We’re all mad here

… discovers Abi Manning, as she becomes bewitched by the circus at Movez Maniax Youth Circus’ performance of Almost Alice

Be plunged down the rabbit hole into a circus of visual delight with this lively youth production, which incorporates familiar Wonderland themes with an impressive acrobatic display from a group of talented young women.

Cries of ‘I’m late, I’m late’ and other recognisable lines were interspersed with a series of well-synchronised and imaginatively choreographed interludes, from juggling to hoop throwing to aerial acrobatics – where Alice, the White Rabbit and other familiar characters were suspended from scaffolding set up in the middle of Green Lanes. The stunts continued as the Queen of Hearts got her come-uppance in a grand finale of a spears-through-the-coffin nature – much to the gasps of the younger audience members. ‘Off with her head’ indeed!

The girls delivered an energetic performance that portrayed, through body-bending tricks and colourful costumes, the madness, mayhem and confusion of Lewis Carroll’s famous novel.

Catch them again on Sunday at 1.30pm.

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Self-deprecating British rap from comedy duo Harry and Chris had Abi Manning chuckling all the way down the High Street


They are hailed as the ‘nation’s favourite comedy rap jazz duo’ and if there are any others around, Harry and Chris claim they must be ‘at least in the top two.’

Their brilliantly fun – sometimes poignant, always hilarious – melodic-poetic mashups are earning the pair rising star status after success at Edinburgh Fringe and the Russell Howard show.

The set list is utterly nonsensical in the most joyous way imaginable. Convinced their ‘comedy rap jazz superpowers’ somehow impregnated an endangered giant panda (it was a ‘be there’ thing), the pair set about writing uplifting songs to save the world, from solving the plastic problem (written the day before and inspired by our glorious coastline) to curing Chris’ wife’s hayfever. All this is interspersed with a bonanza of bonkers tunes including a Teletubbies/Beyonce mashup (eh oh, eh oh, eh oh, oh no no) and a Christmas number including a freestyle set about things the audience felt were underrated: kittens, Caroline Lucas and good grammar, as it turns out (admittedly I suggested the last one).

And you know what? Questionable superpowers aside, Harry and Chris turned out to be true heroes of the stage. Because, let’s face it, what greater power is there than using humour to bring folk together over the big (and little) things in life.

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What is a man to you? Rosanna Rothery found this dance theatre piece by Benjamin Wisken evocative and provocative

Gently he circumnavigates the light, his body open, playful and fluid; his face curious. The gentle glow is soft and warm. It seems to compel , comfort and invite the occasional caress.

Next time we see him with the light it’s surrounded by wooden bricks – the kind young boys traditionally build boats and aeroplanes out of. He’s petulant, angry, his body language more twisted, defensive – the gestures more tortured and repressed. One by one he picks up a brick and reads the messages written on them: ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’ ‘pussy’ ‘take it like a man’ . Angrily he flings each piece of indoctrination across the floor, bitterly dismantling the wall of repression surrounding the soft luminosity.

Benjamin Wisken’s offering at this year’s fringe is part contemporary dance, part installation and part chat. He is concerned that no-one is asking the questions: why do young men turn violent? Why are 85 per cent of perpetrators of domestic violence men? Why are most mass shootings carried out by men?

This was only the second time he had performed this piece Softly Falling….my hope is that it continues to evolve and act as a catalyst.

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How the West Was Lost by a Bristol bard

George Chapman found this spoken word performance by The Bard of Windmill Hill absolutely hilarious from start to finish.

The anthology of satirical poems deals with the theme of lust in all its various forms: from the lust for land and guns to a lusty proposition aimed at Mother Nature. Each one is crammed with clever multi-syllabic rhymes and great wordplay.

The best part is the energy that goes into each and every poem (the one about guns for the blind is fantastic fun) and this momentum even makes the one dedicated to Mother Nature (a poem that was featured in last year’s show) every bit as enjoyable as it was on first listening.

The poem that gives How the West Was Lost its name, the only sombre addition in an otherwise hilarious anthology, is arguably the best of the entire show: written with a depth of emotion that makes it really memorable.

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Another thumbs up for The Two Robbies

There’s a lot expectation when a show is presented by not one but two seasoned performers. However for George Chapman, The Two Robbies was even better than anticipated.

The combined talent and whimsical poetry of Rob Barratt and Robert Garnham kept the audience chortling away throughout. The poetry of these two esteemed talents complements each other well: similar humour, with occasional cheesiness, yet different enough to be distinctive.

