally a two and half hour play, cut here to fit the Fringe, and her back story would have informed this plot development better.
But this is just a quibble. Believable and naturalistic dialogue with faultless delivery, sparky interactions, sympathetic but imperfect characters, great pacing and narrative progression mean that the audience hang onto every minute of the play. That this was first night makes it all the more impressive.” – Bill Parslow, Fringe Guru
“It is deeply satisfying that this creative gem arrives in it’s present form- just after the anniversary of VE day-as it’s message opens up even more questions, and confronts more prejudices and issues that resonate to this day. The period between the two great wars is described as ” Twenty years-barely enough to raise the next lot of fodder”- an excellent example of the kind of powerful dialogue this piece contains.
The directors(Frank Simms and Jenny Earl) writer(Jill Haas) and an ensemble cast in the true sense of the word have captured the style of the period and produced a piece worthy of J.B Priestley and Terrence Rattigan. In fact-that is what I came away feeling I had witnessed.
There isn’t a week link in this production- even down to the amazing set and authentic period costumes of designer Kevin Jenkins-not a tea cup ,hairstyle, or dress out of place-spot on ! (The simple set with it’s ever open doors-must surely be a metaphor !.)
The subject of conscientious objectors, government legislation and enemy civilians in war time has been fully explored, honed and given body and soul by writer Jill Haas .Extensive re-working has ensured there is not a word of wasted dialogue in this compelling drama fully exploring “the English and their selective sympathy” in wartime ,And what we tend to forget is that a significant proportion of the play occurs outside the war years boundaries (in the same way as the holocaust)
The cast of seven produce fully rounded, fully explored and totally believable characters with whom we empathise believe in totally and feel we know- all within an hour and a half.. The timing ,emotion and characterisation is of the highest standard. The chemistry between the entire cast is electric.
Harry Owens sets a superb standard from the off with his portrayal as pacifist Sam Bankes- deeply moving and exquisitely timed. Closely followed by Shelley Draper as central character-Doreen Humber- giving the piece a strong backbone and momentum. She is ably assisted by Glen Kinch as husband Ossie- whose finely tuned performance is a joy.
Honey Bankes -beautifully portrayed by Alison Harris is the perfect pivot of emotion for the show. A fine portrayal by Jenny Earl of Mrs Stanton- brings even more depth to this remarkable evening. The dialects have been clearly honed and never become obtrusive- and Rowan Scarborough and Phil Reeve (Leo Tebrich and Leni Hirschon) are magnificent in portraying fully focussed and rounded characters-of whom we hang on every word of the well crafted dialogue-providing a wonderful balance of pathos, sincerity and innocence.
The passage of time is seamless -and a particularly moving Christmas scene is played with amazing poignancy and eloquence. The whole evening is a brilliant moving journey
By the end of this production-there is a wonderful resolution of feeling and belonging in finding new relationships and family in a time of national emergency- the piece never becomes maudlin or self indulgent.
In short-this is a drama -worthy of any TV writer-and should be adapted for television, radio-and film. Catch it while you can !” – David Rumelle, Remote Goat
The Merchant of Venice
“I was lucky enough to get myself to the Ashrow Theatre’s latest production of The Merchant of Venice. Now, I adore Shakespeare. I wrote my dissertation on him and one of the key plays I studied, was The Merchant of Venice. I know the play inside out so I’m always interested in people’s interpretation of one of my favourite plays of all time.
This play has it all – drama, comedy, horror, romance – a real mix of some of my favourite genres. The production kicked off with Antonio wandering from the back of the stalls, meandering his way through the crowd and onto the stage to deliver a thought-provoking monologue. I loved this little interaction with the audience; it gave the play an added depth and really made you feel more than just a voyeur. To those of you not in the know, the play centres around the eponymous Merchant of Venice Antonio, who is forced to repay a pound of flesh when his cargo fails to come in. Shylock is the stubborn villainous creature hell-bent on revenge, whilst sub-plots provided by Bassanio, Portia and Jessica keep the story flowing nicely along.
