(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 October)
What sends shivers down the spine where tales of the supernatural are concerned is often less the visualised than the imagined. We all cast our demons from different moulds. Nell Leyshon’s stage adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story Don’t Look Now is given a production by Simon Jessop which knows when to make evil concrete – as little as possible.
It is the Venetian setting designed by Norman Coates with the visual effects projected onto its bridges, water and shuttered windows by Dan Crews and the trickling soundscape devised by Andy Smart which create the atmosphere. We begin by an open grave before which grief-striken mother Laura (Charlotte Powell) stands motionless. Hymns and part of the Requiem Mass are heard while we watch the image of Laura and John’s young daughter Christine drown.
John (Tom Cornish) whisks Laura away to Venice, where they spent their honeymoon. He’s prepared to move on – after all their son John is alive, well and safe at his boarding school. As one cannot help but empaphise with Laura, to whom Powell gives sincerity in her grief and inevitable feelings of guilt (“why didn’t I…?), Cornish balances this by showing John less as unfeeling but more as something of a pragmatist.
The hotel bedroom scene where his desire to make love with his wife at first meets resistance that (perhaps) melts into acceptance, is cleverly played on two levels with the live actors and their projected images. The mutual ground which constitutes terra firma for this husband and wife is quietly crumbling. Their encounters with two strange, identically dressed elderly women (Gillian Cally as the sister with explanations, Tina Gray as her blind mystic sibling) display brutally the gulf opening for Laura and John.
You probably know what happens next. Onlookers and participants in their own parallel civic drama are the police chief (Stuart Organ) hunting a serial killer, the hotel clerk (Callum Hughes) and the restaurant proprietor (Sam Pay). A mysterious beak-masked sacristan – a commedia dell’arte character or a plague doctor? – and a diminutive red-cloaked figure (Karen Anderson) haunt this winter Venice.
Don’t Look Now runs at the Quen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until14 November.
(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 26 August)
Daphne du Maurier is a writer whose name fills theatres – as well as emptying bookshop shelves. September Tide is set in the uncertain period following the Second World War when young men were liable for National Service, alcohol and certain foodstuffs were in short supply if not still rationed and England was having to accustom itself to a world which might look backwards with nostalgia but could never be quite what it used to be.
We are in Cornwall where Stella, a widow with grown-up children but still immensely attractive and charismatic, is eagerly awaiting a visit from her newly-married, London-based daughter Cherry. Cherry is a free spirit – something which she may have inherited from her mother, if not from her late sailor father – and you could describe her relationship with her new painter husband Evan as semi-detached.
If you know anything about du Maurier’s own life story, including her near-obsession with Cornwall, you can detect autobiographical elements as this three-cornered drama unfolds. The revised script is by Mark Rayment and Phil Clark’s production located it firmly in its period with no attempt to whittle away the moral issues propounded or their solution. The resolution is perhaps for us in the 21st century an overly romantic one, but attitudes to many things have changed over the past 50 or 60 years.
Eliza McClelland makes an appealing heroine as Stella, matched by Chris Clarkson’s domineering Evan a man as selfish as only those who are certain of their own genius can be. Light relief is provided by Jill Freud as Mrs Tucket, the indispensable “help”, and to a lesser extent by Michael Shaw as Robert, who hopes that Stella will one day agree to marry him.
Then there’s Rosanna Miles as Cherry, so insouciant on the surface but actually as uncertain about what the future holds as her elders – not to mention her hard-drinking husband. Too many of her lines, which are vital to the plot, seem to be thrown away – but that could just be the Jubilee Hall acoustics. Her younger brother, home on sick-leave from the Navy with a broken foot, is played by Harry Emerson.
September Tide runs at the Summer Theatre, Southwold until 12 September.
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.
East Anglia boasts three well-established summer repertory seasons. First of the mark this year is Suffolk Summer Theatres, founded by Jill Freud and now managed by Peter Adshead. The season begins on 8 July at St Edmund’s Hall, Southwold with Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves. It runs until 18 July and transfers from 23 July to 1 August at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh.
it’s followed by a change of mood with the comedy thriller Anybody For Murder? by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner. That on between 20 July and 1 August in Southwold and from 4 to 8 August in Aldeburgh. Then it’s the turn of Ray Cooney’s fizzing farce Out of Order, at Southwold from 3 to 15 August and Aldeburgh between 18 and 22 August.
One of Suffolk Summer Theatre’s previous successes was the staging of The Titfield Thnderbolt by TEB Clarke, based on the class Ealing comedy film. it’s being revived at the Jubilee Hall between 10 and 15 August, then transfers to Southwold from 17 to 29 August.
The season ends with Daphne du Maurier’s September Tide, a family drama set on the Cornish coast which its author so loved. Once more this opens in Aldeburgh between 24 and 29 August before journeying up the coast to Southwold from 31 August until 12 September.