Mother Courage – Big Issue Review

March 14, 2011 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

The setting is the 17th century 30 Years War, one of the most devastating in Europe’s history; the aesthetic is that of the Spanish Civil War, all mismatched army fatigues and a bombed-out backdrop graffitied with an anarchist’s mark; the mindset of the characters is timeless and never more contemporary, although it could equally apply to any war-torn country or era. Across northern Europe in the 1600s, the Mediterranean in the 1930s or Libya today, it’s easy to imagine civilians being subjected to the same soul-eroding mix of terror, desperation and futile ennui as Mother Courage and her children.

Performed by the inclusive theatre company Birds of Paradise, this version of Brecht’s pitch black musical comedy (using Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall’s translation) capably mirrors the sense of world-weary laughter in the face of horror that must surely be the only means of retaining sanity when existence is reduced to survival at any cost. Much of this is down to Alison Peebles in the lead role, who imagines the character as a sharp-tongued Scots matriarch with an acid deadpan and a wicked verbal flick of a swear-word that’s just enough to keep she and her three children alive. Or for a time, at least, in the case of upright Eilif (Paul Chaal), dopey but dependable Swiss Cheese (Johnny Austin) and mute Kattrin

(Ashley Smith, a wonderfully natural and expressive performer even without dialogue).

A small-time war profiteer who drags her cart around the battlefields selling shirts and supplies, Courage might these days be more suitably described as some kind of tinpot disaster capitalist, a most lowly example of the market moving in to clear up where war has blasted a new landscape of opportunity into being. Called a ‘parasite’ in peacetime by the Chaplain (Keith Macpherson) who is happy to live off her favour during conflict, Courage is sanguine about the whole business: for the poor, she muses, life is a struggle whether cannons are firing overhead or not.

Yet even as she pines for war to continue so her living might continue, necessity becomes selfish hypocrisy as each of her children is forced by the conflict into a position which might cost their life. Loyalty is also a casualty, as the group are forced to shuttle back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism depending on whose lines they’re behind – for an adaptation that’s touring provincial Scots theatres, the opportunity for a little light ribbing of both sects has been taken. Broadly, in fact, the right tone is set throughout, although the line between pathos and black amusement is, perhaps deliberately, a fine one. A bright and jerky supertitle screen is distracting, though, and draws attention to areas of the play which are perhaps slightly under-rehearsed.

3/5 – original review.

Pobby and Dingin Win Equity Award

November 8, 2010 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Pobby and Dingan won The Equity Award for Best Show for Children and Young People yesterday night.

Pobby and Dingan was a Catherine Wheels Theatre Company production, in association with Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh in which Ashley played the character of Kellyanne.

Nominations announced for the 2010 TMA Theatre Awards

October 8, 2010 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

TMA is delighted to announce the nominations for its annual Theatre Awards ceremony, which celebrates the best of British theatre from around the United Kingdom.

This year’s TMA (Theatrical Management Association) Awards will be presented at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, on Sunday 7 November. The event will be hosted by dancer, director and actor Craig Revel Horwood.

Among the presenters will be award-winning actor Daniel Evans (Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres), opera star Alfie Boe, Billy Boyd (Pippin in The Lord of the Rings and starring in The Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith) and Ivan Putrov, the ex-Royal Ballet principal who will star next year at Sadler’s Wells in a ballet written for him by pop legends Pet Shop Boys.

TMA members include repertory and producing theatres, arts centres, touring companies and venues, major national companies and independent producers, opera and dance companies and associated businesses.

A combination of public panellists and industry experts arrive at three nominations per award (including Best New Play, Best Performance in a Musical, Best Lighting design…)
with all the nominees invited to the Awards ceremony where they and TMA members meet to celebrate the achievements of the past year in Theatre, Opera and Dance.

The 2010 event, which takes place against an unprecedented background of likely cuts in arts funding, is a timely reminder of the huge range and extraordinary quality of theatrical talent that the United Kingdom has to offer – a range reflected in the geographical variety of nominees, with companies from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England.


The Equity Award for Best Show for Children and Young People

THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE – a production by Cahoot in association with the Grand Opera House, Belfast

POBBY AND DINGAN a Catherine Wheels Theatre Company production, in association with Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh

TORO! TORO! a Salisbury Playhouse production in the Salberg Studio of the Salisbury Playhouse

Pobby and Dingan Reviews

April 12, 2010 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Edinburgh Spotlight – 4/5

both Turnbull and Smith manage to convince as children…

The Scotsman4/5

There’s some fine acting here, from Scott Turnbull, Ashley Smith, Damien Warren-Smith and Ros Sydney.

