Tag Archives: Mark Sterling

Perfect Nonsense

reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 13 August

The Goodale Brothers’ PG Wodehouse confection based on the Jeeves and Wooster characters is an ideal choice for Suffolk Summer Theatres. It is a light-hearted whirl of seaside candyfloss; its audience has to do nothing more strenuous than enjoy its daftness.

Mark Sterling’s production has a clever set by Tory Cobb which emphasises the cartoonish characters and plot. Its folding screens keeps the action moving from various town and country houses to the shops and rural roads of 1928 England.

There are three actors of whom Rick Savery (Jeeves) and Morgan Thrift (fellow butler Seppings) take on the dozen other characters our dim-witted hero Bertie Wooster (Tom Girvin) encounters.

Girvin is the fall-guy in this tale of a cow-creamer, a thwarted love affair and the intervention of various forces of the law. He radiates just the right level of gormless good-nature.

If Savery’s succession of bullies – including one who would stand in for Giant Blunderbus in any production of Jack and the Beanstalk – is hilarious, they are topped by Thrift’s unflappable Jeeves, simpering Madeline and short-sighted Gussie.

The summer weather may have resumed its traditional mix of sunshine and showers but there are indoor treats on offer along the Suffolk coast.

Four star rating.

Perfect Nonsense runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 18 August with early evening performances also on 16 and 18 July. It transfers to the Southwold Arts Centre between 20 August and 1 September with matinées on 21 and 28 August and additional early evening performances on 23, 25, 30 August and 1 September. There are no Friday performances n Southwold.

 

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The Prisoner of Zenda

reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 7 August

Anthony Hope added a new word to the English language in  1894 – Ruritania – with The Prisoner of Zenda. The romantic adventure novel  was quickly adapted for the stage by Edward Rose (cast of thousands) and has been filmed countless times (likewise).

Mark Sterling’s version keeps the multiple settings, from palace and cathedral to forest hunting-lodge and gloomy castle dungeon but manages it all with a cast of seven. Tory Cobb has thrown in one of Suffolk Summer Theatre’s specialities (a train sequence) for good measure. Miri Birch’s costumes work better for the women than for the men.

The story concerns the disputed monarchy of one of those turbulent Balkan states sandwiched between two fading but still powerful empires – the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman – fiercely independent, proud of its traditions but wary of its neighbours. The about-to-be-crowned king is Rudolf V; his envious illegitimate half-brother Michael wants to take his place.

A proposed marriage between Rudolf and his cousin Flavia (who herself has a claim to the throne) is a further complication, as is Michael’s mistress Antoinette du Maubin. Then there’s Rudolf’s double, a folk-melody enthusiast from England, Rudolf Rassendyll. Not to mention Michael’s dashingly sinister wheeler-dealer factotum Rupert of Hentzau.

That hard-working cast take it all as seriously as it should do. Joe Leat’s double of the wine-addicted king and the English gentleman who takes his place at the behest of loyal Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim is very well contrasted, the one all sodden self-pity and the other reluctantly dashing.

Rick Savery is suitably sinister as Michael, though Saul Boyer didn’t (for me on the opening night) quite strike the right note for a man who takes such pleasure and pride in manipulating others. Clive Flint’s Sapt and Tom Slatter’s Fritz are stalwart in their military attempts to keep the monarchy in place, whatever their personal feelings about the incumbant.

In this version,  Amy Christina Murray as Princess Flavia has more to do than just be the decorative object of Rassendyll’s self-sacrificing love, an updating which works in the context. Sarah Ogley’s Antoinette is also more than her dark mirror image. Richard Blaine stages an excellent couple of sword fights, though the costume department could surely have provided sheathes for them when not in use.

Noisy scene changes will presumably quieten down and be slicker (too many glimpses of the people effecting them on the opening night) as the run and its transfers progress. One query – in the last meeting between restored king and his English saviour, why does Rasendyll have dark hair when he and the king have been much lighter throughout?

Four star rating.

The Prisoner of Zenda runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 12 August with matinées on 10 and 12 August. It transfers to the Southwold Arts Centre between 15 and 26 August and can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from 6 to 9 September.

 

 

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Communicating Doors

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 5 July

Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors is on one level a farce with sociological bite, as expected from the modern master of that genre. On another, it plays with the notion of time, much as did JB Priestley in dramas such as Time and the Conways, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls.

The action takes place in suite 647 of a London hotel owned by ruthless business-man Reece (James Morley) with his equally ferocious second-in-command Julian (Michael Shaw). We begin in 2037 with the arrival of a dominatrix called Poopay (real name Pheobe) played by Melissa Clements; her attentions are in response to Reece’s last wishes.

It transpires that both Reece’s wives have met untimely ends, first Jessica (Rosanna Miles) and then Ruella (Claire Jeater). In both cases Julian appears to have been the hit-man and he has no compunction about serving Poopay in the same way. Her escape through a door into a cupboard takes her into the same suite but, at different times, in 2017 and 1997.

