The Frog Prince and other tales, Bumblefly and Forest Forge, touring
FESTIVE family shows can come in all sorts of styles, but they really have only one essential – to entertain young audiences.
And on that basis, the 2017/18 collaboration between Bumblefly and Forest Forge is a resounding triumph.
Its first matinee, in a packed Greyfriars in Ringwood, had the tinies on cushions in the front whooping with delight, joining in and thoroughly enjoying the story of the Frog Prince, interwoven with other fairytales that made it all the more interesting and memorable.
The regular company of three – Dom Phillips, Clive Holland and Anna Harriott – unfolded the story of the arrogant young princess, her penurious father, the nasty prince he chose for her to marry and the frog who dived into the pond to rescue the princess’s favourite toy. It has a bit of Sleeping Beauty, a touch of Red Riding Hood, a soupcon of Cinderella, a dash of Snow White and an obscure Australian tale of a frog who drank all the water in the world. It’s all about not judging things or people by the way they look.
These are tales whose moral is timeless, and in the hands of the Bumblefly company are funny, inventive, colourful and musical.
There’s enough physical humour and action to keep the attention of the very young, and skillful and spontaneous storytelling for the slightly older. David Haworth’s script and design are purpose-built both for the company and for the rigours of touring to different halls and venues.
Bumblefly was formed three years ago by Dom Phillips, the man who for 12 years took the Forest Forge shows out on the road as the all-purpose technical manager.
We didn’t know he had a degree in Performance Studies, or that he was learning the trade by observation, so when he transmogrified into a singing, dancing, clowning, storytelling actor, it was a happy surprise.
Now he and his Bumblefies have settled into a delightful and warm ensemble that can dig out tales and tell them with excitement and love.
You won’t see a better example of a touring family show this holiday.
Swaggering Crow Theatre Co.
A van breaks down in the middle of the dark, cold woods. The engine is busted, leaving two foul mouthed but foolish criminals in the worst case scenario, especially when you have a kidnapped woman tied in back. Performing within the large domain of the established Hope Mill Theatre space, William J. Holstead’s A Kidnapping, a dark but sharply written black comedy makes its presence known and introduces its audience into this chaotic situation with both laughter and surprise.
Holstead’s script gives its performers the chance to show their strong comedy characteristics and interactions whilst giving the audience time to adapt to these obscure characters and to understand them more which helps build the comedy’s tension.
Daniel Bradford’s direction helps the performance maintain its fast pace delivery throughout as well making good use of David Haworth’s isolating woodland set and staging of the white van. You can tell that a lot of time and effort was put into the planning of the plays continuous run and staging, especially in one key scene where blood is shed by a horrific act of violence.
The play does challenge its audience with its dark tone, outspoken characters and humour, similar in vein to Coen’s Brother’s classic Fargo in which one character’s actions can lead to a destructive and gruesome outcome, changing the scenario all together. But The Kidnapping uses this to great effect and the reactions and revelations lead towards a satisfying ending. Holstead’s constructive storytelling is a work of passion and energy that is brought to life by its distinctive and sometimes macabre writing as well as the strong performances and direction which makes Staggering Crow’s debut an engaging introduction to the Manchester Theatre scene.
Reviewer: Luke Richards
Reviewed: 7th February 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★
"It is a handsome looking production with David Haworth’s set creating the desolate feel of a blasted heath. A Vauxhall van fills the stage, broken down in isolated woods. When the doors open we can see right inside the van. In the back, a hostage, bound, gagged and hooded. But have the kidnappers done their job right, what are the consequences, and what were they really trying to do? Somewhat surreal, definitely absurd, the central thread is a a simple story well told, although at times jumping forward too quickly. Set design, sound and lights all work well to create the threatening atmosphere." Manchester Theatre awards review.
REVIEW in The Fine Times Recorder:
David Haworth’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story is mixed with more than a few other tales – Prince Charming, the Wicked Witch of the West and Puss in Boots amongst others put in an appearance – and there are delightful self-contained dramatizations of two rather less well known stories, The Stonecutter (a charming Japanese folktale) and The Brave Little Tailor, another from Grimm, which I well remember from my childhood learning-to-read days as Seven With One Blow.
The Elves and the Shoemaker is good, honest family entertainment, and, from the word go, we were enthralled. It had innocence and charm, there were a few naughty bits for the children, some enchanting special effects and it was seriously funny too – whacky just wasn’t the word!
The story had its moral dimension of course – the importance of kindness, generosity, optimism and hard work to list just a few, as well as being careful of what you might wish for as wishes can come true – as they did for the poor stonecutter. But none of this weighed the production down, which was as up-beat and heart-warming as one could possibly wish.
