Tag Archives: Ruari Murchison

Rope

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 17 February

Pride goes before a fall. Arrogance can lead to the long drop. This new production by Douglas Rintoul of Patrick Hamilton’s classic suspense drama Rope makes that very clear.

Mark Dymock’s lighting combines with the sense right from the opening sequence of the events onstage being played out in real-time combine to create an unnerving atmosphere. There are laughs generated by witty, almost akin to Wilde, dialogue as well as by some of the characterisations.

But we are never left in doubt that Bandon’s charm is precariously draped over a ruthless, immoral personality. George Kemp balances both aspects impeccably. His adversary is war-wounded Rupert Cadell, a man  left with a limp and a combat-induced sense of right and wrong.

Sam Jenkins-Shaw makes the man who is in many ways the author’s mouthpiece into something of an early 20th century equivalent of one of the 17th century’s Civil War Ironsides. He brings out that Cromwellian sense of justice as well as his impatience with the Bright Young Things living in and for the present.

They are personified in Fred Lancaster’s Raglan and Phoebe Sparrow’s Leila Arden. Lancaster brings out the innate decency of this apparently lightweight socialite while Sparrow’s portrait of a flapper also lets us see he good manners and helpfulness under the posturing.

Brandon’s weak link is his partner in crime. James Sutton’s Granillo is an excellent study in a weak man growing ever more desperate as the enormity of what he has been made to do increasingly weighs him down. There are also three well-contrasted cameo performances.

These come from Cara Chase as Lady Kentley, still ignorant mother of the victim, Nico Pimparé as the servant Sabot – his meticulous laying out of the supper is a joy to watch – and Janet Amsden as Mrs Debenham, Lady Kentley’s monosyllabic poor relation.

insidious throughout is Yvonne Gilbert’s soundscape with the muted telephone bell, the crackly wireless searched for dance music and the weather outside Brandon’s bachelor flat. Ruari Murchison has furnished this cleverly, from the up-to-date Art Deco sideboard and reproduction Renaissance chest to the Victorian chaise longue and chairs.

Four and a half-star rating.

Rope continues at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 3 March with matinées on 22, 24 February, 1 and 3 March. The co-production transfers to the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from 7 to 17 March.

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Elton John’s Glasses

reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 5 October

Obsessions damage people. Both the one obsessed and those with whom he or she comes into contact. David Farr’s savage comedy, revived in a new production by Psyche Stott  20 years after the Palace Theatre commissioned it, has as its central character Bill (Niall Costigan), a football fanatic.

More precisely, a Watford Football Club fanatic. His life revolves around the club’s catastrophic defeat in the 1984 Cup Final at Wembley – which he attributes to a mis-shot due to the sun glinting from John’s spectacles as he rose to his feet to encourage the team.

If you have minimal interest in football, as I do, then your interest in this play has to be in the interplay of the different characters to whom Farr introduces us.

First of all there’s Dan (Leon Williams), Bill’s younger brother who turns up after an absence of some years with the two other members of his unsuccessful group – taciturn bass guitarist Shaun (Thomas Richardson) and extremely short-sighted drummer Tim (Euan Kitson).

Amy, a teenage girl who just loves a kick around, is played by Leila Ayad. The other woman’s role is that of Julie (Joanna Croll) a middle-life wife and mother who drops in on Bill each Saturday for a couple of hours’ sex. The confrontation between Amy and Julie provides the half-time coup de foudre.

Designer Ruari Murchison has provided a stark set which throws the excellence of the performances into focus. Costigan and Kitson dominate in their two very different ways and there is overall a real sense of time and place. But it remains a somewhat detached experience for all that.

Three and a half-star rating.

Elton John’s Glasses runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 21 September with matinées on 5, 7, 11, 14, 16, 18 and 21 September.

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Poppy+George

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 16 February)

Poppy+George? It sounds like an equation with a positive outcome. Poppy-George? That sounds altogether more negative. Poppy? George? This suggests two people each going on a separate path, that might – or might not – coincide. Diane Samuels’ latest play poses more questions than it offers solutions.

It’s 1919. The war to end all wars has ground to a formal halt, though its repercussions reverberate internationally. The location is London, in a tailoring-costumier workshop run by Smith (Jacob Krichefski), an emigré Russian Jew. He caters, among others, for female impersonator Tommy Jones (Mark Rice-Oxley) and society chauffeur George Sampson ((Rebecca Oldfield).

Fresh from the north of England with a determination to forge a new and proper life for herself comes Mary Louisa Wright (Nadia Clifford), a bright lass who prefers to be called Poppy. She learns to hold her own with both Smith and Jones – but with George? Their relationship, how it blossoms and how it withers, makes the drama.

You can’t fault the acting or the production values. Rice-Oxley takes you to the heart of music-hall as well as the fall-out from service in the trenches. Oldfield makes a marvellously androgynous George, well in with his employers and ambitious to become a racing driver. Krichefski convinces as the footloose man with too many pasts who still holds to the possibilities of the future – somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Clifford makes embryonic suffragette Poppy a girl who knows that her new path will probably be a rocky one (so different from the conventionality of her home background and the lifetime of service which is all it can offer). She wants honesty, not make-believe whether of the theatrical, fashion or intimate relationship types. There will be a price to pay, however.

Designer Ruari Murchinson has raked the stage steeply and produced a variety of costumes and fabric rolls to surround the actors. Director Jennie Darnell keeps the whole thing on the move in a valiant attempt to make this a play about human beings and not just types. Composer and sound designer Gwyneth Herbert adds a haunting accompaniment which echoes both the jollity and the sentimentality of popular music of the period.

Poppy+George runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 29 February with matinées on 18, 20, 25 and 27 February.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016