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Meze theatre in Reading

Lessons in Life: Progress Theatre in front rooms everywhere
From May 19 – 21
Review by Jon Lewis

It’s not a surprise to find that Zoom theatre pioneered by Oxford’s Creation Theatre Company has been adopted by the amateur sector. Reading’s long-standing Progress Theatre, founded in 1946, has programmed a series of short scenes lasting about five minutes each that reflect the interests of directors Lara Collins and Beckie Moir and their performers.

Although the show is called Lessons in Life, the pieces are not didactic. Instead, what seems to unite the scenes is that the characters are viewed in moments of reflection or decision-making. They range from classical Greece through Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra to early modern (Chekhov’s The Seagull) and contemporary drama where Laura Wade is the most popular playwright with two selections.

Progress Theatre
Progress Theatre

In Wade’s Colder Than Here (2005), Mikhail Franklin plays Alec, a middle-aged man at the end of his tether, raging against the world to a gas boiler call centre operator who is forced to listen to Alec to whom this call is a substitute for the pain Alec is feeling because his wife is dying of cancer. A boiler can be fixed, his wife cannot.

Wade’s Alice (2010), a reinvention of the Lewis Carroll story, sees Alice (Amelia Sammons, in the most polished of the performances in the show) down the rabbit hole in the aftermath of her older brother’s death in a driving incident. Alice, wearing a stripy top, she’s a quirky, modern girl who finds the ‘eat me’ cake tastier than a Mr Kipling alternative. Both characters are escaping from a painful reality, and each piece has the effect of enticing the viewer to want to see the rest of the play.

Benjamin Kuffuor’s Ageless (2019) was written for the National Theatre’s Connections festival for young people. Max Hijmering plays Dr Elliott, an 80-year-old scientist who has developed pills to keep him eternally youthful. Likened to the development of planes by the Wright Brothers or cars by Carl Benz, the play suggests a sadness behind Elliot’s battle against ageing.

Progress Theatre
Progress Theatre

In Amanda Whittington’s Ladies Down Under (2007) Koala (Niall Costello) celebrates queerness in the form of being a drag queen at a mardi gras in Australia. It’s a fun turn.

A diverse selection that showcases the members of the company.

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