The company of three worked their socks off, playing numerous roles, we loved the rapport they had both between themselves and with their audience, the quick costume changes and the “deliberate” mistakes that were made, the frequent bursts of lively song (music composed by David Calais), the clever word play and the opportunities for audience participation – the dancing shoes, the emperor (he of the “new clothes”) and the business with the water pistol come immediately to mind, not forgetting the jolly audience participation song with its feel-good “sun shiny, shoe shining day” refrain.
To the delight of adults and children, the elves were portrayed in a number of different ways including the use of two or three different sets of puppets. For me, however, the most magical was when simple cut-outs were silhouetted against the shop window, something that brought back happy memories of those enchanting Lotte Reiniger animations that were shown on the BBC in the 1950s and 60s.
David Haworth is to be congratulated on directing and designing such an inventive, energetic and altogether engaging production, a perfect entertainment for a winter’s evening. Catch it if you can.
The Elves and the Shoemaker.
Forest Forge and BumbleFly Theatre.
Written and Directed by David Haworth.
Hansel and Gretel. BumbleFly and Forest Forge Theatre Company, – ‘family show with bonkers DIY vibe’
Audience participation is fundamental to a Christmas show, so let's not question the number of sound effects we were called upon to provide as Hansel and Gretel lost their way in the deep dark woods.
We hooted, twittered, howled, whistled like the wind and made squelching noises - and one of our number was even hauled up to play the witch as the tiny cast finally ran into the logistical nightmare of too many characters for too few actors.
All part of Bumblefly's madcap fun, which Bumblefly director Dom Phillips - who also co-directed the show with writer David Haworth, as well as performing, playing guitar and handling the technical and stage management side of the show - feels is an essential part of community theatre.
Hansel and Gretel is a collaboration with Forest Forge Theatre Company with whom Phillips and Haworth, who also designed the pretty picture storybook setting, have long been associated.
This has all the hallmarks of a Forest Forge Christmas show, but with a slightly bonkers DIY vibe that is enormously appealing.
Anna Harriott and Clive Holland throw themselves into numerous roles with gusto, with any gaps filled in by Phillips and a number of beautifully crafted puppets, courtesy of Karolina Czyz.
Verdict - 3 Stars
Fun family show combines traditional storytelling with a bonkers DIY vibe
Review: Lesley Bates The Stage.
The Boy at the Edge of the Room.
“I saw 'The Boy at the Edge of the Room' last night at The Pleasance theatre, Islington and was blown away. Beautiful music, poetic prose, thought provoking subject. I was particularly impressed by how much the company can do with so little scenery.”
"A convincing, magical world is born on a simple set, which constantly transforms itself with the creative use of lighting, smooth movement and projection. An intimate recreation of a massive classic, which succeeds on a grand scale"
The Woman of Flowers
"… an exciting play that featured clever design choices, powerful performances and a creeping, unsettling sense of claustrophobia and fear'
Remove Goat 4 Star review
" What a magical 45 minutes – the children were transfixed, from Year 1 to Year 8, and the staff cannot stop talking about it. It is such a privilege for us all to see such talented performers and such inventive direction up close, right here in our school hall. It has been the highlight of our WW1 commemoration day."
Knighton House School, Battle Lines
“Peeling was one of the most powerful plays I have seen…It has had a profound effect - This is what I want from theatre – to be taken into new territories; to experience deep, human contact; to have my brain tickled and to discover new places in my heart.”
Audience Member, Peeling
Kirstie Davis' very good production is committed and pacy. Amidst backstage clutter, David Haworth's design places the actors like cake decorations on huge metal-framed crinolines which sometimes seem like cages, sometimes ladders. The play is written to have the text and stage directions projected as surtitles and the actors describe what they are doing. This of course makes the work accessible to those who don't see or hear, but has an odd and often surprisingly funny effect, sometimes distancing and sometimes underscoring the action.
The performances are excellent; all three actors are unafraid to plunge into emotion, and tackle the big themes head on. Ali Briggs creates a striking sequence as she tells a horrific story with very expressive signing, and Nicola Miles-Wildin is an attractive Everywoman type. Kiruna Stamell makes Beaty complex and interesting, acerbic and bitchy as well as genuinely moving.
Underpinned by Rebecca Aplin's effective score, with a genuine ensemble feel, this is an emotionally satisfying, cleverly produced 70 minutes with characters who have something to say to all of us.
Review Mark Courtice, Reviews Gate.
Photography by Lucy Sewill, Kavi Briede and Frankie Haworth.