BREVIEW: Skellig @ The Old Joint Stock – until 30.12.17

Words by Lucy Mounfield

It’s nearly Christmas, but the recent snow has thawed. I am not particularly feeling the magic and spirit of the holiday season as I make a trip to The Old Joint Stock, to watch resident theatre company Tin Robot’s production of Skellig.

When I reviewed Tin Robot’s last play, The War of the Worlds, I was struck by the inspiring balance between the company’s experimental use of technology and immersive characterisation. These theatrical tropes communicated the dystopian landscape of H.G. Wells’ science fiction well. However, when I heard that Tin Robot were adapting David Almond’s family classic for the Christmas period, I admit I was a little sceptical as to how their distinctive style would convey the warmth and hope of Almond’s story.

From the first moment in the small studio upstairs at The Old Joint Stock, my fears are alleviated. We are greeted by a grotto-like space, with every inch of the ceiling covered in fairy lights. On the back wall are pinned some more lights in the shape of wings. The set is beautiful and evocatively brings to life the magical and mysterious atmosphere of the book.

Underneath the canopy of twinkly lights the cast, which consists of four actors and one musician, play guitars and accordions and dance folk jigs. The group singing feels relaxed and ad hoc, creating the sense that the story is naturally unfolding before us. The jovial atmosphere completely puts me at ease and I immediately know that, whatever happens in the meantime, there will be a happy ending.

The rustic aspect of the play symbolises the sublime nature of landscape. The earthly and otherworldly are balanced through the ambiguous creature, Skellig. Interestingly, Almond named the play and its principal characters after the beautiful Irish island, Skellig Michael. Throughout, the characters of Michael and Nima discuss evolution and the mysteries of nature. As the human story at the centre of the play unfolds, the natural world is constantly alluded to in this way. But this is done subtly; the story is not a heavy-handed allegory – it invites contemplation, but doesn’t force the issue. Such is true of Skellig himself; his true nature is still indeterminate by the end of the story, somewhere between man, bird and angel.

The play follows a young boy called Michael (Danny Hetherington) who with his family moves into a new house where upon he stumbles into an old, ramshackle garage. Coinciding with this, his newly born sister falls ill and her fate is uncertain. The story is brought to life by the cast, who effortlessly flit between roles and re-arrange the set as they go, moving pallet boards, boxes and chairs to set each scene, from a family’s new home, to a school bus, to a derelict garage.

While the lighting and props are minimal they are used to great effect by the cast. Teddy Corbett is transformed from the amicable Dad into the decrepit, arthritic Skellig through simple lighting and a change of voice and physicality. It is completely convincing. Indeed, the set and lighting are very clever. When Skellig is living in the garage, benches are positioned vertically on either side of him with the legs pointing outwards, representing the detritus of the garage. As Michael finds Skellig he uses the light from a small torch to illuminate him. Often Skellig has his hunched back to us and, with the light from the torch, this creates a shadow of his body. The images created by the various shadows give a depth and nuance to the characterisation. With each small movement of the torch the shadow of Skellig’s rugged form gets bigger and envelopes the back wall, forming the shape of a body for the fairy light wings to attach to. This is a fantastic piece of direction, which alludes to Skellig’s mysterious nature and adds layers of wonderment.

As Skellig is transferred to an abandoned house by Michael and his friend Nima (Grace Hussey-Burd) his body becomes more visible. At this point, Skellig, Nima and Michael dance together under one lightbulb until Skellig extends his arthritic body back to the lights on the wall, which suddenly turn on, casting the shape of wings which protrude from his shoulder blades. This is a magical moment that really causes the audience to gasp and smile.

While all members of the cast except for Hetherington perform multiple roles, one is never confused as to who they are – this is aided by the scene transitions and a repertoire of regional accents. Just as Skellig’s wings soar, so too does my imagination. The clever use of lights and shadow enable each audience member to interpret the body and shape of Skellig, immersing us thoroughly into this dramatic world. Heatherington too is superb, as the naïve but inquisitive young Michael; his simple yet extreme mannerisms match the raw and untapped emotion of someone still developing.

