Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Playhouse Creatures | Network Theatre

The year is 1669 and women have just been granted permission to perform on the stage. Playhouse Creatures focuses on five women who work in a theatre and their precarious, and often comic, lives. The Network Theatre is a really great space in the heart of London's Waterloo (it's actually situated almost inside the station) and suited this play perfectly. I entered the theatre having no idea what the play was about so I had no expectations but I found the play very interesting and the overall production was very entertaining.

The play is set in a theatre where, although her husband has the final say, Mrs Betterton (played wonderfully by Susan Small) is in charge of a small troupe of female performers. It took me a few minutes to warm to the play but I soon found myself enjoying the delicate balance between comedy and more serious drama. I think the text itself, with elements of different plays within the play, would be difficult to interpret but director Alastair Norton managed to make it clearer and understandable. Susan Small as Mrs Betterton perfectly toed the line between comic acting and serious drama. I also really enjoyed Sarah Wenban's portrayal of Doll Common, whose witty comebacks were emphasised by Wenban's excellent character acting. Although some of the other characters were smaller or less defined parts, all the actors definitely had their time to shine, particularly in the more sombre second act of the play.

The in-the-round staging really suited the small stage space as, although it was an intimate production, I didn't feel awkward or intruding as can sometimes happen. Also onstage were a small band, who punctuated scene changes with blues or swing music, as well as singer Chloe Powell whose rich vocals pre-show and during the interval wonderfully set the tone for the piece. I also really appreciated the lighting changes which helped to define setting and made it obvious when the characters were 'on stage' or in their 'dressing room', as well as adding a whimsical feel to the dream sequence.

Having gone to see the play with no expectations, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. It was a play that made me think but also made me laugh which is a great combination. It's very unusual for a community group to perform such a complex piece (and pull it off!) so I cannot wait to see what these guys will be performing next.


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