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Ilkley Literature Festival Prague Fringe Brighton Fringe Barnstaple Fringe Devon Life Arts & Entertainment ND audience comments

click on a title for a review

Ilkley Literature Festival Prague Fringe Brighton Fringe Barnstaple Fringe Devon Life Arts & Entertainment ND audience comments

play fight The great Etienne Decroux defined the perfect stage performer as one with "the body of a gymnast, the mind of an actor, and the heart of a poet." In other words, Decroux was defining Bill Buffery and Gill Nathanson. In their second visit to the Fringe, the Devon-based couple presents their latest work, Backward Glance, which is a complex tale centered on the death of a famous woman writer, whose husband, another writer, is left trying to explain the events surrounding her death and his mysterious disappearance afterward. With its fluid, nonlinear narrative (think of it as a spacial collage), the husband (played by Mr. Buffery) is confronted by a journalist, an interrogator and his wife's mother, all played skillfully by Ms. Nathanson. In their short play's marvelous juxtaposing of the physical and metaphysical realms, there's even a harrowing hunt for the dead writer in the underworld. The writing is crisp, often grimly humorous, and offers many opportunities for associative leaps - from the marriage of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to Orpheus' descent in search of Eurydice. The performances are first-rate, with every word and gesture clothed with meaning, and Ms. Nathanson's physical plasticity is a marvel. Highly recommended.
Steffen Silvis, The Prague Post, May 2009

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play fight How many stories can be told in a lifetime? How many stories can be told of a life? And how many stories can be told timelessly?

A woman has died. She was a writer, a poet, a mother, a daughter, a celebrity... But in death, she becomes a construct; a story that changes depending on who’s telling it. In this spectacular production Multi Story Theatre Company live up to their name, building for us, out of a small claustrophobic front room, a skyscraper of competing narratives from which to view the world and its equivalent layers of indeterminate truths. With exceptionally strong performances from Gill Nathanson and Bill Buffery, the actors moved through conversations and interactions between a husband and his shape-shifting female counterpart. The woman visually mirrored the photographs of his dead wife but physically adopted roles from the many aspects of her life, embodying a mother, a journalist, an investigator, and the ghost of the wife herself. Meanwhile her husband, in struggling to explain the uncertain circumstances surrounding her death, and in an effort to bring some cohesion to these shifting perspectives, idealises their personal story using grand and epic narratives borrowed from ancient Greek mythology. The transmutability of the woman through this telling and re-telling of her story, and the many stories she as a writer, told in life, causes her to be described as a past, present and future portal through which all of human life and experience can perhaps be glimpsed. The convergence of these layers in this woman as a vessel, hinting towards the notion of paralleled and simultaneous existence.

The performances were exceptional, often creating an intensely claustrophobic feel and sending many a shiver going down the spine. The only criticism I have of the play was its ending which was rather confusing, though I imagine its ambiguity may have been intentional as this was a play which unfurled questions for its audience, leaving plenty to ponder in its wake. The climax of the piece seemed to see myth and reality combine in the figure of the husband who becomes accountable for upholding some basic sense of morality. The media functioning as a modern-day mythology, of needing someone to worship and someone to blame – just as these roles have been lived out over and over again in different versions throughout human history - from the early morality plays to the magazine scandals of today.
Alice Trueman,, May 2008

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play fight Backward Glance is a powerful examination of how and why men and women come to such different explanations for the loss of love and even of death from love. There are only two actors but they create an epic of ancient and modern storytelling.

A writer comes in for interrogation after his celebrity wife dies in strange circumstances. He (Bill Buffery) faces fierce questioning from a journalist  but also from the dead woman’s mother and from a sinister female figure hellbent on punishing him to encourage better male behaviour (all played by Gill Nathanson). But he's trying to bring his beloved back from the dead, as Orpheus did in his mythological journey to find his wife in the Underworld.

It's a complex and absorbing show, moving swiftly between settings and characters, and using computer projection behind veils to create the tenderness once shared by the couple. There are shocking moments, brilliant lines and wonderful acting in a play that glues you to your seat.

Richard Howe (official Fringe reviewer), June 2008

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play fight First of all I should say that, I have seen Multistory before and kind of know the performers involved.

Multistory (Bill and Gill) are responsible for the best children's theatre I have ever seen and I'm probably the kind of audience member they hate because all I ever want them to do is "The Firebird" again.... and again.

