London Barbican reviews


At the Barbican we are treated to members of the Tower Theatre Company. And boy, do the Tower lot fill the Barbican stage! Not a hint of “amateur”, thank you. John Chapman as Bottom is particularly brilliant and deserves much praise. (Full review at Camden Review)



The highlight of the evening was the performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ by the Tower Theatre Company actors, led by John Chapman as Bottom and directed by David Taylor. This play-within-a-play climax was achingly funny: people around me in the audience were squealing hysterically. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen on stage for years. The amateur actors were clearly having a ball and were in total control of the situation. The final dance, involving the whole massive cast, was glorious and joyous – a life-affirming ending to a brilliant performance. (Full review at Cultural Dessert)



The problem is that the amateur actors aren’t fully integrated into the piece, most likely due to a lack of time, and so the whole thing borders on gimmicky. The Tower Theatre Company actors are very entertaining (particularly Peta Barker’s bashful Snug) but their scenes are stymied by a lack of direction. They stand more or less stationary, and even their climactic play-within-the-play — the moment when Whyman could really explore performance for performance sake — is not nearly playful enough. (Full review at Exeunt Magazine)




The amateurs don’t exactly upstage the professional actors. But they are the major point of interest and the RSC generously allows them to take centre stage in the curtain calls. Maria Waters as Quince and Adam Moulder as Flute, the bellows-mender who plays Thisbe are particularly funny. (Full review at Mature Times)




The many hilarious moments work in the play thanks to the sympathy of a well assembled cast. It seems to me that the RSC like to put together large cast of excellent actors. I’m quite sure all the amateur companies are good, but I can say that the Tower Theatre company performing at the Barbican were a real surprise!…The amateur actors clearly enjoy themselves, but the acting is done with dedication, the voices and the movements are well controlled, you feel the passion for what they do. (Full review at A Movie-Theatre Goer)



The “Play for the Nation” element comes from the sub-plot about a troupe of amateur actors, known as the Mechanicals, who stage a ridiculous play for the wedding entertainment. The production’s high concept has been to use real amateurs for these roles, a different local company for each stop on the tour. Here in London it’s Tower Theatre – Al Freeman as Snout, Tom Tillery as Starveling, Adam Moulder as Flute, Maria Waters as Quince, Peta Barker as Snug, John Chapman as Bottom and their sections of the play directed by David Taylor. The RSC have obviously hunted around for particularly strong groups of amateurs as the Mechanicals’ scenes slot in very well with the rest of the show, and if it hadn’t been advertised as such it wouldn’t have been apparent that there was anything different about this particular part of the show (they even contribute to 2016’s ongoing “playing the spoons” meme.) “Pyramus and Thisbe” reliably ends up being the show’s highlight, the fact that the audience knows they really are amateurs lending huge waves of encouragement to the catastrophic play-within-a-play. (Full review at Partially Obstructed View)




Any production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream lives and dies by its rude Mechanicals and their farcical amateur production of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ at the end of the play. In Erica Whyman’s version, ambitiously subtitled ‘A Play for the Nation’, real, local am-dram companies have stepped up to play Bottom et al throughout the UK tour. Potentially patronising and definitely risky, the decision pays off hugely as actors from east London’s Tower Theatre Company give the RSC a run for their money. Led by John Chapman’s brilliant Bottom – weaver by day, passionate, stage-hogging diva by night – their play within the play utterly steals the show. It’s so good, in fact, that the pacing issues and occasional dull moments of the first half are totally forgotten in the uproarious laughter and well-deserved applause that greets the second. (Full review at Plays To See)



This is a play that is all about transformation, the greatest of all, of course, being that of the star of the play within the play. Bottom is played by John Chapman of the Tower Theatre Company and makes a fine vainglorious buffoon who wants to play every part in the play himself. He is wonderfully unsurprised to find himself the beloved idol of a fairy queen and is still bursting with swagger and self-importance when he becomes the star of the rude mechanicals’ show, Pyramus and Thisbe. He has competition, though. Maria Waters as Quince directs this disorderly crew with a firm motherly hand and Adam Moulder as Flute makes a fine Thisbe. Snug (Peta Barker) was a comically timorous Lion and Al Freeman as Snout played the Wall with a particularly brilliant running joke that brought the rude into the mechanicals. (Full review at The Arbuturian)




The Tower Theatre members were not only the equal of their professional colleagues but, in many cases, surpassed them. .. No one else on stage could equal the witty and touching performances of Adam Moulder as Flute, Tom Tillery as Starveling and, in a rare case of justified cross-gender casting, Maria Waters as Peter Quince. (Full review at The Express)



Should one mix amateur and professional actors? I ask because I have finally caught up with the RSC’s touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which, throughout the UK, a different group of local amateur actors play the rude mechanicals. At the performance I saw at the Barbican, it worked beautifully with actors from London’s prestigious Tower Theatre Company. John Chapman, a semi-retired education consultant, was a beaming, bumptious Bottom; Maria Waters, a full-time GP, was an authoritative Quince; and Peta Barker, a private-hire driver, roared memorably as Snug the joiner who gets to play the lion. (Michael Billington’s full article at The Guardian theatre blog)



The Tower Theatre amateurs playing the onstage amateurs are totally polished, finding all the warm humour in their scenes and integrating their style seamlessly with the RSC actors.  John Chapman is as happy, believable and fully characterised a Bottom as I’ve ever seen, and while I’ve occasionally laughed harder at Pyramus And Thisbe, I can have no complaints about how much I laughed here. (Full review at – scroll to bottom of the page)



The most noteworthy feature of the production is that the mechanicals, who are the manual workers performing Pyramus and Thisbe as a play-within-the-play, are themselves amateur actors, and their scenes provoke a great deal of hilarity….It is an ambitious project offering many non-professional actors the opportunity to perform with a leading company. The result of this experiment, far from being shaky, sees the amateur actors not only blend seamlessly in the play but almost steal the show at the end. This feat alone is worthy of note as it proves that there is plenty of room for inclusion in theatre and that it is indeed for everyone. (Full review at The Upcoming)

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