Press Archive

This is an archive of reviews for Finger in the Pie’s productions from 2008. If you would like any further information about any of our productions please contact us here.

Waiting for Stanley – 2011 / 2012


Fest Theatre (FEST BEST) 
– ★★★★★

The year is 1945, the war is over and a beautiful red-nosed clown (Leela Bunce) waits eagerly at a bunting-covered station, a banner in her hands lovingly embroidered with the words ‘Welcome Home Stanley.’ As you may guess, Stanley isn’t on the train.

What starts out as a simple premise blossoms into an exquisitely realised ode to the women of World War II, a one-woman homage to the mothers who watched their babies grow into children who had never met their fathers, only to see them evacuated to the countryside; the women who rode motorcycles, worked shifts, kept their chins up and all the time waited for a husband who may or may not come home.

With endearing warmth and beguilingly subtle humour Bunce conjures up scenarios where Stanley has run off with a sultry French woman, imagines his war heroics in the field and pictures him as a tiny mechanical puppet writing her letters about his socks. Her stage craft is as ingenious as any you’ll find at the Fringe but it is the depth of pride and hope she finds in her clown persona that has us rooting for her from the bottom of our hearts.

Just as people in times of war have to find unique solutions to problems, so do clowns, and in this sense Bunce has found the perfect medium to honour both the terrible pain and the uplifting spirit of war wives. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that a clown show made me cry, but in this case it was for all the right reasons.

Cream of the Fringe – ★★★★★

This charming solo performance by Leela Bunce captured my attention and my heart from the off.

Set in a 1945 train station, the show depicts a woman waiting the return off her partner from the war, exploring the trails and tribulations of those left on the home front.

Bunce uses a mixture of mime, puppetry, animation and song to narrate her story. The performance is compelling and affecting; humours, moving and vibrant.

The design of the piece is stunning and inventive, with beautiful use of props and music. Highly recommended! – ★★★★★

It’s been a long time since I’ve been swept off my feet. But tonight, my heart remembered the joyous call of love. My insides were in all kinds of a flutter. My pulse buzzed like a bee in a jar and the immovable smile on my face was positively slapable.

Waiting For Stanley is the reason the weather has been so nice at the Fringe this year. It is the friendly glow and cosy warmth that the city has been missing. It is the sunshine of the Fringe.

It is 1945 and an anxious wife waits at an English railway station for her husband to return home from the War. When there is no sign, we look back at her experience of the wartime Britain and her torturous wait for news of her beloved. This one-lady extravaganza is without doubt the sweetest and most lovable show at the Fringe this year. It sickens me to say it, but it really will have you leave the theatre with a spring in your step and a song in your heart.

Endlessly inventive and blessed with a charming central performance by the female lead, the beauty of this show can be felt all around. Wonderful puppetry and delightfully clever shadow play add further magic to what is already a truly spellbinding piece of work.

Hilariously funny as well as deeply poignant, this is a show that you simply have to see. A work of pure genius.

Hairline Fringe – ★★★★★

Set in the closing hours of WW2 this poignant exploration of survival shows the inner thoughts of an unnamed wife as she waits at the platform for her husband to return. Devastated by his last minute absence she first imagines the various scenarios that might have kept him from her and then remembers her own war.

The sole weakness of the performance is that at times it becomes difficult to decipher whether the moments portrayed are fantasies or memories. As there is one main transition from fantasy to memory this confusion doesn’t last very long and if anything after the transition to memory the story of love absence and loneliness becomes even more powerful.

The performance of Leela Bunce is simply delightful. Whether she is leading the audience in a rousing chorus of daisy-daisy or miming the characters stiff upper lip as her son is evacuated from the city, the audience can find easy empathy with her portrayal. With her wide-eyed beaming smile it is easy to imagine and share in the simple victories of getting a child to sleep in an air raid shelter or finding her husband’s letters delivered through the door. Sentimental without being sappy this play successfully shows the ultimate adaptability of the character without sacrificing her humor or humanity.

Superb and extremely touching, ‘Waiting for Stanley’ might just be the show not to miss at the Fringe 2012.

