Author Archives: williamstafford

About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard!

Serves Us Right

WAITRESS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th June 2022

The last musical I saw that was based around pie-making was Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  This show has a completely different flavour.  Based on a film from 2005, this hit musical is on the road at last.  It’s the story of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny) who is not only the titular waitress but also something of a master baker.  Her pie is the talk of the town and, this being small town America, when they talk of pie, they usually mean sweet dishes and desserts.

The scene is Joe’s Pie Diner and it’s populated with a host of eccentric characters.  Everyone we meet is clearly defined by their personal quirks.  Jenna’s co-workers are Becky, the sassy black one, and Dawn, the goofy, nerdish one.  Their boss is manager-cook Cal, who is irascible, and they are visited daily by the diner’s grumpy owner, Joe.  An ensemble makes up extras but also, with some nice touches of physical theatre, represent what’s going on in Jenna’s mind.

Jenna is at a turning point.  Her redneck husband Earl has put a bun in her oven, thwarting her dreams of leaving him, but then Joe tells her of a pie-baking contest where the prize money would be enough to set her up in a new life…  But then Jenna goes and falls for her gynaecologist.  Things are looking up, you might say.

Jenna’s the most grounded of the characters, and Chelsea Halfpenny plays her with heart and warmth, proving she can belt when required by the score.  You can’t help liking her.  David Hunter is hilarious as handsome Doctor Pomatter, socially awkward and gauche, making an unusual leading man.  Wendy Mae Brown lifts her Becky above the stereotype – her rich, chocolate voice a real treat when she finally gets a solo.  Evelyn Hoskins’s Dawn could quite easily be Hairspray’s Penny Pingleton, playing the comedy very broadly.  Again, we can’t help liking her.  Even sour-tempered Cal (Christopher D Hunt) has his moments.

Dawn’s dating-site suitor comes along and out-quirks everyone: George Crawford in a scene-stealing role as Ogie.  And there is more to Tamlyn Henderson’s Earl, Jenna’s controlling, redneck husband, the villain of the piece; we get to glimpse his vulnerability and why Jenna fell for him in the first place.  There is also some delicious sarcasm from Scarlet Gabriel’s Nurse Norma.  Michael Starke (yes, Sinbad off of Brookside!) channels Colonel Sanders for his turn as Joe, something of a father figure for Jenna.  His song, Take It From An Old Man touches even my jaded heart.

Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles, and it’s a jaunty, likeable score. beautifully played by the on-stage band, led by Ellen Campbell. Almost everything is sweet and upbeat – even a number about doing a pregnancy test.  Jessie Nelson’s book is peppered with good humour that the cast plays to the hilt.  Sometimes, the comedy feels a little forced and the resolution is a little too pat – but this is musical theatre, so we allow it.

All in all, Waitress serves a lot of feel-good fun, keeping on the right side of saccharine sickliness.

Flantastic.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wendy Mae Brown, Chelsea Halfpenny and Evelyn Hoskins (Photo: Johan Persson)

Yes! And…

MIDLANDS IMPROV NIGHT

1000 Trades, Birmingham, Wednesday 15th June 2022

In a room above a bar in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, an audience assembles for a evening of improvised comedy.  There are three acts, each of them taking a different approach to the art form.  Some may see it as a licence to show off.  Others may see it as an opportunity to tap into a collective creativity and create ephemeral wonders.

First up is a group of youngsters from the University, styling themselves as Improvabunga.  In a preview of their Edinburgh Fringe show, ‘Watch This Improv!’, they solicit the usual things from the audience: a genre, a subgenre, a location… with the added interventions of buzzers distributed among audience members: one triggers a song, another a kiss or a slap… and so on.  The piece that emerges, ostensibly a ‘psychological thriller’ is dubbed ‘The Recurring Night at the Museum’, and it turns out to be rather good.  The cast collaborate like well-oiled cogs.  The support and the invention are equally important.  The action is underscored by improvised mood music provided by a guy called Reuben on a keyboard, which is highly effective at creating atmosphere.  An improvised song is a highlight, with spontaneous backing vocals.  Most impressively the story has an effective structure, and the spotlight is shared equally, as cast members slickly glide from scene to scene.  There is something intrinsically democratic about improv, collectively created and collectively experienced.  An impressive start.  They should do well at the festival.

