Monthly Archives: July 2018

Funny Money

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 30 July

We’ve probably all done it at some time, haven’t we?. Picked up someone else’s coat, umbrella or bag in mistake for one’s own. Much farce is rooted in some such trivial occurrence going horrendously wrong.

Ray Cooney’s classic Funny Money, first staged in 1994, takes this situation to its natural, thoroughly illogical conclusion. Henry Perkins (Darrell Brockis) arrives home for his birthday dinner with a briefcase, outwardly the same as the one he went to the office with that morning.

Only it’s not.

This one doesn’t contain a half-eaten sandwich and left-over paperwork. it has over a million pounds in used notes. Wife Jean (Harriett Hare) is bemused. Best friends Betty (Claire Jeater) and Vic Johnson (Michael Shaw) are bemused.

Add two very different detectives to the mix (Charlotte Peak as Slater and Lee Hunter as Davenport) – not to mention a taxi-cab driver (Clive Flint) and a much-compressed passer-by (Richard Blaine) – and misunderstandings whirl ever faster.

Andy Powrie’s production keeps the pace frenetic but with split-second timing where it matters (in farce timing is the key to success). Brockis has a superbly deadpan semi-gormless expression as events spiral completely out of Henry’s control.

Harassed beyond her comprehension, it’s no wonder that Hare’s Jean heads for the gin-bottle. Shaw and Jeater act as perfect foils as Peak’s upright policewoman (who needs a body to be identified) contrasts with Hunter’s easily-corrupted officer.

Flint has fun with Bill, popping in at regular intervals to remark that the fare-meter is running overtime and wondering just who (and how many) are going to Heathrow for the Barcelona flight (or will it be Adelaide?).

Four and a half-star rating.

Funny Money runs at the Southwold Arts Centre until 18 August. There are no Friday or Sunday performances but matinées on 31 July, 7 and 14 August and early evening performances on 2, 4, 9, 11. 16 and 18 July. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 21 August and 1 September. There are early evening performances on 23, 25, 30 August and 1 September.

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A Daughter’s A Daughter

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 23 July

Mother love. It’s unconditional, isn’t it? Daughterly devotion. That’s reciprocal, isn’t it? Agatha Christie’s play, set in the aftermath of the Second World War, is based on her original novel and cuts through layers of family gloss to reveal some very stark bones.

Sarah (Rosanna Miles) has just returned from war duties to her widowed mother’s London flat. She expects that nothing will have changed in four years – but it has. Ann (Naomi Evans) has found a new man, pleasant thoroughly dependable Richard (Rick Savery).

To say that Sarah resents him is to put it mildly (and politely, which of course she doesn’t do). She has a suitor herself, post-demob footloose Jerry (Tom Girvin), but all she wants is to have her mother exclusively to herself. Her godmother Laura (Tess Wojtczak) and housekeeper Edith (Laura Cox) can see how wrong this all is but can change nothing.

Some years later, and Sarah has made a disastrous marriage, to man-about-town Lawrence (Morgan Thrift. Richard has found a new life in the countryside with Doris (India Rushton-Dray). Mother and daughter are still together, but the cracks in their relationship are now more than surface ones.

The dialogue is intense and Evans has a tendency to take some of it too fast. Overall Phil Clark’s production, thanks to Tory Cobb’s set and Miri Birch’s costume sequences for Ann and Sarah – shades of those old West End productions with their programme notes that “couturier X… has designed Miss Y….’s wardrobe – have a good sense of period.

It’s a woman’s play, as far as dramatic tension goes. Miles strikes a fine balance in showing us both the selfishness and vulnerability of Sarah, and Cox is more than just a Cockney maid familiar from plays and films of the 1930s and 40s. All three men are slightly colourless in comparison, which is only to be expected.

Perhaps we are now sufficiently removed from those post-war years to put them and their people into proper perspective. I think Christie wrote this story from her heart, drawing on personal pains. Fashions change. Society changes. People don’t.

Four star rating.

A Daughter’s A Daughter runs at the Southwold Arts Centre until 28 Juy with a matinée on 24 July, early evening performances on 26 and 28 July and no performances on 27 July. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 31 July and 11 August and returns to the Southwold Arts Centre from 3 to 15 September.

 

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Polstead

reviewed at the James Hehir Plaza, Ipswich Waterfront on 13 July

Mysteries are multi-faceted affairs. They involve more than the obvious who? why? where? when? questions. Suffolk’s most notorious one is probably that of the murder of Maria Marten by William Corder in 1827.

Most stage versions – and they started as soon as Corder was hanged in 1828 – focus on the melodramatic aspects of the crime. Beth Flintoff’s take on the story is different.

The murder is almost incidental as she focuses on the village itself with all its graduations of social and financial status for local families. This is a rural England much nearer to that of Fielding and Smollett than that of Austen or Allingham.

