Tag Archives: Park Theatre

“Kim’s Convenience” at the Park Theatre

It’s a little odd to see a play, with clear potential, that has already gone on to bigger things – it feels like the wrong way around! It’s easy to see why Ins Choi’s script has been developed as a TV show; the scenario is fruitful and the comedy excellent. If it isn’t quite as strong a show on stage, the evening is fun and the play highly entertaining.

The scenario is key: our titular hero is from Korea, his shop is in Canada and his children have been raised there – cue cultural and linguistic differences that mean the jokes can run and run. There aren’t a lot of surprises, but everything is handled neatly, and Esther Jun’s direction is, also, tidy. Quality is assured by interesting characters, sensitive issues, and strong performances.

Both Mr Kim and his estranged son, Jung, are strong characters. The elder endears but is also a little scary, he doesn’t mind being unreasonable. Understandably, Choi gives an assured performance of his own writing and is a pleasure to watch. Jung has been in trouble with the law and is now struggling as a new father. The role engenders the piece’s quieter moments and is performed with commendable calm by Brian Law. Is a reconciliation between the two possible? Of course. But it’s still sweet.

Mr Kim’s daughter, Janet, doesn’t fare as well with a disappointing, underwritten, role. But, there’s still a strong performance from Jennifer Kim. And Janet has a nice love story that provides a good part for Miles Mitchell (who also impresses as various shoppers at the store). Janet is very much the foil for her dad’s jokes – they are good jokes – but the character is sometimes only there to get them off the ground. The problem is even bigger for Mrs Kim (a role Namju Go seems wasted in) who gets to do very little indeed.

The action moves along nicely, the jokes arrive at a satisfying pace. The play is short (90 mins without an interval) but perfectly formed. From the Canadians in the crowd, it seems designer Mona Camille (and, presumably, prop supervisor Shupin Liu) deserves special praise for sourcing so many goodies for the shelves. The shop itself looks good. What’s on offer is worth buying. Even if, when it comes to the play itself, there isn’t that much in store.

Until 10 February 2024


“The Garden of Words” at the Park Theatre

At a guess, Susan Momoko Hingley and Alexandra Rutter’s adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s anime suffers from being too enamoured of its source. If you don’t know the original novel or film, then the story, structure and characters are confusing on stage. While bringing the genre to the theatre is an interesting project, I fear this production is for fans only.

We follow two school pupils through snatched scenes. Takao wants to design shoes and plays truant to talk to an older woman in the park when it rains. Meanwhile, Shōko has an abusive relationship with a basketball player conducted entirely over the phone. It’s intriguing, if slow, and looks at plenty of teenage troubles. But the disjointed telling means too much time is taken working out the basics.

It’s impressive that two young leads manage to make the show watchable. Shoko Ito and Hiroki Berrecloth are engaging and ably supported by James Bradwell and Susan Momoko Hingley herself, who play the latter’s brother and mother respectively. All bring out a good deal of tenderness and humour when addressing their characters’ various insecurities and problems – but issues arrive out of the blue and lack subtlety.

The twist, that the women Takao is talking to, Yukari, turns out to be a teacher, is tough to believe. And Yukari’s actions seem oddest of all – drinking in the park while she’s supposed to be at work. The chronology means problems in the school are a puzzle. Aki Nakagawa’s beatific portrayal of her makes her problems pale. The theme of intergenerational friendship is lost.

Maybe it’s better to think about the show in terms of atmosphere. Here, Rutter’s work as a director is better. There are attempts to create a poetic air that reflects the characters’ isolation. The movement is good and the music from Mark Choi is excellent. But problems persist. Cindy Lin’s set ends up fussy, with benches moved around interminably. And the show does not sit well with venue’s thrust stage – in particular, projections of poetry are too brief and too small.

The tone of the piece changes after the interval – what’s going on becomes clearer. But there are still those questions about motivation. We’re told that “all humans are weird” more than once and we can see that’s true. But it isn’t obvious where the observation leads. Such puzzles about Takao’s and Shōko’s feelings might be fine if the production was engrossing, but it all feels pruned rather than profound.

