#ChesterCulture – Minerva Arts Presents ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare

Minerva Arts’ Seniors Youth Theatre for ages 11-18 have been working hard to create a show stopping performance, which crashes ashore at the University of Chester this weekend.

The performance space at the Kingsway Campus will be transformed into a new world for an immersive theatre experience, enabling the audience to move around with the actors and take a journey through the story.

Artistic Director, Steph Brocken said: ‘This is the first time that Minerva Youth Theatre have tackled a Shakespeare piece and The Tempest provides not only a great challenge for the young people but also an opportunity to put their characteristic spin on a classic and well-known story’.
Minerva’s members have had a great deal of input into the creation of this piece and this Shakespeare classic will be re-told with a quirky new twist, Minerva-style .

Minerva Arts was founded in 2009 by Steph Brocken and Hayley Wood, and since taking over the Youth Theatre group in 2011 they have become well known for creating unusual and contemporary performance pieces. The Tempest is no different.

This performance forms part of a season of work being shared by Minerva Youth Theatre’s three groups. This season is completed by Malpas Youth Theatre’s brand new piece ‘Whodunnit?’, to be performed on 31st March, 7.30pm at Malpas Young Person’s Centre and ‘Dark Ark Lane’, created by the 7-11 group which will be performed on 26th March, 12pm, at Cheshire Military Museum.

More information about any of these performances can be found here on their website.

The Tempest is being generously supported by the Foyle Foundation and Cllr Richard Beacham’s Member Budget.

The Tempest

University of Chester Kingsway Campus

1st and 2nd April 2016

Tickets: £6 for adults and £4 for concessions.


A review of sorts: Glyn Maxwell & Alex Clifton

I had the pleasure of reviewing Othello and Cyrano De Bergerac earlier this year, so I was pleased to see director Glyn Maxwell and playwright Alex Clifton added to the Essar Chester Literature Festival roster. As an outdoor theatre newbie and a late adopter of classical theatre, I wanted to hear more about the mechanics behind these plays. Messrs Maxwell and Clifton did not disappoint.

The evening resembled a cosy fireside chat. Alex, our host, gently coaxed Glyn to talk about his work and to discuss this season’s open-air theatre in general. They were comfortable in each other’s company. The mutual respect and warmth suggested friendship. We’re in pipe and slippers territory here, which was just fine with me.

The evening started with a reading of “Byelaw” from Pluto, Glyn Maxwell’s new poetry collection. I liked the poem as I could relate to the theme. Glyn seemed to enjoy bringing his work to life and it was a privilege to hear the poem read in its original voice. An anecdote about how actor Martin Jarvis (insert link) fluffed up a reading of the poem confirms this. Let poets read their work, exclaimed Glyn.

The poem sparked a discussion about the mechanics of poetry and plays. What governs Glyn’s work? It’s God for Shakespeare, time for Glyn. It’s wonderful to hear a writer talk about their drives – the passing of time, the uncertainty of truth. Glyn discusses his admiration for Auden and his rare ability to communicate an idea through poetry, which hints at insecurity. It’s deeply personal and for me this was worth the admission fee alone.

Prose or verse, that is the question – or topic for discussion, as it were. Directors work against a culture of prose, suggests Alex, with its pauses and its places to hide. The verse is ongoing and ever flowing, with the need to speak, the thought on the line. Both men prefer to dwell in the verse. I swing both ways, but I did enjoy Glyn’s description of a sonnet as “having fourteen lines to do something with before you really should be doing something else with your lover”. Remember that next time you make your play.

We finish with the pain and pleasure of adaptation – in this case Glyn and his Cyrano. Producing something different from what has gone before. Concentrating on those scenes that did not feature the three principal characters. The decision to remove much of the war, redressing the severe gender imbalance and adding a few songs. Retaining the ‘brave’ fifteen-year leap, that finds the characters in their dotage. Relishing the “love of the other and the love for another” dynamic that brings alive the Cyrano and Roxanne scenes.  He makes it all seem rather easy.

