Crooked Wood

Reviews of Crooked Wood from its run at The Jermyn Street Theatre:

Surprise Yourself: Crooked Wood
By Dominic Cavendish
08 September 2008

Crooked Wood
A moving role about staying put: Doreen Mantle as Miss Barwick in Crooked Wood

Dominic Cavendish previews Crooked Wood at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1

A stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus, the Jermyn Street theatre must occupy one of the most desirable addresses of any fringe space in London. It feels at once at the throbbing heart of things, yet lies sweetly cocooned in a backstreet oasis of tranquility. An added bonus is its proximity to Waterstone’s flagship store on Piccadilly; you can be browsing books one minute – then, taking a swift exit through the back entrance, be installed downstairs in this intimate basement venue in plenty of time for curtain-up.

Its first ever in-house production – a production of a new play called Crooked Wood by Gillian Plowman – is significant for a number of reasons, and about as good an enticement for the uninitiated to get a flavour of Jermyn Street’s magic as there’s ever likely to be.

It was originally to have been staged at this address by the artistic director of the legendary North London fringe venue, the King’s Head in Islington – Dan Crawford – who got fired up by the project along with the great stage actress Judy Campbell. Campbell, who originated roles in Coward’s Present Laughter and This Happy Breed – and was described as Coward’s muse – bade farewell to the profession in a personal musical revue at the King’s Head in 2002.  Alas, both these major players died (Campbell in 2004, Crawford in 2005) before this particular dream could be realised – and rising director Gene David Kirk has made it his mission to fulfill their ambition to see it staged at the Jermyn Street in a case of ‘better late than never’.

In the interim, Plowman’s black comedy has arguably acquired a greater topical resonance in that it concerns an elderly lady whose lifelong home, now worth a mint, lies within the property speculation zone of the 2012 Olympics site. Dazed, confused and unquestionably vulnerable, Miss Barwick nonetheless squares up to the fearsome pressurising of a ruthless bunch of developers in a battle of wills that goes to the heart of today’s malaise about the treatment of the elderly and the power corporations have over individuals.

Taking the role of Miss Barwick is the septuagenarian actress Doreen Mantle – known to millions from her key-supporting role as Jean Warboys in the long-running sitcom One Foot in the Grave. The actress tells me that her association with Dan Crawford and the King’s Head goes back years: she enjoyed a huge hit in William Trevor’s one-act drama Going Home in 1972 – described by the Evening Standard’s formidable critic Nicholas de Jongh as ‘the most shattering performance to be seen in London’.

The play promises to be rich in laughter, but there are more than a few brambles and briars of sharp pathos in Plowman’s Crooked Wood. ‘I don’t see myself as a comedian at all,’ Mantle says. ‘I’m happier when I’m playing tragedy. I’ve been most successful when there have been tears in the audience.’


“Both Gillian Plowman’s two-handers of grief and catharsis are tightly structured and reflective, even elegiac in tone. The characters inhabit the present tense, one suffering paralysis and speech impediments, another contemplating suicide, but the past just keeps on coming back.

The obvious victim in each case, Madeleine in The Wooden Pear and Jon in Beata Beatrix, confronts someone whose pain is more oblique, less dramatic, than their own. The plays are trying to expand categories, differentiating various forms of pain while acknowledging its universality. Both endings are redemtive, the characters’ impacted grief dispersing itself in everyday life’s mundane details.

Plowman’s writing has a limpid quality which poeticises the prosaic. Her ability to develop and layer themes and imagery means that certian words and metaphors echo through her dialogue. This elegant production detects the internal logic of the works, with the actors using gesture to perform a physical text to acoompany the verbal one.

Frankey Martyn gives a virtuoso performance as Madelein, while Chris Humphreys, as the damaged young flasher, is both edgy and vulnerable. Transformed in Act II, Martyn becomes the tea cosy-like Beatrice while Humphreys is a compelling mix of purpose and guilt as Jon.
Simply staged and warmly lit, Stephen Picton directs with a poised attention to detail. Music comes sparingly and effectively in a production which evaluates its tests intelligently and lay bare their consolatory eloquence.”
The Stage


Gillian Plowman’s Destinies is an unmatched deal in the world of theatre at the moment. Put crudely, it offers the audience two plays for the price of one – The Wooden Pear and Beata Beatrix. Two dramatisations, four characters depicted by two actors, guided by an emotional script, chasing a common goal – optimism. There lies the beauty in Plowman’s work. Both plays begin where many dramas end. A personal, earth-shattering catastrophe: the pieces of ruined lives.