Until 9 September 2023


Photos by Piers Foley

“Bones” at the Park Theatre

Lewis Aaron Wood’s well-intentioned play is elevated by the work of director Daniel Blake. If this examination of the mental health problems of a rugby player – Ed – is not as insightful as might be hoped, Blake’s staging is strong, and his cast’s performances are impressive.

Aaron Wood has focus, and Bones is neatly written. While the dialogue is occasionally stilted, this reflects the play’s characters, who are believable, if not compelling. Ed says surprisingly little about his depression and anxiety, or even his recently dead mother. Of course, reticence is part of the point. But interactions with family and friends show his problems are a poorly kept secret, so tension in the piece doesn’t work dramatically.

Ed cannot manage an “injury that doesn’t heal”, and the connection between physical and mental health, highlighted through sport, shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone. Moreover, the machismo of the rugby team is well-trodden ground. Instead, it is when Aaron Wood writes about the game itself that the script takes off. Presenting rugby as a “safe space” is a smart irony.

Ronan Cullen

While the play is better on sport than on mental health, there are plenty of secure performances to be proud of, especially in Ronan Cullen, who takes the lead and complements the script. Cullen does not stress his character’s pain – Ed wouldn’t do that – but he brings an intensity to the role that is commanding. Ed’s friends make strong roles for Ainsley Fannen and Samuel Hoult. Fannen brings out some laddish humour well (another strong point of the script), while showing us a silly but sensitive young man. Hoult’s character also convinces, but it’s a shame the dynamic of his being slightly older isn’t explored more. Last but by no means least is the hardworking James Mackay, who takes on multiple roles including Ed’s father, another character who could easily be developed.

The talented cast excels when it comes to Blake’s ambitious direction of scenes on the rugby pitch. The physicality is hugely impressive, with everyone throwing, catching, forming scrums and tackling one another. These scenes, enhanced by Eliza Willmott’s sound design, are hugely effective and almost frightening in such a small theatre! While this is an uneven show, the games and training are brilliantly depicted and match Aaron Wood’s most inspired moments.

Until 22 July 2023


Photo by Charles Flint

“Paper Cut” at the Park Theatre

Andrew Rosendorf’s story of Kyle, a badly injured soldier, is a big play about an awful lot of pain. The piece might explain more about the particulars of its 2011 setting – the U.S. war on terror and the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy for LGBTQ military. And it might go into more detail about post-traumatic stress. But Paper Cut impresses in the effort to broaden concerns into the topic of identity. Examinations of trauma, family, and masculinity all play a part.

The acting in this production is strong. Callum Mardy takes the lead with a brave performance as Kyle. The character is pained and shocked by his injuries but also by his past. Dealing with his childhood as well as what happened in Iraq is overwhelming – for the audience as well as the character – but Mardy manages to show us the man behind the trauma alongside how events have shaped him. 

As a study of machismo, the title is a ridiculous downplaying of Kyle’s injuries, Paper Cut is discomforting. Emasculation here is literal and addressed frankly. Time is also spent on showing how work and patriotism shape identity and both prove, by turns, moving and frustrating. The way Kyle betrayed his brother, and in turn feels he was betrayed in Iraq, are both shocking moments that need unpacking.

Prince Kundai

It seems an open question as to how much Kyle struggles with his sexuality, at least as an adult. An affair with his comrade Chuck, played by Prince Kundai, has flashback scenes that bristle with intimacy and tenderness. Kundai is a hugely exciting performer who gives an emotional portrayal with light touches. But the difficulties both men face when back home mean pursuing the romance is a step too far dramatically.

There’s also exceptionally strong support from Joe Bollard as Kyle’s estranged brother; a heartrending scene that explains their troubled background is matched by equally powerful, quieter, moments exploring how their relationship is changing. And there is a neat turn for Tobie Donovan who shows some strong comic skills as a gauche friend from High School.

Director Scott Hurran brings steely nerves and tight control to a script that sometimes overreaches. It would be easy to have everyone shouting and crying all the time…but it wouldn’t be convincing. You might say the approach is calm – for all the tragedy of events and high emotions – the pace is thoughtful and with so much going on that is smart. Hurran gives the play and his performers time to breathe so that the back and forth between events past and present has a bold rhythm. Paper Cut is sometimes difficult to watch but it is easy to recommend.