As we gently strolled toward the Q & A, our hosts agreed that the joy of what they do is that if they have a bad day no one gets hurt. We, the punter, may not like the work and may feel we’ve wasted our money, but no one has died. And, we learn that Glyn owes his life to drama, of the amateur kind, as it brought his parents together.

A thoroughly entertaining evening.


Boaty Theatre Company presents..

The good people from the Boaty Theatre Company are back with news about their next production.

There’s “Much Ado” at the Museum!

A site-specific outdoor production of “Much Ado About Nothing” will be taking place at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, this summer.

The Boaty Theatre Company return to the museum to deliver what we all hope will be yet another successful adaptation of a classic play and an immersive treat for their audiences.

This extraordinary adaption of William Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy will run for only two days; 8th and 9th August 2013.   Due to the short run, ticket numbers are limited and are expected to be in high demand following the incredible success of “The Tempest”, performed at the museum earlier this year.

Theatrical Practitioner and Director, Laura J Harris said: “Following the huge success of our steampunk adaptation of “The Tempest” we were all very keen to find a new project and not allow the positive momentum to drop.

“I’m pleased to say that we have continued to grow as a performance theatre company,  attracting new players to our cast, as well as our behind-the-scenes crew, composers and musicians.  We are always looking for people to get involved in our energetic and immersive performance projects and I would encourage anyone who has an interest in any aspect of performance-work or theatrical work to get in touch.

“We always like to do things a little bit differently at the Boaty; to put a new spin on a great classic.  The twist we’ve taken with “Much Ado About Nothing” is to ground it within a Post-Apocalyptic reality.  Think “The Walking Dead” and “Resident Evil” and you should  start to get a feel for the world our characters are living in when the play begins.  As always, we are using Shakespeare’s original text as far as possible.”

Tickets are on sale now and are priced at £4 for Adults and £3 for Concessions.  They are available from the museum reception, via phone 0151 355 5017 or through The Boaty Theatre Company’s Website: http://theboatytheatrecompany-com.webs.com.

much a do promo poster

A review (of sorts) Part II

Hillbark Players – The Merchant of Venice

Monday 24th to Saturday 29th June 2013

That feeling of being in a theatre, before it is full or after it is empty, that sense of a place waiting, of action being held back for you is a delight.  There is something special about Hillbark Players’ Merchant of Venice with its grass for a stage and woodland as a backdrop to painted scenery.

The constructed stage where a few weeks ago there was none, covered seating and not entirely unkind weather adds weight to the creative spell.

A tableau of Venice, of the bustle and confusion, the contrasts between the different factors at work opens the play.  It places us in a world at once complex and uneasy.  There’s a great deal of grace in the offering of this opening.

Shakespeare remains troubling because so rarely does he offer absolute relief.  There is so much here, not least the resistance of any temptation to provide a happy ending simply for its own sake.

If you should need a reason to depart the comfort of the house to brave the elements consider Gratiano’s delivery of this line:-

“Why should a man, whose blood is warm within, sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster”

The added drama of the wind lost to some convincing delivery by the Hillbark Players.

Portia is compelling: her initially gentle subversion of authority sits happily with her femininity.  She offers with conviction the insult to a suitor that his image is:  “A proper man’s picture.”

We are offered quick humour by an accomplished Launcelot Gobbo, the fight between aspects of his personality and cruelty of his wit at his father’s expense.

There are cultural references a plenty; the idea of Shylock’s “pound of flesh”, ancient at the time of Shakespeare’s writing and acting as a language worm through popular language and culture references as distant as the television serialisation of V.

The production satisfies our love of spectacle and shocks us with the reminder that in the complexity of both hero and villain there is no absolute; good or evil.

There sense of acceleration as the cast approaches the reveals within the plot is both well-handled and convincing.

The last image the production renders, at once both sad and beautiful, is Jessica receiving the news of Shylock’s death.

