I think I know what is about Pentabus. They call themselves "Shropshire's Touring Theatre Company" but at the end of Heart Of The Wood, their latest play, I suddenly knew what it is that makes them different from other touring theatre companies. They are in fact, Shropshire's Magic Touring Theatre Company. "I wanted to write the Heart Of The Wood after a new by-pass was built locally" says Alex Jones, "It was alarming to see meadows and woodland disappear so quickly - gone forever, and I felt that the legend of The Green Man was a wonderful way of bringing that message to the stage. I do believe there is hope in a new generation of people who are concerned enough to protest and fight for the planet. The Millennium brings massive problems, but also massive challenges. The spirit of The Green Man is alive, walking though the land again, inspiring us to stand up for Mother Nature. The play begins with teenagers, Zoë and Pippa (Rachel Colles and Dawn Hudson) skiving off school. Zoë wants to show her friend the woods she has recently discovered, to share her new-found fascination with this place of peace and beauty.
However, Pippa, a budding arsonist in orange fun fur, purple flares and gold-wedgie loafers is not impressed. She would rather be shopping or clubbing. Zoë - sporty fleece and Doc Marten's - insists on staying a while, but regrets her stubbornness when Pippa unearths a bottle of petrol and produces a box of matches with a peculiar gleam in her eye. But Pippa's incendiary ambitions are doused by the appearance of a bloke with an axe in his hand and a ten times more gleam in his eye. All this 'gleam in the eye' stuff is not metaphorical, by the way - Pentabus's stage is a narrow tongue that reaches out into the Village and School halls where they perform, bringing the actors as close to the audience as it is possible to get. The gleams in the eye are really, unnervingly really unnervingly there. How can you act a gleam? Beats me. As Zoë and Pippa's adventures unravel, we glimpse familiar problems - broken homes, workaholic divorced parents with little time for their kids - and less familiar ones: like what does a guy do when he is gradually turning into a tree? Aha, you might go, a humorous touch. Actually, this play, like most of Pentabus's productions is very funny indeed. The actors are clever enough to let their characters indulge in slapstick and farce without losing their credibility. The humour is very necessary, as a large part of Pentabus's sense of magic and illusion depends on a fantastic set of tricks designed by the genius, Purvin, lighting, live music, masks and Sue Hall's out-of-this-world costumes. All this at close quarters would be a bit much for younger audience members. I've known children as young as four sit entranced all the way through a two-hour Pentabus play, but they do need a few reassuring cuddles here and there, and the frequent gales of laughter never fail to blow the spooks away. The set is not the only source of tricks and illusions. I don't know whether extra skills are in the job spec for Pentabus actors, but they invariably show a range of skills that go away beyond performing a script convincingly. This bunch, Rachel, Dawn, Greg Hobbs and Jo King knocked us all dead with the hilarious song and dance act that introduced the second half, but it is one of those magic moments that made you wish you had a replay button in your head as you know what whenever you weren't looking at one performer, the others were doing equally amazing things. As I left, I was thinking - as I often do after seeing Pentabus, who are it must be said my favourite theatre company of all time bar none (and mark my words I've seen quite a few) - what an immense privilege it is to have high entertainment of this calibre on our doorsteps, at prices we can afford and in a form which our children enjoy as much as we do. If you haven't seen them - go. Take some kids, or go alone. Get some good strong magic into your life!
