Saturday, 17 October 2009

Surrey Mirror: Review of 'The Family'

The first official review of 'The Family' is available here:

Or read it below:

Review: The Family at The Archway Studio Theatre, Horley
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 17:33

'The Family'
The Archway Studio Theatre, Horley

Reviewed by Tony Flook

Redhill-based Bradley Barlow is a man with a fertile imagination. A massive creative leap took him from him seeing Paula Rego's painting entitled 'The Family' which, he says, was one of his inspirations, to him writing his first play, recently premiered at The Archway's Studio Theatre.

Very little in The Family is as it seems. The only certainties are that England is at war with itself (indicated in the programme to be a civil uprising against Parliament) and that Peter, a soldier for the rebels, has come home to his sister Beth after a long absence. It is a dark, near-humourless piece that builds tension slowly, inexorably and grips through to the end, rather like a book in which one can barely wait to learn the next revelation.

As Barlow directed the production himself, he knew exactly how he envisaged its staging. He could not have hand-picked a better cast to interpret his characters.

Mandy Humphrey brought Beth frighteningly to life as she applied her ever tightening vice-like hold on her brother. Peter Westmacott (Peter) showed the trauma of a man who has been involved in the horrors of prolonged guerrilla warfare but who, even now, cannot escape his personal demons. His initially raw leg wound and, later, stained bandage were reminders of the bloody action he survived.

Emma, a local girl, seems to offer Peter some respite from his waking as well as sleeping nightmares. Ella Sowton was convincing as this, the play's only well balanced personality.

Athletic David Robson was the enigmatic, menacing Soldier who arrived at the house unexpectedly and whose presence was definitely unwelcome.

The set, largely housed within the stark curve of the studio's arched wall added a claustrophobic dimension to the kitchen, cluttered yet basic after years of shortage. Peter and Beth's clothes reflected this deprivation, while Emma's summery attire introduced a lightness, reflecting at least some semblance of normality. John Hankin's vertical bed, where several crucial incidents were played out, was an inspired idea.

Some works by new writers are aired once then sink from view. The Family deserves to be considered by other groups willing to take risks with a challenging but worthwhile play.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Just like that...

Just like that...’s all over! Done. Finito. Kaput. Well, sort of.

I am, of course, talking about ‘The Family’. After three nights of fantastic performances, the cast and crew took down the set on Sunday morning following a sell out show the night before.

Naturally, I was a bag of mixed emotions on the opening night (and the rest of the run too). My primary concern was the audience’s reactions. As a newly written text, the audience for ‘The Family’ had no previous reviews to judge by – their reactions would be the first. Ever. And my, what reactions they were!

Thursday’s audience of 37 were mainly made up of Archway Theatre members, with a huge support for Ella from the Young Adults Workshop. During the interval I spoke to some of the group and I could tell they were loving it – asking questions, debating what would happen next, saying how they loved the set and the music, how good the cast were... Not just the Young Adults – so many other people saying how much they were on the edge of their seats. The responses at the end remained hugely positive, with many commenting on how excellently Mandy Humphrey portrayed Beth. My biggest fear was that the audience would walk away describing it as “a play about incest” but, luckily, the riskier content of the play appeared to be understood in the extreme context of the play. One audience member, who shall remain nameless, told me that they weren’t often interested in attending fringe projects that appeared in the studio and very nearly didn’t attend – but was so incredibly pleased that he did. One thing stuck in my mind: “It’s a shame the rest of the run is sold out because it’s the kind of play that would get an audience in through word of mouth”.

Word of mouth seemed to work - Friday’s audience grew in number to 49 – just four seats shy of a sell out night. The audience this time was a mix of theatre members, and friends to support me; mainly work colleagues. Again, there was a buzz in the interval but the bulk of the compliments came at the end – a lot of people seemed to be in awe of how professional and slick the production was. One commented that she had seen a lot of professional theatre that wasn’t half as good as ‘The Family’. Obviously, very good to hear! We also had a couple of workshop attendees in the audience – one had a couple of minor negative points (that the first and last scenes were a bit too lengthy) and the other mentioned how glad he was that I stuck to my guns and didn’t change some things following the workshops; he was of the opinion that I had “pulled it out the bag”. One particular Archway member (a long standing director) said that it was the best performance by Mandy that she had ever seen – high praise for both Ms Humphrey and the director.

A rowdier audience attended the sell out (53) final night on Saturday. Once again, the cast and crew pulled a blinder and coped well with the distractions from the front rows. Tony Flook, Theatre Reviewer for the Surrey Mirror, also attended the evening. It was a tricky position for me as it was clear that Tony had a lot of questions but I also had other guests that I needed to speak to (note for future reference: family will also be there but press will not so make the most of it!). Being sat behind him (unintentionally) I was able to see that he was making lots of notes, laughing in the right places and straining to see what was happening at the most dramatic moments. At the very end I heard the word “Brilliant” uttered from his mouth – can’t ask for more than that really! Tony and I have sent a few emails to one another since – his editor may not print the review due to space but he hopes that he will; his last line apparently says that it is the type of play that should be staged at other venues with an interest in edgier works, and he has offered to put me in contact with other dramatic groups. I don’t have a lot of experience with the press but I can only imagine that this is a positive sign...! Definitely a contact worth keeping in mind in future...

Once the majority of the audience had left the bar the show (and once the pizzas were in) the cast and crew presented me with a miniature replica of the bed, with each person having placed a bloody fingerprint on the latex bed sheets – a really lovely touch. There was also a running joke about the number of times my name appeared in the programme, so Emma Ladd had gone to the painstaking effort of replacing everyone else’s name with my own and covering most faces with my ugly mug. Very, very funny! (I’ll upload the original programme to my website soon – see how many times you can find my name. Maybe play it with the kids too – fun for all the family!).

We’re now finalising how much money was spent and how much profit made, but I’m pleased to say that for the whole run we reached 87% capacity. Photos from the performance will appear online soon. I’m feeling very emotional now – after nearly two years of work, it’s coming to an end. We’re currently looking at the possibility of staging the play elsewhere, exploring the option of selling performance rights to other companies, and generally seeing what can be done next with it. I’m definitely going to forward the play to some reputable companies but it’s now a case of working out the next steps. In one major respect it’s the end, but in another it may just be the start...

Onwards and upwards.

I’ve got two ‘next projects’ that I’m going to being concentrating on over the coming months and I intend to keep the blog going whilst I work on them both. First, I shall be directing Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ on the Archway Theatre main stage – curtain goes up on 24 August 2010 – 4 September 2010. I’m going to begin prep work for that in the next week or so. The other is my next writing project: ‘The Woods’ is scheduled for early 2011 in the Archway Studio Theatre. It’s also early days for this one too but I commenced research for this one earlier this week. It’s already thrown up a couple of interesting strands that I’m going to be tugging on very soon. If you want to know more about it, visit my website (, click ‘writing’ and then ‘The Woods’. If that doesn’t get you rushing for a peek, perhaps the teaser poster below will?

As you can tell, I’m very much going to keep the blog going as I embark on my next nervous yet excitable steps and I hope you’ll all join me in the walk (although I can’t offer piggy backs I’m afraid).

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm not sure what to say...

It's fairly rare for me to have nothing to say. And it's not that there's nothing on my mind (the opposite is true), but I'm not quite sure how much more there is for me to say.

On Saturday, we added a few lights to the play and almost instantaneously it switched from being 'A Play That We're Rehearsing' to 'A Proper Production'. The set is also looking wicked, looks like a proper little home. Tonight we had some fuller lights and had the first run in complete costume. The costumes and make up look great but - oh. my. god. - just wait until you see Act 2's costumes; they'll blow you away!! Look out for one particular character (I shan't say who) - their costume looks superb.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's kinda reached a point where everything is slotting into place. We're in the position now where it's just lots of little things rather than anything too major - voices need to be a little louder here, lights need to fade slower there, blood needs to be....... etc. Sure I could list you all the things that need to be looked at, but then they're all relatively trivial. The performances are fantastic, the set looks brilliant and I just know that the cast and crew are going to do the script justice.

This isn't me signing off just yet (I'm hoping to update the blog after each performance this week) but in terms of preparing a production I don't think there's much more for me to say. If you have any specific queries then let me know but I guess the next time you hear from me will be when I tell you how the shows have gone.

And I can't end without telling you the ticket sale news: Thursday has sold about 20, Friday only has 6 tickets left and Saturday is SOLD OUT! A. Maze. Ing.

So I hope to welcome you along later this week; otherwise, keep an eye open for when I tell you all about how each night goes. Can't believe it's all happening now. It's time for the real thing...

Friday, 2 October 2009

A quick treat for you...

Very big apologies for the lack of posts - rehearsals have been great and keeping me busy. I'll give you a more substantial post soon...

In the meantime, by way of a small apology and to whet your appetite, here a few promotional images.