It’s August, so that means Fringe time in both Edinburgh and London. Cited as one of London Theatres 1’s Picks of the Camden Fringe is The Fellowship. So, yesterday I popped along to the Hen and Chicken’s Theatre pub to experience a UK Premiere; the first production by Hodgson Creed Productions. Hodgson Creed is a newly formed theatre company that has been put together to explore the relationship between the story-teller and their stories, the artists and their art.
The Fellowship is a two-man 60 minute production that celebrates the relationship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, two of the world’s most popular authors.
The play is set in Oxford, and for the most, takes place within a dimly lit back room of a pub. The stage setting is very minimal, the props confined to pints of beer, note books, walking stick and an umbrella. There has however been no expense spared on the costumes; beautifully tailored pieces that have been designed by Jamie Attle of Attle Costumiers. They really breathe life into the characters and firmly set the piece in 1920s Oxford academia.
As a play that explores the relationship between two iconic literary figures, one may assume the production will be rather inaccessible, written for the high-brow literary lovers who cherish philosophical discourse and revel in hidden quotes and insides jokes. This could not be further from the truth. The Fellowship is a hugely accessible piece of theatre that lets you into the inner thoughts of Lewis and Tolkien, warms you to them and makes you want to be in that pub in Oxford sharing a drink with them discussing the efficacy of talking animals and the magic of elves and fairies.
The play is a beautifully produced and well-executed production that really does make you laugh out loud as well and make you want to close your eyes and let your imagination go wild in the quieter scenes. The script is slick and well-written, although does go a little dark towards the end of the play,
Both Henry-Wyrley-Birch (J.R.R. Tolkien) and Alex Appleby (C.S. Lewis) are well cast and deliver superb performances. Their on-stage chemistry is first-class and their comic timing is on-point.
There are many memorable scenes that are worth mentioning; my favourite being a joust between our two protagonists, but instead of horse-backs and lances, walking sticks and discourse powered the battle. Also, there is a magical scene where our protagonists replace names with trees, this got an applause and a chorus of belly laughs from the audience.
On a personal level, I grew up reading and loving the writings of C.S. Lewis although, I have ashamedly never read a book by J.R.R. Tolkien, however, this did not take anything away form the production. If however, you have read Tolkien, I’m sure there are a few jokes that you’ll love that are in there just for you. Knowing and loving Middle Earth will definitely give you advantage!
All in all this was a lovely production, it is uplifting, inspiring and I’m already quoting lines from the production 24 hours later. I left the show wanting to drink beer and pass the time discussing art, literature, the meaning of life and what it means to have faith. Essentially re-imagining the play casting my friend and I as modern-day Tolkien and Lewis (without the Oxford Education).
This play deserves a big audience and I do believe it has mileage after the Camden Fringe. It is the kind of production that will go down well with Literary Students and Sci-Fi fantasy fiction fans alike. It also works well performing in a pub theatre with cast and audience supping beer!
I shall be looking out for future Hodgson Creed Productions as this team definitely has that star quality about it.
Review by Faye Stockley
In a dimly lit back room of Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub, two young Oxford graduates share stories of dragons, elves and Norse mythology amidst occasional beer-fuelled banter.
C.S. Lewis, a fresh faced, impressionable yet imaginative young atheist, finds himself conversing with the energetic and highly opinionated new head of English, Professor Tolkien. Before the birth of their imaginative worlds, these two great minds developed a strong and inseparable friendship that was one of the founding and fuelling elements of the birth of Narnia and Middle-Earth.
This UK premiere explores the very beginning of such an unlikely bond between a devout Catholic and an ardent non-believer, and their continued support and love of each others work.
Over 16’s only, limited access for people with disabilities, no admittance for latecomers.
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA
Book to 19th August 2016