'Stevie' by Hugh Whitemore
Directed by: Richard Parish
Design by: David Hemsley-Brown
Lighting and Sound by: Alex Lyon
Cast: Karen Brooks, Marie Thurbon and David Hemsley-Brown
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'...this is a highly ingenious piece, slipping seamlessly between poetry and dialogue to create a vivid impression of both the poet and the private woman' (Daily Telegraph)
'Stevie' is a biographical snapshot of both the poet, Stevie Smith and the private woman. Shot through with wit, it is the story of an endearing heroine, her unconventional life, powerful and popular poetry and her greatest struggle, to keep waving and not drowning.
'Sardines' Magazine REVIEW OF 'STEVIE' by NIGEL DAMS
From the moment I walked in and saw the wonderful set that delicious pre-theatre buzz increased a couple of points. Anyone who pays this much attention to set detail, I thought, will put on a good show. And I wasn't disappointed. It was excellent. Stevie is the story of Stevie Smith, a 'part time poet' told in narrative style by the poet herself, with observations and dialogue from two other players. All three were first-class illustrations of why England has such a glittering reputation for amateur theatre. The lead, Karen Brooks was wonderful, with an irresistible mix of dotty humour, poignant reflections and burning anger. Stevie herself was apparently known for a wide and skilful range of vocal technique, and Karen put that across in breathtaking style. She delivered the beautiful words perfectly. I will remember "the terrible syllable - 'now'" till the end of my days. Powerful though she was, she in no way overpowered her co-stars, Marie Thurbon and David Hemsley-Brown, who both were understated but riveting. Marie as the Aunt was the perfect no-nonsense war-era northern lass, slightly bewildered by the way society is changing, and finally losing the plot as she aged, with a fine but subtle pathos. David was superb, as always, switching from dispassionate observer to frustrated lover to amused interviewer with easy grace and skill. The supporting crew were first-rate as well. What I took to be a very well-painted backdrop was revealed by an artful trick of the lighting to be real foliage as night faded and the full light of day shone on its leaves. The sound cues were spot-on, the choice of music too, and all aspects of the design and production revealed that this is a company with real love of theatre in all its forms. When Stevie's end drew near, and I found myself actually getting choked up and blinking back the tears, I was reminded afresh that one needn't trek to London and spend a hundred pounds to get excellent theatre, it's available just around the corner, in the best of the ancient English tradition. Full marks to director Richard Parish and all the crew - it was a fabulous evening and I'll definitely keep an eye open for anything Lighted Fools do in the future.
Surrey Advertiser REVIEW OF 'STEVIE' by JEFF THOMSON
For many years Peggy Smith was a well regarded secretary with a London publishing company. She was adept at taking dictation but Miss Smith was also her own word-smith. She was to become better known as Stevie Smith, poet.
Smith arguably joined the pantheon of public acclaim with 'Not Waving But Drowning' - a poem which reflects her recurring themes of fear and death.
The routine nature of her life is the subject of Hugh Whitemore's script, 'Stevie' which some academics suggest could be poised to become a modern classic although his play details the humdrum nature of Stevie's life; fleeting boyfriends, neglected geraniums, sweet sherry and evenings spent with Aunt Madge.
It doesn't make for a dynamic experience.
It does make for a reflective one with the opportunity to identify the landscaping of the creative mind.
For the 'Lighted Fools Theatre Company' the director Richard Parish takes us on a journey of simplicity and directness.
This play is only occasionally seen but over the years I have identified some productions spicing-up the humdrum with a bit of 'artificial drama.' In my judgement it can taint the mood of stoic introspection. Parish avoids this.
Karen Brooks in the title role successfully creates a character that examines and questions; she cares little for fashion but a lot for feeling and achieves this in a plain pinafore dress with ankle socks: wide eyed and sometimes motionless, her shoulders droop as her arms tighten around her. The impact is complete - isolated but aware.
Hugh Whitemore punctuates his script with Smith's poems; Brook's brittle voice delivery softens with the verse as though entering a safer world.
David Hemsley-Brown plays several men in Stevie's life - no mention is made of her lesbian relationships - in three brief appearances, each was contrasted and assured while Aunt Madge, Stevie's brave lion aunt, is the anchor of the Palmer's Green home.
Marie Thurbon offered an effective portrayal of an elderly woman, progressively unsteady on her feet.
In a later moment, as food dribbles down her chin, there was recognition from the audience as to the truth and belief she created.
The setting showed attention to detail and period; lace curtaining, knick-knack heaven, and an upright piano in pride-of-place.
Whitemore's play is an acquired taste. It lacks flamboyance but for anyone willing to focus it demonstrates much about the human condition.
COMMENTS FROM OUR AUDIENCE ON 'STEVIE' I can't tell you how much I enjoyed Stevie last night. Your company is always so professional and polished, but last night's performance exceeded all my expectations.
It was as good as it could possibly be. All three performances, the set, the lighting, and the direction - wow!
David Hemsley-Brown was superb and Marie Thurbon absolutely perfect, both as foils to what ranks alongside the best performances I've ever seen from anyone, anywhere......Karen Brooks, you are a blooming star! It makes one want to give up acting when you see a performance like that.
Bravo! What a terrific performance. A very interesting story and well dramatised, sensitive and with some excellent lines: we really enjoyed it.
Very well acted and excellent set and technicalities.
Stevie was WONDERFUL! How she remembered all her words was amazing. The last little scene was really moving; she really DID get old and I was left feeling really sad for her as a person. Lion Aunt was also very real (and she did eat all the ham salad!!)
Thanks for a great evening again.
A big 'thank you' to the Lighted Fools team. A very interesting and challenging play, beautifully acted and produced - we really enjoyed it.
Definitely worth seeing and much enjoyed.
How perfect the set looked.
I had the greatest good fortune to go to Stevie at The Mill Studio in Guildford on 20th October and I simply have to write and thank you all so much for the most wonderful evening - I completely loved every minute of it!! Marie Thurbon and David Hemsley-Brown were superb, and I am still reeling from the magnificent performance of Karen Brooks....how on earth did she remember all those lines, plus put such feeling into it all, and then turn into an old lady right in front of our eyes at the end of the play? Incredible acting! It was the most special evening that brought Stevie Smith completely to life, and I shall never forget it....thank you!!!
I just wanted to say a massive thank you and well done to all involved in the recent production of Stevie which I was lucky enough to see twice.
It was wonderful in every way. The set was so authentic and the attention to detail was amazing. The music was perfect and the costumes were great - even down to the shoes.
The cast were superb - my husband insisted that no actress alive could have done a better job of portraying the eccentricity, vulnerability and humour of Stevie than Karen Brooks did.
The way the relationship between the Lion Aunt and Stevie changed over time was so poignant.
We thoroughly enjoyed the play - such a fab production!
It was a very impressive production and I think the set was better than the Hampstead production.
Hats off to all the Fools associated with the show.
I had no idea my arse had gone numb....twice....that's how good it was!