reviews for all our past productions
"Utterly brilliant evening watching The Three Musketeers at The Attic Theatre. Hilarious script, wonderfully acted in an intimate setting. Real laugh out loud comedy *****"
The Three Musketeers -
"Camp but not smutty, this is good, clean, knockabout fun with plenty to delight anyone lucky enough to see it. The production wields its metaphorical tickling stick as a blunt instrument, but if you’re looking for a good laugh, this is the show to see ****"
The Three Musketeers - Bum on a Seat Reviews
"Superb performance. All the acting was extremely strong without exception. This wonderful play was funny and sad, it was powerful. I would highly recommend seeing it. I will be back!"
Holes - Trip Advisor
"Utterly Charming ***** "
Sense and Sensibility - Bum on a Seat Reviews
"Haven't seen a Shakespeare in traditional costume for ages, here is one and a splendid one"
Romeo & Juliet- Stratford Observer
"Tread the Boards really did save Christmas"
Cinderella - Happy Family Hub
The Three Musketeers
Stratford Herald, Charles Essex, August 12th 2023
10th - 28th August 2023
D’Artangnan [Lucas Albion] is determined to become a musketeer but must do an
heroic deed to become one. Fortunately Richelieu [Andrew Woolley in the
pantomime villain mode] has eyes on the French throne and so plots to discredit the
queen [Lily Bennet], so a hero is needed to save the day.
The script was extraordinarily clever, with a joke seemingly in almost every line. The
pace of the play was frenetic. It was a real credit to all the cast that not only were
they word perfect but their timing of dialogue and action was flawless, and to the
technical crew that the sound effects, music and lighting were spot on. There was
hardly a moment in the play when there was not movement on the stage, and
choreography was wonderful.
John-Robert Partridge [Athos], Alistair Oakley [Portos] and Joshua Chandos [Aramis]
as the three musketeers were superb, each portraying their character differently.
Joshua in particular played Aramis as a camp character, armed with a bottle of the
eponymous aftershave which he squirted whenever he could. The duel with baguettes
between him and Richelieu’s henchman, Rochefort [Wilson McDowell], was
hilarious as they tried to outdo each other coming up with the names of different
breads. Rochefort had a comically exaggerated French accent, allowing for plenty of
misunderstandings and mispronunciations.
Lines of songs or well known verses were used as part of the dialogue, with numerous
clever references to films, musicals and television programmes. The facial
expressions and mannerisms of the musketeers and Lucas in particularly were real
complements to the dialogue and the action.
The plot, which at times was intentionally convoluted but explained with asides to the
fourth wall, was that the queen was allegedly having an affair with the Duke of
Buckingham. Joshua Chandos gave the Duke a side splitting over-the-top Yorkshire
accent. Luke Dyer was ideally cast as D’Artangnan’s bumbling dogsbody Planchet.
Once again John-Robert’s direction of this excellent and talented cast made for one of
the most enjoyable theatre evenings in a long time. Tread the Boards have really
struck gold with this adaptation of The Three Musketeers by Olivia Holmes. During
the school holidays this is the ideal play to keep the whole family engaged,
entertained and laughing out loud. The Attic deserves full houses for this production.
Sense and Sensibility
Bum on a Seat Review, William Stafford, June 16th 2023
June - July 2023
Austen and Ostentation
Jane Austen’s beloved novel from 1811 is brought to life in this elegant adaptation by the reliably excellent Tread The Boards. Director John-Robert Partridge goes all out with the accents and mannerisms of the time, his job made easier by the judicious choice of splendid costumes. It’s a good-looking show.
Partridge also appears as the hen-pecked John Dashwood, whose subservience to his wife casts his widowed mother and his three sisters into hardship, consigning them to a Devonshire cottage, away from the society they know and crave. Matilda Bott gives us her Fanny – the formidable Mrs Dashwood – in a deliciously snobby performance, with hints of ferocity. When it comes to funding her unfortunate in-laws, this Fanny is tight. Bott is also exquisitely funny later on as the chatty Charlotte Palmer. This production is a splendid showcase for her talents.
Lesley Wilcox’s Widow Dashwood has dignity, accepting her reduced status with decorum. Her daughters are another story. Rosie Cole’s repressed Elinor, seeks to hide her emotions, almost Vulcan-like, but Coles’s eyes and physical tension betray Elinor’s true state of mind. Also excellent is Stephanie Riley as the headstrong and passionate Marianne. These two sisters are the opposing forces of the title: thought vs feeling, to put it another way. Meanwhile, Emily Tietz tears around as wild-child third sister Margaret, prior to a more refined appearance as Lucy Steele later on.
The mighty Robert Moore perfectly embodies the shyness of Edward Ferrars, a potential suitor for Elinor, doubling up as the taciturn Mr Palmer, casting sneering remarks from behind his newspaper to hilarious effect. John-Robert Partridge also portrays the upright Colonel Dashwood, the moral heart of the piece, with assurance and authority, in contrast with James Crellin’s rakish Willoughby, the cad and bounder who turns Marianne’s head.