Until 1 July 2023


Photos by Stefan Hanegraaf

“Leaves of Glass” at the Park Theatre

This welcome revival, from Lidless Theatre, of Philip Ridley’s 2007 play confirms the author as a consistently brilliant playwright. The subject matter includes child abuse and depression – not easy to watch – but what chills and inspires is how Ridley balances accusations, denials and shifting stories while showing how trauma lives on, affecting lives and shaping futures.

Ridley’s is a harsh look at cruel subjects. A sense of paranoia, woven into every line, reflects how the character Steven’s life falls apart: his wife and mother seem against him, while his troubled younger brother makes cryptic demands about confessing… something. Ridley reveals plot as well as any thriller, and director Max Harrison takes his lead – the show is gripping.

The script boasts vivid images: this is a lucid world of violence, vermin and the unexplained. All the unsettling tropes are given time, as they should be – the language is astonishing. Nonetheless, the play is more of a conventional domestic drama than many Ridley offerings – a family putting on a show is clear. Harrison’s incisive approach is further confirmed with the piece’s black humour when the brothers fight or their mum lays down the law.

All the performers clearly admire the script and share Harrison’s vision. Katie Buchholz highlights the strength of her character, Debbie, who is Steven’s wife, adding to the play’s tension. Kacey Ainworth, as the boys’ mother, has strong comedy skills, while the way she ages from one scene to the next at the end of the play left me awe-struck.

Joseph Potter

Joseph Potter takes the role of younger brother Barry, an alcoholic begging and threatening to unearth a past that has ruined his life, balancing sympathy and threat. As his performance in a previous play, Poltergeist, testifies, Potter is an expert at Ridley. He brings a manic energy that matches the writing marvellously.

Taking the lead is Ned Costello in the hugely demanding role of Steven. Understatement is the key to this magnificent performance – Steven’s cool demeanour can be funny but is the first step in our starting to suspect him. As questions mount, Costello shows cracks. It is remarkable that the character can be both sinister and seem weak. At the play’s powerful conclusion, Costello is deeply disturbing.

While scenes with family members are electric, Ridley is a master of the monologue (you can still check out a lockdown highlight – a whole series of fantastic shorts). Steven’s soliloquies are exquisite, brimming with ideas and originality, balancing simple story telling with complex themes. Showing Ridley’s skills with such steely precision secures a five-star rating: an excellent play and production.

Until 3 June 2023


Photos by Mark Senior

“Monster” at the Park Theatre

Abigail Hood’s disturbing play works hard at being hard hitting. Tackling so much trauma – including the death of a child – ensures the drama is powerful. And the show is well performed, despite the bumpy script. But be prepared, the show is not for the faint hearted.

Kayleigh and Caitlin (Hood and Zoe Douglas) are schoolgirl lovers, and their affair is well depicted. Although they are both old for their age, with difficult backgrounds, Hood manages to remind us that they are still children. The girls are endearing and the humour is strong. But laughs stop quickly, and the play explodes in an exaggerated fashion.

An episodic structure, handled at a breakneck pace by director and dramaturg Kevin Tomlinson, feels horribly rushed. There’s little wrong with any of the scenes but all are so short that none quite satisfies. Secondary characters suffer. Although well performed by Gillian Kirkpatrick and Emma Keele, Kayleigh’s mother and a well-meaning schoolteacher do not convince. The former is a religious maniac/prostitute and the latter another victim of abuse seeking to “save” the young girl. Grim is fine, but sketchy proves frustrating.

Kevin Wathen

There is a welcome change of pace after the interval. A calmer approach brings more depth. Set after Kayleigh’s release from prison, the aftermath of her crime is examined in more detail.  The scenario is contrived and the dialogue clunky, even clichéd. But observing how events have changed all the characters leads to good performances (and, since he hasn’t been mentioned yet, Kevin Wathen has a superb scene).

