Tag Archives: Andrew Lancel

A Judgement in Stone
reviewed in Westcliff on 5 June

Ruth Rendell’s 1977 crime novel A Judgement in Stone is, like most of her work, a subtle in-depth exploration of what makes some people into murderers and how others react. Some thrillers translate well to the stage or film; others become blurred or somehow skew characterisation and motivation with over-simplification.

Simon Brett and Antony Lampard have written the script for this new touring production which is dircted by Roy Marsden, no slouch as far as the dramatised thriller genre is concerned. The excellent, almost dominating and realistic set is by Julie Godfrey.

There are four members of the Coverdale family in whose country house the story is set. They’re an urbane quartet – husband George (Mark Wynter) and wife Jacqueline (Rosie Thomson) who are both on their second marriages, his daughter Melinda (Jennifer Sims) and her student son Giles (Joshua Price). They have a long-term housemaid Eva Baalham (Shirley Anne Field) and a gadener-cum-handyman, the loose-fingered Rodger Meadows (Antony Costa).

As housekeeper they choose Eunice Parchman (Sophie Ward), a shuffling pent-up volcano weighed down by the proverbial shoulder chips. It’s a remarkably effective portrait of a sad, unlikeable woman whose illiteracy is only gradually revealed as th action progresses (Rendell tells us about it in the opening line of the novel). Melinda’s genuine offer to help will only rebound.

Almost rivalling Ward in the performance stakes is Deborah Grant as Joan Smith, a no-good girl turned into Bible-thumper in full blast-off revivalist mode. The story is told in flash-backs as Detective Superinendent Vetch (Andrew Lancel) and Detecive Sergeant Challoner (Ben Nealon) attempt to establish why the Coverdales were shot down while watching a telecast of Don Giovanni and who did it.

The detectives prowl on and off the stage as their enquiry progresses, or stalemates. The actual sequence of events as they unfold punctuates their investigation, which has a somewhat alienation effect, possibly intended but probably not. Wynter makes George and Sims Melinda into three-dimensional people while Price puts over the student with his mind on higher things very well.

Thomson tends to squeak rather than speak her lines. Neither detective comes over with any sense of authority until the end of the play when they home in on the murderer. Costa makes the most of his incursions into the manor-house; he is a recognisable type of the no-gooder who is always going to be a suspect – for one crime or anoher.

Three and a half-star rating.

A Judgement in Stone runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 10 June with matinées on 8 and 10 June.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

The Sound of Music

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 18 October)

It must be the most popular musical of the 20th century. The Sound of Music is currently singing its way on a national tour in an intelligent new production by Martin Connor designed by Gary McCann and with musical direction by Kelvin Towse. The mountain-painted drop-curtain and flats are framed (literally) by a false proscenium with baroque flourishes, suggesting a traditional world into which the harsh realities of the late 1930s intrude uncomfortably.

It looks good and there are some excellent singing voices, notably among the nuns and most especially Jan Hartley’s Abbess. The sound balance took some time to adjust itself on the Norwich opening night, particularly affecting Lucy O’Bryne’s well-acted and thoroughly credeible Maria and Howard Samuels’s pragmatic Max. Lucy van Gasse makes Elsa nto something more than a two-dimensional potential wicked stepmother and Annie Holland’s Lisl is sweet of voice, forceful of personality and a lyrical dancer as well.

Andrew Lancel is very much an actor who can sing; because he doesn’t initially play von Trapp for instant sympathy, the character’s obvious political integrity then acts as a burnish to his dawning feelings about Maria. Bill Deamer’s choreography has its highspots in the first act duet for Kane Verrall’s embryonic Nazi Rolf and 16-going-on-17 Lisl and in the ballroom scene ländler.

The six smaller von Trapp children (Isabel Godden’s Gretl and Louis Rice’s Friedrich particularly good at the performance I saw) are as show-stopping as they should be. In many ways, this is an old-fashioned staging with a conviction in the performances and an attention to the requirements of the score missing from many more modern musicals. It asks to be taken seriously and the audience responds to that request. Which is just as it should be.

The Sound of Music runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 22 October with matinées on 20 and 22 October.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Twelve Angry Men

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 11 May)

Most of us know Reginald Rose’s now-classic play about 12 jurymen arguing the case for and against convicting a 15-year old for the murder of his abusive father through the Sydney Lumet form starring Henry Fonda of 1957. But the stage vrsion has just as illustrious a pedigree and is once more on tour in Christopher Haydon’s production.

Haydon keeps the 1950s setting and Michael Pavelka’s set evokes the physical as well as mental and emotional heat generated as what seems like an open-and-shut case is splintered by one juror’s determination to vote not guilty, because he has “reasonable doubts” a specified by the off-stage summing-up by the judge.

More than the usual racial and social prejudices of the period come tumbling out as the arguments thicken, occasionally tipping over into actual violence. From the young man who has tickets for a basket-ball game (so much more important than whether or not a teenager is sent to the electric chair) through the rough-cast red-necks to the more thoughtful older men, the tension builds as minds are changed, not always for the most obvious of reasons.

Jason Merrell leads the cast as Juror 8 whose main opponents are Robert Duncan as the obstreperous Juror 4 and Andrew Lancel’s Juror 3. Denis Lill contributes a fine character study of the outsider Juror 10, a man whose past has included being suspected and despised; Andrew Frame is the foreman of the jury.

The first couple of scenes were a bit of a blur; a case of mumble and gobble while the audience came to terms with the mid-American accents. As the arguments develop, so did the clarity of speech as well as action, so that there was a real sense of being locked in that airless juryroom as the minutes tick by and apparently solid evidence reveals its weaknesses.

Twelve Angry Men runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 16 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015