There is fine support from Dawn Bush’s breathless gossip Mrs Jennings, and Andrew Woolley’s affable Sir John.
It’s all played out in front of Adam Clark and Sue Kent’s multi-purpose set design, with Kat Murray’s lighting enabling the director to stage two scenes simultaneously. Even scene changes are carried out gracefully, while period piano music tinkles away, enhancing the mood.
A sophisticated rom-com that retains the wit of the source material and delivers an emotional kicker of a denouement.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
West End Best Friend, June 2023
“An easy, witty comedy that is sure to make you smile.”
It’s from us, Besties *****
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 24th May 2023
Noel Coward’s classic comedy gets a spirited revival in this new production at Stratford’s cosy Attic Theatre. Adam Clarke and Sue Kent’s set design uses the intimacy of the space to put us right in the living room with the characters. Up close and personal with the cast, we feel part of the action.
Novelist Charles and his second wife Ruth are hosting a séance, as research for his next book. Inadvertently, the ritual conjures the spirit of his late first wife, which would put a strain on any relationship!
Director Jonas Cemm has his fine ensemble rattle through Coward’s epigrammatic dialogue at a rate of knots, which heightens the comic atmosphere. John-Robert Partridge is note perfect as the novelist-cum-pompous-arse Charles, while Rosie Coles is elegance personified as the long-suffering Ruth. There is excellent support from Robert Moore as the sceptical Doctor Bradman and Matilda Bott as his excitable wife. Den Woods’s medium Madam Arcarti keeps to the right side of caricature, bringing a touch of plausibility to the part, and Florence Sherratt makes the most of her largely silent role as Edith the accelerated maid. Katherine De Halpert is delectable as the pale and playful, ethereal Elvira.
It’s enormous fun, played with exquisite timing from all concerned. The supernatural facets of the story are bolstered by atmospheric sound and lighting design, by Elliott Wallis and Kat Murray respectively. Production values are high (which is no less than what we’ve come to expect from Tread The Boards Theatre Company), with the period and the other-worldly being evoked so effectively.
The subject matter and the dialogue may seem flippant or frivolous, but Coward has plenty to intimate about human relationships. For some, ‘til death do us part’ doesn’t apply. Perhaps there are some relationships we never get over.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Romeo and Juliet
Moss Cottage Review, Peter Buckroyd, April 5th 2023
I haven’t seen a Shakespeare production in so-called ‘traditional’ costume for ages, but here is one, and a splendid one too. Even though Tread the Boards Company’s play is on a plain and almost bare stage it is nevertheless pretty to look at and Prince Escalus (Joel Nelson-Prince) wears a codpiece to add power flavour to the doublets and hose worn by some of the other men. They are all outdone, though, by Lady Capulet’s gorgeous dress.
The production has a fair bit of punch. Director John-Robert Partridge does away with Lord Capulet and adds his lines to those of Lady Capulet whose behaviour towards her daughter seems all the more shocking as it is a mother abusing her daughter. At first a charming hostess wanting to make everyone happy at her party Fiona Munroe gradually reveals Lady Capulet’s nastiness while maintaining a smiling and charming surface elegance. John-Robert Partridge’s Friar is also a sham. Apparently benign and charming, solicitous for all his parishioners, Friar Lawrence seems completely oblivious about how he is morally compromised at every turn. It is even more ironic that he is so beautifully spoken.
The three boys - Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio - are yobbish. Daniel Grooms’s Mercutio is drunk most of the time, Romeo doesn’t seem to know what he is doing and Benvolio doesn’t seem to have a mind of his own. They are all enjoyable to watch and to listen to. Mercutio’s physical antics link him with his other role as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Lucas Albion’s verse speaking as Romeo, particularly in the balcony scene, is as good as you will hear anywhere and Dominic Selvey is one of the best Benvolios I have seen in all forty or so Romeo and Juliets I have seen. His detailed facial attention to everything everyone else says and does is a joy to watch.
All this adds up to a production where the central idea is the self-absorbtion of the characters. Ciara Lane’s splendid Irish Nurse is another whose loyalty and morality can turn on a halfpenny. You never know what she is going to do next or why.
And this leaves us with Joshua Chandos’s Paris, Wilson McDowell’s Peter and Emma Kinsey’s Juliet as the three characters who are less flawed. They don’t have a lot to do, but Paris and Peter are quite delightful. Unusually Chandos gives Paris a charm and seeming honesty which while marginalised is quite refreshing. McDowell is just plain wonderful to watch. His blank face, knee jerk reactions, willingness to please and vague impracticality and splendidly created and conveyed.
You can see that an impetuous energetic Romeo rushes from one place and one state of mind to another. On the other hand Juliet is determined, quite single-minded but lacking in analytical thought. Juliet looks radiant and I thought it was fascinating to try to work out what she thought she was doing. There was an impassivity about some of her facial expressions which diminished the passion of her words. I thought it was a fascinating interpretation of the role.
