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

Day three for me was actually day four for the shows at Royal & Derngate, but shockingly I was unable to attend on that true third day. However my own third day contained a trio of performances from the good to the very good, to the excellent. Not in that order this time.

*

"Remote" by Stef Smith and performed by the Mark Rutherford School was an interesting play that for me took a little time to get going. For the first fifteen minutes or so, I really wasn't entirely sure where the play was going. It had however been very interesting seeing the sight of one of the cast climbing over the seats of the Royal! It was a daring idea that partly worked as a depiction of the character of Antler climbing up a tree. Where she stopped at the back of the theatre was where she stayed and delivered her lines throughout the whole performance.

The story itself consisted of a random collection of characters all weaving slowly into a story of protest, love and protection of friends. I can say that I never truly got the whole premise, however after a sluggish start, it very much finished on a positive note and left me with a feeling of having enjoyed it, despite not entirely knowing why.

One thing I did enjoy was the simple but highly effective backdrop and projection of the little character in the tree. This was lovingly and delightfully done. Also a lovely addition was much more physical theatre than I had seen to date during my Connections week, clever movements depicting such routine events as opening doors added a verve to the performance. The one real negative I would say from the play were the moments that the wonderful chorus were totally drowned out by the over loud music. These moments were relatively few, but a true shame as the four members of the chorus were not only key to the play and also very good.

So the play as a whole was certainly not my favourite of the week, but interesting and cleverly performed with some very clever ideas utilised.

*

"Hood" written by Katherine Chandler was a much better play for me. Not only cleverly written and often very funny, it also had some tremendously poignant scenes. Performed by the Corby Core Actors, on arrival into the Underground space, we were presented with by far the busiest set of the week so far. From chairs to boxes, a table and TV and even an industrial refuse bin. This was all to be utilised throughout a powerfully performed and dynamic production. Kicking off we had a busy choreographed movement piece with high danger for not only the performers, but also the few audience members who were sitting on the floor due to the packed out Underground. Little was missed during these scenes and no audience members were harmed.

As many previously in the week, sadly no programme was provided, so alas I am unable to name any of the performers, of which none were never less than excellent. The young star (I use the word advisedly) who played Hood in particular was simply superb, depicting the troubled put upon youngster doing her very best for her family in a particularly vivid way. She was captivating in the role and was every bit the leader of an excellent group of actors.

Another part I truly liked based on the writing and the subtle way the scenes were played out were the scenes at the foot of the bin between John and Naz. These were short but so tremendously sweet and affective, and just superbly played by the two actors. A highlight of the week for me.

So the tale of a slightly malfunctioning family with an effectively absent father and a mother run off with a fake vegetarian truly did become one of my favourites of the week. Then it closed with all the cast singing along to Mr Blue Sky from MY group ELO. I might have done this myself in the past and it won me over into leaving loving this play even more.

*

"Hacktivists" by Ben Ockrent and performed by the in-house Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre (Connect) and directed by Ashley Elbourne, I had seen and reviewed before (here) and much of what I had said before remained with a few little additions. These thoughts mostly coming from its transference of location to the Royal from the very different space of the Underground. The set itself was generally the same however instead of bookending, this time it had been joined together like an open greetings card. This was generally a perfect backdrop except perhaps for the depth it sat in the stage, leaving some viewing angle issues from the absolute left and right of the seating. Also the scenes between the acts had a slightly different effect from the Underground as when the back lighting came up, it did reveal the performers with their "Throwies" and left them blatantly exposed in their black out suits.

However enough grumbles as there was much to like from this "advanced" version of the show. Much of the performance was cleaner from the cast and they themselves had a little more freedom of movement on the larger workspace. The continually wonderful diminutive Sam Barker as Hugs was as great as before and on the large stage had an even bigger performance. I think with extra time to develop the work it was clear that virtually all the cast had raised the game from the previous performance and in the case of the wonderful Tania played by Rebecca Millard, effortlessly raised the hysterics.

For me, while there was nothing serious to cause detriment to the play going into the Royal, I preferred the performance in the Underground because it felt just right for the setting of the play. However wherever performed this is a topical witty play performed by a great bunch of young performers.


Performances reviewed: Saturday 2nd May, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

The National Theatre Connections ran at the Royal & Derngate until Sunday 3rd May, 2015. For details of the productions that were performed go to: 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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