ROMANTICS ANONYMOUSShakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Sunday, October 22, 2017
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
Brentwood Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre
It’s a fine old story, but this musical version, by Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek – an uneasy mix of period charm and crude, edgy humour – needs a very slick and glitzy production to make it work. And Louise Byrne successfully provides it, within the limitations of the Brentwood stage, making for a very entertaining evening.
The setting is simple and versatile, with a raised balcony under which Max Harris’s excellent little band sits, very much a part of the action.
An accomplished company, ensemble and principals alike, and some fine singing, too, making the best of some fairly forgettable numbers.
The show opens with a quartet of French maids – the action is set on the Riviera – and the chorus have a deal of fun as hotel guests, gamblers, Oklahomans and tourists.
The scoundrels of the title are Lawrence, a suave, laid-back swindler, played with a fine sense of style by Martin Harris, though it was perhaps hard to imagine him as a Man of Destiny or the stuff of female dreams. He shone in his disguise as the “Vienna sausage” - the memorable moment where he simply stands, feather poised, was a measure of his dramatic talent. The contrasting other half of this odd couple, the “gorilla en croute” Freddy, was a very physical, very funny Allister Smith. They meet their match in Kate Henderson’s Christine – the Soap Queen – a warm, sunny persona till she shows her true con-woman colours as the Jackal.
Nice work from Lisa Harris as Muriel – her What Was A Woman To Do was a musical high – and Ian Southgate as André, joining her in a lovely old-fashioned song-and-dance duet.
production photograph: Claire Collinson
Friday, October 06, 2017
Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
for The Reviews Hub
Forget Alec Guinness. Forget Tom Hanks. This is an ingenious stage version of William Rose's classic Ealing comedy, penned by Graham (Father Ted) Linehan and first seen in 2011.
Despite its cinematic origins, it is at heart a good old-fashioned farce, lacking only the manic inevitability of the best of that inter-war genre.
Five career criminals take a room in a house near to King's Cross station – very handy for the “stick-up job” they're planning.
Their landlady – serial complainant and waster of police time – is fooled by their unusual “front”, a classical string quartet, but sees through their disguise when the cello case disgorges its cargo of crisp white fivers.
Peter Rowe, artistic director at the New Wolsey, Ipswich, where this revival originated, has produced a slick, well-paced show, greatly assisted by Foxton's impressive set. The house opens like a book to reveal a richly detailed interior, and the whole thing revolves – powered by stage-hands in time-honoured fashion - so that we can see the roof-tops, and the quaint animated board depicting the heist itself. The scene changes are covered by gothic organ music and the play of steam and signals to evoke the railway beyond. Composer and Sound Designer Rebecca Applin provides some very authentic-sounding incidental music, setting the mood and the period to perfection in the wordless prologue.
Rowe's cast is a little uneven. As the widowed Mrs Wilberforce, Ann Penfold gives a lovely little old lady, primly comic. Masterminding his quartet of criminals, and conducting their avant-garde performance, is Steven Elliot's plummy Professor Marcus, his trailing college scarf an amusing running gag; Graham Seed makes the most of con-man Major Courtney, battle-fatigued war hero and closet cross-dresser. Anthony Dunn never really gets the measure of violent Romanian Louis, neither the accent nor the character, but there are very satisfying turns from Sam Lupton – reminiscent of a young David Jason – as the pill-popping, nervy spiv “call me 'Arry” Robinson, and from Damian Williams, excellent as the slow-witted, ham-fisted “Mr Lawson”, looking a little like Oliver Hardy in his ill-fitting jacket.
The cast is completed by Marcus Houden as the long-suffering Constable MacDonald; he also contributes a hilarious cameo as Mrs Jane Tromleyton, figurehead of the “swarm” of elderly ladies who come to hear the performance by the bogus Boccherini lovers, mercifully curtailed by the interval. They are played by a community chorus, locally sourced for each venue.
The rickety old house, with its dodgy plumbing and faulty lights, not to mention permanent resident General Gordon, the raucous Macaw, will take to the road again at the end of the month, to be shoe-horned onto the stage of the Salisbury Playhouse, where it completes its tour.
production photograph: Mike Kwasniak
Thursday, October 05, 2017
Theatre at Baddow at the Parish Hall
Prolific, popular playwright David Tristram came up with his first comedy whodunnit “just to help out my local am-dram group”. And he's been helping amateur companies all over the world since.
I've been involved with a few in my time, but I still struggle to see the point of staging a play written specially for non-professionals. Even a village cricket team might hesitate before choosing a game which featured under-arm bowling with a tennis ball.
This “comedy thriller” is fifteen years old now; it features a playwright who is visited by his late wife's ghost. She persuades him to write a play, with not even thinly disguised portraits of their fellow actors, in order to “catch the conscience” of her murderer. Shades of Hamlet ? Yes, and copious quotation, too – the play begins with an attempted suicide and that famous soliloquy.
The multi-layered complexities and tortuous twists are well handled by an accomplished cast in Jacquie Newman's polished production. There are laughs along the way, a spine-chilling moment just before the end, and some excellent effects: the moving portrait, the poltergeist typewriter. A little more music might have helped to establish the ghostly mood, and to cover the passing of time in each act.
Roger Saddington gives a sympathetic account of the author, living alone in an attic bedsit with a closet full of gin and a drinks cabinet full of clothes. His landlord, played with style and wit by Tonio Ellis, is flamboyant Alex, who offers moral support to his lodger, and has a nice line in flouncing out of the door. Elvira to Saddington's Charles, the blithe spirit here is Claire Lloyd's elegant, ethereal Ruby. Jade Flack makes the most of the [allegedly] drab and mousy Glenda, while two terrible thespians are milked for all they're worth by Stephanie Yorke-Edwards as the surgically enhanced Frances, and Terry Cole as the bri-nylon-bewigged Hedley.
There are some very funny lines – the acronym sequence, for instance – but also some padding. The plot is convoluted, and takes some following in Act Two especially. I was confused by the absent suspect Howard.
Plenty to keep the loyal TAB audience entertained: ticking off the Shakespeare references, wondering who poisoned poor Ruby's drink, and whether the culprit will be unmasked before Old Nick claims her immortal soul ...