Monthly Archives: October 2013

‘Once Upon A Time in A Western’ by Le Navet Bete at Circomedia


Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers

‘A tumbleweed silently rolls across the dusty stage… The clink clink clink of spurs echoes throughout the theatre… The saloon door opens with a long, drawn-out creak… Welcome to Kidneystone’

Kidneystone is a place where the characters are many, the adventures are aplenty and where idiocy is an art form. From the moment you enter the building Le Navet Bete embroil you in their plot to save the town of Kidneystone from outlaws, a corrupt mayor, a likeable yet naive sheriff and fulfil their ultimate mission to find the true hero of this land.

The action is non-stop from start to finish, fast paced, high energy and demonstrates physical theatre and slapstick comedy at its best.  The audience is essential to the performance and we continually share the joy, jubilance, despair and confusion that the fools experience. Le Navet Bete are relentless in their enthusiasm and the performance is choke full of hilarious, ridiculous and occasionally squeamish fall-down-and-get-up-again moments, including the adventures of a guy with a beard in a tin bath, extreme line dancing, the three amigos, several deaths/near deaths/life after death experiences , something quite dramatic involving adverting a runaway train and a subsequent marriage proposal. Its fair to say ‘ Once Upon A Time In A Western’ doesn’t just take you to the saloon, -you’ll leave feeling that you’ve drunk the tequila and swallowed the worm as well.

A notable thing about Le Navet Bete is the genuine pleasure they take in performing for us and with each other. Underpinning their non-stop madcap routines and clowning calamities lies a precise sense of complicity and comedic timing that is perhaps demonstrative of a troupe who have been working together for years rather than months and who ‘like to perform as much as is humanly possible’.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is a rollercoaster ride of colourful characters, confusing situations, dramatic happenings, comedy moments, in jokes, out jokes and everything in between. With a shambolic finesse, sublime ridiculousness and through relentless laughter they reveal the humanity and flaws in us all.

Go and see it. You are sure to see somebody you know.

Le Navet Bete are an Exeter based collaborative clown troupe whose members are responsible for all aspects of the company and its work.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is Le Navet Bete’s flagship production and is showing at Circomedia until Friday the 25th October.

‘Up Down Boy’ by Myrtle Theatre Company at The Brewery Theatre


Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers

Matty is 19. He likes Michael Jackson, playing football, singing, dancing, wearing capes and Yoda.  Matty owns a lightsaber. His bedroom is both orderly and chaotic – a playful grotto brimming over with stuffed animals. Often projected on its walls are the animated thoughts, cartoon memories and fantastic imaginings of his mind.

But today, Matty is leaving for college.  His mum is helping him pack. It’s time for Matty to grow up and he can’t take everything with him. Matty’s mum wants more for him, a better future. Matty is going a to college to learn to be independent because his mum can’t always be there.  It’s just she’s not sure how she will cope without him.

Matty has Down Syndrome, and ‘Up Down Boy’ is a funny and moving story about two everyday superheroes, a mother and son at a crossroads and a suitcase full of stuffed toys.

Written by Sue Shields about her real life son performer Nathan Bessell (who plays Matty) with dramaturgical support from Catherine Johnson, ‘Up Down Boy’ combines drama, music, dance and animation to reveal the highs and lows of the shared parent/teenager experience of living with Down Syndrome. In addition to the complexities of Matty and his mothers relationship (a strong performance by Heather Williams) ‘Up Down Boy’ also touches on issues of social exclusion, inequality and experiences of social care, education and other challenges that the pair have had to navigate.

It’s this honouring of the shared experience where the work really shines. Whilst Matty figures predominantly in the production most of the dialogue is spoken by his mother and it’s the focus on her parental journey/struggle which makes this work so unique. We hear of their story from Matty’s birth, their joys and despairs and witness the truthful and colourful spectrum of emotions that the pair experience – ranging from quiet intimate moments tinged with joy, sadness and playfulness to resentment, raised voices and frustration. Beneath this the pair have both successfully created a convincing dynamic which continually suggests and communicates a foundation of sincere love.  Matty’s experience is more often communicated through some astoundingly good movement pieces, joyful comedic moments and animated journeys into imagined jungles.

Matty is not just someone with Downs Syndrome he is a brother and a son situated within a family context – whilst this did not feature heavily in the current script this is an interesting consideration and something of which I’ve seen little of in similar productions. However the significance and richness of the mothers story, her dichotomy between strength and vulnerability, hope and regret offers much to it’s audience and there were several nods of empathy and understanding amongst the crowd.  ‘Up Down Boy’ is a production that has something important to say and says it well. It reveals a rarely told story. It is a production that matters and a promising debut from writer Sue Shields.

‘Up Down Boy’ by Myrtle Theatre Company is showing at The Brewery Theatre until Saturday 26th October.


‘Monkey Bars’ by Chris Goode and Company at The Tobacco Factory Theatre.


ecsImgMonkey-Bars-3-4446021Originally written for

‘Monkey Bars’ is the insightful, funny and often unexpected result of what happened when Chris Goode asked 70 children to talk about their lives. A verbatim piece spoken by adults ‘Monkey Bars’ offers a touching glimpse into young hearts and minds, and asks, how seriously do we listen to the words of children?

Cubes of white light create the stage and the scenarios we visit are familiar ones – a wine bar, a job interview, a political debate. The conversation touches on many a grown up theme – economics, religion, nationalism, identity and the future of how to make the world a better place is debated. It’s not all existential musings though and equally delightful are the joys of a jelly being serenaded and a job interview where the candidate is tested vigorously on their knowledge of sweets.

The work provides a powerful comment on time with the children often eagerly contemplating their future lives as ‘grown ups’. In contrast, the performers in business suits remind us how easy it is to forget the important art of being childlike as adults. It’s the simplicity of the children’s reasoning and more so their honesty that leave us with a sense of both the immediacy and fragility of childhood that is so fleeting.

The work doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the children’s truth. The original interviews (conducted by Karl James) were carried out in various socioeconomic groups in London and as well as revealing the reality of living in a multicultural society also demonstrate the role that the media and family can have in shaping our views and feelings about the world. Perhaps most poignantly is also how the children choose to cope and deal with them.

Whilst the challenge of adult life has yet to be encountered, the children are often quick to identify the cause and solution of potential problems:

Karl: Do you ever get a chance to talk to each other? When do you get to talk?

Hassan: No but we never get the chance.  That’s the thing. I never get to know Woody and Woody never gets to know me. And like.. And I want you to hear this loud, world! That is why we are not friends, because we never get a chance to know people. And I think.. And if you.. And if you can hear this, President, I want you to change the school time so that we can have play time even more so we can know people even more. OK?

‘Monkey Bars’ is a production where despite their absence, the children remain at the heart of the piece.  It provides a platform for them to voice their views consistently revealing the insight and wisdom that children have. It leaves the audience to ask the question: how often as adults, do we give children an opportunity to really take the stage and to value them in this way?