"Backward Glance" is not for children, it is an emotional, almost lyrical examination of the myth and fantasy we create to cope with loss and grief. Although sometimes uncomfortable, the performances (sometimes almost dance-like) are genuinely gripping and moving. Weaving into a very modern tale the journey of Orpheus and his journey to hell and back could not have been easy, but once again Multistory have more than enough talent and skill not just to show that they understand it, but to make you understand it also.

Fantastic well done!

Mark Ashmore

Emotional, powerful, thought-provoking.  Make sure you see this!

The best I’ve seen you do.  Powerful, loving, hateful, angry – great!

Powerful, absorbing, moving, emotional, fantastic – whew!
Julie W

Absolutely brilliant writing & acting.  Don’t miss this.

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play fight An esteemed writer with the popular touch dies in shady circumstances. Her husband, also a writer, must face three women – an investigator, a probing journalist and a grieving mother – to explain himself and their life together. Did he feel eclipsed by his wife’s talent, her brighter star? Was he guilty of marital neglect or a crime more tangible?

With a razor-sharp script – and excellent use of scene-setting digital imagery – Backward Glance delves deep into the creative process, exploring the genesis of inspiration, the notion of authenticity and the impact on the psyche. There’s a touch of magic realism that channels both the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and taps into the idea of ‘assisted’ inspiration so beloved of the Romantics. In his intense portrayal of one half of a literary partnership, Bill Buffery allows us to make the not-so wild imaginative leap to another ‘power’ couple who danced with the dark side of creativity – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Through the female characters (Gill Nathanson slips between them with seemingly effortless ease), the script unpacks the notions of perception, memory, and the mythologies that we create about ourselves and those we love.

You know how a movie trailer can sometimes totally ruin your experience of the film? It would be a joy to unpack some of the scenes in Backward Glance and shout about their power, their complexity and the compelling performances of the two actors, but this play is worth seeing with as little preamble as possible – the narrative is so intelligently constructed and the story so tantalisingly revealed (it demands your close attention and rewards it), that I’d be in danger of giving too much away.

Go and be thrilled.

Belinda Dillon Devon Life, January 2012

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play fight A highly recommended intense play

Backward Glance is an intense, hour or so long, performance focusing on the husband of a recently deceased, hard drinking, famous woman.

The husband, an unrequenting, hardnosed character himself, is analysed during the play by three ladies – a journalist friend (with whom he has had a one night stand) who is writing for the many loyal fans of his recently deceased wife, a police interrogator (suspicious that he murdered his unfaithful wife) and the wifes grieving mother.

The acting in the play is superb, sucking you into the play brilliantly and the scenes are set well by changes in lighting and backdrop. One factor that works well is how the timeline of the play is represented by the drinking of a bottle of wine consumed by the reporter and the husband.

Overall a very intense but clever play about the breakdown of relationships and different ways people grieve.


Josh Adamson Phonic FM, January 2012

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play fight Another thought provoking piece of dramatic theatre from North Devon's Multi Story Theatre Company.

Backward Glance is a multi story story, a story of stories. Celebrity scribbler (Gill Nathanson), famous more for her notorious drinking than her work, dies under a shroud of mystery and speculation. The finger of blame is pointed at her writer husband (Bill Buffery) by her gossip thirsty fans, her grieving mother and the police. Each of these accusers draws out a story from the bewildered and angry husband.

With a mere turn on her heel or a twitch of her eyebrow Gill Nathanson switches characters. She is the mother who saw her daughter's fantasies as a vivid imagination but those of her son in law as pure madness, she is the ex-lover journalist who has dirt to dig and an agenda of her own, she is the police interrogator good cop/bad cop trying to tease out the truth and she is the wife, held in limbo land. Nathanson's characterisation skills shine in her physical mannerisms and I heard more than one audience member praising her portrayal of the mother and how a simple movement of the hands identified her role.

A captivating physical chorus to punctuate the scenes was an entangled dance defining the nature of the couple's relationship; its turbulence and their complicity at one time.

Ruth Milman's simple set of white stools and red wine was all that was needed for the here and now and flimsy curtains with visual projections added distance and an eerieness to the past and another world. Ken Parsons' sound design was subtle but effective and left us wondering at the end "for whom the bell tolls"?

Backward Glance demands the audience's attention ... it deserves and rewards it.

