Monthly Archives: February 2018

Cinderella

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 27 February

The essence of a fairy-tale is that it has neither time nor roots to ground it. So Matthew Bourne’s riff on Cinderella takes place not n 16th century Germany, nor early 18th century France, nor even the early 19th century of Rossini’s opera but London during the Blitz.

Bourne and Etta Murfitt keep the basic elements of the story – the daughter turned into a drudge by her father’s second wife and her children, the intervention of a quasi-supernatural force to bring her to the man who will marry her – but translates the family and the price into characters we recognise from the classic iconic films dealing with the Second World War.

Prokofiev’s score has been prerecorded and transformed into surround sound (Paul Groothuis and Brett Morris) as at the cinema. The colour palette used by Lez Brotherston (set and costumes) and by Neil Austin (lighting) and Duncan McLean (projections) is predominantly monochrome.

The cast I saw is led by Ashley Shaw as Cinderella, Liam Mower as the silver-clad Angel who guards and guides her – and will go on once the happy ending is achieved to work magic for another disconsolate soul – and Dominic North as the wounded pilot Harry.

Fine characterisations also come from Dan Wright as the foot-fetish stepbrother and Mark Samaras as his youngest brother. Madelaine Brennan’s Stepmother, drink- and man-obsessed with a protective attitude to her own brood that leads her down increasingly nasty paths, is equally eye-riveting.

Shaw, both as the drudge and the beautiful young woman has the measure of the turns and lifts Bourne gives her which echo the angularities of the score. it is a cast which acts as well as dances, well demonstrated by North, Brennan and Mower. 70-odd years ago is for most of us an era vanished into smoke. But what else is a fairy-tale, even an adult one?

Four and a half-star rating.

Cinderella continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 3 March with matinées on 1 and 3 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Reviews 2018

Strangers on a Train

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 26 February

It’s deservedly a classic of its genre. Craig Warner’s stage adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s first crime novel is literate and dramatically at ease in its multitudinous settings. Director Anthony Banks and designers David Woodhead (sets and costumes) and Duncan McLean (video and projections) have done it proud.

That also goes for the performances, led by Chris Harper as Charles Bruno and Jack Ashton as Guy Haines. Harper has the flamboyant measure of the footloose ne’er-do-well with an over-indulgent mother (the excellent Helen Anderson) and a father who keeps him on a tight financial rein.

Ashton as the visionary architect attempting to shed an unfaithful wife in favour of marriage to Anne Faulkner (Hannah Tointon) paces the moral disintegration of a man likely to lose career and marital happiness through one moment of weakness impeccably.

The tension builds as one crime begets another. Quietly knitting together the shreds of information he has painstakingly gathered is John Middleton’s Arthur Gerard, the investigator originally retained by Bruno senior and kept on by his (now) widow.

Good cameos of Haines’ colleague and the friend who offers him a chance to build his dream white bridge in Canada come from Owen Findlay and Sandy Bachelor. It’s a story without a hero – just two anti-heroes (one of whom so desperately tries to evade the rôle) – and the people swept up in their wake.

Overall, the heroes of this production are the designers’ visual ones. Stylised reality sometimes works better than a simulacrum. This is the case with this production.

Four star rating.

Strangers on a Train runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre as part of a national tour until 3 March with matinées on 1 and 3 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Gallowglass

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 20 February

Gallowglass is one of the psychological crime novels which Ruth Rendell wrote under the name of Barbara Vine. It weaves numerous threads into the web of its story. It is a tale about the effect of the past on the present and adapter Margaret May Hobbs is skillful in the way she draws us into the mystery.

We begin on one of Paddington Station’s Underground platforms. Joe Herbert, a young drifter is about to thrown himself under an incoming train but is prevented by Sandor Wincanton. He’s a young man on the graft in more ways than one, with a moneyed as well as troubled background.

