The Alphabet Girl
"Krupinski’s script is beautifully constructed… literate and evocative."

David Cunningham Manchester Theatre Awards


Katie Crowder

Katie Crowder

Renny Krupinski
The Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Moxie Under Fire
The Oldham Coliseum Studio, Oldham
08 September 2015 to 12 September 2015

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Poster for Katie Crowder

The Oldham Coliseum makes a welcome addition to the number of Manchester theatres with a Studio space in which to host more intimate plays. The venue has excellent sightlines and its rough and ready authenticity – tucked at the rear of the circle bar and with pipework clearly visible - is perfect for Katie Crowder; Renny Krupinski’s story of backstage bitchiness and desperation.

Like Godot the title character does not appear in the play but Katie Crowder’s influence hangs over proceedings acting as an unintentional catalyst for events in the relationship between two jobbing actors. The friendship between Bill Ashton (author Krupinski who also directs) and Martin Grosvenor (Ralph Casson) is based on a mutual awareness of how low they are in the professional pecking order. But the camaraderie is threatened when Bill begins to suspect that Martin has slept with Deputy Stage Manager Katie Crowder (voiced by Kaitlin Howard).

Remember those heartwarming old films based backstage at a theatre that conclude there is no business like showbusiness? Well,Katie Crowder is not one of those. Despite the programme featuring spoof biographies of the fictional cast the tone of the play is bleak; which, to an extent is refreshing and certainly realistic. Krupinski catches how petty irritants like identifying who ate the last biscuit assume a disproportionate importance in the workplace. After a while, however, the relentless bitterness becomes wearying; if I want to listen to people bitch about being compelled to do jobs they hate I can just go into work.

The performances are excellent. Ralph Casson gives a moving interpretation of someone trying that bit too hard to give the impression of being urbane and above it all. The intensity of Renny Krupinski’s performance brings to mind someone who seems unaware how close he is to a meltdown. Despite the friction between the characters the actors generate a real sense of worn affection.

Director Krupinski manages a real surprise in the change of scene between Acts. Yet the limited development in the first Act means that at times it amounts to little more than two blokes talking. Overall, the story is slim and there are not sufficient clues or hints to make the twist at the end credible. The author seems uncertain as to whether to end the play on a bitter or comedic note and so gives one of each, which diminishes the impact.

Reviewer: David Cunningham



Comment by Diana Stenson

Yes the studio space is a welcome addition to the Coliseum's performing options but there is a detail to watch.  Sound travels up from the main auditorium and currently this is a  very noisy  musical.  Happily "Katie Crowder" is such an absorbing trip that the distraction seems to fade away. 

The World of Luvvies is awash with anecdotes of tantrums, crushing barbs and the occasional surprise acts of kindness although the roles of  our jobbing actors are  seriously  short of the latter.  Unlike David I was not struck by any worn affection between Martin and Bill, only their incessant nit-picking and cruel insults which almost defeated the first half, gripping though it is.

The second act moves onwards several years, and location, to a "coincidental" meeting in a pub.   Truths are now revealed and a shift of balance emerges between the two misfits which pitches back into the old cruel  ripostes.    Krupinski does not render any late redeeming characteristics to make his audience sympathise with one more than the other.  However the script is a clever and fruitful hunting ground for the ultimate put-down and accompanying humour.

The Alphabet Girl

The Alphabet Girl   Space on the Mile      ****
This monologue play by Renny Krupinski serves as an excellent showcase for actress Kaitlin Howard while offering a good share of character insights, surprises and comedy as well. Howard plays three members of a family – a contemporary young woman, her mother and her grandmother. After the granddaughter introduces them all and offers her bemused and mildly critical views of the other two, we get to see them for ourselves. Grandma turns out to be indeed the bitter old soak her granddaughter remembers, but she was young more than once, and her favourite memories are of seducing all her teenage daughter's boyfriends. That daughter unsurprisingly developed a cynicism about the whole business of sex, which with a kind of logic took her into the sex business as an almost-nude model. And when we get back to granddaughter we discover she has the most unconventional – one might say weirdest – attitude toward sex of all, which I'll merely allude to by saying that the play's title has something to do with the way she catalogues her many, many lovers. It's a slight piece, but one full enough of surprises to keep you always alert and entertained, with the added pleasure of watching Kaitlin Howard's expressive range as an actress.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Alphabet Girl

Philip Larkin famously coined a phrase describing the way in which parents unintentionally warp the lives of their offspring. According to ‘The Alphabet Girl’, by Renny Krupinski, Larkin didn’t know the half of it.

