Classic French farce, especially the plays of Georges Feydeau, aren’t easy to translate into English. The words aren’t the problem; rendering Parisian life during the belle époque for a 21st century audience is the difficulty. Take Bang Bang, John Cleese’s version of the little-known Monsieur Chasse!.
The first act establishes the situation. Duchotel (Oliver Cotton) has told his wife Leontine (Caroline Langrishe) that he’s off on yet another hunting trip with his old friend Cassagne (Peter Bourke). When another friend, Dr Moricet (Richard Earl), throws doubt on the nature of her husband’s quarry, Leontine decides that what’s sauce for the gander is definitely sauce for her particular goose.
Act Two takes place in a most peculiar lodging house run by a déclassée countess (Sarah Crowden). Designer David Shields and director Nicky Henson effect a deservedly-applauded scene change before our eyes, as set pieces swivel and furniture is transformed to an infectious waltz (mainly by Sophie Cotton), accompanied by the violin-playing maid Babette (Jess Murphy).
The trouble is that our willing suspension of belief – that sine non quo of all theatre – keeps on being pulled up short by phrases, expletives and even the occasional gesture which destroy our illusion of a vanished past and its society. You certainly can’t blame the cast for this. The actors’ timing is exemplary throughout.
Langrishe swoops and swirls through Leontine’s emotional and moral crises with the precision of an excessively elegant battle-axe. Earl’s Moricet, a physician with seduction on his mind rather than medicine, counterpoints her precisely. Cotton’s increasingly frantic attempts to achieve his aims ar balanced by the efforts of Simon Hepworth’s police inspector to frustrate them.
Also pursuing his own agenda is Duchotel’s nephew Gontran, a born flaneur in Robert Neumark Jones’ portrayal. Bourke has a telling appearance as he arrives in the third act to keep an appointment which is definitely not one of the ones mentioned so far. It’s all fast, furious (in a nice way) and thoroughly farcical. But somehow I feel that Feydeau has been short-changed.
Four star rating.
Bang Bang continues at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 11 March with matinées on 9 and 11 March.
(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 3 De ember)
The book for this year’s Mercury pantomime is by Fine Time Fontayne and the theatre’s arttistic director Daniel Buckroyd, who is also responsible for the staging. Both the sets and scene drops are by David Shields; his costumes are colourful with some marvellously over-the-top wigs for Antony Stuart-Hicks’ Sarah the Cook. Stuart-Hicks has a flirtatious way with the audeince, suggestive of high camp but always remembering the younger members of the audience.
Two theatre favourites are in the cast – Dale Superville as Idle Jack and Ignatius Anthony as Rayy King, a tycoon with a novel approach to rodent recycling and designs on the London mayoral dignity. Fairy Bow-Bells (Barbara Hockaday) needs all her magic to keep his amibitions in check. Fortunately naîve country-boy Dick (Glen Adamson) has his own aide, in the shape of Gracie Lai’s zebra-striped black-and-white Thomasina, indeed a moggie with attitude.
Grace Eccle makes a charming Alice with Richard Earl bumbling around in his spice emporium as Alderman Fitzwarren. Three hallowed gag scenes – cake-making in the kitchen, “The twelve days of Christmas” and the bench ghost – are all given a novel twist (I won’t spoil their impact by describing these – find out for yourself!) and Charlie Morgan’s choreography makes a real impact. Musical director Richard Reeday provides some sympathetic accompaniments.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 8 January. Check the theatre website (mwrcurytheatre.co.uk) for performance times.
(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 5 May)
Giles Havergal’s stage version of the Graham Greene novella has a cast of four, each of whom at various times plays Henry Pulling and his maternal aunt (or is she?) Augusta. This new Creative Cow production is directed with immaculate precision by Amanda Knott with an angular bar setting to match (ART), slick lighting changes from Douglas Morgan and some evocative sound by Matt Early.
All four actors – Richard Earl, Jack Hulland, David Partridge and Katherine Senior – wear impeccable business suite with just hat or sunglasses change to indicate the hand-over of character or where we are in Henry and Augusta’s increasingly picaresque (not to say suspect) wanderings. This is ensemble playing with some stand-out moments.
Hulland’s Aunt Augusta is deliciously over-the-top while Partridge excels as factotum Wordsworth and wild-child Tooley. Earl has his moment as ruthless Colonel Hakim and equally hard-hearted Mr Visconti. Senior makes much of the ingénue Yolanda, teenage daughter of yet another of the devious police chiefs with whom the travellers tangle.
Travels With My Aunt can also be seen at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 6 and 11 June.
(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 8 December 2015)
It my be one of the priciest Christmas shows on offer, but this year’s Cambridge Arts Theatre Cinderella gives you good value for your money. The script is by Al Morley and Matt Crosby and is directed by David Grindley with choreography by Kevan Allen, costume design by Sue Simmerling and musical direction by John Donovan.
The story follows the traditional path, with a strong pair of almost look-alike Principal Boys in the shape of Laura Barton’s Prince Charming and Jennifer Potts’ Dandini. Both have strong voices as well as playing with just the right source of masculine conviction; you can believe in their heir-to-the-throne and adopted-brother relationship.
Rosemary Ashe makes an engaging Fairy Godmother, a gold-glittering Edna Everage-spectacled fey on the brink of retirement, with a no-nonsense attitude to her magic and the operatically trained voice to go with it. Suzie Mathers is the sweet-voiced, pretty and gentle-natured heroine, though her kitchen-scene dismissal of the love declaration by Steven Butler’s Dandini suggests a streak of ruthlessness.
Her step-sisters are Jusin-Lee Jones (taking over from an indisposed Jonathan D Ellis) as Kim and Daniel Goode as Khloé. Jones is the tall, spiky one (with the longest legs in the business) while Goode plays the tubby would-be-beauty; both are thoroughly nasty, which is just as they should be. Butler, for my taste, never quite achieved the right degree of rapport with the audience which Buttons needs to have. Richard Earl is suitably harassed as Baron Hardup.
Both the adult dancers and the juvenile ones do justice to Allen’s choreography and look well in the colourful palette of Simmerling’s costumes. Cinderella goes to the ball in a shimmer of turquoise crinoline, riding in a coach drawn into the skies by a white winged Pegasus. The effect earned a well-deserved cheer. Magic, after all, is what a pantomime should give its audience – and this one succeeds.
Cinderella runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 17 |January.