Might there be a too much sympathy for the monster of the title? Kayleigh is a fascinating character, from a smart girl with “no filter” to a woman genuinely haunted by what she has done. Hood conveys all this superbly, with a depiction so determined to be empathetic that it becomes bold and raises interesting questions. Despite problems in the script, which never hold the cast back, it’s interesting and brave to face the monstrous like this.

Until 20 August 2022


Photos by Ben Wilkin

Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at the Park Theatre

You might remember our former Prime Minister’s appeal for Cool Britannia pop stars, or that the man himself was once in a band. But a musical about Tony Blair is still a crazy idea. Which is partly the point of this gloriously mad show from Harry Hill and Steve Brown. Tony! must be seen to be believed.

This trip through Blair’s life and career is crammed with jokes, from simply awful puns to references and catchphrases. But note that you need be a specific age to appreciate the show. The interval saw some frantic Googling and puzzled under-40s.

As a history of New Labour as much as one man, Hill and Brown are so keen not to eulogise their subject that they end up a touch fanatical. The show isn’t scared of offending anyone – which a lot of people commend – and some of the jokes are jaw-droppingly tasteless.

Tony is presented as a grinning idiot. Charlie Baker does well in the lead role. Howard Samuels’ Peter Mandelson is predictably Mephistophelean, but drives the action effectively and gets to do a trick with a balloon. Just how much Holly Sumpton’s Cherie gets out of a Liverpudlian twang is a constant surprise. There are so many cameos I lost count, but I won’t forget Madison Swan’s perfect Princess Diana in a hurry. The joke is that the production is rough, ready and self-referential – I’ve never seen so many bad wigs – and the technique is effective if you have a good memory.

Unfortunately, the musical performances are underwhelming. As for the songs themselves, your toe might tap and the mix of pop pastiche is enlivened by ballroom variations that could be made more of with a bigger band. Tony! is more a revue than a musical, which is fine, but some of the singing is just poor.

It’s Hill and Brown who end up the stars. As well as their comedy careers, they produced the underrated I Can’t Sing and their distinctive sense of humour has a great surreal touch. Combining satire with silliness, you can never quite guess what’s coming next. A lot of it is crazy, some of it cheap and nasty, but I did laugh a lot.

It’s a shame the production doesn’t end happily. But then neither does any career in politics. How to handle the war in Iraq is a concern literally voiced by characters. Inspired by music hall, numbers for Osama bin Laden, Colonel Gaddafi and George Bush aren’t a bad idea. Director Peter Rowe’s efforts to speed up the pace are wise, but the laughs dry up. It’s a shame, really. There’s plenty of talent and clear intention, but it all goes a bit wrong. Now what does that remind me of?

Until 9 July 2022


Photo by Mark Douet

“Ghosts of the Titanic” at the Park Theatre

It’s impressive to give the story of the world’s most famous shipwreck a new twist. Ron Hutchinson’s solid play speculates that the iceberg didn’t exist and creates a conspiracy theory involving corrupt bankers and businessmen. This is a topical spin on fake news being as old as newspapers themselves but, above all, Ghosts of the Titanic is a cracking thriller.

There are two newshounds here – an ambulance-chasing reporter and his hard-nosed editor. The characters are written well and superbly performed by John Hopkins and Lizzy McInnerny. The cynicism around the making of the news is thought-provoking. Do we really believe the ship’s band played on as death approached?

The power of words and narrative continues as we encounter representatives of the law (well, a Pinkerton private eye) and the medical profession (it’s a good plot twist, so I’ll avoid details). Both characters, performed capably by Sarah Ridgeway and Clive Brill, have comic touches. The humour shows Hutchinson’s skills but, to my taste, dampens tension.

Walking with the dead

Even when there are exaggerated moments, all the characters are entertaining. But, aware that conspiracies can become tiresome, flimsy affairs, Hutchinson makes sure there’s strong emotion powering the show. We follow a grieving heroine – a big part for Genevieve Gaunt, who is seldom off stage and always captures attention. And we get our information from an engineer (an impassioned performance from Fergal McElherron).

