Tag Archives: Paul Lavers

Season’s Greetings

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 7 November

The time of goodwill to all? Not if you’re planning to spend Christmas with Bernard and Phyllis. Ayckbourn’s wry look at the stresses marriage and parenthood impose when a miscellany of relations comes together doubles as cautionary tale and brutal farce.

Incompetent pacifist doctor Bernard, obsessed with his dire puppet-show for the house-party’s children, starts the festivities off by being at odds with Harvey, his wife Phyllis’ bellicose ex-service uncle over violence in films.

Phyllis drinks too much. Much too much. Her brother Neville is one of those men who tinker endlessly, preferably with other people’s gadgets. His wife Belinda is simply frustrated with life and love (what there is of it).

Enduring yet another pregnancy is Pattie; Eddie her husband is a gormandising layabout more concerned with cadging a job from Richard Munday’s somewhat blinkered Neville than taking his fair share of child-rearing.

And then there’s Rachel, Pattie’s intense and somewhat odd sister. She’s invited Clive, a would-be writer on whom she’s become fixated, as her guest. When he finally appears, he becomes the catalyst for what ensues.

You get the picture. Catherine Lomax’s production keeps the action on the move with a wide set that gives us hall and stairs, the living-room and dining-room. Victoria Fitz-Gerald’s Belinda and Lewis Collier’s Clive make a good central couple.

It is the misfits in the several households who really grab our attention. Paul Lavers’ militant Harvey is suitably lethal while Adam Shorey blithers away as Bernard. Alice Redmond allows Rachel a proper measure of pathos, even while she irritates.

Natalie Harman’s wine-swigging Phyllis comes into her own with the snakes-and-ladders game as Christmas Day ends. Chris Aukett’s Eddie, devouring anything edible in sight, is another infuriating delight.

As Pattie, Naomi Slights evokes understanding; her future – like her immediate past – is a bleak one. You really don’t want to be invited to join any of these people for an extended break; one evening would probably suffice.

The compliments of the season to you, too.

Four star rating.

Season’s Greetings runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 10 November with matinées on 8 and 10 November.

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Neighbourhood Watch

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 9 May

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – the proverb sums up one of Ayckbourn’s darkest comedies Neighbourhood Watch.  It has been revived in a new production by Catherine Lomax which builds slowly to a dénouement not completely foreshadowed in the prologue.

The climax even so is not necessarily what the audience might expect from the epilogue. Both are spoken  by Catherine McDonough’s Hilda Massie, the devout spinster sister who moved with her sibling to the Bluebell Hill Development some months earlier in search of tranquility and pleasant neighbours.

Martin (Ben Eagle) and Hilda have invited these neighbours to their housewarming, but the guests soon make it clear that this apparent Eden is menaced by a “sink” estate close by.

Most vociferous are retired security man Rod Trusser (Paul Lavers) and former local newspaper contributor Dorothy Doggett (Sarah Simpkins), a woman with a nose for scandalous gossip.

Brash Luther Bradley (Richie Daysh) and his abused (verbally and physically) wife Magda (Elsie Fallon) soon make their presence felt. The Jenners – Amy and Gareth – have a very odd relationship. He is an engineer with an interest of medieval forms of punishment. She is a free spirit and somewhat promiscuous.

Victoria Fitz-Gerald and Adam Storey make the most of these characters as we watch the real personalities emerge from their initial appearances. Egged on by Trusser, Martin starts a Neighbourhood Watch scheme which rapidly segues into downright vigilantism.

Faith and  (a perhaps natural) authortativeness are the keynotes of Martin’s character; Eagle shows us that the man is not simply a study in sharp contrasts but a potentially rounded human being mis-shaped over the years into a partial caricature of what might, and should, have been.

Ayckbourn has made Magda into one of his little white-mouse wives familiar from other of hs comedies with bite. Fallon paces this very well as the women close ranks to succour her. McDonough’s Hilda is a type we have probably all encountered at same point; she shares a sense of worthiness – not to say, downright obstinacy – with her brother.

Four star rating.

Neighbourhood Watch runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 12 may with matinées on 10 and 12 May.

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Bedroom Farce

(reviewed at the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 7 August)

Guest director Nicky Henson has staged Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce before. It’s a play which is obviously popular wih the Little Theatre’s audiences, whether resident or holiday-makers, and this production had us all chuckling right from the start.

We are faced by Kees Van Woerkom’s ingenious set which works miracles with the theatre’s bijou stage to show three very different bedrooms simultaneously. Each is the apparently private domain of a married couple; stage right is that of Delia (Mary Lincoln) and Ernest (Paul Lavers), about to go out for their wedding anniversary dinner. Centre stage of that of bedridden Malcolm (Rik Warren) and sprightly Jan (Melissa Clements). Stage left is the chaotic first home of Kate (Loraine Metcalfe) and Nick (Mark Oosterveen).

They are holding their house-warming, preparations for which are much interrupted, as Nick is devoted to both practical jokes and attempted DIY. Among the invited guests are Trevor (Luke Francis) and his rapidly becoming estranged wife Susannah (Maeve Smyth). He’s the cosseted son of Delia and Ernest and she’s the daughter-in-law they have never really liked.

As always with Ayckbourn, there’s genuine pain amid the laughter. Smyth takes the lion’s share of this, and one wants alternatively to shake her and condole with her. Francis gives us the sort of spoiled brat tipping over into early middle-age with whom any sensible woman would decline further acquaintance, let alone marriage. Both Metcalfe and Oosterveen spin in and out of what is obviously a relationship which will mature into responsibility – though no quite yet.

Clements’ Jan is the lynchpin of the whole thing. You can see why Delia and Ernest would have preferred Jan for their son, and why she was wise to walk away from the relationship. Warren is very funny as Malcolm, as bad an invalid as any man can be (and usually is). Licoln and Lavers embody the established couple who have reached a modus vivendi largely through discounting a good two-thirds of what the other is saying at any one time.

Bedroom Farce runs at the Little Theatre, Sheringham until 18 August and is followed by Perfect Wedding (20 to 29 August) and Private Lives (between 1 and 5 September).

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Educating Rita

(reviewed at the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 21 July)

Willy Russell’s two-hander, about a hairdresser and her (reluctant) Open University tutor is deceptively simple at first glance. Rita starts off all brass and attitude; you’d think that Frank has a point in feeling that this is all a waste of her time and his. But who is educating who? And for what?

Like Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, Educating Rita explores where education as a pursuit of knowledge in its own right comes slap up against the requirement to pass examinations. Perhaps it’s because I recently saw a production of The History Boys that the parallel struck me as it hadn’t done before.

Desmond Barrit’s production is dominated by Melissa Clements’ incandescent Rita, bursting into Frank’s study in a whirl of scarlet with jingly earrings and a voice fit to split logs. Paul Lavers as Frank has to work hard to equal the balance as our sympathies veer from one character to another – and back again – as this East End butterfly learns how to escape from her cocoon.

Frank, of course, is his own worst enemy, relying on copious draughts of scotch and varying layers of female support to get through what has become a dead-end job. The sequence of short scenes is punctuated by minimal pauses indicated by lighting changes; the excellent design (as for all the plays in this summer repertory season at the Little Theatre) is by Kees Van Woerkom.

Educating Rita runs at the Little Theatre, Sheringham until 28 July. The summer weekly repertory season continues until 5 September.

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