It’s hard to choose any stand out poems as they are all so funny and change slightly every time; however, for me Robert Garnham’s Poem probably had the edge.

Hilarious poems delivered by two experienced performers.

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Wondering which show to go to tonight?

George Chapman is raving about A Cautionary Tale which explores the dark side of ambition and success

First and foremost this show is amazingly written: there’s an overarching cautionary tale about Lotte Belle who enters into a Faustian pact which grants her success at the expense of others. The story is also interspersed with an exploration of various cautionary tales, some of which ease the transition between different scenes, keeping the pacing constant.

To say that this performance is multi-layered and thought provoking is an understatement, even the supporting characters and their story arches were great, adding to the underlying message of a cautionary tale.

The use of lighting to signal the tonal shifts in the show, the great use of props that help set the scenes – there really weren’t any areas that A Cautionary Tale didn’t excel at or could have improved upon. From start to finish it was a really great show that delivered on its interesting premise and more.

A Cautionary Tale by Rabblerouse Theatre is at The Guildhall on Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 5.45pm.

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Reformed terrorist – have you seen this man? Make sure you do

Rosanna Rothery enjoys the witty outpourings of a rebel without pause

A few left-wing demos and a spot of placard waving does not a terrorist make. Despite his slightly alarming title Andrew Silverwood really doesn’t have the demeanour of a terrorist, albeit a reformed one. Bounding about like a toddler after one too many Haribos, this pixie of polite protest is way too charming. More imp than insurgent.

Admittedly, there was an unfortunate incident when he was a teenager involving his head and a policeman’s fist which, he believes, led to him being put on the constabulary’s ‘dodgy’ list but it’s hard to imagine him sparking an international incident.

If his comedy does veer into radical territory (his tour merchandise does include his own line in condoms don’t cha know?) he doesn’t shy away from extracting mirth from the mundane or the MOR either – his hilarious skit on the frustrations of attempting to buy a hot water bottle from Argos would have sat neatly in a Michael MacIntyre routine.

Expect fresh, precocious, teetering on edgy at times yet thoroughly endearing and funny … go see.

Andrew Silverwood Reformed Terrorist’s show Fragility is at the Golden Lion Tap on Saturday at 8.30pm

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One … two … three … four … five … six … seven … eight … nine … zen…

Feeling overwhelmed by life? Sophie Ellis suggests going to Serena Randall’s seminar for mindfulness. You’ll leave feeling a little bit calmer … or maybe not.

This one-woman show takes a gentle (ok, maybe large) poke at mindfulness – but in doing so raises the question of whether one can really be mindful today in a world navigating work, relationships and letting agents (with the latter particularly hitting home for the renting generation).

While the staging is incredibly minimal, it emphasises the quality of the performance. The monologue, delivered as a workshop at work, is skilfully interwoven with audience participation and some very quick improvisation. It could have been risky to put on such a minimal production for an hour’s show, but the talent of Katie McLeod holds your attention and we had soon come to an end.

The show has moments of genuine heartfelt emotion and pity, but it doesn’t dwell there for long, and soon careers back into humour again with a pithy one-liner. Above all, it is funny, engaging and very relatable. Think Bridget Jones, but for millennials, and just a bit more of a mess.

Losing my Mindfulness by Outside the Frame is at the Golden Lion Tap on Saturday at 10pm and Sunday 1.30pm.

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Brilliantly bonkers

A six-foot woman, her matching sex doll and a wardrobe… Anita Butler’s jaw is still aching after dropping to the floor so many times during this potty show.

From the moment Amanda emerges from her box Coccinellidae had me in stitches. Want to eat cake, wear neon tights, whirl around to Wham!, or jiggle your wobbly bits? Do it! Defy those categories! You will be inspired by this feminist exploration of what it is to be a woman, which merges physical theatre, clowning, comedy and audio testimonies of over 100 women. Costume changes have never been so funny! If you don’t know what coccinellidae means, it would ruin the surprise if I told you… Did I also mention there’s a giant vulva? And for what it’s worth, I couldn’t agree more with her about Taylor Swift. You’ll have to see the show to find out.

Coccinellidae by The Cutlery Crew is at St Anne’s Art Centre on Saturday at 5.45pm and Sunday at 1.15pm.

