Reviews: This Space is Occupied, Dara Ó Briain, On Behalf of the People

stage'¨This Space is Occupied

This Space is Occupied
This Space is Occupied

the old crown, ivegate, bradford

yvette huddleston 4/5

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On a balmy Saturday night in Bradford, an animated group gather on Ivegate outside a beautiful, but slightly rundown, building – the former pub The Old Crown.

This is the audience for Bent Architect’s This Space is Occupied and they have a treat in store. The pub has been transformed – with awe-inspiring attention to detail by production designer Jude Wright – into a 1970s squat occupied by a radical arts collective. The performance takes place across the whole building, with audience members moving from room to room, to witness the complex relationships unfolding between four young people – Boz (Jim English), Jaz (Natalie Davies), Hari (Kamal Hussain) and Ann Marie (Claire Marie Seddon).

They have big ideas and bigger ambitions – they want equality, they want to shake down the old order and, just as importantly, they want to have fun. Mick Martin’s script wittily explores the potential clashes between youthful idealism and human nature. Free love is all very well, but what happens when jealousy rears its ugly head? It also pays eloquent tribute to Bradford’s radical past as a city that was often at the forefront of social change.

And, despite the historical setting, it’s a play that feels very timely. Although the events depicted are taking place 40 years ago, the themes touched upon – including racism, misogyny and capitalist greed versus social justice – are, sadly, still all too familiar. That said, overall the feeling among the audience watching was one of positivity, joy and empowerment. When people work together it is possible to change the world, even if it is just your small corner of it. And that is a very powerful message indeed.

Dara Ó Briain

leeds grand theatre

chris bond 4/5

I’ve never had the pleasure of interviewing Dara O Briain but if I did I’d ensure I was recording the conversation because I suspect he’d push my shorthand skills to the limit.

At times his breathless energy is hard to keep up with and you find yourself laughing at one joke when he’s already moved on to the next.

Over the past decade and a half O Briain has become one of the most recognisable faces, never mind comedians, on TV. As well as his stand-up work he’s the host of BBC Two’s hugely successful Mock The Week, Stargazing Live, and Robot Wars – all of which get a mention here, including an affectionate dig at Brian Cox.

I saw O Briain three years ago and he was funny then but his latest tour, ‘Voice of Reason’, is even better.

He manages to have enough street cred to still be seen as a bit edgy without losing his mainstream appeal – which is no mean feat these days.

He also has the canny knack of being observational, satirical and topical all at the same time and he can improvise with the best of them – some of the funniest moments are when he interacts with the audience.

It’s always a good sign when you leave a gig and people are still laughing as they’re walking out. It’s a sign, too, of a master of his craft.

On Behalf of the People

cast, doncaster

phil penfold 5/5

Originally commissioned by the National Coal Mining Museum (near Wakefield), Ray Castleton’s latest piece for The Melting Shop company is a story about life and times in, down and around the local pit. But for once we are not looking at the end of the nationalised industry, the havoc caused and the bitter taste of defeat that lingers still in so many communities.

We are taken back 71 years, to the birth of the National Coal Board, and the buoyant hope and optimism that it offered, and Castleton’s style of writing gives us an evening that is flexible, nimble and completely informed. Connie and George Mason have been married for years, and their son Tom has just returned from the Second World War battlefields. He has survived, his brother did not. So he comes back to a post-war home that is torn between the jubilation at his return, and the searing sadness of his brother’s death. Tom is guilt-ridden at his own survival, and smitten with sweetheart Liz, and while there is mourning, there is also optimism in the air.

There’s an election that (all hope) will finally and irrevocably turn the old order on its head, there’s the new NCB that will look after their workforce in a way that private owners never did, and toward the end of the evening, we have all the sparkle and glitter of a Coronation. But there are also scores to be settled, issues addressed, and we are witness to a tapestry of skilfully interwoven themes.

Charlie Kember directs this four-hander blessed with not only a powerful script, but also a quartet of performances that will linger in the memory. Kate Wood is perfect casting for mum, raw and confused Tom is delivered by a top form Danny Mellor, and Lizzie Frain is the lassie who yearns to make him happy. Ray Ashcroft, as dad, catches the man who is now failing in health, but who still has his unfailing pride, and he invests him with subtlety and power.

Theatre is all about balance, and this is about as finely-tuned and compelling as you are ever likely 
to get.

Touring to July 20.