The developing relationship of dependency between these two opposites is well brought out by Joe Eyre (Sandor), all black-clad educated arrogance, and Dean Smith (Joe), one of life’s malleable nonentities. Smith has the more difficult of the two rôles to sustain and gathers our sympathy as Joe is swept ever deeper into Sandor’s plans.

Central to these is former model Nina Abbott (Florence Cady). Nina is now the wife of an older wealthy East Anglian landowner, the second such match she has made. In the course of her previous marriage she had suffered a horrendous kidnapping; the fear that history might repeat itself sears both herself and her husband Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh).

As protection for her he hires Paul Garnett (Paul Opacic), a man who has to make a stable home for his young daughter Jessica (Eva Sayer) while sorting out the fallout from his failed marriage. Then there’s another appointee to the Apsoland staff – Colombo (Matthew Wellman) who doesn’t quite to fit in.

Sandor’s doting mother Diana is also on the periphery; Karen Drury gives her gullibility pathos in her two scenes. Joe’s foster-sister Tilley is a far more lively and brash personality; Rachael Hart gives this young woman in a camper-van a sharp edge, of the sort born from experience.

Director-designer Michael Lunney sprawls the fast-moving action through fast-changing locations with a judicious use of scenes played in front of projected backgrounds with appropriate sound effects (White Tip Media) alternating with realistic room settings split across the stage.

It does keep the action – and therefore the tension – fast-flowing but perhaps inevitably never quite allows the fullness of the characterisations to mature. For example, Cady’s Nina seems almost a shadow in her own drama and Walsh’s Ralph remains a conventional two-dimensional country toff. Opacic and Eyre break out of this mist, perhaps because their parts have more of an extended edge.

Four star rating.

Gallowglass runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 24 February with matinées on 22 and 24 February. The Middle Ground Theatre Company tour is also at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff (Southend) between 24 and 28 April.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Teddy

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 19 February

“The world is bigger than the Walworth Road”. In 2018 it’s all too easy to forget just how distant the horizon was for the young people of 1958. The sort of trips abroad which are a regular event for so many of school age weren’t even a pipe dream.

London was still pock-marked by the Blitz bombing, the old certainties had crumbled with it but work prospects for school-leavers were largely narrow ones. Single-parent families were another war by-product with fathers never returning from active service.

Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine’s musical Teddy takes us into that vanished world. One in which money (mainly in the form of a parental weekly dole-out of shillings and pence) was in short supply but the Teddy Boys and their girl-friends still made the most of it.

This Watermill Theatre musical directed by Eleanor Rhode is the latest in a succession of small-scale shows to go on tour. Central to the action is the eponymous Teddy (George Parker) who preens and postures in his second-hand frock-coat and the girl he takes up with.

She’s called Josie. Molly Chesworth shows us how much the screen glitter of a Hollywood lifestyle – luxurious Cadillacs, endless sunshine, beautiful and pristine beaches – becomes an obsession, leading both her and Teddy into dangerous territory.

The two play all the parts, including the louche bully boy who can’t work out how on earth Josie could possibly not fancy his attentions. Those early rock’n’roll sounds are provided by a four-person band at stage right and become characters in their own right.

Dylan Wood is the lead singer with musical director Harrison White, Freya Parks and Andrew Gallow. Tom Jackson-Greaves’s choreography is energetic and in period, and the designers Max Dorey (set), Christopher Nairne (lighting) and Holly Rose Henshaw (costumes) add to the atmosphere.

Four star rating.

Teddy runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 24 February with matinées on 21 and 24 February. It can also be seen at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 19 and 24 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Rope

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 17 February

Pride goes before a fall. Arrogance can lead to the long drop. This new production by Douglas Rintoul of Patrick Hamilton’s classic suspense drama Rope makes that very clear.

Mark Dymock’s lighting combines with the sense right from the opening sequence of the events onstage being played out in real-time combine to create an unnerving atmosphere. There are laughs generated by witty, almost akin to Wilde, dialogue as well as by some of the characterisations.