Theatre Guide London – ★★★★★

Deviser-performer Leela Bunce audaciously chooses to tell the serious story of the WW2 home front through unabashed and inventive clowning, and the combination proves both touching and immensely entertaining. Bunce appears in realistic 1945 garb but with a clown’s red nose, and through much of what follows she is silent, depicting through mime, dance and puppetry a woman awaiting her husband’s return from the war. When he isn’t on the expected train she imagines (and acts out) a French seductress holding him or a battle casualty she hasn’t been told of. Reassured by a letter, she uses found objects scattered about the stage to help her mime and clown through her days of domestic tasks (trying to bake with rationing limitations), comforting her puppet child in an air raid (opportunity for an audience singalong), and going to work. Each episode is simultaneously funny, sad and theatrically inventive, as when a string of paper dolls represent children being relocated to the country or a grumbling postman delivers each precious letter. A warm, moving, cheering hour, this is a theatrical experience that cleanses your soul and sends you out feeling that life is, all things considered, pretty good.

The List – ★★★★

A woman with a red clown nose waits on a luggage-filled railway platform for her wartime sweetie to return. As her wait grows, she raids the suitcases around her, each contributing props to a captivating series of tales drawn from the experiences of London women during WWII: being a mother, waiting out the Blitz, and making do and mending.

Leela Bruce is the architect of this captivating one-woman performance, opening each box of tricks to reveal a world rich in imagination. Never has a pile of socks had such an illustrious career in metaphor. She turns an abundance of tenderly manipulated puppets, lighting effects, sound cues and other trickery into an affecting narrative that teeters between all-out comedy and heart-rending tragedy, with a few songs from the era thrown in for good measure.

Like the way in which her wide-leg trousers, khaki jumper and two-tone brogues work to convey both 1940s landgirl style and traditional clowning costumes, Bruce’s biggest achievement is her balancing act and via her inventive stagecraft and charismatic persona she revitalises national wartime myths. Not bad for a clown.

Fringe Review – ★★★★★

A woman waits at a railway station, clutching the much read letter with news of her husband’s return from the war. The train comes, but he doesn’t, so she waits for the next train. While she waits she shows us her war, her life on the home front – made up of the minutiae of daily life. There is work, there is cooking and caring and sharing… and always the wait for news. Her war is punctuated by waiting for letters.

Waiting for Stanley is devised by Leela Bunce and Alexander Parsonage of ‘Finger in the Pie’ theatre and is based on the stories of women who lived through the war. So much reminded me of the stories my mother told me of her war as a young wife and mother.

This is fast paced physical theatre combining clowning, puppetry, mime and visual storytelling delivered with panache, humour and warmth. Bunce’s performance is outstanding, the pace never flags and each story element moves seamlessly into the next, punctuated at intervals by the next delivery of letters. Her endearing approach and carefully devised story pays tribute to all those women, who like my mother, got on with life while they waited for news of distant husbands.

One of the joys of mime is the way that, once an element is established, we need only the merest hint of it to know exactly what is happening. The sense of time passing shown by the journey each batch of letters becomes more economical with each rendition but we shared the joy or the disappointment with the same intensity.

The set is deceptively simple, a stack of suitcases in keeping with the starting point, a railway station, but nearly every one of those cases has a secret to reveal or contributes to the action in some way. Our imagination recreates the space as the interior of her home, her kitchen, the shelter… whilst the suitcases become kitchen tables, typewriters, a child’s bed…

The action is supported by a sound track evocative of the war years – the air raid siren, war time radio with cookery hints and music of the period. The action moves seamlessly from one story to the next often recasting a prop or suitcase en route. I particularly enjoyed the fruit bun dough morphing into Churchill via a scene as the baby.

The audience were drawn in throughout, at one point cast as fellow neighbours in the shelter, joining in a spirited rendition of A Bicycle Made for Two – she even had me dancings!

It was funny, evocative, sad and heart warming – I doubt I was the only one with a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye at times.

There is tremendous power in working without words, as an audience we have to concentrate, to watch. We hear by watching, there can be no glancing away as we might in other shows leaving the story to reach our brains via slightly inattentive ears. It is a quite different experience and, as someone who tends to be rather text bound, I found my gradually increasing awareness of the subtle details of the visual story one of the joys of watching an expert at work.

This show offers so much more than an entertaining hour for physical theatre enthusiasts – it is a master class for any performer, as well as a poignant reminder of the incredible resilience of our mothers and grandmothers who fought on the home front.