Second is ‘Behind the Headlines’, which takes the form of a kind of panel show.  Our compere and adjudicator, JP Houghton, reads out news headlines from the past seven days and then casts two of the three participants, who are competing for a place in the final round, in a scene that discusses the story.  And so a story about a shortage of Cadbury’s Flakes gives rise to a scene about the two employees responsible for the shortage waiting to explain themselves to the big boss.  A story about the perfect recipe for gin, leads to a scene about two connoisseurs in a gin bar.  And so, while they’re not acting out the news events themselves, the comedy that ensues stems from side lines, using invented characters.  The scoring is perfectly arbitrary but the fun comes from seeing the three interact and create in different pairs.  Luckily, JP is nearby to blow a whistle to bring scenes to an end, but so skilled are all three, they come up with natural punchlines.  This is a preview of their longer show, which is about to take a short residency at the nearby Blue Orange Theatre.

Third and lastly is a group called ‘Breakfast of Champions’.   Again, their format is different.  Nick Hollingsworth (winner of tonight’s headlines show, by the way) is invited to speak at length about whatever occurs to him, triggered by a word yelled from the audience.  What follows is the group creating scenes riffing off his unstructured speech.  This gives rise to the most surreal and absurd scenes of the night, with some belly laughs.  They’re a quick-witted bunch and are clearly well accustomed to working together.

An evening of fun, and I marvel at the collaborative nature of proceedings and how well it all turns out, with barely a dead line between the whole lot of them.  There is something dazzling about improv done as well as this.  Trouble is, you can’t see the same show twice.  Different genres will be picked.  Other events will occur in next week’s news.  Nick will spout different drivel… So is improv the purest theatrical form, as ephemeral as you can get, with creation and performance happening simultaneously before disappearing forever?  I’m inclined to say yes.  And?

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Tee Hee or Not Tee Hee

HAMLET: The Comedy

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 14th June 2022

Oddsocks Productions’ summer tour this year contains all the hallmarks that make their shows so funny: Shakespeare, music, puppets, daft wigs… but this time, there’s a twist.  The original text adapted by in-house genius Andy Barrow is the most famous tragedy ever penned, that of the Great Dane (and I don’t mean Scooby Doo.)   So, does it work? 

Barrow himself appears as Claudius, a Viking chieftain, looking like Henry VIII but with all the vocal intonations of our current unprincipled and criminal Prime Minister – instantly establishing himself as the villain of the piece.  Barrow’s political satire has never been more prevalent, more acerbic, or more necessary, in a play that deals with someone who is unsuitable to rule.  He’s also very funny, brimming with vapid Bo-Jo waffle, his motives thinly veiled.  Topical asides zing through the script, making us enjoy the villain’s demise all the more when it finally happens.

Barrow’s partner in greatness, the formidable Elli Mackenzie appears as Gertrude, with something of our Queen’s plummy tones but none of her emotional reserve.  Mackenzie also plays Hamlet’s BFF, Horatio as a sort of likeable oaf.

In the title role is Theo Toksvig-Stewart, an excellent addition to the team, expressing teenage moodiness through physicality and handling the text with clarity and ease.  His ‘To Be’ has him toying with the idea of casting himself from the battlements, and it’s enlightening: his death could come at any precarious second, rather than the Prince contemplating suicide as an abstract concept, as per usual.  Thus, Andy Barrow’s direction sheds new light on the well-known speech.  This Hamlet is instantly likeable and he’s more than capable of holding the stage on his own.

Amber Lickerish’s Ophelia is played straight, a foil for Hamlet’s capers.  When it comes to her mad scene, the jokes fall away.  There are moments when Shakespeare’s tragedy bubbles up through the surface silliness.  Clearly this troupe could pull off a straight version if they were that way inclined.  The result is a patchiness in tone and approach.  Luckily, we are not kept waiting long for the daftness to reassert itself over proceedings.

The marvellous Jack Herauville (Laertes, Polonius, etc) is consistently delightful.  The climactic fight between Laertes and Hamlet – here done with spears rather than swords – is thrilling and funny.  The show is at its best during its madcap moments: a hunting scene with glove puppets, the skirmish in Ophelia’s grave…

Barrow doesn’t send up the material but rather plays with it.  It’s a very playful play.  There are just a couple of pacing issues keeping it from comedic perfection.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Back and the Future

JINKX MONSOON & MAJOR SCALES – Together Again, Again!

