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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Richard III and The Comedy of Errors

13th to 30th April 2011.

Review of Richard III

13th to 21st April 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Murder most foul

Propeller deliver their Richard III bloodfest at The Watermill

Richard III, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until April 21

History. Tragedy. Comedy. Edward Hall's all-male Propeller gives us all three in Richard III, plus another for the Shakespearean repertoire: Horror. Gothic horror to (calipered) boot.

In a bloody murderfest, bodybags abound, their contents poisoned, hacked by axe and decapitated by chainsaw in Richard, Duke of Gloucester's brutal climb to the throne of England.

This, the longest of Shakespeare's plays, has been distilled into two-and-a-half hours and made all the more intense given the confines of the Watermill stage and the presence of 20 characters.

Yet funny too. As over-the-top as Richard Clothier's twisted despot may be, the arch manipulator can charm the audience and has us, at times, complicit in his masterplan.

Michael Pavelka's set mixes industrial scaffolding with a Victorian hospital ward cum asylum, a place of madness where screens enfold the actors while Richard plots, and modern-day plastic strip curtains field the torrent of bloody violence.

Propeller old guard and newer boys play the ill-fated nobles and heirs that stand in the way of Richard's ambition, as well as masked henchmen in labcoats, wielding weighty syringes that extract the lifeblood of England - are they butchers or medics? One minute they clinically carry out vile executions, the next they sing sacred songs with voices of angels. A country in turmoil.

As for those poor little Princes in the Tower - legless puppets drifting above the stage, manipulated by actors - they disappear forever behind those plastic curtains to the chilling strains of a lullaby.

As the audience wearies of the bloodbath, we cry thank heaven for the lack of a horse and the appearance of the white-clad Richmond. His defeat of Richard at Bosworth effectively ended the Wars of the Roses - 32 years of civil war between the Houses of York and Lancaster - the blackest period of medieval times.

But like all good villains, Richard comes back to life on stage to deliver one last laugh.


Reviews of The Comedy of Errors

22nd to 30th April 2011.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

A security guard ushers us into the auditorium, with a “Buenos tardes”. Inside, a Latin American band, in football shirts and sombreros, is playing, and there’s a carnival atmosphere. (Why? Who cares. The lady next to me said, “Looks like it’s going to be fun”, and she was right.)

Down to the action. Two sets of twins were separated in a storm at sea 33 years ago. Now masters (both conveniently called Antipholus) and servants (ditto Dromio) end up in Ephesus, and we have a mistaken identity play of the type that seemed to go down a treat with Elizabethan audiences.

It’s never easy casting two sets of identical twins for Comedy of Errors, but Propeller make a good stab at it, matching them perfectly in height and pretty well in physical appearance (think Jedward with dark hair for Antipholus).

Edward Hall’s brilliant production is pure slapstick, verging on pantomime, and delivered at breakneck speed. With local references, songs and audience interaction (I’m glad I wasn’t in the front row), it’s not exactly as Shakespeare wrote it, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

You always get good acting from Propeller, but I particularly liked Robert Hands and David Newman as the hysterical Adriana and her repressed sister Luciana, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Sam Swainsbury as Antipholus, and Richard Frame and Jon Trenchard as the increasingly manic Dromios. Also Kelsey Brookfield as the pouting ‘courtesan’ and Tony Bell (stealing the show as usual) as Pinch, the preacher-man/conjurer.

And it’s a fairly safe bet that this is the only time you’ll ever see a Shakespeare play with a naked man running through the theatre with a lighted sparkler up his bum.

I’ve seen some amazing Shakespeare from Propeller over the years, but this is the funniest Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t got tickets, you’re probably too late, but beg the box office for returns.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Mad, bad and dangerous

There's no mistaking Propeller at The Watermill

The Comedy of Errors, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until April 30


This show so reminded me what I love about Propeller - their energy, their skill and their entertainment. We knew we were in for some fun from the moment the sombrero- wearing, football-shirted chorus transported us with their percussion and Latin beat to their tacky, grafittied resort that passed for Ephesus.

So, we have two sets of identical twins, shipwrecked at birth; one pairing of master and bondsman fetching up in Ephesus, and the other in Syracuse, until 33 years later, when Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio arrive at the home of their brothers Antipholus of Ephesus and his man Dromio.

Once the conceit of the story was established and our ears attuned to the text, off we romped with our favourite ensemble of cheeky boys, obviously relishing their release from last week's intense Richard III bloodfest, for a hilarious farce of mistaken identity, accusations of infidelity and theft, a near-seduction and an exorcism.

It was a cartoon of comic capers, the pace escalating towards the frenzied finale and a masterclass in the speedy delivery of Shakespeare's iambic pentameters.

While Antipholus of Ephesus carouses with a bunny-eared, fluffy-tailed courtesan, his Syracusian twin haps upon his shrew of a wife Adriana - and you have to suspend disbelief at this drag-queen vision of leopard-skin trim - who believes him to be her husband. He makes moves on her sister and confusion rules.

The audience reeled in the aisles as raggedy-haired Dromios bore the brunt of slapstick beatings, as the dominatrix abbess with whip, wimple and fishnets gave sanctuary to the confounded Syracuseans, and all hell let loose.

Enter Pinch the conjuror with all the razzmatazz of a TV evangelist, to purge the madness - praise the lord - and cast out those devils.

While we expected the exposed charlatan to receive some fiery retribution, it made tears burn our eyes at what he had pinched between his buttocks, running naked through the stalls.

All's well that ends well - and that's another play. Everything is reconciled... the truth is out and we all go home happy.