FEATURING the music and lyrics of the band Madness to illustrate playwright Tim Firth's storyline, this show hits the ground running with a multi-tasking cast who switch effortlessly and astonishingly quickly between acting, playing, singing and dancing.
We get strongly-narrative lyrics, full of social detail, matched with tracks such as Baggy Trousers and It Must Be Love which fit in perfectly with the complex story of five years in the life of young Joe Casey who is trying to impress his first love, Sarah.
Schooldays and adolescence in the 1970s provide the background to the tale of the battle between the dark side of Joe – peopled with sleazy businessmen and thugs – where he gains apparent success, and his light side. His failures here emphasise his shame about all he tries to achieve.
The richly-drawn characters are Dickensian in their variety. There are dozy blokes, whose only love is cars, and airhead girls.
The razor-sharp dialogue and brisk choreography add pace to the story.
But there are lots of witty moments to lighten the tension.
This is a big and busy production in which all the cast contribute to a highly-satisfying show. It would be unfair to single out individuals, although Alexis Gerred as Joe achieved one costume change that was worthy of a stage magician.
Peter Taberner - This is Somerset
This Is My Family
This Christmas, Daniel Evans, artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, will direct Lionel Bart’s legendary 1960 British musical Oliver! on the main house Crucible stage. It is sure to be a guaranteed box office pleaser and, going by the production of My Fair Lady that he directed there last year, should bring new textures to a deeply familiar show whose every melody is ingrained in the public consciousness.
But first, Evans is doing something even bolder and more challenging - helping to give birth to a brand new British-written musical in the Crucible’s comparatively tiny studio space. Tim Firth, who like Bart, has taken on the triple challenge of providing his own book, music and lyrics, has fashioned an ambitious social comedy with a first act set mostly indoors and a second mostly outdoors to provide an additional design challenge (neatly realised by Richard Kent with an evocative doll’s house of a set that serves as a hanging frame for Act II’s external location).
As with Firth’s Neville’s Island (first seen at Scarborough in 1992 and soon to be revived at Chichester), a set of intimate relationships are put under strain and tested by an outdoor adventure that goes wrong. There’s an inevitable debt to Ayckbourn (who has mentored Firth and commissioned him) in its compassionate portrait of family relationships and the links between three generations portrayed here. But Firth supports it with his own music that switches seamlessly between speech and song. His songs are delightfully conversational and his jokes are poetically musical. With 13-year-old Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) as narrator and guide to the story of the family and the holiday she wins, we meet her 17-year-old brother Matt (Terence Keeley); her father, newly turned 40 (Bill Campion); mother Yvonne (Clare Burt); grandmother May (Sian Phillips) and aunt Sian (Rachel Lumberg).
The musical, by turns jaunty and reflective, is warmly inflected and buoyed up by a tunefully terrific original score. Its reprised musical motifs provide an anchor of familiarity as they return (sometimes, in the case of the recurring melody provided for Sian Phillips’s character, perhaps too often), but there’s such wit and overriding warmth that it also provides an enveloping charm.
Daniel Evans harnesses the evocative shifts of mood and melody in this sincere, touching show that is beautifully played throughout, both onstage and beside it (with Caroline Humphris leading an impeccable band of five). Evelyn Hoskins is an enchanting revelation as our narrator, providing a genuine heart to a show that is full of it.
But it is unfair to single anyone out. Theatre, of course, provides a parallel family for many of us, and this show grants us intimate access to a family full of old friends like Burt, Campion, Lumberg and the glorious veteran Sian Phillips, all whom I’ve seen in many shows, and new ones (as well as Hoskins, there’s also terrific work from Terence Keeley as her brother).
Tim Firth has, in every sense, scored a popular triumph. If it ultimately lacks the defining universal punch of Blood Brothers, there’s a bite and brilliance about it that could translate this into a major staple of the regional circuit.
THE STAGE – MARK SHENTON
Sign Of The Times
After a hard-day's work staring into a computer it was quite refreshing to view something live on stage and see a real person - but in this case persons - as Tim Firth's engaging new comedy centres upon two likeable characters living their working lives very close to the edge while enjoying the 'high life' at the same time!
As the curtain rises we meet them immediately. Frank Tollit (played furiously funny by Stephen Tompkinson - Drop the Dead Donkey, Ballykissangel and Brassed Off) and Alan (played by Tom Shaw - The Inbetweeners and Skins) are staggering about 60 feet in the air awkwardly installing a large illuminated sign on a crummy old north Yorkshire office block overlooking an equally-crummy shopping complex.
Frank's the company's senior fitter and feels happily and gainfully employed but harbours a wish of becoming a spy novelist while Alan portrays a bored work experience YTS lad dreaming of rising to the heights of fame by becoming a rock star.
Both actors fitted their roles perfectly while possessing excellent delivery and timing so crucial to the play's pace, rhythm and success. And judging by the capacity audience's reaction last night it's a sure-fire winner. They loved every minute of it.
Tompkinson had the audience in stitches time and time again especially in a classic scene in which he offered his worldly and professional advice to his young charge who was, up to a point, completely disinterested. But never be fooled by a youngster!
But the pupil always outstrips the master and so it was in this case. The young Alan proved to be not the bored and dim YTS worker as earlier thought. He possessed well-found opinions but just like Frank he comes close to becoming a cropper.
As the play progresses Alan, looking dapper in a smart whistle and flute housed in his new office on the top floor with sliding doors, climbs the ladder of success and promoted to a manager's job. But does he want it? He now puts Frank through his paces in a reversal of roles but good old Frank fights back in his strict Yorkshire manner.
The interplay between the two never lets up for one moment and they're simply delightful to watch. A host of marvellous comic scenes throughout this cleverly-written play kept the audiences' strict attention particularly when Alan uneasily works a flip-chart while another sees the deuce caught up in the middle of one of their letters in a sketch that Laurel and Hardy would, I think, approve of. The audience roared!
Originally commissioned as a one-act piece by Sir Alan Ayckbourn in 1991, the play has got a strong local connection inasmuch as its director and producer is none other than Peter Wilson, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal.
So, if you want a damn good laugh, grab the opportunity.
Tony Cooper - Norwich Evening News
The story of Calendar Girls is familiar to all (unless perhaps you’re a man, or you’ve been living under a rock), so it’s no surprise to see that this smash-hit show has returned to Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre for another two-week run.
This true story of the determined ladies from the Knapely Woman’s Institute has delighted and inspired audiences for years, and continues to do so in this hilarious yet touching play.
I was one of the youngest members of the audience, but that didn’t stop me enjoying this tale of the WI group who pose for a nude calendar to raise money for a good cause. In fact, the enduring appeal of the story comes from its ability to affect everyone, whatever their age. The themes of loss, friendship and fame are universal, and the play explores these with a refreshing truthfulness and a light touch.
It does take rather a long time to get going, but the smart, funny script and well-chosen cast soon make up for this. A range of famous faces play the Calendar Girls, including Elaine C. Smith as the gregarious Chris, Denise Black as the independent Cora, and Jennifer Ellison as buxom young trophy-wife, Celia. Elaine C. is the star of the show with her cheeky persona and her witty one-liners. She gets many of the best lines of the play, such as the famous ‘Lawrence, I think we’re going to need considerably bigger buns’, and delivers them with perfect comic timing to the cheering, clapping audience.
Of course, the high point of the show is when the ladies whip their clothes off. This is done with the perfect amount of joy and hilarity, with a selection of clever props used to ensure that the actresses don’t accidentally flash more flesh than they planned. There are plenty of whoops of encouragement from the audience, and it’s clear that both the cast and the crowd have a tremendous amount of fun during this part of the show.
The plot focuses on the two main characters, Chris and Annie, but the other women all have their own stories that are developed further as the play goes on. Alongside the death of Annie’s husband, John, we learn that Chris is neglecting her struggling business, Cora is worried about her daughter and Celia faces snobbery from the other wives at the golf club where her husband spends all his time. But the story that really stands out is that of Ruth, played by the brilliant Rachel Lumberg. Goody-two shoes Ruth originally opts out of stripping for the camera because, as she explains to Chris, ‘We’re not all Chrises in this life. Some of us are Ruths’. To see the kind-hearted Ruth’s transition from doormat to strong, empowered woman is one of the small triumphs of the production and has the entire audience rooting for her along the way.
