As You Like It

The Handlebards
Mountfield, open-air event (BAC)

By John Pownall

It’s apt in every way that The Handlebards, a travelling troupe committed to cycling between venues on their 1000-mile-plus theatrical tours to help save the planet, should choose Shakespeare’s very own 400-year-old proto-eco-drama, first performed long before carbon footprints trod the boards, as their seasonal play this year.

Mountfield has hosted many a Bardic night, but surely none quite so madcap as this. The four young women perform all parts, save for those occasions when (genuinely) unsuspecting audience members are drafted in to stand as short-term members of the cast. The fourth wall disappears right at the outset and remains down all night. From time to time a cast member enters the audience to grab a glass of wine or nab a bread roll or piece of quiche.

All very postmodern, to treat the play as a plaything, and to stand aside from the narrative. Perhaps this is the way Shakespeare’s comedy is best handled now, given that it doesn’t always date quite so well as his tragedies or “problem” plays.

Indeed, it’s all great fun. If you had no idea what the play was about before arriving, one suspects you’d have little sense of what it might be about afterwards. You will probably have had lots of laughs (and there are many), but the difficulty with this treatment is that the original play gets lost; the words are wasted, or simply not used. What one is watching is a cast enjoying themselves performing a much-reduced version of the play; one is never transported into the world of As You Like It. The magic of the forest is never really conjured, which is a shame given the company’s environmental message. The play is actually extremely poetic, but The Handlebards elect to emphasise the physical rather than the linguistic aspects of performance.

Yet there were many positives about the production. Eleanor Dillon-Reams was excellent as Oliver/Le Beau/Duke Frederick and (hilariously) Phoebe. Her range of voice and the power of her delivery really did stand out at times. Lucy Green handled the tricky woman playing man against Lotte Tickner’s woman as man very well, and Tickner’s “seven ages” speech was delivered with feeling and freshness. After all the textual pruning, it was a relief to find that this keynote speech was delivered in its entirety. All the cast (especially Jessica Hern) sang beautifully, and supplied occasional musical accompaniment, the ubiquitous ukulele making its customary appearance at regular intervals.

A practical word – if you are thinking of seeking out the production on its rounds, take a thick fleece or jumper. At times, it did feel as though the “winter and rough weather” of the play’s song had arrived a little too early. That said, the audience enjoyed themselves, and while the green was nowhere near full, the cast did not look isolated in their endeavours to entertain Bridport on a somewhat autumnal evening.

By |August 24th, 2017|John Pownall, Theatre|0 Comments


Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
BR Rating ****
Further performances: 13/14/15 July
By John Pownall

First or second night shows can be hard to do and hard to watch, but so confident have the Marine Players become after last year’s success with The Tempest adaptation, that there were no fluffed lines, no false notes, and no missed cues. Not bad for amateurs, or indeed for many professionals.

Historically accurate, this depiction of the West Country rebellion led by the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate Protestant son of Charles II whose line ended and so was succeeded by the Catholic Duke of York (James II), provides an entertaining and engaging history lesson.

The complex and vitally significant 17th century rather gets overshadowed by the twin peaks of the Tudors and the Victorians. The history of England is not all about Spitfires, the Armada, or the growth of Empire, it is also about revolts, betrayals and progressive changes to our political system sometimes, as here, abetted by friends and cousins from continental Europe.

The Marine Players, led brilliantly by Anne King as the older Alice, remind us that many of our rights and liberties have been hard won.

There’s a lot to take in in a short period of time, and a lot to deliver. This makes for some hard work from the actors and the director to keep the action flowing, and the focus clear. The production does all it can to provide the back story, and to invite the audience to feel its contemporary resonances. Indeed, the biggest murmur of recognition came when Jeremy Corbyn’s familiar face appeared on the backcloth used for projected images of the recreated rebellion itself, shot through Lyme’s familiar streets, along with interspersed footage from more recent confrontations. This sort of worked, though some of the footage shots were so brief as to be easily missed, and it is perhaps a little too far-fetched to make a linkage between Labour’s 2017 election manifesto slogan, and the words of the rebels. That said, the production plays into a zeitgeist which is more political perhaps than it has ever been, and so in this sense, those parallels are justified.

Musically enriched by flute and guitar (beautifully played), with some clever use of light and effects, the show is bound to capture the imagination of audiences. The performances are all commendable, with some real strengths on show. Declan Duffy is, as ever, commanding, and Georgia Robson is pitch-perfect as the young Alice, dressed as a boy in the rebel army. This entertaining (if brief) sub-plot was reminiscent of Twelfth Night; and Nick Ivins as Monmouth had more than a hint of Count Orsino about him at times in his gradual recognition of Alice’s hidden identity.

The production was well-balanced, and cleverly- paced to ensure that what could have been a stodgy dollop of history on a sultry July night was extremely lively and fun, while not in any way diminishing the seriousness of the subject matter. All in all, another fine achievement from the pen of Andrew Rattenbury, and the direction of Clemmie Reynolds.