Nostalgic show harking back to the days of gathering around the radio

George Chapman enjoys a novel presentation of Around The World in 80 Days

Around The World in 80 Days presents the famous story of Phileas Fogg and his attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. The show is mostly low tech using live sound effects and microphones to create the feel of an early 20th century radio show and this unusual storytelling method gives Around The World a lot of charm.

The myriad of characters were all very well presented and enjoyable, with standout performances from the narrator and Phileas Fogg. The costumes were great and the audience participation was also a nice addition to the overall production.

Humour is a personal thing and it didn’t always hit the mark with me but saying that there were also some genuinely hilarious moments.

The show faithfully re-enacts a classic story through a unique medium to create something fun and entertaining.

Around The World by Up Close Theatre is at The Castle Centre on Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 7pm

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Jane Elliott laughed her way home after seeing The Two Robbies

The Two Robbies are Rob Barratt and Robert Garnham. OMG, so funny, we were singing tiddlyom pom pom/jellyfish all the way home in the car. Two very amusing fellows with a great rapport and lovely sparkle present a mix of poems and songs. This is one I would defo watch again as the content changes at each performance. Titanic was one of my faves and Wind Turbine; my teenage daughter loved Data God. Guys you are funny as ..

Getting up close and personal with Clive Mantle in On Top of the World

Clive Mantle has long been a familiar face on stage, screen and TV. Who can forget the hilarious scene he shared with Dawn French as she jumped chest-height into a puddle? Anita Butler found herself enthralled by his tales of Nepal

Having acted with Clint Eastwood and Sigourney Weaver, he also appeared as Greatjon Umber in Game of Thrones, as well as Dr Greysteel in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Perhaps we know him best as dishy doctor Mike Barratt in Casualty and Holy City, Little John in Robin of Sherwood, or as Geraldine Grainger’s lover in The Vicar of Dibley.

What people may not know about is Clive’s life-long love of Nepal, the Himalayas and Everest. Borne out of a fascination for the high points of a landscape and the urge to look down at the lie of the land below, this fascination led to Clive realising his ambition of setting foot on Everest with a month-long charity trek to Everest Base Camp and beyond. In his talk Clive describes his experiences of this magical landscape and the people who live within it. He also regales us with tales of those who not only made it to the top, but also those who perished in the attempt.

Clive has turned his passion for the mystery and magic of the mountains into a story for his son, which has been published as The Treasure at the Top of the World, the first in a series of adventures for young people, which see its hero, Freddie Malone, through a series of time-travel adventures that take him all over the world. Happy to answer questions on this and any other aspect of his rich and varied acting life, Clive is an entertaining speaker who is now also embracing the life of the writer. A lively and entertaining evening, this a must for fans of his work, as well as those who share a love for Nepal and the Himalayas.

Catch Clive Mantle On Top of the World on at Golden Lion Tap on Sunday at 4.30pm

England’s oldest poem – probably – gets a deliciously silly Scandi-noir makeover in this frolicsome take on Beowulf

Revisiting English literature’s oldest surviving epic tale, this slick adaptation brings Beowulf hilariously up to date with a witty script, clever sound effects — and a touch of Scandi noir. Reviewer Anita Butler loved it.

Having vowed to defeat the monster Grendel, Beowulf is up against it. Many others have tried and failed to kill the dragon — will Beowulf be victorious?

He has his doubters but you can’t help but be on the side of this heroic character, who travels great distances to prove his strength against impossible odds. Whisking us away to Scandinavia, Autojeu Theatre have done a great job in evoking this world of mythical beasts, swords, generic soldiers and reluctant onlookers. Beowulf’s travails and encounters are brought to life with an impressive use of mime, sound effects, a strong and witty script and cleverly ‘meta’ interplay that breaks the fourth wall.

It’s amazing what two men and a synth can bring to life on a stage. Conjuring an intense atmosphere, Beowulf bounces along with a light touch and is ceaselessly engaging. This energetic and hilarious performance will wow you and is one that all ages will enjoy.

Beowulf by Autojeu Theatre is at St Anne’s on Friday at 4pm and Saturday at 4.15pm.

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Chest Pains – hearty fun or a bit too much information? Seen it yet? What did you think?

A man standing topless in a tent talking about his experiences with open heart surgery may not sound like an entertaining way to spend nearly an hour of your time but reviewer Jess Cox urges you to give this hilarious show a go.

