A review of Threshold Theatre's A Chorus Line, an interview with Norwich-based actor Joanna Swan, who features in Crude Apache Theatre's latest production, We Will Stand, and a brief look at a few upcoming shows in the region.
Hello and welcome to episode seven of the East Anglian Theatre Podcast.
Salutations, and that’s a word I probably haven’t used since reading Charlotte’s Web. Salutations and greetings to you all. Are we all buckled up? I hope so, because there’s a white-knuckle ride awaiting you this week. Hahahaha. Who am I kidding? There’s no thrills and excitement to be had, just more of my dreary monotony, until I’m rudely interrupted by someone better. I am your host, Ray Tempesta, and whilst I think of myself as something of a guide to a bit of the theatre related activity in the region, you probably think of me as a self-important moron who loves the sound of his own voice and made the world a poorer place by purchasing a microphone. But still, here we are. Anyway, if you find your loathing for me growing by the second, fear not, every second that passes is a second closer to the interview with a guest, and for those that really dislike me, it’s a second closer to my death. The interview is coming up of course, but first, the pesky admin bit.
The East Anglian Theatre Podcast has a Facebook and Twitter account. Like them, follow them, or even leave a devastatingly honest review. I don’t care. I’ve got broad shoulders, I can take it. Unless it’s a compliment. Not very good at taking those. Probably due to how unfamiliar they are. The social media pages usually feature links for upcoming shows and auditions that I mention, of which there’s usually four of five in each episode, but of course do feel free to get in touch if you’d like me to share a post, mention a show or audition opportunity on the podcast, or even if you’d like to be my interviewee on a future episode. My door is always open. In digital and social media terms, I mean. You can’t just wander through my front door, you weirdo.
Right, now that's taken care of, what have I been up to theatre-wise recently? Well, you may recall I interviewed April Nash, the director of A Chorus Line, a couple of weeks ago, which was being staged by Threshold Theatre. I went to watch the finished product at the Playhouse in Norwich. Now, if you caught last week’s podcast, you’ll know my views on the word amateur when it comes to theatre, and how the term can almost cast an unwanted shadow over groups and shows with a much more professional ethos. Threshold Theatre very much falls into that category in terms of the word amateur being an unjust label, as what they produced at the Playhouse was anything but.
The show began with a whisper, deliberately, as the auditionees slowly filed on stage while the audience continued to make their way into the auditorium. The stage was laid bare, so there was no place for the cast to hide as we witnessed them nervously or enviously glancing at the competition for a place in the chorus line of the unnamed Broadway show. They’d clearly been taught a routine in another room by the dance captain, Lori, played superbly by Phillippa Nortcliffe by the way, who looked like she was having a ball on stage. The show then begins with them all taking their places ready to be judged by the Director, Zach, who was portrayed with solid authority, but also a bit of heart too, by James Bell. And with a 5,6,7,8 we were launched headlong into the opening song and dance routine. For those unfamiliar with A Chorus Line, the show gradually explores each of the characters’ back stories and motivations for wanting a place in the chorus line. An initial line-up of 20-odd auditionees are quickly slimmed down to just sixteen, and it’s these sixteen characters whom the spotlight is focused on as they compete for one of the eight places on offer.
And that’s the last time I mention the story itself. I can’t stand when I read reviews of shows where the majority of their so-called review is just repeating a synopsis of the show. As interested parties, we all want to know what you actually thought about the show and the performances, so that’s what I’m going to do.
So here goes. While it’s true to say that the show as a whole was greater than the sum of its parts, that’s not a reflection on individual performances, simply that they shined brightest as a cohesive unit. And that’s a huge compliment to the production team, as yes, they were blessed with some fantastic talent among the cast who each had their solo moments to sparkle, but it’s the parts where they all supported each other, their micro-interactions with each other, the beautiful harmonies, and incredible choregraphed routines, that were the most impressive. With a more or less naked stage, there was no distractions for the audience, so the attention to detail had to be perfect as the cast was the only thing we were looking at throughout. And it was perfect. At any given time, when I took my eyes away from the soloist or focal point at that moment, those around them had full concentration and were completely immersed in their characters. And that speaks volumes of the direction and their individual professionalism, especially given that the show that I watched was the last in their run and their second that day.