This is a great production in a fantastic setting and it runs for the remainder of this week.  Tickets are available via the Floral Pavilion Theatre 0151 666 0000 or www.floralpavillion.com  Further information is available from www.hillbarkplayers.co.uk

The Merchant of Venice review (of sorts)

Here’s a quick review I knocked up after my trip to watch the Merchant of Venice yesterday. I’m no critic, just a man who likes to tickle the keyboard and spread a little culture love, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. Many thanks to Stuart Rathe for the invitation.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the preview of the Merchant of Venice by Hillbark Players. The open-air venue made for a tempestuous evening, full of  high drama and equally high winds…

For those that don’t know, this is a story of friendship, love and revenge, set in the historical city of Venice. Antonio, the said merchant, agrees to lend his friend Bassanio a bag of cash so that he can court the radiant heiress, Portia. As all Antonio’s ships are at sea – which will now become my euphemism for being broke – he must approach a moneylender, Shylock, for the dough. Unfortunately for Antonio, Shylock bears him a grudge – he takes exception to Antonio’s loutish antisemitism – and tricks him into forfeiting a pound of his flesh if he cannot pay on time. Meanwhile, Portia is learning to live with the bizarre terms of her father’s will. These decree that she can only marry the man who correctly chooses the box – either gold, silver or lead – which contains her portrait. It’s like Deal or No Deal, but with fewer boxes, less cash and with a lady’s hand (and heart) at stake. As we follow the progress of Portia’s suitors, we discover that pirates have seized Antonio’s ships leading to a tense finale where the implacable Shylock demands his *pound of flesh*. That’s enough about the story, let’s turn to the performance.

The performance was very stimulating, full of energy and honesty. The staging worked very well and the outdoor arena gave the players ample room to work their magic. The language took a little getting used to, especially against the backdrop of a mild hurricane, but I was soon in the swing of things. For me, the piece really comes alive during the comedic turns provided by Launcelot and the Prince of Aragon. Gratiano’s performance also deserves a special mention; both funny and engaging, and topped off with a healthy dollop of camp. Finally, it is to the companies’ immense credit that they did not let the frankly frightening weather conditions, or nearby firework display, to impact on their performance. I imagine they will reach even greater heights when the odds are in their favour.

As someone who left Shakespeare at the school gates, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. I’ll definitely seek out more Shakespeare, and you should seek out the Hillbark Hotel for an evening of high drama, young love and dark comedy.

Tickets are £10-£20 and are only available via the Floral Pavilion New Brighton: on-line, in person or by phone 0151-666-0000. Monday 24th – Saturday 29th June

The Hillbark Players

I will be attending my very first theatre preview this Sunday. The Hillbark Players have kindly invited me to attend the preview of the Merchant of Venice. Here’s a bit of background. I’ll write about the experience on  Monday.
The Merchant of Venice flyer

The Hillbark Players was formed in 1964 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.  The intention of the founders was to perform Shakespeare in the open-air, but for the audience all to be under cover – only the actors would brave the elements.  To do this they created a theatre in the grounds of Hillbark House, Frankby, Wirral.   They would use theatre-style lighting, authentic costumes and present traditional Shakespeare, using the best amateur talent around – both in acting, technical, costume etc.  The first play was ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and we now present our production biennially – 2013 will be our 24th production and
we have chosen to present ‘The Merchant of Venice’ from Monday 24th to Saturday 29th June – evenings at 8pm and Saturday matinée at 2.30pm.

Hillbark House has now become the prestigious Hillbark Hotel and Spa and we perform just outside the grounds of the Hotel in the adjoining  Royden Park. We keep faith with the vision of the founders and still build a theatre with all seats under cover.

This year, the production is costing £41, 000 to stage and we are entirely self-funding.  We get no sponsorship of any sort (despite our best efforts). Tickets are priced £10-£20 and are only available via the Floral Pavilion New Brighton – on-line, in person or by phone 0151-666-0000.