Reviews for Cloud Nine's latest production, 'A Parcel for Mr. Smith'
have been very positive.
A Review of ‘A Parcel for Mr Smith by Peter Lathan of The British Theatre Guide
In May 2015, Cloud Nine presented A Parcel for Mr Smith at three different venues in North Tyneside. It was directed by Neil Armstrong and performed by Dylan Mortimer.
Its 2018 reincarnation still stars Dylan Mortimer but is co-directed by the small team of writer Peter Mortimer, actor Dylan Mortimer and technical support Kyle Morley. It played at the Prague Fringe (29 May to 2 June) and the performance under review was the third and final one of a short tour in Whitley Bay and Tynemouth.
It’s absurd, surreal and totally different to the original production. Or so I thought, but when I said this to writer Peter Mortimer after the show he said that it’s not really—they haven’t actually changed a word of the script—which left me somewhat gobsmacked as I was sure that everything but the very thin plot had changed completely.
Mr Smith, whom I described in my review of that first production as being “the archetypal—nay, the extreme—geek,” while still inhabiting a surreal world which hovers somewhere between the normal and the absurd, is now not only much more manic but clearly suffers from OCD. Indeed we find him at the beginning flicking away specks of dust, polishing, arranging and re-arranging to the accompaniment (from the radio) of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" followed by "The Oak and the Ash" and then a rock number, his movements adjusting to—indeed guided by—the music.
He’s lost his pencil-thin moustache but retains his screwed-down hair-do and he’s not in pyjamas and dressing gown this time but wears a grandad shirt and tied-at-the-waist trousers which are too short and a bit too tight.
In other words, he's quite a different character who finds himself in exactly the same situation.
It is very funny—hilarious on occasions—with roars of laughter coming from the audience, for this production takes the piece away from Ionesco / N F Simpson absurdism into clowning. Of course, it’s clowning with words as well as actions, for the clowning takes its cues from the words.
What? I’ve not mentioned the plot? Oh right. Well, Mr Smith receives a parcel and reacts to that.
There’s nothing else to say really, for the reactions are the play, the inspiration for the characterisation and the cause of the laughter.
I enjoyed it the first time round and I enjoyed last night’s production equally as much—and I rather suspect that there may be numerous ways of playing it, the words being capable of supporting, if not a multitude of scenarios, at least quite a few more than we’ve seen up to now!
A Review of ‘A Parcel for Mr Smith by Terry Jones
Venue: Low Lights Tavern
I first saw this short play at the Surf Café about 2 years ago and found it hard to believe that last night’s production had not undergone a total re-write. (It hadn’t incidentally).
It was obvious that a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears (especially sweat) had been spent in producing last night’s performance.
What’s it about? Well, according to the ‘programme,’ it’s about 40 minutes.
And, I certainly can’t disagree with that.
The play is simultaneously obscure/perplexing/surreal/enigmatic/disturbing and very entertaining. But, most of all, it is really funny with an astonishing performance by Dylan Mortimer as the manic, eponymous hero. He is simply dazzling and completely believable in the unbelievable world that Peter Mortimer has created.
There’s still time to catch the play locally and my advice is don’t miss the opportunity of being totally baffled and amused in equal measure.
And, what’s it about?
Well, I made it about 37 minutes, but perhaps I’m being pedantic.
Anyway, I must end now because someone is trying to deliver ‘A Parcel for Mr Jones.’
What they said about Smith in Prague…
'This is a delightfully quirky one-man show with a brilliant actor. Dylan Mortimer is the perfect English eccentric, full of tics and non-sequiturs, erudite in nonsense, highly opinionated and completely neurotic. He wrings a laugh out of every gesture, every grimace. Do go and see this show. You will enjoy every minute.’
- Michael Calcott’s Fringey Bits
British Theatre Guide's review of Cloud Nine's
production of Rainbird by Peter Lathan.
Creating a biographical play is fraught with difficulties: what do you leave out? what do you keep in? If it’s historical, do you try to make it relevant to today or leave it firmly in its historical context? If it’s about an artist, how much should be about the art and how much about the man? Do you focus on one significant part of his life or try to tell his whole story? We could fill a page or more simply listing these problems.
Victor Noble Rainbird was born in North Shields in 1887, studied at the Royal Academy of Art where he won prizes, and had a successful career as an artist, painting all over the world. He was a good friend of Augustus John and knew—but would not, I think, call himself a friend of—Gerald Brockhurst.
