Cautionary Tales 2010

2010 saw us perform at the Zoo Roxy, following a mix up with The Quaker Meeting House. The space was a high-ceilinged former church with pews raked steeply into the gods. It has subsequently been renovated and has more recently been operated by Assembly.

This adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s gory stories for children was another big hit for us, it was the first year we received preview press in Three Weeks and, remarkably we were recommended as Critic’s Choice in The Independent.

Cast: Lucy Kane, Tom Hamblin, Karim Newton, Ronan Hatfull, Tom Norman, Tom Serruya, Jack Hepplewhite, Rob Lees, Katrina Findlay, Sian Jenkins, Martha Minall, Amy Scarrett, Becky Fry, Matthew Hodgkin, Robert Wright, Scott Alexander.

The Herald

The Scaredy-Cat Prince, **

Cautionary Tales, ****

Shipwrecked! ***

IN the city of John Knox, where his light-reddened statue can been seen pointing damnation to the sky in the Assembly Rooms, moral messages can seem heavy-handed and be unwelcome. But with a deft performance and good story, not only can they be palatable, but interesting to boot.

In The Scaredy-Cat Prince there’s a bit of a muddle here in what the real message is. Essentially the Rapunzel story set to musical favourites from Disney movies, Sell A Door’s production aims to tell a story about courage and overcoming obstacles.

The premise: Rapunzel is trapped in her tower, unable to climb down unless rescued by her true love. Prince Cowell, promised a kingdom by his father, and thwarted by his more successful brother Simon (yes, that one), requires a wife to fulfil his destiny.

Cue familiar songs from The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio et al. In spite of some nice comedic moments and decent singing, the show falls flat, mostly due to the number and ponderous pacing of the musical numbers. There are too many songs, and what little flow survives in the action between them is sabotaged by clunky writing. The Prince, played energetically and ably by Scott Weston is the one saving grace of an awkward structure, garbled premise and slightly confused message.

In contrast, the always excellent Newbury Youth Theatre delivers a clean, intelligible and tightly choreographed production in their adaptation of the Hilaire Belloc classic, Cautionary Tales.

Though some dialogue is lost to a bit of overzealous shouting and plywood walls, the delivery is energetic and the performances are excellent.

Naughty children are brought before three mandarins in the Ministry of Child Correction and read their crimes, with examples of the bad behaviour of other children used in their reformation.

The clever ensemble cast is rambunctious and inventive in their portrayals of the mischievous wrong-doers, like the girl who shoved things up her nose, or the boy who lied too much. There is an amusing and inventive treatment of gore, imaginative props, and some truly funny performances. The whole thing is noisy, spirited fun, with a clear, if not sincere, message for bad children: behave or else.

Syracuse University Drama’s creative re-telling of the incredible story of Louis De Rougemont has a simple premise, but a clear moral message: what are the limits of belief?

In Shipwrecked! the players unfurl the tangled story of De Rougement, a Victorian adventurer and hero of popular magazines in his recounting of shipwreck, desert island isolation and antipodean settlement.

The tale is replete with turtle-riding, marriage to an Aborigine and a desert trek through Australia. It won him widespread fame throughout England, but soon doubts began to form. Did De Rougement really do all that he claimed? Or was he merely a gambler and a drifter with an overactive imagination?

The cast easily creates a likeable character in De Rougemont, different actors portraying him at different points in his ordeal. The narrative flows smoothly – after some initial discord between De Rougemont’s rather formal language and the contemporary delivery – and the earnest performances make the potentially over-long show an entertaining one.

Three Weeks *****

We enter a cold and angular, grey courtroom, overseen by a trio of crusty and moustachioed judges. Eventually, they lead in a procession of impish youths, whose collective interests vary from lying, to eating wood, to pushing objects up their nostrils. The ensemble then re-enact the fate that befell the last naughty child to push a crayon up their hooter, and so on. The performances are absolutely delightful, so engaging and entertaining that you could re-watch the play again and again, focusing on a different actor every time. The set, costume and make-up all capture the sense of the macabre, creating a perfect balance between eerie environment and enthralling performances. Such a shame they’re not here for longer.

Newbury Weekly News

Newbury Youth Theatre once again gave their annual warm-up performance for the Edinburgh Fringe at the Corn Exchange, where they are resident.

The young actors benefit hugely from performing in a professional space under professional conditions, but they repay the privilege tenfold. They do the venue proud.

This year they have devised a mischievous quasi-modern take on Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, interspersing the Victorian verse format with demotic speech: a foot in the original with a nod to today’s world.

It’s 1892 and a bench of didactic judges from the Ministry of Child Correction are determined to get “dangerous oiks off the street and into work”. So what’s new?

Wrongdoers are hauled into the dock to confess their bad behaviour and explain the consequences. Matilda -an enormous scarlet bow in her hair – tells lies, so no one believed her when she shouted “Fire!”

Mary Bunch, “who likes to munch”, is a compulsive eater. “Henry Ring ate bits of string” – and died – but not before a horde of fee-seeking doctors try to cure him.

Charles Augustus Fortescue, “the nicest child I ever knew”, only did what was right – and became filthy rich in the process. The story of Rose, “who hid things up her nose”, prompted a comedic tug of war by an increasingly unlikely team.

Thus morality tales are told and lessons learned, but they’re seldom as much fun as this. Within the Youth Theatre’s customary blend of ensemble work, physical theatre, music and song, each actor played multiple parts, ingenious costume changes were woven into the performance, and clever characterisation was allied to inventive staging. The lion that ate poor Jim was magicked by actors working with just a ruffed sheet and a tail; imaginative group work conjured the early days of motoring; and the Battle of Waterloo was over in record time.

The strikingly cohesive black and white design, an important element in this integrated production, encompassed set, props, make-up and costume, with boys in black Victorian suits and hose, and girls in white pinafores over black dresses.

The professional expertise and actor-centred approach of directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and artistic director/producer Robin Strapp continue to attract talented young performers to the Youth Theatre and coax excellent performances from them.

This young company is always professional, but the fun and enjoyment its members also share is vital – and infectious.



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