Mark Sterling’s production keeps up a lively pace with the audience at times hard-pressed to follow at the same speed. Tory Cobb’s set and Miri Birch’s costumes work well in this context, as does the clever use of lighting (including laser shapes to indicate time changes) and shadow-play.

The cast brings commitment and a good understanding of both Ayckbourn’s words and the characters they define. Clements offers a rounded portrait of the girl from a children’s home who grits her teeth and gets on with earning a living. Miles and Jeater differentiate the two wives and the way their personalities develop over 40 years.

Bumbling in and out of the action is hotel security-man Harold, who Bob Dobson makes likeable even as the women manipulate him. Shaw has the lion’s share of the nastiness, and relishes every nuance of it. Morley’s role is in many ways a more difficult one, but his last scene with Pheobe has real heart.

Four star rating.

Communicating Doors runs at the Southwold Arts Centre as the opening production in the Suffolk Summer Theatres season until 15 July with matinées on 8, 13 and 15 July. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 20 and 29 July with matinées on 22 and 29 July.

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The 39 Steps

(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 9 August)

This new production for Suffolk Summer Theatres has been devised and directed by Mark Sterling from the Patrick Barlow tongue-in-cheek version of the John Buchan novel brought memorably to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

Though it may seem like a whole sequence of “based on…”, this staging does add a further dimension, with its introductory sequence from the film, multiple use of projections and some Hitcockian hommages – the music-hall is MacGuffin’s and the moorland chase has a pair of hobby-horse planes with their pilots plotting north by north-west courses.

The four main actors – Clive Flint, Joe Leat, Amy Christina Murray and Simon Stanhope – are supplemented by ASMs Kitty Dunham and Laurence Leonard who not only move the triangular pillars and furniture but join enthusiastically in the second act’s highland reel. They fully deserve their appearance at the curtain call.

Stanhope is our dashing hero Richard Hannay who, finding himself in London at a loose end, goes to the music-hall and thereby secures himself a perilously adventurous future. Murray whisks on and off a sequence of wigs and accents as the femme fatale whose appearance in Hannay’s flat triggers off the whole story, the feisty but not unflappable Pamela, the susceptible crofter’s wife and others.

“Others” sums up the multi-faceted Flint and Leat perfectly. Flint manages, with swift headgwear, coat and skirt changes, a positive galaxy of characters from Mr Memory and the crofter to railway officials, policemen, landladies and one of the duo of rain-coated, slouch-hatted, dark-glasses spies. Leat’s Professor Jordan provides a hilarious sub-Hitlerian tirade and one half of a Flanagen & Allen turn.

The 39 Steps continues at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 13 August, transfers to the Southwold Summer Theatre between 15 and 27 August and to the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from 6 to 10 September.

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The Titfield Thunderbolt

(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 10 August)

There was a time, more than half a century ago, when East Anglia’s market towns, as well as many across the country, each had a Station Road which lived up to its name. Then Dr Beeching swung his axe… now there are still plenty of Station Roads, but no station, let alone trains, to justify their nomenclature.

The famous Ealing film comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt was scripted by TEB Clarke and has been adapted for stage presentation by Philip Goulding. This new production by Mark Sterling has a wonderfully ingenious set by Maurice Rubens – whoever said that small-scale theatres can’t do spectacular? There’s a channel running across the stage to represent the railway track behind which the waiting-room and ticket office open in doll’s house fashion to reveal a vicar’s study and a pub bar area.

Nor is a train lacking – we actually see two of these, not to mention a somewhat decrepit bus operated by wide-boy Vernon Crump (Clive Flint). His son Harry (Rikki Lawton) is sweet on the vicar’s niece Joan (Amy Christina Murray) so afflicted by the classic duty versus love tug-of-war. The Reverend Sam Weech (Harry Gostelow) has his personal cross to bear in the shape of Joan’s retrobate father, his own brother.

The Weechs’ determination to save Titfield Station is matched by local landowner Lady Edna Chesterford (Sarah Ogley); after all, it was her ancestor who ensured that his property should be served by train. Crump senior aside, and he has a whole bag of crafty tricks in his capacious pockets, assorted men from the Transport Ministry descend with briefcases stuffed full with their own particular agendas. This being a very English comedy, there are no prizes for guessing what the end will be. The fun is in watching how that happens.

As I indicated, the set and its furnishings, including projections which take us through the countryside, are the real stars. The cast members do very well to hold their own against such opposition, bearing in mind that they are types rather than fully rounded characters. It’s episodic, which is due to the original film script, for which I suspect the copyright holders might be to blame.

But it’s a breath of rose-tinted nostalgia with never a whiff of analysis about it, and none the worse for that. And there’s even a couple of song-and-dance numbers arranged by Dick Walter and choreographed by Sidi Scott called The Ferroequinologist’s Lament. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely a word previously alien to my vocabulary.

The Titfield Thunderbolt runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 15 August and transfers to the Southwold Summer Theatre between 17 and 29 August.

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