There’s a bit of a blocking problem at the end of the play with the dead Paris marginalised upstage left round the barrels and with the tomb up the steps downstage left. But it’s hard to know what alternatives there might be at the end of the play in the Attic’s space.
If you are a Shakespeare fan, it will be well worth your while to come to Stratford to see these two Tread the Boards productions. It you have already used your gold dust to buy tickets for Hamnet which has just opened at the Swan (director Erica Whyman back to her magnificent best), you should consider extending your stay, seeing these two plays at The Attic Theatre and enjoying a few nights at Moss Cottage.
Stratford Herald Review 31st March 2023 by Peter Buckroyd
March - April 2023
Despite quite a lot of evidence to the contrary Shakespeare is alive and well and residing at The Attic Theatre. Tread the Boards Theatre company have opened their 2023 season with a double bill playing in repertoire until April 23 of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet.
I’ve not seen a Twelfth Night quite like this before. It’s usually a springlike or summery festive comedy but director John-Robert Partridge sets it in often rather subdued light in Dublin creating a rather wintry feel in keeping with two near drownings, the persecution of Malvolio, gender blindness and thwarted and misconceived love. Shakespeare had in mind a play for the end of the festive season twelve days after Christmas. I have to admit that I usually find the shenanigans of Sir Toby Belch (here played by John-Robert Partridge) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Daniel Grooms) rather tedious, but not so here. They are true bacchanalians, drunk as skunks most of the time, Sir Toby farting from the text’s pickled herrings. Fabian is usually a nothing role but Sean MacGregor makes a splendid energetic Irish barman as well as playing other bit parts in the play.
The play opens with Viola having been washed ashore and then being disguised as Cesario. The specs are a great touch and Freya Cooper is completely convincing as Cesario. Orsino (Joshua Chandos) is not quite what I expected – a member of the English colonisers of Ireland and less pompous, more charming than most Orsinos I have seen. There is a scene in the middle of the play when Orsino and Cesario are sitting on a bench talking and hilariously eating fish and chips out of a newspaper packet. You can see how Orsino could have imagined that Cesario was male. The scene’s simplicity is close to perfection and the slightly shifting physical distances between them both telling and judged impeccably. This well judged variation in physical distance can also be seen to great effect in the first scene between Olivia and Cesario where there are immediate vibrations between them.
The part of Sebastian is usually a thankless task. He doesn’t appear until the second half of the play and then is usually just a device to complicate the plot. Dominic Selvey plays him simply and effectively after a surprising shirtless entrance and although the play’s denouement does drag a little (Shakespeare’s fault, I think, rather than Partridge’s) Selvey provides a nice mixture of pragmatism and nonsense.
I have thought for many years that Feste was Shakespeare’s self portrait. After all he says he lives hard by the church (as Shakespeare did). He’s an entertainer, a player, a clown, an actor, a singer, a composer. Partridge places Feste at the centre of the play, providing Irish music for the songs, almost choreographing the action from a seat on top of the Guinness barrel or the Jamesons one. In a welcome return to The Attic the highly energetic Lucas Albion is eminently watchable. He can sing, he can dance, he can play the guitar. He’s a splendid creation, his frequent smiling a very nice contrast to Malvolio’s assumed smiling. The beard he assumes for the gulling of Malvolio (with the medieval connotations of ‘berd’) is both funny and daft; Feste adds to the nonsense by assuming a physical disguise as well as a vocal one to gull someone in the dark when he’s not even inside the prison.
In his three piece suit Edward Manning is as good as Malvolio as I have seen him in his many roles for Tread the Boards. More often than not actors overplay Malvolio but Manning doesn’t do this at all. He is a bit pompous and stolid but he gains more than a little sympathy at the end of the play. He is, of course, in this production an outsider as an English steward in the house of an Irish lady, Olivia played by Ciara Lane. As an outsider Malvolio doesn’t stand a chance in this society. Partridge also makes Antonio into an outsider, not just because he is accused of being a pirate but because he is from Northern Ireland and therefore out of place in Dublin. Wilson McDowell doesn’t have a great deal to do in the play but does it well, though I might have liked to have seen a bit more made of the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, hinted at but not developed.
Immediately after the interval Partridge defines a significant shift in the play by having Olivia exchange her all black mourning dress for a dress with a black background but coloured flowers on it. Maria, too, undergoes a shift, wearing a vibrant red dress to replace her earlier black one. There was also a shift I had not expected. There is just a hint that Feste has worked out what was going on with the disguises. I had not thought of this before but it makes complete sense if Feste is also the playwright.
Stratford Herald Review 20th October, Peter Buckroyd
Last week I saw three professional productions in Stratford. The first two were reviewed by The Guardian unenthusiastically which gave them both 2 stars - poor by Guardian standards. WhIle I thought one of the two plays poorly written and laboured, the other was much better written though the technical issues were equally flawed. The many set changes, halting the action, were time consuming. I'm amazed that the poor guy turning round the second set didn’t get dizzy. The cast were good but struggling against protracted scene changes and dark climbs up the side of a high set. I ended up wondering why these two were the productions The Guardian had chosen to see in Stratford rather than this of Frankenstein which was so superior.