Calendar Girls is a success because it strikes a chord with the women in the audience.
It confirms that during the later stages of their lives they can be as fun, as useful, as relevant as women of a younger age – and in John’s words, that this last phase ‘is always the most glorious’. It finishes on this note of positivity and remains an uplifting message, particularly as it’s based on such an incredible true story.
REBECCA JAMIESON - InformedEDINBURGH.CO.UK
Sign of the Times
EVEN without Stephen Tompkinson and Tom Shaw in the roles, Tim Firth’s hilarious yet frighteningly real take on workplace ambition would have you laughing and crying in the aisles.
Sign of the Times, at Windsor’s Theatre Royal this week, gives us a distinctly all too near life look at how we forget that we may already be happy with our lot as we seek more satisfaction from trying to climb up the greasy pole.
With Tompkinson (Wild at Heart, Ballykissangel, Drop the dead Donkey) and Shaw (Skins, The Inbetweeners) you have a recipe for repartee this brilliant two hander deserves.
Tompkinson plays Frank. Frank is in charge of installations at a large company in the north. Shaw plays Alan, a work experience lad who joins Frank on the top ledge of the company building to put up large illuminated letters.
The advice from lengthy employee to young lad, physical two and fro with the sign, one liners and growing relationship between the pair that follows is jaw achingly funny.
But that relationship sours as a sudden realisation dawns on Frank regarding his position in the company, he is made redundant without even being told.
And in he second of this two acter roles are reversed as the audience grapples with what happens to Frank and Alan as the latter interviews Frank for a job.
As this country battles recession and the threat of unemployment tightens its grip on our dwindling workforce Sign of the Times is, well, timely.
This superb play is laugh out loud funny. A real side splitter. But it’s also a shocker in its own right. We laugh because it’s funny but we laugh because it’s real. If we didn’t laugh we would cry. We also begin to care about Frank and Alan because we know it could be us.
Tompkinson is at his absolute best and Shaw is dynamic.
This is wonderful casting of the highest order and both turn in dazzling displays of timing and acute understanding of the human condition.
This is a real comedy of conscience.
Brilliant. A real treat. Not to be missed.
Paul Thomas - thisislocallondon.co.uk
Director: Noreen Kershaw
Reviewer: Helen Patrick
The song “upon the roof” echoed around the theatre, which was very appropriate considering the setting of the play. The story is about Frank the head of installation and Alan his new Trainee, they are installing the giant letters for the top of the company building “Forshaws”, Frank takes a lot of pride in his work and is keen to teach Alan all of his 25 years knowledge, whereas Alan is young and does not seem at all interested especially at the beginning. The first half flies by without a moment of boredom, the use of metaphors during this act are hilarious. At the end of the first half it made me wonder what on earth they could do for the rest of the show, well it was just as funny as the first half. It is set approx 7 years later and the two men’s roles are reversed for reasons I can’t go into without giving the story away.
The set was exactly how you would imagine it to be, a roof top with an office behind it. Cleverly designed by Rodney Ford gave the show a set that was by no means simple, with a lot of attention to detail.
The second half of the show is based inside an office and again this was well thought out and believable in many ways. The lettering for the top of the buildings was brilliant, there were moments we all thought ‘its going to fall down’ but that just added more comedy to an already entertaining performance.
Geoffrey Hughes and Des O’Malley (Frank and Alan) were both fantastic, their comic timing was spot on, their facial expressions at crucial points and the ability to bounce off one another was pure talent. Considering they were the only actors in the show they kept the audience captivated and ready for more.
The Writer Tim Firth and Director Noreen Kershaw have between them created a show where the jokes came thick and fast and never did we feel like we had seen or heard enough, this is a clever and witty production that makes you want more!
The show lasted just over two hours which included an interval, how Hughes & O’Malley remembered all their lines was amazing, if they did forget any it didn’t show. These are two talented actors and produce a partnership that was like watching a double act that had been together for years.
If you only go and see one show this year get yourselves to Oldham Coliseum, we did a 100 mile round trip to see this and we can both honestly say it was well worth it. Roll on the next production!
Ten years ago, a group of Yorkshire Women's Institute members stripped off for a nude calendar. One of their husbands had died of cancer. The calendar was their way not only of raising money for cancer care, but also of asserting their comradeship and plain zest for this brief blessing we have called life.
The tale of the WI strippers has since been made into a film - and now a marvellous, uplifting night at the theatre. It is not the world's most classic drama, not least because we all know what happened (global fame, if we can mention globes).
You sense that the characters have been tickled up a little in order to make them more distinctive. But these shortcomings are easily balanced by the sheer, lovely Englishness of this moving tale.
If it took some brass for the WI stalwarts to shed their clothes for the camera, albeit with tactfully placed Bakewell tarts, then the same must be true of the cast in this Chichester production.
It includes such notable stage duchesses as Sian Phillips, Patricia Hodge and Lynda Bellingham. Ah, the throaty Miss Bellingham: tanned and tending to the spherical, she is at one point found in a skimpy, grass-style outfit which put me in mind of the late king of Tonga.
No less ravishing for that, though. Give that sister a medal.
It all opens with a touch too much forced heartiness, but the show soon settles down into a predictable but satisfying journey of discovery, snobbery being squashed, squabbles being settled and everyone agreeing that individual celebrity is no match for the support of friends.
'Remind me to spend the rest of my life in shadow,' says one lady, on seeing how her curves have been flattered by the photographer's lens. It's not a bad creed. At Tuesday night's performance the original calendar girls from Yorkshire were present and spent the evening alternately roaring with laughter and honking into hankies to blot their tears.
There will be more literary plays, but few so cheering.
Quentin Letts – The Daily Mail
A lively, funny, heart-warming tale of an unusual group of Northern strippers – that's what The Full Monty was, and what Calendar Girls tries, in vain, to be. Even without the comparison, though, Tim Firth's play is an anecdote stretched so thin that its sentimentality and contrivance are transparent.
When a Women's Institute in Yorkshire produced a calendar showing its mature members' modesty protected only by jam jars or flowerpots, the media attention prompted a Hollywood movie. The play's manoeuvres to get the audience on side suggest the labours of a Disney operation working hard to win over an audience that frowns on artistic photography.
One method is to make the naughtiness cute. These WI ladies are overage schoolgirls, somehow compelled to take part in exercise classes and attend slide talks on vegetables. Saucy photos are a way the prankish pensioners can rebel against their stern, bossy head, who is their daughters' age. Their relaxed, earthy attitude to sex, aimed at the grey market, contrasts with the frigidity of the group's two other young women, who have wretched marriages.
If any doubts linger, there's the killer argument: cancer. The suggestion for the calendar came from the husband of a recently widowed member, and the profits went to leukaemia research. The ladies are "doing it for John", we are repeatedly told, and "John would have loved it". Worthy in real life, on the stage this is emotional blackmail and no substitute for action and character. Apart from the young neurotics, the WI members are indistinguishable salt-of-the-earth types, given to chirpy, implausible wisecracks, and the play has no raison d'être after the photoshoot halfway through (a series of tableaux staged with deft comedy by director Hamish McColl).
In the second act we are belatedly asked to become interested in the individuals, who fret, fight and make up in a half-hearted manner.
The thumping normality of Lynda Bellingham and Elaine C Smith is wearying, and Julia Hills, playing a clumsy woman, staggers about like an elephant in galoshes. But Patricia Hodge and Sian Phillips are dry and droll, and the former, as the widow, is even touching, underplaying her feelings with typical intelligence. They are not enough, however, to justify this muted hymn to female empowerment through getting your kit off.
Rhoda Koenig - The Independent
In 1998 a group of indomitable and courageous women, members of the local Yorkshire Women’s Institute, gathered in their village hall to discuss the subject of their next annual calendar and decided to dedicate it to the memory of the beloved husband and friend who had swiftly and tragically died at the age of fifty four – a victim of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Perhaps there would be enough money from the sales to buy a settee for the visitors’ room at the hospital where he had spent his last days. Their calendar changed the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ image of the Women’s Institute, and changed their lives for ever, as well as generating around six hundred thousand pound for their cause.
