Reviews

THE SNOW SPIDER

The Stage, December 2013

Jenny Nimmo is that rare thing – a talented writer who, like JM Barrie, recognises that within all of us there is a deep childishness, which, throughout our lives, cherishes magic with the power to touch our emotions.

This haunting tale of a nine-year-old Welsh boy Gwyn (the superb Joey Hickman), who is destined to become a great enchanter, is told in a spellbinding way, achieved with only the minimum of props but the maximum of conviction. This is the kind of minimalist production where we are residents in our own imagination – a land where few things are more powerful and anything is possible.

Nain (Anne-Marie Piazza) holds the key to this land, where belief unlocks a parallel world of magic.
The marvellously fluid performers evoke, with admirable skill, animals, dark mountain spirits and even farmyard geese in the twinkling of an eye, using a playing style that is part pantomime, part narrative theatre and all total delight. Props consist of a couple of travelling trunks, table cloths and a token spider’s web.

And everywhere there is music, with violins, harps and cellos played beautifully by the actors, all of whom carry a supple, rubber-glove spider in their pockets.

Staged in existentialist shadows, this is beautiful theatre as it once was, where you create the make-believe yourself, something Shakespeare and the Elizabethans knew all about. In a touching final sequence, about a sister lost in the Welsh mountains, the audience hears of a country beyond time. Somehow, for no good reason, you weep.

Gloucestershire Echo, December 2013

Delyth Jones’ clever stage adaptation of Jenny Nimmo’s timeless novel will cast a perfect seasonal spell.

BargainTheatreland, January 2014

Io Theatre exemplify a slick ensemble presence with their performance of Snow Spider and although advertised as a Christmas show, it can undoubtedly be enjoyed all year round for anyone with an interest in fantasy stories, beautifully executed by a superb cast of skilled actors.

A Younger Theatre, January 2014

The beauty of this production of The Snow Spider lies in the simplicity, as a real sense of magic is achieved knowing that no special effects or tricks are being used. From the sound effects to the visuals created during the climatic storm, all are produced by the young and zealous cast. For me, such an accomplished work performed on a shoe-string budget really is fringe theatre at its finest.

Total Theatre, November 2012

The tight and talented cast are captivating from the beginning as they display the best of ensemble storytelling and bring to life characters that vary from wonderfully colourful to touchingly real. The music, directed by James Lark, really cannot be faulted. From the outset it carries the piece; the prominence of the harp sets a magical tone punctuated by mysterious lingering discords that really bring to life the majesty of the Welsh valleys where the piece is based. The vocal skills that the cast display go further in creating a magical resonance in the air […] In the over-saturated genre of children’s theatre it’s so refreshing to find a production of such high quality that never patronises and provides a memorable experience for its audience.

One Stop Arts, November 2012

Although the acting was superb, it was the music and the innovative creative direction of the piece which really caught my attention. Delyth Jones and James Lark have done a marvellous job of capturing the magical essence of this already popular children’s story and adapting it for the stage. The props were minimalist, with the actors themselves constituting the majority of the onstage aesthetics as well as acoustics […] Every member of the audience was enthralled for the duration of this mesmerising, heartfelt and magnificent story.

Breaking A Leg Hurts, November 2012

I love the fearlessness of fringe theatre productions; they are not afraid to mix together music, dance, physical theatre, and straight acting and appeal simultaneously to the intellectual and visceral responses in their audiences. In their production of Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider Io Theatre Company do this wonderfully, reaping the rewards of hours and months of workshopping. The play is light, humorous, energetic,and moving beyond expectation.

 

LYSISTRATA (for Watford Palace Theatre)

Kevin O’Brien, The Public Review, Monday 9 February 2009

Lysistrata is expertly interpreted in Delyth Jones’ physical theatre production. Character and costume changes occur on stage, and there is extensive use of dance, singing and playing musical instruments, and use of some extremely physical props which bring a new meaning to the term ‘physical theatre’.