Catherine Prout's playtext is brilliant. I could write a long essay about how and why she accentuated the life-death issues and the nature/nurture issues of the Darwinian debates and how she positioned Mary Shelley's views slightly differentially from the conventional treatment.
In the other two plays I saw there were long silent changes between scenes. The texts were presented in fits and starts which became repetitive or boring. The action in both also stopped from time to time for a sermon. Exits and entrances were clumsy. Some lighting changes were puzzling or unnecessary. None of this is the case with Frankenstein. It is all slick, purposeful and powerful.
There are fine performances. Matilda Bott and Robert Moore play several minor characters but skilfully differentiate them by body posture, facial expression and energy. Alastair Oakley is a fine Creature - from the scary start of the play and with great make-up - and splendidly discombobulated. Dan Grooms’s Frankenstein is one to ponder. He is young and cute. He seems genuine. He is passionate about his science. But his relationship with Lily Bennet’s Elizabeth is enigmatic and the playtext hints at a subtext between him and Henry. There is no clear reason offered why he pursues the Creature over the wastes and so he is throughout an attractive enigma. But there is no moral enigma about his behaviour around the issue of a wife for the Creature.
One of the most moving parts of the play is when the Creature is in the room with the blind father, played by the brilliant Phil Leach, and when we discover the Creature’s tenderness and feelings of vulnerability. The idea that blindness makes one immune to ugliness is brought across brilliantly, especially with the entrance of his children who attack the Creature. It’s the point where the intense moral issues in the play come to the fore. The seventh and last cast member of those playing the twenty-five or so different characters, Joshua Chandos, is also convincing in his several roles.
This production sees director John-Robert Partridge at his best. Continuity is provided by the now legendary Attic Theatre choreographed scene changes. Sight lines are excellent. Partridge creates a splendid visual parallel between Frankenstein and his monster when Frankenstein’s posture at the end mirrors that of Frankenstein when he has been created. This is a clever and subtle suggestion that the Creature’s behaviour represents a reflection of Frankenstein’s own repressions. This is confirmed when Frankenstein shoots the Creature while he is mounting Elizabeth. The costuming and quasi-Victorian, quasi-industrial set are effective, creatively functional and never obtrusive. Kat Murray’s lighting plot - much of it dark and rather scary - works splendidly to create an appropriately Hallowe’eny mood as do the moments where the actors are right in the faces of those audience members on the front row.
The play’s ending, with the slow creation of a tableau of the participants, is as arresting as its opening.
This must-see production is my favourite of the year so far.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Bum on a Seat Review 16th September, William Stafford
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
'Dynamic Duo' -
Following last year’s rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles, Tread the Boards theatre company is back with this anthology of Holmes’s adventures. Back as the detective duo is the excellent pairing of Robert Moore as Sherlock and John-Robert Partridge as Dr Watson. Moore is in peril of becoming my favourite Holmes: he has the attitude, the humour, the intensity, and the heroism all down to perfection, with Partridge’s Watson and intelligent padawan and emotional barometer for the action.
The four stories in this exquisite adaptation are A Scandal in Bohemia, The Speckled Band, The Dancing Men, and The Final Problem, but the script avoids an episode structure by providing a throughline courtesy of arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty – Stephen Hardcastle in a suitably sinister portrayal.
Matilda Bott delights as a chirpy Mrs Hudson. Leo Garrick impresses as an aggressive Doctor Roylett, while Stephanie Miles makes a spirited Irene Adler. The supporting players get to demonstrate their versatility by doubling roles; the leading men get to demonstrate theirs by adopting disguises.
Partridge also directs, getting the tone of the piece spot on. The intimate space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street flat where all the action unfolds. Judicious use of lighting and sound effects suggests the other locations – Elliott Wallis’s superb music-and-sound design goes a long way to creating the atmosphere and a sense of time and place.
The script, by Robert Moore himself, wisely adheres to Conan Doyle, delivering everything we expect from and love about the most famous consulting detective.
There are plenty more stories that could be staged in this manner and I really hope a Tread The Boards Sherlock Holmes show becomes an annual treat.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Stratford Herald Review 21st July, Peter Buckroyd
Director John-Robert Partridge achieves his purpose in providing a delightful summery production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Those who don’t know the play will be delighted by its fun and energy. Those who know it back to front will find all kinds of details and nuances which make the production fresh for them.
It is set in the roaring twenties with upbeat music, bits of dance and flappers, completely appropriate for the days after the covid closures. We have a surprise right at the beginning with Pete Meredith’s campest Algernon imaginable contrasting splendidly with an apparently more restrained Jack, although Robert Moore’s expressive face with its stylish specs gives some delightful reactions to what is going on around him. There’s plenty of swift slapstick, too, as Jack and Algy cavort around the stage in a hilarious cigarette case chase at the beginning of the play. There’s some delightful business with the sherry tray involving a splendid Lane in Edward Manning and Algy.