In the play it is the ebullient Chris who comes up with a novel idea – instead of the usual country views or local churches – why not represent each month by posing totally naked, but using the accoutrements of the WI (cakes, teapots etc) to cover the essentials.
What attracted media attention and spread their fame world wide was the fact that these are all women of ‘a certain age’ – gravity and childbirth have taken their toll and it must have taken guts to overcome natural reluctance and bare all. Equally the actresses here on the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage are not in the first flush of youth, and it is only some very clever manipulation and arrangement of props which manages to conserve at least a modicum of their modesty.
Director Hamish McColl, well versed in comedy, emphasises the absurdity of trying to hide the ‘naughty bits’ behind iced buns or a teapot, and the performers are having such fun that the audience cannot help but warm to them and the original mission.
Lynda Bellingham is Chris – an irreverent WI member who only joined in a failed attempt to convince her mother-in-law that she was respectable – and she happily sports the most outrageous cover-up – a flowery confection which doesn’t cover much at all.
Patricia Hodge, as the bereaved Annie, is as elegant as ever, but with her Yorkshire accent giving her a more homely, friendly persona. Sian Phillips, haughtily erect and correct as teacher Jessie, has “become venomous by years of exposure to schoolchildren”, but surprises everyone by being the first to agree to the calendar – so long as there are no “front bottoms”, and Elaine C. Smith delights with her version of “a vicar’s daughter gone bad”, her predilection for jazzing up the hymns, and her revealing rear view while seated at the piano. Gaynor Faye as flighty golf playing Celia and Julia Hills as reluctant Ruth complete these ‘calendar girls’ with Brigit Forsyth the self-styled president of the group, shocked and disapproving – until she discovers it is a point gained over their rival village.
Robert Jones’s versatile set transforms from a village hall into a hill where the seeds scattered in memory of the deceased have grown into a sea of sunflowers – his favourite flower.
The story has been fictionalised, but only altered in small details, and the spirit of these amazing women shines through, with the standing ovation at the end a tribute to them as much as for the performance. The play induces a few tears along with the joy and laughter, and the original Calendar Girls – in black and each wearing a sunflower - were there to share it with us.
Sheila Connor – The British Theatre Guide
Unashamedly sentimental and full of heart and bare-faced cheek, Tim Firth's stage adaptation of his own film script, inspired by the group of Yorkshire WI members who stripped off for a charity calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research, should rake in a bob or two itself. A West End transfer followed by a never-ending tour is surely assured for a show whose feelgood factor is sky-high and which, through its celebration of female friendship among the middle-aged and middle-class, cannily covers several bases of the theatre-going demographic.
That it does not entirely feel like a paint-by-numbers job is down to Firth's ready wit, a cast who appear to enjoy every minute, and a production by Hamish McColl of The Right Size that brings some of the techniques of 21st-century theatre to a show that might otherwise look very creaky indeed. There may be something odd in the way it makes cancer seem cosy, and its portrait of female solidarity is rosy-hued and shirks issues of ambition and fulfilment in favour of happy-ever-afters. And though it is always too tasteful to offer either real physical or emotional nakedness, McColl's production and Robert Jones's clever design has a pared-down quality that allows the emotions to flourish like the sunflowers that become the women's symbol. There is a wonderful moment when letters flutter from the sky.
Patricia Hodge brings enormous dignity to Annie, whose husband's death inspires the calendar, Lynda Bellingham is terrific as Chris, whose motives become suspect, and Siân Phillips commands the stage as the elderly school teacher, Jessie, who knows how to live. It's guff, but guff that warms the cockles of the heart.
Lyn Gardner – The Guardian
Like his early mentors, Alan
Ayckbourn and Willy Russell, Tim Firth is an unashamedly populist
writer whose chief desire is to entertain. In this he has succeeded
admirably over the years, with the hit comedy Neville's Island,
the film Calendar Girls (which he has turned into a stage play
for Chichester this summer), and the musical Our House, set to
the hits of Madness.
is a warm generosity about Firth's writing that I've always found
engaging. And if this two-hander isn't quite from his top drawer
- it began life at the start of his career as a lunchtime one-act
piece at Ayckbourn's Scarborough theatre and has now been expanded
into a full-length evening - it undoubtedly proves diverting.
The first half is set 60 feet
above ground on a top-floor ledge outside an office. Frank Tollit,
an illuminated signage specialist, is putting up a new display
for the firm that employs him, "helped" by a truculent
young lad in a hoody on a youth training scheme.
The clash between pedantic
late middle-age - Frank is one of those fussy, garrulous types
who expects everyone to find the details of his job absolutely
fascinating - and the sulky teenager is gently and perceptively
caught. And the play springs a spectacular surprise at the end
of the first half when the true nature of the sign they are erecting
The second half is set several
years later. Frank is now a member of the long-term unemployed
and his dreams of achieving immortality as a writer of thrillers
("Not for ever, just for a bit," he modestly insists)
He turns up for a job interview
at an electrical goods store, only to the find that the assistant
manager conducting it is the former no-hoper from the YTS. Matters
then take a hilarious, farcical turn when Frank's lunchtime pitta
starts burning in the toaster, sparking off a comic catastrophe.
Firth is excellent on both
the psychology of salesmanship and the inanities of business
management and motivational techniques, but with this dramatist
it is always the characters that matter most.
Barry McCarthy's sad wry dreamer
and Rowan Schlosberg as the hapless Alan who discovers that success
doesn't necessarily equal happiness are both splendidly funny
and touching as the odd couple who learn a lot about life - and
each other - as this sympathetic comedy unfolds.
- Charles Spencer
Tim Firths former one-act
play, commissioned by Alan Ayckbourn, gets its full-length London
premiere in Hornchurch.
Fussy, garrulous Frank from
Batley, a head of installation sign erector of the old school,
is showing hoodie Alan his trade. Frank is not a man for whom
one word suffices. Many are cherished, polished, held up to the
light for admiration.
Franks a closet romantic
- acting out his sub-sub Russian spy-style writing and believing
that belt and braces gets you through life.
Alan, umbilically attached
to his MP3, is a shrugger, a joker and a definite slacker. Clearly
not sharing Franks views. Left to his own devices, hes
a rocker, an artist and a rebel.
Working 60-foot up on an office
building, getting on together, challenges both men into revealing
previously hidden knowledge of themselves.
Australian drama school/television-trained
Rowan Schlosberg (who plays Alan) makes his UK stage debut, stronger
as the hoodie than as office apparatchik. Sharing his long acting
experience is Barry McCarthy (who plays Frank), whose professional
debut was at the Queens in 1970. Directed by Matthew Lloyd,
theyre a good team. A special mention for excellence to
Rodney Fords revolving exterior/interior set and Steve
Mayos urban soundtrack.
Firths play is gently
comic, backed by accurate observation of the foibles and unsuspected
depths of human nature, faced with irony-laden change. Its
also a technical lesson in how to install signs while dealing
The Flint Street Nativity
The moment every adult dreads
is when someone - usually a parent - brings up the time they
appeared in the school nativity. The memories of the mayhem and
the jealousy of the prime roles being taken by bitter enemies
may fade for the participants, but for the parents they linger
and it's these that make for a plot that is never riotous but
always fun, with a cast filled with plenty of TV faces to recognise.
Kate McGregor in the role of
Mary, who is suitably pompous as the classroom swot who can also
carry a tune, is perfectly cast and a far cry from Emmerdale's
Emily. Neil Caple as Joseph, whose rubbery, childlike faces and
perfectly timed asides are faultless and also Helen Carter as
Mary Wannabe, Gabriel, "the chief, number one boss angel",
is superb as the playground bully.
Stealing the show, however,
are Karl Davies as a know-it-all Star of Bethlehem, who gets
a large portion of the laughs with some general astronomy-minded
nerdy-ness, Daniel Casey as a Wise Man Frankincense with a pronounced
lisp and the worldly-wise daughter of a farmer played by Samantha
Power, who is simply hilarious in her forthright honesty as a
The songs, amended carols giving
insights into the children's home lives, do get a little lost
with some heavy harmonising at times, but still succeed in adding
a certain quirkiness to the proceedings and, all in all, help
make The Flint Street Nativity such a good, fun night out.