In The Wooden Pear, Madeleine Peters (Frankey Martyn) has suffered a stroke, cruelly brought on by Danny’s (Chris Humphreys) brutal assault on her. Initially Madeleine seems the victim, justified in seeking her revenge. Later, it emerges that they are both victims and most surprisingly, that together they can heal each other.

With Beata Beatrix, demons are confronted in the sophisticated confines of an art gallery. There before one of Rossetti’s paintings, Beatrice exorcises her deeply rooted resentments before businessman’s Jon Williams, who is contemplating suicide.

All elements of both these plays must be seen, soaked up and cherished. The words, the laughter, the emotional highs and depressing lows; the opening music, the majesty of the set (particularly the paintings hanging in the background during Beata Beatrix) all breathe the aura of Destinies.

Most significantly, the plays’ success is hinged on the incredible performance of both Martyn and Humphreys. Martyn especially gave her all, in her achingly accurate portrayal of Madeleine. The right side of her face was permanently lopsided, she dribbled, struggled to pronounce words, and could barely walk. Yet, in the face of all this adversity, Plowman allowed positivity to shine through. A touching testimony to the human spirit.
Marissa Charles – Camden New Journal


Financial Times Tuesday April 17 1990
Claire Armistead

The winner of the 1988 Verity Bargate Award, in full swing at Soho Poly, refines on one of the genres for which the latter part of the past decade will be remembered at least in fringe history: the drama of disability. Where Lucy Gannon, a mental health worker turned dramatist, has trodden, hospice bursar Gillian Plowman now follows with a three-part comedy of care in the community. Or lack of it, as the case usually is.

The clever thing about this triptych is that the ‘issues’ are not actually debated at all; they simply hang in the air like a great unarticulated question mark defining the loneliness of the two pairs of long-stay patients who have been discharged from their protective hospital wards to neighbouring flats, with the instructions to ‘plan ahead’ and be self-sufficient.

For the two men, who live downstairs, planning ahead consists of leafing through newspapers looking for jobs they will never get; for the women upstairs, it is invested in a pyramid of coke cans with which they hope to buy themselves the first of many holidays abroad. Self-sufficiency is a subtler concept which grows through the companionship of the two pairs: jocose and playfully competitive in the case of Oz and Bunny whose first scene – somewhat melodramatically culminating in a suicide attempt by Steve Swinscoe’s mercurial Bunny – is the weakest of the three; a bossy protectiveness between Julia and Robin, the shades of which are beautifully drawn by Nicola Redmond and Sonia Ritter.

An awareness of each for each is established through the loveable Oz’s parcel fixation: Tim Stern’s delivery during the first section of a tenderly wrapped scarlet dress that once belonged to Oz’s mother is picked up in the second, when its unexplained arrival throws the women back on their past lives and loves. Julia worked briefly as a prostitute, while Robin’s breakdown was marked, we learn with a frisson, by the suffocation of her only child. It is in the third and finely acted final scene that Plowman draws all these strands together into a devastating black comedy of inadequacy, as the two pairs meet for a party in which social niceties are turned on their head, first humorously (instead of the usual cup of tea, cups of sugar are offered by way of hospitality), then menacingly, as high spirits – denied the protection of ‘normal’ behavioural structures – get disastrously and predictably out of hand.

Deborah Paige’s direction, on a set by Lucy Weller of DHSS functionalism the layout of which is slightly altered to indicate the different flats, is finely attuned to the neurotic comedy of a cunningly structured, deceptively hard-hitting play.