The set changes are cleverly choreographed so that there isn’t a break in the action and the audience is party to the transitions. Lucy Callender’s flexible and attractive set literally opens into the garden replete with a rather lengthy birdsong track and the characters introduce themselves even before they speak, Dawn Bush’s Miss Prism giving us an unexpected bit of flapper dance. I have not seen Miss Prism played like this before. Instead of being the usual rather dour schoolmistress this Miss Prism has a sense of humour and a good deal of flirtatiousness with Dr Chasuble - Edward Manning in a different role and with an even better performance. As the play progresses, especially with the bitchy duo of Cecily (Matilda Bott) revelling in the power that control of the sugar bowl gives her and Gwendolyn (Ali Hellings), we come to realise that the only viable relationship is between Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble who show each other some real affection rather than the affectation of the other four so-called lovers.
John-Robert Partridge is as unmerry a Merryman as you could wish for, laying the table for tea with great precision. Algy’s appetite is brought out all through the play, physically in his eating what is left over of the afternoon tea and he and Jack have a splendid silent movie sequence ending in them dancing together.
But I’ve not mentioned someone yet: someone important. It’s Lady Bracknell who after Edith Evans has one of the most unenviable lines in the play to deliver - ‘A handbag?’ I was very impressed by Lesley Wilcox as Mrs Higgins in Pygmalion. I was even more impressed by her perfectly paced performance as Lady Bracknell. Her scene cross questioning Jack was wonderfully done - never over-acted and believable as a character rather than overdone as a caricature.
The Importance of Earnest is now playing for the rest of the month in repertory with Pygmalion. The two plays make for perfect summer theatre fare.
Bromsgrove Standard Review 27th July, Euan Rose
Treat yourselves to Tread the Boards' perfect Pygmalion at Stratford's Attic Theatre
WHENEVER I review ‘Tread The Boards’ at their gloriously bijou Attic Theatre home in Stratford, I wonder why I have left it so long again between visits.
After all, I always come away elated having witnessed some pure and inclusive theatre.
Last night was no exception as the company performed an adaption by Jonas Cemm of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion with all the gusto of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’.
Shaw named his play Pygmalion after a Greek mythological chap. He was apparently a Cypriot sculptor who strove for perfection and when he finally created his perfect stone woman, he fell in love with her.
It is actually a very clever title and one, which aptly describes Prof Henry Higgins and his relationship with Eliza Doolittle. Her
transformation from urchin flower girl to lady of distinction has fascinated generations since it premiered in Vienna back in 1913.
John-Robert Partridge directs this show and also plays Higgins. He does the later with all the ego and narcissism of that obnoxious spoilt resident of Toad Hall. It’s beep-beep, poop-poop full throttle all the way and a delight to wallow in.
His ‘partner in cloning’ Colonel Pickering is played at completely the opposite end of the spectrum by Phil Jennings. His voice is as rich as his smile and he is as warm as Higgins is cold – they make for the perfect duo.
Emmy Coates as Eliza is the complete package as she transforms from whining fishwife to elegance personified. Quite simply Coates is the best Ms. Doolittle I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot over the years.
Lesley Wilcox plays Henry’s Mum – she sounds as elegant as he looks. Wilcox’s voice is like enjoying a cup of hot rich chocolate, which is to be savored every time she is on stage.
William Hayes is a suitably roguish Alfred Doolittle, Lucas Albion a likable buffoon as Freddy Eynsford-Hill with Dawn Bush doubling as Freddy’s mum and Mrs Pearce, the long-suffering Professor Higgins’s housekeeper.
Cerys Evans as Clara Eynsford-Hill completes the company and makes the most of her few lines.
They are a well-drilled talented bunch that never stop sharing across the curtain line, which is why I started by saying this is ‘inclusive theatre’.
The fourth wall twixt audience and cast is shattered into a thousand pieces – Joyous stuff indeed.
There are just a few performances left of Pygmalion, which is being performed in tandem with ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.
Treat yourselves to a day or night out watching the Midlands’ finest fringe theatre company. Loads of choices of eateries nearby and you can enjoy a drink of cleansing ale by the river in Cox’s Yard and chat with the swans pre-show.
Stratford Herald Review 7th July, Peter Buckroyd
Many of George Bernard Shaw’s plays can often seem long and heavy to a modern audience, but not this one. The basis of My Fair Lady, it’s quite compact and accessible. There are choices to be made, though, particularly about which should dominate: the comedy or the serious themes of class, gender, male chauvinism, exploitation, romance, social aspiration, snobbery based on class and accent: all as relevant now as they were over a hundred years ago.