An educational romp illuminating the concerns, diversity and comic peculiarities of modern society, Pentabus Theatre Company's latest production, The Heart Of The Wood, explores and satirises a strangely recognisable world of environmental destruction, spiritual imagery and contemporary stereotypes. The play tells the entertaining tale of Zoë, a wide-eyed student, keen to save the world, and her friend Pippa, a pyromaniac- shopaholic, who with the help of the Green Man and a tree house of crusty hippies, do battle with Zoë's divorced Dad, a callous contractor keen to profit from progress, and his slapstick employees. Written by local playwright Alex Jones, the script weaves twelve colourfully exaggerated and identifiable characters into a story that deals with many of the issues that have great relevance to today's youth. Alex Jones said "I do believe that there is hope in a new generation of people who are concerned enough to protest and fight for the planet - The spirit of the Green Man is alive, walking through the land again, inspiring us to stand of for Mother Earth." Although there are times when perhaps the highly informative play delves too deeply into green politics for younger members of the audience, such moments are more than made up for by the excitement and hilarity of this energetic production. After the interval the play combines the comedy of Harry Enfield with the feel-good factor of the Full Monty. Punctuated by the superb songs of the workmen and the hippies, it races towards the climax as the character changes and becomes frantically quick and with the ever-present music capturing and guiding the excited mood of the audience. So accomplished were the four members of the cast as actors, musicians and most importantly as true entertainers that they slipped between their different roles with apparent ease. Especially entertaining was Greg Hobbs, who played six of the twelve characters with a wonderful variety of accents. With a handful of multi-talented performers and with dedication to bringing theatre to even the remotest rural communities, the small and highly mobile company evoked a sense of romantic past; an idyllic time when travelling players journeyed through a green England bringing entertainment to delighted audiences. - Andy Sibcy
Ludlow and Tenbury Wells Advertiser 'Arts Page':
Pentabus Theatre's autumn touring production 'The Heart Of The Wood' is a vigorously inventive dramatisation of the Green Man myth in the service of a passionate plea for greater reverence of the natural world. The impending Millennium gives the play an unnerving apocalyptic edge, but what saves it from portentous polemic is its humour and capacity for self-mockery. Author Alex Jones clearly has the younger generation in his sights and quite rightly so if the planet is to be saved. Pentabus' distinctive blend of Brothers Grimm Gothic and breathtaking theatrical energy makes it captivating for such an audience. The writing may be strident at times, but the weaving of Celtic mythology, contemporary ecological awareness and sharp satirical comedy works very successfully. If ever a cause deserved to be worn openly on a theatre company's sleeve, this is it. Greg Hobbs as Green Man gives an imposingly physical performance, which adds pathos to panache with engaging delicacy. Dawn Hudson's Pippa is played with just the right degree of sullen adolescent, bloody-mindedness to provide the vital antidote to Rachel Colles' passionate environmentalism. Rachel's Zoe is a performance of considerably greater subtlety than in 'The Wright Stuff'. As the evil demon of corporate vandalism and self-absorbed father, Jo King provides a key element to the play's dialect, without resorting to hectoring caricature. Director Steve Johnstone maintains impressive narrative momentum. This production will turn the Pentabus tour into a crusade. - Ian Barge
Sir John Talbot School/Whitchurch Leisure Centre: Thought the performance was excellent. I ran a colouring competition and the winners were all people who had not been before. I'm certain they will all be back - it was great. The best family show yet!
Colmers Farm: The best we have ever experienced. We were so impressed that we rang up and booked your next play the following day. The company were totally brilliant! "I thought the show was great" - a GCSE student said the next day, "When you get environmental stuff it can all seem the same, but the whole thing was so well staged that you didn't feel preached at". I felt the show worked on many different levels - it was some people's first time at the venue and at a theatre show and it was accessible to all.
Devonshire Junior School: The company were excellent. I enjoyed the show, as did the audience. It was a very good play. We booked the play because we are trying to get theatre into the school.
Farlow + Oreton Village Hall: It was an excellent show and the village really enjoyed it.
Rockspring Community Centre: Excellent. The audience were captivated all the way throughout. Very successful with the way the stage went right through the audience. This brought people into very close contact with the performance and drew them into the production. I strongly believe in offering the opportunity for young people (and their families) from the Sandpits area of Ludlow the experience of live theatre and music.
Abberley Hall School: We thought the publicity was gruesome and misleading, I think flyers might be better with all venues as I knew the Stockton lady was concerned about the competition I kept away from where she had put posters. The company were brilliant - what fantastic people. I was over committed so didn't get to see it, but I got good feedback from the children who thoroughly enjoyed it. However I had a very strong comment from a member of staff of the use of the word 'crap'.
Abbots Moreton Village Hall: Good and powerful!