Amanda McCormack Arts and Entertainment North Devon, May 2012

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play fight from The Pickled Egg - offical review-site for the Ilkley Literature Festival: find out what reviewers Patrick McGuckin and Stephen Caswell thought of Multi Story Theatre Company’s production Backward Glance

Now this was good, writes reviewer Patrick McGuckin. The Ilkley Playhouse was half full, so lots have people have missed out on one of the best things I’ve seen at the Literature Festival. Backward Glance is a two-handed, hour-long play. It is tense; it draws you in and is very skilfully acted.

The story is simple. A journalist is interviewing a minor celebrity author about the death of his celebrated wife. Bill Buffery looked very much the bereaved husband. I wondered if he had been deliberately going without sleep in the run up to the performance to get the haggard and hunted look. His crumpled shirt and suit looked as though he had been sleeping in it for a week.

The simple set consisted of three white stools, a vase of flowers and two wine glasses. A white backcloth showed projections to aid the storyline. As the stewards closed the doors, a bell rang out and guitar music gently played drawing us into the drama.

Gill Nathanson plays a Journalist, the deceased wife, an interrogator and the wife’s mother. Helpfully each is played with a different accent to make it easier for us. As a journalist, she is also an ex-lover of the bereft man. This was a strong character, changing tack to draw the story from the husband suspected of having a hand, whether directly through poison or by driving her to drink induced death. As the ex-wife she danced with Buffery in a ‘flashback’ to happier times. As the interrogator she represented the ‘voice of responsibility’, the voice of those who have to pick up the pieces of lives lived decadently.

The story developed before us. The deceased wife was an icon, a talent, a ‘portal to the past, present and future’. The despair of a man desperate to get her back, to cross the river Styx and battle with Cerberus in an attempt to reverse her death was deftly portrayed by Buffery as he realised that without his wife his own future had died. As the performance ended the audience needed a moment to realise we were back in a theatre room, there was a pause as we came back to reality and applauded for all we were worth.

If this remarkable company make a return to the Ilkley Literature Festival I hope the organisers highlight the event as one of the main attractions. If you get a chance to see the production please go along. Their web-site is

It is very unfortunate that I’ve seen the Ilkley Playhouse more full than this, says reviewer Stephen Caswell. I want to get this out of the way quickly: I loved Backward Glance.

When I took my seat, the minimalistic set sat before a large screen, upon which was projected the picture of a woman’s face. This was accompanied by a piece of mournful, yet sinister music which crept up in volume until it changed into the sound of an acoustic guitar. It sent the message to the audience that the play was about to begin as the house lights dimmed and the projected image began to move.

The image of a woman dancing around the screen became the centre of our attention as Bill Buffery entered, almost unnoticed. He too was fixated on the moving images on the screen. It seemed that this was a memory of his character’s deceased wife, an engrossing sight for him.

Gill Nathanson wandered down passed the audience without him noticing, a bottle of wine in her hand and waited for his attention.

The two actors put in a stunning performance; Gill flipped backwards and forwards between three characters: the wife, the journalist, the mother-in-law and the interrogator.

Each character had just enough to differentiate between them without becoming caricatures – though early on it was hard to distinguish as we hadn’t yet learned each character trait. I feel that this simple, yet deep characterisation complemented the audience rather than insult their intelligence like some multi-roling actors.

During their conversation, a word or phrase brought back a very sudden memory from the two characters who immediately leapt at each-other. It was here that they launched into a well rehearsed piece of choreography involving Nathanson climbing and sliding all over Buffery in an intricate, elegant display of passion.

With this play being very heavily rooted in the past, it makes sense for it not to be in a wholly naturalistic style. The minimalistic set, projected background and choreographed movement reminded me of the theatre company Frantic Assembly in a very good way. What I loved most about these movements was that they meant something different each time. Sometimes it was angry, sometimes passionate yet always it was the same movements.

Another thing that confused me in relation to the projections was why the actors on stage changed the slide. One would think that that would fall into the jurisdiction of the lighting designers. However, as the play drew on, it also became apparent that the characters forced the memories to return by changing the slide.

“Listen for the metaphor” became the most lingering quote from the play as it summed it up so brilliantly. The script beautifully written and interpreted well by the two actors to create a wonderfully enjoyably strong, interesting and lasting piece of theatre.

Patrick McGuckin and Stephen Caswell The Pickled Egg, October 2012

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Backward Glance image