The intimate venue and live music immerse us in the play, while clever direction and excellent performances establish the human drama and evoke the themes of the novel. Here the use of the source text in the script feels completely appropriate. I thoroughly enjoyed Tin Robot’s take on The War of the Worlds, but thought it didn’t quite hit the mark in some respects. In contrast, with Skellig the company is firing on all cylinders. Christmas is back on.

Skellig runs the The Old Joint Stock Theatre until 30th December. For direct details, including show times and online ticket sales, visit 

For more from The Old Joint Stock, visit 

For more on Tin Robot Theatre, visit

BPREVIEW: Skellig @ The Old Joint Stock 20-30.12.17

Skellig @ The Old Joint Stock 20-30.12.17 / Tin Robot Theatre

Words by Lucy Mounfield

Running from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 30th December, The Old Joint Stock Theatre will present Skellig, their family- friendly Christmas show produced in association with Tin Robot Theatre.

Skellig will run daily at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, except on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Doors will open at 7pm for all evening shows, with 2pm matinees on 23rd, 24th, 28th and 30th Dec. Tickets are priced at £16 for all performances – for direct event info and online ticket sales, click here.

Tin Robot Theatre are a Midlands-based company led by director Adam Carver, an associate of The Old Joint Stock Theatre. Having only been established a few short years, Tin Robot Theatre have already built an impressive back catalogue and most recently produced their interpretation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (to read Lucy Mounfield’s Birmingham Review of The War of the Worlds, click here).

Skellig @ The Old Joint Stock 20-30.12.17 / Tin Robot TheatreFor their latest endeavour, The Old Joint Stock Theatre and Tin Robot Theatre will be bringing to life David Almond’s much-loved story, Skellig, for the Christmas period. Skellig has fostered numerous productions and is particularly malleable source material due to its ambiguity of meaning and richness of allusion – adaptations can emphasise facets of the original work and build on them in their own way.

A mainstay of secondary school English lessons, Skellig tells the story of a young boy called Michael who, when his younger sister falls ill after moving to a new house, stumbles into the ramshackle garage of his new home where he inadvertently discovers a magical creature, Skellig.

In uncertain times, Michael finds hope and a sense of belonging when he begins to look after the unknown creature. Along the way the story offers meditations on numerous subjects, prompting you down avenues of thought but always leaving elements open to interpretation and the imagination of the audience or director. This is true even as far as Skellig himself; his true nature is not fully determined by the end of the story. It is exciting, therefore, to see Skellig get the Tin Robot treatment.

In Tin Robot Theatre’s own words from their website: ‘We believe in story, and champion the stories of Others; our work has focused on identity (in its many guises), its construction, and relation to popular and dominant culture. We make “full-fat” theatre. We believe in theatre as an experience beginning the moment the audience arrives, transforming space and bringing our distinctive visual style to breathe new life into the familiar.’

With their claustrophobic apocalypse, The War of the Worlds, having only just run its current course, Skellig offers a similar opportunity for Tin Robot Theatre to make their own mark on a classic. What threads will they choose to pull on, and how will their take on Skellig develop?

Skellig runs the The Old Joint Stock Theatre from 20-30th December. For direct details, including show times and online ticket sales, click here 

For more from The Old Joint Stock, visit

For more on Tin Robot Theatre, visit

BREVIEW: Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre 26.09.17

Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre 26.09.17

Words by  Helen Knott

What does it mean to be a cult figure? Is it simply someone who is popular with a loyal, but limited, group of people, or does it have connotations of an almost unhealthy devotion?

Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams feels like the work of a fan, someone with a real reverence for Kenneth Williams. Painstakingly pieced together from diary entries, personal letters and radio performances, writer and performer Colin Elmer successfully captures the spirit of Williams’ singular persona. The piece is funny, fast-paced and enjoyable. This is particularly true in a first half that focuses on Williams’ early life as a child living above his father’s hairdressers and his stint in the forces during World War II.

The stories about Williams’ war years provided real insights into the life of a soldier and the work of the Combined Forces Entertainment, the group that travelled around, providing entertainment for the troops. Indeed, Williams lived through a fascinating era of history, and I would have enjoyed more exploration of the context that he was living and working in. Issues such as the illegality of homosexuality for much of Williams’ life undoubtedly impacted him and his work, but were barely touched upon.

