Karen Blake reviews From the Mud Cabaret, part of the Theatre Orchard/Culture Weston ‘Live at The Quarry’ season on Wednesday 7th July 2021.
We all know how tough the last year has been for artists and performers trying to survive and thrive in the middle of the pandemic. I’m part of the team of volunteers that runs community arts studio Weston Artspace, and I have seen first-hand how hard local artists, performers and creatives have been hit by losing their spaces to create and the ability to bring their work to real life audiences. From the Mud are a group of friends and ex-University Centre Weston Performing Arts alumni who have remained linked over the last few years as they aim to forge their careers and keep performing. Growing from Theatre Orchard’s ‘Scratch n Sniff’ evenings (both In Real Life and online), an early From the Mud gig in a local pub in 2020 hinted at great things to come, then the March lockdown 2020 hit and the rest, as they say, is history. For many, this might have been the end, but not for this intrepid group of performers. They hit Zoom in 2021 with virtual shows and then on Wednesday 7th July they took to the stage as a collective for the very first time as part of Culture Weston and Theatre Orchard’s ‘Live at the Quarry’ fortnight, and I was incredibly excited to be there to see their first live show since BC. (Before Covid).
I’ll admit, I was expecting to have a good night as I am lucky to class lots of the company as friends after getting to know them at Artspace and I knew I would enjoy it for that reason, but I was expecting it to potentially be rough around the edges and in need of a bit of polish after so long not being able to perform in person. How wrong I was! From the confident comperes Jack Stringer and Shelley Nicholson who kept the whole thing running smoothly to the quality of the performances, I was absolutely blown away. These guys are an eclectic bunch ranging from stand-up comedians to musicians but it all slotted together beautifully. Theatre company Atomic Rhubarb made up of Joe Brooks, Clare Finlan and Coral Adlam had the unenviable task of opening up and warming up the audience; their wonderfully ridiculous skit about the local RNLI fitted the bill perfectly. The first half saw us then treated to stand up from Dylan Altoft and George Hill, with a silly little sketch by Jordan Cottle and Jack which demonstrated their perfect comic timing and ability to work together to create something hilarious and engaging. Jordan was the straight guy in this sketch which allowed Jack’s silliness and humour to shine through, but Jordan proved he was equally brilliant toward the end of the show with his solo musical slot. By that point I may have had a couple of beers, but during his song about the hamster I ended up losing it so much with laughing that people at tables around me were starting to look, which of course made me laugh even more! Matt Fleming showed another string to his bow with his Glaswegian ventriloquism and Dylan Altoft and Rob McNabb brought characters Arthur and Angus to life again, and as the uncontrollable laughter from some of the people at my table proved, some things are so much better in person and get lost on Zoom. Namely, those pink tights…
The night was well paced, and the performers were clever enough to recognise that it would be good to do the more edgy, eclectic and strange stuff after the first set when people had had the chance to sample a few more of the local ales from the bar. After being warmed up so beautifully in the first half, the second bit was so wonderfully weird and silly that my face is still hurting a few days on from all the laughing. Things I learnt from the second half? I could watch Joe Brooks (aka The Earl of Worle) dancing with nothing but hula hoops for hours. Adam Leppard is so much more than just an incredible photographer and his companies balloon show was inspired (and VERY silly). Chloe Ellen was such a great performer that she could get the audience going without a single word! The second half showed how joyful it was for this company to be performing again together, and the audience seemed to absolutely love it.
For me, there were two stand out performances of the night. I absolutely adored Mia Borthwick who closed the second half with her love song to a spaceman. I noted her talent during the last online From the Mud performance, in the flesh it was even more impressive with super funny lyrics combined with a very lovely singing voice. Mia is a real talent. Secondly, I bloody loved Sophie Shepherd and her ode to the incel with the big fish. After being in awe of the young women who organised the reclaim the streets vigil following the murder of Sarah Everard last year, I also felt depressed at the amount of abuse they received for their efforts. This piece was a huge two fingers up to all those ‘not all men’ types, and was not only powerful because of that but because it was also joyful and very, very funny. Lastly, it would not be right to go without a shout out to Jess Hicks the incredibly talented producer of the show who even did her first stint on the sound during this show.
From the Mud, you were brilliant and it was such a delight to see you all back on the stage where you belong. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
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Images by Jana Rumley Photography, with thanks