Tag Archives: Alice Livingstone

Privates on Parade

17 Feb

Set in British Malaya during the 1948 “Emergency”, this is a story of the birth pains of a new world.

Alice Livingstone’s production is also great fun. Overflowing with humour and playful musical numbers, it’s entirely captivating.

Imperialism? They say, to really understand a man, you have to walk a mile in his shoes. What they don’t say, is that in order to do so, the time honoured approach is to first take the man’s shoes from him. (Please excuse the gender specific nature of the language – but it seems appropriate in the context of imperialism.)

Gandhi was fond of saying that imperialism hurt the conquerors just as it hurt the conquered (though not necessarily as much).

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

As a British performing military troupe, the men presented in Privates on Parade find themselves in a super heated atmosphere. There’s a troubling juxtaposition between what they do and the military conflict that surrounds them. In this jungle of political intrigue they’re utterly lost, but far from the cloying comfort of home, something begins to grow. Relationships, that for the sake of tidiness would be torn out at the roots in Britain, are allowed to blossom.

Aided by marvelous musical accompaniment, the entire cast does brilliant work. Diana Perini and David Hooley are superb as two lovers, searching for a path through racial prejudice. Jamie Collette and Martin Searles give a moving portrayal of two men in love, painfully aware of the value, and fragility, of their relationship in a closed society. Matt Butcher’s villain is wonderfully (and consciously) pantomime, and achieves both humour and real menace. James Lee gives a show stopping performance as cross dressing Acting Captain Terri Dennis. And Peter Eyers as Major Giles Flack, the local representative of British small mindedness, gives a hilarious portrait of right thinking.

Peter Nichols’ script and Denis King’s music captures a world that needed to change. But the play is also a contemporary call for a more open society. And this production presents it with such life affirming exuberance that you leave the theatre feeling we can make it happen.

Veronica Kaye


Privates on Parade by Peter Nichols. music by Denis King

at New Theatre until 8 March


Top Girls

25 Jul

Gender issues are not what I usually write about. For obvious reasons.

But it’s not something I’ve had to skate around that often. Which is rather sad.

So it’s an absolute delight to see a cast solely of women and a play that puts issues that women face centre stage.

Both heartbreaking and hilarious, Alice Livingstone’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play is superb. The cast are brilliant.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

Top Girls is a provocative, engaging and deeply annoying title. It encapsulates the thorny issue at the play’s heart, and the issue that makes this play of abiding relevance.

Every member of an oppressed group faces an extra challenge in addition to the many that make them a member of an oppressed group in the first place. That challenge is the responsibility they have to the other members of the group.  An unavoidable question must be faced: “If I personally can break out of the circumstances that previously held me back, am I obliged to help those I left behind?”

Am I an individual? Or am I a member of a group?

( Margaret Thatcher’s answer, it’s worth noting, was “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”)

For me, the most poignant moment in the play comes at the end of the second act. I don’t do spoilers, so go and see it.  Suffice to say, this moment encapsulates the very issue I’m discussing. It’s a line delivered by Julia Billington, whose entire performance is extraordinary. Billington plays Marlene, the top girl who exists in both the play’s present (Thatcher’s Britain), and in the play’s intriguing opening, a dinner party where the guests are a broad sample of women from the past. (The stories these women share around the table are enough to make you feel that the world really is a vale of tears. Or at least the world we’ve allowed to exist.)

But back to that moment.  Marlene’s line is about one of her relatives, poor simple Angie, played marvelously by Claudia Barrie. Marlene’s line is delivered with throw away perfection. For when our hearts have hardened we no longer have a use for them.

Sharply intelligent and deeply moving,  this play argues for softness but does it with an iron strength.

Veronica Kaye

Top Girls

New Theatre until 3rd August