In the present day Ivy Winner (sole performer Kaitlin Howard) takes lovers in alphabetical order of their names. This obsessive approach may be attributed to her upbringing and she affectionately recalls the unorthodox behaviour of her grandmother Maisy and her mother Lily. Yet flashbacks to the past reveal a darker truth that lies behind apparently innocent expressions and may be shaping a tragedy in the present. Krupinski’s script is beautifully constructed with clues hidden in the dialogue that achieve a horrible significance at a later stage. In fact the script is so literate and evocative that at times you wonder if the characters, soaked in gin and overcome by bitterness, would be quite so eloquent in real life. Or perhaps the elegance of the script helps cover some inconsistencies – it is hard to work out the timeline for key events revealed in the final scene.

The play is essentially a psychological chiller in the style of Martin McDonagh but, possibly to achieve maximum shock effect, Krupinski conceals its true nature for some time. The initial impression is that of a series of character studies and Howard’s initially naturalistic performance helps to maintain the deception. Krupinski picks up the pace as the play progresses and makes excellent use of sound effects to achieve a striking conclusion. 

Kaitlin Howard gives a remarkable performance creating three very different characters. The rather gushing and somewhat naïve Ivy gives way to the embittered Maisy whose love life is described as never getting above tepid yet who regarded her courtship as the happiest days of her life. Lily is a particular triumph; Howard adopts an accent that shows no trace of her humble origins and makes Lily’s defensive use of her body and brittle nature frightening rather than eccentric. The characters draw sympathy being depicted sharing the urge to escape, whether from a squalid home life or an inappropriate sexuality, but Howard ensures that the sneaky and sly self-justification of the deceiver is also apparent.

‘The Alphabet Girl’ remains a powerful play with a superb central performance.

Reviewer: David Cunningham 

Comment by Diana Stenson

As David outlines here we have one performer, Kaitlin Howard, taking on the three roles of Grandmother, Mother, and Daughter.  The time span goes back to WW1 slums, WW2 blitz, swinging Sixties, and the present.   I found the chronology switches a bit difficult to follow despite clues but the simmering background rests on these three rackety women with a destructive genetic inheritance of always picking the Wrong Man, or failing to keep a Mr.Right.  This is a considerable challenge for Howard who takes her time settling into the first two monologues but she gradually relaxes into the roles and smoothly takes charge of all three.  Each character is recalling their own past, or being remembered by the other two.  Krupinski has skilfully created this female trio who one could describe as "goers" but non too likeable and certainly not  best friend material.  They betray husbands, steal daughters boyfriends, hush babies with gin and maybe even commit the ultimate sin.   Unlike my colleague, this draws no sympathy from me.  

Not every actor would or could take on these demands. Kaitlin Howard bravely copes with it all.

Comment by Kevin Bourke

I found this piece enthralling and, like my colleagues, think that Kaitlin Howard delivers a bravura performance in a difficult series of roles. I also feel there's something to be said for keeping an audience ever-so-slightly off-balance with the shifts in time and perspective, appreciating the somewhat dream-like quality this lends to the otherwise precise and often poetic monologues. Or maybe that's just me as I admit I'd missed most of the subtle clues to the shocking denouement! Not flawless, and I agree that the pacing early on doesn't do poor Kaitlin any favours, but a highly intriguing piece that amply repays the attention of any intelligent and patient audience.

Lady Macbeth Rewrites the Rulebook

Lady Macbeth rewrites the rulebook by Broads with swords theatre company is a clever remixing of Shakespeare with a touch of Buffy and Tomb Raider. 

Set in the 23rd Century, it sees Amazonian ex-Cyberkiller Tara Loft (wonder where they got that name from?!) protecting the Jewel of Life, the source of all life on Earth, from the evil clutches of the foul bitch queen Scamvix. When two CD ROMs fuse together during an Internet malfunction, both warriors are hurled into the complete works of Shakespeare.

This is bad news for Shakespeare’s tragic heroines Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra, Desdemona, Gertrude and Cordelia as Lady Macbeth schemes with Scamvix to make them live and distract Tara so Lady M can reign supreme as the Tragedy Queen and Scamvix takes control of the Jewel of life, dooming the world. 

The play was conceived by award winning writer/director/actor Renny Krupinski. It premiered at the Edinburgh festival 2001 to enthusiastic reviews and is now on tour of the North west. 

The acting and Choreography was excellent, with a minimalist set consisting of a cauldron!

Amanda Hennessy is great as the wise cracking, sassy, Buffy-type heroine, though it takes her a while to get into Shakespearian language! 

The rest of the cast are equally good. It’s Lucy Took as Lady Macbeth that gets the most opportunities to ruthlessly lampoon and misquote some of the Bards famous lines and speeches. At one point, someone holds a dagger in the cauldron, she turns to the audience and says ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ Very funny! 

It was especially amusing to see all the heroines go on a drunken binge! 

Broads with Swords is the premier all-female fighting company in Europe. With the complex battle sequences, they have all been professionally trained in stage combat. The Matrix-style slowing down of one fight was very impressive. With the show going to New York in August, you could say it’s Bullit-time on Broadway!

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