Both the grief this tragedy engendered and its status as a defining event in history are handled well. There is a sense of responsibility that saves sensational moments from becoming disrespectful. Gaunt’s sensitive yet determined character wobbles, but is ultimately convincing. The strong plot moves along expertly, with Eoin O’Callaghan’s firm direction showing its strength in making flashback scenes clear. In short, the story is good and the story telling is expert.

Until 2 April 2022


Photos by Piers Foley

“Cratchit” at the Park Theatre

‘Tis the theatrical season for Christmas carols. If you’re looking for something a little less traditional, then Alexander Knott’s new play is worth treating yourself too.

Cratchit is a spin on the Dickens classic. It uses the same characters and there are still ghosts. Bob, Scrooge’s clerk, is the focus. While the miserly master is haunted, Cratchit has his own problems to deal with.

Expanding on the poverty Dickens has already written about with legendary skill isn’t wholly successful. But taking a minor role in the original means there’s plenty of room to expand and Knott takes advantage of this.

We see an avuncular Bob at first. The surprise is that he likes a drink. John Dagleish is excellent with the audience and has fantastic charm. As Cratchit’s problems grow, the character darkens. The “painted smile” puts on as part of a cowering servility hides a good deal of anger. There are powerful moments dealing with fear and depression. And it’s a shock to see him contemplate suicide.

The role is an excellent showcase for a performer. Taking on other characters, including Scrooge, Dagleish’s acting is of the highest quality. Likewise, his co-star Freya Sharp who offers admirable support in a variety of roles.

John Dagleish and Freya Sharp

The script is competent, it holds attention. Knott’s own clever direction helps a great deal. It’s all going very well until the ghosts arrive. They are more future focused, fair enough, and come with surprises I won’t ruin. But the glimpses at life that restore Bob’s faith in Christmas are so rushed, they become nonsensical. Knott doesn’t give himself, his audience, or his ideas enough time.

Dagleish keeps up the good work. There is more for Sharp to do – and she does it well. And Emily Bestow’s set comes into its own – the design gets a big tick even if I’m not sure about why we visit the places evoked. If some parts of Cratchit disappoint, there’s a lot of enjoy.

Until 8 January 2022


Photos by Charles Flint

“When Darkness Falls” at the Park Theatre

The promise of a spine-chilling ghost story is always welcome, and this show has not one but five spooky tales, which surely counts as good value.

The spectres range from the 17th century to the present day, framed within the device of a local Guernsey historian, one John Blondel, vlogging. There’s a lot of history – including witch hunts and pirates – that will have you Googling background stories afterwards. The carefully constructed script, from Paul Morrissey and James Milton, plays with setting up connections between the stories well.

Morrissey and Milton want just the right amount of sensation to distinguish the narrator, Blondel’s vlog guest, from your average journalist. They have their reasons. A newspaper’s approach to ghost stories is said to be “short, cheap, generic, repetitive” – avoiding all that creates a script that is a solid, traditional affair. If the dialogue isn’t shy of clichés, they are justified in adding to the atmosphere.

In short, the tales are good. And the telling is even better. These aren’t easy roles. Blondel is presented, at first, as a too-predictable sceptic. Attempts to lighten the mood are a misstep on Morrissey and Milton’s part. And a potential plot spoiler…

Will Barton and Alex Phelps

‘The Speaker’ is a little too obviously otherworldly. This isn’t really hidden (should it be?). Don’t worry, as there are more than enough twists to come.

While the characters aren’t perfect, the performances are. Will Barton works hard as Blondel suggesting an underlying fear with great skill. Participating in the stories – as a character as well as a commentator – impresses further. As The Speaker, Alex Phelps mixes vulnerability with a delicious sense of menace, and manages to vary a performance that could all too easily be static. Above all, Phelps is a great storyteller.

Further aiding effectiveness is Morrissey’s direction and some particularly strong sound design from Daniel Higgott. Wind, whistles and screaming might not be particularly original, but they work. Even better, Higgott appreciates the power of silence and uses it to create tension very well indeed. Excitement and interest are present throughout this quality show. Chilling spines is harder but, if When Darkness Falls doesn’t quite manage that, it is still sure to entertain.

Until 4 September 2021


Photos by Pamela Raith