Friday, May 31, 2013

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre Little Easton
30.05.13


Oscar Wilde's "trivial comedy" is very well received by the "serious people" of rural Essex – gales of laughter, and knowing anticipation of more than one classic riposte.
Production values are high. The costumes look substantial and stylish, from Aunt Augusta's brocade to Gwendolen's cerise gown to Algy's garb of woe to the Canon's gaiters. The set is simple – pale Aesthetic green – with added trellis for the Woolton garden, and an impressive quick change to the Morning Room.
Nine actors from the Greville rep bring Oscar's words to life. Urbane, poker-faced Lane [Rodney Foster] and his country cousin Merriman [Steve Bradley]. Miss Prism, delicious in her mortification, is Judy Lee; Chasuble, her metaphorical admirer is richly, ripely drawn by Peter Nicholson.
The quartet of lovers: Jonathan Scripps' smug, smiling Jack, sartorially stunning in his Act One suit, could clearly give some tailoring tips to his wicked friend Moncrieff [Adam Thompson], Wilde-eyed with a hint of the Mad Hatter. And a deft deliverer of his many epigrams.
Sonia Lindsey-Scripps – like a pink rose – as fun-loving Cecily, and Carol Parradine as Gwendolen, her supercilious look, her insincere smile reminiscent of Dame Maggie in her prime; she will clearly become like her mother, superbly depicted by Jan Ford, the glances, the inflections, the timing, the eloquent body language making a satisfyingly rounded character. Her "handbag" more rueful than outraged.
Occasionally lines were lost to laughter, but the pace is lively, the staging inventive. The synchronised shock reaction on "Your brother!", and the girls drawing together for the "wounded, wronged" reconciliation just two examples of effective ensemble.

The Importance was directed and produced for The Greville by Marcia Baldry and Diana Bradley.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Shakespeare's Globe
28.05.13

A first look at Dominic Dromgoole's Dream.
Plenty of rough magic, and a heavy hint of Hern the Hunter in Jonathan Fensom's design.
Some magical performances, too, including the excellent Michelle Terry – in Love's Labours here in 2011 – as Titania, beautifully spoken, and equally affecting mourning the loss of her votress and wooing her "monster". Less convincing vocally was her Oberon – John Light – though he does look the part as a Satyr. Sarah MacRae is a bright, bold Helena, though generally the lovers take too long about their antics.
Two actors seem particularly to embody the authentic Shakespearean essence of their roles: Matthew Tennyson as a fey, teenage Puck, and Pearce Quigley as a dry, droll Bottom, clowning, ad-libbing, continuously hilarious despite the visual and vocal handicap of the ass's head.

The groundlings were helpless with laughter at the Mechanicals' thespian efforts – on a poky, rickety pageant cart, complete with wonky pillars echoing those on the stage, they are everyone's amdram nightmare. Good to see Snug's carpentry skills put to use, as he noisily repairs the stage mid-tragedy – Edward Peel playing Eric Morecambe to Quigley's Shirley Bassey ...

THE HOTHOUSE

THE HOTHOUSE
Pinter at Trafalgar Studios
27.05.13

This is Pinter at midpoint between the sketch-writer [The Interview making a brief appearance in Act Two here] and the dark dramatist of the sinister and the enigmatic.
Jamie Lloyd has majored on the earlier Pinter, with much black farce after the manner of Orton, a master-class in cross-talk and sticomythia. But the sense of ominous goings-on elsewhere in the building is strong, enhanced by having some of the capacity audience seated on chairs [house clearance a speciality] around the linoleum-floored acting area.
The cast are uniformly impressive. Simon Russell Beale, as Roote, the megalomaniac boss of the mysterious Rest Home, is suitably swivel-eyed, and times his Pinter pauses and laughs to perfection. John Simm's smooth, dry understated assistant is the perfect foil. Excellent work too from Indira Varma as the seductive sex-pot Miss Cutts, John Heffernan as Lush, the lilac-suited, almost insolent underling, and Harry Melling as Lamb, the hapless scapegoat, pathetically grateful for his chance to be a guinea-pig. Eighteen-carat cameos from Clive Rowe as a menial, and Christopher Timothy as the Man from the Ministry sent to oversee regime change, as Simm's Gibbs, sole survivor of a gory massacre, takes the reins.
The awful truth behind the farce is never fully revealed, but the sense of foreboding is heightened by the manic mugging and the virtuosic verbal fireworks.

The 1950s institutional d├ęcor triumphantly is recreated in Soutra Gilmour's design. And from our front-row on-stage chair, we are close enough to touch that lilac suit, and to browse the books in the staff social area – top of the pile, appropriately, Kafka's The Castle.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

THE PAJAMA GAME

THE PAJAMA GAME
at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester
25.05.13

This gem from 1954 was a museum piece almost as soon as it appeared.
Some great songs, only loosely connected to a thinnish plotline. Some deliciously old-fashioned routines – "I'll Never Be Jealous again".
Its one nod to the cutting edge, a storyline which mixes labour issues with love interest.


