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Review of National Theatre Connections - Day One at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

I really enjoyed the Connections shows at Royal & Derngate during 2014 therefore it had been one of my most anticipated weeks for 2015. Even better than 2014 also was the fact that I was going to have the opportunity to see nine of the ten plays included (poor old Follow, Follow, the unwanted child). On my first day I was to see the first three of them and they were a glorious mix of the good, the bad and the hilarious (performed in that order).

*

The good was "Hospital Food" written by Eugene O'Hare and performed by Northampton High School. This was a powerful tale of a group of youngsters in a cancer unit and their Fight Club inspired "Retreat". This place allowed them to speak freely and was in the tradition a place where whats said in the Retreat stays in the Retreat. It was their place away from parents, doctors, nurses and, well all adults really. The main story revolved around the planned escape of Gus (Fiona Percival) from the hospital to go seek alternative medicine with her mother.

The material was tough and gritty and superbly performed by the all female cast in both female and male roles. Percival as Gus and Jasmine Smellie as her best friend Josh was stunning, with the hospital corridor scene the highlight of the play. The only disappointment from this scene came from the very distracting flickering lights. It was difficult at first to work out what this was representing, but I think I got it at the end with the increase at the breakdown at the end. However the main problem came from the fact these were operated from within the intimate Underground space, leaving the sound of the flicking switch ringing in the audiences ears.

However this was just a small disappointment, as "Hospital Food" was a quality tough play for youngsters to perform and the High School cast were not a disappointment. A great start to the week.

*

A bit of a backward step came with the bad (maybe a word too severe) of "The Edelweiss Pirates". A worthy tale telling the story of an actual youth movement group and events it was involved with during the 1930s. I would hazard a guess that this particular play was selected due to its timing as much as its quality with many Second World War anniversaries going on at present. Written by Ayub Khan Din and performed by Stopsley High School, it was a perfectly serviceable play, just a little bit dull and stale. There were also more than a few issues with the production and performances which didn't help matters.

I was more than happy to see it, however I am afraid that it isn't a play I would seek out again as I feel the play is more at fault than the performances in this case. A matter of the right play at the right time, but bluntly nothing more.

*

Having had a bit of a dip, it was down to the delightfully titled "The Crazy Sexy Cool Girls' Fan Club" to complete the day on a high. This it most certainly did, as this was by far the best and more importantly, most fun play of the three (let's have more fun plays!). Written by Sarah Solemani (more familiar perhaps to many for her comedy performances in Him & Her and The Wrong Mans) it was at times a rather surreal tale of a group of four and a would be fifth member of a girls club. Seemingly only gathered together to occasionally be bitchy to each other, sing in a screechy manner and swoon over a highly generic boy band.

This was a brilliant comic play with added sinister moments and performed by a wonderfully enthusiastic cast from Bloxham School. I would name them all, or at least a few if only I had a cast list for the production. However in the absence of such a list, I must mention whomever the young lady who played Lou was and the young man who played Shaz, you were just great. However having said that, you were all great as this was very much a team performance. An excellent way to complete day one of my 2015 R&D Connections week.


Performances reviewed: Tuesday 29th April, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

The National Theatre Connections continue at Royal & Derngate until Sunday 3rd May, 2015. For details go here: http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whatson/2015-2016/Royal/Connections15

For further details about the National Theatre Connections visit their website at: http://connections.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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