Scottish Herald – 4/5

Ashley Smith, Ros Sydney and Damien Warren-Smith – ensure that Lightning Ridge’s collection of opal-dreaming oddballs spark Ashmol’s adventure with dashes of daft humour, scary hostility and ultimately an uplifting spirit of community in times of loss and heartbreak.

Other Reviews

Edinburgh Theatre Review – no rating

All the elements for great theatre are present – no rating

Hansel and Gretel Reviews – New Victory Theatre

October 22, 2009 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment – no rating

Mullins and Smith imbue the title characters with a charming innocence, a somewhat annoying bratty quality and, most important, an honest innocence.

NY Times – no rating | Reader rating 5/5

Mr. Mullins and Ms. Smith perform with exuberant innocence

Timeout NY – 4/5

NY Post – no rating

Peer Gynt Reviews – London Barbican

May 10, 2009 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Click links for full reviews.

The Independant on Sunday – 4/5

Ashley Smith as the ideal (and idealised) partner, Solveig.

The Guardian – 4/5

In Hill’s production, these final scenes are as deeply moving as ever. When Ashley Smith’s tender, bespectacled Solveig cradles both the young and old Peers in her lap and quietly sings “sleep, my boy, sleep”, you realise Ibsen’s play is an exploration of the Oedipus complex.

This is London – 3/5 | This is London readers – 3.5/5

A wholesome turn from Ashley Smith as rejected dream-girl, Solveig.

Music OMH – 5/5

Ashley Smith is a touchingly faithful Solveig.

What’s On Stage – 4/5

Baby Baby – Herald Review

February 17, 2009 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

The word “pramface” was coined to further demonise working class single mothers from Shameless-style council estates. Vivian French’s play, adapted from her own novel for young people, redresses the balance somewhat by giving voice to a pair of what used to be known as gym-slip mums and empowering them beyond the usual stereotypes.

Under ordinary circumstances, goth girl Pinkie and street-smart April wouldn’t be seen dead together. Each runs with their own pack, resentfully aware of each other. When first time sex makes them both pregnant, they eventually find some kind of common ground when invited to share their experiences with the local posh school, moving beyond tribal divides to do their growing up in public.

Old-time social realism would have treated such material in a well-meaning but laboured kitchen-sink fashion, with at least one back street abortion thrown in for good measure.

What French and director Jemima Levick have opted for instead is to dove-tail each young woman’s first-person narrative across each other in an impressionistic, representational playing style that pulls no punches and never falls prey to easy sentimentalism.

The result is something akin to Nell Dunn’s Poor Cow dragged kicking and screaming into the here and now for the Skins generation.

Hannah Donaldson and Ashley Smith make for a feisty pair,

telling it like it is and never shirking from the ugly truth of things as they parade their way around Lisa Sangster’s black chrome set.

As April and Pinkie realise how their lives are mirrored, this moving and all too real story becomes a getting of wisdom en route to empowerment.

Original Review

Baby Baby – Whats on Stage Review

February 17, 2009 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

The plot is centered round Pinkie and April, who have different friends, fashion, tastes and attitudes. Pinky with her bright pink punk hair, hippy charity shop clothes and biker boots lives in another world from April, with her nice tops, skinny jeans and snow white trainers. They are as different as girls can be. Being fifteen is the only thing they share until contrasting events give them another thing in common – they both become pregnant, and their two worlds collide at Tinley Road School for young mums.

A two-hander play, Hannah Donaldson (April) and Ashley Smith (Pinkie) give spirited and confident performances of their central roles as well as effortlessly switching on cue to play a variety of the play’s other characters including April and Pinkie’s mothers, which gives an informative insight into their own mother/daughter relationships.

Smith pitches her performance of street-wise and self-assured Pinkie at just the right level – conveying her character’s cockiness and abruptness without alienating her audience.

She moves effortlessly from joy and independency to anger, realization and eventual maturity. Donaldson on the other hand has a very different job on her hands as nice girl April who loses her virginity in completely different circumstances. Both actresses display their comic and dramatic abilities with extreme style and manage to embrace the audience beautifully with immaculate and well-paced delivery.

