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Orbis 187 (Spring)£5 (Overseas: £11/€14/$16); Subs: £18/4 pa (Overseas: £40/€50/$60)

Front cover artwork: ‘World’s Away’ by Megan Duncanson
back cover, detail from image:

First, Ted Hughes, then Sylvia Plath (although some of you may want to argue
about that), in an article by 
Paul Stephenson.  
But Spring is here, somewhere,
although still chilly enough to snuggle up with 
Neil Beardmore,
In Bed, Writing Poetry About Hokusaias long as you don’t end up having nightmares
Annie Newcomer’s Ukraine. Much better to have A Dream To Dare,
Morgan Kenney, or to imagine being The God of Little Things (Faye Boland).
And does Louise WilfordWhen He Marched Back, have anything to do with
Rodney Wood’s ABC of the Royal Navy? Or, Tim Cunningham’s description of
Nostalgia Day In Paradise – even Alisa VelajAniara, Aniara
Or My Transcendence of Night? Back down to earth, sort of, let Claire Booker
tell you all about being 
Eyeless in Riyadh. Last, but by no means least, pay a visit to
Tim Dowley’s Life class. And if you fancy being transported to a classy life,
you know where to look. Right here:

Featured Poet Denise McSheehy: Seamless & Complete; Night Walk; Somewhere

Poems from: Marie LecrivainMy Amygdala Didn’t Get the Memo;
David LukensBeware The Smart Toaster; Marcus Pavard,
What We Worshippers Do Afterhours; Sue SpiersIn Silence; Richard Toovey,
There ought to be a word for it; Susan WicksNight Breathing

Prose from:Charlotte GringrasHappy Families;
Denise McSheehyWhiteJenna PlewesYellow

Translation: Laura ChalarPaisaje by Federico García Lorca

Past Master: Jonathan Cooper on Charlotte Mew

Reader’s Response: Philip Dunkerley

‘In Defence Of Humour:
Comedic effect in the poetry of Sylvia Plath': 
Paul Stephenson

Reviews: Maria Isakova Bennett, David Harmer, Jenny Hockey,
D. A. Prince, Lynne Taylor 
and Noel Williams

Orbis 187 Contributors also include

Fred Beake; Patricia Brody; Lucinda Carey; Victoria Gatehouse;
Jenny Hockey; 
Glenn Hubbard; Eve Jackson; Fred Johnstone;
Robert Keeler; Martin Kerry; Jenny King; 
Craig Kurtz; Hilary Mellon;
Tom Paine; Katherine Barrett Swett; Jules Whiting

Ghost: The Musical

March 5-9
Touring until May 4

Storeyhouse, Chester

Reviewed for North West End:



I can’t deny there have been times when it feels like I’m the only one in the theatre not laughing – it’s a damn sight worse if it looks like it’s just you with the giggles. When Molly first sits down at the potter’s wheel, she’s probably aiming to create a bowl but what emerges is, shall we say, unfeasibly perpendicular… You get the picture, I’m sure… This is not in fact what has been referred to, curiously, as the ‘infamous image'; unfortunately, the one most of us would describe as iconic, hero and heroine entwined over said wheel, is so abruptly cut short, you barely have time to catch your breath. However, the other thing we all remember, that song, is the most heartbreaking duet and must have had most of the audience in tears.

It was interesting to discover that Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard are responsible for the music and lyrics, and a shame that we weren’t given the opportunity to thoroughly appreciate all the songs with some of them drowned out; not a clue what opened the second half, and ok, the ending is a kind of triumphal apotheosis but too much Brian May guitar hammered out, destroying any sense of poignancy. Just as bad, Act 1 draws to a close with the three main characters battling it out at the top of their lungs, resulting in cacophony, although the return match is more muted and thus more effective. All the more ironic since the first time, it’s done as friends, the second, as enemies. It is also oddly curious seeing city suits and secretaries engaged in a jaunty routine, but the best numbers, inevitably, belong to Oda Mae.

The staging is excellent, giving you a first class view of New York, even if some of the scenery was occasionally recalcitrant. It was particularly inventive to see the scene set when Molly and Tom move into their new apartment because of course, the props and furnishings are quite literally being delivered. Likewise, the special effects, for example, the dead transforming into ghosts; the bad, doomed to Hell; the Subway Ghost demonstrating his powers. Both Lovonne Richards and his opposite, James Earl Adair, the Hospital Ghost, played their part to the hilt, angry and fearsome and sweetly sad respectively.