But of course this is Chichester, for whom reviving musicals is second nature, stock-in-trade. And Richard Eyre's Pajama Game does not disappoint for a second.
The Supervisor and the Union Rep are engagingly done by Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding, both of whom understand how classic musicals work, and effortlessly combined vocal, dramatic and hoofing skills. A strong company also includes Chichester favourite Peter Polycarpou as Hines, the time and motion knife-thrower and Clare Machin as his secretary. A nice double from Colin Stinton as Hasler the hard-man boss, and Pop, a veteran railway worker.

Gareth Valentine is in charge of the music, and also gets to join in for the curtain calls, and Stephen Mear is the choreographer: amazing work in the tap-dancing Steam Heat, and in the impossibly energetic Once A Year Day.

This show is in the smaller Minerva – the main house won't re-open till 2014 – but we're promised a pop-up in the park for the big show of this year's Festival, Cy Coleman's Circus musical, Barnum.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ALL-ENGLAND THEATRE FESTIVAL

ALL-ENGLAND THEATRE FESTIVAL
Eastern Area Semi-Final at the Cramphorn Theatre
26.05.13

A rare chance to see, in Chelmsford, two one-act plays vying for a place in the England final.
The two pieces had much in common: both two-handers, both depicting a man and a woman in unconventional circumstances, both original plays which involved the author in the production.
First, Runnymede Drama Group in Susie Kimnell's In The Name Of Love. Set in a shabby US motel [the excellent set by John Godliman won the special Stage Presentation trophy] it featured a remarkable performance by Kimnell as Bethany, trapped in an abusive relationship, with Paul Foster as the man she's been with for ten years. We are in Blackbird territory here, and the difficult theme was uncompromisingly but sensitively handled by director Judith Dolley.
Housebound, written and directed for Stretch Theatre Company by Simon Mawdesley, was a much more light-hearted piece, though the situation was far from comic, with Caroline Petheridge's Fiona bound and gagged in her suburban home by "not much of a tough guy" Martin Bedwell. Plenty of suspense, immaculately timed dialogue.
Almost impossible to choose between two such different pieces. Fortunately that task fell not to me but to Arthur Rochester, who sent Housebound through to the Final in Dorset.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SOME LIKE IT HOTTER

SOME LIKE IT HOTTER
Fresh Glory Productions at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich
21.05.13

Billy Wilder's classic movie of 1958 has inspired spin-offs galore, including several musicals, but none as fanciful, or half as much fun, as this light-hearted look at the afterlife.

We find ourselves in Limbothe anteroom to Paradiserepresented here by Jane Linz Roberts' versatile set, funeral parlor to sheltering palms, where the in-house entertainment is an all-singing, all-dancing Some Like It Hot Experience: a chance to rub shoulders with the stars of the film before heading off to eternal bliss. It's the trailer, the warm-up, the B movie.

So English Everyman Charlie [Patrick Bridgman], a life-long SLIH aficionado, is in seventh heaven as, timidly at first, he finds himself caught up in the madcap antics of Curtis, Lemmon and his boyhood idol Monroe as they see the Saint Valentine's Day shoot-out in Chicago and hurriedly head off south, in drag, needless to say.

The musicNeil MacDonald in chargeplays a key role. The actors are the band too, of course, virtuosic and versatile, and we get to hum along and tap our toes to old favourites like Clap Hands, Yes Sir, Chicago and, big finish, Stairway to the Stars and Marilyn's iconic I Wanna Be Loved By You [Boop-Boop-A-Doop].
La Monroe is memorably personated here by Sarah Applewood, pouting and preening in those iconic gowns, and, as Sugar Kane, playing ukulele, sax and clarinet in Sweet Sue's Society Syncopators. And singing rather better than the originalthere's a beautiful version of Sugar Blues, backed by clarinet and trumpet.

Paul Matania and Daniel Lloyd make a great double act as Tony and Jack, the wit and the wisecracks coming thick and fast, and scrub up nicely as Josephine and Daphne, too. A poignant contrast with poor old Charlie, whose feminine persona needs more than a little fine tuning.

The principals get strong support, musically and dramatically, by Sophie Byrne's Billie and Andrew Venning's Diamond.

There's a subtler, sadder sub-plot here, to do with Charlie's old mum, diamonds and a familiar vanity case. After hisextra jazz on the side, Charlie can't wait to go all the way to the happy ending, but thanks to Marilyn's intervention, it's not the one he might have been expecting

A quirky, bitter-sweet entertainmentit's not often you can talk life and death with a guy with a pair of maracas tucked down his bathing dresswhich succeeds largely thanks to those unforgettable songs and these six talented actor-musicians.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews