Theatre reviews: Blasted, The Sound of Music, The Tiger Who Came To Tea

Mark Stanley as Soldier in Blasted.  Photograph by Mark Douet.
Mark Stanley as Soldier in Blasted. Photograph by Mark Douet.
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Blasted, Sheffield Studio, Sheffield, reviewed by Nick Ahad ****

Three different productions I’ve seen of Blasted now and I still don’t have a clue what Sarah Kane was doing with this play – despite this being the most coherent, clear and compelling production I’ve seen to date.

It really is absolutely horrific and a spectacle from which it is impossible to tear your eyes. I left the theatre feeling a different person to who I was when I went in – it is a play that changes you.

It is revolting, something of an endurance test – and I knew what was coming. Pity the man who didn’t and walked out. It’s a good job he didn’t stay – the rape of a man with a gun was that man’s limit. It gets worse – and yet it demands your complete attention.

What becomes clear as you experience Blasted is that what Sarah Kane was doing was so very far outside the boundaries of what theatre understood before she wrote it. I don’t blame the critics who condemned it on its debut in 1993 only to return to it after Kane’s suicide and pronounce it a work of dangerous brilliance.

The three actors bringing the piece to life give three distinct performances. Mark Stanley as the soldier is visceral and engaging, Martin Marquez, as the hateful Ian, feels stagey next to him and Jessica Barden as Cate has an entirely disengaged way of almost parroting her lines – the performances feel like they belong in three different plays and yet they make perfect sense. In the context of such absolute precision you know there is a reason – the soldier represents our base nature, Ian the face we dare not present to the world and Cate the image we project. Maybe, maybe not. The play is full of such ambiguity.

What is not ambiguous is that this play will affect you; not in a comforting way, but you cannot ignore it.

• To February 21.

The Sound of Music, Sheffield Lyceum, reviewed by Peter McNerney ****

There’s nothing like an old favourite to attract the crowds and the Lyceum will be looking forward to a healthy box office during the fortnight that sees The Sound of Music in town.

Although it started out as a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway show it’s the 1965 Julie Andrews film that defines the iconic production.

So, a tall order for the cast and crew to deliver a show that meets up to audience expectations. But with “that score” and “those songs” they make sure the Lyceum is alive with the sound of music from start to finish.

In these days of jazzy and snazzy productions with witty and pithy scripts the show about the singing Von Trapps may come across as a little old-fashioned but then again it is pushing sixty.

Danielle Hope and Steven Houghton do a fine job in the lead roles of Maria and Captain Von Trapp but when Jan Hartley as the Mother Abbess belts out Climb Ev’ry Mountain at the end of Act One you’d be able to hear it on the hills surrounding Sheffield. It was slightly distracting to see some of the male cast members doubling up as nuns in the background of some scenes. The perils of front stalls seats.

The programme has a gallery of eighteen budding starlets who make up the six youngest members of the Von Trapp clan. So whether you’re sixteen going on seventeen, or sixty going on seventy it’s good clean family fun.

• To February 14.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, St George’s Hall, Bradford, reviewed by Nick Ahad ****

Some people reckon that writing for children is easy. A two-hour epic play? Just bash out an hour long piece of fun that will entertain children. Except, obviously, it’s not really that easy.

David Wood, who has deservedly earned the title National Children’s Dramatist, knows you need to work really hard to hold the attention of little people.

His latest work to come to Yorkshire uses some real quality material, Judith Kerr’s much loved picture book about the large feline who arrives on the doorstep of Sophie’s house.

The really lovely aspect of this show is the audience interaction. I was on the edge of my seat by the time the eponymous hero arrived, a skilfully delayed arrival by Wood. And what a moment it was. It really is quite magical when Benjamin Wells strides elegantly on to the stage as the Tiger. His feline movements and magisterial presence are something to behold and the suit itself is, well, the only word really is magnificent.

This is the perfect way to entertain children –interaction, comedy and intrigue all perfectly paced.