Whilst I could justify it given the level of performance, there simply isn’t enough time to wax lyrical about each performer, but there is a handful of special mentions I’d like to give. First of all, Georgia Folkard was a revelation as the quiet, unassuming Maggie. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what grabbed me about her performance, but there was just this purity to it that made you want her character to do well. Yes, Georgia could sing and dance, they all could, but it was her acting that made me sit up and take notice. Her character was quite a meek one and would be easy to overlook in that line-up, but she made the most of the part without resorting to overacting in order to leave a lasting impression. Everything she did, from the smallest movements and facial expressions to her solo number was faithful to her character, and it really impressed me. Speaking of impressive, and Holly Graham never fails to impress, but her acting skills were also given a stern test with this show and she passed with flying colours. It's testament to the skill of an actor when you can't imagine anyone else being able to play a part quite as well, and that's what I felt with Holly in the role of Sheila. There was an emotionally charged monologue from Nic Gordon, who portrayed the badly damaged Paul, and Nic offered it up in such a delicate and fragile way, highlighting that he really is the full package when it comes to performance. If I’m being a teensy bit critical, I think he could have slightly reined in the self-hugging and arm-rubbing device that he used throughout his monologue, as the longer it went on, it threatened to distract from what was otherwise a beautifully delivered piece. As with Holly, Kathryn White always impresses me, but this time it was it was acting through dance that had the biggest effect on me. As a dreadful dancer myself, when I’m watching others dance, the only feelings that are ever stirred up in me are usually jealousy, but on this occasion, Kathryn conjured something both beautiful and desperate in her solo number as the fallen Cassie. And finally, Ben Woodward put in an incredible turn as Richie. It would be very easy to dismiss his character as one simply there to play for laughs, but his skill as a dancer was impossible to overlook, and the way he portrayed the role was just, as this kind of ball of nervous energy which gave way to a person struggling to know who he is, and you couldn't help side with him.
As I said earlier, this was really about the cast as a unit, and my god did they all produce something really special between them. I noticed that Threshold Theatre have asked for suggestions about which show they should do next. I'll be keeping a close eye on when they make their decision, as I would love to check out whatever they do next.
However, we move on to the main feature now, the interview. And I'd like to introduce you to an actor who has been involved in, for want of a better term, amateur theatre in this region since the early 2000s but acting is also her profession. Her name is Joanna Swan, and she is currently rehearsing for Crude Apache Theatre’s upcoming production, an original play called We Will Stand. Oh, and she also happens to have autism, which is a topic that we discuss in this interview too. So without further ado, which is a shame because I do so enjoy an ado, here is an interview with Joanna Swan.
(interview - no transcript available)
So, there we have it, that was Joanna Swan. At the time of recording the interview, Joanna didn’t have all the correct start times and running times of their show, We Will Stand, so I edited that part of the interview out, but she has subsequently provided me with that info, which I will share on the Facebook and Twitter accounts, but it’s worth noting that the show is on between the 24th June and the 3rd July at various outdoor spaces in Norwich, Wymondham and Great Yarmouth. They suggest bringing a blanket or some form of seating to make your experience more comfortable, or perhaps even a picnic. And of course, you’ll all know that we aren’t able to rely on the Great British weather to do what it should at this time of year, so you should probably bear that in mind too.
The show is 75 mins, with no interval. It is entirely free, but they do pass a bucket around at the end, of which a contribution is absolutely voluntary.
Now, what else is coming up in the region in the next few weeks?
Well, over in Bury St Edmunds, the Theatre Royal is playing host to Hamlet the Comedy from the 22nd to the 24th June. It’s produced by Oddsocks Productions and the famous tragedy is performed as never seen before with lots of laughs, music and memorable moments.
In Norwich, Spooky Kid are performing two one-act comedy plays called No Tomatoes, and The Door. They’ll be performing at Bowling House for two nights on the 23rd and 25th June. The show’s creator Jim Blythe got in touch with me a while ago to ask if I’d like to be involved in some way, but once again, due to prior commitments I couldn’t do it, but I had the chance to read the scripts, and they were very funny, so well worth popping along.
And last but not least, the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society, or IODS, are performing the musical Sweeney Todd at the New Wolsey Theatre between the 29th June and 2nd July. It was a show originally arranged for 2020, so their 40-strong cast and 12-piece orchestra, plus the production team have been waiting for a couple of years for this moment.
As usual, I’ll feature links for all the shows mentioned on the Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that’s about it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening, and tune in next time for a review of Orca at The Sewell Barn Theatre, as well as more of the same old shit that I bore you all with. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, and go watch some theatre. Bye.