With no hiding place, the cast invested the performance with a palpable, compelling display of sheer talent and enthusiasm. Their expert sense of comic timing, constant changing of roles, assured musicianship and singing must have left them exhausted by the curtain calls, but hopefully the rapturous reception they received from a packed auditiorium made it worthwhile. For effort alone, the group deserved their ovation, Add to this their flawless handling of the comedy (the laughs came in torrents), fine musicianship and tight vocal harmonies, all underpinning their level of talent and their immense versatility.

The direction was pacy and taut. The dizzying changes of character and scene were accomplished brilliantly, the narrative was never confused and the tempo never sagged through its various changes in tempo.

Elspeth Rae, UK Theatre Network, Thursday 12th February 2009

For me the performance served perfectly its purpose. Ingenious and at times laugh out loud funny, it will capture the imagination of the young student watching it and making studying for GCSE in Ancient Greek much more enjoyable. I was particularly impressed by Michaela Kemp’s set design and Delyth Jones’ direction.

 

TONY BLAIR – THE MUSICAL

David Laing, The List, 22 August 2007

This slick production provides plenty of laughs and generous helpings of satire as it chronicles the achievements of the Blair premiership. A well-voiced and good-looking cast accompany the plethora of lyrically and musically impressive songs, providing a comic, if secondhand, squint behind the doors of number ten, with the deteriorating, camp, Blair/Brown relationship a particular highlight.

The Stage, 14 August 2007

What a shame that the cast of this wonderfully entertaining and skilfully written musical are having to cram together on a stage the size of a table top at the Gilded Balloon.

The talent of the writing, however, manages to shine through. And what an exciting talent it is. James Lark and Christopher Mundy have a real understanding of how to ‘do’ musical theatre. Their songs are well-constructed and thoughtful parodies of other writers – picked to fit the mood of the moment or the character singing.

Thus the opening song, sung by Britain’s pre-Blair, rag-clad suffering masses has shades of Les Miserable. Oh! What a Lovely War Against Terrorism speaks for itself, and there are shades of Noel Coward and Jonathan Larson to name two others.

Blair – a sleazy performance from Nathan Kiley – and Brown – a great impersonation and surprisingly sensitive performance from writer Lark – are an unrequited couple joined by an ideology. As Blair becomes tainted by power and influenced by others such as Alistair Campbell and George W Bush, so Brown becomes a heartbroken idealist still clinging onto the dreams they once shared together.

Tony Blair – The Musical needs to be seen by someone who can offer advice, guidance and cash in order to develop it into something bigger. The seeds are here for a much bigger production – here is talent to be nurtured.

The Mail on Sunday, 12 August 2007

Lead Nathan Kiley flashes his grinning Blair rictus brightly while a smitten Gordon Brown is dumped and Tony The Phoney turns on the smarm to lead his nation into Oh! What a Lovely War Against Terrorism. Musically sophisticated and zestily performed, Tony Blair – the Musical packs a good deal more oomph than the Brown Bounce.

Pete Shaw, Broadway Baby, 11 August 2007

Io Theatre’s take on the Tony Blair years is a satirical view of his leadership, set to a bitingly funny score. Pretty much all the elements of his ten years in power are there, with only the notable absence of Cherie.

The first ten minutes or so is comic gold. Starting from 1997, the British people are depicted as Muscovite peasants follow 18 years of Tory corruption. We get an early feel for how clever the writing can be when Blair launches into a song with the lyric “today is not a day for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.” The audience are floored and it’s only just started.

David Torrance, Edinburgh Evening News, 9 August 2007

James Lark’s sophisticated harmonies and jaunty chorus numbers are lively and entertaining, while Nathan Kiley is engaging as the ever-grinning Prime Minister. Lark also doubles up as the brooding chancellor Gordon Brown, whose romantic feelings towards the PM are hinted at to amusing effect. A whining Clare Short and sinister David Blunkett provide comic relief, the latter aided by a glove puppet as his guide dog.