Me and My Friend

THE INDEPENDENT Tuesday 17 April 1990
Paul Taylor on Gillian Plowman’s Me and My Friend at the Soho Poly

Strange, really, that sitcom writers have not got round yet to exploiting the mentally ill. The current policy of “Care in the Community” (sic,sic) offers a wealth of opportunity for the kind of tasteless stereotype-reinforcement on which the genre thrives. How about Those Nutters Next Door!, the whacky on-going saga of spats between local ratepayers and half-way house residents, or a sitcom in which a redundant merchant banker flatshares in south London with a released schizophrenic, working-title And the Lodger Makes Three?

Gillian Plowman’s award-winning play, Me and My Friend, is on an altogether higher plane and if it occasionally allows you to laugh at, as well as with and for, the nervously debilitated quartet on which it focuses, this is just a way of indicating that breakdown-sufferers deserve better than to be patronised or over-protected as members of a separate species. Po-faced solicitude towards then may be just the flipside of callous stigmatisation.

Me and My Friend homes in on a couple of odd couples – ex-psychiatric patients now living in council flats as part of their re-habilitation programme. For a study of how such people cope out in the community, a cast of only four characters might seem a little conservative. But this is precisely Plowman’s point. Slipping through the net of the support services, both pairs (who only meet in the final act) have retreated into an enclosed world of edgy, but complete mutual dependence. Lucy Weller’s set, in which all the walls and fittings seem to have been painted with the skin of Heinz tomato soup, reinforces a sense of its inward-looking, obsessive nature.

Downstairs, the men conduct fantasy job interviews for the jobs which, with the tell-tale gaps in their CVs, they will now have a job getting. Upstairs, the women are building a tower of coin-filled Coke cans as a way of saving up for a holiday in France and have evolved an elaborate, slightly self-deceived system for cutting down on their household spending.
During the course of the play, a wrist gets slashed in lonely despair and one of the flats is frenziedly turned upside-down when Robin (excellently played by Sonia Ritter) is reminded that she was her own son’s murderer. But these facts, while painfully registered, are absorbed in the atmosphere – expertly gauged in Deborah Paige’s fine production – of sublime, but untrivialising dottiness.

What Plowman shows is that, if the ‘community’ for these people essentially boils down to one other person, it can still provide care of a kind. It has to. Every year, for example, gum-chewing, street credible Julia, (Nicola Redmond) sends Robin a birthday card from the murdered boy. Ex-postman Oz (Tim Stern) rustles up nourishing dishes for his flatmate Bunny (Steve Swinscoe), a one-time production manager and anxious workaholic. Suffering pangs of acute loneliness and panic when Oz goes out each day to do a confidence-boosting pretend postal delivery, Bunny now knows what his own wife must have gone through as the victim of his work obsession.

Those partnerships re-enact, in such odd, distorted ways the previous, troubled relationships which caused the people to cave in in the first place. This offsets the suspicion of sentimentality, the feeling that it is rather convenient for the play’s optimism that no one ended up sharing with an unreconstructed shit. Mawkishness is further countered by the barmy one-track mindedness of the protagonists and their supreme lack of tact which, when the coupled collide at a sort of Mad Hatter’s Cocktail Party, eventually push Me and My Friend into airborne, brilliantly-paced farce. Mediating between the zany and the harrowing, this drama of mental unsteadiness shows a fine tragi-comic balance.

Me and My Friend

Time Out – London’s Weekly Guide – April 18 – 25 1990
Critics’ Choice – Me and My Friend

Gently bewitching and sharply humorous production of the Verity Bargate winning play by Gillian Plowman about madness and dislocation.

Gillian Plowman’s play, set in council flats used for the rehabilitation of psychiatric patients, explores the extraordinary relationships between two couples, on different floors, thrown prematurely out of hospital care. Disorientated, dispossessed and wired on their own vulnerability, the characters shift into role-play and association games with the arbitrariness of gears slipping in a car. Bunny has a job offer as a sales assistant in a bicycle shop, but his practice interview with flat-mate Oz merely underlines how inadequately equipped he is to realise it: meanwhile Robin and Julia are saving up to go to France by putting loose change into Coke cans, but disturbing fingers from the past intrude with unsettling consequences. Despite the desperate quality of their lives, and the bewildering plans, Plowman side-steps the temptation for serious pulpit-bashing by ribbing her script with some exquisite humour, notably the unforgettable party that Oz decides to throw. Deborah Paige’s empathic direction sharpens the eccentric humour and heightens the sense of dislocation. A worthy winner of last year’s Verity Bargate Award, bravely acted and gently bewitching. James Christopher