New research suggests 80% of
primary schools have given up holding traditional nativities
with many being nobbled by the PC brigade. Meanwhile a school
in Devon has banned its angels from wearing wings as they are
deemed a fire hazard. You couldn't make it up.
But writer Tim Firth could
and has, with his Flint Street Nativity returning to the Liverpool
Playhouse "due to popular demand" following a successful
run in 2006.
And do you know that? Its better.
Despite the fact, or perhaps because, there are fewer Liverpool
"household names" among the line-up, it feels free
of some of the issues which tend to surround celebrity casting.
That isn't to say the likes
of Gill Kearney and Drew Schofield (in the 2006 production) weren't
thoroughly entertaining in their roles as Flint Street youngsters.
But there's a definite rosy
glow of ensemble work about this a production.
Flint Street is built on one single comic conceit - adults playing
kids. Of course, we discover over the progress of the nativity
the youngsters are really "mini adults" aping the grown-ups
who surround them.
There's playground politics
aplenty with a little un-PC bullying, a touch of innocent racism,
a fair slug of envy and much jockeying for position.
In this unholy rabble of eager
seven-year-olds everyone has a chance to shine, whether it be
Karl Davies' youthful turn (he barely looks out of short trousers
himself), as the space-obsessed star and ass, Samantha Power's
droll shepherd or Neil Caple's Question of Sport spouting Jesus.
But the stars that twinkle
brightest in the night sky are the demonic "double dare
you" Innkeeper, played with gleeful, gurning angst by Alan
Stocks and Helen Carter's delightful turn as the Angel Gabriel.
Her Gabriel is forever plotting
the downfall of Kate McGregor's perfect teacher's pet Mary, although
the little madam's asides give us a picture of a vulnerable child
simply trying to attract attention.
Since last year Firth has pepped
up the ending which introduces us to the young thesps' mums and
dads. But despite that, it still feels superfluous and awkward.
The "children" successfully play out the preoccupations,
pushiness and prejudice of the parents without us needing to
- Liverpool Echo
School play is top of the
We never meet Mrs Horrocks
in Tim Firth's The Flint Street Nativity, but we certainly feel
for her. By the end she has passed out in the school playground
and who can blame her? The Nativity play she has lovingly produced
in her classroom - on a tiny stage alongside the stick-insect
project, in front of the wallchart proclaiming "who's been
good" - has turned into a complete farce. The Virgin Mary
has a fierce competitor in the spiteful angel Gabriel, Wise Man
Frankincense is verbally challenged by a lisp, Herod rages like
a footballer brutally brought-down mid-match and the Innkeeper
behaves like a psychopath in embryo. To crown it all, baby Jesus's
head falls off.
Firth began acting as "Boy
Three" in a school Christmas production. That career may
have been short-lived but the experience has never left him.
Some might even say it scarred him for life. Following the success
of his television play, The Flint Street Nativity, created in
1999 (before the success of Calendar Girls), and produced with
a hand-picked cast of comedy actors, he's developed the idea
into a stage version with music. It's clearly striking a chord
in Liverpool, where the advance box-office takings are breaking
records at the Playhouse.
Unless you're a Jehovah's Witness
("She doesn't do Christmas or assembly," explains one
know-all child), perhaps, or have had multicultural, secular
entertainment imposed by a politically correct school authority,
the chances are that you will either have been in, or had a child
taking part in, a Nativity play. No one will fail to recognise
the acuteness of Firth's observation - that what a child says
or does so often merely apes the back-biting and swear words
that he or she has picked up at home, more often than not misinterpreting
them, sometimes hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly.
Firth's canny look at the behind-the-scenes
angst goes straight to the heart of the matter. Who's playing
the blue-robed Virgin Mary? In this case, it's the precocious,
goody-goody daughter (11 gold stars against her name) of the
chair of the PTA, astutely portrayed by Gillian Kearney. While
the boys seem happy enough to be relegated to playing such bit
parts as "the star of Bethlehem" or a cardboard-headed
"Ass", the aspiring female actors are already sharpening
their talons as well as their acting talents. And when chickenpox
threatens to eliminate Mary, bossy Gabriel (Leanne Best) just
knows there is a God.
The fluffed entrances, forgotten
lines, brazen upstaging and the distractions of excited parent-spotting
turn this Nativity performance into a chaotic, mirth-filled charade,
directed with gusto by Matthew Lloyd. The mistaking of a scavenged
broken tooth for a bit of Polo mint and of a tampon for a fag
in Mrs Horrocks' handbag add to the comic misunderstandings of
the biblical story. The carols Firth has introduced are belted
out to an authentic-sounding school piano accompaniment, though
the witty new words interwoven into familiar tunes and phrases
are not always easy to pick up.
If, like me, you're normally
allergic to adults playing children, this very decent ensemble
cast proves it can be achieved with minimum resort to those cringe-making
clichés adults fondly pass off as childish habits. While
there are more than enough innocent revelations and playground
politics at work to create a colourful picture of the parents
of these Flint Street seven-year-olds, it's a stroke of genius
on Firth's part to bring on the parents after the play has ground
to a nightmarish conclusion. The actors return as the mums and
dads of the children they've just played, mingling over mulled
wine and mince pies. There's no mistaking where these kids have
come from or, worse, where they are going. You may never see
your child's Nativity play in the same light again.
- The Independent
The Flint Street Nativity
Like many people, Tim Firth's
first stage experience came in the school Nativity play. Denied
the role of Joseph, he lost his chance of holding the hand of
the girl playing Mary, who was in love with his best mate. So
during the holidays he wrote his first play, casting himself
as a prince, Mary as the princess and his mate as the back end
of a dragon.
It says much for the influence
of our infant years that he's still trying to work it out of
his system. Firth's script, adapted from his television play,
features as many fluffed lines, missed entrances and cardboard
props as you will find in the professional theatre. It also exposes
what an ungodly snake pit of paediatric power-politics the staging
of your average Nativity play can be.
Some argue the traditional
Nativity should be replaced with more secular entertainment,
and having seen this you can only agree - there's as much piety
involved as a cabal of Borgias electing the next Pope. But though
we learn little of the Christian message of redemption, we do
discover that the Holy Infant doubles as an extremely effective
With the possible exception
of Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills, the conceit of adult
actors portraying children is usually embarrassing - but Nativity
plays are crucibles of embarrassment anyway, so Matthew Lloyd's
cheerfully chaotic production turns such awkwardness to advantage.
Best of all is the manner in which Firth uses naive comedy to
suggest the greater disruption of the children's lives: "Look!
There's my mum!" declares Joseph. "Look! It's my social
worker!" replies the Donkey. There are moments where you
may wet yourself laughing. But it's your own fault for not visiting
the toilet first.
- The Guardian
The Flint Street Nativity
I vividly recall the excitement
with which, aged 5, I donned my stitched-together sheet and my
gold cardboard halo to portray an angel in my school Nativity
play. But I dont remember that performance being anything
like as much fun as Tim Firths play, adapted by the author
from his television drama and directed by Matthew Lloyd. Its
a riot; its also poignant and beautifully observed.
At a Liverpool primary school,
Miss Horrockss class of seven-year-olds are getting ready
to present their Christmas extravaganza and all hell is
about to break loose. Mary, the bossy star of the show, is immaculate
in blue and perfectly prepared, but despairs of her sloppy Joseph,
who is obsessed with the television quiz show A Question of Sport.
More worryingly, the Angel
Gabriel, a decidedly satanic gleam in her eye, covets the Blessed
Virgins role and is plotting her downfall with sadistic
The louring Innkeeper is hopelessly
besotted with Mary and violently jealous of Joseph; all of them
are fascinated and perplexed by the unseen Miss Horrockss
Firth, and an excellent grown-up
cast on a wittily oversized set by Robin Don, convey precisely
and affectingly the anxieties and preoccupations of childhood,
as well as offering a penetrating childs eye view of each
characters home life. As the Narrator, trembling with nerves,
scans the crowd for the father he never sees, we glimpse a family
about to implode; the Shepherd daughter of farming parents
and, with an uncanny grasp of the cycle of life and death, wise
way beyond her years sings laconically of her dads
run-in with a group of travellers. The Innkeepers passion
for Marys fresh-laundered wholesomeness springs from the
fact that the house he lives in always stinks of beer and fags.
