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Reviews - 2011 shows


Review: Twelfth Night at Arundel Castle
by Gary Shipton, West Sussex Gazette

Dark sadistic subplot dominates

Twelfth Night or What You Will by William Shakespeare in the gardens at Arundel Castle. Directed by Michael Woodwood.

Even in Shakespeare’s frothiest comedies such as this, there is a dark, sadistic streak to be detected.

For all the fun of romance and mistaken identity which is the hallmark of so much of the bard’s lighter works, the real black comedy is derived from the treatment of Malvolio - the Lady Olivia’s pompous head steward.

Having convinced Malvolio through a forged letter that Olivia is in love with him he is encouraged to dress in the brightest yellow stockings and smile in such a grotesque manner that he is cast aside as utterly deranged.

Never was a revenge on one poor servant so utterly comprehensive.

But the truth is, this subplot comes to dominate the whole play, and Chris Porter’s formidable and mesmerising portrayal of Malvolio will ensure that once again GB Theatre Company’s production is as memorable as it is hilariously entertaining. Chris’s was a visual rendition worthy of Rowan Atkinson at his best.

I have gone on record at previous Arundel Festival’s saying that GB has reinvigorated Shakespeare’s works like no other modern touring company. Everything in this production confirmed that view.

Shakespeare had the knack of timelessly repackaging a range of plot devices to create one great comedy after another.

GB has the skill to discern the visual comedy and extract it from the dialogue - ensuring that even those who considered Shakespeare a dusty postscript in the literary archive are awakened to the enormous fun that his writing contains.

David Davies is the company manager but also, as ever, brings enormous energy and vitality to the whole proceedings.

In this great pursuit he is most ably supported by the likes of Oliver Cudbill, Suzannah Hampton, Philip Scott-Wallace, Lucy Wray, Mark Carlisle, and Sioned Jones. Special praise for stage manager Martin Hutchinson who stepped so worthily into the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek following illness within the company.

The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk continue to keep the central flame of the Arundel Festival burning bright by inviting this company to the Collector Earl’s Gardens at the Castle. It is to be hoped they will return again in 2012.


Review: Twelfth Night at Norwich Cathedral
by James Goffin, Eastern Daily Press

Shakespearean cross-dressing in the Cloisters

Outdoor theatre in England needs to be special and with yesterday bringing in something of the climate of Twelfth Night, the GB Theatre Company had something of a challenge.

Luckily the Cathedral Cloister are a magical setting for Shakespeare's tale of shipwreck and sexual subterfuge and the performance mixed creative physical theatre with music and high farce.

Suzannah Hampton impressed as Olivia, switching between lamenting and lovestruck as she fell for the cross-dressing Viola (a disarmingly boyish Lucy Wray).

Chris Porter delighted as the much-wronged Malvolio - even in a slightly terrifying Borat-like costume - and David Davies and Joel Sams added a uniformly slapstick note as the misbehaving Belch and Aguecheek.

Shakespeare in the Cloisters is becoming a favourite fixture in Norwich's summer calender


Review: Romeo & Juliet at Norwich Cathedral
by Emma Lee, Eastern Daily Press

Under the direction of Norwich-born Neil Sheppeck, the Bard’s story of the brawling Capulets and Montagues is taken back to basics – the set is minimal, the emotions palpable and the sword-play thrilling.

Not long out of drama school, Lucy Wray plays Juliet. A star in the making, her performance was wonderfully sparky – one of the most engaging portrayals of the character, who can sometimes be a bit one-dimensional, I’ve seen.

Her Romeo – and the pair has a great chemistry – is played by Gabriel Thomson. He grew up on screen playing Michael Harper in the long-running BBC sitcom My Family and effortlessly makes the transition from screen to stage.

While the star-crossed lovers take centre stage, special mention must be made of Joel Sams, who plays Mercutio – no entendre is knowingly underplayed, Sioned Jones as the scene-stealing Nurse and Oliver Cudbill, who plays Benvolio.


Review: Romeo & Juliet at Reading School
by Liz Crosthwaite, Reading Chronicle

A balmy summer evening, seated on the grassy expanse in front of Reading School... what could make it better? A performance of Romeo and Juliet by GB Theatre Company, that's what.

