Tag Archives: Jeanne Stacey

The History Boys

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford on 16 March).

If you’re an arts complex with professional actors as well as a thriving stage school attached, then Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is an ideal choice of production. As well as the adult staff members at the fictional boys’ school in the 1960s, there are the students – as mixed a bunch as you’re likely to encounter then, now or in the 1950s on which Bennett drew from his personal experiences.

Some of us were lucky enough to be taught by charismatic as well as dedicated teachers – I know that I was, though not by anyone quite as maverick as Hector. Matthew Ward makes him into less cuddly than some other actors’ characterisations; it’s as though he is deliberately courting disaster from our first glimpse of him, motorbike-revving as though he had just materialised from another planet.

Sue Last balances this with her straight-forwrd Mrs Lintott, a no-nonsense type who teaches efficiently but without ever stirring her students’ imaginations. Then there’s Jeremy Small’s Headmaster with his sights set on Oxbridge places. It’s a portrait of a man who lacks true authority.

As Irwin, parachuted in to polish the likely university candidates, Jack Downey offers a well thought-out portrait of a driven half-failure who knows what will work in certain circumstances and eventually manages to apply these lessons to his own career. Downey is flint to Ward’s fire, which is at it should be.

Jeanne Stacey’s production has a set by Douglas Heap which, with its simple foreground of school chairs and tables, keeps the action flowing. Of the boys, Joseph Vaiana’s brash Dakin, Joe Llewely’s Posner slowly coming to terms with his homosexual instincts, Will Edden’s chirpy Timms and Daniel Boulton’s bovine Rudge stand out.

The History Boys runs at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford until 19 March.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford on 11 December 2015)

You can trust the annual Rhodes pantomime master-minded by Phil Dale (co-script writer, co-director and surely the only bearded Dame in the business under the nom de guerre Sarah Cook to fill the wide but shallow stage and spill action across the auditorium.

It’s traditional – the Principal Boy title role is filled by Katie Miller (with a cleavage) – but also quirky with its three comics – William Eaden as Jack’s brother Silly Billy, a sort of Mickey Rooney clone, and that Laurel and Hardy duo of Wingnut (Daniel Boulton) and Spanners (Dan James).

Our villain is Baron Backhander who Duncan Rutherford plays as a particularly selfish hedge fund manager, not light years away from last year’s King Ratputin. Oh yes, and there’s a proper over-sized Giant as well (George Jack). Fairy Evangeline Rainpetal (Jeanne Stacey, who is also co-director) has to work hard on Jack’s behalf.

Georgia Collins is Jill, the object of Jack’s affections and a bright lass who has the measure of her grasping father. Central to the story is Daisy the cow (Jack and Drew Gregg step out neatly). The choreography is by Katie Barker-Dale and really shows of the young dancers. Miles Forman (sporting a fetching piano-keyed scarf) and Lee Levent are the musicians.

Act Two takes us high into the skies with the Giant’s castle veiled in mist. We meet some raucous seagulls, more or less under the control of Dr Albert Ross (Gregg, who also voices the disgruntled goose). Thanks to – or should that be n spite of? – Milky Mary’s ballooning interventions on behalf of her two sons, all of course ends as it should do.

This season’s crop of farting jokes flourishes, as do an alarming number of references to testicles. We don’t really believe that Backhander will metamorphose into Candy Man, but I always think that the test of a proper pantomime villain is that we know he is down but never quite out. Even when his nemesis is a giant-slayer.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop’s Stortford until 2 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015