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 8th June 2022

Winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (Season 5) Jinkx Monsoon has carved out a career as a cabaret artiste, a self-styled ‘internationally tolerated chanteuse’.  This current tour sees her reunited with sidekick and accompanist, Major Scales.

But this time, there’s a twist…

We are rocketed forward to the year 2065.  Monsoon and Scales, bearing the ravages of old age, come together after decades apart.  They fill us in with global events since our day – well, as they point out, they’re reminding us of these events, because we’re with them, in the future, which is now…

It’s a gloriously silly conceit.  Our sun has exploded.  The Earth has been taken over by Reptilian alien overlords (so, nothing new there, then) and, more pertinently, we learn the fate of some of the other drag queens who have graced the runway.

An eclectic set gives us show tunes and torch songs.  There’s even a jazzy Gorillaz cover.  Monsoon is in superb voice, combining shades of Ethel Merman, Bette Midler and Lucille Ball.  She dodders around, forgetting where she is, reprising refrains, repeating jokes, but she still has a savage tongue for any audience member who gets out of line.

Scales is an excellent foil.  The bickering between the two is merciless, the timing immaculate.  They can drop in ad libs without breaking their stride.

No encore though, despite rapturous applause, as the age-withered pair shuffle off to be ‘redistributed’ (recycled, to you and me).

An extremely funny evening.  Monsoon is a major talent.  Off the scales, in fact.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Right as Rain

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 7th June 2022

I maintain that the 1952 Gene Kelly-Debbie Reynolds film is a pinnacle of cinematic endeavour, so any stage production seeking to emulate this piece of perfection has an impossible task ahead.  This large-scale touring production  originating from Chichester Festival Theatre comes pretty close!

A spoof of the advent of ‘talking pictures’, this story of Hollywood glamour is funny, romantic and spectacular.  This show doesn’t stint on the large production numbers.  Andrew Wright’s exuberant choreography delivers period, verve and character.

Sam Lips makes quite a splash as leading man Don Lockwood, cocksure and on the right side of cheesy.  A lovely crooner, Lips can also hoof it – the iconic title song which closes the somewhat lengthy first act is everything you want it to be.  As Don’s love interest, the sunny, funny Kathy Selden, Charlotte Gooch is practically perfect, while Jenny Gayner is hugely entertaining as villainous diva Lina Lamont – you can’t bring yourself to hate her.

Stealing the show, though, is the indefatigable Ross McLaren as Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown.  McLaren lights up the stage, combining terpsichorean talent with comedic flair.  His Make Em Laugh brings the house down, and his double act with Lips delivers some of the funniest moments of the show.  You can’t take your eyes off him.

Director Jonathan Church doesn’t miss a detail.  The filmed excerpts are a delight, and there’s a light touch to the comedy across the board.  The musical numbers are wonderful.  Some standouts include All I Do Is Dream Of You, Good Morning, and the extended, luxuriant Broadway Melody sequence, where the production values go through the roof. Simon Higlett’s costumes bring a rainbow after the downpour.

The infectious score is played by a tight-knit orchestra with Grant Walsh at the helm, the music so evocative of that bygone age.

An absolute joy, a celebration of showbiz, and  pure, unadulterated fun, the show’s message is to enjoy yourself whatever life chucks at you.  Sing in that rain!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Storming it: Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch, and Ross McLaren (Photo: Johan Persson)

Bad at Spelling

MAGIC GOES WRONG

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 25th May 2022

The team behind The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and all the rest of them, join forces with master-magicians Penn & Teller to bring us this cavalcade of calamity.  The title says it all.  A hapless bunch of performers strive to raise funds for charity with a series of acts that each go awry in their own special way.

Our host is the increasingly desperate Sophisticato (Sam Hill) trying to preserve his late father’s memory.  Sam Hill’s eyes get wider as the situation around him unravels.  His act with doves is hilarious, and I’m assured no birds were harmed during making of this spectacle, although perhaps several humans were.

Rory Fairbairn as the Mind Mangler is hopeless, making wild stabs in the dark to guess our names and occupations.  The joy of it comes from seeing through his cod mysticism, of being smarter than he is.

Kiefer Moriarty is delightful as The Blade, a daredevil act, ripping off shirt after shirt, and attempting dangerous feats involving spikes, a water tank, mousetraps… and never giving up no matter how much pain he inflicts on himself.  It takes a lot of skill to do things ‘wrong’ – Think Les Dawson at the piano – and the timing across the board is flawless.  It has to be.

Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum are a hoot as Teutonic glamour girls Bar and Spitzmaus, serving as assistants to the others and also as an act in their own right, involving gymnastics, contortionism, and a ‘live’ bear…

Valerie Cutko brings elegance and charm as the ill-fated donor Eugenia.  Much use is made of a live video feed, and there’s the running joke of the woeful total of funds raised.  The ‘In Memoriam’ section brings tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons.

Organised chaos is the order of the day, with surprises and slapstick galore.  Every now and then, the magic goes right, and this is just as surprising as the mishaps.

Relentlessly funny entertainment from a hugely talented team.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Disillusioned: Sam Hill as Sophisticato (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Privates’ Lives

PRIVATE PEACEFUL

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 17th May 2022

Michael ‘War Horse’ Morpurgo’s novel is brought to life in this effective adaptation by Simon Reade and Nottingham Playhouse.  It’s the story of the Peaceful brothers, Tommo and Charlie, and their nigh-on idyllic childhood in pre-war Devon.  Throughout the course of one night of sentry duty in the trenches, Private Tommo Peaceful narrates his life story up to this moment, the action slickly transitioning into flashbacks with the wave of an army blanket and a lighting change.  The story flows seamlessly and moves on a quite a lick, but there’s still plenty of time for us to engage with the characters and their tribulations.

War takes the brothers to France, where they encounter all the usual tropes of WWI drama: the trenches, the rats, the lice, the unreasonable officers, the futility, the waste of life… Everything except a war poet, in fact.  The scenes here contrast sharply with the comparative rosiness of life at home, delivered with a sense of urgency: Tommo must get his story told before morning comes.  We find out why in a devastating denouement.

As Tommo,  Daniel Rainford is splendid, never leaving the stage.  We see him grow up before our eyes, as he and Charlie fall for the same girl, disrespect the pompous lord of the manor, and generally form the fraternal bond that will see them through to the end.  Tom Kanji makes a strong impression as the older brother, while Liyah Summers is sweet and appealing as their shared love object.  Emma Manton is both tough and sympathetic as the mother, bringing up the boys on her own and striving to keep the roof over their heads.  Robert Evans as the older brother with learning difficulties shows us the prejudices of the age, but surely the hardest working and most versatile member of the cast is John Dougall, appearing in the widest range of roles from the ill-fated father, to the vicar, the great aunt, and various military men.

It’s an engaging story, if a little cliched.  Director Elle While keeps things flowing, with sudden changes of mood and location jarring us out of the present and into the past and back again.  It’s a children’s story so we are spared the worst excesses of conditions, with the horrors of war only hinted at rather than depicted.  What comes through very strongly is the injustice of the treatment of so-called ‘cowards’ and conscientious objectors.

Matt Haskins’s lighting and Dan Balfour’s sound design enhance the storytelling, which is played out on Lucy Sierra’s remarkable set that conveys both homeland and war zone at the same time – thin branches curling in the air are also the barbed wire of the battlefield; mounds of sandbags suggest the rolling landscape…

This is a high-quality production reminding us of the huge waste of the First World War, and sadly, there are parallels with the world today, as Ukrainian men are recruited to defend their country against invaders, and once again thousands of lives are being lost on European soil.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Daniel Rainford in a Peaceful moment (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Hooray! Henry!

HENRY VI: REBELLION

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 7th May 2022

Shakespeare’s history plays – dramatized and fictionalised versions of real events involving real monarchs – inevitably these days draw comparisons with Game of Thrones.  Here there be no dragons, but there’s pretty much everything you’d expect in terms of loyalty and betrayal, honour and dishonour, treachery and rivalry, and power grabs galore.  There’s violence and gore, and even a mystical scene in which a severed head on a pole is consulted about the future.

Mark Quartley is the young king Henry VI, something of a weakling and therefore ripe for plucking from the throne.  There is no shortage of wannabe kings.  Chief among them is a deliciously wicked York (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and the dashing Suffolk (Ben Hall).  Quartley is effective as the meek monarch; you will him to stand up for himself and when it finally happens, Quartley shows us the toll it takes out of the frail king.  Alvin-Wilson is hugely enjoyable – all he needs is a moustache to twirl, while Hall’s Suffolk has more range as a character.  When he meets his violent end, it’s hard to watch.  Director Owen Horsley uses suggestion as much as blatant gore, making for some very unpleasant but irresistible moments.

