Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings



Hall Green Little Theatre


It was the fifth century BC that playwrights Aeschylus and Sophocles, the Greek Alan Ayckbourns of their day, promulgated the idea of anarchy, or ἀναρχία as they would have had it, and it was a century or so later, or nearer as this BC/AD system would have it, that Aristophanes turned the concept of anarchy into farce with his play The Clouds.

Not that that went too well, mind, in 423 BC at Athens's annual festival to honour Dionysia, the god of wine, he entered his play in the drama competition and it came a distant third – but as there were only three entrants that year one could say it was hardly the resounding endorsement he had hoped for.

The play takes the mickey and then some out of the fashionable ideas and philosophies taking the fancy of the intellectuals, the earliest version of influencers, in ancient Athens, with So Crates . . . sorry, Socrates, coming in for a real pasting – a portrayal bad enough to have influenced the decision to bring about his eventual execution according to Plato. The critics were obviously more brutal in those days.

Some 2,500 years on his play still has major influence in comedy and opened the door centuries later in the fields of satire and surrealist humour, but as few of us speak ancient Greek, follow iconic schools of intellectual thought or pray to a veritable panoply of gods and spirits, perhaps some updating is needed – thus enter Richard Woodward with a revised 21st century version.

The Clouds, a traditional Greek chorus in the original, are still Gods, but these days run a reality TV show, or podcast, or whatever followed around by cameraman Roger, played by a leather coated Garret Awre with a necklace of . . . onions? Roger has a habit of collapsing from what one might suspect is overmedication of non-prescription items. 


Ewe got to be joking! Maisie-Leigh Jones as Perinea up on Cloud 3.

Thus, we have Katherine Williams as Scatia, or Cloud 2, who seems to be an avid disciple of Dionysia – the wine guy remember. Maisie-Leigh Jones as Perinea, or Cloud 3, the bolshie one, regularly questioning and complaining about Cloud 2’s unsteady flow, while Naomi Newstead as Emetia, or Cloud 1, tries manfully, or perhaps personfully in these PC aware days, to keep things on track.

That leaves Niamh-Arianne Warrillow as Fillia, Cloud 4, and as for leaving? No one is going to leave Cloud 4, not unscathed at any rate, if they take her fancy . . . just saying. Reject her and she could really rain on your parade.

True to the original Socrates is running a school – these days, or in those days in this case, and these days as well it seems, the fashion is/was to call schools academies, the original Ἀκαδήμεια being the gardens where Plato taught his students some hundred years or so after The Clouds crashed and burned in Athens.

Socrates, never one to follow fashion, preferred the term Thinkery, thus the slightly mad Socrates, is portrayed in a gloriously manic display, bedecked in a rather early masonic style pair of pyjama bottoms by Ben Hurd-Greenall who whirls around the stage in his own parallel universe. He is assisted in this academic(?) venture by the slightly madder Bifocles, meandering, dervish-like,  around the outer reaches of logic in wonderful weird style by Joel Patel.


Are the cards right or wrong, or both or neither . . . a dilemma for Ben Hurd-Greenall as Socrates

Having lived as a bat and a mouse, Bifocles latest contribution to philosophical thought is to get pigs to convince themselves they can fly then drive 400 of them over a cliff to see if any of them actually can. Strangely, Bifoclism does not appear to have survived the centuries as a recognised philosophical genre.

The pair reveal much we did not know, such as a gnat’s bum being trumpet shaped so if we had a hundred of them with coordinated flatulence . . . makes you think, eh. A real thinkery moment.

A hundred years before his time we get Plato popping up in the gender shifting shape of Charlotte Andrews-Miller while Willow Cleaver is having a think in there as Xenophon, the pair happy to open and close the argument, and, as this is a school . . . academy . . . thinkery . . . we need some thinkers, sorry, students such as Thomas John, Molly Scott and Oli Scott – Thomas thinking his way to become creditors one and two later – but that is still to come. 

First, we need the arguments – Greek plays all had this very literal streak about them – with Oli Scott, now in his graduated form, as Euripides, or the Right Argument, and Harris Khan, opposing him, as the Wrong Argument. The debate all gets a bit heated and eventually it’s hard to tell right from wrong.


Brushing up on violence is Phoebe O'Reilly as rebel daughter Amateur with her own argument called besom broom

But right and wrong is the crux of both this modern version and the original. Back in BC days it was Strepsiades sinking in debt and his wastrel son Pheidippides. Here we have Simon Twister, a delightfully daft performance from Shaun Dodd and his not so much wastrel as more typical teenage daughter Amateur, played with a sort of mildly, militant, whatever, it’s -your-problem-not-mine-dad, air by Phoebe O’Reilly.

Twister has this theory, lets call it a philosophy to fall into with the times, that if he becomes a great orator, and expert in the arguments of right and wrong, he could out orate his creditors – remember one and two earlier – beat right with wrong, or is it wrong with right . . . whatever – whichever it is it means he can win the argument with his multitude of creditors and be debt free. There are a few obvious flaws in this train of thought, the actual law and debtor’s courts being but one, but we will let that pass.

With his penchant for hard work being mislaid yet again, Twister decides that his daughter should go to Socrates’ school, learn the ins and outs and do the job for him. When she flatly refuses (“You want me to go to school!!!!!!”) he turns up himself as a mature student and while Socrates might be mad as an Athenian hatter, even he is sane enough to work out Twister has all the intellect of a gnat’s trumpet shaped bum.

As part of the course we have hiding in cupboards, an interruption from David Hirst as Hippocrates, demanding to know what has happened to his cock . . . don’t ask . . . and an angry mob, well Twister and his daughter, burning down the Thinkery. So, with the Thinkery now little more than an insurance claim and nothing else to say The Clouds depart. The end. We never did find out if pigs can fly, a question still unanswered today. Perhaps we could try asking ChatGPT.

There are some lovely lines and moments amid the endless madness and although knowledge of the original play might give an added element, few will have even heard of it let alone seen it, but that gap in knowledge of early Greek theatre hardly matters in what is a madcap mix of send up and theatre of the absurd with a wonderful cast who threw themselves whole heartedly and enthusiastically into the madness and never faltered. It is daft, laugh out loud so at times and great fun with some simply outrageous scenarios.

Also included are a pig, a panda, a bat, a squirrel, a sheep, a goat and, I suppose one could say, poultry.

The original had its own sexual content and crude language and by the beard of Poseidon there is a fair amount of profanity and sexual references a plenty in this modern reworking – fair being as in a lot, easily enough to give any self-respecting maiden aunt an attack of the vapours long before the interval - so you have been effin’ warned. Age guidance is 15 plus – and do avoid taking maiden aunts.

Directed by Richard Woodward on a simple studio set from Woodward and Jon Richardson the Clouds will be gathering to 22-06-24.

Roger Clarke


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