Tag Archives: Jonathan Ashley

The Birthday Party

(reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 23 February)

People play games, with others as well as with themselves. Playwrights play word games with both their charcters and with us, the audience. The Birthday Party was Pinter’s first full-length play to be staged, in 1959 to bemused, not to say highly critical, audiences.

Now we accept it, if not always easily, on its merits. Michael Cabot’s new touring production fo London Classic Theatre is high on intelligence and keeps up the pace, from those opening and closing inanities exchanged by long-term husband and wife Petey and Meg to the veiled self-revelations of their long-term lodger Stanley and those of the two strangers Goldberg and McCann who muscle into the boarding-house.

Personal revelations come, on the surface, thick and fast but, as always with Pinter, none are to be taken at face value. Jonathan Ashley’s Goldberg, his first name as slithery as his relations with Meg and neighbour Lulu, spins fantasies as complex as those of Stanley himself, the lay-a-bed recluse in flight from who knows what.

Designer Bek Palmer sets the action in a realisticly furnished set on a raised platform surrounded by black tabs. We’re in many different worlds at once – some of which overlap while others collide. Gareth Bennett-Ryan takes full advantage of Stanley diatribes as the pampered surrogate son and lover is changed from a sort of spiky relaxation into the collapsed creature of Goldberg and McCann’s manipulations.

The subtlest performance comes from Cheryl Kennedy as Meg, that archetypical frustrated wife and non-mother. Perhaps she was indeed once the belle of the ball in the tulle swatches of her pre-war party dress and has slunk into slovenly housekeeping purely as a reaction. Ashley makes a dominant (as well as domineering) villain with Declan Rodgers radiating menace as McCann.

The Birthday Party plays at the Norwich Playhouse on 24 February. It can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds 25-27 February, the Key Theatre, Peterborough 1-2 March, the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford 8-9 March, the Harlow Playhouse 25-27 April, the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich 10-14 May and the Alan Arena, St Albans on 9 June as part of the national tour until 18 June.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Waiting for Godot

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmuns on 22 September)

Director Michael Cabot takes us through Beckett’s most performed play at a brisk rate which emphasises the comedic aspects while remaining respectful to the text. I seem to remember Peter Hall’s original London production as taking a far more reverential approach. This one works, thanks in large part to a set design by Bek Palmer which engages our eyes while five excellent actors engross our ears.

Andy Grange’s lighting complements the shimmering black floor-cloth, suggestive of some primeval swamp or morass. it’s studded with light stepping-stones, like so many giant and bleached lily-pads. The all-important tree where Vladimir (Peter Cadden) and Estragon (Richard Heap) wait for their appointment with the mysterious Godot is a grey columnar affair, dangling its thick tangle of roots at their eye-level. Dull mirrors and other similarly suspended trees form its bakground.

As the two men wrangle, Vladimir pontificates and Estragon grumbles, they’re joined by Pozzo (Jonathn Ashley) and his slave-servant Lucky (Michael Keane). Pozzo blusters in true ringmaster fashion, cracking his whip and demonstrating his top-hatted authority over lesser mortals. The boy(s) who announce at the end of the acts that Godot won’t in fact be coming until the next day are played by Sonja Zobel.

The joshing between the two main characters is beautifully defined by Heap and Cadden; their timing is impeccable and they use the constant switches in their relationship between mutual support and cross-patch irritation to win and keep the audiences sympathy. Keane comes into his own with Lucky’s incomprehensible tirade at the end of the first act, deservedly an applause-reaping scene. This production shows the unsubsidised London Classic Theatre at the top of its form.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015