+3 Review: Criminology 303 (Venue 13: 6-27 August: 21.30: 35 mins)

“An intriguing drama”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Criminology 303 is an interesting concept – flipping between alternate scenes 40 years apart. Initially we meet retired detective Norma Bates (Jilly Bond) in 2016 reflecting on an unsuccessful investigation from her past, before the action reverts to 1976 where she is in the thick of it. We learn early on how this (the only unsolved case of her career) clearly still haunts her, so an intriguing drama is set up as to whether she might finally solve it on our presence.

Bond does a great job in switching between the two ages of her character – the crabby older version is a distinct progression from her greener and more confident younger self. And although prone to some overacting (I think her initial terror at the power point presentation misbehaving is a bit extreme), she shows great skill and stamina to drive the action in both scenarios.

This production’s main downfall, however, is its length. At barely half an hour, it feels like it only just gets going before very abruptly ending. There is no satisfactory resolution, no real sense of progression in either story beyond some scene-setting, and consequently the whole thing feels a bit pointless.

I would have liked to see the 2016 scenario develop into a discursive and positive look back at the case with a view to at long last solving it, rather than being a very rushed ghost story that scares Bates away from her own lecture. The pace of Bates’ descent into terror in this part feels very disingenuous, subverting the strength her character should have had (after 40 years in the force), so to me a more subtle and drawn-out approach here would have been more powerful.

In the flashback scenes Julian Gartside is commandingly creepy as Mr McLeod, yet Tommo Fowler’s direction has him physically touch and overpower Bates as detective on more than one occasion, which again feels forced and comes across as a cheap way to demonstrate status quickly, when other techniques would have had greater impact. The scene-setting and background to the background of the case in this scene is very well developed and delivered by Gartside, if seemingly a little irrelevant from the main story, but again I can’t help but feel this all would have been so much more effective if we got to see more about how the action panned out in the end – it is a frustrating beginning to a chapter that ends mid-sentence.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)


Hidden (The Lyceum: 20-24 October ’15)

“Gives chills and thrills aplenty”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Hidden really is a treat for anyone who’s ever wanted to explore what goes on everywhere else in a theatre that audiences don’t normally get to see. Marry that with tales from the history of the building and a Victorian horror story and you have quite an intriguing evening’s entertainment. However, while the idea and overall style and feel of the piece were terrific, there was no clear narrative or sense of progression between each section, leaving me feeling a bit cheated as to specific details and stories.

Individual sections were generally great at creating an overall mood, setting a scene (the dressing rooms in particular stood out), or presenting a static idea, and the piece was littered with numerous magical moments  – terrified faces and screams, isolated “scenelets” and monologues. Yet we learned very little about who these characters were, why there were there, and how they related to anything else that was going on.

While for most of the performance, the audience is directed where to go next by theatre ushers, in one section in the scenery dock, three of the young performers (Xanthe Mitchell, Ellis Imrie and Anna Millar) more than capably moved us around to follow the action. Staying true to their characters and without speaking, they created a compelling and haunting theatrical moment, demonstrating commanding professionalism and presence beyond their years. Moving into the area beneath the stage, Gregor Weir delivered a very charismatic and spooky monologue about being trapped, making clever use of the space by hiding in between and rattling racks of stored stage lights.

Indeed this whole section (directed by Lyceum Artistic Director Mark Thompson), which allowed the audience to fill the space as they wanted and explore the action from the perspective they chose, gave the piece a very immersive and personal feel. It’s a shame that this sense of individual discovery was not carried through more parts of the performance, particularly the section on the stage, where instead we were asked to simply stand in a line to one side and observe.

In saying that, the section in the stairwell leading up to “the Gods” (very emotively delivered by Emma Simpson and Tegan Wright) was a great way to follow the action, and break-up the sense of travelling from one part to the next by making the travelling itself part of the performance. Similarly, walking behind the bar in the stalls, past three caged performers shrieking to be let out, also helped make the “journey” more interesting to experience.

While it wouldn’t have been right to have delivered this piece in tour guide style, I feel that making more effort to communicate some of the background to each section would have been really beneficial. I felt it also lacked a little bit of diversity in terms of mood – it was almost all a chilling ghost story, when some happier or funnier moments of the theatre’s history would have added another layer of depth to the performance.

Given that this performance was devised and delivered by young people, in collaboration with four different directors, one must give them due credit for their achievement – this is a very ambitious project that gives chills and thrills aplenty, and is a worthy education and exploration into just how exciting theatre can be. For me it just lacked that bit of cohesion to make it really special.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 20 October)

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The Turn of the Screw (Assembly Hall, Aug 6 – Aug 30 : 21:40 : 1hr)


“Ambitious, but unmistakeably flawed”

Editorial Rating:  2 Stars Nae Bad

The Turn of the Screw, in the words of it’s author, is a tale wherein “the strange and sinister” is embroidered on the normal for dread rather than horror – bold for the time, and even bolder as a minimalistic, two-person stage play. However, what resulted on stage was much like the mind of the story’s governess: ambitious, but unmistakeably flawed.

Rik Grayson proved a strong and surprisingly diverse actor, playing not only the male narrator but also providing powerful and eerie performances as the housekeeper Mrs Grose and Miles, one of the troubled children. His mannerisms were specific, sustained and on point – he turned what was at first a strangely humorous old woman into a figure of suspicion and palpable dread.

The same, however, cannot be said of his stage mate Suzy Whitefield. Whilst at certain points in the production she showed genuine emotional depth (a tense, genuinely unnerving darkness scene stands out), her performance felt oddly flat throughout the rest of the piece – which unfortunately, due to both the small cast size and the show’s dependence upon her character, took much of the essential fear and trepidation out of the drama. Although at times her fear was completely believable, the sense of a desperate, slowly crumbling human being behind it was not. Whitefield shows promise, but unfortunately certain aspects of her character portrayal hold her back.

This was helped, however, by simple yet brilliantly effective lighting design from the tech team, whose use of light and darkness during night and evening scenes carved the atmosphere so deep into the stage that it was nearly inescapable.

All in all, this was the very epitome of a curate’s egg: both actors had scenes which made my hair stand on end, but at the same time, parts of the show were utterly devoid of the tense, sinister fear that makes The Turn of the Screw such an enduring tale of horror. I sincerely wish I had been able to like it more. With an extra sheen of polish and a few tweaks to the pacing and delivery, this is a production which could be much more powerful.


nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 8 August)

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