Tag Archives: cut to the chase…

Jump the queue season in Hornchurch

The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch is not the only one feeling the financial pinch, but it has obviously affected the number of main-house shows which its resident company cut to the chase… can mount each season. The Jump the Queue initiative, by which audience members who book in advance can see all three shows just announced for autumn 2015 at a bargain price of £12.50 each, therefore presents a bargain offer.

All three offer contrasts in style. First is Roll Over Beethoven by Bob Eaton. This is a stage world première loosely (very loosely) based on Hamlet. It’s a rock’n’roll musical, a forte of this company of actor-musicians, and you can see it between 21 August and 12 September. The setting is Essex and the time is the 1950s, when National Service was still a young man’s duty.

That is followed by Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias (18 September to 10 October). As the blurb says: “Never underestimate the strength of a woman”. Again, we are taken back in time – this is set n the 1980s and the location is Louisiana. Neil Leyshon’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s spooky novella Don’t Look Now concludes the season from 23 October to 14 November. And then, of course, it’s panto time with Aladdin; his adventures are from 28 November through to 9 January.

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The Elephant Man
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 20 April)

Even after 38 years, the experience of reviewing Bernard Pomerance’s play about Joseph (commonly called John) Merrick is one which I’ve never completely forgotten. That production was at the Hampstead Theatre; a new staging by Simon Jessop for the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has just started.

It’s intriguingly set within a dark-draped circular show-booth by Mark Walters, the sort of fairground venue which would have been familiar to Merrick in the late 19th century as his diseased appearance, then diagnosed as elephantiasis, was exploited for gain. Eventually he came under the care of Dr Treves at Whitechapel’s London Hospital.

Although Treves and his hospital superior Dr Gomm gave Merrick good care and a stable environment, Pomerance’s thesis suggests that exploitation (and its corollary, abuse) can develop from well-meaning as well as outwardly greedy intentions. Gomm’s publicising of Merrick’s case led to a spate of donations to the hospital for Merrick’s care and some socially prominent sponsorship.

Tom Cornish’s Merrick, as did David Schofield in 1977, uses mime and facial contortion to suggest the horror of the physical appearance rather than prosthetic make-up. It’s an intensely moving performance as the inner man – sensitive and in many ways creative – slowly emerges from its carapace. He’s matched by Fred Broom as Treves, a doctor with ambitions both medical and social and Stuart Organ’s hard-headed Gomm.

Fairground man Ross is suitably slimy (and dangerous with it) in James Earl Adair’s characterisation. This being the cut to the chase… company, Steven Markwick’s deceptively jolly score soon mutates in the hands of these actor-musicians into something altogether more discordant and sinister. Joanna Hickman is the cellist and also plays actress Margaret Kendall who undeatands Merrick’s secret longings as only a woman of many parts can. it’s a fine performance.

Ellie Ros Boswell and Megan Leigh Mason are th two fairground “beauties”, there to lure the naive audience into paying their tuppences for what were often fakes as well as freaks. I still think that the build-up to the end sits uneasily within the narrative framework, but the Passiontide parallels as Merrick faces up to the fact that he cannot live much longer and that his deepest longings will never find proper fulfilment are very moving.

This is a play which perhaps is an unusual choice for the Queen’s Theatre. But the opening night audience was a good-sized one and completely caught up in the drama – the tragic as well as the comic elements – as it proceeded. A taste now and then of vinegar or mustard always fire the appetite. What’s true for the palate is also true of the mind.

The Elephant Man runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 9 May.

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Reviews

Deadly Murder
(reviewed at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch on 2 February)

This is a thriller for three actors by the American playwright David Foley, doubling as a type of hommage to the films of Tarantino. After the sort of disco music and light show which puts us firmly in the world of the glitterarti, we are in the living-room of the Manhattan apartment which belongs to Camille (Lucy Benjamin).

Camille is a (very) wealthy widow and a designer of the sort of show-off jewellery which one might describe as bling. She also has a penchant for bedding younger, personable men. In this case it’s Billy (Tom Cornish). But Billy doesn’t just want to be paid for his services; he has a hidden agenda.

What would a woman who owns not just the penthouse but the whole apartment block do when her one-night stand refuses to accept his dismissal? She calls the security man (Sam Pay) – and this is where the plot thickens into a positive peasouper of double-and triple-crossings.

Director Simon Jessop wisely keeps the action at boiling point with just enough space for the sort of half-nervous laughter with which an engrossed audience can relieve its tension. The pace is brisk; even with an interval it’s less than two hours, which is just about right.

All three actors are excellent; our sympathies and understanding veer wildly as each new revelation presents itself. Cornish has the sort of louche sexiness which suggests an inherent morality and Benjamin matches him as the woman who takes what she wants, and comes back for the next helping. In many ways Pay has the most difficult role as a man who isn’t quite as clued-up as he thinks he is.

Though one might query if the whole thing wouldn’t have worked even better without the intermission (silly me! I forgot about those vital bar takings…)

One of Rodney Ford’s excellent sets – all exposed brick walls, angular chrome furniture and off-white upholstery – locates us in place and time. And if anyone know how to stage a stage fight which has the audience wincing in sympathy, it’s Malcolm Ranson.

Deadly Murder runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 21 February.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015