You get sucked into each scene, that you forget you’re in a teeny tiny seat in one of the oldest theatres in Derby. I loved this production. The dynamic duo of Guy Evans and Rowan Scarborough (director and assistant director/producer respectively) is fantastically potent. The actors could only excel under Guy’s astute leadership and awesome eye for detail. The costumes were contemporary and eye-catching, and the accomplished staff made watching the play a real pleasure. The standout performance for me, was Julia Damassa’s turn as Portia. She was positively sublime. Julia has that rare stage presence – when she walks into a scene, she owns it. I look forward to seeing more of her and the cast in the Ashrow Theatre’s productions.” – Ria Amber Tesia
“All hail an exceptional cast, particularly Julia Damassa’s charismatic Portia, Frank Simms’ earnest Bassanio, Alex Bedford’s charming Nerissa and Richard Blackman’s exuberant Graziano. Tejiri Obano impresses as the Prince of Morocco. But it is Glen Kinch’s heartfelt Antonio and Nigel Harris’ towering Shylock that ground this strong production in powerful, emotional storytelling. Beautifully calibrated performances, outstanding productiondesign, this is Shakespeare as it should be. Heartily recommended.” – The Derby Telegraph
The Importance of Being Earnest
“One of the really great aspects of this drama is its simplicity. It requires a small but quality cast which was certainly provided here.A personal highlight for me was Jenny Earl’s portrayal of Lady Bracknall. She was expertly cast and delivered just the right level of snobbery, delivering the key line of “a handbag” with pure disdain.
In fact, the whole cast seemed to gel well, which certainly came across throughout the play.”
– The Derby Telegraph
“Uncle Vanya was fantastic” – A. Sheard
“That was different “- J. Woods
“Better than expected. Funnier than expected. Pleasantly surprised. Script was witty” – M. Malpas
“Never read or seen the play but thoroughly enjoyed it. Has opened a debate about various issues i.e feminism, conservation and also the characters and the difference between socialism and communism.” – C. Tucker
“This simple but stylish production really gets to the heart of this classic Russian play, a potent mix of love and tension. All involved should be very proud. It is a delight to watch and is thoroughly recommended.”
– Gerald Leach-Forbes
“show never loses its way in the weight of the inevitable even if it runs too long to not have an interval. The play is unfettered by the hang-ups and hangovers of Chekhov and is a warm way to spend an autumn evening. The people are tender and real and so are their mistakes. Not something to miss out on.”
The Taming of the Shrew
“I was at your performance last night at Allestree Park. I am writing to you to tell you that I was blown away with the level of acting in your theatre group. Without exception everyone was absolutely fantastic! I haven’t seen Taming the Shrew before (the story was ok, a bit weird at the end) but due to the fantastic acting I was gripped for the whole performance… ” – Russell Davison
“it was a pleasure to watch the performance, it was of the best experiences I can remember, I’m so happy I made the trip to Shipley Park. It’s a pity you are not doing more shows, I’m sure if you were to take the show to schools and colleges it would inspire all of the students to understand Shakespeare and it’s connection with today’s world”
– Paul Bednall, photographer
“There’s a brisk pace to this one act play. This is a revelation given that the ‘action’ centres almost exclusively around the breakfast table. The audience clearly warmed to the characters, as the actors all transcended the generic types initially presented, into their own distinct personas. The talented cast worked very hard together to deliver a very entertaining production. It would be well worth looking out for this highly engaging theatre group as they turn their hand to Taming of the Shrew – currently touring in Derby.”
– Gurdev Singh – official reviewer for Stratford Fringe
“Guy Evans has directed Being Nice with pace and purpose. There are no lulls and the changes in mood are managed with confidence. This is a good old-fashioned drama (one bitch-slapping notwithstanding) played for laughs that knows what it is about.
This is a strong debut from a new company, and let’s hope we see more of them in Buxton.”- Buxton Fringe Festival