Parish councils might grumble at the cst of maintaining children born out-of-wedlock but, in an age without contraception, birth was the likely result of regular sexual intercourse. The gentry and the church might disapprove, but farmers needed sons to work the land with them.

So we meet the women villagers of Polstead. A couple have obtained work at “the big house”; most have a back-breaking and soul-destroying régime of domestic chores and field-work. The annual Cherry Fair apart, theirs is a monotonous existence. So girls will be girls, just as boys will act as men can (and do).

Hal Chambers’ direction uses a cast of six actresses to put Polstead before us. Verity Quinn sets a timbered structure at either end of the acting area while two of Maria’s known lovers are subtly played by Bethan Nash and Lucy Grattan – William Corder doesn’t actually appear. Roxanne Palmer’s Phoebe is also a good characterisation.

As Maria, Elizabeth Crarer shows us a girl with ambitions as well as affections while Sarah Goddard as Ann Marten demonstrates the real understanding which develops between Maria and her young stepmother. Lydia Bakelmun glides effortlessly between Lady Cooke (Matthews’ sister) and disgruntled Sarah.

Music haunts this staging, composed by Luke Potter to suggest the timelessness of folk rhythms. Rebecca Randall’s movement sequences flow between the formally choreographed and mimetic. This is a tale of a real place and time far more than just another one of violent death and retribution.

Four star rating.

Polstead continues at the James Hehir Plaza, Ipswich Waterfront until 15 July with matinée performances on 14 and 15 July. It plays also at The Undercroft, Serpentine Green, Peterborough (18-21 July), Manor Farm Barn, Semer (26-28 July) and Debach Airfield, Clopton, Woodbridge (31 July-5 August).

 

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Body Language

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 11 July

Modern surgery is a miracle of science. But science can prove fallible and miracles display a flip side. Ayckbourn’s 1990 satirical comedy is set in one of those well-appointed and attractively-staffed clinics in the countryside which cater for the physical problems of the wealthy and famous.

The newest patient is model Angie Dell. Her money-eyed manager Ronnie Weston can’t wait for her to resume her lucrative career. Visiting the clinic is controversial East European surgeon Hravic Zyergefoovc with his prefered assistant Freya. The clinic’s director, and a former student of Hravic, is Benjamin Cooper.

Where the famous go, these days there follows the media. Radio journalist Jo Knapton wants a couple of interviews; not-quite-successful photographer Derek Short is after that killer glamour shot which should make both his reputation and his fortune. Fading pop star Mal Bennet wants his now-estranged Angie back.

That’s just the first scene. By the second and Act Two, Hravic has performed his miracle operation – with just one unfortunate consequence. Ron Aldridge’s direction keeps the action flowing as briskly as any scalpel and Tory Cobb’s two-level set allows that action free play.

The cast go to it with a will. Clive Flint has a field day with Hravic as does Richard Blaine with Mal. Neither Ronnie nor Derek are particularly nice characters, as Darrell Brockis and Lee Hunter make plain. Claire Jeater pulls out all the stops as Freya while Michael Shaw is suitably  suave as Benjamin.

But the centre of it all is the relationship between Angie and Jo. Charlotte Peak’s Angie has just the right combination of vulnerability and determination for someone faced with a flimsy and brief career which is basically run by other people.

As Jo, Harriett Hare radiates firstly the slightly bored attitude of someone dispatched on yet another routine assignment and later as a woman confronting very personal demons and daemons. Yes, it’s hilariously funny in parts. But it’s also something thought-provoking and slightly scary.

Four star rating.

Body Language runs at the Southwold Arts Centre until 21 July with matinées on 14, 17, 19 and 21 July (there is no performance on 20 July). It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh for the week 24-28 July.

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Driving Miss Daisy

reviewed at the McGrigor Hall, Frinton on 10 July

We all confront prejudice sooner or later, in one form or another. How we deal with it is an individual matter. Take for example Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play Driving Miss Daisy. There are three characters with very different responses in the 25 years of the action which takes place in southern USA.

Daisy Werthan is a Jewish widow, formerly a school headmistress, set in her ways of doing things. Her son Boolie is a successful businessman, well-liked – even admired – by his associates but always conscious that he can maintain this only by appearing 100 percent true American.

Hoke Colburn, the chauffeur he hires after Daisy has crashed one car too many, has always known prejudice; after all, he’s Black. His method of dealing with it is to play the part demanded of him while balancing an inner integrity with maximising on other people’s expectations. Or lack of them.

How we react really depends on the cast. Vivienne Garnett’s production has a minimalist setting (though including a rather marvellous automobile) by Sorcha Corcoran against which the drama plays out.

Geoff Aymer’s Hoke, playing the part for the second time in Frinton, has the audience in the palms of his hands using especially his articulate eyes while gradually revealing how he deals with first Daisy’s disdain and downright mistrust and then – as age reverses their rôles – with genuine sympathetic understanding.