And when, in the plays
final scene, the Nativity is over and the actors transform themselves
from the children into their parents, the powerful emotional
nexus between adult and offspring is laid bare, with a frightening
weight of responsibility on one side and a desperate desire to
fulfil expectations on the other.
Lloyds lightness of touch
ensures a perfect balance of humour and pathos, and Firths
dialogue is stuffed with juicily comic lines like a pudding full
of plums. Altogether, sweet, and unexpectedly rich.
Fifteen years ago, Tim Firth
was just another would-be writer determined to make a name for
himself in big, bold letters. He achieved this by writing a play
about big, bold letters. Invited by Alan Ayckbourn to write a
one-act lunchtime show for the theatre restaurant, Firth decided
the best way to rise above the clatter of cutlery would be a
scenario involving two workmen on the side of a building who
would be obliged to shout to each other.
Firth has now returned to his
debut, extending it into a full evening's entertainment. The
first part is basically a reprise of the lunchtime piece, originally
entitled Man of Letters, in which we meet Frank, a 20-year veteran
of industrial signage who can be moved to tears by the poetry
of certain floor-mounted bracketing systems.
It's basically an extended
sketch, setting up a sensational sight gag with illuminated lettering.
But even within these confines, Firth succeeds in giving the
hero depth of personality. For years Frank has struggled to publish
a spy novel because, he says, "It would be nice to become
immortal - not for ever, just a little bit."
The new second half presents
the continuing adventures of Frank, now retraining as a haplessly
unpersuasive salesperson in an electrical appliance store. Again,
it's a bit sketchy, but Firth diligently amplifies his original
themes and tops it with a gag even more funny than the first.
There's great work throughout
from Michael Bertenshaw as Frank and Michael Imerson doubling
as a truculent work-experience lad and a David Brent-ish electrical
store manager. Best of all, there are no noisy diners to distract
The titular hero of Absolutely
Frank, directed by Richard Derrington, is a 60-year-old electrician
who still yearns to write the perfect Cold War spy novel and
We first see him high up on
the ledge of his firm's roof, trying to install some giant illuminated
lettering with the help of Alan, an unhuggable hoodie reluctantly
taking part in a youth training scheme.
Without patronising either
character, Firth beautifully catches the the stand-off between
articulate politeness and monosyllabic impudence, and builds
a believable rapport.
"What do you want in life?"
the youth eventually inquires. "To be immortal," his
mild-mannered elder replies, absurdly. "Not for ever, just
for a bit." The writing hits that level of wry, unforced
humour throughout - surviving a biggish storyline jump, when
Frank returns to the building as a trainee himself, befuddling
his sleek but hopeless young boss.
The performances are a delight
- Michael Bertenshaw, pedantic, dreamy and wise as Frank and
Michael Imerson introverted then bumptious as the two younger
First seen as a one-act play
in 1991, Tim Firth's Absolutely Frank returns to the Stephen
Joseph Theatre in extended form and is promoted from the studio
space to the end stage.
The action is up on a roof
and as with other notable roof set plays, the humour and the
imagery soar. Firth's narrative freewheels, as if released from
earth bound constraints.
The eponymous Frank, played
by Michael Bertenshaw, has not sussed out life. He is in charge
of erecting huge letters on the sides of huge buildings but he
would rather write spy novels. God, he has to admit, has given
him ambition but no talent. Young Alan, his work experience assistant,
has worked out a pragmatic 'do what you do best' approach to
life and the delight of this play is that Frank gradually learns
from him. Indeed Frank begins to sort out a frustrated assistant
manager he meets in the second act.
In Act II the two men are trapped
in a large, electrically charged letter O and they share one
of the funniest moments that this reviewer has seen in a theatre.
Bertenshaw makes Frank affectionate
and irritating, a lovely blend. Some of his dialogue, such as
the content of a publisher's rejection letter, seems beyond even
comic belief but the majority is bang on target. This is, after
all, a Tim Firth play.
Michael Imerson plays both
Alan and the assistant manager. His reactions in both parts are
Also impressive are designer
Pip Leckenby's huge but manoeuvrable letters.
Table All Set To Be Big
This isn't the first time that
a lump of furniture has taken centre stage in a play. Remember
the dead body in a trunk that became a dining table in Rope,
a thriller which Alfred Hitchcock made into a hugely successful
film with James Stewart?
In this new comedy by Tim Firth
the object in question is an old farmhouse table that was sold
for 60 quid at a car boot and for which a ridiculously gullible
upwardly mobile couple fork out two and a half grand believing
it to be a rare example of Cheshire folk art.
After a bit of a slow start
the play about turns out to be one of the funniest and most carefully
observed plays we have seen for some time.
For good measure it is carefully
casted too with the delicious Sara Crowe as a housewife with
more money than sense who has recently moved to a converted barn
from an estate - sorry, a development - on the edge of town.
She is at the back of a plan to have a moving dinner party with
a different course in a different country property.
Christopher Timothy is nothing
like the engaging country vet we all remember but a Europhobic
businessman who spends thousands on providing nameplates for
his new, unnamed country property only to discover that it is
not a birch tree in the paddock but an ash. So Birch tree Barn
won't do, then.
Theatre newcomer Jack Ryder
from TV's EastEnders lives up to his promise of being a name
to watch out for in the years ahead.
The play, about the pretentiousness
of those who want to buy into a supposedly more interesting rural
lifestyle is awash with very funny one liners, generally getting
better and faster as it bowls along.
I could easily watch the whole
thing all over again - and might just do so.
Hansford - Bath Chronicle
THEATRE ROYAL - BATH
Turn the dinner tables
Tim Firth, the writer of hit
film Calendar Girls, brings a deliciously dark comedy in three
courses to theatres this spring.
households in Cheshire hold a safari party' a dinner party where
each course is served in a different house. There's Daniel and
Adam, young brothers whose abusive father was recently shot dead,
Lol and Esther, upwardly mobile and vulgar, and Inga, a seemingly
benign antiques dealer. And then there's the table sold and re-sold
with an even more elaborate story added each time. As the evening
progresses, the many layers of truth are revealed and matters
turn satisfyingly messy and violent.
The Safari Party features a
cast of much loved actors including Christopher Timothy (All
Creatures Great and Small and Doctors), Jack Ryder (EastEnders),
Sarah Crowe (Born and Bred and Four Weddings and a Funeral),
David Brown (Hollyoaks), Helen Noble (Hollyoaks) and Illona Linthwaite.
A delectable cast, a scrumptious
feast for the eyes and a delicious comedy for the mind.
The Safari Party is a perfect
starter to Tim Firth's work, which includes hit British films
Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots and Olivier award-winning musical,
The Safari Party
I am convinced there has never
been a dinner party quite like the one in The Safari Party by
Tim Firth playing at Richmond Theatre until Saturday.
Admittedly movable dinner parties
were fashionable in the 70s - the idea is that to make life easier
all round, various courses of the meal are served in different
This one starts off with, supposedly,
the hors d'oeuvres being served in the kitchen of the farmhouse
owned by Daniel (David Brown) and Adam (Jack Ryder). There is
little sign of food, and very little of drink but guests Lol
(Christopher Timothy) his wife Esther (Sara Crowe) and their
daughter Bridget (Helen Noble) arrive and seem to make the best
of things in the bleakest room seen for an age, without even,
a kitchen table - and on that lack much hangs. The final guest
Inga (Illona Linthwaite) joints the group briefly but dashes
off in a terrific huff.
The main course in Lol and
Esther's fine conservatory at least involves some real-looking
food, served on a very fine table which is instantly recognised
as the one the young farmers sold to Inga, one of the most imaginatively
persuasive antique dealers iamginable.
This is the most outrageous
scene of all and some of gags are so noirish as to have this
member of the audience gasping in considerable horror! Retribution
of a sort eventually takes place at Inga's and heck, she even
manages to produce some sort of dessert Many of the stars of
this show will be recognised from television soaps - and all
concerned turn in very reasonable performances.
The play is never dull although
some of the humour is pretty hard to take - however this didn't
stop Tuesday evening's audience having a wonderful time. Some,
to me, dubious stuff elicited very generous guffaws - but this
one is not everyone's dinner of delights. One huge treat is the
delightful strains of Herb Alpert's Swingin' Safari' linking
the various scenes.
- Richmond & Twickenham Times
Making a meal of falsehoods
A Safari Party is all about
eating, moving from one house to the next for each course. But
nobody will get fat on the food in this three-act jolly - starter,
dinner and pudding - because, in the first place, there's
not a lot of grub and the people involved spend most of their
time arguing and telling whoppers anyway.
The moral of Tim Firth's story
is that it is always the best policy to tell the truth - unless
you are an extraordinary good liar, a maxim that is doubly true
if you live in the countryside where an ill-conceived falsehood
will bounce back at you like an echo that has picked up a nasty
Adam and Daniel, struggling
farm brothers, are the ones who get the fib-feast going.
They have been talked into
doing hors d'oeuvres but, preoccupied by problems - not least
the fact that their bullying dad has bumped himself off in a
drunken accident - they have forgotten the date and are unprepared
for their hungry guests.
One of the unexpected arrivals
is Inga, the local antiques dealer. To whom Daniel has sold the
kitchen table and bumped up the price by inventing a colourful
history for the piece. It is clearly a nice old bit of furniture,
but it has one drawback - a number of bullet holes.
Inga, no beginner in the falsehood
stakes, has given the table a completely new ancient genealogy
and sold it on to Lol and Esther, successful townies who have
recently arrived in the beautiful backwoods of Cheshire - and
where we join the partygoers round it for the main course.
The true facts about the table's
past are revealed in an often hilarious final scene in what Inga
calls the 'bothy' behind her shop where scores are settled, traumas
revealed and everybody comes clean. Well, more or less.
Christopher Timothy is great
as the irrascible Lol, more concerned about a malfunctioning
conservatory security light than the carefully-prepared meal,
and Sara Crowe is his nice, dim missus who overlays her local
accent with a bit of a studied posh. But she still knows how
to throw an old-fashioned wobbly.
In an often very funny play,
Jack Ryder and David Brown are the brothers laying a particularly
bloody ghost and coming to terms with the realities of modern
country life. Helen Noble is Bridget, Lol's daughter who finds
a way of breaking the pain of broken love, and Illona Linthwaite
is the imaginative antiques dealer.
COLCHESTER MERCURY THEATRE
Safari Party Review
This delicious comedy has a
dark side as well as plenty of wit, delivered with enthusiasm
by a sharp cast
The title has go nothing to
do with big game watching on the African plains - although the
author does bag some pretty amazing specimens of wild life on
The party in question is a
dinner party in Cheshire where the guests eat a different course
in three different houses. But what matters more than the food
is the table, a cast off from a dilapidated farm house which
ends up costing someone else a lot of money.
The table proves to be the
key to finding out the truth about rural life - which is a long
way from the idyllic scene pictured by incoming townies.
The author's target is pretension
and dishonesty - and there's enough of that about to provide
ample material for Tim Firth's pen.
The cast are excellent with
Sara Crowe (the silly one in the Philadelphia advert) proving
the centre of attention as a nouveau riche wife with an amazing
strangled accent who finds hidden strengths in herself by the
end of the play. Christopher Timothy is her long suffering husband.
- BBC ESSEX
COLCHESTER MERCURY THEATRE
Safari, it was a big feast
The Safari Party is another
gem of a British comedy from the pen of Tim Firth, the writer
of the hit film Calendar Girls.
He has taken the simple idea
of a "safari party" - a dinner party where each course
is served in a different house - and given it a bit of a twist.
It is less about food and the
conversation which revolves around a dinner table and more about
the stories, truth and lies which unfold during the evening.
The group of people who meet
for dinner may seem like an unlikely mix, but they all have something
The play, a dark comedy set
in the Cheshire countryside, opens in the kitchen of farmer boys
Adam (Jack Ryder) and Daniel (David Brown) who start off the
dinner party with some interesting hors d'oeuvres.
The next course takes us to
the more upmarket home of Lol (Christopher Timothy), Esther (Sara
Crowe) and their daughter Bridget (Helen Noble) where dinner
is served in the conservatory and the final scene, or rather
course, is a dessert of sorts in a shed of canny antiques dealer
Inga (Illona Linthwaite).
Although Christopher Timothy
and Jack Ryder are the names most people are familiar with, you're
likely to recognise all the six actors - it's almost as if there
is a television cast on stage.
There are great performances
from all the actors, and some particularly-comical moments from
Christopher Timothy and David Brown, and there are lots of laughs
the whole way through.
It's an enjoyable show to watch
and the evening unfolds the truths and lies - particularly about
an old country table - are revealed.
- EVENING GAZETTE
COLCHESTER MERCURY THEATRE
The kinky boots dominate...
The crowd-pleaser of the festival
so far is a big-hearted British comedy about a failing shoe factory
that revamps its commercial prospects by finding a niche market
specially reinforced footwear for transvestites. Kinky
Boots is a polished bit of mainstream cinema with the potential
to break out in a big way. Chiwetel Ejiofar stars as the trannie
diva who inspires the range, channelling an Eartha Kitt purr
and slinking about in blood-red PVC as if he had been waiting
his whole life to slip into a frock.
Chatting at the films
premiere party, Ejiofar claimed he had no previous cross-dressing
urges but admitted that the experience had made him far more
sympathetic to the agonies women suffer for fashionable footwear.
If Im out with a girl and she says her feet hurt,
I hail a cab immediately. A true gent then, albeit one
who occasionally wears patent-leather thigh boots.
Wendy Ide -
Having launched itself with How to Behave, an infantile piece that already looks an
unbeatable candidate for Stinker of the Year, the new Hampstead
Theatre has belatedly got its act together.
Tim Firth's The Safari
Party, first seen in Scarborough, is a cracking comedy
- cunningly constructed, thematically rich, and above all blissfully
funny. Firth is a protégé of Alan Ayckbourn, and
the influence of the wily old master is everywhere apparent.
You might have thought that the senior dramatist had already
explored all possible permutations of the disastrous dinner party
scenario, but firth miraculously comes up with something fresh.
The action is set in rural
Cheshire. Lol and Esther, a vulgar, middle-aged couple, have
abandoned the suburbs to move into a picturesque converted barn,
and , to get to know the neighbours, they arrange a "safari"
dinner party, in which the guests move from house to house for
Daniel and Adam, impoverished
farming brothers in their twenties whose father has recently
committed suicide, are due to serve the starters. Lol and Esther,
and their bolshie daughter Bridget, are dishing up the main course,
while Inga, a local antiques dealer, will be providing the pudding
What unites the peripatetic
three-course drama is the small matter of a table. The brother
sold theirs at a car boot sale after their father's death, where
it was purchased by Inga for £60. She then flogged it on
to the gullible Lol and Esther for an astonishing £2,500,
with a cock-and-bull story about it being a "geniune Cheshire
Buttyball table", a "historic" parlour game Inga
invented merely to up the price. When the truth comes out, together
with news of the price hike, matters turn satisfyingly messy
Firth's characters are sharply
drawn, and his theme - the grim reality of rural poverty as contrasted
to the dewy-eyed enchantment of rich incoming townies - is neatly
developed. He is excellent, too, on the present age's sentimental
attachment to the idea of heritage, and develops a lovely running
gag about the provenance of a "traditional" dish called
Tollycurney, consisting of ice-cold cheese wrapped in bacon.
All this, of course, could easily be by Ayckbourn. What distinguishes
Firth from his mentor is his tone.
Ayckbourn tends to divide his
comic world - a tough and schematically of late - into goodies
and baddies, victims and bullies. Firth blurs the edges. Nobody
here is quite what they seem and the play is excellent on the
lies we tell ourselves and others in order to get by in life.
Yet Firth grants all his characters, even bullying, racist Lol
and the fabulously vulgar Esther, sudden moments of dignity and
generosity. And the play's conclusion is delightfully wry and
Ayckbourn himself directs the
great comic panache on neatly contrasting sets of Michael Holt,
and the performances are outstanding. Christine Moore, dressed
in truly shocking pink and limping across the stage on a broken
heel, is wonderful as Esther, ridiculous, appallingly snobish,
but also geniunely likeable. John Branwell is terrific , too,
as her husband, a furious comic master with sudden redeeming
moments; and there is fine work form Daniel Crwoder and Daniel
Casey as the good-hearted, traumatised brothers, from Amanda
Abbingdon as the mischievous daughter, and Helen Ryan as the
antique dealer whose tall tales cause so much trouble.
