Pioneering Theatre, Music and Community Arts

 In Wolverhampton from 1980 to 2013

Wolverhampton

1982 - 2013

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“Excellent - from the first phone call to the curtain call!”

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Packers at Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

Birmingham Post 21.04.08 - by Terry Grimley

Alex Jones's new play is a rarity indeed - a feelgood comedy written in broad Black Country dialect.

Carol, Kelly, Sam, Mia and Nell are five randomly-assorted women scratching a minimum-wage living packing goods in a little business run by the Scrooge-like Andy. Mia, the youngest, is fancied by Dexter, the hapless handyman, but also by Andy, who is taking advantage of her naivety to spin her a line about putting her through secretarial college.

Then there is Kelly's partner Max, who has just been made redundant and, with Christmas coming up, joins forces with Dexter in a seemingly foolproof heist which will solve their immediate financial problems while settling a couple of scores with Andy.

Staged by Zip Theatre at the cosy community arts centre where it is based, these actors must be among the few who are completely at ease with the Black Country setting. It's quite something to be reminded how much the language still changes when you drive a few miles from the centre of Birmingham. I was particularly tickled by the name of the company making the Christmas crackers the women are packing against the clock: "Crackers Am We".

More performances should add sharpness, but there are already some good performances here, notably from Lesley Beaumont as the brassy Carol, Cathy Pemberton as the garrulous wet-blanket Nell and Dennis Ffrench as the blustering Max. It deserved its warm opening-night reception, and is touring small venues around the region in the next two weeks.

The Canal Story

The Stage and Television Today 26.07.84 The humour and grit of bargees

Reeling off facts and figures is a simplistic way of dramatising social and historic events. Wolverhampton's Zip Theatre reject this approach in Jon Lingard-Lane's 60 minute play, "The Canal Story".

An early Victorian canal barge is assembled in the centre of a hall, the audience grouped around it, so the barge serves as stage, platform and central prop. In a strong Black Country accent, her face grimy from toil and her manner restless, a young woman used to hardship and doing whatever jobs are required of her, Elsie (Deborah Lindsay, from Dundee) introduces the audience to her life and times.

She learns the craft of 'legging' to take a coalbarge through the long Dudley Tunnel. All this sounds like a documentary, but Lingard-Lane, who used to live on a canal boat, allows it to unfold from within a mystery tale.The imaginatively written play, with incidental music and specially written songs reflecting the tenor and temper of the times, absorbs a school audience in the action, leading to the unmasking of the villain, whose ruse is ingenious, within the darkened tunnel.

Incipiently, the play makes us vividly aware of the canal network, the boatmen, women and their children. This must rank as Zip Theatre's most accomplished achievement, performances faithfully reflecting the quick tempers, humour and grit of the bargees and what befell them. (Ray Seaton)

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