Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Fox on the Fairway

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 29 August

Ken Ludwig’s programme note for the UK première of his A Fox on the Fairway contains a pointed reminder to critics in its audience that farce is a matter of joy, of catharsis through laughter. It is a specific theatrical genre and has to be accepted on its own terms.

The production by Philip Wilson should, when it has fully settled in, be seen in this context. The best farce stagings give a sense of effortless ensemble work, and this hasn’t yet quite jelled – though you can’t fault the timing of the proliferating sequences of entrance and exit through swing  and terrace doors.

We are in a golf clubhouse with a well-detailed set by Colin Falconer which transform smoothly into the course itself for the final scene, which culminates in a sort of Morris dance with golf-clubs choreographed by Sally Beck Wippman. The story concerns the rivalry between a visiting team and the resident one which comes to its head with a tournament.

There’s a pair of young lovers – Louise Hindbedder (Ottilie Mackintosh) and Justin Hicks (Romayne Andrews), both club employees but with hidden fairway talents. Henry Bingham (Damien Matthews) is the harassed Quail Valley club manager with Simon Lloyd as his more-than-brash opposite number Richard “Dickie” Bell.

Also involved in the romantic and sporting confusions are divorcée Pamela Peabody (Natalie Walter) and Henry’s battle-axe of a wife Muriel (Sarah Quist), a lady who packs a mean punch. With the possible exception of “Dickie” with his repertoire of gaudy sweaters and trousers, the audience finds itself firmly rooting for the well-acted characters to find happy solutions to their problems.

Which is just what happens. of course it does. It’s great fun while it lasts – even if you don’t begin to understand the finer nuances of the game.

Four and a half-star rating.

A Fox on the Fairway runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 16 September with matinées on 31 August and 9 September.

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The Man Upstairs

reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 26 August

A Patrick Hamilton psychological thriller is always good value; the twists and turns of the plot – given good direction and acting – make it something more than just a couple of hours’ theatrical entertainment. The Man Upstairs doesn’t disappoint.

It’s the final new production in the 2017 Suffolk Summer Theatres season and is directed by Phil Clark who balances the interleaved tension and comedic moments well. Tori Cobb’s set evokes the 1954 setting admirably and Miri Birch’s costumes are properly in period.

Quiet, reclusive bachelor George Longford (James Morley) plans an evening with his beloved books as his sole company. His flat is part of a house owned by Sir Charles Waterbury (Michael Shaw) who has rigged up an ingenious communication system between their two living spaces.

That quiet evening is interrupted dramatically. First on the scene is Darrell Brockis as Cyrus Armstrong, a gimlet-eyed ex-commando on the warpath in connexion with his sister’s virtue (or lack of it). Then his mother (Barbara Horne) intervenes, then Cyrus’ brother Henry and finally the wronged maiden Brenda (Naomi Evans).

And that title? it’s a word-play of course, with Sir Charles as one of its facets. Both Morley and Horne are excellent, playing off each other during their long exchanges while we in the audience concentrate on evaluating their characters. Brockis does tend to dominate, but villains always have the best lines…

Four star rating.

The Man Upstairs runs at the Southwold Arts Centre until 9 September with matinées on 31 August, 5 and 9 September.

 

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Our Day Out

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 25 August

Willy Russell’s 1970s musical for a large cast of school-age performers and five adult professional actors may have a Liverpool and north Wales setting, but it has settled down comfortably in Suffolk, as the new Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal production makes evident.

The story concerns a class (or two) of youngsters from the sort of school which Ofsted might well rank as “failing”. They are of mixed abilities with scant interest in education but enthusiasm for exploring their burgeoning sexuality and for making mischief. Not to say, mayhem.

Directors Karen Simpson and David Whitney have coaxed some impressive performances from the Young Company members, notably from Abigail Laker as slow-learner Amy, so prone to being bullied (a quartet of hoodies makes this clear from the beginning) and wanting something different, something better which she’s unable to articulate.

Lauren Slade and Eloise Probitts as a pair of “it’s all so boring” pupils, also Robyn Painter and Jamie Musora as the two with a crush on dishy young teacher Mark McDevit (George Brockbanks) also give stand-out characterisations.

Attempting to keep order, limit the damage (literally) and ensure that the outing both begins and ends with a full complement of staff and students are McDevit’s colleagues Katie Appleby (Georgia Richardson, making her professional stage début) and Mrs Kay (Beth Tuckey).

The irascible head-teacher is Mr Briggs (James Hirst. Crag Stevenson plays the put-upon lollypop-man, the coach driver and an enraged zoo keeper who finds that some distinctly unauthorised animal liberation has been taking place. All five offer fully rounded portraits of their contrasting characters.