Age is something which most of us confronting its onslaughts try to fight off as long as possible. Anah Ruddin has the measure of Daisy as events conspire to confront her with whole swathes of inevitability; it’s a precisely nuanced performance.

Boolie is a likeable man, trying to juggle family responsibilities with professional and social ones and knowing that what he is driven to do is not necessarily the right option. Stacy Shane makes all this credible from his first lines.

This production sets a standard for the 2018 Frinton Summer Theatre season, overcoming the difficulties of a small stage and non-raked auditorium. Driving Miss Daisy is perhaps a bold choice for an opening night on the Essex coast, but theatre has always been about taking risks.

Four star rating

Driving Miss Daisy continues at the Frinton Summer Theatre until 14 July. with a matinée on 14 July. The season continues until 25 August.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 9 July

Fictional characters, providing that they’re sufficiently charismatic, can have a very prolonged afterlife. Take Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. He’s been updated throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and both he and Dr Watson have acquired adventures beyond even their creator’s imagination.

Simon Reade play uses elements of Conan Doyle’s own fascination with spiritualism – in opposition to his detective’s material-bound reliance on actualities – to create a “30 years after the Reichenbach Falls, aka The Final Problem” drama. Holmes has retired to the south coast and taken up beekeeping.

A mysterious corpse turns up on his land, and he’s intrigued by its anomalies. The stage is set for a return to Baker Street, where the flat is being used by Dr Watson as consulting rooms for his new-found speciality of psychoanalysis.

Watson is also in the midst of a series of broadcasts based on his Holmesian escapades. He has become estranged from his wife Mary after their son was killed in the 1914-18 war and she has taken up the suffrage cause to a degree bordering on fanaticism.

Director David Grindley keeps the action flowing, abetted by an extremely clever sequence of settings by Jonathan Fenson which centres on the iconic flat but otherwise uses a hypnotically perambulating curtain, subtle lighting by Jason Taylor and equally acute sound by Gregory Clarke to convey place and mood.

If Robert Powell as Sherlock Holmes walks away with the acting honours, that’s due both to his skill and personality but also to the fact that the outsider – almost maverick – elements of Holmes’ character has universal appeal. Timothy Kightley as Dr Watson competes extremely well; we all also root for the underdog.

In this story, the most difficult part is that of Mary Watson. Liza Goddard has to make what is basically an unsympathetic character even before familial and other revelations start emerging into someone we can understand. She tries very hard, but the part is not written to help any actress.

There are some neat vignettes in this frame. Roy Sampson’s Mycroft Holmes makes the most of his fraternal exchanges. The British Broadcasting Company lady charged with shepherding Dr Watson to the microphone and Miss Hudson (the new landlady) are sparklingly doubled by Anna O’Grady.

Four star rating.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 14 July with matinées on 12 and 14 July.

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Iolanthe

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 3 July

Musically, Iolanthe is one of Sullivan’s most interesting scores, with extended lyrical, dramatic and comic sequences flowing easily in symmetry with Gilbert’s topsy-turvy plot and tongue-twisting verses and dialogue.

Like most genre classics, the political undertones resonate as much in 2018 as they did in 1882. Sasha Regan’s all-male production is not a straightforward one, though extremely well-sung throughout, with Joe Henry’s Phyllis, Christopher Finn’s Iolanthe, Adam Pettit’s Tolloller and Duncan Sandilands’ Private Willis making particular impact.

During Richard Baker’s overture (the accompaniment is a piano reduction) a group of young men – think senior boarding-school students in a dormitory lark – invade the stage lit only by their torches. There’s a Narnia-type wardrobe, some step-ladders and some boxes.

The fairies turn out to be a troupe of muscular Wilis, wearing singlets, loose drawers and the occasional (upside-down) corset. Mark Smith’s choreography pays homage to Petipa’s Giselle as well as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. The dancing is also excellent.

When to play Gilbert “straight”, accepting what is of its period,  and when to send-up what is already a parody is sometimes exceptionally difficult. So the peers’ chorus of disdain is sung with the right undertone of contempt while Willis’ political musings present “liberal” and “conservative” as  opposites not necessarily glued to any particular party.

Richard Russell Edwards’ Fairy Queen, fox-furred and hand-bagged, is a delicious characterisation, with real menace in her threats to her recalcitrant followers. Richard Carson’s Strephon is another well-judged portrait.

Potential villain of the story is the Lord Chancellor. Alastair Hill makes him younger than is traditional and brings out the deviousness of the lawyer, though I wanted more incisiveness in the patter songs, especially the Act Two nightmare. Articulation is the magic key for these numbers.

Four and a half-star rating.

Iolanthe runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre ntil 7 Juky with matinèes on 5 and 7 July. The 2018 national tour ends at the Greenwich Theatre between 23 and 28 July.

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