Written by Sam Holcroft –Writer-In-Residence at the National Theatre Studio
Directed by Nikki Disney.
I saw this play at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham (8th March 2014) as part of the National Theatre Connections 2014 programme in which I also participated but in a different play (Angels by Pauline McLynn).
The play focusses on an antique wardrobe that has given a safe hiding place to small groups of children over five hundred years. The wardrobe now stands in a museum and each night when it closes, its stories are secretly told in a series of flashbacks which include tales of the monarchy, the plague, Victorian times, the outbreak of World War I and through to modern times and the birth of social media.
The artforms involved in this production were drama, comedy, tragedy, authentic historical music (e.g. during the Tudor scenes) and sound effects such as during battle scenes.
Cast members were used cleverly so that main and ensemble roles were equally shared. For instance, cast members who were not in a main scene acted as the museum janitors who opened and closed the wardrobe doors between scenes. This allowed the actors to enter and exit the wardrobe without being seen by the audience and also showed clearly that a new scene had begun.
This play was an emotional rollercoaster with the atmosphere and tone changing from scene to scene from suspense during the Tudor scene to sadness and tragedy during the Plague scene; from light-hearted humour when the Latin student introduced his tutor to his first banana to dark comedy when the young Victorian mill worker and chimney sweep were competitively comparing their injuries and finally to poignancy during the World War I scene where the soldier decided to buy the wardrobe for his fiancée and they staged a mock wedding inside. This sense of sadness continued through to the present day when the marriage certificate slips from a crack in the wardrobe and is found by one of the janitors.
The play ends with some of the historical characters returning to the stage joined by modern day characters from 20th and 21st centuries who pass a poppy to one another as they come onstage. Finally, a teenage boy takes a photo of the wardrobe with his phone. The poppy is placed centre stage and a spotlight focuses on it.
My favourite aspect of the play was the scene where the Victorian children (a mill girl and a chimney sweep) were competing to see who had sustained the most horrific injury/treatment. It reminded me of the Horrible Histories series and was an effective way of teaching facts about that era.
I also loved the simple set design that focussed on the wardrobe itself. It included hooks and sliding panels that allowed the cast to hang up/place/hide props and costume items keeping the set tidy but ensuring the stories were told without needing to have difficult scene changes.
My only criticism is that this production should have been selected for performance at the National Theatre in London because it was so good!
I would recommend this for ages 12 years and over because some of the scenes and sound effects might be too scary for young children. Although the play is all about history, I think most people would enjoy it whether they are interested in history or not.
I intend to share this review via my blog which will be linked to social media sites including:
· Facebook- my blog’s official facebook page
I hope to attend other theatre performances and possibly some other events if they are relevant to my Arts practise.