Director John-Robert Partridge has a light touch. I don’t think I have ever laughed so many times at a production of this play - at the jokes, at outrageous behavior, at production details. He also plays Henry Higgins whose uptight straight back suggests the arrogant male chauvinism which is often played, but there is also a different side to Higgins. He never voices it but he does throw loads of money to Eliza in Covent Garden, he brings prosperity to Alfred Doolittle and there are touches of philanthropy towards Eliza under the veneer of distance. His sidekick Colonel Pickering, played convincingly by Phil Jennings, is the perfect foil to Higgins. Lesley Wilcox is a strong and perfect Mrs Higgins and Lucas Albion’s loose-legged Freddy Eynsford-Hill is both delightful and very funny. I have sometimes found Alfred Doolittle rather tedious, but not so here. William Hayes’s restless tramping about the stage characterises him perfectly and his moral double-think is very well presented. Dawn Bush as Mrs Pearce and Mrs Eynsford-Hill and Cerys Evans as Clara Eynsford-Hill plays their less interesting roles perfectly well.
And then there’s Eliza. Played by Emmy Coates making her professional debut this Eliza is perfect. Her cockney is as rasping and ghastly as you could wish for and her vocal transformation is perfectly done. She looks great and shows a range of emotion. It’s a stunning debut.
This production has an elaborate set with many set changes to denote location, all done briskly and efficiently by the cast. The costumes are lovely. The play is also very cleverly and thoughtfully cut in order to place the main focus on Higgins and Eliza. The three cut scenes are at first a bit of a surprise, but we don’t miss them at all. Partridge wants to emphasise what happens to Eliza, how and why, and therefore doesn’t want the clutter of the language lesson, the relationship with Freddy and Higgins’s encounter with his ex pupil. It’s a very clear, direct and successful curtailment of Shaw’s original play and, I thought, makes for a better theatrical experience. We still have mixed feelings about what has been going on by the end and without all the stuff after the end of the play which Shaw included when the play was published the dilemmas are highlighted, rather than ends being tied up and answers given.
This is a fine production. It’s playing in repertoire with The Importance of Being Earnest which opens on July 14 until July 31.
Leamington Courier Review, 6th July, by Charles Essex
How much are we influenced by appearances? How someone is dressed, their physical looks, their speech. In this play George Bernard Shaw challenged the hypocrisy of the Edwardian era as Professor Higgins [John-Robert Partridge] takes on the intellectual challenge to transform flower girl Eliza Doolittle [Emmy Coates] into a duchess who could fool the social elite of the day.
John-Robert took this role by the scruff of the neck and gave a stellar performance. He was a commanding presence with bluster, conceit, moodiness and sulkiness, oscillating between intellectual conceit and little boy petulance. With Colonel Pickering [Phil Jennings] as his gentle, polite foil, they adopt Eliza, the dirty-faced street urchin for their experiment. Emmy was delightful as the squawking Cockney lass but who has a pride despite her lowly status. Dawn Bush was wonderful in the dual roles of sensible and assertive housekeeper Mrs Pearce and the simpering Mrs Eynsford-Hill.
William Hayes as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, was exceptional. He had two major appearances, one in each half of the play, and gave magnificent performances of what were in effect lengthy monologues, which he delivered with real tension and emotion.
Although this story is perhaps best known, depending upon one’s age, for the film My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, this production by Tread the Boards is a huge improvement on that. It has the quality of a West End theatre production but with the intimacy that the Attic Theatre brings from the audience being so close to the actors. We could feel John-Robert’s disdain, petulance and rage, and Eliza’s sadness at the realisation that she was nothing to Professor Higgins. Although there were frequent misogynistic comments from Professor Higgins, Eliza eventually stands her ground against his bullying.
Make the effort to catch this play. This reviewer would recommend this production for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
April - May 2022
Stratford Herald Review, 5th May 2022, Charles Essex
Tread the Boards has a special and wonderful variety of theatre. This high energy production of John Godber’s Bouncers was an ideal vehicle for them to showcase their skills. This reviewer lost count of how many characters the four actors played – loutish lads, increasingly drunken boors, tittering girls on a 21st, Hooray Henrys and rap artists and punks in or outside this seedy northern disco. But they always returned to the four uncompromising bouncers between each diversion into other characters.
Cleverly the atmosphere was set before the play started. As the audience entered, the four bouncers patrolled the auditorium, looking suitably menacing and hardcase.
There were no props and no change of clothes or costumes, the cast remaining in dinner jackets throughout. It was a tribute to their superb acting skills and the direction of Andrew Woolley, who also played Ralph, that we were utterly convinced by their personas. It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless and they switched between the different groups, genders, voices and actions seamlessly. The cast performed their lines almost flawlessly and the dance routines to perfection.
Godber has had deservedly successful acclaim with Up’n’Under and Teechers* and this play followed a similar format and was repeatedly laugh-out-loud funny, with an updated script to reflect current issues such as covid-19. The characters of the four bouncers were explored in greater depth. James Tanton [Eric] had anger issues and yet delivered moving monologues as he feared for the safety of young girls at the disco and the sad desperation of the older clientele at an over 25s night.
John-Robert Partridge [Les] once again showed his versatility with his northern accent in the banter with his partners Paul Sully [Judd] and Ralph. The dialogue, whilst unflattering, was believable in every group. Acting drunk can easily be over done but the increasing drunkenness of the lads’ and girls’ groups was done to perfection. The scene of the four lads struggling to get served at the “crowded” bar was a wonderful piece of theatre.
