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Be Prepared and Other Stories
Published on Wednesday, 25 May 2011

4.5 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
20-22 May, 1:00pm-2:00pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

I spent the first half of Matthew Bellwood's sweet, welcoming, thoughtful show trying to nail who he reminded me of. Then I got it. With his soft-spoken Northern accent, his gentle stories of life's little moments and his downplayed but definite campness, he sounded almost exactly like Alan Bennett. I'm not sure why it took me so long to work it out - perhaps because Bellwood is still in his 20s.

Bellwood is a storyteller. In this show, he presents tales about his own life which, he admits, is uneventful. One theme that recurs is fear of the unknown; how indecisiveness can be far more destructive than any imagined consequence of a bold move. Several stories end on a downbeat note, with Bellwood failing to make the braver, righter choice and moving on through his life never knowing what would have happened if he'd somehow been a better man.

There was only one story I didn’t like. In No Eggs, Bellwood muses that he will never have children because he has no ovaries - which seems to have slightly missed the biological point - and also ponders whether women ever have babies as fashion accessories. In amongst the clever, profound ideas in is other stories, this observation couldn’t escape seeming trite and unoriginal.

But that was one of ten stories, and that's a pretty good hit rate. In the stand-out tale, and the one from which the show takes its title, Bellwood is trapped in the back of a taxi whilst the driver asks him a series of friendly but rather odd questions about his gay lifestyle. Bellwood tries to be polite and informative, but stays constantly on edge - unsure where all this is leading, worried it might be heading towards violence.

It's actually going somewhere else entirely, and the concluding spin Bellwood puts on it lifts it further still. As with most of the others, in this story we're hearing about a unique situation that happened to Bellwood himself, but his unease and frustration is something anyone could empathise with. So while the themes of the stories are life's minutiae, the magic is the sleight of hand Bellwood uses to transform these simple tales into the stuff of life, of humanity and of universal experiences. A clever, witty show - moving, enlightening and wise.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.