Me and My Friend

Weekend Telegraph Saturday 14th April 1990
Wild Laughter amid the anguish – Charles Spencer on a remarkable play by a virtually unknown playwright

I went to Gillian Plowman’s Me and My Friend at the Soho Poly Theatre expecting a glum and earnest evening. Although the play won an award for new writing in 1988, that is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and the piece is only now receiving its premiere. Its subject is mental illness and two pages of the programme are devoted to facts and statistics about community care. Not exactly a barrel of laughs you might think.

Yet the play turns out to be the kind of heart-warming surprise which richly repays all the dreary hours spent watching second-rate work in uncomfortable fringe theatres.

Me and My Friend, only the second of Plowman’s plays to be professionally staged, is set in two council flats used for the rehabilitation of psychiatric patients. Downstairs are Oz, a former postman, and Bunny, who used to manage a print works until his workaholism drove him into breakdown. Upstairs are Robin, a middle-class housewife who suffocated her own son, and Julia, a younger woman who used to be on the game.

In the first two acts, we watch first Bunny and Oz, then Julia and Robin, attempting to adjust to life outside the confines of the large mental hospital from which all four have recently emerged. All are deeply insecure, with a fragile grip on reality, and they develop childlike games and rituals to prop themselves and each other up.

Gillian Plowman’s depiction of her characters is often deliriously funny, and there are times when you find yourself catching your breath and wondering about the morality of enjoying the play so much – is it right to laugh at the loonies like this?

But Miss Plowman draws her characters with compassion as well as comedy and their efforts to help each other are most moving. We laugh with these misfits rather than at them, and come to care about them deeply. All four are superbly played by actors who seem to be living their parts rather than simply performing them. But the most extraordinary feature of the play is its dramatic shifts in mood. The playwright repeatedly kills the laughter stone dead with sudden terrifying glimpses of her characters’ anguish. The scene in which Bunny slashes his wrist and Oz, bewildered and inadequate as he is, finally manages to do all the right things to save his friend’s life, leaves one trembling with tension, while the moment Robin suddenly confronts the horror of her crime is almost unbearable to behold.

In the last act these two odd couples are finally brought together in a party scene full of excellent jokes, social embarrassment and pain. It is here that Miss Plowman best demonstrates her amazing ability to turn on a sixpence, moving from hilarity to the harrowing and back again in the twinkling of an eye.

This is a remarkable play with candid performances from Steve Swinscoe, Sonia Ritter, Nicola Redmond and Tim Stern – especially endearing as Postman Oz. Deborah Paige’s production of a work which could easily descend to mawkish embarrassment is a great success.

Philip and Rowena

This is an exceptionally moving play by one of our most respected playwrights and is aptly described by the publishers as a journey of reconciliation and hope. Set in a hospice, the play makes us aware of the total acceptance of the inevitability of death in the terminally ill and yet illustrates their exceptional devotion to life.

Philip and Rowena, he 70 and she 65, are patients in the hospice, he seeking a divorce from his very bitter wife and she longing to bring unity to her family. They find they have an instant rapport and a romantic friendship develops in which they discover an amazing capacity for fun. They plan an imaginary holiday in Italy and create a fantasy world of wining and dining, visiting the opera and even go on scooter rides before deciding to marry. This a poignant yet highly entertaining play which will provide many societies, I suspect, with their choice for competitive festivals, providing as it does opportunities for casting across the whole age range from mid-thirties to seventy.
Amateur Stage

Yours Abundantly from Zimbabwe

Yours Abundantly from Zimbabwe, directed by Annie Castledine and Ben Evans was produced at the Oval House Theatre, London, during Black History Month, October 2008 with the following cast

Nell Porter – Gillian Wright
Georgia Porter – Hannah Boyde
Boniface Masunda – Nicholas Beveney
Violet Masunda – Aicha Kossoko
Enock Tinago – Tonderai Munyevu
Wilson Mutambira – Denton Chikura
Portia Mutambira – Diane Meyer
Pertinia Mutambire – Ayo-Dele Ajana