This is popular entertainment
that combines dramatic depth with a most engaging sensibility.
All that spoils a great evening is the theatre's fanatical anti-smoking
policy, with such distinguished addicts as Peter Nichols and
Mel Smith being bossily ordered to stand outside in the pouring
THE SAFARI PARTY
- HAMPSTEAD THEATRE
CHARLES SPENCER - THE TELEGRAPH
A fine feast of prejudices
Esther is in rural Cheshire
and she's in seventh heaven - the one pretty amounts to the other
to her way of reckoning. With her husband, Lol, who's made it
biggish in the world of golf supplies, this upwardly mobile fiftysomething
is finding her feet (and losing her heels) in a whole new world
of converted barns and bothies.
Just the idea of being able
to say "the lager's in the bothy" makes her come over
all funny with pleasure. And to socialise with folk who can use
the phrase "during lambing" without turning a hair
is, for Esther (who is splendidly played by Christine Moore),
tantamount to having entered the pages of Pride and Prejudice.
This woman is the farcical
reverse-image of those aspiring creatures in Restoration comedy
who, having moved from the town, becoming quiveringly phobic
about things rural. Esther, by contrast, is fetishistic about
the country. But, as Tim Firth's very funny and enjoyable new
play reveals, while she may have acquired the odd local knick
knack, a conservatory and an alarm system, she hasn't gained
any real knowledge of her surroundings or any genuine new friends.
The eponymous "safari
party" - a dinner party where each course is served in a
different house - might theoretically improve matters. The problem
is the other participants. The hors d'oeuvres are the responsibility
of two indigent (Daniel Crowder and Daniel Cain) whose abusive
farmer father died in violent ambiguous circumstances. Pudding
is to be dished up by Inga (Helen Ryan), the antique dealer of
Germanic descent whom Lol calls the "Mrs Sodding Bygone
Horses for courses, so to speak.
And dark horses, too. The main course is served on the bullet-holed-riddled
table where the father met his death. But it's not now in the
fraternal farmhouse. It's the pride and joy, in her conservatory,
of Esther who bought it from Inga who bought it, in turn, for
a tiny amount from the newly bereaved brothers. At each stage
in the process its supposed history had become encrusted with
fresh, marketable lies. Esther and Lol fondly believe that the
holes prove it to be a Buttyball course - an indoor game played
by poor Cheshire farmers of yesteryear who did not "have
access" to a golf course.
Firth is an Alan Ayckbourn
protégé and at first, you feel that the play is
too indebted to the older dramatist's techniques. But Firth is
more up to speed than his teacher with the weird mutations in
the contemporary world where digital life and derelict tradition
can suddenly be superimposed.
A note more reminiscent of
Martin McDonagh starts to enter the piece. And ass it explores
what is good as well as bad in making up stories and false provenances, The Safari Party takes off into an energised madness where
the Oresteia seems to have collided with The Antiques
THE SAFARI PARTY
- HAMPSTEAD THEATRE
PAUL TAYLOR - THE INDEPENDENT
THE SAFARI PARTY
The Library Theatre, Manchester,
is currently offering its patrons a three course feast featuring
fake antiques, car boot sale 'bargains' and broken country rules
in this perceptive play by Tim Firth, writer of the musical,
Our House and the hit film, Calendar Girls.
A Safari Party is a dinner
party where each course is served in a different house. The problem
here is that the first venue, Sparkbrook Farm, Cheshire is lacking
a table and edible food! Brothers Adam and Daniel have sold the
family table to a local antiques dealer who believes the tall
tale that was used to sell it. When Inga, the gullible new owner
of this table turns up at the Farm for the first course, the
farce begins. And it doesn't end there, she has since sold the
furniture to another guest!
Although this premise may sound
corny, Firth has great fun sending up the heritage industry and
the white lies which are used to persuade us all that any old
tat is worth something as long as it comes with a 'history.'
He also takes a few swipes at country life and how villagers
are sceptical of classless newcomers. With such familiar targets
he cannot fail. His sparkling situations had the audience on
the night I went laughing out loud.
Claude Close and Sue Wallace
play Lol and Esther, the new, keen-to-please folk with ease.
Each time they fall for a scam, you empathise with them as you
know how desperate they are to climb the social ladder. But even
they have their limits as they refuse to knock their conservatory
down to appease others. Lindsay Allen is also wonderful as their
cynical fib-telling daughter Bridget .
As the new owners of the farm
Drew Mulligan and David Partridge have great comic timing and
convey the lads' vulnerability with real aplomb. Jenifer Armitage's
Inga is a delight as we see beyond the mask of sharp business
woman and view her desire to be accepted by the community at
Roger Haines deft direction
ensures that each course is as tasty as the last and Judith Crofts
amazing set invites the audience into the contrasting houses
of the three hosts.
This delectable play is so
tasty that as a starter it will leave you wanting to sample some
more of Firths work.
SAFARI PARTY @ LIBRARY THEATRE
HYSTERICAL farce was greeted
with hysterical laughter. So, hopefully, the Library has a hit
on its hands.
The cause of the mayhem is
the latest theatre piece by Warringtons own Tim Firth,
he of Calendar Girls, All Quiet On The Preston Front and Nevilles
First seen a couple of years
ago at Alan Ayckbourns theatre in Scarborough, and then
Hampstead Theatre, the author has, I gather, been involved in
considerable re-writes for this production.
Daniel (Drew Mulligan) and
Adam (David Partridge) are brothers on what is gradually revealed
to be a failed farm in deepest Cheshire. Where once there was
a famed dairy herd, now festers a council rubbish dump, which
the two lads are employed to damp down by spraying it with scented
Enter golf shop owner Lol (Claude
Close), his wife, Esther (Sue Wallace and daughter, Bridget (Lindsay
Allen), newbies in the country and except for Bridget,
who has an agenda of her own gullible with it.
Together with antique shop
owner Inga (Jenifer Armitage) this ill-matched assortment of
Cheshire life is supposedly setting out on that great county
institution, the safari party, in which one course of a meal
is eaten in three different houses.
But, as the plot develops,
it turns into a satire on the heritage industry and pretentious
middle class aspirations, involving everything from butty ball
tables to conservatories erected without planning permission.
Im afraid I found much
of it just too darn silly to be able to join in the hysteria
but, especially in the second and third acts, it does have its
moments, often thanks to the outrageously over the top performance
by Mr Close as a particularly apoplectic bigot in search of revenge.
Good sets too, springing surprises
and making a large contribution to the overall entertainment
Alan Hulme -
- THE SINGING PLAYWRIGHTS
LONG before the plays that
made both their names, music was Willy Russells and Tim
Firths first love. In this show, they return to it with
a seven-piece band, lyrics to linger over and a dazzling overlay
of words and music that youd be hard-pressed to match.
Being playwrights, they know
all about making each word count. But what they are doing here
- cutting up and reassembling their selected prose then interspersing
it with their own songs - offers them the chance to make their
words count in altogether different ways.
The best example is a lovely
song from Firth called Same Thing Twice, about all the things
a man wants to avoid in growing old, not least repeating himself.
Then, while the song is still playing, Russell breaks into a
soliloquy from his novel The Wrong Boy, where his teenage protagonist
remembers his once-vibrant gran and how she ended up repeating
herself. Cue, again, Same Thing Twice: the words exactly the
same, but now with a completely different weight. Brilliant.
Both Russell and Firth have
the kind of range that would allow them to turn their 90-minute
concert in whatever direction they wanted. Theres the sublime
(Living on the Never Never <Easy Terms> from Blood Brothers)
and the joyous (She Give Me, and its highlights from Shirley
These singing playwrights are
indecently talented, but Russells commanding soliloquies
and Firths versatile lyrics combine effectively to make
it a night that only the coldest-hearted could fail to enjoy.
- The Scotsman
THE SINGING PLAYWRIGHTS
Take two writers who started
out wanting to write songs and went on to write plays, film scripts
and musicals, add some highly accomplished musicians, stir in
some telling extracts from their works and a few amusing anecdotes,
and you have the basic ingredients of The Singing Playwrights.