And those three main characters? You can sort of see what’s coming with Sergio Pasquariello as Carl: too good to be true, charming and caring; a very plausible villain. But Rebekah Lowings and Niall Sheehy as Molly and Sam are simply divine as a couple, a match made in Heaven, totally convincing as star-crossed lovers. It’s as moving to watch their love and passion as it is to witness their grief. And their singing voices – wow. Her crystalline tones are equalled by his powerful renditions.

The applause they justly received was nearly on a par with that for Jacqui Dubois. And well deserved as scene stealer, Oda Mae, the medium with the most who discovers to her horror that she really does have the gift when Tom suddenly materialises. Not that she can see him, which is utilised to extract most of the humour.The scene where he uses her to turn the tables on Carl is brilliantly funny from start to finish, as well as the one where she is introduced, flanked by Clara (Sadie-Jean Shirley) and Ortisha (Chanelle Anthony), all Gospel enthusiasm and spiritually evangelical in every way.


I’m going to resist the temptation to tell you that the audience went absolutely potty for this lively, delightfully entertaining production, but you could say this review was ghost written because it virtually wrote itself.

What’s Love Got To Do With It

February 19

On tour until October 26

Liverpool Empire

Reviewed for North West End:


Presumably, ‘Simply the Best’ has already been taken. Definitely, I should have read the small print, having assumed this was biographical rather than a tribute. But you could tell straight away because the backdrop is a triptych, three massive portraits of the star in iconic poses.

So let’s get the show on the road. One thing which was rather appealing was the way, albeit to provide time for costume changes, members of the band, in particularly the amazing lady saxophonist, and the backing singers, Claire Newman, Shanice Smith and Amara Smith, got their place in the sun and took centre stage. It did beg the question however: the role of the fourth girl at the back, either presiding over the trio or kept in the background? No idea of her name even, although I guessed correctly about Amarra Smith,  whose solo was acclaimed as wildly as Elesha Paul Moses’s performance; the programme hadn’t been printed in time.

Meanwhile, the staging was well set out with plenty of room to manoeuvre, enhanced, sort of, by four miniature lighthouse affairs which lit up prettily in an assortment of colours. After all, next to that voice, the distinctive thing about Tina Turner is something in the way she moves, whether you could describe it as a thoroughbred prancing or the sort of staccato strutting and shuffling you see when somebody is treading on hot coals.

Similarly, the curious thing about the backing group is that although they were all remarkable singers and dancers, no Greek chorus or strict choreography; each of them was harking to a different drum so little was completely in sync. They also appeared like samples of small, medium, and well, no, not large, just marginally bigger. However, their costumes were just as sumptuous as Ms Moses’ – in one case, even fancier: Vegas showgirls, morphed with ostriches, for the set piece, ‘Golden Eye’, offset by their leader in a comparatively plain silver evening gown. The other set piece was, of course, ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ where she was flanked by glorious black and gold Steampunkettes. This is turning into a fashion show critique… but the choices were so dramatic: black and red, silver and gold, the latter in one instance, an unforgiving bodysuit topped by some sort of antimacassar, then tipped over into burlesque because of a tasselled belt with a mind of its own. Then the final change; back to basics, all glossy brown hair and that red fringed barely- there dress, with the girls in white, so they could all shimmy the night away.

You’re here for the songs of course, and there were several new to me, and no clue in the announcements, all of which were largely inaudible. I was also surprised at the number of covers – and continue to be horrified at the way Anne Peebles’ ‘I can’t stand the rain’, so wonderfully poignant, is junked up and made jaunty to a distressing degree. But the performance is redeemed by a rousing finale, a trio of greatest hits which had just about the entire audience dancing in the aisles, if they weren’t busy on their phones filming.

No need really as everybody was clearly enjoying a memorable night. Packed to the rafters with fans, their adoring reception showed they felt the show had indeed been simply the best.



The Wizard of Oz

Until January 6

Storeyhouse, Chester


Follow the Yellow Brick Road? Well, plenty of interesting encounters en route, in the company of an exemplary cast, with lively music and dance routines (despite rather jarring gesticulation), and as a whole, the show captures the essence of the book, in the coming of age of its heroine, the

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Alice1400x700_Still-Alice-title-V2Still Alice

November 6-10

On tour until November 17

Liverpool Playhouse


Is it just me, or do we tend to think of Alzheimer’s as peculiarly British? In fact, am I allowed to say, there seems plenty of evidence that it seems to be rife in America… One thing’s for sure, it’s something we must all dread, especially as we grow older; every time we forget something , become disorientated or do something daft (how can you possibly mislay a slice of pizza? OK, binned or eaten most likely, but still). Yes, of course, we all do all of those things, and we still all worry.

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They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!

October 30 – November 3

On tour until December 2

Liverpool lLayhouse


What a difference a day makes, or a decade or several of them, since ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ was originally written in 1974, and yes, indeed, plus ça change. So how does it translate? Exceedingly well, thanks to Deborah McAndrew, and what a difference is made by those two pronouns, plus a slight tweak for the title, and for Marx’s statement that history repeats itself, ‘ first as tragedy, then as farce’. What we have here is even more than that: the tragic situation of far too many people today, underlined by the use of surreal farce.

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Reviewed for North West End:

The Unreturning

October 16-20

On tour until March 1

Liverpool Everyman


‘War, war! That’s all you ever think about, Dick Plantagenet!’ has to be the worst opening line for a review; dreadful piece of film dialogue. But a subject damn near as old as the human race is one which presents any number of obstacles for any playwright and any theatre company. We’ve seen and heard it all a million times; how do you create something different to evoke the pity of war, and all its horrors? And that yearned for homecoming, to comfort and security? Or isolation?

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Reviewed for North West End:


October 9-15

On tour until October 20

Liverpool Everyman


So this is a modern fable? It could certainly be classed as a fairytale, being extremely grim in places, the tale of orphan Tiny, adopted by his apparent reprobate of a grandfather. The boy grows up to be obsessed with building fences, literally keeping things in as well as out. And having lost father then mother under tragic circumstance, still haunted by the latter, he takes to caring for the eponymous Fup, yes, it has to be said, like a duck to water…

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Reviewed for North West End; shorter version appears on their website:

October 9-13


On tour until April, 2019

Liverpool Playhouse


Yes, you may be familiar with the story, yet this production keeps you on the edge of your seat: will Anne Elliot ever find true love with Frederick Wentworth, the happy ending she truly deserves? It’s been eight long years since her family dissuaded her from accepting his proposal: no means; no

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Reviewed for North West End:

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets

October 17-20

Liverpool Playhouse


We’re off to a good start, free bags of sweeties being passed around. Or are we? Along with the not so goodies, there’s no indication in the notes as to who plays which main role. And the title does not do what it says on the can: no animals appear, apart from one cat. However, easy to imagine the anarchic 1927 company having a giggle about that. Or simply indulging in a Gallic shrug.

And we’re off to the seediest of slums, Bayou Masions, along with Agnes Eaves (and daughter Evie), and she is full of good intentions despite the horribly grim environment where nobody dares venture out at night because of the feral children swarming everywhere. Agnes is convinced they just need a little love and understanding; the sinister Council has ideas of quite a different nature to solve the problem.

Her love interest, well, he should be so lucky because she really is not interested, is the Caretaker, and the two other main characters are the owner of the Second Hand Shop and her daughter, Zelda, head of a gang of the children, known as the Pirates, their clarion call being ‘we want what you have out there’. But it’s impossible to tell who plays what, particularly as The Caretaker, with a shock of Struwwelpeter hair, and Robert in ‘The Golem’ look similar yet are played by different actresses. By a process of elimination, Rowena Lennon, I think, is the delightful, demure Agnes as well as naughty Zelda, then perhaps Felicity Sparks is the Caretaker, who, along with Agnes, garners most of our sympathy; both of them stubborn yet reluctantly brave. Which leaves Rowena Lennon, maybe, as the enchantingly roguish Madame Whateverhernamewas, dry wit, dodgy dealer and Molly Parkin lookalike.

The basic design is the facade of the tenements, windows popping up all over the place, and scenes and scenery change at a bewildering pace, sometimes split with each half left and right of the stage. The scattergun switching of images can be confusing; when news headlines are projected on the backdrop, words and letters are every which way making them difficult to read. Again, you suspect this is all done on purpose, so you should just sit back and enjoy the show, admiring the Russian and Parisian influences on what is basically a cartoon or graphic novel brought to life before your very eyes. However, quite a few devices are the same as those in ‘The Golem’, particularly the animation and the pounding music accompanying the Caretaker when administering silly walks as he marches along or runs around. The whole thing, nevertheless, is startling, and bizarre, and very, very clever with delicious word play and exquisite rhymes, interrupted by the occasionally rude and risqué, and enhanced by wonderfully jaunty music and satirical comment enunciated in cut-glass tones.

Such a vividly original story, created with a loving, old fashioned attention to details, it could easily become a classic. You may not believe you should clap hands if you believe in fairies, but this dystopian fairy tale earned plenty of applause from a thoroughly captivated audience. Think Roald Dahl, think ‘Cabaret’, think Tim Burton – and just think what’ll you be missing if you don’t experience this show for yourself.

Reviewed by Carole Baldock

October 17

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