Elmer instead focused on performing numerous extracts from Williams’ radio career, using skits from Hancock’s Half Hour, Round the Horne and Just a Minute to trace his evolution from a bit part actor, to an innovative comedian, to a TV and radio personality. This generally worked well and allowed Elmer’s real strength – that is, his well-observed impersonation of Williams – to take centre stage. Elmer’s voice, subtle mannerisms and easy charm resulted in a number audience members commenting in the interval: “I think it’s really him!”

Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre 26.09.17The second half of the show was largely structured in a chat show format, with Elmer feeding audience members pre-prepared questions. This felt a little forced; just a device to allow Elmer to cover some big moments in Williams’ life, including celebrity-themed anecdotes and oddly, the Carry On films (which were rather rushed over, considering that they’re probably Williams’ best known work).

It didn’t help that Elmer was occasionally tripping over his very detailed, very precise script. This section may have worked better if it actually gave The Old Joint Stock audience the opportunity to ask their own questions. They were clearly a knowledgeable bunch and it would have freshened things up to see Elmer thinking on his feet.

Ultimately, the show felt rather one-dimensional. There was no sense of the darkness that haunted Williams, eventually leading him to die from an overdose. Williams’ mother, who he had a close relationship with throughout his life (she even lived next door), was strangely absent. Big and complex questions about Williams’ private life and professional legacy were untouched.

Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams clearly didn’t have ambitions above providing a nostalgic and fun reproduction of the best bits of Williams’ career for the comedian’s devoted following. It certainly succeeded in this: the production comes from a place of great affection and is beautifully performed, but it’s not going to win the cult figure Kenneth Williams any new fans.

For more on Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams, visit

For more from Old Joint Stock Theatre, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre, 26-27.09.17

BPREVIEW: Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre, 26-27.09.17

Words by Helen Knott

Running for two nights at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams comes to Birmingham  from 26th to 27th September. 

Doors open at 7:30pm on both nights, with tickets priced at £12. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

If someone mentions Kenneth Williams your first thoughts are most likely: Carry On films, double entendres, camp mannerisms. But that is only one side of Williams. He was also subversive, complex, and for his time, at least, cutting-edge.

Take Round The Horne, a popular BBC radio comedy. It attracted weekly audiences of 15 million listeners in the sixties and Williams was part of its regular line-up. Back then being gay was still illegal, so much of the show’s innuendo involved Williams’ use of Polari – the slang that gay men used to communicate. The BBC censors seemingly didn’t understand it and consequently quite outrageous stuff, even by today’s standards, got broadcast into millions of people’s living rooms.

Though popular and fondly regarded during his lifetime, Williams’ posthumously published diaries suggest that off air he was troubled.BPREVIEW: Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre, 26-27.09.17 According to his memoirs, Williams suffered from depression and found it hard to come to terms with his homosexuality. He eventually died in 1988 of a drug overdose.

So, Williams lived a rich and varied life, leaving plenty to explore in Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams. Colin Elmer, who has appeared as Williams before in a production celebrating the 50th anniversary of Round the Horne, wrote and performs the one man show – once again with Tim Astley directing.

We are told Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams tells Williams’ story in his own words, and judging by some of his diary extracts this is a good shout: ‘Had Sid, Hattie, Joan, Barbara, Bernard and Charlie around for dinner. They were all perfectly awful except for Barbara whom I love more than anything else in the world, and even she is a stupid cunt’.

Colin Elmer has been a fan of Williams since he was a boy, so I’m expecting Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams to be more of a thoughtful and nuanced representation of an enigmatic entertainer, rather than a catchphrase-laden caricature. But it will be interesting to see if Elmer manages to bring anything new to our appreciation of Williams, or if it will simply be a nostalgic look back at one of British comedy’s greats.

Watch an interview with Colin Elmer where he discusses Kenneth Williams, as part of the promotion for the previous 50th anniversary of Round the Horne production:

For more on Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams, visit

For more from The Old Joint Stock Theatre, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit