|"Gi' o'er Jud!"|
The Northcott has changed slightly, with a more spacious bar area upstairs - still a great place to congregate before a play or concert. Outside there are major upheavals. The Great Hall is being refurbished while extensive construction work is taking place in what used to be the car parks. Motorists are advised to be aware that the only option for parking is to drive past the theatre and out to car parks A and B, then walk back. The walk is about five minutes so it is essential to arrive early. There are five parking spaces for wheelchair users outside the upper entrance to the bar and stalls.
'Kes' was well worth the walk. Third year drama student Charlie O'Reardon, with the assistance of students Simone Hoggart and Rachael Burton, put together a very coherent portrayal of Barry Hines' original concept. The staging was stark, a black backdrop with various props to create the many scenes. The actors, with a few extras, shifted the scenery themselves while acting out little improvisations of their own - often very witty. The most difficult switch was Billy's flashback as he described finding his kestrel to the class at school. The pupils rearranged their chairs to suggest an outdoor scene and Will Hughes, as Billy, provided the narrative and acting to complete the illusion. Other scenes were worked in similar ways. Only the pub scene seemed a little over-ambitious. It was not possible to keep track of all the cameo scenes going on, but each taken individually was very convincing.
Everyone is Billy's life seemed antagonistic and self-obsessed - with the exception of the English teacher Mr Farthing who was very sensitively played by James Bailey. Most oppressive was Billy's older half-brother Judas played with frightening credibility by Joe McDonnell (main picture). Although actors Will and Joe are actually of similar build they managed to appear as a frail and sensitive, but surprisingly plucky, fourteen year old schoolboy trapped in an intimate family environment with his much bigger and stronger older half brother, a frustrated and unhappy mineworker who bullies his younger brother quite mercilessly. Jess Price as their mother, despite the same problem of being roughly the same age as her 'sons', managed to give a very good impression of a world-weary, and often unsympathetic, middle aged would-be arbitrator.
Zac Price was true to Bob Bowes version of the headmaster, Mr Gryce, in Ken Loach's 1969 film version of the play, relying on a lot of shouting to cover his feelings of impotence, and irritation, with recalcitrant schoolboys. In an odd twist it was one of the girls he ended up caning for no reason. This was a little surprising because, even at the time Barry Hines' original novel was set, men caning girls was not considered acceptable.
Luke Theobald, on the other hand, was not at all like Brian Glover's games master Mr Sugden. In 'Stanley Matthews' shorts, Luke presented a much more overtly laughable character, but nonetheless just as wantonly vindictive as the original. Sugden's ludicrous antics, playing football against schoolboys to win, were filmed at St James Park (Exeter!) but, sadly, could give only the impression of a real school football match. There simply were not enough 'players' to make up two teams. The film still provided an amusing interlude, however.
Over all the production was well constructed and directed. The students held the story together well and impressed the audience with their confident acting ability. Another production by 'EUTCo' will be well worth looking out for - when the EUTCo members' formal studies allow time.
This week the 'Uncommon Players' perform Andrew Bovell's 'Speaking in Tongues' at the Northcott. There are two performances tonight and tomorrow (21&22 Feb). Full details at www.exeternorthcott.com.
Miracle Theatre Company will performing 'Beauty and the Beast from Mars' at the Northcott from Thursday to Saturday (24-26 Feb) with an additional matinée performance at 2.30pm on Saturday. Full details at www.exeternorthcott.com.
Punt and Dennis are at the Northcott next Wednesday, but needless to say that show is already sold out.
News about 'Hamlet', Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers' and a classical concert by the Piatti Quartet - all at the Northcott in March - will feature in the next 'Classical Journey' programme - on Tuesday 1st March.