Sweeney Todd: His Life Times and Execution – 2009 / 2011

Time Out – ★★★★ CRITICS CHOICE

ʻWe fell head over heals for this show, dark, funny, aesthetically stunning. Plus puppets having sex. Whatʼs not to love.ʼ

Three Weeks – ★★★★★

Upon my arrival today I was escorted to my seat by an actress immersed in her grotesquely voluptuous character and offered favours of a nature too explicit to detail here. It set the scene perfectly for this darkly comic show. All five actors shone brightly with compelling portrayals and a radiant rapport that was evident at all times. Production values were high, with fantastically designed costumes, superbly grisly make up and what I hope was only authentic-looking fake blood; any amount of detailed hard work has clearly been put into this immensely enjoyable production. I rejected the opportunity last year to see Johnny Depp’s portrayal in the Hollywood version of this story. A regrettable decision, if the film’s anywhere near as good as this.

Broadway Baby – ★★★★★

The sights, smells and sounds of eighteenth century London live on in the Gilded Balloonʼs Debating Hall. The cast warmly welcome you into a smoky, straw-strewn room, clutching you by the hand and offering shots of gin. Itʼs Monday. Itʼs 2.15. Itʼs hanging time. In one hourʼs time the fiendish barber of Fleet Street will be strung up for your viewing pleasure. But before the main event, this gruesome group of players want to show you how Sweeney came to be minutes away from the noose.

First things first: this is not the Sondheim musical. It is not based on the Sondheim musical. In fact, with the exception of part of the title, there is no correlation between the Sondheim musical and this show. Finger in the Pie have created a whole new take on the Sweeney story with its roots in Vaudeville, German expressionism and silent comedy. Itʼs a delightful, funny and macabre piece that boasts a dazzlingly alliterative script and professional technical wizardry well beyond the average Fringe show.

The ensemble cast is excellent. Made up like Heath Ledgerʼs Joker, they each play a number of roles, as well as a variety of musical instruments. The piece requires accomplished physical performances that the cast respond to gleefully. Theyʼre like Gremlins: delighted by their wickedness, determined to involve the audience in their games and desperate to corrupt the virtuous. Which is where Frank Wurzingerʼs Sweeny Todd comes in. Gone is the bass-rumble of a broken man wronged by a judge all those years ago. Instead, Sweeney is now a boyish mute, whose life takes the shape of a Harold Lloyd or Chaplin film. His tragedy is not his pride or rage, but merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time… occasionally with razor blades. Itʼs an excellent and very watchable performance, remarkable for how much it tugs on the audienceʼs heartstrings despite the fact he never utters a word.

The technical elements of the production are as much characters in their own right as the excellent ensemble. Under a flickering amber candlelight that washes over the stage, we meet a young boy Sweeney puppet, who quakes in fear at the decadent world around him. Ingenious shadow puppetry and expressionistic short film sequences play onto a decaying yellowed screen. Itʼs a testament to Alexander Parsonageʼs direction that these moments never feel gimmicky or gratuitous but instead act as another tool to depict the depravity of London in greater depth.

My only problem with this production is that itʼs too short. I would have happily sat through another half-hour whilst this grisly gang told more of Sweeneyʼs story. The humour is pitch-black and wryly observed, the ensemble work tight and professional and the production is always surprising and genuinely enjoyable. A cut above the rest.

The List – ★★★★

Lashings of fake blood, ample busts and bawdy thrusts characterise this enjoyable and suitably grotesque adaptation. The twist here is that the killings are largely accidental, the killer a meek, clumsy and rather sweet boy. The puppetry is perhaps an extra dimension that didnʼt need to be added, but the music is wonderfully atmospheric and itʼs adeptly performed by the cast.

Onstage Scotland – ★★★★★

A penny dreadful with substance, this show brings new meaning to the term “gallows humour”. Each slice of visual beauty is filled with charming cabaret performers. There’s puppetry and thereʼs dance and thereʼs live music.

Tracking Sweeney Toddʼs life from cradle to noose, this is a witty celebration of his life in which shadow puppetry meets physical comedy and original music meets original talent, and which twins the Enlightenmentʼs drive for social betterment with the dog-eat-dog barbarism of everyday life in the east end of London.