Directed by Annie Castledine and Ben Evans
Production Design – Iona McLeish
Lighting Design – Ben Payne
Sound Design – Andrew Pontzen

The play was born out of an original monologue inspired by letters I had received from children in Zimbabwe. Like the character Nell in the play, I went on a short visit to Zimbabwe in 2002 and met and was captivated by a young boy Enock, desperate to go to school. We started corresponding and I paid his school fees. The correspondence grew to include many other children together with the headmaster of the school. The letters piled up. They had made such an impact on me that I knew I had to do something with them. The monologue was part of an eclectic series, written for and directed by Annie Castledine and produced at the Nightingale Theatre in Brighton in 2007. The performer was Gillian Wright. Both Annie and Gillian felt the play had the potential to be turned into a full-length piece for the theatre, and encouraged me to re-write it, using Zimbabwean actors to bring the voices in those letters to life. The Oval House Theatre in London had a reputation for producing plays with an African theme, and its artistic director, Ben Evans, agreed to schedule Yours Abundantly from Zimbabwe as part of their Black Africa Season in 2008. He also agreed to co-direct the play with Annie and provide rehearsal space.

Time Out – Bella Todd, Time Out — 8th October 2008
The mid-life crisis play and the ‘what shall we do about Africa?’ play – surely two of the most unprepossessingly middle class propositions in theatre? Gillian Plowman’s brilliant strategy is to run the two in tandem so that each becomes a critique of the other. By the time her funny, full-hearted creation has drawn its conclusions about the link between individual action and global ramifications, any accusations of privileged idealism or third world romanticisation have been firmly blocked by the lump in your throat. Born out of the playwright’s own experience exchanging letters with orphaned children in Zimbabwe, ‘Yours Abundantly…’ centers around a 40-something English divorcee, who performs an impromptu act of kindness for a young Zimbabwean boy while on holiday, and winds up corresponding with his whole village. Voiced by an ever-present chorus, they petition Nell for money in tones that seem comically, sycophantically excessive (‘I am rolling in bubbles of happiness’ writes the charismatic headmaster on receipt of a delivery of scientific calculators) and yet, when contrasted with the pinched and haughty materialism of Nell’s daughter Georgia, are full of genuine, sensual joy. Push aside narcissistic prevarication and act, is the message. As Nell observes, she’s lucky to have a mid-life crisis – the average life expectancy of a woman in Zimbabwe is 34.

The British Theatre Guide Review by Eva Ritchie
The set is moody, swathed in orange lighting evoking an ethnic African feel. The stage is hard wood boards on an incline away from the audience. A circular piece of the floor is cut out and sits level, the only part of the stage that is horizontal.

A plush blue velvet chair with a solid wood table sits inside the circle with expensive looking fine bone china randomly piled up across the front of the circle. As the play develops this bone china serves as a device to demonstrate the distance between the protagonist, Nell Porter and her estranged daughter Georgia.

Inspired by first hand experience, Plowman has written a play that uses narration of letters to communicate the action to the audience.

By using this technique Plowman introduces an immediacy of the experience of both the writers and the recipients of these letters to the audience. There is a strong sense of giving voice to those in Zimbabwe that may not have been previously heard by mainstream Britain.
The players all enter the stage at the same time and the action kicks off with Nell in the foreground and the other actors observing from far corners of the stage. There is a simple but effective use of ethnic music and singing in the background to complement and support the action.

Directors Annie Castledine and Ben Evans establish the different geographies encountered in the play effectively by using the circle as the room in England and the wider stage as the experiences in Zimbabwe.

Through the character of Gillian Wright’s Nell, Plowman presents a sympathetic portrayal of a white middle class British woman, acknowledging the contradictions in her character and her actions.

Nell appears to be in the grip of an existential crisis and Plowman uses her character to expose a potentially patronising Western response to African poverty through buying affection and thereby attempting to fill a spiritual void.

Hannah Boyde plays the poisonous and screwed up Georgia Porter convincingly, bringing spite and constantly undermining her mother’s ambitions to do something for the young orphan boy she met in Zimbabwe on a one week holiday. Georgia is full of cynicism, is deeply suspicious and thinks the worst of her mother’s new found focus.

