The cast of Seasoned Professionals rehearse their opening stance.  All photos © Laughing Mirror


The comfortable and intimate setting of the Maddermarket Theatre this weekend hosted two more shows that have been created in Norwich and are heading to Edinburgh for the festival Fringe in a few days time.

These two shows both come from the innovative Laughing Mirror Theatre Company set up by Chad Porter. They contrast strongly with each other in style and content but are both well devised and excellently performed pieces.

Valerie Smith and Frankie Bloor as Eve and Leah

White Girls is written and directed by Madelaine Accalia and features just two performers, Frankie Bloor as Leah and Valerie Smith as Eve. Two girls from comfortable middle class family backgrounds decide to go as volunteer helpers to the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in 2016 to help those stuck there while attempting to cross to the UK by fair means or foul. They get drawn into the world of the refugee camps , stay much longer than they planned and find themselves getting emotionally involved with individual members of the huge group of refugees corralled in Calais. Their account involves hope, humanity, setback and tragedy as they see youngsters younger even than they are risking life to get into the UK. They leave and try to carry on with their comfortable English lives, but something draws them back again.

The style is a breathless duologue where two young women know each other so well that they share sentences word by word in a complex delivery of a fast paced narrative, even breaking into dance at one point to help illustrate a statistical point! With rapid on-stage changes of costume detail they portray a plethora of characters in their account, from a disapproving Brexity mother to an earnest young Syrian teenager. Their style is great fun and very engaging, but this is a show with a powerful message about how the prejudices expressed against refugees lead to huge misery, suffering and even death for people who have been driven away from their homes, often by the very governments that now refuse to help them. A timely story when our own Government has just been hijacked by a bunch of far-right extremists. Do not let the important message put you off this dramatic triumph which gives a joyful insight into the complexity of relationships between givers and receivers of charity. Frankie and Valerie perform easily together and give us a lot of insights into human kindness in with the pathos of the story they tell. This cheerful presentation is the perfect antidote to any grumbling Daily Mail readers you may be unfortunate enough to encounter who bang on about Britain being full up and other tropes of intolerance. We are all human, we all need the same things, and this well crafted show reminds us all that we all have more in common than will ever divide us.

The second show is radically different from the first, being a fast paced and very silly caper set in the Department of Seasonal Mascots, a lesser known pillar of governance. Seasoned Professionals starts even before we take our seats as the cast adopt a frozen pose in their characters on stage as we take our seats. It is an eery but effective intro to a refreshingly daft comedy where no joke is left unused. Each of the seven strong cast represents a holiday mascot or icon, but they are under threat when government cuts threaten to cull their numbers.

They face an investigation from the fearsome Inspector (Jessica Cuthbert, who also plays recently divorced Ms Santa Claus) which pitches them all into a deadly competition with each other. Harry Benjamin is a loping, lanky Easter Bunny who shows great physical comedy skills, while Harrison Cole is the rather boozy philandering Santa who strays too easily from his duties, and also the plotting Guy Fawkes with his barrels ready to blow Parliament to kingdom come. If only. Daniel Helmsley is well cast as the Halloween Count Dracula sending a shiver through us all yet counterbalanced by the youthful Cupid of Pete Rapp who also gives us much of the music in the show in spite of being deprived of the proper arrows to his bow.

Katy McEntee is delightfully puckish as the April Fool prankster, doubling as Rudolf, while the cast is completed by the enigmatic Ashden Woodrow who contributes to the day after Christmas stupor by wearing a box and frequently saying…. ‘Box’. Surreal daftness at its best. The cast all double up into many different characters, whizzing on and off stage at a breathtaking speed as they do the dirty business of destroying each other’s reputations. The stage is never short of either elves, reindeer or bunnies, real or disguised, all scrabbling over each other to make sure that they do not get the Inspector’s chop.

Seasoned Professionals is a well written and directed show that is enormous fun to see. The lighting and soundscape play their part too to get us into the right mood to be laughing out loud throughout this speedy set of adventures. But it is the exuberant and skilled cast who make this such an enjoyable show. However daft and outlandish the demands of their rapidly changing roles they all play each part to their utmost. If you can convince as an Easter Bunny or an April Fool then surely few roles can be beyond your skills!

These two shows deserve the sell-out audiences in Edinburgh which the company’s previous forays North have earned. If you want to see some of the brightest and best of new theatre make sure you catch both of these slick shows.

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© Julian Swainson 2019

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Poster for White Girls