The production is directed by Jemima Levick who keeps both girls very much on their toes in a perfectly paced production on a simple set designed by Lisa Sangster, with limited props including two add-on costume bumps which effectively symbolize the girls pregnancies and eventual births.

A thought-provoking and moving play about prejudices, perceptions and parenting and how these attitudes impact our choices in life, Baby Baby is a well written, directed and acted piece of theatre which certainly seemed to be well received by its primarily young opening night audience, giving everyone something to think about on the way home.

Original Review

Nasty, Brutish and Short – Joyce McMillan Review

November 16, 2008 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Nasty, Brutish and Short. Set by Wilkinson and Hill in some dystopian dump where the characters live with their feet in two inches of cold water… this is a nightmare hate-triangle of a play, in which a violent and bullying older brother, Jim, wades brutally into the fragile relationship between younger brother Luke – just out of mental hospital – and his new girlfriend Mary Jane, a helpless and childlike teenage mother.

The play has a certain primal power, particularly towards the end; and

Ashley Smith gives a harrowing performance as the battered Mary Jane.

In a culture saturated with sadistic porn, though, there’s something chillingly voyeuristic about the way this play forces the audience to watch the relentless bullying and eventual rape of Mary Jane; and something reactionary about the way it distances that violence from the audience by adopting such a familiar caricature of a working-class Glasgow voice.

Original Review

365 – Broadway World Review

September 21, 2008 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

The play’s characters are brought to life by a young but incredibly accomplished cast of actors, each one of whom delivers a knock-out performance. The quality of the acting is so strong that it is hard to single out individuals but particularly impressive are Ben Presley (who brings both humour and pathos to the character of the not-too-bright boy whose only possession of value is his toaster);

Ashley Smith (who gives a heartbreaking performance as a girl struggling to cope with the knowledge that she was neglected and abandoned as a young child by her mother);

Gayle Telfer Stevens (who gives a highly sympathetic performance as the social worker fighting against the odds to care for the teenagers under her supervision while balancing her capacity for caring against her need to distance herself emotionally); and Owen Whitelaw (who gives perhaps the most eye-catching and powerful performance of all as the “damaged” boy whose own emotional scars have made him malevolent and violent but who is still a frightened little boy inside).

Original Review

Liar – List Review

June 7, 2008 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 


Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 7 Jun, then touring


Scottish travelling songs and family secrets are revealed together in Davey Anderson’s play for young adults, which explores the difficulties people have when they are required to tell the truth. On their first day of summer holidays, ten-year-olds Lizzie and Stevie spy a silver-haired old woman with a caravan across the canal. The woman’s unlikely appearance sparks Lizzie’s curiosity, which intensifies when her mother Sheila tells her not to go near the woman. Lizzie tells her first lie when she crosses the canal at the sound of Jeanie’s singing. Other lies are told in succession as a relationship between Lizzie and Jeanie develops, and an old truth is eventually uncovered.

Narrated at an energetic pace, Liar focuses on the historical tensions between travellers and settled people. With such serious issues, Anderson chooses to challenge rather than merely amuse his young audience. The full Scottish cast is accompanied by an a cappella trio who break into bits of song whenever the tension rises. Anderson skillfully matches the tenor of the music to the intensity of the dialogue. Images of canals, campfires and beaches are also expertly conjured on the blank stage.

As Lizzie, Ashley Smith gives a buoyant and sincere performance,

whereas Jim Sturgeon as both Stevie and Lizzie’s dad provides the play’s much needed comic relief. The audience remains captivated by the actors’ constant rotation around the blank stage, as if to show all sides of the story. Rarely has a play about dishonesty been so truthful about human behaviour.

Original Review

Spanglebaby – View From The Stalls Review

April 13, 2008 | Filed Under Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Because after this the “Better Life” concept largely disappears and we focus on the relationship between boss Richard (Brian Ferguson) and his P.A. “Amy Rose” (Ashley Smith) and from here on the business they are in is largely irrelevant – they could be selling socks and the story would still work. What we’re presented with is a bit of an “Ugly Betty” situation – competent but quirkily dressed Personal Assistant working for a demanding boss. This is where the show comes into its own and we see Richard crumble under pressure from above and take out his frustrations on Amy Rose. Their final confrontation really gives Ferguson and Smith a chance to show off their skills.

Original Review