Christmas Review


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Firstborn Theatre Company presents

Winter Tales


Written by Billy Barrett, Elizabeth Heery, Dawn King,
Ant Stones and Cathy Thomas


Directed by Antonio Ferrara


Designers - Rachel Szmukler and Emma Bailey

Kings Arms Pub


4 December – 16 January 2010




A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

When you bustle into a pub-cum-theatre and are greeted with the aperitif of free mulled wine and mince pies, it would be ungrateful to find the main course distasteful. And so it was with these bite size winter tales – succulent, mesmerising, engaging and thrilling – an atmospheric chocolate box of fine dramatic writing and eloquent characterisation. Using the enchanting atmosphere of the Kings Arms pub to its whim, Winter Tales is a weekend treat better than any you’re likely to find in your Christmas stocking.

Winter Tales is a five-story journey through the rooms of a cosy London pub, at once revealing the forgotten woes of past patrons and illuminating the pub’s contemporary happenings. Under the enriching direction of Antonio Ferrara, each of the five commissioned writers’ work is brought to life (or death) via site-specific setting and storytelling acting. You’re even given a map, to indicate where you’re headed, and placed in a colour group to ensure you stay on track. At first, it feels a little twee, but any sense of the amateur vanishes as soon as Babby shuts the door to her upstairs parlour and begins to paint the frightening portrait of her disgraced arrival in a London convent, and her gratitude to the walls of the pub that saved her. There’s a real connection between her story and the setting, and the piece is proof of how writers can use site specific to tell a large part of their story for them. Shrewdly cast, and sharply acted by Moya McGinn, Babby’s Lament was a highlight of the evening and a perfect opener to the following tales.

Ghostly No. 7 is a simple ghost story, brilliantly told. Ben Benson nails the hapless omnibus conductor whose heart-warming and harmless jealousy turns to pallid desperation as he haunts a London street corner, waiting for a nightmare bus and his long dead love. Once again, the proximity of the London street outside intensifies the story and layers the character far deeper than the short script could achieve in another setting.

Basement is the most gripping performance of the evening, set in total darkness in, you guessed it, the basement, it instils fear from the moment you’re led behind the bar and into the working cellar of the premises. As the robbers creep in, the tension mounts, and I crept further and further up my bench, away from the ominous, black-sheeted doorway hovering over me … and oh, what a wise move it turned out to be.

The final two pieces, Nervous/Wreck and Foxes were both well written, but the performances were a little more staged, and therefore a little less wholesome. Nevertheless, they gripped throughout, and by the time the shows ended I felt like I’d watched the pub bend and creak through decades of history and caskfuls of drama.

The beauty of the show as a whole is delivered via Ferrara’s ability to draw the charisma out of his setting and create the ideal atmosphere in which to appreciate a story. The openings and closings of each show have been strongly directed, which leaves no gap between performance and setting, the only alteration worth suggesting would be for Babby to maintain her character pre-performance, rather than usher out of character, which lightly mars the continuity.

Despite their 20-minute chunks, these performances created some of the most electrifying drama I’ve seen all year. No distracting set, no theatre lights, just captivating description that nourishes the imagination, so credit to Rachel Szmukler and Emma Bailey's understated design.

Head off to the West End for your Christmas kicks if you must, but for a quarter of the price you can get all the thrills you cherish down this Bloomsbury local and never have to wait for a drink at the bar. If you want to see theatre as it's born, in its' shimmering, delicious infancy, snuggle into the Kings Arms pub and let the words flow over you – just don’t go down to the basement alone.


Box Office: 08444 771 000

Kings Arms
11a Northington St

4th December – 16th January (excluding Christmas and New Year weekends), Saturday and Sunday at 7.30, doors at 6pm

Tickets: £10/£8






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