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Season’s Greetings

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 7 November

The time of goodwill to all? Not if you’re planning to spend Christmas with Bernard and Phyllis. Ayckbourn’s wry look at the stresses marriage and parenthood impose when a miscellany of relations comes together doubles as cautionary tale and brutal farce.

Incompetent pacifist doctor Bernard, obsessed with his dire puppet-show for the house-party’s children, starts the festivities off by being at odds with Harvey, his wife Phyllis’ bellicose ex-service uncle over violence in films.

Phyllis drinks too much. Much too much. Her brother Neville is one of those men who tinker endlessly, preferably with other people’s gadgets. His wife Belinda is simply frustrated with life and love (what there is of it).

Enduring yet another pregnancy is Pattie; Eddie her husband is a gormandising layabout more concerned with cadging a job from Richard Munday’s somewhat blinkered Neville than taking his fair share of child-rearing.

And then there’s Rachel, Pattie’s intense and somewhat odd sister. She’s invited Clive, a would-be writer on whom she’s become fixated, as her guest. When he finally appears, he becomes the catalyst for what ensues.

You get the picture. Catherine Lomax’s production keeps the action on the move with a wide set that gives us hall and stairs, the living-room and dining-room. Victoria Fitz-Gerald’s Belinda and Lewis Collier’s Clive make a good central couple.

It is the misfits in the several households who really grab our attention. Paul Lavers’ militant Harvey is suitably lethal while Adam Shorey blithers away as Bernard. Alice Redmond allows Rachel a proper measure of pathos, even while she irritates.

Natalie Harman’s wine-swigging Phyllis comes into her own with the snakes-and-ladders game as Christmas Day ends. Chris Aukett’s Eddie, devouring anything edible in sight, is another infuriating delight.

As Pattie, Naomi Slights evokes understanding; her future – like her immediate past – is a bleak one. You really don’t want to be invited to join any of these people for an extended break; one evening would probably suffice.

The compliments of the season to you, too.

Four star rating.

Season’s Greetings runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 10 November with matinées on 8 and 10 November.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Oklahoma!

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 30 August

Few musicals of the 1940s have stood the test of time with repeated revivals. Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II passes with flying colours. Catherine Lomax directs this new Gordon Craig Theatre production which treats it as the musical play – rather than operetta or musical comedy – intended.

Her musical director Rob Scott takes his 15-piece orchestra through the score with panache, from the brisk overture through the mock-solemnity of “Poor Jud is dead” to the lyricism of “People will say we’re in love” and “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”.  The large cast act, sing and dance (choreography is by Khiley Williams and Philip Joel) with skill and energy.

Carrie Sutton makes an attractive Laurey, the girl who finds herself with one suitor too many. Lisa Bridge’s Ado Annie is engaging and has a memorable laugh which is part irritated cockerel and part aggravated hyena. Jeremy Batt leads the male dancers as Will Parker, sort-of-rivaled by Joe Leather’s pedler Ali Hakim.

There are also good portraits from Alice Redmond as Aunt Eller and Ian McLarnon as Ado Annie’s father. Joshua Gannon has a strong if not subtle voice and his Curly is very credible. Villain of the piece is Jud Fry and Connor Ewing makes the most of both his brutality and the sense of isolation which fuels it.

No designer is credited for the costumes or the set which transforms between four locations in the course of the action. it works very well, as does Peter Kramer’s lighting. For my taste, sound designer Luke Hyde has overdone the use of mics diminishing the graduation of sound as the story unfolds.

Four star rating.

Oklahomo! runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 8 September with matinées on 1, 6 and 8 September.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018