This is fresh meat; a Sweeney unlike any other. Its flavour is wholly different from Stephen Sondheimʼs 1979 Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Frank Wurzingerʼs Sweeney is not a driven murderer but a careless clown, accidentally slaughtering the comic stereotypes of the British empire. Heʼs the Sorcerorʼs Apprentice with razor blades and the sweetest Todd ever to cut a cheek. Very tall but very meek. Lizzie Wortʼs saucy Mrs Lovett is the spirit of east end sleaze, a cocky wench from Gin Lane who you would still ask to dine. The cast are spectacular fun. Their humour and manner is similar to the madcap performers at the Edinburgh Dungeons, personally welcoming the audience into the auditorium but firmly keeping a distance during the performance. Shattering the fourth wall before its victims are in their chairs, the jovial grotesqueness of Conrad Sharp, musical aptitude of Helen Taylor and comic charm of Alfie Boyd are instantly alluring.

The artistic style of the production is distinctly German expressionist; thereʼs something of the Tim Burton in the irregular angles of the set and pallid whiteness of the cartoonish make-up design. Flickering lights fall crisply on the performers evoking the crackling film of early nineteenth-century silent films, an appropriately apt reflection of Sweeneyʼs clownish muteness. Dust hangs in their wigs and catches the light beautifully, offering luscious tableaux rather reminiscent of old engravings.

A treat to be relished. I absolutely loved it.

Hairline – ★★★★★

Fact: there has never been a more inventive, clever and creepy adaptation of Sweeney Todd before. What ʻFinger in the pieʼ company have done is a bold move, moving away from the renowned Broadway musical, and reinvented Sweeneyʼs story for the new theatre-goer. With its blend of puppetry, live music, vaudeville and some of the best acting seen in the Fringe this year, ʻFinger in the pieʼ have created a beautiful, perfect production, that will have you both at the edge of your seat awaiting for what comes next, and at the same time, laughing out loud.

Though the story follows more or less the same basic idea of a kid that grows up to be the best barber in town, Sweeney isnʼt the strong character we know him to be, but a creation of society and misfortune, who have shaped him to become what he finally is: a murderer. But, in this case, a murderer by mistake, by trial and error, and because of this, in his final moments, we donʼt have the gore-fest, supposedly redeeming quality of a public hanging, but the heartache of seeing someone who, without him wanting, has become the scorn of London in the 18th Century. We feel for Sweeney, we want Sweeney to succeed, not to perish for something he really didnʼt mean to do.

But fear not, this is not a drama, nor a soap opera, but a burlesque retelling of the barberʼs story, and an amazingly wonderful one, with all the actors playing different roles and prancing around on stage at all times, purposely overacting their characters for comedy effect. The set is beautifully presented from the start, when you enter to the room full of fog, and the actors help you find your seat. The props are stunning in their simplicity and their usefulness. The music fits wonderfully with the circus-like production.There is nothing to fault, and far too much to praise, ʻSweeney Todd: His Life, Times and Execution!ʼ is, without a doubt, the best show this year.

Remote Goat – ★★★★★

There’s a reason this production has been so highly critically acclaimed. It’s because it’s awesome. This modern adaption of a classic tale from “Finger in the Pie Theatre” has more laughs, blood and innuendos than you are likely to see in any other theatre, anywhere.

Not knowing quite what to expect, as I queued in anticipation to enter the auditorium, the pandemonium began as the actors, who were in their full costumes and make up, greeted us in their own unique way. This set a chilling tone, and created a tense atmosphere for the rest of the show which was, from the first minute, gripping. I found my seat, and awaited further antics as the actors wandered up and down the aisles welcoming the audience. The show started instantly, and we were plunged head first into the world of 18th Century London.

The story follows the life of Demon Barber Sweeney Todd. His portrayal, played by Frank Wurzinger was fresh and original. He was a stunning physical actor, and without speaking a single word in the play, a real sense of empathy was felt for him at the climax. Alongside him were four other young actors, whose talents were endless. Besides the acting, they entertained the audience as puppeteers, jugglers and multi- instrumentalists. As well as this, each switched from one character to another effortlessly and skilfully.

The comedy was outrageous, and razor sharp. There were a countless number of innuendos from the start, and the humour was extremely dark. It never descended into typical theatre cliche however, and the jokes were innovative and irrepressibly funny. It was relentless, and a laugh a minute ensured the audience was left hungry for more at the end. This was truly my only criticism of this production. It flew by – it was over within an hour – and it left the audience wishing the play had lasted longer. Nevertheless, I could not wipe the smile off my face, and was thoroughly entertained throughout the show.

The gory effects, in their hilarious simplicity, added to the impact of the play.

There was no high budget. Instead there was simply one set, five actors, one smoke machine, a few puppets, gallons of fake blood and a finger in the pie. What does this equal? The answer – a recipe for success.