Musical director David Lewington keeps the songs in time and in tune. Choreographer Julia Cave stretches her young performers who respond to the challenge. Designer Heidi McEvoy-Swift has devised an ingenious set of large square boxes which are subject to arrangement as locations shift. Dave Thwaites’ lighting incorporates a clever use of projections.

Our Day Out runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 2 August with matinée performances on 26 and 30 August and 2 September.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

The Wedding Singer

reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 15 August

Yet another stage version of a musical film is on tour this summer. This time it’s The Wedding Singer, set in the 1980s (how long ago that now seems!) and decorated with hit numbers of the period.

The story centres on Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) who really wants to compose his own songs for his band – friends Sammy (Ashley Emerson) and George (Samuel Holmes) – but who scrapes a living by singing at weddings.

Robbie is engaged to Linda (Tara Verloop), but she jilts him (literally) at the altar and his only consolation comes from grandmother Rosie (Ruth Madoc) and waitress Julia (Cassie Compton), herself on the verge of becoming engaged to businessman Glen (Ray Quinn).

You can guess how it all pans out.

Under musical director Sean Green the numbers go with a swing, even if none of them are particularly memorable, and the choreography of director Nick Winston is excellent and very well performed. Designers Francis O’Connor (set and costumes), Ben Cracknell (lighting) and Jack Henry James (video projections) use the stage imaginatively.

Both Compton and Verloop have strong voices and personalities to match while Robyns makes as much as he can of the title character; Robbie’s a nice guy but one wonders if he’ll ever make the big time, even with Julia (and grandma)’s help. Madoc as usual steals all the scenes she’s in.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Wedding Singer runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 19 August with an early evening performance on 18 August and matinées on 16 an 19 August.

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The Prisoner of Zenda

reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 7 August

Anthony Hope added a new word to the English language in  1894 – Ruritania – with The Prisoner of Zenda. The romantic adventure novel  was quickly adapted for the stage by Edward Rose (cast of thousands) and has been filmed countless times (likewise).

Mark Sterling’s version keeps the multiple settings, from palace and cathedral to forest hunting-lodge and gloomy castle dungeon but manages it all with a cast of seven. Tory Cobb has thrown in one of Suffolk Summer Theatre’s specialities (a train sequence) for good measure. Miri Birch’s costumes work better for the women than for the men.

The story concerns the disputed monarchy of one of those turbulent Balkan states sandwiched between two fading but still powerful empires – the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman – fiercely independent, proud of its traditions but wary of its neighbours. The about-to-be-crowned king is Rudolf V; his envious illegitimate half-brother Michael wants to take his place.

A proposed marriage between Rudolf and his cousin Flavia (who herself has a claim to the throne) is a further complication, as is Michael’s mistress Antoinette du Maubin. Then there’s Rudolf’s double, a folk-melody enthusiast from England, Rudolf Rassendyll. Not to mention Michael’s dashingly sinister wheeler-dealer factotum Rupert of Hentzau.

That hard-working cast take it all as seriously as it should do. Joe Leat’s double of the wine-addicted king and the English gentleman who takes his place at the behest of loyal Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim is very well contrasted, the one all sodden self-pity and the other reluctantly dashing.

Rick Savery is suitably sinister as Michael, though Saul Boyer didn’t (for me on the opening night) quite strike the right note for a man who takes such pleasure and pride in manipulating others. Clive Flint’s Sapt and Tom Slatter’s Fritz are stalwart in their military attempts to keep the monarchy in place, whatever their personal feelings about the incumbant.

In this version,  Amy Christina Murray as Princess Flavia has more to do than just be the decorative object of Rassendyll’s self-sacrificing love, an updating which works in the context. Sarah Ogley’s Antoinette is also more than her dark mirror image. Richard Blaine stages an excellent couple of sword fights, though the costume department could surely have provided sheathes for them when not in use.

Noisy scene changes will presumably quieten down and be slicker (too many glimpses of the people effecting them on the opening night) as the run and its transfers progress. One query – in the last meeting between restored king and his English saviour, why does Rasendyll have dark hair when he and the king have been much lighter throughout?

Four star rating.

The Prisoner of Zenda runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 12 August with matinées on 10 and 12 August. It transfers to the Southwold Arts Centre between 15 and 26 August and can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from 6 to 9 September.

 

 

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Peter Pan

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 2 August

JM Barrie’s play is most often seen nowadays in a Christmas pantomime version, complete with Dame. I suspect that’s what many in the audience were expecting, especially the very youngest children. What we saw is a tactful adaptation of the script by Daniel Buckroyd and Matthew Cullum (who also co-direct) with an original score by Richard Reeday.

The settings of Simon Kenny invite you to let your imaginations work – and roam. They’re deceptively simple with items manoeuvred into place by the cast of eight or swirls furling across the stage as locations shift. There’s a clever crocodile, a bath-boat and well-sustained lifts and movement for the flying sequences.