It is ironic that Georgia has to use the medium of letter writing to finally communicate honestly with her mother after all the years they have had together face to face. Their reconciliation is touching and heartfelt, although it seems incredible that they will have truly salvaged their relationship with one letter after years of deceit and misunderstanding between them.

The dysfunctional English family contrasts with the dysfunctional and violently broken Zimbabwean family, run by children. The children of the play are portrayed as vulnerable and damaged – but more balanced in Zimbabwe than England.

Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe delivers some startling statistics including the average life expectancy for a woman in Zimbabwe at just thirty-four. This brings a whole new meaning to the word child and the Western perspective of what that entails.

Plowman employs good use of humour to break up the serious and dark messages of the play. Partly through the experiences of the characters in the play and by using other devices such as alluding to the work of Will Self and Bob Geldof, Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe explores the concept of the Western Guilt Complex and questions what effect charitable actions actually have.

Boniface Masunda is played by the imposing Nicholas Beveney. Beveney delivers a powerful performance and although the character he plays is embattled and abused by the political system of his native country, Beveney consistently maintains a sense of integrity and presence.

Plowman emphasises the critique of President Robert Mugabe’s regime through a monologue from Violet. Aicha Kossoko makes Violet a passionate and vulnerable character who delivers an incredibly brave speech openly criticising the Mugabe regime, knowing that doing so threatens her life.

The play closes with a direct address delivered by Boniface Masunda underlining the tragic outcome of the characters in the play. Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe is a powerful piece of contemporary theatre, giving voice to a little heard minority but at the same time challenging the sometimes-misplaced generosity of Western charity. Plowman has written a play filled with compassion for the situation in Zimbabwe which leaves more questions unanswered than it answers.

Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe
Paul Vale, The — 6th October 2008
Nell Porter is having a mid-life crisis. On the sale of the family business, her children begin to circle like vultures for their share of the family fortune but Nell’s focus is on Zimbabwe. She has been corresponding with the child Enock and her relationship with him, his teacher Boniface and others in the village has grown to the extent that she wishes to join them as a teacher. This new play by Gillian Plowman touches on several themes that affect the heart and toy with emotions enough raise it above the ordinary.

Iona McLeish’s sweeping design, a rich wooden floor with a central acting space, enables the Oval House to appear enormous and Annie Castledine and Ben Evan’s direction manages to utilise this to great effect. The central performance by Gillian Wright as Nell is deeply moving. Wright dominates the stage both emotionally and physically, despite her tiny frame, and she is more than a match for her vindictive daughter, played with caustic precision by Hannah Boyde. Tonderai Munyevu plays the young Enock beautifully, arming the character with just the right mix of innocence and bravado. Nicholas Beveney imparts a boyish charm to the gentle teacher Boniface, but the real strength comes from his wife Violet, played with strength and dignity by Aicha Kossoko.

While Plowman’s play understandably offers no solutions, it refuses to preach and rests its laurels on the fact that individuals can and will make a difference in Zimbabwe.

Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 October.
Dispatches from an earthly hell.
As the Zimbabwean regime turns the country into a concentration camp, its people becoming perpetrators of near-arbitrary violence or victims, starved and beaten beyond belief in a supposed democracy, it seems almost irresponsible that Gillian Plowman’s crisis-ridden central character is White Englishwoman, Nell Porter.

But maybe that’s the point. While we have the luxury of anxiety, there’s an abiding – abundant – hope abroad, which attracts Nell, as Gillian Wright shows from the opening moments.

She uses her widowed wealth to help young Zimbabweans get an education. There are school fees for basic education, plus money for books and equipment. Meanwhile, her journalist daughter Georgia, disdainful and greedy in the luxury of her London life, is a two-dimensional hate-figure, her remorseless selfishness played with cruel accuracy by Hannah Boyde, though Georgia gives several plausible reasons for her self-serving motives.

As she wraps the dinner service, determined to get something from her mother, Nell plans to return to Zimbabwe as a teaching assistant. Eventually she goes as a teacher, and despite being White survives where a Black head teacher has not.

