Tag Archives: Ian Talbot

Not Dead Enough
reviewed at Cambridge Arts Theatre 15 May

Red herrings in thrillers are one thing. Shaun McKenna’s latest stage adaptation of a Peter James thriller not only trails a shoal of thm acoss Sussex’s beaches but adds a whole corkscrew drawer-full of twists and turns to the plot as DS Roy Grace finds that past and present somehow elide in the latest series of murders to land on his desk.

Michael Holt’s two-level set with some atmospheric lighting by Jason Taylor and sound effects by Martin Hodgson take us from the mortury to the police station and across to nocturnal surf-battered pebbled beaches. Ian Talbot contributes what one might define as speed-directing; it’s all so fast and furious that plot and characterisation holes are simply skated over.

There are some very good performances, notably by Laura Whitmore as Cleo, in charge of the mortuary and Grace’s latest “squeeze” and by Gemma Atkins as her vulnerable assistant Sophie. Central to the action is Brian Bishop, whose wife is just one of the victims of violent death to be laid on Sophie’s mortuary table. Stephen Billington gives a deliberately “over the top” performance of this tortured personality; you can see why he provokes Bill Ward’s Grace so much.

In the police station, Grace is supported by his segeant Glenn (Michael Quartey) and PC Moy (Gemma Stroyan). At the end of the telephone is a censorious assistant chief police constable who takes a dim view of Grace’s detecting methods. Dead bodies and the nasty ways in which they meet their fates proliferate. It’s all hokum, of course, but very well presented by a cast which takes it all with just the right touch of knowing conviction.

Three and a half-star rating.

Not Dead Enough runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 20 May with matinées on 18 and 20 May.

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Dead Sheep

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 13 September)

An alternative title for Jonathan Maitland’s slice of almost-recent history might be, as he expresses it in his programme note, The Mouse That Roared. The play’s actual title is of course Dead Sheep, a reference to Dennis Healey’s comment that being attacked in the Commons by Geoffrey Howe was like being “savaged by a dead sheep”.

After a successful London season, director Ian Talbot is taking his production on a national tour until December. The plot is simple enough; it revoves around the professional relationship between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Steve Nallon) and her former Foreign Secretary, later Chancellor of the Exchequer, Howe (Paul Bradley). The third important character – who in many ways is shown as the catalyst for the dénouement – is Elspeth Howe (Carol Royle), an independent woman but also one concerned to support her husband.

The other characters are various Government advisors, MPs and assorted Ministers. Between them they provide some brilliant character studies – Graham Seed’s Ian Gow, Chrstopher Villiers’ Alan Clark and John Wark’s television interviewer stand out here. Morgan Large’s set is dominated by the Cabinet photograph, that famous one where dark-suited men are minimised by blue-clad Thatcher, the queen bee of that particular hive.

While Royle is very good as Elspeth Howe, both when she’s acting (as she herself admits) almost like Lady Macbeth screwing her husband up to the murder of Duncan and in her waspish exchanges with the Prime Minister during distinctly awkward social events at 10 Downing Street, the focus inevitably falls on the protagonist and antagonist in this 20th century variation on Greek tragedy.

As Thatcher, Nallon gives us a spot-on impersonation, from vocal mannerisms to shoe-pinching gait and the hand-shakes offered with the head vulture-looming but the torso withdrawn, but it remains an impersonation, not a portrayal. The House of Commons scene, where we see her reactions on-screen as well as facing us from the front bench, though is a marvellous piece of theatre.

Bradley has the most difficult rôle of all. He has to give us a credible picture of a man with immense abilities, great integrity and absolutely no charisma or proficiency in self-projection. He builds his portrait of Howe slowly, with meticulous detailing, so that the famouse resignation speech makes its full impact without us ever feeling that this is out of character for the man.

Dead Sheep runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 17 September at the start of a national tour lasting to 3 December. There are matinées on 15 and 17 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016