By |July 9th, 2017|John Pownall, Theatre|0 Comments

Ukulele Opera

Roll up! Roll up!
I did….

By Jane Silver-Corren

I want to join the circus and be a flea!

That was the overwhelming desire I had after various unusual auditions for the Bridport Ukulele Opera, Flea, due to be performed in the Electric Palace this May.

The initial meeting for those interested in being part of this amazing venture was unexpected. The ballroom at The Bull was packed with over a hundred fellow Bridportians eager to be involved. I started to itch! Did I have fleas or was I just a bit nervous? But Sally Vaughan, the projects producer, put us at ease, reassuring us that there would be a role for everyone.

Various local celebrities explained aspects of the show: the dance, drama, music, circus skills, all of which involved castings, but I wasn’t fooled. Many of these castings were auditions with a capital A.

So I decided to grab the flea by the bag, or is it the ear, and attempt to get a part in the all-singing ukulele playing chorus. I arrived eagerly on the first minute of the first day of three possible days of auditions for the chorus, along with some 60 other hopefuls. Hooray! Healthy competition. I found my 10-minute audition with the musical director and producer a bit scary.

They didn’t look particularly thrilled with my fantastic rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In, or my enthusiasm for the 10, maybe 12, ukulele chords I convinced them I had mastered in the past 10 years. But they did congratulate me on my audition; then convinced me to try for one of the other roles.

On to the dance castings. Three days later I had a wonderful couple of hours pretending to be the bodily part of a flea…. just my cup of flea…I mean tea. It was really good fun. Anna Golding, dance facilitator, showed us inspiring pictures of fleas, with cute dangly legs and googly eyes, and then the assembled group of all ages and sizes had to transform themselves into a giant flea, followed by a mechanical flea. It was fleatastic. For once, it was socially acceptable to hop around and make buzzing noises.

Then, about a week later the final audition, musical theatre, basically a main acting part with some singing and hopefully a few circus skills too (ha, ha, ha). After a few bonding games the group of about 30 of us were divided into groups of four. We had auditions in front of the producer, musical director, musical theatre director and drama director…not at all intimidating!

We had to speak and sing phrases from the opera in various different moods. I had a great deal of difficulty taking this seriously and spent most of the time giggling, especially when asked to be compassionate or angry…or kind! In the end, the director just let me do my own thing, so I enjoyed hopping around the room shouting ‘I want to be a flea’ which is hopefully what I’ll end up being…or at least a dancing leg of a flea, if I’m very lucky. I’ll just have to wait and flea what happens!

Sally Vaughan, producer of Flea, the Bridport Ukulele Opera is still looking for help, particularly free rehearsal and storage spaces, set-builders, materials such as timber, paints and costumes, scaffolding and people with childminding qualifications. Please contact if you can help.

By |February 5th, 2017|Opera|0 Comments


madame-celine-played-by-hester-goodman-ukulele-orchestra-of-great-britainRelaunch Thursday 5 January
Ballroom, Bull Hotel, 7-9pm

Flea! No, don’t flee. Come to the public launch, relaunch, of the community opera first mooted in 2015 but put on hold when an application for a grant from the Arts Council was unsuccessful.

The principle funds are now in place, thanks in particular to the Electric Palace, and the show is on, scheduled for May 2017.

Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson

Written and composed by Andrew Dickson and Sally Vaughan, the musical tells the story of Madame Celine, ring-mistress of an extraordinary flea circus, and her introduction to the ukulele. Hester Goodman from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, plays the lead. The director is Niki McCretton from the Stuff & Nonsense Theatre Company and Anna Golding of the No Limits Dance Group is the choreographer.

That comprises a seriously talented and accomplished group, but a people’s opera needs people. Roles are available on stage and off for a wide variety of participants, actors, musicians, singers, set-builders, helpers of every kind.

Visit for further information.
To register your interest email

By |December 31st, 2016|Music|1 Comment

The Mouse Outfit

Electric Palace
Saturday 17 December 8pm
Tickets £10 (18+)

Preview by Jonah Corren

The Mouse Outfit are consistently said to be destined for greatness. The unique brand of hip-hop they produce leaves no questions as to why.

Formed eight years ago by music teacher Paul Hooley (known in the band as ‘Chini’) and musician James Defty in Manchester, they subsequently recruited an impressive roster of musicians by hosting live jamming sessions to meet local talent.

These days, The Mouse Outfit is a nine-piece band held together by Chini on the keys, Defty on the bass and percussion maestro ‘Pitch’ on the drums and MPC. Their live shows are fronted by renowned rappers ‘Dr Syntax’ and ‘Sparkz’ who have featured on several of their album tracks among a plethora of talented artists.

To have these guys in Bridport is an absolute coup, and they would be recommendable to any fans of hip-hop or generally excellent music. Booking in advance is a must.

By |December 12th, 2016|Jonah Corren, Music|0 Comments