This production was really enjoyable and 10-out-of-10 entertainment, which everyone needs in the current climate.
'Can thoroughly recommend Bouncers. Absolutely brilliant performance! Fabulous acting, great pace and truly funny'
'Saw this last night and it was absolutely bloody fabulous! Felt like I’d had an ab workout from laughing so much and my cheeks ached by the end too. Honestly best night out I’ve had at the theatre in a long time'
'Small ensemble of 4 players gave a wonderful show in this small and personal theatre'
March - April 2022
Stratford Herald Review - 1st April 2022 - Peter Buckroyd
I have seen many appalling and ridiculous productions of Macbeth, maybe more of this play than of any other. Peter O’Toole knocking down the set at The Old Vic and Jane Horrocks being required to wee on a raised walkway at Greenwich Theatre before some ‘gentlewomen’ mopped it up are memorable for all the wrong reasons. More recently in Stratford we saw King Duncan in Act I receive a messenger lying in bed with children round the bed; we saw another Stratford production with children in nets/trapeses and gawped at Macbeth at the top of a stepladder on an empty stage in Act V spouting words of sound and fury.
This production by Tread the Boards Company is memorable for all the right reasons. It is great to see Shakespeare back at The Attic and even greater that the opening nights of the production played to good houses. Long may it last for the month’s run because it deserves full houses. Directed by John-Robert Partridge, there is plenty of power but no gimmickry. All the tricky bits are dealt with amazingly well. No one laughed at ‘he has killed me, mother’, because sensibly Macduff’s son did not run off stage at that point: a blindingly obvious but rarely seen interpretation.
I have to admit that my heart always sinks in anticipation of Act IV, scene iii, the scene where Malcolm is testing out Macduff. It almost always seems interminable, Malcolm’s ruse too extreme and unlikely and the announcement of the death of Lady Macduff and her children a jarring interruption. Not so here. John-Robert Partridge did the bold thing of playing Macduff - the hardest part to play - himself and the interplay between himself as Macduff and Ben Armitage as a powerful but restrained Malcolm was electric. Added to this was Ross’s intrusion with restrained posture and verse beautifully spoken by Edward Manning so I was forced to think again. The power of the scene was enhanced by the memory of a heavily pregnant Lady Macduff splendidly played by Catherine Prout, even more poignant to those in the know who realised that the Macduffs were being played by a real life husband and wife.
There are all sorts of other lovely things in this production. Pete Meredith’s interactions as Banquo with Fleance were beautiful. Phil Leach was a credible King Duncan and Daniel Wilby an effective Macbeth. The relationship between the Macbeths is always key to the success of a production. Instead of going for the now rather clichéd metaphor of sex as a metaphor for violence and vice versa, there was always an emotional distance between this couple and as audience members we were never quite convinced by the sincerity of the kisses between them. Alexandra Whitworth was psychologically convincing as Lady Macbeth, her coldness and detachment clearly ultimately leading to her madness and suicide. John-Robert Partridge was brilliant as Macduff: very still physically with piercing but deep set probing eyes.
But there were other surprises for me. The play went at a cracking pace. Even Act IV, scene iii didn’t halt its forward progress. The three witches (Sarah Feltham, Sally Hyde Lomax and Clara Lane) were a spooky presence throughout. Partridge used them several times to underscore a scene’s mood. They all three played other parts but Partridge sometimes used costume changes and sometimes didn’t. The best idea was when Witch 2 (Sally Hyde Lomax) played the Porter (for me usually the second most tedious scene in the play) but here because we thought witch when we saw porter we had external and internal evil combined - inside and outside the castle, inside and outside the mind. A great idea.
But the abiding memory of this production for me will be its atmosphere. Kat Murray’s lighting design was about as complex as possible in The Attic and Elliott Wallis’s sound design quite wonderful. There was sound all through but it never became obtrusive. Lights, sound and human actions and voices combined in perfect harmony.
Bum on a Seat Review - 31st March 2022 - William Stafford
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 30th March 2022
This production by Tread The Boards takes a traditional approach, with splendid medieval costumes conveying the historical period, although with the Northern English accents, it’s less Glamis Castle and more Winterfell. But at least there’s consistency, creating the world-of-the-play most effectively. The action plays out against a huge map of Scotland, which has been torn — symbolising the political climate of the story.
Judicious use of sound design (courtesy of the brilliant Elliott Wallis) makes the intimate Attic Theatre space feel larger. The sounds of hurly-burly surround us. Cast members running around and fighting put us right in the action. Enter Three Witches… This ragtag trio engender an otherworldliness, even though they could pass for mortal women – their eye-of-newt scene later on is horrible, as they place the disgusting ingredients in their cauldron. The Witches also double as other characters: servants, messengers, giving them a direct hand in the unfolding doom of their victim. Witch 2 (Sally Hyde Lomax) doubles as the Porter, bringing much-needed comic relief to the tense scenes surrounding the murder of Duncan. Witch 3 (Clara Lane) makes a sympathetic Lady Macduff, while Sarah Feltham’s Witch 1, the twitchy one, offers support in a string of minor roles. The impression is given that the Witches are more directly involved in Macbeth’s downfall than we might have thought.
