Tag Archives: Alastair Whatley

The Original Theatre Company

Artistic director Alastair Whatley has had a good lockdown. His Original Theatre Company started by filming its productions, The Croft and The Habit of Art, when denied a live audience back in March. Since then, three online productions, including the acclaimed Birdsong, have been enjoyed on the theatre’s own streaming site. Currently two shorts are generously available for free.

Watching Rosie

For personal reasons, I normally shy away from theatre about dementia. But this short film, first screened in August, is a wonderfully sensitive and inspiring piece with an important purpose.

Highlighting the plight of dementia sufferers, and their careers, during current times, Louise Coulthard’s video call scenario is moving and sweet. It focuses on loneliness as much as failing faculties.

Miriam Margolyes, Amit Shah & Louise Coulthard in Watching Rosie Original Theatre Company
Miriam Margolyes, Amit Shah & Louise Coulthard in Watching Rosie

Coulthard also stars as Rosie, who is calling her nan, and while the pain of the situation is clear there’s also humour. Miriam Margolyes plays the elderly Alice to perfection, showing the frustration and fear that this cruel condition brings.

As the title indicates, it’s Alice who is watching out for Rosie. Matchmaking in lockdown, with a volunteer who is bringing food, a date is arranged for her granddaughter! Reminding us of what Alice can still do manages to suggest possibilities as well as problems.

Mrs Goldie vs The World

A new addition, Nicky Goldie’s piece, which she wrote and performs in, follows similar lines. This time a middle-aged carer recounts looking after her mother during lockdown. Cooking and having a glass of wine as she asks “permission to rant” makes for a sociable and intimate feel that Goldie (pictured top) sustains with ease.

Mrs Goldie may claim to suffer from dementia herself, but she’s as sharp as they come. Sometimes, a little too sharp for her daughter so that, presumably based on real life, the piece has a frank and honest tone. This is a vivid, enjoyable, depiction of great affection. Mrs Goldie is a character you long to hear more about.

Aided by Goldie’s impersonations, a “grumpy old woman” comes to life with her independence and eccentricities. That she’s a touch snobbish is easily excused – anyone who corrects Julian Fellowes is fine with me – and it’s sincerely hoped that she is as “indestructible” as her daughter describes.

Coming next…

Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon is also available to view. This new online play written by Torben Betts boasts strong reviews. And there’s a Christmas treat in store: from 17 December Philip Franks has adapted an MR James ghost story that should be perfect for dark winter nights. Tickets are available at a special pre-order price of £12.50 now.


“Birdsong” from The Original Theatre Company

While wanting to get out of my living room and into a real auditorium as soon as possible, this online show is a fantastic effort at producing theatre during lockdown.

Adapting her previous stage production for the internet, Rachel Wagstaff has an intelligent eye on what works on screen, using letters and prayers for effective solo scenes to camera. The film’s editor Tristan Sheppard benefits from the effective sound design (Dom Bilkey) and subtle backgrounds by David Woodhead, carefully focusing attention on fantastic performances.

If the final result is uneven, its problems are shared with the source material – Sebastian Faulks’ hit novel – exacerbated by Wagstaff’s slightly reverential approach to the text.

Faulks is closely involved with the project, serving as a narrator. That’s quite a coup… but not a successful one. As good his writing is, Faulks is not a performer and it might have been better to get a cast member to read his work. But the story is great and this World War I drama, focusing on soldiers who tunnelled under enemy trenches, is gripping stuff.

Max Bowden as Tipper
Max Bowden

The production makes the most of the show’s two leads – sapper Jack Firebrace and lieutenant Stephen Wraysford – leading to magnificent performances from Tim Treloar (pictured top) and Tom Kay, respectively. Credit to directors Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters, who have done fantastic work with both leads and supporting cast, especially Max Bowden and Samuel Martin. Jack is the hero, and Treloar makes him a valiant figure. Meanwhile, Kay’s exploration of Stephen’s quirky edge adds intrigue, even danger, to the character.

Tom Kay and Madeleine Knight
Tom Kay and Madeleine Knight

The love story told alongside the battle of the Somme isn’t such a success, in truth it drags a little. While Madeleine Knight’s final scene is wonderful, Stephen’s adulterous romance with her character, Isabelle, has little chemistry. It’s hard when the performers can’t be in the same room. Isabelle’s cuckolded husband proves more interesting, as Stephen Boxer proves expert with the character’s threatening and dismissing remarks.

Maybe because the love affair feels hollow, having both the war and the romance described as a “crime against nature” doesn’t have the impact intended. Instead, it’s the characters journey into darkness that interests – more credit in particular for Kay – and provides the emotional power the show undoubtedly boasts. For all the technical accomplishment, that this comes from performances makes it cheering to note how much better Birdsong would be live.

Until 4 July 2020