In this funny and frank look at his experience of going through open heart surgery, Tom Balmont’s hilarious and self-deprecating look at his experience definitely provides food for thought. With refreshing frankness and a charming delivery, Balmont guides us through descriptions of open heart surgery and its impacts with stories ranging from morphine shenanigans to a worrying lack of concern at wire emerging from his chest!

Touching and thoughtful, with a good handful of dark humour and honesty, this piece is a good laugh, but it also creates space for you to listen and reflect on everything you’ve just learnt.

Catch Chest Pains by Chest Pains Productions at the Tent on the Square on Thursday at 8.15pm, Friday at 7pm and Saturday at 7.20pm

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Caravan of Love – claustrophobic but powerful

Reviewer Jess Cox found this psychologically unsettling one-act play both intimate and intense. Have you seen it yet, what did you think?

In this play by new young writer Tom Daldry we watch the intense breakdown of a relationship at the very point when a relationship should arguably be at its strongest: the honeymoon. Making use of a minimalist set consisting of wooden benches, two rails, camping gear, saucepan and notebook, the three performers manipulate their space to explore a relationship that is crumbling in the confines of the small caravan in which the couple are spending their honeymoon.

Exploring emotional abuse and the need to not hold people’s past against them – facilitated by a slightly surreal hitchhiker – the actors bring to life the constantly shifting elements of their characters’ relationships, with impressive performances by all.

The action throughout the piece is punctuated by The Housemartin’s Caravan of Love, played through the speakers. Hummed, and belted out at various points in the drama, its reiteration reminds us what we ‘should’ be seeing. What we do see on this disastrous honeymoon could not be more different.

Intimate and intense, this is well worth a watch.

Catch Caravan of Love by Theatre Nation at The White Moose Gallery on Thursday at 4.15pm, Friday at 4.15pm and Saturday at noon.

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If you were to box up your life, or a moment of it, what would your box contain?

Reviewer Jess Cox urges you to pause for a moment of quiet contemplation at this intriguing audio street installation .

This gentle piece of audio theatre invites you to sit a while amid the relative hustle of Barnstaple town centre and lose yourself a little in the monologues and the moments you unbox.

Multiple cardboard boxes await you (I found them on the benches outside Green Lanes) each with its own audio and story. The choice over which, and how many, of the boxes you open is up to you.

You could open the story of a less than happy bride or the musings of a man who wishes to travel. Perhaps it will be the conversation of a man packing up his life, the bits and bobs which make up his existence packed up and stored away. Each story box draws you into the thoughts of its character and, being only five to ten minutes long, each piece of the collection creates a lovely space of stillness during what can easily turn into a frantic weekend at fringe.

Catch Benchmark by i.e at various alt spaces on Saturday 1.30pm and Sunday at 2pm.

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Thinking of taking your kids to see MONSTER?

Check in the closet and under the beds – but don’t worry these scary chaps are monstrously good fun. Reviewer Kate Fenton thought MONSTER hit the right note for both kids (over 10) and their parents.

Parodying classic horror films of the 70s and 80s, MONSTER tells the story of a group of vintage movie monsters who escape their retirement home and begin to pick off an American foursome who are out for some teenage kicks.

Ingenious prop design (the Psycho shower scene particularly so), creatively up-cycled furniture and a bit of audience participation make for a novel and entertaining set. While many of the film references (Psycho, The Exorcist, Christine – how many can you spot?) went straight over my kids’ heads, that didn’t detract from their enjoyment as they were enthralled by the theatrics and props, laughed along with the jokes and loved interacting with the cast. They gave the 50-minute performance 5 stars.

Having seen most of the original films, I enjoyed spotting the references and found writers, directors and performers Pod Farlow and Emily LeQuesne very watchable. Si Crompton’s music also carries the story along well.

MONSTER by Croon Productions. See it at the Baptist Hall on Saturday 9.45pm and Sunday at 5.45pm. Monstrously fun!

Join The Conversation

If you see any great shows that stir you up,entertain you, make you cry or get you doubled over with laughter – spread the word! The review team will be out and about to give you a flavour of this year’s shows and we’d love to know what you think. Grab a coffee, post comments or whiz off a quick review. The write ups are there to start the conversation so feel free to join in.

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the 2018 review blog

Preparations are well underway to deploy this year’s review team under the expert stewardship of Rosanna Rothery.

Rosanna is the features editor at Salt Media and the former arts editor of the North Devon Journal so she brings a wealth of journalistic experience to bear. And she performed herself at last year’s Fringe TheatreFest, so she knows the Festival from the inside.

Watch this space!