Speak of the devil. Daniel Wilby’s Macbeth is a credible warrior (some Macbeths I’ve seen aren’t!) and his conversion to the dark side, while a little speedy, is also believable. Wilby is at his strongest in the scenes where Macbeth unravels – the banqueting scene is especially powerful – and his portrayal of a man under immense stress, with violent outbursts, is captivating.
He is more than matched by Alexandra Whitworth, who is quite simply the best Lady Macbeth I have seen. The steely-eyed wickedness, the growing sense of isolation, the mental breakdown… all played to perfection. Whitworth brings out the character’s humanity. She is so much more than a wicked woman who can’t cope with the consequences of her actions.
Honestly, this is a truly excellent cast. Phil Leach’s King Duncan exudes kindness without losing any of his regal status; Ben Armitage’s Malcolm is superb – like Macduff, we take him at his word. Armitage gives the boy king assuredness; he is definitely this Duncan’s son. Pete Meredith’s Banquo goes from brave and noble best mate to terrifying apparition. A versatile actor, Meredith later appears as the doctor – the contrast couldn’t be greater. John-Robert Partridge’s forthright Macduff is thoroughly righteous and decent. Partridge’s rich speaking voice is a pleasure to hear, and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.
There is strong support from the likes of Tom Lane’s Lennox, Edward Manning’s Ross, and Patrick Large as Seyton. Everyone handles the language with clarity and understanding. John-Robert Partridge’s direction gets everything right, the supernatural bits are unnerving, the action scenes are exciting – the climactic swordfight between Macs Duff and Beth is thrilling – making the confines of the performance space seem large enough to contain this story of a nation in upheaval, while yet intimate enough to chart the decline of our tragic hero. Partridge doesn’t clutter the stage (there’s no room) but lets Shakespeare’s text do the donkey work, ensuring that this superlative cast deliver the time-worn words with truth, ease and freshness.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Warwickshire World - 30th March 2022 - Charles Essex
Review: A bleak and powerful Macbeth on Stratford stage
A bare stage and a backdrop of a map of Scotland, torn across the middle, set the scene for a land riven by invasion, civil war and deadly rivalries. This production had no scenery and minimal props, which enhanced the bleak political landscape of the time.
Macbeth is a tale of greed, ambition and betrayal. Although a courageous soldier, Macbeth (Daniel Wilby) is irresolute as he allows his wife’s ambition to induce him to pursue the witches’ prophecy. Daniel conveyed well Macbeth’s underlying character weakness and inner conflicts. Alexandra Whitworth was excellent as Lady Macbeth with the right balance of emotional persuasiveness, protectiveness of her husband, and anguish and guilt as she fears her dreams of power are slipping away.
John-Robert Partridge gave a forceful yet sensitive performance as Macduff, especially on learning of the murder of his wife and children by Macbeth’s henchmen and Pete Meredith showed his versatility in his role as Banquo. Sarah Feltham, Ciara Lane and Sally Hyde Lomax were a star turn as the three witches, each with a different portrayal of their role, whether speaking or staring silently at the audience, menacing/intimidating in this small theatre. Much of the stage was often in darkness, with individual characters spotlighted, adding to the mounting tension as Macbeth and his wife headed towards their fate. The final fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff was impressively fearsome as they fought with broadswords.
Sometimes the sound effects were too loud and the recorded dialogue in the scene with the apparitions was largely inaudible. It was only by knowing the script that this reviewer understood that Birnam Wood was going to come to Dunsinane.
The cast delivered their lines confidently and flawlessly. Any student studying Macbeth for GCSE or A level would benefit from watching this performance.
December 2020 - January 2021
"What fun it was...the annual Twelve Days of Christmas routine was as slick and funny as ever, Cinderella's transformation from cleaning togs to ball-gowned beauty a moment of magic and the contemporary allusions and masses of extended word play a delight for the adults."
"The Dame - or Dames in this case - always steal the show and Robert Moore and Pete Meredith are no exception to this, bringing Corina and Virona to life with classic slapstick, some big musical numbers and even bigger outfits...The performance is peppered with plenty of jokes about lockdown, toilet paper and even Brexit but the overarching message about being kind to one another is a perfect reminder that we are still all weathering this Coronavirus storm and shouldn't forget to show some compassions and kindness."
"The small cast of six bring life and colour to the story of Cinderella with charm and wit...the songs are catchy...All in all a very entertaining afternoon out. Tread the Boards really did save Christmas!
Happy Family Hub
"We weren’t too sure what to expect but wow we were blown away with the show and amazing actors. They battled through the wind and rain to deliver a fantastic performance that had us entertained from the beginning to the end."