Emilio Iannucci’s Peter has the right blend of juvenile two-dimensional attitudes, athleticism and a dangerous touch of feral quality. Charlotte Mafham as Wendy shows us the inherent motherly qualities of the teenage daughter with only younger brothers; you can see why the children invading the stage at the end of the play gravitated towards her.

Mischievous, jealous Tinker Bell, in Alicia McKenzie’s portrait, makes a good contrast with Sara Lessore’s self-controlled Tiger Lily. Pete Ashmore doubles paterfamilias Mr Darling and Captain Hook (definitely no Eton alumnus) with Katharine Moraz as his wife and pirate Smee. James Peake is a properly exuberant Nana and lost-boy Slightly.

Some of the music is pre-recorded but the cast play various instruments, including Peake with a tuba, a piano and a variety of strings and woodwind. The evocative lighting is by Mark Dymock with sound design by Christopher Bogg.

Four star rating.

Peter Pan runs with an early evening start time at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 August with matinées on 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25 and 26 August.

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Tom, Dick and Harry

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 1 August

Twelve years ago, attitudes were – if not more generous – less chauvinistically entrenched than today. Tom, Dick and Harry, co-written by master farceur Ray Cooney and his son Michael, has the attitudes to migration from conflicted European and Mediterranean countries, adoption and to the disposal of body-parts after research of that time, not of ours.

Director David Janson has wisely kept the farce to the period of its original production. The situation set up at the beginning is simple. Linda (Rosanna Miles) and Tom (Darrell Brockis) are expecting a visit from an adoption agency which will determine that their home will be a suitable environment and that they will be responsible parents.

Tom’s basic problem is dual-faceted. He and Linda are short of the cash needed to buy their rented house outright and he has one of hs layabout brothers Dick (Rikki Lawton) “renting” the top of the house. The third sibling Harry (Bob Dobson) just about holds down a job as a porter at a teaching hospital while inventing pie-in-the-sky schemes for getting rich.

Having borrowed Dick’s van for a cross-channel “booze cruise”, Dick has returned not just with contraband amounts of brandy and cigarettes but also a brace of stowaway Kosovan refugees – Katerina (Melissa Clements) and her grandfather Andreas (James Morley). All of whom, together with some purloined human remains, are littering up the house.

Mrs Potter (Claire Jeater) from the adoption agency is due any minute now. You can guess the rest, even up to the intervention of the local PC (Michael Shaw) and the intrusion of the people-smuggling capo Boris (Richard Blaine). It’s all fast and furious with the brotherly trio earning applause when miming attempts to communicate with the non-English speaking Kosovans.

Tory Cobb has kept the setting simple, with the all-important doors – you can’t have a farce without them and they keep stage management busy – and a flight of stairs behind a simple(?) sofa and armchair. Jeater has a nice line in pursed-lip affrontedness and Morley thoroughly revels in Andreas’ trumpet-playing and weakness for the bottle. But the evening belongs to Tom, Dick and Harry.

Four star rating.

Tom, Dick and Harry runs at the Southwold Arts Centre until 12 August with matinées on 3, 5, 10 and 12 August. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 14 and 19 August with matinées on 17 and 19 August.

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The Railway Childen

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 31 July

How do you stage a family classic novel by E Nesbit which has already been filmed both for television and cinema many times? Particularly when the show on question is a touring one and the story involves trains and railway tunnels – not to mention London and remote country locations.

If you’re Paul Jepson, Exeter’s Northcott Theatre director, you call in a designer who knows how to combine realistic stage settings with clever projections – Timothy Bird in this instance – and let Dave Simpson’s script find its own space in this turn of the 19th into 20th century story.

It works excellently, thanks to some strong performances delivered with just the right sort of conviction to make 21st century children and teenagers accept the manners and conventions of more than 100 years ago.

Millie’s Turner as Roberta (known as Bobbie) and Joy Brook as her mother, coping with her husband’s mysterious arrest, a total loss of London-based income and the necessity of living as cheaply and low-profile as possible in the countryside, are both thoroughly credible, as is Katherine Carlton has sister Phyllis. Turner is particularly good as showing a teenager on the cusp of womanhood and learning to cope with unexpected responsibilities.

As the old gentleman who acts as a kind of deus ex machina to the family, Neil Savage gives an object lesson in how to make every line tell, with the aid of miking. Younger actors, please take note. Stewart Wright as station-master Perks, Will Richards and Andrew Joshi give stalwart support. The backdrops are well-lit by Dominic Jeffrey and the train and tunnel sequences make their own applause-worthy impact.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Railway Children runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 5 August with matinées on 2 and 5 August. it can also be seen at the Derngate Theatre, Northampton between 19 and 24 September.

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