It's a popular play, but somehow, even after many hours of studying it at school, and seeing it performed at least five times, this production brought the characters to life and made the language so much clearer and easier to empathise with - partly because the actors, including Gabriel Thomson as Romeo and Lucy Wray as Juliet, clearly knew the text inside out.

Juliet, in particular, was a joy to watch, with Lucy embodying the pouty, still-immature young woman of Shakespeare's creation, younger and cheekier than she is often played - a perfect counterpart to Gabriel's lovestruck, confused and frustrated interpretation of Romeo.

With minimal staging and props and an outdoor setting, director Neil Sheppeck used the open seating plan and stage to great effect, with actors entering a scene from either side of the audience and down the main aisle. The positioning of the stage underneath a towering tree with sweeping branches only added to the romance and atmosphere. Joel Sams' Mercutio played Romeo's pal as an energetic, slightly camp, and unstable-seeming man, while the heavy sexual innuendo of Mercutio's banter and the Nurse's prattling was played up - sometimes a little too far, perhaps! The addition of a Gregorian-style chant from off-stage cast members during the tomb-scene was a wonderful addition.

A tweaked traditional interpretation, with classic costumes and props, let loose from the constraints of theatre walls, the play felt somehow lighter, yet without losing the weight of the love, death, rage and loss which course through it.


Review: Romeo & Juliet at Blaise Castle
by Dominic Harris, Bristol Evening Post

"THE finest place in England" – so wrote Jane Austen about Blaise Castle in her novel, Northanger Abbey. Perhaps she had been lucky enough to be in the audience for an outdoor production of Shakespeare.

The estate's dairy garden amphitheatre hosted GB Theatre Company's Romeo and Juliet, and it proved to be the perfect summer's evening.

It felt like we had been transported back to the 17th century for a provincial re-telling of Shakespeare's famous tragedy, and the production played up to that.

The actors used the entirety of the amphitheatre's space, appearing from behind trees, walking through the audience to reach the stage and approaching unsuspecting members of the crowd to share a bawdy joke.

Throughout, the audience were treated as extras – as party guests for the Capulets' ball, as confidantes of Romeo as he poured forth his broken-hearted frustrations – making us one and all citizens of Verona.

The performance itself was polished through and through, perfectly capturing the angst of the young lovers and the depth of hatred between their two families that gives the tale its foundations.

The lustful bawdiness of Romeo's young friends danced across the stage ahead of the heartbroken melancholy of the tragic couple, and Gabriel Thomson – from BBC's My Family – and Lucy Wray perfectly infused Romeo and Juliet with the conflicting emotions at the centre of their woe.

The lusty, thrusting humour of the dazzling Mercutio (Joel Sams) was tempered beautifully by the torn Benvolio (Oliver Cudbill), and the strength of the ensemble cast set Blaise Castle alight with Shakespeare's 400-year-old words, giving them new life.

"The finest place in England"? On an night like that, who would question it. 9/10


Review: Romeo & Juliet at Trinity College Dublin
by Daragh Reddin, Metro-Herald

“Things got off to a rollicking good start on Wednesday night with a bawdy and brazen production of Romeo & Juliet performed al fresco, under the aegis of Neil Sheppeck…”

“….a cracking, handsome cast acquitted themselves remarkably well in what transpired to be a surprisingly feel good affair – mounting body count notwithstanding.”

Gabriel Thomson made for a suitably earnest, conflicted Romeo and found a natural chemistry with Lucy Wray’s defiant Juliet, while laughs came thick and fast courtesy of Sioned Jones’s earthy, lumbering nurse and Joel Sams’ swaggering Mercutio.”

“Little wonder the capacity crowd rose to its feet in applause as the curtains fell…”


Review: Romeo & Juliet at Trinity College Dublin
by Claire Bradley, Dublin Culture

“A lovely addition was some gregorian-chant style hymns sung off stage by the company not on stage during parts of the play. Some of the actors also played some (presumably) Elizabethan music while the audience were getting settled and again during the performance to good effect.”