Whats missing, at this point, is the subtle blend Tim Firth
and Willy Russell bring to the show they front. Enjoined by a
disembodied voice to Big it up massive for Russell
and Firth, the pair bounced on stage and into the engaging She
gives me, seamlessly segueing into the rest of their material.
In ninety minutes they ranged
over some of the repertoire of Firth and Russell, songwriters
in addition to extracts from the work of both writers and occasional
lapses into anecdotage. Given that much of Russells best-known
work has been for theatre, rather than film and television, where
Firth made his early name, both Shirley Valentine and The Wrong
Boy, Russells recent novel, feature significantly. As a
theatre acquaintance once put it Willy Russell speaks for
England; however one reacts to that assertion, his work
remains some of the most profoundly political (with a small but
very definite p) as well as profoundly funniest work
to be found on the English stage in the last quarter of the twentieth
The Pleasance Grand audience,
an encouraging mixture of ages, types and presumably tastes werent
disappointed in this or other departments, and while neither
Firth nor Russell ought to immediately abandon the writing day
job, there was enough content behind their deceptively laid-back
tunesmithing to make one hope for more. In both Tim Firths
Last Man Standing (as fine a post-feminist male anthem as youre
likely to get anywhere), and Willy Russells Crazy Days,
a haunting elegy for our changing times, theres worthwhile,
intelligent songwriting going on. The Singing Playwrights has
a single weeks run in Edinburgh, but one suspects that
this show is intended to go on somewhere else, sometime else.
One hopes so.
Bill Dunlop - EdinburghGuide.com
THE SINGING PLAYWRIGHTS
Tupperware. Shopping in Tesco.
Growing old. Its everyday subjects like these that have
informed Willy Russell and Tim Firths successful writing
for stage and screen. So it should come as little surprise that,
when it comes to song writing, they produce well-observed, humerous
and poignant vignettes - and a decent tune to boot.
This is a really enjoyable
show and well put together. I doubt if either Russell or Firth
sees himself as any gods gift to singing, but the singing
is only is only one part of a package that makes for an entertaining
With veteran (!) Plainsong
guitarist Andy Roberts directing the five-piece backing band,
the songs, including mirthful Scousers Europena City of
Culture rap, are given just the right weight of accompaniment.
There are many priceless moments, including Firths tale
of trying to conduct an adult affair in schoolboy French, and
Russells readings from The Wrong Boy, with its fly-trapping
sessions (dont ask: this is a family newspaper), make it
even funnier than I remember it. Theyre on until Monday,
and it would be a hard heart indeed who didnt take some
pleasure from their efforts.
ROB ADAMS -
- IN OTHER WORDS
- Playwright, songwriter and
best selling author, Willy Russell and Olivier award winning
writer, Tim Firth share the stage in a series of shows that blend
the spoken word from their films and plays with songs from their
new albums. You get the rare chance to hear music and anecdotes
from these two humorous writers and composers. The small but
perfectly formed audience seem keen to revisit songs
from Blood Brothers but the joy of this highly entertaining evening
is that this is much more than a rehash of old material.
- Russell and Firth share the
stage with an excellent band as they visit their new albums,
"Hoovering The Moon" and "Harmless Flirting".
The new material veers from the folk sound of "Shoe Shine"
to the melodic toe-tapping anthem "My Little Sister."
The hooks are immediate and mixed with moving and funny lyrics
which remind you why Russell's Blood Brothers and Firth's Our
House fill theatres. There is something unconventional about
these two and this comes across in their songs. Themes of old
age, lost loves and tupperware have a lovely sense of irony and
self deprecating wit but most of all give the audience a slice
of reality to chuckle at in recognition and clap along to.
- Die-hard fans of the talented
two will not be disappointed. Russell reads monologues from Shirley
Valentine which have the audience in stitches. He also plays
the role of the narrator from Blood Brothers as Firth sings his
new album title track "Harmless Flirting." The juxtaposition
here is ingenious as each song has been hand picked for its relevance
to the readings it is framed by. Firth reads a scene from his
hit TV show Preston Front. This reviewer would have loved to
have heard material from Our House or a line or two from Calendar
Girls featuring those "considerably bigger buns" but
you can't have it all.
- This is a unique evening that
not only showcases two brand new albums, it also invites the
audience to see and hear the talent behind the curtain of two
West End hits. There is certainly more to musical theatre than
the names of Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber and these two funny,
humble and talented wordsmiths provide the proof.
IN OTHER WORDS
- HEAVEN forbid that any artist
should be pigeon-holed.
- Almost a century ago, the
pianist Jan Paderewski became Prime Minister of Poland; only
two years ago, Paul McCartney made it to the The Walker with
- Willy Russell and Tim Firth
may be best known as scribes, but both have written award-winning
musicals, respectively Blood Brothers and Our House. So why shouldn't
they mix it as musicians who can also play typewriters and IT
keyboards? The result, a miscellany of selfpenned readings and
songs is relaxed, pleasant and, as may be expected, often humorous.
- Thankfully, there is nothing
of the feeling of celebrity inflicting mere novelty on a curious
- If Firth (from Warrington)
has the fairer, freer-ranging singing voice, Russell's readings
from his play, Shirley Valentine, and his novel, The Wrong Boy,
are superlative. He has the adenoidal resonance to take on any
accent located at either end of the M62.
- The 14-venue national tour
helps to launch two individual CDs. It was poignant to see Russell
reading excerpts from Blood Brothers from the very stage where
it was premiered 21 years ago.
- And it is the music which
takes priority here - mostly refrain-like songs, not particularly
complex, but with memorable melodies and largely simple harmonies.
- There is however, a lyrical
link. Both Russell and Firth (as Russell's one time pupil on
a writing course) seemed concerned with getting older. There
are ballads about youthful love and even warnings about the onset
of senility, including Firth's cautionary title Tell Me If I
say The Same Thing Twice.
- Reality wins the day and here
are two lads who insist they are still growing up. Hopefully
they will be entertaining for a good few years to come.
- Liverpool Daily Post
Marooned with good company
Director Heather Davies revealed
in Friday night's talkback that, having taken part in a team-building
exercise herself, she found that civilisation broke down after
only one day.
It takes rather less time for
four Salford business men to be done with polite office chit-chat
when they find themselves marooned on an island in the middle
of Derwentwater, thanks to convoluted thinking by overgrown Boy
Scout leader Neville (Chris Myles).
From Gordon (Colin Mace), Angus
(Giles Taylor) and Neville's first entrance, splashing through
lukewarm water, to be joined by Roy (Alisdair Simpson), the dialogue
was fast, pacy and simply tremendously funny.
Gordon, master of sarcasm,
has little time for pernickety Angus or religious Roy ("just
look for him at the line where the waters part") and only
wants to get back to civilisation.
The food has sunk, swimming's
out owing to hostile pike and the mobile phone has only enough
battery for one call. When Angus uses this to contact his wife
the answerphone greets him.
It is only after Neville has
short-lived success with rubbing two sticks for hours to produce
fire that Angus reluctantly reveals the Zermatt Self-Lighting
Stove in his knapsack along with other vital survival equipment
-including a solitary sausage.
The contrasting characters
strike sparks off each other - there are cartloads of great one-liners
such as Gordon's response to look-out Roy's query: "Did
you see that?" when he points out that this is "not
a good question for a look out" and the laughter was continuous.
The mood darkens in the second
half with Roy secretive about his past and obsessed with a falcon
flying around the island. In spite of the answerphone message
no help arrives and although there is still humour the tensions
between the four characters mount as good egg Neville desperately
tries to keep the peace.
Finally, author Tim Firth neatly
brings together humour and drama in a bizarre and unexpected
Go if you're feeling a bit down, if only to see the moment when
Team C try to attract the attention of a passing karaoke ferry
The four actors keep the differences
between their characters well defined and their quickfire reactions
combined with Firth humour make this favourite play come up sparkling
as a Lakeland beck.
- NEWBURY WEEKLY TIMES
We have an interview with Liverpool
Daily Post journalist, Philip Keys, in which Tim talks about
the IN OTHER WORDS show. here >>