But we are never left in doubt that Bandon’s charm is precariously draped over a ruthless, immoral personality. George Kemp balances both aspects impeccably. His adversary is war-wounded Rupert Cadell, a man  left with a limp and a combat-induced sense of right and wrong.

Sam Jenkins-Shaw makes the man who is in many ways the author’s mouthpiece into something of an early 20th century equivalent of one of the 17th century’s Civil War Ironsides. He brings out that Cromwellian sense of justice as well as his impatience with the Bright Young Things living in and for the present.

They are personified in Fred Lancaster’s Raglan and Phoebe Sparrow’s Leila Arden. Lancaster brings out the innate decency of this apparently lightweight socialite while Sparrow’s portrait of a flapper also lets us see he good manners and helpfulness under the posturing.

Brandon’s weak link is his partner in crime. James Sutton’s Granillo is an excellent study in a weak man growing ever more desperate as the enormity of what he has been made to do increasingly weighs him down. There are also three well-contrasted cameo performances.

These come from Cara Chase as Lady Kentley, still ignorant mother of the victim, Nico Pimparé as the servant Sabot – his meticulous laying out of the supper is a joy to watch – and Janet Amsden as Mrs Debenham, Lady Kentley’s monosyllabic poor relation.

insidious throughout is Yvonne Gilbert’s soundscape with the muted telephone bell, the crackly wireless searched for dance music and the weather outside Brandon’s bachelor flat. Ruari Murchison has furnished this cleverly, from the up-to-date Art Deco sideboard and reproduction Renaissance chest to the Victorian chaise longue and chairs.

Four and a half-star rating.

Rope continues at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 3 March with matinées on 22, 24 February, 1 and 3 March. The co-production transfers to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from 7 to 17 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Art

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 15 February

This new tour of Yasmina Reza’s play is directed by Ellie Jones with a starkly white set by Mark Thompson and intriguing lighting by Hugh Vanstone that suggest the timeless-placeless quality which is so cleverly brought out in Christopher Hampton’s translation.

Art is the story of three long-time friends in modern Paris whose relationship is suddenly tested when one of them, Serge (Nigel Havers), buys a contemporary painting which at first glance is simply a white canvas.

Neither fellow-professional Marc (Denis Lawson) not the third member of the trio, not-so-successful businessman Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson) can bring himself to approve.

Marc’s taste is conventional; Yvan’s appreciation of art is limited to his own father’s amateur efforts. Neither wish to offend their friend; neither can disguise that the acquisition not simply leaves him cold. Marc’s reaction is more confrontational; Yvan has his forthcoming wedding on his mind with the extended family disagreements this has brought to the surface.

It’s beautifully paced, with a snap-scond timing which never falters. Marc’s mounting frustration at being unable to convince Serge that he’s wasted his money and (what’s worse) damaged his standing with his closest friends as a result is beautifully nuanced by Lawson.

Havers communicates Serge’s equal sense of having his artistic judgement queried and belittled; urbanity can be only skin-deep in certain circumstances. Tompkinson makes the most of Yvan’s own frustration – this is not really to do with art of any kind. Rather it concerns his family tussles over the wording of the wedding invitation with his mother and stepmother battling for precedence.

His extended tirade (in the proper French sense of the word) deserves the round of applause is receives. The play’s quietly open ending is underlined by the final sequence, when the white painting, after its own adventures, is finally hung. You are left feeling that this is certainly not the end of the story.

Things swept temporarily under the carpet have a nasty habit of re-emerging at inopportune moments.

Five-star rating.

Art continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 February with matinées on 17, 22 and 24 February. The national tour runs until 9 June  and includes the Norwich Theatre Royal (23-28 April) and the Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton (14-19 May)

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

A Brave Face

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 8 February

Post Traumatic Stress is a fact of both military and civilian life. The former also impinges on the latter.

Family, friends, employers and the medical profession all attempt to deal with a person whose life has been blistered by experiences they can scarcely understand and which are outside (for the most part) their personal acquaintance.