Minnie Gale is tons of fun as Margaret, Henry’s unfaithful queen, a vivacious, unconventional young woman who brings a whole new meaning to getting head from one’s lover…

Lucy Benjamin is powerful as Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester.  Though she be but little, she is fierce.  Oops, sorry, wrong play.  Her fellow EastEnders alumnus, Aaron Sidwell, is a treat as rebel and rabble rouser Jack Cade, with a cocky/Cockney swagger and a twinkle in his eye.  You expect him to call someone ‘Treacle’ at any moment.  Something the play demonstrates all too clearly is how the public can be manipulated by empty promises and stirring rhetoric.  It’s a nice touch to have the mob speak lines in perfect unison, showing how they are of one mind/brain cell.

Richard Cant is in excellent form as Uncle Gloucester, matched by RSC stalwart Paola Dionisotti as Cardinal Winchester, whose death scene is the best of the lot.

The huge cast comes and goes but the action is never less than perfectly focussed.  The simple staging (rostra and a medieval throne) are all that’s needed; the action is augmented by judicious use of projections on the chainmail backdrop: huge faces looming, and there’s a sequence when Cade and his rabble are roaming the streets, represented here by the corridors of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Add to this, splendid historical costumes (such a relief they didn’t set the play at the time of the Cod War or on Mars or somewhere) and Paul Englishby’s superlative music, all mournful horns and stirring strings played live, and we’ve got a marvellous three-hours traffic on the stage.

I can’t wait to see the companion play next week!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Mark Quartley as Henry VI (Photo: Ellie Kurtz)

WARS OF THE ROSES

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 12th May 2022

The excellent ensemble is back with the companion play, continuing the story of England’s feeblest king.  This time there is even more running around, with the severed heads of various characters tossed around like so many basketballs.  Director Owen Horsley brings out the black humour of the piece at every opportunity to offset the grisly deaths and the heartfelt grief.  Oliver Alvin-Wilson’s York is even more enjoyable, the character being more rounded this time around.  His speech of grief for his murdered son and fury for the bloodthirsty Margaret (Minnie Gale being phenomenal again) is the most powerful moment of the first half.

New characters come to the fore.  Arthur Hughes as York’s son Richard, who becomes the Duke of Gloucester, gives a show-stealing performance and I cannot bloody wait to see him continue the role in Richard III in just a few weeks’ time.  Conor Glean’s Young Clifford, full of righteous vengeance and a Merseyside accent, and Ashley D Gayle as York’s eldest son, Edward, both make strong impressions.  Ben Hall, playing middle son George (later Clarence) also does a heart-wrenching grief-stricken moment.

The live video footage not only allows for two locations to share the stage, but also artfully frames the action: clever use of a child’s crown in the foreground while the child that wore it is being butchered makes the violence cinematic and symbolic.  Indeed, the only piece of furniture in the entire show is the gothic throne, the thing everyone is fighting over, while the ground it stands on is increasing ruined.

Richard Cant appears in an amusing turn as King Lewis (sic) of France, not quite going the full Allo, Allo! but in the vicinity.  Sophia Papadopoulos’s portrayal of the young and valiant Prince Edward is assured, so we’re shocked by his inevitable murder.  Lots of killings in this play, and plenty of exciting swordplay, thanks to fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

It’s a time when first names were in short supply.  Everyone is either a Henry, a Richard, or an Edward, it seems, so it’s something of a relief when they start referring to each other by place names instead.  Who would have guessed that a Duke of York could turn out to be so troublesome?

A thrilling, visceral, funny, and moving production, with Mark Quartley’s conflicted king at its heart.  The three-hour run time flies by.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Ooh, you are lawful…

LEGALLY BLONDE – The Musical

Stratford Play House, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May 2022

Stratford Musical Theatre Company turn their talented hands to the musical adaptation of the well-known Reese Witherspoon comedy film, in a vibrant production at the Play House, a venue that is more suited to bands and stand-up comedians.  And so the staging tonight is minimal, leaving the floor free for the large chorus to occupy – director Georgie Wood has drilled her cast to maximum efficiency for getting things on and getting things off again, so the piece runs like clockwork.