The letters sent her from Zimbabwe are the heart of the play. Even the few years between their being written (in reality, to Plowman herself) have seen serious deterioration as children lack the food, energy or money to attend school, while most teachers have given up, not having received even their meager pay in the mega-thousand percent inflation economy.

Though it’s impossible to separate the contributions of co-directors Annie Castledine and Ben Evans, there’s Castledine’s stamp in the free-flowing action, its movement outlining the play’s world as the Zimbabweans watch in the background while the English women argue, or move around the stage relating their stories, before being dispatched fatefully to the side.

There’s a ‘pin-drop’ speech from Aicha Kossoko as the head teacher’s wife, ending in a sudden gesture summarising her own fate, while Iona McLeish’s bare set, the English scenes set on a horizontal disc, in a different world from the tilted disc around, makes its own point. As does Ben Payne’s lighting, fading to leave the final words spoken in the dark.

Angel Smith, – October 2008
ATN Review: Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe at the Oval Theatre House

Reviewed by Angel Smith
Written by Gillian Plowman
Whilst on holiday Nell Porter (Gillian Wright) met a young Zimbabwean orphan Enock (Tonderai Munyevu). She has been corresponding with him, his dedicated headmaster Boniface (Nicholas Beveny) and other members of the village ever since.

She is midway through a midlife crisis and is slowly getting inundated with letters and appeals whilst struggling to cope with the sale of her business and the loss of her marriage. Her strained relationship with her bitter daughter Georgia (Hannah Boyde) is at breaking point and she is starting to question her own motives for wanting to help the Zimbabwean community.

Set on a stunning circular stage, the voice of each person is heard though the reading of the funny and often sad letters which make the strong performances deeply moving, you can hear and feel the hope and desperation as the situation in Zimbabwe worsens.

Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe, written by Gillian Plowman is an emotional play, where the cast, direction and production are outstanding. Without preaching or offering solutions it reminds you how one person can make a difference and without guilt it opens your eyes to the suffering of Zimbabwe.

Tonight in the Museum – Charlie Chaplin

It was an exciting moment when London based Martin Humphries and Tobias Steed came to watch our production of Tonight in the Pavilion – Charlie Chaplin! in August 2015, and invited us to take the show to the Cinema Museum in Kennington in the borough of Lambeth.

Martin is a co-founder of the Cinema Museum, which is housed in the very same building that was once the Victorian workhouse where the poverty-stricken Charlie was sent at the age of five. It is an amazing place, full of books, memorabilia and artefacts from the world of cinema dating from the 1890’s, much of it paying tribute to the work of Chaplin. Tobias, an ardent supporter of the Museum, offered to finance and produce the show (which we renamed Tonight in the Museum – Charlie Chaplin!) over three weekends in September 2016 – a whole year later!

There is no theatre at the museum so we had to make a performance space and hire a local technical crew – with whom we soon became firm friends. What started out as an Arts Dream production in our own little town became a professional London production with the likes of Simon Callow, Jack Klaff, Jean Boht and Carl Davis in the audience. We were also thrilled to welcome Kate Guyonvarch from the Chaplin office in Paris and David Robinson, the definitive Chaplin biographer.

We loved performing Charlie in the locale where he grew up, finding that many local residents were discovering the delights of the Cinema Museum for the first time as well as applauding their local hero. And we were delighted by the reaction of the children at our schools matinees, being able to say to them – If Charlie can do it, so can you!

This review from the Southwark News: Matt Baker
“A great cast provide Music Hall standards and songs from the golden age of Hollywood in a fantastic and nostalgic look at the work of a true cinematic legend. Staged in the unusual performance space at the Cinema Museum near the Elephant, this is a must see. A real gem that I implore you to get along to when it comes to your town. A true great done justice by a flawless production.”

Some other reviews:

“I heartily recommend the play” – Kate Guyonvarch, Chaplin Office, Paris

“Heartbreaking” – Jean Boht

“What an absolutely fantastic show in an incredible location.”

“I saw four shows this week, including two at The National, but tell you what? This was the most fun. I just love fringe when it is well done, and this was excellent.

Thanks to Philip Moran for these fabulous photographs