Vamos Theatre under its founder-director Rachael Savage specialises in full-mask mime. As in classic Greek theatre, the mask both hides the identity of the actor and allows each audience member to make of the character portrayed what he or she will.

Mime makes us concentrate – there are no words to distract from what we are seeing. This full-length production does have sound, created and mixed by Janie Armour and Adrian Northover. Carl Davies’ sets and costumes with Mark Parry’s projections and Russell Dean’s masks draw it all together.

The story is simple enough. Two young men Ryan (James Greaves) and Jimmy (Sean Kempton) join the Army in 2009. Ryan’s mother (Angela Laverick) and young sister Katie (Joanna Holden) see them off on this life-changing adventure.

It takes them to Afghanistan, completely alien in culture, faith and politics to th men of their platoon. Khatera (Holden) is a young village girl, with much the same teasing attitude to Ryan as his kid sister back at home.

Then something happens in the village. Something so traumatic for Ryan that he sins his life out of all control. Discharged, he can’t settle to a job, brushes his mother and sister aside and sinks so deep into depression that the pills prescribed by an overworked doctor seem to offer the simplest way out.

Does he take it? That you have to find out for yourself. It’s important to remember that, though the theme is serious, the staging has its lighter-hearted moments. Camaraderie is understandably a support mechanism.

Most evenings show us British and Allied troops coping with strange places and even stranger customs. Atrocities do occur; it’s difficult for the lay person to place these in true context.

At the curtain call, the cast take off their masks to reveal their own faces. It is a strength of Savage’s meticulously researched production that we feel we know the person behind the mask more completely than the performer when bare-faced.

Five star rating.

A Brave Face is at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester also on 9 February. The national and international tour until 30 May includes the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich ( 23 February), the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds (23 April), Hertford Theatre (1 May), the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (2 May), the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford (5 May), Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes (11 May) and the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford (12 May).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018

Teechers

reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 6 February

The debate about education has long deep roots; they probably stretch back to the first lessons which passed on wisdom of various kinds from the experienced to their juniors.

John Godber’s 1987 play within a play Teechers is therefore as relevant to 2017 as at any previous time and, regrettably, likely to be so for the future. Adrian McDougall’s production for Blackeyed Theatre is energetic and admirably suited to school-age members of the audience.

Those of us with academics of various sorts in the family have heard this debate many times, and I have seen several previous productions. This one is loud and suitably brash with the three performers bringing clarity to the teenagers and adults they portray.

Scott Jenkins’ choreography is precision-sharp as three tables and chairs all-but take on a life of their own as scene intercuts with scene. Rosalind Seal obviously relishes the part of Mrs Parry, the head of a school in special measures who has taken care to send her children to a much grander establishment.

Then there’s Nicole Black as a collection of pupils with rampant hormones, and at least one teacher also in need of a mate. Between Seal and Black’s gallery of characterisations one understands why their view of the future is so bleak that they want to blot it out with the present.

A drama teacher fresh out of college Jeff Nixon is the lamb thrown to the wolf-packs of Whitehall High School. Jake Adley shows us how his ideals gradually blunt until he eventually accepts the superior post offered by the well-equipped, properly-funded dedicated-staff prospect offered by nearby St  George’s School.

So, what place have the arts in the average school curriculum when the emphasis is weighted towards “core” subjects and a school’s prosperity rests on its examination results in those subjects? If you’re reading this review of a dramatised debate about education, then I’m probably preaching to the converted.

The question remains, how do we convert the non-believers? School parties tends to be on the side of the arts already. Perhaps whole tranches of heads, administrators, school governors and funders at national, regional and local levels could be bussed in to Teechers – and then examined on the play and its messages…

Four star rating.

Teechers is at the Norwich Playhouse also on 7 February and then on national tour until 29 March including the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes (19-20 February, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (26-28 February), the Key Theatre, Peterborough (5 March), the Towngate Theatre, Basildon (8-9 March), the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (12-13 March) and the Broadway Theatre, Letchworth (14 March)

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Pressure

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 5 February

D-Day – 6 June 1944 – is one of those dates branded into the national consciousness. David Haig’s play Pressure takes a lesser-known aspect of the event, but arguably the most crucial. it concerns the accurate forecasting of the weather between 4 and 6 June.