Johann Hari, The Independent, 9 August 2007

The endless Prime Ministerial speeches about The Legacy that filled the spring didn’t include Blair’s contribution to musical theatre, but it turns out the PM who dreamed of being a rock star has bequeathed two song-and-dance singalongs to this year’s Fringe. At the Gilded Balloon, his story – in Tony Blair – The Musical – opens with a dark-robed, hungry peasant’s chorus, lamenting the long winter of Tory rule. But then a red-tied Messiah emerges as the sun breaks over the Royal Festival Hall, and Blair’s flattest clichés are leavened with music: “The art of politics is saying no not yes/ We have 14 days to save the NHS.”

But this is, in fact, the Tony and Gordon story. Brown shambles on to the stage here as a chaotic, hyper-intellectual tramp, locked in a semi-gay sadomasochistic tango with Tony. His tie and his social skills askew, he gazes longingly at Blair’s political skills and sings sweetly of their one-time partnership. But when Brown finally and bloodily dispatches Blair and takes centre-stage, Tony’s corpse twitches back to life – and he is instantly reincarnated in a blue tie as David Cameron, to shunt Brown aside once again.

It’s a neat conceit, but the news beyond the fringe – of Cameron’s plummeting poll numbers, and Brown’s bounce – shows the creators are too pessimistic. Yet there is real charm here. Sure, the music is too brooding and bleak for such a jaunty idea… But this is a surprisingly intelligent way to process the Blair Years.

The Scotsman, 8 August 2007

Io Theatre Company at Gilded Balloon have lovely touches, including digs at Claire Short’s “Laura Ashley wardrobe”, while Gordon and Tony’s unrequited love affair plays out to the lyrics of: “I’ll be Simon to your Garfunkel … Jason to your Kylie”, complete with a Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire dance off. The Bush appearance does little to disappoint, played out in barn dance style. A suitably verbose Shakespearian ending rounds it off in gallus style.

Thomas Kerr, Skinny Fest, 8 August 2007

Set to the toe-tapping music of James Lark it makes for a highly entertaining journey through a period of British politics ripe for this sort of treatment.

Mark Monahan, The Daily Telegraph, 6 August 2007

It runs the melodic gamut from near-Weillian severity to knowingly schmaltzy balladry, and is packed with rich, tight harmonies.

 

THE RISE AND FALL OF DEON VONNIGET

The New York Times, 26th August 2006

With stand-up comedy, improvisation, puppets, music and even a little mime, Mr. Lark’s show tells the history of a once-famous musician who, after stints with Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees, eventually dies in obscurity, consumed by envy of Andrew Lloyd Webber and driven mad by his fans’ obsession with his early hit, a song about cheese and romance. (Mr. Lark may be the only person at the Fringe, or anywhere, to successfully rhyme in song “Philadelphia” with “healthier,” and “Red Leicester” with “caressed her” and “molest her.”)

ScotsGay, 18 August 2006
*****
A polished performance of musical parody and originality, which quite made my afternoon. See it before he gets too famous and stops performing the Cheese Song.

Three Weeks, 14th August 2006

He’s a ridiculous creation, and the whole show is slightly surreal as confession, power point, and novelty music combine to tell his story. While it can’t be denied it’s a little bit twisted and a little bit idiotic, it’s more than a little bit funny too.

Rogues and Vagabonds theatre website, 22nd February 2006

Delyth Jones of the Io Theatre Company has directed a fast and furious one-man show which uses every media trick in its obviously low-budget book. A projector for slides of Vonniget’s famous album covers, along with the required titles to his vast autobiographical adventure in music land, provides many visual gags. The music is varied and the parodies thick and fast. One only hopes the legal representative of Lloyd Webber does not sneak into the show. Flattering it is not.

This sort of venture is vital if we are to nurture the up and coming talent on the British stage. This is pure music hall. Almost from a bygone age, the comedy of a character enthusiastically communicating with his audience comes across with immediate force. We know it’s theatre in its infancy – Jones hopes to take the show to the Edinburgh Festival – but even so it is worth supporting. On a cold and wintry Valentine’s night, this was a warm breath of fresh and funny air. Deon Vonniget might have suffered in an industry which relies on youth and image. Lark is engaging from beginning to end.

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