Greig Centre: The company were excellent. I was really pleased with the show; it was very original and enjoyable. I particularly liked the way the space was used it was non-conventional, and everyone enjoyed it. We booked it because we liked the theme and thought it would appeal to a youthful audience.
Aston on Clun Village Hall: We were very impressed by the show and thought the actors were extremely versatile and talented - the way they were taking different parts was remarkable.
Theatr Clera: The company were luvly. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, the A-Level students were particularly impressed with the special fx. The environmental issues were extremely popular amongst the public.
Hope Baggot Village Hall (Norbury Village Hall): The show was excellent.
Swanbourne village Hall: Awful poster - a lot of people thought it looked quite nasty and were put off. We have a lot of fundamental Christians in the village who wouldn't bring their children. The show was fantastic, fabulous, wonderful - everybody was transfixed.
Fulmer Village Hall: Very good show, everyone felt pulled into the action.
Llaniggon Village Hall: The show was wonderful, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. The time just flew between 7.30 and 10.00.
Kidderminster Library: Excellent!
Peopleton: Everybody in the audience was very complimentary about the show. One or two said it was the best yet. Excellent show - another winner.
Lacon Childe School: The audience thought the show was excellent, but one old lady left because she thought it was too loud.
Martley Village Hall: Brilliant show, total sell out, and have half booked your next show for February.
Lucton School: The performance was very good, everyone enjoyed it and the suitability for the audience was spot on.
Ledbury School: The company were great and were very professional actors. Excellent acting and musicianship. Ingenious set. The show has a good message for our audience. It was a first class show. Really enjoyed it - when are you coming again?
All Saints: The best show I have ever seen you do. It was magical looking at the kids faces astounded and the mums and dads astounded. The dance was like sha waddy waddy music - lovely! The play was even more wonderful than the last one. They just get better and better - the set was excellent too. Everyone enjoyed themselves - what more can I say?
Bishops Castle Community College: Very well done - and the audience enjoyed it.
Witton Middle School: The show was presented to 11-12 year olds and there were very favourable comments from children. They loved the special effects, the humour, the set and the way actors/actresses appeared and disappeared - a wonderful way of giving children access to live theatre.
Condover Village Hall: The standard of acting and subject matter were excellent and all our audience enjoyed it thoroughly.
Email from Mr Peter Napier: Thank you for a truly excellent performance at Pontesbury Village Hall tonight. This is not the first time I have come away from a Pentabus performance feeling uplifted. Your productions really reach the audience and in my opinion I find that Heart Of The Wood is more entertaining than anything on in the West End, or anywhere else for that matter, even if in more humble surrounding!
Letter from Anna, age 10 from Ledbury Primary School: I went to see you do Heart Of The Wood at Ledbury Primary School. I thought that it was brilliant! I have never seen such a brilliant play in my whole life and I bet I won't ever again. My mum and dad thought it was brilliant too. We wondered how you all changed so quickly, I know I couldn't! - I liked it when Pippa turned on the music in the wood. But I liked every bit Well done!
Letter in Pinvin's Parish Mag: Please pass on a sincere thank you to the Pinvin Memorial Hall committee for organising a visit from Pentabus Theatre Company. The performance of The Heart Of The Wood was one of the best in a tradition of truly superb performances. The whole evening was a real treat. The play was very topical as it happens for the central plot involved a conflict between developers and the environmentalist 'The Green Man' of the woods. You will be glad to know that the trees won! To quote from Alex Jones - 'As we approach the Millennium it is natural that we should examine the state of the planet. Everywhere we look, Mankind has left its mark. It is fast becoming apparent that globally, destruction of the natural environment is taking place at an alarming rate... the inexorable march of commerce and market forces takes what it can from the earth with no thought for the future and those who come after us'. The legend of The Green Man was a wonderful way of bringing that message to the stage. The play has inspired me to reform the now extinct Pinvin Environmental Group, perhaps with a view to marking the Millennium. Are there any villagers who would be interested? If so, please contact me. Jill Terry
Report from West Midland Arts at All Saints Church Herefordshire: Clearly many people in this audience are big fans of Pentabus and have seen their work before. However this production seemed to totally engross the young people present and created a memorable occasion.