As in all good conflict dramas, there are balanced opposing sides. General Eisenhower, as Allied Supreme Commander, had the responsibility for timing the Normandy invasion force with maximum effect and minimal life loss.

He relied on the forecasting skills of Colonel Irving P Krick, who had also worked for Hollywood, most notably with the timing of some of the most spectacular scenes in Gone With the Wind. The British specialist was Dr James Stagg. a dour Scots meteorologist with Group Captain status.

Krick, with his Clark Gable moustache, comes over as plausible, if pig-headed in Philip Cairns portrait of the man. One of the strengths of John Dove’s production is the way that Haig’s characterisation of Stagg never plays directly for our liking, let alone understanding, until the man’s innate integrity draws us into sympathy. Almost in spite of ourselves.

The fourth important character is the Irish driver and assistant Kay Summersby. Laura Rogers shows us a woman at war on more than one front. Her relationship with Eisenhower is something of a pipedream; she has been trailed in the wake of greatness, but that – as Rogers suggests – is a path with no defined ending.

All the drama – political, military, professional and personal – comes to a head in the second act when strain and both physical and mental fatigue allow the human sides of the three main characters to emerge. It’s superbly paced, notably by Malcolm Sinclair’s portrait of Eisenhower but also as Stagg clings on to his one certainty.

That’s his belief that there will be a ferocious storm in the Channel on the original D-Day date. As his wife goes into labour, we watch the cost of duty threaten to swamp his human need to be with his wife (her previous labour had also been difficult).

The past, in LP Hartley’s phrase, may be a foreign country where they do things differently. The skill of Haig’s play and Dove staging of it as that we, the audience, can step into that vanished world and for a time feel ourselves truly part of it.

Five star rating.

Pressure runs at the Cambridge Arts theatre until 10 February at the start of a national tour which continues to 24 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Birdsong

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 1 February

A largely re-cast revival of Rachel Wagstaff’s revised stage version of Sebastian Faulks’ novel has just started a national tour. it’s the fourth , and we’re told, the final one. Tim Treloar returns in dominant form as Jack Firebrace, the First World War sapper recruited from his peacetime job as a tunneller for London’s underground network expansion.

Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters’ production uses Victoria Spearing’s two-level, multi-location set to take us from the grim reality of trench warfare along the Somme in 1916 to the apparently idyllic world of prewar Amiens. Only apparently – for industrialist René Azaire is a dictator alike to his children and his wife.

Madeleine Knight is Isabelle, the abused trophy wife who captures the heart of Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay), who is sent to Amiens by his guardian to learn about mechanical innovations in 1910 and who finds himself six years later newly commissioned and on the front line.

The worlds of Firebrace and his fellow Tommies and that of the learning-on-the-job officers who command them are both distant and close. Wraysford has lost Isabelle and Firebrace knows from his wife’s letters that their only son John is in hospital with diphtheria, a near death-sentence in those days before antibiotics. They clash before each man recognises part of himself in the other.

It is subtly staged as flashbacks illuminate the grim confined present. James Findlay’s violin and melodeon playing shadows the action as the miscellany of characters step momentarily out of the underground doom to reveal fragments of their past life and personalities.

Treloar and Kay dominate and are thoroughly convincing. Knight’s Isabelle is overly subdued, in contrast to her precocious daughter Lisette (Olivia Bernstone); she may be the nominal heroine of the story but seems reluctant to step fully into its limelight. Women of all the combatant countries at home suffered, and this Faulks emphasises. But it was their menfolk who paid an even heavier price for what we now know was a short-lived peace.

Four star rating.

Birdsong runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 3 February with matinées on 1 and 3 February. The tour also includes the Cambridge Arts Theatre between 14 and 19 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018