It’s the story of Elle Woods who, dumped by her egotistic boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in hot pink and hot pursuit, as though getting a law degree will win the chump back… Elle is faced with prejudice because of her looks and demeanour but she overcomes obstacles to prove she is top of the class, and hey, you don’t need a man to make you happy… The show’s message seems to be about not judging books by their covers and breaking down stereotypes, which is a pertinent point to make: to be one’s authentic self.  Why then, does writer Heather Hach tarnish the piece with homophobic representations of LGBTQ+ people, who don’t get a chance to demonstrate they are more than the effeminate, posing, skipping fairies we are subjected to here?  Signs, I think, of the material exceeding its show-by date.  I cringe throughout the song Gay Or European which goes against the positive stereotype-busting message of the rest of it.

Leading the cast as the titular blonde Elle Woods, Vanessa Gravestock delivers an engaging, impressive performance, balancing the dumb-blonde looks with Elle’s innate intelligence.  She’s an appealing presence with the star quality required by the role.

Other highlights (because she’s blonde!) include Christopher Dobson as the tough-talking Professor, effortlessly exuding his dominance and high status;  Casey McKernan amuses as Elle’s cocksure ex Warner; Ian Meikle endears himself as mild-mannered love interest Emmett; Katie Merrygold is stonkingly good as Elle’s new BFF, Paulette Buonufonte; and Oliver Payne makes a scene-stealing appearance as delivery man Kyle.

It doesn’t matter what the cast does though, because any time a dog is brought on, it immediately upstages everyone else!  And I can’t help wondering if the situation is stressful for the animals.

The chorus is great, filling the space with energy and performing Julie Bedlow-Howard’s lively choreography.  In particular, a cheerleading number is splendid.

The singing too is all the more impressive when you realise the singers can’t see musical director James Suckling and the band, who are walled up behind the backdrop!

Unfortunately, there are missed lighting and sound cues, and this is not opening night where you can excuse a few hitches.  Microphone coverage is patchy.  It feels like the show could have done with at least one more technical rehearsal to make these elements of the production as sharp as the rest of it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

In the pink! Vanessa Gravestock front and centre as Elle Woods (Photo: David Fawbert Photography)

The Case of the Missing Mrs

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 25th April 2022

First Atlantis, then Dallas, and now Birmingham!  Patrick “Bobby Ewing” Duffy stars in this (to me) obscure comedy-thriller from 1965, which has been dug up by Bill Kenwright Productions.  Duffy plays Daniel Corban, a honeymooner whose wife has been missing for three days from the remote chalet they have borrowed from Daniel’s boss.  The local police are on the case but then a woman turns up.  Is she really the missing Mrs or, as Daniel insists, is she an imposter out to get him and, consequently, his life insurance?

On the surface, it’s standard genre fare, but its elevated by a dry and witty script by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.  With more twists and turns than a corkscrew, the plot keeps you guessing in this hugely enjoyable, somewhat cosy murder-mystery.

Duffy is in fine form as the neurotic Corban, tightly wound and sarcastic, and of course, it’s a treat to see him live, for reals, and not just in Pam Ewing’s dream.  No shower scene tonight, alas, but Duffy has a laidback confidence, which makes Corban’s increasingly desperate state all the more of a contrast.

As the is-she-or-isn’t-she wife Elizabeth, the alluring Linda Purl is great fun, and she is aided and abetted by Ben Nealon’s not-to-be-trusted clergyman.  Gray O’Brien is excellent as the wise-cracking, jaded police inspector, and there is strong character support from the wonderfully named Hugh Futcher as Sidney from the sandwich shop.  Paul Lavers makes his mark as Corban’s brash boss, with Chloe Zeitounian makes a fleeting impression in her brief appearance as the bit-on-the-side, ‘Mrs Parker’.

The mystery is intriguing enough to keep us hooked, while the rich vein of humour keeps us amused as the story unfolds and surprises.  Bob Tomson’s direction paces the action well to create such an entertaining evening, we’re willing to overlook the occasional stretches of credibility.  A well-made production, nicely played by all concerned.  (There was an issue of patchy microphone coverage at the performance I saw.  I prescribe a thorough soundcheck before the curtain goes up again.)

All in all, it’s good fun.  Catch it while you can.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Gray O’Brien, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Purl (Photo: Jack Merriman)