He volunteered for and served in the Great War where he was exposed to mustard gas and suffered shellshock. The army used his artistic skills by sending him out into no-man’s land to make accurate drawings of German defences, an extremely dangerous and traumatic job. Badly damaged by the War, he took to drink, his marriage broke up and he died penniless, lying in a pauper’s grave for 80 years until, in 2016, a public fund-raising campaign led to a specially sculpted headstone being placed on his grave.
This is not a spoiler! These are facts known to anyone who knows of Rainbird—or who reads the writer’s prologue in the programme.
What Peter Mortimer has chosen to do is to take selected, significant incidents in his life and stage them (with occasional direct addressing of the audience), interspersed with a modern story based around the rediscovery of one of his paintings in a junk shop in Newcastle, a painting which was significant in his relationship with his wife Liz.
Inevitably, the piece is very episodic and Mortimer makes events which may be separated by days, weeks, months or even years slide into each other, which puts a lot of pressure on the actors who, it has to be said, rise to the challenge.
As Rainbird, Jamie Brown conveys the fierce passion and dedication he has for his art, the central focus of his life. As he says frequently, he lives and breathes painting. Even in the heart of battle, he finds beauty and magnificence. Brown’s Rainbird is totally convincing, even to the point of annoying us with his almost monomania and his inability to see anyone else's point of view.
Heather Carroll’s Liz Rainbird engages our sympathies throughout as she goes from the first joys of love, through desperately clinging to what she had, to final acceptance of her loss and moving on to a new stage in her life.
Sarah Boulter and Jacob Anderton convincingly play their 21st century counterparts, Hayley and Clive, whose characters and relationship echo—although do not reproduce—those of Rainbird and Liz.
The rest of the cast—Lawrence Neal, Dale Jewitt, Michael Carruthers, Sean Kenney, Dave Young and Kyle Morley—play 18 parts altogether, switching effortlessly between them.
I do find it strange, however, that in the entire play we only see one painting. Given that his passion for painting was what drove his life, I would have expected more, perhaps the Angel of Mons, representing his often mentioned “Guardian Angel”, which he is seen actually working on feverishly towards the end of the play. Designer Alison Ashton’s slightly dirty blank canvas backdrop seems tailor-made for such a projection.
Director Neil Armstrong has been directing plays for Cloud Nine for many years and, as usual, approaches his characters with sympathy and understanding whilst keeping the piece tight and smooth-moving.
If the first night audience? reaction is anything to go by, the people of North Shields will be well pleased with this portrayal of one of their famous forebears.
Rainbird-Review by Terry Jones
‘Rainbird, The Tragedy of an Artist,’ Peter Mortimer’s latest play, directed by Neil Armstrong charts the life of North Shields born Victor Noble Rainbird.
Rainbird’s short life–he died aged 47–was indelibly changed by the ’14-’18 war where he served as a reconnaissance artist and Peter’s play pulls no punches in highlighting the insensitivity shown to sufferers of shellshock.
Very much a play of two halves, we see Rainbird who is initially brash, super-confident in his own creative ability and driven to paint, descend into the grip of despair as he returns to his native North East after the horrors of war.
Although a fine ensemble piece, the play is carried by Jamie Brown’s sensitive portrayal of Rainbird–especially as he increasingly depends on alcohol to survive day to day.
The play is imaginatively set in two timelines and seamlessly moves from the past to the present.
The device of Rainbird’s self-portrait links the past and present and provides a dramatic, emotional and truly believable ending.
Everyone connected with this fine production should feel justifiably proud of what they have created.
The play serves a fitting tribute to Rainbird and the body of work which is his legacy.
Cloud Nine has now produced the work of 30 different playwrights. Its range of work includes a play walked and performed the length of the Roman Wall (Off the Wall), a short play performed for morning commuters on the Shields Ferry (Ships that Pass), a play centred on the Meadow Well riots of 1991 plus a four year programme of small scale new theatre performed at the Low Lights Tavern, North Shields, and other North Tyneside coastal venues.
Cloud Nine has been the recipient of funding from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Peggy Ramsey Foundation and North Tyneside Council. In 2015, Artistic Director of Cloud Nine, Peter Mortimer was named a finalist in the Journal Culture Awards Writer of the Year for his play, 'Death at Dawn.'