Skip to main content

Review of Chatroom by Illusion Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Hot of the heels of bringing Alan Bennett's The History Boys vibrantly back to the stage, director Gary Amos returns with his newly created theatre company, Illusion Production and a very different version of Enda Walsh's Chatroom than many would be familiar with.

Chatroom is as standard, a relatively static play to handle directorially, formed of conversations online from your typical caricatured people that might lurk on them. So, to create some drama into proceedings, Gary Amos has taken the decision to totally destroy the concept of the original play and bring all the characters together in a dead end club. If destroying the whole original premise sounds drastic, perhaps it's because in theory it is, and I did have more than a minor concern about it as I sat in the theatre watching. However, this production gets away with it by the sheer bravado of the scenes it creates because of it's reckless disregard of proper form.

It's a tough play to watch, mixing repulsive bullying sequences which drive, spoiler incoming, one of the characters in the direction of suicide and pretty much the rest of the play revolves around the manipulative and vicious William, played with impressive presence by Lee Maynard. It is a role that you absolutely have to hate at all times, and Maynard captures him perfectly, be it in the psychological manipulation of other people, or with this play turned on its head location wise, the outrageous physical aggression he exerts. This is a play staged on the edge of danger, with huge physical ambition from both director and his willing performers to make the audience, especially in the front row, occasionally fear they might be in on the action at any point, but in actuality you are confident that this is all precisely and safely planned.

Where William is very much the creator of the carnage, the victim of it is Jim, a perfectly cast Daniel Bolton, a troubled youngster looking for help, yet just finding himself in the clutches of bully William instead. Bolton is as strong here as he was in The History Boys, albeit in places a very similar feeling character at times. However, that is no bad thing, as is superb with the affecting and gentle portraying of both characters.

William in his rampages finds a willing ally in the form of the Eva (Clare Balbi), someone also needy and desperate to feel wanted, so ends up due to this siding with the controlling William. It's a nicely played performance by Balbi, keeping a careful balance between involvement in the nefarious deeds, but with enough room for manoeuvre to make the path to realisation at the end believable.

From the other cast members, my favourite was the calm and rather delightful performance from Joanna Wickham as Laura. A role that means little at the beginning, a mere observer, and "listener" as she modestly puts it. However, later the importance of the role quickly becomes clear and Laura becomes vital to the play and developments and Joanna really is quietly superb at it.

Staging is made so much more by breaking the idea of Chatroom, and director Gary Amos brings a flair to proceedings and manages to coax a huge amount out of his cast. There are shades of rekindling moments from The History Boys, with the staging of sequences like the ringmaster scene feeling very similar in approach, but very welcome. And while music is played throughout the play, something I am far from keen on personally, it is this time in keeping with the location and unlike some shows, doesn't distract greatly from the dialogue.

So, once again, an impressive production from Amos and a great start to a new theatre group. There is no question that I shall look forward to what this company brings to the stage again in the future.

Performance reviewed: Saturday 25th November2017 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.

Chatroom was performed at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton between Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th November 2017 only. Details of Illusion Productions can be found on Facebook at

For full details of the Playhouse Theatre visit their website at

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c